Amplified 08

Potential – remember that? I wrote about potential during 2gether08, about the huge potential that builds up at events where we all get together, about how intoxicating it is, and interesting to see what happens to fulfill that potential – it’s not always obvious, the links are not always clear.

I’d like to really do something with this network of networks, use the occasion to do more than talk about what we might possibly do and actually do some stuff. I’m pootling around with a few ideas for candidate activities, and of course we have the wiki to develop some of them. Come play with me there.

I’m thinking of two streams of stuff – one that requires some tech support and ability and one that requires people who’ve thunk a lot about the cultural, moral and ethical issues – both can create something useful and important – can we do that please?

Unlocking the see-saw

03112008502That was the title of the VRM shindig today. It was fun and interesting and stimulating.

I left ready to do something. I don’t think my coding teeth are strong enough to join in with that bit, but some more co-ordinated and detailed requirements analysis or user testing would suit me fine.

I did a bit where I pulled out my wallet and went through some of its contents. The loyalty cards and what not. Needs a bit more time to go through that in detail. I’d like to, because I think it’s got some legs. For example, the difference between the relationship implied by Caffe Nero’s bit of cardboard as opposed to Starbucks’s pre-payment card. But not tonight.

My main point there was not well developed either, because it only really came to me as I was doing it – it was the empirical evidence of how engaged I am in managing my own personal data – I may say that I’m up for it, but my wallet actually tells a slightly different story.

Thanks to Adriana and Alec for their sterling organisational efforts and to my collaborators for lots of good thinking.

LeWeb ’08

I’ve missed the last couple of Loic’s uber-conferences since they morphed into LeWeb, so it’s actually 3 years since I went to the second LesBlogs. I hear that the food has recovered from the curse of the microlunch… I’m looking forward to finding out more. If you’d like to come too, you can register here.

Last time I was in Paris, I came away quite depressed by it all – it felt like we as Europeans hadn’t found our voice. We knew we had something different to offer from the Americans but weren’t sure what it was. The silliness between Ben Metcalfe and Mena Trott epitomised that. We’ve all learned a lot since then, haven’t we?

I think I’m most comfortable with it now because I no longer have great expectations of participation. I get my participative kicks elsewhere – this is big and it’s going to be like watching telly, it just is and if I don’t feel like watching every minute of what’s on stage, I shan’t be too bothered, because I’ve built my network up now to the point where I know I’ll be able to find plenty of people to hang out with, either online or off.

Having said that, thanks to the excellent blogger outreach programme, I will be there to write about what’s going on and there are some prospective super-goodies in the programme – Brian Cox, David Weinberger, Paolo Coelho, Chris Anderson and Joi Ito stand out for me – I’m glad to see that there’s a split on the second day between the plenary and “deep discussions”

And Marc Canter is running a panel on the second morning, so the book’s open on when he’ll sing and when he’ll be asleep.

If it ain’t broke

Thanks to Tim Davies in the comments of “No to Quotas” for helping me see why I’m getting worked up about this one.

Where is the problem that we’re trying to solve here?

The problem with Innovation Edge wasn’t that the wrong people turned up. It wasn’t that certain groups or parts of society weren’t represented in the whole. It was that hundreds of super smart people did turn up and then were strapped into their seats and lectured to by a very small group of super smart people. It wasn’t a diversity problem – it was a power problem.

No matter which event we’re talking about, what I’m interested in participating in is a shift in designing gatherings in terms of the form and the rules of engagement, the way that a wide multiplicity of views and opinion can be expressed and worked through in conversation rather than meddling with the composition of the group.

Too late on a Sunday to be writing any more, but there is more to say.

No to quotas

08092008202There have been a couple of times in the last week or so when quotas have been suggested for solving a problem of “fairness”. They were brought up at the Tuttle discussion about Amplified08 in the context of deciding which networks should be represented at this network of networks forum and again during the panel I contributed to at Web2.0 on gender issues – suggesting that perhaps there should be quotas of, for example, women represented on the boards of companies.

I think that both are wrong, and I said so at the time, but didn’t have a chance to explain properly why I think that quotas are inappropriate.

Don’t tell me what to do.
I see quotas in contexts like these as the imposition of the will of one (usually very small) part of the community on another part. This attempts to make things fair by being unfair – in the 80s we called it “positive discrimination” it wasn’t very positive but it was definitely still discrimination. The situations for which it is being suggested, involve a desired or desirable state which for some reason seems unlikely to come about either organically or else quickly enough. The introduction of a quota says we cannot trust people to do the right thing (ie what we want them to do), so we will force them to. Yeuck! Isn’t this the same patronising paternalism we’re trying to be rid of? In my experience, introducing this kind of bias leads on the one hand to a feeling of disempowerment in those who are supposed to be given an advantage, a fear that the benefit given so arbitrarily could just as easily be taken away and on the other hand to resentment among those who were formerly in a majority, leading to a more entrenched determination that no further ground be given. Much better, in my view, to extract myself from what other people should do and simply for me to be vocal in my rejection of discrimination in any form and to demonstrate that in all my actions.

Quotas work in a hierarchy.
Quota-thinking is hierarchy thinking. Aren’t we moving to a world where the dominant form of organisation is a flatter network? My presentation at Web2.0 tried to show that in a networked world, of itself, the network is gender-agnostic although in practice a networked system tends to favour women who play to their strengths of building rich relationships. How do you impose a quota in a network? Especially one that is almost completely free to join? I can see that in a hierarchical model, there are gatekeepers to the centres of power and authority and that if these are biased that leads to a bias throughout the system. So have a quota for unbiased gatekeepers and you ‘solve’ the problem (unintended consequences aside). But as hyperlinks continue to subvert hierarchy, as we come to see that the shadow-side network is as important as any bureacracy and that unintended consequence can not be brushed aside, why cling on to tools that no longer work?

In the case of the “network of networks” the suggestion that we should ensure that each network is adequately represented at the table displays a complete misunderstanding of the nature of these networks. They have no clear boundaries, very low barriers to membership and very flat structures (if they have any at all) Most of all, they are not mutually exclusive. How do you decide who’s representing what and how? Let’s take the Tuttle Club as an example (just because I know it well) Say we had 30 places at Amplified08. How would we decide who’s going or not? Well, perhaps we’d have to say, those people who aren’t members of other networks need to be prioritised because they have no other chances to get in. But are these really the people we want to be representing us? The one’s who are otherwise unconnected? So let’s go for those who have the most memberships. Ooops – memberships? What does that mean? Or how about the 30 who’ve attended the most number of friday morning meetups. Gosh darnit Lloyd, what do you mean, you don’t keep neat and orderly records of who’s attended?!? And do all of these groups have common ideas of what it means to be a member? Attendance at one meeting, 20% of meetings, contribution to online activity gaaah it’s so silly! Why get into this ridiculous conversation? There’s a solution that already works for each of the networks individually – first come, first served – I don’t get why this can’t work for the bigger group too.

Clearly I’m a muddle-headed white, straight, middle-class, university-educated man who’s never had to deal with discrimination in any form and therefore doesn’t understand this stuff. What a good job I’ve got a blog and don’t have to depend on anyone else to decide whether my thoughts are worth publishing.