Thursday, 30 August 2012

PifWorld Enabling The Crowd to Change the World Their Way

In the digital age crowdsourcing has proven to invaluable in helping local communities as well as the developing world. Crowdfunidng, microfinance, design crowdsourcing, open innovation, and microvolunteering have all helped the global community overcome an assortment of obstacles. The latest platform looking to rally the crowd for an altruistic call to action is PIFWORLD which describes itself as "a tool to change the world - your way". Whether it be volunteering time and resources, or donating to an assortment of projects, PIFWORLD is the newest one stop crowdsourcing centre designed to help make the world better through the power of the crowd. 

PIFWORLD prides itself as a rally for mass activism and a gateway to democratising of altruistic projects through the power of the crowd. For more insight about PIFWORLD click here to read Crowdsourcing the gateway to netizenship by Mesfin AAragaw.

The platform is open to anyone who wants to get involved either as individuals or as part of various teams, and can donate time and/or money in a variety of ways. These include;
  • Crowdfunding/Microfinance; PIFWORLD supports a number of projects across the globe whether it be building a well for access to clean water, seeking alternative green energy sources, tackling HIV and AIDS, and rebuilding family homes. Each project has a funding target and can be supported either by a one of  donation or through fund raising activities.
  • Fund raising; Many charities enjoy the support of PIFWORLD teams and individuals including the world renowned human rights watchdog Amnesty International. Interested parties can great a "just giving" style fund raising page to help raise vital funds for the charity (or project) of their choice. 
  • Volunteers; The message of PIFWORLD to the crowd is simple; change the world your way and those who wish to volunteer their time and resources can do so in a number of ways. Many projects and initiatives need people who can spare the time to help with various jobs, and those who are able can search through PIFWORLD. Opportunities also exist for field workers to provide regular updates to supporters on ongoing initiatives as well as bloggers and reporters to provide news stories. Bloggers in particular are invited to take part in a major crowdsourcing initiative to create a database of rare species as well as rare and unique habitats around the world. 
So whether it is donating time, money, or skills, PIFWORLD provides the crowd with a plethora of opportunities to get involved. Visit the PIFWORLD site here to find out how you can join an increasing crowd of netizens and change the world your way.

Image Credit; James Cridland

Thursday, 9 August 2012

How Long Have You Been a Writer?

When I tell people I am a writer (at least part time anyway) the statement is then followed by the question "oh how long have you been doing that then?" I always stumble at this point because my writing ambitions and activities have been very much start and stop, akin to the sort of love affair described on Facebook as "it's complicated". That is not necessarily the reason why I stumble however as I could easily respond with "oh only a couple of years" referencing my on-line work. Like I said though, it is very complicated.

Image Credit; Horia Varian via flickr

A Child's Gift of Language

Although I was born in Bristol, much of my early childhood was spent living in Iran, before the revolution of 1979. My mother will tell you that during those years I had a great affinity for language. I would read lots of poetry and even stand up in class to do readings for which I used to get top marks. I do remember being able to read, write and speak in at least two languages fluently (Farsi and English) and was well underway to learning a third (Assyrian). When we moved to the UK I wasn't quite the erstwhile student I was in Iran, most likely due to the raging hormones and an unjustifiable need to act out brought on by the terrible teens. Yet I still loved to read & write with some of my best grades coming from my English classes where I would produce essays and short stories to great acclaim from my teachers. 

Rise of the Writer's Dream

This interest in writing followed me to college where in between wanting to be an Olympic boxer and a computer programmer, I continued to develop my craft. That's when I truly fell in love with writing and decided I wanted to be a write/reporter. My college years studying English, Law, Sociology and working to gain my City & Guilds in Print and Radio Journalism gave me some much needed experience in writing for print and radio. My broadcasting ventures were nerve wrecking to say the least and whilst highly enjoyable at times convinced me that sitting behind a typewriter was more preferable than a microphone. I wrote and covered a diverse range of subjects from local events to the Poll Tax riots, and was fortunate to interview a number of celebrities and politicians. 

