How much can you really express in 140 characters? The case for pictograms and ideograms

Having to analyze political-related tweets in English, Spanish, and Mandarin, its clear that some languages offer much more character efficiency within the 140-character limit of Twitter. In fact, scholars conclude that Chinese (Chan, 2010) and Japanese (Summers, 2010) characters are “more expressive” per character than other languages.   

The reason East Asia languages’ great expressive potential is mainly because these languages are ideogrammic, not phonetic.  By ideogrammatic I mean that by combining two or more pictograms or ideograms, you can create a new concept.   The idea of pictorams or ideograms is not a new one and stems back to the beginning of civilization (i.e cave paintings). 

Which brings me to the point about pictograms and ideograms.  As the world is getting more multicultural, a more visual-based language sounds increasingly appealing.  Besides being more economical, pictograms and ideograms also have the advantage of being intelligible to people who speak different languages.  For example, this is why they are used in airports around the world (ex. toilet = bathroom, fork = dining/restaurants). 

The Noun Project maintain the largest free and public visual dictionary of the highly recognizable icons from around the world.  However, the Noun Project is not only a library, as the founder has said, “Its also a workshop, where concepts are visualized and shared freely. It’s a new way of thinking where language is seen, not spoken.

Visit their website and search for any keyword to see the images associated with that word around the world.


                              Noun Project - Search for an icon

All Noun Project symbols are licensed under Creative Commons, which provides licenses for the open sharing of content, knowledge, art and data.

Here is a phrase I’ve created with pictograms and ideograms from the Noun Project.  Its basic, but hopefully it will illustrate the expressive potential of communicating using a visual language.




Jul 19, 2014 5:41 pm

A few months ago, I launched REALNY (Rights, Education, Access, Law) New York as part of my work with the LawHelpNY Consortium.  My goal was to find a way to make learning about your rights and social and community issues fun, relevant, and engaging.  Often times, know your rights materials and resources are often complex to understand and dry.  So, with REALNY, I wanted to find a way to use design, multi-media, and short and informative plain-English articles to help New Yorkers learn about their legal rights as they apply to current events and community resources.

The website includes lots of interactive features such as:

  • polls
  • discussion forums
  • videos and image galleries

I am currently working on the Spanish mirror site version of this site.  Hopefully, to be launched in another month or so. 

Jun 30, 2014 6:56 am

Thoroughly Enjoying this Augmented-Reality Translation App

Word Lens is an augmented reality app for iOS, Android, and Google Glass, that translates printed text using your device’s camera alone – no network connection necessary.

Google recently announced that its bought the company in order to incorporate their technology into Google Translate’s broad language coverage and translation capabilities.  So you can only imagine, there are still many great things to come in the world of augmented-reality translation. 

After watching their intro video below, you wont resist downloading the app and playing around with it.

Jun 21, 2014 6:27 am

Switzerland, Here I Come!

I’ve been invited to present my doctoral research at the National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR) Democracy in Lucerne, Switzerland on June 25, 2014. 

The NCCR is a multi-disciplinary research program launched by the Swiss National Science Foundation in 2005. The program examines the key challenges to democracy today and traces them to two major trends: globalization and the growing influence of the media on politics.

The title of my presentation is:

Politics as Usual or Transformation?The Role of Political Institutions, Elite Politics, and Digital Technologies in East Asian and Latin American Democracies

Perhaps the most exciting part of this presentation is that leading democratization scholar, Philippe C. Schmitter, will be present to listen to the presentations and provide feedback.

If you are interested in seeing a copy of the presentations, please contact me at:



Image courtesy of:

Jun 13, 2014 8:12 am

Can an app actually make you happier?

Fitter, happier, more productive, / Comfortable, / Not drinking too much, / Regular exercise at the gym / - Radiohead, Fitter Happier - OK Computer

Radiohead’s song Fitter Happier was written in 1997.  This song is prolific in the sense that it examines the theme of social alienation in modern society.  However, no one then could have predicted the flood of self-help life improvement apps that would emerge almost 15 years later which promise to help us achieve these things.   

