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    Unlike Us: Understanding Social Media Monopolies and their Alternatives

    Invitation to join the network (a series of events, reader, workshops, online debates, campaigns etc.)

    Concept: Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures/HvA, Amsterdam) and Korinna Patelis (Cyprus University of Technology, Lemasol)

    Thanks to Marc Stumpel, Sabine Niederer, Vito Campanelli, Ned Rossiter, Michael Dieter, Oliver Leistert, Taina Bucher, Gabriella Coleman, Ulises Mejias, Anne Helmond, Lonneke van der Velden, Morgan Currie and Eric Kluitenberg for their input.

    Summary
    The aim of this proposal is to establish a research network of artists, designers, scholars, activists and programmers who work on 'alternatives in social media'. Through workshops, conferences, online dialogues and publications, Unlike Us intends to both analyze the economic and cultural aspects of dominant social media platforms and to propagate the further development and proliferation of alternative, decentralized social media software.

    If you want to join the Unlike Us network, start your own initiatives in this field or hook up what you have already been doing for ages, subcribe to the email list. Traffic will be modest. Soon there will be a special page/blog for the initative on the INC website. Also an independent social network will be installed shortly, using alternative software. More on that later! List info:http://listcultures.org/mailman/listinfo/unlike-us_listcultures.org

    Background
    Whether or not we are in the midst of internet bubble 2.0, we can all agree that social media dominate internet and mobile use. The emergence of web-based user to user services, driven by an explosion of informal dialogues, continuous uploads and user generated content have greatly empowered the rise of participatory culture. At the same time, monopoly power, commercialization and commodification are also on the rise with just a handful of social media platforms dominating the social web. These two contradictory processes – both the facilitation of free exchanges and the commercial exploitation of social relationships – seem to lie at the heart of contemporary capitalism. On the one hand new media create and expand the social spaces through which we interact, play and even politicize ourselves; on the other hand they are literally owned by three or four companies that have phenomenal power to shape such interaction. Whereas the hegemonic Internet ideology promises open, decentralized systems, why do we, time and again, find ourselves locked into closed corporate environments? Why are individual users so easily charmed by these 'walled gardens'? Do we understand the long-term costs that society will pay for the ease of use and simple interfaces of their beloved 'free' services?

    The accelerated growth and scope of Facebook’s social space, for example, is unheard of. Facebook claims to have 700 million users, ranks in the top two or three first destination sites on the Web worldwide and is valued at 50 billion US dollars. Its users willingly deposit a myriad of snippets of their social life and relationships on a site that invests in an accelerated play of sharing and exchanging information. We all befriend, rank, recommend, create circles, upload photos, videos and update our status. A myriad of (mobile) applications orchestrate this offer of private moments in a virtual public, seamlessly embedding the online world in users’ everyday life.

    Yet despite its massive user base, the phenomena of online social networking remains fragile. Just think of the fate of the majority of social networking sites. Who has ever heard of Friendster? The death of Myspace has been looming on the horizon for quite some time. The disappearance of Twitter and Facebook – and Google, for that matter – is only a masterpiece of software away. This means that the protocological future is not stationary but allows space for us to carve out a variety of techno-political interventions. Unlike Us is developed in the spirit of RSS-inventor and uberblogger Dave Winer whose recent Blork project is presented as an alternative for ‘corporate blogging silos’. But instead of repeating the entrepreneurial-start-up-transforming-into-corporate-behemoth formula, isn't it time to reinvent the internet as a truly independent public infrastructure that can effectively defend itself against corporate domination and state control?

    Agenda
    Going beyond the culture of complaint about our ignorance and loss of privacy, the proposed network of artists, scholars, activists and media folks will ask fundamental and overarching questions about how to tackle these fast-emerging monopoly powers. Situated within the existing oligopoly of ownership and use, this inquiry will include the support of software alternatives and related artistic practices and the development of a common alternative vision of how the techno-social world might be mediated.

    Without falling into the romantic trap of some harmonious offline life, Unlike Us asks what sort of network architectures could be designed that contribute to ‘the common’, understood as a shared resource and system of collective production that supports new forms of social organizations (such as organized networks) without mining for data to sell. What aesthetic tactics could effectively end the expropriation of subjective and private dimensions that we experience daily in social networks? Why do we ignore networks that refuse the (hyper)growth model and instead seek to strengthen forms of free cooperation? Turning the tables, let's code and develop other 'network cultures' whose protocols are no longer related to the logic of 'weak ties'. What type of social relations do we want to foster and discover in the 21st century? Imagine dense, diverse networked exchanges between billions of people, outside corporate and state control. Imagine discourses returning subjectivities to their 'natural' status as open nodes based on dialogue and an ethics of free exchange.

    To a large degree social media research is still dominated by quantitative and social scientific endeavors. So far the focus has been on moral panics, privacy and security, identity theft, self-representation from Goffman to Foucault and graph-based network theory that focuses on influencers and (news) hubs. What is curiously missing from the discourse is a rigorous discussion of the political economy of these social media monopolies. There is also a substantial research gap in understanding the power relations between the social and the technical in what are essentially software systems and platforms. With this initiative, we want to shift focus away from the obsession with youth and usage to the economic, political, artistic and technical aspects of these online platforms. What we first need to acknowledge is social media's double nature. Dismissing social media as neutral platforms with no power is as implausible as considering social media the bad boys of capitalism. The beauty and depth of social media is that they call for a new understanding of classic dichotomies such as commercial/political, private/public, users/producers, artistic/standardised, original/copy, democratising/ disempowering. Instead of taking these dichotomies as a point of departure, we want to scrutinise the social networking logic. Even if Twitter and Facebook implode overnight, the social networking logic of befriending, liking and ranking will further spread across all aspects of life.

    The proposed research agenda is at once a philosophical, epistemological and theoretical investigation of knowledge artifacts, cultural production and social relations and an empirical investigation of the specific phenomenon of monopoly social media. Methodologically we will use the lessons learned from theoretical research activities to inform practice-oriented research, and vice-versa. Unlike Us is a common initiative of the Institute of Network Cultures (Amsterdam University of Applied Science HvA) and the Cyprus University of Technology in Lemasol.

    An online network and a reader connected to a series of events initially in Amsterdam and Cyprus (early 2012) are already in planning. We would explicitly like to invite other partners to come on board who identify with the spirit of this proposal, to organize related conferences, festivals, workshops, temporary media labs and barcamps (where coders come together) with us. The reader (tentatively planned as number 8 in the Reader series published by the INC) will be produced mid-late 2012. The call for contributions to the network, the reader and the event series goes out in July 2011, followed by the publicity for the first events and other initiatives by possible new partners.

    Topics of Investigation
    The events, online platform, reader and other outlets may include the following topics inviting theoretical, empirical, practical and art-based contributions, though not every event or publication might deal with all issues. We anticipate the need for specialized workshops and barcamps.

    1. Political Economy: Social Media Monopolies
    Social media culture is belied in American corporate capitalism, dominated by the logic of start-ups and venture capital, management buyouts, IPOs etc. Three to four companies literally own the Western social media landscape and capitalize on the content produced by millions of people around the world. One thing is evident about the market structure of social media: one-to-many is not giving way to many-to-many without first going through many-to-one. What power do these companies actually have? Is there any evidence that such ownership influences user-generated content? How does this ownership express itself structurally and in technical terms? What conflicts arise when a platform like Facebook is appropriated for public or political purposes, while access to the medium can easily be denied by the company? Facebook is worth billions, does that really mean something for the average user? How does data-mining work and what is its economy? What is the role of discourse (PR) in creating and sustaining an image of credibility and trustworthiness, and in which forms does it manifest to oppose that image? The bigger social media platforms form central nodes, such as image upload services and short ulr services. This ecology was once fairly open, with a variety of new Twitter-related services coming into being, but now Twitter takes up these services itself, favoring their own product through default settings; on top of that it is increasingly shutting down access to developers, which shrinks the ecology and makes it less diverse.

    2. The Private in the Public
    The advent of social media has eroded privacy as we know it, giving rise to a culture of self-surveillance made up of myriad voluntary, everyday disclosures. New understandings of private and public are needed to address this phenomenon. What does owning all this user data actually mean? Why are people willing to give up their personal data, and that of others? How should software platforms be regulated? Is software like a movie to be given parental guidance? What does it mean that there are different levels of access to data, from partner info brokers and third-party developers to the users? Why is education in social media not in the curriculum of secondary schools? Can social media companies truly adopt a Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights?

