Monday, December 19, 2005

Consolidation can lead to consumer wins

It seems like the frenzy over AOL has finally ended with exclusive deals with Google and AOL. This isn't quite like the Googlezon as predicted in EPIC 2014 (and EPIC 2015)but it certainly bears watching.

Indeed, Wired has a recent article on Who's Afraid of Google? Everyone. Sure, much of this is probably competition, some likely has to jealousy...but suffice to say the landscape has changed dramatically from just a few years back.

I have no idea what the future holds, but as more companies like Microsoft introduce services like to better compete against Google, ultimately it seems that the end user wins. As more folks find tools that help amplify their voice, the better. As more folks find others with similar ideas, the better. The challenge will always be how do you balance empowerment, self-selection, community and a vibrant marketplace/diversity of ideas and voices?

Not ready for prime time -- wikipedia

Every once in a while -- I have to remember -- not everyone is online as much as I am. Lots of folks do not know the difference between a wiki and a blog. Likewise, many do not see what the fuss about podcasts and RSS is all about. By and large, these incredible tools still seem to be in the early adopter phase.

Sure, mainstream journalism is talking about this stuff a lot more. Go to any website for a major metro paper and you're likely to find some reference to a blog, feed, or even podcasts. Still doesn't mean the average person gets it, or knows what to do with it.

A prime example of this would be the whole hoopla over Wikipedia and the JFK assasination. To recap briefly, there was a prank done on wikipedia related to the JFK assassination. No one let the person indicted in the prank in on the joke, and they responded with an Op-Ed to the USA Today. Much controversy arose, many wrote about it, even Nature got into the fray.

This whole fuss reminds me of a previous post on wikis. Currently, it seems that wikis are best used in certain circumstances with the right expectations from all users/consumers. The LA Times experiment was a prime example of what can go wrong with a wiki, while Esquire seemed to do all right. Additionally, the whole Seigenthaler issue seems to be one of not really understanding what a wiki is, or can be.

Until a *much* broader segment of the users on the web understand what any of this stuff (wikis, blogs, etc) can do, I would not be surprised if more flare-ups such as this one occur again.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Bowling Alone no more?

This may be a bit of a stretch regarding what most consider to be "technology” but it does relate to community and game play.

I was recently in a Barnes and Noble or Borders the other day and I was surprised to see an inordinate amount of games for sale alongside the best sellers. Sure, finding books on poker, crosswords and sudoku are to be expected, but actual board games such as Age of Empires or World of Warcraft (games that are traditionally computer / internet based games)? Not only that, but there were a lot of niche board games that I would only expect to read about on All of this was rather unexpected. Of course, favorites such as Monoploy and Scrabble were readily found.

Maybe it's my naivety, or maybe it's been a long time since I set foot in a bookstore like that, but regardless, I think this is a good thing. Games are no doubt close to my heart -- perhaps more so after working with the casual game community for several years. There's something quite wonderful abut challenging oneself (in terms of things like crosswords and sudoku) and also about playing with others in games like chess, Monopoly or whatever.

A few years ago, Robert Putnam wrote about the decline of social capital in Bowling Alone. I don't know what the recent statistics are for bowling, but if the amount of games sold in stores is any indication, I would think that Putnam was wrong.

Monday, December 05, 2005

changing workforce demographics

As baby boomers begin to retire, and those in Gen Y enter the workforce, a whole variety of issues can manifest in the office. A few weeks ago, the USA Today did a story on Gen Y in the workforce. More recently, Business Week is getting into the game.

Loosely related, this reminds me of a recent conversation with a friend of mine who's worked with youth over the years. She discussed the ever changing role of tech -- how email is not too efficient in reaching youth, but IM and mobile phone use was. Also, we talked about some new studies looking at how people use their thumbs. For example, did you know that there's been studies showing that people are now favoring their thumbs when ringing a doorbell?

Seems to me that to really look at how tech and community intersect, I need to focus on what is going on with those still in middle school. (note to self, read Ito's research on mobile culture) Though they are already a force to be reckoned with, watch out when they take the international work/political/social world by storm.

out of the ordinary

I've been thinking about this topic for a bit -- this notion of surprise, and how what is unplanned can be a good thing in terms of community.

My first example would be at MindCamp and the lack of internet access. Though it was billed and planned as having a mesh network, things didn't work out as planned at first. Partly due to tech, partly due to lack of nodes in the mesh network, there just wasn't any connection at first. Though this did seem to put a hamper on things, I would argue that this fostered community because 1) people were forced to focus on the topics at hand 2) people had to interact with one another 3) you had an instant ice breaker of "gee, it sucks that there's no internet" 3a) shared, common experience. Apparently, others also believed the lack of access to the internet to be a good thing as evidenced by some feedback here on the wiki.

Another example of how the unexpected can be a good thing would be what happens in Seattle when it snows. First, it rarely snows, and if it does, it rarely sticks around. So it is not that surprising that people in this city get all "weird" when it comes to snow. For days the top news story was the snow. This overall weirdness though, is somewhat unique though. At work last week when it snowed, the focus of everyone in the office was elsewhere. People worried about how to get home, some had to get their kids from school, others looked in awe at the big fluffy flakes falling from the sky. Regardless of how individuals reacted, there was this overall giddiness in the office. Likewise, it seemed that there was this sense of wonder for all experiencing the snow. Just a few years ago when it did snow heavily and stay, the city of Seattle literally shut down. Hills turned into ski slopes. Neighborhood restaurants never looked so packed. The place down the corner from me turned into a ski chalet, offering free hot chocolate to those braving the weather.

