Maine Startup and Create Week 2015

I’m embarrassed to admit when TEDster Adam Burk reached out
to me to Portland, Maine to speak Maine Startup and Create Week 2015 a few
months ago, I had no idea that Portland, Maine even existed. Everyone knows
Portland, Oregon but Portland, Maine was about as familiar to me as Paris,
Texas is to most people. Meaning not at all.

So I’m glad I decided to come for a number of reasons, but
the first is I learned about this new great place. On top of that, Portland, Maine is
pretty awesome (in the summer). I will definitely revisit. Startup and Create Week was a unique conference in that it wasn’t all tech oriented, there was also a food track and a general entrepreneurship track which brought in a lot more people than those who might attend the typical tech conference.

While there I was interviewed by the local NBC affiliate WCSH 6′s Caroline Cornish about my work as an investor and my ‘outcome design’
methodology which I use to help companies mitigate the risks of innovation.

You can view my interview on WCSH6 here.

Later I was interviewed by the team at the Knack Factory which can be viewed here.

What is Digg?

I’ve been a huge fan of Digg since at least 2006.  I was never really swayed one way or another by the ‘revolts’ that rocked the site. I just used it find good stuff to read and that was enough for me.

What I liked about Digg was that it wasn’t Reddit.  Don’t read into that too much, Reddit is awesome, I just use it in a different way.  It’s so full of inside jokes and community self-references that I go there more to socialize than to consume.  Whereas Digg, even at its peak was accesible to anyone, whether they were cool enough to be a part of the inner circle or not. 

A number of things have changed at Digg over the last few years and I find myself using the site less and less.  Today I decided to figure out why.  For me, it was far too easy to explain it away as a result of better places for discovering content coming around. There have always been better places for discovering content, this used to be among the best. So what changed?

1. Digg was my prism for the web.

Twitter is a wonderful serendipitous maze for discovering things you didn’t know you were looking for during the process of finding the things you were. For me, the point of Twitter is to consume more than I need so that when I do need something specific I have more places to find it.  

Facebook, assumes that I care what my ‘friends’ are interested in.  I don’t. My friends are my friends because of what we don’t share in common, not necessarily because of what we do.  Therefore, the ‘interest graph’ of people who are my friends is often completely and utterly irrelevant to me.  This is because algorithms have yet to get good at figuring out what interests me about each friend and when.

So where do I go when I don’t want a firehouse of random pieces of information, but I also don’t want to use my friends as curators?  

Well, that place used to be Digg.  I could let strangers do all the work of finding good stuff to read.  Not my friends, strangers.  This is because I want to know what people who aren’t necessarily like me think.

2. Too Much Choice

Digg used to be simple.  “Here is the most popular stuff from around the web today.” That’s it.  Simple value proposition, thus what I expected of the site was obvious. More or less they’ve kept that experience. That is, until you actually start navigating the site.  

What is this thing and why do I need it? What is it telling me? It looks cool and I’m sure it’s useful but this gives me more options when I actually want less. I clearly haven’t even taken the time to figure it out, because I don’t want to spend any more time doing anything but reading content.  I’m just here as a news consumer.

3. Following Individuals Doesn’t Add Value For Me

I mentioned I like letting strangers curate what’s popular from around the web for me. Strangers with an ’s’, as in collectively. This is because it made for an interesting ‘picture’ of the web as assembled by many.  

If I wanted to follow the particular interests of individuals I’d be happy just going to back to Twitter or Facebook.  At least there I also get bits of their personality.  Here it’s just random links. I prefer my web refracted by a prism, not the laser focus gaze of a single person.  What about following my friends?  Not my thing, See #1.

4. What is the difference between a Newsroom and Newswire?

Both have categories. Both have other filters. Both exist on a site that I thought was already my filter.  These features seem to add more complexity where what I really want speed and simplicity.



5. Too many ‘Tops’

Top News in All Topics used to be an authoritative list on what was the ‘best of Digg’ and therefor, one communities take on what was the best of the web.

Now, because there are soo many Top choices on other parts of the site, I don’t have a clue what is the more valuable list to pay attention to.  

This is perhaps because some users are looking for nuanced mechanisms for discovery out of Digg, and Digg has obliged. But I’m just looking for simple discovery.  This is because the site has always leaned more towards that sort of offering and so that’s where the utility lies for me. This is because I’m here to consume content, not engage with the middle man delivering that content.

