“The Baroque Cycle”: The Moment I Realized History RTs Itself

Around ten years ago, I read this historical fiction trilogy by a really influential science fiction writer, Neal Stephenson.
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At that point I had relinquished all management control of the site I started, was doing pretty intense customer service, and I was thinking about what it all meant.

My nerdly take is that The Baroque Cycle’s about the invention of the modern world, in the social normalization of attitudes and inventions including:

  • The Enlightenment perspective
  • Scientific method
  • Calculus as a possible “system of the world”
  • Representative democracy
  • Revolution via social media

It influenced the way I think about my own creation, and to cut to the chase…

Baroque Cycle helped me understand how “history retweets itself,” how people use social media to get big things done. Over time, human social contracts evolve via punctuated equilibrium wherein things slowly get better.

Improvements are not continuous, though. Normally, things are in balance, equilibrium, until we hit some kind of tipping point, which punctuate the flow of history. That’s something I learned from Victor Hugo, as often paraphrased: “Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

Until recently, the cost of getting your idea out there was very high; you needed your own printing press, or maybe TV station.

However, the Internet changes all that.

The way I look ahead and plan was substantially altered. My focus is not only getting stuff done in the here and now, but I’m considering what I learn and how it affects stuff in the long term (twenty years) and the longer term (two hundred years.) The work done by the historical figures in the trilogy are still playing out today.

(Yes, I’m writing in a far more nerdly manner than I’ve written in years, and to be clear, I’m going old-school nerd here.)

Okay, specifically, Baroque Cycle helped me understand a lot about the way people and history work. For example, I finally began to understand the ways that social media has been used, throughout history, to change the social contract and how we govern ourselves.

Specifically, I realized that people including John Locke (not the LOST guy) and others used blogging to effect the Glorious Revolution of 1688. It was (relatively) bloodless and short, and least compared to the preceding Civil Wars and for that matter, compared to the Wars of the Roses, etc.

The books helped me understand how the Glorious Revolution led to bloggers including Ben Franklin and Tom Paine, who helped create American independence and our own form of representative democracy. Then, I realized how Martin Luther blogged his way to major religious and social change. He used the efforts of a nerd, a guy Johannes Gutenberg, to great effect. (Gutenberg got great stuff done, but it was Luther who got big stuff done; Gutenberg also learned about venture capitalists the hard way. check out Jeff Jarvis‘ “Gutenberg the Geek.”)

Then Robert Wright helped me understand how Saint Paul used the social media of his time to get the word out regarding Christianity.

More recently, The Writing on the Wall by Thomas Standage documents all of this, from the Roman Republic through now. (Spoiler: looks to me that Julius Caesar was not only a blogger re the conquest of Gaul, but he kinda invented journalism in its most literal sense.)

The deal is that The Baroque Cycle helped me get this on a gut level, and that’s inspired all of my subsequent efforts.

In Stephenson’s book we see how people, working together, separately, and sometimes in competition, how they created major tipping points which came together in a perfect storm to create the modern world. (Sorry to invoke the cliche.)

Added to this, I think I finally understood what a latter-day Martin Luther meant by “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” My take is that he was talking about what the books teach.

So, ten years ago I started to internalize all this and to figure out what to do about it, acknowledging that, well, I’m a nerd. Helping along a global tipping point is not in the nerd job description, which requires a lot of charisma, energy, and a lot of intuition to understand of the way people work.

However, the nature of the Internet suggests we’re not looking at the “strong man theory of history” anymore. Real and massive change will come from people who learn to lead by example, through their ideas, and from some intuitive knowledge of how to move ahead with ideas whose time has come.

I love The Baroque Cycle and recommend everything by Stephenson. However, it’s way more important to act on what it depicts, and my deal is to try to give a voice to people who never had one, and then to share their work. My stuff to date gives me a bit of a bully pulpit that I don’t need for myself. However, I use it on a daily basis to get the word out on behalf other others.

