Blogs

Amplifying the Other - a response to Amplified08

Some events just make you go 'hmmm', and last week's Amplified08 was one of them. A critical mass of UK social media types assembled themselves at NESTA for an evening's unconference, and real cred goes to the volunteer organizers for pulling it together. The declared mission of this Network of Networks is to boost interconnectedness - but that strength also seemed to me to be it's weakness. Amongst the Twittering throng my head throbbed with the question 'Amplify what?'. Amplify creativity? Amplify business? Amplify racism?

Perhaps most of the crowd at #amp08 felt that more connectedness is enough of a purpose, and fair play to that. Robert Putnam's take on Social Capital highlights the collective value of all social networks and the inclinations that arise from these networks as a broad societal measure of communal health. But let's not forget that Bourdieu, another pioneer theorist of social capital, emphasises it's role in forming and maintaining elites. Part of my 'hmmm' is to wonder which way is the Amplified 08 - 09 - 10 train is heading.

The other 'hmmm' I have is a frustration that there could be something really powerful in Amplified 09, but only if it's mixed with other ingredients. The voices that really need amplifying are "the Other"; the excluded and the marginalised. I'd be switched on by a social media geek gathering that nailed that mission to it's mast, in the same way that 4IP is digitalising Channel 4's public mission to "champion alternative voices and fresh perspective and to challenge people to see the world differently". So we've had Amplified 08 and we know who 'we' are; let's get out there and mash it up with the outsiders. As it says in NESTA Connect's core beliefs "extreme collaboration can lead to bigger leaps forward".

A bemused bald guy at Amplified 08.(Photo by Lloyd Davies )

Another World Is Possible: submit your idea for Social Innovation Camp

 "Another World Is Possible" - a slogan of defiance and hope, often on the face of overwhelming odds. But at this particular moment in time, history has delivered us the tools to start making it a reality , especially in the gaps left by the Leviathans (corporates, governments, NGOs). Hurrah for the Internets!

At Social Innovation Camp we are asking "What does that other world look like, and how can we use social tech to make it happen ?" At the first camp, people said it looked like a world

- where having a physical disability doesn't mean you have to fill your house with relics from a crimean war hospital, where you can enjoy usable and stylish products like the rest of us: it looks like Enabled By Design.

- where where visiting prison is not a demeaning, family-wrecking experience: it looks like Prison Visits.

The second Social Innovation Camp happens between 5th and 7th of December 2008, and it's your chance to say what an alternative world could look like, because it looks like something driven by your passions, your frustrations: like the social need you feel most strongly about, like the cool tech you know would have an impact if it was released in to the world.

Social Innovation Camp is a vessel for helping to make those ideas happen. We assemble the ingredients, mixing the tribes of geek and social change activist in a space that is itself outside of 'business as usual', a space where all the usual rules are off; you can imagine whatever you want about the possible impact of this digital stuff. The Social Innovation Camp call for ideas closes November 7th, so get your ideas in now.

Photo by Roland Hartig

Austin Tweetup Blood Drive

The Austin Tweetup Blood Drive: nice example of how online tools can be used to organise offline action. Twitter users will know how memes sweep across Twitter feeds - I like the way that's been turned into something real.  (Cred to the We Are Media Project for surfacing this). 

AustinBloodDriveTweetup from Kristine Gloria on Vimeo.

Sizzling Surveillances, Batman - Join the ORG Board!

The Open Rights Group is looking for new Board members (closing date for applications: Tuesday 28 October). As one of the current board I've blogged before about the necessity & effectiveness of ORG (BISH! to copyright term extension and BASH! to e-voting) - since then, ORG has been even more active in protecting our digital civil liberties. Recent top picks include

I'm happy to spend most of my time working on the cool ways that the Internets can be used to make a better world, but we all need to wake up to the multiple threats enroaching on internet freedom. So if you're inspired by the idea of standing up for digital rights  take a look at our detailed job description and apply for a place on ORG's Board.

