Archives for category: berlin

It’s been one helluva few weeks for Awesome Foundation worldwide. Our fearless founder, Tim Hwang, was awarded $244,000 from the Knight Foundation to:

experiment with a new funding model for local journalism, The Awesome Foundation: News Taskforce will bring together 10 to 15 community leaders and media innovators in Detroit and two other cities to provide $1,000 microgrants to innovative journalism and civic media projects.

This is brilliant and underscores earlier thoughts on how more traditional funding bodies can take advantage of Awesome’s machete-cutting-through-red-tape funding approach. As Knight itself noted, the typical grant application process is lengthy and “inconsistent with the rapid pace of innovation and affects applicants’ ability to respond to market opportunities.” Awesome is fast, and no-strings-attached, which means you can turn around applications like whoa.

Which is what we want to do in Berlin. So, get cracking.

Apply by Sunday, July 10 with your most awesomest idea for a chance at a brown bag stuffed with €1,000 cash to make your project a reality. Make sure to select “Berlin” from the chapter menu.

With our recent €1,000 grant, Agent Scott and the Graffiti Research Lab could purchase a bike and a heap of electronics for their latest adventure, blitzTag + Light Rider.

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The Open Knowledge Foundation is putting on its annual conference in Berlin at the end of the month. Daniel Dietrich has done a stellar job pulling together some of the most active and inspiring people in the Free/Open space, and I’m really looking forward to geeking out with folks about lsharing, hacking and building a Free Society.

I’ll be holding a pre-workshop on a topic that’s been on my mind since GlobalMelt and joining Mozilla to run event strategy, naming how can we get more out of meeting each other face-to-face?

The workshop is on June 29 from 10:00 – 14:00, and you can sign up here.

Internet-y communities love to meet IRL. Something about online collaboration fuels the need to see each other in person. With years of conferences, meetups, hackdays, barcamps, and all sorts of event formats in between, what have we learned about events as a effective way to embolden contributors, accelerate projects, and make a difference?

I posit that we have to leverage the maker’s mindset, together with some webby wonders, to really grow the community circle and do events right. That means building things together in realtime, physical prototyping, and flexible, participatory agenda. Goodbye, industrial-era conference formats!

How can we do this? What initiatives are in play that we learn from? How can we organize shared action IRL that fits our principles of openness? We’ll examine some of tactics from the maker scene as well as successful (and failed) efforts among open communities to be more effective, more impacting, and more fun when we meet IRL.

A Street Named Awesome by moonlightbulb available under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Spring has sprung, and the Awesome Foundation Berlin is springing 1000EUR cash money for a mindblowingly awesome project.

The setup is simple: visit the online application form, write a *short* summary of your idea (better to explain what your idea is  rather than list all the awesome things you’ve done in the past), and please please please select “Berlin” from the chapter drop-down menu.

Afterward the trustees will comb through the ideas over multiple bottles of wine and decide on one submission that will receive 1000EUR in a brown paper bag — no strings attached.

Applications will be accepted until April 8. The grantee will be announced on April 14 at the betahaus breakfast.

What’s the Awesome Foundation all about? Read about our first grant that sent ice skaters to the Plexiglaswald or about other awesome projects the world over.

Ready, set, peer-fund!

It’s been a fantastic two days at Global Melt, and boy is my mind liquid. In a room filled with talented community instigators and caretakers, we hacked on tools and strategies to boost community health during events, to get things done IRL, and to most importantly enjoy what you’re doing and make a difference.

Global Melt 3 by jagataj, available under a CC Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 license.

The event kicked off with facilitation by the masterful “Don’t get me started on panels and Powerpoint” Allen Gunn. There was a post-it note mosh pit where we scoped pressing questions about how global, peer-driven communities benefit from live events (many thanks to SJ for transcribing nearly a hundred notes). We asked some tough questions, but there was one fundamental thing to tackle:

Why events?

