Making it Epic (alpha edition)

“If you’re not embarrassed when you ship your first version you waited too long.” ~ Matt Mullenweg

On Tuesday evening, James, Alan, and I linked arms, cringed a bit, and hit send. The first batch of invites to the Epic.io private alpha were out.

Already we’re learning a lot. As ’embarrassing’ as some of the things we see are, what we’re gaining from real-world usage is worth it. Feedback has been real and is helping us prioritize what needs attention most.

At the same time, the gulf between what we are tackling and what we are showing is huge. The messaging of Epic.io is, well, pretty epic. It’s big and bold and ambitious. It’s risky too. Is it setting the expectations too high? Does it create too much dissonance between the promise and the user experience? Maybe.

But I’d rather be bold and be out there. Vulnerable in our ambition. Inviting in our mission.

Purpose is at the heart of all initiative, organization, and systems. If we succeed in making purpose the platform we  succeed in making that reality actionable and useful to people every day. And that should bring less noise, more meaning, and ultimately, fulfilment of what matters to each of us in our work and in our lives.

Life is too short for bullshit. We don’t know where this will go, but we do know why we’re doing it. So if that resonates why not signup, see what it means for you, and tell us how it can make purpose the platform.

Let’s make it epic!

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Hunches on the evolution of scholarly publishing

As part of ChangeMedium I’ve been exploring ways to surface and accelerate research related to this emerging system of social technologies. The idea of creating a journal on the medium of change came up in our October event. What follows are some hunches about the evolution of academic publishing arising from that work. If you are involved or interested in this field, I’d love to get your reactions and perspectives

Background on research and academic publication.

Research is a disciplined process. It is the search for knowledge or any systematic investigation to establish facts. In support of that, academic publishing exists to enable the peer-review (meant to validate and improve the quality of research) and make the findings more broadly available. It began in earnest in the 17th century and served to help establish priority for researcher’s discoveries. Since then it continues to evolve, albeit slowly. Like many systems it is considered by many to be facing crisis and looking for a future empowered through the emerging system of social technologies.

Limitations on research resulting from the academic publication system.

Academic publication began in service of researchers and scholarly pursuit and gave birth to today’s scholarly journals. Those journals serve as a primary validation vehicle for research findings and so have come to hold substantial influence in the research community. In spite of original intentions however, that influence now appears to be creating some counterproductive limitations.

Restricted distribution.
Journals rely primarily on publishing fees and content revenues for their financial viability. This creates incentive to restrict researchers from publishing in other places and to limit availability of published content to those willing to pay. While financial viability is essential to any initiative this revenue model is counterproductive to the original aim of making the findings broadly available. While new revenue models have yet to establish themselves it is a necessity if that aim is to be fulfilled. Examples from other publishing sectors may provide clues as to potential models but will not necessarily meet the particular aims and needs of the research community.

Retardation of research.
Peer-review, a central aspect of many academic publications, requires the participation of several researchers actively engaged in the field of research. Where research is novel or part of an emergent domain, this may be particularly difficult. As pioneering researcher’s search for alternative pathways to establish their priority in the field such as personal blog and book publishing place even greater demands on their time making them less available or interested in participating. While it is an important component in the research process it also appears to retard the pursuit of novel research and emergent domains.

Discouragement of participation.
Because the process of scholarly pursuit is well documented, it could arguably be engaged in by any competent person willing to do so. The social and procedural dynamics of publication however appear unwelcoming to all but those dependent on publication for their careers. This would appear to limit the participation in scholarly publication to a small subset of those actually able to contribute.

Opportunities for evolution.

The emerging system of social technologies have an inherent capacity to facilitate participation and distribution. Their digital nature also affords extraordinary measurability. These attributes create several opportunities for the evolution of academic publishing in ways that could improve the quality of research, distribution of findings, scope and pace of scholarly pursuit, and breadth and experience of participation.

