1 more sleep until Social Innovation BarCamp #sibsyd

After many weeks of planning with my co-conspirators Selena Griffith, Michelle Williams and Kim Chen we are finally on the eve of the second Social Innovation BarCamp.

This venture was a leap of faith for us. At the start we did not know if anyone else had a passion for social innovation and wanted to join in creating conversations around making change happen. Nor did we know if the unconference format would transition successfully out of the geek world where it originated.

But now with one successful event done and another under way it looks like our idea of creating a shared space where ‘change makers meet’ is coming together.

We’ve had great support from organisations like ASIX, COFA, Cisco and Headshift. Brasserie Bread also helped out with some of their wonderful artisan style bread for lunch. A huge thank-you to our kind supporters.

It’s not too late to register for this free event in Sydney. Also check out:

All you need to know for tomorrow’s Social Innovation Sydney!

Blog action day 2010 – theme is water

Today is Blog Action Day 2010 and the theme is water. Many people are without access to this most basic of human needs. In Australia we need to find ways to conserve the water we so often take for granted.


  • 40 Billion Hours: African women walk over 40 billion hours each year carrying cisterns weighing up to 18 kilograms to gather water, which is usually still not safe to drink. More Info »
  • 38,000 Children a Week: Every week, nearly 38,000 children under the age of 5 die from unsafe drinking water and unhygienic living conditions. More Info »
  • Wars Over Water: Many scholars attribute the conflict in Darfur at least in part to lack of access to water. A report commissioned by the UN found that in the 21st century, water scarcity will become one of the leading causes of conflict in Africa. More Info »
  • A Human Right: In July, to address the water crisis, the United Nations declared access to clean water and sanitation a human right over. But we are far from implementing solutions to secure basic access to safe drinking water. More Info »

Public discourse and private citizens – how free is freedom of speech? #groggate

A recent disclosure that a Federal public servant has been blogging about matters political in his personal time has come to be referred amongst Australian journalists and bloggers alike as #groggate.

There has been much discussion about the rights and wrongs of this unmasking of a pseudonymous blogger who had the temerity to question the efficacy of the retinue of journalists who were following the election candidates around the country.

The debate about this continues to rage across the blogosphere and twittersphere; and in the publication that outed the blogger it seems they are using the issue as linkbait in fine blogger tradition.

But, as some wiser folks have realised, this matter is not about one public servant and his blog. It is about participation by private citizens in public discourse.

Up until recent times the opportunity for the average citizen to participate in public discourse was extremely limited. Instead participation by private citizens in public discourse was mediated by newspapers, magazines and television channels – the professional news media.

Because of this historical role as gatekeepers of access to public discourse the professional news media in Australia appear to believe that they have a privileged position to maintain. I believe that this feeling was what drove the unveiling of the author of the Grog’s Gamut blog.

It appears to have been a rearguard action by members of the professional news media who feel their gatekeeping role with respect to public discourse is being eroded. Funnily enough they are right. Their role as gatekeepers who set the agenda for public discourse is eroding under their very feet.

Instead we are seeing a fragmentation of the media landscape. Eternal verities such as guaranteed audiences are splintering and nobody really knows what will happen next. And into this shifting media landscape new voices – those of private citizens – are flourishing in niches. Not every new voice is excellent or expert. Not every new voice is skilled in the ways of fact-checking and other journalistic niceties. But some of these new voices are finding loyal and interested audiences. Grog’s Gamut was one such new voice.

But Grog’s blog was written under a pseudonym – it was not an anonymous blog as some have asserted. And the journalist and his publication could not resist the temptation to reveal the real name of the author.

That revelation means nothing to most people. But to this particular public servant it means scrutiny from mandarins at senior levels in the public service and the possibility that he might lose his job over his private opinions shared in his private time as part of his contribution to public discourse.

Further, it means that every other public servant will be watching what happens to the author of Grog’s Gamut. They will be watching to see if it is possible for a public servant to participate in public discourse in Australia. They will be watching to see if it is too dangerous for their jobs to put their heads above the parapet. They will be measuring the possibility of danger and assessing whether or not they should support Government 2.0 initiatives.

