7 posts categorized "Web/Tech"

August 07, 2011

The “Summer of Love” Grows Up to Become the “Summer of Smart” – Reinventing Government One API at a Time

“ In the ‘60s we protested the establishment.  Today we write an API to it.” - Peter Hirshberg, Board Member GAFFTA, San Francisco CA

The Rise of Gov 2.0 and the Smart City

Technology and politics have been interesting and increasingly intimate bedfellows over the past 7 years – starting at a national level with the Howard Dean bloggers in 2004, the Obama digital team in 2008, and today’s live-streamed and tweeted town halls - to on the local level, the rise of urban hackathons like San Francisco’s Summer of Smart designed by and for citizens to address issues in their own city.

During this same period, there has been the explosion of ownership of mobile electronic devices and smart phones beyond the tech population into the hands of the general community across all age groups. And within cities, the deployment and embedding of sensors in a variety of places and products has led to the development of and research into the concept of the “real-time” city at places like MIT’s Senseable City Lab.

With these developments in place, and the announcement of the Open Government Directive in December 2009 by the White House, there have been a growing number of technologists and political/community activists asking "Are there ways that diverse groups of everyday individuals can use technology to change and improve local and national government and empower and provide direct control to the individual in the community?"   This is the evolution of the concept and practice of Gov 2.0, eloquently described by Tim O’Reilly in his post “Government as a Platform” as:


“…a new generation has come of age with the Web, and it is committed to using its lessons of creativity and collaboration to address challenges facing our country and the world … Government 2.0 is not a new kind of government; it is government stripped down to its core, rediscovered and reimagined as if for the first time …  (It) is the use of technology—especially the collaborative technologies at the heart of Web 2.0 — to better solve collective problems at a city, state, national, and international level.”


Much of the Gov 2.0 movement that has been written about has been at the national level.  In addition to the Open Government Initiative, there are sites such as Data.gov and Apps.gov.  Organizations such as Code for America, Sunlight Labs and Expert Labs have served as incubators for the funding and development of data access and technologies that are designed to bring citizens and government closer together. 

But now, led by cities like San Francisco with its own Open Data Executive Directive, the philosophy and possibilities of Gov 2.0 are manifesting at the local level to deal with everyday issues.  Groups such as The Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (GAFFTA) are facilitating this movement by organizing a series of urban innovation-inspired gatherings and hackathons called “Summer of Smart.”

The Summer of Smart

The Summer of Smart (SOS) is an intensive, three-month experiment in urban innovation that has evolved in part out of the city data visualization and art projects of GAFFTA, and also draws inspiration and foundation from four other main sources:

  1. The evolution of the hackathon concept to include non-technical participation,
  2. Grassroots community activism and its similarity to hacker/DIY culture,
  3. Gov 2.0 open data initiatives at the local and national levels,
  4. The birth of the real-time sensor-powered city with work pioneered by MIT

The various hackathons, presentations, and mayoral debates of SOS are part of a new model for how citizens and government might work directly together to address urban issues – in essence to begin to build an extensible platform for local government, an urban operating system.  Examples of addressable issues: mass transit inefficiencies, building energy efficiencies, and better means and measurement of citizen engagement with elected officials.

Within Summer of Smart is a series of 3 hackathons, one each month addressing a different topic area. The three areas:

  1. Community development and public art - June
  2. Urban innovation and Sustainability - July
  3. Public health, food and nutrition - August

And GAFFTA’s hopes for results from the hackathons?

  1. The prototyping of new ideas with opportunities for the best to find continuing development and real world deployment.
  2. The expansion of “bottoms-up” Gov 2.0 innovation from a small niche of activity to become part of the greater urban conversation and reality through the gathering and empowerment of self-organizing multi-disciplinary teams of technologists, artists, writers and activists.
  3. The meeting and collaboration of two previously distant and often adversarial cultures – politics and grass roots innovators - and providing a platform for then to learn and work in tandem. GAFFTA smartly optimized the chances of this outcome by scheduling its activities in the months leading up to the local election with candidates anxious for new ideas, while simultaneously intimidated and interested in the prospects of Gov 2.0.


