Digital Public Spaces

FutureEverything Publications: “This publication gathers a range of short explorations of the idea of the Digital Public Space. The central vision of the Digital Public Space is to give everyone everywhere unrestricted access to an open resource of culture and knowledge. This vision has emerged from ideas around building platforms for engagement around cultural archives to become something wider, which this publication is seeking to hone and explore.
This is the first publication to look at the emergence of the Digital Public Space. Contributors include some of the people who are working to make the Digital Public Space happen.
The Digital Public Spaces publication has been developed by FutureEverything working with Bill Thompson of the BBC and in association with The Creative Exchange.”

Visualizing the Stunning Growth of 8 Years of OpenStreetMap

new yorkEmily Badger in Atlantic Cities: “The U.S. OpenStreetMap community gathered in San Francisco over the weekend for its annual conference, the State of the Map. The loose citizen-cartography collective has now been incrementally mapping the world since 2004. While they were taking stock, it turns out the global open mapping effort has now mapped data on more than 78 million buildings and 21 million miles of road (if you wanted to drive all those roads at, say, 60 miles an hour, it would take you some 40 years to do it).
And more than a million people have chipped away at this in an impressively democratic manner: 83.6 percent of the changes in the whole database have been made by 99.9 percent of contributors.
These numbers come from the OpenStreetMap 2013 Data Report, which also contains, of course, more maps. The report, created by MapBox, includes a beautiful worldwide visualization of all the road updates made as OpenStreetMap has grown, with some of the earliest imports of data shown in green and blue, and more recent ones in white. You can navigate the full map here (scroll down), but we’ve grabbed a couple of snapshots for you as well.”


“A new kind of society in which amplified individuals—individuals empowered with technologies and the collective intelligence of others in their social network—can take on many functions that previously only large organizations could perform, often more efficiently, at lower cost or no cost at all, and with much greater ease.”

Marina Gorbis, executive director of the Institute for the Future (IFTF), released a book entitled The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World. According to the IFTF website, the book “offers an inspiring portrayal of how new technologies are giving individuals so much power to connect and share resources that networks of individuals—not big organizations—will solve a host of problems by reinventing business, education, medicine, banking, government, and scientific research.” In her review in the New York Journal of BooksGeri Spieler argues that, when focusing on the book’s central premise, Gorbis “breaks through to the reader as to what is important here: the future of a citizen-created world.”

In many ways, the book joins the growing literature on swarmswikinomicscommons-based and peer-to-peer production methods enabled by advances made in technology:

“Empowered by computing and communication technologies that have been steadily building village-like networks on a global scale, we are infusing more and more of our economic transactions with social connectedness….The new technologies are inherently social and personal. They help us create communities around interests, identities, and common personal challenges. They allow us to gain direct access to a worldwide community of others. And they take anonymity out of our economic transactions.”

Marina Gorbis subsequently describes the impact of these technologies on how we operate as “socialstructing”:

“We are moving away from the dominance of the depersonalized world of institutional production and creating a new economy around social connections and social rewards—a process I call socialstructing. … Not only is this new social economy bringing with it an unprecedented level of familiarity and connectedness to both our global and our local economic exchanges, but it is also changing every domain of our lives, from finance to education and health. It is rapidly ushering in a vast array of new opportunities for us to pursue our passions, create new types of businesses and charitable organizations, redefine the nature of work, and address a wide range of problems that the prevailing formal economy has neglected, if not caused.

Socialstructing is in fact enabling not only a new kind of global economy but a new kind of society, in which amplified individuals—individuals empowered with technologies and the collective intelligence of others in their social network—can take on many functions that previously only large organizations could perform, often more efficiently, at lower cost or no cost at all, and with much greater ease.”

Following a brief intro describing the social and technical drivers behind socialstructing the book describes its manifestation in finance, education, governance, science, and health. In the chapter “governance beyond government” the author advocates the creation of a revised “agora” modeled on the ancient Greek concept of participatory democracy. Of particular interest, the chapter describes and explains the legitimacy deficit of present-day political institutions and governmental structures:

“Political institutions are shaped by the social realities of their time and reflect the prevailing technological infrastructure, levels of knowledge, and citizen values. In ancient Athens, a small democratic state, it was possible to gather most citizens in an assembly or on a hill to practice a direct form of democracy, but in a country with millions of people this is nearly impossible. The US Constitution and governance structure emerged in the eighteenth century and were products of a Newtonian view of the universe….But while this framework of government  and society as machines worked reasonably well for several centuries, it is increasingly out of sync with today’s reality and level of knowledge.”

