Friday, December 21, 2007

Product design, experience, and transit

disclaimer -- I *try* to take the bus as often as I can to avoid sitting in traffic

That being said, I'd rather have rapid transit of some other kind. A friend once tried explain to me the benefits of Bus Rapid Transit options with dedicated lanes, but I was never really sold. Today I ran across an article that better articulated the problems -- in short, the overall design and experience leaves a lot to be desired.

This makes perfect sense when thinking about overall consumer product design. Here's another article that talks of the need for good design as it relates to global issues.


For all planners (myself included), policy makers, elected officials...perhaps we need to get crisper on articulating what the problem is so we can better address the key issues?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Pedal power

Repetition, repetition, repetition. Bicycles have been on my mind a lot as of late due to:

A recent trip to China

…and Barcelona

Now, I learn that the University of Washington is looking at having electric bikes for folks on campus. Not a bad idea, despite the hills, but why electric?

Related, I just finished Giving, by Bill Clinton and one of the nonprofits he mentions, World Bicycle Relief, works to provide access and independence through bicycles. Sounds like a great organization!

WA school funding and property tax cap?

The Washington State Legislature passed a 1% cap on property taxes that has been signed into law. I'm wondering what impact, if any, this may have on school funding in our area?

The reason I ask is that I saw a recent video pulled together by some friends of mine on California school funding.

While we are not California, I recently learned that they too have a 1% cap on property taxes. To help offset potential revenue shortfalls, they also have a minimum $ amount for schools as well.

Things that I do not know (but probably should)…
  • How will the property tax cap it impact school funding, if at all?
  • Are there safeguards in place to ensure a minimal level of public school funding like the one in California?
  • What role if any will Simple Majority and an all mail in ballot have on the likelihood of school levies and the like passing?

Monday, August 13, 2007

(Un)intentional broadening of community?

Bill Johnston has a nice write up on how discussion groups can play a central role of one's overall community strategy.

Although I find many of his points quite salient, the most intriguing takeaway for me is in what is not said. Specifically the following words are not used:
  • forum
  • message board
  • newsgroup
To me, this was immediately noticeable when going to tag this article. "Discussion groups," are often associated with forums, newsgroups or the like and I intended on tagging his post with "forums." Re-reading the article though, it became clear that Johnston did not include forums, etc in this article. I'm not sure if this was purposeful, but I appreciate the broadening of community beyond the tools themselves.

And speaking of broadening, were it not for the inclusion of one or two mentions of "online" community, the points made by Johnston can just as likely apply to community strategy "offline" in face to face discussion groups by way of a neighborhood council, or a local meetup. The principles that guide those, I would suggest, are quite applicable online as well.

Blogging as transformational

Gerald Kanapathy's recent post on successful blogging points towards Microsoft as one company that has been transformed by blogging. Specifically he talks about how blogs "opened up Microsoft" and goes on to say how "it's now amazingly open and responsive."

While great as that sounds, I'd have to agree with Yag in that the most interesting part is when Kanaphathy writes:

What did Microsoft do? I don't know if they had it before, but it takes certain
organizational cultural values. It's not about process, or rules. In fact, it
requires acceptance of uncertainty and ambiguity, tolerance of risk, openness to
criticism, and a degree of confidence. These are not things that can be
proceduralized, but instead come from how the organization is, uh, organized,
and simply the underlying values.
To me, this is key. At the end of the day, blogs are a means by which people communicate. It is a means, not an end. So for all those wanting to start a blog because everyone else is, ultimately it comes down to something more intangible. How open and willing is your group or company to change? To uncertainty? To risk? To criticism? To engage with people in an open an ongoing conversation?

While this may come across to some as staying away from blogging if the underlying values are not there, it's not meant to be. I just wanted to call this out by illustrating that blogs are not an end to itself. It's part of a much larger picture, and ultimately it's success (or failure) depends upon so much more than what we can traditionally measure at this time. Should a company, organization or person for that matter get into blogging, I hope they do so with their eyes open to the whole process.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

When individual interests and the public good intersect

With a new fiscal year upon us, my role is shifting a bit. as a part of that, i've been taking a closer look at community planning, broadly speaking. during this process, i keep on coming back to a best practice of sorts that occurs when individual interests intersect with the public good.

while this can be applied to just about anyplace where individuals and the public intersect, i'd like to call out flickr in this regard. one of the killer features (in my opinion) on flickr is "interestingness." according to flickr, many actions go into determining whether or not a picture is "interesting." these actions include:

  • where the click throughs are coming from
  • who marks it as a favorite
  • it's tags
  • and much more

taking a closer look at those actions, they are all focused on the self. clicking through to a picture is to actually display the full image. favoriting is so you can find it again. tagging it helps you to find it among countless other photos. in short, the individual actions of people then go into surfacing "interesting" photos for everyone.

what is the public benefit? seeing what others on the site find most interesting. other benefits include inspiration for photographers -> better photographers, or the joy from looking at beautiful photos. many of these items are also very individual goals, but overall, the public benefits as a result of these actions.

how this relates back to overall community planning is that i think a rather nice framework, or at least pillars to keep in mind, can be derived from this example.