Global Melt focused on the role of events for three reasons: 1) we’re prototyping this type of workshop, so it’s better to start with some concrete; 2) events are a microcosm of a community, so the dynamics manifested in them reflect the organization as a whole (think governance, funding, interactions among members, etc); 3) furthermore, all of the participating groups run events — some small, some large, and certainly many confronted with deep questions about purpose and impact.

With so much time and energy invested in events, isn’t it worthwhile to take some time to define why we run events in the first place?

Value proposition to participant

Often as event organizers we neglect or inadequately address the question: what does a participant get out of an event? In the trenches of logistics and operations, it sometimes feels like there’s not enough time to frame the Why. During Global Melt, we dedicated a round of discussion to defining several value propositions to participants on one hand and to the organizers on the other.

By identifying and articulating what someone gets out of an event, some issues around promotion, engagement, and the Caring Problem are resolved. So, for example, rather than saying you’re hosting a meet-up for web developers, which is very general and hard to gauge the relevance, you could invite experienced developers from news organizations to design HTML5 applications for visualizing raw data sources. Through clearer definitions of the target audience and the event’s purpose, you increase the probability of getting engaged participants who know why they’re there and what they will achieve.


Make the Hard Stuff Easy

On the first day, even before the planned tool sprint, we had our first beta release. Have you ever been to an event where you end up in a really interesting conversation with someone, exchange business cards and promise to be in touch, only to return home with a fistful of email addresses and numbers, unable to track why you’re supposed to talk with whom?

Enter Sparklez, an analog interaction reminder conceived and prototyped by Asaf and others at Global Melt. It works like this: the event organizer hangs a piece of paper on the wall, aka the Sparklez interface:

Whenever participants make a connection with someone during the event and want to follow up on the conversation, they write their names on the paper with a brief note about what they want to talk about. After the event, the onus of following up with these interactions lies with the event organizer. The organizer must contact each listed person and confirm whether they have been in touch as indicated. Sparklez is a lightweight and fun way to ensure that people get the most out of networking and conversations at the event and that social ties are revisited and reaffirmed after the event is over.

Event documentation is another task that often withers on the vine because it’s tough and time-consuming. But we thought about how documenting an event could be more fun and engaging. Together with Alek and SJ, we conceptualized a Rapporteur Bounty. The game creates external incentives for attendees to document and talk about what they did and learned at an event.

For example, the organizers of the next Wikimania could offer a bounty for a Global Melt participant to speak at the conference about workshop or to send a write-up about certain sessions or topics. The bounty would vary depending on the people, the resources, etc., but you could think of fun ways to encourage groups to share outcomes and talk about what what achieved. It could also work for participants who couldn’t make it but were keen to attend. They could offer something symbolic or funny to incentivize someone to create more documentation about the event they missed.

Entertainment as an Organizing Principle

Having fun is an incredibly strong motivator. And especially when working with volunteer contributors, it’s paramount to ensure that people have a good time. But usually, entertainment is an afterthought and not strictly productive, such as a party following a workshop or an outing to Cirque du Soleil. But what about ways to leverage our drive for fun into positive contributions? Gamification is a horrible buzz word, yet the approach can be useful.

One prototype we produced plays with the concept of a totem and an evolving documentation monument. A data totem is a storage device such as a USB that is passed on from event to event. It contains curated content from the event, such as videos, photos, and summaries of sessions. The object serves both as a reminder to the recipient that they should add information and hand off the totem to the next event organizer.

For example, there are CC Salons all over the world. What if an organizer in Guatemala City copied the creative works showcased at his event and then passed on the USB to a salon organized in Warsaw? The totem evolves and takes on more information as it travels. Plus, you have increased interaction among the event organizers, since they can discuss the data on the device as well as chat about how their event went, etc. Moreover, the effort to compile a curate folder for the USB also means that it easy to copy the file and share it elsewhere.

I hope to continue working with Alek to iterate on the Global Melt Event Totem below. I’ll post the file for Global Melt soon. Who will get the totem next?


