I will be presenting a workshop called “Marketing & Outreach: Engaging Your Community in a Digital World” at the Northwest Community Media Gathering at 11 on Saturday, May 15th at The Governor Hotel. If you are a community media person who wants to become a social media expert thanks to my fine tutelage, please do attend!
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Sarah: What does it take to motivate a community that spends 12 hours a day in front of a screen to meet in-person on a regular basis? How do you build that sort of community?
Mary Jane: I think this question hits at the heart of a lot of important issues. Technology is a wonderful tool for facilitating social interaction, which we all need. Like any tool, though, it can be misused. Multiple studies show how vital in-person communication is for maintaining the close relationships that are necessary for health and happiness. While virtual communication can definitely enhance relationships, it can’t ever totally replace the experience of being with other people in person. With so many demands on our time, though, it’s very tempting to try to replace face-to-face meetings with quick IMs or status updates. We need face time, though, and there’s really no replacement for it.
I think the key to building a successful networking community is to provide that in-person interaction in a way that is sensitive to busy schedules. Flexible, casual meet-ups work well, especially if there’s an incentive to attend, like an interesting topic, a cool venue, or, of course, free food! Timing is just as key, since it’s easier to cancel and go home than to rush through traffic to get to a meeting right after work.
Sarah: Do women have a unique role to play in the digital world, or should we have the same expectations for women that we do for men?
Mary Jane: Women absolutely have a vital and unique role to play in the tech industry. In addition to the hard tech skills required for our projects, women can also be excellent at fostering team cohesion and propagating a shared vision, and I think that most women do this very naturally. So often on a tech team, because we get engrossed in the details of our particular tasks, we forget that solutions are still created by people. That oversight can put a project at risk because even the best idea can fail without the right team to make it happen. I believe that women have a natural aptitude for bringing teams together above and beyond the explicit shared work items, and until we have machines to design, make, and repair our technology for us, the human factor will continue to be vital to the future of technological innovation.
Sarah: What perks can organizations provide to motivate young people, particularly women, to work there? Do you think most young people would take a pay cut for some of those perks?
Mary Jane: Flexibility and work-life balance are very important to young people, especially those who have family and volunteer commitments. Creative work arrangements appeal to bright, involved employees who have a lot going on outside of work, and there are some great models of how value increases when employees have more freedom and input about their work environment. For most tech jobs, flextime and working from home are easy to arrange with the right tech solution. It’s different for each organization, of course, but I think that in a lot of cases, especially for highly skilled, self-motivated employee bases, the added performance, decreased overturn, and increased project morale gained by keeping employees happy would probably more than offset the overhead. Implemented correctly, there’s no need for pay cuts, since the company would be getting a return on the investment.
Sarah: What do you think the next revolution will be for online dating?
Mary Jane: Online dating is a great way to meet potential friends and dates, when it’s used the right way. It’s most effective as an introduction tool, when communication moves from virtual to real life as early as possible. People are wired to respond to in-person communication, especially when it comes to dating, and the risk of building up unrealistic expectations increases the longer the communication stays strictly virtual. Of course, people want to have an idea of what they’re getting into first and there are real safety concerns, so some communication is important before the first meeting.
We’ve seen a lot of improvements in online dating since it first started out. I think that a service-oriented matchmaking site would be an interesting development. Dating services can offer more than simply providing a forum for user-generated content, some personality tests, and a chat client. I’d be interested to see some branching out into profile editing/advice, date scheduling, better screening, and maybe personalized relationship coaching.
Sarah: Is there a good way to help upper management folks understand digital culture, or do they just have to trust the people who are immersed in the internet everyday to provide the answers?
Mary Jane: I think the best way for management to better understand digital culture is to get more involved. It’s so simple to generate content that there is practically no barrier to entry. Setting up a blog or Twitter account that employees could read would be a great way to improve personal tech skills, get informal feedback on decisions, disseminate non-sensitive information, and improve team/company cohesion. Personally, with the low resource cost and high potential gains, I don’t know why more executives don’t participate in some form of active social networking.
