Friday, December 19, 2008

The Public Domain: What does it look like?

I’m reading The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind by James Boyle and just finished Chapter 2 (Thomas Jefferson Writes a Letter).

It’s hard to mentally envision the “public domain” because, while we may think about intellectual property itself, we tend not to conceptualize its opposite, the “outside” of intellectual property. The public domain, Boyle says, is “not some gummy residue left behind when all the good stuff has been covered by [intellectual] property law” (p. 40-41). The public domain is, rather, the vast majority of our culture. (Language itself, for instance, is part of the public domain. You don’t have to buy “English, Professional Edition”; it’s just there for you to use as you wish.)

The whole justification for the government granting copyrights and patents – which are, in effect, monopolies – is to provide a form of “protection” in order to encourage authors and inventors to put forth the time, effort and expense to create new works, and then to receive reasonable recognition and reward in return. But, in summarizing Jefferson’s warning about this protection, such monopolies “should be tightly limited in time and should not last a day longer than necessary to encourage the innovation in the first place.” (p. 21) In other words, some protection may be useful, but it should be as temporary and limited as possible.

This has provided me a metaphorical image. I think the public domain is like a coral reef. The vast, beautiful majority is comprised of long-dead coral animals. On the edges, here and there at any given time, are living coral polyps. The live a little while and then die, their calcified remains adding incrementally to the overall coral reef. The living coral polyps need some protection to do their job. But their lives are temporary. If their lives were permanent, the reef wouldn’t grow. And the collective result of their temporary “production” is the giant, diverse coral reef for others to use and enjoy (ignoring, of course, the tragic ecological threat posed to real coral in the real world).

This is not a perfect metaphor for lots of reasons. But it’s helped me construct a mental image for the public domain: vast, beautiful, diverse. And, to the extent that intellectual property is justified and useful (which is an argument in its own right), it should be limited and temporary in order to enrich our shared public domain as soon as possible.

This is one reason Creative Commons make so much sense. Enabling individual creators to determine for themselves the limits of their copyright is a much more nuanced and efficient way of applying “just the right amount” of protection for each creator’s work. The government’s current one-size-fits-all system is both heavy and ham-handed by comparison. In order to protect the very few creations that might (another argument) warrant extensive protection, it “overprotects” all creative works, and, in so doing, squanders the dynamic potential of our public domain -- the “basis for our art, our science and our self-understanding... the raw material from which we make new inventions and create new cultural worlds.” (p. 39)

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Public Domain: Why Intellectual Property?

I’m reading The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind by James Boyle (pub. date: December, 2008!). I’ve long struggled with the basic dilemma of intellectual property. (I’ll focus on copyright, though similar arguments apply to patents and trademarks.) On one hand, it makes sense that an author, artist, musician, photographer, etc. ought to get credit and maybe make money from their creative output. On the other hand, as individuals and as society, we benefit from the sharing of our collective culture. The dilemma, Boyle explains in Chapter 1, is in large part due to the excessive and strict terms of copyright, which is granted for “life plus seventy years, or ninety-five years for corporate ‘works for hire’”. Boyle’s delicious metaphor explains that:

... in the Library of Congress’s vast, wonderful pudding of songs and pictures and films and books and magazines and newspapers, there is perhaps a handful of raisins’ worth of works that anyone is making any money from, and the vast majority of those come from the last ten years. If one goes back twenty years, perhaps a raisin. Fifty years? A slight raisiny aroma. We restrict access to the whole pudding in order to give the owners of the raisin slivers their due. But this pudding is almost all of twentieth-century culture, and we are restricting access to it when almost of all of it could be available. (p. 12)

I’m reminded of an ethical case study posed back in Library School: You’re an academic librarian, and a faculty member comes to you at the end of Winter term, wanting to take home a rarely used reference book over the break. What do you do? The teacher, Kris Subramanyam, was incredibly meticulous and precise in all his doings. So, I assumed that the “right” answer (i.e., the one I thought Dr. Subramanyam wanted to hear) was to hold firm to the rule that reference books don’t circulate, and tell the faculty member in effect, “tough shit, you can’t take it home”. I was both surprised and challenged to hear Dr. Subramanyam discuss the subtleties of the situation... that since it was a rarely used book, and few people would be around during the school break, it would be reasonable to allow the faculty member to take the book home. The overarching purpose is to help patrons get the information they seek; rules can serve that purpose, but they shouldn’t get in the way of it. This opened my eyes to realize that the best librarians distinguished themselves not by being best at following arcane rules of librarianship, but by exercising mature judgment (wisdom) in helping to meet the information needs of the people they served.

