Adventures in Reality

Anyone who has followed any of my writing knows that I’m fascinated by the man-machine continuum and especially the fluidity of technology, as we use it in physical lives, virtual worlds, and augmented realities.

Not a day goes by where there isn’t something new that further informs and fills in the gaps of this physical-augmented-virtual continuum. I’ll pull one item of interest from each of these realities.

monolith-from-WiredFirst, physical reality. One of the things I totally dig about the ubiquity of microprocessors, especially in increasingly “smarter” mobile phones, is the ability to have them real-time “crunch” data that enriches your life – your problem-solving, your choice-making, and your other actions – when and where you need it.

A number of good examples were showcased at a Government 2.0 Expo/Summit earlier this fall that I’ve written about. One that I regularly cite, because we’ve all been affected by it, is a public safety mobile app. Called “Are You Safe?”, this app actually provides a visual gauge that mashes together localized crime data and your GPS-detected position, giving you a real-time indicator of crime.

While one could argue this being a “leading” or “trailing” indicator, nonetheless I’m fascinated by the concept. Just think of the other real-time indicators that one could receive by crunching data sets: climate change/environmental indicators, infectious disease monitors, etc.

Second, augmented reality. I read about a little DIY video off of Slashdot that caught my eye, featuring the provocative headline of building your own virtual reality goggles using an Android-enabled phone. Now, the video is cute, thought not something I would take the time to do, kind of in the spirit of the popular Nintendo Wii video that was the rage two Christmas seasons ago, when an engineer showed how you could reverse the motion tracker that comes with your Wii system to create immersive, 3D games.

But, what I found more intriguing (as usual) were the comments in the slashdot commentary. I especially found this one to be immensely intriguing: “What would actually involve a bit of innovation is if someone hooked up those glasses to, say, a pocket beagleboard or similar device capable of video output, and ported/hacked Google Street View to output stereo information…”  Think about that for a moment: you’ve just created a relatively low-cost device that enables a blind person to “see” the precise details of their surroundings, real time!  Now that is life altering augmented reality.

Third, virtual reality. For this one, I actually want to draw attention to the work of Aric Sigman (http://www.aricsigman.com). Sigman, Baroness Susan Greenfield, and others have been documenting the consequences of a sustained, increased participation in highly immersive virtual worlds and commensurate decreased “physical” world participation. To quote from Sigman’s article “Well Connected” in the February issue of Biologist earlier this year:  “While the precise mechanisms underlying the association between social connection, morbidity and mortality continue to be investigated, it is clear that this is a growing public health issue for all industrialised countries.”

Hear, hear.  My recent personal reflection on how too many people emphasize the “media” part of “social media” and don’t appreciate enough the importance of the “social” – especially the physical, human contact aspect of social – is an affirming data point of one.  Now, let me hear from you!

Gov 2.0 Favs – Content and Style: Part 3

So, this is the 3rd in a 3-part series on presentations that were my favorites among the many given at the O’Reilly Government 2.0 Expo & Summit last week in DC. In my opinion, these 3 had great personal styles – each different, but fitting in their personal own way – and compelling content.

Eric Ries (Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers) – http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/ – I mentioned Eric’s excellent commentary in my post about initial impressions from the Summit a few days ago. When he first walked out onstage, I’ll have to confess – being a veteran of sitting through dozens of VC and start-up talks (including my own) where you hear the same pointers rehashed the 100th different way by the latest VC clown, as Guy Kawasaki would say – I was prepared for the 101st version of the same old thing.

But, I was pleasantly surprised: his style and substance on lean start-ups was thoroughly engaging. In just the few minutes he had to speak, he conveyed a core familiarity with the issues that gave you a sense of someone speaking from experience, combined with a studied observation of the larger dynamics of the subject. I would definitely invite him to lead a workshop on the subject.

James Heywood (PatientsLikeMe ) – http://www.patientslikeme.com/ – The Summit program described PatientsLikeMe as committed to providing a better, more effective way to capture valuable results about disease and share them with patients, healthcare professionals, and industry organizations that are trying to treat the disease. And that word “committed” is perhaps the strongest word I can use to capture the essence of James’s presentation.

The compelling back story to his web service is the desire to help save his brother’s life from the effects of a degenerative disease. But, without relying on sentimentality, James illustrated the power of quantitative and qualitative data, when available, in the pursuit of a patient’s gaining greater control over his or her medical destiny. If I was ever going into a healthcare battle, I would totally want this guy on my side of the table.

Michele Weslander Quaid (US Government) – The phrase that comes to mind for Michele is “kick ass.” She was one of three people on a panel discussion. Seated demurely in black dress between two agency heavyweights from the TSA and DoD, Michele held her own and then some. In the Q&A, she came across as a super-sharp bureaucrat…a straight-shooter, clearly in command of her facts and opinions.

