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June 28 2011

From app to meetup: A new kind of running route

More and more online communities are forming around social apps — from foodies to readers to gamers to shoppers to just about anything else you can imagine.

RunKeeper is taking a note from these other communities, but it's expanding the boundaries into the real world. The company recently launched meetups, which allow users to identify other RunKeeper runners in their communities and gather for group runs.

In the interview below, RunKeeper CEO Jason Jacobs (@jjacobs22) talks about the community that developed through the app and how it's evolving from a digital concept to a physical reality.

Disclosure: O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures is an investor in RunKeeper.

An interactive map of the RunKeeper communities around the world.

How did RunKeeper evolve to include real-world meetups?

JasonJacobsJason Jacobs: We built up a passionate user community of more than six million users in the last three years, only 30% of which are in the United States. This community has pushed for more social functionality and more in-person interaction as well. Group runs seemed like a great way to do both.

As a test, we did a single group run a few weeks ago at RunKeeper HQ in the South End of Boston. It was a huge hit, more than 100 people showed up, and everyone had a lot of fun with it. When the opportunity came about to partner with our friends at to hold a "global group run," we loved the idea right away. The upcoming event on July 9 will be the first, but if it goes well, there will be more to come. More than 2,500 runners around the world have signed up so far in almost 1,000 cities, so we are off to a good start.

What was involved in getting the RunKeeper meetups set up? Any lessons learned or best practices you could share for others considering something similar?

Jason Jacobs: Well, this is only our first (out of hopefully many) and it hasn't occurred yet, but there are a few nuggets we have picked up so far. One is that the relationships people are forming online can be real and powerful, and their desire to bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds becomes stronger as more of these online relationships proliferate.

Also, if done right, people all over the world can feel like they are part of a larger movement, even if they don't leave their local areas. Each community is rallying to build up these meetups in their local regions, and some have even started going out and soliciting sponsors to donate free food and drink at the conclusion of the run. The local meetups are also starting to get competitive with each other about which event is bigger, and that has been a really cool thing to watch.

Did it feel natural to bridge the app and real worlds? Is that a model you could see working for other types of affinity groups?

Jason Jacobs: I can, yes. It isn't a one-size-fits-all model, but when there are big, global, passionate bases of people rallied behind a shared interest, it can be incredibly powerful to give those people in-person interaction opportunities to solidify their passions and also grow the base.

We'll see how it goes, but my gut tells me that when this group run is over, the participants will be more passionate about RunKeeper and each other than they were beforehand, and that our user base will also grow in the process as more of their friends in the local communities get energized to participate.

Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

Save 20% on registration with the code AN11RAD


  • Personal data is the future, but does anybody care?
  • Location data could let retailers entice customers in new ways
  • The long road toward the Community Leadership Summit

  • June 01 2011

    The long road toward the Community Leadership Summit


    It's a funny 'ol word. Until recent years, the word community would typically conjure up quaint old images of local street parties, book clubs, town hall meetings and other Hallmark Channel-inspired visuals. For many of us, these images were fueled by childhood tales from the old folk recounting the "good 'ol days" in which no one had to lock their doors, the grass looked greener, and life was simpler.

    Well, the Internet changed all of that. This once oldy-worldy whimsical premise of community was first thrown into a new era with the popularization of the Internet back in the mid-to-late 90s. Back then people used this new technology to form communities around shared consumption. Newsgroups, bulletin board systems and the first iteration of the web gave us a taste of how much fun it could be to meet other people with similar interests and tastes. Up sprang countless tech, movie, music and trivia sites, most concocted in a shonky version of Microsoft Frontpage, but giving many people their first taste of meeting like minds on the other side of the world.

    Since then the net has become truly collaborative. With the birth of patch and diff, two tools for software development, the challenge of developers divided by oceans was conquered by like minds working together on the Net. Early successes such as the GNU project and Linux proved that genuine collaboration could indeed work. This inspired another generation of collaboration around content, activism and more with sites such as Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap and others springing up around us.

    So there we were, disparate groups of people coming together to create things, and it all just seemed to work. Amusingly, much of this success was entirely accidental. In many of these communities, effective methods of working together was nothing more than the output of oodles of trial and error. These lessons were not just the technical nuts and bolts of how you create things together, but also the very human social constructs around trust, reputation building, ensuring people get on well with each other, conflict resolution, rewarding great work, and other topics. Most involved in this new world did not have experience in growing successful teams and managing volunteers, and while there were a few turkeys, there has been thousands of astonishing success stories.


    Back in 1996 I discovered this new world and my evolution in community started following a similar path. As a computer and heavy-metal dork, my existence was dominated by discovering the Internet, exploring what it had to offer, and hoping my favorite thrash metal bands had discovered this wonderful global network, too.

    As a long-haired gangly youth living in England in the mid-to-late '90s, my first experience of the potential for online communities was yours truly trying to find the kind of content that didn't exist in conventional mediums. Back then British TV and radio was crammed to the gills with nauseating saccharin-sweetened teeny-pop, of which I had less-than-zero interest. These traditional mediums couldn't help me find photos of Overkill and Exodus playing live. I couldn't read about Onslaught and Nevermore on tour. Consequently, if you were anyone who didn't like nauseating saccharin-sweetened teeny-pop, you were on your own, hunting through obscure imported magazines and fanzines to find the information you needed.

    Despite the childish few of you who are about to snigger at the next sentence, on the Internet the long-tail was celebrated. I found a fascinating community of people who had similar interests, and as such I consumed. I hunted out information, downloaded content, and had a thirst for finding more and more every day.

    old computer
    Welcome to the future

    Before long I realized I could publish things online. I created a website and my first contribution was transcribing music into guitar tablature and putting it online. I also discovered my love of writing, and started writing guitar lessons. They were not very sexy, plain text all the way, and written by AxeManiac (I was young and (more) stupid), but people would read them and leave a message in my guestbook that they liked them. This gave me a phenomenal sense of value and validation around my contributions; the very essence of what drives many to contribute in communities all over the world to this day.

