Hurricane Gustav: If they can't do it, we will.

UPDATE (9.2.2008): ABC News just wrote an article about using social media as an emergency tool. It looks like the Gustav efforts really helped some people out. Good to hear.

Katrina. Gustav.

Gustav. Katrina.

photo by Biguana

The names are intertwined in a morbid marriage of past and future. Katrina: the natural horror which clawed at the bare nervous system of Louisiana. A failure to prepare, a failure to react. And then there is Gustav, looming over the coastal state with an air that smacks of inevitability.

If you want to be encouraged, visit Beth's Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media, Get Involved with Gustav Online Volunteer Efforts. It's a breath of fresh air, and a wonderful example of social media coordinating it's own disaster relief efforts.


Talk Together. Talk Loud. Talk About Poverty.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around, maybe it doesn't make a sound. But on October 15, 2008, over 20,000 trees are falling, and they plan to make a whole lot of people notice.

It's Blog Action Day 2008. And this is what it's all about ...

Can it make a difference? I think so.

In an interview the other day, I shared my worries about the effect technology has on the poor. Does it further the divide between the haves and have-nots? Does technology make those who don't have the opportunity to use it even weaker in a world that is increasingly dependent on it? Or do we celebrate the raised awareness? Do we celebrate that people can and do raise more money than ever because of that raised awareness? Do we celebrate that more people are taking an active role against poverty largely because of the connections and resources that technology has given them?

Talking won't solve everything. But it will get people involved. Here's a quick story:

In 2004, my friend (let's call him Jason) takes an evening trip to study in Boston, walking with noise-canceling headphones in the Fenway area. Jason has no clue that the Boston Red Sox are hosting the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. And to be fair, Jason doesn't really care. He has never liked baseball. Never cared about the Red Sox. Doesn't notice the New York Yankees. That is, Jason doesn't notice until he hears a sudden swell of noise. The noise rises over the Boston streets and cuts through the climax of "Karma Police" by Radiohead. Puzzled, he takes off his headphones and becomes engulfed by the sound of a David Ortiz home run, or a Dave Roberts stolen base off Mariano Rivera. 30,000 fans yelling. 30,000 fans screaming. The sound of 30,000 people happier than they've been in weeks.

"I love baseball." That's what Jason told me the next day. He was preaching to the choir, but that sure didn't help with my confusion. "I'm still not sure about the game, but anything that gets that many people that excited and that passionate, I have to love."

So pass on the word and yell a whole lot. Get people excited. Maybe, just maybe, the right ones will listen.


Social Media for Social Change

One of my primarily goals for techINcolor is to highlight efforts that use technology to make a tangible difference in the world - those rare instances where conversation transforms into action. Today, I have the pleasure of introducing you to a Boston-centered event: Social Media for Social Change. The event, organized by Gradon Tripp, "was born of the idea that the social media community, these 'agents of change' can get together for one night, to support one cause."

Social Media for Social Change will tentatively take place on Friday, October 10th, at the Harvard Club.

Stop Domestic Violence. Stop Sexual Assault.
All proceeds of Social Media for Social Change will benefit the Jane Doe, Inc.
Here is their mission statement:
Jane Doe Inc., The Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence brings together organizations and people committed to ending domestic violence and sexual assault. We create social change by addressing the root causes of this violence, and promote justice, safety and healing for survivors. JDI advocates for responsive public policy, promotes collaboration, raises public awareness, and supports our member organizations to provide comprehensive prevention and intervention services. We are guided by the voices of survivors.
A WBUR story that ran just this morning about Jane Doe, Inc., reported that "there was an almost three-fold increase in domestic violence deaths in the state between 2005 and 2007." Personally, I have a hard time thinking of anyone who doesn't know a story of how domestic violence has impacted someone they love. I have friends who have been abused, friends parents who have been abused, and friends who have been deeply impacted by the scars of others who have been abused. It is an issue that needs attention and action.

What can I do?
Public awareness and public action means public change. Social Media for Social Change is an event that can have a real impact on efforts to end domestic violence and sexual assault in Massachusetts. Even more important, it can represent a step in the right direction for technology influencing change, not just in violence, but in anything we think needs changing - hunger, the sex trade, poverty, etc. Social Media for Social Change is just as much about our use of technology as it is about our desire to end domestic violence and sexual assault.

