Monday, October 12, 2009

READING: The Argument

Reading Matt Bai's book, The Argument, I couldn't help but think of how many times political campaigns or advocacy movements struggle under the collective weight of the egos of those 'in charge'.

Reading about the behind the scenes back and forth and power struggles in Bai's book, you get a visceral sense for the painful dialectic between vision and execution that haunts human activities across the board.

While the circulated powerpoint laid out a compelling and coherent vision of what needed to happen and rallied economic and social capital, the constellation of people that embarked on executing (e.g. managing) that vision fell short.

Their egos and personal interests quickly mired them in the type of political game which they arguably were trying to transcend.


Reading this book, I couldn't help but think of a Shirky quote in the last reading from the IDPI.
Instead of unlimited growth, membership, and freedom, many of the communities that have one well have bounded size or strong limits to growth, non-trivial barriers to joining or becoming a member in good standing, and enforceable community norms that constrain individual freedoms. Forums that lack any mechanism for ejecting or controlling hostile users, especially those convened around contentious topics, have often broken down under the weight of users hostile to the conversation. Thoughtful regulations can actually help, not hinder the growth of your community.
In online communities, regulations can be imposed externally through platform architecture.


I think there is a lesson to be learned from online communities that reach a point of self-sustainability: they are hard-coded w/ the logic of self restraint.

The behavior that leads to tragedy-of-the-commons type of outcomes is avoided by making sure individual egos are kept in check through technical architecture.

I think we are still trying to figure out how to soft-code self restraint when it comes to off-line systems to avoid tragedy of the commons (shared bike programs still don't work).

But as we move into a period of effective cybernetic human organizing - like the Obama Campaign - I think we will be able to intelligently apply technical systems to impose limitations on the activities in ways to promote the public good...and potentially give the dems a better chance at executing their vision.


I did really enjoy Bai's thorough job explaining the rise of internet-based political activists and how they transformed the party. In terms of speaking to the potential for the internet to change politics, I thought this book was very interesting.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Unconferences, Twitter, and @SocJustCampDC

After campaigning for Obama in rural Iowa just before the 2008 election, I came back to DC and heard about a conference called Rootscamp 2008.

I forget where I heard about it.

My first unconference, Rootscamp was amazing. I found myself in an extremely talented people cloud: Chris Hughes of Facebook, Marshall Ganz out of Harvard, and Micah Sifry of Personal Democracy Forum, and were all in the orbit.

Since Rootscamp, I've been averaging roughly an unconference a month: EDemocacyCamp, Participation Camp, Gov 2.0 Camp, Social Change Camp, Crisis Camp, Accessibility Camp, Congress Camp.

(I've been thinking about what a unconference rehab program might look light).

Along with a number of friends, including Greg Bloom of Bread for the City, I am now helping plan Social Justice Camp: "A participant-driven conference in Washington, DC convened for the creative pursuit of social justice through technology and collaboration."


So far, I have used Twitter to help publicize and pull people into the fold and it seems to be having some traction.

I wanted to post about how easy Twitter makes it to penetrate existing communities and simultaneously build rapport with people while pushing message.

I think the main thing twitter allows you to do is let people know that you're listening to them...and that you are interested in their interests.

It's been really useful mining twitter feeds to examine folks social graphs, interests, and geographies.

@SocJustCampDC is currently up to 125 followers on Twitter.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Public Media Camp

Since going to Rootscamp in 2008 just after Obama won the presidential election, I have been addicted to unconferences.

Since Rootscamp I have averaged practically an unconference a month for the last 10 months and I am extremely excited to work for an organization that is planning an unconference next month - Public Media Camp.

I was fortunate enough to get to here Andy Carvin talk about Public Media camp this past week at DC Media Makers.

Andy Carvin - NPR's senior social media strategist - gave a short presentation on Public Media Camp, a quickly approaching unconference based at American University (October 17-18th).

Along with PBS’ social media guy Jonathan Coffman and Peter Corbett of iStrategyLabs (who helped run DC’s Apps for Democracy), Carvin hopes to fundamentally redefine the relationship between the public and public media organizations.

Andy suggested that folks at public media organizations are great at asking for financial support but not extremely good at harnessing human support (e.g. time, technical expertise, excitement).

Public Media Camp is an unconference designed to harness these other resources (e.g. social capital).

According to Carvin, well over 200 folks have registered and some are coming in from as far away as Alaska.

If anyone is interested in watching Andy Carvin's talk, Alex Howard, a local tech journalist and amazing guy, archived his livestream video here.

READINGS: IPDI, Rosenblatt

Reading @JulieG's report "Person-to-Person-to-Person: Harnessing the Political Power of Online Social Networks and User Generated Content," (link to pdf) some of the concepts I found interesting were:

-The importance of leveraging offline networks to reinforce online networks (Repubs and Churches, Obama & Farmers Markets)
-The need to let go of control of message so online communities and tell stories in their own voice
-The ostensible paradox individual restraints and of network growth (Shirky quote)


In @drdigipol's blog post and embedded essay on how the Aryan Resistance could use the net to push their message, I couldn't help but think of Shirky's explanation of how lowered transaction costs have given created new groups of people who were not groups before.

Diasporic groups of people, who previously could not find each other, now have the tools to amplify their message, rally an online community, and create a sense of normalcy inside their collective social space (e.g. the Pro Ana girls who leveraged YM's web site to share tips about being anorexic).


Both readings speak to the new opportunities digital communication tools represent and the shift from broadcast to conversation media.

The dark matter I see emerging in the social media landscape is the cultural piece. The tools are demanding new things from organizations, political candidates, and possibly even hate groups.

I recently saw a tweet that said any enterprise change is 20% technological and 80% cultural.

I think it's possible that while larger organizations have more resources, they are not as nimble as smaller networks of people.

The Goliaths of the day are now on the same playing field of many Davids, who are now wired.

(I think the above image of the liliputians restraining Gulliver seems pretty illustrative of media landscape being ushered in by the internet and social media...)