Global Voices was inspired by an incident in 2004, when a friend reading a New York Times article about Cameroon's elections posed the question: is there anyone in Cameroon blogging about this? Along with his colleague, former CNN Beijing journalist Rebecca MacKinnon, Ethan convened a group of bloggers from the developing world at Harvard. What came out strongly from these discussions was a desire for participants to be able to read each others' blogs. What started as Rebecca and Ethan each summarizing a couple of hundred blogs daily has grown into the Global Voices website, which uses a network of 400 editors to filter, translate and provide context to global blogs, making them accessible to readers around the world.
Since 2004, there have been some major changes to the context in which Global Voices operates. The organization has tried to respond to each of these:
Ethan suggested three possible theories about what we are seeing in the growth of social media:
Crisis situations such as the protests in Iran and the Haitian earthquake have started to legitimize the use of social media by mainstream media outlets, blurring the boundaries between professional and citizen reporting. And some of the key challenges associated with access and language barriers are beginning to be addressed. But the problem of global attention span will be hardest to solve. So many situations never receive coverage and for those that do, the media cycle rarely allows them to stay in the spotlight beyond a few weeks. We have developed long standing bad habits in our understanding of what constitutes news. Social media has dramatically changed who is able to speak; but will it change how we choose to listen? This remains a major challenge.