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.

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.

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.

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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“I am not a tool” – Twitter’s inflection of web and society.

Points of inflection.
Image via Wikipedia

Update (090811-20:51ET): The end felt incomplete – some more detail added.

I’ve been getting some questions about how public micro-messaging is different than other social media. Why is it not just another tool?

While the flip answer of “well it’s public and micro and that’s the difference” is correct what is more elusive is how that is changing things – an inflection in the web – and society.

So let’s start with ‘micro’. Micro is about sms – the reach of sms means every mobile phone on the planet – or about 4 billion potential contributors. Being on a mobile phone also allows for real-time publishing from almost anywhere. Micro also makes it easy to publish – with the least time commitment or audience expectation of any form of publishing there is.

With public though we get to the real shift. When publishing a micro-message you’re publishing it to… well no-one and yet everyone as anyone can read it. This has been a big part of the rise of blogging effectively bridges the power of the web with the reach of mobile.

Together, these features then encourage a unique form of publishing that is:

  • spontaneous
  • interest-driven
  • succinct
  • frequent
  • anytime-anywhere.

As people publish through this medium they create an often uniquely authentic public expression of who they are, what they are doing and what they are interested in. To this we add the ability to reference another account, link, or topic in the public micro-message itself.

In the case of accounts, this allows for 1-1 conversation, in the case of topics it allows for many to many conversation, and in the case of links creates a dynamic layer of context around the link itself – a thread of free, interest driven public expression. In isolation these things are not so novel, but when we recognize them as a public collective we start seeing some new patterns emerging that point to a new use and form of the web.

These interconnected messages offer new interest-driven pathways for discovery that are constantly evolving. It’s a map of consciousness of sorts – based on spontaneous human interest. These pathways seamlessly weave between accounts, sites, and topics. While those new pathways are an easy invitation to get lost for some, they are definitely changing how public micro-messaging users experience the web. Some examples are:

  • primary source for notification of current events
  • primary source for new links of interest
  • channel for relevant new connections to people and initiatives
  • opportunities for new collaborations

Clearly this isn’t just a new tool.

It is instead:

  • a new multi-facted, layer of personal public expression
  • changing how we receive information
  • opening new pathways for discovery
  • lubricating trust and relationship

… which in turn is:

  • opening us up as individuals and society to the new and the now in ways we’ve never had
  • fostering new connections and collaboration
  • making the web more relevant to us than ever before.

And in the end it’s just  the most simple, human, public expression we have. Who would have thought there could be so much in so little?

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Framing our future: SoCap09

socap09_150px_wI’m looking forward to this year’s Social Capital Markets conference. Last year I came way with a sense of a movement – a long term movement that was working with the balance of social and financial objectives in service of a better world for all. I’m sure this year will do much of the same – bringing the best of the movement together to share their progress and inspire those who are looking to explore ‘the intersection of money and meaning’. If you are interested in this space, it’s the place to be.

This year though, I’m going with a more ambitious agenda. Jessica Margolin hit on something in her SoCap09 post – encapsulated in these 2 quotes:

“For me, the debate question was upside-down. It should be: How can we maximize financial returns given our drive to maximize social returns.”

“The question isn’t how to fit what we love into the structure of our money-making, the question is how to be productive given our need to engage with our lives.”

Since the last conference we’ve seen the depths of shifts underway in the financial system come along with continuing instability in our political and ecological systems. If we weren’t clear last year the core systems of our society are in transition. And since last year’s conference, we’ve seen the birth of the most accessible, participatory medium in history and the start of what Om Malik calls an interaction society. While it’s great to see people working on shifting our existing institutions and systems, we’re coming to this conference with a capacity for reinvention unlike any time in history.

The opportunity to me in this gathering is to create a space for a new conversation… a sub-track for folks interested in hacking new systems that support a civilization founded on the answer to more human questions than how do we maximize production.

This week’s #SoCap09 twitter chat should help kick that off. We’ll be looking into the question of how is social media changing change? I’m curious to see what threads emerge and what we can take into the conversation at the conference.

The game is changing more than we realize and in ways we don’t yet understand… so let’s ask some questions… let’s hack some solutions… let’s get to it.

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Remediating the web for action.

