Thursday, April 19, 2007

Wisdom of Crowds

So Netsquared picked their 21 projects for the conference [by Netsquared, I mean the registered users of the Netsquared site]. This is basically the first phase of selection. As for the $100K minimum to be distributed to projects, "The format for allocation will be determined by vote of Conference participants."

I think they are applying the wisdom of crowds at the wrong stage. It will work in this case because the Netsquared community is pretty homogeneous, but if you ever hit scale (10,000 projects), the popularity contest that is the first cut just doesn't make a lot of sense.

In a general sense, I would approach it in stages:

  1. Attract a bunch of applicants in an open process. Open, community process heavily reliant on networking and advertising.
  2. Qualify those applicants. Use the media volunteer approach to still let "lay people" do it, but at least you make sure the basic criteria is met. This is a binary, qualified or not decision. Qualified projects move forward.
  3. Review and select those applicants. Again, a media volunteer approach is perfect... anyone can participate-- you got the little "d" democratic going, but they have to think about the actual projects they are reviewing in a structured way, not just voting for favorites. A reviewer is assigned a project on a round robin basis, every project gets a score. Highest scoring projects move forward.
And that is it. You'd have to tweak the incentives a little to create better incentives for groups to recruit their supporters into the process, but the basic outline feels like it would keep to the focus on substantive issues rather than popularity contests.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Netsquared's High School Popularity Contest

Daniel Ben-Horin relates some comments from Siegfried Woldhek about the Netsquared Innovation Fund's process:

"What an interesting experiment this is turning out to be. Implicitly at least three new criteria were added to the official, sensible list.
  • The size of the mailing list
  • The activism of the inner circle
  • The 2.0 savvy"

My inbox has seen a lot of direct advocacy to get me to vote for them, making points about how the visibility is important to ongoing sustainability, etc. This is from groups and people respect, am impressed by, and really want to succeed.

But quite honestly, it pisses me off.

First, an innovation fund is not about you. If you want to plug into your network and get them to review the proposals and add their brain power to the mix, great. Ethically (in my sometimes high-handed brain), that email should invite people to the process... not to the action of voting for you. There should be a single very short sentence at the end saying something like, "Please don't forget to review our proposal ."

Virtually every email I got didn't explain to me why the group met the criteria of the Innovation Fund:
  • Use the power of community and social networks to create change
  • Use existing, or newly developed technology tools for social impact
  • Have a plausible financial model
  • Have a clear way to measure success
  • Exhibit extraordinary leadership, passion and resourcefulness
  • Exhibit a passion for social change
If you aren't going to tell me why your organization meets the criteria, then basically you are running for homecoming queen on your popularity and the fact that you hang out with the cool kids. In fact, some really great projects that basically don't meet these criteria are going to have a lot of votes because of their advocacy strategy.

Advocacy is appropriate and good. Mobilizing your network to help you win by making your network part of the process is also appropriate and good.

Mobilizing your network to game a voting process suggests a weak understanding of how communities and social networks create real change (as oppose to raising a buck).

Friday, April 13, 2007

Content, Quality, Money

Michelle brings up the question of open content. Laura provides a most excellent and well thought out tirade.

Shockingly enough, I have an opinion. First in defense of paid/ copyright content: (1) it takes money to build content via traditional writer/editorial channels and the most traditional way to extract economic value from content is copyright. So I understand what Michael and Laura are saying and largely agree with it.

However, there are two things that fascinate me:
(1) Something like Idealware could be founded on an online community... something like Compumentor's (this is a tough challenge in and of itself). If Idealware started with free community content that was not produced in a traditional writer/editorial model, then packaged up the very best to deliver to the community, their dynamics and economics would be completely different. They could, for instance, implement a membership model... and their free content would drive membership in that community.
(2) Content is no longer a value generator... it is a consumer capturer. You need to capture the consumer with your free content and then extract value through alternate channels... ads, products, services, memberships, etc.

When will Techsoup acquire Idealware? They can then free the content to capture some "consumers" for Techsoup stock.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Selecting a Content Management System: Drupal, Joomla and Plone

I've been working with Idealware, joining with Ryan Ozimek and Patrick Shaw to provide a Drupal, Joomla, Plone roundup. I think that my co-presenters would agree that having a developer you trust is far more important than which CMS you pick... they all are great.

Few, CMSs, however, have a vision that fits with more expansive social goals. At CivicSpace our mission is to make advanced online community and CRM tools accessible to the smallest grassroots organizations. There is a specific type of technical architecture required to build technology specifically suited form small groups in the civic sector.

Dries Buytaert, the leader of the Drupal project has outlined some goals for Drupal... eliminate the developer and eliminate the designer. This is really about eliminating the need for specialized knowledge and limiting the complexity the end user is exposed to.

Part of the reason ASP solution are so appropriate for the nonprofit and civic sectors is that they promise the same thing... eliminating the developer and designer, but really haven't been able to deliver. I trust the 300+ volunteer developers of Drupal to accomplish this goal more that Kintera or Convio mostly because ANYONE can join Drupal at any time to help... crowdsourcing works.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Creating Options

How can you not just love Michelle:

Sometimes, the forward march of technology seems like this train I'm riding on - inexorably traveling down the track of capitalist profit while nonprofits are hanging on to those little hand-powered trucks that we, the people who serve them in this realm are working really hard to pump up and down, so we can try and gamely keep up. And while they watch really large organizations zip by them in bigger, better vehicles, looking exactly like they know where they are going. But no one seems to be asking "why are we on this track in the first place?" "Is being on this track going to really help me save the whales/feed people/organize/save the planet?"
Power to the edges, open source, the inexorable lowering of technology costs... all these factors create an opportunity to build a new track, to innovate and create lots of ways to save the planet.

I come back to a single issue: innovation and saving the planet is a human-scale issue... people to people communicating. Actually saving the plant is a systems-scale issue... millions of human-scale activities aligned in the same direction. Yet the only path to "scale" available to us is capitalist profit track... Adam Smith had it right when he recognized the power of capitalism to coordinate individual activities.

Until we find other paths to scale that are in line with social change, we will have wonderful micro-interventions that, unfortunately, stay micro.