And so it is with copyright. Clinging blindly to the rules ensures that none of us can fully enjoy the vast pudding of 20th century creative output, even if the copyright holders have no objection or cannot be found. But our culture would be better served by a more subtle, wiser and user-centered approach to managing our cultural treasure trove. This is not just a trivial matter of making voiceovers for old movies. I believe it speaks to the intellectual, creative and cultural environment that we must develop in order to successfully confront the political and ecological crises that face us. But that’s another story.

Preface to the next (and hopefully future) post(s)

I’ve been wanting to blog more, but haven’t yet gotten into the habit (mindset, paradigm). Part of it is typical habituation, like getting started on eating differently or exercising. Part of it is focus. I have lots I want to say, but am unsure of what to grab onto and write about. And this disconnect feels poignant as I read some of the books (and articles, blog posts, etc.) that have been exciting me so much. So, what I’ve been thinking of doing, which will address all of these concerns, is to blog about each book chapter when I’m reading a book.

I’ve read some terrific books lately. Books which have excited me (to a degree similar to how Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society radically and profoundly woke me up in 1977). And as I read these books, I highlight passages and think about how these ideas fit into my own ever-emerging paradigm.... And then they’re gone. The two most exciting books I’ve read lately (twice, and still have more to get out of them) are:

· Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky

· Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger

And, currently, I’ve just begin another book about intellectual property called The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind by James Boyle, which is hot off the presses (publication date: December 8, 2008!). I’ve finished the preface and first chapter and stopped. I’m anxious to continue (and admit to skimming ahead), but the practice I want to try – hopefully repeatedly, but at least once – is to pause after the chapter and blog about it. I was thinking about this as I was reading it, and I noticed that my attention was focused in a different way. My highlighting and annotation was more purposeful. I already know what I want to write about. So, here we go...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Tools, they are a-changing

I’ve been reading The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger. I’d heard of it before, but decided to take a closer look when it was recommended by Alex Hillman of IndyHall. It’s an outgrowth of the website of the same name, with its 95 Theses of the new paradigm heralded by the web. Although it’s focused on the implications of the web for business, its dominant theme is really all about how the web enables authentic voices and meaningful connections.

Its biggest drawback is that it was published way, way back in the year 2000 – eons ago in Internet time. But, as I read it, it still seemed fresh and interesting, and didn’t seem out of date, until we “... take a tour of the various conversational modalities the Net offers”: e-mail, mailing lists, newsgroups, chat and web pages”. Let’s call these “Group A”; they are all great and unprecedentedly important tools which have dramatically empowered people by liberating their voices and making possible fluid, dynamic and serendipitous human connections.

But what feels dramatically and profoundly missing, what hadn’t been invented (or at least weren’t popularized) back in those olden days, are blogs, podcasts, videoblogs, Twitter, social bookmarks, YouTube, Flickr, Slideshare, Craig’s List, much of what passes for “social networking” and much, much more. These are “Group B”.

The absence of Group B tools in the book struck me harder than I would have expected. Group A tools are not out-of-date clunkers; they are all mainstays of the cyberworld. And in retrospect, it certainly seems like Group B represents a natural progression and evolution of empowering Group A communication tools. But on the other hand, something about Group B feels deeply and profoundly different.

So, what’s different about them? All I come up with at the moment is that, when you speak through the tools in Group A (except for “web pages”), you have some degree of sense and control over who the audience is. Sure, it’s likely you don’t know all the readers in your mailing lists or newsgroups (and not knowing much or most of the audience is a critical part of their value). But, you likely have some sense of who the audiences are, because each mailing list, newsgroup or chat channel has some sort of name, identity, purpose. And you have some control over who hears your message, at least to the extent of being able to quit one mailing list or join another.