In both scenarios, this notion of surprise and shared experience seems key in terms of bringing people together. It seems to shake people momentarily from their day to day routine, and we are all then able to look at the world with a sense of wonder, possibility and play.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A new kind of philanthropy

This has been brewing for some time, but it seems that people are wanting much more of a hands on approach when it comes to philanthropy. This is clearly evidenced by all of the ad-hoc Katrina relief efforts that Nancy White documented, and now it's getting some nice play in the New York Times. As if that were not enough, NBC Nightly News did a story last night on a teacher inspiring kids to give back, not just through money, but with their own time and energy.

"the kids realize, dollar for dollar, their money is going to be spent where they intended — to buy cows"

This whole notion of getting more hands on, of directing and driving where the money goes specifically illustrates how much people want to get involved and give back. Going back to my MindCamp experience, people are wanting to work on citywide Wifi plans to democratize and empower people with information. Others are wanting to provide tech assistance to nonprofits. All of these are very hands on means by which a person gives back to the wider community. Indeed, it's a model not unlike Social Venture Partners where people who donate become partners in the organization and then help nonprofits with different projects.

This drive for more of a hands on approach to connecting with communities is interesting. In some ways, it seems to be a response to the cynicism that has pervaded previous generations in that it says, "Ok, we don't trust the institutions but we trust that we can do this ourselves, and possibly even better." Call it one part exuberance with one part entrepreneurship. No matter what you call it though, it is a very powerful mix.

Implementation matters

OhmyNews has an article on "How Trumped Friendster" (via Influx Insights), underscoring the importance of implementation. In the case of MySpace and Friendster, here you had two services that were essentially the same. How each of them chose to implement their offerings varried, and ultimately determined their fates. It's interesting to think that in spite of the potential of Friendster, it basically came down to marketing, tapping into the most influential users, and nurturing that community. There, MySpace succeeded where Friendster failed.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Notes from (Mind) Camp

Hello Mother, Hello Father...greetings from (er, following) Mind Camp...

Yes, I was also a Mind Camp 1.0 attendee and participant. Several have already provided some nice summaries of the event (search for mindcamp1.0 tags at or technorati) so I won't dwell too much on them. It did intrigue me however that there seemed to be a great deal of folks interested in this broader notion of "community" or overall common good, through tech. If anything, that right there is worth the notion of holing up in an office building with 150 strangers for 24 hrs.

The first session I attended was on a discussion on the role of location based technology and community. Specifically, Kevin Moore from Microsoft wanted to know how to find interesting people with similar interests in a given area. Understandably, dodgeball, plazes, tribe, upcoming, tagging and city specific sites like Seattlest cropped up. The discussion then flowed to topics of data control, privacy, but also to what end do we want to use this information. Is it just for pure pleasure? Is it to help us have a better sense of who's around us by having a pseudo-bumper sticker of our interests and the like? Perhaps it's more purposeful than any of that by driving a community-driven marketplace for civic good, or combating our social dis-ease with one another. Or maybe, it's really a combination of all of this and other things not discussed like Playtime Inc or unimagined. At any rate, after the 45 minute session, I was intrigued at the possibilities for the rest of the event.

Later in the day, I pulled together a discussion on the role of game play, civics and technology. We started off the event with a round of Massively Multiplayer Thumb Wrestling just to get the energy flowing. What ensued after was a discussion that looked at flashmob-like events, the role of authenticity of message, organizations vs communities, reputation, surprise, play shifting expectations, and finding bridgers to connect otherwise unjoined know, just a few minor topics ;-)

Another session of note was Shelly Farnham's presentation on collaboration in the Katrina aftermath. Formerly of Microsoft Research, Shelly discussed the impact of Groove and the humanitarian relief efforts that followed Katrina in New Orleans. Some of the points focused on the intersection of the ad hoc and official relief groups, collaboration (or lack there of), and the *BIG* role of social capital were of special interest to me. The social capital aspect struck a chord with me; that people literally called those they personally knew for assistance to get something done was both exciting and sad at the same time. It's great that people connected with one another to get the assistance they needed. It's sad that the system failed to such an extent that people were left to fend for themselves. The question of how can technology help amplify the social networks of people with the end goal of assistance is a fabulous research direction. The role of helping to ensure those with limited social networks can also be effective is another key area in my book. Whether it's from the view point of those who need assistance and ensuring that they have the same opportunities and benefits as those with vast social networks, or whether it's from the standpoint of a relief worker who is new to the scene and needs to get something done...leveraging social networks for all is extremely important.

The other session that underscored community and the common good was wifi as a potential democratizing element. Korby Parnell and Jennifer Batten(?) talked of the possibilities of rolling out wifi in cities, partnering with libraries to essentially free information and overall help bridge the digital divide by making information and access more widely accessible. First, I love the concept, and I would personally like to have wifi wherever I go. I also love the intent of freeing more information, and helping people by getting information out there. However, I do not agree that these acts in and of themselves will make the divide disappear though. To me, providing the tools like wifi and access to solve social problems such as the digital divide is like saying providing a hammer and building materials will solve homelessness. Social problems facing our society, while they can certainly benefit from technology, cannot be solved by tech alone. Systematic issues as Nancy White raised, or the human factors as Liz Lawley pointed out, must be accounted for and built into the overall solution if we are to make headway on a rather complex social issue. I was a bit surprised at the level of defensiveness of some in the room at the notion that tech alone can't solve it, though at the same time, if one's experience is living proof of the bootstrap model, I can see how one might feel attacked by such an idea. Ultimately though, I was pleased that people are wanting to work towards solutions such as this. I am glad to know that there is this notion of common good and helping others in an increasingly fragmented world.

