Online Life in China: 我们都在织微波吗?

Faces in Support of Chen Guangcheng ( - referenced by An Xiao Mina

Last week, our team was able to attend the Personal Democracy Forum (PDF). One of my favorite panels was "Online Life in China". In case you didn't know, sometimes content posted online in China is filtered and removed, which can have obvious impacts on how Chinese internet users can express themselves and access information online. 

David Wertime from Tea Leaf Nation, a popular blog that follows social media trends in China, made some important distinctions in use of local social media platforms in China. While many people refer to Sina Weibo (one of the largest microblogging platforms in China) as "China's Twitter", there are some key distinctions that make the comparison not quite balanced. While in Roman-based languages, 140 characters is quite limiting in what you can express. Whereas in Chinese, 140 characters is literally 140 words, allowing Chinese speakers to express longer sentiments. (Fact: "Weibo" or 微博 in Chinese literally means "Microblog", based off of "Boke" or 博客 which means "Blog"). In addition, while Sina Weibo does have many similar functions to Twitter (hashtags, retweets, etc.), one can also embed video and image files directly into tweets, and can "comment" on tweets as well. This comment capability is what enables Weibo to be "the closest thing China has to a platform for free speech" and is a strong democratizing feature.  READ MORE »

The Monday Round-Up: "Dumbphones" Are Not the Answer

Gizmodo's not a fan of "dumbphones"
On this day in 1948, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights adopted its International Declaration of Human Rights. Read the old-timey New York Times article here, and check out the modern-day Declaration on the UN website.
  • Violence continues in the western state of Rakhine in Myanmar, prompting the state to resume censoring newspapers.
  • During anti-Putin protests in Moscow last week, the websites of three independent Russian news organizations suffered crippling DDoS attacks.
  • Skype and other VoIP services are now banned in Ethiopia thanks to a new law passed late last month. Tor, which can be used as a workaround, has also been banned.
  • How safe are you when it comes to cyber crime?

Working Thru the Weekend: the Thursday Round-Up

thanks to
This week's news round-up arrives a few days off-schedule: our team spent the weekend in NYC at Personal Democracy Forum 2012. We heard plenty of awesome speakers and great presentations, which we'll be posting about in the coming week.

Yesterday game boring and hate. New game!

The author's old classroom in Korea, where her students had no qualms indicating if her lessons worked or not.


My name is Hillary, and I'm so excited - no, really, you have no idea - to announce that I've arrived @NDITech. I'm a former journalist, teacher, and toy store employee who grew up in a house of tinkerers and tech enthusiasts, and I recently graduated from the Fletcher School in Boston. More importantly, my background has made me passionate about tech and media use across disciplines, and coming to NDI allows me to put those interests to good use.

My main interests on the tech team include nonformal education, public diplomacy and outreach, and social marketing, as well as the larger (and related) issues of user interaction and the effects of tech projects from a systemic perspective. I believe strongly that technology needs to be engaging and desirable as well as accessible - not just from an infrastructural perspective, but in terms of the ways in which people go through their daily existence. Which brings me to the title of this post.

As anyone who's ever taught can attest, children can be a very, very tough crowd. A few years ago, I was teaching English in Korea, and one of my fellow teachers put on her Facebook an exchange she'd had with a student. It's now been added to the (long) list of internal memes I maintain.

STUDENT Teacher! Today play game?

TEACHER No, we played a game yesterday.

STUDENT Yesterday game boring and hate. New game! READ MORE »

The Monday Round-Up: Under the Radar

Carmen Sandiego, the best detective computer game

Today's round-up is looking at news about being undercover: whether it's sneaky viruses that impact networks, or how groups are able to continue their work online despite diverse obstacles; and much more:

Freedom to Tuesday Round-Up

Memorial Day, courtesy of Instagram

After the holiday weekend, where many of you consumed a few too many of these and some of these, here are some of the news stories we've been following on internet rights and much more to welcome you back to the work week. 

Raising the Bar


Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to share the NDITech team's work in citizen technology, open data and open government, and internet freedom at MediaBarCamp in Vilnius, Lithuania. For those that may not be familiar with BarCamp, it is an international network of user-generated conferences (also known as "unconferences") that feature open, participatory workshop-events, the content of which is provided by participants. The beauty of this design is that attendees are able to help shape the discussions and mold the event structure to serve their needs. 

