fortune or its reverse the seldom-updated blog


Open innovation as digital democracy: Notes from ISDT

I'm currently in beautiful Porto, participating as a faculty member at the Gary Chapman International School on Digital Transformation. Yesterday I led a discussion on open political innovation. Slides above, and a summary of the session by rapporteur Kamran Hooshmand is available on the ISDT wiki.

The pitch: online open innovation platforms like Reykjavik's Better Reykjavik present interesting (and under-examined) opportunities for citizen engagement and the development of collaborative governance structures.

Follow the Twitter hashtag #isdt11 this week for more updates from this innovative event.

Filed under: Uncategorized No Comments

Facebook, Wikipedia and Iceland's upcoming constitutional review

Reykjavik graffiti

Reykjavik graffiti

I'm in Reykjavík  for a few days collecting data on several political projects. This afternoon, I stopped by the CLARA office to learn more about their work. In addition to getting some first-hand translations of fascinating projects like this (visualizations of some political mashup data), I learned a little more about the upcoming constitutional committee elections.

In November, Iceland will elect a special committee tasked with reviewing the Icelandic constitution. Rather uniquely (in Icelandic elections), citizens will cast their votes for individuals and not for parties. The threshold for getting on the ballot is low -- someone said it required 30 signatures on a petition (I'm not sure if that statement was tongue-in-cheek) -- and over a hundred candidates have thrown their hats in for one of ~30 spots on the committee. The official site for the committee was found lacking by the candidates, in that it won't make the candidate list officially available for several weeks. So the candidates are collaboratively editing a page on the Icelandic Wikipedia. This page contains a table with each candidate's name, sex, district, interest keywords, and application status. Links to the candidate's main web presence are provided when available, which contain a very high proportion of Facebook pages (perhaps unsurprisingly, considering that Iceland has an extraordinarily high Facebook penetration rate). I doubt an appropriation like this would survive long on the English Wikipedia, but it's great to see this work here.

There's nothing especially novel about any of this, of course, but it's fascinating how quickly and casually Facebook and Wikipedia were moved to the core of this national election.

Filed under: Uncategorized No Comments

"Rebooting Iceland" made the SXSW cut!

Þjóðfundur 2009 by briansuda

I'm not the only one who thinks Iceland's participatory political developments are interesting: the SXSWi panel I put together with Finnur Magnusson was selected as one of the first confirmed sessions for SXSW 2011. I'm delighted that Iceland's innovative political projects will get a stage in Austin. This is the pitch that caught the voters' and organizers' attention:

In the US, social media innovators are changing the way people work and play. In Iceland, these innovators may offer the best hope of rescuing an entire nation. Iceland emerged in the 1990s as a financial powerhouse after a thousand years on the sidelines of global history. Icelanders became one of the world’s wealthiest and happiest nations. In 2008, three of its banks collapsed, sending the national economy into a tailspin and shattering the people’s trust in government and industry. The government was quickly replaced by one promising transparency and reforms, while a protest party headed by a comedian took control of the Reykjavik city council. This new cast of politicians is not alone in their efforts to move Iceland out from under the economic cloud. Members of the country's tech and entrepreneurial sector, which saw explosive growth in the lead-up to the collapse, have emerged as leaders in grassroots efforts to set Iceland on a sustainable path. Last year a loosely-organized group calling themselves the Anthill convened a “national assembly” of 1,500 citizens. The day-long event, based on Agile methods and crowdsourcing theory, resulted in a coherent set of values, vision and ideas. Now the government is planning a similar meeting in preparation for rewriting the constitution. Inspired by open-source processes and leaning heavily on social media technologies, these citizens are rapidly prototyping new forms of democracy utilizing the web and open innovation.