But Group B tools enjoy an audience of the whole world. Put out a blog post (like this one), or a Flickr pic or even a Craig’s List listing, and anyone can see it, link to it, love it, hate it. These newer tools carry voices anywhere, everywhere. Sure, groups of audience do emerge (a Twitterer has a certain number of followers; a podcast has a certain group of RSS subscribers). But these “groups” form even more dynamically, organically and unpredictably than the groups who subscribe to a mailing list or newsgroup.

Relatively speaking, a newsgroup is a silo. A blog is an open door.

But I don’t think this quite captures it. What am I missing? What do you think?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Using Social Networks for Social Change: a Slideshow by Ivan Boothe

Ivan Boothe has put together a very nicely done slideshow (with voiceover) on using social networks for social change. In this very young field, Ivan is a veteran. He co-founded the Genocide Intervention Network, which has used social networks very successfully to engage members. He is currently the Creative Director of Rootwork, as well as a co-organizer (with yours truly) of Philly NetSquared. If you've considered (or even tried) to use social networks to advance social change causes, this presentation will provide some very helpful insights and tips.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

About "Civic Capital"

I've been interested in social capital for many years (though I didn't have a name for it before reading Robert Putnam's groundbreaking book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.)

But I'd never heard the phrase civic capital before hearing it used to describe the effect of Barack Obama's successful "netroots" campaign. The On the Media interview below with Marshall Ganz describes how the Obama campaign helped to develop civic capital among its volunteers:

It talks about how, at "Camp Obama", volunteers were trained to articulate their own personal narratives, because it's "from their own stories that they're most effectively going to be able to engage others." Ganz goes on:

... a whole tier of volunteer leadership were cut into the action ...there was a level of empowerment, of volunteer leadership at the local level, that is a theme that's run all through this campaign. And that's why you see the responsibility, the enthusiasm, the creativity. And that's why when the campaign is over, as it is now, this isn't going to go away.

The term civic capital is new to me. (And I'm not the only one. Interestingly, there's no Wikipedia entry [yet] for civic capital, though the Wikipedia article for social capital was started way back in 2002!). So, it seems to me that civic capital is a form of social capital -- one that is self-consciously focussed on the improvement of the community or society of which its members are a part. It certainly wasn't invented by the Obama campaign. (A quick Google search cites the term used a number of years ago; and -- even without the term itself -- the reality of it no doubt goes back as far as civil society.) But the Obama campaign exposed and exploited it. And, to the question of whether we can use civic capital to help transform our society into one that is more just, green and peaceful, there's an obvious answer: Yes we can.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Obama's plans for information and communication technology

If you haven’t seen it already, Barack Obama describes specific plans for change on his slick website, I find the Technology Agenda page particularly interesting and exciting.

Of course, just saying these things doesn’t make them happen. But I’ve never seen a politician articulate so clearly, unambiguously and (seemingly) sincerely information and communication policy intentions that are so close to my heart.

Describing the problem, the very first sentence reads, “We need to connect citizens with each other to engage them more fully and directly in solving the problems that face us.Connect citizens with each other. This is not the worn out platitude of “let’s get valuable input from the people”— a one-way process where all the real control lies with the recipient of all that valuable input. Connecting people with each other (actually, “one another” would be more grammatically precise) bespeaks a trust in people that harkens both to Jefferson and to Web 2.0.

Here are some of the bullets from his plan (with quoted excerpts from the text) that I find most exciting:

  • Protect the openness of the Internet. “... strongly supports the principle of network neutrality”.
  • Encourage diversity in media ownership. “... encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media, promote the development of new media outlets for expression of diverse viewpoints, and clarify the public interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the nation’s spectrum.”
  • Protect Our Children While Preserving the First Amendment. “Obama values our First Amendment freedoms and our right to artistic expression and does not view regulation as the answer to these concerns.”
  • Safeguard our Right to Privacy. “... harness the power of technology to hold government and business accountable for violations of personal privacy.”
  • Open Up Government to its Citizens. “The Bush Administration has been one of the most secretive, closed administrations in American history.... An Obama presidency will use cutting-edge technologies to reverse this dynamic, creating a new level of transparency, accountability and participation for America's citizens.”
  • Bring Government into the 21st Century. “Obama and Biden believe in the American people and in their intelligence, expertise, and ability and willingness to give and to give back to make government work better.” and “... will appoint the nation's first Chief Technology Officer (CTO)”.
  • Deploy Next-Generation Broadband. “As a country, we have ensured that every American has access to telephone service and electricity, regardless of economic status, and Obama will do likewise for broadband Internet access.”