Aside from those sessions, it seemed others had this notion of connecting with others and helping people. For example, it was great to hear that folks like Kuang Chen and Alice Lin are also interested in using tech to help others in ways similar to NPower Seattle or OneNW. Through countless discussions with folks, it seems clear to me that there is this hunger for connection, for utilizing tech knowledge and expertise to help others, and simply put – community.

Overall it was a great conference. I liked the whole open space notion of it – you really get what you put into it. I met some wonderful people, and learned (unfortunately, after the fact) of more folks I'd like to talk with in greater detail. Thanks to the lock picking folks too -- great session. Now where do I get a kit? ;-) Anyway, I look forward to the next Mind Camp!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Community Design for Civics?

Jane McGonigal from Avant Game posted her ARG presentation from the Austin Game Conference.

In reading through the presentation, one particular item caught my attention:
Community design is the practice of creating new metaphors for collective experience in real life.
Aside from a similar naming convention to Social Design, there's something quite intriguing about this notion. Something about ARGs has always left me with a sense of possibility. After all, here are collective experiences that actively engage people from all different points of view while fostering creativity, play and fun. You have the active participants, the teams (as applicable) the game makers and the passerby-ers. In many ways, this is not unlike the current political or civic realm in our local communities.

That being the case, what can the civic realm learn about play, excitement, and creativity from ARGs?

Beyond "clicktivism"

The other day, I wrote about online petitions. Related to that, there is this broader notion that some might call "clicktivism." While I haven't found a formal definition, let's just say for the sake of discussion this is some sort of web element that gets people more involved. Generally, users are encouraged to donate, write a letter, or sign a petition online.

While it has been proven that this form of engagement can be very effective in raising money, writing letters or signing a petition not much seems to be done to tie it to the local level.

Writing letters, donating, and contacting elected officials are just a few ways of getting involved in the civic arena. What about attending public meetings to speak about an issue as illustrated in Norman Rockwell's painting? Don't want to go alone? What about enlisting a friend or a new acquaintence that you met while volunteering at a local organization?Alternatively, you can even just connect with strangers and talk about it with others as in the Conversation Cafe or Meetup model. While the last two do not really involve direct action, it does connect people within a community and lays the foundation for action by virtue of illustrating that you are not alone in your interests, and beliefs. You can then turn around and get some of them to go to an event or public meeting, or you can work on a project like, such as those run by youth at

If you are like me and want something more tangible than clicktivism, I encourage you to try any of the suggestions above. I'd love to hear how it goes for you, and also any other suggestions people might have.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

What is your pain point?

Amit Asaravala makes a great point about not buying into the hype of new techology when working with clients.
The theme I keep arriving at over and over when I come across new Web 2.0 technologies -- or any new technologies for that matter -- is this: What is the problem I'm trying to solve in the first place?
This is a great warning of keeping the bigger picture in mind when working with a client to meet their goals. Whether you're working with a business, nonprofit or other entity they all have particular goals they want accomplished -- they all have particular pain points to address. Don't throw tech at a problem and expect them to be all excited.

Take wikis for example, they do a lot of great things. But are they right for all clients? Just look at the difference between Esquire and the LA Times with regards to wikis.

Looking back, the key takeways from the wiki examples still ring true for me. I also would add that in addition to knowing "the pain points" one must also have keep the bigger picture in mind: institutional buy-in, a plan, and ongoing refinement.

Tech and the bigger picture

With all of the energy around new tech nowadays, it's important for all of us to remember that tech is only part of it. As with any tool, it's success is dependent on a variety of factors including:
  • the institutional buy-in driving the project
  • the plan
  • and ongoing refinement
Institutional support is by far one of the biggest drivers of success of any implementation of technology. Corporate intranets are a prime example of this. For example, if your boss and their boss do not participate, why would you? According to my cousin who works with a university partnership with city schools, if there is no institutional support on the part of city schools, the projects by and large fail.

As for tech being only so good as the plan, this is pretty basic. An organization might say, "I want to buy xbox 360s for everyone on my team." Well, unless there is a reason, cost justification, overall plan to use them in relation to the function of the job and the like, it's simply not going to fly.

Ongoing refinement. As anyone who has ever used technology knows, the second you buy it, there's a newer and better product on the market. This is not meant to say that you must always buy new tech (though upgrades should be part of the standard operating process), however, there needs to be someone, or a team of folks constantly evaluating the existing tech, what's out there on the horizon, and overall, trying to get the most out of what tech you do have as it relates to your work. In many ways, this step is essentially ongoing management; it stresses the importance of ensuring that the current goals are met, while evaluating what's out there to make things even better for you and the organization.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

the role of tv news and a democratic republic

Am I starting to sound shrill about this whole TV thing? I don't know. All I know is news portrayed on television is a powerful force. Here's a recent op-ed from the Seattle Times that talks of this. Also, here's a link to a speech that Edward R. Murrow gave in the 1950s that seems just as relevant today. Ok, I'm done now. Back to your regularly scheduled weekend.

web != boogeyman

I don't typically read Time Magazine (in print) nowadays. So imagine my surprise when I read about a neighboring city to the North in an article on fluoride.

Why even mention that here? Well, I was taken aback by this statement, "All this makes for a potent mix, especially when filtered through the Internet, where health-safety concerns tend to get amplified." Uhm, where did that come from? Yes, the chaff from the wheat is difficult to sort out on the internet, but then again, I would argue it's also true for other forms of communication. As to health-safety concerns getting amplified, doesn't just about everything get amplified if you shine a bright light on it? Perhaps that has something to do with that whole repetition, repetition, repetition thing?

