Posts filed under 'Tech Talk'

ONet Bloggers Directory Available in Blogroll OPML format

As a service to our members, and to promote the development of a “cloud of interconnection” among ONet member blogs and the ONet site, we are providing two downloadable files to make it easy to add ONetizens to your blogroll or links list.These two files are in OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language) format. Many blogging services and blogging platforms support this XML-based file format.

The ONet Bloggers Network Directory list is provided in two styles:

In the near future, we’ll use the Omidya.net API to programmatically generate these files. In the meantime, we’ll monitor the directory and update the OPML files as needed,

To see these files in use, please visit Sohodojo’s Omidyar.net Blog and look on the right hand sidebar where you will see two blocks; ONet Member Blogroll and ONet Member Blogs by Title.

Add comment February 8th, 2006

Not Dense but Scale-free Networks At Work in 2050

Thomas George said (our emphasis added):

here is one way to look at the possible vision of a self empowered world of Anthea and Mfume - what is the “enabling environment” in which the self empowered individual can unleash his/her potential given the unpredictable nature of human interactions?

Lars Hasselblad Torres said (our emphasis added):

similarly, i have a sense that this idea of “self-empowered” might not be unlike “free market,” in the sense that there are numerous mechanisms (ie subsidies) in place that government, big business and civil society provide, create the “environment” as you nicely put it that support individual agency.

so certainly “dense social networks” might be one factor; the technology might be superfluous, though perhaps vital for empowerment when those networks exist in the absence of abundance…?

Thomas and Lars, your insightful comments give us a wonderful context to go a little deeper into the connection of network theory to the mechanisms, in your context Lars, of self empowerment.

We (Jim and Timlynn) met in the early 1980s in the doctoral program in Mathematical Social Sciences at UC, Irvine (now called the Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Sciences). The more popular term for this domain of study today is social networks. Then as now, the mathematical foundation of social network theory was graph theory. In the last twenty-five years, network theory (an application of graph theory) has exploded as a domain of science in its own right.

One of the most interesting, counterintuitive, and widely-applicable discoveries of network theory is that of the scale-free network. In its simplest terms, a scale-free network is a random network which exhibits the characteristics that some nodes are highly connected (so-called hubs) while others are only minimally connected (outliers). By example, our road system is a random network that is a dense network of many redundant interconnections while our airline transportation system is a scale-free network with a few hyper-connected hubs that connect (via “spoke” links) to everyplace else. You can’t get from Point A to Point B without traveling through a hub point.

So Lars, it would be more accurate to say that the enabler of self-empowerment is not a dense social network, but an effective and inclusive collection of scale-free networks. To which Thomas would ask, what kind of scale-free network would make an enabling environment for self empowerment? To which we would reply, entrepreneurial community ecosystems.

Entrepreneurial Community Ecosystems: The Next eBay!?

Entrepreneurial community ecosystems are a combination of person-to-person small producer supply chains seamlessly integrated with person-to-person distribution marketplaces. These alternative markets are powered by “Who, How, and Why” consumer purchase dynamics rather than by “How Much and Where” (price and distribution channel control). An effective entrepreneurial community ecosystem will shift the focus from the tight coupling of price-to-product to that of the value of the impact to the participants in the value chain that bring buyer and seller together.

eBay has built an empire with some smart software that enables the creation of an efficient scale-free Network Effect based on that software’s ability to create a marketplace built on buy-seller dyads. (See sidebar.) In this case, the eBay business model intentionally disintermediates (cuts out) the so-called “middle man.” An entrepreneurial community ecosystem will do just the opposite. It will intentionally intermediate to create value-generating impact chains. (See for more as well The Yin-Yang of e-Commerce Engines.)

In order to have entrepreneurial community ecosystems and their alternative marketplaces by 2050, we need to start today doing the applied R&D to create the business models and associated software infrastructures to make them easy to create and efficient to maintain. And this need is not a vision that needs to be fulfilled by 2050. Christina and the Life in Africa folks need this software platform today. So does Mark Grimes and his Ned project. So too do a number of other social entrepreneurs active here on ONet.

The time is now, and Omidyar Network is the ideal Executive Producer to partner with ONetizens actively engaged in this shared mission to expand the domain of social enterprise.

–Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn–

Add comment February 6th, 2006

Who Will Be “Life In Africa’s” Executive Producer?