The purpose of these interviews (in addition to just being fascinating) is to promote my panel proposals at this year’s sxsw, but the panel picker is now closed, so this one’s just a bonus!
Today’s interview is with tech-savvy lawyer Riana Pfefferkorn. It’s a doozy in terms of length, but Riana has some incredible insights into privacy, social networking, law, and credibility online, so grab a cup of tea, and settle in for great read.
Riana is a 2009 graduate of the University of Washington School of Law. She lives and works in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She has two cats and never enough books. Lawyerly Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are solely her own and in no way reflect the opinions of her employer.
Sarah: The internet evolves so much faster than the law that the law has become virtually irrelevant online. How do we change the process of legislation and litigation so that it can keep up with the internet?
Riana: OK, go ahead and put the hardest question first, why don’tcha. This question assumes that it’s desirable for legislation at the state and national level to keep up with the Internet… I’m very wary of Internet legislation due to enforceability problems and the inherent arrogance of trying to impose local laws on an international system.
Maybe the first thing to recognize is that the Internet is a complex system onto which our traditional legal regimes map imperfectly. We can apply “meatspace” legal schemes pretty easily to some behaviors on the Internet, but the nature of the Internet — the nuts and bolts of how it works, and how the various digital tools and technologies we use work — means other regimes are a bad fit. We can’t take a “one size fits all” approach, so rather than look at it like one monumental entity called THE INTERNET, legislators must take the time to understand the technologies they seek to regulate. This is why I’m glad the current administration has created a CTO position. I would like to see something like that in every state, too, since certain states (*cough* Utah) have a fondness for passing boneheaded laws regarding the Internet.
The Internet (in all its nuances) does move fast. I don’t expect legislators, who have to be jacks-of-all-trades, to anticipate what the next disruptive technology is going to be. We have more than enough laws as it is; existing laws can often cover online behaviors, obviating the need to pass a fancy new law. Legislators need to recognize when there is actually a need for a specific new law, and when they can leave well enough alone. Any time you write a new law, you have the usual problems of what language to use. Narrowly targeting a certain technology in a law means the law can be applied only narrowly. At the same time, using language in a bill that’s too vague or too broad will cover things the legislation wasn’t intended to cover. As I said above, I think if legislators really understand the nuts and bolts of the technologies, they can figure out whether broad or narrow language is called for (after first deciding that there is a need for a new law at all). For example, the federal wire fraud statute was written to cover telephones and TV, but the term “wire” applies just dandy to the Internet. On the other hand, the copyright laws were written for tangible, physical “copies” of books and pictures and so on; MP3s threw a monkey wrench into the situation. So to legislators, I say: first, understand the technology you’re talking about; second, think hard before you decide you need to make another law just for THE INTERNET; third, know your place and don’t get grabby. Exporting your state’s Internet laws to other states gets real awkward real fast, and when it comes to federal law, extraterritoriality is generally a bad idea.
For litigants, “don’t get grabby” is also a good lesson. I place a lot of trust in the judiciary to see how new situations fit within laws written before those situations arose. However, courts must be on the lookout when prosecutors or plaintiffs try to stretch laws to cover conduct that doesn’t fit. Look at the Megan Meier Myspace suicide case: the prosecution got jurisdiction in California, half a continent away from where the events occurred, and they used the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which Congress passed in 1984 and meant to cover hacking, to nail the defendant to the wall because they couldn’t actually charge her with murder. The jury went along with the prosecution’s theory, saying that you can be convicted of a federal felony if you don’t follow a website’s Terms of Service! Luckily the judge threw out the verdict and said he would acquit the defendant, Lori Drew, though that’s not final yet. Like I said, I place trust in the judiciary, but for a judge to throw out the decision of a jury is a big deal. So if anything I’d say that litigants need to step off. As said, we have reams and reams of laws in this country; if there’s already a law of general applicability that covers your situation, don’t go misusing some law for your case just because your case involves THE INTERNET.