At the very least, the article marginally redeems itself by saying how effective the web can be in terms of motivating people. You'll get no argument there.

TV as a community building tool

It's rather telling that TV Guide advertises one of their site features as a means to "join the conversation" at the water cooler. To me, that's the power of television in a nutshell -- it helps people find a common frame of reference from which relationships can be formed, grow and all that good stuff we expect from communities. Television can be trivial as a passing conversation in the hall, or it could unify a nation, however briefly it may be.

Now, of course, the content on TV is fair game in my book. For example, do I really care what happens on the next episode of "Joey" when I didn't like Friends in the first place for it's dismal portrayal of a rather diverse city? Heck, no. And that's why I don't watch it. Decrying the entire television medium though, as the source of the decline of society or something like that is equivalent to saying the people who deliver mail should be fired because they delivered you junk mail.

Slight non-sequitor...all of this has me recalling all the talk of the fate of network news with Rather, Brokaw and Jennings gone from primetime. It was often cited (though I haven't found too many sources) about the population of those watching network news is much greater than those watching cable news. For those interested though, some info can be found at's State of The News Media report. In short, all the hype about the rise of cable news seems to be just that -- hype.

Another slight non-sewuitor -- if we are to "Get your news only through the radio and internet. (My personal choice is NPR.)" as suggested by Kathy Sierra, do we not run the risk of achieving the fictional future portrayed in epic2014? There's quite a lot of partisanship and talk of red and blue states (is that why we have purple mountain majesties"?). It's happening with our sources of information as well. Should this continue, what does that mean for this representative democracy of ours? Do we really live up to "E pluribus unum" or will we die like a chopped up snake?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Killing TV, Kills Common Experiences

Just finished reading Kill the television, keep the shows from creating passionate users, and I must say that I disagree.

The main thrust of the article is that watching TV mindlessly does a lot of bad things, but a TV can also foster good things like watching dvds, playing games, etc. I would argue that TV is much more than that. TV's, by virtue of the fact that they are one of the most basic plug and play devices out there, help to facilitate a common experience for an otherwise fractured and increasingly disconnected society.

Two cases in point. Katrina and 9/11.

Starting with the most recent, Katrina was a horrific event that put a spotlight on the the tragedies that happened following the devastating hurricanes. Not only that, but it shamed many in the nation to realize that poverty, lack of basic needs, class inequalities -- all exist in a society that was mesmerized by the round the clock coverage on TV. While radio and the web certainly played a large role in what happened post-Katrina, it was the presence of live images that grabbed the conscience of a nation, and briefly woke it up from a haze.

Likewise, following 9/11 this country was glued to the TV, as was the rest of the world. Personally I could not bear to watch much of the coverage, knowing those impacted, and having walked many of those streets day in and out years ago, but still, the images on TV humanized, personalized, and unified the experience who would not otherwise have known the full scope of the destruction. Print can sorta do that. Radio can also do that to some extent. The power of images, combined with voice, sound, and words though allows tv to trump other forms of media.

True, moments such as these (thankfully) do not happen often. When they do, however, TV is the messenger that unifies this country. This power of the news, when broadcast on a television is an incredibly powerful force and should not be underestimated, especially in times of crisis, tragedy, and the like.

One of the challenges to those of us interested in using technology to foster greater civic engagement -- ie, community action -- as I see it is how do you take the best of what broadcast journalism is without the worst of scenarios that lead themselves to great coverage?

Lee LeFever Interviews Steve August, KDA Research

This is interesting. Lee from commoncraft, used IM to interview Steve August, a research with KDA Research, who uses blogs to conduct research. Here's a little excerpt:
Lee: You mentioned how your new site would tell the KDA story better. What is the KDA story?
Steve: KDA Research focuses on helping companies understand their customers' world - meaning we focus on understanding how a particular product or service fits into the wider context of peoples' lives. We use a variety of research methods to do this, all based in a sociology/anthropology framework. So offline, we'll do ethnographies or on-site studies where we go out into the customer’s environment and observe people to discover opportunities for developing new products or improving current ones.
We've now started to take that ethnography framework and apply to research we conduct online.

Here's the rest of the interview on commoncraft.

Talk about using tech in different ways to further one's core mission!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Petitions online just the first step

Take-Two Interactive is underfire again for one of their games -- Bully. This time, there's even an online petition hosted at petitionline.

All of this got me wondering about the effectiveness of online petitions. On one hand, it's great in that it generates press like that Business Week article. On the other hand, at least for me, I have absolutely no investment with whatever the issue is after signing a petition. How exactly does that raise civic participation? How does that get people more invested in their communities?

Back to the bully petition for example. While I can see the intent, what is being done in that particular state with regards to bullying? Some states look at anti-bullying legislation. Even on the federal level, this comes up now and again. Couldn't resources be directed towards enacting these laws locally and nationwide? If that's too broad, what about something on the local school district level?

If you choose to use an online petition to raise visibility of a cause, that's great. But remember to build from that and give people the option to do something more tangible, local and realistic to their own experiences. Whether (in the case of bullying) it's attending a school board meeting to talk of bullying, or volunteering at your kids school, etc, there's a lot of ways in which you can build greater civic engagement in addition to signing an online petition.

Friday, October 14, 2005

A picture is worth a thousand words

Last night, we took a tour of the East Kong Yick (pronounced gung yick) building, the soon-to-be new home of the Wing Luke Asian Museum. The building is an old "mixed-use" space built in 1910 by the pooled resources of 170 Chinese pioneers. Over the years, it has housed migrant workers, served as a community center, in addition to providing retail space for the neighborhood.

