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Archive for the ‘Social Networks’ Category

Exciting news this morning, on the water front. GreenBiz just published a report on WaterOrg, IBM’s ambitious idea regarding:

“an educational and perhaps advocacy organization focused on establishing the value of applying advanced sensing, information technology and modeling to water management in the USA.”

Peter Williams, Chief Technology Officer of IBM’s Big Green Innovations, and the brain behind WaterOrg, must have heard my earlier call . . . :)

I urge you all to read the detailed IBM proposal, and to contribute any ideas you may have on how to take this project to the next level. Personally, I can’t help but see a convergence between WaterOrg, and some of the broader efforts to organize and centralize sustainability solutions, such as discussed in our earlier thread on green wikis.

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Sustainability wikis such as Wikia Green or Appropedia have an important role to play, in the gathering of solutions for a sustainable future. The big challenge of course, is how to engage contributors into volunteering free content. As a content creator in the sustainability field, with hundreds of articles to my credit, all on blogs, I yet have to contribute to a collaborative platform. I started sharing some of my reasons in previous posts, here and here. In a nutshell:

  • I am comfortable with blogging. It is what I know, and past the initial hurdle of setting up a blog, which by the way is very low, it’s been smooth sailing ever since.
  • I like the feeling of being in control, and of having all my stuff in one place.
  • When I contribute to other blogs, it is usually a boost for my recognition and helps enlarge my audience.
  • Contributing to other blogs is a no brainer; hardly any setup is required, and I usually do a slight rewrite to address issue of duplicate content.
  • I love the creative freedom of writing whatever I want whenever I want.
  • My blog is also a social place to meet cyberfriends I have made along the way, and who keep coming back for more discussions.
  • I get tremendous satisfaction from direct feedback from readers, particularly when something they read on my blog, either from me or other readers, is making an impact on their thinking or behaviors.
  • There is lots of reciprocity going on amongst bloggers, thanks to linking, trackbacks, and pingbacks. As a result, the give and take feels very fair.
  • Although I am very familiar with wikis, have consulted for wiki startups, and have started several private wikis of my own, I find making the move from blogging to contributing to public wiki platforms a huge step.
  • First, there is the issue of time. If I could somehow export content that’s already on my blog, automatically, I would consider it.
  • Second, is the problem of attribution, and ownership of content. Although, I am not one to hang on to my creative product with steel claws, it is very important to me that I be given credit for it.
  • Third, is the issue of duplicate content, and how that might affect ranking of original content with search engines.  If content is going to be exported automatically, and frequently, I would not have the time to do rewrites to avoid duplicate content problem.
  • My blog is not my only source of content either. There are quite a few projects I have been working on, that are sitting either in some files on my desktop, or in Google groups discussions, and that I wouldn’t mind sharing, if I could just turn those over with one click.

The bottom line is, if you want my content, make it super easy for me, and make sure I get credit for it.

There is a huge pool of potential content providers like myself, scattered all over the Internet, and elsewhere, who could share their knowledge, under the right conditions:

Marguerite Manteau-Rao)

Sustainability Wikis - Contributors' Engagement Map (Marguerite Manteau-Rao)

I will end by sharing my dream of the perfect sustainability wiki. Imagine a place where you can find nearly all that has been published about sustainable solutions all over the world. Imagine that contributors would not have to worry about adapting their content to the specific wiki requirements. Wiki editors could take care of that chore. Imagine that contributors could get credited each time, with ample linkage back to their original websites. Imagine a widget that would allow contributors to send their content automatically to the wiki in one click. Imagine that getting my content on the wiki would be all benefit for me, in addition to the reward from helping the greater community. Imagine . . .

Maybe this discussion can be continued at the upcoming Open Sustainability Network Camp that will take place in October, in San Francisco?

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Love how blogging works! Today, Jonathan Melhuish left a comment on my Climate Camp post. I clicked on his name, and landed on his personal blog. Then noticed his professional blog. There, I discovered Jon’s latest post on Bodder, his new mobile social network. Stopped on his Wikipedia link on ‘network effect’ and really got into this part:

A more natural strategy is to build a system that has enough value without network effects - underlined by me -, at least to early adopters. Then, as the number of users increases, the system becomes even more valuable and is able to attract a wider user base. Joshua Schachter has explained that he built Del.icio.us along these lines – he built an online system where he could keep bookmarks for himself, such that even if no other user joined, it would still be valuable to him.[2] It was relatively easy to build up a user base from zero because early adopters found enough value in the system outside of the network aspects.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? On line, I am not social just for the sake of being social. There needs to be something in it for me. Videos on YouTube, insiders’ info on Twitter, objective book reviews on Amazon, a place to show my stuff on Facebook, bookmark storage on del.icio.us, interesting stories on diggs, etc. In other words, there needs to be something worthwhile spreading in order for the network effect to take place. 

