Tools to Produce Social Change: Village the Game

Last night, we went to NetSquared’s Net Tuesday in San Francisco and listened to Darian Hickman speak about his multi-player strategy game, Village, where each gamer is an entrepreneur building companies to bring prosperity to the villages of the third world.

We listened to some of Darian’s concerns as:

1. How can we build a game to produce social change – educating and engaging individuals in developing countries problems?
2. How can we best build a tool which imitates the real-world, that entrepreneurs and individuals can use for taking action outside the game?
3. How can we have this game make money and become popular?

The game is currently designed for:

1. Individuals in developed nations who can play the game and then donate money to businesses that are producing valuable innovations and change.
2. Social entrepreneurs who play the game, can network with individuals that are different capacities in the game – like mico-lending or bringing irrigation tools into villages, and eventually notice what works in different villages and countries in the game and apply that to their real world experience in bringing change to those villages.

Darian’s vision is that as the processes are automated, a game, such as his, will be able to have an impact in the real world. For example, with our credit card number or paypal account, and a few pieces of personal information, some day we will be able to search on Google Earth for a piece of land anywhere in the world, click on it, and if its for sale, buy it. So why not create a game that enables a community of people to virtually engage in humanitarian entrepeneurship work in Africa or Central America where they can virtually be in contact with locals and other players with a wide array of expertise. Some day, an individual who sells irrigation equipment in the game can coordinate with some other player who is familiar with microcredit and thus make it possible to have negotions in this virtual game that will have impact in the real world.

The point of the game is to gain “village points” while dealing with financial concerns, Village points are based on declared point values for financial, social, and environmental work. You can take a look, and get involved with the initial declarations here.

To deal with some of the above concerns, Darian is speaking with real-world experts in various countries who, as we understand it, send him “requirements” for the game. The companies that you can bring into a village are businesses which have a track record of producing noticeable differences in countries around the world. He is keeping the game two-dimensional, designed after World of Warcraft II, so that it can be used on a variety of systems throughout the world.

The first edition of the game will be a download which you can sign up for here. It will be a single player game where users can send their comments to Darian. Then a year later, he will release the multi-player game.

At the same time, though, we listened to what Darian said as having the following major problem: Darian is trying to design and build the perfect game for dealing with major challenges. And the potential of this game to harness the “wisdom of the crowds” is missing. When asked how he would grow the game and incorporate new things he said that, at first, he would bring in the companies based on track records. Over time, he said experts and those working in the field could suggest improvements. Also, those with many village points, which he said was a measure of trust, would probably be allowed to make changes. But it sounded like he didn’t want to open up changes in the game to everybody. His concern here, it sounds like, is that he doesn’t want a lot of non-relevant, non-effective businesses and practices to enter the game, making the game less relevant for reality.

The game lacks a mechanism to create social value. He is too focused on a process to measure social value, rather than create it. A good exmaple for him to follow and examine is Ebay’s user-rating, as a method to build identity in the site. If the rules of The Village are designed correctly, and the shared concern made clear, then allowing for a network of user-generated content could improve flexibility – catering to local problems and enriching the distinction of “Village Points” — and how relevant this game is in the world.


“Truth”: The Purpose of Journalism

I am reading a collection of essay about journalism called: American Journalism: History, Principles, Practices. The first article I read, “The Purposes of Journalism,” was written by Julie Hedgepeth Williams, an assistant professor at Samford University.

At the beginning of the essay she says, “The press had a purpose of publishing the truth. Should the truth be what was literally there? Or should it construct a reality that Americans presumably needed to achieve? The desire to publish truth has been in the press from the start. The basic question in that endeaver, however, is as old as humanity itself. What is truth?” (p 4)

Her story begins in Puritan Massachusetts and shows how the press has shifted between showing the citizens “what is literally there” and “shaping the reality and future” for them. Two examples she gave were:

  1. The era of the “party press”: After the American Revolution, the newly-formed parties hired editors and newspapers to write about “reality as it out to be.” These papers encouraged people to go to the polls and vote for one party over the other.
  2. The “penny press” era: In 1833, papers began printing daily papers for a penny, catered towards poorer individuals. These papers, with famous editors like Horace Greeley and James Gordon Bennett, often ran stories recounting criminal court cases that involved common people accused of drunkeness, theft, etc. This “truth” became part of the selling point for these papers. Williams claims that the notion of objectivity as part of truth arose during this period.

