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With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

greatpower So as any of you who visited HPC yesterday know, it was attacked by a malware hosting site. I'm not sure how they do it, but somehow they get in and implant iframe code to serve up malicious software for unsuspecting visitors. I think it may have been a security hole in WordPress combined with my own laziness around passwords (now fixed). Either way, it wasn't a good day and I spent many hours cleaning out this bad code and trying to figure out what the heck was going on. Many hours were also spent by Ivan Storck (of Sustainable Websites - my host), William Dodson (from OBX Designworks) and my friend Mathieu (developer in Montreal) in helping me through this. By the time we got all of the malware attack cleaned out, Google had blacklisted my site (which led to a series of blacklisting by all the sites using Google's indexing API). Yuck.

I wasn't attacked personally. This happens randomly all of the time. Somehow there is money to be made in ruining the internet. However, I find it very odd to think that one would wreck the very thing that provides them with a steady stream of income. I compared the action to the self-replicating Smith on the Matrix. (spoiler alert) Imagine if Smith would have won - he would have taken the machine down and everyone would have died. There would be no point in him existing anymore.

Which brings me to my point: where did we go wrong in the world to encourage the Smiths? The malware hosts? The scammers, spammers, frauds, grifters, etc? Those that would pollute the very environment they need to exist in? These people are obviously gifted with the ability to problem solve, code, think up elaborate schemes and strategize. If they used this talent for good and not for evil, imagine how AWESOME the world would be!

It's a tragedy of the commons, where selfish thinkers abuse the common space for their own gain. Of course, this thinking - if truly strategic - assumes that not all will follow the selfish path. The tragedy occurs when everyone thinks selfishly and the commons is ruined and unusable, leaving nothing for anyone to exploit any longer.

If instead human beings thought truly strategically - and this is the basis to my favourite book in the universe The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation by Matt Ridley - and contributed to the commons, we would all thrive! But this selfish, short-term thinking hacking away of small pieces of the pie happens and we all suffer...including the hackers themselves eventually.

This happens because - as Ridley says in The Origins of Virtue - the system is set up to encourage such selfish, short term thinking. Narrow view competition, multiple times removed culpability and a focus on short-term rewards have encouraged this. For instance, there are corporate structures, with their quarterly reporting (short-term view) and lack of social responsibility (the responsibility is with the shareholders who are far removed from the decision making as well as the consequences of that decision making). Copyright and patents also contribute to the attitude. I would argue that almost everything about surviving in modern society has to do with removing ourselves from responsibility and giving us the individual task to survive one day at a time (but that is a different post).

Thus, we encourage a great deal of tragedy in the commons themselves, costing billions of dollars in security, fraud protection, insurance and damages every year to those who try to live their lives on the up and up.

So, how do we stop this insanity? Like Peter Parker in the picture - whose tragedy was focusing on his own selfish needs resulting in the loss of his uncle - we aren't recognizing the long term consequences of our actions. I really think this needs to be forefront in our discussions around this stuff. We also need a good dialogue and understanding of the butterfly effect - how one action leads to effecting so many others. It may seem small and insignificant to cheat here and there, but it adds up and changes the system we are part of. And finally, and I know this type of thinking isn't popular amongst Americans, we have to imagine how we can contribute to the commons to mutually benefit (instead of one or two people benefiting, leading to the suffering of others). It's not socialism, it's smarter thinking. Just think of the costs we will save on our taxes alone when we don't have to pay for the inefficiencies of a system full of people trying to cheat it.

We do have great power here. These tools can be used for great things. Solving hunger, poverty, creating peace, boosting economies (in countries where most of the spammer/scammer stuff comes out of), finding cures for bad diseases and all of the other social pitfalls we've created by thinking too short term for our world. So...where do we start?



Rebooting America

Rebooting America book Yay! Totally stoked that Rebooting America is now available for sale, an anthology I worked on with the good peeps at the Personal Democracy Forum. Rebooting includes forty-four essays by political and digital luminaries including Craig Newmark (of craigslist), Esther Dyson, Joe Trippi, Newt Gingrich and many others -- including my slightly provocative essay, "Who Needs Elected Officials Anyway?"! Each essay has a unique central idea but all are infused with the hopes of reenergizing, reorganizing, and reorienting our government for the Internet Age.

Rebooting America is more than a book, it is an “open source” experiment in new media publishing underwritten by the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy. Copies of the book are available as .pdfs for download for free. Every essay has been posted online with an invitation for readers to comment.

However, I'm hoping that you'll consider buying a paperback edition to support this open model. Rebooting America is available today online for viewing and purchase.



You can't eat Whuffie (but it's getting harder to eat without it)

How to Monetize Whuffie The last couple of times I've come across the border to apply for my TN1 Visa (NAFTA Visa between Canada and US), the border officers have Googled me. And, to my surprise, have actually told me that the results were good enough to back up the resume I handed them. One official actually said, "You should state on your resume that you are very Google-able!"

