I’ve been invited to talk at the World Congress on IT 2010, in the eGovernment track. Together with Beth Noveck, Ivo Gormley, and Greg Clark, we’ll have a session and panel called “Hey gov, can you hear me?”, moderated by Dom Sagolla. Arnout Ponsioen invited me to present a case from the perspective of civil society, and I chose to illustrate the possibilities of people all over the world working together in a moment of crisis: the Haiti earthquake. Here is what I had to say.
When I update my laptop to the next version of Ubuntu (Lucid Lynx or 10.04 this time), I usually have a look at the general direction for some of the “ desktop core elements”, like desktop search. I decided to switch from Beagle to Tracker and hopefully have tackled the performance problems it seems to come with.
I’m a geek. So when it’s not a writer’s block keeping me from producing a blog post, I’ll dive into tools and techniques to “optimise” my writing experience before I start typing out sentences. Lets call it preventive productivity: getting a lot of related things done in order to be more efficient later. Like getting the tools and the work flow right. Perhaps I managed that, now that I can really use OpenOffice to write blog posts, with Zotero to manage my reference, and the Sun Weblog Publisher to push the result towards my website.
Racing back to Amsterdam at 270 km/h, time to consolidate my takeaways from this year’s FOSDEM in Brussels. More geeks (5,000+ expected), more lectures (200+) and more topics I wanted to follow: succeeded with OpenOffice, Drupal, and CouchDB, but not with Mozilla and XMPP. A geeky overview of my takeaways.
Imagine the first farmers: they lived in a society of hunters and gatherers. Every so often, you’d pack up your stuff and move along, to follow your food. Find new things to eat, because you’ve exhausted the place you lived in.
The farmers introduced a new way of thinking: what if we could just grow our food in one place? That would save the effort of travelling around. So they started experimenting: sowing seeds, taking care of the young sprouts, trying to cultivate their plants. Until it was harvest time: reap the benefits of your labour, indulge in cornucopia for a while, store a bit, and start working on the next cycle.
The hunters and gatherers must have looked upon those folks as weird people: building houses ("sure, nice to live in but not very practical on your travels!"), creating ploughs and tools ("great way to move dirt, but how are you going to catch a mammoth or pluck a berry with that?"), storing food in storages ("won’t the mice and the rats just run with it?"). The hackers and nerds of their times, saying "go ahead and chase your mammoth, I’ll see you around, next Summer".
The farmers prevailed. They changed the way society works in most places on the world. We try to stick to where we are, and we even make rituals and routines around that, to affirm our convictions and location. And most of us are no longer involved in producing food, but rather in pursuing other goals.
I’m working in the field of international development collaboration. I often feel like a farmer, talking to hunters and gatherers, about what "web 2.0" is really about. Oh, he’s a techie, an engineer. But I’m experimenting with ways to grow compassion, engagement, collaboration. Online communities? Blogs and bookmarks? RSS and wikis? Social networking? Sure, but won’t the rats just eat your products while you’re having a party?
We don’t eat a lot of Mammoth Burger these days. And we could cultivate collaboration towards a common goal, without sacrifice or giving up (a lot of) our current live. We can build a global society based on solidarity, without loosing identity or community.
Lets move from chasing to cultivating.
Recently, my work has moved again towards "concept" and "facilitation", into the realm of the unknown, the things to be discovered. Especially around online collaboration, platforms to facilitate that, and internet strategies and architectures to support such processes: Web of Change, WijZijnMedia, NABUUR, Internationale Samenwerking 2.0 (in Dutch for now). It’s all about new community-organising strategies and tactics, and I love it: a potent mix of "where do we go from here" and "what will we have built by the end of today". Pragmatic idealism: punk+utopia with web 2.0+mobile as catalyst, or perhaps: "do it yourself serendipity". But also: how to let flying saucers get you there. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s talk at TED and Matt Leacock’s Google Tech Talk guide me.
Communicating web concepts for user experience and site structure is a challenge. Wire frames and interactive prototypes are great for this, and over the years, I have been using those with many designers and developers in a variety of web projects. But creating and sharing such mockups still is a laborious task, so I went around the web again to look for a tool that truly makes that task easier. Pidoco seems to offer the best way forward for me.