Other private citizens – those who work for major corporations – will also be watching what happens to Greg Jericho. Many will assess the risks of their participation in public discourse. Some might be discouraged from participation. But I hope that others will choose to embrace the new media tools and give voice to their opinions. I hope that others will share their opinions, ideas and information. I hope that they will continue to create niches and fragmentation of the traditional media.

We need new voices. We need to democratise participation in public discourse. Some of it will be ill-informed rubbish. But amongst the dross will be some gems and our society needs to find those gems.

Online social network revolution

I’m not sure that most people have realised yet, but social networks are creating a revolutionary change in the way we interact with other people. And they are revolutionary in that they also change how we do things and our expectations of how things work.

Non-localised proximity Once we needed to be physically proximate to people to create and maintain social relationships, but now online social networks enable us to do this in spite of physical or geographical distance.

Loose Ties over Time In the past we met people in various circumstances in real life and then we moved on, losing contact with those acquaintances. Now we are seeing the first generation of young people who have maintained loose contact with many of their former daily contacts. Now our acquaintances and friends are linked to us by means of various social networks – e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Xing, Twitter, etc – and we may never lose them.

Fewer degrees of separation Previously studies indicated that there were approximately six degrees of separation between any two people on the planet.  But with online social networks we are seeing an amplification of that and a reduction of degrees of separation to as few as one degree between people.  Twitter is a great example of this phenomenon, here’s a recent example.

Consumption on demand Until very recently we consumed media as and when the media outlet or creator decided we should.  Now – with the rise of broadband access and easy to use tools like iPods, YouTube, or BitTorrent – people are starting to consume media on their own terms.  No more waiting until Thursday at 7.30 pm to watch a favourite show, just download it while you’re at work and watch it over dinner, or even watch it on your mobile phone while in transit.

Co-creation & co-design In the past design and creation of online artifacts was the province of experts.  Now anyone with a computer or mobile phone and a broadband connection can design and create digital artifacts.  YouTube, Facebook and MySpace have created spaces where millions of ordinary people create, share or repurpose other people’s digital artifacts.

Technology as a utility We are now seeing the emergence of technology as a utility. And, if it is a utility then, just like the way we use a light switch, we expect technology to work and we don’t expect to need any specialised technical knowledge to make it work.  This means that creation of the base technology still requires specialist skills and knowledge, but that user interfaces and operation must be easy for non-technical people. This ease of use is not merely a desire any longer, it is a demand – and technology that does not meet that demand will be dumped unceremoniously.

Why does any of this matter? All of these things are creating new expectations of how things work in the minds of ordinary people.  They also create feedback loops and mutually reinforce each other.  But for me some of the most interesting features of social networks and social computing are:

  • creation of many loose links between people – and they don’t ever have to meet in real life to create bonds
  • enabling connections between people who might not have ever met in real life (e.g. think about how hard it was for a Goth stamp collector in a small town to meet like-minded individuals pre-internet)
  • ability to create applications and content and to share these easily
  • crashing of the degrees of separation between individuals – also making it easy to find relevant people via search and newer semantic approaches
  • ability to seek out answers to questions and to form coalitions easily without big overheads of effort or cost

Hypertext to hyperconnectivity

The invention of hypertext and its implementation in the form of the World Wide Web was a revolution akin to the creation of the modern printing press. We are still seeing the reverberations of this revolution in many spheres of life.

With the implementation of the Gutenberg printing press back in the mid-1400s it was possible to *democratize information. Society was able too move away from oral traditions and formalize knowledge into books. It also enabled knowledge to be easily transported from place to place without losing the sense of the argument.

Books and reading fuelled both the Reformation and growth of democracy in the western world. The ability to read gave ordinary people access to ideas and information that did not exist in their everyday lives.

However, a constraint with books is that it is hard to combine ideas from many books unless you write another book. It can be difficult to reference from a particular idea in one book to another idea within another book. In fact, doing this on a large scale requires big investments in time, effort, space and money.

But with the revolution of hypertext it became easy to link different texts and thus to link particular ideas together in ways that had previously been challenging. It also became possible to link other media together using the same techniques.

Then with web 2.0 the notion of hypertext was transformed and used to create links between people by means of online social networks. People are now being connected with each other (hyperconnected as argued by some) and this is revolutionising social relations in ways similar to the changes wrought by hypertext.