This picture is one of the images I took last night. It's of a sink in one of the communal kitchens in the building.

While it doesn't even begin to capture the full spirit or history of the area, it helps me to convey my experiences to others about the history of the building beyond what these words here could ever do.

Granted my digital photography skills are lacking a bit, but it helps me share this quickly. If I had a camera phone, and a flickr acct tied to this blog, I could have uploaded it here a lot quicker. Tie in the blogging aspect in real time, and that's even better.

Had I all the tech, I would do that all the time. The notion of digital pics and sharing them in real time present really interesting opportunities for fostering greater civic engagement. I'm not the first to write on this I'm sure, and certainly I won't be the last. I just believe that if digital pictures are used effectively, they can help spread the mission of an organization or cause far faster and wider than what any of us could do ever before. Likewise, I think this same tool, if used well can then also inspire people to action, and help people document, record and share with a wider group than before...fostering greater momentum and the like. Tie in the notion of say GPS with an image...and then you can have an invite to a specific place with the context all provided in the image. Could you imagine what that means for protest or participation in public meetings, etc?

Sure we're not all bloggers or photojournalists...but if there's something to be said about getting better with practice, we all might be soon enough.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

focusing on the endgame

friendster, myspace, facebook, spaces, blogger, typepad, etc. we have all these ways of interacting, communicating, and connecting online, but do we actually accomplish anything? There's a lot of talk about this stuff nowadays -- the latest story being Yahoo adding blogs to their news search..but so what?

I had a meeting last night to talk about the role of civic engagement, loosely tied to technology. It was interesting that the notion of face to face meetings came up and that those there seemed to value these encounters more. The thinking behind this was that they seem more scarce and out of the norm. In other words, the simplicity of connecting with people, online, through email, blogs etc makes the actual f2f gatherings *more* important because it's not as common, and in some ways, more difficult to control. Indeed, think about how many IM conversations a person can have at once, contrasted with the same number of f2f meetings at the same time. It doesn't really work so well.

Why is this relevant? I think in light of the shock (snicker) of some regarding teen use and technology, ypulse has it right. Tech is a tool. It's a means to an end, and not a means unto itself.

Tieing this all back to the whole notion of more choices of tools, what do we really want to accomplish with the tech? We can communicate to lots of people much easier than ever before, but if there is nothing to say, what's the point? Me, I want to get more people involved locally. If that means using a blog, myspace, dodgeball or whatever to get people more informed, motivated and active...all the better.

Oh, for a real life example of how to use "tech" for specific goals, check out this event by the Puget Sound Business Journal. Brilliant!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Myspace as a rallying point

There's been a story that's been making the rounds about a missing student. Typically, I don't pay too much attention to this stuff, especially given what seems to be a pretty clear bias. But it was more the role of myspace (and live journal) that caught my eye. Not only are the authorities reviewing comments left on the blog for clues, it has also turned into a sort of guestbook/memorial for Behl.

I couldn't help but think about another story that made headlines over the summer about the "deprogramming" summer camp. Not only was myspace a big part of that story, that too turned into a public space for people to comment, organize, and the like around a particular person or issue.

That myspace has been used in these instances as a rallying point of sorts, isn't really new. Tons of organizations have profiles on various social networking sites. What I wonder though, is how many are actually effective at reaching their base, fulfilling their mission, and the like? Is it too much to ask of organizations to actually do all of that with social networking sites? Could the fact that they are there on these sites be enough?

Friday, October 07, 2005

Games as social instruments

There's a really interesting (at least to me) article in Wired about latest venture from the creator of Pong. Even more interesting, this comes from the author of Urban Tribes (I'll explain more in a second).

To briefly summarize the article, basically there is a relatively new venture called uWink Media Bistros(.pdf). The whole concept behind this is to create a space where people can interact with one another around the concept of games. It's basically a restaurant that has games (the maker of Pong also owned Chucky Cheeses) and people can use the games as a means of interacting with others -- perhaps even leading to romantic relations.

Why is this good? Well, it helps to create a third space that becomes a hub of activity for people. It builds community, it builds relationships, strengthens ties, etc. You know, good stuff that people desire.

This ties in nicely with the fact that Ethan Watters wrote the article. Watters is also known for Urban Tribes -- a book that explores the notion of family, friendships, and ultimately community for those roughly 20 to 30ish. It's been awhile since I read it, but it was enjoyable. It was mostly a series of personal reflections and interviews with people trying to find their community. It's also a rebuttal to the outsider perspective that people in their 20s and 30s are basically a bunch of self-interested slackers with no ties or committments. Watters tends to argue that the doomsayer theories lamenting the decline of newer generations is wrong -- relationships, families, engagement just looks different in this day and age.

So what's the point of all of this? I think the concept of games and community is a case in point of Watters' argument, though it's not specifically generational. I know many folks, well into their 40s, 50s and beyond who find community through games, or otherwise non-traditional ways of looking at families and commitment.

Community is everywhere we look, sometimes in places we might not otherwise think, but it's there. People are connecting with one another each day -- through games, computers, blogs, or whatever. And sometimes, as in the case of "Ping", it doesn't even have to be very complex. Maybe we just need to remember that the tech isn't the be all and end all, but a means to something much greater than the sum of it's parts. There's something very powerful about that. There's something intrinsically human about that.

the wisdom of us

I wonder what the wisdom of this crowd is? Apparently the BBC had a fantasy world leader league and Nelson Mandela came out on top. Personally, I think that's great. Granted -- I don't know all that much about him, his politics, etc...but he did help end apartheid in South Africa and the whole reconciliation notion was brilliant so that's good in my book.