    My transition into community was bolstered when I discovered open source and Linux, and I realized that the mechanics of collaboration went much deeper into code and the construction of technology and experiences. While I found the technology overwhelming (I wasn't that much of a geek), what really fascinated me was the community aspect. People really get together to make software that everyone shares and uses? People contribute a few hours and they get the net result of many people contributing a few hours? It all seems to work well and not descend into chaos? This sounds incredible.

    Of course, back then I had no idea of the nuances of why this was revolutionary, it just felt right to me. I gritted my teeth, put in the hours learning the secret incantations of how to get the software working, and had a blast at every step of the way.

    Disseminating best practices

    Spin forward 10 years and from those first baby steps I have made a career out of community. I now work as the Ubuntu Community Manager. I work to grow a productive, fun, and approachable Ubuntu community in which everyone can feel like they can put their brick in the wall around the common goal of building a ubiquitous free software experience that helps people live their lives better.

    When I started work as a full-time community manager, I based my career on all the accidental lessons I had learned in these previous years. These lessons included technical etiquette — such as using plain text in emails, avoiding top-posting, and always using cross-references in mailing list posts — to understanding the subtle social norms of different communities, such as how you run meetings, how you coordinate work, handling conflict between different community members, and managing expectations effectively. There was no playbook for these different topics, and there was no Yoda to show me the ropes. Members of our communities learned by doing. My dad would often preach from his Northern English pulpit about the "University of Hard Knocks," life experiences learned through good and bad decisions, and many of these communities certainly applied this experience-led approach.

    Unfortunately the University of Hard Knocks can be a bit overwhelming for some. I would see many examples of people who would join communities and behave outside of the unwritten social norms. Some villagers would get angry and have a short fuse with those who took too long to understand and adapt to the culture of a community. Sometimes these new members would be accused of being trolls and deliberately disruptive. While some were, I was of the view that many just didn't quite understand the culture and that it is not quite as straight forward as many of us would assume.

    A good example of this was a guy who joined a group I formed once and at first he was a hugely disruptive participant. After some support and guidance he started to learn and within a few years went he on to lead that group and be hugely successful in that community.

    No one has a monopoly on community

    As my work would take me to different communities, I would try to soak up best practices and spot patterns in approaches and techniques that would generate positive outcomes. I also noticed that while there is no single recipe for success, many of the same challenges and lessons would face different communities in different states of maturity. I would join new community groups as they were finding their feet and I would notice common challenges; getting enough momentum, encouraging people to join and participate, reducing bottlenecks and other areas. It was clear that many of these life lessons in community that we all learn should be shared and celebrated with each other.

    Unfortunately the practicality of sharing this content was less straight forward. Around this time I was spending a lot of time on the road going to different open source and technology conferences, and I noticed a common theme. We would all show up from our different companies and communities, we would wave our hands around in presentations and talk about what we do, but we would never sit down and share ideas and knowledge. It was rare to sit down with another community manager from another company and have a collaborative problem-solving session around topics that affect both of us.

    To me this was a real problem. As I mentioned earlier, many of us have learned the lessons of community by spending years at the University of Hard Knocks, but it felt like much of this knowledge could be disseminated into guidance that we could share between different communities which could speed up the development of mature communities. I have never believed that anyone should have the monopoly on having a a great community; great best practice and ideas benefit everyone, because communities generally create content that can benefit everyone.

    Sharing Ideas

    I wanted to contribute to the furthering of best practice surrounding community management in two core ways; to write a book and organize an annual event.

    To achieve the former, I signed a book deal with O'Reilly to write "The Art of Community." The book provides a comprehensive guide to the underlying principles of community, then moves on to discuss building strategy, processes, governance, building buzz, conflict resolution, organizing events and more. As part of the agreement in writing the book, I asked O'Reilly if they would make it available under a Creative Commons license to ensure that those who were poorer could still get access to the information to help their communities. They were in total agreement.

    While "The Art of Community" has been doing well and people seem to like it, I also wanted to solve the problem I described earlier of people never having time to share knowledge and ideas at conferences. As such, back in 2009 I founded the Community Leadership Summit. The event is designed to bring together community leaders and managers and the projects and organizations that are interested in growing and empowering a strong community. It provides an unconference-style schedule in which attendees can discuss, debate and explore topics. This is augmented with a range of scheduled talks, panel discussions, networking opportunities, and more.

    opening keynote presentation
    The opening keynote presentation at the Community Leadership Summit.

    The event provided the first opportunity of its kind to bring together the leading minds in the field with new community builders to discuss topics such as: governance, creating collaborative environments, conflict resolution, transparency, open infrastructure, social networking, commercial investment in community, engineering vs. marketing approaches to community leadership and more. The event was carefully constructed to be as independent as possible. Our sponsors were not there to sell anything but contribute to support the event and the sharing of great community best practices. Everyone had an equal opportunity to run a session, and everything was about as transparent and accessible as it could be.

    While we were expecting around 70 attendees, more than 200 joined the two-day event and it was a great success. This was followed by another successful event in 2010, and on 23rd-24th July 2011 the event event returns to Portland, Ore., the weekend before OSCON.

    The Community Leadership Summit is entirely free, everyone is welcome, and I would love to encourage you all to join us in Portland this July to share your knowledge and learn from others too.

    OSCON 2011 — Join today's open source innovators, builders, and pioneers July 25-29 as they gather at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Ore.

    Save 20% on registration with the code OS11RAD

    Into a new era

    The art and science of growing community will never stand still. Technology is changing, people are changing, and the opportunities and ideas of what we can achieve continues to grow and shape how we work together. Back in 1996 I would never have expected the world to be collaborating together as much as we do today, and I am sure that in 2026 our level of understanding and knowledge of how we work together around common goals will be even better understood and predictable than it is today.

    As we move into this future we will also face interesting new challenges around what we collaborate on. Back in 1996, distributed software development was a key challenge and saw significant effort into how we worked together. We then saw collaboration refined around documentation and cartography. Today we are seeing increasing interest in collaboration around design, graphics and art. What will we see in the future? Who knows, but what I do know is that good people will want to come together with good people, united by a belief, and work together to further their goals and ethos. They will grow communities, and today we can help seed a new generation of community leaders with the experience, tools and skills they will need to be effective.

