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February 09 2011

14:00

3 Key Topics for the NetSquared Community: Part 3, Network Narrative

Over the last two weeks, we have posted parts 1 and 2 in a 3-part series, sharing some of our observations and planning concepts, and hoping to gather feedback and ideas from you. The first part in the series focused on Local and Gloal and the second highlighted opportunities to Expand our Impact. This week, we want to examine the ideas and framing for a Network Narrative - a topic we really think you can help with! As we share our early thinking about these areas of our work, we hope you’ll help to shape our thinking and direction by sharing your ideas, feedback and questions in the comments, or directly with us at net2@techsoup.org

Creating a Compelling Narrative

There’s lots going on and lots to talk about - whether it’s Project ideas that emerge and change the world, or Local groups that create the first opportunity to share and collaborate in diverse regions around the world. So, how do we pull it all together into a compelling narrative? One for funders vs one for techies, one for activists and one for organizations, and beyond? What’s the story that supports our work? And, from a strategic development perspective, maybe we need to further explore the difference between the overarching narrative and the various stories that support it and match the different groups within the network. Your story is the one we want to tell and we would love to hear how you see the NetSquared programs helping you change the world!

We are so thankful to have members willing to make time to share, ask questions, and dream with us. And we are so thankful to community members like you who share your ideas here! We are looking forward to continuing this conversation and can’t wait to see what ideas you share.

Some questions to get you started:

  • What is the story you see of this sector and your work?
  • How can we capture a compelling narrative that empowers you to get involved?
  • How would you tell the NetSquared story - how are the community-driven programs helping you change the world?

January 19 2011

13:59

Camps: Setting the stage for 2011

Earlier this week, we shared some of the lessons we learned from running the 2010 Camps Pilot. Not only did we learn a lot, we also got pretty darn excited for all that this network of changemakers can do! I’m writing today to share some of our ideas with you, ask for your feedback, and hear what you think about Camps 2011.

Cultivating the bottom-up

Communities have been solving their own problems for millenia. The networked nature of the web provides us with ways to harness new resources towards local issues, and our web-based platform provides us with a relatively easy way to surface and curate project success stories to our global audience. Together, harnessing human capital on the web, coupled with a networked approach to cultivating and supporting action networks offline creates an environment where there are entry-points for actors at both the local and global level. Funders, technology companies and volunteers are able to plug-in wherever most appropriate, based on their own capacities, interests and aspirations.

The Camps program is designed to provide both a space for people to share and learn, but also to develop new solutions. At the organizational level, we see our role as the ‘context providers’ -- whereby, we create a framework for community organizing while providing some of the tools, resources and support in order to increase the likelihood of success of all participants. By design, we recognize that the energy, ideas and innovations come not from us, but from the bottom-up, and it’s the activities happening at the local level that can change the world. As regional events play out, our job is to curate the stories that emerge from the network, and to work with our partners to harness resources where there is need.

More breadth and depth

The 2010 Pilot saw events in 6 cities, in 4 countries (with over 500 engaged participants). We think the resources and lessons can scale further and have set new goals for 2011. Specifically, we’re aiming to mobilize at least 1000 people this year at regional events in as many as 10 countries around the globe.

You can check out the previous post in this series which included highlights of what we learned in the 2010 Pilot. What’s important to note here? We learned a lot, and will be bringing those lessons with us as we co-develop the Camps program this year with participating organizers. We’re committed to bolstering more resources towards the effort with our technology partners and sponsors, while addressing some of the barriers to collaboration we identified last year (including translation issues). As usual, we’ll be addressing these issues with the organizers, partners and participants, but if you have ideas or other examples we can learn from, please drop us a line any time!

From Local To Global: Surfacing Local Success Stories via NetSquared Challenges

Part of the NetSquared platform for the last 5 years has been the open innovation “Challenges” that open up a call for ideas to the world of innovators working at the intersection of technology and social change. Projects like Ushahidi, See-Click-Fix, and Frontline SMS: Medic received some of their initial funding through participation in the NetSquared Challenges and we are excited about the idea of combining the Challenge process with Camps taking place in local communities around the world.