1 -- know your audience
2 -- what's in it for them? identify the actions and items of highest individual value
3 -- what's in it for everyone else? identify the actions and items of highest collective value
4 -- determine the points of intersection
5 -- focus efforts on making it as easy as possible for the individuals to perform those actions, find those items, etc

note -- this is in part derived from earlier readings on flow, game design and the like. nod to amy jo kim for calling this out initially

"Death and Life..." a promising start

After finishing Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class, I finally got around to starting The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs. For years, I've been wanting to read this classic in urban planning, and community design. I can't believe it's taken me this long.

While it's very easy to read, regardless of one's knowledge of urban planning, I'm only about 100 pages into this book (compared to 200 pages in the latest Harry Potter book). Partly that's because every page or so in Jacobs' book has me thinking about the cities she mentions and how they function (or do not) today. I also find myself taking a closer look at the city in which I live now, in addition to all the communities (online) that I've been a part of over the years. In short, this book has really got my gears spinning when it comes to thinking about community -- and more importantly, designing for community.

Something as simple as looking closely at sidewalks, for example, has me wondering about the parallel in an online community. Where is the proverbial sidewalk in a community of developers? Is it found in a blog? On a forum? In the tags used by others? How do people associate with one another (at different levels of participation) in a way that is meaningful to them, whether they are strong ties, weak ties, or loose ties? How does a community manifested online help people acclimate to the "neighborhood" so to speak?

As I work my way through this, I'll continue to post some reflections on this great read.

getting back on the horse...

this is just an obligatory sorry for not blogging much post for [insert reason here]. [add some future promise] etc etc. it's funny how i feel compelled to provide some sort of transition after a long hiatus...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

building connections to build community

working in community, it's easy to get wrapped up in the technology, the measurements, the key performance indicators, the cost of doing, or not doing community...

when this happens, i find it helpful to take a step back and look at community from completely different perspectives. thankfully, i am able to complement my community work at microsoft with active civic involvement in the community with several local nonprofits. it just so happens, in the past month, I recently attended back to back retreats for two such organizations.

i won't get into the nitty gritty of each, but one common thread throughout both retreats was this notion of relationships between people. after all, what is community if not a series of intentional relationships with others?

To me, that is the core of what we do -- community building. Through our technology, we are building new ways for people to share their experiences with others in such a manner that this greater sense of self arises. No longer is it just an isolated experience of one person, but it's the experience of an individual that is then tied to the experiences of others. Experiences and content put forward by participants may match one to one the experiences of a good number of people. Likewise, the experiences of an individual may only be connected to a select few. Regardless of the total number of connections, the message is clear -- we are all in this together.

why bring this up? partly, it's front and center on my mind given how recent these retreats were. also, there has been a recent focus on this notion of measurements within the orgs i run. bob posted on this recently, and some of my earlier thoughts can be found here. another motivator is dave's recent musing on community, in addition to some recent readings for an advisory board on which I sit.

So pooling all of this together, I guess I am just struck with the fact that to really measure the impact of community, we need to understand and identify all the ways in which connections are formed with one another through the specific tools and services we offer. Sometimes this may exist within the confines of a particular venue, say a blog or a particular forum. Other times these connections occur through serendipitous discovery in tagging or social bookmarking. Once we are able to get a better grasp on all points of connection can we truly measure the full impact of community.

I fully realize that what is discussed above is not a simple, nor quick approach. Indeed, there is a lot that needs to be done to fully capture all of that information for current and future community solutions. This of course does not mean that we can't do our best to measure the impact as we go. As with anything, this is an iterative process that builds upon itself. It is my hope that through a greater understanding of how community is formed, will we really get a clear picture of the full impact of community.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

mini- seattle center update

doh, i've been a bad blogger over here :( i'll post some updates shortly.

in the mean time, for all 5 or however many of my readers, if you are interested in checking out the latest on seattle center's redesign, there are some meetings this week (the first was last night) :(

i'll try to make thursday's meeting. if anyone wants to meet up, leave a comment

Be part of shaping the future of Seattle Center

during a series of community meetings, April 16 � 19. Share your ideas for the Seattle Center campus with the Century 21 Committee, a citizen group appointed by Mayor Greg Nickels to help chart the course of Seattle Center for the next 20 years. View the design possibilities inspired by input from other meetings and let us know what you think before the committee makes recommendations later this year.

Community Meetings
Monday, April 16, 7 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Rainier Community Center, 4600 38th Ave. S

Tuesday, April 17, 6 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Shaw Room on the Seattle Center campus

Wednesday, April 18, 7 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, 4408 Delridge Way SW

Thursday, April 19, 6 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Greenwood Library, 8016 Greenwood Ave. N

more info at --

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A touch of love...