    Let the good times roll.


    April 22 2011


    Gyöngyöspata Solidarity | blog


    From the 6th of March, the Hungarian Civil Guard (successor to the infamous Hungarian Guard) have been actively intimidating and exercising unlawful control over the local Roma community in Gyöngyöspata, a village of 2500 people about 75km northeast of Budapest.

    Although they have since left Gyöngyöspata, the Civil Guard (in collaboration witn Jobbik) is already planning to occupy more Roma communities in other towns and villages in Hungary, as evidenced by Gabor Vona’s statements reported here. We are keeping close track of the situation.

    This blog aims to provide regular English updates to the international community. Besides posting first-hand updates, we are also compiling relevant pieces of news from various sources. In particular, articles from across the spectrum of the Hungarian media are being translated and posted here. Hopefully they will give you a fuller picture of how the Gyöngyöspata situation in the past 3 weeks has been reported and percieved in Hungary. We do not necessarily agree with everything posted here, but rather aim to ensure that non-Hungarian speakers have access to a variety of information.

    Please visit the How to Help page for more information on getting involved.

    April 18 2011

    Four short links: 18 April 2011

    1. Your Community is Your Best Feature -- Gina Trapani's CodeConf talk: useful, true, and moving. There's not much in this world that has all three of those attributes.
    2. Metrics Everywhere -- another CodeConf talk, this time explaining Yammer's use of metrics to quantify the actual state of their operations. Nice philosophical guide to the different ways you want to measure things (gauges, counters, meters, histograms, and timers). I agree with the first half, but must say that it will always be an uphill battle to craft a panegyric that will make hearts and minds soar at the mention of "business value". Such an ugly phrase for such an important idea. (via Bryce Roberts)
    3. On Earthquakes in Tokyo (Bunnie Huang) -- Personal earthquake alarms are quite popular in Tokyo. Just as lightning precedes thunder, these alarms give you a few seconds warning to an incoming tremor. The alarm has a distinct sound, and this leads to a kind of pavlovian conditioning. All conversation stops, and everyone just waits in a state of heightened awareness, since the alarm can’t tell you how big it is—it just tells you one is coming. You can see the fight or flight gears turning in everyone’s heads. Some people cry; some people laugh; some people start texting furiously; others just sit and wait. Information won't provoke the same reaction in everyone: for some it's impending doom, for others another day at the office. Data is not neutral; it requires interpretation and context.
    4. AccentuateUs -- Firefox plugin to Unicodify text (so if you type "cafe", the software turns it into "café"). The math behind it is explained on the dataists blog. There's an API and other interfaces, even a vim plugin.

    February 12 2011

    TERRA 603: BOB: The Bozone Ozone Bus

    Supported by the Turner Community Youth Development Initiative, Bozeman Youth Initiative is an organization supporting students from Kindergarten through college. Within the past year, BYI has created a mobile greenhouse out of a school bus, using this innovative vehicle as a classroom, educating children on the basics of food and gardening. As a non-profit, BYI's mission is to connect the youth of Bozeman, Montana to their community. They provide opportunities through mentoring youth-driven, adult-supported programs that help youth work towards their vision of community and reach their full potential.
    TERRA 603: BOB: The Bozone Ozone Bus

    Supported by the Turner Community Youth Development Initiative, Bozeman Youth Initiative is an organization supporting students from Kindergarten through college. Within the past year, BYI has created a mobile greenhouse out of a school bus, using this innovative vehicle as a classroom, educating children on the basics of food and gardening. As a non-profit, BYI's mission is to connect the youth of Bozeman, Montana to their community. They provide opportunities through mentoring youth-driven, adult-supported programs that help youth work towards their vision of community and reach their full potential.

    January 18 2011

    Can open source reinvent the music business?

    Under the traditional music model, bands create an album, sign their distribution rights to a record label, and the label distributes the music and benefits from the majority of sales. Recent economic problems and the advent of digital distribution and file sharing have squeezed labels for cash, which has limited distribution and marketing. Consequently, bands have suffered by losing their distribution rights to companies that no longer have the funds to effectively distribute their music.

    This poses a few unfortunate outcomes for bands. First, they lose control over their distribution, and if a label is not doing a good job, this can cripple a band's ability to spread awareness of their material. Second, labels typically provide tour support if a band sells a certain number of units. However, low investment in distribution translates into limited sales, meaning bands won't get to tour and raise that awareness. Finally, bands usually make money through tours and merchandise sales. With the labels not providing adequate marketing and distribution, bands are not sent on tour, so they don't make much money. The net result is that the romantic dream of a record deal isn't all it's cracked up to be.

    It's widely acknowledged that the music industry is broken, but I believe the black clouds we're under actually provide a tremendous opportunity for bands, record labels and fans. That's why I formed a project called Severed Fifth, which aims to change the music industry similar to the way open source has changed software.

    Severed Fifth

    Changing the rules

    Severed Fifth is a band that I formed in the San Francisco Bay Area. However, it's a different kind of band. Outside of creating music for folks to enjoy, Severed Fifth has two goals:

    1. The first is to put open distribution and community at the heart of the band, and to use these elements as catalysts to build growth, awareness and expose the benefits of what I am referring to as the Open Band approach.
    2. The second goal is to use these elements to build success around Severed Fifth, so it becomes a great example of how an Open Band approach can work. I want other bands and musicians to be able to point to Severed Fifth and say, "If those guys can do it, so can we!"

    Many moons ago, there were hollers in the software world of, "If that Finnish chap can rally the troops to make an operating system, heck, I'll take the same approach for my database app." I want to optimize Severed Fifth to be an example that not only appeals to open source and free culture fans, but regular bands in the trenches can point to it too.

