This Guy Became An Expert On Syrian Arms Trafficking, Just By Watching YouTube
Last October, Eliot Higgins, a 34-year-old resident of Leicester, England, lost his job. With time to waste, he turned to YouTube. Now, he’s one of the world’s foremost experts on the flow of illegal weapons into war-torn Syria. Huh?
Higgins’s unlikely story was covered recently in the Guardian. “Before the Arab spring I knew no more about weapons than the average Xbox owner,” he told the paper.
Now, thanks to a steady stream of videos that have leaked out of the country and onto the web, he knows more than just about anyone without a security clearance, keeping a blog under the alias Brown Moses that has served as a vital resource for reporters and human rights activists alike.
The idea of an armchair weapons expert is an incredible one, but it’s the type of thing that will only become more common in the future. With the decline of print media, newsroom staffs are leaner than ever. Add a deluge of crowdsourced reporting, and it’s not surprising that there’s important stuff out there waiting to be processed—be it YouTube videos of trafficked weapons or secret bases on Bing Maps.
Have you ever desperately texted your friends for advice during a date? “He just complimented me on my embarrassing beauty mark, what do I say now?”
Artist and programmer Lauren McCarthy is working on a solution for us less confident daters with an app called Social Turkers.
McCarthy used her phone to broadcast her dates live.
The video stream is viewed by the task-rabbits who take part in Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, the crowdsourcing service where you can post small tasks requiring human intelligence that people around the world complete for just a few cents.
Turkers have been asked to transcribe podcasts, search satellite maps to find missing persons, or to rate the emotions expressed in Tweets—but probably never before to help someone’s date go better. For each of McCarthy’s dates, over the course of January, Turkers could earn up to $0.25 for tuning into the live video and audio stream. Throughout the date, the “social Turkers” answered polls, wrote reviews of what they are seeing, and sent text messages to her iPhone suggesting what to say or do next—advice came quick enough for McCarthy to actually put it into action.
So someday you may not have to go on that awkward date alone. And maybe, with the help of your global network of ‘Turkers,’ it won’t even be awkward.
Make no mistake, trolls, scammers, and mischief makers are pillars of the Internet. But there’s a yang to their needling yin: nice, kind people whose $5 acts of throwaway empathy occasionally add up to, say, $600,000 for a harassed 68-year-old bus monitor. The hunger for lulz might have motivated middle schoolers to post a video online of their harassment of Karen Klein, but then that same video in a different venue prompted online Samaritans to answer in force—in a move that either set her up for life or deeply complicated it (one imagines the trolls and do-gooders currently jockeying for position). But Karen The Bus Monitor is hardy the first instance of Net niceness. Here’s a look at hers and other amazing stories of regular people whose warm fuzzies have helped balance all that anonymous schmuckery.
Star Wars Uncut is a Frankensteined love letter of absurdities—and that’s just how mastermind Casey Pugh wanted it. Warning—once you start, you can’t stop watching. Co.Create got a behind-the-scenes look at how the ultimate crowdsourced film was produced.
In response to our story on the new video game project, MMOWGLI from the U.S. Navy.
Neal, great article on MMOWGLI. Fascinating. As a partially disabled Army tactical intelligence officer (parachuting accident) who was a paratrooper and Special Forces qualified and served with both infantry and Special Forces units on active duty, I applaud FAST COMPANY for digging in deeply to report on such interesting topics. Thank you so much for writing such a thought provoking piece. If FAST COMPANY has not done so, you might want to check out what the U.S. Army is doing with “Mirror Imaging”, you might find it equally interesting.
I can assure you that were no Rambos in my SF Group. We were cerebral, highly educated, highly motivated and well trained professionals who loved our nation and all of our fellow countrymen and, for that matter, all innocent people everywhere. I saw a lot of Third World heartache during my intelligence / SF tour in Latin America and got my greatest reward in life by laying my rifle and pistol aside and coordinating medical care and feeding for starving, sick children and their desperate families. Their own governments would have let the starve or shot them down in a heartbeat. Probably Option B. Whew.
I would ask your company to consider checking out www.woundedwarrior.org and deducing the worthiness of that charity. It’s a remarkable one. As an Army veteran with a dysfunctional right arm and right leg, I believe in WWP’s cause wholeheartedly.
Best wishes to you and to all of your colleagues at FC, a fantastic read online, I may just have to go for the print edition, too!
P.S. Chaos creates more customers who need help. Help them, and they’re yours for life. Turmoil is terrific, because terrified customers need to be reassured that help is just an email, phone call or text message away. Unterrify them, and they’re yours for life. Hard times bring out the best in decent and good people who find multiple ways to extend helping hands to those in need of advice and counsel. FAST COMPANY is always jam packed with thought provoking material. It would be fantastic if your FC brain trust could think about multiple ways to advise your readers how to keep calm and focused and to thrive during times of economic, political and social chaos and turmoil instead of being afraid or paralyzed by such events. It’s really, really easy to look at the massive, unprecedented changes rocking the entire Middle East and wonder in anxiety, “What’s next?” or “What’s going to happen to my ‘fast company’ next year?”
Do you think you could help the FBI crack this code?
On June 30th, 1999, officers in St. Louis, Missouri, found the body of Ricky McCormick, 41, in a field. He had been murdered. There were no clues, with two exceptions: two notes written in code in McCormick’s pants pockets.
The murder remains unsolved. Over a decade later, the FBI’s Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit (CRRU) has essentially thrown up its hands. “We are really good at what we do,” said CRRU chief Dan Olson in a solicitation on the FBI’s website, “but we could use some help with this one.”