“…there are people in the city bureaucracy that have interesting ideas .. but you just can't express them there as there are budget limitations and bureaucracies … But if you can connect them up with the creative tech community, that’s when it can become very interesting.” – Peter Hirshberg, GAFFTA

The Hackathons – 100 People + 48 Hours of Innovation

If one believes that innovation often happens at the edges of expertise and is fueled by constraints, then a 48 hour hackathon with multi-disciplinary teams of people who have never met each other before seems like a good starting structure for participatory democracy. 

“Hackathons are good in the same way that design charettes are. You give people too little time, too little resources, and too big a goal… that leads to a whole lot of creativity, and forces the creation of something that is “good enough” while keeping people from becoming too bureaucratic. This is the opposite of just about everything else that goes on in a city.” – Peter Hirshberg, GAFFTA

Hackathons and the Importance of Data

Data is at the heart of Internet application development at hackathons like SOS. The goal is to go beyond simple government data access in order to establish simple frameworks and tools that make it possible for citizens, not just the government, to create and share useful data – and drive action based upon that data.

“We are at this moment in time where there is this huge surplus of data. What do we do with it?  In the past, most of the effort was on just visualizations and art derived from city data. But now, we are looking at how do we create a feedback loop that makes something actionable.” – Peter Hirshberg, GAFFTA

Hackathons and the Importance of Redefining Citizen Participation

Gatherings of diverse groups of people - both tech and non-tech -  at hackathons like SOS, provide a forum for citizens to connect like never before and to leverage their respective skill sets and passions to identify and begin to solve problems directly affecting them.

“The success of a hackathon such as SOS is highly dependent on the diversity of the teams. It’s when you get journalists, designers, coders, policy types, sensor experts, and activists who understand the communities – that’s when this exciting stuff happens. You always need programmers … but the bottoms-up “maker energy” that we associate with hackers is similar to the energy that you see with community activists and artists.” – Peter Hirshberg, GAFFTA

The ideas, approaches, and apps that can come out of this type of gathering can redefine collective action in a way that goes far beyond “collective complaint.” Collective action and citizen participation can go beyond the boundaries of “input” (that may or may not be considered by government entities and officials) and enter the arena of direct measurable engagement and control, with potentially new interfaces to government entities and politicans.

Hackathon Project Outcomes

The best projects from the three weekend hackathons will be presented to city officials and mayoral candidates at Summer of Smart’s final public forum at the Commonwealth Club in early October.  Some may even become “productized” in the sense that a home base and ongoing support structure are found for the work. A list of projects can be found here, with some examples:

  • GoodBuildings.info - Helps individuals compare commercial spaces based on their environmental performance.
  • The Call Wall – Makes calling a representative more transparent and collaborative.
  • Public Art Mapper - Assists in locating and cataloging San Francisco’s public art from the street.

Moving Forward

In the near future, will technological advancement contribute to government working better for the average citizen? And more importantly, will the result be not just a more effective way for government to source questions and concerns from the public, but more importantly for citizens to provide and drive solutions, ideas, and true two-way engagement and accountability?

If GAFFTA’s Summer of Smart and its hackathons are an indication of what is possible, the chances are good that at least at the city-level, Gov 2.0 practical innovation can happen.

“... every man … feels that he is a participator in the government of affairs, not merely at an election one day in the year, but every day.”– Thomas Jefferson

Additional Resources

Background information on Grey Area Foundation for the Arts (GAFFTA) and Summer of Smart (SOS)

Summer of Smart (SOS) Launch Press Release

Video: Summer of Smart- Democracy in the Digital Age

Open Government Initiative (Obama Dec 2009)

San Francisco Open Data Directive (Gavin Newsom 2009)

Video: Smart, Smarter, Smartest Cities from MIT Forum on Future Cities

Tim O’Reilly’s  “Government as a Platform”




May 15, 2011

If "All Politics Is Personal," Then for 2012 Will It Also Be Increasingly Social and Semantic?


(Image top right: Flipboard.  Image bottom left: Zite.  Image bottom right : Push Pop Press "Our Choice."  Click on image above to see full size image.)


Politics and the Internet, as well as politics and the personal, are inextricably linked.  This may offer up some interesting new opportunities for "political magazines" (built around individuals’ social graph, expressed interests and inferred semantic behaviors) via "publishing platforms" like Flipboard, Zite, and even Push Pop Press - depending on their respective development and business plans.