This isn't new, really, and it has certainly been the practice for many savvy recruiters over the years. I worked for a spell at an HR organization in Canada and met many who ended up hiring the candidates with the most impressive online presence...especially when it came to more senior positions at organizations. The more results one has that points to professional accomplishments, the easier it was for them to determine if what was in the resume was accurate. It helped even more if those accomplishments were from websites and blogs other than the candidate.

I believe Google is probably the closest thing we have today to a Whuffie meter. Whuffie, for those who are new here is (and this is my definition):

The sum of the reputation, influence, bridging capital and bonding capital, access to ideas and talent, access to resources, potential access to further resources, saved up favors, accomplishments (resumes, awards, articles, etc.) and the Whuffie of those who you have relationships with.

The term, itself, was coined by Cory Doctorow in his amazing Sci-Fi book, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, as the currency of the future. The generalized definition gleaned from this book is:

Whuffie has replaced money, providing a motivation for people to do useful and creative things. A person's Whuffie is a general measurement of his or her overall reputation, and Whuffie is lost and gained according to a person's favorable or unfavorable actions. The question is, who determines which actions are favorable or unfavorable? In Down and Out, the answer is public opinion. Rudely pushing past someone on the sidewalk will definitely lose you points from them (and possibly bystanders who saw you), while composing a much-loved symphony will earn you Whuffie from everyone who enjoyed it.

So, you can gain Whuffie through being nice, networked or notable. This is not science fiction. It's becoming more and more relevant today.

Competition is fierce in the world. There are billions of people working to get ahead. Hundreds compete for jobs. And that is just the individual. When it comes to starting a company that provides a service or a product, you will also be in a position of competition: customer attention. Without differentiating yourself somehow, the battle to make ends meet gets tougher.

This is where you figure out that you CAN eat Whuffie...just indirectly.

Google is powerful because companies and individuals alike know that if people find them online, they will have a better chance of getting the business or the job. And, if they find them in a positive light reflected through the eyes of other customers and contacts, they will have even a better chance than that. Online tools that help customers voice their satisfaction with your product will help boost your Google ratings and instill a sense of confidence in a potential customer making a decision. This is no different than pinging someone's Whuffie, as Cory describes it in his book. When you get that new customer or you get that better job because of your positive online presence, the money to buy that food follows.

I've been thinking of this ever since Michelle Greer posted "No More Whuffie Please" on her blog. I totally see where she is coming from. She has added up a great deal of Whuffie in her social capital bank account, but hasn't found a place to spend it yet. I certainly hope that Michelle doesn't give up the amazing work she is doing to make a name for herself in the community, but raising Whuffie without spending it is also a mistake. I generally don't work for people for free unless I see an opportunity to cash in my Whuffie at a later date. This isn't mercenary, it is smart and it is definitely part of the reciprocity that ties community together. 'Cause if valuable community members like Michelle aren't able to pay the bills, we lose them and nobody wins.

So, Michelle, you are totally right. You can't eat Whuffie, but it is getting harder to eat without it, so keep up the good work and look for opportunities to raise Whuffie where you can cash it in at a future date. Pick events to work on where potential clients or employers can see the good work you are doing. Let your expertise shine through the content you are producing. People will notice and then you can cash in that Whuffie and pay the bills.

:: Very cool...Dean (@thedudedean) Bairaktaris showed me his post where he pretty much directly cashed in his Whuffie for a new MacBook Air!



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!



Happiness as Core to Your Business Model

Did I say something funny? by Capn Madd Matt on Flickr

Chris and I presented a workshop at Web Directions North this week we had originally titled, "The Enterprise and Government in the 2.0 Era: What's Next?"

Boring, eh? Well, we thought so. So, we sat down a couple of weeks ago to restructure the information we had into what we thought was a much more compelling way to look at things. We came up with this:

Part 1: citizen happiness defined

oh and this...

Part 2: the building blocks of citizen happiness

And, although I think the workshop went well and we exchanged loads of great ideas, the question was still asked, "What does government or enterprise have to do with Citizen Happiness?"

I have always taken it for granted that it should be my right, not my privilege to be happy. If I am a good person and a good community member, even moreso. But others disagree. Why? Well, it's mainly because we have a different view on what happiness means.

So, what does happiness mean? Some thing it means that you get what you want, you have all of the material things you desire and you have ultimate freedom. But I don't think that is happiness. There are multiple studies that prove that people who ostensibly have everything their hearts desire aren't any more happy than those who don't and who have to work hard to get a fraction of that.

The clarity came for me when I found a press release from the American Psychological Association on what actually makes people happy. And what did they find?