Leadership is a behavior not a person

Many participants noted that fatigue is a huge concern facing many event organizers and attendees is fatigue. There’s too much going on, too much of the same same, too much pointless blather, too many expectations and no replacements or fresh blood.

Jay offered the great insight that leadership is a behavior, not a person. That means the role of a community leader isn’t tied to a person as such but is instead a role adopted and adapted. If an organizer, for example, no longer has the capacity to do something like host a regular meet up or plan big annual event, it doesn’t mean that the project dies. Rather, by indicating that leadership is a way to act, and not the individual that fills it, there are ways to empower and inspire others to adopt leadership behavior. Are there projects that you’re involved with where leadership in this manner could be framed anew?

Relatedly, Charlie mentioned that communities are healthier when each member knows it can leave at any time. By having a clear exit, every moment someone stays is an autonomous decision to be there. This is deeply important is combating fatigue (sometimes people feel obligated to stay or that there’s no way out).

Talk about Events as Events

We all attend and many of us organizer lots of events. It’s incredibly helpful to be deliberate about why one participates at an event, and even more, to discuss this question with others. One tip for organizers is to offer a session or feedback round at an event to provide feedback but also to talk about why one holds an event in the first place, what it achieves and doesn’t, and how formats and other factors can be tweaked to reach goals.

What I also find useful, especially at an event where you’re highly involved, is to plan in the time immediately afterward to document, say thanks, and collect feedback. Even building in time during the event, while energy is high and everyone is sitting in a room, can be very effective. Or bake an extra few hours on the following day to digest and write-up meaningful summaries and thoughts. On-the-fly stuff is great, but a planned decompression can have even more impact.

There’s more!

Speaking of wrap-ups, this turned out to be quite a long summary. ^^ But, there are a few places I’d encourage you to look if you want more info. We’ve got a lot of documentation growing on the wiki, including an excellent survey of available communication and collaboration tools for events. There’s also a forthcoming list on 10 Ways to Make Your Event Not Suck, some helpful threads for an local organizer’s handbook and some event toolkits, plus some microevent formats and other ideas.

Importantly, we’d love to hear feedback and ideas to improve. And there’s a list of actionable next steps — like blog about Global Melt in your language or sign up for the discussion list to learn more.

Thanks everyone for coming. A super special thank you to Alina and Gunner, to Mark, to Alek and Joanna, and to all the participants and to studio70. Meeeeeeeeeeeelt!

Global Melt logo by Joanna Tarkowski, available under a CC Attribution Poland 3.0 license.

Very excited about this weekend’s inaugural Global Melt, a workshop for members and leaders of global peer-driven movements to explore what our movements have in common, share what we have learned, and discuss solutions and ideas for our respective communities.

We’ll be bringing together staff, board, and community members from organizations like Creative Commons, Wikimedia Foundation, Mozilla, as well as Global Voices, KDE, P2PU, Open Design City, CiviCRM and many more fantastic projects.

Global Melt will be the beginning of more deliberate inter-organizational collaboration, of shared action plans, and shared resources. Our immediate goal is to troubleshoot one concrete issue that is common to all participating organizations. We will conclude the workshop with a deeper understanding of running local, community-organized events that contribute to organizational goals in meaningful and sustainable ways.

Participants are looking to develop tools that makes their work more efficient, more effective, and more impacting. Rather than building resources in isolation or continually investing in event strategies from scratch, we can gain more by pooling resources and ideas.

Possible shared resources include:

  • Local planner handbook – How can we communicate best practices to better inform and inspire local organizers?
  • Event calendars – How can we coordinate calendars of events from our organizations and community members?
  • Event and agenda formats – How can we learn about other event formats and adapt them to our purposes?
  • Facilitation practices – How can we grow the network of experienced, collaborative facilitators?
  • Documentation and communication platforms – What tools and methods are effective for documenting and promoting events?
  • Contact database – How can we map and connect community members and contributors across projects?
  • Evaluation of venues, vendors, and public partners – How can we collect organizational and logistical experiences from hosting events?
  • Event funding sources or templates – How can we generate resources to help local organizers bootstrap their events?