In 2003, the Howard Dean campaign demonstrated that the Internet could be used effectively to raise campaign funds.  In the 2008 Obama for America Presidential Campaign, a relatively small team demonstrated that digital, social and mobile platforms had graduated from fundraiser status to gamechanger. (Twitter was in its infancy when the Obama campaign sent out its first tweet in April 2007.) And outside of American politics, many of the defining moments for Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook have been around political issues and movements.

What did not exist in these earlier campaigns was the iPad and technology platforms that could enable the construction of personalized political/issue “magazine” experiences built around individuals’ social graph, expressed interests and inferred semantic behaviors – with both deep archival and breaking content of all media types. With thoughtful experience design added to the equation, platforms from companies such as Flipboard, Zite and the underlying technology from PushPopPress could evolve and be used to create a new kind of living mobile political campaign magazine for the upcoming 2012 election.


"Like a lot of Web innovators, the Obama campaign did not invent anything completely new. Instead, by bolting together social-networking applications under the banner of a movement, they created an unforeseen force to raise money, organize locally, fight smear campaigns, and get out the vote…” – David Carr


A Look Back at the 2008 Obama “New Media” Campaign

The campaign generated a connection with “users” in ways that had never been achieved before, and was based around the facilitation of the dissemination and sharing of massive quantities of media (interlinked with actionable opportunities) across many platforms, with minimal effort (given small size of the team). A quick recap of some of the main elements: (for more details, see a great 2009 case study written by Kimberly Smith for Marketing Profs).

  • Main campaign website: My.BarackObama.com was designed to be the comprehensive resource point with media, how-tos, transcripts, and opportunities for involvement.
  • Video: The campaign’s YouTube channel eventually held 1800 videos with over 18 million views. Ustream.tv served almost a million hours of live video streams during the campaign.
  • Photos: The Flickr account included official event photos as well as candid views.  (There was no Instagram,Path or other social photo sharing apps at that time.)
  • Social technologies: Numerous Facebook groups were created and updated daily not only for Barack and Michelle Obama, but also for every state and innumerable interest groups. Twitter was in its infancy when the campaign sent its first tweet in April 2007 (with under 300 followers for @BarckObama). LinkedIn was used to present questions and discussions to the (largely) business community.
  • Mobile: The campaign developed an iPhone app that included news, photos, videos, location specific engagement opportunity information (using GPS), and user’s contacts organized by state for campaign calling. The opt-in nature of the mobile strategy provided the campaign with a community with robust profiles on almost 3 million participants by the August 2008 VP announcement.

Possibilities for the Personal-Social Political Magazine 2011-2012

If 2007-2008 was about brute strength and enthusiasm fueling the cobbling together of the various digital initiatives, perhaps 2011-2012 will see the addition of the elegant auto-generated (and two-way) “personal and social political magazine” generated by new tools from companies such as Flipboard, Zite or even a more social-enabled version of PushPopPress (with various evolution of the tools required).

If “O Magazine” and my Twitter feed can be social magazines via Flipboard … If  Zite can learn about my interests and serve me up more undiscovered content … If Push Pop Press can create Al Gore’s “Our Choice” to merge the models  of the book with documentary film … Then why can’t a party, a politician or a cause have the same kind of possibility of creating an engaging, ever changing environment of media resources (from archival to breaking) and social conversations/sharings around their “brand?”

That new personalized political magazine could include integration of all the disparate elements we saw in the 2008 Obama campaign into one dynamic package (although one could still go to the individual platforms as well).  We might see in these "magazines":

  1. Curation of the political articles/videos your friends have found most useful and interesting
  2. Revelation of influential sources and expertise from sources you didn’t know about (avoiding the personal echo chamber)
  3. Revelation of related issues and discussion documents (to what you have already requested or that has been pushed via a programmed feed)
  4. Options to select information on opposing points of view on particular issues
  5. Historical issue and poll timelines and dynamic infographics and maps generated on the fly
  6. Deep archival issues video presented in relationship to relevant current writings
  7. Live streaming video integrated with info graphics, social curation, feedback, polls and calls to action
  8. Polls, real-world engagement opportunities, and messaging/texting supplied in realtime relating to your interests, reading/viewing path, and geolocation data (of you and friends)
  9. Realtime social sharing of media as well as personal highlighting of media
  10. New models of "opt-in" database building, as well as advertising and fundraising

Data and Insights

Think of the interesting breadcrumb trails of action data to be culled from the various browsings of such an integrated, dynamically built, and two-way “magazine”  - the reading of a tweet from a political curator that leads to a YouTube video that leads to a campaign donation and hosting of an event with 20 friends that generates instantly shared photos curated back into the Twitter feed and displayed in the magazine. Additionally, there would be an incredible learning opportunity for mapping people’s information sources, interests,sharing propensities, and their relationship to various stances on critical issues by discrete geograhic location (even via GPS).