Exciting stuff. Exciting times. Exciting opportunities.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Here come the Changebloggers

I met with Kathrin Ivanovic today at Remedy Tea Bar (nice place, first time there). She's one of a growing number of self-identified changebloggers. A new label, though not a new practice, changebloggers are "bloggers, podcasters and vloggers who are using their platform to make the world a better place", according to the Changeblogger Network on Ning. Lots of folks are creating audio or video blogs, podcasts or other self-expressive web 2.0 content. And lots of folks are committed to changing the world. Changebloggers are at the intersection of both (or at least those that are self-identified as such).

In my Venn diagram-craving mind, I see it like this:

Kathrin (whose own blog is Seeking the Cranberry) is working on creating a gathering, probably on November 22, for changebloggers in the Philadelphia area to meet, inspire and learn from one another. Sounds like an interesting group of people with great possibilities for synergy. More to come.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Inspiration from decades past

Sorting through old papers, I rediscovered the 82-page Honors Thesis I wrote in 1979 as an undergraduate at Penn State. I re-read it for the first time in decades, and was astounded by how fresh and relevant it felt to me today. It focused on a radical analysis of the institution of education, and was predicated primarily on three books which blew my mind:
Here’s a piece:
All three authors condemn the existing educational system. ... Illich accuses schools of making people overdependent upon institutional services (or treatments) and of initiating the entire culture into the Myth of Unending Consumption. Freire maintains that the banking concept of education reduces people to objects and submerges them in a “culture of silence,” thereby sustaining a state of oppression. Holt declares that S-chools act to stifle the intellectual and creative potentials of learners by placing them in a compulsory, competitive and coercive environment. ... Superficial solutions—such as changing the curriculum—only divert our attention away from the root of the problem. The necessary radical alternative, says Illich, “is the creation of a new style of educational relationship between man and his environment”.
These writers questioned the legitimacy of the institutions I took for granted; they envisioned a world in which individuals were empowered to enjoy the freedom and responsibility of navigating their own worlds and making their own meaning. They opened my idealistic undergraduate eyes to a profound and ecstatic reevaluation of my political and spiritual perspectives. In the intervening decades, that thrill has never left me. Ivan Illich, Paolo Freire and John Holt have all died. But I still enjoy the gift they gave me, the thrilling idealism that a radically different world is both necessary and possible. Unfortunately, these inspirational heroes are not around to see how the new Internet technologies (and the emerging social relations they enable) could help to realize their ambitious visions.

That’s my job.

That’s our job.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Libraries facilitating patron EXPRESSION

I'm frustrated by the seeming lack of commitment of libraries (especially community-anchored public libraries) to their role in facilitating patrons' ability to speak. Librarians entusiastically rally 'round the flag of "Intellectual Freedom", but they think of it almost entirely in terms of defending patrons' right to read stuff written by others. All very well and good, but it misses a giant (and, arguably, the most empowering) piece of the puzzle.

On its website, the American Library Association's Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q & A makes the point that, "Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas." [emphasis added] But how seriously do most libraries take the mission of facilitating information dissemination? The answer is mixed.
  • Nowadays, many libraries provide support and assistance for helping their patrons disseminate information in the Web 2.0 environment, like by helping them create and use blogs, podcasts, picture sharing services, social networking, etc.
  • And, of course, most libraries have long provided one form or another of their "traditional" dissemination tools, e.g., bulletin boards, meeting rooms, display cases and Information & Referral (I&R) files.

But if a library, especially a public library, wants to genuinely facilitate the ability for their patrons (i.e., members of their local community) to disseminate their information, to express their ideas, to speak that which they find meaningful, then it ought to look at how people already do express themselves, and then provide local, community-specific assistance in helping more of their patrons do so, or to do so better. So, for example, such assistance could include providing:

  • tips, examples and referrals to local resources that can help them put their messages onto T-shirts, hats, buttons, bumper stickers, novelty items, etc.
  • addresses to local tattoo parlors
  • names of local venues for playing music, singing karaoke, presenting poetry or being a stand-up comic
  • easy to follow instructions for obtaining "group member license plates" or vanity plates from their state's department of transportation
  • tips and resources for publishing books or recording music (combined with a commitment to then add those resources to their collections)
  • addresses, tips and examples for writing letters to the editors of local newspapers

And, in addition to identifying these resources, the professional skills and orientation of librarians can be brought to bear on helping their patrons articulate their dissemination needs and understand the relative merits of different dissemination tools and strategies. (Another aspect of the reference interview.)

