Social Web, Social Change and the Return of Community

I thought I would finally share the slides from my recent talk at the Ottawa Social Media Breakfast. Thanks to Robin Browne for capturing the audio MP3 which I sync’d to the Slidecast below. Enjoy!

Ottawa Social Media Breakfast, May 6th

For those in the Ottawa area, I will be speaking at Social Media Breakfast Ottawa 9 on Wednesday, May 6th. Thanks to Simon Chen and Mark Faul for inviting me to Ottawa in the lead-up to ChangeCamp Ottawa on Saturday, May 16th.


Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend ChangeCamp Ottawa (the first ChangeCamp since we created the format in January) myself, due to the inevitable post-event exhaustion (and likely hangover) from organizing the SpinTO fundraising launch event on Friday, May 15th. The stars just weren’t aligned for this one. But no matter, because Mark Faul, Ian Capstick and many other great Ottawa folks have been doing a great job with minimal advice from me. Which is perfect for me and shows that the model can scale and propagate.

For those who are able to come to the Ottawa SMB, here’s a little preview of what I’ll be talking about:

Social Web, Social Change & the Return of Community.

The social web is making possible new and exciting capabilities, new ways of participating in a global conversation. However, often those interested in social media and online community leave something very important, and very human, behind: our need for face-to-face interaction, to meet people around our shared passions and to have an impact, to create meaning.  Drawing from his work creating hybrid online and face-to-face participatory experiences, Toronto-based ChangeCamp organizer and consultant Mark Kuznicki will outline some theory and practice about how the social web meets physical community.

Open Source Journalism

Journalism and media are undergoing a massive transformation. Many inside are feeling the pain, not the least of which are the CBC’s 800 employees about to get the axe. Clay Shirky recently wrote an important piece about “thinking the unthinkable” in newspapers, highly recommended reading. I took note of this in his concluding paragraph:

For the next few decades, journalism will be made up of overlapping special cases. Many of these models will rely on amateurs as researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need.

My work with TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin has been fascinating and rewarding in this context of massive change in the media business model and questions about the future of journalism as craft and practice. I think that what is important during this transformation is to unpack, unbundle and reconfigure the elements that we think of when we think about “broadcaster” or “newspaper” and reimagine how they can be reconfigured to deliver more value to more people. Value that people want to pay for.

The Agenda: on the Road project is an interesting experiment along the lines of what Shirky describes above. What began as a way to bring TVO’s flagship current affairs program into local communities has developed into an ongoing experiment in open source journalism and community engagement.

Continue reading “Open Source Journalism”

The Birth of Swarm Intelligence

Twitter is the human swarm: an always-on, open, global and decentralized conversation. Twitter has undergone a phase change as a communications tool, and we see its effects globally, from news of the attacks in Mumbai to Toronto’s tech scene. Something new is emerging, something very powerful: Twitter is becoming a platform for collective action.

Whale in the sky, by Gail Johnson
Whale in the sky, by Gail Johnson

In Toronto, #HoHoTO was a holiday party held December 16, 2008 to raise funds for the Daily Bread Foodbank that has had a big local impact and received coverage all over the online and traditional media.  I think the Toronto tech community will look at this event the way some of us look back at the first BarCamp in Toronto in November 2005, a milestone in the emergence of a new community made possible by technology.

Continue reading “The Birth of Swarm Intelligence”

Obama campaign learnings by Rahaf Harfoush

Rahaf Harfoush heard Will.I.Am’s call Yes We Can and decided to join the Obama campaign at Chicago HQ. Now Rahaf is no ordinary door-knocker. She is a Gen-Y social media maven, consultant and frequent collaborator with Don Tapscott, including on Wikinomics and Grown Up Digital.  So now that everybody and their brother is looking to the groundbreaking Obama campaign for insight, Rahaf is a close-to-the-frontlines voice you need to pay attention to.

Her excellent presentation is online at her blog. Video is online at the Rotman site, including an intro by Alexander Manu, formerly of the Beal Institute and currently professor of Business Design at Rotman. I’m embedding the slides here:

Great story and insights. Most important insight for me was that the social media tools worked because the underlying strategy and philosophy of the campaign was itself new, different and consistent with those tools:

  1. The 50-state strategy
  2. Targeting the “disaffected center”
  3. Small donor focus

Social media isn’t a set of tactics, it is an orientation and philosophy and needs to integrate a focused brand and clear compelling message together with an inclusive and adaptable approach as well as an organization that is culturally ready to live those principles.

Strategy, message, culture. As powerful as these technologies are, it is the subtleties of their use and the human behaviours they enable that is the key to unlocking their value.

President-elect Obama is still a community organizer

Well Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin don’t get the last laugh. It turns out that the community organizer could kick the 9/11 hero’s ass and take down a helicopter-armed rogue moose-hunter for good measure. When Rudy and Palin scoffed at Obama’s background as a community organizer, I instinctively bristled.

Tuesday night showed what community organizing can do. Not only did Obama take the electoral college in a landslide, but the 50-state strategy made red states like North Carolina blue while turning many others purple. He did it with huge turnout, a dominant position among emerging voter blocks like youth and ethnic voters and with techniques learned from the trenches in Chicago.

Only a community organizer could pull this off.

The stories from the field about the Obama vs McCain ground game show the difference. Obama’s field offices were reported full and buzzing with volunteers from all over the country. McCain’s campaign offices were mostly empty and dull, or closed.