Here’s the idea in a nutshell: Each Camp could administer a local NetSquared Challenge to surface great ideas for new tools, mashups, or strategies that local organizations are developing to extend the reach and impact of their work.

We are hopeful that by surfacing innovative Projects, mobilizing participation at the local and global level, and providing various entry-points for local participation, we can best leverage our position as a global social enterprise to harness resources on behalf of these projects. We’re excited about the potential of a community-driven approach, as it provides the communities we serve with the means to design social-benefit projects that address contextually appropriate solutions, while leveraging the knowledge, passion and interests of NetSquared’s mission-driven global network.

We are looking for your feedback to help shape the Camps 2011 plan! If you have thoughts on including Challenges or anything else, just leave a comment to let us know!

December 14 2010

18:00

Jeff Israely: Speeding up a startup, but slowing down at the same time

Editor’s Note: Jeff Israely, a Time magazine foreign correspondent in Europe, is in the early stages of a news startup called Worldcrunch. He details his experience as a new news entrepreneur at his site, but he’ll occasionally be describing the startup process here at the Lab. Read his past installments here.

Okay, here’s my shot at a new law of physics to apply to our news startup: Q. When does speeding up help you to slow down? A. At the exact moment that slowing down will help you speed up. Experienced entrepreneurs (and basketball players) will recognize this quantum bit of gobbledygook as the art of the pivot. Here’s how this particular apple fell on my head.

A month ago, when we unveiled Worldcrunch in this space, with a signup page and basic description of what we’ll be doing, it was part of a fairly straightforward plan and timetable for getting our site launched. Step 1: Announce the thing and open Facebook and Twitter accounts. Step 2: Complete the back office and site development. Step 3: Revamp the design and refine the functionality. Step 4: Solidify the core crew of multilingual journalists to begin building the editorial structure. (Note: Fundraising, partnerships, and legal issues are always at the top of the list…but their timetables have a logic all their own.)

Once steps 2, 3, and 4 began to fall into place, we’d start. Gradually. Privately. Our homepage/signup page would be a placeholder, while the various pieces came together behind the scenes. Through December, we’d use a special password for access to begin to show what we were doing (design, functionality…and the articles themselves) to our friends and colleagues, potential partners and investors, and those interested enough to sign up. Then, by the first week of January, shazzam: Launch!

But in the span of 72 hours in mid-November, two things happened that convinced us it was time to, er, slow-down-and-speed-up. First, we were presented with the chance to create an innovative front end for the website, which also held the possibility to integrate iPhone and iPad apps more rapidly down the road. This new front end would slow us down. Around the same time, one of our news partners, top French business daily Les Echos, told us they were extra eager to have us begin producing their stories to post on their website. Well, we thought, after we saw the first few Worldcrunch-produced stories on lesechos.fr, we realized we should (as is foreseen in the partnership agreement) also start posting them on ours. This would speed us up.

Putting these two equal but opposite forces on some kind of pulley system attached to a pair of fisherman’s sinkers (10th-grade physics don’t fail me now!) created the perfect conditions for our startup to make that famous pivot.

So as of two weeks ago, we are live, sort of — for anyone to see. It is not our beta, or even alpha, version. Yet it’s not quite a blog either, since we are not just publishing stuff about what we’ll be doing, but actually starting to do it. We have chosen to call our temporary public home The Garage.

This was a major decision, strategically and psychologically. As such, it was bound to test the fiber of the team, and again proved that despite our occasional bickering like brother and sister, my co-founder Irene and I are truly in synch. There was a lot riding on the decision to both push back the beta launch, and in the meantime go live with our stories. It would change both how we’d present ourselves to the public, and the mechanics of how the actual site (and company) might evolve. Yet after two brief conversations between us, and consultations with our investors, we agreed on the change of plans as if we were thinking with one brain. This bodes well for other big decisions — and pivots — that are sure to come.

A pivotal meal?