If librarians started from the premise that people want and deserve to express information as well as consume it, and that supporting "Intellectual Freedom" includes facilitating access to a variety of locally appropriate, content-neutral dissemination tools, then they would provide a profoundly empowering service to their local communities (and engage in a sustainable way to stay relevant in a library-threatened world).

Monday, June 23, 2008

The EPA asks how would you ...

... use blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other Web 2.0 tools to protect the environment?

You can weigh in, or just follow the conversation at:

The EPA 2.0


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Origami conference tag tags

Here's another cool tag tag application given to me by a friend who regularly attends the OrigamiUSA Annual Convention.

So, as origamists(?) walk around and encounter one another in physical space, they display this structured metadata about themselves re: an origami project they would like to learn or teach. This sort of tag tag seems ideally suited for a physical gathering at which attendees have (or desire) "atomic knowledge" -- i.e., discrete pieces of knowhow about an area of activity, combined with a common desire to learn new pieces and share pieces they already know.

Friday, May 30, 2008

"Where do people find the time for all this participative media stuff?"

Here's a very interesting 16 minute video (and transcript) by Clay Shirky, given at the recent Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco. It's a fascinating and inspiring reply to the question, "Where do people find the time [to engage in all this participative media stuff]"?

(I've been a big fan of Clay Shirky since reading his brand new book about the hows and whys of Web 2.0, called Here Comes Everybody, and I highly recommend it.)


Monday, April 28, 2008

Idealism and Pragmatism can be friends

Here's another insight I gained from Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations.

I (Seth) regard myself as an idealist. When I first encountered Wikipedia, I was excited by what I perceived to be an idealistic tool which fully and equally validated every participant and contribution. So I found it difficult at first to reconcile that idealistic perspective with Wikipedia’s imposition of any restrictions, such as locking down frequently abused articles and disallowing unregistered users from starting new articles from scratch. I could understand the reasons for imposing limits, but something inside me seemed to squirm a little – as if perhaps such compromises invalidated my idealism. But, as Shirky explains it,
Wikipedia is predicated on openness not as a theoretical way of working but as a practical way. ... Because Wikipedia is a process, not a product, it replaces guarantees offered by institutions with probabilities supported by process: if enough people care enough about an article to read it, then enough people will care enough to improve it, and over time this will lead to a large enough body of good enough work to begin to take both availability and quality of articles for granted, and to integrate Wikipedia into daily use by millions. [emphasis mine]
This view provides a satisfying relief. Although Wikipedia may not be “pure” from a philosophically idealistic perspective, it is practical from a real world, make-the-most-valuable-resource perspective. And this latter quality invests it with significance and gravitas that is absent in theoretical vision per se. Yes, we may have an idealistic vision of a repaired world. And Wikipedia (and similar tools) moves us closer to that vision – not because it perfectly matches that vision on some ephemeral, theoretical plane, but because it: a) is philosophically congruent with that vision, and also b) engages with, and makes a tangible improvement to, the real world we live in today.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

About social tools and activism

Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations has lots of terrific insights. Here’s one about activism.

He describes a couple examples of citizen activism facilitated by new social tools. One is about angry airline passengers organizing to create an Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights by using newspaper interactivity and an online petition and blog. Another is about college students and graduates using Facebook to organize to reverse a bait-and-switch bank policy. Both of these cases describe an unjust situation which pisses off a bunch of people, one of whom takes the initiative to start something which a lot of other people join in on. As stories, these are interesting, but not necessarily extraordinary. What I find most fascinating is his explanation about the role played by new social tools, and the implication of this for the future of activist causes.