Measurement of influence and value.
Central to academic publishing is the validation of the research through peer-review and measures of influence such as citation tracking. Social technologies provide an opportunity to improve and expand on the measurement of both the influence and the value of published research to different communities. For example an article might be validated according to a scholarly grade generated by an editorial board, number of scholarly references, number of comments and average rating received on the publication site, and number of article references made across the whole of the web. These measurements could be further segmented according to specific categories such as peers and public providing additional relevance. Through these techniques researchers, publishers, and the public would gain a more robust and accurate reflection of a published work’s influence and value in the context that matters to them.

Peer-participation.
The capacity of social technologies to facilitate peer-participation could be leveraged throughout different phases and forms of research in many ways. For example, a system such as Uservoice could be used to identify potential research problems with the greatest interest. Multiple people could be engaged in fleshing out the most popular research problems, creating a resource of relevant existing research and information in wiki format. While experiments with peer-participation are already underway in the research, editing, and even peer-review phases these are but early experiments. As evidenced through the unpredictable rise of Wikipedia there is undoubtedly opportunity to go much further particularly in exploring individual phases and tasks of the research and publication process.

Parallel pursuit.
The digital publishing infrastructure coupled with the social and collaborative dynamics of the web could further encourage parallel private and public pursuit of specific research problems or topics. While researchers may choose to maintain a private and closed research approach their research problem could be made publicly available for parallel pursuit. Public findings and contributions could provide valuable material for the primary researcher’s activity. Enabling researcher’s to self-select their mode of research alongside parallel public participation could break the tension between approaches and accelerate innovation in the research publication process.

Invitation to experiment.

While the above are merely a set of hunches, from an entrepreneurial perspective they point to some interesting opportunities to experiment. While I welcome any interest in experiment regards to the journal on the medium of change, I would also love to hear of any other experiments planned or underway. Some particular areas of interest to me are:

Research influence and valuation tracking system.
Starting points for this investigation could include exploring opportunities to extend current peer-evaluation methods, identifying opportunities to expand and improve upon citation tracking, and finally opening a new category of public influence and valuation metrics.

Peer-participation opportunity map.
Starting points for this investigation could include exploring opportunities to employ existing tools and techniques in each of the primary tasks and phases of research and publication.

Publishing system specification.
Starting points for this investigation could include scoping a minimum viable system to support this evolution, followed by assessing applicability of existing tools such as Open Journal Systems from the Public Knowledge Project, and then proceding with agile development of the necessary features.

As our society quickens its pace of evolution, we would only benefit from a corresponding quickening in the evolution of research and its publication. While research isn’t my bag in life, I have come to recognize the powerful role it can play in society.

Other references:

Hiring a RoR developer!

I’m eager to get building and am hiring a developer. Think you might know anyone – please help spread the word.

Here’s the posting:

We are a team of social and tech sector entrepreneurs.
We’re launching a startup that builds apps for a better future, sooner.
We’re looking for a full-time Ruby on Rails developer with the chops to help make it happen.

What our RoR developer will do.
– work with us to build solid, scalable apps, that people love using,
– code brilliantly producing code that’s clean, elegant, and efficient,
– figure it out and get it done.

What we expect our RoR developer will bring:
– proven skills and expertise in RoR, real-time, social, web-based app development,
– a community of peeps they ask and help in solving problems,
– a history of building and being awesome.

What we think you would love about working with us:
– we do this to have fun, live well, and make the world better,
– we’re in this for the long haul, building stuff that sticks not fluff that fails,
– we know what we’re doing, have history that proves it, and we own our own bullshit.

Sound interesting? Think this might be you? Tell us why by sending us an email. We’ll respond to those who show they’ll bring what we need and have told us tell us why they’re interested.

Preference given to those we can meet in person but know we’re used to working virtually.

Deadline: Tuesday March 23rd, high noon.

Have any questions? Leave a comment below or ping me at michael at igniter dot com.

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Into 2010

Last year was a pivot for me. But while I’m entering with a new stance, my direction, my intention, remains.

