Archive for April, 2010

When it was recently announced I was leaving Ashoka most people assumed I had something specific lined up, that I would only make this announcement, this leap, if I knew exactly where I was landing, that I would land on my feet. But I don’t, and I feel okay about that.

Humans are hardwired to generally dislike uncertainty. We hold off on making decisions in the face of it, or avoid risky life choices all together, missing opportunities as we do. We have constructed complex religious mythologies around filling all possible uncertainty in the cosmos (repeatedly!).

I’m sure we all know or have known people who are unable to leave a job until they have another assured. Indeed I’ve known people who could not leave their partners until another came along, even if the passion had gone out of the relationship.

However this is not true for everyone. Amongst many other traits entrepreneurs have an unusual capacity for uncertainty. If you’re going to make a bet on the future, and your capacity to make that future, you’re going to risk being wrong. But taking that risk is the only way to create the future you desire, to live your dreams and make a difference.

For me I feel my life has taught me that it’s vital to commit myself to the path I wish to walk. If I had not been prepared to focus my time and energies into Vibewire, sacrificing the comforts of a proper paying job and, potentially, years of my life, neither it nor I would be where we are now. For years I never had more than a few months worth of funding to pay myself. Once it got down to two weeks reserves before new funds arrived. Uncertainty was a constant.

Now you certainly can’t do that forever. But going through times of uncertainty is usually (perhaps always) a necessary part of the most exciting and rewarding journeys. When we left Australia and came to America I didn’t have a job confirmed. I had some good leads but knew I had to be here to finalize them. I bet on my success and came over. And now I am prepared to do it again.

I also think it’s critical for organizations to accept the uncertainty that comes from trying new things. Especially when technology is involved I think an iterative approach to change, constantly tweaking and experimenting as you go, constantly being in beta, is the only sensible approach.

A blogger I admire, Sean Stannard-Stockton of Tactical Philanthropy, wrote about this in the context of philanthropy last year:

Humans don’t like to take risks. We are evolutionarily designed to be risk adverse. But good philanthropy, just like good investing, requires taking risks. Maybe a Zen approach to evaluation isn’t just a new age joke. Maybe accepting discomfort rather than trying to overcome it is the key to navigating uncertainty.

Having said all that I normally would not announce my departure from a job without another lined up. The reason I did so this time was more for Ashoka’s sake than mine. While we had been quietly looking for a possible successor for a couple of months I felt we needed to accelerate that process by announcing that we were looking. My job is the most outward-facing one in the entire organization and it is essential that there is continuity. As a result of the announcement we’ve had several strong applications and I’m hopeful of finding someone in time.

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I love online videos. This is a semi-regular column of my favourite recent finds, whether they are artistic, political or data visualizations. You can see the previous collection here.

COMBO: A collaborative animation

An incredible street art/video collaboration. It’s almost mind-blowing to think about how much work went into this, the animation is created by a sequence of graffiti artworks painted  inside an abandoned building. They have painted and re-painted and re-painted, a true example of the transient nature of street art, here captured by thousands of photos put together to create a wonderous and surreal animation.

NY gets Pixelated

A very cool video of space invaders and other early computer game characters invading New York City.

World Air Traffic Over a 24 Hour Period

An amazing data visualization of all airplane flights over earth in a 24 hour period. I love data visualizations – for the visual learners amongst us it can convey a huge amount of data (in this case, flight patterns) in a gorgeous and visually-stimulating format. Very sticky.

16 Deaths a Day

Given the recent deaths of 29 miners killed in a West Virginia coal mine disaster and, last week, another 11 workers being lost, presumed dead, after an offshore oil rig explosion, I wanted to share this important video from the ever-productive team at Brave New Films.

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It’s official: I’m moving on from Ashoka. Ashoka doesn’t usually promote specific roles but today we announced that we are looking for a new Social and Digital Marketing Manager.

I’ve had an amazing time building the social media program at Ashoka. During this time our Twitter account has gone from zero to 315,000 followers, we have run 12 Twitter #SocEntChat conversations, published 3 e-Books, live-streamed 7 Fellow presentations, launched a number of new blogs including our flagship Change InSight, developed a new template for Ashoka websites which foregrounds social content (which you can see piloted on the Ashoka USA site), crowdsourced an Everyone a Changemaker film, placed social media at the heart of our events and run numerous trainings for staff, Fellows, changemakers and students. Most importantly, social media has been adopted across the organization, by staff and programs.