Filed under: Uncategorized No Comments

Rebooting democracy in Iceland: Bibliography of post-kreppa crowdsourcing news

Eyjafjallajökull by fridgeirsson

While the Eyjafjallajökull eruption seems to have subsided, the Icelandic people continue to reckon with the aftereffects of their country's financial collapse. Although currently overshadowed by the woes of the Eurozone, the economic situation for Icelanders remains grim. While the economic crisis or kreppa is ongoing, there have been several encouraging narratives that have caught my attention and interest. The kreppa is generally understood to be a problem of opaque, corrupt politics as much as it is one of economics. The Icelandic media is eager to identify green shoots of progress, particularly those in the form of grassroots organizing, small businesses, and tech and media entrepreneurship. Many Icelanders hope that they can innovate their way out of this crisis. My interest focuses on this unusual confluence of populist demand for political reform with a surprising array of commercial and noncommercial initiatives to promote economic and political innovation.

One of the leitmotifs of kreppa blogosphere chatter is that Iceland has nowhere to go but up, thus there is nothing to be lost in sociopolitical experimentation. With a highly literate national population of just a few hundred thousand and excellent communications infrastructure, radical ideas and plans seem to move quickly from planning to implementation. The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, for example, aims to legally establish Iceland as a jurisdiction that radically supports investigative journalism and free expression, and has attracted significant support. Other "experiments" seem to have lost steam as participants can quickly realign their attention and priorities. One influential institution in the area of entrepreneurial experimentation and political "crowdsourcing" has been the Ministry of Ideas (Hugmyndaráðuneytið). While I plan to write more about the Ministry and its innovation and crowdsourcing efforts in the future, I currently have a small bibliography of media reports in languages I can read. Maybe this will be useful to others.

Gehrman, A. (2009, November 19). Einmal über alles reden. Zeit Online.

Gudjonsson, G. M. (2009, June) Ministry of Ideas: Overview of grassroot activities in Iceland (slides).

Holmsteinn, G. (2010, April). Ministry of Ideas explained. Gunnar Holmsteinn talks.

Iceland's government to cooperate with the anthill. (2009, November 24).  Iceland Review Online

Integrity named Iceland's most important value. (2009, November 16). Iceland Review Online

Knight, S. (2009, November 13). In Iceland, trying to reprogram government. OhMyGov!

Knight, S. (2010, June 10). Banksters, Corrupt Politicians Face Prosecution - in Iceland. truthout.

Legaspi, A. (2010, January 11). The many ants of Iceland. Foreign Policy

Pfeil, M. & Roloff, L. Y. (2009, July). Alles auf anfang. brandeinsOnline

Quinn, B. (2010, March 4). After banking bust, Iceland turns to free-market innovation. Christian Science Monitor

Sigmundsdóttir, A. (2009, February 14). Ministering to the grass root. Iceland Weather Report

Sigmundsdóttir, A. (2009, November 11). Tired of waiting, Icelanders gather to create a roadmap for the future. Huffington Post

Sigmundsdóttir, A. (2009, November 15). A rundown of the Assembly results. Iceland Weather Report

Filed under: Uncategorized No Comments

Miscellaneous notes from Austin

Main Building at UT Austin (photo by jfre81)

It's been awhile. Most of my link-sharing and short posts in 2009 and 2010 seem to have been rerouted to Facebook, and to a lesser extent, Twitter. For various reasons, I hope to pull some of my social media performance back out of Facebook. This is somewhat of a test post to see what has broken in the intervening months since I was last present here. So, a brief roundup:


Angela and I moved to Austin last August. I took an awesome postdoc position with Sharon Strover and the UT Austin | Portugal CoLab in advanced digital media. What's the CoLab? "The UT Austin | Portugal International Collaboraboratory for Emerging Technologies or CoLab is a partnership between the Science and Technology Foundation of Portugal (FCT) and the University of Texas at Austin, in conjunction with several Portuguese universities. Launched in 2007, the goal of this project is to expand the presence of advanced digital media through educational and research exchange." I'm currently teaching a semester-long comm theory course for the doctoral digital media program at the University of Porto. I was in Porto in March to start things off face-to-face, and we've since held weekly seminar meetings via videoconference. I'll return to Porto next month for final exams.