Taking the high road.

To that, Ryan Coleman and I crafted this:

To have fun, live well, and make the world better by facilitating ambitious ventures.

Like last year, my focus rests on social technologies and how they are shifting our culture, disrupting and enabling the systems of our society, and changing the way in which we came together. ChangeMedium is the charitable expression of that, Shouldless is the commercial expression, and ProjectX is the ongoing work – re-inspired by the Vartana review – to develop tools and approaches to building those things.

In the fall of last year we launched ChangeMedium and our first events, explored the future of the web, and began experimenting with some approaches to facilitating ambitious ventures.

Looking back at last year, it’s clear I can’t predict what will come of the year ahead, but I am pretty sure the direction it will follow.

Thankfully it will be a journey of many. Without that, it wouldn’t be much fun.

Hopefully it will make the world better. Without that, it wouldn’t be worth doing.

Certainly it will be an adventure. Without that, it wouldn’t be much of anything.

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My 2009 in review

I was just writing an update to some great partners of mine and realized I needed to include a recap of 2009 for some context on what’s next. That of course reminded me that I’d yet to post one. So here goes.

Into the wild.
Into the Wild

2009 was a pivotal one for me – a year of transition. It was full of new adventures and an unexpected closure of an old one. 2009 started with a bunch of excitement and energy around the Social Venture Commons, VenTwits, and Thread.io. A group of us had come together and were sweating out an experiment in peer-producing some apps that we thought could help people come together and build a better world by using public micro-messaging. We had some encouraging feedback on the concepts but we missed the mark and didn’t get enough traction (users or funding). We had felt we were constantly 2 weeks ahead of ‘everyone else’ and when we took stock of what we felt we’d need to get to a viable venture, we just couldn’t do it with what we had. I had failed at guiding us through to a viable product and estimating what it would take to get us there.

At the same time, my past life in energy and finance rose up and I became engaged in designing a financing framework around what the Green Energy Act Alliance hoped would make Ontario North America’s leading jurisdiction for renewable energy (it did) and particularly community power. The Act was tabled in May which then prompted another engagement to help the CPFund plan for a transition to the new reality. That plan, if successful, stands to be a great example of social finance and turn the renewable energy finance sector on it’s head.

Closing out the summer, my social finance sojourn continued with the opportunity to co-lead a Canadian contingent to the Social Capital Markets conference. Next came the privilege of doing a review of Vartana – an ambitious project that aimed to change the way the charitable sector banked in Canada. And then things shifted.

On my birthday I learned that a company I founded was in discussions on being acquired. Those talks came to fruition in early October, and while not a big exit by many standards, for our lean life it was/is a big turning point. It meant taking a breath and taking stock. It meant getting ‘our house in order’. It meant saying thank-you to those who’ve supported me.

An adventurous chapter with an unexpected plot twist was over. Thankfully it’s part of a book that I love… one of those books I just can’t put down.

ChangeMedium – advancing the medium of change.

I’ve been a bit remiss in not posting this sooner. Thanks to @ryancoleman for pulling this overview together. You can of course learn more over at ChangeMedium and keep updated by joining the group. I’m enjoying the progress we’re making and looking forward to sharing more and welcoming others into the fold.

It’s Go Time >> ChangeMedium Toronto

It’s go time.

ChangeMedium Toronto is slated for October 24th at MaRS. What is it? Read more to find out. Want a hand in it? Leave a comment below.

What?
ChangeMedium is an initiative to provoke public micro-messaging as a medium for change. Public micro-messaging (e.g. Twitter) is emerging as the most accessible, participatory public medium in history. Bringing the open and emergent properties of the web to the global reach of text messaging is already showing great potential for public benefit. But we’ve only begun to understand what’s happening let alone build an infrastructure to make the most of this medium. Enter ChangeMedium Toronto.