But your question implicitly referred to the fact that all litigation takes forever and can’t always keep pace with technology. Although it is a threat to my career as a litigator, I hope that alternative dispute resolution looks more favorable to would-be litigants because the Internet is so fast-paced and litigation so glacial. Litigation should be a last resort, not a first resort; working with users, website operators, and ISPs to resolve problems should come first. However, the Internet’s not a polite place. The threat of using such alternative processes rather than litigating is the risk of disgruntled parties doing an end run around due process, like with the abuse of DMCA takedown requests. So we do need safeguards. But the fact that we can’t see each other online doesn’t mean that there isn’t a reasonable human being on the other end of the wire. Just as in “meatspace” legal disputes, freakin’ talk to people before you sue them. Maybe it’ll solve your problem faster than an expensive lawsuit would.
Sarah: How can nonprofits attract young lawyers? The College Cost Reduction Act and the recession seem to be helping, but are there specific perks that appeal to our generation that might encourage people to work for a less money than they would make at a firm?
Riana: First, let’s assume that a) the cost of a law school education is only going to increase and b) our broken health care system isn’t going to get fixed anytime soon. Debt and health care worries, which have a huge impact on American workers as a whole, not just the legal profession, mean that nonprofits aren’t about to be able to compete on salary and health care plans with the Biglaw firms. So there must be other ways to get people to work for less money.
Nonprofits offer way better hours than law firms. That’s the biggest thing. A more laid-back working environment, where you can be yourself and not worry about being bland and well-dressed when you spend most of your time behind your computer, is number two. Offering flex time and telecommuting, so people can arrange their days in the way they personally are most productive; sponsoring volunteer projects, a “green” workplace, and an in-house baseball team; offering child care at work — none of these is alien to law firms. But having your evenings and weekends to yourself, plus being able to actually use your vacation time (and not make it a “working vacation”) — that’s something Biglaw can’t give you. “Our generation” has been denounced for being slackers, unwilling to work hard. We are willing to work hard. We just don’t believe that we need to be slaves to our jobs, or that job performance can be measured by wearing a tie every day and having your ass in the office chair promptly at 9:00.
Also, a nonprofit is inherently about a cause. Working for a nonprofit means you’re working for something you believe in. This is a politically active, engaged generation that bristles at being asked to leave morals behind at the office door. At a law firm, you could end up on case teams representing clients you find morally bankrupt. When I was interviewing with law firms for summer jobs, I definitely took into consideration who their clients were. No, not all nonprofit clients are nice people, even if it’s a good cause you’re fighting for. And yeah, when you work for a cause, not for a paycheck, you’re signing up to get into political infighting, worry about the hit to your organization’s image if you join some wacky organization’s amicus brief, and maybe burn out. A nonprofit has its own problems and politics. Anybody going to work for a nonprofit needs to know that. But I think that there’s a lot to be said for going to sleep every night knowing you’re putting some good in the world through your work, not just helping some company make money. That’s not a value unique to our generation, of course, but let’s try to keep that idea alive while we’re still young.
Last, this is a generation that is ubiquitously connected to people all over the world. A nonprofit can encourage its lawyers and employees to use Twitter, blogging, and other tools to promote the organization – all within the bounds of confidentiality duties, of course! You see lots of companies floundering about what to do with social media — they feel like they should use these tools, but what do they have to say? A nonprofit can muster up attendance at an event, raise money, spread news, ask for help or feedback… the list goes on. We can get the viewpoints of people in other countries, get real-time information, monitor public opinion about the nonprofit’s cause. We already tweet and blog and Facebook our way through our days; a nonprofit can tell us that our social networks are valuable, instead of chastising us for wasting time online that we should be using to bill a client.
Sarah: There seems to be a divide in digital culture between people who believe strongly in a right to anonymous speech and people who think that information is useless unless it comes from a credible (and thus identifiable) source. Can these two viewpoints be reconciled?
Riana: Anonymity is extremely valuable and always has been in the history of speech in America and elsewhere. Likewise pseudonymity, which seems like one way to reconcile these two viewpoints. The Internet has made pseudonyms ubiquitous, and it is possible to build credibility under your pseudonym, for example as a Wikipedia editor or as a book reviewer on Amazon.