I also have a lecturer appointment in the Radio-Television-Film department at UT, and taught an undergrad Intro to Digital Media class both last fall and this spring. The classes were incredibly fun and rewarding to teach, and provided an opportunity to stretch my media production knowledge a bit. Both classes worked with Carlos Santana's Architects of a New Dawn project to produce short web videos (read about it in Communique).


My research has included the continuation of inquiries started at Buffalo as well as some progress in new directions. I got to travel a bit for conferences and have been happy to have several manuscripts published or accepted for publication in the past few months. While I won't be in Singapore next month for ICA, papers coauthored with Kevin Lim and Michael Stefanone will be presented by those fine fellows.

My "new directions" include work related to indie media institutions and economics. I collected survey data from several hundred attendees and all of the exhibitors at the STAPLE! Independent Media Festival in March, and will be presenting some of this work at NCA this fall in San Francisco. The changing relationships among artists, consumers and content are a fascinating topic, and I'm especially interested in the new economic spaces and models that indie creators are currently experimenting with.

...North Carolina!

This fall, I'll be joining the faculty of the School of Communications at Elon University as an Assistant Professor. Elon, located between Greensboro and Chapel Hill / Durham, is a dynamic institution and a great professional and personal match for my interests and skills. The rapidly growing comm school just launched a cutting-edge Masters of Interactive Media program. Like the school and university as an whole, the iMedia program has a special focus on social engagement. Projects within the school include the Elon/Pew Internet Project Imagining the Internet and the Sunshine Center of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition. Many other little things -- meaningful sustainability initiatives, the strong promotion of study abroad (and a winter term that makes it logistically easy), the stunningly beautiful campus, etc. -- give me much to look forward to.

Filed under: Uncategorized No Comments

Sorry about that.

In which a non-branching online survey with open-ended responses leads to researcher amusement:

<several questions about social activities, including time spent with a "romantic partner">


How many hours per week do you chat with a romantic partner on the phone?


How many text messages do you exchange with a romantic partner per week?



Filed under: Uncategorized No Comments

niemand gründlicher als den Dilettanten

Wir Künstler verachten niemand gründlicher als den Dilettanten, den Lebendigen, der glaubt, obendrein bei Gelegenheit einmal ein Künstler sein zu können. Ich versichere Sie, diese Art von Verachtung gehört zu meinen persönlichsten Erlebnissen. Ich befinde mich in einer Gesellschaft in gutem Hause, man ißt, trinkt und plaudert, man versteht sich aufs beste, und ich fühle mich froh und dankbar, eine Weile unter harmlosen und regelrechten Leuten als ihresgleichen verschwinden zu können. Plötzlich (dies ist mir begegnet) erhebt sich ein Offizier, ein Leutnant, ein hübscher und strammer Mensch, dem ich niemals eine seines Ehrenkleides unwürdige Handlungsweise zugetraut hätte, und bittet mit unzweideutigen Worten um die Erlaubnis, uns einige Verse mitzuteilen, die er angefertigt habe. Man gibt ihm, mit bestürztem Lächeln, diese Erlaubnis, und er führt sein Vorhaben aus, indem er von einem Zettel, den er bis dahin in seinem Rockschoß verborgen gehalten hat, seine Arbeit vorliest, etwas an die Musik und die Liebe, kurzum, ebenso tief empfunden wie unwirksam. Nun bitte ich aber jedermann: ein Leutnant! Ein Herr der Welt! Er hätte es doch wahrhaftig nicht nötig…! Nun, es erfolgt, was erfolgen muß: lange Gesichter, Stillschweigen, ein wenig künstlicher Beifall und tiefstes Mißbehagen ringsum. Die erste seelische Tatsache, deren ich mir bewußt werde, ist die, daß ich mich mitschuldig fühle an der Verstörung, die dieser unbedachte junge Mann über die Gesellschaft gebracht; und kein Zweifel: auch mich, in dessen Handwerk er gepfuscht hat, treffen spöttische und entfremdete Blicke. Aber die [42] zweite besteht darin, daß dieser Mensch, vor dessen Sein und Wesen ich soeben noch den ehrlichsten Respekt empfand, in meinen Augen plötzlich sinkt, sinkt, sinkt… Ein mitleidiges Wohlwollen faßt mich an. Ich trete, gleich einigen anderen beherzten und gutmütigen Herren, an ihn heran und rede ihm zu. ›Meinen Glückwunsch‹, sage ich, ›Herr Leutnant! Welch hübsche Begabung! Nein, das war allerliebst!‹ Und es fehlt nicht viel, daß ich ihm auf die Schulter klopfe. Aber ist Wohlwollen die Empfindung, die man einem Leutnant entgegenzubringen hat?… Seine Schuld! Da stand er und büßte in großer Verlegenheit den Irrtum, daß man ein Blättchen pflücken dürfe, ein einziges, vom Lorbeerbaume der Kunst, ohne mit seinem Leben dafür zu zahlen.