My formative years at University during the early 90's gave me my first taste of early social media (VAX) as well as working for an on-line publication Axe Magazine.  Post graduation the opportunities were few and far between although I was able to write a few news items for a local weekly free newspaper. I'd hoped for more exposure and experience but I was balancing this with a part time job and a full time office job, both very demanding. I decided to retire my writing ambitions after moving into our house, choosing to focus on alternative career options that will also pay the bills.

Image Credit; Mama Musings via flickr

The Writer Reborn

I guess my ambition to get back into writing was re-energised at the start of 2007. At first it was going to be a hobby focusing on fictional short story writing, and submitting the occasional tale to a few competitions. It took me a few months to get back into the flow with idea after idea discarded into the recycling bin. During a period of 18 months I submitted two stories both of which never even made it into the final stages. Nothing emerged after those two and everything from assorted tales to a couple of book projects remained in development hell. I was about to throw in the towel again when a chance reunion with an old friend inspired me to set up my first blog, View From The Gallery.

The blog proved to be a useful experiment and helped me get into the habit of writing regularly as well as writing for the web. Believe it or not there are significant differences between web content writing and producing something for print publication. However  I wanted to publish to wider audience and even try to earn some extra pennies in the process. After much reading and research into various sites I settled on Suite 101. I was dubious at first until I glanced at the application process which involved submitting two pieces of written work. This was to weed out content writers looking to make a fast buck. Each article was subject to a rigorous editing process and I had on more than one  occasion fallen victim to the dreaded editors' "red pen". In terms of pennies I didn't earn much and to this day it is literally pennies. However it gave me that most important thing lacking in my arsenal; a portfolio of work covering a diverse range topics as well as exposure to a wide audience. 

Although the money wasn't quite rolling in by the truck load  the hits certainly were more than compensating with some articles averaging around 2000 unique visits per month each. Between my blog and Suite 101 articles I had built up enough of an impressive portfolio to win a bid to work as a news writer for The Daily Crowdsource. Yes this was a paid position  but not enough to warrant handing in my notice at work. The experience and knowledge I gained however made the role worthwhile. I wrote short news items, feature articles and even took on editing duties. The time soon came however to put my writing destiny back into my own hands, so we parted ways and I set up the Crowdsourcing Gazette.

If my experience with Suite 101, the blog and Daily Crowdsource helped build the foundations for my writing journey, the Gazette certainly put their strength to the test. Since it was launched over a year ago I have made some amazing contacts and built up quite a following and covered some interesting topics. My goal with the Gazette is ultimately for it to grow into something much bigger, although I am uncertain as to what that will entail. For now I continue to post when I can (daily is ideal) along with this writer's blog, story writing, the Gallery as well as write for Suite 101. all whilst trying to survive my  less than satisfactory day job (as jobs go it could be worse) which ultimately pays the bills. Someday I will earn a decent living doing what I love if I don't go mad in the process.   

So now when I am asked "how long have you been a writer" I might simply point them to this post. Yet in summing up my writing experience and ambitions (and it is a very brief summary) I now have a better understanding of I how would truly answer that question; how long have I been a writer? Most of my life really.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Crowdsourcing Call for a Dystopian Short Film

The innovative aspect of crowdsourcing in film making is being put to the test by a group of British film students for a futuristic drama. The film, 2050 is the brainchild of Brighton-based student Ricarda Saleh and tells the story of a captured member of an underground resistance movement by an oppressive government. The story will not only unfold on the screen but feature scenes and back stories through a variety of social media platforms including Twitter, YouTube, Pinerest and Instagram. Ricarda and her team have invited the crowd to participate and help make the movie by voting and suggesting aspects to be featured in the finished project. 

Written, produced and directed by Ricarda Saleh, 2050 is the story of Xia (played by Ricarda), a member of an underground resistance movement who is captured by a agents of a brutal government regime. She is interrogated and tortured for information about her fellow resistance members and contacts but Xia refuses to co-operate. Their methods clearly having failed thus far, Xia's torturers inform her that she has until midnight to co-operate or be prepared to suffer an even worse fate. As she is left to make her decision Xia suddenly finds herself reflecting on her past, happy memories of friendship, beauty and tranquillity. The deadline looms ever closer and soon Xia will have to make a decision.

