Mrs. Robinson is the enemy of great software

I was watching The Graduate the other night, and another brilliant quote struck me – not the ‘plastics’ quote this time.

Benjamin describes his post-grad disillusionment to Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine, “It’s like I’m playing some kind of game, but the rules don’t make any sense to me. They’re being made up by all the wrong people. No, I mean no one makes them up. They seem to make themselves up.”

The anxiety of being disoriented and confused about how to win the game in the early parts of your career is a wonderful thing. It forces you to adapt quickly, to learn hard, and to test limits.

But different people react differently to the pressure. Some become all about the rules – either creating, enforcing or avoiding them. Others don’t see rules at all.

This gets hammered home in an excellent blog post where Good Sense looks at how trust and autonomy and freedom promotes productivity and creative problem solving whereas controls and requirements and micromanagement have the opposite affect:

“I was part of a scrum team at a large company. Someone already broke the workload up into user stories. Those user stories were further broken down into tasks. The tasks were then evenly divided amongst all the engineers. Each engineer didn’t have much of a say in it.

I was told exactly what to work on and even the day I was going to work on it. It was the most unproductive time of my life.”

That sense of freedom you have after walking away from your last day of school is incredible, and yet so many capable people fail to capitalize on that freedom. They end up recreating structures in their lives that ensure they never face it again.

Of course, there are also many people who thrive on having structure. And there are many who support creativity by trying to create freedom within a structure. Not everyone works well with no rules. And some can even do a lot of damage without boundaries in place.

Agile development intends to deal with this, but I’m amongst those who believe that once you’ve defined a process for something you’ve already sucked the mojo out of it.

The comments on Hacker News are really worth a read:

“Scrum says that team members should answer three questions each working day:
1. What have you done in the last day?
2. What are you doing today?
3. Are you experiencing any impediments to your work?

Here is how these questions get implemented at many companies:
1. Did you do what I told you to yesterday?
2. Here’s what I want you to do today.
3. Fuck the third question.”

Sometimes that scenario plays out with more subtlety, perhaps under the mask of collaboration. I’ve seen many managers using the word “agile” to describe the way they are working when they really mean something totally different.

It’s these kinds of behaviors that Benjamin can’t get his head around in The Graduate – the unwritten rules, the cultural reinforcements, the hidden hierarchies and agendas.

Josh Williams, former co-founder and CEO at the now defunct Foursquare competitor Gowalla, wrote a brilliant post-mortem of sorts recently that should be a real inspiration to the Benjamins out there feeling overwhelmed by all the rules and systems and the perception of predetermination.

“Truth be told, we didn’t really care about Check-Ins. What we really wanted was for people to see the world through the eyes of their friends.

It turns out there was another app that shared a similar vision. They made the act of taking and sharing photos (many of which just happened to be location-tagged) fast, simple and fun.

They made their own rules. They called it Instagram.”

Why EveryBlock’s closure is disappointing

There is a big difference betwen a signal of future potential and the path leading to its real outcome.

The future signal may be wrong even though the path to it might feel right at the time (PointCast, WAP, personalized home pages, Kozmo.com). Or the signal might be right, but the path to it may take the wrong turn (Napster, RSS, AltaVista, Flickr).

The longer I’m in the digital media business, the less sure I am that I can tell the difference in the very early stages of these trends.

For example, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that around 2001 I still thought Google was just another search engine and that it would be a temporary phenomenon. Even worse, I was sure that Facebook was making a mistake when it opened beyond the university networks to the wider masses in 2007 or whenever that was.

So, when things happen like last week’s news that EveryBlock closed down I have to recalibrate my thinking a bit. It’s clear now that EveryBlock fits in the second camp – right signal, wrong path.

I was never convinced they were on a sure path to achieving their ambitions, but I believed in Adrian and that the vision and execution were strong enough to get there with some adjustments and a little bit of luck.

Regardless of the dotcom measures of success, anyone who cares about news and journalism will agree that EveryBlock demonstrated something special about local information – an important step toward recapturing our neighborhood identities in a way that local newspapers used to do, or at least in the way younger people imagine they must have done.

