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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

As Facebook is wont to do, they have added a new feature which has potential privacy ramifications.  The new feature shows up as groups and is initially difficult to distinguish from the existing groups feature.  However, it is structured differently, in that members of the group can tag their Facebook friends in order to add them to the group.  This is similar to how the notes feature of Facebook works.  The first reports I heard from the media about it were focused on how it could be misused for pranks and bullying.

I was recently added to a group for Madison Women’s Rugby alums.  With JMU’s Homecoming this weekend, the new groups feature came out just in time ….  this new Facebook group allowed word to spread very quickly about events for the weekend.  Our group is basically a latent network, with many people who are Facebook friends, but who may not have actually spoken to one another in years.  This new feature allowed the network to become active as rugby players from different graduating classes added their cohort to the group.  In just a couple of days the group has grown to 51 members and there are already three events with RSVPs being coordinated through this ad hoc group.

This is a great example of self organizing and I can see potential parallels to community response.  For example, if there is a sudden need for neighbors to organize (think snow storm for example), they could quickly form a group and have it grow organically.  The latent networks that already exist within communities could become active and organized using this new feature.

What do you think?  Could this new feature be beneficial to groups of volunteers or neighborhood members?  What concerns or barriers do you see for using this new feature?

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Right now there is an international dialogue going on online about service as a solution to challenges around the world.  This dialogue is hosted by IBM and it is called Service Jam.

The discussion platform that IBM provides is very intuitive and powerful.  You can move easily between following discussion threads as they unfold, to looking at themes emerging (in a tag cloud) and then clicking on a particular theme to see where the conversations around that theme are taking place.  In addition, you can choose to follow individual participants or to follow individual posts.  The site includes a page that acts as a personal dashboard in which your own contributions, as well as those you have chosen to follow, are organized.

So far, since the Jam started Sunday morning, there have been over 3,000 posts from over 8,000 people logging in.  Now what really surprised me was that I actually know several of the most active “jammers”.  One of the most prolific participants so far is Andrew Levy, who runs a blog about Citizen Corps and lives nearby.  Another jammer who has been featured on the “Hot Ideas” page almost the entire time, is Jessica Kirkwood, who runs the HandsOn Blog and handles social media for HandsOn Network.  Out of 8,000 participants from around the world, several of the ones who I am running into in the Jam are people who are already in my social network.  How does that happen?

One lesson in this example is that in a platform such as an online discussion forum, content matters.  Andrew and Jessica were both featured throughout the site because they were actively contributing new ideas and coming up with great questions to spark discussion.  In fact, when former President George H.W. Bush came into the room (online), who did he end up conversing with?  Andrew Levy.

These new ways of hosting dialogue allow different voices to be heard.  The former President’s posts get pulled up beside those of citizen leaders, because they are both contributing relevant experience and great questions for discussion.  I think this is a great example of how new technology can change the way we host the conversation.  What do you think?

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Radical Evolution book coverSchool’s back in session, which means I am hitting the books again.  This semester delivers up a strange mix of texts and I decide to start (while still in vacation in Vermont) with Radical Evolution by Joel Garreau.

I have to admit, I started off hating this book.  The author seemed to be trying to shock and awe in every paragraph without actually reflecting or challenging his own thinking.  Early on he also puts down the Virginia Square neighborhood (where my campus is), so I was annoyed at him on that front as well.

Anyways, once he got passed drawing the reader in with salacious examples, he actually got to a very interesting presentation of scenarios.  Scenario planning is a technique that we first read about in The Age of Heretics, and ever since reading about it, I have wanted to try it.  Garreau takes the assumption that “technology drives history” and this concept of the exponential rate of change of technology to posit three scenarios, Heaven, Hell, & Prevail.  As a  critical optimist (?), I saw prevail as the most likely scenario.  However, I overcame my disagreableness with the Hell scenario as Garreau explained that thinking about worst case scenarios is a helpful way to actually avoid worst case scenarios.  In the end this book raised many questions in my mind and answered almost none.  Hopefully I can come back and reflect on some of those questions on this blog.

For now, a few highlights from the book:

Quote about immortality from Francis Fukuyama, who sees this issue as a moral issue,

The deeper issue is, can people conceive of dying for a cause higher than themselves and their own f***ing little petty lives?

Quote from Bill Joy,

Scientists do not believe they can do their work if they have to consider consequences, but such free passes are no longer sensible in the age of self-replication.

Quote from Brown and Duiguid,

It is through planned, collective action that society forestalls expected consequences (such as Y2K) and responds to unexpected events (such as epidemics).

Quote from Jaron Zepel Lanier, who thinks that “the belief that a human is like a computer [is] the current repression”,

The very nature of oppression has always been to force people to live within the confines of some idea about what a person is.

Quote from Don Kash,

The great management issue in the world is not scarcity, it’s surplus.

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At the National Conference on Volunteering and Service this morning, Beth Kanter and Allison Fine introduced a new model for volunteer leader engagement (though that is not how they referred to it).  Kanter and Fine, in their new book, The Networked Nonprofit, describe a new phenomenon that has accompanied the rise of social media.  They coin the term “free agent” to describe social media savvy and socially minded folks who raise awareness, money, support, or elicit action on behalf of a cause or organization which they support.  These free agents are able to mobilize their networks using free tools for causes they care about.