    3. Visiting the Belly of the Beast
    The exuberance and joy that defined the dotcom era is cliché by now. IT use is occurring across the board, and new labour conditions can be found everywhere. But this should not keep our eyes away from the power relations inside internet companies. What are the geopolitical lines of distribution that define the organization and outsourcing taking place in global IT companies these days? How is the industry structured and how does its economy work? Is there a broader connection to be made with the politics of land expropriation and peasant labour in countries like India, for instance, and how does this analytically converge with the experiences of social media users? How do monopolies deal with their employees’ use of the platforms? What can we learn from other market sectors and perspectives that (critically) reflect on, for example, techniques of sustainability or fair trade?

    4. Artistic Responses to Social Media
    Artists are playing a crucial role in visualizing power relationships and disrupting subliminal daily routines of social media usage. Artistic practice provides an important analytical site in the context of the proposed research agenda, as artists are often first to deconstruct the familiar and to facilitate an alternative lens to understand and critique these media. Is there such a thing as a social 'web aesthetics'? It is one thing to criticize Twitter and Facebook for their primitive and bland interface designs. How can we imagine the social in different ways? And how can we design and implement new interfaces to provide more creative freedom to cater to our multiple identities? Also, what is the scope of interventions with social media, such as, for example, the ‘dislike button’ add-on for Facebook? And what practices are really needed? Isn’t it time, for example, for a Facebook ‘identity correction’?

    5. Designing culture: representation and software
    Social media offer us the virtual worlds we use every day. From Facebook's 'like' button to blogs’ user interface, these tools empower and delimit our interactions. How do we theorize the plethora of social media features? Are they to be understood as mere technical functions, cultural texts, signifiers, affordances, or all these at once? In what ways do design and functionalities influence the content and expressions produced? And how can we map and critique this influence? What are the cultural assumptions embedded in the design of social media sites and what type of users or communities do they produce? To answer the question of structure and design, one route is to trace the genealogy of functionalities, to historicize them and look for discursive silences. How can we make sense of the constant changes occurring both on and beyond the interface? How can we theorize the production and configuration of an ever-increasing algorithmic and protocological culture more generally?

    6. Software Matters: Sociotechnical and Algorithmic Cultures
    One of the important components of social media is software. For all the discourse on sociopolitical power relations governed by corporations such as Facebook and related platforms, one must not forget that social media platforms are thoroughly defined and powered by software. We need critical engagement with Facebook as software. That is, what is the role of software in reconfiguring contemporary social spaces? In what ways does code make a difference in how identities are formed and social relationships performed? How does the software function to interpellate users to its logic? What are the discourses surrounding software? One of the core features of Facebook for instance is its news feed, which is algorithmically driven and sorted in its default mode. The EdgeRank algorithm of the news feed governs the logic by which content becomes visible, acting as a modern gatekeeper and editorial voice. Given its 700 million users, it has become imperative to understand the power of EdgeRank and its cultural implications. Another important analytical site for investigation are the ‘application programming interfaces’ (APIs) that to a large extent made the phenomenal growth of social media platforms possible in the first place. How have APIs contributed to the business logic of social media? How can we theorize social media use from the perspective of the programmer?

    6. Genealogies of Social Networking Sites
    Feedback in a closed system is a core characteristic of Facebook; even the most basic and important features, such as 'friending', traces back to early cybernetics' ideas of control. While the word itself became lost in various transitions, the ideas of cybernetics have remained stable in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics and the biopolitical arena. Both communication and information theories shaped this discourse. How does Facebook relate to such an algorithmic shape of social life? What can Facebook teach us about the powers of systems theory? Would Norbert Wiener and Niklas Luhmann be friends on Facebook?

    7. Is Research Doomed?
    The design of Facebook excludes the third person perspective, as the only way in is through ones own profile. What does this inbuilt ‘me-centricity’ imply for social media research? Does it require us to rethink the so-called objectivity of researchers and the detached view of current social research? Why is it that there are more than 200 papers about the way people use Facebook, but the site is ‘closed’ to true quantitative inquiry? Is the state of art in social media research exemplary of the 'quantitative turn' in new media research? Or is there a need to expand and rethink methods of inquiry in social media research? Going beyond the usual methodological approaches of the quantitative and qualitative, we seek to broaden the scope of investigating these media. How can we make sense of the political economy and the socio-technical elements, and with what means? Indeed, what are our toolkits for collective, transdisciplinary modes of knowledge and the politics of refusal?

    8. Researching Unstable Ontologies
    Software destabilizes Facebook as a solid ontology. Software is always in becoming and so by nature ontogenetic. It grows and grows, living off of constant input. Logging on one never encounters the same content, as it changes on an algorithmic level and in terms of the platform itself. What does Facebook’s fluid nature imply for how we make sense of and study it? Facebook for instance willingly complicates research: 1. It is always personalized (see Eli Pariser). Even when creating ‘empty’ research accounts it never gives the same results compared to other people’s empty research accounts. 2. One must often be 'inside' social media to study it. Access from the outside is limited, which reinforces the first problem. 3. Outside access is ideally (for Facebook and Twitter) arranged through carefully regulated protocols of APIs and can easily be restricted. Next to social media as a problem for research, there is also the question of social research methods as intervention.

    9. Making Sense of Data: Visualization and Critique
    Data representation is one of the most important battlefields nowadays. Indeed, global corporations build their visions of the world increasingly based on and structured around complex data flows. What is the role of data today and what are the appropriate ways in which to make sense of the burgeoning datasets? As data visualization is becoming a powerful buzzword and social research increasingly uses digital tools to make ‘beautiful’ graphs and visualizations, there is a need to take a step back and question the usefulness of current data visualization tools and to develop novel analytical frameworks through which to critically grasp these often simplified and nontransparent ways of representing data. Not only is it important to develop new interpretative and visual methods to engage with data flows, data itself needs to be questioned. We need to ask about data’s ontological and epistemological nature. What is it, who is the producer, for whom, where is it stored? In what ways do social media companies’ terms of service regulate data? Whether alternative social media or monopolistic platforms, how are our data-bodies exactly affected by changes in the software?

    10. Pitfalls of Building Social Media Alternatives
    It is not only important to critique and question existing design and socio-political realities but also to engage with possible futures. The central aim of this project is therefore to contribute and support 'alternatives in social media'. What would the collective design of alternative protocols and interfaces look like? We should find some comfort in the small explosion of alternative options currently available, but also ask how usable these options are and how real is the danger of fragmentation. How have developers from different initiatives so far collaborated and what might we learn from their successes and failures? Understanding any early failures and successes of these attempts seems crucial. A related issue concerns funding difficulties faced by projects. Finally, in what ways does regionalism (United States, Europe, Asia) feed into the way people search for alternatives and use social media.

    11. Showcasing Alternatives in Social Media
    The best way to criticize platform monopolies is to support alternative free and open source software that can be locally installed. There are currently a multitude of decentralized social networks in the making that aspire to facilitate users with greater power to define for themselves with whom share their data. Let us look into the wildly different initiatives from Crabgrass, Appleseed, Diaspora, NoseRub, BuddyCloud, Protonet, StatusNet, GNU Social, Lorea and OneSocialWeb to the distributed Twitter alternative Thimbl. In which settings are these initiative developed and what choices are made for their design? Let's hear from the Spanish activists who have recently made experiences with the n-1.cc platform developed by Lorea. What community does this platform enable? While traditional software focuses on the individual profile and its relation to the network and a public (share with friends, share with friends of friends, share with public), the Lorea software for instance asks you with whom to share an update, picture or video. It finegrains the idea of privacy and sharing settings at the content level, not the user’s profile. At the same time, it requires constant decision making, or else a high level of trust in the community you share your data with. And how do we experience the transition from, or interoperability with, other platforms? Is it useful to make a distinction between corporate competitors and grassroots initiatives? How can these beta alternatives best be supported, both economically and socially? Aren't we overstating the importance of software and isn't the availability of capital much bigger in determining the adoption of a platform?

    12. Social Media Activism and the Critique of Liberation Technology
    While the tendency to label any emergent social movement as the latest 'Twitter revolution' has passed, a liberal discourse of 'liberation technology' (information and communication technologies that empower grassroots movements) continues to influence our ideas about networked participation. This discourse tends to obscure power relations and obstruct critical questioning about the capitalist institutions and superstructures in which these technologies operate. What are the assumptions behind this neo-liberal discourse? What role do ‘developed’ nations play when they promote and subsidize the development of technologies of circumvention and hacktivism for use in ‘underdeveloped’ states, while at the same time allowing social media companies at home to operate in increasingly deregulated environments and collaborating with them in the surveillance of citizens at home and abroad? What role do companies play in determining how their products are used by dissidents or governments abroad? How have their policies and Terms of Use changed as a result?