I love recap posts. For those of us who weren't able to attend the CommunityNext summit, I found recaps by Anastasia, Lee and Tara quite useful. I personally find it helpful to see how others view the same content -- that alone makes it that much more insightful and authentic.

Loosely was great to see folks point out that the community space is not at all monolithic and there are multiple community camps. On the one hand, you have those who more or less set out to build a community, and if money happens, then it's a good thing. Others set out with money as the primary driver (either making it or saving it) by using a community. As similar as these may sound, they represent two very different philosophies. To make things more complicated, sometimes you may encounter situations where the two different camps are working on the same project!

Having worked in both camps from time to time, I would like to suggest that there is yet another piece to this matrix -- the people who build the tools used in community. Think of this as the Belgium of the community space. It doesn't fit into either camp perfectly, and instead prefers to remain neutral, and flexible so it can benefit the masses. I don't believe I belong to any one camp, but rather I tend to float between, adapting to the needs and the circumstances of the day. If pressed though, I'd say that I lean more towards the focus on the community first. What about you? What's your community philosophy?

Heh -- I just noticed that I started and ended this particular post with love -- explicitly in the first sentence, and implicitly in the last with philosophy. While I'm at it, here's another loving post from the Windows Live QnA Team


Getting into the flow of campaigns

The year 2007 is barely two months old and we are well into the thick of things when it comes to presidential politics for 2008. With candidates announcing their intention of running, or that they are actually running just about every week, it certainly makes for interesting times. And by judging by the websites and presence online for each of these prospective candidates, we've come quite a long way from the "early days" of online fundraising a la Howard Dean. Unfortunately, it also seems that not much ahs changed with regards to people "getting it."

Recently I ran across a few posts by Zack Exley on this topic. In his first post, he talks about the role of authenticity. Specifically:

Building a “genuine relationship” with your supporter base online doesn’t mean simply writing the same boring emails, but writing them yourself. No, it means writing to your supporters from the campaign trail in the same way that you might write to your spouse (without the smoochy stuff) or to a close friend: tell them the exciting things you experienced that day, what they made you think of, a joke you heard, and what occurred to you is really at stake. Some emails could be four pages, and some could be four sentences. Maybe sometimes you should just send a picture you snapped yourself.
In another post Zack continues on this theme of writing one's own emails to would be supporters:

If you can spend six hours per day on high-dollar fundraising, you can take 15 minutes to jot out a note to your supporters.

These posts are echoed by Eve Fairbanks (via Personal Democracy Forum) where she says:

assimilating Internet tactics doesn’t mean you have to assimilate Internet culture, too
As I wade through all of this in my spare time, I am struck by the juxtaposition of reasoning for people in New Hampshire wanting to keep their early primary. Every time the Presidential election rolls around, the state of New Hampshire gears up for the onslaught of cameras and visits by Presidential hopefuls. While there is something likely to be said for the "I shook so and so's hand" the common theme conveyed by a recent ABC News report was that this hands-on, personable campaigning is the way it's supposed to be.

"It's the way politics should be," New Hampshire resident William Juch said of the onslaught. "These people should come and present themselves."

Put another way, I would suggest that this is a more authentic approach as people are able to look a candidate in the eye, talk with them face to face, and perhaps even challenge them as one would a peer. In other words, the interactions with a candidate provide a sense of feedback to those engaged in the process. Sounds a bit like flow now, doesn't it?

survey in need of usability

Kudos to the City of Seattle (and partners) for launching the Seattle Civic Engagement Project. In terms of what it's up to, so far it seems to want to broaden the outreach methods of current engagement. Specifically:

Partners are encouraged to expand their current methods of communication by creating opportunities to talk about issues with friends, family, and colleagues, to listen respectfully to their opinions and to contribute their own. Then members are asked to complete a simple web 'Opinionnaire,' designed to determine levels of agreement or disagreement around the issues. This process is not a scientific poll, but is instead an opportunity to connect with others and engage people in the important community functions of civic conversation and dialogue. The results of these surveys will be shared with partners, public officials, and the media.

You can read more about it at Seattle's Brainstorm.

This sounds pretty neat, however I have some serious usability concerns with how it's all put together. First off, the videos linked from the survey page crashed one of my computers. I tried running it on a different computer with a different OS, and it white washed the screen to launch the QuickTime app. Now granted, I'm not a guru of any kind when it comes to video integration for a website, but I don't think the experience should be jarring. Embedded videos a la YouTube, SoapBox, etc provide for a much more user friendly experience.

Aside from just the video itself, burying the links in the right column seem to de-emphasize their value. If it is important for people to review, make it easy to access. Given how many websites are designed today, things in the right nav are not always reviewed as they tend to be equated with ads. Do you really want to have valuable content associated in a space commonly associated with ad space?

