Calling all (available) service designers!

Design community, I start a new service design engagement next week and the client needs, in their words, “another one of you”. It’s a solid piece with several related research and design streams that will do social good out the far side. Initial engagement is in Canberra until 30 June. If this sounds interesting to you email, DM, PM, whatever me and I’ll connect you to the right people.

Reinventing TED

This essay, Against TED, by Nathan Jurgenson at The New Inquiry raises some important perceptions (and misperceptions) and isn’t the first criticism of TED we’ll see. Nor will it be the last. It’s really not that hard to find such criticisms; they’ve been around for some time and they all point to many of the same things we’re all aware of – perception of exclusivity, neatly defined problems tied up in bows, the “religion of TED”, etc.

English: Chris Anderson is the curator of the ...
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Like any organisation, TED, and those of us that attend or organise TEDx events (I am the licensee for TEDxCanberra), as its community, need to be aware of the need for positive change and reinvention. I’m well aware that TED itself is going through a period of introspection about its relevance and the shape it takes into the future; it’s a subject of discussion that TEDx organisers around the world have been asked to contribute to.

As someone whose day job it is to help to define the way an organisation gets out its message and designs and delivers the things it does, I’m more than abundantly aware that no matter what insiders believe (and I do believe that TED really does have the best interests of the globe at heart and really is interested in “ideas worth spreading”) that it doesn’t matter. What matters is perception. Because for most people, even otherwise smart, critical thinkers, perception is reality.  And there’s no use arguing against it.

For example, the matter of the cost of TED is often contentious. Sure, its production values are insanely high and it must cost a terrifying amount to put on, but what almost everyone I’ve spoken to outside the TED community don’t know is that TED runs non-profit. When I point this out to many people they’re often far more circumspect in their criticism of TED after that realisation.

Overall, I think the biggest problem TED faces, to quote my Marx, is that it has become something of an opiate of the masses. It’s all too easy as a reasonably wealthy, middle class person, to attend TED, or a TEDx or to watch videos and to feel aware of problems in the world and become smug and self-satisfied that in your awareness, you’ve helped.

Not by a long stretch.

What really needs to follow is action. To take ideas worth spreading and convert them into actions worth doing.

Every. Single. Time.

Truth be told, the TED community already does this. It’s another thing too few are aware of. For the past number of years, TED has become really not just a single event, but a continuum of things – events, the TED Prize which funds US$100,000 of work by an outstanding individual (it’s worth looking to see who the winners have been), the TED Fellows, and other good works that are funded out of the Sapling Foundation. So, the actions worth doing that I put forward already happen. It’s just that most people don’t bother to look that deeply. They just see an expensive, exclusive event.

That said, I do think that there is an element of the audience, both physical and online, that feel they satisfy some “involvement in the world” quota just by showing up. I think it’s incumbent on us to make sure that percentage is small by encouraging action, no matter how small. If the end result is that someone walks away with their views changed, that may be enough, or a starting point.

I’d like to urge the international community of TEDx organisers to be a part of that; to be a community that doesn’t just showcase great ideas, but that inspires, drives and gets involved in action. To be defined by betterness, in the sense Umair Haque outlines in his book of the same name.

We’ve done it a little at TEDxCanberra, but are focussing on it more strongly this year. We’re going to ask presenters, where possible, to challenge the audience to get involved, or to leave them with a question, or a call to meaningful action.

No more neat bows.

If the doing of important things was what the rest of the world saw from TED rather than the (somewhat incorrect perception of the) wealthy and famous attending an expensive, hard to get in to event where they satisfy their perception of being involved by listening for four days, I think there might be fewer of the negative analyses out there.

As I said, perception is reality. What people see in TED, regardless of what we believe on the inside of that community, is what it is.

Do these people have no idea? – the folly of the Internet Filter

This afternoon, Senator Stephen Conroy, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy made the announcement so many of us had been dreading – that the Federal government would be going ahead with its plans to filter Australian Internet access and unnecessarily protect us from nasties we neither want nor need to be protected from.

It represents imposition of Nanny State government of the worst sort. Arguably, it places us alongside extreme and totalitarian states such as Iran, China and North Korea in the level of control placed upon Australians’ Internet access.

It would appear that vested interests, dominated by appeasement of fringe Senators such as Steve Fielding and their constituencies in the moral and religious right have wielded their increasing power and brought about the policy position they have been pushing for, as on first reading, the report doesn’t provide compelling enough numbers to justify moving forward and, as we’ve seen many times in the media, community support for this policy is not widespread.

