Posts Tagged ‘web2.0’

The Other Web2.0: Not Business As Usual

Aside from a few companies such as Amazon, Google or Facebook, the value of Web2.0 for the business world is still unclear, and return on investment still seems murky at best. However for the non-profit world, the value of Web2.0 is clear – the more the users are empowered and congregate around interest that they share, the better the opportunities for action.

In Korea, where I work, there is a lot of businesses coming online based on Web2.0 models, and a lot of talk around using Web2.0 to enhance service offerings and user experience, but little talk about the social impact that Web2.0, which to me is missing the whole point of Web2.0.

Tim O’Reilly said back in 2005, Web is a platform. A platform to do what? We should at least consider the potential of it becoming an agent for change and the betterment of society as a whole.

What is encouraging is that there are already many services by the big players in the Korean online space that make online donation easy and fun. Korea’s leading social networking site, Cyworld has its online volunteer matching and giving site called Cytogether where you can donate your time or “acorns” to a cause. Naver, the Korean search engine / online portal behemoth has a service called Happy Bean where you collect “beans” worth about 10 cents for every email you sent through their email service. You can donate these you causes and donations are matched by corporate sponsors. CJ Foundation (CJ is part of the Samsung conglomerate) has its own version of the US site called DonorsCamp.

A culture of donation doesn’t spring up overnight, but if you look at the numbers, citizens who are online (or “netizens” as they are called here) are beginning to donate generously.

But these services are only limited in their scope and potential and only scratch at the surface of serious change. In one of the most wired places on earth, shouldn’t we expect more innovative services that enable and empower people to think differently.

When I was recently asked to give a 1 hour presentation at OpenTide China, in Beijing, on a subject of my choice, I chose to put together a presentation highlighting some of the work that I was involved in while I was working at Forum One Communications (my previous place of employment), that involved innovative use of Web2.0 for social action. I ended up giving the same presentation again to staff at VINYL, Seoul, where I currently work. The presentation outline Web2.0 principles and then introduces 4 “stories” or projects I was directly or indirectly involved in. The projects are CARMA, Changemakers, Ask Your Lawmaker and DonorsChoose (I didn’t have direct involvement but know the project well because I good friend worked on the Korean counterpart DonorsCamp).

Here’s the presentation I gave:

Ask Your Lawmaker, Web2.0 Style

CNCNews Ask Your Lawmaker website

CNCNews Ask Your Lawmaker website

As the elections in US heats up, I checked back on one of my last projects at Forum One, Ask Your Lawmaker (I was the lead information architect). It went live last November and it’s good to see it is finally gathering some steam.

Ask Your Lawmaker is a site created by Capitol News Connection (CNCNews) which supplies news of the goings-on in the US Congress to NPR news stations. As the instructions for the site suggests, the idea for the site is simple:

  • You Ask. (Users submit questions to ask congresspersons and senators)
  • You Vote. (Users collectively vote of which questions are worthy)
  • We Get Answers. (CNCNews reporters track down the lawmakers and record answers, then post to the site)

It uses a Digg-like interface to encourage visitors to vote and filter which questions submitted by users, effectively using the wisdom of crowds to be the arbiter of quality.

What differentiates this site from the Digg’s of the online world is that this site has a physical component. The CNCNews reporters actually go out and accost lawmakers in the corridors of the US Capitol, waiting for them in various strategic locations, where they know they will be passing through. Armed with intimate knowledge of the architecture and how the lawmakers must be present in certain locations at certain times or events, the reporters are supreme hackers the Capitol for their single-minded purpose.

During a guided tour of the Capitol by one of CNCNews veteran reporters, I saw him spring into action interviewing a senator during a trip on the underground monorail that connects the Capitol with the adjacent administration buildings.

Ask Your Lawmaker supplies a valuable service that empowers the users (citizens of a democratic society) to supply the questions / question authority. We have seen citizens use YouTube to provide questions to presidential candidates. But what is often overlooked is that gathering quality information often takes a lot of effort.

Even in a digital world, we are still very much at the mercy of the physical world.

The news we read on BBC News or The New York Times are supplied by reporters who must go out and gather the information often risking their lives in the process.