Williams finishes the article saying at the end of the 20th century, traditional media was “firmly convinced that “truth” meant “the world as it is.” (p 12)

My question is what is “the world as it is”? The world is seen through the eyes of an observer and doesn’t exist outside of the language and stories that the observer has to talk about the world. So for a journalist to “see” the world, he/she is already interpreting it. How do journalists deal “objectivity as truth” when there is no “objectivity”?

Wealth of Networks: An Invitation to Shape the Future

This book has opened to me the following possibilities:
It has helped me look at our current world and see some driving forces that are in conflict. First, as Benkler calls it, the “Industrial information economy” and the “Networked Information Economy”. I can boil this down to the confrontation going on right now between Microsoft and Google, the increasingly heated debate regarding licensing with Google being a proponent of Creative Commons and Microsoft sticking to standard copyright practices. I’ve heard about it, creative commons, and its potential benefits, but in all honesty it seemed like a fringe movement, ill articulated and raw. Boy was I wrong. Benkler has an incredible powerful articulation of how this current conflict or struggle is reshaping of our cultural landscape. This is happening now, and at an accelerated rate.

We already live in a world where open source software can compete quite compentently against very well established corporations, like Microsoft for example. A loosely connected network of people collaborating with each other can create, leaving Encyclopedia Britanica on the shelf collecting dust. So is the path of evolution set towards “Networked Information Economy”? It seems inevitable that the confrontations and frictions will increase, and pivotal that we change our current course.

While this power struggle exists in the big scheme, the space for action is here now, for millions of individuals and might not be here indefinitely. And whether that space continues is only dependent on us using the tools.

Distinctions of Today’s Web Phenomena

An interesting post by Doc Searls where he questions the distinctions that are being used today, like “Social Media” and “Web 2.0”. It opened up the following questions and speculations for me:

First, I listened to Doc Searls as saying that “Web 2.0” and “Social Media” are not about some magical new world which will bring us out of all the “real” problems of what it is to be human. I listen to him saying that these distinctions have that quality. Instead, he calls importance to focusing on the daily practices that he performs, bringing a simple, “real” quality to the his life. That was quite nice.

And this brings up a question of how to look at these distinctions. It is grounding to look at (and make) distinctions by examining the patterns and reality of us as human beings. But distinctions, at the same time, show us possibilities of the future while invoking the past. For example, “social media,” for me, brings forth my story of media (shaped by Yochai Benkler)– a way of human beings to show others events and stories about the world, which has become (in my lifetime) a less responsible domain of our communal space. And the “social” aspect of “social media” brings forth a story of a potential future which could resolve some of the breakdowns in the past by organizing social/communal collaboration in certain ways. So how to resolve these two temporal domains of a distinction: how it shows what we are doing now, and what breakdowns and possibilities it shows us as we direct ourselves to the future?

Doc Searls also said the following, “It’s natural to want to lump technologies and practices together into categories that bear Greater Significance. But for some reason we still drag along the limiting concepts that the new stuff should help us escape, no matter what we call it.” The second sentence triggers the question, “What does he mean by “drag along the limiting concepts…”?

Anyway, very cool post which got me struggling for a good hour. (And I am still not done doing so.)

Tensions in the Checks and Balances

by Coyote Jack on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons License Attribution 2.5I watched Part 1 of Frontline’s News War on PBS a few weeks ago, and I left the show with many new questions. What are the constitutional freedoms and constraints of the government and the press? What values (or wastes) is our current media structure producing? Who are the customers of the media and the government? I would like to share a few highlights of the show with you that opened up these questions in me.