10mm graded crushed rock or aggregate, for use...
Image via Wikipedia

We’ve become inundated with destinations, places to go, placess to post, places to read and place to make change… and the effort of aggregators seem largely only to have added another destination. And every destination seems to want us to have a conversation there. Well that’s not really working either because there are just too many places asking us for conversation.

Twitter however seems to be changing the game – for the first time enabling many to actually reduce the number of sources they monitor for information and the number of destinations they post at. And it’s also a universal place to have a conversation because the conversation doesn’t happen in a destination, it happens in public, wherever people happen to be.

Couple this with a movement to open data sets, like the Social Actions API, and I believe we are beginning to see a remediation of the great disintermediator that is the web.

Sticking with ‘social actions’ for a minute, here’s what I’d love to see.

  1. A data set of things I can do to make a positive social impact or help those trying to do the same. This is an aggregation of the stuff I can actually do on all these destinations.
  2. Associate every action with a micro-url that is branded to indicate it the url links to a social action. Urls are the universal element of the web. A branded url gives me an idea of what to expect is behind that link.
  3. When I click on a that micro-url take me to the source, and offer up the context I need to evaluate the action through a header bar in the page itself (like hootsuite etc.). What I want to know are things like what is being said about the link generally, by my friends, and what it is related to. Give me the context quickly but do it in a way that doesn’t take me away from the source.
  4. For the sources of actions, don’t make me have to come to your site to contribute to the discussion. Enable the discussion in the community (e.g. org, issue, and action related threads) and showcase that discussion on your site around the action or issue you are engaging on.

So for example, here’s what could have happened with #iranelections.

As the issue showed up, organizations for the whom the topic was mission relevant could have started tweeting, and spawned a widget on their site that displayed a filtered stream of #iranelection – posts from their prefered sources. If they wanted to spawn a related conversation they could then have created a new hashtag (or #iranelections.sub or !sub – or some other hash tag variant). If they had specific actions related to the cause they could have put them in the open data set and let them out in the #iranelection stream under a micro-url that is recognized as a social action link whether the organization was known or not. Someone following #iranelections could then have concentrated on actionable items coming through the stream, clicked on any that seemed interesting, and immediately been taken to where they can do something to make a difference with the context necessary to decide, quickly, if they wanted to take action.

Bottom-line, this would help surface actionable responses to any issue, make it easier for people to vet those actions on the fly, and increase speed and depth of actions taken on any issue. Interestingly, the pieces are mostly there, we just haven’t connected them. I love the idea of or as micro-urls for social action. SocialActions and more recently AllforGood have launched social action datasets and API’s. And finally some SocialActions developers have created some base code for a header bar. Even the engines to filter, embed, and even enable new hashtags exists and what doesn’t isn’t particularly hard to create.

If we got this right, I’d love to see how it could help things happen both in response to the crises that flare and the core issues that persist.

Think this would work? Have ideas to make it better? Doing something about it? Leave a note in comments. Maybe there’s a community out there that can stitch this together.

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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,, rsscloud, 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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Free the Fail Whale!

I think it’s time to “pull a VISA” and free the Fail Whale.

Back in the early days of credit cards, the banks were facing competitive and processing challenges. A number of them came together create this thing called VISA – an idea to develop and provide common standards and processing infrastructure for their competing cards. Well I think it’s time to do it again for this thing called public micro-messaging. Here’s why.

With 3000% year over year growth, it’s no question that Twitter is here to stay. It’s also increasingly clear that what’s behind the phenomenon is something bigger… as Om Malik observed back on April 14th, 2009:

“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.”

What’s going on here is the emergence of a new medium based on the public micro-message (PMM) – the most accessible, interactive public medium in our history.

Sounds pretty nifty, doesn’t it? Well, here’s the catch. Every message posted is a public object that may be called upon at any time. Combined with the rapid increase in number of users, the number of posts per user, and the number of services publishing PMMs, PMM services and application developers face a massive data processing challenge. Already, Twitter struggles to provide a stable application infrastructure and user experience despite prominent venture capital backing and technical investment.