Footnote: if you're an ecampaigner or you're using the internet for campaigning, don't forget the lessons of history - the rights we've got are the ones we've fought for. (See also eCampaigning for Internet Freedom).

Freedom Not Fear: the Open Rights Group photo-action

Come and join the Open Rights Group this Saturday (11th Oct 2008) as we stage a photo-action in Parliament Square with our friends No2ID . Our action is part of the international Freedom Not Fear day against the total retention of telecommunication data and other instruments of surveillance.

If you can't make it on the day, don't worry; you can still contribute. We need as many people as possible to take photos of stuff that embodies the database state, and the UK’s world-famous surveillance society. Here are instructions for sending us your photos. If you’d like to join the action, email info [AT] openrightsgroup.org and let us know.

The power of the Freedom Not Fear concept comes from linking opposition to technical measures, like blanket surveillance and filtering of internet communications (EU Telecoms-Package) and blanket logging of communications and locations (data retention), to a positive vision of a free and open society.

And the growing reach and scale of the day of action is impressive; one of the organizers emailed me yesterday to say that "in Berlin, things are shaping up really well. We have more than a hundred organizations that call for the demonstration, most of the 100 buses from all over Germany are booked out, there will be a club night afterwards with prominent DJs, films, keysigning parties etc. I am really blown away how this all has developed from a vague idea into an international action. In the Netherlands, they even have three demonstrations (Amsterdam, The Hague and Rottterdam). And we had inquiries from places as remote as Sri Lanka about how to join FnF."

Best online bailout responses? Sarcasm, transparency and taking to the streets.

A thread on the Progressive Exchange list asks "What's the best online response to the bailout?". For my money (heh heh) the star is www.buymyshitpile.com, which reckons we should all benefit from the $700bn rescue deal. Use their form to submit bad assets you'd like the US government to take off your hands.

If you like a bit more depth, the Sunlight Foundation has an awesome dynamic visualisation of campaign contributions by the finance, insurance and real estate industries, showing how they peaked as regulatory mechanisms were being dismantled. Click on the play button to see the visualisation, and roll-over the circles to see the industry sector.

Thanks to Nisha from Sunlight for pointing out that they're pressing Congress to make the legislation public and to let citizens comment and review.  While PublicMarkup.org is an admirable tool for online citizen participation, I don't see the decision-makers taking much notice unless they're pushed by offline action as well. One of the (many) amazing things about the 2001 crisis in Argentina was watching respectable members of the middle classes beating down the doors of the banks during the cacerolazos. If the internet is to have a place in the history of the current crisis, it may well be as a tool to for offline organising.

A protest and cacerolazo in 2002. The large sign reads "Thieving banks - give back our dollars".(Photo by Pepe Robles)

The Tao of Social Media

I often find myself trying to convey a sense of social media to people with no experience of it. This is a slippery business; as the Tao Te Ching says "The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao".

My own touchpoints range from "the Internet is a social condition" though "social software is the experimental wing of political philosophy" - but these are truths distilled from experience, not intros for newbies. Perhaps "it's social, stupid" has more of that Zen directness (thanks Lloyd). 

Perhaps we need something like The Tao of Pooh for social media (without the teeth-grinding cutesyness). I guess the nearest I've seen is Lynette Webb's Interesting Snippets (via Mediasnackers) but there's surely room for a Chrome comic take on it.


 

Seedcamp for Catalystas

Yadda yadda Seedcamp 08, filling my twitterfeed. I've said before we need one for social innovation, and only this week I heard that one of the Catalyst shortlist was having to semi-fold because support was slow to materialise.

I'm about to submit recommendations from the Catalyst Awards to No. 10 et al; I reckon I should propose something like Seedcamp to fund & incubate the successful applicants. Ping me if you've got any ideas about how to get a Seedcamp for Social Innovation off the ground. Can the Many-Headed Hydra, er sorry, Government, be persuaded to put funds in to the pot? We'll see...

