A Platform Against Apathy


So ideally we’ve started a dialog. How do we keep it going? 

After the unconference has wrapped there are a number of tools available to keep the individual project teams connected – wikis, Google Wave and even old fashioned e-mail but there’s another conversation that we haven’t touched on. 

We all hear little bits of information regarding the politics of our city – radio, TV, internet and newspaper. Some of you may even follow our more enlightened local politicians as they blog, tweet and Facebook. Problem is that most of these media outlets have no real persistence – the dialog happens in passing and no record is kept and thus there is little long term accountability. 

So let’s envision a web based platform to make local politics open, engaging and persistent. 

Of the three key ingredients in our local democracy the most important part of the system is you, the citizen, so this system will be based around you first and foremost. The entire system will endeavour to make the other two ingredients (the politicians and the issues) more transparent to you. 

How do we encourage an open, civil conversation? 

Think of it like a meeting hall – everyone is free to discuss any of the issues but they will do so without anonymity. The theory being that a democracy functions better in the light than in  the dark. Systems like this can quickly devolve into shouting matches – the hope is that by making each individual accountable for their words this will be somewhat mitigated. 

Every comment entered in the system will have a voting mechanism – if your input into the system is valuable you will gain “karma”, if your input is not constructive or disrespectful you will lose “karma” – lose enough “karma” and your comments will be muted by default. There will be a mechanism for everyone to un-mute a conversation with a single mouse click. There will also be several layers of abuse detection. The goal is to provide a useful platform and mitigate against those with no constructive input. No comments will be removed from display in this system (unless there is a legal order to do so). 

What kind of information could we present with this platform? 

Let’s start with a blog/wiki system so that you can contribute articles and opinions for other citizens. Full comments would be enabled and a voting system so that others can provide feedback on the quality of the article. 

This website would have a list of big picture issues (transportation, environment, taxes) and questions relating to each (bike lanes, garbage collection, expenditure priorities), while the big picture categories would be pre-defined – anyone could add a question underneath. In addition anyone can rank the priority of these questions for themselves. Each question would be open for comment as well to better define the overall issue. 

In addition each politician or candidate would have a dedicated page in the system – this will combine: a bio, contact information, voting record, appearance schedule, tweets, facebook info and a list of news articles that would pertain to their stand on the issues that concern you. Again, you will have the option of voting on information to determine its potential value to other users of the system. Politicians will be given the opportunity to engage in the discussion here as well. 

The site would also contain a calendar of upcoming public participation sessions and agendas (where available) for these sessions. Live tweets, pictures and blog summaries would also be amalgamated on this page. 

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all of the functionality that will be in the system – additional ideas are welcome. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this project – please leave comments below. 

A few notes: 

** The entire system would be built on open source technologies and would be available for anyone to download the source code for use in other municipalities, provinces, states and countries. A license would be selected that would keep the source available in other communities so things stay transparent. 

** Not every feature would be available in version 1 of the platform and some components like the “karma” system would be under ongoing development to ensure that it is as fair as possible. 

** While a few developers have already expressed interest in participating in the development of this platform others are encouraged to participate. Existing open source platforms (likely Drupal for the base functionality) and modules will be leveraged wherever possible. This will reduce the build time on the project and enable the code that’s generated to be used in other open source projects. 

** Should someone want to contribute information anonymously they would be encouraged to use WikiLeaks or a similar service and provide links to one of the site administrators. 

** This is an independent project and is in no way affilliated with rTraction Canada Inc.


Making Change

My previous blog entry was intended to lead into a discussion around a platform for open government but in doing so I would have missed a critical step. 

Before this platform can be useful we need to start a conversation – a conversation about apathy and disillusionment – about feeling powerless and voiceless. 

Most of us feel very insignificant where our city and its politics is concerned. We turn out every few years and vote – some of us vote for a person or party based on perceived ideologies, some vote out of habit, a few take the time to really learn about the issues but a very large proportion of us just don’t vote at all. 

There are a number of initiatives out there to try to reverse the tide of declining participation in our democracy – the most notable Canadian effort being the youth-focused Apathy Is Boring. While technology can play a key role in tackling voter apathy I think we need to start by establishing personal connections. After my experience at SMarts London I’m convinced that an unconference type of event is the way to go.
By way of co-incidence I was at a conference in Toronto recently and had an opportunity to meet Mark Kuznicki (website + Twitter). He’s a very inspiring guy and has been involved with a number of really great initiatives but it’s his role as the founder and organizer of ChangeCamp that captured my attention. 

