I used to spend a lot of time on the San Francisco – Sunnyvale Caltrain route. Though my wife remembers that I complained a lot about how much time it took, I mostly only recall the enjoyable time spent blogging, listening to new podcasts and thinking hard about where the Internet was heading.
One of the themes I would keep coming back to over and over was inspired by John Hagel and John Seely Brown talking about motorcycle manufacturing in China. It’s the idea that networks of activity can form a better whole when the nodes or the edges in the network can operate with autonomy and authority – fueled by a collective purpose rather than answering to an imposed one. Hagel and Seely Brown call it Edge Economics.
The concepts stuck with me, and I began to value different kinds of projects happening out there across the Internet. While it didn’t take off the way many hoped, Outside.in, for example, was groundbreaking in its ideas. It was part of a movement toward generative media and the idea of media as a platform.
At about the same time the photosharing revolution was in full swing. Admittedly, the Flickr concept didn’t really capture me until after the Yahoo! acquisition, and even then it wasn’t real to me until I got a phone that could publish images instantly to Flickr (the Nokia 6630, to be exact).
One of those ah-hah moments hit me after the train I was on smashed a truck at a crossing, and I captured a photo of the surprising damage done to the train. The truck was a mile behind us by the time we actually stopped and evacuated the scene. The driver was fine, apparently.
I was very eager to get that photo out there knowing that the Caltrain commute was going to be awful for everyone in both directions that morning. But at that time there was no way to spread information about the incident and the photo evidence to anyone in the area unless they were already my friends.
Now, there are many twists and turns in the story of the Internet since then that have altered the way I value projects happening in both startups and elsewhere. But the principles of empowering people and organizations at the edges, linking media platforms to activities happening at those edges, and fueling collective behaviors through useful actions have been constant, at least in my mind.
The Guardian has given me some room to explore these old ideas with some new concepts that are important to the future of journalism and the news business. And as of this week we now have the seeds of a potentially very interesting approach to citizen journalism in the form of an open platform called n0tice.
There are 3 elements of the service, a web site for users at n0tice.com, a set of tools for partners at n0tice.org, and now finally a n0tice iPhone app that lets you see and post what’s happening near you wherever you are right now.
This idea is not new. It’s pretty old, actually. It is basically just an evolution of the public noticeboard or shared bulletin board. Email tackled this idea with mailing lists back in the ’80’s. The web made it possible for open directories to do the same. And now that the social, local and mobile worlds have collided it is happening once again.
But rather than try to centralize the entire networked universe on a single platform to rule them all, we’ve worked very hard to put the power of this idea into people’s hands in ways that helps them in what they already do out there today using tools that they already know.
n0tice can be used as a completely invisible partner through our APIs. There are a few ways that n0tice can be used as an open and public complement to a WordPress site, for example. Equally, the n0tice user experience can be bent and shaped for a customer’s specific needs through the use of self-serve white label noticeboards. People can create their own branded version of n0tice which comes free with web analytics, moderation tools, and a few sharing and viral features for getting traction quickly.
Crucially, we try to create value in the network edges by helping people make money when they spend time making n0tice work for them. Everyone understands the classifieds model, and we’ve iterated on that idea as one of the many value engines that the n0tice platform offers.
There is still a very long way to go to realize the potential in this kind of platform, and it won’t be without challenges. For example, we’re very aware that n0tice could be perceived as yet-another-social-media-site if we fail to demonstrate how it can be an engine for healthy community activities. Also, the n0tice team is very small still, and if we fail to evolve the product as fast as the core users want we could lose their enthusiasm and, worse, their trust and loyalty. Early users of the service have been unusually supportive of the effort, so far.
What we’ve accomplished so far has been really really fun and interesting to do. We hope other people see the value in the project and help us expand the scope further and in directions we haven’t yet considered. I think success at this stage would mean that, in order, 1) a wide range of partners use the API for a wide range of concepts, 2) the iPhone app gets some decent uptake and a healthy percentage of users are on it daily, and 3) the noticeboards on n0tice.com become active public spaces where groups are collaborating.
If any one of those things happen then we’ll be growing a generative media platform, a space where many people are benefitting from the presence and actions of the others in the network.
Now that all 3 services are live and public – n0tice.com, n0tice.org and the n0tice iPhone app – it feels like we’re already somewhere along that journey.
I have to say it… I love it when a plan comes together.