Although crowdfunding has played an integral role in helping independent films see the light of the cinema screen, renowned projects such as The Age of Stupid in 2009 starring the late British actor Pete Postlethwaite, very few have actually called on the crowd to collaborate with the film makers to influence content. The exceptions have been the Ridley Scott produced Life in a Day (and the follow up production Britain in a Day) as well as the Vimeo sponsored Star Wars Uncut. Ricarda's production 2050 draws inspiration from such productions to involve the crowd in determining various aspects of the finished film. To date the crowd have helped chose costumes to be used and even helped decide on names for the principle characters. 
2050 is part of a new generation of film making: user generated cinema. Crowdsourcing is going to revolutionise the film industry. Audiences want to get involved in the film making process. We decided to crowdsource our short film and create a cross media story to experiment with these new storytelling techniques - Ricarda Saleh, Writer, Director, Producer 2050
The latest call is to provide what promises to be the most chilling and pivotal moment in the film. During Xia' s incarceration as the deadline is about to expire, a voice from nowhere suddenly announces her time is about to run out and that in order to avoid the terrible fate that awaits her Xia must co-operate. The crowd is invited to submit a voice recording of the announcement (see video below for instructions). The voice should be synthesised and/or enhanced to give it a futuristic and eerie sound, indicative of a tyrannical and brutal regime of a futuristic dystopian world. The recording should then be uploaded using SoundCloud. However just as Xia has only a limited time to save herself so does the crowd to participate as recordings should be submitted within three days. For more information about the project, including cast & crew as well as further updates visit and like 2050's Facebook page.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Crowdopolis 2012: The World is Not Enough

The Daily Crowdsource's much anticipated crowdsourcing event, Crowdopolis was held on 19th July 2012 in Los Angeles. It was aimed at companies looking to learn more about crowdsourcing and how to incorporate it into their daily operations. The event featured break out sessions looking at practical uses and guides as well as networking opportunities, and guest speakers from various companies and crowdsourcing service providers. The Gazette is honoured to feature the insights and observations on this event by guest blogger Ville Miettinen,co-founder  and CEO of Microtask.

Until recently, no one would have thought to turn to James Bond for lessons on the future of industrialised society or how to cure cancer. 007 is a talented fellow, but not someone we would have associated with forecasting economic transitions or the science of cancer. (Q and his team of R&D experts on the other hand…) That all changed at Crowdopolis, 2012. Presentations by Lisa Kennedy, James Rubinstein and Professor David Alan Grier revealed that when it comes to crowdsourcing, even absurd movie stars have insights that can help solve the world’s problems. (Confirming once again the ideas expressed in Team America: World Police.)

As you might have guessed by now, Crowdopolis this year was a fascinating event, with an impressive line-up from the crowdsourcing industry and associated experts. In total 16 different speakers gave presentations, focused on lessons learnt from their experiences with crowdsourcing projects. I was delighted to be amongst them.

Lessons learnt using moles to crowdsource 4 million tasks

If you have ever had anything to do with moles, you will know that they are not very good at reading old newspapers. In fact, with their terrible eyesight and poor attention to detail, moles are the last animal you should ask to help digitise hard-to-read newspaper text. Yet, as I discussed at Crowdopolis, moles – or at least video games involving them – were extremely good at encouraging volunteers to donate their time to help the National Library of Finland digitise its old newspapers. The project, called Digitalkoot, has so far involved over 100,000 volunteers, demonstrated the power of crowdsourcing when combined with gamification, and proved that you can never have too many buzzwords in one sentence.

Innovation and enterprise

From the people I spoke to and the talks I attended, I think the prevailing theme this year was the potential crowdsourcing has for innovation and larger enterprises. Sharon Chiarella from Amazon and Kirsten Kuehl from Nokia both focused on this, and gave some real insights into how big business can benefit from the crowd’s creativity. As I mentioned during my presentation, in the future I believe we will increasingly see larger corporations making use of the crowd for jobs that can be broken down into microtasks and completed online.

Judging by the buzz during the event, I think everyone enjoyed themselves as much as I did, and came away with new ideas about the future of our fledgling industry. One thing was certain: If you are involved in the crowdsourcing industry Crowdopolis 2013 should be on your calendar.

