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Currently Reading: The Mesh, by Lisa Gansky

Preliminary thoughts – The Mesh is not a new concept – we’re just reverting back to it with the advent of Web 2.0 (3.0?)

In ancient times, we subsisted on community living. Take it from the Native Americans and the hunter-gatherers. Over the last couple hundred years, the ideals of materialism and capitalism have propelled our society and economy further and further away from community living, because these insatiable ideals are fundamentally individualistic.

Now we’ve evolved with social media and mobile technology, bridging the materialistic individualism with the ease of social interaction. That is why we’re going back to The Mesh.

Conclusion for now? We live in exciting times.


Carbon footprint by Country

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but a special kind of image — the infographic — says so much more. In fact, I’m going to argue that the insight and comprehensive message contained in a well-designed infographic can say the equivalent of a lengthy paper in a fraction of the time it takes to read, or in this case, view the graphic. Well-designed infographics have something to share with all audiences — a graspable concept for the non-expert, while still providing new perspective or insight for the aficionado.

Infographics almost entirely replace the use of words with images – a couple words in the form of labels, short captions, numbers, etc. help to convey a concrete message and backs up the main message with quantitative or pictoral evidence. Short paragraph captions are sometimes necessary for explaining the summary methodology used for a large data set. In my specific categorization of the infographic, diagrams of processes like that which you’d find in a science textbook don’t count (everyone has seen, and is tired of, the mitosis cycle and anything remotely similar).  The information delivered is complex, but the infographic as a whole is simplistic and easy on the eye (not a chaotic piece trying to cram in detailed miniature drawings into one page frame). I especially enjoy the infographic that is a simple aesthetic image itself taken as a whole (not the greatest overall infographic, but notice data icons arranged in shape of an ear); but, upon further examination, reveals many quantitative insights. Bonus for flash implementation. Infographics are such that each viewer can have their own interpretation – the diversity of interpretations is less so in written word.

Functions of the infographic:

– harmonious communication of complex data sets (Well-Formed-Eigenfactor)

– communication of time-space related information

(Resume as a Infographic)

(Time an average consumer spends on media sources in a day)

– results / report

Patient Health Report – current vs. infographic

Patient Heart Test Results – current vs. infographic

– lengthier (longer than one page frame) infographics that explain a concept

Net neutrality

I’ve seen some media sites write articles about these infographics…treating the infographic as if it’s an added bonus to the written article, much like the function of pictures in news articles. A little superfluous if you ask me, especially since a well-designed infographic (and maybe a short caption) should communicate the entire message.

However, the following article accompanying Stanford Kay’s infographic drew some insight that wasn’t immediately obvious, especially to a non-expert in the environmental field (Infographic: Forget China, Who Are the World’s Worst Carbon Polluters). Still, the article’s paragraph descriptions were unnecessary. While I don’t consider myself an expert on the environment (not yet), I only felt it necessary to skim the article, and instead spent most of my time on that site perusing the infographic itself. I was taking in a message that traveled to my brain and converted it into understandable meaning in infinitely faster time than it takes to turnaround sentences into sensible meaning.

You know it immediately when you see it — when you discover that you are reading brilliant writing. It hits you out of the blue, like an epiphany. The kind of writing you only experience a handful of times in your life. Sentences flow into perfectly cut paragraphs. The writer’s words are deftly chosen for their idiosyncratic nuances. The overarching theme and message are delivered succinctly. You, the reader, are enlightened, and you barely noticed. The act of reading ceases to be a chore, instead becoming an enlightening experience.

Reading genius writing is so delightful because it’s so rare. I think that’s what all writers strive for – that ultimate standard of reader enlightment.

That’s why I’m not willing to part with the written word quite yet. Let’s entertain this thought — What if university students had to compose half of their traditional paper assignments in infographic form? You’re communicating the same amount of insight (arguably more) in a compact form, which means less time for professors to grade and less paper wasted printing. 

Here’s why the infographic is a great academic tool for students to learn: The infographic demands insight. It demands genius, creativity, and deep thinking. It involves synthesizing complex, large amounts of information into something comprehensive yet short, much like the conclusion of a paper does. The infographic not only gives you the unspoken, unwritten conclusion of the paper; it also gives you all the evidence for the conclusion in quantitative and pictoral forms.