I remember the launch of EveryBlock in 2008. I paid close attention to how it progressed in my neighborhood (Potrero Hill) even after I moved to London later that year.

The attention to detail in data was remarkable – both in terms of capturing the essence of challenging sources but also in the presentation of it. I knew a little about hierarchical geodata from spending time with the Maps and Where On Earth teams at Yahoo!, but EveryBlock was adding human dimentionality to those purely physical interpretations of the world.

For example, crime mapping was a particularly fascinating topic at the time, something I experienced first hand, and there were a few different approaches to addressing it in addition to Adrian’s own groundbreaking ChicagoCrime map. One of the very best that shouldn’t be forgotten was the ‘Not Just a Number‘ campaign done by Katy Newton and Sean Connelley in partnership with the Oakand Tribune.

Crime data is just one of the many information types that catalyze collective understanding in local areas, and EveryBlock rigorously tackled a range of different sources from construction and business permits to travel and commuting information to real estate data. They even started tackling social data including meetups, flickr photos and even conversations amongst EveryBlock users.

The result was a data-rich lens of local life.

People now expect this lens on their local life. It’s not even a matter of wanting it. It’s just supposed to be that way.

And EveryBlock executed on it very well.

So, if the vision was right and the execution was strong, what happened?

Without speaking to the team or NBC it’s not fair to presume to know the answer. But from my view as an industry observer and fellow traveler on the local media train my guess is that the problems were not so much errors in judgment but rather circumstantial challenges.

They may have arrived when local media incumbents were still strong enough to drive the news agendas in their respective areas, cornering EveryBlock into a data pureplay that wasn’t compelling enough for the news junkies to build an exclusive addiction to them.

Though I suspect the decision to join MSNBC in 2009 was completely appropriate and rational at the time, having MSNBC behind them must have limited the partnerships they may have needed to do with those same local media incumbents.

They may have been too early in the game of local data, too, stuck in an awkward market condition where the cities with both good data and tech savvy users were few and fickle.

Perhaps they needed original reporting. A more traditionally news-y positioning may have helped, but the wider digital media market has been flooded with countless startups that offer no editorial structure to them at all. That shouldn’t have been a prerequisite to mass adoption.

It’s probably some of those things and many others that we can’t see from the outside.

I find it very interesting that so many people are so disappointed. I think people would like to believe that good ideas done well will survive and prosper.

Of course, if the world were that simple it would be pretty boring. I’ll take chaos and uncertainty over the sure thing any day, even if that means good things die sometimes.

But, unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened last week when EveryBlock died.

Where n0tice is headed in 2013

Reposted from the n0tice blog:

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.


#keepcycling

#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?

Testing a photo gallery tool

This collection of Boniver pictures comes via a new photo gallery embed tool called Hash Gordon. I just wanted to see how it looks in a blog post.

Embed: <a href=”http://n0tice.com” data-search=”boniver” data-limit=”9″ data-image-size=”200″ data-pagination=”infinite” > </a><script src=”http://platform.n0tice.com/embed.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

Building momentum on local outreach and n0tice

We’ve been rolling out a pretty comprehensive upgrade to n0tice this month. We called it n0tice 2.0 in the press release which is here. Journalism.co.uk and TheNextWeb both covered the launch well.

One of the biggest elements of this most recent push is the marketing campaign. We always knew that the hard part of starting a new brand like n0tice was developing a meaningful and robust community. The tech would come more easily. So, this campaign is designed to address that and to show people the power of this platform – why n0tice should matter to local communities, how it’s different, what can be done with it, what impact it can have, etc.

I’ll go into more detail on the approach another time, but I wanted to show some of the campaign assets developed by our partner LBi.

First, here’s a living infographic that pulls in live data from n0tice:

It shows what people are posting to the My High Street noticeboard, a space we setup to encourage people to see and share things that they want to either celebrate or change about their local neighborhood. We want to demonstrate how n0tice can actually help communities unite into action…that shared observation is a powerful thing.

Second, here’s a short video interviewing local activists around the UK about what’s happening to the High Street (that’s “Main Street” for my American friends) and how people are sharing local information:

The positioning of this first campaign in the series is spot on with what inspired n0tice in the first place (1, 2).