The old model for coordinating group action required convincing people who care a little to care more, so that they would be roused to action. [The new model] lower[s] the hurdles to doing something in the first place, so that people who cared a little could participate a little, while being effective in aggregate. Having a handful of highly motivated people and a mass of barely motivated ones used to be a recipe for frustration. The people who were on fire wondered why the general population didn’t care more, and the general population wondered why those obsessed people didn’t just shut up. Now the highly motivated people can create a context more easily in which the barely motivated people can be effective without having to become activists themselves. (p. 181-182)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tag Tags

(Note: this is a little long, but I've been thinking about it for a while...)

At many meetings or conferences, participants wear name tags. At a minimum the tag contains a self-written first name (perhaps preceded by “Hello. My name is...”). Or meetings with registered users may have name tags with pre-printed names, organizational affiliations, location or other standardized information. In all of these cases, name tags serve the same basic function: to display identifying information (or metadata) about the wearer for the benefit of others. So, as attendees come within visual range, they can discover something about one another and perhaps start a conversation or make a connection.

One of the purposes (sometimes the main purpose) of most such gatherings is to “network”, or to help attendees make meaningful connections among themselves. So, toward this end, name tags tend to be useful – because they provide important information, or networking hooks, upon which people can relate and connect. A name tag’s networking hooks are part of the first impression conveyed by the wearer, saying, in effect, “Here is something about me that maybe you will find interesting”.

But one characteristic about name tags is that they tend to contain objective information – factual information about the wearer that is readily perceived by others. Put another way, the information on someone’s name tag could be (and often actually is) provided by a third party involved in organizing the meeting.

A name tag’s objective networking hooks – like name, affiliation and hometown – may be vitally useful in opening a point of contact, when, say, you’re standing in the lunch buffet line. (“Oh, I see you’re from San Diego...”) Some of these initial contacts result in a pleasant lunchtime chat; others may result in deeper, more meaningful connections, perhaps developing into ongoing relationships. Such meaningful connections don’t happen simply by reading a name tag. They develop (if at all) in the course of subsequent conversations, after some give and take, as a result of sharing subjective information. (“I know so-and-so. Do you?” “Years ago, I used to work at _________ .” “I really hope that _____ .” “I hate when _____.”) In other words, within a group of people who don’t know one another well, simple objective networking hooks can provide an important entre to sharing the subjective information from which meaningful relationships might arise.

So why not share some subjective information up front as part of conveying a first impression? Why not present networking hooks that are uniquely and personally meaningful -- that one specifically hopes might attract a connection that would feel useful or validating or passionate? Of course, typical, objective name tag information may be intensely meaningful, like when it indicates an organizational affiliation with which the wearer passionately identifies. But if one purpose of a gathering is to provide a rich array of opportunities for meaningful connections, then the handful of objective networking hooks on a typical name tag may only scratch the surface of the potential personal and professional reasons for which one might want to connect.

Self-disclosure – the voluntary sharing of subjective information – is the fuel of social networking sites. Sharing information about who your “friends” are, your career ambitions or your favorite movies constitutes a diverse array of subjectively created metadata. These personally meaningful networking hooks are both the input and the output, the requirement and the benefit, of sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. Without subjective networking hooks, these sites simply become directories.

Face to face meetings are also (and of course always have been) social networking platforms – albeit within a physical, rather than electronic, medium. But, as we all know, compared to the vast capacity of the electronic medium of social networking sites, physical space has very real limits. Rather than having an unlimited number of media-rich electronic pages to work with, physical space requires more limited and mundane tools, such as a physically worn label or tag. Further, in a face-to-face meeting, people tend to only have a few moments to read and comprehend such information.

But even within the limited context of a physical name tag, at least some additional, subjective networking hooks can be displayed. These self-created networking hooks might be thought of as tag tags – a term which conveys both senses of the word tag: as a physical label (like a name tag) and as user-created metadata (as with Flickr or Tag tags can be worn by attendees at an event to express subjective networking hooks. Simply write your networking hook(s) on a name tag (or separate label) and go about attending the meeting. This may seems like a strange practice at first, but how different is it, really, from wearing objective metadata on a name tag in the first place? The main difference, in fact, is that self-written tag tags are more likely than typical name tags to express networking hooks that are more personal, unique and immediately relevant. One experiment with tag tags (though not by that name) was tried at the 2006 IA [Information Architecture] Summit in Vancouver, where the tag tags were photographed.

