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Q and A with Justin Ruckman

by Mark Peres

January 8,2009

Justin Ruckman is a leader and creative force behind several social media initiatives in the greater Charlotte region. He is a freelance designer, developer, consultant and artist, having worked for clients such as and Guy Kawasaki. He is a co-founder of Metrolina Biofuels where he serves as Media Director, and, a blog content suggestion service; and his 3-year-old art and design blog, Centripetal Notion, has been featured on sites such as Boing Boing and Slashdot. He is Executive Editor and co-founder at CLT Blog, and a founding partner at Priceless Misc, a local art & design group. He is completing a Bachelor’s degree in mass media at UNC Charlotte. Justin has lived in Greensboro, Raleigh, and Greenville, NC, but Charlotte and the surrounding area has always been his home. He plays the clarinet, and is a member of the Carolina Ballooning Association.

You are active in several social media projects in Charlotte. Tell us about them.

We started CLT Blog in April, 2008. It's an independent city blog covering local music, art, nightlife, architecture, transportation, etc. We’re citizen journalists and artists who are optimistic about our city and the virtues of social media. We don’t talk about social media tools on the blog though, we just use them. Our content is accessible for a general audience of quasi-tech-savvy people who like knowing what’s going on, and contributing news and information about our community to connect with others.

I’m working on a project that I submitted to the Knight News Challenge with two CLT Blog editors. The working name is ‘MMORP’ or ‘Massively Multicontributor Online Reporting Platform,’ which is a play off the ‘MMORPG’ video gaming genre. Our MMORP is an open source content management system for citizen journalists that makes it easy for groups of people spread across a city to access and manage best-of-breed social media tools to report news and information as a collective.

I’m also part of the group organizing BarCamp Charlotte, based on the BarCamp concept first launched in Palo Alto in 2005. BarCamp is an international network of user generated tech/media conferences — open, participatory workshop-events, whose content is provided by the attendees. People arrive in the morning, pitch ideas, decide what they want to talk about, organize a schedule for the day, and present and solve problems. It’s an intense event with discussions, demos and interaction. We’ll have our first BarCamp Charlotte on January 24th at Area 15 in NoDa.

My most fledging initiative is called Priceless Misc(ellaneous), a multidisciplinary design/art collective. We produce electronic media including websites, graphic art, video, motion design and conceptual work for companies and other artists.

What is common to all these initiatives?

The underlying theme for me is the use of technology to enhance creativity and community. I have a personal passion for new media technologies and the creative arts. I like to do anything I can to elevate community, aesthetics, and the flow of information. I’m also interested in the social byproduct of these new self-organizing, democratic trends and experiments. Social media is making it harder and harder not to tell the truth about ourselves. We are becoming more transparent, and more importantly, more honest.

Do you have concerns about social media and the loss of privacy?

I’m a chronic optimist. There is certainly potential for abuse by companies and government to gather information about individuals without permission, but I also believe these things tend to find balance. Citizens have increasingly powerful tools available to hold people and institutions in power accountable. We’re developing a seemingly omniscient consciousness of what everyone is doing all the time. We can bemoan these technologies, but there is no way around them. There is no way to avoid the development of social media, just like we couldn’t avoid industrialization in the 19th century. Everyone is using basic social media like Facebook and instant messaging. I’d rather focus on using social media intentionally for positive purposes that are greater than just ourselves.

What are you observing about adoption rates and patterns in Charlotte?

Charlotte is ahead of certain regions and behind others. Raleigh-Durham has a higher concentration of people who are open to these technologies, but there is a growing number of people in Charlotte who have become really enthusiastic about using tools such as Twitter to enhance business and relationships. What worries me is that there is a pretty high ratio of people in Charlotte interested in this stuff just to make money. They have an angle and are only focused on their ROI – not because they are interested in any kind of significant social or cultural changes. It would be great if these trends in Charlotte weren’t so immediately overtaken by commercial interests.

Where is your work leading?

I don’t know. I’m trying different things and seeing what sticks. I don’t have any tangible goals that I am desirous of achieving in a specific time frame. I pursue what I’m curious about, what makes me happy, and what is sustainable. The virtue for me is improving myself and helping people around me.

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