ChangeMedium Toronto is an event to explore the frontiers, gather community, and make the medium. It will be a simple format with 2 tracks – one for researchers and one for hackers. We want to explore the frontiers. What is this medium about? We want to push ourselves further. What are the implications for change? We want to contribute to making it better. Let’s make it happen.

Why?
The pace of change is stunning. Researchers, hackers and makers are already involved in understanding and applying this medium. Whether for fun, profit, or benefit we’re creating this as we go. ChangeMedium Toronto is our inaugural effort to convene this community and introduce and provoke the potential for change.

Who?
ChangeMedium emerged out of the work of a group of people passionate about the world play with Twitter as a platform for change. The Toronto event itself was provoked by Frances Westley and Renjie Bitauld of SiG@Waterloo, Lisa Torjman and Allyson Hewitt of SiG@MaRS, Ryan Coleman, Peter Flaschner, and James Walker.

Of course we’re just beginning and what ends up will be a product of the community. Have an idea? Want to play a role? Want to know more? Leave a comment and get the ball rolling.

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Twitter and the emerging medium for change -> “What are you doing?”

Twitter is giving rise to the most accessible, participatory public medium in history. The implications for social change, innovation, and entrepreneurship are huge but hardly explored. In the coming paragraphs I explain what I see and call out to you, to all, to help surface what’s happening and understand how it can help us create the world we want. I care because we need change like never before. If that matters to you too, please read, comment, and share. Let’s see where this goes.

dawn flare

What’s going on with Twitter (now at over 32m users – up from just 1.6m a year ago) is the emergence of a new medium based on the public micro-message – the most accessible, participatory public medium in history.

Think about it. That’s huge.

It’s the potential for 4B people to post, read, and respond to each other. Neither TV, radio, telephone, email, or the web have the same potential in terms of accessibility and participation.

Enabled by its ‘micro’ (140 character) and ‘public’ attributes, the medium fosters a communications DNA that makes it a hotbed for interest-driven sharing, discovery, connections and spontaneous collaboration. Being micro, it is also SMS compatible making it work with the most distributed communication technology we have – the mobile phone.

Social change is about people, engagement, and systems. Already, examples in citizen journalism and fundraising demonstrate some of the unique potential for real-time communication and spontaneous collaboration.  #mumbai and #hudson, broke news and photos of the Mumbai terrorist attacks and the crash landing of a United Airlines flight on the hudson river well before any other media were able to report it. #daniela raised $16,000 for a needy family in less than a week.  And in less than 18 days, over a dozen people peer produced #hohoTO, a sold-out party for over 600 people that raised $25,000 and 2t of food for the Daily Bread Foodbank. Taking it further, reasearch is underway into how it Twitter changes how we respond to disasters and even politicians are embracing the transparency. If this is what be happening with 5, 10, 20 million users,  what’s possible when we’re dealing with 100m or a billion users around the world?

Is it utopia and the solution to all our problems? Of course not. But we are talking about a medium with core attributes that make it the more compatible with social change and innovation than any other. This is not about ‘tool or strategy’ this is about the birth of a medium – and its potential as a medium for change.

Already there are some great starts at the infrastructure (SMOB, FETHER, tr.im, rsscloud, laconi.ca etc), standards (TwitterData, MicroSyntax,etc.) and usage questions (Kanter, Bravo, Wikipedia, etc.). But we’re just starting to scratch the service. Getting to the roots of this and how we can use it to make change needs a focus on social change and a coordinated strategy. Key tracks for that are:

  • surfacing what’s already happening in terms of use, research, and potential for social change;
  • studying the impacts and implication of the medium on making change; and
  • encouraging systems and standards that optimize the medium for public benefit (more on that in my previous post).

So let’s get to it. This medium is here to stay and the potential for change making is profound. What have you seen? What do you think? “What are you doing?” Please do comment, share and let’s take this forward.

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The real-time web. Game on!

Popularized by Twitter, the public micro-messaging medium is leading to a major evolution of the web and society.