As a student, I can attest to the fact that trying to come up with an A+ infographic for one of my classes would require some intense thinking and a lot of time. Anyone can fill up 20 pages with words and call it a paper – that’s why length doesn’t always mean good. In fact, in this new on-demand, new media life that demands universal instantaneousness, I’m convinced that lengthy papers are out – true intelligence is in the one-pager that can tell you all the information that a 20-page paper can, and say it in a concise, well-dictioned, coherent, and graceful manner. (One of my professors assigned us only one or three-page papers. I thought it’d be a piece-of-cake class. Not so much.)

So if true intelligence is in the one-pager of written word, true genius must be in the one-page infographic. Pictures are valuable because they’re worth a thousand words. Put another way, pictures are a more efficient mode of universal communication. Forget language barriers – let pictures be humanity’s universal language. 

Reading List on Social Media

A working list on books, articles, blogs, etc. that I want to read, and could potentially use as a springboard for my senior thesis!


I’m noticing a theme in the books I’m including in this list. I recently became fascinated with the buzzword “social” and all its possible meanings and ramifications. A few new concepts come to mind: coworking, the mesh, crowdsourcing, collaborative consumption..

The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing // Lisa Gansky

Crowdsourcing // Jeff Howe

What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption // Rachel Botsman, Roo Rogers

All That We Share // Jay Walljasper

Reality is Broken // Jane McGonigal

Alone Together // Sherry Turkle


On Social Media in Egypt // Malcolm Gladwell

In 2010, Ben and Jerry’s promoted awareness of fair trade through their “Do a World a Flavor” campaign. More than 10,000 new flavors were submitted, and the finalists won a trip to the Dominican Republic to visit a sustainable fair trade cocoa farm. Even though eliciting customers to come up with new flavors is nothing new to the Ben & Jerry’s brand, the “Do a World a Flavor” contest is part of their new campaign to transition all their products to fair trade by 2013.

Can established brands use their large customer base, also known as “fan base,” to effectively spread awareness about a worldly issue? I wish I could quantify exactly how much of an impact Ben & Jerry’s campaign had on its fan base. Stats I would be interested in: how many people heard about the “Do a World a Flavor” contest, how many people were introduced to the fair trade model through this campaign, how many people were reintroduced to the fair trade model, how many people educated themselves further about fair trade because of this campaign, and perhaps most significantly, how many people actually did something tangible to contribute to advancing fair trade (whether it be buying fair trade products, donating, or creating something of their own).

Let’s step back and look at the ramifications of this campaign in detail. For Ben & Jerry’s, the campaign was clearly a win-win for them. They engaged their fan base to contribute their own ideas, building customer loyalty and giving the creating back to the consumer. This large-scale effort (remember, 10,000 new flavors were submitted) would not be possible without social media and the Internet.

This campaign also helps accelerate the momentum of their fair trade transition. From an economics standpoint, most consumers won’t base their decisions on which ice cream to buy based on whether something is from fair trade or not. Consumer tastes and prices trump. However, by getting the fair trade message out through a creative, fun way to Ben & Jerry’s fans, they’re raising awareness of the global campaign and their own campaign, in a non-intruding, positive way.

Addictive gaming has been around for a long time. We grew up with it — never-ending games of Monopoly evolved into Super Smash Bros sessions in front of the TV to Starcraft on the computer screen, and most recently, Angry Birds on the smartphone.

There’s a growing need to address global issues (climate change, poverty, human rights, and infinitely more). One person certainly can’t do it all, but the power of weak ties, social networking, and crowdsourcing can be applied to affecting social change on a global level. Now is the time to channel the time, money, and (dare we say it) passion spent on addictive gaming into something collectively productive. You can call it crowdsourcing in the form of games for the social good.

Assuming the role of the addictive-game designer, the question is how I can create a game that is simultaneously addictive, social, and good.

Why mobile:

1) Smartphones are ubiquitous. These compact mobile devices are convenient, indispensable for staying connected, and allow you to fill otherwise-wasted downtime/travel time with whatever activity compels you.