We place orders on flower delivery sites, scanning numerous arrangements, comparing pricing and quality, finding that perfect bouquet of flowers for that special occasion and sweating over how to edit the delicate message down to the 200 letter limit as required by the site. But at the end of the day we still have to depend of underpaid part-timers for the final-yard delivery of our most intimate expressions of love.

Innovative Web Technologies: P2P Philanthropy

Here’s a re-posting of an article originally posted April 11, 2007, on the Forum One UX&D blog for the benefit of my Korean readers.

* * *

During the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise 2007 conference I went to a session with Charles Best of Donors Choose, which is a site that allows individual donors to fund small projects proposed by public school teachers. Lately I have been coming across a quite few of these, where a site links private donations with those who need financial support. I had lacked a term to call these types of sites, but of course the smart people I met at NTEN already had a term for these. Some of the terms that were discussed were eBay philanthropies, philanthropic marketplace… but my favorite was one that David Weinberger blogged following his plenary at NTEN: P2P philanthropy where P2P can mean peer to peer or better yet person to person (whether or not he coined it I don’t know).

Here’s a round up of some Person to Person Philanthropies I have come across lately:

  • DonorsChoose: As mentioned above.
  • DonorsCamp: Attesting to the fact that good social entrepreneurial ideas are contagious and subject to replication, CJ Foundation (CJ is one of many Samsung affiliates) in Korea lifted (interestingly, with willing consultation from DonorsChoose) the DonorsChoose model and transplanted it in Korea. The twist is that DonorsCamp actually matches one-for-one every donation that comes through the site.
  • Kiva links facilitates micro-loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries, “empowering them to lift themselves out of poverty.” The payback rate to date on the loans are apparently 100% according to their FAQs.
  • GlobalGiving: According to their site: “GlobalGiving connects you with grassroots charity projects around the world. We ensure that 85-90% of your donation gets to local project leaders within 60 days. It’s a direct connection.”
  • Modest Needs: I heard Charles from DonorsChoose mention this site at the NTEN conference. According to the site, “Modest Needs is a registered charity that works to stop the cycle of poverty before it starts for low-income workers struggling to afford emergency expenses like those we’ve all encountered before: the unexpected auto repair, the unanticipated trip to the doctor, the unusually large winter heating bill.”
  • Where there are philanthropic and non-profit needs, there will also be for-profit needs. is where you can submit a business proposal and have you loan funded in whole or in part by many private lenders, which end up being a lower interest rate and/or larger amount than you would typically get from a bank.
  • Cytogether: Cyworld is a wildly successful social networking site in Korea. It has a philanthropic counterpart where you can donate Cyworld’s currency, “acorns”, to your favorite philanthropic organization. The site is a little more than a P2P philanthropy in that it also is a community and links volunteer needs and opportunties. From what I can tell, most of the prominent non-profits operating in Korea seem to have a profile page on the site.

Interestingly (or maybe obviously) DonorsChoose, Global Giving, Modest Needs and all have investments from eBay founder Pierre Omidya‘s foundation – Omidya Network. Their portfolio page is a very interesting list, more like a who’s who in web/technology innovation, which include many organization I have a personal interest in – Ashoka, KaBOOM! and Linden Labs (aka makers of Second Life).

Geospatial Info + 3D Space + Web 2.0 + Mobile = ?

Geoblogging: The Gombe Chimpanzee Blog

Geoblogging: The Gombe Chimpanzee Blog

We all remember ooh’ed and aah’ed at Google Earth when it was first available in 2005. For the first time history, services such as Google Earth offer us a readily available, zoomable, navigable visualization of our physical world, the detail of which are ever increasing with new technologies being developed as showcased by Microsoft’s Virtual Earth and Photosynth projects.

But it’s not just a static representation of information, as maps have classically been. The convergence of the internet, mobile technology and geospatial representation of our physical world, presents an interesting intersection of technologies.

The internet contains an ever-expanding universe of knowledge and information, and with web 2.0 technologies, users are even more empowered to directly participate in that growth, and to share, aggregate, and find creative ways to seeks value in this information.

When information available on the web is combined with geospatial data what emerges is Geoweb. Geoweb presents yet another layer that information can be mapped or grounded to. It gives people an opportunity of assigning information, be it historical, commercial, social or existential to a given location.