 

social barcamps and the Temporary Autonomous Zone

The Social Camping Movement

Since we did the first Social Innovation Camp back in April I've stumbled across other interesting expressions of the social camp meme.

Evgeny Morozov was involved in the Riga BridgeCamp, which was set up to be a between the tech sector and NGOs.  As well as the camp, they planned to have roving tech support after the event (in a kind of erider-stylee): as Evgeny writes "Real results will be ensured by Support Laboratory: 'One day – one site'. It means, a programmer and a designer would visit a NGO (from all Latvia) and make a webpage for them."

The TransitCamp is a great example that has a specific social focus (improving Toronto's public transport system) and also manages to break away from having only web/tech ideas (e.g. proposing an 'Improve Your English Car' for their subway trains). I missed a recent chance to go to thinkpublic's Social Lab but they may be striving in a similar direction. Post-SICamp, I also heard rumours of interesting camping in Brazil, which would make sense given their strong open source movement and their stark social needs. 

Temporary Autonomy

For me, the far-reaching potential of social-camping comes when the aim is not just to improve the current system (whether that's charities or subways) but to develop something free of legacy constraints. The unfolding impact of the social web will come from the erosion of 19th century structures (such as charities and corporations) and the (re-)emergence of people-powered solutions. My German is way too limited to tell which way the Bremen SocialCamp leaned on this point, but there were obviously some interesting folk involved (hat tip to Christian Kreutz for that link).

Part of the creative energy for Social Innovation Camp came from freeing the participants from the expectations of their days jobs; the camp was a license to say 'all power to the imagination'. But how deep does this go - is it just the excitement of demob-happy designers, geeks & charity workers ignoring the fact that Monday morning will come again? Or does it prefigure some genuine social restructuring, which would make the camps a relative of Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zone. After all, the "the socio-political tactic of creating temporary spaces that elude formal structures of control" is also a neat summary of social media. It'll be interesting to see how this unfolds over the next months, and Social Innovation Camp will be pitching in now that we're back!

Where next for the UK Catalyst Awards?

The Catalyst Awards ceremony on 24/7 has boosted the buzz around using social technology for community good. I'm happy with how it went, and I know it's already having a positive knock-on effect. But raising all that energy raises the question: where next?

It was a curious experience to curate the awards, because of the need to bend a top-down initiative in the direction of community innovators. Luckily it succeeded, and the awards day reflected this curious mashup as PM Gordon Brown and a bevy of ministers mingled with social activists and tech obsessives.

All the awards were well deserved, of course; but an awards ceremony only takes things so far. Yes, it delivered media coverage, starting with unexpectedly positive write-ups from The Sun and The Telegraph(!).But I think all the wondrously diverse shortlist deserve a boost - and beyond that, so do all the folk who had the oomph to enter in the first place. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a nice guy, but because IMHO we're not just picking shiny projects at random, we're seeking to spotlight the birth of a movement.

Whenever we got the shortlisted projects together, there was an immediate buzz. They're not working on the same social issues but they seem to recognise some commonality and were keen to share experiences, and even to form partnerships. This solidarity is great, and reflects the spirit of generosity of the social web. And I think there's a momentum building around this movement, a sense that web-enabled social change signals a new form of community action for the 21st century ("using the newest of technologies for the oldest of aims").

But how do we unlock this promise? How do we catalyse(!) more projects and help them grow once they've started? All the folk I met while doing the awards are taking an enterprising approach to developing their strange memes. They are social startups and need support that's as agile and experimental as they are. Developing that ecology of support is one key issure for Catalyst phase 2.

We'll be announcing the phase 2 plan at Chain Reaction which leaves a couple of months to pull the strands together. I'm keen to hear other people's ideas about the best way to pull together initiatives like Social Innovation Camp, 2gether08 and Channel 4's 4IP. In the mean time, Davd Wilcox did a social report of the awards, including an interview with me where he asked a lot of the same questions;

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