Yearly Archives: 2006

Symptoms of Alienation

Hi Friends – sorry for the lack of posting over the holidays. I’m back and will be posting full time again.

Every Christmas westerners living out east return home to pass the holidays with friends and families. With the added personal dimension created by this event, the holiday homecoming becomes one of the few times Westerners are willing to get updated on the ‘going ons’ out east. I’m no fan of western alienation but I am curious: why is this pilgrimage virtually the only time Westerners talk about the rest of the country? Why does the west not feel in?

It could be, as my friend John pointed out, that “national” newspapers like the Globe and Mail treat the machinations of Ontario’s budget process as critical reading for all Canadians (sorry if those of us in Vancouver aren’t rushing to grab a copy) while news from out west is an afterthought for most publications – a clumsy attempt at having western content without offering any real meat or analysis.

While it may sound like an old song, living out here one cannot help sense that, at their core, publications like the G&M still believe Central Canada is ‘the country’ whose dynamics must be understood by everybody. Everything and everyone else is as periphery – whose relevance can be correlated to their impact the central Canada’s agenda. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the recent Globe and Mail article “Western Canada Comes of Age.” Let’s put aside the fact that most westerners likely believe ‘the West’ came of age a long time ago. Let’s also put aside the unbelievable condescension of the title (I can’t wait to see when the G&M decides that Aboriginal Bands have “come of age” in national politics). Instead it is the framing of the piece that reveals why Westerns often feel outside any ‘national’ dialogue.

So how does the Globe and Mail define ‘coming of age’? Is the West’s political maturity and relevance defined by its perspective? its unique challenges? or possibly by the ideas, ambitions, or opportunities it brings to the country’s agenda? No. What matters is that Alberta and BC’s combined population now exceeds Quebec. In short, the G&M, believes the West’s maturity and relevance is defined by its capacity to force other actors (read, central Canada) to pay attention to it. And we wonder why we struggle to have national dialogues.

The second element revolved around the West’s raw economic power. However, let us be clear. This is not economic power defined in absolute terms, but economic power measured in relation to the challenges it posses to Central Canada! What does the article cite as the foremost important impact of the West’s boom? Is it the challenges it posses to Western communities? The international opportunities and clout this creates for the country? No. The ‘broad’ and significant impact of this economic surge was to “have helped drive the Canadian dollar higher, causing challenges in Ontario’s manufacturing sector.” Thus, in both instances, the importance of the West is not defined in its own terms but largely by its relationship to central Canada.
Western alienation isn’t about political clout, economic weight or even effective representation. It is about the capacity to participate, and be understood, within national debates. Until we, and more specifically, our newspapers get that right I’m not sure the West will ever feel ‘in’.

[tags]western alienation, canadian politics, public policy[/tags]

Making eBay better

So I’ve decided to get serious about refining my idea around how eBay can leverage its core competencies and business model to enhance charitable giving. What makes me proud of this idea is that it has numerous positive spin off effects for both charities and eBay but requires virtually no capital investment – it leverages existing infrastructure and networks so it is highly efficient and low risk.

I’ve sent up a discussion thread on the idea here and a workspace where you can edit the proposal here. Would love it if you dropped on by and voted for the idea and/or registered comments or suggestions!

[tags]Social enterprise, ebay, opensouce, open source[/tags]

Find the oxymoron: NDP strategy, admiting fault, newsmaker of the year

  1. This article provides a glimpse into the complex and sweeping grand strategy Jack Layton has both masterminded and only begun to reveal. Yes, folks, Jack killed a minority Liberal Government so that he could form a strategic partnership with… the conservatives? We will monitor this, and the NDP’s seat count, closely.
  2. A few weeks ago I wrote about the centralizing of the internet using the disappearance of this Rooster tooth clip as an example. Always pleased to be proved wrong, my man Mike B. has found a copy of the clip on Myspace. Apparently, someone cached and reposted it. Mike also shared some poweruser tips on how to capture videos off webpages, thus helping us all better earn our status as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year (groan).
  3. Speaking of Time’s Person of the Year… I won’t hop on the band wagon and lambaste their choice (no need, enough has been said). However, I will point out that Time has only itself to blame. Specifically, Time mis-set expectations by allowing “Person of the Year” to cease being a title and allowing it to become an award. As my friend Salimah noted, gone are the days when Bin Laden or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could grace the front page as person of the year. In contrast, Time Canada (and I also can’t believe I’m about to say this) gets it right. Its title, earned this year by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is the much more neutral “Newsmaker of the Year.” Alas the subtle difference was lost on the ears of the Prime Minister’s Office which was apparently thrilled on discovering their man’s new status. Someone should remind them that being the year’s top newsmaker simply means you made a lot of the news, for better or for worse…

Update: Dr. Kissinger overseeing a rock contest? Friends, just finished watching possible the best Colbert Report to date – clearly they saved the best for the end of the year. Those unable to watch or bitorrent it can read a description here. What a cast!