What was really striking to me though, was the number of business leaders (Gates, Jobs, Branson, Soros) on the list. I find this interesting, especially in light of the notion of trust (can you tell I'm on a big trust kick?)

What does it mean when people are more willing to trust business leaders than elected officials?

I think there's something inherently wrong with that. If people are more willing to trust business, is it any wonder why we have the seeming disengagement around policy and social issues? The work of elected officials seems to rank pretty low on the radar for most Americans, especially when you consider that there are tons of headlines about the latest with Jennifer Aniston, Britney or whoever.

Unfortunately, this lack of trust often seems to be well founded. Take a Bush's nepotism in appointing Michael Brown to direct FEMA, for example. Or a more local (Seattle) example, look at the amount of waste related to re-laying rails for transit. Is it any wonder why people are disillusioned with government officials?

I get the sense there's a strong lack of faith in elected officials (understandably, too) in posts like this. I say ok, you're disillusioned. Let's do something about it. It seems that with blogs, 43things, and countless of other tools (including offline, face to face meetings) we can really get something going here in terms of:
  • motivating
  • informing, educating, learning
  • connecting
  • inspiring
  • acting
  • acheiving
...something to change things we don't like. Again, I go back to that notion of showing up. If we don't show up, so to speak, those that do will call the shots. Us not showing up is in essence giving others free reign to make the decisions that impact us.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

trust as a basic building block

I *finally* finished James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds. I say finally as I have a bad habit of starting multiple books at once and then it takes me that much longer to actually finish them. Anyway, I finished it, and it has me wanting more. Maybe it's the pop-science writing style, or maybe it's that I've read so much about it. I just didn't feel that any of the vignettes went into enough detail. I loved the section on democracy -- common good vs selfish-intent, but there wasn't enough red meat there for me. I thought that he would go towards explaining deliberative democracy in more detail, or highlighting AmericaSpeaks, but alas I was left wanting more. The author did detail alternative theories on democracy and crowd behavior, but still I wanted more.

I could go on, but this is not meant to be a book reviews. Rather, I'm struck by Surowiecki's thesis -- that groups, when individual members act independent of one another, are smarter as a whole than any one individual or a group acting with one mind. This sounds similar to the notion of Kathy Sierra's idea of keeping the sharp edges when working in groups -- that is, consensus isn't always good. I'm still struck by the anti-thetical nature of this. What happened to the notion of compromise and picking and choosing your battles? Aren't we supposed to try, for lack of a better phrase, "and all get along?" Maybe it's not so much on the notion of consensus vs independent actors, but in paraphrasing Surowiecki, "Democracy is does not showcase the wisdom of crowds. Instead, that things are done democratically, is the wisdom of crowds realized."

I wonder at what point people come to this realization? At what point do people realize that they made their case as best they could, they acted as an independent actor, and so did others, and only then, does the group decide something which essentially looks like consensus? I would think it's only after they begin to trust one another. Once people begin to trust that their individual fates are tied with that of the others at the table, only then does it seems that one can reconcile the notion of consensus with acting as an independent actor. In some ways this is like the that classic game theory where a person will reciprocate actions with the other player. If they trust that the other person will do the same, they'll act in kind. The second that a person acts in their own interest, the other player will reciprocate that self-interest/lack of trust.

So what does all of this have to do with tech, and the notion of civic engagement? To me the message is clear. Any use of tech to further civic or whatever means will need to take into account the notion of trust, and community. It doesn't need to create trust or community by itself, but it must either compliment or enhance it. Trust is one of those weird things that takes time to build. Communities also take time to build as well. Familiarity is part of it. Consistency also plays a role. One long-time community leader asserts that part of being invited to the table is just a matter of showing up and participating in the community. How else would they know to invite you to the table if they don't know that you're there and interested?

Friday, September 30, 2005


Esquire magazine recently completed an experiment with wikis and journalism. Specifically, A.J. Jacobs used Wikipedia to write an article about Wikipedia by gathering feedback, corrections and the like. Not too shabby. Turned out much better than the LA Times experiment with wiki-torials.

Wikis are interesting things. They give ultimate power to the community. Depending on how it's done, it could help write an article, or destroy an editorial. Talk about pushing power to the edges.

This notion of engaging a group of passionate users (as opposed to "volunteers") and then enabling them to do x, y, or z is quite common with online communities. That there can be such varying degrees of success seems to indicate a need for a more managed approach when tapping into a passionate user base. Why did the wiki-squire work and the wikitorial fail? In part, I think it has to do with the scope and focus of the "task" at hand. For example, the scope of the wiki-squire article was a tightly focused, "bite-sized chunk." Basically the author called for any edits, comments and suggestions, and the payoff was clear -- the finished product would be published.

Contrast this with the wikitorial where it was more open ended and several editorials were open to the concept of wikification where anyone could add, edit or remove it. The broader focus, and perhaps broader audience (?) resulted in content spammer and trolls.

Would a more narrow focus helped? Perhaps.

Alos, to what extent did the nature of the communities in the first place factor into the vastly different results? Wikipedia seems to attract a certain type of user who understands the concept of a wiki, and participates through reading and editing. There is a constant stream of passionate users eager to make a contribution about a particular topic. The LA Times website, on the other hand (pure conjecture here) reaches a different type of audience, where the focus is on a city, and the site is ad and subscription based. I would argue that a general newspaper site for a major metropolitan area attracts different users than that of wikipedia.