Platforms Need to Evolve

In order for this kind of experience to occur, there would need to be evolution in the development of the technical and design capabilities (eg interactive graphics) of the various  social magazine (Flipboard) and personal semantic learning magazines (Zite), or alternatively the integration of these kinds of social and semantic capabilities into the rich-media book/documentary model of PushPopPress .  Some ideas:

  1. Combination of social curated, search generated, and semantic discovered content across a complex topic definition in a single "magazine" format (not in multiple panes in Flipboard or separate list categories in Zite).
  2. Opportunity to more powerfully discover, capture and retain content of interest from your quickly flowing “historical social stream” to get beyond the timeline model to the “personally important model” that is driven by both “discovery and unexpected delight.”
  3. Intuitive and powerful “bookmarking and clipping” functionality to collect and share entire pieces of media or only highlighted and annotated sections (think scrapbook).
  4. Dynamic integrations of various media types from multiple sources into a single screen experience – eg streaming live debate video with an interactive map and poll, curated related analysts' content that can bookmark, conversing/tweets with friends, fundraising around the issue being debated
  5. Balance between content and sources that are asked for, and new serendipitous information and sources that would be useful and revealing. This goes to the ideas in Steven Johnson’s book “Emergence” where he presents the idea that a newspaper tailored to the tastes of a person on a given day will lead to too much positive feedback in that direction, and people's choices/offerings would be permanently skewed for the rest of their lives.
  6. Addition of new interactive media types.
  7. Smarter deduping of shared media via social relationships so that the same video or url is not shared multiple times from multiple sources using multiped url shorteners.

The Near Future

“Much of the creativity and spirit they (Obama 2008 digital team) brought with online tools to help galvanize grass-roots supporters in 2008, they will be trying to re-create this time with an ambitious online presence. This was evident when Mr. Obama began his re-election effort this month with an e-mail and text-message blast, posts on Twitter, a short video on YouTube and a new app that connects supporters and their Facebook friends to his campaign Web site with a question: Are you in?”NY Times Blog: The Caucus

And in the not too distant future (later this year?), might this not also include political iPad magazines that have content that is both professionally created (by candidate/party) as well as "personally" curated via social platforms, search generation and semantic learning?  Favicon


March 31, 2010

Why Sharing Matters


Sharing is no longer just about good manners.  It has assumed a front row seat in the discussion about powerful leverage points at the intersection of content and influence. If you are a media company or consumer brand (and the difference between these two is shrinking in many respects), understanding how people engage with and share content is a critical skill.

And you won’t be alone. 2010 may well be the year that brands and media companies spend as much time (if not more) looking at social sharing optimization as they do at search. The sheer volume of content (both good and bad) being added to the Web is outpacing people’s ability to find what’s interesting and relevant to them. This has been leading to a decline in the overall perceived value of content, along with companies’ and individuals’ abilities to make a living from creating and distributing it, as well as brands promoting around it.

"Abundance breaks more things than scarcity does."

- Clay Shirky at SXSW 2010

But if you can build a system than increases the likelihood of providing the right content (informational or entertainment), at the right time, to the right people, there is the opportunity to reestablish value.  Generating appropriate sharing is an essential element in this “value re-establishment chain.” Sharing lifts content above the general noise level of the Web by the fact that it is deemed important by the users (both initiator and recipient of the share).

"With all the noise online. your social circle becomes a de facto filter, surfacing useful information because they know exactly what's interesting to you and what isn't.  That piece is so important - it's the essence of  influence."

