The Forced Migration Online Blog reported today that the BBC Radio World Service, as part of its Instant Guide series, has made a podcast available on the refugee situation. A number of experts are interviewed, including the director of the Refugee Studies Centre (RSC). You can listen to the podcast via the FMO Blog, or download it from the BBC.
22 December 2008
12 December 2008
ReliefWeb has offered RSS feeds for some time, but their list keeps growing. They've added a feed for their "Policies & Issues" library, which is very helpful for tracking research reports. And they now also offer the chance to create feeds based on search results. Follow the instructions provided on their feed page, and find out what else you can subscribe to.
11 December 2008
This is my 23rd and final post! I enjoyed participating in this program. It introduced me to several new tools and services, and it encouraged me to re-visit some familiar ones. I'm glad I could document my experiences on my Researching Refugees blog, since I had set it up specifically to "track web technologies that can help refugee researchers keep up to date with new information in their field." So hopefully, these posts will inspire readers to experiment themselves.
Particular accomplishments: I was able to investigate more fully the extent to which forced migration and humanitarian organizations have implemented Web 2.0 technologies on their web sites. I created a "newbooks" RSS feed in del.icio.us for my other blog. And I created a Yahoo! Pipes mashup that I hope to display in my other blog as well, once I tweak it a bit more. All in all, a very productive use of time! Thanks to SLA for offering it!
In general, I would say that most organizations within the forced migration community still have only a limited awareness of or familiarity with Web 2.0 technologies. But adoption of these technologies is definitely happening, slowly but surely. Witness the posts that I have written for the 23 Things program. Many of them provide examples of how various forced migration and humanitarian organizations are using blogs, RSS, Flickr, YouTube, social bookmarking, etc. to get their messages across and further their reach.
What is unclear is what impact these developments have had on their fundamental missions. To what extent does Web 2.0 help raise awareness and funds, increase advocacy efforts, influence policy, and ultimately effect positive change in the lives of the people these organizations are mandated to assist and protect? It would be interesting to know whether this relationship has been investigated or not by the individual organizations who have adopted Web 2.0.
On a related note, this series of posts on humanitarian.info delves into the question of technology innovation within the humanitarian context.
NetLibrary is a service that provides access to electronic content in the form of digital books, e-journals and audiobooks. I determined that my public library has a subscription to NetLibrary, and I was able to log in from home. Unfortunately, when I began exploring, I discovered that in fact, my library only has access to digital books and not the other types of content. From a refugee & forced migration standpoint, I didn't find the ebook collection terribly up-to-date. I did take a look at "Human Rights: A Reference Handbook." (Interestingly, there is another book in the same Contemporary World Issues series that focuses on refugees but it's not included in this collection.) It was the 1998 edition, but I know that there is a revised 2006 edition that's been published.
As it happens, the local library also offers a separate digital catalog of audiobooks, ebooks and video. No hits here for "refugees," though, so I browsed the various subject categories instead. An easy site to navigate and certainly useful if you want to listen to a good mystery or if you aren't able to get your hands on the latest sci fi title!
10 December 2008
Podcasts are a digital means of distributing audiovisual resources. Wikipedia lists some examples of the ways that podcasts are used, including "rebroadcast of traditional radio and television content, distribution of school lessons, official and unofficial audio tours of museums, conference meeting alerts and updates," among others.
Specific examples from the forced migration sphere include:
- Educational lectures; e.g., Public Lecture Series
- Event sharing; e.g., Forced Migration Online and U.S. Institute of Peace
- News and information-sharing; e.g., IRIN News and UNICEF
- Raising awareness and campaign support; e.g., Refugee Council
- Reflections from aid workers in the field; e.g., International Rescue Committee and Doctors without Borders
There are a number of audio search engines that can help you locate additional podcasts. I tried several, searching specifically on 'harrell bond lecture' to see if FMO's podcasts of the annual Barbara Harrell-Bond lecture series at the Refugee Studies Centre would be located. I was a bit disappointed with the results. The three SEs (Odeo, Mevio and podOmatic) listed on the 23 Things wiki returned zero hits. PodcastDirectory.com had a listing for it, as well as other refugee- and forced migration-related podcasts, so it delivered the best results although its structure and presentation are a bit challenging! This is definitely an area to keep testing.