    Open Band Three Tier system

    Severed Fifth is a music project with three core principles, which I have labeled as the Open Band Three Tier system:

    1. We give the music away freely: Like open source, this encourages redistribution and awareness, and empowers fans to harness the content, share it with friends, and ultimately bring more listeners to the band (in the same way open source has exploded in popularity due to the free availability of content for users to test and assess if it works for them).
    2. We build community: I have taken my experience in community
      to build a community around Severed Fifth. This helps fans feel part of a project they can contribute to. We have done this in the form of the Severed Fifth Street Team.
    3. We socialize Severed Fifth Fair Pay: We encourage people to pay what is
      fair and reasonable to them to help support the band. This is powered
      by PayPal and anyone with a piece of plastic in their wallet can
      contribute. Thanks to the free availability of content and the community feel, people gain a closer connection to the band. In turn, they are more likely to contribute. We have already seen many financial contributions from fans.

    This idea is simple. In a recording industry environment that is widely regarded as ineffective, if we provide a solid example of a band that provides free access to content (which significantly lowers the barrier to attract fans) and empowers those fans with a community, this results in a wider fanbase that feels a closer sense of commitment to supporting their favorite bands. Of course, the same approach could be applied to other creative endeavors: publishing, art, video and more. My goal is to make Severed Fifth a successful and repeatable template.

    The story so far

    We have made good progress thus far. In October, we put out our 11-track "Nightmares By Design" demo for free. The album is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license, so you can share it with your friends, remix it, and otherwise enjoy it. Response has been very positive, with people not only enjoying the music, but also taking advantage of the rights. They've been spreading it around, putting it on YouTube videos, and making ringtones out of it.

    We have also invested a lot of energy in building our community. As noted above, we created the Severed Fifth Street Team. These passionate fans have been putting Severed Fifth posters up in local areas, getting the music played on local radio and in clubs, and spreading awareness online. We have seen tremendous examples of people feeling inspired to contribute: Rob Kielty produced a Severed Fifth Android app, Virgil Brummond is working on a Severed Fifth fanzine, torontomario has created many Severed Fifth wallpapers, and Bungee Brent contributes photography.

    In addition to this work, the community has come together to build awareness across many online resources such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, Reverbnation and more. Throughout these resources, the community has contributed videos, graphics and advocacy — each person is harnessing their own skills to grow awareness of the band.

    To get a good feel for the progress so far, we have released two short videos summarizing 2010 and the recording campaign. See 2010 Recapped and Severed Fifth Recording Campaign - Jan 2011 Update.

    The next step

    Being based in the San Francisco Bay Area, we are fortunate to be in the epicenter of heavy rock and metal. We are also fortunate to have a number of well-known and experienced musicians act as advisers to Severed Fifth. They bring a wealth of experience to Severed Fifth, and while they are not paid in any way, hey have a real belief in what we are doing.

    One of these advisers — who has possibly the most significant experience of the group — sat down with us shortly after we released "Nightmares By Design" and said: "I think you guys have a real shot at changing how things work. First, because the time is right for the style of music you play. Second, because the band is a tight unit musically and socially. And finally, the industry really is broken and it needs the kind of change you're advocating."

    His belief in us came with a caveat, though. "If you are going to bring real change and be taken seriously, you need to compete on the same production level as professional bands," he said. "I believe you guys have the music and style nailed, but 'Nightmares By Design' is a great sounding 'demo,' and you guys need a great sounding 'album'." He said we needed to re-record the album in a professional studio if we really wanted to bring about change.

    He was absolutely right. While we are all proud of "Nightmares By Design," it does sound like it was recorded in my home studio (which it was). After doing some digging around, we determined it will cost around $5,000 to record the album. We started the Severed Fifth Recording Campaign to help fund the recording. In just over a month, we have raised nearly $2,000, with some fans contributing as much as $300 each.

    Our next step is to get into the studio in the first few weeks of February to record the album for a late February or early March release. The new album will also be released under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license. After release, we are planning a significant outreach campaign to take Severed Fifth to the masses.

    More help needed

    While we are still very much at the beginning of the road with Severed Fifth, the feedback from the community and many people actively involved in the industry has been hugely supportive. I believe that we have a real shot at achieving this, but we can't do it alone. If we are to build this groundswell of interest and make Severed Fifth into a truly persuasive template for other bands and artists to use, we need as much help as possible. If any of you can help with publicity and advocacy, please get in touch with me at "jono AT severedfifth DOT com."


    January 06 2011

    Four short links: 6 January 2011

    1. Wikipedia of Long Tail Programming Questions (Joel Spolsky) -- StackOverflow has mechanisms to remove the need to reask common questions. The editing feature is there so that old question/answer pairs can get better and better. For every person who asks a question and gets an answer on Stack Overflow, hundreds or thousands of people will come read that conversation later. [...] This is fundamentally different from Usenet or any of the web-based forums. [...] it’s actually a community-edited wiki of narrow, “long-tail” questions. Joel then goes on to plead, When you see a question that seems like it might reflect a common problem, don’t just answer it to get a few points. That doesn’t make the Internet any better, which sounds like a broken incentive system (get points for reanswering common questions, not for merging). The Wikipedia reference reminded me of Benjamin Mako Hill's comment to me at dinner several years ago, that Wikipedia's invisible advantage is the naming system where each concept has a single name. Stack Overflow's content-matching smarts will have to substitute for the naming scheme, and that could be tricky.
    2. libphonenumber -- Google's Java and Javascript libraries for parsing, formatting, storing, and validating international phone numbers. (via Hacker News)
    3. CoffeeScript -- a little language that compiles to Javascript. Just went to v1.0.
    4. Open Source Community Building: A Guide to Getting it Right (Dave Neary) -- The history of free & open source software development is filled with stories of companies who are disappointed with their first experiences in community development. The technical director who does not understand why community projects do not accept features his team has spent months developing, or the management team that expects substantial contributions from outside the company to arrive overnight when they release software they’ve developed. Chris Grams once described the Tom Sawyer model of community engagement - companies who expect other people to do their job for them. Make sure you don’t fall into that trap. (via Glyn Moody on Twitter)

    November 02 2010

    Join us for Global Ignite Week: February 2011

    global ignite week logoGlobal Ignite Week is scheduled for Feb. 7-11, 2011. For the second year in a row we are going to have as many Ignite events as possible in a single week. At launch, we have 45 cities on 5 continents participating. The list includes Bucharest, Paris, New York City, San Francisco, and Sydney. If you've ever wanted to start an Ignite in your community, now is your chance.

