Happy holidays, everyone! As 2006 approaches, I find myself in an increasingly unfamiliar spot: my office, in the attic of my house in Lanesboro, Massachusetts. 2005 took me to India, Japan, South Africa, Tunisia, Italy and almost a dozen other countries, and as a result, nowhere is feeling quite so foreign as my desk at home.
As computers became increasingly important in business in the 1990s, pundits predicted a "paperless office" - yet paper consumption increased as workers found it easier to create new documents. As online communities are becoming more central to my life, I find that I spend more time on the road, meeting people who I've gotten to know online and now want to meet face to face.
The most central of these communities to me has been Global Voices, a project my friend Rebecca MacKinnon and I launched in late 2004 at the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School, where I continue to be a research fellow. Global Voices is an international community of "bridge bloggers", people who use their weblogs to build understanding between people in different countries and communities.
A year into the project, Global Voices has sixty regular contributors from around the globe, an amazing team of 6 regional editors, almost five thousand posts, and is on the verge of breaking into Technorati's top 100 list of weblogs. Our conference in December, at corporate sponsor Reuters' headquarters in Canary Wharf, London, was the highlight of the year, as I got to meet face to face some amazing people I'd only known online - like Tha Rum, Georgia Poplewell, Lisa Goldman and Farid Pouya. I also got to spend some time with Sokari Ekine, Ory Okolloh, Andrew Heavens and other African friends who've helped me revamp BlogAfrica and turn it into the leading aggregator of African and Afrophile weblogs.
2005 was a year filled with tragedies, both natural disasters and man-made horrors. Learning from Dina Mehta and other friends and their response to the Southeast Asian Tsunami, I had the chance to lend a hand with the Katrina Peoplefinder Project alongside my friend Jon Lebkowsky. We used wikis, databases and a team of volunteers around the world to help merge hundreds of databases into a single, searchable resource. (More information on the project, what worked and what didn't on a post on my blog.) When terrorists bombed hotels in Amman, killing dozens of innocent civilians, I watched my Jordanian blogger friends put together a virtual newsroom on JordanPlanet and Global Voices, covering the tragedy in more detail (and with more personal insight) than mainstream media was able to offer.
Somewhere between trips on behalf of Open Society Institute, Berkman, Global Voices, USAID and Worldchanging, I've managed to continue fooling Harvard into believing that I am, in fact, an academic. To that end, I just finished a book chapter on bridgeblogs for a book coming out in 2006 from the University of Michigan press - a preview of the chapter is available over on my blog.
Here's hoping 2006 is a little slower, a little calmer, a lot safer for me, you and the world as a whole.