Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Ever since I met Gillian Caldwell the executive director of WITNESS in 2003 I've been fascinated with their work. WITNESS is is an organization that "partners with human rights defenders, training them to use video to document abuse and create change".

Witness Mission Statement

WITNESS advances human rights advocacy through the use of video and communications technology. In partnership with more than 150 non-governmental organizations and human rights defenders in 50 countries, WITNESS strengthens grassroots movements for change by providing video technology and assisting its partners to use video as evidence before courts and the United Nations, as a tool for public education, and as a deterrent to further abuse. WITNESS also gives local groups a global voice by distributing their video to the media and on the Internet, and by helping to educate and activate an international audience around their causes.
I'd been talking to Gillian about using the Internet and blogs more for their work and last year we set up a TypePad blog for her when she went to Sierra Leone with Angelina Jolie to deliver recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's (TRC) to the government. The blog was a big success. Since then, I had been trying to provide advice and support and recently they allowed me to join their board. I'm very excited to be working with them and any thoughts on how we can make WITNESS better would be greatly appreciated!


Dear Joi,

Congratulations on your appointment. This looks like a very exciting initiative.

Just saw this article on New York Times:

Online Auteurs Hardly Need to Be Famous

Could there be crossover between the user generated material business model of ifilm, youtube, ebaum's world etc. and this work?

what would be the ethical/productive implications of financially rewarding people for this content?

As quote from the article notes: "I'm positively absolutely amazed at some of the things that people will do for $1,000," said Neil Bauman, who is chief financial officer for the Web site that his son Eric, now 25, founded as a junior in high school.

Further, are groups like Halo Trust and the Cluster Munitions Coalition involved in WITNESS?

Finally, I searched the WITNESS website but could not find mention of corporate partnerships. Groups like Canon, Sony or others could be interested in either providing equipment [cameras, camera phones, or the like] or funding to WITNESS as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility/Marketing campaigns. Headline: "Canon Cameras on front line of fight for human rights"

See: Richard Tomkins: The new self-satisfactions: Financial Times
Published: March 6 2006 18:35

I became aware of Witness, surreally enough, because in 1995 or 96 I won a VH-1 contest where they sent you the first model of the Logitech QuickCam and put you "virtually" backstage at a Witness benefit concert with Peter Gabriel, REM, Nusrat Ali Fateh Khan, Tim Robbins, and a bunch of other people. (I'm a big Peter Gabriel fan.)

Here's my observation and suggestion, Joi: Witness is a really, really great program with a really brilliant idea behind it. So why haven't most web surfers seen these materials, especially in an era when video of civil rights violations circulates almost as quickly as live-action recreations of the Simpsons credits?

(I'm going off of the assumption that the public is just as much the target audience of Witness as, say, war crimes tribunals or other governmental/NGO programs. After all, the court of public opinion can be far more effective than any UN investigative events in Iraq have unfortunately shown over the past couple of years.)

It might be useful to ease Witness's media into the wider flow of data. For example, mirror incoming photographs to a Flickr account. Mirror video to YouTube and/or Google Video. Set up a bittorrent server.

And utilize the power of the social Web. If you're setting up blog software for Witness, make sure somebody's paying attention to who's tracking back to that blog -- they might have good ideas, or be useful as volunteers, or even financial contributors. Make minibanners, CC-style.

(I have some other, more in-depth ideas, if you're interested; I've been thinking about Witness a lot in the past couple of years, but I didn't actually know anybody over there and wasn't sure if anybody would be interested.)

Thanks for the suggestions. I will definitely keep them in mind when I meet with everyone soon. I totally agree that opening up and using more of the various web services would really help get WITNESS more attention. They have a pretty extensive web initiative in the works already and I think we can defintely help get more community suport moving forward.

After all, the court of public opinion can be far more effective than any UN investigative events in Iraq have unfortunately shown over the past couple of years.)