Campus Party Europe 2012 presentation: Scaling Social Innovation

Submitted by Jon on Fri, 08/24/2012 - 18:00

What follows are my speaking notes from my talk with on the role of open source models in scaling social change. You can see this, plus Ashoka Fellow Gregor Hackmack's presentation onhis own amazing scale, at .

A shallow alcove on the left.

Submitted by Jon on Fri, 06/08/2012 - 20:27

"The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound [...] would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard.[...] [T]hey could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live--did live, from habit that became instinct--in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized. [The] promising technology in a set-top box that can, “can distinguish who is watching, potentially allowing Intel to target advertising”. The technology could potentially identify if the viewer is an adult or a child, male or female, and so on, through interactive features and face recognition technology.

The product description on the left is from George Orwell's 1984's telescreen. On the right, we have Intel's ad-targeting, face-recognizing TV.

Speculative fiction nailed reality, but missed the target on who was doing the spying.

The title here is, of course, from a later passage:

ARRRR: More on Piracy and HBO

Submitted by Jon on Thu, 06/07/2012 - 21:54

The Atlantic has a solid follow up piece on the growing demand for HBO to play ball and sell access to their content independent of cable, focusing on three key points. Paraphrasing, (1) is that HBO probably receives much more than the premium-only fees for bundling with cable, (2) is that well, HBO is wholly owned in a vertically-integrated cable company, Time-Warner, and by allowing a disconnect, while it could potentially raise HBO's subscribers, would be a hit against parent T-W's cable empire. (3) reminds us that most content subscribers are still on cable. Well, for now.

I of course debunked some of this last week, here, (and larger parts of it 10 years ago in rants that have been lost to the dustbin of Internet history), but to specifically respond to this post, a few more salient points.

Actually, T-W is losing ~200 per month from me. They could reduce that margin by selling HBO access to me. I have a nice TV - it's hooked up to the internet, but not cable. There is no value for me in paying for a cable subscription, when I can access the few shows I'm interested in, usually, via iTunes or Netflix, which I happily pay money for. So (1) - Sorry, but you must play in the market - you must offer a price; merely saying it's too expensive is not acceptable.

Maddening Development Madlibs

Submitted by Jon on Mon, 06/04/2012 - 12:44

There is a set of tropes, if you will, in startup social-enterprise projects. You can almost imagine them as a set of madlibs to be filled out and magically transformed into a development project. While I'm getting tired of hearing these tropes rolled out as innovative new business models, clearly others have not yet gotten so worn out by them. I'd like to fix that, with this one-size-fits all madlib-style business plan builder.

Let's play! fill this list out:

1 Office or commercial space/building: ___________
2 Consumer good: ___________
3 Vulnerable population: ___________
4 Affluent neighborhood
5 Clothing item
6 Country where rich people live:
7 Your favorite MDG: ___________
8 Type of professional: ___________
9 "third world" country: ___________
10 Number between 1 and 10: ___________

Done? Great! Too lazy? I've automated the process for you.

Let's review your business plan...

On Piracy, Business Models, and Game of Thrones

Submitted by Jon on Sun, 06/03/2012 - 09:00

Over at FastCompany, Robert Levine writes that pirating Game of Thrones is a direct attack on this emerging genre of actually good TV shows, and those of us who would pirate it are simply being un-supportive of this business model:

The idea that HBO’s exclusivity amounts to an outrage seems silly, since it essentially amounts to commerce: If you want it, you have to pay for it. Obviously, HBO sets its own terms--it sells content by the month, not the episode--but so does every other company, in some way. Beer isn’t sold in five-packs. And, of course, Thrones is available on iTunes a year after it airs. (I waited to buy it and I’ve managed to lead a fulfilling life.)

Technology, Cost, Outcomes: The Open Source debate does matter in ICT4D

Submitted by Jon on Fri, 05/25/2012 - 07:39

The ICT_Works blog has come out swinging: Linux vs. Microsoft is the most useless debate in ICT4D

As would any sane-minded person after being subjected to a shouting match in Kyrgyzstan. And the core point is absolutely valid - when you're talking about educational outcomes, there is no effective difference:

Educators stressed that teachers already had extensive training on Windows software and would be confused, even lost, in the Linux environment. Students who learned Linux and LibreOffice would be at a disadvantage in the job marketplace as employers would only hire staff that are fluent in Microsoft applications. [...] All of the adults in the conference learned how to use computers back when Windows 98 was in vogue, some even started with Basic, yet no one complains they cannot use an iPhone, iPad, or even MacBook without training.

