Aug 23. XRay featured in the NYT Bits Blog

The New York Times Bits Blog featured a long piece by Steve Lohr on XRay, "a reverse-engineering machine that models the correlations made by web services." As you browse the web, shop online or contact friends via SMS or email, companies collect and share information, making inferences about you to target their services. XRay exposes those inferences. According to Lohr, "the group’s three initial efforts have tried to determine the kinds of ads shown to Gmail users based on the text in their email messages; the product recommendations Amazon shows users based on their wish lists and other data; and the video recommendations made by YouTube determined by the videos users have previously viewed."

The work on XRay was supervised in part by Augustin Chaintreau and Mathias Lecuyer, whose previous project Dispatch was funded by the Brown Institute in 2012-2013. XRay is the basis for a 2014-2015 Magic Grant by Charles Berret, Max Lee Tucker de Silva, Cecilia Reyes and Augustin Chaintreau, who are customizing the tool for journalistic investigations. XRay will be presented at the Usenix Security Symposium in San Diego. Try it out here


Aug 23. Crowdsourcing experts by Michael Bernstein

Michael Bernstein's work about crowdsourcing expertise and problem-solving is featured on a new video. He shows how to dynamically assemble and manage paid online experts. Bernstein is an Assistant Professor in Computer Science at Stanford, and he develops systems and tools for crowdsourcing work with his team. Bernstein is affiliated with the Brown Institute, and he and his teams are Magic Grants recipients for their projects Visual Genome (2014-2015) and Ensemble (2013-2014).

Jul 26. Columbia student seminar with Latour on Sept. 23

Photoblofficielle_credit emilie hermant-500-0x327x1496x832

Applications due: August 18 (double extended!)

Columbia graduate students are now invited to apply for a seminar led by Professor Bruno Latour on Tuesday, September 23, 12-3pm. Twenty-five graduate students from throughout the university will be selected to participate in this single seminar given by Prof. Latour. Students will organize themselves into a reading group to meet once or twice in early September for discussion of Prof. Latour’s work. They will then meet to continue this discussion with a small group of faculty on September 15, 12-2pm. Students and a few faculty will meet with Prof. Latour on September 23. A reading list will be distributed in advance. 

Applications are available through the Brown Institute submitttable site. Aside from your name, advisor and dissertation topic, we also ask for (in one short, concise paragraph) the major themes/keywords from Latour's work that are most relevant to your own work, and a description of why you would benefit from this seminar. The due date for applications is August 11, and successful applicants will be notified in mid-August.

This seminar is part of a week of events with Prof. Latour (more information forthcoming): 

Monday, Sept. 22, late afternoon: public lecture with Q&A by Nick Lemann 

Tuesday, Sept. 23, 7pm: Latour’s play, Gaia, for Columbia students and faculty 

Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 24, 25, 7pm: Public performances of Gaia 

Prof. Latour’s visit is sponsored by the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, Alliance (Columbia, École Polytechnique, Sciences Po, and Panthéon-Sorbonne University), The Center for Science and Society, and The Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Jul 21. Our new Columbia home!


Today the Brown Institute moved into its new home at Columbia University. I (Mark Hansen) can report that the space is more lovely than I could have ever imagined. While there's plenty to do still -- including a mural by Shantell Martin -- the space is inspiring. LTL Architects did a wonderful job! To mark the move, the Chronicle of Higher Education also wrote a fantastic piece about Brown and its goals. Joy! 

Jul 19. Brown hosts Bruno Latour at Columbia


September 21-25, The Brown Institute, with assistance from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Columbia University, will host the French anthropologist and sociologist Bruno Latour. During his visit, Latour will give a public lecture (with Q&A by Nicholas Lemann of the Columbia School of Journalism), participate in both student and faculty seminars, and oversee three performances of his play "Gaia Global Circus" at The Kitchen in Chelsea. We'll post details about how to participate in any of the events during this amazing week.


