"By creating a tool for anyone in the entire world to share their stories at any time from anywhere about anything, you will start to bridge this media divide and create a more diverse media scene."
Written for the MGP by Kyrsten Skulborstad at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, May 2009
Erik Sundelof is a storyteller at heart. But unlike many journalists who have resisted the wave of the Web, the 33-year-old engineer-guru from Sweden has pushed full steam ahead.
Sundelof created a new kind of site – inthefieldONLINE.net – with the mission to "provide simple, cheap and easily maintainable tools so that users [who] cannot connect to the Internet still are able to do so with as simple techniques as possible." His vision is to enable people 'in the field' to report news stories and share content through cell phones, regardless of their location or socioeconomic standing.
"Consider some boy or girl in a developing country, emerging democracy, who might be living in [a] state run by a dictator, corrupt regime or even just a troubled area," Sundelof said. "What kinds of information will that boy or girl have access to? Who will provide this information? Will it be accurate? Will it be diverse? Will it be free and uncensored? What difference between that information and the information I can see, hear or read is there? Will they feel as entitled as I do to both access and to create that information?"
These are the questions that give Sundelof motivation and perspective on his work for inthefieldONLINE.net. He believes alternative news sources in media are a rare occasion in the world, but Sundelof remains optimistic about the mobile phone's pivotal role in international storytelling.
"Via cell phones, you will be able to share news, as cell phones are ubiquitous, immediate and simple. By creating a tool for anyone in the entire world to share their stories at any time from anywhere about anything, you will start to bridge this media divide and create a more diverse media scene. We definitely need it."
While studying Chemical Engineering and receiving a PhD licentiate in Numerical Analysis form Stockholm's Royal Institute of Technology, Sundelof found himself in the midst of the Information Technology (IT) boom. Astonished by the freedom online, Sundelof said he usually spent hours in front of his computer browsing the Web for all sorts of information and was amazed by the content available. He would like to make this information available to everyone, particularly through his work at inthefieldONLINE.net and his role as the co-founder and VP of Social Media and User Interface at Allvoices, Inc. in San Francisco.
Allvoices is a new content-based social network for news and opinions. It is amongst the 3000 biggest sites in the Internet just 6 months after its launch. He was previously a fellow at the Reuters Digital Vision Program at Stanford University between 2005-2006.
Sundelof believes the concept of "citizen journalism" and sharing information via mobile devices will be useful not only in the developed world, but also in the developing world. According to Sundelof, individuals and communities in these regions will directly enter the wireless world and leapfrog over the traditional wired solutions.
He cites the 2008 Mumbai attacks as one historical event where cell phone reporting played a key role in the media coverage, and believes this is a trend that will progress.
"The technology is here to stay and in the developing world many people who have the stories to tell will be very mobile."
Focusing most of his attention on the company he co-founded, Allvoices.com, inthefieldONLINE.net is what Sundelof calls "a placeholder for future work." He has tested the blog's software and solution on all continents and has people using the blog for either travel diaries, covering NGO work, or especially as a tool in conflicts of war.
Sundelof's work through inthefieldONLINE.net has put him in Sweden's national spotlight and he has been recognized by global media heavy-hitters including PBS, CNN, BBC and Discovery International.