The reaction on Twitter, a place that politicians are now listening to, is singularly passionate. As I write, WhatTheHashtag has recorded in excess of 6000 tweets in just a few hours and the tag is the #4 trending topic overall. It’ll be swamped when the Americans wake, unless we all tell our American friends who can then laugh at the stupidity of the entire exercise.

This issue is the #1 reason I stood for and am now on the Board of Electronic Frontiers Australia. I am passionately against the foolish policy position that this represents and am keen to hear from any reader who wishes to email me or comment here. I’ll make sure your views are taken to Parliament House in Canberra and given to the right people.

There are any number or already well-discussed reasons why this plan is folly – expense, ease of circumvention, lack of widespread public support, lack of transparency and adequate governance in the blocking process. There are any number of far less controversial measures the government could undertake that would satisfy both sides of the argument on ‘Net filtering. Let’s start with opt-in filtering for both homes and ISP’s as noted by Internode tech and outspoken anti-filter campaigner Mark Newton. There’d be little outcry if this was the policy executed. People could choose to filter on their PCs at home, or if that was too challenging, choose to use an ISP that offered a filtered feed. Everyone ends up happy as those who don’t want filtering get to have unfiltered connections too.

The arguments that are pro the filter are incredibly spurious and usually couched in “it’s for the children” terms. We’re supposedly going to protect them from ‘Net nasties and the burgeoning ranks of pedophiles waiting to pounce on them online.


My 12 year old daughter uses a completely unfiltered Internet connection. She also has root access to the network at home and to the computer she uses. Yet she’s never encountered any of the problems Senator Conroy and the likes of Senator Fielding seem to believe are rampant – no nasties, viruses, stalkers or any other undesirable in several years of using the Internet unfiltered and mostly unsupervised. And you know why? Good rules and decent parenting (well, certainly the first and hopefully the second).

Yes, there are risks to being online, They’re remarkably similar to the risks you face in meatspace. Here’s a handy list of things to try to effectively protect your kids online in case you’re confused at this point:

  1. Make sure the computer your kids use is in a public, well-trafficked part of the house
  2. Educate yourself as a parent so that you have as much knowledge or more than your kids about the risks of being online
  3. Establish reasonable expectations for their Internet use in terms of time online, acceptable standards of behavior in terms of online activity and what the real risks are (they’re much smaller in my view than the government, Federal Police and parts of the media would have you believe)
  4. Teach them strategies to deal with undesirable content encountered online
  5. Live up to the expectations you set for your kids in terms of your own Internet use
  6. Impose penalties for breaches of the rules you set and stick to them

It’s my desperate hope that this foolish policy and the legislation necessary to make it happen are defeated in Caucus. If not, it’ll be one of the few times I’ll support a vote the Liberals take in the Senate when they vote against it.

Others have written their own thoughts over this important matter:

  • Téa Brennan, who makes an impassioned pleas for sense and proper parenting
  • Craig Wilson, who speculates the intelligent folk of the Australian blogosphere might just bring the government down
  • Crikey’s Possum Comitatus, who examines the possible electoral fallout
  • Will Briggs, a pastor in Tasmania whose faith-based views contrast strongly with others such as Senator Fielding
  • Gary Sauer-Thompson, on his well-regarded blog, Public Opinion
  • Jeff Waugh, well known Open Source and Software Freedom proponent
  • technology educator, Dean Groom
  • Chris Chesher from the Digital Cultures program at University of Sydney

If you’d like to do something effective, email and write (on paper) to your member and Senators and let them know how unhappy you are about this decision. If you’d like some guidance, EFA’s No Clean Feed campaign is a good place to start. You should also take a look at EFA’s response to today’s announcement.

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The Perfect Gift for a Man

pg4amA few months back, the Inspire Foundation ran a campaign they called Man Week. Designed to call attention to the terrible loss occurring amongst young men dealing with depression and suicide (according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the current suicide rate for men in Australia is more than three times the rate of women) it attracted the attention of many, including Gavin Heaton, the Servant of Chaos, and all-around good guy, Mark Pollard. On their prompting, several of the Australian tech and broader geek community contributed their own tales of dealing with manhood, as did I.

In fact, telling my tale inspired me to start getting fit again and to deal openly with a number of issues in my life. That journey is being progressively chronicled on my personal blog.

The other tales in the book are inspiring, troubling, thoughtful and go to show that dealing with being a man and all that means in a society like Australia that is often reticent to discuss personal issues is a universal issue.

And today, the telling of those tales comes to fruition, as we have published The Perfect Gift for a Man, in eBook and paperback form. You can buy the printed book from or you can purchase the eBook version from The Perfect Gift for a Man website. ALL the profits from the book are being donated to The Inspire Foundation.