YouTube is the principal video sharing site. It is fairly widely used by a number of forced migration organizations for promoting awareness, fundraising and advocacy purposes. Examples include:
Doctors without Borders
Forced Migration Online
Italian Council for Refugees
UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children
There is also a Forced Migration Group on YouTube.
09 December 2008
This exercise involved selecting a site from the Web 2.0 Awards and experimenting with it. I selected Dabble DB, which allows you to create online databases. You can sign up to try it for free for 30 days; after that, you can choose to upgrade to a paid plan or a free Commons plan. I was curious to see how an online database application would compare to a wiki. Dabble DB is not quite as intuitive as PBWiki. However, I did manage to create some fields and enter data into them! Based on my limited time with it, Dabble DB appears to be particularly well-suited for more administrative and management processes. (One example provided of a user is Pacific Northwest College of Art Library, who uses the system for managing book orders.) Because it's less geared to document management, though, it would not have been a suitable candidate for my purposes, i.e., organizing and displaying bibliographic descriptions. For more information on using databases for NGO-specific needs, visit TechSoup's Learning Center.
There are a number of free tools available online that are designed to help boost your productivity. This site provides a Top 10 listing of some of them, and this blog "features tips, shortcuts, and downloads that help you get things done smarter and more efficiently."
I played around with Google Docs and Spreadsheets. You can create text documents or spreadsheets and save them online, making them accessible from any computer. You can also invite other people to access individual documents/spreadsheets, so that they can edit or add to them directly. This is useful for project planning purposes.
With Google Docs, I particularly liked the fact that you can download your document as a PDF file.
I have written previously about wikis and their use in the forced migration field. I have also used the wiki format to "publish" a research guide (see Researching Forced Migration). Wikis represent an easy way to set up a database online. Personally, I have limited technical knowledge, but using pbwiki.com, I was able to create over 450 pages of narrative text and bibliographic descriptions, and inter-link them in such a way that - hopefully - makes my research guide easy and intuitive to use. I can also regularly update the guide, as well as quickly make corrections to URLs and other bibliographic details.
I did add a page to SLA's Wiki Sandbox, to see what other applications are like.
08 December 2008
The purpose of this exercise was to try out LibraryThing, an online service that is designed to let members easily catalog their personal book collections. Small libraries can also use it to catalog their collections. I cataloged five items: Two were books whose bibliographic details were automatically retrieved through Amazon (you can also choose to have them retrieved through the Library of Congress); two were grey literature titles, so I entered the bibliographic details manually; and one was a chapter in a book, so I entered its details manually too. While LibraryThing's main template is book-oriented, you can still enter other types of documents, like book chapters and journal articles. For these, the only consideration is that the onus is on you to enter the details consistently, since the system will display them as entered.
Clicking on "Your Library" displays all the items you've entered alphabetically by title. There are several different display options available. And all your entries are searchable, or you can browse by tags.
This would certainly be a useful tool for small information centers who lack an online catalog. It just requires time to enter the bibliographic details.
05 December 2008
There are a number of tools available that allow you to build your own customized search engine. I posted about this earlier. I also built my own search engine using Google's Custom Search. It just searches refugee and forced migration blogs. You can also check out Humanitarian Drive (searches humanitarian web sites) and Forced Migration Search (searches refugee and forced migration web sites).
04 December 2008
AlertNet Interactive Map [access]
- Mapping tool that combines Microsoft's Virtual Earth with country-specific headlines. Recognized by Windows Live for its innovative use of their services.
UNHCR and Google Earth [info]
- "... new mapping programme takes you on a virtual reality tour with the UN refugee agency of some of the world's major displacement crises and the humanitarian efforts aimed at helping the victims." You need to download Google Earth to be able to view these files.
Ushaidi (original version) [access]
- A map-based tool for reporting post-election violence and displacement in Kenya. Won a TED award for
World is Witness [access]
- A U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum initiative that "together data, photographs, video, and eyewitness testimony in Google Earth to help inform citizens, governments, and institutions about current and potential genocides and related crimes against humanity, and to respond." Move around on the map for the Demo. Republic of Congo and read reports of violence.
I noticed that the Free Movement blog uses Yahoo! Pipes to create news and research feeds that are displayed on the site. Since one of the 23 Things units focuses on mashups, I decided to experiment with Yahoo! Pipes as my challenge. I found a guide with (somewhat dated) step-by-step instructions. I elected to use RSS feeds from six different forced migration research institutes for the exercise. Here is the result (you can also see my avatar!). The process is pretty straightforward, although this is probably less true if you want to play around with other types of sources besides RSS feeds.