    Each Ignite event has a series of five-minute talks. The constraints of the Ignite format -- each talk is accompanied by 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds -- adds something extra. It's a boon for the audience because presenters realize they need to prepare and rehearse to keep up with their slides, and that leads to well-thought-out talks.

    Last year, Global Ignite Week was in 67 cities. More than 600 five-minute talks were given on 6 continents. I expect this year we will reach 100 cities.

    Ignites are community-run geek events (O'Reilly is really just the shepherd, Ignite would be nowhere without the support of communities around the world). Starting an Ignite is a great way to build community and hear new ideas. Contact us if you want to join up for Global Ignite Week -- by starting, attending or assisting with a local Ignite event.

    Participating cities and countries

    Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    Anchorage, AK
    Ann Arbor, MI
    Atlanta, GA
    Bend, OR
    Berlin, Germany
    Birmingham, AL
    Boston, MA - Ignite Spatial
    Brisbane, Australia
    Bristol, UK
    Brussels, Belgium
    Bucharest, Romania
    Cheyenne, WY
    Cincinnati, OH
    Costa Rica
    Dallas, TX
    Denver, CO
    El Salvador
    Lansing, MI
    Lisbon, Portugal
    Madison, WI
    Manila, Philippines
    Medellín, Colombia
    Mumbai, India
    New York, NY
    Oporto, Portugal
    Paris, France
    Pensacola, FL
    Petaluma, CA
    Philadelphia, PA
    Phoenix, AZ
    Raleigh, NC
    Rochester, MI Ignite Automotive
    Santa Fe, NM
    San Francisco/Bay Area, CA
    Seattle, WA
    Sebastopol, CA
    Silicon Valley, CA
    Sioux Falls, SD
    Sydney, Australia
    Vail, CO
    Warsaw, Poland
    Waterloo, ON
    Wellington, NZ

    Here's the full press release announcing Global Ignite Week 2011.

    October 12 2010

    Why blogging still matters

    We tend to get caught up in the latest tech ideas or gadgets, which is understandable since a lot of this stuff is undeniably interesting. But from time to time it's worth surveying where we are and where we came from; to consider how the tech landscape has changed over the years, and how all those past technologies have influenced the things and thoughts we currently have.

    That sort of slap of perspective happened to me during a recent interview with Expert Labs director Anil Dash (@anildash) at Web 2.0 Expo NY. I was reminded of the enduring power of blogging.

    Here's what Dash said when I asked how his blog relates to his other work:

    I'm incredibly privileged and fortunate. I can put a post up on my blog and some number of people who are smart and thoughtful will take it seriously and respond. That's unbelievable. That's the greatest thing in the world.

    If I spend an hour writing a couple hundred words about a really interesting challenge that we face as an industry, as a society, as a culture, sometimes I'll get the person that I'm writing about to respond. I could write something about Twitter and get somebody that works at Twitter to respond, or write something about government and get someone who makes policy to respond. That's still a thrill. It also kicks off really meaningful conversations. I think that's all you can hope for.

    That was the promise we had when we all first discovered the web. Someday it would bring us all together and we'd be able to have these conversations. It's not perfect. It's not ideal. But in some small way here's somebody like me -- with no portfolio, I didn't go to an Ivy League school, I didn't have any fancy social connections when I started my blog -- and it has opened the door to me having a conversation as a peer, as somebody taken seriously, in realms that I would have never otherwise had access to. That's the greatest privilege in the world.

    The full interview with Dash, embedded below, includes his thoughts on how he's avoided burnout after more than a decade of blogging. He also discusses his crowdsourcing/government work with Expert Labs and he explains why the Gov 2.0 movement would have never happened had it required a federal mandate.


    August 13 2010

    Open source givers and takers

    Dana Blankenhorn's recent ZDNet blog points to Accenture's "hockey stick for open source" and notes that while 69 percent of the companies Accenture surveyed plan to increase their open source investment in the next year, only 29 percent plan to contribute back to the open source community. That sounds very plausible. But is it a problem? I'm not so sure.

    First, I don't think "all take and no give" is a failure. Or even a problem. If you're giving, you shouldn't be surprised if people take. If you're taking something that's been freely given, you shouldn't feel obliged to give back. If you do, that's great. And if you're a giver, you should be glad that people are taking, whether or not you're getting something back in return.

    Second, "how many companies plan to contribute" isn't the right metric. One of the things I've learned from my involvement in industry is that the most successful and effective groups are small. The right metric is "are there enough contributors to move the project forward?" For the key projects (like Apache), clearly the answer is "yes." "Enough" is much more important than "how many." The last thing we need are projects that slow to a crawl because of the bloated development-by-committee that characterizes many corporate environments. In the late '80s, I worked for a startup that developed (among other things) a FORTRAN compiler. We sent our 10-person compiler group up to DEC for a meeting, where they found out that DEC's FORTRAN compiler group had 2,000 people. DEC couldn't understand how we got anything done. More to the point, our guys couldn't understand how DEC got anything done.

    Further, I suspect that the extent of corporate contribution is significantly higher than this study reports. Twenty-nine percent is probably correct if you define "corporate contributions" as "contributions made by employees while sitting at a company desk and on company time." A better measure would be "contributions made by someone who develops or uses the software as part of his job." The software is used on the job, but the contribution is often made by the individual, at home. But that's hard to measure; it's not what the projects are set up to track. And yes, it would most likely be better if these guys were compensated for their work. In many ways, they're the heroes of the open source movement. But that brings us back to my first point: what was freely given may be freely taken.

    The level of corporate contribution would almost certainly be higher if you limit the question to corporations that have something to contribute. I don't mean that facetiously. Apache is probably the most widely used open source project in the corporate world. How many corporations have actually modified the Apache source code to add a feature or fix a bug? Very few, I'd bet. They use it "off the shelf." And if you haven't touched the code, contribution is a moot point. And that's just fine.

    There's one more issue worth considering. If you look at any open source project hosting site, such as SourceForge, you'll notice a few projects that are successful, and a much larger number that have clearly failed: "abandonware." Maybe they once served a purpose (like getting a dissertation finished), but they're buggy, incomplete, and stagnant. Could these projects have been contenders, and if so, what went wrong? It seems to me that projects fail for three primary reasons: bad project culture, poor source code base, and "not really needed." The project scratched someone's particular itch, but not enough people had that same itch.