This is just the beginning. Dave Winer puts forward a good case of why there will be many more Twitters – and Dave’s a smart guy, so what happens when we have 10 more services and 100 times the activity? Not only does the data processing challenge grow but we run headfirst into issues of disconnected silos of public micro-messages and limited interoperability. Finally, the total reach of the medium is directly affected by global SMS interoperability which is currently a costly and cumbersome country by country issue.

Unaddressed, these issues will undoubtedly limit the value that can be realized from this medium. And that helps no one. So now what?

It’s time to pull a VISA.

Responding to these challenges requires a universal system, standards, and SMS gateway for public micro-messages – in other words a network-grade infrastructure. The core of this system could operate as a layer below Twitter acting as a scalable, interoperable PMM processing infrastructure connecting PMM services and facilitating real-time access to an aggregated PMM data-set. It could operate as an infrastructure to PMM services upon which they can build robust and scalable services and enable an ecosystem of applications. In my view it would have to: enable a vibrant ecosystem of PMM services and applications, provide unrestricted access to the aggregated PMM data-set, ensure authors have access to and control over their prior messages, be scalable to the global population, and be optimized for public benefit.

This might sound ambitions but I believe it entirely possible. Whether through leveraging some existing technologies like XMPP, Hadoop, and or attracting some of the worlds top developers from the telecom or financial exchange markets to create a new infrastructure – it is a shared, soluble problem that unlocks enormous opportunity.

So what’s next?

I’ve been making some forays into making this happen and think it’s something that can be tackled by scoping and exploring the 3 components of the solution (system, standards, SMS gateway) and getting the key players in a room together to create the thing they all need to make the most of the medium. Players like Twitter,, Google, World Wide Web Foundation, and the mobile industry and others have a very real interest in seeing this happen. How could it not be worth giving it a try?

And just think, if we do this, Twitter could finally retire their faithful Fail Whale. I for one would like to set it free. What about you?

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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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Reconfiguring my presence and channels.

I’ve been unsubscribing from email subscriptions like crazy lately and have just been prompted to review my online profiles in prep for the launch of http://thread.IO.

I used to want product/org updates to come to me… ones that I had requested. That seems to be changing though. I’m shifting to reliance on curation and synchronicity like never before. That means relying on Twitter, Friendfeed, Tumblr and direct notices from real people who know me to find out what’s going on. It marks my trust that what needs to, will find me. This is big. And I think it’s a reflection of how the social web is fundamentally changing us. I don’t want new destinations I want humanly pre-filtered inputs.

In terms of profiles, I’m also finding myself less drawn to define myself by the companies/projects I’m affiliated. I seem to be trying to express who I am and am more comfortable letting the companies/projects just surface in the content. My sense is that this also relates to the gig economy where we are increasingly people who do stuff rather than people being a part of stuff that happens.

Which leads me to my final ramble… how I use this blog is changing. I will be doing more unfinished thoughts and posts as they happen. I have also been more actively on my tumblog which is more about sharing what I encounter throughout my day (my curated content).  And finally if you want a firehose of my content you can check out my FriendFeed which grabs all the contributions I make in this social web. As I play with these things, and can find the time or help, I’ll be updating this blog to bring it together in a cleaner way.

Feels like this is a transition to a new way of being. Something that’s been coming, but has just become more practical. The transition will be messy but it’s a great time for ideas and experimentation too.

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Researching Twitter Magic

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

Whether you love it, hate it or otherwise, there is something unique enabled through Twitter. I think there is something interesting and potentially powerful happening and seem to have ranted well enough to get the interest of Dr. Frances Westley, co-author of Getting to Maybe – How the World is Changed, a member of Social Innovation Generation, and the Chair of Social Innovation at University of Waterloo. Frances asked me to articulate my hunches from which we’ll see what might be the most interesting research questions that someone from her team could dig in to.

Though this post, I’m hoping to refine my hunches and maybe provoke some more conversation in the comments.  The more we can feed into researchers like Frances the better.  It’s all part of helping us and others make better use of Twitter, spread the innovation, and realize the benefits.