Also digged this comment at the bottom of the post, from other Bodder‘s co-founder, Simon Hammond:

The main lesson for me was probably that the technical engineering is relatively straightforward compared to the social engineering - underlined by me - In other words, it’s not enough to merely provide a nice platform and interface. You have to account for social factors - underlined by me - as well. Few people will try something completely off their own bat – they need to be personally introduced to it. At heart, we are still apes and we learn by copying. Getting the visible endorsement of the group leaders is probably essential to getting group adoption. Think Scoble/TechCrunch and Twitter.

Embedded in Simon’s comment are two very important points. First is the need to not just push a technology, but also to take into account the psychological aspect of ‘the user’ and also the community. I have noticed lots of social networks get started by developers with no understanding or appreciation of that essential dimension of any social venture. Second is the need for the nascent network to receive the validation of one or several recognized or credible leaders. I know I always look for the personal story behind any new network. Who started it? What are thought leaders saying on Twitter? When cuil came out a few weeks ago, it only took a few negative tweets from the few social media gurus I follow, and a quick, unsatisfactory trial, for me to ban it from my toolbox. We are very much like cockroaches in that respect!

Thanks Jonathan, thanks Simon, for teaching me a few things about social networks . . .

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In “Green, a Dead End for Social Networks?”, I continue to question the legitimacy of green social networks, even going as far as suggesting that they be abandoned altogether. Instead I propose a non direct approach to go around the ‘nice to have, but don’t need’ problem of green social media in general. One example could be a site that helps people manage their personal resources more effectively as food and gas prices continue to rise. Conservation and efficiency measures would obviously be featured prominently on such a site, but always first as a way to maximize personal resources, and only secondarily as feel-good green measures.

Another alternative is to treat green as what it is, a qualifier for all aspects of people’s lives. This is in sync with growing green narrative: green economy, green revolution, green jobs, green media, green homes, green cars, green living, etc. It is also aligned with the psychology of most people, for whom green is only a secondary benefit. Using that logic, it makes sense to not have separate green social networks, but instead green applications that come as a layer on top of existing mainstream networks. Imagine if you had the option of going green on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Craigslist, eBay . . . seamlessly, at your discretion?

At the heart of both approaches, “roundabout green network”, and “green layered network”, is the recognition of green as a global necessity of the highest order, to be reconciled with the fact that it is only a secondary benefit on the personal level.

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Microsoft just released the results from its massive research on’Planetary-Scale Views on a Large Instant Messaging Network. Two researchers, Jure Lesckovec, of Carnegie Mellon University, and Eric Horvitz, from Microsoft, analyzed 30 billion conversations among 240 million users of Microsoft instant messaging, in search for significant patterns.   Their findings have far reaching implications for social networks in general, and more specifically, green mass persuasion initiatives:

1. The world IS a small-world:

Kevin Beacon‘s 6 degrees of separation theory was confirmed, with a slight correction. Microsoft research found that the average degree of separation between any two  random individuals, is actually closer to seven. This further validates the LinkedIn model, beyond business and professional search applications. 

2. People communicate more with others who are like them:

From the report: ‘We found strong influences of homophily in activities, where people with similar characteristics tend to communicate more, with the exception of gender, where we found that cross-gender conversations are both more frequent and of longer duration than conversations with users of the same reported gender.’ A confirmation of what you and I know from our daily interactions. Humans tend to hang out with people who are like them, in terms of interests, and demographics. The more virtual networks facilitate such connections, the more likely they are to succeed. Think Facebook with its educated college crowd, or lesser known Patients Like Me.  

Next comes the question of how to apply these findings to existing and future social networks. To date so called green social networks have failed to generate substantial and enduring followings. Maybe this will shape a new wave of networks, more effective and in touch with the reality of the people. 

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It was only a matter of time before open source made its way to science. InnoCentive has made the jump, and quite successfully, according to today’s article in the New York Times. InnoCentive connects companies, academic institutions, public sector and non-profit organizations, all hungry for breakthrough innovation, with a global network of more than 145,000 of the world’s brightest minds on the world’s first Open Innovation Marketplace™.

Cross-pollination and crowdsourcing, all wrapped up in one place for global problem solving, I love it! The world has never been smaller . . .

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These past two weeks spent traveling in France and Italy convinced me even more about the role of culture and society in shaping individual behaviors. Most interesting was to observe how both I and Prad adapted our behaviors to fit the different customs in each country. Prad, who usually protests vigorously the slightest whiff of cigarette smoke back home, thought nothing of taking strolls on the smoke-filled Parisian sidewalks. In Italy, we quickly learned to conform to the practice of drinking bottled water at the restaurants. Two examples of the power of social norms, relative to individual environmental choices.

This raises the question of how to bring changes in normative behaviors, that will support sustainable lifestyles, across cultures. According to Horne, “New norms are thought to emerge when costs of compliance with existing norms become too high relative to the rewards“. Montgomery weighs concerns of costly normative actions against concerns of morality or social opinion. Though unlikely to change their behavior when norms become costly, individuals will praise those willing to do so; after a few have tested the waters, a domino effect of individuals who harbor less fear of social sanction will follow. If these innovators receive social approval, individuals will continue to participate in new strategies in order to gain recognition. Christakis‘s research similarly points to the social nature of behavioral changes.

