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Incentives: the good, bad and the unfortunately necessary

Wedding Incentives on Flickr I know I need to approach this topic with kid gloves because there are many of you out there that either perform good deeds entirely selflessly or many of those that truly believe that you do. I used to be part of the latter group. Then I read The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation by Matt Ridley and realized something really significant:

Just because a good deed is performed to someone's benefit, it doesn't make the deed any less good.

In fact, as Ridley points out, in the absence of personal incentives to positively contribute to a community, the majority of people would not contribute at all. And there are incentives, even if indirect, to performing good deeds. Even if all of you are in the 0.01% of people who perform good deeds entirely selflessly, think about all of the people you've met in the world you could only convince to give more, do more and care more. Those are the people need incentives - for better or for worse.

I think about how current incentives work. I was chatting the other day with another Matt, Matt Langdon of the Hero Workshop. He was saying to me that he was setting up the Hero Workshop as a non-profit because he would feel bad about making a profit off of this work. Really? Why, I thought? There are plenty of people getting rich off of doing nasty stuff like making cigarettes and selling drugs and lobbying governments to keep us oil dependent. And there are even more people making millions from just producing a load of crap we don't need. Why should the people contributing positively from the world have to take the martyr road? My second thought was, "No friggin wonder it is an uphill battle to get people to do stuff like Matt is doing!" Matt's are rare. Dedicating your life for the betterment of others is a beautiful, amazing thing, but if you can't pay the bills or provide financial security for your family and your future, you will probably end up getting burnt out really fast.

There is no reason for us to be holier-than-thou about our contributions (not to mention the very essence of holier-than-thou points to the fact that we want recognition, which means the act itself is not, after all, selfless). Good for those of us who have sacrificed ourselves for the benefit of the wider community, but we should never become martyrs because of it. We should, instead, be thinking of ways to create more of us to do the work...'cause at the end of the day we have to make a living...or at least I do.

I'm personally overjoyed that people are making gazillions off of the green movement (as long as it's not a hoax). The fact that you can do good AND do well is an amazing incentive and, I think, the tipping point for people to actually start giving a damn...through consumption, yes, but if that's what it takes, I'm all for it. This is America after all. We vote through our consumption...that we have a choice to vote for positive change is awesome.

I've been thinking a great deal about incentives and I think that people like Jane McGonigal and Austin Hill are doing amazing work in this area, incentivizing acts of kindness through gaming techniques. Ethically, people may have a problem with gaming human nature, but I don't. To game towards the good is helluvalot better than to incentivize people towards acts of exploitation, waste, corruption and greed. And, believe me, the long-standing dominant atmosphere favors the greedy.

For the upcoming HeroCamp, I'm going to be concentrating on incentives. Having a 15 year-old who is not in that 0.01% has been eye-opening for me. He's a good kid and very talented and I love him, but whenever I speak of heroism or positively contributing to the greater good, he rolls his eyes at me and calls me lame. What incentivizes him? Well, money is the biggest thing unfortunately, but he also plays games like World of Warcraft, where I watch him sacrifice himself and his points constantly to move his tribe forward. And when I asked him to come to HeroCamp and be our Lame-Meter, he agreed. I incentivized him with a voice...a chance to influence an outcome...a chance for him to shine. Okay, and a few days off of school, too, but that was less of an incentive than the rest. I asked him to be himself and told him that would be a key role in what we're working on. The incentive is ego.

I believe that raising Whuffie is also good incentive that encourages positive contributions. However, I am not so blind as to ignore the way that people exploit this as well. There is an upside and downside of everything. We need to figure out better ways to reward those that are doing good in the world (and sometimes this means that they need to make money from it) and remove the incentives for people to exploit influence in the networks (by making it harder for them to make a living - refusing to buy their goods or read their blogs).

So, in conclusion, I believe that making a better world comes down to building in positive incentives (beyond 'it's the right thing to do') for good deeds and removing the incentives for bad deeds.




What is WealthCamp? The world is crying out for low-cost, accessible financial advice. How do I invest? Where do I put my money? Should I buy stocks, bonds, real estate, gold...?

Erica Douglas has pulled together all of the financial experts she could find -- and then make this a truly community-driven event by enabling YOU to share your stories and even create your own "mini-conference" or conversation in the afternoon. This is your chance to mingle with financial gurus and ask them all those questions you've been wanting to know for a while now. And it's also a unique opportunity to share your financial stories and meet with other like-minded individuals who want to be financially free.

Do you want the ability to quit your job any time you want? Do you want to be able to travel around the world and do all of those things that you have a passion for and just don't seem to have the time to do? Financial freedom gives you those opportunities, and financial education enables financial freedom -- which is why Erica is such a big believer in financial education.