Take the case of the Happier app.  This mobile app helps you document the things that make you the happiest. It then generates a “happiness graph” that allows you to discover new ways that you can pursue happiness.


             Nataly Kogan, CEO and Co-Founder of the Happier app

Although, named by Time Magazine as one of the best apps for 2013, it has nevertheless received lots of skepticism.  Most of these criticisms revolve around the idea that well…., apps just simply can’t make you happier.  They may be able to momentarily make you happier. But if you are someone who naturally gravitates to the darker things in life; can an app actually steer you the other way towards joy and light? Or perhaps, the Happier attract people that are already yearning to be happier, therefore, preselecting from a subgroup of the population that will be open to what the app has to offer?

Lots of questions arise when discussing the impact of self-help mobile apps.  The answer so far seems to be that it all comes down to the individual.  The promise of technology sometimes exceeds expectations and sometimes falls short, so nobody can be sure how the app economy will or will not transform your life.  However, it is exciting to see the self-help apps entering the medical and educational field.  Apps that help patients monitor their diabetes or help children learn how to read and solve math problems. 

What are some of the ones you are most excited about?

May 25, 2014 4:05 pm

Join us Thursday for the Screening of our Documentary Shorts on NYC Immigration

I am wrapping up the final clips and soundtrack for my video to be screened on Thursday.  The video titled: Hacking Justice: Immigrant Outreach for the 21st Century has been an amazing journey.  A journey I hope to take again very soon; and one which I will write about in more detail in the very near future. 

In the meantime, back to editing and putting after-effects and hope to see some of you there!


May 13, 2014 7:09 am

Kenya’s economic boom is currently working on its next biggest project - the construction of “Silicon Savannah.”  Of course, the idea of Silicon Valley conjures lots of positive and not so pretty images of progress, but also gentrification and greater marginalization for those of you who are  not players and key drivers in tech-start-up communities.  But its exciting to consider the new talent and ideas that could be revealed in Kenya.  Ideas such as the tech-medical solutions which try to increase access to healthcare and medical information.  But also because of the emerging and dynamic youth population.

As Kenya’s economy shifted from an agricultural one to a tech-based one, the government has invested heavily on primary and secondary school education in both urban and rural Kenya.  This is good news.  This has led to a greater than ever percentage of Kenyan youth going to universities.  In return, there has been a rise in the number of for-profit colleges in Kenya, due to the inability of the public universities to absorb all the potential students.  (This, is not such a good thing, but to be discussed at a later post).  

The fact is that Kenya is now equipped with a large educated and youth population ready to take on their country’s challenges.  If you want to keep your ears close to the ground and stay abreast of tech startups and innovations that arise, here are some groups to follow:

  • iHub:  an open space for the technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in the area.
  • M-Farm: Kenyan start-up that link farmers to buyers through our marketplace and current agri-trends.
  • Startup Kenya: online map of all startups in Kenya.  This map was made to connect and promote the Kenyan tech startup community.

For more information about the tech boom in Africa and the socioeconomic implications of it, check out this excellent article at MIT Technology Review: Frustrated Innovation.

Apr 30, 2014 4:17 pm

Why we should care if social movements fail?


Are social movements deepening democracy in new democracies? When looking at emerging democracies in East Asia and Latin America, the answer is not straightforward.  Like most of the world, movements in these regions face the predominance of the neo-liberal orientations of their governments.   While democracy provides some basis for citizens to freely protest at the grassroots level, the reality is that many movements’ grievances go unheard.

Take the case of two countries in my doctoral study,, Taiwan and Chile.  Currently, all eyes are on the newly reelected Michele Bachelet to appease and address the grievances brought forth by years of student mobilization.   Likewise in Taiwan, the recent Student Sunflower Movement highlights the fact that many of the concrete grievances from social movements going back from 70s and 80s are still unresolved (Chen: 2007:2).