MediaBarCamp provides the opportunity to stimulate development of new media projects in Belarus, but also arrange coordination between existing projects in the region. This year, MediaBarCamp was able to bring together projects from around the world, including other closed societies, to help participants exchange information on how to successfully operate despite media restrictions and other challenges that impact freedom of expression and access to information.  READ MORE »

Internship Time!


It's that time of the year again: cherry blossoms are here, baseball season is right around the corner, the memories of winter are long gone, and NDI is looking to hire a summer intern! 

As some of our blog readers may know, I worked with NDI full-time last summer and continued to be with the team on a part-time basis since then, while also attending graduate school. But, as graduation approaches and I almost hit my one year mark with NDI, it is sadly time to move on. 

During my time here I've worked on a variety of projects: researching and writing ICT country profiles, learning about Drupal and how we can use it to effectively build partner websites, serving as a translator in a website training, reviewing contracts and performance plans for our regional programs, helping with internal communications, and learning about the administrative tasks that help the organization work smoothly - in short, its been a busy 10 months. 

Our team is a knowledgeable group that supports NDI's partner organizations in 70+ countries, and our job is to help organizations appropriately use technology to strengthen their democratic institutions and civil society, and to create open societies. Having a background in social activism, domestic policies, or international development is a good base and shows that you have interest in our area of work. 

Now, the logistics. We are looking for a 20 hour (1/2 time) commitment starting immediately through the end of August. Yes, it's paid (hurray!). To apply, go to NDI's employment openings and click through DC internships; the position is with the Information and Communications Technologies team.


Everything but the Monday Round-Up: Catch-All Edition

probably not the best choice for democracy. thanks to

May 21 is World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, a day created by the UN following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US. Check out the list of 10 things you can do to celebrate this day. Also on this day: The first Democratic National Convention was held in 1832 in Baltimore, Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross in 1881, and most importantly, "The Empire Strikes Back" was released in theatres in 1980.

The Monday Round-Up: ICT in Africa and the Silicon Savanna

The LION2 undersea cable, and others around Africa (

Africa is quickly becoming an I(C)T hub, with Kenya in particular in the news lately. For this week's roundup, we're focusing on technology in Africa, so check out the articles we've been reading and share your thoughts with us in the comments.

The Monday Round-Up: Think of Security as a Snuggie, not a Blanket

we suggest stronger security approaches than this

National Cyber Security Awareness Month is a good five months away, but now is always the right time to refresh basic security practices, especially for travelers and advocacy workers. We're always thinking about new ways to improve our security at NDI, so join the conversation: check out this week's security articles and resources and comment with your thoughts.

Mixing it Up: the Tuesday Round-up

Happy Labor Day.jpg

Happy Labor Day! Well, except if you live in the United States, you’ll have to wait until September to celebrate. With that, here is your Monday, err, Tuesday roundup.

Crowdsourcing is Hard Part III: Next Steps, or So Now What?

The Steps of Tai An Mountain, China. From Flickr courtesy of


Everything in your crowdsourcing project has worked beautifully. People had the right reasons to contribute, there was nothing holding them back, and now the citizen reports or contributions are pouring in.

Um, so now what?

Even initially successful crowdsourcing projects can fall down when the information comes in. There's two main areas to think about: what do you want to do with the reports, and what do you want to do with the reporters? Finally you're dealing with actual humans - what are the security implications of your project?

The Reports
Most people's response to your sincere citizen report is "who says?"

Did it happen as the person said? How do we know? "Veracity" is the relative truthiness of the information you have coming in. The good folks at Ushahidi have spent a lot of time thinking about this particular challenge, and their one-pager on the topic is excellent. READ MORE »

Podcast: Using Technology to Empower Citizens

The recent Nicaraguan election marked victory for incumbent President Daniel Ortega with 62% of the votes.  