2) Smartphone games are cheap. The money is made on the quantity, not the price. The potential user capture is thus significantly greater.

Without in-depth economic analysis on mobile gaming prices given the current microeconomics of the volatile technology industry, I will assume for now that the optimum price for a smartphone game is $1. (With Apple’s new subscription requirement where they take 30% of your revenue from downloads they sourced, you might see an erosion of profits. Will we then see a slowdown in app development? We’ll see what plays out.)

Here’s what I believe are key elements that make a mobile game addictive:

1) There is learn-able skill and strategic thinking involved; luck is eliminated. For example, Angry Birds employs an algorithm based on physics for each bird character. As you play more, you start learning the laws and idiosyncracies of each bird. That’s what makes you successful, (at least somewhat) intellectually satisfied, and wanting to play more.

3) Creation or destruction: An addictive game must have one of these elements. You need to either be shooting/demolishing/exploding or creating/building, preferably from scratch. This point is best illustrated with examples. Bowling is fun because the player gets to knock down pins. They can feel a sense of accomplishment because they’re physically and symbolically destroying. (When you break down Angry Birds to the bare bones, it’s essentially the same concept as bowling: you’re using a given object + your uniquely nuanced skill to destroy something). Simulation games like SimCity or Age of Empires are compelling because you’re creating and controlling, whether it’s as small as a home or as large as an empire or dynasty. Because of this effort to create, you have a vested interest in its maintenance; thus continues the addiction.

4) Some kind of background story line that ties it all together. A simple, childhood-recalling, quirky story is all that’s needed. Think viral Youtube videos. Peripherals, add-ons, comedic youtube videos all help enhance this story and take the interaction with the game outside of the game world itself.

5) A tangible goal, destination, or otherwise constantly changing value proposition: whether it’s beating your/your friends’ times (Sudoku), crossing a finish line (Mario Kart), unlocking a level/reward (DanceDanceRevolution), or destroying all your enemies — you need to have an evolving goal.  There is always a faster time, higher levels, and smarter enemies.

6) Not necessary, but nice: something that doesn’t have inherently “evil” real-world consequences. Battling, conquering, and bombing all the countries in the world to emerge as the one victorious country could be potentially politically questioned. Destroying buildings with civilians is “bad,” but no one draws violent conclusions from shooting angry birds into googly-eyed green pigs. This element just helps in the long-term.

7) Make it social. I think this element is key to sustaining the popularity of a game. An individual player’s initial interest may wane if it’s their own goal they’re trying to beat. The social aspect gives addictive gamers a more socially acceptable (pun-intended) way of interacting with their friends.

How to make it social:

1) Don’t sell the charity / social good aspect too hard, if at all. The end goal of your game should not be charity. It should be fun and its associated satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. Social good is a bonus, just like the happiest people are those who do what they love and make a lot of money as a cherry on top. Once a game’s end goal is charity, you effectively lose a good number of players who just want to play a game. This perception can change over time of course; I just don’t think the charity aspect should be the main reason for people to play a game. (What do you think?)

2) Addictive gamers tend to be competitive, both with themselves and with others. Players set goals for themselves. These goals are reinforced or created by friendly peer pressure. So whether it’s “leveling-up” or continuous gaming like in Tetris, there should be a way to either play against friends, compare game scores, and broadcast the results to your social network.

What’s social good and how we can contribute to it through mobile gaming:

I use the term “social good” because I think the relatively new phrase hasn’t yet acquired a host of negative connotations, unlike “charity.” There are many other labels for productively contributing to the collective good. We can achieve this through gaming in a myriad of ways:

Money: the universal financial instrument allows the purchase of lacking materials. With money you can feed someone or build shelter.

Creation: Crowdsourcing the actual labor. If I knew the answer to tangible creation via mobile, I wouldn’t still be here writing about it. Essentially, this is converting the time, energy, money, and connectivity spent on a mobile game into the actual labor process for funding a smartphone for someone in the Third World for example. Or doing mobile banking for someone in Africa.

Public awareness of an issue: Though it’s not money or tangible creation, public awareness is equally important, especially for long-term change.

