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Archive for April, 2011

A Crowdsourcing Bill of Rights

by April 29, 2011

bill-of-rights-300x214_0I just listened to an excellent podcast by David Alan Grier on The Daily Crowdsource, focused on the rights of crowdsourced workers. Grier defined four broad classes of crowdsourced workers–the microlabor, partial employment, contest and public opinion worker.

We at Dialogue Earth are extremely interested in this topic, as crowdsourcing is core to our strategy, both in the way we analyze social media, and in how we produce media content to engage diverse audiences. It is critical to us that we achieve high quality, efficient work and, more importantly, that our crowdsourced workforce is treated fairly. Heck, we’d like them to feel as great about this work we do. (more…)

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Understanding the Incentives in Crowd-Based Video Production

by April 28, 2011

There are some valuable take-aways from Jared Cicon’s latest reflections on online video contests. The post chronicles his return to contests on Poptent after time away due to a heavy workload. Having been in the sponsor’s shoes for several recent contests (ocean acidification, Why Dialogue Earth?, and intro to energy), we are keenly interested in understanding this approach to video production. Here’s a sample of Cicon’s work from one of the two contests on Poptent he won.


Why are we interested in crowd-based video production? We are striving to communicate science-based stories to large, diverse audiences. We believe that using a wide selection of storytellers and approaches, Dialogue Earth will create videos that explain each issue in voices that will resonate with a range of audience segments. Here’s more on how we plan to create a trustworthy brand that will serve as the foundation for all of our video content. (more…)

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Just Around the Corner: A Longer-Running Pilot On Weather Emotions

by April 27, 2011

This week the weather in the U.S. has been pretty unusual. We set a record for rainfall here in the Twin Cities, which is really a footnote to the week compared to the violent extreme weather in the Southeast and beyond. While understanding how people are feeling about the weather day-to-day won’t change the weather, we see it as a great starting point for developing our Pulse system for tracking public opinion on issues discussed in the social media.

As a follow-on to our first weather pilot, we are gearing up to monitor mood about the daily weather across the U.S. for weeks at a time. In fact, we are just completing a run of about 8000 Twitter tweets through our “crowd-based sentiment engine” using the CrowdFlower platform. Once we have double-checked the results, we are set up now to collect tweets continuously, automatically send them over to CrowdFlower for sentiment judgments, have the judgments returned to our database automatically, and then publish the data on our interactive Pulse display. We expect to be analyzing several thousand tweets through CrowdFlower on a daily basis in order to create a detailed map of weather mood for the U.S. (see more here about our data sampling strategy). Look for more on this in the coming days. The image below is a sneak peek at our interactive platform, which our team has overhauled in recent weeks. It should prove to be a much-improved user experience!

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Hans Rosling Uses Simple Math to Explain World Population Trends

by April 26, 2011

img_1022Just returned from a pre-event discussion by tonight’s Momentum Series speaker, Hans Rosling. Momentum 2010 is a string of three great talks this Spring put on by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. Professor Rosling used simple math to explain masterfully human population issues globally in a few minutes (see the image taken from the whiteboard, reproduced in a table below).

The gist is this: humans clearly have a large “footprint” on the planet compared to a few thousand years ago, yet “population control” will not have immediate impacts on the size of our collective footprint. The reason is that there is, pardon the pun, a good deal of “momentum” built into global population. As the rough numbers in the table below indicate, globally two people are more-or-less producing two children—a stark departure from even 1920 when, on average, two of every six children born died per couple.  Yet, there are large numbers of children globally who will grow up and have children of their own. Even with births and deaths more-or-less balancing, this means the momentum in the system will lead us toward a global population of 9 billion by 2050. (more…)

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What A Mouthful: Eating Through the U.S. Energy Mix In 60 Seconds

by April 26, 2011


Energy sources in order from 12 o'clock as shown in Uncle Sam's Dinner video: natural gas, biomass, coal, nuclear, hydro, solar, wind, and oil.

A recent post by David Roberts on demonstrated the value of explaining a rather simple concept about our energy system: the mix of our energy sources. In Robert’s post, he pulled out data from Black & Veatch’s Energy Market Perspective analysis on the energy sources for U.S. electricity generation, comparing the mix in 2011 to that projected for 2035.

