The infrastructures of globalization - in particular the internet - encourage us to imagine the world as a thoroughly connected place, where people, goods and ideas flow freely across borders. The reality is more complicated - atoms are surprisingly mobile, while the mobility of bits is constrained by people's interests. If readers are fascinated by a story - the Green Revolution in Iran - they'll seek out available information. If they're not, whatever professional or amateur reporting is produced won't reach an audience.
Media development professionals need to stop assuming that global infrastructures equal global coverage or global interest - instead, we need to map what coverage is actually being produced and start mapping
people's consumption of media. We can rapidly discover that old imbalances in international media coverage are sustained in a digital age and that tools like Facebook don't magically build connections
across borders of language, nation and culture.
If we want citizen media to help close gaps in understanding, we need to take steps to make it easier for people to discover and embrace content from other parts of the world. This involves routinizing
translation, creating curation strategies that emphasize serendipity over existing search or social discovery methods, and taking advantage of bridge figures who can contextualize local stories. Our goal might
be to cultivate xenophiles, who are fascinated with the diversity of the world and anxious to do the hard work to cross barriers of language and culture.
Ethan Zuckerman is an activist, blogger and geek, living in Western Massachusetts and working in Cambridge as a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. He is co-founder of Global Voices, a project designed to feature citizen-created media from around the world. His research focuses on ways that citizens' media can address longstanding biases in the news media.
Before working at the Berkman Center, Zuckerman founded Geekcorps, a non-profit organization that shipped geeks to the developing world to work with technology entrepreneurs and community internet projects. Prior to that, he was part of the team that founded Tripod.com, one of the early online community companies. When not blogging, researching or making trouble, he chairs the board of directors of Worldchanging.com, sites on the board of Open Society Institute's Information Program and works on a variety of fun tecnology and development projects. His blog is at www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog, and Global Voices is globalvoicesonline.org.