Monday, July 3, 2006

Computers and previous thingamabobs...

This quote from Wendell Berry keeps re-surfacing in my life:

Computers make people even better and smarter than they were made by previous thingamabobs. Or if some people prove incorrigibly wicked or stupid or both, computers will at least speed them up.

When we think of tools like CivicSpace... platforms for social change, we need to remember that they are neutral... social change for good, social change for bad. People often ask if CivicSpace is going to take a position on what is good or bad. As a business, I think that Google's "Do no evil" motto is a nice thought, but making money is almost by definition an amoral activity. So I doubt CivicSpace will take a position on what is good or bad.

What we will do is build a community around what we think is good. That requires partners, friends and supporters in an ecology based both in values and in economic exchange. Sitting down with venture investors and others, it amazes me how many people don't get our CivicSpace Associate model.

We're building a community of stakeholders. Sure, there is an economic component... as much as I am a Utopian at heart, I'm going to get my people health insurance. That community is what tips the scales and makes sure the technology powering social change is in the hands of folks doing what the community thinks is good. And hopefully their energy and commitment will allow those doing good with the technology to far outstrip others.

I would love to see an investor look at the associate model as a way to reach more customers rather than "limit" the market. A way to do more good, rather than "limit" revenue opportunities. A way to build a stronger ecology, rather than a weaken the defensibility of the business.

I'm a business person that understands the power of networks and community and how a small slice of a huge pie can be far better than a "defensible" market position. This is either naivety or sitting on the edge of a significant disruptive innovation. Time will tell.


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