In this inaugural podcast, the NDI ICT team explores how technology was used in this electoral process to empower citizens.   Through the Viva el Voto website, citizens were provided a space where they could denounce voting irregularities and learn about their rights as a voter.  The website worked to strengthen civil society, and provide citizens a space where they could voice their concerns.  Our podcast showcases the work of our Nicaraguan partner Etica y Transperancia who has worked in Nicaragua for decades to strengthen democratic institutions and increase transparency in Nicaraguan society.   

Enjoy the podcast! READ MORE »

streets > social platforms : the Monday Round-Up

a medieval democracy-seeker

Happy International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day! Today also happens to be Canada Book Day, which is less awesomely named but probably more exciting. After reading our Monday round-up, we strongly encourage you to celebrate with Canada and read a book, then share it with your friends.

A SOPA by any other name? the Monday Round-Up

spoken like a true freedom fighter
It's Emancipation Day in D.C., which, in addition to providing a few extra days to file your taxes, is a great opportunity to celebrate freedom. This week we're highlighting news related to Internet freedom and censorship, with a particular focus on a new House cybersecurity bill called CISPA. 

Re-Mixing and Story Telling: From the Classroom to the Field

Digital Storytelling
Last week, as my colleagues focused on Digital Security Awareness week, I traveled over to the west coast to attend the 2012 International Studies Association conference. This trip was a part of my graduate studies at Georgetown University (where I am pursing a Masters in Communication, Culture, and Technology), and while I was there I was reminded of the important relationship that exists between creating and editing stories and international development projects.

The panel I was a part of stemmed from a course (Technology, Culture, and Development) I took last semester.  As a part of the class, students are asked to create a Cultural Identity Narrative, which is a 6 minute video that remixes a novel and a film from the developing world.  The project allows students to create a story that explores a particular aspect of a culture, using the authors' and directors' words rather than their own.  The project teaches students to think about how they construct narratives and understand how they chose to edit existing stories to create their own. READ MORE »

China and the Internet's Turbulent Relationship: the Monday Round-Up

artist's rendition of China's Great Firewall

China has been all over tech news this week - Anonymous China, updates to the Great Firewall, and censorship are among the top stories. Check out our China-related news and others we're reading:

How XML Can Improve Transparency and Workflows for Legislatures

It's not as complicated as it looks, we promise

This is a guest post from Andrew Mandelbaum, NDI's Senior Program Officer on the Governance team in D.C. You can follow up with Andrew on Twitter.

Recently I attended the conference “Achieving Greater Transparency in Legislatures through the Use of Open Document Standards,” hosted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), United Nations (UN), and U.S. House of Representatives. Organized by the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament (a joint IPU-UN initiative), participants mostly consisted of ICT staff from 12 parliaments, as well as academics and representatives of international organizations. Significantly, the PMO community also had a couple of representatives in Daniel Schuman of the Sunlight Foundation and Doru Frantescu of Following the conference, Knowledge As Power, a Seattle-based NGO that works with government officials and citizens to facilitate online and offline engagement, hosted a legislative XML training at NDI featuring some of the creators of Akoma Ntoso, an open legislative document schema that could serve as an international standard for legislative documentation. READ MORE »

Social Media Works in Mysterious Ways: the Monday Round-Up

The power - and irony - of social media

Our team is making our staff aware (very aware) about digital security this week. Follow the hashtag #NDISecure to see what our staff is learning, and here are some of the other news stories that have caught our eye this week:

  • International fiber-optic cables have made the Internet more widely available to the African continent, especially in recent years. A report by Peter Lange reviews Internet development statistics in Africa, while The Economist has an informative infographic (and article) showing the state of democracy across Africa.
  • CIMA releases a new report detailing the role of digital media in the Arab world, one year after the revolutions.
  • A bill on "information-technology crimes" with broad wording and harsh punishments is due to come before Iraq's parliament in April. The bill could severely restrict basic freedoms and limit Internet use for Iraqi citizens.
  • Yoani Sanchez, a popular Cuban blogger, sees the Pope's upcoming visit as the perfect opportunity for the rest of the world to see the "real situation" in the island nation.

Training Training Day

A Particularly Gifted Teacher

One of the most common tropes in the world of development is the Training of Trainers, or ToT. Training is expensive; if you run the math it can seem terribly costly to give 12 people a grounding in, say, principles of party platform development. However, if instead it's Training of Trainers then hey presto! You're not just training 12 people; you're indirectly training perhaps 120, and they'll train 1200, and before you know it your aunt from Albuquerque will be eagerly calling you to share the basics of party platforms.

