Harnessing the power of storytelling to change the world™

Social-Issue Documentary 3.0: Tackling Global Poverty with Link TV’s ViewChange

Posted on August 18th, 2011 by Andre Sternberg

[Ed Note: This article first appeared as a guest blog post on]

By Caty Borum Chattoo

ViewChange.orgCan social-issue documentaries play a role in helping to end global poverty?

Link TV thinks so.

Almost one year ago, the nonprofit global affairs media organization and broadcast network launched a project based on the idea that documentary storytelling, combined with social actions and the latest news, could make a meaningful contribution to the challenge of global poverty. The idea became, an online portal built on the foundation of semantic Web technology that connects documentary stories to news and social actions in global poverty. In other words, in one place, people can watch character-driven stories, read the latest news about issues covered in the films, and then connect directly to action campaigns around each social issue. It’s a site and tool that’s primed for grassroots awareness and action.

The platform is now a curated documentary hub with more than 400 short- and long-form character-driven documentaries from around the world – and all of them illustrate real progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals, which together comprise the world’s “blueprint” for ending global poverty. The portal site now includes the best stories from top global development organizations and filmmakers around the world.

I work on the project in a kind of hybrid role that combines documentary producing, communication campaign strategy and partnership cultivation with top global development organizations, including Devex, InterAction, Save the Children, UNICEF, PSI, Global Health Council, ONE, Comminit, Bread for the World and more. And thanks to the expertise of these groups, combined with the amazing repository of films now licensed to, we’ve started producing half-hour TV specials in partnership with several top global development organizations – the ViewChange TV series. For each show, the narrative is informed by the expertise and objectives of the partner organization, and the main story and outreach campaign are developed simultaneously against the backdrop of the group’s organizational (and sometimes advocacy) objectives, creating a powerful campaign-style approach.

But one key to the project is simple and so powerful for those in the social-justice community to organize around specific issues – the fully-sharable/embeddable formatting of the acquired films and the final jointly-produced shows. By giving the videos, films and global development shows to groups and blogs to embed and share for their own purposes, we’re offering a tool that’s useful not only in our own campaign outreach, but for others to use in theirs. Interested in raising attention about the connection between climate change and drought in developing nations? Want to support innovative hunger relief programs in poor areas of the world? Need a documentary story that can be used in your own awareness/activist campaign to organize for purposes of advocacy or other goals? Navigating through the tool provides all of these opportunities.

ViewChange: Challenging HungerJust last week, one of these jointly-produced documentary specials premiered on Link TV (Friday, August 12 and 16) and on Working closely with Bread for the World, an anti-hunger advocacy organization, the “ViewChange: Challenging Hunger” documentary special combines filmmaking from Bread for the World itself, along with short films from Oxfam and the Sundance Institute. In this particular show, the organization’s advocacy goals – to use foreign aid more effectively to help poor and hungry people – provide the narrative thru-line.

The call to action is urgent: With more than a billion people suffering from chronic hunger, the timing of potential budget cuts would be particularly devastating to developing nations. And the special debunks a key foreign assistance myth and provides new insight into the ripple effects of chronic hunger: Most Americans believe that about 25 percent of the U.S. budget goes toward foreign assistance, but, in fact, less than 1 percent supports crucial foreign assistance programs—including anti-hunger programs and food aid. The funding is vital to the continued development and management of innovative programs that provide long-term solutions to hunger.

The outreach includes a grassroots campaign to reach out to Bread for the World’s network of thousands of individual members, churches and denominations around the country, as well as reaching out through its college-age hunger activists group. Teams at both Link TV and Bread for the World are working jointly in an integrated strategic communication campaign model that includes traditional media outreach, blogging, sharing the show via embeddable links, outreach to top global development influencers, and social media.

To support Bread for the World’s work directly, check out its fact sheets and advocacy opportunities on its site: Tell Congress to create a circle of protection around funding for programs that are vital to hungry and poor people in the US and abroad.

Follow ViewChange on Twitter @ViewChange and at

You can watch and share the full show here: ViewChange: Challenging Hunger.

Social Actions API Enhancements

Posted on January 21st, 2011 by Rob DiCiuccio

We’re happy to announce that is among the first to utilize the latest version of the Social Actions API. The updated API includes several enhancements, such as semantic content analysis, term boosting, and the ability to query by and return Linked Data entities.

From yesterday’s announcement:

The updates introduce Semantic Analysis and Natural Language Processing (NLP) capabilities to the Social Actions API and begin to connect Social Actions to the wider Linked Open Data community.
Link TV, in prototyping their ViewChange platform, noticed that the Social Actions API wasn’t producing the best possible results. They invited us to explore with them what would be involved in updating our platform so that ViewChange could feature more relevant results.
Link TV, along with Doug Puchalski and Rob DiCiuccio of Definition, helped us articulate the changes that would need to occur and then connected us with a funder who could underwrite what amounted to a very significant enhancement to our code base. In one month, we had approximately as large an investment in the technology as we’d had in total up until that point.
The Social Actions API now cross-references issues and locations with universal identifiers that have been assigned to them. Just like you might cross-reference the subject of a book with a Dewey Decimal number, we are now cross-referencing each action with a universal identifier that helps to link it to related data. Using Zemanta, we are able to provide URIs (Uniform Resource Identifier) from Freebase and DBPedia that make the connection between actions in our system and other material on the web that relates to the same topic.

