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At PopTech last week, I was fortunate to hear author Anthony Doerr reading his essay Butterflies on a wheel. Below is the recording. If you enjoy this, I encourage you to check out his website, read this piece and learn more about his writings.

The Awesome Foundation is a simple idea. We support people doing awesome things in the world. Every month we give out a $1,000 of our money to an idea we think is awesome and should be released upon the world.

Yes, but what do you think is awesome?
Awesomeness is more the product of a creator’s passion than the prospect of audience or profit. Awesome creations are novel and non-obvious, evoking surprise and delight. Invariably, something about them perfectly reflects the essence of the medium, moment, or method of creation. Awesome things inspire and attract.

Here's how we support more awesome:

  1. You apply by writing a few sentences about your awesome but unrealized idea. There are absolutely zero restrictions on who can apply and what sort of idea could win.
  2. If we like your idea, we give you $1000. Possibly in a brown paper bag.
  3. There are no strings attached or hoops you have to jump through. Of course, we hope you'll execute on your idea, but, you know, whatever.

Lots of people have been asking to find out more about the Awesome Foundation. Here's some background.

I recently had an enormous amount of fun working with Jesse Thorn from The Sound of Young America radio program putting together a panel for this year's Public Media Conference. Truth be told, he did all the hard work. I mostly adjusted microphones and fetched sandwiches. I can, however, take credit for helping come up with the original idea...

Most entrenched broadcasters are so good at doing what they do, they would never consider alternatives. Unfortunately, their methods attract a lackluster online audience because the traditional short-head approach aims to mostly please most everyone. To make things worse, they manage to tote along the baggage of bloated cost structures, plodding time-to-market, and a complete detachment from audience involvement.

This might have gone unnoticed if it weren't for several highly creative individuals who have figured out how to do things differently. They are using low cost tools, rapid-fire release schedules, free internet distribution, and an army of enthusiastic followers. Their creative products look nothing like what hits the mainstream - and this is often what makes them so compelling.

Listen in while Jesse talks with 43folders.com writer and podcaster Merlin Mann, Homestar Runner creators Mike and Matt Chapman (aka The Bros. Chaps), and Jeff Olsen, creative director for adultswim.com about the Internet, creativity, and, well, stuff.

Download this TSOYA episode (mp3)

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Ze Frank recently did an interview with Jesse Thorn as part of Sketchfest NYC where he spoke about how Colorwars 2008 was an experiment in trying to break the dominant metaphor of the web (23:00 mark). This sounds similar to Doc Searls' insight that when we frame the web as a space or a construction, it can limit what we do with it. Ze goes on to suggest that bringing companies and customers together under this new paradigm yields something new and meaningful. Again, this sounds very much like the idea behind Doc's VRM concept. It's likely no coincidence that these two ideas fit together.

Ze's quote from the interview:

What's holding the web back in some sort of way is a metaphor that people use for it, which is as a play space. You go to Flickr to look at your Flickr photos, but the real strength right now is real distribution of media. If you distribute media intensely and fully, then place can't really be the dominant metaphor anymore. This idea of creating play spaces that are mediated by personalities in some sort of way, that you can move fluidly and play a game inside Google street view and then move out to another space and things like that was an opportunity to play with breaking [the metaphor] down a little bit.

I'm really interested in getting brands – companies – involved directly in these kinds of games. To have the proximity of consumers and brands shrink a little bit. This is a capitalist society and we're not going to escape that relationship, and good citizenry comes out of that proximity. [For example] getting Jet Blue to sponsor a contest like this and also judge it and talk to people that are engaged in this kind of thing.

Full disclosure: This recording was for The Sound of Young America program, a program distributed by my parent company, PRI.

Keith HopperLast month I had the opportunity to play expert on a conference discussion panel along with the likes of Henry Jenkins (well, at least virtually).

Providing comic relief, I jammed a 1/2 hour presentation into 6 minutes. The thrust of my presentation was to ask that people first consider building online traffic and enagement before trying to implement monetization (is it OK to base a presentation on a pet peeve?). Oh, I snuck in some edge comments later that were a little less snarky. It was fun, and a big thanks to the Center for Social Media for giving me the opportunity to speak. Below is a writeup they did up on my contribution.