In terms of the survey itself, I'm concerned that the length and organization of the survey will hinder useful information. First of all, there are eight demographic questions that do not seem to relate with the specific topic (transportation). If the questions were to end the survey early, (say if you lived in Nebraska) that would be one thing, but instead they take up way too much of the focus of a would be survey respondent. I would be curious to see what the drop out rate is for survey completion -- how many people start the survey and never finish? With eight demographic questions and at least twenty-two topic specific questions, that seems like a rather large investment of time and energy for a rather complex and polarized issue. Additionally, the issue of transportation is rather complex. It seems that the survey is intended for those who already know a fair amount of the issues at hand. If this is indeed the intention, ignore my next comment, however if people want a broad dialogue, shouldn't it be as accessible as possible for the broadest audiences? I realize that time and time again Seattle is ranked among the brightest and most literate of cities, however there's something to be said for simplicity (note to self -- follow own advice).

Though it is promising to see more and more groups embrace technology, there's a lot more that can be done. I believe that the dialogue that folks are hoping for would be better served by better utilizing blogs, video clips (three to five minutes long) and podcasts (also short in duration). Additionally, tying the content to offline dialogues (formal and informal) would likely do wonders for this initiative. A discussion board may be fruitful provided that expectations are set early on in the process. Wikis would be an interesting addition to this process, however, that is not something to take on lightly given how polarized the debate on transportation has become in the region.

Ultimately though, the means of discussion (how it's transmitted, and the messages being transmitted) really need to be relevant to those not currently involved. Who is the audience that folks are attempting to reach with this current implementation? What else competes for your audiences attention, and how are those "competitors" doing? The more information you know about your audience, the better the chances for success.

Related -- see Kathy Sierra's recent post on the intersections of marketing and learning. I would suggest that those points raised are quite apt for things of a civic nature as well.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Voting part 2

Just a quick little update from my whole ballot fiasco. Seems that my address is officially changed in the King County Records, Elections and Licensing Services Division as I received mail from them regarding the upcoming special election regarding the viaduct. Whether or not I get my new voter registration card and ballot, we'll see.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Are you a friend of Seattle?

For those that know me, I try to be involved on a civic level best I can. Whether it's through volunteering, politics, or other civic type events, I'm just passionate about community broadly defined. That's why I'm really psyched with all of the work that some of my friends have been doing with Friends of Seattle. Here's a bit about them in their own words.

Friends of Seattle is a membership-based advocacy group whose mission is to inspire elected officials and our fellow voters to support a more urban, livable, and sustainable city. We propose policy reforms, lobby elected officials, and support political campaigns.
I had the pleasure of attending their big kickoff tonight, and it was great. With over 200 ppl in attendance, and several electeds and press, it was great to see. It's hard to believe that FoS is so new, starting up just this past year.

As exciting as it was to see so many people, what was perhaps most inspiring was that there is a tangible sense of action associated with FoS. Instead of just talking about it, here's a group of folks getting together to try and do something about it. Whether or not people agree with the issues of FoS, I think we can all take a cue from them (I know I have) to get more involved with our communities in a meaningful way. In a representative democracy, isn't that's what's needed and expected -- an active and engaged electorate?

The other amusing little thing is that I randomly overheard Councilman Steinbrueck refer to the President of Friends of Seattle, Gary Manca, as a future candidate for City Council. With Gary's welcoming remarks, all I have to say is "Run, Gary, run!" :-)

First date scenario at a new Seattle Center

One of the items I discussed with volunteers the other night at the Seattle Center public meeting specific to this first date notion, really it's the notion of allowing people to just "be" however they choose. Right now, Seattle Center seems to be primarily a place to do stuff. Whether it's seeing a show, attending an event, or the like, it does not seem to be a place that fosters the notion of just "being" present in the place at a given time. I suggested that it might be worthwhile to consider fostering this notion of just being. Also I suggested that it would be interesting to allow for all sorts of "user flows" from being to doing.

An example of one scenario for a first date at the Center would involve people who wish to see a paid performance (at the Intiman, Rep, etc). They could first go to the Center and walk through any number of interesting paths on the campus. They could stick to the pre-made paths connecting buildings, or they could forge their own path that uses some of the well-traveled ones, and some not so well travelled. Additionally, they could sit by the fountain to watch mini-Bellagioesque shows, or they could wander by the skate park to watch people perform gravity defying tricks. In actuality, there's any number of things the would be first daters could see at the Center. They don't have to "do" much, but rather it's being present with others in this shared space at the Center. If they got a little hungry or thirsty prior to the show, they could pop into any number of restaurants that meet budgets (financial or time) of all sizes. Perhaps a cafe could be at the Intiman courtyard? Afterwards, they would attend their ticketed performance. The evening at the Center could be finished off at a little desert place for coffee, munchies, or drinks where they could further engage about the performance they just saw.

Of course, this is just one way in which a "first date" could be at Seattle Center. honestly, I'm not the best to ask as it's been awhile since I've had a first date :P Others feel free to chime in.