So save the date. Put it in your Facebook status. Post it on a blog. Tweet it on Twitter. Text it to a friend. Write about it in your school newspaper. If you can't attend, tell someone who can. Awareness will impact this event just as profoundly as attendance.

Social Media for Social Change.
The Harvard Club.
October 10th, 2008.
(I'll post more information as it becomes available)


The colors of techINcolor.

This entry should have many names: "Why I blog" or "What I believe, worry about, hope, and fear" are just a couple. Just know this: It will change. I'm always reforming, always changing, always adding, deleting, undoing, and redoing my beliefs. So if you like this version, you should save it somewhere else. I can't promise it will be the same tomorrow, or even an hour from now. But it is probably my most important entry. It is what echoes in my mind when I think, leaks out my mouth when I speak, and bleeds through my fingertips when I write.

photo by ishrona
My colors:
  • I believe, above all, that the internet is "not just about information. It is about linking people; linking people in ways we've never seen linked before."
  • I am frustrated by the perception that technology cheapens relationships, instead of enhancing them. I am frustrated by services that give truth to that.
  • I worry that technology deepens the plight of the poor; making those who don't have it even more helpless, while those that do, more connected and therefore, more powerful.
  • I believe that technology is a powerful equalizer for those that do have it. Anyone can network with anyone. Anyone can have a voice. Anyone can be heard.
  • I struggle with the tension between providing contextual relationships and preserving privacy.
  • I wonder how we can be authentic, vulnerable, and still safe. I believe that if we take the term "community" seriously, then we need to be more vulnerable. But we cannot be careless.
  • I believe that design needs to risk innovation over intuition and familiarity. We can do better than the mouse. We can do better than the keyboard.
  • I believe that social media can change the world for the better.
  • I also believe we need to discover new, innovative ways to turn conversation into action. Ideals are cheap if they are not based in reality. We need concrete plans to provide a foundation for our optimism.
  • I believe that we have not yet begun to harness the ingenuity of the general public. I believe that no action should go wasted. I believe that every action can be redirected towards meaningful problems, either through human computation, volunteer computing, or other clever methods.
  • I believe that technology will sculpt the world's moral and ethical future.
  • I worry that the perceived inaccessibility of science will leave the vocal majority on the sidelines, as a small contingency of men in white lab coats dictate that future.
  • I worry that we don't understand how much we are affected by technology, and how much more we will continue to be affected by it. I worry that our leaders who do not actively participate in science and technology will be confronted by deep problems in which they have no basis of understanding.
  • I believe that we need to seriously consider the ramifications of our technology before the problems present themselves. I worry that if we don't, the consequences of our carelessness will be terrible.
  • I am optimistic, but wary.
  • I do not have many answers.
  • I do think we can do better.
If you have your own thoughts, additions, disagreements, etc. I'd love to hear them. Leave them in the comments, email me, twitter me, or smoke signal me. Although these are my own thoughts, I think that in some ways, they belong to everyone.


YouTube is Really about Us. All of Us.

I usually don't simply repost an entry. I like to add my own thoughts and my own opinions - add my own coloring to the piece. But for once, here is something that deserves to be by itself.

It's a long watch, but if you've ever wondered "What's the point of blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube?" or "Where are we really going online?" please block out an hour of your time. If I was a professor, it would be mandatory. But I'm not. All I can do is hope you stick with me. So whether you're a longtime internet enthusiast or just want to know what it's all about, go pop a bag of popcorn, get comfy on the couch, and enjoy.

Credit goes to Liz Strauss and her wonderful blog for allowing me to find this gem.


Why Twitter is Good and Instant Message is Evil

Picture by Brian Solis

What is good? What is evil?
The first question you should be asking is "What hodge-podge morality scale are you working on?" It's a good question. It's the type of question that philosophers often ponder during their prolonged morning showers (which, coincidentally enough, is where I conjured up this article). There are a lot of different directions I could go - looking at how the company runs, evaluating privacy policies, considering whether company programmers drink Fair Trade coffee, etc.

I'm basing my thoughts on one question: Does the technology serve our lives, or do our lives serve the technology? Another way of phrasing this is "does the technology lead to more opportunities in the 'real world', or does it increase our dependencies on the technology?" That is my barometer.