- ShareThis Blog Oct 22

Sharing Stats

  • 84% of “connected consumers” share links and bookmarks – Razorfish Digital Brand Experience Report 2009
  • 50% more page views per unique via share-originated links that search
  • For many sites, sharing is now accounting for as much as one-third of the amount of traffic driven by search –ShareThis Blog, Dec 2009

"Publishers, meanwhile, are devising ways to persuade readers to share more, in much the same way they use "search engine optimization" strategies so search engines will rank them higher in search results.  A personal recommendation, they say, can be just as powerful as a referral from Google."

- NY Times, Sept 2009

Publishers and the Design Dynamics of Sharing

If sharing is becoming that powerful a source of engaged traffic, then publishers and creators need to know how and why people share in order to develop and deliver viable strategies for maximizing share-generated traffic, ad revenue and engagement. 

"If you ask a site manager, they'll know how much traffic they get from search.  But when you ask about traffic from sharing activity, they can't tell you."

- Tim Schigel, CEO, ShareThis 

So how publishers incorporate sharing capabilities is becoming increasingly important, not only because of its impact on traffic, but that it also shows that they understand the interests of their audience and want to make it easy for them to share things of interest to their communities.

ShareThis has some interesting information on how different types of media companies have addressed sharing from both technology placement and design perspectives in a post called “The Art of the Share.”   They look at the question of where to place sharing widgets (beginning or end of post) and what share platforms to breakout specifically from the widget, and how this should differ depending on the audience and media type (eg entertainment v technology site).

In the near future, sharing data may influence how publishers look at content development, and how quickly they can respond to sharing trends with more new content. Sharing patterns may also let them know that they are not covering certain areas of content in ways the audience wants.  

The Editorial Anatomy of Sharing

In addition to having the right tools to share and the appropriate design integration of that technology into the site, the content itself needs to be highly sharable from an editorial perspective.

Dan Zarrella conducted some recent research into sharing and his data contains some interesting insights into what, how and why people share content online.  The complete details and TOC can be found at his site here.

Some highlights from his sample of “why people share” provide useful food for thought as to how publishers and creators might think about the editorial nature of their content.

  • 18.6% audience relevance
  • 8.8% increase their own reputation
  • 8.6% further a specific cause or message
  • 7.4% utility and usefulness; conversation starter
  • 5.5% feedback; wanting others’ opinions
  • 5.2% meet new people

Another study from the University of Pennsylvania examines the character of the most emailed articles (email is certainly one form of sharing).  From that study:

“Perhaps most of all, readers wanted to share articles that inspired awe … They used two criteria for an awe-inspiring story: Its scale is large, and it requires “mental accommodation” by forcing the reader to view the world in a different way.”

Once we understand more about why people share from an editorial perspective and have the tools to help them appropriately share and receive shares, how do we look at the editorial process to “give back” and reward “topic specific influential sharers?" This provides the potential of creating a "virtuous loop of personalized content" that fits the editorial criteria of "sharable." Might we begin to use sharing data to design customized programming experiences that could include:

  • Recommended content provided to senders and receivers of shares via a syndication of realtime topic matching (you shared this, you might also like this)
  • Special content for "topic specific" influential sharers pulled from a brand's archives or created as "behind the scenes" sneaks

    In these models, people are treated as unique individuals vs members of a broader group.  This type of customized programming can be monetized at the individual level, yet still maintain individual privacy.

    New Technologies to Facilitate Sharing

    As sharing becomes more than just a simple utility and moves toward being a core social action for Web users, existing social media companies are revamping their offerings and new ones are appearing, offering their sharing solutions to publishers and creators.  

    “The easier you make it for others to share your content with their social networks, the more you capitalize on the Internet Press — the ability to have your content taken from your central hub and then re-published on others’ hubs and among their networks…People trust their social networks much more than advertising or what a company itself says.”

    Pete Codella in Fast Company

    Three Examples

    (1) The Revamp: Digg 

    This Spring, Digg began revamping its strategy toward "social curation of all the world's content and the conversation around it ... shifting toward a personalization model, where the homepage will be based on ... a user's interests, location, who they follow not only on Digg but services like Twitter and Facebook ... and leaderboards for the infinite topic and vertical pages that will emerge, letting Digg users become trusted sources in a given niche."

    (2) The Evolution: ShareThis Stream  

    The ShareThis Stream is a real-time view of sharing across the Web, enabling users to see what content their friends have been sharing, and the comments, tweets, etc related to that content.