    13. Social Media in the Middle East and Beyond
    The justified response to downplay the role of Facebook in early 2011 events in Tunisia and Egypt by putting social media in a larger perspective has not taken off the table the question of how to organize social mobilizations. Which specific software do the 'movements of squares' need? What happens to social movements when the internet and ICT networks are shut down? How does the interruption of internet services shift the nature of activism? How have repressive and democratic governments responded to the use of ‘liberation technologies’? How do these technologies change the relationship between the state and its citizens? How are governments using the same social media tools for surveillance and propaganda or highjacking Facebook identities, such as happened in Syria? What is Facebook’s own policy when deleting or censoring accounts of its users? How can technical infrastructures be supported which are not shutdown upon request? How much does our agency depend on communication technology nowadays? And whom do we exclude with every click? How can we envision 'organized networks' that are based on 'strong ties' yet open enough to grow quickly if the time is right? Which software platforms are best suited for the 'tactical camping' movements that occupy squares all over the world?

    14. Data storage: social media and legal cultures
    Data that is voluntarily shared by social media users is not only used for commercial purposes, but is also of interest to governments. This data is stored on servers of companies that are bound to the specific legal culture and country. This material-legal complex is often overlooked. Fore instance, the servers of Facebook and Twitter are located in the US and therefore fall under the US jurisdiction. One famous example is the request for the Twitter accounts of several activists (Gonggrijp, Jónsdóttir, Applebaum) affiliated with Wikileaks projects by the US government. How do activists respond and how do alternative social media platforms deal with this issue?

    Contact details:

    Geert Lovink (geert@xs4all.nl)
    Korinna Patelis (korinna.patelis@cut.ac.cy / kpatelis@yahoo.com)

    Institute of Network Cultures
    CREATE-IT/Hogeschool van Amsterdam
    www.networkcultures.org
    Sun, Jul 17, 2011  Permanent link

    Sent to project: Polytopia
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    “Social media has come to be understood as little more than a marketing opportunity. However, we see it as quite possibly the catalyst for the next stage of human evolution and, at the very least, a way to restore bottom-up participation, p2p value exchange and decentralized innovation to the realms of culture, commerce and government.” – Douglas Rushkoff

    I was approached by media theorist Douglas Rushkoff a few months ago to help organize a gathering. The intention was presented as something like 'social media meets Burning Man.' Of course, my interest was piqued, and now I'm Executive Director for organizing the event.

    We're bringing together technologists, artists, activists, businesspeople, funders, and other stakeholders in the networked future to hatch new ideas, develop and nourish exciting existing concepts, connect collaborators, and forge an ongoing community for innovating social media and beyond.

    The morning will start with brief "provocations" on stage by our featured participants to get our juices flowing, then transition to an unconference style format during the afternoon. This will consist of breakout sessions convened by the participants to share their challenges, experience, insights, and foster new connections to bring their ideas to reality. Then to the Bazaar:
    At the epicenter of Contact will be the Bazaar - a free-form marketplace of ideas, demos, haggling, and ad-hoc connections. If you have visited the Akihabara, Tokyo’s ultra-vibrant open-air electronics market, or the under-the-highway open-air jade market of Kowloon, or even the Burning Man festival, you understand the power of combining commerce, physical location, and serendipity. A decidedly unstructured counterpart to the convened meetings and solo provocations, the Bazaar brings p2p to life, encouraging introductions, brokering, deal-making, food-tasting, and propositions of every kind. It is where the social, business, political, and spiritual agendas merge into one human agenda: Contact.

    We've got a great list of confirmed participants so far:

    Mark Pesce - inventor, technologist, futurist
    Marc Canter - founder Macromedia, founder Digital City Project
    Michel Bauwens - P2P Foundation
    Dave Winer - pioneer of weblogs, RSS, founder Scripting News
    Rachel Rosenfelt - founder, The New Inquiry
    Richard Metzger - founder, Disinformation and Dangerous Minds
    Scott Heiferman - founder, Meetup.com
    Venessa Miemis - media activist and artist, founder Emergent by Design
    Eli Pariser - founder, MoveOn.org
    Paul Hartzog, co-founder, the Future Forward Institute
    Steven Johnson - author, founder OutsideIn
    Andrew Rasiej - co-founder Personal Democracy Forum
    Micah Sifry - co-founder Personal Democracy Forum
    Nick Philip – designer, founder The Imaginary Foundation
    Adam Fisk – Lead developer for Limewire, Founder of LittleShoot
    Nathan Solomon – co-founder, Superfluid
    Sam Rose - Forward Foundation
    Richard Adler - co-founder, the Future Forward Institute
    Art Brock – The MetaCurrency Project
    Neal Gorenflo – founder, Shareable
    Micah Daigle – Dynamic Democracy Foundation
    Genesis P-Orridge - musician, artist, founder Throbbing Gristle
    Thomas Benjamin - Tor Project
    Matt Cooperrider – Gov 2.0 developer - Collabforge
    Ken Jordan – Evolver.net
    Reverend Billy – Church of Life After Shopping
    RU Sirius – editor, Mondo2000, h+ magazine
    Caroline Woolard – founder, TradeSchool and OurGoods
    George Por - founder, CommunityIntelligence
    Danielle Lanyard - founder, Third Rail Ventures
    Suresh Fernando - co-founder, OpenKollab

    Though social media has a potential impact on many/most areas of our lives, below are the main areas we're focusing on:

    • Technology:


    - Can we build a new Internet that can't be turned off?
    - Alternatives to top-down registries and corporate-controlled access
    - A decentralized version of Facebook?
    - Discussions underway on google group: The Next Net

    • Business and Economics:


    - New net-based currencies and transaction networks
    - Net-enabled Local Activism and Job Creation
    - new business models and structures for collaboration & business innovation
    - new opportunities for the social enterprise

    • Government 2.0:


    - Proxy voting to expert friends
    - Open source democracy
    - Ad hoc network technology for activists, refugees, and dissidents

    • Human Futures:


    - What Factors Facilitate Collective Intelligence?
    - The Reclamation of the Commons and Public Space

    Conversations are happening around these topics all over the web - we're doing our best to find you and cross-pollinate people and ideas so we can accelerate the rate of magic. :)

    Let us know how we can make this event more awesome!

    Check out the Contact website for more info and to register

    Ask a question on Quora on the Contact Summit topic

    Participate in the Contact forums

    Visit us on Facebook

    Follow updates and news on Twitter: @contactcon

    Hope to see you in October!

    full press release here
    Mon, Mar 21, 2011  Permanent link
    Categories: contact summit, p2p, networked society, evolution
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    A brief overview of three techniques for honing your ability to see beyond the horizon.

    1. Trend Analysis

    In order to develop the capacity for imagining alternative futures and create design solutions accordingly, it is useful to be aware of the current driving forces and megatrends underway. The "STEEP" categories [Social, Technological, Environmental, Economic, Political] give us the mental framework for understanding the complex web of change around us, and can also be further broken down into subcategories for refinement. For example, "Social" could be viewed at the more granular levels of culture, organization, and personal.

    Once a trend is identified, both its causes and impacts can be considered. For instance, a rise in life expectancy might be caused by rising living standards, better medical treatments, and healthier environments. The corresponding impacts of this trend may be that a longer portion of a person's life is spent in retirement, and so there will be an increasing demand in goods and services for the elderly and perhaps a bigger financial strain on families to care for aging parents or grandparents. What types of environments should be designed in order to accommodate these changes?

    Another example is the increasing amount of "leisure time" people are now facing. Technological automation has made human involvement in many processes unnecessary, and global economic recession has left many unemployed. If these trends continue, what types of structures must be designed in order to redirect the wasted productivity and surplus mental power that is currently sitting idle? When thinking about the world at this scale, the "big picture" pops out and we can begin to think about design in terms of strategic preparation for our future.



    2. Visioning

    Clarifying a vision is one of the most powerful mechanisms for engaging a team, organization or community and getting them excited to push forward into new territory. A successfully designed product or service should intentionally impact the thoughts and behaviors of society and culture, and serve as an example of the mindset and values of its creators. So, what does this future humanity look like? Creating that clear vision is a precursor to planning, and a key to creating the conditions to mobilize a group of collaborators around a common goal.