Houses vs Homes or Seattle Center Planning v2

Phew, catching up on a few blog posts here. In addition to my whole ballot fiascoes last week, I attended another open house for Seattle Center's 21st Century planning process. This time it was held at the Langston Hughes Arts Center. It was a gorgeous building, and fewer people showed up. Perhaps it was the time of day, perhaps it was the location, regardless, it seemed like that less people were present. Admittedly I got there about 30 minutes into it but still, not as many as I would have liked to have seen.

The format was essentially the same, and I had a great discussion with several of the volunteers around the notion of fun, flow, play and games. Mostly we were talking about what makes for an engaging experience and I shared some of my thoughts with regards to how elements of good game design / flow could be applied on a wider scale to say, planning for the Seattle Center :-) We also discussed the notion of what "a first date experience" could feel like at a revamped Seattle Center. I'll get into that first date bit in another thread. For now, I just want to provide some general thoughts and reflections.

I also found it interesting that a lot of the people there (volunteers or attendees) were architects. Really it's not too surprising when much of the focus of the topic areas are on buildings such as the Center House, Key Arena, memorial Stadium, etc. The notion of open space also is quite prominent, and closely related in my opinion, to the overall notion of buildings.

While having tangible discussion points is a great way to help focus people on direct and concrete feedback, in some ways I feel that this is putting the cart before the horse. In my day to day job of being a product manager, I try not to focus on the specific implementations much, and rather, I want to ensure that the best overall experience is what is ultimately realized. By focusing on the buildings, or programs that occur in the physical spaces, it feels to me that we're diving straight to the implementation. A risk that can arise from this is having all of these great buildings/programs/open space but there isn't that really ties them together in a meaningful way. In many ways, it's the difference between a great house and a great home; a house is really just an object, but a home is a feeling. I want Seattle Center to foster great feelings.

Ok, so how does one go about that? Personally, I would start back at the goals of Seattle Center. One of the goals listed says "The nation's best gathering place." Finding out what this means to people in the region seems to be a good place to start. Where do people currently gather? People, in this case are defined as those in the target audience of Seattle Center. Likely this is a mix of people from the region as well as tourists. It would be helpful (perhaps it is already known?) to determine where they currently gather. Of course, finding out where they gather is just part of the equation. The more interesting part, in my opinion, is why they gather where they gather. Is it because it's convenient? Is it because that's where their friends are? Perhaps it's a cost thing, or maybe their options are limited so it's the default choice. Regardless, taking a closer look at how targeted audience members interpret "gathering place" within the context of their current lives will help shine light on what to build and how to get there.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Best laid plans -- a rant of voter registration

Recently Public Radio International's This American Life had a series of stories who talked about the best laid plans of individuals not turning out as they wished. I have a similar situation with regards to voting in Seattle, WA. Apologies in advance for what is in part, a rant.

Apparently for whatever reason I have not received my ballot in the mail despite trying to get it delivered to my residence. Granted, I am not really a fan of the all mail in ballot but for a whole variety of other reasons regarding work, location of polls and the like, I get it (or at least try) delivered to my residence.

On at least two different occasions, I have tried to change my mailing address, however for any number of reasons I do not seem to get my ballot in the mail. The first was several months ago where a local nonprofit was helping to register voters (in addition to helping voters who moved change their address which was my situation. ) By the time the next election showed up, I did not receive a ballot. I contacted the nonprofit and was assured that the forms were mailed in, and I was directed to call the vote hotline (206-296-VOTE). I called them and then proceeded to ensure that my mailing information was changed. Regardless, I still did not receive a ballot and I ended up going to the Board of Elections. There, I also made sure to fill out a form to verify my address was changed, and I marked myself as permanent absentee. I also received a ballot for that particular election cycle. All was good, or so I thought. Turns out, with this latest election regarding school levies, I still did not receive a ballot at home.

Thinking that it may have been delayed in the mail, I waited for a week or so. Now with the election less than a week away though, I needed to do something to ensure I vote. Just last week, I finally had the chance to go down to the Board of Elections (again) to try and sort this all out. While I had the option of calling, I personally prefer face to face interactions to address problems. Also, I was not convinced I could get resolution via the phone as that didn't seem to work in the past. Anyway, I get to their office with about 15 minutes prior to them closing, given a hectic day at work, and lack of parking around the building where the board of elections is housed. I arrive and indicate that I did not receive my ballot and I am directed to fill out a form. Instantly my guard is up given my last experience with this and I make it clear that I do not want a repeat of my prior situation (filling out a form and not getting a ballot in the next cycle.) The gentleman who is talking with me explains how that should not have happened (duh) and proceeds to investigate why that may have been the case. It turns out that following my last attempt to change my registration, my residence and method of voting should have been ok. Unfortunately, it also appeared that a voter registration card came back to them from the post office and I was then removed from permanent absentee voting. It was unclear if the voter registration card was from the last time I filled out a form at their office, or if it was from the first time I filled out the address change and the timing just overlapped. Regardless, somehow my voter registration card with my current address was returned to the board of elections and I was removed from the list of people to receive an absentee ballot. I was instructed to talk with the post office to find out why my voter registration card was not delivered. Crazy, huh?