My joke, occasionally tweeted, is that I retweet a lot because 1) it’s good to share, and 2) it spares me the burden of original thought. Well, #2 has some truth to it, but #1 is the big deal for me, inspired by the actions depicted by Stephenson.

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That’s not altruistic as I view it. I guess it’s just a reflection of the abnormal social affect and dysfunction of myself and sometimes of my nerdly peers.

After all, a nerd’s gotta do what a nerd’s gotta do.

The #HolidayChallenge is in Full Swing

Hey, the CrowdRise Holiday Challenge that I’m funding with the Huffington Post has really taken off.

It began on Monday, November 18, and over $173k has been raised in less than a week, since the challenge started – this is huge.

Joining me in raising money for charities this holiday season are several actors/actresses and comedians (hey, maybe I can give them some career advice), such as Edward Norton (Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust), Sean Penn (J/P Haitian Relief Organization), Ian Somerhalder (Ian Somerhalder Foundation), Sophia Bush (The Nature Conservancy), Jason Bateman (City Year), Kristen Bell (Epath.org), Olivia Wilde (Artists for Peace and Justice), Christy Turlington (Every Mother Counts), Eliza Dushku (THRIVEGulu), Brittany Snow (Love Is Louder), Will Ferrell (Cancer for College), Seth Rogen (Hilarity for Charity), and  Conan O’Brien (Children’s Hospital Los Angeles).

(Speaking of Conan, his recent TV bit cited my LinkedIn following, and this is my attempt to help him out…folks, even a pity follow will do…follow Conan?)

CrowdRise is an effective way to help out nonprofit groups, and I’m excited we already have more than 500 charities and counting coming together this holiday season to raise a lot of money for nonprofits getting the job done.

It’s not too late to get started. You can sign your nonprofit up by clicking here. And if you’re an individual who wants to participate and support your favorite causes, you can choose an org to support, and join their team!

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Lately, I’ve been asked if orgs can participate if they’re outside the US. I asked the good folks at CrowdRise about it and they said that their site’s only set up right now for US-based 501c3’s right now, so unfortunately, no. But they hope to change that soon, and told me that it’s on the roadmap. You can read the rest of the Challenge rules here.

Just a reminder that:

    • The team that raises the most during the Challenge wins a $100k donation for their charity.
    • Second place gets $40k.
    • Third gets $20k.
    • Another $40k+ in cash prizes, and lots of HuffPost prizes will be given throughout the campaign.
    • Even if you don’t win a grand prize, you get to keep the money you raise.
    • The Challenge ends on Thursday, January 9th at 11:59:59am EST.

Make sure to get your constituents and followers on social media talking about the Holiday Challenge, the more people who know about it, the more chances you have to raise money for your cause. Join the conversation using the hashtag, #HolidayChallenge, on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, and Instagram.

And don’t forget that CrowdRise has created a toolkit for you to get the most out of the #HolidayChallenge, with tips, strategies, and a calendar that outlines all the Bonus Challenges.

How’s your team doing so far?

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Typhoon Haiyan Disaster Resources

Hey folks, the Philippines could use a lot of help right now.  Super Typhoon Haiyan is the strongest storm to ever make landfall. A total of 9.5 million people across the Philippines were affected when Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines on Friday, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The disaster has left an estimated 2.5 million people in need of emergency food assistance according to the World Food Program.

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There are a lot of really good orgs and people who are helping out.

If you’re able to help out, folks, this is really important as lots of people are in need. What resources have you found to be useful?

 

Help Give Away $200K for the Holidays

Hey, I’ve teamed up with CrowdRise and the Huffington Post to host a Holiday Challenge over on CrowdRise to help nonprofits raise a lot of money this season. As they say – here’s how it’s going down.

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The Holiday Challenge will work similar to the #VetsChallenge that I sponsored over the summer, but this time, any charity is able to sign up. Over $200,000 will be given to nonprofits throughout the challenge. Last year over $1,000,000.00 was raised for charities. You can sign up here.

