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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 August 2005, 07:55 GMT 08:55 UK
Citizens do media for themselves
By Jo Twist
BBC News technology reporter

Image of a man at home with a laptop
Blogs, podcasts, and vlogging mean people have instant conversations
The Asian tsunami and the London terror attacks marked a turning point for the reporting of events.

The traditional relationship of professional media publisher farming out content to consume has been digitally eroded since the net started.

But these events underlined the value of "citizen media", as people chronicled their versions of events through images and video taken on mobiles or eyewitness accounts on blogs.

The internet is giving people a voice, a chance to self-publish, and the ability to rapidly share what they say in ways never quite possible before.

"There is a big transition happening between traditional, top down media and bubble-up, grassroots, emerging media," says JD Lasica, co-founder of Ourmedia.org, a finalist in the e-inclusion category of the UN's World Summit Awards.

"We want to help that bottom part emerge and flourish. Technology is easier to use and cheap enough to put into the hands of almost anybody with a modest budget."

Part of the reason is the emergence of easy-to-use, multimedia tools for self-publishing, such as blogs or podcasts.

'Breathtakingly creative'

JD Lasica's Ourmedia is a place online where anyone can publish their own digital home movie, music, photos, or even plain old blog for free.

The "free" bit comes courtesy of support from The Internet Archive project. Its mission has been to document and keep a slice of digital life of how the web has evolved over the last decade.

It shows that creativity and entertainment does not have to come from Hollywood and big media, but that we all have this innate talent to tell stories and to entertain each other
JD Lasica, Ourmedia

It's a godsend for people who cannot afford spiralling bandwidth costs. JD hopes to take advantage of peer-to-peer file-sharing distribution in the future.

Since its inception in March 2005, not-for-profit Ourmedia has attracted more than 31,000 international members, and now plays host to 22,000 separate pieces of media, from travelogs to tastes of family life.

More than half is video, with video blogs - or vlogs - proving highly popular. Some of it is of "breathtakingly creative", says JD.

It encourages people to upload and publish the content using Creative Commons licences, which means they can decide the terms of use for their material. It also encourages a "remix culture".

"Right now our lead video is blind banjo player in Tibet someone had filmed. This is what we were hoping for; to bring us all into one media village.

"It shows that creativity and entertainment does not have to come from Hollywood and big media, but that we all have this innate talent to tell stories and to entertain each other," says JD.

'Inexpensive tools'

The content is policed by 40 volunteers from 10 countries, and the rules are no porn and no copyrighted material.

The team have removed some copyrighted material, but there have only been three attempts so far to publish obscene material.

"The web has evolved from place where people go to do research into a social space now and people understand what the ramifications are of that," argues JD.

Screenshot of Ourmedia
Ourmedia members are encouraged to be creative
"It is not just a hang out for geeks and weirdos, so they feel comfortable now. More of our lives are moving online. Younger people are born and breathe the net."

People have with them "marvellous inexpensive tools" to hand, says JD. Broadband too has helped. Faster speeds and increased reach means that people can do more, see more, and spend the time to experiment more online.

"We are comfortable with idea of creating works and letting strangers see them. We like showing off so our media is great place for displaying talents. We like having conversations about things that matter," says JD.

But Ourmedia and similar sites are not going to put traditional broadcasters out of business, says JD.

Nor should this type of citizen led publishing be seen as any kind of threat. Instead, it is a chance to look "under the hood" and see what people want and like to do with their own pieces of media work, and to understand that people do it for different reasons.

"Most people who do it are not doing it to attract mass audience," says JD, "they are doing it for themselves or family. So there is this phenomenon of niche media.

"Traditional media needs to transform and evolve and open the doors so they are not lecturing us, but having conversation with us," says JD.


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