I’m not slagging off Digg, these are just observations of my own behavior as it relates to the site.  I am a content junkie.  I dive deep into discovery with applications like Google Reader and the plethora of tools out there for mining Twitter.  Google+ and Facebook seem to think they can tell what I’ll find interesting algorithmically.  Fair enough, sometimes that’s useful too…but what I miss is my human prism of the web. 

Photo by Lowercased

Engineering Games for Social Engineering

The stickiness of games is that they appeal to a side of our brains that likes to achieve. Ethan Zuckerman wrote a great post today called “Games that make us wander” that was quite timely for me as I’ve been working on exposing the underlying game mechanics of the Ushahidi platform.  Here’s an excerpt from @ethanz’s post:

Game designer and ARG pioneer Jane McGonigal believes that games can change the world for the better. In her recent TED talk, she wonders aloud whether the billions of person hours of time, creativity and energy spent playing games like World of Warcraft could be refocused on solving problems in the real world rather than in virtual worlds. Her point is related to Clay Shirky’s observations about cognitive surplus, and the insight that projects like Wikipedia are produced with the “spare cycles” made possible by the industrial revolution, and now liberated from more passive pursuits, like watching TV or drinking gin. (Or both, at the same time, which is how I prefer to spend my downtime.)

But McGonigal’s point is less general, and more focused on the special nature of games. The best games stimulate our problem-solving instincts, encourage our creativity in trying novel and unusual solutions, and intensely capture our attention and focus. If we build games that encourage us to solve real problems as well the ones game designers concoct to challenge us, perhaps we can harness that focus, energy and creativity. Her games have included World Without Oil, designed to help players discover solutions to the social unrest and disruption likely to arise in a world of $7/gallon gasoline (for my non-US readers, yes, the idea of petrol at $1.80 per liter is sufficiently provocative to get Americans to think about social transformation), and Urgent Evoke, built with the World Bank and designed to train a generation of social entrepreneurs around the world, with a focus on the developing world.

Simply put, people respond to incentive and are susceptible to reward (a sense of accomplishment).  Those platform incentives most often in-use in games like SCVNGR or Foursquare hack human behavior to get them to buy things or consume more content. It’s ver transactional (ex. If I become the Mayor of Starbucks I get a discount on my latte – If I do this, I get that.) Very few products that I’m aware of attempt to change different types of everyday real-world behavior.  There a few, Tom Chatfield’s TED talk reveals how game mechanics can be used in systems for rewarding people who saving money, or using less water in the bathroom

What if Americans got “points” in some massive multiplayer game that rewarded them for exploring the world beyond our shores? What if those points could then be redeemed for rewards (social or otherwise) that reinforced the resulting behavioral change in an effort to get our citizens to travel more.  Might that change things on a large enough scale that it could eventually affect the behavior of society, even beyond the scope of a promised reward? Or apply the same concept to patients receiving care for ailments like diabetes and what they consume on daily basis.  Or perhaps simply grades in school, like I’m working on with my startup, LocaleMotive.

From a pseudo-psychology standpoint, games represent an elaborate form of positive reinforcement. People do things to get things.  There are variations of games where people play games to avoid losing points, or suffering.  Ultimately, games abstract and simplify real-world concepts in ways that assist nascent learning.

The value of the Ushahidi platform for many of the people responding where were affected by crises, is simply to ‘see their dot’ on a map. Their ripple in wake of the world, visualized.  As it relates to games, it can be thought of as wanting to ‘score’.

If I’m someone feeding reports to an Ushahidi instance.  These red-dots represent me, what I did, where I was, what my feelings were at the time and only thereafter do many consider the implications of whether or not participating has changed their life for the better or for the worse.  That first part is compelling, because it represents that people are willing to participate when even a fundamentally minimal promise of reward is offered.  

However, what’s attractive is the act of participating with the hope of achieving a goal (while perhaps acting narcissistically – however unconsciously).  We’ve begun exploring some of these ideas with Ushahidi.  

This week we announced CrowdMap:CI which essentially turns Ushahidi into a white-label geo social platform that anyone can can use to set up their own rules, rewards and game mechanics. On the most visceral level, it’s tapping into a trend, but my secondary motive is to explore what types of incentives can be used to improve engagement in times of need.

Share Your Art, Save the World

WeWorkForFree is a design community that allows it’s members to upload and share their portfolios in order to raise money for international programs that benefit developing nations.