-Thomas Mann, Tonio Kröger (1922)

Filed under: Uncategorized No Comments

the enormity of the calamity

Cut short by Cortes, Mexica philosophy did not have the chance to reach as far as Greek or Chinese philosophy. But surviving testimony intimates that it was well on its way. The stacks of Nahuatl manuscripts in Mexican archives depict the tlamatinime meeting to exchange ideas and gossip, as did the Vienna Circle and the French philosophs and the Taisho-period Kyoto school. Their musings of the tlamatinime occurred in intellectual neighborhoods frequented by philosophers from Brussels to Beijing, bu the mix was entirely the Mexica's own. Voltaire, Locke, Rousseau, and Hobbes never had a chance to speak with these men or even know of their existence--and here, at last, we begin to appreciate the enormity of the calamity, for the disintegration of native America was a loss not just to those societies but to the human enterprise as a whole.

Having grown separately for millennia, the Americas were a boundless sea of novel ideas, dreams, stories, philosophies, religions, moralities, discoveries, and all the other products of the mind. Few things are more sublime or characteristically human than the cross-fertilization of cultures. The simple discovery by Europe of the existence of the Americas caused an intellectual ferment. How much grander would have been the tumult if Indian societies had survived in full splendor!

-Charles C. Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus (2005)

Filed under: Uncategorized No Comments

How to create a custom Google Scholar search plugin for Firefox

Since I wrote this blurb a while back, that page has become one of the most-hit on this site. My referrer logs indicate that Google is sending people here due to their passionate interest in a search plugin for Scholar.

The quick and easy solution to searching Google Scholar from Firefox is to install the search engine plugin from the Mycroft Project site. That's it. Just click the link, hit the "add" button on the popup, and google scholarly to your heart's content.

There's another Scholar search scenario that requires a tiny bit more effort. If you are affiliated with a research institution or library, you may have noticed that Scholar will automatically return links to content in your library (full-text journal articles, bibliographic records, etc.) if you using one of their computers. If you would like to get this functionality from somewhere else (such as Starbucks or your home), you need to route your Scholar search requests through an HTTP proxy at your institution. Example: my institution is the University at Buffalo, and my library provides off-campus access through a proxy at

If your institution provides access to a proxy, it's easy to build a Firefox search plugin that utilizes it for all your Scholar searches. Just go to the Plugin Generation page and fill out the relevant details. For my UB Scholar plugin, I just tweaked the default Scholar plugin URL from to, and changed the name from googlescholar to googlescholar_ub. The XML of my plugin is available here for reference.

Good luck and happy plugin-making. Feel free to drop me a comment if you have any questions.

Filed under: Uncategorized No Comments

More strawbale construction fun


I dropped by the Mass. Ave Project again this weekend to lend a hand with the strawbale greenhouse being constructed there. The plan was to compress and plaster the bale walls. While we didn't quite get that finished, community members and friends had a lot of fun mixing the plaster with their feet. The Buffalo News stopped by, and caught me crouched on top of the framing as we worked to "cap" the bales with a wooden support structure.

It was a beautiful day -- the rest of my photos are here

Filed under: Uncategorized No Comments