Another factor to consider is the nature of the articles/wikis. The LA Times focused on editorials while Esquire focused on the Wikipedia community themselves. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that editorials are typically controversial in nature, and articles that profile a user or group are easy to accomplish as who doesn't like to talk about themselves? They say a good conversationalist speaks very little and instead focuses their attention on you, making you feel like the star. That is what the Esquire article did for the case of Wikipedia users, as opposed to the LA Times which opened themselves up for controversy in the first place by stating an opinion.

The difference in scope, audience and ego seem to have been the key factors in the relative success or failure of these experiments. Kudos to both publications to taking a chance. I look forward to seeing more of this in the future.

Overall, my key takeaways from the role of wikis are:
  • know your audience
  • present focused, small, bite-sized chunks
  • offer the audience a chance to share a bit of themselves with you

sticking your neck out...

Phew, finally had some time to think about the event from the other night. I think I needed some distance to think more critically about what all I saw and experienced. That, and I wanted my reflections to be relevant to the overall theme of the site.

Anyway, the Giraffe Heroes project was started over twenty years ago as a means of recognizing heroes in our midsts. No, these are not the types of heroes you'd necessarily see on the local evening news, but rather these tend to be people all over the world doing bigger things. It is not the intent to demean the efforts of the every day heroes, but I think they tend to highlight those who go way above and beyond what all heroes do.

The philosophy of this group is nothing new, and as they mentioned, it harks back to the notion of storytelling and myth building. Just about every culture has them, and this organization wants to highlight our modern day heroes and myth makers in hopes of inspiring others to act.

Sound familiar? It should. To me, this is not so different from an online community highlighting their steller community members. It's part modelling the way for others in the community, part user recognition, part furthering the mission of the organization (if done well). While their stories were no doubt inspiring (indeed, I used a few of these stories as examples the other day at work), I must say the technique is rather familar and fairly typical to strategies in online communities.

It is possible that I'm oversimplifying. They do afterall, profile giraffes widely through multiple sources of media (print, radio, web, tv), and they build toolkits that help people become giraffes in their own community. In one sense, the Giraffe Project takes the notion of member recognition and expands it ten fold. There certainly is something to be said about that.

Sorry if I don't sound ultra-excited about the experience. It was a pleasant event, afterall. I think that has something to do with my expectations of wanting to be wowed, and I left with a just a mini woohoo. Much of what I heard was the same -- find your passion, doing something meaningful and all that. I *think* I'm close to honing in on what makes me passionate. Now it's a matter of fine tuning, getting some sort of plan and the like.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

43things (people and places) high level review with a little day dreaming

These sites, interesting by themselves, can present a potentially powerful tool for helping people organize.

43things -- what do you want to do with your life.

This site is designed to help people list their goals and post progress on them, through a blog-like interface where you post and others can comment. If you want, you can get notified when people respond directly to one of your posts or comments via email.

You can also invite others to join your goal, and they can either do it with you as a team member, or they can do it on their own. Multiply this to the whole world and you see all sorts of people wanting to do similar things.

The team functionality lacks a bit, and it's purpose in the site seems fuzzy at best. More on this later.

Each goal also has an option for a person to say "I want to do this" or "I've done this already." Users can also post as to whether or not it is worthwhile to pursue that goal in the first place.

Goals can also be tagged with common words to help others find goals of importance to them. Through use of a tag cloud, you can find the most common tags, and by extension, the most common goals of the moment. To find the top 10 goals, all you have to do is click on "Zeitgeist" to see what is the most current goal.

Ok, but so what? (invoking my best Ron Popeil imitation) "But Wait, there's more!"

43people -- who do you want to meet?

Similar to people listing their goals, users can list the people they want to meet. They also have the option of using some stock entry headings such as "Why I want to meet," or "I like so and so because." Anything that is posted about another person has to be approved by that other person to help prevent abuse.

Now what works well here is that 43people can be hooked into 43things. Take for example a goal you have and a person you've met or want to meet. It's possible that the person you've met or want to meet has some connection with one of your goals. They are then essentially a collaborator, or mentor depending on the relationship. Likewise, a person can be a connector to other people if one party met the person someone else wants to meet.

Looping back to 43things briefly, the people you met or want to meet are, by default, in your subscriptions list. This means that rather than searching for each of them individually, you can see all of their recent activity. In a sense, this ties back with the notion of a team goal and ties it up nicely. If they post on a paricular goal you have in common, it will appear on the subscriptions list and on the goal page. In theory the team on 43T should send you notification of a teammate's activity, but I haven't seen that just yet (bug, design, user error?)

43Places -- Where do you want to go?

By now, you have a sense of how these sites work. You list something, others chime in and share thoughts, reflections, etc. It's all tied into your profile across the sites, and can show how your desire (in this case a place to travel to, or a place you've been) relates to another person.

Blog integration

These sites seem to integrate well with existing sites or blogs, so you can list any of these sites (people, places, things) on your own site and keep others up to date as to your progress. Think of it like a Flikr plugin for your site, except these are people, places or things.

How do I see these working together to help bring get people involved? Mostly I think it comes down to people. I like the fact that the goals are all public for the world to see. You have the opportunity to get a glimpse of the person behind the goal. You also have the ability to cheer each other on (a very natural thing to do) to show encouragement. By connecting the people with a goal, and tying them to a location, it would seem there is the potential for action to occur. Sure, it doesn't guarantee it, just as standing next to a stranger on a corner won't make you friends, but it does increase the odds as you (potentiallY) have something in common with one another beyond standing on a street corner.