While the gentleman at the board of elections showed me the timeline of things associated with my account, I found this a little strange that my card would be returned. First off, I haven't stopped my mail at all. Also, I live literally across the street from the post office. I see them every day arriving to work when I leave for work. I know their schedules intimately from when the trucks show up and who all drives what car. That they could not deliver a voter registration card to me seems a little strange given that I seem to get a lot of other mail -- bills, advertisements or other.

In addition to finding it strange that I was flagged not to receive an absentee ballot, I was also concerned about all of the other folks who would not necessarily (or who could not) take the time to go and talk to someone about not receiving a ballot. From my experiences working as a poll worker (in Chicago, granted) I know how the access to vote, or the perceived access, was one of many ways in which a voter could be disenfranchised. I expressed my concerns as to the overall process and the worker at the Board of Elections ( I really should have got his name) then went on to explain that I was not technically removed from the polls, but rather I would no longer receive a ballot in the mail as it was automatically done when voter registration cards were returned. He explained that was fairly common (?!) and people could still vote at their polling location. I did not know that, and was glad to learn that I was at least still registered. He also went on to explain that I would be eligible to vote on a provisional ballot. He also said I could have called all of this in and they would have attempted to get me a new ballot prior to the election. There were other specifics, but by this time, I was still stuck on the fact that this whole process was rather silly. Wanting more time to read through all of my options, and finding out the specifics, I inquired as to where I could find more information hoping that I could get a pamphlet or something. Instead, I was directed to the website, and was then also instructed that this information could be obtained via email or on the phone. After checking the website I found no mention of these alternatives.

While I appreciate all of these options (searching the web, calling the board of elections, talking to my local post office, going to the board of elections, going to my polling place, emailing, etc) I must say that this whole thing is ridiculous. Why does this election system seems so stacked against the voter? Shouldn't I be drop dead simple for a citizen of the United States to be able to vote? I was initially going to say "registered" citizen…but then I realized that act of registration is rather silly in and of itself. We all have Social Security numbers. We all pay taxes. Somehow with all of that the government is able to find us. Why can't local boards of elections then find us for the elections that happen in our area? Why do we even need to register at all?

Aside from this notion of registration, I'm also wondering about the so called benefits of vote-by-mail. Though the benefits regarding voter participation with mail in voting seem are favorable, my experiences thus far, gives me all the more reason to oppose it. Aside from decreasing the significance shared experiences for a community, any system that is this fragile -- e.g. the reg card is returned by a dependent system, voter no longer receives the ballot, and information is not readily or consistently available as to their options -- certainly seems to hinder and/or discourage people from voting. The cynic in me says this is purposeful, but I may have been watching too many episodes of the X-Files or something.

Anyway, critiquing the system of voting in and of itself will not change much. Can it be better? Of course. Ultimately though, no matter how good the system is, if people are not actually motivated or inspired to vote, we will never have the active and engaged citizenry that the Founders envisioned so many years ago. Now, if there were only more flow like principles designed into civic action :-)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Forums for a civic process -- Seattle Center

Forums for Seattle Center? This should be interesting. It's nice to see that the Forum has some starter content. I also like that there are basic guidelines posted, though I would have made the guidelines a "sticky" post in ideas forum, rather than it being a standalone post in a different forum. While we're talking about suggestions, I also would have waited on the blog post until all of the forum topics as outlined in the welcome message were live. Anyway, I could go on about community building via blogs or forums, but that is way too close to my day job :P

Tech / community strategy aside, it is encouraging to see outreach through a variety of means -- open house sessions, blogs, and now forums. I do wonder how all of this is going to work from a macro level. For example, there are meetings posted (as a pdf) on the 21st Century page of Seattle Center. This schedule lists a "Public Forum for Organizations" on January 30th. The blog, in reference to the same meeting, says that it is a proposal deadline for anyone (individuals and organizations) to submit a one page summary vision for air time with the committee. Based on the content recently posted in the Forums and on the blog post talking about the meeting, it is clear that the public meeting on the 30th was not solely for organizations as originally stated on the schedule. How does an inconsistency such as this get resolved with the venues (blogs, forums, website) present? Is there a definitive place for all of the information? Better yet, is there a way to ensure consistency of information across venues?

Something else to consider...the Forums seem to imply that they exist for capturing other ideas / summaries not already raised (in meetings or elsewhere) while having content for people to discuss. If that is the case, I'm unclear as to why there was a deadline for proposals in the first place if it would all happen online anyway. Granted, I'm not privy to any of the inner workings of the overall plan, so this may make a lot more sense than what I've seen so far.