Twitter is just the beginning of this real-time internet – the simplest manifestation of this long term trend – that spells the end of communications and start of an interaction society. ~ Om Malik, What Twitter and Broadband Mean to Me.

The public micro-message medium represents the potential for a 4 billion person global message board, where anyone can share their interests, ideas, and actions real-time, and where every message can be seen, referenced, and responded to by anyone directly, person to person. This is nothing short of monumental.

What’s more is that people love it. It’s easy to do, nothing more than typing a short message, and can be done from anywhere via computer or mobile phone. This makes it real.

The result is streams of succinct, interest-driven messages that create relevant, real-time context around every account, topic, and object they reference… which effectively means anything and everything. With that comes an increasing expectation that the web will orient itself around each person, topic, or object based on it’s history and real-time context. Already for me, I  follow fewer blogs, spend less time in any single site, and instead find more of what’s interesting to me coming to me through real-time messages from the people and topical threads I follow. This reorientation is what is changing the web.

To me it’s clear that we are entering into the biggest transformation of the use and form of the web since it’s creation. This is not an incremental improvement but rather a fundamental evolution that requires a whole new set of applications, services and ways of interacting.

Cool.  So now what? For me, there are 2 things.  First, for the real-time web to reach its full potential we need a neutral, platform-independent application infrastructure and public dataset. Second, this will be the fastest evolution we’ve ever encountered and with that comes an unprecedented opportunity to seed a whole new wave game-changing ventures.

A neutral, platform-independent application infrastructure and public dataset.
Anyone who has built something on the Twitter API knows of the challenges and limitations. Processing real-time public micro-messaging data is a big challenge and one that is only going to get harder as more people and more services publish public micro-messages. This challenge could seriously stunt the growth of the real-time web and lead to a fractured future. What it calls for instead is a neutral, platform-independent foundation that hosts and provides the real-time dataset and a robust and reliable application infrastructure to build upon. Such an approach is also more compatible with the essence of the real-time web which is fundamentally a public resource created by people for public consumption. This is what we are working on through SVC.

Seeding a whole new wave of game-changing ventures.
It’s just beginning. Betaworks investments for example shape an early ecosystem of some of the most relevant ventures in this area and Collecta and maybe Ginx are two ventures that I think are getting right to the core of the real-time web. It’s also never been easier to launch a web service and with new application infrastructures it will only get easier. The key challenge, aside from the infrastructure issue, is being first to market  with applications that work with how the real-time web really works. I expect development, capital, and management talent are going to flock to the opportunity. Giving those resources a jump-start with proven prototypes of services that layer community and collaboration into the real-time web is a huge opportunity. This is what we’re working on through Shouldless Inc.

There’s never been a better time to start something and never been a better opportunity to change the game. Exciting times to say the least. Game on!

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Alpha, Beta… Public

In this world where web apps can be built, launched and iterated quickly we’re seeing more and more of the perpetual beta. Even most of googles apps carry the ‘beta’ tag long past when my usage experience seems to be bug free.

One side of me says, forget the distinction… of course it’s always beta… if it’s not it’s not evolving. Another side, says it’s about managing expectations, as in “Don’t throw things at your computer (or me) if this doesn’t work as you want it to.”

As we work onBy launching thread.io I’ve been pushed to figure out some sort of rationale for our ‘readiness status’. In trying to balance our desire to iterate rapidly in public and at the same time indicate what users can expect from the service, here’s what I think we’re going to go with:

  • Public Alpha: We’re got some minimum basics but are still working on our core tech and interface. We prefer ‘public’ so we’re opening it for experimentation by anyone who wants. Expect frequent #fail.
  • Beta: Here we’ll have developed our core tech and features and will be  working hard on scalability and prioritizing new features. Expect the occaisional #fail.

For sure we’ll be going live early. Earlier than I’ll probably be comfortable with but I keep finding that every time I push something to the public I get benefits that outweigh the costs. I wonder what’s ‘too early’ – I just hope we don’t find out.