February 18, 2008

Chaos, In Pakistan and Silicon Valley

Today are the Pakistani elections. Why do I say chaos? And why also in Silicon Valley? And how are they at all connected?

As Amra Tareen, who is in Pakistan covering the event, says in her report about the elections:

As the day progressed more people started to show [to the polling stations], people were staying back home enjoying their morning off and due to concerns of violence. In the last 24 hours gunmen in Lahore and surrounding areas have killed 8 people and injured 40.

Check out this ballot from Pakistan, which Amra explains:

For example PML-Q (Musharraf's party) has the symbol cycle, PML-N (Nawaz's party) is represented by the symbol Tiger or a Lion and PPP (Benazir's party) is represented by the arrow. People caste their vote by placing a fingerprint and a seal over the symbol.

Pakistan Election Ballot 2008

I've been helping Amra, a friend in the Silicon Valley for 4 years, with her company All Voices. Amra is from Pakistan, though she spent some of her educational years in Australia, including getting an engineering degree, and then went to Harvard for an MBA. She was also a VC in Silicon Valley for 6 years. Now she has founded All Voices with Erik Sundelof and the help of a great team of engineers and other folks.

I'm still working on Dabble, but I just find what is happening at All Voices so compelling, that I wanted to help her do this. She's raised VC money for a news and a conversation site that is meant to foster discussion from people around news events.

And how many Silicon Valley founders go to Pakistan to cover the elections, to kick off their companies?!?!

That's incredibly unusual, and to me, shows tremendous passion and guts about both the company, and her desire to see Americans and Middle Easterners talk about what goes on in their world. Anyone can talk, but she specifically wants to see these two groups getting to know each other on a more personal level, as opposed to say, an AP report.

So what is the chaos in Silicon Valley? Well, it's not on par with the Pakistani Elections, but the alpha All Voices is out, and people are commenting, talking about the election (finding a few bugs too!), making events, posting videos and photos, and it's the first big exposure the team has dealt with.

The site is pretty simple, really. The idea is that events happen in the world, and an event within AllVoices can then be assembled by pulling in news stories, photos and videos by news sources or blogs and say, creative common's licensed Flickr photos.

But you can also make an event, which is really more factual in nature, than opinion, about whatever has happened in their world. Then you might blog or add photos or videos to your own event, or you could add those elements to events made by others or the system. For example, Amra has put video here and here and here of the people in Pakistan talking about the election, onto the event she made noting election coverage. After you make your event, the system will match blog posts, articles, images and video to it, and more folks can come along and share eyewitness stories, comment, ask questions, etc.

All this gets put onto the map and front page which lists recent and active events.

So when others come to the site, they can find your stuff based on where it happens as well as by searching or by finding your list of activities via your profile. Amra's election reporting is, of course, located in Pakistan on the map.

The sites definitely is an alpha, where there are bugs and things. Her engineers have been working on this for about 6 months, and it's really great to see what they've done.

As I said, I've helped with a little consulting on the side. Normally, I wouldn't blog about things I offer consulting for, and normally I'm too busy with Dabble, but I think this site and Amra's work has the potential for so much social good, I'm breaking my own rule.

So take what I say with a grain of salt due to my work and bias. Go visit the site yourself and decide if you think it's worthwhile. But more than anything, I encourage you to get involved in supporting Pakistan as it hold its election. Pay attention, comment, blog, make a stink, but support democracy and the people of Pakistan as they stake a claim for their future!

Posted by Mary Hodder at February 18, 2008 08:57 AM | TrackBack

Great (and daring!) work. But jeebus! Tell her to hold the frigging camera steady. Constant panning and zooming, even while there's only a single talking head in the frame, makes it impossible to watch.

Posted by: Joe at February 18, 2008 12:03 PM

Mary - thanks for sharing this link. I signed up and checked out the All Voices site today. I like the big idea, but they have various unclear issues within the site.
For instance, what constitutes and event? Are my thoughts when reacting to something that happened considered an event? because a video interview is... Essentially, I'd either like it to be very open ended (no categories, not "event" based, but a more broad term), or much more defined. Feels like they are stuck somewhere in the middle, not wanting to limit (to see what will happen), but not wanting it too open (so they provide limited categories).
I also didn't like way they make you fill in lots of metadata around every item (even photos submitted for an event).
What I really like is the questions, and am eager to see if anyone will answer the ones I posted there today. I *heart* the fact that they're also trying to support a conversation with these questions and answers, but am worried that they do not highlight this feature on their site. I think that is their strength, not necessarily bunching stories together, as sites like http://daylife.com already do that, mostly automated and extremely well!

Posted by: Gilad at February 19, 2008 12:52 AM

Hi Gilad, What terrific and insightful comment!

So an event is either made by the system (from at least one news article) or made by a user (and then the system matches articles, blog posts, photos and videos to it). And event is something that happens that a person or the system writes up. It's not more defined than that now.

But I get your point.

Regarding submissions of items around an event (video, photo, etc) yes.. they need to be redone and I know that at the moment, a lot of work is going on there. Expect a big change on those forms soon.

We should chat because I'd like to understand more your last point.


Posted by: mary hodder at February 19, 2008 12:08 PM

That's all well and good, only you got one thing wrong: Pakistan is NOT in the middle east, it's in South Asia.

Posted by: irfan at February 23, 2008 05:13 AM