Of course, I realize that what Seattle Center is undertaking with the blog , and now forums, is still a work in progress. While there are things I would personally change with what I've seen, ultimately I am excited that folks at the Seattle Center are bringing innovation and leadership to a new civic process for the 21st Century. I look forward to working with folks to bring about even more amazing things for all of us.

Friday, January 26, 2007

First public meeting for Seattle Center redesign

Wednesday night I attended the first public hearing for reimagining Seattle Center for the next 20 years. Though I was skeptical at first, being one of the few dozen or so folks there not affiliated with the work thus far, and not to mention me being one of the few individuals under the age of 40, I liked what I saw.

Just to recap how the public hearing was organized, when you first enter the Lopez and Fidalgo rooms at Seattle Center there is someone there to greet you as you sign in. They give you a quick overview of how the evening will proceed -- there are stations throughout the room for public comment, volunteers who have helped with the process thus far will be at each station to talk with you about your ideas, a brief presentation will occur halfway through the evening, and the overall goal is to gather as much public input as possible. Essentially this was how Collaborate! was organized, though this iteration put forward by Seattle Center seemed to take it up a notch.

At each station, Seattle Center provided a backgrounder of the topic area (transit, events, specific buildings, etc) being discussed at that station. A map of the center, with the related parts highlighted as appropriate, were presented alongside any conceptual images that may exist. In the case of a revised theater district on Mercer Street, concept images of a revamped Intiman and Reparatory theaters were presented. Additionally at each station there were questions posted on a large sheet (about 10 feet high and 4 feet wide) for people to place note cards as responses to the questions. Participants could also take a dot to voice support for an existing comment if they so chose. The questions typically followed the same pattern -- what draws you currently, what would you change, and other.

In terms of the volunteers at each station, not only were they intimately knowledgeable about the topic area at hand, but they would help flesh out suggestions from participants. Sometimes the volunteers would actually write down the ideas described by the participants themselves. While this may seem to be antithetical to the notion of having the people submit their own words into the process, from what I was able to see / overhear, the volunteers were very good at ensuring that the words captured on the cards accurately reflected the intent of the participant. This leads me to believe this method of data collection was not so much as to serve as a filter as it was to help capture the ideas of people who might not be able to write for whatever reason. To some degree this may have also been used to help standardize the handwriting so it would be easier for people to read.

All in all, I liked the event. That being said, there is always room for improvement. First and foremost, food and beverages should be available at meetings of this nature. Given the time of day (5:30 - 8:00 pm) this might help keep people engaged and alert. Also, it would be great to have (and this may be in the works already) each of the "stations" appear as separate blog posts to engage people online. Following on the theme of technology, what about having interactive kiosks with webcams and or sound recording (think podcasts) for people to give their feedback and thoughts about the work thus far? A recent PBS documentary did something similar to this. In a way it's similar to the work of StoryCorps or Densho. These means of recording (video or audio) could be something stationary or it could be more mobile to get a wider range of participants. Also, folks may want to consider posting the video footage and still pics of the event online. Using existing services like Soapbox, YouTube, Flickr or the like would be fine to help implement it quicker, and also it enables it to be spread throughout a wide variety of blogs (mine, for example, but hopefully some with more traffic -- lol)

Anyway, thanks to all the volunteers who helped last night. And thanks to all who planned the first public hearing. Even though I get the sense that the next meeting will be similar, I look forward to attending. Don't worry, I won't try to skew the data towards things I already voiced support for -- multi-seasonal amphitheater for more intimate music and entertainment performances, a farmers market, more walkable, more bikeable, transit hub, etc. Instead, I hope to have more ideas fleshed out around this notion of helping to make Seattle Center a "first date kind of place." (My thanks go out to Karen Keist who helped me think of it during our discussion of open space at the center). I should have more ideas around what this actually looks like at the next meeting.

For additional coverage, check out Seattle Center's blog, or the KOMO-TV Report

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Achieving that flow state for user experiences

What would happen if you took great game design principles and applied them to product development for something other than games? Would you get a really fun and engaging product? Or would you get a product that completely misses the mark? I don't know the answer just yet, but I suppose that is one of the good things about iterative product development :-)

In terms of what I've been able to gather so far, there's a few different variations on the theme with regards to this general notion of flow and or fun. According to social architect Amy Jo Kim, the elements to pay attention to with regards to game design include:
  • Collecting
  • Points
  • Feedback
  • Exchanges
  • Customization
Another writer on this topic of games and design, DanC, has these elements listed:
  • Action
  • Blackbox
  • Feedback
  • Mastery
According to a recent report about the motivational pull of video games (pdf), the following criteria are listed:
  • Autonomy
  • Competence
  • Presence
  • Intuitive
  • Relatedness
All of these items seem to be related to this broader concept of flow. Flow is perhaps best described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi where he lists the following as the principle elements that facilitate this space:
  • Challenge
  • The ability to concentrate on that challenge
  • Clear goals
  • Immediate feedback
  • Deep involvement on the part of the participant
  • Sense of control over one's actions
  • The concern for one's self decreases
  • Sense of time is skewed
To put it in a more user friendly way, Karim Lakhani and Robert Wolf (pdf) describe flow as a state that occurs when "a person's skills matches the challenge of a task." Put another way, it is when your skills, experiences and knowledge all sync up to a particular situation at hand and you are in the moment when you are at your best.