“ChangeCamp addresses the demand for a renewed relationship among citizens and between citizens and our civic institutions. We seek to create connections between people and their civic passions by using new tools of communication.” 

When I read that the first time I thought: we need all of that. We need it in London. Nobody is going to do this for us, we have to do this for ourselves. Apathy and disillusionment can be vanquished with positive, actionable ideas

So let’s have a ChangeCamp here in London. 

We need a diverse group of people who will check their egos at the door, throw their very best ideas on the table and then merge/edit until we have a shortlist of attainable goals; then we need to go beyond the talk – start building teams, plans and taking real action. 

That will just be the start of the conversation – the first step in building a culture of involvement and empowerment.


What do you think? Does London need a ChangeCamp?


The Devil Makes Work For Idle Hands

Apparently, with only two days left here,  our short-timer has run out of things to do …

———- Begin message ———-
From: Chris McInnis <chris.mcinnis@goawaydirtbagspammers.com>
Date: Thu, Jan 21, 2010 at 8:37 AM
Subject: Cookies!
To: rtraction <theteam@isaidgoawaydirtbagspammers.com>

Please help yourself to some home-made cookies (on Noah’s desk).

Please note: While completely safe for most of you, the cookies do contain traces of a rare pharmaceutical compound, Vaxator. This compound, while completely harmless on its own, may react violently and unpredictably when taken in combination with Vaxadrin, which I have been carefully slipping into Shawn’s water over the past three weeks.

Side effects of combining the two may include any or all of the following:

  • Dry Mouth
  • Severe Weight Loss
  • Restless Leg Syndrome
  • Restless Arm Syndrome
  • Restless Torso syndrome
  • Massive weight gain
  • Phantom Hand Syndrome
  • Vivid dreams of self-cannibalism
  • Scruffula
  • Bad humors
  • Late onset albinoism
  • Spontaneous pregnancy
  • Increased risk of vampire attack
  • Hairy Uvula
  • Speaking in tongues
  • Increased appetite
  • Permanent blindness
  • Mild kidney explosions
  • Testicular cranberrying
  • Rectal hallucinations
  • Pulminary weevils
  • Brain tooth
  • Reemergence of the umbilical cord
  • Vein seizures
  • Aortal collapse
  • Monkey-lung
  • Lactose addiction
  • X-ray hearing
  • Prolonged erections, but… not where you’d hope
  • Lung-fire
  • Eye-curdling
  • Abdominal migration
  • Urethral nodding
  • Honus Wagner’s disease
  • Carcassing
  • Gopherism
  • Multi-brow
  • Tracheal meerkat colonies
  • Involuntary Narnia adventures
  • Testicular myopia
  • Warlock hump
  • Scrappy Doo-ism
  • Rocky Mountain oysterism
  • Grover Norquist syndrome
  • Rectal buffalo wings
  • Thoracic geysers
  • Nostril inversion
  • Inability to breathe on weekends
  • Rectal frosting
  • Arby’s Mouth
  • Tennis Scrotum
  • Pituitary ferns
  • Skeletal Xylophoning
  • Lung Teriyaki



Defining “Brand”

Brand is a difficult thing to get my head around sometimes. It seems like every marketing firm has their own take on it – sometimes it’s lifted from a book, sometimes it’s formulated entirely to play to their own strengths and sometimes it’s constructed around a central personality at the company.

None of these work for me – they all seem to start from the wrong place.

To my thinking brand first and foremost about your perception and relationship with the company and product. That said, I could never quite crystallize all of my various thoughts on the matter. So I was pleasantly surprised this morning to find that Seth Godin’s latest post spelled it out quite nicely:

A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer. 

Our team held a day long strategy session recently and we’re taking a long, hard look at our own brand in the coming days and weeks.


Brand isn’t something that we invested a lot of energy on in our infancy but, like everyone, we’re maturing day by day. In that maturation we’ve developed key characteristics that set our team apart. How do we make that part of our (forgive me for using this term) value proposition?


But perhaps the toughest part of this whole exercise will be – how do we make it so that we (a company founded by bunch of humble geeks) can present our brand with pride and without feeling like we’re somehow bragging?


This may be easy or it may be difficult but I can’t wait to take the next steps with these guys.