    Would corporate backing have allowed some of these failed projects to survive? Maybe. Corporate projects frequently have culture problems, bad source code, and poorly-defined markets. So it's not clear that corporate participation would be a huge win. I'd really like to see a good study of failed open source projects: what, why, and how. I think we'd learn a lot. And one question worth asking would be whether more corporate involvement would have helped the project to survive (and whether survival would have been a good thing).

    To put this in a specific context: much has been written about RedHat's significant contribution to Gnome, and Canonical's much smaller contribution. But that's not the right issue. Would Gnome be better (or some definition of "better") if it had 20 percent or 50 percent or 150 percent more contributors? That's not clear to me. Blankenhorn's comment is right on:

    Everyone is free to take just as everyone is free to give, and that is what makes the idea powerful. GNOME is far more valuable to Red Hat than a Red Hat UI could ever be, because it's open source, because it's a commons.

    That's precisely the point.

    I certainly don't want to discourage any corporation from contributing to the open source community. There are many projects that do need help, many projects that could profitably be started, and many sites willing to host them. And I agree with Blankenhorn's larger point: that by engaging with open source projects, companies engage with their customers, their competitors, and people who can help.

    Although giving back to the community is an option, it's a good option, and something from which corporations can profit. But before we gauge corporate participation in open source, I think we need better metrics than the ones Accenture is using: how many projects need more committers, and where are the committers coming from? How many companies have employees who work on open source projects on their own time? And how many employees work on open source on company time, unbeknownst to the managers who fill out Accenture surveys?

    July 19 2010

    Report from 2010 Community Leadership Summit

    It's hardly pertinent to summarize an unconference, because it's all
    over the map by (lack of) design. Anyway, you don't need me to tell
    you about the the topics at this year's href="">community leadership
    summit because you can view the wiki pages for the href="">Saturday
    and href="">Sunday
    sessions. What I like each year is the little space we all create for
    ourselves at CLS in a forlorn corner of an overwhelming, cold
    conference locale that makes it very hard to feel community.

    This CLS is the third in a series, and the second to be presented
    before O'Reilly's Open Source
    , which is why it's in a huge convention center. The one
    in Portland, Oregon is one of the more pleasant convention centers
    I've been in but it still makes me feel confined the moment I enter a
    room and lost whenever I go into a hallway. Despite this, by the
    second day of CLS we turned the center into our lounge. We even had a
    little folk music jam.

    The topics we covered were deep and serious: how to prod established
    community members to leave room for new ones and encourage their
    growth, how to involve women and minorities in technical projects, how
    to raise funds and whom to accept funds from. The conference could
    also get personal. Talks about fund-raising brought out a lot of
    personal stories about screw-ups and taking on risk.

    Like last year, we had well over a hundred people the first day,
    substantially fewer on the second. An interesting influx of new people
    provided new energy on the second day, but there was enough continuity
    to produce the living-room feeling.

    Most impressive, maybe, was the number of people who came long
    distances just to spend the weekend here for this summit, without even
    attending OSCon or staying for other activities in Portland.

    Most of the topics concerned communities of all types, not just
    technical communities. But open source definitely ran through the
    conference. It kind of took over the session I led, href="">Talking
    to your government.

    It was an exciting session that attracted about twenty people over the
    course of just half an hour, about four times as many as the similar
    session I led last year. The eagerness to make a difference in
    government policy was evident among the participants. And their
    commitment has been stimulated, in turn, by recent initiatives in
    government to release data and issue requests for free software using
    that data.

    I pitched the session in a basically non-technical context, as how to
    get people to work together in groups so that they could respond
    effectively to open government efforts. Developer communities are of
    particular importance, I pointed out, because they are the ones
    creating the new apps the governments want to promote participation.
    But the same principles apply to everyone who can contribute to

    The role of developer communities was the theme taken up with the most
    gusto, and soon we were discussing all the barriers to having
    government adopt open source software. I reminded the fifteen
    attendees once that we were drifting away from the theme of community,
    but I realized that the prospects of open source is what excited them
    most, and while we lost a couple people, this topic met the needs of
    the majority.

    The size of this gathering was comfortable and the experience of the
    attendees brought many insights, but we could still use a greater
    diversity and more attendees. As a free conference, it should be
    attracting a lot of people from communities that could benefit from a
    better understanding of leadership, and could bring their
    understanding to us. So let's see even more people next year.

    July 18 2010

    The art of community leadership

    I stopped by the Community Leadership Summit 2010 as I was preparing for OSCON this coming week. It is an open unconference-style event, now in its second year, that's held the weekend before OSCON. Everyone who attends is welcome to lead and contribute sessions on any topic that is relevant. In these discussion sessions the participants can interact directly, offer thoughts and experiences, and share ideas and questions. There will be another more detailed post about this event later on Radar, but if you are in Portland, Ore. this weekend you can still register for Sunday's sessions here.

    I spoke with the event organizer Jono Bacon, who works at Canonical as the Ubuntu community manager, and is author of the book "The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation." Watch below as he describes how the basic principles of his book led to the creation of this event:

    May 21 2010

    May 11 2010

    Crowdsourcing and the challenge of payment

    An unusual href="">Distributed
    Distributed Work Meetup was held last night in four different
    cities simultaneously, arranged through many hours of hard work by href="">Lukas
    Biewald and his colleagues at distributed work provider href="">CrowdFlower.

    With all the sharing of experiences and the on-the-spot analyses
    taking place, I didn't find an occasion to ask my most pressing
    question, so I'll put it here and ask my readers for comments:

    How can you set up crowdsourcing where most people work for free but
    some are paid, and present it to participants in a way that makes it
    seem fair?

    This situation arises all the time, with paid participants such as
    application developers and community managers, but there's a lot of
    scary literature about "crowding out" and other dangers. One basic
    challenge is choosing what work to reward monetarily. I can think of
    several dividing lines, each with potential problems:

    • Pay for professional skills and ask for amateur contributions on a
      volunteer basis.