    There is a nice guideline in the book Futuring that breaks down this process of "Preferred Futuring" into these eight tasks:

    1. Review the organization's common history to create a shared appreciation.
    2. Identify what's working and what's not. Brainstorm and list "prouds" and "sorries."
    3. Identify underlying values and beliefs, and discuss which ones to keep and which to abandon.
    4. Identify relevant events, developments, and trends that may have an impact on moving to a preferred future.
    5. Create a preferred future vision that is clear, detailed, and commonly understood. All participants, or at least a critical mass, should feel a sense of investment or ownership in the vision.
    6. Translate future visions into action goals.
    7. Plan for action: Build in specific planned steps with accountabilities identified.
    8. Create a structure for implementing the plan, with midcourse corrections, celebrations, and publicizing of successes.

    Ultimately, it's not about creating MY vision, but about creating a SHARED vision. As responsible, forward thinking humans, we all want to create a better future. But what does it look like? Have we defined it? Have we described it? Who are we within it? What does interaction look like? If our idea gained mass adoption, what would that mean? What does that world look like?

    If we can see it, we can build it.



    3. Scenario Development

    As an extension of visioning, scenario development is where the power of narrative comes in. Throughout human history, we are defined by the stories we tell each other and ourselves. We create meaning and understanding by the way we remember our stories, like personal cargo that we carry in our minds. Our surroundings, natural or designed, are artifacts and objects within those stories. When thinking about the future, whether it's the future of society, the organization, or the self, developing a series of scenarios allows us to objectively deal with uncertainty and imagine plausible costs and benefits to various actions and their consequences. It is often suggested to create a minimum of three scenarios when considering future events or situations by identifying futures that are possibleprobable, and preferable. Here's a suggested five sample scenario from the Futuring book:

    1. A Surprise-Free Scenario: Things will continue much as they are now. They won't become substantially better or worse.
    2. An Optimistic Scenario: Things will go considerably better than in the recent past.
    3. A Pessimistic Scenario: Something will go considerably worse than in the past.
    4. A Disaster Scenario: Things will go terribly wrong, and our situation will be far worse than anything we have previously experienced.
    5. A Transformation Scenario: Something spectacularly marvelous happens - something we never dared to expect.

    Once the stories has been written that describes what each of these scenarios looks like, the conversation can begin. What is the likelihood of each of these? What is the desirability? What are the correlating values of the people? And most importantly, what actions can be taken today to steer the ship and design towards or away from the various scenarios?

    Two common methods for determining a potential course of action are forecasting and backcasting. While forecasting starts in the present and projects forward into the future, backcasting starts with a future goal or event and works it's way back to the present. In this method, the sequence of events or steps that led to that goal are imagined and defined, so that a roadmap to that desirable future is created. In either case, the scenarios generated serve to illuminate pathways to action.

    -

    Further Reading:

    Futuring: The Exploration of the Future

    Foundations of Futures Studies

    The Art of the Long View

    Thinking About the Future: Guidelines for Strategic Foresight

    The Universal Traveler: A Guide to Creativity, Problem Solving & the Process of Reaching Goals

    -

    imagery found at Imaginary Foundation
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    (this is my final paper for cybernetics class and for graduate school. it is a theoretical metalogue between myself and gregory bateson. many of his phrases and passages are pulled directly from the book Steps To An Ecology of Mind)



    vm: i want to understand the ecology of mind, how it works. I want to understand how technology is accelerating intentional evolution, and what the Web is becoming... a collective intelligence? a global mind? a path to destruction? How do you propose i begin?

    gb: You certainly are full of questions.

    vm: Yeah, it's a curse. I’m insatiable.

    gb: Perhaps, but an exploration of mind and self is a worthy endeavor. To begin, we might say that in creative art man must experience himself - his total self - as a cybernetic model.

    vm: Please explain.

    gb: We are complex, self-corrective systems. As a simplified example, take a steam engine. It is simply a circular train of causal events, regulating itself to maintain some type of status quo. It is the same principle for processes of civilization, or human behavior, human organization, or any biological system. We check for irregularities, and correct against internal disturbance... keeping the system in balance.

    vm: Yes, that makes sense. And this is why the obvious can be difficult for people to see. Our self-corrective mechanisms try to assimilate disturbances..... hide them, ignore them, shut out parts of our processes of perception to avoid acknowledging them. But if we remain ignorant of this occurring below the surface of our consciousness, then isn't life partly a self-deception?

    gb: Indeed. This is where wisdom comes into play. Wisdom I take to be the knowledge of the larger interactive system - that system which, if disturbed, is likely to generate exponential curves of change.

    vm: Sounds like a holistic approach. Being able to see things at the meta level and extrapolate outcomes. When you say "exponential curves of change," this could be for better or worse, right? For instance, meeting a person whose energy resonates with yours could catalyze change and psychological/spiritual growth. Alternately, the non-sustainable decisions that are made around the planet every day could lead to rapid environmental degradation and climate change.

    gb: Well, the meaning of terms like "better" or "worse" are contingent upon whom you ask. Regardless, lack of systemic wisdom is always punished. Always. When trying to understand the self and the big picture, it is useful to think about three enormously complex systems operating in tandem.

    vm: Which are?

    gb: There is the human individual, with its physiology and neurology, chemistry and psychology, all these arrangements of conservative loops. These components exist in an uneasy balance of mutual dependency and competition, working to maintain an equilibrium and avoid the exponential curves that would be caused by a disturbance to the system.

    vm: Right, like a giant program, maintaining homeostatis via its interrelated subroutines.

    gb: Second, we have the society in which the individual lives. There are dependencies and competition among groups of people, just as there are in the individual body. Disrupt the societal balance, and the system will buck to preserve itself. If you think of important social change, you must assume there is in some degree a slipping of the system at some point along an exponential curve. The slippage may not go far, or it may go to disaster.

    vm: Sounds dangerous.

    gb: There is always danger in such slippage. It’s a matter of the system’s ability to be flexible and self-correct and adapt. Thirdly is the ecosystem, the natural biological surroundings of these human animals. We are, of course, destroying all the balanced natural systems in the world.

    vm: Useful framework for understanding our place within the world. It sounds like we’re in trouble as a species though. What’s causing that?

    gb: Conscious purpose.

    vm: Wait.... what?

    gb: Of crucial importance in man’s life is the “semipermeable” linkage between consciousness and the remainder of the total mind. We must understand that our conscious self is a construct. Call it the screen of consciousness, a systematic sampling of the greater whole of the mind. Filtered, and not random.

    vm: Agreed. I know there is more to ‘me’ than what is in my immediate conscious awareness. I know that my conscious self, the one that interacts with the world, is merely an interface between the deeper more expansive me below the surface and the external world. That interface has a personality, a belief structure, a worldview, all which were certainly developed through some combination of genetics and environment. I know that these constructs color my perception of reality, and that they are malleable. But how does the mind select which of my deeper unconscious patterns to project up to my conscious level of awareness?

    gb: Well, it is clear that we are aware of only a fraction of the information coming in through our senses. It would be inefficient to notice everything, and would likely drive us mad. So what do I choose to notice? I, the conscious I, am guided in my perception by purposes.

    vm: When you say purposes, I’m understanding that to mean intentions or desires. So conscious purpose is the aggregation of intentions that potentially lead to action. What’s wrong with that?

    gb: Purpose is not wisdom. Consciousness is organized in terms of purpose as a short-cut device to enable you to get quickly at what you want: Dinner. Sex. Money. Power. It’s not set up to act with maximum wisdom in order to live, but to follow the shortest logical or causal path.

    vm: Ah, I see. It is certainly not common practice to take the “long view,” that’s for sure. The world is filled with short-term thinking and greed and exploitation. And we’re seeing how that plays out.

    gb: There are countless real situations going on right now where the systemic nature of the world has been ignored in favor of purpose or “common sense.” And the terrible thing about such situations is that inevitably they shorten the time span of all planning. Emergency is present or only just around the corner; and long-term wisdom must therefore be sacrificed to expediency, even though there is a dim awareness that expediency will never give a long-term solution.

    vm: I’ve wondered if that kind of weak-mindedness will be further exacerbated by our activity on the Web. In our need for immediacy and “real-time” data, are we just becoming infinitely more distracted? We seem to want to know what’s going on NOW.... but without context, without stepping back and taking in the bigger picture, are we simply losing all sense of perspective? The other byproduct seems to be ultra-reactivity. No reflection, just reacting to stimulus. And these reactions tend to be based in fear, focused on near-term gain, and utterly negligent in playing out what these decisions mean within the larger system and over time.