Last week was The Lunch. If some day Worldcrunch ends up realizing its full potential, the cafeteria-chic meal at Gustave in the Eighth Arrondissement will stand as one of the key moments that set us on our way. The occasion was the arrival in Paris (for the LeWeb confererence) of Lili Rodic, our indefatigable Zagreb-based web development team leader. Along with Irene, there was also Frederic Bonelli and Diane Grappin, two of our first investors. Fred has been advising us on key technical and digital publishing strategy. Diane is driving all that is product- and design-related at Worldcrunch.

We were at lunch to talk about refining the Garage, and the next steps for moving closer to the beta launch. But inevitably what we need to do today, particularly in the development of the technology, leads to discussions about the future: about how to build into the technical framework the right tools to allow our editorial and business ambitions to be realized. We brought up ideas that had already been floating around. We factored in budget and timing issues. We ate our nouvelle cuisine off of plastic trays.

But at a certain point, Fred began to lay out his vision for what the architecture of Worldcrunch should be, literally mapping it out for Lili (and the rest of us) on a piece of scrap paper. Something in that moment started to crystallize. We could suddenly see how our editorial and technical potential was naturally intertwined. It was the blueprint for a news enterprise built with new eyes — as I put it a year ago in a blissfully ignorant “about” page for my blog — and legs.

Still, big plans aside, my days now are mostly (and finally!) filled with the nuts and bolts of producing stories. We have the beginnings of a dynamite team on the editorial side. Together, we are using this time in the Garage to begin to create what in some ways is a wholly new editorial process: the selection and production of stories in English from the best of the foreign-language press, in real time. There is much to dissect, much to learn, and it will of course be a topic for future posts. In the meantime, both the day-in, day-out journalism we are doing and the other dot-connecting to come is proof of another theorem: The quality and efficiency of the editorial side improves in direct relation to the quality and efficiency of the business and technical sides. And vice-(vice)-versa. But this is not another new law of physics: just the old, yet ever valid formula for what we still call the news business.

November 22 2010

08:17

Story Idea 11.21.2010

This week’s idea is once again geared towards the shooters on staff…still and moving videots.

Everyone needs to sharpen up their skillset by setting up challenges to become a better visualizer. If all you ever do is the same ole same ole, all you will ever be is the same.

Let’s talk weather…windy weather. Not a gentle breeze. A gusty wind or stormy blast. How do you visualize THAT? (Hey, we’re back to seeing what isn’t there again!)

Story idea: how do you show weather when it is invisible?
Answer: show the effect of said weather, of course!

And this is where your excellent retentive memory kicks in. Every good camera(wo)man I know can pinpoint places where sunlight scatters, water puddles, and winds careen around corners. It’s all part of your repertoire…your bag of tricks. If the Desk So Wills, you have to know where to grab a weather scenic in less than 15. So while you’re out wandering the world on other assignments, your brain is busy clicking away and storing visuals for future stories.

In this case, think back to times you’ve been heading somewhere on a windy day and something danced past your vision and almost made you hit the brakes. A pile of leaves twisting a ribbon of orange into the sky or crawling along post-haste like crabs across the pavement. A corner where the unaware meet the hat-snatching, umbrella busting, hair ripping winds. That’s where you should head for this assignment.

The basics are: NO staging. Like a wizened hunter, take up position, set your shutter on high speed and aim. And wait. Sometimes it is better if you don’t go after the game, but let the game come to you. (It also helps if you plan your visit for when folks are heading out and around that corner or when the neighborhood hasn’t had leaf pickup yet.)

Did I hear someone ask, why set the shutter on high speed if I’m shooting video? If this is your first time playing with shutter speeds, give it a shot. Shoot once with shutter on 30fps, then ratchet it up to say a 1000th. Once you’re back in house, pop the video into your computer and play both clips back. There is a definite difference…the high speed clip is crisper. And should you decide to go with slo-mo, you will still have that crispness and not a blur as you would from same ole same ole. (For a real old fashioned visual trip, try shooting in a snow storm on high speed…WOW!)

Another great idea, brought to you by a sleepless mind…


October 13 2010

15:14

EUROPEAN NEWSPAPERS FACE THE DAY AFTER CHALLENGE

The rescue news from Chile arrived late to Europe so you will not find any major front page or coverage in today’s editions.