Attaining popularity or influence and money or luxury is not what makes people the happiest and is at the bottom of the list of psychological needs, according to a new study. Topping the list of needs that appear to bring happiness are autonomy (feeling that your activities are self-chosen and self-endorsed), competence (feeling that you are effective in your activities), relatedness (feeling a sense of closeness with others) and self-esteem.

These, to me, all seem like reasonable things to be happy about. Of course, self-esteem is that one piece you can't control (it's your set-point...what you are born with. It can be worked on with drugs, therapy and meditation), but the rest of them are very easily controllable. And there are many companies that I could look at today that I would say fit the profile of delivering the tools of happiness: autonomy, competence and relatedness. Companies that give you tools of autonomy, like Wordpress for raising your voice. Companies that give you the feeling of competence through their really intuitive interfaces that gradually get more challenging, helping you learn. Companies that raise your relatedness by connecting you with others in significant ways.

In fact, I feel that these also line up beautifully to the core values I attribute to what we call Web 2.0:

  • Openness
  • Collaboration
  • Community

Openness, I map to autonomy and competence because more clear information leads to people feeling like they can make better decisions...Collaboration, I map to competence and relatedness because you feel more assured on a team...and Community, I map to relatedness, but also autonomy, because it brings us closer together while breeding independence. In a big way, all of the best parts of the world around me are what causes alot of happiness. So much happiness, in fact, that people that 'get it' start to really reach that self-actualization part of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which is the ultimate in human growth can lead to double happiness, or euphoria.

It isn't perfect, but I know it has certainly helped me and hundreds around me reach deep into our potential.

So, why is it that government or business can't see their roles in this? Sure, it isn't anyone's job to 'deliver' happiness to you...but why not play a role in enabling it? There are two ways in which you can help people with becoming happier:

  1. Create tools or deliver services that help people proactively pursue happiness
  2. Create tools or deliver services that reduce the barriers to happiness

And what are those barriers? Fear, confusion, loneliness, feeling disempowered and out of control of one's life and the basic struggle for survival (not being able to fulfill basic needs like hunger, security and sociality).

To me it seems pretty obvious that it would be simple to build a business around helping people achieve autonomy, a feeling of competence and relatedness. In fact, every web company that has been successful thusfar has their business build solidly on one or all of these. And I believe that as people discover that these things are within their reach, they will gravitate more and more towards companies that offer tools to helping them achieve happiness.

And governments? Sure, they don't have any real competition...or do they? According to The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent, there is a competition. Some countries call it the 'brain drain' (sounds awful). People are going to where they will be more happy, and it isn't necessarily for money. I believe it is for where they can build the most Social Capital and reach their ultimate self-actualization. The US protects its borders for a good reason. It's written right into the Declaration of Independence that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are inalienable rights to man. That's pretty powerful and though a good look around the US will show that those rights are, in fact, alienated all of the time, it is still part of the promise of the American Dream AND, I should add, within the grasp of just enough people to keep that dream alive.

But what would happen if we committed to it? What would happen if happiness was within the grasp of everyone and business and government delivered those tools instead of the tools of misery and insecurity? Wouldn't it be nice to have ample access to autonomy, competence and relatedness for everyone...not to mention the tools to get us climbing up Maslow's pyramid? I'd like to see this and what could come of it. I'd like to see more businesses built on a model of happiness.



Citizen Superheroes...and other tales of Government 2.0

This is the presentation that Chris and I will be giving tomorrow morning here in Taupo, New Zealand. I thought you may want to take a sneak peek.

I had to downgrade the images so that Slideshare would accept it, so if you want a copy of the high resolution presentation, I'd be happy to send it to you. :)



We Don't Need No Stinkin' Wizards

Vintage Wizard of Oz Recently, I heard the awesome Gustavo Esteva speak about his experiences with multiple uprisings in Mexico. What struck me was how empowered he described Mexicans as being. At one point, he compared the citizen engagement to the story of the Wizard of Oz:

[paraphrased] Government is much like the Wizard of Oz. Just like the scene where Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Lion and the Scarecrow approach the Wizard, and find out he is just a human like themselves, then ask if they can have a heart, a brain, courage and to go home, the people of Oaxaca find out that the ability to have what they want was within them all along. They don't need the Wizard to give them these things.

This is a very similar message to what I've been producing for the various presentations to government services organizations. We all have it in ourselves to make our world a better place to be in...only, we need the Wizard to step from behind his curtain and work with us on it.

While I'm blogging up a storm, I thought I'd post my most recent Government 2.0 presentation with a similar message (which is why Gustavo's presentation really resonated with me):

Of course, I think of the partnership as more of a superhero/sidekick partnership where we have special powers that we can use to defeat the 'enemy', which is complacency. Either way, nothing beats an empowered public.

:: bonus: this most excellent presentation by valeriev that uses the Wizard of Oz analogy beautifully.