      The problem with that approach is that so-called amateurs are invading
      the turf of professionals all the time, and their deft ability to do
      so has been proven over and over at crowdsourcing sites such as href="">InnoCentive for inventors and
      SpringLeap or href="">99 Designs for designers. Still,
      most people can understand the need to pay credentialed professionals
      such as lawyers and accountants.

    • Pay for extraordinary skill and accept more modest contributions on a
      volunteer basis.

      This principle usually reduces to the previous one, because there's no
      bright line dividing the extraordinary from the ordinary. Companies
      adopting this strategy could be embarrassed when a volunteer turns in
      work whose quality matches the professional hires, and MySQL AB in
      particular was known for hiring such volunteers. But if it turns out
      that a large number of volunteers have professional skills, the whole
      principle comes into doubt.

    • Pay for tasks that aren't fun.

      The problem is that it's amazing what some people consider fun. On the
      other hand, at any particular moment when you need some input, you
      might be unable to find people who find it fun enough to do it for
      you. This principle still holds some water; for instance, I heard
      Linus Torvalds say that proprietary software was a reasonable solution
      for programming tasks that nobody would want to do for personal

    • Pay for critical tasks that need attention on an ongoing basis.

      This can justify paying people to monitor sites for spam and
      obscenity, keep computer servers from going down, etc. The problem
      with this is that no human being can be on call constantly. If you're
      going to divide a task among multiple people, you'll find that a
      healthy community tends to be more vigilant and responsive than
      designated individuals.

    I think there are guidelines for mixing pay with volunteer work, and
    I'd like to hear (without payment) ideas from the crowd.

    Now I'll talk a bit about the meetup.

    Venue and setup

    I just have to start with the Boston-area venue. I had come to many
    events at the MIT Media Lab and had always entered Building E14 on the
    southwest side. The Lab struck me as a musty, slightly undermaintained
    littered with odd jetsam and parts of unfinished projects; a place you
    could hardly find your way around but that almost dragged creativity
    from you into the open. The Lab took up a new building in 2009 but to
    my memory the impact is still similar--it's inherent to the mission
    and style of the researchers.

    For the first time last night, I came to the building's northeast
    entrance, maintained by the MIT School of Architecture. It is Ariel to
    the Media Lab's Caliban: an airy set of spacious white-walled forums
    sparsely occupied by chairs and occasional art displays. In a very
    different way, this space also promotes open thoughts and broad

    The ambitious agenda called for the four host cities (Boston, New
    York, San Francisco, and Seattle) to share speakers over
    videoconferencing equipment. Despite extensive preparation, we all had
    audio, video, and connectivity problems at the last minute (in fact,
    the Boston organizers crowdsourced the appeal for a laptop and I
    surrendered mine for the video feed). Finally in Boston we
    disconnected and had an old-fashioned presentation/discusser with an
    expert speaker.

    In regard to the MIT Media Lab and Architecture School, I think it's
    amusing to report that Foursquare didn't recognize either one when I
    asked for my current location. Instead, Foursquare offered a variety
    of sites across the river, plus the nearby subway, the bike path, and
    a few other oddities.

    We were lucky to have href="">Jeff Howe, the
    WIRED contributor who invented the term href="">Crowdsourcing and wrote a
    popular href="">book
    on it. He is currently a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. His talk was wildly
    informal (he took an urgent call from a baby sitter in the middle) but
    full of interesting observations and audience interactions.

    He asked us to promote his current big project with WIRED, href="">
    One Book, One Twitter. His goal is to reproduce globally the
    literacy projects carried out in many cities (one happens every year
    in my town, Arlington, Mass.) where a push to get everyone to read a
    book is accompanied by community activities and meetups. Through a
    popular vote on WIRED, the book href="">American Gods by
    Neil Gaiman was chosen, and
    people are tweeting away at #1b1t and related tags.


    With the sponsorship by CrowdFlower, our evening focused on
    crowdsourcing for money. We had a few interesting observations about
    the differences between free Wikipedia-style participation and
    work-for-pay, but what was most interesting is that basic human
    processes like community-building go in both places.

    Among Howe's personal revelations was his encounter with the fear of
    crowdsourcing. Everyone panics when they first see what crowdsourcing
    is doing to his or her personal profession. For instance, when Howe
    talked about the graphic design sites mentioned earlier, professional
    designers descended on him in a frenzy. He played the sage, lecturing
    them that the current system for outsourcing design excludes lots of
    creative young talent, etc.

    But even Howe, when approached by an outfit that is trying to
    outsource professional writing, felt the sting of competition and
    refused to help them. But he offered respect for href="">Helium, which encourages self-chosen
    authors to sign up and compete for freelance assignments.

    Howe is covering citizen journalism, though, a subject that Dan
    Gillmor wrote about in a book that O'Reilly published href="">We the
    , and that he continues to pursue at his href="">Mediactive site and a new book.

    Job protection can also play a role in opposition to crowdsourcing,
    because it makes it easier for people around the world to work on
    local projects. (Over half the workers on href="">Mechanical Turk now
    live in India. Biewald said one can't trust what workers say on their
    profiles; IP addresses reveal the truth.) But this doesn't seem to
    have attracted the attention of the xenophobes who oppose any support
    for job creation in other countries, perhaps because it's hard to get
    riled up about "jobs" that have the granularity of a couple seconds.

    Crowdsourcing is known to occur, as Howe put it, in "situations of
    high social capital," simply meaning that people care about each other
    and want to earn each other's favor. It's often reinforced by explicit
    rating systems, but even more powerful is the sense of sharing and
    knowing that someone else is working alongside you. In a href="">blog
    I wrote a couple years ago, I noted that competition site href="">TopCoder maintained a thriving
    community among programmers who ultimately were competing with each

    Similarly, the successful call center href="">LiveOps provides forums for operators
    to talk about their experiences and share tips. This has become not
    just a source of crowdsourced help, and not even a way to boost morale
    by building community, but an impetus for quality. Operators actually
    discipline each other and urge each other to greater heights of
    productivity. LiveOps pays its workers more per hour than outsourcing
    calls to India normally costs to clients, yet LiveOps is successful
    because of its reputation for high quality.