American newspaper had a better chance but in general the pattern was Big Pictures (TV was better) and Big Words (TV was better).

So, what we can expect tomorrow in the front pages of the best European newspapers?

Well, not too much.

They will try again the Big Pictures and Big Words easy game.

Ignoring that the rescue was a worldwide TV event and it’s going to be difficult to add new angles and clues to the big news of the day before…

Yes, I know that this is always difficult, but newspaper editors had many week in advance to plan for this magic moment.

TV did its work.

I watched BBC, News Sky News and CNN Chile and all of them did a superb job.

What European newspapers readers expect tomorrow is not to see again the same pictures, the same infographics, and the same news, but a more creative, analytical, pro-active and “news behind the news” stories.

But I doubt that our newspapers will do it.

Instead, like in music and as our grandmother will tell us when we were little ones, “if you don’t play well, at least play loud”

So expect more empty noise.

August 03 2010

15:18

NetTuesday Notes in Words and Pictures: A Guest Blog Post from Melbourne Organizer Jasmin Tragas

Jasmin HeadshotToday we hosted our second NetTuesday event in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne and decided to do things a little differently. I spread some large sheets of scrap paper out on the table and bunched together some textas and crayons in a jar. The atmosphere was informal, and everyone was encouraged to participate whilst sipping lattes and munching on muffins, although I ended up visually facilitating the session (people are afraid that they can't draw!) based on the discussion. The idea was to capture some ideas, experiences and general conversation about ways people are making a difference.

read more

July 13 2010

14:00

Jeff Israely: With partners found, figuring out how best to link up

[Jeff Israely, a Time magazine foreign correspondent in Europe, is in the planning stages of a news startup — a "new global news website." He details his experience as a new news entrepreneur at his site, but he'll occasionally be describing the startup process here at the Lab. Read his first, second, third, and fourth installments. —Josh]

Dating-but-eager-to-marry is the metaphor I’ve used before to describe the search for a partner for my world news startup. Save a few cultural or religious contexts, said metaphor works less well once there is more than one potential partner. And I now have two, which adds new requirements of proper symmetry, good chemistry…and, yes, good lawyers.

Like plenty of other big and small things that have happened over the past year, it wasn’t a matter of seeking out this particular set of circumstances, but rather the result of a more general seeking fundamental to trying to launch something from scratch. So here we are: Irene, Jed, and Jeff…already facing a long list of hard questions about the future of digital news — from story selection and crowdsourcing to content management and business models — to which we must add another eternal question: Is three a crowd….or the magic number?

On paper, we three create excellent symmetry: Irene Toporkoff is a successful internet executive who knows what moves eyeballs and balance sheets online. She brings a global perspective and a strategic mind. Jed Micka is a computer engineer and project manager who knows how to turn digital concepts into concrete solutions. He too brings a global perspective and a strategic mind. My 12 years as a foreign correspondent provide the journalistic chops for our world news brand, and yes, some more global perspective. And the best proof of my strategic mind is that I found Irene and Jed!

At the 10th arrondissement café where we have begun meeting regularly, we also appear strong on chemistry. Ideas flow, we don’t speak over each other, we listen, there’s the kind of energy that convinces all that not only are the big bases covered by our different resumes but that the whole is (even!?) greater than the sum of its parts.

Over the past month, with Irene’s connections in Paris now added on top of my continuous plugging away at contacts in the news business, the pace of the project has picked up notably. We have also continued a general policy I have had from the start to meet with just about anyone who wants to listen: business people, advertising executives, journalism gurus, potential future employees. But as we get closer to our autumn launch, we are zeroing in on finding what we will need to actually be operative. And so the meetings have increasingly been with potential funders, and would-be media partners of our project — both to help provide the content, as well as distribute it to the readers.

I can say with both pride and trepidation that the interest has been quite high, though the questions are not few. One key lesson I’ve learned pitching our project is the difference between what we are currently immersed in — the sweat and strategy for getting the thing up off the ground, i.e., The Launch — and what the thing is going to be, i.e. The Vision. In a certain sense, both funders and partners assume that you are taking care of lining up the ducks: They want to know what it is you will become.