Also with web 2.0 the ability to create and transform online media was democratized. Previously (in the web 1.0 world) specialist technical knowledge was required to manipulate text and other online media. With the development of user generated content capabilities in web 2.0 the need for technical skills greatly reduced and thus creation and co-creation were democratized.

* By “democratization” in this context I mean that the ability to create texts or hypertexts moves from the specialist technical community (book publishers or software programmers) to ordinary people who do not have any particular specialist skills

Social media rules of engagement

Back in the old days at GE (pre GFC) we were taught that all business ideas or problems should be considered from the “outside-in” or from the customer’s point of view. This was part of their Six Sigma approach using Voice of the Customer principles.  Now admittedly that was a few years ago, but the principle remains sound for business in general and also in relation to social media.

There are many voices articulating rules for social media engagement – from simple  ideas like ‘treat people the way you would a friend’ or ‘treat people the way you’d like to be treated’ to long lists of tips.

One thing that many of these approaches have in common is looking at things from the business perspective rather than that of the customer.

For example, hypothetically: I might treat friends (as I would like to be treated) by calling them a boofhead & punching them in the shoulder. Such interaction might simply annoy a customer who is a suburban mother of two.  Instead it might be better to find out how that customer actually wants to be dealt with.

Indeed it might even be worth understanding if there are different kinds of customers who’d like to be treated in different ways.  Perhaps football-watching beer-drinking men might like to be called a boofhead & punched in the shoulder?

One thing that social computing has enabled is for micro-segments to emerge.  Once we treated customers as a large block, dissected them up into fairly big chunks and called that segmentation.  But now we have the ability to mine data to a degree unimagined in the past. And this capability lets us understand the groups within our customers.  Data mining is a key capability powered by web 2.0 and social computing.  We are now in a position to obtain deep insights into our customers, their needs and their behaviours.

We have also seen classic examples of companies totally misreading their customer audience.  Motrin Moms was an amazing lesson for onlookers late in 2008.  Within hours really angry mothers online via Twitter had mobilised against the brand and Motrin backpedalled furiously to quiet the issue.  Jeremiah Owayang gave a good summary of this situation with Motrin Moms (as they came to be called).  He also offers some insights into testing and planning these kind of campaigns.

Social computing has brought about the democratisation of the means of communication.  In the past customers, like the Motrin Moms, did not have access to the means of protest.  But now within hours they can slam down a carefully planned and executed media strategy.  The sooner businesses come to terms with this democratisation of communication and the related shift from monologue to dialogue the easier life will be for all of us.

Social networking & social norms

New technology often seems to take a while for us to work out how to fit new cultural practices around it. I suspect that social networking fits the norm in that regard. Human beings have been networking in forest, fields, villages and cities for aeons – but it is only very recently that we have begun to do so mediated by computers and the internet.

There are usually strongly defined customs in most parts of the world about how to network socially in real life. It is a bit like dancing, the rules are well known and everybody in a group just knows and follows them. Another example of this are the websites that provide guidance on how to socialise in foreign lands when travelling on business.

However, with online social networking the definition of cultural norms is still a work in progress. And some of the cultural norms that are still evolving in relation to this include:

  • boundaries between public & private or between work & personal
  • how and when to initiate, accept or reject contact
  • how to terminate contact when relationships breakdown
  • assuring against negative behaviours like stalking and abuse

Some individuals are creating their own rules for online behaviour – one of my simple ones is not to say anything to someone online that I would not say to their face in real life. But the group norms are more of a challenge. For a start we are often talking about global communities with people from many different national cultures and races.

There are long standing examples of well self-regulated online communities – especially in the area of online games such as WoW.  And we are also seeing the evolution of new roles, such as community Moderators or Managers, to help coordinate community activities and relations.

We know that, as with all human activity,  group norms for social networking will emerge and be accepted (or rebelled against).  It is the interim period, in which there is lack of clarity, that we’ll see people losing their jobs because of things like photos on Facebook or comments on Twitter.

Here are some other interesting discussions on this topic:
The rules of social media engagement: All of them.
Why Must We Obey Social Media Rules?
What Are The Unspoken Rules of Social Networks?
The Unwritten Rules of Social Networking
Proposed Rules of Engagement for the Social Network