PopTech Blog

PopTech Reads: Questions for James Fowler about connections?

For the past few weeks, along with you, PopTech staff has been reading Connected, the book PopTech 2009 speaker James Fowler co-authored with Nicholas Christakis (find the book on Better World Books or through an independent bookseller on Indie Bound).

Tell us: what did you find curious, alarming, or fascinating in Connected?

Please leave your questions for James in the comments, and let us know some of the parts you found especially interesting.

Four things I found particularly relevant:

- Some of the research in the book is becoming known as the “your-friends’-friends-can-make-you-fat” effect; this indirect influence is called hyperdyadic spread.

- We have heard, thought, and considered exhaustively the success of Barack Obama’s political campaign; the twist in chapter six of Connected:

Obama’s campaign was a historical milestone in all kinds of ways, but the most revolutionary way may not have been its fund-raising. Many have commented on Obama’s remarkable ability to connect with voters, but even more impressive was his ability to connect voters to each other.

 

- In chapter nine we learn that social networks are self-annealing. “They can close up around their gaps, in the same way that the edges of a wound come together.”

- The final pages return to the underlying overall theme, that networks facilitate contagion as well as altruism, but that’s not to say networks accelerate charity or even, perhaps, microdonations without befriending the group or individual; “We would rather give a gift to a friend who will never repay us than to give a gift to a stranger who will.”

Here is James’s talk at PopTech 2009:

and an update from James in February 2010 about the danger of not thinking of ourselves within networks:

Please leave questions and thoughts in the comments below.

Know a great book we should read together in 2010? Drop us a recommendation: hello [at] poptech [dot] org

Video: Update from Zach Lieberman

Yesterday, artist and computer programmer Zach Lieberman came by the PopTech Brooklyn office—it’s actually right down the hall from his working space—to tell us what projects he’s worked on recently.

Last October, Zach spoke at PopTech about his EyeWriter Initiative, “a low-cost eye-tracking apparatus & custom software that allows graffiti writers and artists with paralysis resulting from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis to draw using only their eyes.”

Look for Zach’s PopTech talk next week; for now, more on his recent travels and inspirations:

Zach will be speaking at SxSW this Saturday morning on a panel (details) about openFrameworks, an open-source c++ library “designed to assist the creative process by providing a simple and intuitive framework for experimentation.”

I’ll be at the Interactive part of SxSW this weekend (do @poptech or leave a comment if you’d like to meet up and talk about PopTech) attending panels on the SXSW Greater Good Programming track.

Can you think of other ways to use Zach’s technologies? What are some of your recent inspirations?

Video: Chandler Burr and the PopTech 2009 Scent Dinner

During PopTech 2009, I shot an interview with The New York Times scent critic Chandler Burr about his PopTech 2009 “scent dinner,” where he collaborated with Executive Chef Lawrence Klang at Natalie’s Restaurant in Camden, Maine. For each course, Chef Klang created in taste and flavors what Chandler created in scents:

Chandler told me that he has fallen in love with culinary perfumes, a category of scents little known in the U.S., which are either conceptually food – for example, a perfume that smells of salt – or perfumes made with food raw materials – such as peruvian pink peppercorns or crushed sugarcane used in the rum-making process.

This led him to his scent dinners – a delicious and educational experience that actually consists of two parallel dinners – one olfactory, the other edible.

Kudos to Camden-based David Berez at Post Office Editorial for his smart editing, Scott Buffrey for audio sweetening, Daniel Stephens for his artful shooting, and Mo Kirkham for his patience, even when the audio stopped mid-interview.

Oh, and Chandler’s NYT column is “Scent Notes.”

Highlights from the 2010 Shorty Awards

The 2010 Shorty Awards had some fun with Twitter community conventions on Wednesday night at TheTimesCenter in New York—highlights below include financial celebrity (and Shorty Award Winner) Suze Orman pressing a caller for why he would want to buy Twitter and the serious note that ended the evening, awarding the use of Twitter in Haiti:

What do you think should be rewarded and acknowledged in the Twitter community?

