Citizen Lab opens blog service to development workers

Think globally, act locally – and blog globally: The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto is offering free weblogging facilities to people working to change the world.

The Citizen Lab has set up Civiblog, a community of

blogs that are free to people working to promote democracy, reduce poverty, advance human rights and so forth around the world. Tucows Inc., a Toronto Internet services company, is helping by making its blogging tools available free to Civiblog users.

The Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary laboratory at the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Studies, focused on research and development that brings together global civic politics and digital media. Graeme Bunton, project manager for Civiblog, said the blogs are intended to give people working for global civil society “a place to sort of share their experiences and resources.”

Bunton said the idea arose when a friend of some of the Citizen Lab researchers went to work in Kandahar with Medecins sans Frontieres. A group at Citizen Lab was looking for a way to help their friend communicate with the outside world while working in Kandahar. “We ended up setting up for him a blog,” Bunton said, “which turned out to be very successful.”

Students at the University of Toronto have found the blogs a good way to learn about the realities of working for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) overseas, Bunton said.

Civiblog has been operating quietly for several months and there are currently more than a dozen blogs listed on its home page. Now, said Bunton, Citizen Lab is setting out to promote the project and expand the community. “We’re tweaking a few final things on the redesign and we’re trying to promote this as much as possible,” he said,

Michael Skinner, who maintained a blog called Guatepeace while doing research in Guatemala, said he saw the blog as a way to tell people about the work he was doing, though he was cautious about what information he made publicly available because of possible repercussions for people with whom he had contact there. “I have had a number of responses,” he said. “A number of people have contacted me who have been doing similar work, who have been helpful.” Skinner is now back at the Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto. 

Bonnie Hiltz, a University of Toronto graduate now working with CUSO in Costa Rica, said she also saw Civiblog as a way to share information and ideas with like-minded people. “The great thing about Civiblog is that it is really easy to set up and maintain,” Hiltz said. “That’s particularly important for people working overseas who may have limited computer access or training.” But Hiltz said she has had trouble finding time to update her blog, which she believes may be the reason she has had no response in the three months she has been maintaining it.

Bunton noted that the Tucows blogging suite used for Civiblog makes it easier for people in locations with limited Internet access to maintain blogs, because it allows them to post updates from mobile phones or via e-mail. The suite is “much superior to the free services I’ve seen,” he said.

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Grant Buckler
Grant Buckler
Freelance journalist specializing in information technology, telecommunications, energy & clean tech. Theatre-lover & trainee hobby farmer.

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