Come join us for a historic event...where we put the community back in an area that affects every single one of us on a daily basis. This is your chance to be part of a powerful movement that redefines how we think and talk about money.

You can use coupon code "horsepigcow" to bring your signup fee down to $50, which includes direct interaction with some of the top gurus on personal finance. We will also be handing out free "goodie bags" at the door and will be raffling off prizes.

I hope to see you at WealthCamp this Saturday, May 31!

Visit for more information and to sign up online.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Erica directly.



TransitCampBayArea Wrap Up

Solutions Playground I may be completely biased, but TransitCampBayArea totally, completely exceeded my own expectations for the event. And the way that I'm biased is that I quite often hate my own events. In fact, I'm disappointed in them about 75% of the time. (I clearly put too much pressure on myself and have too high of expectations, but that's a whole other blogpost.)

So what was it that made me so ecstatic about this one?

#1. It built amazing bridges

As we went through the intros for Day 1, I was blown away at the diversity of the room. Men. Women. People from various backgrounds. Technologists. Elected officials. Transit representatives. Passionate riders. Green activists. There I stood in front of a room of 'not the usual suspects' to show up at a BarCamp. It was pretty astounding.

But even more astounding is how everyone adapted to the embrace-the-chaos model of BarCamp. People from all backgrounds took the initiative to pitch sessions, put them on the board, lead discussions, get involved and help out. There were very rare moments where I had to reiterate the DIY culture of BarCamp.

#2. It avoided the usual pitfalls of public services events: no complaints, only solutions

Oh, there were touch-and-go moments where I had to step in and be firm, stating, once again, "This is a solutions playground. Please keep it that way." (borrowed heavily from the original TransitCamp) Transit is definitely a hot button issue and people get really passionate about it! And yes, there are lots of issues. Yep.

But this weekend quickly avoided getting bogged down in all of those issues and stuck with the exciting possibilities of using collaborative, open technologies to engage with riders and potential riders...and even thinking about doing this WITHOUT the use of technology and just purely being creative. We truly became a solutions playground! Some really awesome ideas that came out of TCBA:

  • Awareness ideas:
    1. Visual Route Cues. Creating symbols or colored lines on the roads to show people where the buses physically go. This way non-riders would start to notice that buses from their neighborhoods go to neighborhoods that they want to go to. (topic at Get Satisfaction here)
    2. "If you build it, I would come" - the ability to vote for your route. Maybe you don't currently ride the bus because it is just too inconvenient, but if you had a better bus system that could take you to and from work everyday, you would totally ride it. A simple clickable map with the ability to input the amount of time maximum you would tolerate (and the times you would travel) may bring in some good data for transit planners.
    3. Share A Route! So, why can't we help encourage our non-transit friends to take transit by planning out a good route for them and sharing it? Sounds like a pretty simple solution to me!
    4. Transit Buddy System. This is a no-brainer as well. If you buy monthly Transit passes, you should be able to take 1-2 friends with you for free. You are promoting the system and encouraging ridership.
    5. Welcome Wagon Transit Packets. I remember the nightmare of moving to the Bay Area and trying to figure out the transit system. BART? Muni? Caltrain? Etc.? There were so many to figure out! How about a packet with links and information for new people. Promote them to big companies in the area who are importing people in.
  • Help Ideas:
    1. The Priceline for Transportation. I want to go from A to B, so beyond, I get a couple of options back based on my preferences. Zipcar, City CarShare, Muni, BART, Caltrain, the ferry, cabs, walking, whatever, would show up in a table with: time, cost and transfers. I could make my choice from there. Vive le choice!
  • Mashing Transit into my Lifestyle ideas:
    1. Transit and Jobsearch. Mashup of job searches that limit the results to my preferable commute times on transit
    2. Transit and Events. Mashup of Upcoming events with transit data, THEN the ability to set an SMS alert for 'last call' on the bus to get me home!

Lots of these ideas are being posted on our very new Get Satisfaction TransitCamp section. Keep them coming! In the next few months, we'll be trying to get them built! One really great opportunity with be at GreenDevCamp coming up at GoogleHQ in April.

Oh...and btw...these all require proper data apis, really.

#3. It made an impact

Already, I'm feeling the impact of TCBA. We've seen coverage in a couple of places, I've received a couple dozen follow up emails asking 'What's next?', Bryce from City CarShare has started a couple of Transit Data Google Groups, the folks at NextBus made a great case for a TransitCamp manifesto on opening data apis (which we will be working on in the next while), and we have tentative meetings scheduled with several of the transit organizations to help them implement the exciting ideas they heard over this weekend.