Her comments about the realities of leadership and making realistic, tactical progress with IT initiatives – Gov 2.0 or otherwise – in the U.S. defense and intel communities struck the listener as razor-sharp and authentic. I have little doubt that she’d be a killer workshop leader on the subject of “How to actually get a significant project done in a major federal agency.”  Catch the video of her panel when it get suploaded to Blip.tv.

So, that’s a wrap on my speaker / presenter impressions. I commend them all from the past 3 posts. If you really interested in what to expect “over the horizon” with respect to Government 2.0, then I also recommend you consider requesting an invitation to attend nGenera’s All Members meeting for our Insight 2.0 programs. Scheduled for December 1-3 and hosted at Federal Express in Memphis, we will be presenting a slew of new research ranging from Participatory regulation to Prediction markets.

Gov 2.0 Event Favs – Style: Part 2

In my last post, I mentioned some “content” favorites from the presentations at the O’Reilly Government 2.0 Expo and Summit last week in DC. Today, I’m highlighting “style” favorites.

Melissa Jordan (Bay Area Rapid Transit) – http://www.bart.gov/ – I loved Melissa’s presentation. On the one hand, the BART site is probably more clever for all that it does with a staff of two than for it is for innovative services or technology.

However, Melissa’s perky presentation, which was almost word-for-word both days, felt fresh each time with her own distinctive San Francisco zing. Made you feel like Bart.gov was worth checking out for being both pragmatic and fun – who could resist!

Rita King (Dancing Ink Productions) – http://dancinginkproductions.com/ – Rita was a winning presenter in her track for the Gov 2.0 Expo and rightly so. She and her team have taken what has become a pretty familiar environment like SecondLife and applied it in such a rich, culturally significant way to a problem of international significance.

Her first-day presentation, when she was able to control the pace of her story, was absolutely captivating. Through her presentation, you could really see how effectively the teaching principles of Muslim cultural and religious diversity could be reinforced using SecondLife. 

By the way, you can watch and/or listen to recaps of both Rita’s and Melissa’s presentations on Blip.TV, with Rita’s atrting around the 19:00 minute mark and Melissa’s, the 23:00 minute mark. 

Andrew McLaughlin (Deputy CTO) – Andrew got what some would argue had all the potential to be the least desirable speaking slot possible – he was the last second stand-in for the featured closing speaker from the U.K. government who couldn’t attend. However, instead of being anti-climactic, Andrew’s genuine, thoughtful reflection on the topics that had impressed him during the three-day event was the perfect coda the conference.

As Andrew read through the top items from his (what he reported to be rather lengthy) personal to do list, he had the audience wishing (me included) that we could have heard more from him from the stage. He came across as a super-sharp tech guy – only on the job as the deputy CTO for 2 months – but totally approachable and open to good ideas. I look forward to hearing more from him.

Next time: Favs with Both content and style

Gov 2.0 Event Favs – Content, Style or Both: Part 1

At the inaugural O’Reilly Gov 2.0 Summit and Expo, there was something at the event for everyone.  I refer to it as an “event” in singular because although they were billed as two events, they functionally flowed as one event, since very little of the content across the three days was duplicated and a large number of the attendees went to all sessions.

As I reflected in a previous post, I felt the event was fairly Silicon Valley, dot-com coder heavy, which is perfectly ok – it leaves room for new, unexplored topics for others to cover (like the enterprise-class focus of nGenera’s Government 2.0 members programs) and for future O’Reilly Government 2.0 Summits and Expos.

That said, I (like everyone) had some favs from the event. And here are some of them, which I’ve categorized entirely arbitrarily by content, style, or both. I’ll cover my picks in this post and two subsequent ones.

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: (especially for any of the presenters themselves or their fans that may read this post) – just because I listed you as a “style” favorite doesn’t mean I don’t think you have great content as well. It’s just that something about your style left a stronger impression with me. Likewise, on “content” favorites.

Content

Schuyler Erle (Entropy Free LLC) – http://unicefinnovation.org/ – I loved Schuyler’s enthusiasm, especially in facing the deployment challenges he described, but I was most taken with the technology content of his presentation. The products he described were developed as a response to the communication challenges that young people and development professionals face.

The range of these products extends from writing software for mobile phones and the web to building physical hardware. The commonalities between the products is that they are specifically designed for low bandwidth situations, built in collaboration with others and meant to improve the way people work and communicate.  I was very impressed with their solutions and their dedication to mission.

Joe Pringle (Forum One) – http://www.datamasher.org/ – Compared with many others who had the stage, especially on Day One, Joe was a very polished, confident presenter, but it was really the elegance and potentiality of the solution his team created with Datamasher that really took the day for me.

Datamasher.org example
Datamasher.org example

In some ways, it’s the simplest of problems: what would you get if you took dataset “A” and compared/contrasted (via Boolean operator) with dataset “B”?  