    (3) The New Kid: Stickybits  

    Stickybits brings the physical and digital worlds together via barcode stickers and a SmartPhone app that unlocks access to audio, video, photo, and text messages associated with an object when its code is scanned. Individuals can tag physical objects with media (text, photos, video) by applying custom stickers or correlating existing product barcodes with content. They can also receive additional notification and media from others who scan the object and attach their content to the same barcode.

    However interesting these initiatives are, the conversation needs to move from the “means of sharing” to “meaning enabled by sharing.”  Having technology in place is one piece of the equation; delivering a real user benefit and engaging experience is the other (and more meaningful) part.  While you can have searchable real-time feeds and any number of ways to rate and comment on content, it remains a solution just for geeks if it is not matched with consideration for how people want to more broadly use and interact with content.

    Too Much Information?

    As the world of digital media continues to grow at a dizzying pace, without personally relevant methods of discovery and recommendation such as sharing, users will continue to be overwhelmed and miss relevant content, or simply give up looking for anything new out of sheer frustration. 

    I'd prefer to avoid that world described in the song by The Police called "Too Much Information."

    Too much information running through my brain
    Too much information driving me insane
    Too much information running through my brain
    Too much information driving me insane

    Over my dead body
    Over me
    Over you
    Over everybody     

    So can the economics of digital publishing be changed by creating a market for revealing and promoting personally relevant influence (via sharing) across the Web? I say "yes." And that’s why sharing matters. Favicon

    January 29, 2010

    Presentation: Twitter in 20

    Today I had the opportunity to co-present a session on "Building Your Business with Twitter and Facebook"  along with Facebook's Director of Corporate Communicatons Brandee Barker at the annual leadership conference for Women in Periodic Publishing.  A PDF version of my Keynote slides is available here: Download LizGebhardt_Twitter_WIPP_Jan282010.

    This 25 minute talk is a very shortened version of a more robust 2-4 hour seminar I have been giving at media companies - print, TV and digital. The Twitter portion focuses on 5 main topics:

    • Twitter Myths, Misconceptions and Reality
    • The Value of the Shared Link
    • Life On and Off the Twitter Network
    • Guidelines and Tactics for the Brand and Individual
    • Tweet Anatomy: A Real World Example

    There are also related posts at this BLOG, including:

    More information on the ShareThis study referred to in the presentation is available at their BLOG. And the book "Groundswell" is available here.

    I'm interested in hearing how different media companies will use this information. 

    Comments? Favicon


    December 12, 2009

    Will Square Be the VISA of the 21st Century?

     Square-receipt-sightglass Image courtesy of Square.


    While startup Square is not in the business of making credit cards as VISA was when it started in 1970, there is a potentially interesting link behind the intentions and possibilities of the two companies at the time of their respective foundings, even though they are separated by 40 years of business and financial change, not to mention lightyears of technology evolution.

    When Dee Hock started VISA, he had hopes that he could create an organization that reflected elements of both chaos and order (what he dubbed “chaordic”), as well as competition and cooperation.  At some level, a chaordic organization would be “self-governing,” reflecting more the principles of evolution and nature than those of flawed 17 Century financial institutions and hundred year old oligopolies.  Hock wanted to challenge what many held as fundamental truths about the nature and relationship between money, organizations and the human spirit.  He wanted to use technology and chaordic beliefs to challenge the form (e.g. physical objects of bank and tellers with endless bureaucracy), and rethink the essential function and value that financial transactions should deliver.

    “Could this be an opportunity to reconceive, in the most fundamental sense, the very ideas of bank, money and credit card – even beyond that, to the essential elements of each and how they might change in a microelectronic environment?”
     - Dee Hock, in 1999’s “Birth of the Chaordic Age” page 117

    So while in the end, VISA did not achieve Hock’s highest chaordic hopes, might Square take up the mantle and become the transcendental organization that finds new ways to link together diverse financial institutions and individuals (retailers and customers), some of whom might have had access to the prior financial structure, but many more were denied access?  Might there be a unique business to be built on the transformation of the concept of money from physical object to that of “guaranteed data” that provides equivalent value and a fluid (mobile) medium of exchange for all, regardless of size of the entity?