With the rise of social media, there are new ways of connecting to each other and new ways for individuals to demonstrate leadership.  Social media savvy, well connected folks can leverage their online networks to support a cause that they are passionate about.  Or, as in network weaving, individuals can play a critical role within their social network by connecting people and ideas to generate new partnerships and action towards social change.  In the first example, which Beth Kanter and Allison Fine refer to as “Free Agents”, the individual is often front and center.  He makes a commitment, speaks out about his cause, or even pledges to ride naked (almost!) in the DC area if his connections will follow him in his effort. (see video for a great example)

Most of the time the individual is moved to act, but may or may not have extensive knowledge of the cause or solution he is trying to help.  I see the growth of free agents as a push back against the professionalization of the service movement.

How do these free agents fit into the overall picture of the service movement?

Are free agents the volunteer leaders of the future?  How do nonprofits embrace free agents while also continuing to create more structured opportunities for volunteer leadership?

How does the connection someone has with their online networks affect their relationship to local in person networks?

References:

Network Weaving, http://www.networkweaver.blogspot.com/ June Holley

The Networked Nonproft, Beth Kanter & Allison Fine

The Networked Nonprofit session, National Conference on Volunteering and Service

Nonprofit Network Building, Case Foundation

The End of Nonprofits as we know it session, National Conference on Volunteering and Service

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In my Leadership class, a couple of my classmates presented on leadership in virtual work environments.  They showed the video below and one excerpt caught my attention … watch the first minute to see what I mean.

This IBM employee works virtually from the Fire station where he is a regular volunteer.  Genius!!  As more and more companies and government agencies go completely virtual, this may open up a whole host of possibilities for volunteers.  In fact, one concern I have heard of potential virtual workers is that they would prefer to have an office setting or be around other people when they work.  What if a small nonprofit could supply the desk space in exchange for a regular commitment of volunteer time.  This could be a very symbiotic relationship.

One example… an IBM employee that has great technical knowledge works from the offices of a small nonprofit in exchange for “on call” hours in which they make themselves available for technical assistance or training.  As long as the employee is doing project based work that is very flexible, it should work out well.

What do you think?  Could you envision scenarios in which a virtual worker could volunteer in a new way?

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Yesterday, I attended the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival on the National Mall.  On the metro ride there I happened to be reading Beth Kanter and Allison Fine’s new book, The Networked Nonprofit.  In fact, I was reading the vignette about the Smithsonian and how since 2008, under the direction of President G. Wayne Clough they have moved toward becoming a transparent organization and embracing new media.  Well, it is one thing to read it in a book and quite another to see that new direction with your own eyes as I did when I reached the Mall.

This year, the Smithsonian decided to devote one section of the festival to “Smithsonian Inside Out”, in which many different departments were represented with staff, volunteers, and displays to educate the public about the inner workings of this institution.  I was surprised by the diversity of what was on display and the enthusiasm of the staff and volunteers who represented SI.  In general the displays were demonstrating the great things that SI is doing, but the staff and volunteers that were on hand were also being authentic in answering tougher questions about the institutions past and more controversial issues such as exhibits on indigenous cultures being housed within the Natural History Museum.

A surprising highlight for me was a staff member from the Facilities division showing different faux finishing techniques that he uses on the walls and interiors of Smithsonian buildings.  He was so enthusiastic as he explained that the type of bag that carries onions can be used to create a snake-skin like finish!  It was great to see facilities staff being represented alongside world renowned Ph.D’s (like the entomologist in the next tent over).

Panda CrateAnother great show-and-tell was the hippo crate.  Recently the National Zoo (part of the Smithsonian) had to move their hippo to make room for an expanded elephant space.  I remember there being some hubbub surrounding the move and concern about the hippo.  What better way to be transparent than to have the actual hippo crate on hand for members of the public to walk inside and ask questions about.

The institution’s move towards new media was also on display in the Exhibits tent.  In an interesting experiment with crowd sourcing, the Smithsonian is hosting a game by which members of the public take pictures of Smithsonian buildings and then upload them to Photo City to create a 3D rendering.  You can see the details here: http://photocitygame.com/smithsonian/

There was a staff member demonstrating how the game worked and I mentioned Extraordinaries to him as a possibility for future crowd sourcing projects.  He mentioned that if they were able to do more photo imaging projects like this one, the 3D renderings could be made available on their website for visitors and researchers alike who were not able to view them in person.

I hope that the Smithsonian Institution continues in this direction towards becoming a Networked Nonprofit.  If you know of other examples of projects they are doing in this space I would love to hear about them.

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Yesterday I had the honor of being part of the social media for social good fair at NCVS.  We gathered around small tables to discuss various aspects of social media.  My topic was “8 Signs your organization is doomed to fail on Facebook”.  You can access my presentation here: Facebook_201 or online at: http://bit.ly/NCVSFB201.

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