[tags]canadian politics, public policy[/tags]

Community Management as Open Source's Core Competency

Reaction to this post has been overwhelming – I made it the basis of a presentation at the 2007 Free Software and  Open Source Symposium at Seneca college. You can watch it here as a slidecast.

A good friend of mine, Mike B. and I have been exchanging thoughts on open source projects. Mike’s experience is grounded in the ‘traditional’ world of open source – he works on the web browser Firefox (which if you don’t use, you should). I freely admit my own open source credentials are more suspect – I draw my lessons from my experience engaging in a form of open source public policy through Canada25. Beyond, that, what I know is based on what others are kind enough to share with me, and what I am able to learn through articles, books and podcasts.

For those not interested in the whole spiel below the short version is this:

Companies or foundations that run open source project are not software firms, they are community management firms whose communities happen to make software. Consequently to survive and thrive these projects need to invest less in enhancing governance structures or employees who/that will improve their capacity to code. Instead, we should consider skills and structures that emphasize facilitation, mediation, and conflict management – tools, skills and structures that will enable the community to better collaborate.

More detailed thoughts I’m fleshing out an idea flow that goes something like this:

  1. Open source software firms (like Mozilla, the makers of Firefox) are not software companies, they are community management firms whose community happens to produce a software package. (I’ll talk more about Canada25 as open source in the future)
  1. The core competencies of a community management organization are different from those of a software firm. Specifically, core competencies reside in their capacity to support and enable the community to collaborate and contribute to the project. Furthermore, the community’s contributions will not likely be limited to a single function (such as coding new features) but will need to include all aspects of the projects evolution including discussions about the direction of the software or marketplace and its impact on strategy. As people volunteer more time and become more invested my hypothesis is that they will want (at least) input (not to be confused with decision-making authority) in more strategic decisions.
  1. Consequently, the structures and skill sets of those working on an open source initiative need evolve over time:
    1. In the beginning, because of their size, open source projects can pretend to be software firms – this is because the community is sufficiently small that everyone knows one another so that levels of trust are high and the need for formal community structures are low. In this earlier phase:

i. Respect and influence is based on raw brain power/problem solving capabilities – rather than seek permission those who code solutions to problems earn respect, and others listen and/or follow their lead

ii. Common values and operating assumptions in the community are not, and don’t need to be encoded – it is small enough that those who ‘get it’ opt in, and those who don’t opt out.

    1. Success changes everything. As open source projects becomes increasingly successful (and, possibly, more political) the context around the community changes:

i. Success means more people join the community. This is not only true of the number of people, but also of the type of people (e.g. skill set, cultural background, etc…). This increase places stress on the community infrastructure. Specifically, an increase in participants can:

1. reduce levels of trust and the sense of community, raising transactions costs to effective collaboration

2. erode the assumed common community value as new entrants join the project for different reasons

3. decision-making becomes increasingly complex as the consultative nature of open source projects does not obviously scale. This may cause individuals/groups to feel disenfranchised and/or frustrated (and never underestimate the damage to productivity frustrated people can cause – thank you for this Shaver)

ii. As the product matures innovative leaps become harder. With the low hanging fruit plucked new features and ideas become harder to imagine and/or complex to code. The likelihood of one genius coder solving a problem is reduced. Thus at the same time that legacy governance structure (or lack thereof) makes collaboration more difficult, innovations become more difficult.