My Hunches on Twitter Magic

1. The following features are the key enablers:

  • Default public on account setup (tweets will be public)
  • 140 character limitation
  • Tagging (@ and #)
  • Permission-less follow (you don’t need permission to ‘follow’ someone)
  • SMS compatibility (tweet from your mobile phone)
  • ‘Open’ API (anyone can build on top of Twitter)

2. This seems to nuture/result in:

  • Unmatched discovery because of the public nature, short snippets, and tagability (@, #, url – and now $, ^, !) that generate high link density. No matter your interests you can find people and threads on twitter that will also lead you to new interests and places.
  • Uncontrollable as there is no structure beyond voluntary tagging. Can’t even be sure a person that is following you will see your tweet. This is why ‘marketing’ fails spectacularly in Twitter.
  • Humbling and leveling. Anyone can follow anyone and ‘reply’ to them by tagging their handle. Billionaires and others who are most inaccessible may respond to an unknown person on twitter. And just because you are a billionaire, it doesn’t guarantee that people will be interested in what you have to say. On twitter a big part of you is your last 20 tweets.
  • Authenticity and rapid trust building. The 140 character limitation seems to promote a brevity and frequency that leads to a higher degree of authenticity. My experience has been that my experience of meeting people in real-life is highly correlated to my experience of them on Twitter. I think it must take too much energy to be something other than who you are on Twitter if you use it with any frequency.
  • Collectively iterative. Again because of the brevity and uncontrollability things tend to iterate quickly among multiple people if they gain any momentum. Things only gain momentum when there is collective iteration.
  • Speedy and Spontaneous. From the collective iteration and default to public, if something takes hold it can spread uncontrollably aournd the world. It is unknown where it will go and can die as quickly as it started.
  • Loving and constructive. There are only so many ways to complain and criticize through 140 characters. What’s more, noone has to respond, and you can’t be sure anyone is even reading. What gets rewarded is intersting information, links, and action. Those are the things that people will invest their own 140 characters in.

3. This isn’t utopia, it just encourages our better parts:

  • Human nature will always show through
  • But, because of the key enablers it’s more likely to be the better parts of our nature.

I’d love to hear your comments, or get links to any other posts, reserachers that are exploring this topic. And if you are compelled enough to post, please link back here too. The more we can feed into the research engines that are interested in this the more it will help us all.

UPDATE: Btw… there was an interesting Twitter thread on this a week or so ago.

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VenTwits is alive and the adventure begins.

This really began back at the StartupEmpire conference on November 14th, 2008 in the midst of Howard Lindzon’s StockTwits presentation.  Today, VenTwits (^VenTwits) is live as a the first property in a series of initiatives to help things happen and create the world we want.

Developed by Shouldless Inc. (^shldlss), VenTwits is a site for people building things they care about. We believe there is something special about communications that happen in public, 140 characters at a time. It seems to encourage a unique breadth and practicality of engagement such as the #hohoto party in Toronto. #hohoto emerged through Twitter (see SlideShare preso) and within 18 days of the first mention was sold-out to over 600 people, raised $25,000 in cash and 2 tonnes of food for Toronto’s Daily Bread Foodbank. All this without any one leader or cash investment – rather it leveraged parallel leadership from over a dozen people and the contributions of countless more. What if we could leverage what happened there?

Well, VenTwits is the beginning of seeing where this can go. Already in the first day, we’ve had people visiting from around the world to see what’s going on, some of whom quickly adopted the new tags and jumped right in. We are already working on another property that will come at this from a different angle as well. Once launched, we want to see how people use them to help things happen and with a few months under our belts we’re planning on open-sourcing our core code and firing up the Social Venture Commons (^svc).

The Social Venture Commons is being established as a non-profit organization dedicated to coordinating the development and application of this concept for the purposes of social change and public benefit.  If what we believe about this mode of peer-produced organization is true, then we have a lot to give. If we’re wrong, we’ll have learned a lot from trying.

In the past two months, I’ve met some extraordinary people – all through Twitter of course – that have come together to make this happen. As we’re building we’re experimenting with how to peer-produce an organization, how we create and measure value, and how we deliver public benefit.

We’re inspired by the potential of people coming together and contributing to the creation of things they care about. We believe that we are building uniquely helpful ways that help that happen. And we believe, that together, we can use it to create the world we want.

Please jump in and give it a try. And if you have any feedback or want to get in touch – please do.

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