This isn’t to say that pseudonyms don’t have their own set of problems. We’ve seen that people can hide behind pseudonyms in ways that range from the fairly innocuous, such as authors’ giving good reviews to their own books on Amazon under assumed names, to the actively harmful, such as Whole Foods’ CEO’s use of “sock puppets” to speak ill of rival chain Wild Oats.
Fortunately, the Internet calls for everyone to participate, rather than merely to read passively. Reputation is what other people say about you, not what you say about yourself. If others can vouch for the information or opinion that you give, that makes your pseudonym-identity more trusted. Yes, you can give your own book a good review on Amazon, then create more sock puppet accounts and give your review the thumbs-up so it looks like lots of users found Joe Reader’s review helpful. But detailed information says more than a thumbs-up. Moreover, any website that makes user-generated content a core competency will invest in ways to reduce and expose sock puppet sneakiness.
Plus, speaking of technology, we have ways of letting other people know that you’re you. We have OpenID for posting to websites. PGP keys for your e-mail. Heck, we have hyperlinking. You want to build credibility? Link to your sources to verify what you’re saying is true. (This gets kind of recursive: you linked to a NYT article; why should I trust the NYT? But let’s not go down that rabbit hole just now.)
Technology isn’t infallible. Your e-mail account could get hacked, whatever. I don’t think that technology, law, or social norms alone can keep speech on the ‘Net free. I think those things have to work together. The courts also act as a safeguard for protecting anonymity online. In fact, today when I was writing this, the D.C. Circuit, which is an influential court despite having jurisdiction over such a small area, handed down a decision containing guidelines for when anonymous online speakers should, or should not, be unmasked: http://arst.ch/6di I think the courts can figure this stuff out (eventually). But as the court opinion notes, standards are all over the place from state to state; in some jurisdictions it’s very easy to unmask your John Doe defendant. That’s why I’m glad we’ve got technologies such as remailers and Tor. If you want to build a reputation online, we’ve got tools for that. But when you want to hide, we’ve got tools for that too. And beyond that, it’s up to everybody as citizens to uphold the tradition of anonymous speech in this country.
Sarah: Does this new generation of law students, who are never offline, communicate differently with each other than previous generations? Is there more collaboration? How has the internet changed the way that students research and process information?
Riana: Sure we communicate differently. We IM each other during class and play Attack! on Facebook against each other. We comment on the lecture we’re sitting in, too. The Socratic method is prevalent in the law school classroom, where you just sit and get lectured at instead of having a discussion where the students are invited to participate. If we can chat with each other online during class, we can comment on the lecture and exchange opinions and ideas even if the professor doesn’t provide time for student commentary.
Is there more collaboration? I don’t know. I’m a loner, Dottie, a rebel — I didn’t do group work much in law school. There has, however, been a lot of interest by librarians and professors in enhancing their pedagogy by using wikis and bulletin boards for class projects. I’ve seen those be very useful. We can use wikis to share research, drafts of papers, links to useful resources, etc. We can use bulletin boards to have more discussions outside class, or to post news stories relevant to what we’re studying at the time. Plus, you don’t have to panic over missing a day of class. Professors podcast their lectures; students e-mail their notes to friends who are out sick or caring for a child. Being online helps us help each other out.
As to research and processing information, I think the Internet is a big time-saver but also dangerous. It used to be that if you wanted to find out if a case you were reading was still valid, you had to pore over other tomes to make sure. Now we have little flags on cases in Westlaw and Lexis/Nexis to alert us if there is authority contrary to the case’s holding, or if the case has been overturned, affirmed, whatever. That is a huge time saver.
On the flip side, we get lazy and use Google or Wikipedia when we should use more trustworthy sources. (Back to the recursive question of why should you trust a particular source. Never mind.) Finding something on Google is faster and easier than fashioning just the right query in Westlaw. Yet we rely pretty heavily on Westlaw and Lexis too: having those resources online, for “free” while we’re students, is addictive. When you’re at a real job, a subscription to those databases costs a lot of money. Every query you run costs money. This is public court opinions and legal statutes we’re talking about – government products that are in the public domain! But the databases add features and searchability and then package up these public documents and charge an arm and a leg to access them.