  • Download the audio of the entire panel discussion
  • Check out the complelte conference rundown

Keith Hopper, Product Manager at Public Interactive, advised media makers to focus on getting more online users and building user interaction—such as product downloads, references in blogs and social networks, and participation in online discussions. "User interaction is the new currency," he said, noting that Google and Yahoo give away most of their content for free in order to build users. "This buys you significant leverage with partners and underwriters," he said, adding that currently, "Most public media doesn’t have enough user interaction to monetize."

Ned Gulley and Karim R. Lakhani presented The Dynamics of Collaborative Innovation (description, audio/video) last week at the Berkman Luncheon series. I had previously recorded and blogged Karim's similar, less detailed Open Innovation presentation back in May for the Berkman@10 Conference. Karim and Ned have been measuring various aspects of collaborative innovation around a programming contest that seems ideally suited for this purpose. I suspect that few real-world environments have such a good built-in mechanism for objectively measuring the strength of innovative contributions.
 
I found their insights into the differences between novel, game-changing submissions and incremental improvements particularly interesting. Within this programming contest, each individual user submission is objectively measured for performance against a desired outcome (e.g. algorithmic best fit), and the current best performing code submission is highlighted for all to see. This structure may create a problem in that innovative new approaches often do not immediately yield the best result as compared to an incremental code improvement. The social reward of being highlighted as the current best may encourage incremental improvements over novel approaches, potentially having the overall innovation outcome stuck in a local max.
 
Assuming that introducing novel ideas increases the chance of an eventual best outcome, then innovation environments like this might benefit from better incentives to reward novelty. Additionally, this contest environment has no inherent mechanism for identifying novel and potentially useful knowledge. Ned and Karim highlighted a specific example where a novel, under-performing programmatic approach introduced early was eventually adopted later in a programming contest and provided the conceptual foundation for the winning and final submission. Had this novel approach been overlooked, it is unlikely that the winning code would have performed as well.
 
I would argue that incentives designed to encourage the introduction and eventual sharing of novel information would prove useful, especially considering our human tendency towards only exchanging shared knowledge and withholding unique (and potentially important) knowledge in many social circumstances. Cass Sunstein explores this hidden profiles phenomenon at length in his book Infotopia.

The social technology for non-profits superstar Beth Kanter asked on twitter today for thoughts around social process for wiki projects. While I think there's a distinct possibility she DM'd me by accident(she didn't), this did not stop me from responding. The response got long enough that I decided to blog it. Aside from the impulsive wikipedia edit, I have experience noodling on a couple different wikis. There always seems to be a lot of social process in wiki communities, but it's all organic and mostly undocumented. Keep in mind that WikipediaIsNotTypical. Here's a couple thoughts that pop to mind:

  • Biggest challenge, as with all social media projects, is getting participation. Social process, whether formally declared or emergent, should address this as the primary objective.
  • Mentor/guide program. I find the best wiki communities provide only initial documented guidance with lots of emphasis on 'be bold'. The critical period is the first few weeks that a noob pokes out of lurk and publicly expresses interest in contributing. At this point, it's hugely valuable to have a guide swoop in and attach themselves to this person for a bit... send them emails, be willing to publicly encourage and correct them where others shouldn't or won't, etc.
  • Agree on objectives. Revisit frequently. Lots of projects go awry here over subtleties in what people thought they were trying to accomplish.
  • Marry conversation with "page building". Media wiki isn't very good at conversation, but conversation is great for getting participation and working through theories - especially if you have a relatively small group. Both wikis I've been involved in spend a lot of time on trying to encourage effective page building through social process.
  • Probably the most documented topic on wikis that I hang around in is around how technology and design work in tandem with social process - how they reinforce each other - how good tools are simple but use affordances to leverage human social tendencies and behavior towards desired outcomes. E.g. point systems and leader boards.

Eric Von Hippel and Karim Lakhani spoke on "Democratized and Distributed Innovation" at the Berkman@10 conference last week and You can listen to the session here:

Von Hippel and Lakhani focused on internet-driven collaboration in user-led innovation communities. They point to some specific research examples including kite surfing, PostgreSQL, and the MATLAB collaborative programming contest

Over the last several years, these two (amongst others) have radically challenged the conventional thinking on who innovates and how it's done. Our understanding of the innovation process is at an interesting juncture, where open sharing and online collaboration has helped highlight the growth of user-led, community-driven solution design. This notion first gained popularity in 2005 when Von Hippel published a book on his research, inspiring me to first blog about democratizing innovation.