Wouldn't it be great if all the users of your products and or services felt like that all the time? Seems to me that elements of flow or good game design need to be factored into the overall product development cycle.

Building upon what I've encountered so far (I'm still going through Csikszentmihalyi's book on flow, among some other references) I would say that for product development that helps prospective and current customers achieve that flow state, the following items must be considered throughout the entire design process:

Assuming that a user does a specific action and something happens behind the scenes, the following items should be considered:
  • Feedback
  • Personalization
  • Connection
  • Mastery
  • Optimization
In the case of a discussion forum where someone posts a message this flow state could look like this:

Feedback -- Message appears in location selected

Personalization -- This could be as simple as providing a personalized greeting acknowledging contribution in your native language, listing your name, etc in a conversational style or as complex as a personalized email doing the same.

Connection -- Provide links to other people who posted similar content or who are interested in similar content

Mastery -- Enable a notion of leveling tied specifically to the action of posting. The more messages a user posts, the more adept they are at the interface. Acknowledge the time (no matter how small) it takes for them to post a message. Something as simple as listing the message count, or something as complex as a reputation system tied to the frequency of content creation could be implemented here.

Optimization -- "Leveling up" needs to open up new opportunities for folks to do more. As a particular individual masters a specific action, let them do more to further optimize their experience. It could be skipping steps in a workflow because they know how to best do it, or it could be granting of additional options for them in posting a message.


Zooming back down to my day to day with blogs and sense is that much of this already exists to varying degrees. Granted, it could tie together more. For that matter, it could even tie together flow states for both blogs and forums. There's likely a lot more I appreciate any thoughts and comments folks have on all this. thanks!


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Equivalent to 18 sell-out Seahawks games

I'm reading through some backgrounder information (pdf) about revamping Seattle Center for this day and age and came across an amazing stat.

Each year serving more than three times the annual number of visitors as Safeco Field and the equivalent of 18 sell-out regular football seasons at Qwest Field, Seattle Center is the state's top attraction.

I knew it drew in lots of people, but that's pretty impressive. To me, that just underscores the importance of holistic and regional transit solutions around that area. Unfortunately, with what is currently being discussed with regards to the viaduct vs the tunnel, I'm not hopeful that a regional solutions are even on the table.

Seattle Center is blogging too!

Blogs are popping up all over the place ;-) Seattle Center is the latest to get into it. I think this is a great way of opening things up, especially as folks are focused on revamping Seattle Center.

Loosely related, on a whim some colleagues and I started talking about the notion of revamping the center for this day and age. To my surprise, I was pleased to learn that folks are talking about this right now. While it seems like I won't be actively serving on the committee (as there's been a blue ribbon group meeting for awhile already) there looks to be some options for plugging in nonetheless. Granted, the existing ways do not seem to be all that compelling in terms of really getting input into the process, however it is a start. Looks like I'll need to buckle down with folks to actually engage in a meaningful way about changes facing this civic institution.

Seattle Works blog

Yay for blogging! With the recent trip to the Gulf Coast by some incredible volunteers from Seattle Works, we officially launched our blog. Not only is it great to get more visibility to the incredible things underway, but it's also helped me refocus on blogging. Expect to see more of me here on this site, and here (for work related things)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

slowing down, snowing down

Last night during the rush hour commute, the Puget Sound region was hit again by snow, ice and rain. Needless to say, it did not make for a fun commute. After spending about two hours waiting for a bus that never showed, I ended up hitching a ride with others trying to make it back to Seattle. Were it not for the generosity of Marcel, I don't know how I would have gotten home as the buses I could have taken either never showed or they were stuck in the ice.

While his kindness is not surprising, I still wonder why shared experiences, or shared difficulties seem to bring people closer together. A few years ago, I wrote upon this a's a little snippet from 2005:

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...

...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.

Following the big windstorms in Nov 2006, a local columnist also commented on this notion of community here

All of this makes me wonder, are we *too* distracted in this day and age of constant activity and connectedness to really be connected to one another as a community? Kathy Sierra wrote recently on how our flow seems to get disrupted with all the noise of mail, feeds and the like. Do we all just need a good old fashioned "snow day" once in awhile to better ground us so we truly are better connected to one another? As much fun as that might be, that's not a good longterm solution. I get the feeling that this magic formula of community through serendipity has to do more with this notion of flow and play in everyday life. Now, if I only knew how to bottle it ;-)

(cross posted On community...)