But, because of the technical and social capacity limits of wearing labels, it may be more effective if the subjective metadata were more simple, focused and direct. So, meeting organizers might suggest guidelines for tag tags. These may be highly relevant to the subject of the meeting (“Name the last projects you worked on”). Or they may be totally irrelevant to the meeting (“Who’s your favorite Disney character?”). Or they may be tangentially related (“What industry professionals most inspire you?”). Regardless of the format (or lack thereof), tag tags can enable attendees to:

  • express aspects about themselves not captured by typical name tag metadata
  • express networking hooks that are immediately relevant (and can even be added or modified during the course of the meeting)
  • introduce or reinforce new vocabulary
  • nurture more diverse types of personal connections
  • coincide with both the process and the content of how they present themselves in electronic social media
  • validate attendees for their uniquely felt identities, purposes or roles

We’ll be experimenting with tag tags at the first Net Tuesday Philly meeting. And I’d be very interested in learning about other applications or variations.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Who Comes to NTEN: Ciaran Hayden and Eamon Stack from Enclude, Ireland

This is the first in a series of posts back from NTEN's Non-Profit Technology Conference NTC08.

I first met Ciaran Hayden in DC during NTC 07. It was end of day and we both had drifted into an Irish Pub for a pint to end the day. Ciaran's (Kee-ron) story was spell binding. Development work in Cameroon, including the equivalent of micro-loans. A home in Cameroon and being treated like a king by those he had lent a hand to when he returns("it's embarrassing!") A small Consulting Compnay that he and his partner were building in Dublin. And the trust and the traction they were getting with the Irish Government.

As I packed this year I shot Ciaran a note, hoping he would be headed to New Oleans for NTC 08. Three minutes later, he got back that he was. And this year his partner, Eamon Stack was along too. Eamon's academic training was with the Jesuits. If that does not resonate for you - ask a freind who was raised Catholic ;-) - think rigorous.

Not to wreck a grand tradition, one year running!, on Wednesday night we pulled up stools at Patty's Irish on Decatur Street in N'Orleans. A friend had tipped me off - when in New Orleans, try the Abita Amber and we did, a good tip as it turns out. And we settled in to solve the world's IT problems.

Enclude is continuing its roll. First they had been selected to be a sort of Tech Soup for Ireland. This from the About section of The Enclude website:

Martin Cullen TD, Minister for Social and Family Affairs, formally launches ENCLUDEit - Technology Donations for Irish Nonprofits - on December 12th at 15 St. Stephen's Green. Present were Paul Rellis, Managing Director of Microsoft Ireland, Austin McCabe, CEO Symantec Europe, Michael Galvin of CISCO Ireland and a large gathering of nonprofit organisations. The Minister emphasised the importance of this programme and congratulated Ciaran and Eamon on the development of ENCLUDE and the ENCLUDEit Programme.

At the heart of their work is a thorough IT needs assessment that they conduct for non-profits across Ireland (the focus of Ciaran's work), followed by implementations that often include Salesforce (Eamon plays the lead in these.)

Visit their site for more of their story.

It is one of the hopeful and exciting aspects of our current world that Ciaran and Eamon can come to the states and exchange ideas with 1,100 colleagues all with a focus on how "to bring affordable, trustworthy systems and IT consultancy" to non-profits around the world ...

Thanks to NTEN

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ward Cunningham's new AboutUs venture

I just listened to an interesting podcasted interview with Ward Cunningham, the inventor of the wiki. He's currently working with a new start-up called AboutUs with a very intriguing premise. AboutUs takes the text from various domains' "About Us" pages, along with WhoIs information and probably other stuff, and puts it all into a publicly changeable wiki about domains. It automatically creates wiki pages for domains, but then you can edit those pages (for your own domain or someone else's). I found the AboutUs page for, and did some minor editing, like removing my phone number and address, correcting my email address and adding in as a "related domain". (In the last instance, since was not already in the wiki, when I clicked on the newly created link for it on the AboutUs page, it went and found the actual domain and created a new AboutUs wiki page for it -- currently quite sparse.)