It’s been an amazing experience and I’ve learned a great deal. Ashoka’s Everyone a Changemaker vision is one I believe in intensely and it has been an honour to represent this vision to our online communities, and to work with an incredible group of people.

So why am I leaving? Our two year visas are almost up and I will need to apply to get a new one whether I remain at Ashoka or not. K’s work with WineInc is strongly pointing us West, to San Franciso. When we moved to DC for my work I promised K that she could choose the next city we lived in. San Francisco is the right place for her to grow the business while also fostering her creative practice. For me the draw is the incredible local non-profit technology and start-up culture in the Bay Area, and the proximity of so many of the outdoor locations I most want to explore in the States: Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, the Sequoia Forests.

This all means we are looking for a passionate, energetic and entrepreneurial individual to take Ashoka’s social media and digital marketing program to the next level of reach and impact. If this sounds like you we’d love to hear from you. Go here to see the position description and here to apply.

My colleague Hayley from Ashoka’s People Team put a blog post up today on what Ashoka is looking for when hiring and I wanted to excerpt it here as it does a great job of explaining the unique nature of our approach:

Who is more important than what. At Ashoka, we are not typically looking to hire someone who can do a job. We are looking to hire someone who can re-define a job; taking it, the team, and the initiative to a higher level. That means that who you are and what you’ve been compelled to do is more important than your degrees, your work experience, and the metrics demonstrating your competence.

Our hiring criteria are clearly listed on that page. Let me take this blog-post space to explain the meaning of one of our most important criteria: entrepreneurship.  We describe it like this: Entrepreneurs are compelled to take creative initiative and ownership (e.g., founding an organization or company, starting a movement, or re-shaping the work of an existing organization). They demonstrate relentless and realistic how-to thinking and passion for seeing their ideas come to life.  That means not only that you have demonstrated social initiative, but that you have proven a willingness to see a few things:

·         Things must change.
·         Things can change.
·         You can be a part of change.

Entrepreneurs are not intimidated by the worlds’ ills, not defeated by the status quo. They intuitively realize that they, and others, can make change. Often solutions to the worst social ills are simple, but require changing systems, not just situations. Entrepreneurs know that. They aren’t afraid to think big, they can see how each tiny piece relates to the whole.

This may all sound like wishful thinking. Embedded in our prototype of the entrepreneur is ‘realistic and relentless how-to thinking.’ That means working within real-time, real limitations, and with real people to make change that affects not symptoms, but causes.

I am sad to leave Ashoka but also excited to once again not know exactly what I’ll be doing in three months time, when anything seems possible. I am having some very interesting conversations about some great opportunities and I hope something will be finalized within the next few weeks. I’m completely open to possibility in terms of my next role so long as it is fun, challenging and meaningful. I’m inspired by using technology to empower communities and individuals and share inspiring stories the world needs to hear. I want to continue to learn and grow and make a difference.

If you know of an opportunity that sounds like a good fit, I’d love to hear from you.

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Late last night I submitted the theme camp application for the More Carrot camp at this year’s Burning Man Festival. I wanted to share the heart of the application, where we are asked to describe our philosophy, goals and interactivity plans. We are an ambitious bunch this year and it was hard to fit all our ideas into the 5,000 characters (including spaces!) allowed.If you like the sound of the below please join our Facebook page.

Now it’s a waiting game, theme camps will be announced in early May.

More Carrot 2010:

More Carrot was the name a group from Australia and the UK chose as a
label for our projects at BM 08. The name refers to the nature of
incentives: you can use a carrot or a stick. We endorse the carrot
approach, providing encouragement and rewards for people to do their
best. But we also believe strongly in the importance of eating your
vegetables in the desert—not always an easy thing!

That first year we built a tower, ran 5 EL wire PacMan bikes around
and organized a mobile prom. We were part of Deadly Muppet, a crew
from San Francisco, who some Carrots had camped with in 04 and 06.

Last year More Carrot evolved into an independent camp within the
Oasis 47 theme camp village. We built another tower and a hookah
lounge with tapestries, cushions, and, of course, hookah. We also
hosted strip glow bocce and glow table tennis and ran a Chinese
restaurant (“The Dusty Prawn”) out on the playa in a dust storm. We
dressed up for the Billion Bunny March (as carrots, naturally) and had
a lot of fun.

For Burning Man 2010 More Carrot is taking the next step in our
evolution: a stand-alone theme camp.