Why Instant Message is Evil
It's pretty simple, really. Just consider the instant messaging scenarios that cause people to shake their heads in disgust. The longer a conversation that takes place on IM, the more you start to realize that it could be had elsewhere - in a place with more context. Conversation without context leads to misunderstandings. Or even worse, intentional misrepresentations. The times when instant message has been beneficial to me have been the times when I've used it more as a "leave me a message" service, or a "let's meet-up at x time" service. Let me know when we're having lunch. Let me know if you got home safely. Those uses are good. Unfortunately, it often isn't used that way.

Good Example:

ilikeSawx: We need to talk. Can you meet at Denny's at 11am?
ThisIsNotMe: Sure.
ilikeSawx: Great. I'll see you then.

Bad Example:

ilikeSawx: We need to talk.
ThisIsNotMe:Okay, what do you want to talk about?
ilikeSawx: I have been holding back pent up feelings for you for years. I know you don't want a relationship with a Red Sox fan, but .... blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

IM lacks context. No voice inflection. No body language. Even in a good conversation, you're probably only getting part of the picture. And if you're having too many "good conversations", there is the danger that it is becoming a crutch - something that hinders your ability to communicate face-to-face instead of acting as a catalyst to encourage it. We end up serving the technology.

Why Twitter is Good
Twitter does not give us voice inflection. Twitter does not give us body language. So why is it better? What prevents it from falling into the same pit as instant message?

Twitter's character limit keeps us from inappropriate communication
Twitter only gives you 140 characters. If you think you can forge intimate relationships, or hold intense, well-thought political debates in 140 characters then you live a much simpler life than I do. Sure, you could leave 15 consecutive messages, but no one will listen to you. They will pass you off as annoying at best. More than likely, they will defriend you.

There have been times where Twitter gives us emotional glimpses into someone's life. Sure. But it's never a full explanation. Twitter doesn't allow it. In fact, those glimpses makes me want to pick up the phone and call the person. They make me want to learn more. But I can't through Twitter (thankfully). If I wan't to learn more, I need to take my communication to a different arena.

Twitter is largely a public forum. People don't like being naked.
I can follow whoever I want on Twitter. I also must realize that anyone who wants to follow me, can. If I want to get into a bloody brawl with an ex-girlfriend, everyone who will know. Everyone. Once again, this prevents us from having those sort of conversations through Twitter. Last week, at SocialMediaCamp Boston, the following analogy was made (courtesty of Erica O'Grady):

Twitter brings us back to the 1930s in smalltown America. Then, if you wanted to find out who was the best butcher in town, you'd just ask around. People would tell you Tom has great cuts of meat, while Steve pumps his with steroids.

Twitter allows the us to make public statements like "hey, check this out" or "let's meet here" or "watch out for . . ."
While Twitter is a community, it is a community whose foundation isn't on Twitter. The foundation is where its messages point to.

So all in all . . .
To be fair, IM can be used appropriately. Many people do. Twitter can be horribly abused. Many people do. People will use and abuse any technology that comes out. There are no exceptions. But that doesn't prevent us from trying to design technology that encourages real interactions - that gets a group of people together over a cup of coffee. Twitter does it well. IM does it terribly. So please, socialize with care.


Quotations: Richard Hugo

"If you feel pressure to say what you know others want to hear and don't have enough devil in you to surprise them, shut up."
[Richard Hugo, Triggering Town]

Social Media, Netwebbing, and Ephiphanies

"Anybody who is anybody has a blog now." That's what I told my girlfriend last week, trying to justify my own plunge into the blogging world. But it's about more than that. It's about meaningful dialogue. It's about connecting with the right people. It's about networking without the work. In fact, let's change the terminology all together. Let's call it netwebbing.

I've kept an eye on and loosely participated in social media (Facebook, blogging, Twitter, etc.), but I've never seriously considered its implications as a tool. Facebook feels like "just for fun." Blogging is often viewed as nothing but a public diary. And I've never really been around anyone who got excited about Twitter.

That all changed last Monday when I attended SocialMediaCamp Boston. Unfortunately, I was only able to stay for a couple of hours, but that was all I needed. Erica O'Grady, you had me at Tweet. More about Social Media and why I think it's important later, but I'll leave you some items to stare at in the mean time. Think of this as a teaser. Just like a good Hardy Boys novel.

The Definition (from wikipedia)
"Social media is an umbrella term that defines the various activities that integrate technology, social interaction, and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio. This interaction, and the manner in which information is presented, depends on the varied perspectives and "building" of shared meaning among communities, as people share their stories, and understandings."