One way that Ward described this initiative was in comparison to Wikipedia. Whereas Wikipedia documents what's going on in the world from the past to the present, AboutUs is a way of viewing -- if not the future -- the intentions of those who are creating/maintaining domains. That is, by sharing what folks are saying in their "About Us" sections of their own websites, you get an insight into where those people hope to go. I still don't quite have my mental arms all the way around this idea yet, but given Ward Cunningham's track record with the wiki, there's a good chance that AboutUs may be an important resource in the future. Worth watching.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

NEIT Solutions: Bad

Being new to this blogging game, I’m still trying to get a feel for what to write. At the moment, I feel like screaming to the world my frustration with my hosting provider, NEIT Solutions, that hosts my site. They’ve been pretty good for years, but a couple weeks ago, they changed servers, and most of my domain’s contents were lost (where before, I was getting a warning because I had less than 100 mb left in my account, now I suddenly have a 400+ mb surplus of space. Where’d all the files go?) Consequently, all of my production sites are down. (My home page, is fine, but all of my client sites, e.g., are broken. I also am effectively shut out of all of my communishare email accounts (including those depended upon my others as their primary email). The email server space is full, so new email senders get a bounceback.

So, how does NEIT deal with this? The last contact I got from them was, “Everything should be working. What’s wrong?” Then, after extensively documenting my problems, I’ve heard nothing. Four outstanding tickets have had NO response in almost a week. Their support phone has a message that acknowledges a general problem and that they’re working on it, but gives no more information and won’t even take a message.

So, I can’t get hold of them, and they won’t (or, at least, haven’t) communicated with me in almost a week? My sites and email accounts are dead in the water. What can I do?

(deep breath)

OK, I feel (very slightly) better now.


Here Comes Everybody

I've just begun reading a terrific brand new book (publication date February 2008!), Here Comes Everybody : The Power of Organizing without Organizations by Clay Shirky. It's about how people are spontaneously and organically forming all sorts of groups and achieving all sorts of tasks via new electronic media.

He offers, for me, the clearest explanation of economic theory for how this works, and why we are at the beginning of a permanent, profound change in how people can relate to one another to act differently within, and upon, the world. (It's definitely clear, but a bit dense -- I had to reread portions a couple times.)

Example: after the London terrorist bombings, people on the scene uploaded a flood of photos (many from cell phones) immediately onto Flickr. These photos (and the people who submitted them) are linked together by common tags. Gathering this corpus of photos so quickly could not have been achieved by a formal "organization"; only a platform that facilitated lots of spontaneous, individual actions could enable it.

More to come.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Interview with Valdis Krebs

I just listened to a great podcasted interview with Valdis Krebs. I was introduced to the work of Valdis Krebs by Stan Pokras way back when we were publishing the Other Networks newsletter in the early '80's. Valdis is a pioneer in the realm of social network analysis (SNA), a disciplined, statistical practice which long predates anything people think of today when you mention "social network". I found the whole 49 minutes interesting, but one point in particular was striking. Valdis contends that current "social networks" like Facebook and LinkedIn actually represent a new sort of "silo" and won't survive (at least not as currently configured) in the longer term. Their silo effect is because you have to "go there" to connect to "your" network (as he said to the interviewer, "It's like you and I could only talk if we met in a library"). His deeper view of social networks is user-centric, wherein each person has more control over their own networks, including distinctions and granularity of relationships. Will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Nominations for non-profit excellence in the use of Web 2.0 tools

This just crossed my desk:

Web2Expo seeking non-profit Web 2.0 initiatives to showcase

Seth & I are part of the organizing committee planning to launch NetSquared Tuesday's, Philly. That group will be dedicated to finding and fostering local initiatives that should be showcased at next years web2expo.

Give us a shout out if you know of any candidates


The wind and the waves favor the skilled sailor

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

CommuniShare Consulting: The Launch

Seth Horwitz and I are setting out on an adventure together - we are calling it CommuniShare Consulting in honor of Seth's pioneering community site.

Seth and I are encouraged by the work we are doing with and for Bob Goodman on his Star Cafe project at the American Friends Service Committee, and are off to share the marked benefits of this work with the larger "better world" community.

Building Networks of Trust, discovering Social Capital, supporting Collaborative Work, stimulating Collaborative Learning – this is the work that motivates us.

We have a combined 60 years experience in IT, mostly in the non-profit arena,and over the course of that time we have established an extensive network of fellow collaborators.

We will be using this space to share the stories and news of the people and projects that cross our paths in the course of our work.

Hope you enjoy it. We do!

Seth & Lem