We’ve got a very rich collection of discussion questions to kick us off. We’re also keen to collect input from people who can’t attend in person (the workshop is still open — let me know if you want to join! There’s also a party on Monday, March 28.)

A taste of the agenda topics:

  • What do you gain from inter-organizational collaboration?
  • How do you balance grassroots values with global consistency?
  • How do you make events sustainable?
  • Addressing “The Language Challenge”: Building multilingual movements.
  • Parachuting into larger events.
  • What tools do you use for contact management, calendars, communication, translation, venue information, and documentation?

You can read more on our wiki and sign up on the discussion list. This event won’t be possible without the support of Mozilla, studio70, and all the stellar participants.

Back in December we opened the first call for the Awesome Foundation Berlin. We received over 40 applications of truly awesome ideas, and after much wine and deliberation, we announced the winner at a yummy breakfast served up in betahaus.

Konrad received the inaugural 1000EUR in a brown paper bag for his concept: a winter thrill-ride on a sled. One of the Foundation’s trustees, Gabriel Maria Platt, proposed a possible course inspired no doubt from one very memorable ride in his hometown.

Alas, the wintery blanket of snow melted before this dream could be a reality. Nevertheless, Konrad put the funds to good, awesome use. He rented skates, bought some rations, and bussed a group of folks out to skate along a frozen forest. It’s an incredible landscape. Trees bursting out of the ice, and you can see skaters pirouetting around the trunks and peering through the transparent sheet below to see the tangle of roots and leaves. Quite beautiful.

But perhaps the most exciting outcome from our first grant is that so many people were inspired by the model. Around ten more individuals offered to join us in contributing their own money to support awesome projects in Berlin. Although we initially decided to hold the grants every quarter, the new group of trustees will take on another cycle and hand out 1000EUR cash in months that we don’t. Also, other initiatives like the Emergence Collective picked up on the scheme and developed a peer-grant program as well.

The most promising outcome of the Awesome Foundation is indeed its simplicity and replicability  — what can peer-funding projects teach more established institutions about distributing resources and supporting culture, innovation, and overall awesomeness? Can we influence cities and public bodies to think more creatively about handing out cash? And can more people be encouraged to think about projects they’d like to fund and develop models to make it happen?

Nice radio coverage from WDR.

TEDxKreuzbeg by Igor Schwarzmann / CC BY-SA

Last night I had the honor of speaking at TEDxKreuzberg, which was a lot fun and the perfect opportunity to polish up some ideas and practice pontificating in front of a crowd. My talk was about Designing for Collaborative Consumption, and it was inspiring to hear such positive feedback to the design challenges and concepts in general. You can find the text of my talk below.

Thanks so much to the organizers Peter, Christoph, and Hans, and to the host, betahaus, for such a lovely evening!

Designing for Collaborative Consumption.

Firstly, I’m a remix kid. I come from the generation of sampling. So the talk you’re going to hear is a remix of arguments made by lots of great and interesting people, notably Aristotle, the Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom, Lawrence Lessig, Sean Bonner, Fight Club, Bruce Sterling, and the authors of a book that helped bring these ideas together, Collaborative Consumption.

I hope to remix these thinkers to provide some context and examples and then push the concepts further by offering some design challenges.

Context:

The 20th century was the era of hyper-consumerism. I won’t be the first nor last person to say we’re still in deep in extreme consumption and overproduction. You know the stats: basically, the world is ending, and we, the insatiable consumers of the world, are at fault.

We want things, we buy things, we throw away things. And what’s worse, this endless cycle pitched at “good for the economy.” It’s our duty to BUY BUY BUY.

If you have to buy things all the time, then there are traditionally two types of solutions for what to do with all the junk you collect. You either dispose of it – by selling or throwing it away – or you store it.