Building upon the deliberative polling process developed by Professor James Fishkin, director of the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University, the author proposes and develops four key elements behind the so-called socialstructed governance:

The chapter provides for an interesting introduction to the kind of new governance arrangements made feasible by increased computing power and the use of collaborative platforms. As with most literature on the subject, little attention, however, is paid to evidence on whether these new platforms contribute to more legitimate and effective outcomes–a necessary next step to move away from “faith-based” discussions to more evidence-based interventions.

Great groups: What 15 things do breakthrough genius teams share?

Barking Up The Wrong Tree: “Warren Bennis and Patricia Biederman studied a number of breakthrough great groups to see what made them so successful. They compiled the results into their book, Organizing Genius.
They looked at the Disney’s Animation division, the Manhattan Project (developed the nuclear bomb), Xerox PARC (designed the modern computer interface), the 1992 Clinton campaign (pulled off an enormous victory), Lockheed’s Skunk Works (created the U2 spy plane and the Stealth Bomber), and others.
Highlights from Organizing Genius summarized by Erik Barker can be found here.”

Smart Citizen Kit enables crowdsourced environmental monitoring

Emma Hutchings at PSFK: “The Smart Citizen Kit is a crowdsourced environmental monitoring platform. By scattering devices around the world, the creators hope to build a global network of sensors that report local environmental conditions like CO and NO2 levels, light, noise, temperature and humidity.
Organized by the Fab Lab at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, a team of scientists, architects, and engineers are paving the way to humanize environmental monitoring. The open-source platform consists of arduino-compatible hardware, data visualization web API and a mobile app. Users are invited to take part in the interactive global environmental database, visualizing their data and comparing it with others around the world.”
Smart Citizen Kit Calls For Environmental Monitoring

Wikipedia Recent Changes Map


The Verge: “By watching a new visualization, known plainly as the Wikipedia Recent Changes Map, viewers can see the location of every unregistered Wikipedia user who makes a change to the open encyclopedia. It provides a voyeuristic look at the rate that knowledge is contributed to the website, giving you the faintest impression of the Spaniard interested in the television show Jackass or the Brazilian who defaced the page on the Jersey Devil to feature a photograph of the new pope. Though the visualization moves quickly, it’s only displaying about one-fifth of the edits being made: Wikipedia doesn’t reveal location data for registered users, and unregistered users make up just 15 to 20 percent of all contribution, according to studies of the website.”

Working Anarchy / Peer Mutualism

“Voluntaristic associations that do not depend on direct or delegated power from the state, and in particular do not depend on delegated legitimate force that takes a proprietary form and is backed by shared social understandings of how one respects or complies with another’s proprietary claim.”

Since the 1990s, Yochai Benkler, Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard Law School, has been instrumental in documenting (and advocating for) the economic and societal value of an information commons and decentralized ways of collaboration, especially as it applies to innovation. Both his books The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest (Crown 2011); and The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (Yale University Press, 2006) are required reading for anyone interested in social networks, open innovation, and participatory democracy.

Politics & Society carries a new paper by Prof. Benkler entitled “Practical Anarchism : Peer Mutualism, Market Power, and the Fallible State”. The paper considers “several working anarchies in the networked environment, and whether they offer a model for improving on the persistent imperfections of markets and states”. In particular, Prof. Benkler tries to capture and analyze our growing experience with what he calls:

“peer mutualism: voluntaristic cooperation that does not depend on exclusive proprietary control or command relations as among the cooperators, and in many instances not even as common defense for the cooperators against nonparticipants.”

Later in the paper he describes “working anarchy”  or “peer mutualism” as:

“ voluntaristic associations that do not depend on direct or delegated power from the state, and in particular do not depend on delegated legitimate force that takes a proprietary form and is backed by shared social understandings of how one respects or complies with another’s proprietary claim.”

According to Benkler,—using a “utopian” position—these working anarchies have the potential to produce four effects:

  • “First, they offer their participants a chunk of life lived in effective, voluntary cooperation with others.

  • Second, they can provide for everyone a degree of freedom in a system otherwise occupied by state- and property-based capabilities; they do not normally displace these other systems, but they do offer a dimension along which, at least for that capability and its dependencies, we are not fully subject to power transmitted through either direct state control or the property system.

  • Third, they provide a context for the development of virtue; or the development of a cooperative human practice, for ourselves and with each other.

  • And fourth, they provide a new way of imagining who we are, and who we can be; a cluster of practices that allow us to experience and observe ourselves as cooperative beings, capable of mutual aid, friendship, and generosity, rather than as the utility-seeking, self-interested creatures that have occupied so much of our imagination from Hobbes to the neoclassical models whose cramped vision governs so much of our lives.”

The central purpose of the paper is to examine the above value proposition behind peer mutualism, using two key questions:

  • “First, there is the internal question of whether these models can sustain their nonhierarchical, noncoercive model once they grow and mature, or whether power relations generally, and in particular whether systematically institutionalized power: hierarchy, property, or both, reemerges in these associations.