But, doing this with a tool that opens up the possibility for exploration and discussion is very powerful. I endorse the selection of Datamasher as the Apps for America 2 competition winner. 

Try it for yourself…it’s totally cool to fiddle with the data that your tax dollars financed! 

[Although in my example (in the figure), I could never quite figure out what conclusion to draw from the mash I created, which shows total political contributions divided by the number of new AIDS cases reported in the most recent year.  Something about South Carolina coming in 51st, i.e., with the lowest political contributions per new AIDS case, and it being the home state of Joe Wilson must be trying to tell  us something?] 

Philip Ashlock (The Open Planning Project )- http://openplans.org/ – As explained in comments at the event and on their website, technology can be a powerful tool for helping people work together, sharing best practices and enabling communities.  TOPP builds software, new media outlets, and other tools that bring democracy closer to its potential.

As I began seeing, within the space of a single day, that certain web services implementations began to look eerily similar, it was crystal clear to me that the work of an outfit like TOPP was important in promoting best practices, strongest code, a spirit of leverage among approaches, and common, high-value problem domains and use cases to be tackled. I hope their work and that of similar parties gets traction so that all Gov 2.0 producers can benefit.

Next time:  Style

Gov 2.0: Silicon Valley-style

Last week, I attended the inaugural Government 2.0 Expo and Summit by O’Reilly Media, co-produced by Techweb. It was a well-attended event and I learned a lot – much more than I could talk about in any one post. So, over the coming days, I’ll be highlighting a series of posts about the topics, people, and technologies that were featured at the event.

Before diving into any one area, though, I’ll share a few high-level impressions…

First, Tim O’Reilly, namesake of O’Reilly Media, has done a nice job of using his access to (and support of) administration principals as a way to build relationships with leaders in agencies and is an unabashed cheerleader of “government as a platform.”

Even though others – including my own company, New Paradigm / nGenera – have had active “Government 2.0” syndicated research programs and member events for a couple of years, O’Reilly has used his attribution for coining the phrase “web 2.0” as an opportunity to (re)claim “government 2.0” from a publishing and thought leadership perspective.

Second, not surprisingly, given the organizer’s tech-heavy center of gravity, the audience composition felt like it was evenly composed of one-part Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs and one-part DC-based large systems consultants/contractors, with a tiny dash of attendees from the “fly over” heartland of the US or international. 

And, as one might expect from those two main locations, the average age difference between the West and East coasters was about 8-10 years, by my anecdotal guess, with Easterners being the elders. Given this concentration of youth and valley tech:  

  • There was an obsessive over-representation of the visual, programmatic and evangelical, but a large-scale lip service under-representation of critical process change, methodology, cultural dynamics and impacts.  (More about that in a future post.)
  • In fact, the only ones that spoke intelligently about those issues were the government reps themselves, although it was clear they were relying heavily on existing, traditional SDLC frameworks, leadership approaches, etc. 
  • The one exception was Eric Ries of Kleiner whose “lean start-up” discussion was an insightful reference, but again, moreso from the perspective of the “developer of a product” and not “the implementation of an in-house enterprise solution” – see:  http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/
  • But to balance Eric’s keen-eyed observations were some almost comically evangelical presentations by a couple of the web 2.0 outfits, perhaps made more frenetic by a Demo-esque “rapid fire” format used several times to pack some quick examples into a series of 5-minute pitches by company founders. A memorable one in this vein was MeetUp.com in which the co-founder spoke so fervently about the miracles of human, social interaction you’d have thought they invented it.

Third, while the overall theme was “government as a platform,” the descriptive sub-heading to that theme might well be have been: “federal government as a provider and protector of public data, and private sector a developer and implementer of web 2.0 services at all levels, from hyper-local to national.” Because of this sub-heading, there was enormous focus placed on data.gov and advocacy of further release of all forms of data via the open gov initiative.

There were some truly amazing web services that were demonstrated in healthcare, public safety, intelligence and defense, and municipal services, including:

  • At the federal level, I was very impressed with the Apps for America winners:  Datamasher, ThisWeKnow and Govpulse. 
  • At the state level, I was surprised at the lack of applications targeted specifically for the needs of states or similarly large geographic regions, such as provinces.
  • And at the local level, I felt there was significant redundancy in some of the business implementations and objectives of several of the gov 2.0 services described, such as: http://www.neighborsforneighbors.org/, http://seeclickfix.com/, and http://fixmystreet.com.

To that end, I was pleased to see the work of TOPP and its objective to serve as kind of a gov-oriented sourceforge for services developed by different groups and jurisdictions, to promote a much higher degree of repeatability and improvement of best practices/strongest common code bases.

In summary:  a strong inaugural event that has good momentum going into 2010, during which the Expo and Summit will be split on the calendar as spring and fall events.  And, for everyone that was unable to attend, I encourage you to catch a large majority of the videos on BlipTV.