03 December 2008
Avatars are online images you create of yourself. I used Yahoo! Avatars to come up with mine. Very easy, lots of choice in terms of hair/eye/skin color, appearance, apparel, background, and so forth.
I didn't end up taking the Second Life plunge! However, I did come across an interesting story about Camp Darfur, an awareness-raising campaign to stop the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. Apparently, a virtual version of Camp Darfur was set up in Second Life in the spring of 2006. (See photos.) But soon thereafter, the entire camp was destroyed by online vandals. Fortunately, some virtual good samaritans called the Green Lanterns decided to take on the task of guarding the re-built camp from future attacks. (Read a story about it, and view a re-telling of the events in comic form.)
A number of other virtual opportunities exist to experience humanitarian challenges, such as famine, disasters, and flight from conflict. This blog post catalogues 10 of them. Still others are provided by the IFRC and UNHCR.
02 December 2008
One service I offer on my other blog, Forced Migration Current Awareness, is announcements about "New Books" on refugees, forced migration, internal displacement, and the humanitarian sector. In the past I have created custom RSS feeds using the Amazon Feed Generator. Basically, this allows you to enter keywords, generate a feed, then receive updates when new books with those matching keywords are added to Amazon's database. For various reasons, though, this has not been an optimal solution.
After being introduced to del.icio.us through SLA's 23 Things program, I thought of a way to supplement my new books service. Basically, whenever I come across notices of new book titles, I bookmark those pages in del.icio.us and tag them as "newbooks." del.icio.us automatically generates RSS feeds for all tags, so I've subscribed to the newbooks feed, and when updates appear in my Google newsreader, I "share" them so that they appear in my "New Books" feature in the sidebar of my blog. This ensures that anything missed in my Amazon feed can still be picked up and highlighted.
In blog posts past, I've highlighted many of the different RSS feeds that are now available from forced migration and humanitarian web sites. I thought it might be useful to provide an index of sorts to those previous listings here:
01 December 2008
I introduced RSS when I first set up this blog, so rather than re-invent the wheel, I think I'll just re-post my original introduction! Here it is, with only minimal updating:
Once upon a time, researchers who wanted to keep up with frequently updated information on the web (news, publication titles, research developments, etc.) had to remember to regularly visit bookmarked sites of interest or register for e-mail alerts or newsletters (if these were available). Today, an XML file format called RSS ("Really Simple Syndication") simplifies this process dramatically by delivering "headlines" to you directly so that you can peruse news and information in one central location. Content is distributed via RSS in the form of a feed that must be read by an application called a newsreader or news aggregator (more about this below).
Increasingly, content providers all across the web are beginning to offer RSS feeds of one kind or another. To determine whether or not a web site has RSS feeds, just look for a reference to "site feed," "syndicated content," or an orange icon that either says RSS or XML on it or that looks like this: . Also, if you use Internet Explorer v.7 or Mozilla's Firefox as your browser, this icon appears in a toolbar at the top of the browser. It is normally gray, but if you visit a site that offers RSS, it will turn orange, indicating that a feed is available. (NB: I use IE7 and to be honest, the icon is not 100% effective; but it's worth keeping an eye on.)
So who in the forced migration information community offers RSS feeds? Here are a few examples:
- News services such as IRIN
- Blogs such as RI's WorldBridge
- Information hubs like ReliefWeb
As noted above, you need to have a newsreader or aggregator to be able to view RSS content delivered via a feed. You can choose between a client-side reader (i.e., an application you download onto your computer) or a web-based reader. Some are free and some require payment. This site offers a fairly complete listing of the various options. Bloglines is one of the more popular free web-based readers. Often, newsreaders are made available through personalized portal providers like My Yahoo! or Google.
To begin reading RSS content, simply copy and paste the URL for the RSS feed into the reader program you choose. I experimented briefly with Bloglines, but I found that at times certain feeds were not updating even though new headlines were available. In addition, I could not always re-display feeds after I had read them (although this was probably a temporary glitch). I decided to try Google Reader instead, and so far, so good! It's very easy to use. Both Bloglines and Google Reader allow you to create folders, which is important if you want to be able to keep your feeds organized.