At a moment when technology and journalism increasingly intersect, two former Stanford Knight Journalism Fellows have launched #18DaysInEgypt, a collaborative documentary project about the Egyptian Revolution. Co-creator Jigar Mehta and story producer Hugo Soskin are members of the Knight Fellowship class of 2011.
On Jan. 19, a group of about 400 people gathered in Tahrir Square to launch the project’s public beta, which relies on contributors to submit self-generated media to create a crowd-sourced documentary about the 18 days in early 2011 that resulted in the resignation of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The documentary will also cover developments in the nation since Feb. 2011.
“During the revolution, I was impressed by how much media was being created by people on the front lines,” Mehta said in a Skype interview with The Daily from Egypt. He cited images of protestors recording events on cell phones and the use of social media during the revolution.
“I posed the academic question: is it possible to do a documentary based on all the footage being created?” Mehta said.
After multiple iterations, the project became #18DaysInEgypt.
“It is a documentation process about the ongoing revolution,” Mehta said. “It’s a living, breathing … toolkit that allows people to tell stories of any moment of the last year or the ongoing revolution through their media.”
The project receives 15 to 20 streams of material a day. Most recently, users have contributed media streams to document Egypt’s Port Said soccer riots on Feb. 1.
The tool allows contributors to compile photos, social media inputs and videos into a slideshow. The site currently supports Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and Twitter, as well as user-uploaded photos, videos and text. Tags identifying place, date and other information are then added to the stream. The final slideshow creates a “story of the moment” in a manner that allows for “group storytelling,” according to Mehta.
“It’s not the journalists who are taking photos; it’s everyone,” he said, explaining the focus on citizen journalism and crowdsourcing. “It’s kind of crazy how much media is being created.”
The Tribeca Film Institute of New Media Fund awarded $100,000 to #18DaysInEgypt in Oct. 2011. #18DaysInEgypt has since launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund fellowships for Egyptian journalists and students to travel through Egypt to collect stories.
“I’ve always been about making a project that was accessible … that could be a place for Egyptians to tell their own stories,” Mehta said. “We can build what we think is the perfect product in Silicon Valley … but coming to Cairo is like YouTube coming to life.”
Mehta outlined the next steps for #18DaysInEgypt as increasing the number of contributors and retaining them, as well as recruiting “high-profile media creators” to contribute streams.
“The next turning point for us is how to get people to continually use the site,” he said, highlighting the role of the local fellows in developing this aspect of the project.
The interactive project has attracted the attention of tech magazines, while GroupStream has been named one of the 50 finalists for Start with Google, a Google-organized competition for the best technology start-ups in Egypt.
Mehta, however, focused on the “iterative process of building a better product” based on user feedback.
“We understand that it’s [in its] early days,” he said. “We’re really learning along the way.”
At the same time, Mehta said he sees potential in documenting the revolution through user-created media.
“Egyptians are recording history that they’re participating in,” Mehta said. “And that’s something that we’ve never seen before.”