Crowdaoke: building peace with harmony

It happened on a flight, and was again the result of a caffeine high. Heidi Rosbe and I were having one of those rambling conversations that keeps you going on early morning flights. I told her about my friend Rodrigo Davies, who is at MIT’s Center for Civic Media, and had just finished prototyping a fun sounding app: Crowdaoke, a platform that replicates a karaoke experience from your laptop. We both loved the name, I explained as best I could how it worked.  And then somehow, we started talking about how Crowdaoke could support peacebuilding. We bounced round ideas, got quite excited. I’m sure we were the loudest people on that flight.

Fast forward four weeks, Heidi passed on an email she’d received about the UN Alliance of Civilizations’ Create UNAOC competition, which “invites individuals and teams — beginners and experts alike — to create new apps and mobile games that raise awareness and enable new opportunities for intercultural dialogue.” I was reminded of our flight together, and replied copying in Rodrigo. Rodrigo had originally built Crowdaoke with colleagues at an MIT workshop as a vehicle for exploring the narrative arc of a karaoke experience.  Still, he saw the possible applications to peacebuilding and social cohesion, and was immediately sold on the idea of entering the competition. And so it started: Crowdaoke 4 Peace, building peace with harmony.

John Paul Lederach says that “The importance and potential of arts as a tool for peacebuilding should not be underestimated.” Music in particular is a powerful tool through which to share experiences and better understand the aspirations of others. It can promote inclusion and tolerance, and a genuine appreciation for other cultures and the people within. It is not a direct dialogue, but rather an indirect exchange, able to reach people far beyond the small, self-selecting groups interested in cross-cultural dialogue.

With that rationale in mind, Crowdaoke 4 Peace is an app designed for use by peacebuilding programs to enhance their work and connectivity with participants. In a nutshell, Crowdaoke is an interface to create online choirs. The viewing experience is divided into two areas on screen: an on-deck area where the viewer can select songs and audition performers, and the stage, which is set as a grid. From the on-deck area, the viewer first selects a song and several pre-recorded performers singing the song to create a Crowdaoke choir. This choir displays on the stage as a grid, with each pre-recorded performer taking one slot. One of the Crowdaoke slots is reserved for the viewer, whose camera is triggered as the performance begins, and sees him/herself as one of the performers on stage. Crowdaoke supports up to four live performers, so the viewer can arrange to meet up to three friends to sing together online. There is no limit to the number of viewers, who can watch the performance live and comment via the online chat.

If you want to read more about why we think this is a worthwhile approach and view some app samples, take a look at You can also watch a walkthrough of the Crowdaoke prototype here.

Crowdaoke 4 Peace is a tool to deliver small, transcendent moments to people who live in conflict. Moments that remind them of their humanity. The more work I do in peacebuilding, the more convinced I am that it is the sum total of small transcendent moments that delivers peace. Conferences, agreements and structured dialogues are important; they manage, prevent and mitigate conflict. But only through transcendence can we really aspire to transform conflict, and thus achieve meaningful, lasting peace.


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