The Brown Act of 1953: how this positive policy now negatively affects civic collaboration

We were offering up some suggestion on how to get more collaborative with citizens to a municipal government official the other day, but it seems that everything we offered up would not be allowed under the Brown Act of 1953. Stuff like using open to the public Google Groups to correspond between project stakeholders (allowing for citizens to join in and comment and contribute, and, at the very least, lurk), wikis to lay out project plans, forums and blogs to start conversations and thoughts and ask people's opinions of different ideas floating through the heads of officials, etc. None of this is allowed in California. Odd, I thought, so I trotted off to see what this Brown Act is all about. What I encountered was shocking to me:

The Brown Act, officially known as the Ralph M. Brown Act (California Government Code Sections 54950-54963), authored by Ralph M. Brown, an Assemblyman from Los Angeles County's San Gabriel Valley, was enacted in 1953 by the California State Legislature in an effort to safeguard the public's right to access and participate in government meetings within the State.

Um. Okay? So isn't a Google Group or a wiki opening up public access to participate in government meetings? I mean, we in the web world consider the following actions to be opening up meetings for open source projects:

  • IRC channel
  • Public phone-in number
  • Forum
  • Open mailing lists
  • Openly editable wikis
  • Blogs

If, like the Brown Act, they required:

  • Post notice of a meeting and the agenda for that meeting at least 72 hours prior
  • Notify the media of special meetings
  • Hold meetings within the jurisdiction of the governing body

Nothing would ever get done! I suppose the 72 hours works well (most meetings happen on a regular basis to avoid that), but for those who cannot make it to the meetings, IRC logs, open mailing lists, notes posted on a wiki and subsequent blog posts offer up a chance to join in on one's own convenience.

Now, the the Brown Act also gives the following rules, which fit beautifully into how open source and other community projects conduct their correspondence and meetings:

  • Allow non-disruptive recordings and broadcasts of meetings
  • Allow public comment
  • Those attending the meeting must not be forced to “sign in.”
  • All votes made by the governing board must be made in public, and no secret ballots can be conducted
  • All documents distributed at the meeting must be considered public documents.

Yep. Gorgeous and awesome. So, why is it that local Californian Governments cannot use open maillists, forums, irc chat, wikis, etc. for project collaboration online and have to stick with the antiquated notion of driving to meet in a previously agreed to location face to face as their only means of coordination?

Because, according to many critics, there is not enough public access to the internet.

Okay, I can see that the digital divide could be a barrier to some participation. However, I'd love to compare the recent statistics on access to computer terminals with internet connections to those with the ability to get around easily to those with televisions (the provision for the media is for those who can watch the meeting at home on their tvs). We also need to take into account that, even if one doesn't have a computer at home with an internet connection, many public centers, such as libraries provide free terminals with reliable connections. Access does not mean you need to have a computer at home.

As well, I understand that 'Access' does not necessarily mean that you have the ability to reach a connected terminal. There is, of course, the learning curve involved in accessing many of these services we use. I would assume that a large percentage of those without access aren't necessarily offline because they can't afford a computer or get an internet connection: they are offline because they have not had the access to education around using these tools. According to a Pew Study:

It is not, however, simply a question of money or age. Non-internet users do not have very positive attitudes about information technology. Many report worries about information overload and few link information technology to greater control over their lives. Moreover, non-internet users are apt to see the online environment as a dangerous place – that is, a place with inappropriate or irrelevant content.

With the median age of the non-internet users being 59 and a 1/4 of them having income under $20k/yr, there probably won't be much of a movement to go online. Which is a frustrating position to be in. While an increasing number of the North American population is online (over 70% are internet users and 47% have broadband internet connections at home, increasing to over 50% this year), the population that is not prevents adoption of new and amazing collaboration tools between government and citizens.

Perhaps in order to satisfy both needs, one could still provide the local meeting spaces and media notices and also utilize the web medium to get the word out further (as well as create a searchable public record). Perhaps there are other combinations. Either way, it is necessary to look at how the Brown Act could be reformed in order to lead governments towards better, simpler and cheaper public engagement. Hands are tied until we bring these laws up to date and accommodate for new technology that can provide much bigger wins for the future. Diversity runs in all directions.



Speaking of Government 2.0

I have a few questions I'd love some musings/answers on:

  1. Do you trust government services? Local (municipal)? State/Provincial? Federal?
  2. Can you name 5 government services? 10? Are they local, state or federal? (not a test)
  3. Do you think it is more important for people to trust their government or for a government to trust its people? Or both? Why?
  4. If you contribute to projects voluntarily, why? Would anything lead you to wanting to contribute time or effort towards government services projects?
  5. What do you expect out of a government website?
  6. What do you think Government Services 2.0 looks like?

I have some suspicions on some of these questions. If all you know/think about is politics (rather than about government services), tell me that, too...and why.