This post made me want to take another look at the video, Uncle Sam’s Dinner, from our just-completed video contest. Specifically, I wanted to check how closely the creator, Henry Reich, had come to representing the various energy sources that make up the overall U.S. sector—not just for electricity generation. Comparing the pie chart below with the stop watch captured above, it is clear that the video is extremely accurate. See this post for the full background material on the U.S. energy sector provided to creators for this contest. (more…)

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Science Magazine’s Insights of the Decade: What Happens When Science Becomes Politicized

by April 25, 2011

f1-mediumFew would argue that topic of global warming (or the more general topic, climate change) is hugely polarizing. Richard Kerr and Eli Kintisch chronicle the past decade of research on the topic of climate change in the 17 December 2010 issue of Science. They also layer on a summary of the dynamics of the international political scene. As a scientist, I find it saddening that climate scientists have often become the target of very personal attacks. Perhaps the nadir of the decade occurred in the wake of the publication by hackers of private emails between climate scientists. Kerr and Kintisch’s synopsis will undoubtedly prove to be true: “the event may have profoundly damaged public views of climate science, with political repercussions yet to unfold.”

In terms of my personal experiences, I’m reminded of the inaugural public event for the new Heller-Hurwicz Economics Institute at the University of Minnesota earlier this year. I had the occasion to meet a delightful older couple. Immediately after being introduced to them as being affiliated with the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, the woman asked what I thought about Al Gore. Soon I realized: people do not tend to ask your opinion of this iconic figure in the global warming debate if they are a fan of his. My realization came after explaining that my feelings are mixed—his science is largely sound, yet I believe his politics have, unfortunately, increased the polarized nature of the debate in our country. I was left wondering if she discounted the science because of the icon, although that would be a perfectly reasonable explanation.

Polarization is the norm, yet it is rather paralyzing. Does it need to be the norm? I believe the answer is a resounding no. That is why I am so passionate about launching Dialogue Earth (for more see this post and my recent op-ed in the Pioneer Press). Can we cut through the polarization on a topic like global warming? I am certain we can, although it will be no easy task.

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A New Data Point for Homeowners Considering Installation of Solar Photovoltaic Panels

by April 25, 2011


Photo credit:

As discussed by a number of media outlets, including the NY Times’ Green blog, a report just released by Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (link to download page here) provides one more data point for homeowners weighing the costs and benefits of installing solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on their home.

Making decisions about installing solar systems is very complex, and this type of information is sure to be helpful to the decision making of homeowners. As we tackle issues like solar energy as part of our forthcoming Media Challenge, we will work with a broad network of experts to distill information such as this study. We will then work with great storytellers to bring these points to life, like in our recently-released videos that discuss energy in general terms. (more…)

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What is the best way to develop a top 10 list on Quora?

by April 24, 2011

quora-pictureTwo days ago I posted a question on Quora asking for the top ten energy issues the general public should understand (see my blog post here).  To my delight, the question has already received several thoughtful answers, and it has been viewed nearly 100 times.

I have just posted a new question on Quora to understand the best way to create such a top-ten list (view it here). Asking each person to provide a listing of 10 issues seems that it might not be the most productive way to get a great top-10 list. If one person has five points that the next person agrees with, they could suggest changes to the answer’s author or copy those five points and add more. As a potential answer writer, I could find this to be cumbersome and potentially off-putting.

Because Quora provides a voting system that allows all registered users to promote answers up, or down, on a list, perhaps it would be more efficient to have each person provide just a single issue per answer (individuals could certainly provide multiple, discrete, answers rather than a list of multiple issues per answer). Then, with good participation in voting, an ordered list should result organically.

Within minutes of posting this question on Quora, I had already received an excellent answer that nicely summarized the options two of the options I had been considering: (a) as the question poster, I should jump in at some point and summarize, or curate, the answers; and (b) the results from Quora could serve as the input to a committee of independent experts. The respondent also suggested that, as the question poster, I might choose to ask several of the respondents to work together to come up with a collaborative answer. I look forward to seeing what other great ideas come out of this!

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What are the top 10 energy topics that the general public should understand?

by April 22, 2011

quora-pictureGetting a handle on the priority issues that should be included in Dialogue Earth’s upcoming Media Challenge is no small task, plus it needs to be done transparently and in an inclusive manner that ultimately builds trust.

Ten years ago there were fewer options for answering a tough question like this (refer to our History section for a description of the lengthy process used in an effort to identify 100 indicators to describe the condition and use of U.S. Ecosystems). Today, there are some powerful platforms that hold considerable promise for helping to expedite this process (see discussion in this recent post).

Today, we have launched an experiment using one of the prime Q&A platforms, Quora, to explore the viability of exploring answers to this question in an open and transparent manner. If you have an opinion, please jump over to Quora and make your voice heard. You can enter answers directly, and you can vote on answers provided by others. Here is the background material that I added to the question on Quora: (more…)

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Cultivating the Crowd for Social Media Analysis

by April 22, 2011

In a recent post on, Panos Ipeirotis writes that Amazon Mechanical Turk today is a “market for lemons,” referencing economist George Akerlof concept of quality uncertainty. For those who aren’t familiar with Mechanical Turk, it’s a distributed workforce platform that allows one to crowdsource small tasks. For a relatively low cost, those requesting work can get their tasks quickly accomplished by a large pool of anonymous workers.