We’d like to tie together a couple of disparate conversations that are going on at the moment on ONet. In response to this thread we posted a non-news “news” article in our personal news space. In Divide and Conquer… the Flat World, we wrote about how collaborative teams need to be composed of a complementary group of folks bringing to bear all the needed skills and experience in toto. It isn’t efficient to expect that each team member can know and do every task that needs doing on a project. The only way that the “whole” of the group can be greater than the sum of its parts is if there is specialized knowledge and talents distributed throughout the team. Otherwise, there is not need for the team as each team member could be a team of one.

Understanding that we need to work in collaborative teams, we next face the challenge of establishing critical mass of launching the team’s project. Sometimes nothing more is needed than the collective will, time, and energy of the team. Sweat equity is all that is needed to push forward. Unfortunately, sweat equity in often not enough. We need outside resources, whether contributed labor or contributed financial resources, to put the team to work.

What Christina and others are struggling to do here is to launch what we at Sohodojo call an entrepreneurial community ecosystem. Getting the IRS to understand this extended network enterprise model and to understand Sohodojo’s role took us over 2.5 years to get 501(C)(3) status as an independent applied R&D lab supporting such ecosystems. Now that we have that designation, Sohodojo faces our next and perhaps an insurmountable problem.

Funding Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in an Organization-Centric World

Unfortunately, the social sector funding institutions are just not prepared to understand these extended network social/business ecosystems and their alternative markets. Launching an ecosystem like Christina is trying to do is a dynamic, collaborative process. Her success is dependent on orchestrating the collective energy of a diverse group of individuals and organizations. In this regard, Christina is like an independent film maker. She has the script, the actors, the technical directors, etc. But she is driving herself bonkers because she doesn’t have the one partner she so desperately needs… she doesn’t have an Executive Producer who can put talent together with the financial backers and other essential service partners.

Virtually all private foundations and public funding agencies still live in an organization-centric world when everything around them is deconstructing into decentralized and distributed networks. These funding sources are satisfied to metaphorically “invest in the film industry” rather than help us to “make movies.”

We’ve written more about this situation in Paul Herman’s “A Self Empowered World of 2050?” When asked to reflect on the infrastructure needed to make real Paul’s vision for future empowered individuals, we contributed this comment that speaks to this mismatch between what gets funded and how things get done.

The single most exciting thing that could happen for the ONet community in 2006 would be for the Omidyar Network to appreciate the frustrations of social entrepreneurs who are trying to evolve ecosystem-like extended network enterprises, and to embrace the role of Executive Producer so we can work together “making movies” that help to change the world.

–Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn–

Add comment February 5th, 2006

Divide and Conquer… the Flat World

In LiA Website change and development converation, Christina Kirabo Jordan said [our emphasis added]:

The self-creation of this kind of content [SJT: a-z profile info] is an empowering thing that won’t be lost this time around. Because not all of the a-z has to be filled out, individual differentiation comes into play - it’s what makes your profile different from mine. If I am a cook and a craftmaker I might have recipes on my page and products to order, but if I am a recently graduated journalism student, then my profile and my activities within the webbed lia realm will be much different. It’s all life in africa. We are each unique, we are each very real and you can engage with us, we are each active in contributing to our community web presence, and we are (or have been in the recent past) the poorest of Africa’s poor. We are not counted as real people anywhere else, but in working together with others to create our own presence at lifeinafrica.com we are encouraged to let our individuality shine all over the world.

Christina, we know you already understand what we will be saying below. Mentoring and peer-collaboration are at the heart of your WE Center and Internet4Change initiatives. Our comments here are rhetorical, intended to get the ideas on the table in the context of this discussion.

Peer Collaboration as a Divide and Conquer Strategy

We absolutely agree that member profiles will be critical to differentiating each member from another, as well as help to create an “interface socket” that prospective customers and collaborators can “plug” into. And while self-creation of at least some content is important, it is also good to keep in mind that the webbed lia realm is fertile ground for skill and role differentiation that can create collaborative subnetworks where the whole (community) is greater than the sum of its (individual effort) parts.

For example, it may be that the journalism student Christina mentioned could team up with three-to-six cooks and craftspeople to assist the group in creating an individual and collective web presence that is far more effective than if content creation were left completely to each individual.

Such peer-collaborative subgroups can be very helpful in letting each individual do what he or she does best while getting assistance with the things he or she either can’t do (yet), or doesn’t really want (or have the time) to learn to do better.