    In the US today, the credit card revolution started by VISA in 1970 has become a reality in which 90% of US consumers use some form of credit, debit or prepaid card. And what are these cards about?  Don’t think of them as simple ‘credit cards.” More broadly, they are physical symbols of the ability of buyers and sellers to safely exchange value (goods and services) with a level of guaranteed security in the transfer of the data.

    That’s what Hock hoped for in the 1970’s – to be in the universal monetary exchange business via cards, not in the credit card business. While today the system that surrounds the cards is one where it is easy to pay, there is still considerable friction in receiving and accepting the payment. 

    Hence the opportunity for Square to go beyond the reality of VISA.  And the challenge it has is to define and execute on the nature of a new organization that is chaordic, at least in part, by the nature of the “immediacy, approachability and transparency” mantra of its technology backbone.

    “(We want to) enable individuals and small businesses to accept electronic payments by turning any device with an audio-input jack—such as a computer or a mobile phone—into a credit-card terminal.” – Jack Dorsey, Square founder at Le Web 09 (video)

    “I can buy an iPod touch] for $200, get the app and I’m in business. I don’t need a contract with AT&T or anything. I’m in business.” – Jack Dorsey in The Economist

    “The startup hopes to make it big by allowing virtually anyone to accept credit card payments by connecting a simple reader to a mobile device. Dorsey, Square's CEO, envisions the technology being used by small businesses, street vendors, and even individuals who want to sell a couch on Craigslist or collect money from a friend … pricing will allow for different levels of customer involvement. Someone who wants to use the service once for a yard sale should be able to get started easily and cheaply, while a small business might upgrade to a more full-featured version of Square” – MIT Technology Review

    So is what Square will create in partnership with its ecosystem, the premiere system for immediate and secure value exchange regardless of the size and location of seller or buyer?  And in doing so with “real-time” technology, will it make the relationship between “Man and Money” a bit more immediately … human? Favicon


    (Video demos of Square can be found here starting at 9:00 minutes in, and here staring at 1:40 in.)


    April 19, 2009

    Ashton Kutcher's Billboard - Possibilities Beyond Celebrity for the Future of Broadcasted or Public Social Media


    One of the 1,133 digital billboards provided pro bono by Lamar Advertising in the race to a million followers against CNN. 

         -  From a story in Advertising Age

    If you work in the social media space or are a CNN or Oprah viewer, it was nearly impossible to not know about the "race to a million followers" on Twitter last week between celebrity/entrepreneur Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) and CNN's newly acquired account (@cnnbrk).  Kutcher started the challenge slightly trailing CNN, but used YouTube-distributed videos and calling on his more engaged social media followers to surpass Larry King/CNN's cable TV promo efforts. The "celebrity" facts: Kutcher passed the million mark first and appeared on Oprah (@oprah) to be crowned "king of Twitter."

    But what else might this mini-digital duel reveal beyond the obvious celebrity vanity stories and the growing importance of social media bylines?

    Benefit for social ventures and charities

    Consider that as part of the challenge, the winner agreed to donate 10,000 mosquito nets (the loser 1,000 nets) to April 25th’s 2nd annual World Malaria Day. That means 1,000s of people will have additional protection against a disease that threatens 40% of the world's population and  infects 500 million people a year. And Twitter is full of "tweets" about additional donations coming in from everyday people as a result of the awareness brought about by the race and subsequent interviews.  That's a win.

    Other celebrities including Hugh Jackman (@RealHughJackman) and social entrepreneurs have been using the platform as well to engage an audience predisposed to quickly responding to and sharing information.

    Near future traditional/digital media mashups

    Let's go back to the digital billboards at the beginning of this post.  Not sure in terms of any measurement that might exist what they contributed to Kutcher's tally.  But the more important aspects to consider are two fold:

    (1)  Since the billboards are digital and connected to a network, the message/creative could be programmed and distributed (and theoretically updated/changed) nearly instantaneously to the 1,000+ screens.  No printing turn around time.  No guys on scaffolds with buckets of glue. The content was nearly immediate/real-time.

    (2) Now what if (for safety's and reading time's sake) that the screens had been indoors, like those we see at Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, etc. AND that the screen network's application set was sophisticated enough to take both the simple "old school" billboard message and combine it with real-time information of interest via a feed. On the simple end this could just be a tally of number of followers updating, perhaps with an additional message encouraging peple to join in via their cell phones while they were waiting in line.  Something more complex would be a real-time "curated" feed overlay to the screen of the relevant "tweets" about both the "million follower race" as well as information about Kutcher's malaria cause.