Nick Bilton on Smart Content and Future Reporting

Nick Bilton thinks about the future of storytelling and media as Lead Technology Reporter for The New York Times “Bits” blog (see his post today on controversial British online copyright laws), and he spoke at PopTech 2009 about what’s next for journalism and why multitasking is important:

Yesterday, I visited Nick at the NYT, finding out how his NYU class is using sensors, how his book (I Live in the Future: & Here’s How it Works) research is going, and why he thinks everyone has a social responsibility to report the news:

What do you think about the public’s involvement with reporting the news; are using sensors to collect data an inevitable future journalism practice?

A Marketplace for BoP Products

With so much ingenious technology being developed by social entrepreneurs around the world, one of the great remaining challenges is figuring out how to make it available to the people who need it—first by letting them know that it exists, and then by raising the money to pay for it.

For now, technologists and their affiliate organizations usually identify the populations that might benefit from these new tools, for the simple reason that small local NGOs have no simple way of learning about new technology when it becomes available.

Kopernik

Kopernik, a new organization founded by two former UN staff members, Ewa Wojkowska and Toshi Nakamura, proposes to solve this problem by creating what they call an Amazon.com of life-changing technology—a marketplace that allows local NGOs, who understand their own needs best, to discover products that would help them.

After that, these NGOs can apply for funding, in the form of microdonations. Anyone can look through a list of proposals on Kopernik’s website and contribute toward an organization’s goal. For example, a local NGO in East Timor that fights domestic violence and promotes gender equality hopes to raise $4,990 to buy 30 Q-Drums. The Q-Drum is a “durable, donut-shaped” 50-liter water container that can be transported by rolling rather than hoisting on one’s head or shoulder. (See a video of one in use here.) In East Timor, where women and girls fetch water over long distances several times a day in 5-liter plastic jerry cans, the Q-Drum could save time and great physical strain.

One of the most promising aspects of the Kopernik marketplace is a rating system that gives technology makers the opportunity to hear from local groups about how they used the product and how it might be refined. “We want to know whether it’s effective, whether it’s appropriate, and areas for improvement,” Wojkowska says.

So far, Kopernik has formed partnerships with 12 technology organizations, 10 for-profit and 2 nonprofit. In addition to the Q-Drum, the list of technologies includes a compact solar-powered water-treatment unit for the home; a portable water filter used like a straw; eyeglasses whose corrective settings can be adjusted by the user (watch 2009 PopTech fellow Emily Pilloton fit Stephen Colbert with a pair here); a solar-powered LED lantern; and a digital hearing aid with rechargeable batteries.

Wojkowska and Nakamura founded Kopernik after observing the limitations of the traditional approach to development work. Last year, for instance, Nakamura observed development efforts in the eastern part of Sri Lanka, where workers are helping the community in its long-term recovery from the 2004 tsunami. One of their projects was to distribute buckets so that people could collect water for their households. The Q-Drum wasn’t on the radar. A related problem is that international organizations often reuse the same solutions in places that culturally and geographically are very different from each other. Sometimes this works; sometimes it could work better.

A side benefit of giving local NGOs a menu of technologies to choose from, Wojkowska says, is that it helps them think in a focused way about what their most pressing needs are and whether a technological solution is appropriate. So far, approximately 200 local NGOs of all sizes and kinds have applied to be part of Kopernik’s network. (Kopernik vets them to ensure that they are worthy recipients and that they can afford to disseminate the products if they receive them.)

Right now, Kopernik is building its catalog of products and screening potential recipient organizations. In the future, Wojkowska and Nakamura hope to entice entrepreneurs to sell some of these products locally, to reach those who are not served by NGOs. They are also exploring ways to bring locally developed solutions into general production. In all these projects, Wojkowska says, the point is to “give choice and voice to local communities.”

Jason Rzepka Wins Social Innovator Award

Deb Levine is a 2009 PopTech Social Innovation Fellow and leads ISIS, Inc., the organization behind this weekend’s Sex::Tech‘s conference. Our congratulations to Jason on the award and to Deb’s team on the conference success.

As part of our efforts to find and call attention to social innovators in health with youth, at the 2010 Sex::Tech conference we hosted this past weekend, Jason Rzepka, MTV’s Vice President of Public Affairs and PopTech board member, was honored for his work with youth social innovation. Rhodes Klement, Chair of the PopTech board, presented the award.