They do this by hosting contests sponsored by donors that need a job completed, but who are also willing to donate money to a good cause. The programs are target small communities in places like Kenya, Uganda and India. Examples of some of these programs include goals like raising money to donate OLPC laptops to classrooms, raising money to send food to Tsunami victims or donating funds to a clinic that shelters refugees from Kenya.

One of the most interesting elements is that artist can apply for scholarships to actually go volunteer for a few weeks in some of the countries where WW4F are established! The idea is to help designers, photographers, illustrators, and other artists get involved in using their talents to benefit the world at large.

The UI of the site will be quite familiar to those of you using services like DeviantArt, CarbonMade and with the added benefit of raising money for the people in areas of the world that desperately need it.

We Work For Free is currently in private beta. Click the image below to visit.

FriendFeed Should ReadWrite

I’ve been using FriendFeed for about three months now, and I like it but I can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed. One of the big pluses for most people is that it decentralizes blog conversations allowing people to interject comments into your Lifestream. But it’s this very feature that makes me not like it as much as I might.

I’d really like to see a way for FriendFeed to pass comments to the service that the content is coming from. For instance, if I post a photo on Flickr, and no one comments on Flickr, but 50 people on FriendFeed start a conversation about it, I’d like those comments to be passed to the photos comment page on Flickr. Similarly a blog post that has several comments on my blog, should gain the interjections added from my friends on FriendFeed.

How This Would Work

The biggest question, of course, is how would all of this work? One option is to simply extend the functionality of the various APIs that FriendFeed uses to connect you to your social networks. FriendFeed would connect to the service and the user would approve it to use their account (think Flickr and Flickr Uploader). This would allow FriendFeed to read and write to the users account.

Tricky part is figuring out if the person on FriendFeed has an account on whatever the service is that your content exists on it. If the user doesn’t This could be solved by simply using a dummy FreindFeed account. For example on Flickr…

    FriendFeed says:
    @FFUser1 “nice photo, man!”
    @FFUser2 “I like the shadows”
    @FFUser3 “where was this taken?”

That would all be one comment when passed to your Flickr Account. Of course if the commenting user did have an account on Flickr, their comment could just be posted to the correct content using their account data which FriendFeed would have been given. These comments would be organized in the chronological order they were received, allowing them to maintain their context.

To add a layer of privacy, there could be a little option for users that says something like “Keep My Comment on FriendFeed”, for those people who don’t want their comment to passed through to the service the content comes from. For instance I’d do that If I were to comment on my own posts. And perhaps a global setting that would allow users to always have that box checked or unchecked.

FriendFeed, in fact, already does this with some services like Twitter (re: the above picture) but most of it’s other services are excluded which leads me to believe that it’s got more to do with each specific service’s APIs than for lack of the FriendFeed team’s trying.

Since there are hundreds of way to create a lifestream these days (Socialthing, Tumblr,, Facebook etc.) I feel like the ‘writing’ aspect would be a huge asset to the FriendFeed community.

Ten Ways Twitter Could Appeal to Joe Average and Become Ubiquitous

With all the recent attention has received many people have asked what the relevance of such a service is to the average user? Twitter is very popular among the early adopter tech crowd, but why would people who use their computers less than 20 hours per week ever have a need for such a service? In other words, how can Twitter benefit non-profit organizations, public institutions or everyday business? More importantly how can Twitter benefit the average person and become more useful than it is trendy?

Here are some ideas I had as for how embracing a ‘twitter-like’ service could benefit more than just the over-ambitious blogging crowd. These applications could be built using Twitter or any other microblog service. What I’m trying to do is demonstrate how developers can capitalize on the popularity of Twitter and possibly push it to the point of ubiquity (like Google).

  1. Tracking Packages from FedEx, UPS and other Postage Services.
    Just the other day I waited all morning for an important package to be delivered, constantly refreshing the FedEx tracking webpage to see what the latest updates were. It was actually my girlfriend who pointed out, “..too bad they don’t have Twitter!” which caused me to think about such a scenario. If shipping companies did employ service like Twitter, it would allow me to stay constantly updated to the progress of my packages. If I didn’t have access to a computer for instance, I could have the tracking updates forwarded to my cell phone or mobile device. The driver of the shipping truck would update status by simply waving a wand across his packages and typing in his location, expected delays or ETA. Far fetched? Not at all, this exactly how tracking info is gathered right now. What’s missing is an application that would turn these updates into messages or ‘tweets’.
  2. Amber Alerts/Emergency Awareness/Public Service Announcements
    So the state or federal government has a public menace that they need to make the public aware of. They often use traditional media (TV, radio) as well as some localized metods (highway LED Signs) but they’re notorious for ignoring the medium with the biggest audience of them all…the internet. In fact, if the government were to contract Twitter to relay these alerts it would be mutually advantageous as Twitter could send the occasional emergency alert to it’s users site-wide while the authorities could potentially reach new segments of the populous.