That’s why I’m glad that services such as Public.Resource.Org, which put cases and laws online for free, are on the rise. I think that every 1L research and writing class should make students as familiar with these free online resources as they are with Westlaw and Lexis. If you go work for a nonprofit that can’t soak up the cost of your poorly-formed Westlaw queries, you need to know about the free alternatives. (And you should also keep in mind those things called books, which are found in places called law libraries.)
Sarah: Our generation is, for the most part, happy with exposing their entire lives online. Is privacy dead? Is there any chance of creating a pro-privacy youth movement?
Riana: I think it’s moribund at least. It is my biggest worry. The Supreme Court and courts of appeals have chiselled away at privacy over the past few decades, and laws passed “for your own good” continue the erosion. But services such as Facebook are the biggest threat to the continued vitality of privacy as a core value in America. The legal keystone for privacy is “reasonable expectation” of privacy. All you have to do, whether as a legislative body, a court, or a popular cultural phenomenon, is quietly move the goalposts so that what once was reasonable is now paranoid and uptight. Facebook has shown us how very easy it is to do that. With people my age and younger exposing everything online, we’re in danger of totally losing the ideas about privacy that our parents took to be the norm.
The obvious way to create a pro-privacy youth movement is to show them that what they say online can hurt them in real life. Hey look, you lost your job because your boss saw the photo of you partying on the day you called in sick. But that takes the insidious viewpoint that privacy is only for those who have something to hide. Privacy lets us grow, think, reflect, retire from the busy world and the eyes of others. It has value beyond keeping embarrassing things secret. I think that getting young people in their teen years, right at the point that they’re doing a lot of growing, thinking, and reflecting, is where we need to focus on building a pro-privacy youth movement. We used to keep diaries under the mattress, not on LiveJournal. We can show young people that privacy gives them a way to be sad, to think about crushes, to hash out beliefs and opinions and change their minds; to talk to other people, hold political views, rent movies. To retire from the world and not worry about what other people, or the government, think about you; and also to interact with the people and things around you in a limited way, out of the spotlight. That it’s not just about having something wrong or bad or ridiculous to hide.
But is there a good chance of doing this? I don’t know. Facebook has a lot more money and resources than EPIC does. I admit I think privacy is going to become ever more of a “has-been” in this century. But hey, I’m a pessimist. And working for privacy means more job security for me. So when you’re looking for people to go talk to middle schoolers, sign me up.
Update: In the Lori Drew case Riana mentioned, the judge did finally overturn the jury verdict and dismiss the case.
The purpose of these interviews (in addition to just being fascinating) is to promote my panel proposals at this year’s sxsw. In Generation Y and the Future of Nonprofit Communications, I’ll be talking about how to connect with folks like Riana, who care deeply about their communities, but also have very strong preferences over communication style. In Recruiting and Retaining Generation Y: Cheap But Not Easy , I’ll explain why you need people like Riana on your upper management team in order to keep up with an exponentially accelerating technology market. Please vote for those panels if you feel they would benefit the sxsw community.
Photo credit: Franz Cheng
Today’s interview is with Willow Brugh. Willow is a community organizer, a scholar on the subject of transhumanism, and is a currently developing a multi-discipline maker space in Seattle called Jigsaw Renaissance .
Sarah: What is a hacker space, and how can it change the world?
Willow: Hacker spaces are communal places of tools and loud noises. They are a place to take things apart without fear of being reprimanded, a place to afix together a Frankenstein’s Monster of tech that makes you giggle madly at the thought of it working. Hacker spaces are a sort of gateway into exploring everything. By encouraging the taking apart of “closed” objects – things that have been marketed to us as inaccessible and to be left for the experts – we can begin to form mindsets which make exploration and understanding necessary joys in life. Anything which was considered “off limits” becomes a puzzle to figure out and do better. This includes politics, education systems, personal relationships, and anything else one might consider. Hacker spaces are the speakeasys in a culture that demands experts for even the most trivial situation.