  • The Changing Role of Confidentiality: Tom Rosentiel claimed that before and during Watergate, confidentiality was a tool offered to reluctant sources in order to have them speak. Now, this has changed; often the source imposes confidentiality on the reporter. He uses the example of Deep Throat to show that a case of a reporter urging his source to speak was very different than a high-level politician speaking to a journalist and spinning the journalist under the guise of confidentiality.
  • Confidentiality as an Integral Part of a Journalist’s Role: Leonard Downie Jr. talked about the precept in journalism that a journalist should protect his/her sources at all times. This ethic protects the journalist tradition: if a journalist breaks her promise of confidentiality, that journalist can no longer be trusted by her sources and thus can no longer perform her job.
  • The Branzburg v. Hayes Case and the Rights of a Journalist: Branzburg v. Hayes (in my limited understanding) was a case brought before the Supreme Court asking the question if journalists are protected by the constitution not to testify in criminal cases against their confidential source. The Supreme Court decided they were not . About it, Earl Caldwell said that the First Amendment protects the process of free speech along with free speech itself. James Goodale claimed that the press cannot be the arm of law enforcement because then this group, responsible to showing citizens what is happening in their world, including in the elite sectors of government, business, entertainment, etc., is not able to uncover and show problems as well. Another opinion was given by William Bradford Reynolds, the prosecutor on the case, who said that he understood the principle that journalists held, but that is was also the duty of a citizen to tell the authorities when they know of criminal action happening.
  • Confidentiality as a Structure to Support Important Relationships in Society: Another articulation I found very valuable from this conversation was that certain confidential relationships are protected legally from having to testify against their counterpart: husband & wives, lawyer & client… Confidentiality in these relationships are protected as a way (declared by whom?) to build important societal relationships. Another question I have here is why are journalists not protected under the constitution the same way as lawyers/clients? What is the (legal and other) understanding of journalism in our society? Who declared it as such and what problems/advantages did this bring and is bringing now?

The tension that I see (from this documentary and in our present society) exists between journalists protecting their sources as a way to reveal the major secretive breakdowns in domains of our society and the protection of the citizens against criminal and terrorists acts. When does one practice reach a point where it can be declared that it is harming the values of the country and where is it acceptable?

And as I finish writing all of this, an articulation is coming to me in a visual image. Our country is not an innately “free and democratic” entity but instead is a ever-changing mesh where if you pull on it in one direction, tension increases and other domains shrink. This could happen when one aspect of society increases power, and another loses freedom. This balance seems to me to be very delicate, and as citizens, we should be diligently responsible to watch these tensions and act when they are no longer producing the shape of the country we want to live under.

How Sarah wasn’t there, and I found my blog.

photo-29.jpgWell, hello internet community. This is my very first blog. I expect my bloggin trajectory to be quite long, pretty much emcompassing my entire life from now. As I see it, blogging and other forms of building internet identity will become crusial in our everyday life (even more so than now). I have no idea how, when, why yet, but I’m betting that it will be.

A very good friend of mine, Sarah Cove, shares this gut feeling, this hunch that seems to make so much sense but I can’t explain yet, and we have decided to study up on this phenomenon and try to master some skills that will allow us to articulate a cohesive story about the internet. If she doesnt agree she will respond to my blog, I trust.

I’m embarrased to admit that initially I wanted to start my blog with a pompus schpeel about CODE 2.0, a book that I have partially read and that, notwithstanding its great content, I have not even begun to explore. So you must imagine how unprepared I felt to make my first blog, my first step into what I consider the rest of my cyber life. Confronted with such qualms I called Sarah…. no answer. I opened my blog and had no idea what to write about… I called Sarah again. She wasn’t there.

Noentheless, I decided to embark on this blog. Why do I belive cyberspace is a powerful tool? Because it leads to honest, fruitful conversations about our futures. A place where communitites can be built and enriched, a new America with wild Buffalo and endless forests, great rivers and mountains, and all sorts of riches to be dicovered.

And what better way to start, than to establish a frank conversation. I’m glad I had to tackle this by myself because in the end this is my blog. A world of my curiosity, my qualms, and struggles in attempting to enter this cyber community. I know I’m not the first and wont be the last blogger, but this will certaintly be my blog, my cyber life.

Anyway, so here it is, my first cyber me. I hope to see me grow here.

I added a picture, which I dont know where it will go, but its me and my puppy.

Plagarism Versus Copyright Infringement

I just listened to a podcast by Open Source. In this podcast, they discuss the historical and current practice around copyright infringement, and claim that the tighter practice and debate of copyright has only developed in the last 20 years or so. It is an interesting discussion that you can find, along with the podcast, here.

They also brought forth a new distinction for me: plagarism versus copyright infringement. I had never differentiated between the two, but they claim that plagarism is an ethical wrong, determined by a community of artists (whether academic scholars, musicians, etc.) while copyright infringement is a legal one. There is a small intersection between the two. The example they give is if a journalist is pushed for time and stupidly grabs a column written by someone else in a copyrighted journal, puts his/her name at the top, and prints it.

There are some interesting discussions at Open Source’s site. I especially liked silvio.rabioso’s suggestions of further reading. More avenues to explore.