Ethan Zuckerman


Hi! Thanks for visiting. My name is Ethan Zuckerman. I direct the Center for Civic Media at MIT, and teach at MIT’s Media Lab. I’m the author of “Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection”, published by W. W. Norton in June 2013. I’m the co-founder of global blogging community Global Voices, and I work with social change nonprofit organizations around the world. I’m an alumnus of the Berkman Center at Harvard, Geekcorps and Tripod.

I came to MIT in 2011 to take over the Center for Civic Media when co-founder Chris Csikszentmihalyi moved to the Art Center College of Design. Center for Civic Media, supported by the John and James Knight Foundation, researches the relationship between media and civic engagement, and builds tools to study media agenda-setting and to help communities communicate their concerns and issues.

I work with extraordinary people at the MIT Media Lab and in the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT, including amazing students like my 2013 Masters graduates: Molly Sauter, Chris Peterson, Nathan Matias and Matt Stempeck. I teach a class called News and Participatory Media each spring, which brings together journalists and technologists to develop new tools and techniques for reporting news.

Much of my research centers on quantitative analysis of media: computational techniques to determine who, what and where feature in traditional and participatory media. This work builds on work I did almost a decade ago, Global Attention Profiles, and now is built on top of the Media Cloud platform, which we are co-developing with Yochai Benkler, Hal Roberts and other friends at Harvard’s Berkman Center.

Global Voices:
Rebecca MacKinnon and I founded Global Voices in 2005 when we were both fellows at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Initially, we’d planned to build an aggregator of blogs from around the developing world, based on my interest in Africa and her focus on China. As more people got involved with the project, it’s become something much larger and more exciting: a global community of citizen media authors, an advocacy group that works to preserve freedom of speech online, a media development organization that promotes participatory media in developing nations, a vast and distributed translation project, and a crazy set of friends from every corner of the world. It’s been a joy to be involved with and is one of the projects I’m proudest of.

I enjoy public speaking as a way to develop new ideas, meet new people and see different parts of the world. My TED talk is a good introduction both to my public speaking and the ideas in “Rewire”. I am represented by Stern Speakers – please contact Mehdi Britel at Stern if you’d like me to speak at your conference, meeting or bar mitzvah.

I sit on the boards of several nonprofit organizations. I chair the board of Ushahidi, a pioneering Kenyan company which makes open sourced citizen reporting software and open source hardware for the developing world. I serve on the boards of Stichting Global Voices, the Dutch foundation that oversees the Global Voices project, and its US counterpart, and on the board of PenPlusBytes, a Ghanaian NGO that helps reporters understand and utilize technology to do better journalism and increase transparency. I sit on the global board of Open Society Foundation and chair the sub-board that oversees OSF’s Information Program.

Dave Winer encouraged me to start blogging when I joined Berkman in 2003. Blogging taught me how to write, and has opened doors for me around the world. Encouraged by David Weinberger, I began blogging conferences, starting with Pop!Tech in 2004. I came to TED for the first time in 2005 as a blogger, and blogged every talk I heard. I now require my students to blog any lectures they attend, as I’ve discovered that I listen differently – and better – when I’m trying to turn someone else’s talk into a blog post.

I don’t blog as much as I used to. I do tweet more, which satisfies some of the same impulses. Here are some of my favorite blog posts over the years.

I write for academic journals and books as well. In addition to Rewire, here are some selected works:

Older work: Geekcorps
Geekcorps was a nonprofit organization that I founded with Elisa Korentayer in 1999 and co-led with Ana Maria Harkins from 2001-2004. It was an international non-profit organization that transferred tech skills from geeks in developed nations to geeks in emerging nations, especially entrepreneurial geeks who are building small businesses. In other words, a Peace Corps for geeks. I’ve had the pleasure of leading teams of extremely cool people in North Adams, MA, USA; Osu, Accra, Ghana; Dakar, Senegal and Bamako, Mali. I stepped down from the organization in April, 2004. The organization merged with IESC, and after the departure of our founding team, seems mostly dormant.

Much older work: Tripod
For many years, this page was hosted on Tripod, for a variety of sentimental reasons. (Now only a few side projects are.) In 1994, I dropped out of graduate school and joined a couple of friends in Williamstown, MA in building one of the first “pure” companies – Tripod. As the only person on the team who knew HTML, I got to be “tech guy” – outclassed by guys who could program circles around me, I became bizdev guy, legal guy, customer service guy and R&D guy before settling, briefly, on “retired guy”.

Contrary to popular belief, Tripod wasn’t originally intended to be a webhosting provider or homepage site. In its first incarnation, it was designed to be a collection of content and services for 20-somethings, described as “tools for life”. Discovering earlier than most that online content is a tough sell (check out some of our server logs from late 1995 if you don’t believe me), we moved into the growing area of user-created content before discovering (again, earlier than most) that fifteen million users a day weren’t particularly helpful if they didn’t buy anything or click on ads. We sold the company to Lycos in 1999, slightly before money paid for internet companies got way out of hand, but well before selling Internet companies was harder than selling ice in Siberia.

Those annoying pop-up windows? My fault, at least in part. I designed a vertically-oriented popup window that included navigation tools and an ad for inclusion on webpages at some point in late 1996 or early 1997. It was intended to be less intrusive than inserting an ad into the middle of a user’s homepage. I won’t claim responsibility (irresponsibility?) for inventing the damned things, and I disclaim any responsibility for cascading popups, popups that move to the top, and those annoying “bot” windows that open different popups every few minutes. Still, the fault is at least in part mine, and I’m sorry. :-)

People and Places:
My wife Rachel Barenblat and I live in Lanesboro, MA, a rural town of about 3,000 in Berkshire County, MA, USA. Rachel is a poet, essayist, blogger and rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams, MA. We’re the parents of Andrew Wynn Kwame Zuckerman, better known as Drew.

If you’d like to contact me, twitter and email are the best bets. My PGP public key is on the MIT keyserver.