Still, the launch is ever more central now. And high on our agenda right now is solidifying our own partnership. Like questions about where and when to incorporate, copyright, branding…the three-way partnership agreement is part bureaucratic, part strategic, part everything.

It was, in other words, time to find a lawyer. Serge Vatine is a go-to attorney in the French startup world, whose Paris-based firm 11-100-34.com specializes in media and intellectual property law. Last week, the three of us were seated around a large rectangular table in Serge’s sunny sixth-floor office trying to hash out the framework for incorporation and the pacte d’actionnaires.

From my point of view, especially after having had some false starts from potential partners, I have some issues of well, er, commitment. Before divvying up the shares of a project that for many reasons is my baby, I want to see if there’s a way to more or less lock the others in for at least the next 12 months. Jed and Irene have each in their own way assured me of their allegiance to the project, but they know “I’m committed, just trust me!” is not enough in this kind of circumstance. Things change. Tides turn. Other offers arrive. Serge has suggested different possibilities, including setting certain objectives in each of our spheres of competence that must be met by a fixed date. Still, at a certain point, the startup lawyer turns would-be marriage counselor. “There’s a certain amount of trust and loyalty that goes into it,” Serge says. “There’s no way to guarantee everything.”

Indeed, Jed said after the meeting: “This is the pre-nup.” It means having a legal framework in place if the marriage fails. (Or, in the case of business, succeeds!) Indeed, 98 percent of the time my energy is focused on creating the conditions for things to go well. It’s looking lately that I am not the only one. More and more other optimists seem to be out there in the scrum that is reshaping of the news. Not that anyone thinks a lasting, society-wide solution is either easy or close. Not that there isn’t major foot-dragging and pessimism in some corners of the established media. But maybe the industry as a whole has turned a corner, and opportunities are appearing.

One sign is how much energy there is for an endeavor supposedly in such crisis from non-journalists, which prompted me to ask the two non-journalists in this project why they’re committed to it. No one as smart and strategic -– and grownup -– as Jed and Irene is going to be doing this for kicks. Each would have all kinds of professional opportunities that steered clear of the uncertainty reigning over the future of news. Of course, much of attraction of this particular project is the product itself, which will be unveiled this autumn. In the meantime, though, I wanted to share their thoughts about both why they want to join me in trying to build a new world news site, and where they think the digital media is heading:

Irene: When you called I thought, Oh no, not another Internet startup! But working on something that is editorial at its heart is different. I believe there are new ways for the Internet to add value, and also economic value, to the way information circulates. Branded news is struggling, but it will not disappear. The value these organizations have is too often underestimated. But we need to look for innovative ways to rethink the way they do business, to build bridges between the old and the new. People in the traditional media are starting to understand that many of us who work in the digital space are actually on their side. We are business people who can help make their activities sustainable. I have worked in the U.S., Brazil, Germany, France, and I know certain differences exist in the international media, from country to country. But there are two central questions that all should be asking: How do we get the most out of technology? How do we define what is news?

Jed: The paradox is that right now, with the flood of information readily available on the Internet, there is actually a shortage of quality information. Many people see blogs as the future of journalism, but a blog is merely one person’s effort; it lacks the resources and the structure necessary to ensure the same level of quality as a professionally edited piece. Like in a café discussion, the blogger is never forced to respond to the criticism raised by an independent editorial team. But this makes my job as a reader much more time-consuming because I then have to verify the information and identify the biases myself. You might draw an analogy to the debate about open and closed source software: In open source, developers choose which part of the code they will develop, with a tendency for the most glamorous aspects to be treated in great detail, at the expense of some features that will never showcase their intellectual prowess. MySQL is a great open source database that excels in certain tasks, but falls short compared to Oracle’s flagship database, a product that contains a much more robust feature set precisely because Oracle pays developers to work on the issues that are ignored by the “crowd.” Similarly, journalists must be paid too. The challenge is to find both the methods and business models to allow professional journalism to thrive alongside the voluntary efforts of the blogging community.

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