Update: Joining me in raising money for charities this holiday season are several actors/actresses and comedians (hey, maybe I can give them some career advice), such as Edward Norton (Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust), Sean Penn (J/P Haitian Relief Organization), Ian Somerhalder (Ian Somerhalder Foundation), Sophia Bush (The Nature Conservancy), Jason Bateman (City Year), Kristen Bell (Epath.org), Olivia Wilde (Artists for Peace and Justice), Christy Turlington (Every Mother Counts), Eliza Dushku (THRIVEGulu), Brittany Snow (Love Is Louder), Will Ferrell (Cancer for College), Seth Rogen (Hilarity for Charity), and  Conan O’Brien (Children’s Hospital Los Angeles).

(Speaking of Conan, his recent TV bit cited my LinkedIn following, and this is my attempt to help him out…folks, even a pity follow will do…follow Conan?)

A few important details:

  •  The Holiday Challenge runs through January 9th at 11:59:59am EST (folks, these last seconds could be important, as last time we had a photo finish).
  • There are 3 grand prizes –
  • 1st place wins $100,000
  • 2nd place wins $40,000
  • 3rd place wins $20,000
  • Another $40,000 will be given away in cash and prizes through Bonus Challenges weekly.
  • The Huffington Post’s also giving away lots of other prizes designed to get some great exposure for your cause (like RTs from HuffPo and #FollowFridays from Ariana Huffington, etc.).
  • This is a win-win for all orgs that participate – Even if you don’t win a grand prize, you get to keep all the money that your Team raises.
  • Check out the charity toolkit here.

There are more than 400 teams signed up so far, and each one has a chance at winning some money for their cause. You can click here to sign up and create your fundraising page. It takes less than 21 seconds to set up your page. And, they’ve created a Challenge Toolkit that gives you a Calendar of all of the challenges, plus tips and strategies to raise more money, template emails to send out to your supporters, and lots of really good ideas.

This will really help your charity, and I’m ready to help good orgs who really have their boots on the ground. Are you ready to begin your year-end fundraising with me?

Top 10 Veterans Orgs to Follow on Twitter

Hey,  Veterans Day is Monday, and there are some good orgs who really have their boots on the ground.

Okay, a while back, my wife (then fiance) asked me why I only did my normal level of support for veterans and military families on Memorial Day. My blurt was that “for me, every day’s Memorial Day.” And I feel the same way about Veterans Day.

Here are ten veterans orgs that you should be following on Twitter. They have important things to say, and are working hard for military families and veterans’ rights. The list is in no particular order.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American, @IAVA


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iavaSwords to Plowshares, @vetshelpingvets


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swordsplowsharesBob Woodruff Foundation, @Stand4Heroes


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Blue Star Families, @BlueStarFamily


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National Military Family Association, @military_family


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Returning Veterans Project, @ReturnVeterans


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The SF Veteran Success Center, @SF_VSC


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Operation Homefront, @Op_Homefront


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Warrior Canine Connection, @WarriorCanineCn


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Luke’s Wings, @LukesWingsUSA


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I figure that we should support and thank Americans who risk taking a bullet to protect us, and that means also looking after their families. Just seems right… Happy Veterans Day, folks.

Do eCommerce Giving Programs Effectively Raise Money for Charity?

Hey, the idea behind craigconnects is giving the voiceless a real voice, and the powerless real power. I see it as everyone doing some small, or big, part.

One way to do this is by giving back via purchases and a few key initiatives.  Organizations like We-Care.com team up with merchants and give a percentage of the proceeds to charity. We-Care works with more than 2500 online merchants, and it’s the merchants who choose what percentage of proceeds to donate (ranging from 1.5% to 15% of transactions). Participation doesn’t cost anything for the organizations, and there is no extra charge for the person who is shopping. Something that’s really useful on We-Care is their toolbar plugin. You can download a reminder that will pop up each time you’re shopping on a site that will give some money to your cause.