Suffice it to say that is easier said than done. Nonetheless, that's what I was attempting last week with a group of citizen journalists on the topic of digital security; here's a few thoughts.

Teaching is hard, as those of you who have done it before know. I've learned from the best and the worst (yes, I'm looking at you, Professor Goldfeather).  In my case, last week it was doubly challenging to keep everyone engaged: if your audience has built their career on social media they're not going to enjoy entirely unplugging for you.

Training trainers is a twofold challenge:

  1. They need to truly understand the skills.
  2. They need the ability to pass them on.

To achieve the first we spent half our time focused on the content and hard skills. In this case, the topic was tools and techniques to keep yourself safe online (thanks, Tactical Tech Security-in-a-Box!). READ MORE »

ICT and the Russian Elections: Does the Internet Matter? Highlights from Internews Panel

Navalny - prominent Russian activist

This week I attended a panel discussion hosted by Internews on the role of the Internet in the Russian elections. The first part of the panel discussed the positive impact of the Internet, while the second offered a more sobering perspective and questioned its potential for effecting real change. Panelists included Maria Gaidar, Gregory Asmolov, Maria Snegovaya, and Matt Rojansky. Some of the highlights:

  • The Internet has been a useful tool for political organizing, crowdsourcing, and engagement, particularly during recent Russian crises. During the 2010 wildfires, Gregory Asmolov co-founded Help Map, an online crowdsourcing platform used to connect people in need of shelter, food, or clothing. Alexei Navalny mobilized Russian activists via Facebook to protest the government and eventually had 30,000 people on the streets. After the protest is over, however, there is a lack of organization and a strong sense of “what's next?” Institutions can maintain the momentum, providing the next steps to effect long-term social and political change. Golos is one of those institutions, having had an active role in election monitoring since 2002, and NDItech has developed more than a few crowdsourcing projects of our own.


Everyone's on Twitter But You: the Monday Round-Up

"Iranians: We <3 You" Israeli meme

Twitter keeps cropping up in the news we're following this week, but not just as an extended birthday celebration. Check out the stories we're reading:

Good News for Nowruz: Say Salam to Skype!

Google's On-Screen Keyboard in Farsi

This is a special Nowruz to anyone working on tech-focused programs for Iran: the Office of Foreign Assets Control under the U.S. Treasury Department has just released new guidelines on communication and other web-based technologies that can be used in Iran. Earlier this week, the White House illustrated that these services are of critical importance to Iranians, in order to keep them connected with their peers outside Iran, specifically stating, "We encourage American companies to make their software and communications tools available to the people of Iran to help bring greater access to the world’s knowledge and information, and to empower Iranians with the tools to make their voices heard".

Technologies that can now be used without requiring prior approval or a waiver include:

  • Personal Communications (e.g., Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk, Microsoft Live, Skype (non-fee based))
  • Updates to Personal Communications Software Personal Data Storage (e.g., Dropbox)
  • Browsers/Updates (e.g., Google Chrome, Firefox, Intemet Explorer)
  • Plug-ins (e.g., Flashplayer, Shockwave, Java) Document Readers (e.g., Acrobat Readers)
  • Free Mobile Apps Related to Personal Communications
  • RSS Feed Readers and Aggregators (e.g., Google Feed Burner).

Now Hiring: Program Officer


NDItech is hiring an Information and Communication Technologies Program Officer. Are you an experienced veteran of technology in politics or development? Join us!

This is a senior position on our team tasked with juggling the strategy and implementation of appropriate technology on multiple NDI democracy programs. In one day you may be advising DC's regional experts on how to add language for IVR systems in a grant proposal, joining a Skype call with developers in Lagos building an elections app, and playing with the newest release of FrontlineSMS to see how it can help partners achieve their communications goals.

We also get time to think, write and discuss this exciting and evolving field with colleagues in DC and around the world. For the right candidate, the position also includes travel to the field for assessments on appropriate tech strategy or helping with boots-on-the-ground implementation. READ MORE »

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