    gb: It’s a phenomenon which seems to be almost universal when man commits the error of purposive thinking and disregards the systemic nature of the world with which he must deal. The man, after all, has acted according to what he thought was common sense and now he finds himself in a mess. He does not quite know what caused the mess and he feels that what has happened is somehow unfair. He still does not see himself as part of the system in which the mess exists, and he either blames the rest of the system or he blames himself.

    vm: That doesn’t sound very intelligent.

    gb: No, it is not.

    vm: A mix of hubris and ignorance, eh?

    gb: Historically a fatal combination. The fundamental flaw is the belief that we are somehow separate from the systems in which we live, as if we controlled them. Even within the individual human being, control is limited. We can in some degree set ourselves to learn even such abstract characteristics as arrogance or humility, but we are not by any means the captains of our souls.

    vm: So, what do we do to combat the arrogance of conscious purpose?

    gb: Man must necessarily relax that arrogance in favor of a creative experience in which his conscious mind plays only a small part. Arts, poetry, music, humanities, contact between man and animals, man and the natural world - these all breed a kind of wisdom.

    vm: I can relate to that. Finding outlets for creative expression has helped me grow tremendously. I’ve noticed that it helps me switch between multiple lenses of how I choose to perceive reality. When they say “think differently,” it’s really true. Instead of being trapped in a single rigid worldview, the ability to suspend disbelief and see the world from a different angle is almost magical. I get a flood of ideas, can link seemingly disparate information, and my creativity seems to soar. The trick is balance. Nonduality, even. Being able to link all these perspectives into something holistic. Also, being in tune with nature and the environment has been extremely helpful. It isn’t about being a hippie or treehugger, it’s a method for building intelligence and systemic awareness. The discussion about conscious purpose verse nature seems to be a crucial one. We are nested systems, after all.... organisms within larger organisms.

    gb: That is what I refer to as “wisdom” - recognition of and guidance by a knowledge of the total systemic creature.

    vm: Yes, integration of those different levels of self. Self as individual, self as an interconnected node within a society, and self as an interactive part of a greater ecosystem. And then sometimes I expand even further and simply feel like I am the universe. Do you know what I mean?

    gb: Yes, I experimented with LSD briefly in the 60s.

    vm: Ha ha. But seriously, that sense of being able to expand the sense of self opens the doors for some very creative thinking. It saddens me that many of the institutions in today’s society discourage fresh ideas in favor of maintaining status quo. Just as the institutions are soulless, so it seems the people who work within them are shaped to be.

    gb: Yes, the social scene is nowadays characterized by the existence of a large number of self-maximizing entities which, in law, have something like the status of “persons” - trusts, companies, political parties, unions, commercial and financial agencies, nations, and the like. In biological fact, these entities are precisely not persons and are not even aggregates of whole persons. They are aggregates of parts of persons.

    vm: Exactly! We are living in a world where we have created fictional entities to rule us. What’s worse, they have been designed so that no human(s) are responsible for “its” actions, and accountability and responsibility are deferred. But to whom? If the organization itself has no ethical framework, what can we expect from the people who work there?

    gb: Consider it this way: when Mr. Smith enters the board room of his company, he is expected to limit his thinking narrowly to the specific purposes of the company or to those of that part of the company which he “represents.” Mercifully it is not entirely possible for him to do this and some company decisions are influenced by considerations which spring from wider and wiser parts of the mind. But ideally, Mr. Smith is expected to act as a pure, uncorrected consciousness - a dehumanized creature.

    vm: It seems absurd. Like an artifact from a much more primitive time. So what can be done now to pull us forward through this time of transition into a more advanced stage? Are we even capable? It seems the pressure is increasing and we are reaching systemic limits. We require flexibility now to take us to the next level as a global society. What is the role of consciousness in the ongoing process of human adaptation?

    gb: I would say that an intelligent society is one which is designed to increase wisdom, and to give physical, aesthetic, and creative satisfaction to people.

    vm: Ahh, a lovely vision. This is where I see the evolution of the Web coming in to play.

    gb: How so?

    vm: Well, everything we’ve just talked about, it’s all being simulated on the Web. Sure, you can go online and treat it as a destination for information gathering. But it’s also the outpouring of all the thoughts and emotions of humans everywhere. The Web is humanity’s mirror, in all its beauty and ugliness. The strength of our thinking is being reflected back to us. I see it as an opportunity to grow. Challenge us to exhibit more clarity in our thoughts and language, question our assumptions about “the way things work,” engage in generative dialogue on a massive scale, transmit and propogate memes virally. And definitely to cultivate long-term thinking and wisdom.

    gb: And do you see this happening?

    vm: Of course! All around me. It’s what makes me so passionate. It’s wonderful to have this multimedia communication platform, but it will become even more powerful when it’s infused with some futures thinking. It’s already happening. There are new initiatives and models all the time for increasing collaboration, resource sharing, and openness. The ideas are founded in principles like sustainability and long-term gain for all. It’s integrative. Not us vs them, but what can we accomplish together as a higher level society that understands what cooperation means.

    gb: These ideas are still very fringe, you know. Borderline heretical to some.

    vm: That is fine. Innovation happens at the edge. The most interesting thing for me is coming together in this online space, naked of age, race, location, or embodiment. It’s an infocology where minds connect. For those that are willing to open themselves to it and be flexible, there are an infinite number of possibilities. And by flexibility, I mean an uncommitted potentiality for change. If we can adapt this mentality within our own minds, I think it will carry itself out in all the other structures within society. It will allow us to adapt and evolve.

    gb: Ambitious, indeed. And necessary for species survival at this point, I would say. All the current threats to man’s survival can be traced to three root causes: technological progress, population increase, and conventional thinking and weak-mindedness. A dangerous combination. I wonder if a critical mass will be reached in time to course-correct Spaceship Earth towards sustainability.

    vm: Well, that is up to us to decide, isn’t it......
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    So people learned from the angels of God how to build bridges, and therefore, after fountains, the greatest blessing is to build a bridge and the greatest sin to interfere with one. - Ivo Andric

    Our first two topics in this 12 part series were Pattern Recognition and Environmental Scanning, both practices for enhancing the opportunity to create meaning from information and to assist in decision making. The next topic looks at how others can contribute to this process.

    ::Network Weaving::

    The above quote was used by Lee Bryant during his recent presentation at the Social Business Edge conference, and I thought it fit in well with this concept. One of the main topics we have been covering is the idea of breaking down silos - between fields, between organizational departments, between people, and even more deeply, between our own ideas about the values that defines us and who we really are - so the analogy of building bridges seems appropriate.

    As I've been exploring how to build relationships online and create an environment where trust can be built, I naturally started introducing people from different communities to each other in hopes they could benefit from each other's knowledge, wisdom, and experience. I noticed that different disciplines are having the same conversation, just packaged in the jargon of their field. What if we could cross-pollinate these conversations, allowing for new ideas to emerge?

    This activity has been called "network weaving" on June Holley's blog, Network Weaver. (There's a wealth of information there on how to build online networks and create thrivable communities.) She defines the term as follows:

    A Network Weaver is someone who is aware of the networks around them and explicitly works to make them healthier (more inclusive, bridging divides). Network Weavers do this by connecting people strategically where there's potential for mutual benefit, helping people identify their passions, and serving as a catalyst for self-organizing groups.

    June (@juneholley) and a few other amazing women I've started to follow (Jean Russell @NurtureGirl, Christine Egger @CDEgger) have been working on a google doc that explores ways to facilitate network weaving behavior, geared towards this weekend's Wisdom 2.0 Conference. June is also working on a Network Weaving Handbook, which I'm looking forward to reading. The Table of Contents sneak preview is available here.

    Though the activity seems simple enough, I see it as an essential skill as we move forward to a more effective and collaborative society. It's not just about being extroverted and great at making introductions, though. It's about raising your awareness of others, learning how to identity their strengths and gifts, and knowing who they should know to amplify their abilities and potential contributions.

    I started to outline this idea in Framework for a Strengths-based Society, and I think that a prerequisite for effective network weaving starts with thinking about people (and ourselves) not in terms of predefined roles or resumes, but by what we're really about. This is often opaque - a mix of things like inherent qualities, tacit knowledge, and the values we adhere to, which are revealed by our actions and interactions.

    As I've dug deeper into exploring those things about myself, it seems I'm able to more quickly identify them in others. It makes network weaving actually exhilarating. I feel I'm of more value to others now, because I have a sense of who they could team up with to mobilize their ideas.