Description from Berkman:
Internet and the widespread availability of sophisticated digital design tools are radically changing best practice in product and service development. What was until recently a process concentrated within producer firms is now becoming democratized and widely distributed. This fundamental change has widespread consequences. What is the impact of these developments on innovation processes, business models, and government policies?

Berkman at 10Last night's "Food for Thought" dinner at the Berkman@10 conference was a real treat. It also could easily have become a game of who-coined-that-famous-term. Our group of 13 or so included Tim Wu (coined 'net neutrality'), Dave Weinberger ('small pieces loosely joined') and Doc Searls ('markets are conversations'). We tried to discuss the small, humble problem of 'how to save the Internet'. Considering the dinner immediately followed a 2-hour open bar and we were dining on a rowdy roof deck, it's a miracle we got through introductions. The big takeaway for me was learning of some great initiatives from JP Rangaswami, who is innovating British Telecom from the inside-out and Joshua Kauffman from REGIONAL, redesigning the tools of democracy around the world from the bottom-up. Finally, props to Cole Camplese from Penn State, who, aside from manging the digital download chaos of 100,000 students, clued me into how to how to tunnel out of university firewalls in order to get access to my SMTP services. Thanks, man.


Derek Hoffend, sound artist and teacher at Boston's School of the Museum of Fine Arts presented tonight at Boston's monthly Dorkbot get-together. He showcased video of four very cool art installations he created that can be found in his online portfolio.

Listen to his full presentation below. If you're following along at home, you might want to walk through his portfolio videos on his website.

Derek presented the following projects, in this order:

  • Untitled Arrangement for Steel and Feedback II
  • Vis(c)area
  • Haptigenic
  • ...and an outdoor project in Union Square that I can't find on his site.

Derek's projects allow participants to interact directly with his physical installations to produce and control manufactured, complex soundscapes. To create and manipulate sound, he uses a combination of transducers, mics, analog and digital circuits, and Max/MSP software (depending on the project). Above is a picture of his Haptigenic sound circuit, using pressure sensors connected to manipulatable latex sculptures to control a rich audio experience.

On Thursday, the MIT Center for Future Civic Media as part of the MIT Communications Forum and Civic Media Series hosted a talk between Yochai Benkler and Cass Sunstein, moderated by Henry Jenkins and entitled "Our World Digitized: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly."

The premise, of which I was skeptical, was to get Cass and Yochai to duke it out over whether internet participation was headed anywhere good. I was dubious of MIT staging a scholarly drama, but Benkler, Sunstein, and Jenkins have written three of the (arguably) most important recent works on the participatory internet, and for that fact alone, attendance was mandatory.

Many great arguments were articulated, all of which can be heard here.

Seeing as I get "the mention" about once a year, and usually by accident, I figured I’d strut out the fact that I got two (2) unsolicited plugs this week on not totally obscure media outlets.

The first was from none other than the Cluetrain man himself, Doc Searls. During a Newsgang podcast from Steve Gillmore with Steven Hill, and the Interim CEO of NPR, Dennis Haarsager, Doc mentioned our work together on Project VRM at the Berkman Center. The future of public broadcasting discussion that ensues is an interesting insider view and a worthwhile listen.

The next one was great fun and truly a historic moment in our little sphere of nerds-who-work-in-public-broadcasting. Thursday’s Up to Date call-in show on KCUR (Kansas City) was sagely dedicated to the future of Public Broadcasting and its interesting and evolving relationship with the web and social technology.

Rob Patterson, Andy Carvin, and Todd Mundt then spent the next hour trying their damnest to not talk constantly about Twitter (and pretty much failed). In a particularly self-referential moment, Andy mentioned that I was livetwittering a bunch of twittering broadcasters as they broadcast twitter's impact on broadcasting. I’m not sure that last sentence was grammatically correct or even remotely what Andy said, but whatever. Listen to it yourself.

