BitDepth 690 - July 28

Georgia Popplewell has a job with no offices, a board that's never in the same room and the attention of the world riveted on Global Voices.
The virtual newsroom

Georgia Popplewell manages administrative duties for a major alternative news site from her notebook. Photography by Mark Lyndersay.

Georgia Popplewell has a truly cool and slightly odd job. She is the Managing Director of a company that has no physical office and is incorporated in Amsterdam. The organisation has no employees, but works with more than a thousand contractors and volunteers, publishes daily, sometimes hourly and is governed by a board that has never met in person.
When it comes to being an Internet business, albeit a nonprofit one, Global Voices wolfs down its own dog food.

Global Voices began as a project in Harvard Law School’s labs as a way of using the Internet to aggregate the many blogs and postings about countries that go unheard from when there isn’t a war or disaster putting them in the news.
Founded by Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon, it quickly outgrew its birthplace, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and got kicked out into the world to fend for itself.

Popplewell’s path intersected with the Global Voices road in 2005 when her blog and podcast, Caribbean Free Radio, drew the notice of the Americas editor of the organisation.
At the time, the Global Voices project was acting as a blog aggregator, gathering, referencing and curating posts from around the world.  It began with an emphasis on the “south” world, the nations that exist outside the G8 and G9 nations that have their own way of seeing the world and, often, their own language for discussing it, but have relatively precious little say in its news conversations.

Promotion in cyberspace
When Popplewell began working with Global Voices, it was, as she recalls, “just four or five people covering the world, checking blogs and posting.”
Her rise through the organisation has been, by corporate standards, meteoric.
Her first appointment was as Caribbean Editor in January 2006. By 2007, Popplewell was one of two Managing Editors. In February 2008, she was appointed Managing Director.
“I’m one of only three people around since 2005,” she said. “There’s a lot of burnout, because it’s a lot of work. I suppose that I’m carrying around much of the institutional memory of the organisation.”

Global Voices has grown fast in its first four years and is busy grappling with the problems that have made covering its area of expertise so difficult for traditional media, chief among them, the issue of language.
“Newspapers are closing bureaus around the world to cut costs, but there’s no reason that reports and blogs from many countries can’t become part of the traditional news stream.”
No reason other than the hiccup of language, which makes many blogs and newspapers impenetrable to casual readers and most first world reporters.

One world, many languages
When Global Voices discovered a Chinese website that translated and replicated their content, they began Project Lingua in June 2007, which now offers the website’s content in 16 languages with at least five more coming on stream, much of the work done by volunteers. 
The most recent addition is Lingua Swahili, which was established in May. The initiative is now being more explored deeply through a Ford Foundation grant to explore the movement of information across languages.
Global Voices publishes in English, which the organisation treats as its Rosetta Stone, first moving reports from their native language to the main website and then distributing them in other languages.

Popplewell returned recently from the Open Translation Tools conference in Amsterdam, where a strong Global Voices presence discussed their solutions and engaged the capabilities of technical attendees in some of their critical issues, which include matters like translation paths for languages like Khmer and Malagasy and the computer system support that’s required for reading some translated content.

Other Global Voices projects include its advocacy arm, which monitors freedom of speech issues and an outreach initiative, Rising Voices, which has overseen the investment of 22 microgrants of US$5,000 to groups building systems and defining best practices for communities to contribute to Global Voices.
It’s a lot of work for Popplewell, who is both blessed and cursed to have her work on a well-decaled Macbook within reach wherever she is. Using Skype, Google mailing lists, instant messaging and IRC, she remains in constant contact with the network of contributors around the world that keeps Global Voices humming.

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