Designing for the Dump:

The first solution, disposal, is very attractive to business folks. It’s a very lucrative. It means that you will buy an inferior product one day, turn around to throw it away the next, and then buy a new thing, preferably the upgrade from the same company. (cough, Apple!)

The name for this unsustainable design principle is planned obsolescence. Objects designed for a limited lifetime. And unfortunately, it’s the most predominate business strategy of our time.

We can see the remains of this throw-away culture in the paper coffee cups we drink from every day, to the shitty IKEA furniture that falls apart one year later, to the smartphones we replace faster than we can remember their names.

Designing for the dump means an overflow of junk in our homes, on the streets and landfills the world over.

Rise of the Self-Storage Industry:

So, maybe you’re a little more sensitive about throwing away good stuff the day after you unwrapped it. You want to keep it for a rainy day, or for the memories, or in the hopes that one day you’ll repair it and you’ll be so grateful you have it.

Enter the self-storage industry. It’s booming profits off the charts. Not only in the hyperconsumption nation of the US, but also in a country I always thought was more thrifty and consumption-conscious: Germany.

If self-storage is any measurement of junk we own and don’t need, then what does it mean that within 10 years, Germany went from having 0 self storage facilities to 70? In Europe, it went from a handful in the UK to well over 1500 across the continent.

We’re buying more stuff. So much so, we can’t even manage to keep it all in our homes, and have to pay a premium rent to store it elsewhere.

No matter where our stuff is, we still have to exert a lot of energy and euros to just maintain our collection of must-haves objects. As Bruce Sterling says, every moment devoted to stumbling over and tending to your piled debris are precious hours in our mortal lives, and time not spent with family, friends, your society, yourself.

Fight Club: The things you own end up owning you.

With so much effort invested in junk, you have to ask yourself: who is being owned by whom?

So, with all this doom and gloom, is there any reasonable way to take action? And even if a few dedicated, environmentally-aware kids take a stab at changing this horrible scene, can we even make a difference?

There is one clear advantage we have, in our generation: the power of the network.

We can be leverage our networks. Unlike any generation that came before, we can better provide and share infrastructure thanks to network technology. We can buy, build, and collaborate locally and efficiently. We can shop smarter, share better, and use our networks, both online and off, to reduce waste, improve the economy and environment, spare our bank accounts, and even have a good time and make new friends doing it.

That’s collaborative consumption, and I want to talk about its wonderful opportunities.

So, I’ve said a lot of scary and depressing stuff. But there is good news. Values are shifting.

Think about this co-working space, betahaus. You can rent a desk and share office infrastructure together with fellow digital nomads. No one, besides the people who actually the run the space, have to own any of the equipment, and even they can lease or rent it from other companies.

Let’s take an example of an office printer for a betahaus resident. Maybe once in a great while you actually need to print something. Do you really want to own a dedicated device for printing stuff? I mean, you have to refill it, repair it, and lug it around whenever you move, and one day, dispose of it.

A huge advantage with a place like betahaus is that they make it easy and attractive to share these resources, and by doing so, they make it more efficient (and let’s be honest, more fun and social) for all of the people working here.

Let’s think for a second about other types of resources. Who needs to own a moving van? Not many folks. That’s why services like Robben & Wientjes, the moving truck rental company in Berlin, are successful. The same holds true for platforms like the US-based Zipcar, a car sharing service. Or airbnb and Couchsurfing. Or even the Bahn bikes, Mitfahrgelegenheit, and stuff-sharing sites like NeighborGoods.

All of the many, many sites out there now make it easy to offer, find, and share goods and services: flexibly, agilely, and socially.

Here’s another example: the common household drill. How many of you own a drill? Can you even remember the last time you used it? Did you know that on average, a household drill is used a total of 5-10min its entire lifetime? That gives you what, like 20 holes max? Is that really an efficient object to purchase, maintain, and care for?