Value chains and career paths in an entrepreneurial communify ecosystem Here in Fairfield, which is both an entrepreneurial and an artistic small town, we have a thriving but (except for the ’superstars’) also a struggling community of visual and performing artists. Last year we had an ‘artpreneur’ workshop to help artists become more entrepreneurial in managing their self-employment careers.

One result of the conversations at this workshop was to better understand that the goal is not to turn artists into “suits” (AKA businessmen and women). Rather, we are working to connect ‘artist-friendly’ business folks (accountants, lawyers, marketers, etc.) with artists so that their collaboration helps to fill the skill and interest ‘gaps’ of the artist.

Sure, many of the artists need a better grasp of the strategies for being more business-like with their creative lives. But they don’t have to become an accountant or lawyer to succeed. For the entrepreneurial community ecosystem to be sustainable, its members have to be able to communicate and appreciate what each member brings to the table.

Food for Thought About the LiA/WE/I4C Web Platform

Sohodojo wrote and published The Nanocorp Primer in 2000. This collection of article/presentations explores ideas related to Christina’s LiA/WE/I4C notion of webbed empowerment. In particular, the Shamrocks and Nanocorps piece explores the complementary role of value-chains and entreprenurial ‘career paths’ in the network enterprises of entrepreneurial community ecosystems. These pieces don’t speak to the technical implementation aspects of the LiA/WE/I4C web platform. Rather they highlight design requirements and domain context to frame such web development. The Nanocorp Primer includes:

We encourage interested folks to read and we welcome comments on these ‘idea generators’ in the context of this conversation about requirements for the LiA/WE/I4C web platform.

–Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn–

Add comment January 31st, 2006

Web Design Power: Business Vision, Not Technology

Hello Lawrence, Christina, Lars, and the members and supporters of the LiA/WE/I4C communities,We are so sorry to hear of the drought and its impact on your ability to work and have Internet access. We hope you will soon have a generator that will help to alleviate the darkness.When you do have a flash of power and Internet access, we’d like to point you to a short article that we posted as a personal news item. Divide and Conquer… the Flat World is not directly about website technology, nor web design nor software development. But we were inspired to write this piece in response to this thread.

In this article we reflect on the insights we’ve developed and on the ideas we’re working on at Sohodojo. The lesson to be learned from this article and from the articles to which it links to is this:

Technology, especially Internet and software technology, is not the source of power for you and your community. It is the ideas (what is often called the business model) that you capture and reflect in the software that is the source of your individual and collective power.

This means that it is not enough to just look at Internet software technologies and build the LiA/WE/I4C web platform based on a laundry list of features that you like and think that you will need. These software features are only a means to an end. The values and goals for your community, how you want to relate to and support each other, the customers and partners you want to attract and retain, et cetera, these are the ends to keep in the front of your mind as you design and build the LiA/WE/I4C web sites.

You will only reach your destination if you keep in mind where you want to go as well as how you want to get there.

–Sohodojo Timlynn and Jim–

Add comment January 31st, 2006

Kid in a Candy Store Syndrome and Web Site Design

Christina Kirabo Jordan said (excerpts below):

The drupal module list is very interesting. I started a simple wishlist and it’s turned into a monster over here.

I’m wondering if there’s a way to phase the building of the site such that some modules could be added at a later stage by trainees after the “necessary to start out” pieces are already in place.

In terms of the amount of work involved once one knows what one is doing - is it fair to say that installing a drupal module is similar in workload to installing a cgi script? or is drupal simpler/more complex?

Meanwhile, my mind is seeing a huge collection of interconnected member and team content driven blogs.

Christina,

One very important thing to avoid is “Kid in a Candy Store” syndrome when it comes to building a Drupal site. The volume of modules available is very nice and exciting. The ease of installing each one is most impressive. But is it easy to get to a situation where paradoxically, “the whole is less than the sum of its (modular) parts.”

First, while each module may work in and of itself, there are situations where one module can “intrude” on another. The result can be outright incompatibilities (as in various competing file upload and storage modules) that cause the site to break. Or there can be two ways to handle the same thing (such as role-based taxonomy access) and, so, neither works as well as it could if the competing module were not installed.

Also, there is the danger of trying to be everything to everybody. Someone thinks of a reason for this feature, another wants that module, a third thinks they can’t live without a yet different module. The result is a byzantine hodge-podge of too many features and not enough clarity and focus.

Yes, it will be important to evolve the site and use its evolution as a learning and experience driver. But at the same time, there must be an underlying clear information architecture and a controlled technical design review and roll-out team/policy.