This post resonates with us at Dialogue Earth, where we are leveraging a crowdsourced workforce to help us analyze social media dialogue. Our Pulse tool relies on crowdsourced workers to determine the sentiment of Twitter tweets on topics like the U.S. mood about weather.

Pulse, by Dialogue Earth


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Bringing Trustworthy Energy Information to the Table

by April 20, 2011

This opinion piece authored by Kent Cavender-Bares was published in the Pioneer Press on April 20, 2011.

‘We need all of our energy options on the table!’ So say those advocating for the removal of the legal barrier preventing new nuclear plants in Minnesota. I completely agree with the sentiment and would go a step further: We need to understand all of our energy options so we can make informed decisions about them.

Does this mean entering a cycle of unending study? No. Expert studies certainly have their important role. But they are not the weak link. Rather, what is missing is an adequate transfer of knowledge from the expert community to the rest of us regarding the multiple, unequal options available. We need translators to bring technical key points to life in a way that furthers our understanding while remaining faithful to the underlying science and technology.

The challenge in making that happen with complex, controversial topics such as nuclear energy is twofold.

First, it means traversing the gap between the language of those who understand a technology like nuclear energy and the rest of us. That is where great communicators come into the picture.

Second, it means separating trustworthy information from hyperbole. We need to be able to identify and then clearly communicate a knowledge base that is widely shared by experts drawn from across society — experts from corporations like GE and Xcel as well as academics and experts from various advocacy groups and government agencies. (more…)

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Dialogue Earth’s Strategy for Building A Brand That Diverse Audiences Will Grow to Trust

by April 20, 2011

Today’s issue of the Pioneer Press carries an op-ed of mine introducing Dialogue Earth to the Twin Cities (see a re-posting on our blog here). I am very grateful for having the opportunity to get our story out in this forum.

Here’s a brief video I just recorded to explain two key elements of our strategy for building a trustworthy brand: engaging experts drawn from across society and not telling people what they should do with the information we are providing (a.k.a. non-advocacy). We believe this is at the heart of a successful formula for creating a brand that large, diverse audience will seek out to answer questions on topics that are often quite polarized.

If you are coming from, you might be interested in this recent piece on energy security and this one on safety related to nuclear energy. In addition, you may be interested to view the videos from our just-completed contest designed to introduce the topic of energy to general audiences as part of our forthcoming Dialogue Earth Media Challenge. We welcome your feedback!

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So, Why Energy?? — The Rationale Behind Choosing Energy For Our Media Challenge

by April 19, 2011

For our upcoming, yearlong Media Challenge, we at Dialogue Earth wanted to choose a topic that is both of importance to our collective future and that is consistently on people’s minds.

Energy was a topic that fit very well with these considerations.

Through its varying forms, energy is a topic that most people think about and must make important decisions about on a daily basis. Whether strategizing about what day of the week you should fill up your gas tank — and if you should fill up all the way, for that matter — or remembering to turn off your lights in an unoccupied room to save money on that monthly electric bill. (more…)

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News Monitoring Project: an Overview

by April 19, 2011

In Dialogue Earth’s quest to increase shared public understanding on issues of environmental importance, we stopped and asked ourselves: What do people already know? Where are they getting their information and what are the qualities of that information?

Suppose people collect information from three basic sources:

  • Personal experiences,
  • Interpersonal relationships and networks, and
  • Media.

Understanding the qualities of media information is particularly important because of it’s pervasiveness and roles in society as information disseminator, political watchdog, agenda setter, and entertainer.

Dialogue Earth’s News Monitoring project takes a look at the characteristics of information garnered from online print media, including both traditional and emerging sources. We use several layers of both quantitative and qualitative analysis including content, frame, and sentiment analysis. In the works, is a tool that will combine these different techniques to create a responsive and scalable synthesis of the moment’s top environmental news coverage. We hope this information will be useful for the communication development of a variety of individuals and groups.

Interested? Stay tuned for upcoming posts explaining the important project concepts in more detail.

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Energy Videos Set the Stage for Dialogue Earth Media Challenge

by April 18, 2011

We’re thrilled to showcase the videos from our most recent crowd-sourced video competition.

The purpose of these videos is to provide a basic understanding of energy–where we get it, how we move it around and how we use it–and to set the the stage for the upcoming Dialogue Earth Media Challenge, a year-long series of video competitions focused on energy topics.

The first place video, “Marvin and Sprinkles,” provides a fantastic example of the creativity that we believe is essential to effectively engage audiences on often complex societal issues.


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