But there’s some clever tech involved in the campaign, too, in the way we it works with Twitter and Instagram, in particular. Engaging people in the social spaces they already inhabit is very important to making outreach effective.

We have some really interesting campaigns in the series that will follow this, including one that went live already. It’s all about encouraging people to #keepcycling during the winter months.

This campaign will result in many lessons and examples for different types of communities to use in order to model local activism and community building that is meaningful for them. We’ll document more of it as we go along.

Orchestrating streams of data from across the Internet

The liveblog was a revelation for us at the Guardian. The sports desk had been doing them for years experimenting with different styles, methods and tone. And then about 3 years ago the news desk started using them liberally to great effect.

I think it was Matt Wells who suggested that perhaps the liveblog was *the* network-native format for news. I think that’s nearly right…though it’s less the ‘format’ of a liveblog than the activity powering the page that demonstrates where news editing in a networked world is going.

It’s about orchestrating the streams of data flowing across the Internet into a compelling use in one form or another. One way to render that data is the liveblog. Another is a map with placemarks. Another is a RSS feed. A stream of tweets. Storify. Etc.

I’m not talking about Big Data for news. There is certainly a very hairy challenge in big data investigations and intelligent data visualizations to give meaning to complex statistics and databases. But this is different.

I’m talking about telling stories by playing DJ to the beat of human observation pumping across the network.

We’re working on one such experiment with a location-tagging tool we call FeedWax. It creates location-aware streams of data for you by looking across various media sources including Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google News, Daylife, etc.

The idea with FeedWax is to unify various types of data through shared contexts, beginning with location. These sources may only have a keyword to join them up or perhaps nothing at all, but when you add location they may begin sharing important meaning and relevance. The context of space and time is natural connective tissue, particularly when the words people use to describe something may vary.

We’ve been conducting experiments in orchestrated stream-based and map-based storytelling on n0tice for a while now. When you start crafting the inputs with tools like FeedWax you have what feels like a more frictionless mechanism for steering the flood of data that comes across Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, etc. into something interesting.

For example, when the space shuttle Endeavour flew its last flight and subsequently labored through the streets of LA there was no shortage of coverage from on-the-ground citizen reporters. I’d bet not one of them considered themselves a citizen reporter. They were just trying to get a photo of this awesome sight and share it, perhaps getting some acknowledgement in the process.

You can see the stream of images and tweets here: http://n0tice.com/search?q=endeavor+OR+endeavour. And you can see them all plotted on a map here: http://goo.gl/maps/osh8T.

Interestingly, the location of the photos gives you a very clear picture of the flight path. This is crowdmapping without requiring that anyone do anything they wouldn’t already do. It’s orchestrating streams that already exist.

This behavior isn’t exclusive to on-the-ground reporting. I’ve got a list of similar types of activities in a blog post here which includes task-based reporting like the search for computer scientist Jim Gray, the use of Ushahidi during the Haiti earthquake, the Guardian’s MPs Expenses project, etc. It’s also interesting to see how people like Jon Udell approach this problem with other data streams out there such as event and venue calendars.

Sometimes people refer to the art of code and code-as-art. What I see in my mind when I hear people say that is a giant global canvas in the form of a connected network, rivers of different colored paints in the form of data streams, and a range of paint brushes and paint strokes in the form of software and hardware.

The savvy editors in today’s world are learning from and working with these artists, using their tools and techniques to tease out the right mix of streams to tell stories that people care about. There’s no lack of material or tools to work with. Becoming network-native sometimes just means looking at the world through a different lens.

Information physicality

The recent advances in human-to-computer interaction should be scrambling your brain if you’re paying attention at all. From gesture interfaces (both 2D *and* 3D) to location-aware social media and the rapid adoption of connected devices, our relationship to computing and the increasingly ubiquitous network is changing dramatically.

Whereas I grew up in an era where we had to work relatively hard to get a computer to behave the way we wanted, kids today will grow up expecting computers to respond to them instead.

What is this trend going to mean to journalism and publishers? Getting closer to the leaders will help uncover some answers.