    We asked why communities of paid workers tended to reinforce quality
    rather than go in the other direction and band together to cheat the
    system. I think the answer is obvious: workers know that if they are
    successful at cheating, clients will stop using the system and it will
    go away, along with their source of income.

    Biewald also explained that CrowdFlower has found it fairly easy to
    catch and chase away cheaters. It seeds its jobs with simple questions
    to which it knows the right answers, and warns the worker right away
    if the questions are answered incorrectly. After a couple alerts, the
    bad worker usually drops out.

    We had a brief discussion afterward about the potential dark side of
    crowdsourcing, which law professor Jonathan Zittrain covered in a talk
    called href="">Minds
    for Sale. One of Zittrain's complaints is that malicious actors
    can disguise their evil goals behind seemingly innocuous tasks farmed
    out to hundreds of unknowing volunteers. But someone who used to work
    for's Mechanical Turk said people are both smarter and more
    ethical than they get credit for, and that participants on that
    service quickly noted any task that looked unsavory and warned each
    other away.

    As the name Mechanical Turk (which of course had a completely
    unrelated historical origin) suggests, many tasks parceled out by
    crowdsourcing firms are fairly mechanical ones that we just haven't
    figured out how to fully mechanize yet: transcribing spoken words,
    recognizing photos, etc. Biewald said that his firm still has a big
    job persuading potential clients that they can trust key parts of the
    company supply chain to anonymous, self-chosen workers. I think it may
    be easier when the company realizes that a task is truly mechanical
    and that they keep full control over the design of the project. But
    crowdsourcing is moving up in the world fast; not only production but
    control and choice are moving into the crowd.

    Howe highlighted Fox News, which runs a href="">UReport site for
    volunteers. The stories on Fox News' web site, according to Howe, are
    not only written by volunteers but chosen through volunteer ratings,
    somewhat in Slashdot style.

    Musing on the sociological and economic implications of crowdsourcing,
    as we did last night, can be exciting. Even though Mechanical Turk
    doesn't seem to be profitable, its clients capture many cost savings,
    and other crowdsourcing firms have made headway in particular
    fields. Howe hails crowdsourcing as the first form of production that
    really reflects the strengths of the Internet, instead of trying to
    "force old industrial-age crap" into an online format. But beyond the
    philosophical rhetoric, crowdsourcing is an area where a lot of
    companies are making money.

    April 30 2010

    Populism, Social Change and Our World

    Special 1.5 hour final edition of The Journal

    April 05 2010

    Four short links: 5 April 2010

    1. Wrong about the iPad (Tim Bray) -- I am actively ignoring the iPad drivel, but this line caught my eye: Intelligence is a text-based application.
    2. Fertile Medium -- online community consultancy, from the first and former Flickr community coordinator. One to watch: Heather and Derek really know their community. Again I say it: understanding of how open source and other collaborative communities can function is rare and valuable. (via waxy)
    3. pigz -- parallel gzip implementation. Voom voom, so fast! (via kellan on Delicious
    4. Prefab: What If We Could Modify Any Interface? -- screen-scraping for GUIs to bolt on new functionality to user interfaces. This is incredible. Watch the demo, it's impressive!

    March 17 2010

    Google Buzz and hybrid blogging

    Google BuzzTim O'Reilly and DeWitt Clinton are both experimenting with Google Buzz as a long form -- well, longer form -- publishing tool. It's an interesting adaptation for Buzz, and I think they're on to something.

    Here's why: Blogs are great for getting people to a site. Twitter is great for tossing around short-form ideas and quips. Facebook is great for talking with a defined community.

    But blogs are not inherently social. They try to be, with comments and RSS, but they're still built in silos. Twitter is unbelievably social, no doubt about that, but it's also shorthand. It's very hard to have an engaging conversation in 140 characters. And Facebook is like a ping-pong match: lots of back and forth excitement, but very little substance.

    Buzz could be the missing link here. It's a hybrid option that's not particularly good at being a blog, or a microblog, or a social network, but it's a good tool for starting conversations and noodling on topics. (Keith Crawford picked up on this early on.) Tim noted during a recent conversation that Buzz is a throwback to blogging's early days, when informal posts were the norm.

    Buzz in many ways occupies the same domain as Tumblr and Posterous. All of these services let you dip a bucket in the social/content stream and pour the catch into your own trough. But Because Buzz is constructed in a social environment, as opposed to a publishing environment, it's a bit more natural to share all that conversation and information.

    A lot of people just like to get on with it, which is why Twitter and Facebook will always be more popular. And I'm not saying -- nor am I even hinting -- that blogs are dead. Far from it. You need a hub for all those social media spokes, and blogs make great hubs. DeWitt Clinton, in a Buzz update, actually predicts a time when posts and comments from blogs, Buzz, and other networks will "flow seamlessly back and forth between them, such that the syndication will no longer be in only a single direction, but rather a network of threads woven together." That functionality is still a ways off (and I hope it arrives sooner rather than later), but in the interim it looks like Buzz has opened yet another content channel; a social space where you can toss an idea into a pool of willing conversationalists and see what happens.

    One last thing ... because a blog post lauding Buzz for its conversation tools carries a hint of hypocrisy, here's my own attempt at a related Buzz conversation starter.

    February 23 2010

    The future of publishing lives on and around the web

    I'm at the Tools of Change for Publishing conference this week interviewing folks at the forefront of the publishing world. I'll be posting a few videos here on Radar and you can find others at the TOC blog.

    My favorite part of TOC is the energy. There's a lot of positivity coursing through the venue. There's a lot of forward thinking, too. And when you run into Richard Nash, founder of Cursor, you're encountering the embodiment of all that TOC enthusiasm. He's the anti-curmudgeon.

    As you'll see in the following interview, Nash is passionate about the web's ability to connect audiences and authors with the topics that excite them. I found his thoughts on tagging really compelling (1:57 mark). It's a useful reference point for the organic nature of web communities.

    December 18 2009

    Robert Kuttner and Matt Taibbi

    Robert Kuttner and Matt Taibbi
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