On the green front, several trends are emerging that should give us hope. First, is the growing acceptance of the idea of green as universally cool and no longer the claim of a few treehuggers. The social sanction for behaviors such as biking, recycling, carpooling, using mass transit, recycling, to name just a few, has tipped towards the positive. Concurrently, rising gas and energy prices, are making it harder and harder for people to maintain their old behaviors. SUVs, boats, superfluous driving no longer make sense for the majority of Americans. Other adaptive behaviors are stirring, as in urban gardening, and driving more slowly.

Because time is of the essence, we would do well to consider strategies to accelerate this movement:

First, are opinion changing strategies, including all mass media and communication campaigns. Every green drop counts. What I write here in this blog. What you write, either in your own blog, or as a commenter on others’ blogs. What you say in casual conversations to your friends and coworkers. What you ask from your elected representative. What you communicate through your example, as in here and here. What the “we” and the “Together” people do. What Barack Obama, and other leaders declare is important. What the New York Times, and the rest of the press put on their front page. What Arianna Huffington chooses to promote. It all matters.

Second, are cost raising strategies, in relative terms, either through the offering of new, lower cost options, or the raising of the costs of existing options, whether volitional or not. Rising gas and energy prices are an example of the latter. And so are various forms of carbon tax. Smart technologies such as more fuel efficient cars or home energy efficiency solutions work on the other end, through the promise of higher financial rewards, and social acceptance.

Third are direct behavior shaping strategies such as evolved from Pierre Chandon‘s research. Chandon‘s study, ‘When Does the Past Repeat Itself? The Role of Self-Prediction and Norms.‘ tells us that ‘by predicting our behavior, we can actually reinforce good habits and break bad ones‘, a sophisticated twist on the power of self-fulfilling prophecy. What this means for our problem, is that by asking people such simple questions as ‘Do you bike, do you carpool, how often and how long do you walk, do you turn off your lights, do you hang your clothes to dry, do you eat fresh food?’ chances are it will increase the likelihood of them engaging in these behaviors. Conversely, by not mentioning other negative behaviors such as driving, using dryer, eating processed food, etc, they will be less inclined to perpetuate those. 

This is just the beginning of a long list. My main point is, thought leaders on climate change and other global environmental issues with a human factor component, need to spend more time exploring such behavior shaping strategies, based on the available body of research on normative behaviors.

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Richard Florida, professor of Business and Creativity at the University of Toronto, and the author of ‘Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life‘, was on NPR Talk of the Nation yesterday. Richard Florida had a lot to say about a wide range of fascinating topics. Most interesting to me were the results of his Gallup Survey on Place and Happiness.

What makes people happy?:

  • A job they love
  • Social connections and relationships
  • A good place to live 
Richard Florida added some observations:
  • Beyond a minimum threshold, income does not make a difference. 
  • People are suffering from fewer and fewer close social connections (with one the average)
  • Good places to live all share the following five factors: 1) safety and good schools, 2) economic and social opportunities, 3) good mayoral and business leadership, 4) good across the board for a variety of people, 5) physically good in term of aesthetics, pleasant to live in. 
What I find especially encouraging about this research, is that it supports visions for a more sustainable world as well. This includes the need for strengthened communities, and some ideas such as David Holmgren’s permaculture that could be adapted to living in the big cities. Note that accumulating more stuff, driving more, living in bigger houses, and more generally engaging in activities with a big footprint, are not part of this ‘make you happy’ list.

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It happened last night, as I was getting dinner ready. Guests were coming in an hour, and the chocolate dessert was not even made, and I had run out of sugar. What to do? The thought of driving four blocks to the nearby grocery store felt sacrilegious. Biking or walking were my next options, but then I didn’t feel I could afford to spend the extra few minutes. In desperation, the brilliant revelation came to me, that I did not have to go very far. How about running across the street to our neighbors’ house? Sure enough, a few minutes later, I was back with the prized sugar. And the satisfaction of having caught up with Steve and the kids.

That’s when it hit me. How alienated I have become from the physical community called my neighborhood. Things that were second nature to my grandparents, such as neighbors helping each other out, are no longer part of my DNA. Wiped out, by a lifestyle that promotes self-reliance at all costs and diverts much of our socializing urges into virtual networks, such as Twitter.

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Green social networks are popping all over the place. This morning, I got word from Meryn, of yet another one, and another one. Frankly, I have stopped keeping track. They want us to become engaged, and to change our behaviors, fast. They claim to have all kind of tools to help us accomplish the impossible. How come then, I am not more enthused? I, out of all people, who spend so much time on the topic, should be an easy sell.

Here is what I think is missing from all these sites. A lack of understanding of basic psychology, and of the way real people change their behaviors. I do not decide ‘I want to be green’, and ask for someone to whip me into shape. Actually, I may, but the truth is, that kind of intention is not sustainable. I do not need to add yet another thing on my already long to-do list. I want solutions to my everyday problems, as in more convenient, cheaper, smarter.

Social networks I really dig:

How about you? What is your favorite social network? What are your primary motivations for joining? How do you feel about virtual versus ‘real’ networks?

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