Sarah: Do you think our generation has a fundamentally different concept of communication from previous generations? How does our communication style change the way we interact with each other?
Willow: I believe every generation has a different way of communicating than the ones before them. Ours is more radical, yes, but the next generation will be even more so. Asynchronous, documentable conversation leads to more self-reflection (it’s difficult to read a letter you’ve sent to someone across the country, unless you made a copy for yourself, but now we can read old chat logs and sent e-mails) and a revisiting of ideas. Our memories – once hazy, slightly shared, mostly constructed ideas of past events – are now clearly defined through stored chats and phone photos. We share our memories with people who weren’t there. While our perspectives and intents remain fluid, our shared experience becomes more solid.
We can also now hold conversations with a multitude of people, with timing as little issue and geography even less so. I believe that while this has a tendency to spread the psyche a bit thinner than in the past, it’s similar to laying on a bed of many small nails… much more supportive than fewer, albeit larger, connection points.
Sarah: It seems to me that it’s harder now than ever before to be “in the closet” about anything. How have generation y conceptions of privacy changed social, academic, and office dynamics?
Willow: The American desire and demand to be revered as an individual makes being in the closet about anything less appealing than remaining inside. Many of the people I know, myself included, treat social media as something to be used responsibly and with an eye to privacy, but also as social space. If someone goes looking for questionable pictures on your Facebook, it’s similar to your boss visiting a bar they’ve heard you frequent to see how you behave. There is much more acknowledgment that many individuals put on their cog costume for enough time to support the lifestyle and activities they truly enjoy. More and more successful companies realize their employees are a wide range of eclectic individuals, and enhance their businesses through relishing that fact.
Sarah: How will embeddable (embeddable in flesh, that is) computers change the way we live?
Willow: I like to explain it in terms of oxygen tech and opaque tech. Oxygen technology is stuff you use without having to think about it. Opaque tech you notice every little thing involving that piece. When my phone is on vibrate and in my pocket, and someone texts me while I’m having a face-to-face conversation with someone else, while I know I’ve received a text, that knowledge doesn’t detract at all from my attention to the person I’m conversing with. Having a ringer on would disrupt the conversation – it’s opaque. I have to interact with it in a very obvious manner in order to process the information it’s giving me. Having embeddable technology is like that pocket vibration. You don’t have to notice it much to make a lot of use of the information it gives you. It’s in your peripheral mind’s eye. In short, we’ll be processing a lot more information without having to pay as much conscious attention to it.
Sarah: How do you motivate community and face-to-face interaction between people who primarily live their lives online?
Willow: Where2.0 is doing a very good job with this, and augmented reality will fill the gap. As we tag our physical environments, create point systems based on interacting with them, augment the reality we have at hand, the line between online and meatspace slowly goes away. We’ve always been impacting our environment with constructed signs and shaping it with our tools… we’re just continuing in that direction. Maybe someday I’ll talk to a hologram (or HUD display) of a friend across the globe. Maybe a geographically local friend will hand me a link to her new favorite book while we play chess at a tea shop. I think the important thing is the connectivity and the respect we give people we care about.
The purpose of these interviews (in addition to just being fascinating) is to promote my panel proposals at this year’s sxsw. In Generation Y and the Future of Nonprofit Communications, I’ll be talking about how to connect with folks like Willow, who care deeply about their communities, but also have very strong preferences over communication style. In Recruiting and Retaining Generation Y: Cheap But Not Easy , I’ll explain why you need people like Willow on your upper management team in order to keep up with an exponentially accelerating technology market. Please vote for those panels if you feel they would benefit the sxsw community.
Photo credit: Libby Bulloff
This is a video of a panel run by NPower Seattle‘s Peg Giffels for the Kellog Action Lab. It features Zan McColloch-Lussier from the Pride Foundation, Jessica Ross from Treehouse, and me. We mostly cover Twitter and Facebook, but we frequently diverge into other web territories. Please feel free to spread the video around. I won’t sue you.
