Apple, Windows, Linux… who really cares?

Yeah, the video is silly and probably NSFW. However, as my colleague Kate writes in her post with this video:

“Many people in the IT industry don’t realise that operating systems are not important to ordinary folks. We don’t want to be bothered with things that live under the surface of our devices.

This is one of the reasons Apple has made such inroads in recent years, they abstract the complexity away from users so nicely. It is also why Linux is starting to get a bit more traction, they’ve finally realised most people don’t want to fiddle with a command line to install things.”

I wrote something similar myself.

Desire Paths


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Spotted from my hotel room today, in Canberra. From Wikipedia:

A desire path (also known as a desire line or social trail) is a path developed by erosion caused by animal or human footfall. The path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination. The width and amount of erosion of the line represents the amount of demand.

The concept of desire paths are also familiar in the user experience world too and I’m not the first or last to think of the information landscape as being like an urban space.

Often its just about having the right perspective to spot the desire path.

BTW A nice story of the intersection between the physical and information space (in this case, maps). Hat tip to Anne.

Sydney’s inaugural Social Innovation BarCamp

I was disappointed that I couldn’t make this SI BarCamp in Sydney over the weekend, but from the photo stream it looks like they had a successful day! Headshift’s Kate Carruthers was one of the co-unorganisers, along with Michelle Williams (who I met through the Social Innovation Camp process earlier in the year).

Are we ready for social innovation as a new form of public-private partnership?

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At interesting article from the Economist about the new wave of civic engagement we call social innovation. The article is heavily focused on the UK and US experience, but touches on some common issues around the drivers for social innovation, why it differs from past approaches and the new models that are appearing to address the challenge of social innovation ventures for achieving sustainability and impact.

Rather than focusing on the volunteerism aspects I’ve typically seen highlighted here in Australia (i.e. a few activists and technologists getting together to build a Web-based solution to a community problem in their spare time), the Economist describes social innovation as a new form of public-private partnership:

It differs from the fashion in the past couple of decades for contracting out the delivery of public services to businesses and non-profit groups in order to cut costs, in that it aims to do more than save a few dollars or pounds—although that is part of its attraction. The idea is to transform the way public services are provided, by tapping the ingenuity of people in the private sector, especially social entrepreneurs.

However, the article points out that “so far the enthusiasm for social entrepreneurship has run ahead of its effects“. One of the new models for dealing with that problem is the concept of a social-impact bond, which provides funding, but only costs public money if the social innovation achieves its social impact goals. This is necessary so that social innovation can actually achieve the scale and impact it needs to make a difference to the community.

Still, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t an important role for volunteers in social innovation – they mention Participle in the UK, who are attempting to “redesign the welfare state ‘bottom up’” with pilot projects like the Southwark Circle. BTW the most recent Tech Weekly podcast from the Guardian includes an interview with Participle’s Charles Leadbeater. Listen from about the 26 minute mark.

Unfortunately as read this article I could only reflect that the social innovation conversation here in Australia is still very immature. While I am hearing some people in the Australian Government 2.0 community talk about related social innovation methods like service design, we are still very much focused on the issue of upgrading government rather than exploring the possibility of creating new kinds of public-private partnerships (and the mechanisms that will support them) that really could transform the effectiveness of public and community services.

Designing human-powered business solutions – what the Foldit experience teaches us

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As an awesome example of a game-based science crowdsourcing project, the Foldit project in itself deserves special mention. They demonstrated that humans still have the edge on pure computing crunching power when it comes to solving complex problems.

However, I’m particularly interested what the project also reveals about the dynamic of involving ‘normal’ human players in this problem solving. Andrew McAfee provides an excellent summary:

  1. We are particularly strong at spatial reasoning, or literally seeing solutions.
  2. We have intuition. 
  3. We have great adaptivity – McAfee notes that “technologies like wikis are a big step forward in facilitating collaboration within geographically dispersed groups.” 
  4. While collaborating, we exercise a high degree of self-organization (incidentally, we’ve since this before in immersive gaming – transitory leadership). 
  5. We love competition.

This is all particularly relevant when we think about why and how we should apply Social Business Design thinking to problems faced by organisations.

Streetfilms – Social Innovation for the Urban Environment

This is just one of many great films on the Streetfilms site.

Streetfilms has its roots in tackling transportation issues in NYC, but has grown and expanded to cover “complex issues like bus rapid transit, parking policy, police enforcement and the spatial inequity of the way our streets are divided” around the world, including Australia. These films are intended to both educate the public and influence policy makers by introducing them to new approaches and methods for making our urban environment more people and community friendly.

I think its also a great example of using rich media and the Web to help spread social innovation stories. Hat tip to Grant Young.

Using LinkedIn groups for online engagement

The White House is claiming success in using its LinkedIn social media group as a forum for a public policy discussion on reforming the financial services industry.

The Wall Street conversation has generated 296 comments from members of the White House’s LinkedIn group in 12 days. The discussion is being led by Jen Psaki, deputy communications director at the White House and one of the group’s three leaders.

This example is from the government sector, but across the board – commercial and non-commercial – I think there is good reason to consider LinkedIn as a place to host a discussion with stakeholders or customers.

The main benefit of using LinkedIn over either hosting your own discussion or using the ‘default’ strategies of Facebook or Twitter is that you have a ready made community of mainly professional users that you can engage with – if done right – through a platform they already have some level of familiarity with.

It does help that LinkedIn finally rolled out some improvements to how groups work a few months ago. To be honest, I had almost given up participating in any LinkedIn groups because the user experience was so bad. That now looks like it is improving, which is why I think LinkedIn is now worth a second look.

Of course, all the functionality in the world doesn’t make up for poor community management, which in most cases is the root cause of a bad LinkedIn group. The signs of poor community management are often quite obvious – too much spam, a hands off moderation style, no content curation, lack of community focus and endless questions from people to lazy to research an issue for themselves. There is nothing new here, but as with many community orientated Web 2.0 technologies I find that access to collaboration tools doesn’t immediately equate to quality of collaboration.

Learn more about group functionality, in LinkedIn’s online help. There is also a case study on how uses Phillips’ marketing use their Innovations in Health group.