Jason Rzepka and Rhodes Klement
Rhodes Klement and Jason Rzepka at the Sex::Tech conference in San Francisco.

Jason is responsible for the strategic direction of all of MTV’s “pro-social” campaigns. In this role, he strives to use the network’s superpowers for good, by engaging over 200 million young people with the network’s Peabody-winning “It’s Your (Sex) Life” with the Kaiser Family Foundation to bring awareness to sexual health issues, the Emmy-winning “Choose or Lose” which helped drive the largest youth voter turnouts in U.S. history, and “A Thin Line” – launched in December of 2009 to address the emerging issue of youth digital abuse.

In addition to honoring Jason and others making an impact in the field, ISIS’ third annual Sex::Tech conference brought together leaders in the fields of STD prevention, education, health, government and technology to explore ways the Internet, mobile and new media can improve young people’s access to sexual health information. This year, Sex::Tech featured successes, innovations, technology intensives and expert insights around the intersection of youth, new media and sexual health.

Fellows Friday: What They're Up To This Week

Our PopTech Social Innovation Fellows are a very busy group—here’s some of their recent news (nominations are open for next year’s class, please help us find the 2010 PopTech Fellows by nominating now):

Emily Pilloton of Project H Design has been eating pie (recap) from PieLab in Alabama,

Project H Road Show
Flickr image from Project H Design.

and the Design Revolution Road Show Airstream is on its way right now to Savannah, Georgia. You can help Project H Design win funding from the Pepsi Refresh project by voting for their rural North Carolina design program in the next two days.

Also in the running for funding, Jason Aramburu of re:char is a finalist in the Unreasonable Institute’s summer incubator program. You can fund his attendance through the Be Unreasonable site during the next 25 days.

Worth Noting

Hayat Sindi’s Diagnostics For All has been granted exclusive rights to microfluidic technologies developed in George Whitesides’ lab at Harvard Univeristy.

FrontlineSMS founder Ken Banks is on his way to the MENA Women’s Leadership and Technology Development Conference in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), that “aims to help women innovators from the MENA region take their causes/projects to the next level through social media and emerging online tools.”

At Thursday’s Greener Gadgets Conference in NY, Eben Bayer talked about Ecovative’s material that “can be molded into custom shapes…unlike some bioplastics, the material doesn’t require food crops.”

In Nairobi, PopTech friends at frog design are helping with the launch of the iHub, a social innovation coworking space that Erik Hersman and the Ushahidi team are launching with the Nairobi tech community in early March.

Applications are open for Abby Falik’s Global Citizen Year until May, the priority application deadline is March 15th. Find out more and see the video.

Why Peter Durand Draws During PopTech Talks

We just found this great video from PopTecher Jerry Smith of Peter Durand, better known as @alphachimp, who creates large, colorful visuals as talks happen on the PopTech stage and during the PopTech Social Innovation Fellow training.

In the video, Peter explains the difference between the new fields of graphic reporting and graphic facilitation—both use visuals to make learning easier and more accessible. He describes the challenge: “I turn the information into something.”

Find out why he thinks some kids can’t concentrate in school (and how graphic reporting might help those who learn visually):

For more on education and engagement, Dennis Littky spoke at PopTech 2009 about personalizing curriculum and why alternative approaches are crucial to learning.

For more of Peter’s PopTech art, see this section of the Alphachimp blog. And follow his thoughts on Twitter and on Tumblr.

Want to meet Peter and watch the art as it happens? Join us at PopTech 2010, October 20-23 in Camden, Maine.

Video: Nicholas Felton on News and Infographics

You may have heard about Nicholas Felton’s personal Annual Report, where he compiles the sum of his yearly experiences—in 2009, 33,817 music tracks, 38 chairlift rides, $0.05 per mile to fly—into a comprehensive view of his daily life patterns. (Want to visualize your habits? Use his site Daytum.)

For PopTech 2009, Nicholas collaborated with Rob Deeming and Ken Reisman to analyze one week of The New York Times’ front pages along with the associated comments and user-generated content.

From the research, they created the report What We Are Saying, where emoticons are weighted and findings include the profound: “We Are Not the Sum of Our Headlines.”

Find out more about the report and how conversations are mapped in the report:

What do you think the report says about larger patterns of conversation around the news?