Exploring the Un-mappable: Bangkok Markets

Submitted by Jon on Sun, 03/18/2012 - 10:16

Bangkok by night

Bangkok is truly infinite in all directions.

We had just turned a corner from the nuts-and-bolts district into a more open-air-marketish area. According to our maps, this was indeed the "Thieves Market" - formerly where people would fence stolen goods, now more of a market of randomness in the heart of Bangkok's Chinatown.

We'd wandered through here earlier in the day by accident, and had had our fill of browsing powertools, pirated DVD porn, dollar-store items and kitchenware, so we peeked down a side alleyway that looked likely to go through to the next block over, in our general direction of onward wandering. On a whim, we took it (the joys of careless wandering that a good sense of direction and a local SIM card in a jailbroken iPhone afford you).

THIS was the real thieves market. We had stumbled into an invisible warren of narrow sois and passageways full of everything. From Playstations to cameras to knockoff tablets to boardgames and more, densely packed in a fractaline arrangement - a market in a market in a district full of markets in a city where everything (except a decent martini) seems to be for sale at a price -- the Bangkok Post classifieds, a surprisingly family-friendly section of the paper, still has large paid adverts for liposuction (600USD) and gender reassignment (1600USD). Package deals available.

This is Bangkok, where the downtown mega-mall shopping district got so frustrated with the street-side markets and 6-lane traffic jams slowing down foot-traffic between the office-building sized malls that they built above-ground sidewalks to link them together, as if the city itself were trying to scab over its street vendors and traffic congestion.

It's unmappable. Bangkok has a perfectly understandable system of neighborhoods, main streets and side streets that make navigation - once you grok the system - natural. WikiTravel explains this system the best:

Addresses in Bangkok use the Thai addressing system, which may be a little confusing to the uninitiated. Large roads such as Silom or Sukhumvit are thanon (ถนน), [...] while the side streets branching off from them are called soi (ซอย). Sois are numbered, with even numbers on one side and odd numbers on the other side. Thus, an address like "25 Sukhumvit Soi 3" means house/building number 25 on the 3rd soi of Sukhumvit Road. While the soi numbers on each side will always advance upward, the numbers often do not advance evenly between sides — for example, Soi 55 could be across from Soi 36. Many well-known sois have an additional name, which can be used instead of the number. Sukhumvit Soi 3 is also known as "Soi Nana Nuea", so the address above might thus also be expressed as "25 Soi Nana Nuea". The extension /x is used for new streets created between existing streets, as seen in Sukhumvit's soi pattern 7, 7/1, 7/2, 9, 11. Note that some short alleys are called trok (ตรอก) instead of soi.

To make things a little more complex, some large sois like Soi Ekkamai (Sukhumvit Soi 63) and Soi Ari (Phahonyothin Soi 7) have their own sois. In these cases, an address like "Ari Soi 3" means "the 3rd soi off Soi Ari", and you may even spot addresses like "68/2 Ekkamai Soi 4, Sukhumvit Road", meaning "2nd house beside house 68, in the 4th soi of Ekkamai, which is the 63rd soi of Sukhumvit". In many sois, the house numbers are not simply increasing, but may spread around.

Markets like the thieves market exist in a mix between sois, sub-sois, and a further maze of twisty little passages, all same-same, but different. This system has driven map-makers insane. Guidebooks like the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide have taken to a neighborhood, points-of-interest approach, which is great if you never stray from the path, but confusingly fails to include all the random side-streets, so "the first street on the left" may be very, very misleading. Google seems to be building a more comprehensive map overall, with anything that a two-wheeled vehicle could manage showing up -- but it's not complete, missing some of the better hidden or poorly mapped areas altogether. Open Street Maps is focusing so far on only the larger streets, missing huge swaths of the fractal nature of Bangkok.

The low cost of entry into these markets also mean that there is immense flux - a food stall may only be there a certain chunk of days out of the week, may move, or go out of business. It may have the best fried quail eggs in wanton wrappers in Bangkok, but good luck finding it reviewed at TripAdvisor.