More Carrot is a diverse and passionate group of people from 4
countries on 3 continents. We planned our camp around two elements:
Our name: More Carrot. And the theme: Metropolis: The Life of Cities.
We talked about the kind of city we want to live in, and,
specifically, given our name, the food culture of cities.

We realized what the Black Rock Metropolis needs: a farmer’s market!

Imagine: it’s 7 a.m. and you are wandering home from the outer playa
or on your way to an early yoga class and wafting smells of grilling
corn on the cob draw you over to a roadside stall bursting with a
cornucopia of beautiful produce, including bananas, pineapples,
melons, and (of course) carrots! You stroll up to the stall, where you
receive juicy slices of chilled fruits and a citrus carrot cocktail,
served by friendly people in farmers overalls.

Yes, at Burning Man 2010 we will host an early morning farmer’s
market. We will source produce from markets in Reno and Sparks the
weekend before Burning Man and have designed a cold-storage system
which will ensure we have delicious fruit to gift all week. We are
motivated by our belief that cities should promote the selling of
local produce direct to the public—and that this should be true in our
city, Black Rock City. We also know what an amazing gift fresh fruit
is on the playa, especially later in the week, and how food
facilitates connection and community.

The Black Rock Farmers Market will run from 7-9am Tue-Fri, functioning
as both our primary gift to the citizens of BRC and as an art project.
The early birds running the market will be in character and costume,
hamming it up for citizens of BRC.

Our camp will be fun, accessible, relaxing and attractive, featuring a
striking 20ft neon carrot (affixed to the front of our tower), carrot
lanterns and a chill-out lounge in a modest geodesic dome, with rugs
and cushions on the floor, flowing fabrics for walls, and DJs playing
funky and relaxing music. Alongside will be our games area, featuring
glow-in-the-dark bocce and table tennis, complemented by our main art
project ping|pong – a large 2D array of 16×16 tricolour LEDs in ping
pong balls, creating a 256 pixel array. ping|pong (inspired by the
amazing Cubatron art by Mark Lottor) will serve as the score board for
the table tennis and a screen for 2- and 4-player games of Pong. When
not in use it will display spectacular light patterns.

Last year, true to our name, we turned up to the Billion Bunny March
dressed as carrots. We were attempting to build a bridge to the bunny
community but were instead discriminated against and refused service
at the pre-party. This year we will provide an opportunity for carrots
such as ourselves to participate in the brand-new Countless Carrots
March! Countless Carrots will express the dignity and inherent worth
of carrots in the face of hurtful, persistent bunny prejudice. All
carrots will be invited to our camp for a pre-party, where we will
serve drinks and provide sign-making equipment. Then we’ll head out to
meet the bunnies on the playa.

Members of More Carrot will also be hosting several absurdist events,
including playa cricket, Sock Wrestling championships (complete with
announcers, theme tunes and shiny belts to be won), a surreal crew of
inefficient road repairers, and back-by-popular demand the roving
Dusty Prawn Restaurant, which serves the hungry and thirsty masses out
on the playa.

Love, More Carrot xx

Join the More Carrot Facebook page.

Watch the video we made of our adventure at Burning Man 2009.

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Cross-posted from the 4Change blog:

On March 18 the #4Change Twitter Chat took on the topic of ‘How Social Media Can Enhance Events.’ This topic seemed particularly apropos with the chat taking place immediately after the annual SXSW takeover of Twitter, and soon before the Non-profit Technology Conference and Skoll World Forum, two other conferences with an oversized online presence. Social media at events has also been on my mind recently with Ashoka hosting Tech4Society in Hyderabad India and the Ashoka Future Forum in Washington DC, both more social media-enabled than any previous Ashoka-organized events.

It is almost hard to imagine these days a significant event not having a social media component, whether this is simply individuals in the room tweeting or a resourced effort by the host. So the question is not, as it once was, “will social media be created?” but rather “will this social media enhance the event?”

As Christina Jordan posed in the pre-chat blog post, What’s the potential benefit of using social media to cover events? For whom?

Numerous benefits of a conscious strategy to utilize social media at events were suggested by chat participants including taking the stories and examples being shared to a wider (and more diverse) audience, allowing organizers and the cloud see what is resonating with attendees and creating a back-channel for attendees to interact and debate, as well as allowing those not in attendance to feed their points of view into this discussion. This can often allow people to say what isn’t being said out-loud in the room, as well as giving those unable to attend physically some sense of participating in and benefiting from the event. Social media can also assist with documentation, capturing key thoughts and currents during the day and allowing them to be looked back over afterwards. For the vast majority of events there will be no mainstream media coverage: only social media will carry and record the outcomes of these gatherings beyond the immediate attendees.