    As more of us adopt this practice, aligning people with different strengths and skills who all share a similar vision, what might happen? Could it ignite a snowball effect, accelerating the rate of positive change and making an impact in the world?
    Thu, Jul 1, 2010  Permanent link
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    We recently discussed Pattern Recognition and the role it plays in understanding and decision making. The next topic in this 12 part series is pulled out of the Futures Thinking toolbox:

    ::Environmental Scanning::

    Traditionally, environmental scanning is explained within a business context as a strategic approach to acquiring information in order to stay current on events, emerging trends, and external factors that could influence or impact an organization. It basically means paying attention to what's going on within your industry, monitoring what your competitors are doing, what your customers are saying, and being sensitive to potential threats or opportunities along the way.

    I recently came across an essay titled A new framework for environmental scanning, which presents a more holistic approach to this process. The author references the work of Ken Wilber, the developor of Integral Theory, who has created a framework for looking at 'ways of knowing' which he breaks down into four quadrants. The image above is a simplified sketch I made after looking at his version and another one I saw here.

    The area usually professionally addressed is the lower right quadrant, which looks at trends in the large scale systems that are constantly in play. [The acronym 'STEEP' is used to remember the categories - Social, Technological, Environmental, Economic, and Political]. Many of us are active online scanners already, and there are a multitude of tools to aid the process. You can set up RSS feeds, Google Alerts, subscribe to listservs and newsletters, or visit sites which aggregate sites by topic, like Alltop, or use services where users do the aggregation, like Twine. Futurist John Mahaffie has already written a very thorough post about this, Environmental Scanning in the Digital Age, so I'll try not to do too much repeating.

    The only tool I'll add, because he didn't mention it in his post, is Twitter. It's become my favorite online platform for shared discovery, not just because there's all that real-time information flowing, but because there's all those real life people talking! Though the format is very short-form (only 140 characters), quick opinions or insights around a topic can be exchanged, allowing you to consider a range of perspectives. This kind of interaction also shifts your scanning out of that purely objective quadrant and into the subjective and collective ones. Evaluating trends and statistics is valuable, but so is exploration of cultural values and assumptions that change as a result of new information or circumstances.

    Moving offline, the scanning process is about being aware of your immediate environment and exposing yourself to situations where ideas can cross-pollinate and new connections can be formed. This can be anything from meetups to conferences or other networking events where you have a chance to share ideas with other thinkers in your field of interest.

    By engaging with another skill covered later in the series, mindfulness, your entire life becomes a scanning process. Staying mindfully focused in the present keeps you in touch with your own thoughts and emotions, and aware of the interactions and relationships between yourself and other people. Understanding what makes people tick and why they think what they think is as important of a skill as understanding the larger forces operating within society.

    Why is it important?

    Well, if pattern recognition is a skill that leads to better decision making, environmental scanning is a process to help detect patterns. The world is becoming more fully interdependent, and it's not enough to only pay attention to one's own field or industry anymore. The more comprehensive an understanding you can get of the "big picture," the better position you'll be in to anticipate and adapt to change, keeping you or your organization competitive.
    Thu, Jul 1, 2010  Permanent link
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    Over the past few months, we've been discussing the various skills needed for effectively operating in a world characterized by information and accelerating change, and I've been assembling these ideas into a framework for a new thought architecture. This post will be the first in a 12 part series, and draws its influences from the fields of Futures Studies, Complexity Science, Systems Theory, Cybernetics, Social Network Analysis, Knowledge Management, common sense, and exploration into my own thinking.

    All of the skills I'll be covering are already in practice in our brains - it's just a matter of becoming more aware of them so we can sharpen them. I imagine them all happening concurrently and all reinforcing each other, creating constant feedback loops that raise consciousness and build intelligence. Though I'll be identifying 12 areas, they're mostly components of each other, so we'll see how we might expand or refine these as the series rolls out.

    - :: Pattern Recognition :: -

    The ability to spot existing or emerging patterns is one of the most (if not the most) critical skills in intelligent decision making, though we're mostly unaware that we do it all the time. Combining past experience, intuition, and common sense, the ability to recognize patterns gives us the ability to predict what will happen next with some degree of accuracy. The better able we are to predict what will happen, the more intelligent we become. So, you might say that the purpose of intelligence is prediction.

    Let's look at an example:

    Imagine you're driving home from work, and you have several different routes available to you. You may know that Route A will invariably get you stuck behind that school bus, Route B will put you in dead-stop traffic with the commuters just getting off the train, and Route C is furthest miles-wise, but will get you home fastest because of better traffic flow.

    You probably don't think these options through each time you go home, because it would be a waste of mental energy. You've already gone through the discovery process to know that Route C is best at a particular time of day on particular days of the week.

    A further extension of that example is the process of getting home once that optimal route is selected. If you're like me, you may have arrived home many times only to realize you have no conscious recollection of how you got there. Sure, you know you took Route C, but were you really thinking about each turn you made, or was your brain on "auto pilot?"

    Again, it wouldn't make sense for you to have to think about it each time. Instead, you're probably ambiently aware of your location, that you make a right where that big tree is, a left at the pizza shop, and another right once you pass Bob's house. Your brain is recognizing patterns in your environment.

    In the same way that pattern recognition works in the driving example, it's working every time your senses take in information. Whether it's something you see, hear, taste, touch, or smell, at the same moment as you are having the current experience, your brain is comparing it to things you already know, and seeing how it fits. If it has a reference point, your brain files it away as a correlation or similarity or tangent; if it's a novelty, your brain is challenged and will either construct a new model for understanding and processing this information, save it for later consideration, or simply reject and discard the information.

    (This next stage of the thinking process, of choosing how to integrate information and give it meaning, has been referred to as "sensemaking." Knowing which information to integrate and which to disregard is a skill in and of itself - as Shirky put it, "it's not information overload, it's filture failure." But this stage is also a place where many of us miss growth opportunities, because it is often easier to reject information we don't immediately understand rather than going through the effort of creating a new mental model. This makes me think of people who struggle with adapting to change or write off potentially insightful experiences as 'coincidences.' More on sensemaking later in the series.)

    The point is, there are strong and weak signals all around us, patterns, which indicate a change has happened, is happening, or has the potential to happen. Though there will still be wild cards and black swans - low-probability, high-impact events - the ability to anticipate and adapt to changing conditions in the environment are hallmarks of intelligent people and organizations.

    Though some research suggests that over 99.99% of the processing in the brain happens at a subconscious level, and is therefore beyond our "control," I've found that simply being aware of my thought process has improved my ability to recognize patterns. For me, mindfulness and metacognition (more skills in this series) have been powerful tools in helping to expand my cognitive capacity.

    takeaway

    So, I've described how I see pattern recognition operating at an individual level, but I'm even more interested in knowing how this applies to building collective intelligence. We've been exploring different ways of encouraging collaboration and mind-expansion within a networked environment, like with our Junto idea, and I'm curious to hear your thoughts on how identifying patterns might play a more significant role in the projects and initiatives we're building together.

    #

    Further Exploring

    Futures Studies
    Foresight
    Complex Adaptive Systems
    Noosphere
    Collective Intelligence
    Extended Mind
    Monica Anderson of Syntience, on Artificial Intuition

    Books

    Thinking about the Future
    Futuring: The Exploration of the Future
    Foundations of Futures Studies

    nautilis image from Designing better futures blog

    cross-posted from emergent by design
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    As the months have gone by, I've become more and more committed to the work I'm doing on this blog, and developing these ideas and relationships. It started as just a blog for ideas in October, and now has been my portal to the world for sharing my passion with others. Ideally, I would like to continue to do this as my career or life work. As the months have ticked by and graduation is visible on the horizon (December, woo!), I've begun to feel an apprehension about what's next. I don't want to have to "get a job" - (i.e. do work other people want me to do) - but instead continue to follow my passion and figure out a way to have a sustainable income while doing it. I'd like to think that what I do here - discussing the evolution of technology, communication, social dynamics, culture, business, and consciousness itself - is a valuable and worthy pursuit. From the constant positive feedback I receive here, it seems others would agree. So, based on these observations, and some helpful suggestions from people who advise and guide me, I have a proposal for a business model that I think could work for many of us who are committed to advancing humanity for a globally cooperative, collaborative society.

    Ever since my Future is Networks post, I've been thinking about how we can better identify our inner strengths/skills/abilities/gifts and then share them with others. I've been thinking about what "value" means, and how we can exchange this information with each other that could probably be described as tacit knowledge or wisdom, and how you could quantitatively define something that is inherently opaque. (i don't think you can, so i'm not going to bother trying anymore).

