The impact of the digital divide (or at least the bandwidth imbalance) is most pronounced when it comes to online video. In regions where lightening-fast internet connections are taken for granted, such as North America, Western Europe, and East Asia, it has become a common occurrence to observe teenagers watching YouTube videos on their iPhones or Korean businesswomen watching the nightly newscast on their mobile phones. Even those who have yet to transform their mobile phones into television sets, still regularly catch up on the latest and most popular YouTube videos. In fact, much of the world has already moved away from YouTube and toward more localized video-sharing sites such as China’s 6rooms.com, Turkey’s Izleriz.com, and Jordan’s Ikbis.com.
But have you ever tried watching an online video from a crowded cybercafe in Kampala, Uganda? If so, I applaud your patience. Even more difficult (and more expensive) is to upload video from a computer based in rural Africa or Latin America to a video-sharing website. Rising Voices project leader Dennis Kimambo once described to me the extreme frustration of having paid for over an hour of cybercafe time in Nakuru, Kenya only for the connection to fail just as the five-minute video had almost uploaded.
But, difficulties aside, let’s not discount the immense power of film to both evoke emotion and affect change. If you need proof, just look at the trailer for Pangea Day. For anyone old enough to remember the montage of clips, it is sure to put a lump in your throat.
Pangea Day, which will take place on May 10 in hundreds of cities all over the world, grew out of the wish of 2006 TED-prize winner Jehane Noujaim:
But can film really unite us? Can it evoke empathy for people we’ve never met and likely never will? And even if powerful film does inspire empathy, will that lead to real change?
Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee and Hannah Merriman, co-founders of the Global Oneness Project believe that it can. According to their website, the Global Oneness Project “was created to discover and document the diverse ways in which the emerging consciousness of oneness is impacting people’s lives. We are traveling worldwide with a small camera crew, asking people from a variety of disciplines whose work is grounded in a perspective of oneness for their stories and insights.”
All of their videos are freely available online and most have been translated into multiple languages. If the Pangea Day trailer brought tears to your eyes for all the suffering our planet has endured, those featured in the trailer for the Global Oneness Project should inspire hope and optimism:
Beyond inspiring empathy and documenting our global connectedness, others are also trying to embrace the potential of online video to protect and promote human rights. The Hub is a project of WITNESS which aims to collect self-published video related to human rights and human rights abuses. One successful example has been a campaign by Egyptian bloggers to expose police brutality. The Hub offers further context to each video, including links to related resources and actions we can all take to help put an end to police brutality in Egypt.
Many YouTube videos are merely clips from traditional television that have been digitized and uploaded to the internet. While the comments section under each video allows for more viewer participation than traditional TV, it still doesn’t put the power of production into the hands of everyday users like you and me. Current takes a different approach. On the one hand it is a traditional TV channel broadcast around the world on cable and satellite TV networks, but it is also an active community of citizen journalists and amateur videographers who submit videos from Nigeria, Madagascar, and beyond. The best of those videos then make their way onto the cable and satellite channel which is broadcast to over 50 million viewers.
Just like text, photography, and audio, it is undeniable that the web has enabled amateur video-makers to distribute their works wider and more economically than ever before. However, glancing through all of the websites mentioned above, we also discover that, once again, the producers of this content are overwhelmingly based in upper-middle-class neighborhoods in urban centers throughout the developed world. What about the perspectives of under-represented communities that frequently don’t have access to the necessary equipment and bandwidth speeds required for online video production?
Swajana, a collaborative effort between videobloggers in India and the U.S., Alive in Mexico, and Alive in Baghdad are notable exceptions. The outreach projects supported by Rising Voices microgrants are also starting to produce some compelling video content. In November Ms. Taslima Akter of the Nari Jibon center led a video-blogger training for young Bangladeshi women who just last year were rarely seen contributing online.
Since then, the Nari Jibon participants have produced a growing collection of video documentaries which reveal a side of Dhaka most of us are unfamiliar with.
Similarly, both HiperBarrio and Voces Bolivianas are adding more and more videos to their impressive portfolios of online media. Looking ahead to the rest of 2008, it just might be the year of video for Rising Voicesnas five new projects join our current community of outreach activists. Four of the five new grantees specifically mention video training as a way to convey the realities of their communities with the wider world. Of special note is Iran Inside Out: A Videoblogging Initiative, which will partner with the Tehran-based Young Cinema Society to identify aspiring young filmmakers and teach them the skills to both produce compelling short videos and publish them online. For a sample of some of what is to come, check out this clip on Valentine’s Day in Iran by project leader Shaghayegh Azimi.
You too can become an online video producer for less than US$ 130. On the Rising Voices wiki we have guides on how to video blog from countries with low bandwidth speeds, how to compress your video files to make them smaller, how to include video on your blog, and how to translate and subtitle your videos using dotSUB. Make sure to also check out the excellent resources, tutorials, and guides at Freevlog and Make Internet TV.
If 2008 is your year to become a videoblogger, why not consider joining Semanal, a community of videobloggers from around the world who are trying to produce one video every week; that is, 52 videos during 2008. Make sure to submit one of those 52 videos to Pangea Day and we’ll see if online video really can make the world a better place.