Ville Miettinen is a serial entrepreneur and computer programmer from Finland, and is the co-founder and CEO of Microtask, a platform that incorporates crowdsourcing as a means of carrying out various tasks online. Since it was founded in 2009 it has grown into one of the leading providers of on-line crowdsourced labour with offices in Helsinki and Tampere, as well as San Francisco. Ville also offers his thoughts and knowledge on crowdsourcing as one of the Crowd Leaders for The Daily Crowdsource

Image Credit; The Daily Crowdsource - All Rights Reserved

Monday, 6 August 2012

Bigger and Badder; A Crowdfunding Success Story

The advent of crowdfunding has offered a financial lifeline to many industries during this turbulent economic crisis. In particular, at a time when the major Hollywood studios are geared towards mainly remakes and sequels, independent film making has also received a helping hand from crowdfunding. Thanks to a successful campaign, the creative force behind British horror film Bigger and Badder are close to seeing their dream project become a reality. 

Bigger and Badder (previously featured on the Gazette) is the brainchild of writer and director Richard Wantuch. The film tells the story of Pete, a package boy under the employ of the nefarious Trevor Deacon. When his first delivery goes disastrously array Pete has to answer to his boss and soon learns that there is more to him than meets the eye. Pete must convince his boss as to the events of that night or learn just how big and bad Trevor can be. The film is essentially billed as Brighton Rock meets The Howling blending the best of British gangster movies with a good dash of Gothic horror. 

When producers Paul Banner and Laura Carter joined the project it was already in the early stages of development. The crew were made up largely of freelancers and volunteers happily working for free. However there was the still the issue regarding the costs of the special effects and make up. Richard Wantuch proposed the idea of using crowdfunding to help with those costs to the producers who readily agreed. After extensive research into the various platforms available, Exeter based Crowdfunder was chosen. Paul Banner explains;
We felt Crowdfunder was the right platform to raise our required funds. Although seemingly lower key than Kickstarter, IndieGoGo etc. its ease of use and user support made it the logical choice.
The campaign was launched on Crowdfunder at the beginning of December with the goal of raising £500 within thirty days. Rewards that were offered in exchange for a donation included copies of the film (DVD & Blu-Ray), limited edition merchandise, acknowledgement in the credits, and credit as an Associate Producer credit. For a one off donation of £250 as well as the rewards, a one off original cast of "Wilbur" the film's lynconthropic star was offered. After a tireless promotion drive via the Crowdfunder platform it proved a successful campaign with £525 raised in total, more than sufficient to meet the costs. 
I was confident we had a product people would want to invest in, we had the resources and the contacts in place to keep our investors rewards from breaking the bank and most importantly I felt that if we worked hard enough on our profile, pitch and promotion we could raise the funds to bring the film to life. 
The sum raised might seem meagre even for a short film however the project is very much a labour of love for Wantuch and his crew of volunteers. Producer Paul Banner brought his experience of working on projects with virtually a zero budget to the fold keeping location costs at bay taking advantage of some of Birmingham's more grimy areas. The city itself is awash with talented individuals who were willing to volunteer their skills for the experience of working on a filming project. In addition to skills, props and equipment were loaned and donated. Keeping the project within its tight budget was vital for the team as a sign of respect to the crowdfunders and it was felt that to seek further funding would undermine that respect. 

Whilst other projects are either still in search of further funds due to unexpected costs or were unsuccessful, it seems like the team behind Bigger and Badder were able to keep within the parameters of their pitch. For the team crowdfunding proved to be an invaluable experience and has done more than just provide key finances to make the project possible.
It democratises the whole process with the added bonus of creating an audience before you've even rolled the cameras.
Bigger and Badder is currently in the final stages of post production. Once the film is finished and screened before the cast and crew, priority will be given to distributing the rewards to the donors. The aim is to then arrange for screenings at various film festivals whether they be international events or based in the UK. There are also plans to find a suitable platform for on line distribution and exhibition.  

Acknowledgements; Thanks to producer Paul Banner for his help and insight.

Image Credits; Plaural Films All Rights Reserved