But that misses the point, anyhow. In preparing for the trip, the guidebooks and websites both were failing at restaurant and shopping recommendations. That's because these are not really specific destinations in Thailand, but journeys that every traveler willing to venture out beyond their 5-star hotel or the backpacker ghetto must make on their own. Everyone will choose their own adventure - it will be perfect and unique and unrepeatable. And that, in this age of commoditized experiences and peer-reviewed restaurants, may actually be the most valuable part of a trip in Thailand.

Social Currency Unleashed: Bitcoin? (on FastCoExist)

Submitted by Jon on Mon, 02/06/2012 - 15:41

Here's one of our big ideas from last week's overview. I take the helm here and dive in to alternative currencies, like the crazy new kid on the block -- bitcoin.

Is bitcoin a key to unlocking social currency?

The earlier attempts all were centralized startups, each proposing a competing faux-currency to ease online (providing simplicity and improving trust) transactions and slowly build a virtual currency of sorts. Their business plans generally involved taking margins from the transactions or cost differentials. The early Internet currency attempts ran into regulatory problems (most countries frown upon private companies setting up alternate currencies, it turns out), and had to evolve their offerings to avoid getting shut out.

Bitcoin provides something different. Instead of a currency that has evolved from being backed by precious metals into fiat currencies, Bitcoin is backed by cryptographic algorithms, and has no company--or even an identifiable person--behind it. This shared system provides an amazing openness for a currency: Every transaction is part of a public, collaborative log. However, the people behind those transactions are known only by their account numbers, in a world where you can create as many accounts as you like.

Read the full article at Fast Co.Exist

The change economy

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 02/01/2012 - 09:04

Over at FastCoExist, my colleague and I are rolling out a series of big changes and ideas in economy - from bitcoin to DIY job creation to well-being, starting here:

(You can guess who's the primary author behind the bitcoin piece)

Against Appification

Submitted by Jon on Fri, 01/20/2012 - 09:28

Jail App

My wife and I bought a new TV for ourselves this holiday season. Well, to be more accurate, we bought a large monitor (which happens to be a TV) for our media computer. We long ago gave up on our local cable monopoly, so its use is split between digging through the increasingly meager offerings of online video rental services and watching a screensaver-ified flow of our travel favorite photos. Sometimes maybe using the live 2D->3D conversion thing. I never said we weren't both dorks.

That being said, the TV comes with, as most new TVs seem to, an app store. And it sucks. By gods, the offerings are horrible, the interface is via the clunkiest of all possible remotes, reminiscent more of an 80s-era cellular phone than a 21st century Internet-enabled TV control device. Once you manage to navigate into the app store, there are but a scant few useful apps and a smattering of crappy games and info apps.

Don't get me wrong - I'm excited about new form factors of devices, and computational power showing up in more devices - but give me a device that I can use and that is multifunctional at its heart. It may have a nice skin and intended purpose, but technology changes rapidly, and I don't want to churn through hardware devices at the speed of change in software.

Part of this is that companies must accept failure -- or at least change -- as a possibility. Your framework, support, upgrades and management of a walled garden app store may be fantastic, but what if you ditch your entire business unit? (HP, I'm looking at you).

Apple has provided a solid model of the benefits of the app path, but few companies can match Apple in their abilities to keep up with the store - and even then, it suffers from being a disneyfied (, tightly controlled and kid-friendly store. The Android market is certainly a bit more wild and wooley, but that creates a new foothold for innovation.

This disneyfication is unavoidable for any centralized store, since that centralization focuses responsibility on to the ones who make decisions about what goes in to the store and what stays out - which ends up being increasingly restrictive and eventually anti-competitive.

As Dave Winer points out at Scripting News, this is a classic cycle in technology over control ( This trope affects the continuum between being able to compile your own software to being able to download whatever software you like all the way to only having access to pre-approved app-store apps, but its influence also is seen in web services and consumer electronics.

There's a value to the app store model, as there's a value to Disneyland. You know everything is tailored, tweaked, padded and sanitized. If something goes wrong, it won't be your problem -- but the cost for this level of safety is freedom. Your iPhone works great, but just try to swap out its SIM card for an affordable local provider in another country, or, really, do anything that Apple hasn't approved of, despite if it would be useful or not to you. It's not called jailbreaking for nothing.


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