    1. Community Management as Cope Competency. My interest in all this is how we can take the ideas, methodologies and tools that come out of the negotiation/conflict management/collaborative decision-making arena and port them over to the open source space.

i. Training up in facilitation skills. Getting the core group of project employees trained up on how to collaboratively solve problems. Some basics might include:

1. using interests and not positions when resolving disagreements

2. using Chris Argyris’ theories about how (particularly smart technical people) fight over conclusions, by failing to share the data and analysis behind their thinking – often referred to as the ladder of inference.

ii. Rethinking decision-making processes – chiefly by setting expectations of how decisions will be made, what criteria will be applied when making them. It is likely essential to give community members a common set of criteria to use to evaluate decisions, that way they we can reframe discussion from what they like more to what adheres to the communities standards the closest. This is true for technical decisions, but also strategic or governance questions. The key around decision-making is not how democratic it is, but how well we set expectations for community members and then adhere to those expectations.

iii. Open source communities may fear accepting that even greater collaboration and openness is their core competency because it raises the underlying question no one wants to ask: Is the open source model scalable , and competitive?

The false answer is no: To believe that becoming more competitive and/or moving quickly means we need to consult less.

The true answer is yes. We can’t be competitive by running away from our core-competency, if we do that the we end up playing by the rules of the established corporate players, rules that we can’t win using. Forget their playbook, we have to get back in the box. We have to become faster, more efficient and easier to use at what we do best: engaging and enabling everyone in the community (customers, volunteers, etc…) to collaborate.

  1. Leaders Matter: The good and bad news is for project leaders – for example, paid employees of the project – is that you are THE role model for the community. Every action you take validates or invalidates certain behaviour types. If a employee behaves in an unconstructive way it will be hard to tell others in the community that this behaviour is out of bounds.

I suspect that most open source projects:

    1. Know this
    2. It causes nervousness
    3. Because participants are smart, we rationalize ourselves out of this problem

But… we can’t. And we shouldn’t. This is our single most important chip. It is what allows us to shape the behaviour and culture of the community. Let’s embrace it and use it.

Sorry for the long post – generated out of some thinking with friends at Canada25, Canada2020 and Firefox. Hope you have lots of thoughts, reactions and comments, definitely want to refine my thinking and there is likely a lot of refining to do.

UPDATE: If you found this piece interesting I’ve written a follow up on to this piece, entitled Wiki’s and Open-Source: Collaborative or Cooperative?

San Francisco – the America everyone can love

Just stepped in the door ending a 3 week monster road trip which included plenty of politics, work and hanging with friends. Deeper thoughts from the trip’s conversations will hopefully go up tomorrow but in the meantime, two funny anecdotes:

1. I love San Fran. I love that the SF airport (Terminal One) has a Free Speech Zone. This long counter is a place where any individual can perch themselves and do or say pretty much whatever they want – usually soliciting your time or money for a charitable cause. Sometimes people say SF is flaky left, but at least they are serious about protecting core rights – something that remains important even, sadly, in this day and age.

2. Was having such a good time hanging out with Jonathan Greenberg at Stanford today I was late leaving for the airport to catch my flight. Jonathan called a cab but thought it would take too long to arrive. Fortunately, every Friday renowned French philosopher Rene Girard holds court at the Gould Center for Conflict Resolution Programs and, by chance, the meeting was breaking up. Jonathan leapt in and asked if any of the attendees were going to San Fran and could give me a lift to SFO. Two elderly gentlemen – who happened to be fellows at the Hoover Institute – agreed to do so. Before I knew it I was in the back of a beat up Volvo cruising south on 280.
I have to say, Stanford is a great. Moreover, you can really see how the hippy culture has been imbued into the place. Can you name a renown university where a professor can ask a room of strangers if anyone can “give his buddy a lift” and will not only be taken seriously but can get an affirmative reaction?

What is there not to like about San Fran? A place so friendly that even the Neo-Cons pick up hitch hikers.

Oh, and yeah, I made my flight.

Review of Graham Fraser’s “Sorry, I don’t speak French”

Dear friends, sorry for the long delay between posts. Between the convention last week and the 5 days of seminars in 3 cities I did this week I was a cooked noodle by the weekend. I’m back on the horse though, and even polished off “Sorry, I don’t Speak French” on the flight to Vegas. I’ve written up a little review for those who were thinking about picking it up…

I stumbled upon this book by luck. Sam M. recommended I check it out after posting my CBC piece on the Dominion Institute blog. Serendipitously, a month later the Millennium Scholarship foundation gave me a copy as a thank you gift for a talk I gave at a “Think Again” conference.