In these scenarios, the answer still lies in the forging of alliances between the working and middle-classes (Navarro, 1991; Rueschemeyer, Huber Stephens, and Stephens 1992:97).  Therefore, relevant to our study is if new and emerging information and communication technologies are helping to forge new ties between these groups.  Can we expect that advanced in the Internet and mobile technologies will help to build these alliances and put pressure on political parties?  Sadly, perhaps no.  While these technologies offer convenient, cheap and innovative methods of communication which can facilitate the development of horizontal political networks, they are still mostly attractive especially to a younger subset of the population.

taiwan 2014 student movement

Why should we care if social movements fail?

This is a critical question to explore which is directly relevant to the strengthening of democracy in Chile and Taiwan.  In both countries, historically, social movements’ mass working classes often have demands and needs incompatible with the middle classes.  For example, in Taiwan, small and medium size business owners are the ones financing the DPP (Arrigo 1994; Wang 1989).  What this has resulted in Taiwan, is that both political parties have failed to confront the neo-liberal model of development in their country.  Nationalism and increasing integration of Taiwan into China’s markets will also continue to place barriers to the successful building of alliances between the working and middle class.

Ultimately, these factors lead to “crises of political representation” which endanger the quality of democracy and ultimately its survival (Manwaring, Bejarano and Pizarro 2006).

This article was originally published on

Apr 25, 2014 4:26 pm

Before I forget. Two Recent Jaunts in the Social Justice World

I’ve returned from a short trip - for some much needed Vitamin D at Tenerife, Canary Islands and then some exploring in Oxford, England.  Before I left, I had forgotten to share some information on two events which I had participated in prior to my trip:

Despite some Go-to-Webinar technical glitches during my webinar, I have to say both events were extremely rewarding.  I find the more I talk with others about my own research and personal ideas and pursuits, the more clarity I get about what it is that I am actually trying to achieve.  Its always a balance between talking and actually doing the doing (if that makes any sense!).

If you missed both events, refer to the write-up and video recording below to learn more:

1. My webinar was covered by the folks at Connecting Justice Communities.

You can read the article here: #DisasterLegalAid: LawHelpNY Webinar Outlines Best Practices in Post-Disaster Social Media

2. Recording of my Access to Justice panel at the Brooklyn Law School’s Bleak House to Geek House Conference.

Apr 22, 2014 6:10 pm

Political Apathy or Mobilization? The Student Sunflower Movement in Taiwan

When one thinks about social movements around the world, Taiwan is not one of the countries that come to mind.  Perhaps, this is why Taiwan’s historical Sunflower Student Movement (太陽花學運) is not receiving much attention in Western news.  Rather, what often grabs national headline are Taiwan’s political fighting that occur during parliament sessions. However, as many other scholars of Taiwanese politics are aware, politics in Taiwan is always animated and never boring!  This is why when I set out to study online political participation in Latin America and East Asia, I was interested in finding out what I could learn about how Taiwanese citizens have been adapting and using the Internet and other communication and new media technologies.

In mid-February we began recruiting college students in Taipei to take our survey on the use of technology on their political participation and their views views on the government.  Almost a month later, the Sunflower Student Movement broke out on March 18, 2014 and is still taking place.  From the surveys completed so far, its clear that the youth in Taiwan are experiencing a growing alienation from mainstream political parties.  Despite advances in new communication technologies, political parties in Taiwan have largely failed to engage in dialogue with society.

However, our survey has not yet revealed any evidence to better understand what eventually led the students to rise up and mobilize.  For example, in our survey, most students so far report not feeling like they could make an impact in their society.  Most also report to not feeling like taking action on a social or political issue they read online.  Lastly, the majority have reported that the Internet increases the influence of those with extreme views.  

See cross-tabulation table below:

Clearly, there is more we need to explore in other to understand the differences in views between the silent population of college students who do not mobilize versus the ones that have chosen to uprise historically last month.
Stay tune for more updates!

Apr 07, 2014 3:24 pm

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