There are lots of reasons to be reflective today and to think about the past year. It has been a very serious time with some very serious human stories resulting in many testing questions about fate and destiny and our responsibilities in a civil society.
I intended to write some sort of happy-clappy “what a great year!” type of message today, but I’d prefer to write about the challenges ahead.
Of course, it has been a truly amazing year for n0tice. We moved the service out of beta in the Spring, launched a robust developer platform, rolled out our first sponsored partnership, kicked off an exciting social marketing campaign, rebuilt the n0tice iOS app, launched our new Android app, developed some fun new curation tools, and integrated with the Guardian in some creative ways.
The team, everyone participating on the platform, and the many observers wanting to know how this project unfolds will surely feel the progress we’ve made and hopefully enjoy being part of this journey.
But n0tice is still very far from playing the role it could and should play in the world.
There are many forces challenging the civic fabric that keeps people engaged in the idea of progress. This is happening both in our local communities and the world at large – threats to the shape of the Internet itself, how it is governed and what people can do with it; deep issues of trust in our institutions; economic disparity and shrinking resources; and, worst of all, physical threats both from mother nature and our own kind.
On an admittedly hopeful and probably shallow level I always thought that n0tice could help people to address problems that face us by becoming a more integral part of the spaces we inhabit. Starting with a shared digital platform for reporting what’s happening nearby right now and what’s going to happen tomorrow we could improve local discourse which could then turn into action.
The public noticeboard is the perfect metaphor for what we’re doing. It facilitates a public conversation about our local communities – a space that is open to all, where leadership is flattened and authority is distributed and perhaps even competitive.
The technologies making this possible have pros and cons, of course.
There can be no doubt that being present and aware in the physical world we inhabit will get harder and harder as the digital distractions continue to fight for our focus. It’s also true that the immediacy of today’s digital media is training people to think that everything can happen fast, but sometimes meaning has a longer gestation period which affects cultural evolution at glacial pace.
There’s a big gap between noticing a dangerous street corner to getting a new sign posted which is a far cry from changing the law and even further from changing people’s behaviors.
But maybe these new technologies can enhance our experiences in the real world rather than compete with them. And maybe our local communities will improve as a result of what people accomplish using the digital network.
Sometimes a spark is all that’s needed to put momentum behind a movement.
When we kicked off the #keepcycling campaign we had a feeling it would resonate, but we certainly didn’t expect people to spread it across Twitter as far as it has gone now. Similarly, we were hoping the #localshopping and #gdngig campaigns would trigger an interest in sharing the best of people’s local experiences, and, sure enough, hundreds of reviews and photos later we have some wonderful social maps of what’s happening in small neighborhoods and big cities alike.
#GdnGig Live Music Map
These are just little tastes of where this journey could start going – turning observation into action. Awareness is the first step toward empathy. And once people start to care about the little things happening around them they might think more about the bigger things.
n0tice may not be able to put fate and destiny back into our own hands. The world is full of surprises – both horror and magic. But we can certainly progress as individuals and as communities by democratizing information about the spaces we inhabit and making that information actionable.
n0tice has had a great year. The n0tice team – Daniel, Sarah and Tony – have been brilliant – creative, hard-working, thoughtful, collaborative, skillful, etc. The n0tice community has been incredibly helpful in steering us and telling us openly and honestly what they think. Our partners have been invaluable as we evolve the tools and strategy – Talk About Local, LBi, Mentally Friendly, Tyrell Mobile. And we’ve had some amazing support from the Guardian, CEO Andrew Miller, in particular, and several editors, community leaders, and the sales team who have pushed us in smart new directions.
Next year is going to be more challenging, in many ways – a more serious test of what this platform can achieve. We know we can build useful social software. Can we also help people actually make a difference?