  • The second question is whether those practices we do see provide a pathway for substantial expansion of the domains of life that can be lived in voluntaristic association, rather than within the strictures of state and hierarchical systems. In other words, do mutualistic associations offer enough of a solution space, to provisioning a sufficient range of the capabilities we require for human flourishing, to provide a meaningful alternative model to the state and the market across a significant range of human needs and activities?”

The paper subsequently reviews various “working anarchies” – ranging from the so-called paradigm cases involving IETF, FOSS, and Wikipedia to more recent cases of peer mutualism involving, for instance, Kickstarter, Kiva, Ushahidi, Open Data, and Wikileaks. The emerging insight from the comparative selection is that all the examples examined:

“are perfect on neither dimension. Internally, hierarchy and power reappear, to some extent and in some projects, although they are quite different than the hierarchy of government or corporate organization. Externally, there are some spectacular successes, some failures to thrive, and many ambiguous successes. In all, present experience supports neither triumphalism nor defeatism in the utopian project. Peer models do work, and they do provide a degree of freedom in the capabilities they provide. But there is no inexorable path to greater freedom through voluntary open collaboration. There is a good deal of uncertainty and muddling through.”

Despite the uncertainties and imperfections, Prof. Benkler advocates…

“to continue to build more of the spectacular or moderate successes, and to try to colonize as much of our world as possible with the mutualistic modality of social organization. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it merely needs to offer a new dimension or sufficient diversity in how it instantiates capabilities and transmits power to offer us, who inhabit the systems that these peer systems perturb, a degree of freedom.”

Civilized Discourse Construction Kit

Jeff Atwood at “Coding Horror“: “Forum software? Maybe. Let’s see, it’s 2013, has forum software advanced at all in the last ten years? I’m thinking no.
Forums are the dark matter of the web, the B-movies of the Internet. But they matter. To this day I regularly get excellent search results on forum pages for stuff I’m interested in. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t end up on some forum, somewhere, looking for some obscure bit of information. And more often than not, I find it there….

At Stack Exchange, one of the tricky things we learned about Q&A is that if your goal is to have an excellent signal to noise ratio, you must suppress discussion. Stack Exchange only supports the absolute minimum amount of discussion necessary to produce great questions and great answers. That’s why answers get constantly re-ordered by votes, that’s why comments have limited formatting and length and only a few display, and so forth….

Today we announce the launch of Discourse, a next-generation, 100% open source discussion platform built for the next decade of the Internet.


The goal of the company we formed, Civilized Discourse Construction Kit, Inc., is exactly that – to raise the standard of civilized discourse on the Internet through seeding it with better discussion software:

  • 100% open source and free to the world, now and forever.
  • Feels great to use. It’s fun.
  • Designed for hi-resolution tablets and advanced web browsers.
  • Built in moderation and governance systems that let discussion communities protect themselves from trolls, spammers, and bad actors – even without official moderators.”

Two-Way Citizen Engagement

StuffGovernment Technology: “A couple of years ago, a conversation was brewing among city leaders in the Sacramento, Calif., suburb of Elk Grove — the city realized it could no longer afford to limit interactions with an increasingly smartphone-equipped population to between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m… The city considered several options, including a vendor-built mobile app tailor-made to meet its specific needs. And during this process, the city discovered civic engagement startup PublicStuff. Founded by Forbes’ 30 Under 30 honoree Lily Liu, the company offers a service request platform that lets users report issues of concern to the city.

Liu, who previously held positions with both New York City and Long Beach, Calif., realized that many cities couldn’t afford a full-blown 311 call center system to handle citizen requests. Many need a less expensive way of providing responsive customer service to the community. PublicStuff now fills that need for more than 200 cities across the country.”

The Wise Way to Crowdsource a Manhunt

in the New Yorker: “If Reddit were looking for a model to follow, it could use NASA’s Clickworkers experiment, which in 2000-01 let tens of thousands of amateurs look at photos of Mars in order to identify craters on the planet and classify them by age. That study found that the aggregated judgments of the amateur “clickworkers” were “virtually indistinguishable from the inputs of a geologist with years of experience.”
The problem from Reddit’s perspective, of course, is that this method of sleuthing would be far less exciting for users, and would probably generate less traffic, than its current free-for-all approach. The point of the “find-the-bombers” subthread, after all, wasn’t just to find the bombers—it was also to connect and talk with others, and to feel like you were part of a virtual community. But valuable as that experience may have been for users, it also diminished the chances of the community coming up with useful information. Reddit has done an excellent job of being engaging. Now it needs to figure out if it wants to be effective”.