Mobile technology has the two-fold function of being able to retrieve that information in real time at the location to which the information was associated to, as well as being able to record yet more information through text, photographic or motion input about the location.

The pressing issue now is not the availability of information but how to filter it to be meaningful?

Map have always been a filtered reprentation of selective information. A road map only maps roads for the purpose of guiding a user from point A to point B. So the challenge facing Geoweb is no longer one of technology, but one of selectivity and value. What does information presented in this way allow us to do?

It allows us to associate information on a scale and perspective that we were unable to do before. Classical maps show border, terrain, economic, or conflict information. Now we can map, aggregate, slice-and-dice all the atomized miscellaneous pieces of information geospatially. It allows us to associate information that was not possible or hard to do before. Oh joy.

We already see some examples of innovative use:

  • CARMA (Carbon Emissions Monitoring for Action): this s a project by Center for Global Development I was involved in at my old firm, Forum One Communications. It maps publicly available CO2 emission data of power plants and other polluting agents on to Google Maps, and encourages users to submit more data about polluter in their neighborhood.
  • Geoblogging: Jane Goodall Institute created the first geoblog: The Gombe Chimpanzee blog. It follows the activities and blog posts by Emily Wroblewski, a field researcher who is studying the Gombe Chimpanzees to coordinates on Google Earth.
  • Search for archeological sites: Scott Madry, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has been pinpointing possible archaeological sites in France with the popular desktop program Google Earth.
  • Cannonball Run: Alex Roy, set a new record for driving across the American continent of under 32 hours, in the fall of 2006. He planned and practiced his run using Google Earth.
  • Metaverse Roadmap also shows us exciting possibilities of how 3D representation and the web may converge.

Other as yet unrealized examples are:

  • An amazing project Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar, We Feel Fine aggregates and visualizes th state of people’s emotions around the world. We may be able to map geospatially, in real time, the emotions around how a community reacts to tragedy or jubilation.
  • We could map the impossible path that Ernest Shackleton took to save the lives of the ill-fated crew of the Endurance in 1900. (UPDATE: It has already been done)
  • We can map the path of my UPS package as it travels from Amazon’s warehouse in Kentucky to my doorstep in real time, so we are not held hostage to the UPS man’s schedule.

* * *

Umberto Eco has a nice essay in How to Travel with a Salmon named “On the Impossibility of Drawing a Map of the Empire on a Scale of 1 to 1.” He quotes from Jorge Luis Borges who is in turn quoting Suarex Miranda:

…In that Empire, the craft of Cartography attained such Perfection that the Map of a Single province covered the space of an entire City, and the Map of the Empire itself an entire Province. In the course of Time, these Extensive maps were found somehow wanting, and so the College of Cartographers evolved a Map of the Empire that was of the same Scale as the Empire and that coincided with it point for point. Less attentive to the Study of Cartography, succeeding Generations came to judge a map of such Magnitude cumbersome, and, not without Irreverence, they abandoned it to the Rigours of sun and Rain. In the western Deserts, tattered Fragments of the Map are still to be found, Sheltering an occasional Beast or beggar; in the whole Nation, no other relic is left of the Discipline of Geography.

From Travels of Praiseworthy Men (1658) by J. A. Suarez Miranda

What we see Google Earth and Virtual Earth is the creation of such a map, mapping reality on to a mirrored world. We may actually be seeing something even more profound. A map that contains more information than even the 1-to-1 map.

[Update] Worldprocessor is a pre-Google Earth visualization of data on a globe. Very interesting nonetheless.

CARMA: Visualizing Carbon Emission Data

Center for Global Development\'s CARMA website

Center for Global Development's CARMA website

CARMA (Carbon Monitoring for Action) is a project by the Center for Global Development that I was peripherally involved in at my old firm, Forum One Communications.

It recently came online and tracks the CO2 output of carbon emitting sources around the world. (Carbon dioxide being one of the causes global warming) It attempts to reveal who are the worse offenders in an effort that through public pressure and resulting market pressure (investors will be turned off by bad publicity) the offenders will clean up their act.

A case of information leading to action.