    All of the pieces to do this today exist.  If you look online at applications written off the Twitter API like Glam Media's Tinker or similar Twitter parsing/aggregation apps from Federated Media like ExecuTweets, you get a sense of what is possible through some design and then integration of an RSS feed into a public digital screen.

    Below is an example of what the live Tinker feed looked like this morning for Ashton Kutcher.  Imagine what an "indoor billboard" at a coffee shop or train station might look like with the main visual of the billboard at the beginning of this post,  with an overlay in the lower horizontal part of the screen of the Tinker Twitter stream when the race was still on.


    Other possibilities? 

    Here's one. Given that Earth Day is this week - what about a brand doing an Earth Day promo with inspiring photos (professional images and real-time consumer photos) cycling through the screen and relevant tweets of what people were doing that day to help their local environmental efforts, as well as links to activities people could join, appearing simultaneously along the bottom of the screen. Egv_tiny_blogicon

    November 20, 2008

    News, Opinion or Spin - Can Technology Help You "Take Back the Truth?"

    It's no surprise that according to a recent study by the The Pew Center, 66% of digital news users, who are often the heaviest consumers of news overall, distrust the mainstream media believing it to be one-sided.  But they , 67% of them anyway, want unbiased news and not just the talking opinion bobble-heads of many a cable news channel commenting on what "unnamed sources" have allegedly said to their next door neighbors' dog.  But in a world of 24/7 broadcast news mills, tabloid journalism, and bloggers who appear to suffer from OCD with little interest for fact-checking,  how does one get at "the truth" or, if not that, at least the facts?

    Two new endeavors have recently launched in response to this scenario: a new 6 part series on IFC called "The Media Project" hosted by former MTV reporter Gideon Yago, and a  Seattle based tech startup, SpinSpotter, launched by two veteran entrepreneurs Todd Herman and John Atcheson.

    "The Media Project" is designed to provide perspective and a baseline for discussion on a variety of issues that have an impact on accurate, balanced reporting from the leading news outlets. Reporting on what? Politics, war, the environment, business are obvious answers - but consider more broadly perhaps about the brand you or your agency represent and how it is covered.  Stories that are mostly regurgitation of press releases may not be thought of traditionally as "spin", but what kind of "news value" is there in source after source creating stories with most of the content directly pulled from a well-crafted release?

    "The average American spends 70 percent of their waking day consuming, or exposed to, some form of media, but goes on autopilot when it comes to thinking about the message behind the media," said Evan Shapiro, president of IFC.

    SpinSpotter, which launched its early beta offering in September at The Demo Conference (see onstage demo), is a partner with IFC in the project, providing the early stage technology (a browser toolbar plug-in currently) that enables users to see, share and create conversation about the media spin and inaccuracy that they find around their passion interest areas in online media - be it from a global news conglomerate or the blogger down the street.

    SpinSpotter pulls its unique approach from both the crowd sourcing models of companies such as Digg and the world of scary-math algorithms of Google to create a technology that learns from human beings (citizen editors) what spin looks like in the news based on a predetermined rule set from the world of journalism monitored by an advisory board, and then identify it in other places online.

    So if you don’t trust the news media, what are your options? Do you ignore it all or just listen to those with your bias? Or might "The Media Project" provide the food for thought, and SpinSpotter the toolset and community to kick start the reboot of media literacy?

    For more coverage on IFC's "The Media Project."

    For a New York Times update on SpinSpotter.

    For a SpinSpotter in action demo.

    Disclosure: I consult/advise SpinSpotter on occasion in addition to producing their sneak video above. In general, I think all efforts at media literacy and exposing spin = good stuff.


    Liz Gebhardt

    • © Amanda Jones
      Digital and traditional (live & broadcast) media/ marketing strategist and producer living at the intersection of Web meets (live) World. More than two decades of experience in building media and technology businesses, content programming and distribution, brand stories and integrated communications campaigns.

      Believes that strategy is all talk unless it can be executed in a way that delivers on both the creative and business promises. Embraces the role of navigator of the uncharted path vs. passenger along the known road.