Back-of-the-envelope calculation – A hypothetical:

Take Angry Birds as an example. As of August 2010, they sold more than 6.5 million copies of the iPhone game (1). Keep in mind this is one platform, and they are expanding into all other platforms. If you subtract half of that $6.5m revenue for cost of goods sold, developer profits, and other expenses (very little because it’s a mobile app), you can contribute the rest of the $3.25 million to, say, feeding children in Africa (and you make damn sure that money goes directly to feeding the children). In addition to having derived all the satisfaction and entertainment from playing the game, the Angry Bird players as an aggregate have effectively fed 32.5 million children in Africa for a day (it costs around 10 cents a day to feed a child in Africa (2); there’s around 400 million children in Africa today, aged 0-14 (3). Technicalities and crude assumptions aside, the potential for affecting social change is huge.

In the above, I’ve written what I think is necessary for addictive mobile gaming to be channeled into productive social good. I haven’t created anything myself — simply laid the foundation for a castle to be built on top. It’s my hope that someone out there (or me in the future) will make a socially-productive mobile game that goes viral.

I give credit where credit is due — simple stats for my back-of-the-envelope calculation:




Social media is able to foster weak ties in communication. With simple clicks and types, we are able to escalate one person communicating an idea, to a whole community tweeting, tumbling, facebooking about that idea, which has thus been labeled as “trending.” The clean energy sector needs to tap into that potential in order to accelerate cleantech deployment from a grassroots level.

A number of big businesses and startups have already created mobile applications that make home energy management more efficient and easily trackable. Google has TED 5000, an energy monitoring advice for the typical home, while Microsoft has its competing Hohm initiative. OPower and eMeter have web-based and mobile applications that combine social media with smart metering. The fact that big companies and small startups alike are venturing into competing in the space is a testament to the potential of this sector. What needs to be done to escalate this on a wider scale is to fully integrate the smart grid with the social media network.

The two are fundamentally parallel concepts. Social media allows people across an almost infinitely large network to communicate with each other and share ideas. Smart grid is an almost infinitely large network that connects the electrical infrastructures of houses and utilities using digital communications technology. Think of the smart grid, dubbed “Gridbook,” as the Facebook equivalent for the electrical network. Because the two platforms have the same function, and essentially the same market (people who use social media and electricity), the lessons from social media can be applied to advancing the smart grid effort. In social media, it is often the top 10% of passionate people who try to communicate their ideas to the rest of the 90% who may passively read, reblog/retweet, or react accordingly with their own opinions. Either way, the information has the potential to access an almost infinitely large reader base.

Silver Spring Networks has created an online user interface that connects electrical users with their utilities, and users with each other. Electricity isn’t a huge topic of discussion among typical friends, but social media is able to make that happen because of its ease of use and ability to connect users at a friend-to-friend grassroots level. Silver Spring Networks’ interface is accessible through traditional PCs as well as smartphones, and includes such cost-cutting, energy-saving incentives as user competition and electric cost monitoring.

Smart grid is a relatively new idea, and a long way from universal deployment. Yet, 99.9% of Americans have electricity — the market is there, we just need to figure out how to saturate that market. The important first step is to generate dialogue in every electrical user and simply make them aware of their personal energy use and their friends’ energy use. Users need to think about their energy use beyond paying their monthly electric bill.

The best example I can think of to illustrate the future of the “social smart grid” is Tenrehte’s product, which allows you to control electrical appliances through a Facebook application. The possibilities are endless for making the idea of GridBook, the social smart grid, a universal reality.

In an increasingly globalized society, the act of quickly and constantly connecting with others has evolved from a desire to a perceived “need.” Facebook fits perfectly in the trend of “faster is always better.” People can virtually tap into their entire social network at the click of a button, and can check into the happenings of specific friends, famous people, and events when they want to. The concept of being able to connect with many friends and acquaintances, new and old, without the arguably higher pressure of in-person interaction, seems to be highly appealing to many people in our modern society.