Amazon just started doing something similar to We-Care, but aren’t giving as much (just 0.5%). They’re calling it AmazonSmile.

Perla Ni, CEO of Great Nonprofits commented on Amazon’s new giving program, and what she calls “interesting benchmarks” –

“0.5% is an interesting percentage. Amazon’s revenue was $17B last quarter. It would be $80M/quarter if everybody who purchased something took it up. Even though it doesn’t cost anyone to do it, say 20% of users sign up, so that would be $20M/quarter. That would be about $80M/year donated to nonprofits. Google gives about $100M/year and Wells Fargo gives about $300M/year.”

Efforts like these are making donations an every day thing, and this way, according to Perla, “nonprofits may see donations through-out the year, rather than just at the end of the year for tax-deductions.” Perla does voice a concern though. She says: “the biggest potential downside I see is that it may cannibalize individual giving – ‘oh, I don’t need to give on my own, because I’ve already done it just by shopping.’ It may make shopping replace giving.”

We also contacted Ken Berger, President and CEO of Charity Navigator, about AmazonSmile to get his opinion. He said that Charity Navigator will be looking into the project to see if Amazon will use their API to display the Charity Navigator ratings.

Ken also shared with us that “shopping portals that give money to charity usually don’t generate enough revenue to make a big impact on an individual charity’s bottom line. One of the problems is the change of behavior required – same as with Amazon since customers will have to start their purchase process on a different website than the regular Amazon site. However, the scale of Amazon makes this a unique proposition with the potential to make a big impact on a charity’s bottom line.”

I think the most helpful thing you can do to make sure you’re giving to the good guys is to check out Guidestar, Charity Navigator, and Great Nonprofits (like Yelp for nonprofits, with user reviews). These will help you select good, effective nonprofits.

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I support some nonprofits, and some not (more on that here). I make sure to look into a charity before I donate to avoid giving to one of America’s 50 worst charities. It’s useful to be able to give back to orgs that I support via purchases that I’m already making. Although, I don’t think that shopping should replace giving to an org when you believe in their cause.

How are you giving back, if you’re able?

My First Job: What Big Blue Once Was

My first real job was at IBM, in the old Boca Raton lab, in 1976. (Important: IBM has become a very different company in the last twenty years, so please assume none of this applies to the current company. Also, this is all to my recollection, and memory is unreliable.)

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The offer was made early, and sounded great. I’ve never been in love with the beach, but thought it might be fun to live near the ocean, and live in a city whose name means “mouse’s mouth.”

The job was in “advanced technology” and dealt with systems architecture.

It took a few years to sink in, but turns out that in corporate language, “advanced tech” is a euphemism: It isn’t what it sounds like. But the software design process didn’t include asking actual customers about usability. I discovered later on, through founding craigslist, that listening to people is about the smartest thing you can do.

I got involved in some software development. That led to some customer involvement, but I was too easy to read, and customers looked to my reactions to see if marketing was, say, stretching things. We nerds are not great salespeople.

After some years, the opportunity to transfer to IBM in Detroit was made, to be involved in a joint effort with General Motors to do factory automation work. Well, I took the offer.

Detroit was pretty good for me, I liked the people and got involved with the local science fiction community, and the local artists community.

After a total of seventeen years, IBM was going through a lot of changes. I took a really good buyout offer and ended up moving to San Francisco, where I got another job and a few years later started craigslist in my spare time.

Photo: Adam Jenkins/Flickr

Texas government working hard to prevent women from voting

Folks, we are gearing up for midterm elections and that means that you should be aware of your rights. wendy-davis-e1382019677722

There are some real bad actors out there trying to implement laws to stop eligible people, including women, from voting. What I learned in high school civics class is that an attack on voting rights is virtually the same as an attack on the country.