The gaming consoles have been working on this stuff for years already, but now Google, Amazon, Sony and even the telcos all have relevant projects starting to ship now.  

Google, for example, just unveiled a new project called Field Trip to add to its portfolio of location-responsive media that also includes Google Now and Google Glasses.

The app is populated using data from “dozens” of content partners, according to Google. Songkick (show information), Eater (restaurants), Flavorpill (events of all kinds), and Thrillist (hot cafes and shops) are there to tell you where to go and what to eat. Architizer (public art, interesting buildings), Remodelista (designy boutiques), and Inhabitat (a designy blog) are there for the nerdier stuff. You can turn any of these services on or off, or ask to see more or less of the items from each partner.

Also served to you are Google Offers, which show up as coupons and deals for nearby businesses, and restaurant reviews from Zagat, Google’s crown jewel in this space.

- Google’s New Hyper-Local City Guide Is a Real Trip, Wired

What kind of publisher is well-suited for a world where technology responds?

What does it mean for information to adjust to the way we move our hands, the way we slide our fingers across a glass surface, where our eyes are focused, and which direction we’re facing?

What does it mean for information to alter based on our location, places we’ve been and places we’re going?

How do you make information more physical?

The answers have yet to be invented, but there are some obvious ways to re-factor current assets and processes in order to get invited to the party.

  • Atomize everything. Separate independent elements and link them intelligently. Well-structured information and consistent workflow help a lot with this.
  • Add a concept of time and space to media. Location can be a point on the planet, a place, a geopolitical boundary. And time can be a moment or a period. And then look at adding more context.
  • Standardize around formats that software developers like to work with. Offer APIs that can accept data as well as release data.

It’s about adjusting, being malleable and responding. Information, how it’s collected, where it goes, and how it is experienced needs to adjust according to the way the user is looking at it and touching it.  It needs to synch with where in space and time the person is focused and interested.

More simply, make everything you do as software-friendly as you possibly can. And then go partner with people whose brains and financial incentives are inextricably linked to the new hardware and software.

This presentation may communicate some of these ideas more effectively than a blog post:



Posted from London, England, United Kingdom.

Rethinking news for a world of ubiquitous connectivity

I gave a presentation on the implications of ubiquitous connectivity for journalism at the Rethinking Small Media event held at the University of London yesterday. The slides are here:

I realized by the time I finished talking that the point I really wanted to make was more about how important it is that we move the dialog away from an us v them view of small and big media. Fracturing a community that is mostly full of people trying to do good in the world is not helpful, even if the definition and method of doing good varies.

The more important issue is about protecting the open public space we call the Internet.

As the network begins adopting more and more nodes, more streams of nonhuman data, new connected devices, etc., we must work harder to ensure that the interests that make all these things possible are aligned with the principles that made the Internet such valuable infrastructure for people across the globe.

But, in the meantime, there are certainly some tangible things people from both small and big media can do to point in the right direction.

The list includes atomizing information, adding more context such as time and space, linking it, making it developer-friendly, and sharing it openly with partners, among other things.

Mobilising the web of feeds

I wrote this piece for the Guardian’s Media Network on the role that RSS could play now that the social platforms are becoming more difficult to work with. GeoRSS, in particular, has a lot of potential given the mobile device explosion. I’m not suggesting necessarily that RSS is the answer, but it is something that a lot of people already understand and could help unify the discussion around sharing geotagged information feeds.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Mobilising the web of feeds” was written by Matt McAlister, for theguardian.com on Monday 10th September 2012 16.43 UTC

While the news that Twitter will no longer support RSS was not really surprising, it was a bit annoying. It served as yet another reminder that the Twitter-as-open-message-utility idea that many early adopters of the service loved was in fact going away.

There are already several projects intending to disrupt Twitter, mostly focused on the idea of a distributed, federated messaging standard and/or platform. But we already have such a service: an open standard adopted by millions of sources; a federated network of all kinds of interesting, useful and entertaining data feeds published in real-time. It’s called RSS.

There was a time when nearly every website was RSS-enabled, and a cacophony of Silicon Valley startups fought to own pieces of this new landscape, hoping to find dotcom gold. But RSS didn’t lead to gold, and most people stopped doing anything with it.