It’s a brave soul who wades into Canada’s language politics but Graham Fraser has clearly impressed given that soon after the publication of this book he took on the role of Commissioner of Official Languages. In reading this book I take comfort in knowing we have a Commissioner well educated on the subject. Graham’s book provides us with a basic review of Canada’s language policy – essentially beginning 50 years ago with the launch of a Royal Commission on Bilingualism and weaving its way to the present day, analyzing the impact and effect of the commission’s results along the way.

For me the book had deep personal resonance. If you are a French Immersion Alumnus (Frims, as we called ourselves at Churchill) or have lived in either Ottawa or Montreal, I suspect it will for you as well. Upon reading the book the larger political and policy forces that drove both my education and experiences living in these places came into focus. Graham’s honest recounting of the tensions and problems inherent in Canada’s bilingualism policies often confirm what we likely suspected and/or already knew – his book compelling not because of its novelty, but because it gives those thoughts context and structure.

The book also made me realize I share a common experience with some 347,000 other Canadians. Canadians who were also educated in French Immersion but are often too embarrassed to speak it because they feel their French is inadequate (something I’ve begun to overcome) and/or who went on to learn a third language. Indeed, the only part of his discussion of immersion experience that didn’t ring true to me was his description of French Immersion as an Anglo education and culture, translated into French. I remember reading L’Etranger by Camus and other “French” books (not French translations of English books as he asserts). I also distinctly remember the strong Quebecois nationalists’ slant of my Grade 10 history text – a perspective that was almost disorienting when read from a classroom in Vancouver.

The books strongest and weakest moment is reserved for its analysis of present day language policy. Graham’s thesis appears to be that bilingualism has been, more or less, a success. Its detractors, and Canadians more generally, have simply misunderstood its intended goal. Bilingualism, according to Graham, was never about getting every Canadian to learn the other official language but to enable the public service, and the government services they provide, to function in both official languages. In this regard the chapter on the impact of bilingualism on the public service is excellent while the chapter on bilingualism in politics – which essential discusses how bilingualism is a prerequisite for political leadership – is somewhat wanting. Indeed, throughout the book you are left wanting for more. It almost felt like Graham constantly leads you up to the finish line, but then chooses to end the chapter, failing to provide you with the analytical conclusion you thought he was going to provide. My real fear is that he is much more pessimistic then he lets on and didn’t have the heart to plunge the dagger too deeply into policies and a subject matter he clearly feels passionate about.

If you are a Frimm, a public servant, or someone concerned with either language politics or national unity – this is definitely a book for you. It’s an easy, enjoyable to read and, if you’re like me, humbling. Given how much of our collective energy language seems to have occupied over the past two decades I remain struck by how little I knew (and still know) about Canadian language policy. It’s a great primer, and if you’ve got the time, worth reading.

[tags]book review, bilingualism, public policy, canadian politics, graham fraser[/tags]

re-centralizing the internet?

So my buddy Mike B recently had a post linking to an absolutely hilarious “director’s cut” of Rooster Teeth’s commercial for the Madden07 video game. After showing it to some friends on Saturday, I tried again on Sunday and… somewhat ominously, the video had disappeared.

The “director’s cut” shows a remake of the original Madden07 commercial but with Dallas Clark – a fairly average tight end for the Indianapolis Colts – shaking tackles, scoring touchdowns, kicking field goals and generally appearing invincible while being mockingly praised. Rooster Teeth published the video after Clark complained about the original commercial in which his (virtual) likeness is brutally tackled by some (virtual) Philadelphia Eagles.

There are two sad, but important, points to this story. Least important is that Rooster Teeth felt it had to pull the video. Obviously someone, most likely lawyers representing Dallas Clark, the NFL players association, EA Games or the NFL (and possibly all the above) threatened Rooster with something unpleasant. Ok, disappointing… but until Lawrence Lessig convinces the US Supreme Court otherwise, I realize this is the world we live in.

More troubling though is how the video has completely vanished. Up until a year ago, a video like this would have spread virally through the internet so that even if the original was yanked, interested viewers could still find a copy. This is, for me, the first time I have seen something disappear from the internet. It’s not even on YouTube! Because everyone linked to the original video, once Rooster Teeth yanked the feed everyone’s links simply broke. Good news for Rooster, but maybe, indeed likely, bad news for the rest of us…

(obviously, if anyone has tracked down a copy of said video, please let me know so that I can enjoy the happy task of recanting this post!)