    All I have discovered so far is that the most effective means towards helping people along their path of self-discovery, or helping them redefine their mission statement for their life or their business, or constructing a vision for their future, or transcending past hang-ups and fear and illusions, is all through conversation. I posted my first recorded Conversation a few weeks back, and I've seen a tremendous response, both in the comments section, through personal emails and communications to me, and in writeups on other people's blogs. (i cross-posted two of them here - 6 Tips for Open Collaboration & Guidelines for Engaging in The Conversation). This leads me to believe there is value in these types of generative dialogues, in order for people to clarify their goals and intentions, establish plans and frameworks, and move forward with action.

    The conversation is also about creating a vision of the future. The future I am interested in manifesting is about cooperation, and if you read the writings of people like John Hagel, Umair Haque, Seth Godin, and other progressive thinkers, it's clear that this "Shift" is already underway in corporate culture. Those that want to stay in the game will have to choose to understand this shift and adapt their organization to it, or take responsibility for what will happen when the structure they operate within no longer fits the business environment.

    My understanding of these shifting dynamics is that they really begin within, at the individual level, with the ability to shift between multiple perspectives and adopt new ways of operating and seeing the world. This shift in mindset can then be shared with others, and slowly a shared vision is formed, and a new culture can emerge. The shift to a new culture is about redefining the operating system - internal and external. So it comes down to values, morals, ethics, principles, and trust. How do we want to live? How do we want to be? By what means do we want to earn wealth? How can we be successful without being exploitative? How can we live in accordance with our physical and social environments, with Nature and with society?

    These are all contents of "The Conversation."

    I've been thinking along these lines for a decade, and really working hard to refine my ideas more recently. I'm surrounding myself with a community of intellectuals that challenges my notions of reality, and so my own perspectives are constantly broadened. No one can predict the future or can know exactly what will happen, but I feel as qualified as the next person to discuss the kinds of values that would be necessary (or desirable) in order for a healthy global society to emerge.

    In the past weeks, my time has been getting shorter and tighter, as more people want to Junto with me or skype chat or gchat or communicate in some way. I love it, and am grateful that I seem to offer people something that is beneficial. Now, how can I make this my living?

    The Premise

    I have an ability to speak with clarity, describe things from multiple perspectives, add in some intuition and insight, and at least make you say "huh. i never thought of it that way." This is valuable for expanding consciousness and seeing a bigger picture, perhaps providing glimpses into opportunities that would otherwise have been invisible. So let's talk about it.

    I will reserve blocks of time every week where I will make myself available for 'The Conversation.' I'm thinking that 1 hour is probably a good upper limit time, as a lot of these ideas can be exhausting to work through mentally, and there needs to be time to digest and integrate them.

    The only conditions: With your permission, I would like to record and post these conversations, and do a writeup about the highlights and insights I gained from them, so that others can also learn by viewing them. (This again is part of the premise of Junto - when the platform is functioning at that capacity, all conversations will be recorded, timecoded, transcribed, and summarized, so that anyone can have access to the knowledge and wisdom that is shared through conversation.)

    The Payment

    I charge nothing, and here's why:

    There are two things that I have to offer: time and attention. Both of those, to me, are priceless. And so any money I receive is a gift.

    You donate what you feel the value of the conversation was FOR YOU. This is based on your judgement, and your means. So, if you can only afford to give $10, there is no shame in that, just as there is no pride in being about to afford $1,000.

    Paying It Forward

    Now, here's the beautiful part.

    Because I believe that a cooperative society involves gifting, I think a Pay It Forward system of wealth distribution is beneficial for the entire society.

    So, at any given time, I will choose a person that is on the path to empowerment - people who are serious about wanting to follow their passions, have identified what resources they would need to make it happen, and are willing to take the risk of going for it, even if it results in failure. (failure, in my mind = temporary setback, learning experience, opportunity for readjustment of methods for achieving goals).

    I will make the amounts of the donations I receive transparent (if the donor wishes to remain anonymous, I will respect that. otherwise I will list their name/organization). I'll then donate a percentage of each of those contributions to my Pay It Forward Person, and continue to help them financially until they have the basic resources they need to get their business going. Kind of like Kickstarter, but peer to peer. I would then only suggest that the person I have helped would eventually do something similar for the next person, once they are stable. They don't have to, of course, but that is how this chain of trust and resilience would grow.

    For me, the people I will choose to pay forward to will have to also be interested in a business proposition that is "for the greater good." For instance, the person I have chosen is a local friend, Dean. He is interested in developing a sustainable handmade furniture business. He has been in contact with local tree businesses, and is collecting wood that has already been felled, and is transforming it into unique pieces of art - from benches to end tables to chairs to custom pieces. He has identified a variety of tools and equipment he needs, the largest expensive being a portable sawmill that goes for nearly $12,000. We'll work towards that, but just helping get the other basics going, as well as a website and an education on how to use the web to highlight these products will be huge. And not only do I help a friend, but I also support the local economy by helping him help himself.

    Here's a pic of a sweet endtable he made for me to show what he's been up to. Love it!



    Modify The Model

    So, that's it. In its simplicity, I think this model has tremendous flexibility to be customized. There are many, many intelligent people who are Organizational Change Agents or work on personal development or coaching who could adapt this model for themselves. A part of this also blends beautifully with the ideas we've been discussing about growing our trust networks. When I am unavailable to have a discussion, I can have my list of trusted allies and colleagues whom I can recommend as an alternative to myself. We've also been toying with the idea of multiple participants as facilitators and participants of these conversations. So far, I've been speaking with Bernd Nurnberger (@CoCreatr) and Michael Gusek (@mgusek555) about the possibility of this, and we're still on the front end of exploring what this might look like. The more conversations we have, the better informed we'll be about what each of us has to offer, and what the most productive mix of people might be to have emergent, creative, innovative dialogues.

    Anyone who adopts this model can choose what their Pay It Forward part looks like. Maybe for you, it's not an individual, but an initiative. Maybe it's a local nonprofit. Whatever it is, is your choice, based on your values of what is important. I like the idea of empowering individuals, because I can directly see the impact. And how gratifying to know that you are doing something that has the potential to change the life of a person you care about?

    The percentage you offer is also your choice. 10%? 30%? 50%? Perhaps it varies based on each donation. Or maybe for you, the idea of a donation model is too risky, and you want to have at least a baseline charge for your time and services. I get it. Then do that. But pay some forward!

    This takes a leap of faith and some trust in the greater good, but I see genuine people all around me who are trying to create something better for themselves, and all they need is some resources and a support network. I offer both. I know many people who do also. I think this is one model that could quickly make significant change in the lives of people all around us, and I'd like to at least give it a shot. It's a form of wealth redistribution that works in tandem with the "old system," while creating opportunities for people who are ready to stop talking about what needs to change, and instead be the change they want to see.

    #

    Image designed by the awesome Gavin Keech!
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    I'm amplifying this intention from Gabriel Shalom's personal cargo. I can feel change upon the wind.......

    Manifesting Intention with Aesthetics



    There is a wonderful synchronicity beginning to emerge between the intentions of Space Collective, Palomar5 and Junto. All three of these projects are looking to create a space for collaboration, communication, evolution and positive energy. I am writing this down because I believe in the power of aesthetics to manifest action.
    Sun, Jun 6, 2010  Permanent link

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    Many of us have been inspired by the cooperation meme lately, and it appears that our collective spirit has given birth to Junto!

    In case you haven't been following along, Junto is a concept we've been discussing for a global communications and collaboration platform. It starts with a simple interface, combining video chat with a text box and a twitter backchannel, all streaming in public, real-time. It could be used for any number of projects or goals - organizations could use it for open innovation or to show how they are taking social responsibility in the world, groups with similar initaitives could use it for huge group discussions and meetings in order to accelerate the process of organizing and taking projects from idea to action, and individuals could use it to engage in dialogue and create shared meaning and shared understanding across geographic and cultural barriers. For more context, check out the original post here.

    The longer term goal is to build in a family of tools and functionality that will aid in thinking and development, such as:

    - live collaborative whiteboard
    - concept mapping, possibly linked with twitter in order to automatically send links to specific areas of a project
    - Junto video sessions to be time-coded and tagged for easy search and later reference
    - emotional/intuitive symbol language to express feelings around ideas and concepts
    - data visualization, heat-mapping and sounds linked to information to quickly visually & auditorily "get" a piece of information
    - tools for checking cognitive biases around information

    There are other high-level concepts floating out there, but I think these are the ones that are immediately being looked at. While these aspects are being explored, a trust-based profile structure is being created, which is intended for people to be able to express inherent strengths, values, skills, social connections, and where they can contribute within a process, so that we have the opportunity to reach out to one another, make a connection, and team up to get things done!