If you’re keen to get a quick snapshot of what it’s all about, take a look at the social media release.

Please buy a copy and give it to a man in your life, especially if he is dealing with issues that may be troubling. Our stories may just help him to know he’s not alone.

Social Media Club Canberra launches

SMC logoThis Friday, the first ever Social Media Club Canberra breakfast will be held. As a member of SMC, I’ve been keen to make something happen in my town and it looks like we’re really getting started with this event.

It’s very lightweight – bring yourself, bring a friend and user pays – but it’s a chance for anyone in Canberra interested in social media to get together with a bunch of like minded folks over a cup of coffee and a great breakfast. Details below:

  • Where – CREAM Cafe, Corner Bunda Street and Genge Street, Canberra City
  • When – 8:00AM-10:00AM, Friday 16 January 2009

If you’d like to come along, please RSVP for the event on Facebook or email me if you’re not on Facebook.

Oh, and since it’s the launch of SMC in Canberra, we have a Facebook page for the group. Please join!

Akoha – play it forward

Many readers here will be aware that I’m a fan of the notion of social capital, or as my friend, Tara Hunt puts it, whuffie (borrowing from Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom). Well, last week, I received a deck of Akoha cards. Akoha is a real life game based on the notion of paying it forward. They define Akoha as:

A launchpad for travelling acts of kindness.

This is the crux of the game. Akohans play missions, which are acts of kindness, on others. They can be as simple as buying someone a cup of coffee or as significant as organising a blogger dinner. There are also wild cards. And now, there is also the ability for users/players to invent their own missions, which become virtual cards!

The Akoha site has a great comic (what is it with comics as explanatory material lately?) you should check out to get a better feel for what Akoha is all about.

One of the best things about the game is the great feeling you get when playing a mission. It’s a very pleasurable thing to do. And the reaction in the recipients is equally fantastic – Scott, Lincoln and Beth, who all received cards from me today all expressed real delight at the activity and the concept behind Akoha.

If you’re already on Akoha, or get a card from me or someone else, connect up!

What does a social media consultant do?

This morning, my Kiwi compatriot, Simon Young (@audaciousgloop on Twitter) answered the question in the title on his own blog, predominantly in the context of explaining to people how his company, iJump, makes money.

I figure as there is growing interest in the business value of social media, I would have a lash at the same question. So, here goes nothing…

3007094100_23b26c5c8d.jpgI talk. A lot. I listen more. Two ears, one mouth used in that proportion. By doing this, I can build an understanding of my clients’ business and get across the problems they face – whether it’s collaborating internally, talking to their customers and stakeholders in the right way, or understanding how the market works in the social media world to name a few common issues.

I talk and listen some more. Strategising with my clients on building an understanding of their problems and the possible approaches they might take in addressing them is a core component of my work. From these discussions, which range from one-on-one with the CEO or mail room guy to large workshops with the entire staff, we’re able to build a list of issues to be addressed and some thinking about what we can do to address them. Sometimes it’s quick fixes we can start on tomorrow. Other times, we build a six month to one year plan.

I research and write. Lots. For myself and for my clients. Those issues that need solving? Sometimes that very issue has been tackled before. I want to know when, how, why, who did it and with what. So do my clients. I also want to know what the latest thinking and case studies on business use of social tools is. It’s my job to do that research and help my clients understand what it all means.

So, what words might be used to describe all this stuff? Innovation, change management, cultural change, mentoring, teaching, consulting.

The technology part of this equation, as Simon said in his post, is the least complex part. Understanding organisational culture, readiness for change and what motivations might bring about that change in individuals, groups and organisations are the bread and butter of my work. How do we flatten corporate structures? Encourage fast, cheap and innovative experimentation and failure? Change the management mindset from command-and-control to conversation, collaboration and community?

That’s the cool stuff. That’s the stuff I love. That’s why acidlabs is unique.

BarCamp Sydney #4 – Saturday, 15 November 2008

The (un)organisers of BarCamp Sydney have let me know that they are preparing for yet another festival of creativity to engage and excite the Australian tech and innovation community. Details below.

Date: 15 November 2008

Venue: UNSW Roundhouse

Time: 9:00AM-5:00PMpm (registration starts at 8:30AM)

Register: Do it yourself on the wiki

If you’ve never been to a BarCamp before, I highly recommend it. Make some time in your schedule. For those that have been before, I needn’t remind you how great BarCamp is. Take a look at my tag list below to see just how much of your life this might touch.

Hopefully, I’ll see you there. I’m not sure how my timetable is yet.