Nobody found an effective advertising or service model (except, ironically, Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, who sold Feedburner to Google). The end-user market for RSS reading never took off. Media organisations didn’t fully buy into it, and the standard took a backseat to more robust technologies.

Twitter is still very open in many ways and encourages technology partners to use the Twitter API. That model gives the company much more control over who is able to use tweets outside of the Twitter owned apps, and it’s a more obvious commercial strategy that many have been asking Twitter to work on for a long time now.

But I think we’ve all made a mistake in the media world by turning our backs on RSS. It’s understandable why it happened. But hopefully those who rejected RSS in the past will see the signals demonstrating that an open feed network is a sensible thing to embrace today.

Let’s zoom out for context first. Looking at the macro trends in the internet’s evolution, we can see one or two clear winners as more information and more people appeared on the network in waves over the last 15 years.

Following the initial explosion of new domains, Yahoo! solved the need to surface only the websites that mattered through browsing. The Yahoo! directory became saturated, so Google then surfaced pages that mattered within those websites through searches. Google became saturated, so Facebook and Twitter surfaced things that mattered that live on the webpages within those web sites through connecting with people.

Now that the social filter is saturated, what will be used next to surface things that matter out of all the noise? The answer is location. It is well understood technically. The software-hardware-service stack is done. The user experience is great. We’re already there, right?

No – most media organisations still haven’t caught up yet. There’s a ton of information not yet optimised for this new view of the world and much more yet to be created. This is just the beginning.

Do we want a single platform to be created that catalyses the location filter of the internet and mediates who sees what and when? Or do we want to secure forever a neutral environment where all can participate openly and equally?

If the first option happens, as historically has been the case, then I hope that position is taken by a force that exists because of and reliant on the second option.

What can a media company do to help make that happen? The answer is to mobilise your feeds. As a publisher, being part of the wider network used to mean having a website on a domain that Yahoo! could categorise. Then it meant having webpages on that website optimised for search terms people were using to find things via Google. And more recently it has meant providing sharing hooks that can spread things from those pages on that site from person to person.

Being part of the wider network today suddenly means all of those things above, and, additionally, being location-enabled for location-aware services.

It doesn’t just mean offering a location-specific version of your brand, though that is certainly an important thing to do as well. The major dotcoms use this strategy increasingly across their portfolios, and I’m surprised more publishers don’t do this.

More importantly, though, and this is where it matters in the long run, it means offering location-enabled feeds that everyone can use in order to be relevant in all mobile clients, applications and utilities.

Entrepreneurs are all over this space already. Pure-play location-based apps can be interesting, but many feel very shallow without useful information. The iTunes store is full of travel apps, reference apps, news, sports, utilities and so on that are location-aware, but they are missing some of the depth that you can get on blogs and larger publishers’ sites. They need your feeds.

Some folks have been experimenting in some very interesting ways that demonstrate what is possible with location-enabled feeds. Several mobile services, such as FlipBoard, Pulse and now Prismatic, have really nice and very popular mobile reading apps that all pull RSS feeds, and they are well placed to turn those into location-based news services.

Perhaps a more instructive example of the potential is the augmented reality app hypARlocal at Talk About Local. They are getting location-aware content out of geoRSS feeds published by hyperlocal bloggers around the UK and the citizen journalism platform n0tice.com.

But it’s not just the entrepreneurs that want your location-enabled feeds. Google Now for Android notifies you of local weather and sports scores along with bus times and other local data, and Google Glasses will be dependent on quality location-specific data as well.

Of course, the innovations come with new revenue models that could get big for media organisations. They include direct, advertising, and syndication models, to name a few, but have a look at some of the startups in the rather dense ‘location‘ category on Crunchbase to find commercial innovations too.

Again, this isn’t a new space. Not only has the location stack been well formed, but there are also a number of bloggers who have been evangelising location feeds for years. They already use WordPress, which automatically pumps out RSS. And many of them also geotag their posts today using one of the many useful WordPress mapping plugins.

