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.