There was also a bit of a reverberation across Twitter re: TransitCamp the tag. Several people expressed their desire to throw their own in their area. I'll do everything I can in my power to help them make it happen.

Some follow up items for me. After the crazy month of March, I'm going to schedule time for video interviews with reps from all of the TransitCamp attending Transit Organizations to get them on video saying "What I learnt at camp". Hopefully this will help others around the world who want to do this demonstrate the potential impact of this type of event.

I'm also going to continue to push on the awesome ideas that rolled out of this. A couple of cool follow up places to go:

#4. It exceeded many people's expectations

I had several people approach me throughout the event and afterwards to tell me that they were not only blown away by this event, but that they couldn't wait for the next one and they would bring several people with them. That's the keystone of a great event, imo. Would you tell others? If no, it was disappointing. If maybe, it was okay. If yes, it was awesome. If, as one guy told me, you would drag many people even if they were kicking and screaming, it was kickass.

During the opening talk, I looked around the room to see many skeptics. Those same skeptics were those still hanging around at 5:00 pm today, talking excitedly about possibilities. What an amazing sight that was to see!


I am not going to do reviews of each of the speakers...hopefully there will be summaries of each session, but needless to say, there was alot of amazing information going back and forth. Everyone learnt at least one thing and met a great number of people they didn't know before who they can now do amazing things with.

Thanks to those who came out and those of you who watched or participated from afar! And thanks to the original pioneers of TransitCamp, Mark Kuznicki, Eli Singer, David Crow, Jay Goldman and the many others who were crazy enough the first time to apply this unique approach to a very traditional industry and inspire us all!



Some new projects I'm working on...

At some point I'm going to have to stop and remind myself that I can't be involved in everything I'm passionate about...but for now, we have a couple of new projects and events that I'd like to announce.

Media Web Meetups

We started working with Songbird, the open source media browser, just about a month and a half ago. We've actually been trying to cut back on client work as much as possible so we can concentrate on more community projects, but this one sucked me in. First of all I love that it is an open source project, but most of all, I loved the idea that Rob Lord, the CEO, talks about: The Open Media Web. We have the open web, the stuff of Microformats, OpenID, Oauth, etc., but what does it mean for those developing media rich sites? Players? Etc.

Well, since we thought this was a topic that is of far wider importance than just Songbird, we suggested we start a series of meetups to discuss the various aspects of this. What are the formats? Protocols? Standards? Are they open enough? Taking a look at how the music industry is changing lately, we think this is going to be an important discussion.

We're starting out the meetups on November 13 at 1-3pm at the Songbird offices where Mike Linksvayer from Creative Commons will lead the discussion on the Rock'n'Revival that is happening.


Earlier this year, David Crow, Jay Goldman and Mark Kuznicki (amongst others) helped put together a BarCamp-style gathering to bring together members of the Toronto Transit Commission and riders to improve and figure out the future of the TTC. It was a huge hit. Funnily enough, since moving to San Francisco, I've done nothing but bellyache about the transit down here. What is considered world class by many of the locals is nothing compared with the ease of use I found in Toronto.

After a really great discussion led by Adina Levin at BarCampBlock, we decided that what we need to do is to stop bellyaching and start putting together a similar event to TransitCamp in Toronto...only, because we are dealing with several different commissions, it would extend far beyond MUNI or BART or Caltrain, that it would include all of the Bay Area systems we could gather and more. To me, transit is a core area of sustainability. We don't own a car, mostly by choice. We use Zipcar (who I should include, eh?), and all of the above systems. It's not easy and somedays I'm ready to cave, but it is really important for me to see what we can do as citizens to help bring it up to the type of standards that will make it a no-brainer for everyone to use transit instead of driving.

The event is being planned here on the wiki for February 23-24, 2008, but if you are interested in joining the organizers in making it happen or have any contacts you could share with us to get the right people down there, please join us in the Google Group.


The good folks at Google approached us after the success of BarCampBlock and asked us if we had a dream camp we would like to do, what could they help make happen. Both Chris and I enthusiastically replied GreenDevCamp! This is perfect as it fits right into Google's sustainable initiatives and it takes a bunch of organizing pressure off of us. Leslie Hawthorn has been working hard to secure space (even sleeping space), wifi and food for us to develop all sorts of Green Apps and APIs over the weekend of April 19-20 so everyone will be ready to launch just in time for Earth Day!


I think that's it so far. A couple more irons in the fire and, of course, still traveling around doing that Government 2.0 stuff as well as the Coworking, BarCamp, Spread Love, the book, etc. etc. There may also be a eGovDevCamp on December 7-9 in Washington, DC (stay tuned).