Category Archives: transparency

Interesting “Us Now” film on intersection of technology and community

“Us Now” is a provocative, but bit breathy, film on the connection between technology and community, and glosses lightly over some of the challenges of building community over the Internet. Nonetheless, it is still an interesting watch.  The examples are heavily  UK-based, perhaps because there has been more innovation in the tech-community space on that side of the Atlantic.

The film has a number of talking heads (including Clay Shirky) and highlights some interesting experiments in building community over the web, such as:

  • The School of Everything: a UK website where would-be teachers on any topic can meet locals who want to learn.  It’s like a virtual Center for Adult Education.
  • Ebbsfleet United Football Club: a UK soccer club teach where 30,000 fans “own” the team and decide on what players should start various games and on various policies for the club.  [The film shows them advancing to and winning the finals at Wembley.]
  • Couchsurfing: a website where travelers can find someone in another town who is willing to let them sleep on a couch (or maybe an extra bed).
  • Wikipedia:  known to almost everyone, but a demonstration that millions of volunteers can create something arguably as strong as a commercial encyclopedia, and certainly more vibrant and up-to-date.
  • Mumsnet: an Internet-based community of moms where they exchange advice, concerns, and sometimes friendship.
  • Linux: open-source software that is generally less bug-ridden, produced faster and better performing than commercial software like Microsoft.  And the software is all written by thousands of volunteers over the Internet.
  • Zopa: like an ebay bank, Zopa enables individual-to-individual loans.  Individuals note what their loans are for, like “funding driving lessons” or “buying a cow.”  Those wishing to lend can bid on what interest rate they’ll charge. And a lender can wind up getting funding from scores or hundreds of individual funders for a project.
  • Slice The Pie: Musicians can upload their tracks and have them rated by “slice the pie” participants.  The top rated bands get showcased and the best get 15,000 pounds to make a record from the participating individuals, who share in the record’s proceeds.
  • Governance:  examples range from a participatory budgeting experience in Morcambe, to TheyWorkForYou.com, to The Point, to the Canadian Green Party developing their platform online through a collaborative wiki.
  • Directionless:  a number where cellphone users can call in the UK and get hooked up with a volunteer who is physically proximate who can answer their questions (where is a nearby ATM?  What bars are open late?  etc.)

The film raises important points about the potential of the internet: in increasing transparency and participation, in “disintermediating” (putting more individuals on the front-lines of decision making), in its ability to reach great scale through organizations with a small number of employees, in how it might change our attitudes towards trust, or our willingness to contribute to the gift economy (where we ultimately can gain a lot by giving a little), and in how the Internet is spreading an expectation of participation which may be irreversible, regardless of whether this typically leads to better outcomes.

See “Us Now”.

Individual clips here.

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Voter-gauged election fairness

(photo by danostuporstar)

(photo by danostuporstar)

My colleague Archon Fung has a new web-based project (in conjunction with ABC News) called My Fair Election to enable voters to rate how fair their voting experience was.

I’ve blogged before about how citizens could be on the front-lines in monitoring global warming or bird patterns or even improving GPS systems.  (See related post here.)  Now citizens can be at the forefront of helping to monitor our election process.

The My Fair Election website says “Rate your polling place and your experience of voting here. Was it easy to vote? Were there long lines, closed polling places, or broken machines? Your rating and those of thousands of other voters will produce a real-time map of voting conditions throughout the country on November 4, 2008. Sign up now, and you will receive an email message with instructions for submitting your own rating after you vote.”

My Fair Election enables American citizens or journalists or politicians to see where there are concentrations of voting unfairness or irregularity and enables high level of citizen-observed unfairness in the election process to trigger investigations into asserted irregularities.  One could also see the day after the election from the “Weather Map of Election Fairness” we collectively create whether concentrations of voting unfairness occurred in certain states or traditionally Blue vs. Red areas.

So don’t only vote on November 4, but sign up at My Fair Election and get your friends (in lots of different places) to sign up as well.  Together we can all hold the voting system accountable and we can add a layer of transparency to our voting process.

Note: other parallel efforts (although not enabling one to map the infractions) are a service which Twitter offered called Vote Report and Video Your Vote (a YouTube) effort enabling voters to upload a video of their voting experience.