Then there’s the Obama campaign’s web strategy, which will go down in history as the first mass scale and most effective use of the social web for political or any other form of organization. But it’s just the beginning, and there is so much yet to be written! shows that Obama fully intends to take his massive email and sms lists, the lessons learned from the campaign and his community organizing instincts together with a new call and program around National Service to really transform the meaning of politics, community and country. The clues are there, and I just can’t help but stare in awe and amazement.

For those of us who dreamed of the potential of marrying bottom-up social movements with a new kind of leadership style, it’s hard to process that our moment may really truly be now. All of a sudden, the work of community organizing just got a new and rather Presidential luster. For those of us who work in the field where social web and real-world issues meet, it’s going to be a very busy time indeed.

Public Media 2.0: TVO’s The Agenda on the Road, pt.1

Wow. Dan and I are still processing the impact and learnings of the first AgendaCamp and TVO’s The Agenda on the Road, which took place in Windsor earlier this week. Overall, it was a huge success and something we’re going to build upon for the next four events and shows in other communities. The best part for me was the end of day reaction of Steve Paikin, host of The Agenda and one of Canada’s most respected journalistic talents.

The format called for 6 simultaneous 1 hour sessions. After 50 minutes, participants were asked to wrap up their discussion and tasked to produce a 2 and a half minute video that summarized their conversation using our inexpensive Flip Video cameras. It proved to be a powerful format and we will tweak it in order to help gather even more and better video content from our amazing participants. You can check out the content on the budding AgendaCamp wiki, YouTube, Flickr and get content updates by following AgendaCamp on Twitter.

We just love our participants’ passion and we felt their desire to come together as a community to make the place they call home a better place. They tackled the big questions of economic renewal in the context of a rapidly declining auto industry, and they planted their seeds of their own future.

The next step is to support this budding community as they continue their work together, providing them with tools to help their collaboration and ongoing conversations. I hope that we can find a way to connect this grassroots energy and enthusiasm to power and influence in a way that can meaningfully effect change, but that really depends on the community.

The thing we’re most interested in seeing evolve is how AgendaCamp participants and content interact with the broadcast. With five events, five shows and five different producers in five communities, we’ll get to see a number of variations on this combination of bottom-up engagement, online interaction and major current affairs broadcast platform. So much fascinating stuff! We’re excited for the next event in Sault Ste. Marie November 16th and 17th.

How to participate in TVO AgendaCamp from your couch

Sunday is the first TVO AgendaCamp, taking place at the Art Gallery of Windsor, Windsor’s jewel overlooking the beautiful riverside walk and the Detroit skyline. A stunning location for an innovative new format in citizen-powered exploration and social-media enhanced journalism.

Creative facilitator-ninja Dan Rose and I will be helping to run a 3-ring circus of citizen journalism and economic policy thinking.  Linking social media, a BarCamp-inspired unconference and one of Canada’s premier public issues broadcast journalism platforms is a very exciting opportunity for me. The topic – Ontario’s changing economy with a focus on the manufacturing sector and places like Windsor that depend upon it – couldn’t be more relevant or timely.

For those of you who can’t make it to Windsor, will be the place to be from 10:00 am Sunday until 4:30pm. Arm-chair policy wonks and social media junkies can follow along as video is streamed live, as citizen-journalist YouTube videos and Flickr images are uploaded, the Wiki is populated with content and the whole event is live-blogged and Twittered. Use and follow the tag: AgendaCamp. We have MacBooks and FlipVideo cameras available on-site for participants, plus pro equipment and staff from TVO helping to capture the content and stories.

The strategy and platform for this was built by’s great production team, helped along with insight and guidance from Sean Howard.

We have a great platform, an amazing group of on-site participants, a bunch of technology and a beautiful and inspiring venue. I really can’t wait! I hope you can join us online and help us start an important new conversation.

AgendaCamp: Citizen-driven economic intelligence

The global economy is undergoing what appears to be the finance equivalent of a heart attack, the circulatory system of credit now frozen.  The policy response looks like shock therapy. $700 billion in public bailouts (or is that ‘investment’) hanging in the balance, $630 billion in new money being printed by the Federal Reserve together with central banks around the world and sudden and frightening drops in global stock markets. Meanwhile, news that talks on Canada-EU economic integration are due to begin mere days after the Canadian federal election has gone largely unnoticed. It is clear that we are not living in normal times.

How will this instability in the system affect citizens and businesses in the places they call home?  Even before the Wall Street meltdown, Ontario’s local and regional economies were under stress and changing rapidly. The current crisis appears likely to accelerate and exacerbate these changes.

It is said that all politics are local. What about economies?

Dan Dunsky, Executive Producer of TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin, believes that we need to think about Ontario’s economies in the plural and his team has identified that major sectors of Ontario’s economy correspond to our geographic landscape and its people in specific places. How do these places and people adapt to global forces that are largely outside of their control? How can we get ahead of the change curve and make our regions more resilient and adaptable to accelerating change?

To tackle this critically important question about our future well-being, TVO is launching an innovative new project that brings together collaborative events and social media together with premier broadcast journalism and expert inquiry.  I am advising and supporting TVO for this project, “The Agenda with Steve Paikin: on the Road” & AgendaCamp.

We’re looking for participants – like you. More after the jump…

Continue reading “AgendaCamp: Citizen-driven economic intelligence”

Canadian punk rocker-turned-MP submits net neutrality bill

MP Charlie Angus (NDP, Timmins-James Bay), a former punk rocker, has just introduced network neutrality legislation to Canada’s House of Commons, and he’s putting all the P2P throttlers in Canada on notice. This coincides with the launch of to rally citizens to the cause of open access Internet.

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