Putting a Tie on Zorro
I think that one perception of Social Media among my friends is that it some sort of out-of-control, grammatically challenged, vigilante that plays by its own rules and serves as a ridiculous representation of reality (imagine your neighbor patrolling the streets at night in a Batman suit constructed entirely of body paint). I'd like to argue with you, but you do have some valid points. For you, I'd recommend checking out a post by Social Media Club called "4 Missions, 4 Projects: Social Media Club Gets to Work." To summarize, here is a list of where they are concentrating their effort:
  1. Expand Media Literacy
  2. Share Lessons Learned Among Practitioners
  3. Encourage Adoption of Industry Standards
  4. Promote Ethical Practices through Discussion and Actions

G-r-r-r-reat Resources
I hope you enjoyed the Frosted Flakes reference. Anyways, Chris Brogan has a fantastic post that contains 20 Free eBooks you can dig your heels into. Granted, if you're not familiar with social media, this may not be the best place to start, but I found it interesting. That's what matters, isn't it? Either way, take a look at Chris' blog in general. He posts a lot of good stuff.

Finally, go look at some of my links on the right under "Colorful Friends". Mashable is the king of social media news and I've already plugged Social Media Club. Finally, even though TechCrunch isn't focused on social media, the way the tech world has gone recently, half of their articles end up having some sort of connection to the topic.

Enjoy and Cheers!


Chalk this one up to Mr. Gates

Interesting post by Dwight Silverman over at the Houston Chronicle about the increasing price discrepancies between Macs and PCs. It turns out that the average Mac laptop is nearly twice as much as the average PC notebook.

With the average tuition cost skyrocketing all across the country and laptops becoming more and more important to the success of students (especially in regards to networking), I have to wonder what sort of implications this could have on the digital divide.


Typography Tangent of a Crazy Mind

Why I'm good at packing cars.
Something you should know about me - I move things in my head. I can move a desk from four inches away from the east wall to two feet from the corner of the south wall. I move picture frames to different locations, change the angles of walls, and spin chairs in my head. Occasionally, if I am walking in a neighborhood, I spin houses. If I've never seen the back, my mind just fills in the blanks, creating what it think the back of the house should look like - porches, ivy, and all. Sometimes I can control it, sometimes I can't. That's just the way I am.

The setting of insanity.
So last Monday, as I was sitting on a 3 1/2 hour flight from Charlotte to Denver, I began to spin things. Unfortunately, nothing in the plane was interesting enough. After all, this was my second flight of the day, and I was sick of anything that lives in the air or charges $5 for a can of potato chips (not to mention $15 for my first checked bag). I tried reading Dostoevsky, but because of my exhaustion, my mind was hardly ready to wrestle with 12 concurrent characters, each with multiple nicknames. That's when I started moving letters. I moved them left and right, flipped them around, and then turned them upside down until my mind had turned into some perverted word crossword puzzle of chaos.

Anyways, here is a peak into my mile-high revelations (all my own terminology):

Mirror words.
Mirror words are words that have a line of symmetry right down the middle. You can fold the first half of the word onto the second half and have it line up perfectly. Mirror words are palindromes on steroids, and there are very very few of them (unlike MLB).

Some examples of mirror words are toot, bud, and mom (this is based on the way I write the letters, and may vary depending on the font).

Letter words must be composed of letters that have a mirror reflection.
q and p can be mirrored with each other, depending on the writer's style.
b and d can almost always be mirrored with each other.

Letters that have a vertical line of symmetry themselves:
lowercase: i l m o t u v w x
uppercase: A H I M O T U V W X Y

What does this have to do with anything? Not too much, but we'll talk more about symmetry in a minute.

Planes of letters.
All uppercase letters are generally the same height. Vertically, they all start at the same stop and all end at the same spot. But lowercase letters are a completely different ballgame. Some dip low, some stay in a middle plane, and some stretch up to the height of capital letters. Oh the horror! This is probably a pretty basic concept in typography, but considering I have never formally studied it, it is revelatory to me (especially when combined with symmetry ... we'll get to that).

letters who stay still: a c e m n o r s u v w x z
letters who stretch up: b d f h k l t
letters who go down: g p q y j

If your favorite letter of the alphabet is i, then you have probably noticed that I didn't include it. I'm not quite sure where to put it. It probably belongs with the "letters who stay still," but that dot at the top just ruins everything. Let's say that it is a quasi-letters-who-stretch-up.