The careful sculpting of an identity in the cloud helps provide a further method of self-validation in one’s social network, which may be a reason why Facebook caught the attention of the younger demographic before the old. As a process of growing up, the need for validation by peers is felt more by a younger demographic. Outlets for this kind of validation are virtually every function on Facebook, be it photo-sharing, status-updating, “liking” a post, or checking into Places. The social network itself is in part responsible for perpetuating this kind of validation, inserting it into every aspect of its application.

A reason we may be so cautious in sculpting our identity is that we take in our perceptions of how our friends on Facebook are doing and react accordingly. Research by Stanford psychologists show that people tend to overestimate the happiness of other people, especially in social networking sites. If we think everyone else is happy, and we’re not at our optimal, our sadness is aggravated. Yet the social networking site isn’t the one to blame. Because there are people who are very cautious about sculpting a certain identity on Facebook, they feed others’ insecurities about their perceived identities, and thus contribute to the ongoing trend of exhibiting the illusion of happiness.

MIT Professor Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together touches upon the idea of Facebook being an episode of constant performance, which as a result alienates us from ourselves. As we take the cultivation of our “ideal performance” back home, there is less time in which we can be ourselves.

However, another way to look at this is that if we can easily see the regular status updates of our friends, which include a slew of positive and negative statements, we are more likely to find a status that we can identify with. The saying goes that misery loves company, and its empirically proven that people can be comforted by the fact that a close friend is going through the same hardship. In this more positive light of Facebook, the social network can be seen as unifying the masses in allowing what may initially be weaker ties to establish some kind of stronger connection because two parties continually share information.

Is there a way we can strike a balance between constant performance and ourselves? Or will the ability to virtually content take more and more of our time?

“Almost every man wastes part of his life in attempts to display qualities which he does not possess, and to gain applause which he cannot keep.” ~Samuel Johnson

Author’s Note: I wrote this piece two years before I started this blog, Social Media in Change. I stumbled upon it in my files and decided to post it here – I’ve been fascinated by social media since its infancy, and it’s very interesting to compare perceptions two years ago with today’s current climate.

I spent the last couple hours perusing the web and attempting to catch up on emerging and already established social media, an industry that is growing impossibly fast in number of users, but is increasingly having difficulties with their revenue streams.

Social media has allowed anyone and everyone to be a publisher and a distributor of content – free speech at its finest – you can say whatever you want, and have access to people all across the world who will lend a willing ear.

As such, does this deregulation of the published content on the internet compel individuals to be their own regulators of their behavior? Or will social media and networking self destruct due to its appallingly free speech nature? A Mashable article piqued my interest in this topic: Can we venture to say that social media will improve our behavior in the private and public spheres because our personal lives are so readily available on the web?

From what I’ve experienced, social media and social networking sites is all free market capitalist. It’s not “may the best social media site win” because there are infinitely possible add-on software and applications that can be created – so there are many winners in this game.

The barrier of entry is almost null because the possibilities of the web and social media are endless. Or are they? At what point are the possibilities of social media connections maxed out? Will there be a point where our lives are so fast-paced and media-connected that our human brain capacity cannot keep up? At what point is the building up of so many social media sites, software, and applications with poor revenue-generating models going to come crashing down because no one is earning any money? How many more venture capitalists are there going to be to finance all of this with no return?

With all the polls, predictions, and talk surrounding the fate of Twitter, we’ll see how long the microblogging site lasts, whether it will lose its popular boom in a year or two, who buys Twitter, if any, and how much it will sell for – WSJ says, not under a billion. (Facebook currently valued at $10 billion, with new investment from Digital Sky Technologies)

In addition, social networking sites seem to be run surprisingly democratically. For example, Facebook is now well established and dominating the social networking world, and as such has garnered a lot of users with plenty of opinions. Whether it be protesting a new user interface, critiquing a line in the Terms of Use, or generating support for a new application or feature, FB groups are a sort of “virtual petition” to the corporation and I’m sure they at least notice, because social media and networking sites are primarily dependent on their users. I think Facebook has learned its lesson and now lets its users know when they are implementing a new change. (Although I think there should be a “revert to old Facebook” option…the current UI still confuses me sometimes).

The business models of the burgeoning social media and networking sector are so primarily focused on generating massive growth in users, yet can small firms handle such rapid burgeoning growth, and be able to generate profit?