The ability to query using Linked Data URIs (e.g. removes the ambiguity inherent with a traditional keyword query (“John Adams”), which could be interpreted as any number of persons, such as the former U.S. President or the composer.

We hope that, through this enhanced integration between Social Actions and, we are able to help you get involved by bringing you relevant, timely actions, so you can make a difference.

Read the entire interview with Peter Dietz from Social Actions.

On Linked Data and

Posted on November 17th, 2010 by Rob DiCiuccio

One of the primary goals of has been to bring the concepts of the Semantic Web to video. When we began conceptualizing the ViewChange platform, the use of Linked Data and participation in the Linking Open Data (LOD) cloud were core requirements, as we wanted to provide both semantic meaning and the potential for deep exploration. Being a video-centric site, this presented a unique set of challenges.

The Web of text

HTML, XML, RDF, JavaScript, CSS. The foundation of the Web is text-based. While online video is becoming increasingly popular, and now accounts for a large percentage of Internet traffic, video is still somewhat a second-class citizen on the Web. This is beginning to change, as new open video standards emerge, but as it stands, we have to transcribe the video in order to process its content. Once we have text transcriptions of the videos, we are able to operate on a level playing field. Video transcripts are analyzed using Entity Extraction tools, and topics (disambiguated Named Entities) extracted from the raw text. The resulting topics are linked to online databases such as Freebase and DBpedia, which provide the connection to the LOD cloud.

Metadata & accessibility exposes semantic metadata in a number of ways. RDFa markup is used throughout the site to identify resources and the relationships between them. Popular ontologies, such as Dublin Core, FOAF, and Facebook’s Open Graph protocol, are used to provide standard, interoperable metadata, and enhanced accessibility. Topic and video pages also provide RDF/XML representations, for efficient machine processing.
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Posted on August 12th, 2010 by Hannah Eaves

It’s been a busy few months for us at, between launching our beta site, conducting usability studies, and adding new features. Expect a few posts in the coming days to bring you up to date on everything we’ve been up to.

In late June, we presented at SemTech in San Francisco, the self-professed “world’s largest, most authoritative conference on semantic technology.”  If you’re in to triple stores, SPARQL queries, and W3C working groups, SemTech is the conference for you. For us, there was the chance to tell people about, catch up with partners, and crash some of the less techie panels.

In what was a largely controversy-free (and thus Twitter-lite) conference, Andraz Tori from the semantic blogging plug-in/API/wizardry tool Zemanta sparked some debate with his presentation, “User Interfaces for Semantic Web: Do They Have to Be Ugly?” Happily, as a partner, Andraz had early access to our site and included some slides of it as an example of good design. He argued that a major factor in the success of semantic interfaces, including the BBC’s Nature site, is that they keep the semantic part to themselves. The user experience and design are just improved by the features and SEO bump that come with linking content semantically, but the ordinary person wouldn’t necessarily notice the change. Instead, their experience would be more along the lines of, oh, this looks nice, and now I can find everything I’m interested in (and possibly even some things they didn’t know they were interested in).

Away from SemTech, this point was reinforced when we recently met with John Domingue from the Open University in the UK. On top of giving us an amazing overview of EU funding for semantic research, he mentioned that the BBC had just had similar success with its World Cup site. If you haven’t read up on that yet, the BBC developed its own ontology to fuel “automated metadata-driven web pages” created on the fly. According to Domingue, the experiment was a great success, and when added to Nature and the BBC’s Music site, represents the biggest stable of successful semantic sites whose semantic-ness under the hood hasn’t altered their user-centric design choices.

(A word of warning to anyone who is both using the Zemanta API and touring around demoing their semantic website: using Zemanta’s blogging demo as a tool to explain what the terms “Semantic Web” and “Linked Data” mean will work really, really well. Too well. It may upstage your own presentation.)

Back at SemTech, on top of presenting a talk on “Semantic Web Tools for Video and Social Change,” we also took part in a publishers panel that brought together OpenCalais and Phase2 Technology. Phase2 is the web development firm behind OpenPublish, the Drupal-based online semantic publishing package powered by OpenCalais and used by The Nation and The New Republic, among others (Phase2 also built a little site called It was great to be invited onto the panel by OpenCalais. Tom Tague from OpenCalais echoed Andraz’s presentation, calling on new semantic sites to think of the user experience first and foremost. Tech talk was shunned in favor of conversation about real world examples of working sites and applications, including a lengthy profile of The biggest revelations seemed to come from Phase2 CEO Jeff Walpole when describing the improved SEO experienced by publishers who have regeared their sites using OpenPublish.

Entity Extraction & Content API Evaluation

Posted on May 18th, 2010 by Rob DiCiuccio

The platform utilizes several third-party APIs to perform semantic content analysis and related content aggregation. The technologies developed by these partners have allowed us to leverage powerful tools for entity extraction and content discovery, and facilitate integration with the emerging Semantic Web. These tools allow us to focus more of our efforts on creating an engaging user experience, as well as building new open source tools for content curation, without duplicating the efforts of others.

There are several open APIs that provide semantic analysis and content discovery services. The following evaluation was conducted in February 2010, in order to assess the available APIs and their compatibility with the needs of the platform. The API tests were performed using a custom PHP application for querying and displaying API results. If you would like the source for the test application, send me a message.
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