The role of 43 things, people and places can also help with the notion of critical mass / momentum online. By integrating the information on those sites into blogs, you could get a wide exposure of a particular goal. Additionally, if a concerted effort were used to ensure activity with a particular goal/tag, it could help raise the overall visibility of that goal, essentially drawing in more people.

Of course, it's not a perfect model. Posting of resources or documents is limited to linking a post and tagging it as a resource. Additionally, there doesn't seem to be a way to schedule something or view a calendar of related items in that area. I could see how those would be beneficial in group goal planning, though I also understand why it is not there at the moment. In spite of this, the 43family, by the Robot Co-op, does seem to present potential in helping people and groups acheive their goals. Good job! Can't wait to see what else you have in store for us!

The New Generation...

This fits into the purpose of this site, though I'm not sure how at this point.

I ran across a series of mp3 that capture a recent conference where "a top set of innovators offering youth outreach and support, empirically and philosophically demonstrate the tremendous potential for empowering youth leaders." See and hear for yourself here.

Monday, September 26, 2005

is momentum all hype?

how much of action is momentum? i think it helps get it on the radar, but ultimately it's not *the* deciding factor. people always talk about gaining critical mass, but look at the recent anti-war protests. Call me a naysayer or what you will, but I don't see how protests such as that will change the situation we're in right now.

it could be argued that the critical mass of anti-war protests doesn't do anything on a national level, what about a local level? does the squeaky wheel get the grease? i need to research this some more, but it seems that there isn't a clear yes or no on this particular issue on the local level.

ok...that's the offline scenario, but what about online? if there is momentum online, could it then translate into action? reflecting on what happened with the Howard Dean 2004 Presidential Campaign, it seems that all it needed was the momentum online. There seemed to be a constant flow of activity, and it seemed to be contagious. People started forming meetup groups all over the country and Dean For America groups were created by all types.

what about google, and do the page rankings matter? in this case, i would most certainly think so. how else will a particular issue ever get seen? if you have an issue and no one knows of it, does it really exist?

So if page rankings are king, what do you do about it online? well, there are tons of folks who know the ins and outs of page rankings, key words and the like (feel free to add resources in the comments)...all the ways to trick google into putting you at the top without paying for page ranking. the unknown factor in all of this is how the notion of social search, as we've seen with yahoo will impact this notion of tricking google. one would think that helps to make searches more relevant, as you find out the most popular saved pages by the world, or your peers. note, google has a "personalized search" that sounds similar, but i haven't tried it much. regardless, with either of these can you do specific peer group page sharing/tagging? that would be interesting.

somewhat related, an interesting report called "Pushing Power to the Edges." the report provides an "overview of the state of online democracy; what it is, where it is headed, and what it means for activists and those who support them." well worth the read. as i was typing, this resource popped back into my head. time to re-read it, i guess.

leadership styles...

This is not so much tech, as it is a reflection on leadership and action. i haven't been online much the past few days as i was travelling for a friend's wedding. the wedding itself was fun, but what was interesting was talking with an old housemate of mine living in chicago. she is working with an organization called the Interfaith Youth Core. Conceptually it is very basic (aren't some of the most powerful ideas, the most basic?) in that it connects religious young people to strengthen their religious identities, foster inter-religious understanding and cooperate to serve the common good. We then spoke about the work that I've been doing in Seattle to inform, connect, and inspire people in their 20s and 30s to take action in our community.

I've known this from living with her, but it struck me again that we have very different strategies for how we go about similar things. She is very much more a hands on person, running and doing. On the other hand, I seem to prefer thinking, research, dialogue and the like. Is one better than the other? I don't think so as long as the strategies actually accomplish what they set out to do. Of course, I've been feeling that itch lately that I've been thinking, learning and the like for it's time to put my money where my mouth is.

In part, this blog, and eventual website is a more active version of how I go about things. True, I intend on hosting a site with the intent of playing, experimenting and the like, but it will be towards the goal of using those skills to help others get to where they want to go.

In the mean time, I plan on going to a reception for some giraffe awards tomorrow night at Town Hall. I'll let you know how it goes and whether or not there's any stunning insights to take away.

More info below:

CityClub presents: John Graham
Tuesday, September 27 , 7:00 PM
Founder and president of the Giraffe Heroes Project and author of Stick Your Neck Out: A Street-Smart Guide to Creating Change in Your Community and Beyond, John Graham and local heroes about the rewards and risks of civic participation. This is the culminating event of Civic Participation Month. Dessert will be served. Downstairs at Town Hall, enter on Seneca Street.
$7 - $10 Tickets & info
Tickets are $10/$7 under 25. Call 206/682-7395 or visit for tickets and more information.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

a new beginning

The first day of autumn, where everything is in balance. It seems fitting that today I start blogging in more earnest than before.

Today is also noteable as it is more or less, my six year anniversary working with online communities. After spending so much of my professional life with it, and learning about this sort of thing, I thought that it was time to apply it to my own life.

This blog will be an ongoing experiment with different strategies, and technology. I would not be surprised if at some point these posts get ported to multiple platforms, or new platforms are used as a continuation of this experiment.

As this is an experiment, what is the theory that I'm testing? I'm testing the role and influence of online communities with regard to local involvement. No, this is not a meetup type thing, but rather with all of the different ways communities exist online, how can we take the best of them to help foster greater participation on a local level -- civically, philanthropically, etc.? mostly it's a space for me to learn, and share my thoughts throughout this process.

Anyway, this is it. Welcome to b2ix