Concerns were also expressed however at the possible distraction and disruption at events, with TED pointed out as an example of an event that doesn’t allow tweeting during sessions.

So what are the key elements of a successful event social media strategy? 4 key elements were identified: Preparation; Resourcing; Aggregation and; Integration.

1. Preparation. Preparation, as with most things, is critical to get the maximum impact from your social media efforts. Tags should be identified and distributed to all participants beforehand, inviting them to take part in creating content on the day. Create groups for photos and videos to be shared and be careful to choose a twitter hashtag not already in use. If you’re doing live streaming test thoroughly. Prepare widgets for deployment.

2. Resourcing. It requires a dedicated person to effectively create social media at an event, whether they are live tweeting, live blogging or uploading video and photos. Multiple dedicated people will be required to do all of these things. Having at least one person exclusively focused on the online conversation allows multiple threads to be pulled together and background information identified. For example at the recent TEDxAshokaU event I was tweeting links to the profiles of the Ashoka Fellows as they spoke, providing crucial additional information to anyone intrigued by the quotes emanating from the room.

3. Aggregation. With most successful events generating a considerable volume of diverse social content aggregating this into one place where it can be easily accessed is critical. Most people felt that this was a job best done manually by a discerning staffer or volunteer (another resourcing issue). An example of this sort of aggregation is the Tech4Society coverage page, updated daily during the event with new blog posts and videos and containing a Twitter widget displaying the #tech4soc stream.

4. Integration. If you are integrating social media into the live event experience it needs to be seamless and well managed. Screens with running twitter streams can be very distracting to participants and presenters. On the other hand they can also provide a platform for sourcing questions, generating discussion or even choosing the agenda. If you are capturing video during the day can this be presented back to participants at the end of the day as a way of summarizing proceedings?

Video was touted as an increasingly important tool in all its forms: live streaming, rapidly-produced interviews and audience reactions and better-produced videos of presentations ala TED. It was also pointed out however that video poses particular bandwidth issues, making it inaccessible to view or event get online in many parts of the world. As a real-world example of this we were unable to upload videos as planned from Tech4Society in India due to bandwidth limitations.

At the end of the chat participants were asked for their takeaways, as is customary:
@Nidhi_C: takeaway: when planned, #socmedia can play role of a valuable audience participant, add spice to discussion, & connect
@liadavide: Takeaway: SM is a great tool but still has some way to go especially in areas with poor telecom infrastructure
@karitas: takeaway: if prepared/promoted right, SM can bring live/remote participants 2gether, & add fun/useful layers 2 experience.
@tashjudd: takeaway – social media has fundamentally changed who audience of an event can be, possibilities are much wider now
@christinasworld: my takeaway – preplanning of a #socialmedia strategy is really important
@amysampleward: takeaway: sm at events has 3 audiences: presenters, present audience, remote audience. create value in/out 4 all.

My takeaway? An event without a social media strategy is a wasted opportunity. Events now provide a platform much bigger than the event itself, allowing more people to participate in the conversation and experience elements of the content. While live experiences are unique and essential social media is a lever to push the impact of the event beyond those in attendance.

Additional resources:
Social Media Enabling Conferences: A Tech4Society Case Study (Netsquared)
A Few Reflections from SXSW Crowdsourcing Panel (Beth’s Blog)
3 Ways Live Events Help Online Communities (Mashable)
Social Reporters toolbox (Delicious)

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Recently our esteemed Regional Contact for the DC Burner Community, B, decided to organize a monthly get together called the Burner Salon. Each month a member of the community would be interviewed, talk-show style, in order to give us an insight into their life and work. There’s an amazing variety of people of all walks of life in the burner community and I love the effort so many people put into showcasing the talents and stories of our community.

I was honoured to be the featured guest at the third Burner Salon, after being nominated by the ever-supportive K. It was actually a lot of fun; I thought we had a great conversation, and those there seemed to enjoy it. I met some great people and got a chance to reflect on some aspects of my own journey.

The whole thing was filmed and is now online. So, to anyone who has ever wanted to hear me talk about myself for an hour, this is for you:

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