Some of the resources mentioned on the panel:
Ways to post to multiple sites at once: Ping.fm and Hellotxt.com
Short explanatory videos about technology and social media: Common Craft
Demographic information about social networks: danah boyd
Alternative copyright licensing options: Creative Commons
Twitscoop scans twitter in real time for words that are suddenly becoming popular. This screenshot was taken 90 minutes after the ruling. I think it tells its own story, but I would like to add my appreciation that the first three readable words in the cloud are “ban bigots bullshit”. A rallying cry if I’ve ever heard one!
My takeaways from Tim Hwang‘s sxsw panel:
The internet has its own self-referential universe of memes. Lolcats is one of the most virulent memes that has ever existed. It has a computer code, it has a wiki-translation of the bible, and it has become it’s own language that has spread throughout nearly every other meme online. What aspects of memes cause them to spread or die?
Recessions are great for internet culture. Lots more people are able to consume and create memes when they are unemployed. Twitter, Etsy, and Vimeo have all had hugely increased traffic since the recession started in October.
Can you hack internet culture? Are there reliable tactics to become “internet famous”? Can we have a “social net neutrality” that ensures that memes organically spread rather than being pushed by a small group of people who know how to hack the system?
Jonathan Coulton left his day-job to become a musician. he put out a new song for free every friday. Eventually, a few of them got picked up and passed around. Make it as easy as possible for people to consume what you are putting out. Put up the easiest file format to share, and put it out whether you think it’s good or not. The internet is really good at causing the good stuff to float to the top.
Natasha Wescoat recommends putting yourself on every website you can, because that is what generates traffic. Don’t force people to come to your site.
Markos Moulitsas (Daily Kos) claims he wasn’t the best or most original writer in his field. He stood out in two ways. He had a very narrow niche that no one else was hitting – at the time it was polls and the war in Iraq. He served in the war, so he had first hand experience. He also had good branding – orange became the color of his site and represented him and his brand. People confuse you with other sites if you are using a generic blogspot background. Use colors that no one else is using. Use iconic icons! They will remember and build associations with your writing. He was a comments nazi, banning comments from right wingers, which created a “safe haven” for progressives to chat in the comments.
Burnie Burns (Red vs Blue) was a professional film maker, and after a year of shopping films to film distributors, made a hobby video and put it up online. It got great distribution, and they realized they didn’t need someone else to be a distributor for them. They keep up with current events (holidays and news), which encourages people to spread the videos quickly and keeps things fresh. Being linked from Fark was key, so they started advertising on Fark for $25.
Brett Gaylor (RiP: A Remix Manifesto) gave his users challenges to remix and cut up different pieces of video with the goal of putting together activist videos. He recommends including the community you are targeting in your work. He included Cory Doctorow in his video, and got a link from Boing Boing.
More detail on the panel after the jump!
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I greatly enjoyed this video because Wesch explores the value of participatory culture from an unusual point of view.
In my field, we use the term “transactional cost” to gauge the level of work required to complete a task. Writing a novel has a high transactional cost. Baking a cake has a medium transactional cost. Twittering about the latest news has a low transactional cost.
Traditionally, transactional cost has correlated with value. A novel has more value to society than a cake. A cake has more value to society than a tweet. Work goes in, value comes out.
In Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky talks about the concept of the “Coasian floor”. Coase, in his day, reduced the transactional cost of running a business by creating a hierarchical management structure, reducing the amount of communication required to make decisions and get work done. The Coasian floor is the point at which the transactional cost of a task outweighs the value. As much as they would like to, no one sends a letter to each of their friends every day. That behavior is below the Coasian floor.
The role of technology in our society is to lower transactional costs. Technology has made it easier to do many things that were extremely hard work for folks in the 1800s. This has certainly had an impact on value. The value of doing many types of work has evaporated. I don’t need a scribe or a printing press or a copy machine to distribute my writing.
Technology also lowers the Coasian floor, and that’s where things get interesting. Below the Coasian floor are things that were traditionally considered of such a low value that they weren’t worth doing. This creates a generational divide. Older folks worked harder and were limited to completing tasks of high value.
