Hi! Thanks for visiting.
My name is Ethan Zuckerman. I’m associate professor of public policy, communication and information at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I’m founder of the Institute for Digital Public Infrastructure, a research group that is studying and building alternatives to the existing commercial internet. I’m the author of two books: Mistrust: Why Losing Faith in Institutions Provides the Tools to Transform Them and Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection, both published through W.W. Norton. 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 Klein Center at Harvard, the MIT Media Lab and Comparative Media Studies at MIT, Geekcorps, and Tripod.
I joined UMass in the fall of 2020 and will teach my first class in February 2021. I’ve got appointments in three departments at UMass. My home department is the School for Public Policy, but I’ll be teaching and advising students in Communication and CICS as well. My work at UMass focuses on designing and advocating for versions of social media that are designed to have positive social and civic impacts, which means moving beyond existing models of funding and governance. I’m founding the Institute for Digital Public Infrastructure to explore these ideas, and you can find much of my writing about the topic on the iDPI website.
I came to MIT in 2011 to take over the Center for Civic Media when co-founder Chris Csikszentmihalyi moved on. Center for Civic Media, supported by the John and James Knight Foundation, researches the relationship between media and social change, and builds tools to study how ideas spread in the media, and how citizens can better participate in their civic lives.
I worked with extraordinary people at Center for Civic Media and have an increasingly long list of alumni who have moved on to wonderful things – Nathan Matias was my first PhD graduate, and he’s been joined by Jia Zhang and Erhardt Graeff. Joy Buolamwini and Alexis Hope will graduate in 2021, and I am working with Chelsea Barabas and Pedro Reynolds Cuellar on their PhDs as well.
Much of my research at MIT centered 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 Klein Center. A recent paper by Benkler, Roberts and Faris (I had a small assisting role) does a good job of displaying what the tool can do – this CJR article is a compact overview of its conclusions.
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. Ivan Sigal and Georgia Popplewell have been brilliantly running the project for years – I am proud to remain a board member of the Dutch stichting that oversees the community.
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 my books. I don’t use an agent for speaking – if you want to invite me to speak at your event, conference or bar mitzvah, contact me through my contact form.
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.
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” dot.com 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 & Places
I live in Lanesboro, MA, a rural town of about 3,000 in Berkshire County, MA, USA, with my partner Amy Price, and near my son, Andrew Wynn Kwame Zuckerman, better known as Drew, and his mother, Rachel Barenblat.