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).


webb said...

Great points, David. One of things that we tried to encourage folks to do -- before the vote started -- was to get their projects up their and get community comment on them. In fact, we left the proposals open (that is, they could be edited by the owner) up until the time voting started.

One of the things that we recognize that we have to do for next year is add some way that you can determine the community involvement in the proposal process so that provides another metric to how folks have been in the process.

Thanks again for you comments.

Siegfried said...

Thanks David. You made my point a lot better than I could. I was in full agreement with the original set of criteria and felt disturbed by the way the new ones seemed to sort of overtake them. Reminiscent indeed to the who-is-hanging-out-with-the-cool-dudes contests. Daniel is impressed with the way quality is floating to the top. I'll reserve my judgment until I've seen the final outcome. It would be very positive if some great, innovative fresh initiative out in Africa or Asia made it.

amanda bee said...

Mmm Hmm.

I don't know whether people are too entranced with their own coolness to remember that I might want to hear why you think your project is so hot, or if they just don't get it, but I often suspect the latter.

I kind of missed the build up and then my eyes glazed over when the pleas for votes started pouring in (plus I couldn't seem to reset my password or login, but I think that was my special problem). I suspect that this is related to the shiny bauble effect--most people have a hard time staying substantive, and in most cases, shiny baubles work pretty well at getting the vote out.