I had the good fortune to hear Clay Shirky speak last night at Harvard Law School. The event was hosted by Harvard’s Berkman Center as a lead-up to their 10 year anniversary celebration. The event also coincided with the release of Clay’s new book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. Clay spent the majority of the discussion outlining the book. He began by pointing out that the book is not necessarily targeted to just the folks in the room (various flavors of webophile), but rather to a wider and more generalized audience. His argument for this was that "the web is no longer a decoration on society, but a challenge to it," meaning that usage and adoption of the Internet has become ubiquitious and integrated into how we do things to the level that for many of us, the Internet has become "the dashboard for our lives". So, theoretically, the book should have more universal readership.

I attempted to Twitter the presentation. I tried to capture his sound bites and cogent points, but Clay is a veritable font of wisdom and one-liners. I ended up with a serious case of twitterrhea. Below is a slightly cleaned up transcript of my tweats over the course of about an hour. Shirky direct quotes are in quotes. Everything else that isn’t labeled as my own thoughts [Ed:] can be attributed to Clay Shirky.

From Clay Shirky website: "If I had to describe what I write about, it would be "systems where vested interests lose out to innovation."

Historically, media innovations that allow two way communications produce active groups. Broadcast technology... not so good at this.

If Clay had to boil the book down to one bullet point = "Group Action Just Got Easier"

"Groups get complex faster than they get large" [Ed: i.e. the network effect, Reed’s Law, etc.]

The Internet acts as a prosthetic for existing group activity.

New social tools on the Internet make group connections ridiculously easy to form

Email was an afterthought of the Internet

"Reply all" was the Internet's first social feature

Curiously, once the technology gets boring, the social effects get interesting [Ed: by this, he means once the technology gets out of the way, becomes commonplace, and slides beneath the radar of awkward attention, then it becomes integrated into how we function as social creatures and the most interesting social effects of a technology begin to emerge]

"Me First Collaboration" = social effects that emerge from self-serving behavior, e.g. del.icio.us lets me store my bookmarks, but ultimately becomes useful to all [Ed: Or Google extracting social relevance from individually created links]

The annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade is an example where amateur photographers leveraged ad hoc online sharing (via flickr)

HDR photography as an example of using a flickr group to accelerate innovation through a community of practice (what used to take 8 years for a technology/process to emerge from lead users to professional process to documented practice to trade magazines to amateurs to shared understanding now takes weeks)

"every URL is a latent community"

"Sharing + conversation leaves a residue of instruction"

A comparison of a Buffy discussion board moving to a new platform is like a hermit crab changing its shell

Sharing -> Conversation -> Collaboration -> Collective Action are things that require increasing amounts of synchronization of group action.

"Thinking is for doing" [Ed: by this, he means that the purpose for human thought is so that we can then take action; quote attributed to someone I’ve forgotten] => "Publishing is for acting"

"Flashmobs are the Flagpole sitting of 2003"

"Nothing says dictatorship like arresting people for eating ice cream"

Ridiculously easy group-forming improves sharing, conversation, collaboration, and collective action

Behavioral economics states that social behavior online is more than just enlightened self-interest, for example, see the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultimatum_game ">ultimatum game and the self-defeating individual act of punishing defectors

Irrational individual behavior spent towards generating social cohesion cannot justifiably be explained away by enlightened self-interest

Social technology can be used for more than just good… case in point, YM magazine shutting down their discussion boards because pro-anorexic girls were swapping practical tips

What’s the future of investigative journalism and its impact on smaller cities that can’t afford newspapers who have historically played this role? "I don't yet see a way that blogs can create sustained observation that stops civic corruption"

There are no good examples of long-term collective action - institutionalization becomes a problem over time

What works with collective action right now [to stimulate participation and worldwide attention] are surprises... but they are a wasting asset

Where individuals change their behavior BECAUSE they're members of the group is the key definer of collective action

"Immersive games get us out of the hell of continuous partial attention"

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What's the smallest portion of a person's name that can be typed into Google before the Suggest feature returns their full name? To allow for meaningful analysis and comparison, I propose the Google Infamy Coefficient (GIC).

GIC = (# successive characters entered into Google Suggest before the full name is revealed) / (# characters in the full name)

The results on the way to my own name are graphed below (The GIC of Keith Hopper = .727). The most infamous Keiths appear to be Keith Richards and Keith Olberman, tying at GIC's of .23. Anyone know what name might have the lowest GIC? Blog props and bragging rights to anyone who figures it out and lets me know.

Hat tip to uber-geek Randall Munroe (.385) for the inspiration.

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