    And beyond that, it's for us to evolve as people. If you've followed along here over the months, I talk about getting back to the fundamentals of who we really are, about deep values, interconnection, social learning, building intelligence, and raising consciousness. It works for some by sitting in meditation alone on a mountaintop, but I think it also happens when we make connections with people who unexplainably resonate on our frequencies and pull us forward. It doesn't replace real life interaction - but the Web sure does allow us to make beautiful music together. ;)

    So here's a quick overview of where we're at and who's stepping forward so far:

    David Carroll (@aquarious) - [Location: NYC] - Manifestor

    Dave emailed me a few weeks ago, offering to help with prototyping the initial platform. We met up on Wednesday, and now, 2 days later, the first version of Junto "0.01" (ha) has emerged. Dirty prototype here:

    Junto  lobby: http://dave.parsons.edu/junto/

    We played with it a bit last night, and had nine people on video, and around 500 people who came in over the course of the evening to check it out. Here's a quick video of what it looked like. (We were having some audio issues, so everyone is being quiet, but essentially we have the initial components of video boxes, text box, and Twitter backchannel (which is offscreen).

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvf_UcpEoyw&hl=en_US&fs=1&]

    We're just using this as a "proof of concept" - we'd like to build the whole thing from scratch for the real version, so hopefully some developers will start getting interested in the project. (hint hint)

    Gavin Keech (@gavinkeech) - [Location: Adelaide, Australia] - UI & UX Designer

    Gavin has a very creative mind, and has come up with some interesting sketches and ideas about what the interface could look like, how it could function within a layered visual system, and how it ties in with the profile system. He's also helping us think about the bigger picture of what this platform will become after it goes beyond the Junto discussion platform. We're talking about calling it ebiidii - ebii for short.We realized that Junto is just the discussion... so what's the other thing that it's encapsulated by? We were trying to think of a word that describes the essence of cooperation, collaboration, manifestation, and intentional evolution, but so many times words are already laden with meanings and preconceived notions, so we wanted to create something new. We noticed how people have been shortening the name of this blog to E.B.D., hence ebiidii. Not only does the acronym describe what we want to be (Emergent by Design), but the letters seem to have a lot of symbolism in themselves. The 'e' could be for emergence, evolution, energy..... the b and d are like mirrors, representing how we can reflect ourselves to others, and how others are mirrors of ourselves, and the double ii's are like two groups meeting, but also the iiii gives a feeling of an echo, or a frequency, or a resonance. We thought that that was pretty cool, and it almost named itself. And the shortened version of 'ebii' is just so darn cute.

    Gunther Sonnenfeld (@goonth)  - [Location: Los Angeles, CA] - Change Catalyst

    Gunther and his colleagues are working on developing a platform to help local communities create infrastructure and affect change. Here's a bit from his site:
    Our partnership with CIF (The Canadian Institute for the Future) is leading us down a swift path towards a new dynamic publishing platform, designed to build infrastructure in local communities by way of transmedia development and a robust microfinancing engine. Basically, we’re hoping to re-engineer the storytelling process and make it profitable (and equitable) for entire groups of people. In our humble belief, participatory culture is something that must be empowered if we want to affect real change in the near and long term.

    We've also been talking about how a conversation platform could evolve to include a way for individuals and groups to reach out and help each other, via a virtual currency or microfinance implementation, so it seems of mutual benefit for us to co-create this platform. This was encouraging news, as this idea can manifest more quickly with access to their financial resources. We're also both aligned with the idea that this is to be an open source, publicly available platform for anyone to use and benefit from.

    Ishan Shapiro (@notthisbody) - Narrative Architect

    Ishan is an active member on SpaceCollective and recently attracted my attention with a project he's working on to develop an emotion/intuition-based symbol language, called "zoacodes." It builds on Ebon Fisher's work, and they're just on the front end of teaming up with designers and typographers to craft this new thing. We're not sure yet how everything fits, but it's unfolding. He's also been working on how reputation works in online spaces, and has been tracking that work in on Twine under 'Friendships in Hyperconnectivity.'

    Gabriel Shalom (@gabrielshalom) - [Location: Berlin] - Videomusician, Immediator, Transmedia Narrative Design

    Gabriel recently reached out to me after my 'Future is Networks' post, and has a lot of ideas about the future of open source video http://vimeo.com/6668034  and visual storytelling. As the discussion platform evolves, and video sessions can be recorded and parsed and tagged, we're hoping Gabe will share some insights into what that could look like.

    Michael Gusek (@mgusek555)  - [Location: San Raphael, CA] - Evolver

    Michael is working with Syntience, a company pioneering a holistic approach to understanding data, called Artificial Intuition. Once our platform is sufficiently developed, we're going to see how their software could accelerate our ability to make sense of information, connect with each other, and make ideas manifest.

    The other big thinkers that have been shaping these idea over the months are Bernd Nurnberger (@CoCreatr) [Location: Yokohama, Japan] ), Ned Kumar (@Nedkumar) [Location: US], Spiro Spiliadis (@spirospiliadis) [Location: Canada], Mark Frazier (@openworld) [Location: Virginia], Michael Josefowicz (@ToughLoveforX), Cole Tucker (@cole_tucker) [Location: North Hampton, MA], and Nuno Raphael Relvao (@UnfoldedOrigami) [Location: Coimbra, Portugal]. There are many more - this is a global effort, after all - but I'm going to stop here for now. Because this is a distributed effort, energy levels will rise and fall, people will come and go, and everyone will participate and contribute as long as it stays pure and fun. I'm going to just keep calm and collected and keep doing what I'm doing, and we'll see where things go from here. :)

    In case you're interested, here's the results of a brief survey I tweeted last week, just to gauge initial interest in this. We've also begun a Google Wave for collaboration until people decide that something else is more effective.

    I'm so excited to see how all these different groups and people across space and time are coming together around this shared vision of creating something that will better help us help ourselves.

    We don't know how it's going to unfold, but it is incredibly inspiring to see the interest mounting, and I'm eager to see more collaborators and participants getting involved!

    Next steps are to entice more developers and coders to build the infrastructure so that this system can emerge, and to begin experimenting with the look and functionality of this site so that it can be as simple, intuitive, and beautiful as possible so that the largest number of people can quickly benefit from using it.

    Onward & Upward!

    update: i wrote an open letter to Tim Berners-Lee to spark interest, but this applies to anyone who wants to get involved:

    Hi Tim,

    I wanted to let you know about a platform/infrastructure I am trying to inspire. This idea has been buzzing for months, but it finally came together in my head. Here's a quick post about it:

    Junto is Born!

    The Junto is just the conversation platform, but everything is built upon it. We launched the alpha prototype on Friday night, and without "advertising it", we had nine of us in there live on video, and about 500 people in the backchannel watching.

    People are already writing blog post reviews of it:

    Me, We, and Junto

    Playing with Junto

    I think this could be huge, but there needs to be a way to be certain it remains open source and free and distributed. There needs to be a new infrastructure built to distribute the bandwidth of the video streaming. I don't really understand the technical aspects of this, but there needs to be some kind of alternative internet structure to run this, but I see it. It starts with a 3D conversation interface, where we interact in a floating space similar to the look of the Virtual Choir, and the only components it needs is a live video stream of the people, data visualization (a la Pivot), a way to record the conversations, and an AI to parse and summarize the conversations so they're searchable.

    All the components already exist, we just have to put them together, and it needs to be a global cooperative effort.

    The interface is like a 3D landscape of conversations, with 2 people engaged in dialogue, and an "audience" (backchannel) of people around them listening in or taking turns to speak. The individual in the conversation has a view something like shown below. When the conversation itself is the focus, the 2 video boxes are center stage on screen. When a document or shared whiteboard or concept is the focus, the video boxes shift to the side, and the item of discussion becomes center stage. The entire platform is a concept/idea generation engine.



    Personal profiles are generated by the contents of your conversations and the people you're talking to. There is no ability or need for assertion - you are what you talk about and what you do and who you talk to. Profiles are data visualizations generated by your actions.

    There's more, but we're talking about a microfinance platform on top and a virtual currency system. This is disruptive.

    If you can help me, please contact me.

    Thanks,

    Venessa Miemis

    update: and here is a video calling for a source code repository to get this going

    Tue, Apr 20, 2010  Permanent link

    Sent to project: Polytopia
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