The internet has practically put the Coasian floor into free fall. Startups are doing a great job of exploring the vast number of tasks that were formerly too much work. The Coasian floor has gotten so low in fact that many of those tasks are commonly considered trivial. Most people don’t understand YouTube because the value of watching teens in Kansas dancing seems so extremely low to them.
Hearing from Michael Wesch is refreshing because he puts a high value in YouTube. In those dancing teens, he sees a global shared culture. He sees the kids of the world singing the same song. He sees ideas and cultural concepts spreading throughout humanity in ways that have until now been absolutely unfathomable.
So is the free fall of the Coasian floor causing us to waste our days on trivialities, or is it allowing us to actively participate in building a common global culture? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Here are my notes from the Nonprofit 911 teleconference with Randall Winston, one of the founders of Causes on Facebook.
Here are my notes:
Basics for Nonprofits
Any user can start a cause. Only nonprofits can make an official nonprofit profile. Both are free of charge. To make an official nonprofit profile, go to http://www.causes.com/partners/new. You will need your EIN number. Your profile will be approved within 24-48 hours. Facebook will verify you as a 501(c)3. Your profile page will include your total donations, total number of donors, total number of supporters, and total number of causes. You can also add your own information, such as mission and history.
Once you have a profile, you can access donor information including name, address and amount donated.
Causes should be seen as a specific campaign or initiative, not an organization. The profile represents the organization. One organization can (and should) have many causes. The photo on each cause should relate to the cause. It should not be your organization’s logo.
When a user creates a cause, they browse the database of nonprofit profiles and pick one to be a beneficiary.
There is a 4.75% fee taken from each donation made through causes.
Q: What if we already made a cause for our organization? How do we change it into a nonprofit profile?
A: First, sign up for a nonprofit profile, then change the cause into a specific campaign. Upload pictures or video that indicate to people that the cause you created has changed to a specific campaign.
Q: What’s the difference between a group and a cause?
A: A cause has a nonprofit profile associated with it. One nonprofit profile can manage a cause for each of it’s chapters, or each of the bills that it’s concerned with. Groups don’t have that hierarchical structure.
Q: How do donations made through causes get to us?
A: Checks are sent out on the 15th of every month.
Q: What’s your business model?
A: We are a separate company from Facebook, but we have the same venture capital funders as Facebook. We want to branch out into new territory and engage youth. We currently make no profit. If we monetize in the future, it will be through advertising. We will never monetize nonprofits, including selling donor information.
Growing Your Cause
One person can only invite 12 people per day. So you need to be diligent about inviting new people every day, and encouraging them to invite more people.
Add links to online blog posts, articles, or video about your organization through the media board. People like to know that your organization is doing ongoing work. Every time you change a link, it goes to your members’ news feeds.
Start debates and discussions on your wall. Encourage your members to engage and talk to each other.
Offer rewards to the people who recruit the most members or raise the most money.
Q: Do you have examples of organizations that have had a large return on their time investment?
A: Love without Boundaries recently won our causes giving challenge. We awarded $25,000 to the cause who attracted the most donors. You would think that large causes would typically win, but it was actually the small nonprofits who diligently ran campaigns to get people to invite their friends to donate, who won. Love without Boundaries’ cause page was just a personal story about why the founder started the cause. Then she emailed all her friends who weren’t even on Facebook yet, and they invited their friends, and the cause spread virally.
Q: How do you prevent fraud?
A: You can disassociate any cause that you do not want to benefit your organization. But if someone starts a cause for you, but doesn’t quite get your mission right, you should reach out to them and give them more information. UNICEF didn’t want to join Facebook because they were afraid of losing control over campaigns that represented them, but one of their supporters started a cause for them and raised $10,000. Then they saw the power of exponential organic growth.
Q: In what creative ways have people used causes?
A: One organization gave presentations in classrooms at their University, and offered a pizza party to people who learned more about the cause. The League of Education Voters posted videos of themselves being excited about their own cause and what they would do when they reached their goals.
Q: How much do causes raise typically and how many causes does each nonprofit typically have?
A: Randall has seen fewer than 10,000 people raise over $100,000. Some causes choose not to have a beneficiary and only exist to distribute information.