What if instead of all that time it spent idling on the shelf, it could be generating value, either by renting it out for cash or just helping out a neighbor?

Products like household drills, or moving vans, or a bike in a city you’re visiting aren’t necessarily desirable to own. Instead, isn’t it just better to accessing them? Aren’t the rights to use and access something more important than owning it?

I think this is a mantra for our times:
On the whole, you find wealth much more in use than in ownership.

You know who said that? Aristotle. A Greek philosophy who wrote that more than 2000 years ago.

Actually, the stuff I’ve been saying about sharing drills and expensive machinery and even lodging won’t have sounded foreign or even futuristic for many of the generations that came before us.

Practices like barn raising or the rise of cooperative individualism from the Great Depression are just a few examples.

The values of sharing resources goes back a long way.

What I’m talking about isn’t new, but I’ll argue that nowadays, thanks to networks, we can do it even better. And there are business strategies and creative opportunities to be had in modern collaborative consumption in addition to sharing economy.

Characteristics of Shared Objects:

So, can we distill any important characteristics of Collaborative Consumption? What are the rules of the game? Here’s a start.

Critical Mass
Firstly, you need enough goods or services on offer to make the platform attractive enough for users. Supply draws more demand. Couchsurfing isn’t going to work with two couches on offer.

Idling Capacity
This is about spare cycles. All the unused, material surplus that bolsters collaborative consumption. And it not just about products that sit unused on storage shelves, but also untapped skills, times, spaces. These resources have to be available, like in the drill example, and sharable.

Commons Governance
For these platforms to work, you need appropriate mechanisms for collaboration within legal, social and technical frameworks. There are great tools for this, and definitely the potential to develop more. Conflict resolution has to be cheap and easy, and resource providers need ways to participate in the decision-making process.

Trust
This is one of the most important pillars of collaborative consumption. Without trust, you don’t have continued and meaningful participation and growth. Trust has to be cultivated and facilitated. It’s not just available instantly, but grows organically through the service and positive experiences. Clearly defined boundaries of who’s participating and a way to key at bay trolls, spammers, and frauds, and other elements that harm the community. This requires effective monitoring and reputation management, plus graduated sanctions for people who violate community rules.

Design Challenges:

Building upon these principles and characteristics, I want to offer you a few design challenges.

Create open layers
Think about interoperability across key components. How can you use open standards to enable remix, modification, and improvements across products? How can open layers be applied to motors, power cords, outlets, connectors, joints, nibs for maximal customization and range of use?

Build modularity
Relatedly, shared objects should be easy to repair and amend. You shouldn’t have to throw away your entire phone because it’s scratched. Building modularity means fostering generativity.

Value added through usage
I think this is one of the most powerful design challenges. Think about an object that doesn’t depreciate with use, but is instead improved by it. One example is a baseball mitt. When you first buy it, it’s very stiff and hard to catch a ball with. Over time, with use, it becomes more flexible and a better product.

That’s just on the physical layer. What about value added on a data layer? Think about how objects can learn from behaviors the more they’re used. Like by collecting more data points. Or where the user contributes metadata, like marginalia, reviews, and fact checking for books.

Personalize shared objects
Are you familiar with these phones that hold multiple SIM cards? Those are really common in places like Africa where one device is used by multiple people. But each person inserts their own SIM card and all their address books and personal settings are ready for them. The personalization follows the user, not the device. Can we apply this to other devices and services? Cars, printers, refrigerator, coffee machines, or even drills?

Diversify Libraries
Libraries are not just for books. Think about other ways to pool resources, be it for commercial or community aims. You could have tool libraries, or ones for electronics, cooking appliances, moving boxes/materials, jewelry and accessories, holiday decorations, toys, you name it.

There is lots of potential. There are many business opportunities, as well as many challenges for creative and adventuresome people.

Let’s break the mold.

Don’t design for the dump. Don’t design for 20th century hyperconsumption. Design for things to last, to be shared, and to be part of the future, a future of collaborative consumption.