It would take very little to reinvigorate a movement around open location-based feeds. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Google prioritising geotagged posts in search results, for example. That would probably make Google’s search on mobile devices much more compelling, anyhow.

Many publishers and app developers, large and small, have complained that the social platforms are breaking their promises and closing down access, becoming enemies of the open internet and being difficult to work with. The federated messaging network is being killed off, they say. Maybe it’s just now being born.

Media organisations need to look again at RSS, open APIs, geotagging, open licensing, and better ways of collaborating. You may have abandoned it in the past, but RSS would have you back in a heartbeat. And if RSS is insufficient then any location-aware API standard could be the meeting place where we rebuild the open internet together.

It won’t solve all your problems, but it could certainly solve a few, including new revenue streams. And it’s conceivable that critical mass around open location-based feeds would mean that the internet becomes a stronger force for us all, protected from nascent platforms whose their future selves may not share the same vision that got them off the ground in the first place.

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Calling your web site a ‘property’ deprives it of something bigger

BBC offered another history of London documentary the other night, a sort of people’s perspective on how the character of the city has changed over time, obviously inspired by Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremony at the Olympics.

Some of the sequences were interesting to me particularly as a foreigner – the gentrification of Islington, the anarchist squatters in Camden, the urbanization of the Docklands, etc.  - a running theme of haves vs have-nots.

It’s one of a collection of things inspiring me recently including a book called ‘The Return of the Public‘ by Dan Hind, a sort of extension to the Dewey v Lippman debates, what’s going on with n0tice, such as Sarah Hartley’s adaptation for it called Protest Near You and the dispatch-o-rama hack, and, of course, the Olympics.

I’m becoming reinvigorated and more bullish on where collective action can take us.

At a more macro level these things remind me of the need to challenge the many human constructs and institutions that are reflections of the natural desire to claim things and own them.

Why is it so difficult to embrace a more ‘share and share alike’ attitude?  This is as true for children and their toys as it is for governments and their policies.

The bigger concern for me, of course, is the future of the Internet and how media and journalism thrive and evolve there.

Despite attempts by its founders to shape the Internet so it can’t be owned and controlled, there are many who have tried to change that both intentionally and unwittingly, occasionally with considerable success.

How does this happen?

We’re all complicit.  We buy a domain. We then own it and build a web site on it. That “property” then becomes a thing we use to make money.  We fight to get people there and sell them things when they arrive.  It’s the Internet-as-retailer or Internet-as-distributor view of the world.

That’s how business on the Internet works…or is it?

While many have made that model work for them, it’s my belief that the property model is never going to be as important or meaningful or possibly as lucrative as the platform or service model over time. More specifically, I’m talking about generative media networks.

Here are a few different ways of visualizing this shift in perspective (more):

Even if it works commercially, the property model is always going to be in conflict with the Internet-as-public-utility view of the world.

Much like Britain’s privately owned public spaces issue, many worry that the Internet-as-public-utility will be ruined or, worse, taken from us over time by commercial and government interests.

Playing a zero sum game like that turns everyone and everything into a threat.  Companies can be very effective at fighting and defending their interests even if the people within those companies mean well.

I’m an optimist in this regard.  There may be a pendulum that swings between “own” and “share”, and there are always going to be fights to secure public spaces.  But you can’t put the Internet genie back in the bottle.  And even if you could it would appear somewhere else in another form just as quickly…in some ways it already has.

The smart money, in my mind, is where many interests are joined up regardless of their individual goals, embracing the existence of each other in order to benefit from each other’s successes.

The answer is about cooperation, co-dependency, mutualisation, openness, etc.

We think about this a lot at the Guardian. I recently wrote about how it applies to the recent Twitter issues here. And this presentation by Chris Thorpe below from back in 2009 on how to apply it to the news business is wonderful:

Of course, Alan Rusbridger’s description of a mutualised newspaper in this video is still one of the strongest visions I’ve heard for a collaborative approach to media.

The possibility of collective action at such an incredible scale is what makes the Internet so great.  If we can focus on making collective activities more fruitful for everyone then our problems will become less about haves and have-nots and more about ensuring that everyone participates.

That won’t be an easy thing to tackle, but it would be a great problem to have.