Now we get to mention my favorite lowercase letter: j

Look at it. The enigma of the letter world. It dips down below the central plane, but like the letter i, has some real-estate up above it. If j were graduating from its high school class, it would clinch up the "most personable" award. And when combined with letters all of the same plane, I think that it can make a word look visually appealing. Consider the word ajax, or mojo. Don't they just look good on the page?

Planes and patterns.
Getting back to the concept of symmetry, it seems to me that words have a better look about them when there is some sort of pattern in the letters. Actually, the more distinct pattern a word has, the more I am attracted to it. Lets look at a couple of words.

boring : The word lives up to its name. There are no patterns here. The best I can come up with is the b vertically reflecting the g. But even then, the i sort of disrupts us from enjoying that reflection. I don't see anything fun when I look at "boring."

lollipop : I like the way lollipop looks. Why? I think it is because we have this pattern TALLmiddleTALL i LOWmiddleLOW. Since l is such a thin letter, the "ll" sequence doesn't throw us for a loop. Even the i seems to work as a transition to the other half, like a ladder from the floor to the bookcase.

kayak : Of all the words here, kayak looks best to me. Not only is it a palindrome, but it is a palindrome that feels like a roller coaster - start high, dip low, and then ramp up high again. "kayak" has the most distinct pattern.

Why, why, and why?
It occurred to me that, even if we don't explicitly think about these concepts, "how a word looks" judging could very well be going on all the time in our minds. At the very least, I think that certain words jump out at us. For me, it is "kayak." I like it.

How can this be applied in any sort of constructive way? Well, since I like the word "kayak", I am prone to like other things that are associated with "kayak". In a world that is dominated by logos and branded company names, don't you want every edge you can get? This may apply even more so in the internet world. Web 2.0 is notorious for making up words as their brand (and to be honest, most of them aren't terribly interesting). If I am trying to be just a little bit more interesting than a thousand other companies, I would consider making my company's name a "fun word." In a worst case scenario, no one notices, it has no subconscious impact, and you lose nothing. But what if it does have an impact? What if, because people like your word, they are ever so slightly more likely to come back to your site? Isn't it work the risk? You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. So why not?

Just one more thing to chew on.


Quotations: Raph Kosler

"Games thus far have not really worked to extend our understanding of ourselves. Instead games have primarily been an arena where human behavior - often in its crudest, most primitive form - is put on display.

There is a crucial difference between games portraying the human condition and the human condition merely existing within games. The latter is interesting in an academic sense, but it is unsurprising. The human condition manifests anywhere. We may come to better understanding of ourselves by examining our relationship to games, but for games to truly step up to the plate, they need to provide us with insights to ourselves."
[ Raph Kosler, A Theory of Fun ]


What's wrong with science and religion

About a week ago, I wrote an article titled Myers' Friendly Middle is No Friendly Place. In it, I briefly mentioned a salon.com interview with Karl Giberson, as well as a response from PZ Myers (you can find links in the entry).

Why mention this? Well, it looks like salon.com enjoyed the controversy enough to encourage all participants to step into the ring for a grudge match. Take 15 minutes to read Giberson's latest piece: What's wrong with science as religion. Here is an excerpt to whet your appetite:
PZ Myers is a true believer, a science crusader with the singled-minded enthusiasm of a televangelist. A biologist at the University of Minnesota at Morris and a columnist for Seed magazine, Myers has earned notoriety with his blog, Pharyngula, in which he reports on new developments in biology and indiscriminately excoriates those he views as hostile to science, a pantheon of straw men and women that includes theologians, journalists and churchgoers. He is Richard Dawkins without the fame or felicitous prose style.

Currently, Myers is under fire from his university and an army of righteous Catholics over his self-proclaimed "Great Desecration" caper. On July 24, he pierced a Communion wafer with a rusty nail ("I hope Jesus' tetanus shots are up to date," he quipped) and threw it in the trash with coffee grounds and a banana peel. The nail also cut through pages of the Quran and Dawkins' "The God Delusion." He featured a photo of the "desecration" on his blog, and wrote, "Nothing must be held sacred. God is not great, Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet."

( Of course, in an effort not to disappoint his own loyal readership, Myers drew up a quick response: Karl Giberson strikes back! )