August in London

Cross's London Guide, originally published in 1837

[The second edition of Cross’s London Guide, originally published in 1837. 

 Copyright © British Library Board. Via Europeana.]

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The past two days I published two editorial pieces on the London/UK riots and a related instalment of my monthly column on London. It goes without saying they’re written from the perspective of a Mexican who lives in London.

They’re an attempt at making sense of the events, their possible causes and consequences, and at trying to offer an outsider-insider’s personal view for my readers in Mexico and Spanish-speaking countries, in their own language.

For the last month and a half I worked organising #SinLugar.

I should perhaps clarify I did this for the sheer pleasure of doing something I thought important. No funding or sponsorship was received; no fees were charged. 

#SinLugar, which roughly translates as “without-a-place”, was a Twitter-centred online “anti-conference.”

The main event took place using Cover It Live, but the discussion was decentralised, through the hashtag #SinLugar, since the platform allows the integration of tweets and because all the participants were twitterers. Though Cover It Live is mainly a live blogging service and not a “chat room,” #SinLugar used the platform in a slightly unusual way by trying to reduce the host’s participation to a minimum. 

The project comprised different online tools organised around a Wordpress.com blog, a Twitter account, a Twitpic account, a YouTube channel, a Slideshare account and a Stroome account.

A few days before July 22, when the live event took place, The Archivist was used to keep track of the Twitter activity with the hashtag #SinLugar. All these accounts were free accounts. From June 15 to 22 July, 777 tweets were posted from @SinLugar2010. 

My motivation was to enable organised,  real-time, online discussion in Spanish of topics I consider relevant amongst the Mexican Twittersphere. The intention was to encourage regular Twitter users (mainly from Mexico) to use online tools in a speedy and imaginative manner and to help “populate” the web with Mexican-made tagged quality content. 

I did not call it an “unconference" because #SinLugar was to have (and indeed had) a pre-determined programme and running order.

Also, unlike most unconferences it had no central physical meeting place: participants and readers would have no geographical restrictions to participate other than time difference and technological limitations (reliable broadband access; Flash-enabled browsers to watch the event). 

Furthermore, the call for presentations was open to anyone who saw it. To participate was free. The CFP required short abstracts of no more than 200 words of proposed videos, slideshows or slidecasts (of no more than 10-minutes approx. running time) on the topics of

1)Internet, digital culture and university in Mexico;

2)Citizenship, democracy and engagement in the digital age in Mexico;

3)Alternatives to mainstream media monopolies in Mexico;

4)International Borders (metaphors and realities). 

Abstracts had to be accompanied by a short bio or explanation (no more than 100 words) of their experience with the proposed topic. It was not necessary to be an academic or a student. To be accepted all the presentations would have to be submitted with a Creative Commons license.  

The whole event, from the publication of the CFP on June 15 2010 to the conclusion of the “live” or real-time meeting on July 22 2010, was planned as an “express” event in which proposals/abstracts would have to be submitted quickly  and presentations sent a week before the actual live event.

Because Twitter is mostly a microblogging platform for the “here and now”, where everything happens very quickly, it made sense to me #SinLugar should also be organised quickly.

I did not want this to be a project that would just become a promise and not a reality. I wanted participants to “think quickly.” I promoted the event solely through the @SinLugar2010 Twitter account. I also made three trailers which I posted on the #SinLugar YouTube account and several poster mashups I posted on the Twitpic account and the blog.  

Two of the trailers were made without sound and offered to be remixed on Stroome. (Tom Grasty had this to say about #SinLugar at the Stroome blog). 

The CFP closed June 28. Eight abstracts were received and the eight proposals were accepted. They all covered the topics suggested by the CFP. In the end only one presenter dropped out before the submission of the actual presentation, so the event had a total of seven presentations. (Abstracts were published on 2 July; the timetabled final programme was published on 21 July). Volunteers helped enliven the discussion as registered panelists along the presenters. 

In the Twitter account, @SinLugar2010 got 125 followers by the first week, and 258 followers by the end of 22 July. 

The blog registered a total of 2,555 total views (not counting own visits of course) and during 22 July in which the live event took place there were 810 total views.

The live event lasted for 6 hours 15 minutes and had 191 readers; in average, each reader lasted 1 hour 17 minutes reading the event; only 25% of readers visited for less than 1 minute. The live event received 226 comments. 

The presentations were set as “private” before their turn in the live programme came, then changed to “unlisted”, then to “public”. (We had a bit of a technical glitch with Slideshare doing this in real time; though the presentation had been changed to “public”, readers could not access it. I had to re-upload the presentation while the event was running). 

All the presentations have been properly tagged with #SinLugar and other relevant metadata. Creative Commons licenses and links have been included in the descriptions. All material is now public and the slides can be downloaded. All the material was posted immediately on the blog after the live event finished, in the original order in which it appeared during the day. (Here.)

All in all I think this was a very positive experiment. Cover It Live was unknown to all the participants so it took a while to get used to the synchronic/diachronic/asynchronous nature of the platform. I think Cover It Live has great potential for citizen journalism and academic/e-learning/e-research activities. 

Like every medium it has its limitations and constraints, but thanks to Cover It Live #SinLugar managed to do the walk and not just the talk, by combining a self-contained live, synchronous discussion environment, the curated integration of Twitter feeds within the interface and the asynchronous hashtagged tweets external to it. 

Discussion “flows” in a very different way using these platforms in the way #SinLugar used them, so interruption, noise and distraction was part of the equation but not in a negative sense.

The discussion both inside the Cover It Live interface and on Twitter with the hashtag #SinLugar was passionate but respectful. There were agreements and disagreements, but most voices expressed themselves respectfully towards others. 

Even though participants came from different backgrounds, there was mutual understanding and a willingness to engage with serious topics and to lead discussions to concrete actions dealing with the current Mexican situation.

The event required minimal moderation, and no significant trolling attacks were registered. In brief, #SinLugar had nothing that the sensationalist Mexican press and their official twitterers would like to report (they didn’t).

One of the conclusions of the discussion was that Twitter and online citizen media in Mexico is still trying to make sense of how to transform online content into concrete actions in the offline world.

The creation of social engagement and awareness of what requires urgent action in the Mexican context required that #SinLugar was also a meta-event, promoting its very own existence/presence as an online work-in-progress through tweets and retweets. “Re-tweets” (or RTs) may seem “repetitive” and unnecessary, informational noise, but he synchronous/asynchronous nature of Twitter means that messages are picked up at different times by different people in different contexts. Hence their relevance when creating awareness is key. 

As I write this RTs of what happened yesterday in #SinLugar (still using the present continuous) are still being posted. Time and place displaced: an “anti-conference” indeed. In the plenary session at the end of the live event the participants opened an online collaborative “writing pad” to work on their conclusions.

The blog was mainly an online billboard closed to comments at the beginning in order to concentrate the discussion on Twitter, but comments are open now for the last post where the event is summarised. Furthermore, presenters and panelists will have an account as contributors. 

I’ve thanked you already  yesterday at the end of the live event,  but I would like to thank everyone involved once again. Muchas gracias.