    You might recall a few years ago MySpace became a testing ground for this very type of collaboration.

  3. Film and Music Product Release Dates
    For all the paranoia that new media is stealing public attention from old media, there aren’t very many traditional outlets taking advantage of what control they do still have left. For instance, why does every record label or major film distributor not have Twitter accounts? Most of us actually want to know when that new album from our favorite artist is released. I’m also twice as likely to follow a companies’ Twitter stream than to join their newsletter. Of course ,the next step would be to offer a way to filter out all the stuff that I DON’T want to be notified of.
  4. GPS Breadcrumbs with Notes
    Say you’re a professional runner, national park sentry or hiking enthusiast and you’re hiking along a very rarely used trail. Perhaps you then notice that a bridge is washed out or you see some other danger you want to make people more aware of. You might pull out a GPS cacheing unit, geo tag the location, type a quick note about the incident and either store the message to be sent later or send it via satellite immediately. The people in your community or your colleagues following you would then have all the information they need to avoid the same area and teams could be sent out to rectify the problem.
  5. Sport Scores
    For you sports enthusiasts out there, if there was a way to get score updates that you’re interested in without having to check the paper the next morning or various websites, would you be interested? Similar to the application described in #3, if the end user could pick a handful of sport teams that they love and have those new scores appear in his or her Twitter stream (which can also ping your mobile device) it would save quite a bit of time. The user would also need to be able to easily deactivate certain teams or games, for those times when they’ve TIVO’ed it and don’t want to spoil the surprise.
  6. Grades
    Often times in the school system, grades and test scores don’t necessarily need to be kept confidential. In those cases, wouldn’t it be great if a student could ping a dedicated Twitter account with their name as a hashtag (ex. #jongos) and get a response back with their scores? Alternatively pinging the account with a #all hastag would retrieve a link to a page with all the grades of their classmates and would mention if a curve was applied. It would be efficient, save paper and save time.
  7. Voting
    One of my favorite Twitter applications is which allows you to post polls to Twitter. Here’s a real world example: At my condo the HOA often takes votes on various issues: “Should we get a new fence?” “Should we buy that new flood light?” The HOA president could use a service like this to poll our neighbors.

    It’s not hard to imagine a world where a Twitter-like service could be used for more official votes like public office or internal company decisions.

  8. Health Appointment Reminders
    Do you have trouble remembering when your next physical is or when you scheduled that next teeth cleaning? While services like Remember the Milk allow you to to create to-do lists and manage tasks, I envision local dentist offices rolling out a service something like this themselves that solely exists to help you manage your appointments. How convenient would it be to receive a Direct Twitter message from a database at your dentist’s clinic reminding you not to be late?
  9. Home Security
    A number of people have their home alarms call them when it goes off. It would be smart for companies like ADT to offer a service that can be set up to text, email and or IM you, all things that Twitter does when prompted. The message could inform you of the time, address (especially useful if you have multiple homes) and the area in the home that was triggered. This of course would be a complimentary service offered in addition to the phone call that’s become the standard and the request to send out police.
  10. Crash Reports
    Lastly, something that might be useful for software developers, especially those using open source applications like Mozilla’s products or Linux, is an application that logs crashes or software bugs. Something like this application created by Kevin except the database would be public. Normally these messages are sent to huge databases where they may or may not be analyzed by engineers at the company that makes the product. I imagine a service that would send these messages to a web database that would take the users notes, along with the crash report and application info, archive them online and make it all searchable.

    The big concern of course is security, but that could be easily addressed by only making the most common errors and repair public. Hashtags and Twitter’s search option would allow programmers to find the relevant code.

Companies like Mosio are already harnessing the power of the crowd to answer questions. In his post “5 Ways to Use Twitter For Good”, Chris Brogan explores the possibilities of using the Twitter community to solve problems. This is where we start and as more and more developers build on the Twitter API applications like the ones I’ve described will inevitably come into existence. As they do, and as Twitter’s popularity increases, Twitter will venture closer and closure to that tipping point that will make it a household name for years to come.