Jul 16. The 2014 Computation + Journalism Symposium


Computation+Journalism is a forum for discussing the ways journalism is and should be adapting in the face of the quantitative turn in society. We invite the participation of a broad range of thinkers, doers, and storytellers to this interdisciplinary meeting, a hybridization of journalism and the computing and data sciences. We want to hear from journalists with an interest in, or experience in, developing new technologies or applications, and from data and computer scientists working in news, or storytelling broadly, and collaborating or hoping to collaborate with journalistic organizations.

The conference will be held on October 24-25 at the Brown Institute for Media Innovation in New York.

Details at

Jul 09. Stanford names its 2014-2015 Brown Institute Fellows

Reflecting the growth and broadening scope of the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, Stanford has named five accomplished individuals from diverse backgrounds as its 2014-2015 Brown Fellows. 


Dr. Tanja Aitamurto has participated in a range of Institute activities over the last two years and she has collaborated closely with the Widescope team.  Having recently received her doctoral degree from Tampere University (Finland), her background connects journalism, engineering, public policy and design. Tanja will also join the Brown leadership team and serve as the Institute's Deputy Director at Stanford.

After receiving his PhD from Stanford, Dr. David Chen continues as a Brown Fellows for his third year. He was a key member of the bicoastal Personalized Television News Magic Grant team in the Institute's inaugural year. Now a full-time research associate, David will continue collaborating with the current Magic Grant teams, as well as continue his research in the area of mobile visual search and augmented reality.

Huizhong Chen is a Ph.D. candidate in the Electrical Engineering Department, focusing on new approaches for word recognition in text documents.

Rebecca Weiss is a PhD candidate in the Department of Communications and a member of the 2013-14 Magic Grant team, Gistraker. Her research leverages natural language processing and machine learning for semi-automated content analysis of news stories.  

Matt Yu is also a PhD candidate in the Electrical Engineering Department. Matt previously contributed to the Personalized Television News and the STAR (Storytelling with Augmented Reality) Magic Grant projects. He a recipient of a 2014-15 Magic Grant as part of the bicoastal Reframe Iran team. 

Jun 21. Fireside favorites


In the closing days of ITP Summer camp, the Cannabis Wire Magic Grant team of Alyson Martin and Nushin Rashidian test out the Oculus Rift. The experience is shaping up much as we had hoped -- Students in journalism learning about new forms of expression through technology. (Photo o

Jun 16. By design


Eight 2014-15 Magic Grant award winners joined teams from the Class of 2013-14 at Stanford on June 9 and 10 for the Brown Institute's quarterly all-hands meeting. The teams introduced themselves, their projects, and engaged in a half-day Design Thinking workshop. The session was facilitated by Umbreen Bhatti, a 2013-14 John S. Knight Fellow and a team of three assistants. A key goal of "Design Thinking," as developed by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (known informallly as the, is to take a user-centered approach to project and prototype development. To that end, the group first engaged in a rapid prototyping excercise to "redesign the breakfast experience." After  taking in the approach, grantees re-joined their own teams to discuss the best ways to apply design thinking to their individual projects. Ranjay Krishna, is a Stanford computer science master's student, whose "Visual Genome" project seeks to enable journalists to effectively gather crowd-sourced breaking news images and videos in near real-time. Krishna, pictured below with Columbia J-School alum Adam Golub, said he enjoyed the community building/design sessions and looked forward to applying the lessons learned to his project.  

Photo-5 copy-500-0x112x479x266

Jun 04. Brown goes to Washington


Ashish Goel and Tanja Aitamurto represented the Stanford Crowdsourced Democracy Team last week at a White House conference organized by Lynn Overmann, ‎Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer. They gave a small presentation about how their digital platform, Widescope, was used to do participatory budgeting in the 49th ward of Chicago. Their partners from the 49th ward in Chicago gave a ringing endorsement. The team met representatives of several cities, including Vallejo, who expressed an interest in partnering with them for their own crowdsourced budgeting projects.

Established in 2012, the Institute is a collaboration between Columbia and Stanford Universities. Our mission is simple: Sponsor thinking, building and speculating on how stories are discovered and told in a networked, digitized world.


Brown News