Yes, action is important. But please don’t rush forward too fast and potentially down the wrong road. When it comes to building a software-driven Internet-enabled business, it can be very hard to back up and change on ramps to the Information Superhighway.

–Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn–

Add comment January 29th, 2006

Impact Chains, Content and eCommerce

Christina Kirabo Jordan said:

Important to note is that every product has it’s own cause-related impact split, so it’s a multi-faceted system on both ends (income and earnings distribution) that we need to manage over the long haul.

Lars Hasselblad Torres said:

So the important piece is the CMS that will drive all of this. I don’t know of any eCommerce platforms that are also good CMS (but then, I’ve never built for eCommerce).

There is one Content Management System (CMS) and eCommerce platform that fits both these requirements; Drupal enhanced with Matt Westgate’s eCommerce module. (Tech comment: Matt’s contribution is much more than a module, it is what developers call a framework; that is, a collection of modules that provide a data architecture and application programming interface that work like pliable clay to be molded to whatever you need.)

One of Sohodojo’s applied research goals is to develop a story-driven and game-oriented eCommerce platform to support microenterprise and small producer supply/impact chains and their alternative markets. To this end, we have installed, tested, and examined the source code of all the most popular and well-supported Open Source CMS and eCommerce platforms.

It is a Matter of What You Don’t See

Virtually any mature, full-featured CMS and eCommerce plaform will have easy-to-see “sexy” features that attract your interest. If all you wanted to do was throw up an Internet store and sell basic products, making your plaform selection based on these visible features would be reasonable.

But when you know that what is special about your business model is that it is different than the run-of-the-mill business, it is what is unseen that is more important than what is seen. That is, your business model will only be realized by custom programming. In this context, it is the unseen source code that is most important, not the platform’s visible features that will determine how successful you will be creating a web environment that brings your business model to life.

We have selected Drupal and eCommerce for two primary reasons:

  • Our interest in story-driven eCommerce requires, precisely as Lars has specified, that we have an ultra-tight integration between the content management aspects of the platform and the eCommerce aspects. Matt’s eCommerce framework is not an independent add-on “world of its own” like virtually all eCommerce add-ons. This means there are virtually no limits to how you can design the shopping/investing experience.
  • To support inprosuming (investing, producing, consuming), our candidate CMS/eCommerce platform had to be both architecturally expressive as well as modular and extensible. This means that when you find something that you just have to have in your design and it is not there, it has to be easy to design the missing piece and seamlessly integrate it into the whole of the system. Conventional eCommerce systems cover consuming well, but they are largely blind to the investing and producing aspects of our interest. Drupal with Matt’s eCommerce is a singular exception to this blindspot.

One of the biggest challenges to achieving Christina’s vision for cause-related impact splits has to do with the design assumptions that virtually every eCommerce platform makes about their solution domains. That is, virtually every eCommerce package assumes that the finest-grained element in the purchase transaction is a product. They handle this requirement admirably well. But cause-related impact splits mean that the product is just one end-bit of a combination of elements (impact points) that are motivating the purchaser’s decision. (We’ve written before about compositional impact points here.)

We know of no other CMS/eCommerce platform than Drupal with Matt’s eCommerce framework that is capable of the deign flexibility required to build the LiA/WE/I4C web portal/presence.

–Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn–

Add comment January 27th, 2006

Square Pegs and Round Holes

Mark Grimes said:

The other side of this is working with 1,000 global co-ops each with 25 artisans making one different thing each sounds like a merchandising nightmare…to me. That might all do well on Ebay, but it seems like from the outset to incorporate limited resource items into and online and nascent real world chain of stores could be very problematic.

The answer here may not be so clear-cut, especially in the context of the Square Pegs and Round Holes Dilemma. If the idea is to leverage off-the-shelf supply chain software infrastructure (whether physical retail or eCommerce), then this might very well be a nightmare. But if a design-point of the business model is to tap previously untapped consumer dynamics and small producer supply characteristics, then the issue is more a matter of developing system requirements (the round hole) and whittling (extending) a software platform (square peg) to fit it.

This may be more work than going with a canned solution, but if this difference is essential to the business model/brand differentiation strategy, then it is essential to do early and effectively. When it comes to selecting a core system platform, this is an early “make or break” (as opposed to “make or buy”) decision.

–Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn–

Add comment January 25th, 2006

Tech Talk about the Life In Africa Web Platform

Lars Hasselblad Torres said:

oomph! alot to chew on :) all i can say right now is, “good thing joomla is php cos down the road you can buy some programmers to build you custom modules!”

We hope things are not so far along that the LiA/WE/I4C web platform is committed to Joombla. It is nice, but it is hardly the only modular, extensible, Open Source content management and eCommerce platform that should be considered as candidate solution frameworks for this project.

Framework choice is, unfortunately, one of the most important implementation decisions that will be made in the course of a development project. Like it or not, this decision which is made relatively early in the project lifecycle will have profound repercussions on what can and cannot be done as the platform design evolves.

The technical capabilites of the platform also have to be measured against human factors such as who the initial development team will be and what frameworks do they know and how well do they know them. Also, will maintenance and extension be eventually handed over to a less skilled and less experienced team? Answers to these questions mitigate “better mousetrap” decisions based solely on technical framework design issues.

Quick edit as Lars has posted a further comment prior to this going on-line: Yes, Drupal should be on the short list for solution frameworks. Sohodojo has identified Drupal as our platform of choice for doing applied R&D to support entrepreneurial community ecosystems. This decision was made primarily on the strength of the architectural vision and implementation by Matt Westgate of his Drupal eCommerce framework.

Another nice thing about this selection is that Sohodojo is located in southeast Iowa and Matt (and fellow Drupalist John ‘Workflow’ VanDyk) live in Ames, Iowa north of here. We recently visited with Matt and John when we were in Ames presenting an entrepreneurial community ecosystem paper at a rural economic development conference.

–Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn–

Add comment January 25th, 2006

Role-based Authentication and the A-Z Profile Spec

Christina Kirabo Jordan said:

Member profile content - a-z

Our first quick reaction is that the a-z profile specification is a good, comprehensive list of the whole “landscape” of a member’s profile. In software development modeling terms, this list would be part of the domain or system boundary model.

In practical terms, that is the world of identity theft and cyber-harassment, we’d recommend that the a-z content of member profiles be wrapped with a role-based permission system where you could have two levels of control:

  • First, LiA should have an overall policy about who gets to see what no matter what the member decides.
  • And the second layer is a degree of latitude that each member would have to further tighten or perhaps loosen (within limits of LiA liability to protect its members) such role-based information access.

While this level of functionality may sound complex to incorporate into the LiA web platform, it is not as hard as it sounds. You start by selecting the right (hopefully Open Source) framework for content management and eCommerce that has flexible and extensible role-based authentication built into it. Many such platforms do have this feature. Setting up content creation, deletion, update, and view rights under such systems is a browser-based admin function, not a matter of programming.

Some Next Steps for A-Z

From a software development consulting standpoint — with you as the client and subject matter expert — our next questions/exercises would be to ask you:

  • How would you logically cluster the a-z list from the point of view of its role-based viewers?
  • What process-based linkage do you you see between items on the a-z list?

The first question gets as the next step of prototyping the user interface and information architecture of the to-be LiA web platform.

The second question begins to address the workflow aspects of how the a-z information relates to role-based use cases of “What is a typical day or task for someone performing X role?” For example, certain of the a-z information is known and member-person specific, so every new member would be know and need to provide this information at the first step of member account creation.

Other bits of the a-z specification are dynamic and can be generated from the member’s activity, such as the list of blogs the member is active on. The same with info about loan servicing activity, etc. In other words, some of the profile is explicitly created and maintained by the member, and some is gathered by examining the state of data in the overall system. This is the kind of information and understanding that is needed to begin building the to-be LiA web platform.

Building the Software Infrastructure for Globalization 3.0

Christina, this is just scratching the surface of what a business process-oriented software designer/developer would do with you in a working relationship to build the LiA web platform. In this sense, the software design and development process for an organization/business is very much like the process of psychological therapy. It is a rigorous and detailed process of self-reflection and values-surfacing that is uniquely valuable to the evolution of the business or organization.

The most interesting thing about the LiA/WE/I4C network is that it is an ideal and real example of what Sohodojo describes as an entrepreneurial community ecosystem. The web-based software platform required to create and sustain such an ecosystem is one of the most important and valuable things that needs to be done in order to unleash the alternative market-creating potential of what Tom Friedman calls Globalization 3.0, that is the Flat World of Empowered Individuals. The LiA/WE/I4C ecosystem is, in other words, a First Mover in Globalization 3.0.

–Sohodojo Jim and Timlynn–

Add comment January 25th, 2006

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