The New Civil Rights Movement writes, as reported by Think Progress:

“as of November 5, Texans must show a photo ID with their up-to-date legal name. It sounds like such a small thing, but according to the Brennan Center for Justice, only 66% of voting age women have ready access to a photo document that will attest to proof of citizenship. This is largely because young women have not updated their documents with their married names, a circumstance that doesnʼt affect male voters in any significant way. Suddenly 34% of women voters are scrambling for an acceptable ID, while 99% of men are home free.”

Some politicians have tried to manipulate voting laws for their benefit, that’s not right. We need integrity in our elections and voting that’s free, fair, and accessible.

It’s up to us all to ensure the integrity of our voting process by getting registered, speaking up against voter ID laws and the attack on voting rights, and to encourage everyone to vote, regardless of ethnicity or gender.

Disenfranchising voters is not a new thing, but has been happening across the country for some time now. Last year, I worked with some good folks to create an infographic about impact of voter suppression.

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My team and I have compiled a list of voting resources; please check it out, and share any helpful resources that you think are missing in the comment section.

15 Women in Tech to Follow on Twitter

Hey, a coupla weeks ago I wrote a blog post about the Top 10 Women in Tech orgs. And recently, a lot of folks have been talking about the importance of women’s leadership in tech. The Women’s Media Center released a report with two big data points:

  • At its current pace, it will take until 2085 for women to reach parity with men in leadership roles in government/politics, business, entrepreneurship, and nonprofits.
  • Only 17 women at media and technology companies are on Fortune’s 50 most powerful women in business list.

I’m no expert, but I do have suggestions for some women in tech who really have their boots on the ground, and are doing good work. You should check out their work, support ’em if you’re able, and follow them on Twitter.

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(in alphabetical order…)

Kimberly Bryant, @6Gems: Founder of Black Girls Code. Black Girls Code purpose is to increase the number of women of color in the digital space by empowering girls of color ages 7 to 17 to become innovators in STEM fields, leaders in their communities, and builders of their own futures through exposure to computer science and technology. Kimberly is an engineer, social entrepreneur, technology junkie, and dreamer.


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Shaherose Charania, @shaherose: CEO, Co-Founder, and President of Women 2.0. At heart Shaherose is a mobile and telephony junkie. She’s led new consumer products at Ribbit (BT). Previously, she was Director of Product Management at Talenthouse and JAJAH (sold to Telefonica/O2). Shaherose holds a B.A. in Business Admin from The University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business.


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Sara Chipps, @SaraJChipps: Co-Founder, software developer, and organizer of Girl Develop It, which teaches women how to develop applications from start to finish. The org empowers women of diverse backgrounds from around the world to learn how to develop software. Sara is also the CTO of Levo League, where she focuses on developer happiness as a metric for success.


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Kaliya Hamlin, @identitywoman: Founder of She’s Geeky, which began as a haven where women who self-identify as geeky could meet in person to support, educate, and share experiences with one another. Kaliya is also Founder of the Personal Data Ecosystem, and is one of the leading experts in the emerging personal data ecosystem and user-centric digital identity.


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Mary Hodder, @Maryhodder: Mary works in privacy and personal data technologies, and is also working on an Android rewrite for privacy (with crowdfunding to finance it). She founded Dabble.com in 2005, a social search site that helps people organize and playlist media they like, while discovering great media through other’s recommendations.


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Allyson Kapin, @womenwhotech: Founder of Women Who Tech and Rad Campaign, a web agency that develops websites for nonprofit organizations, foundations, and political campaigns. Allyson is also the co-author of the book Social Change Anytime Everywhere, published by Wiley. Allyson has been a featured expert on media outlets ranging from CNN to the BBC for her insight on tech and social media trends.


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Sian Morson, @xianamoy: Founder and CEO of Kollective Mobile, a mobile development agency that helps start-ups design and grow their mobile business by providing strategy consulting and building mobile apps. A graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Sian makes video art, speaks about technology and mobile, and writes about culture and tech.


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Holly Ross, @drupalhross: Executive Director of the Drupal Association, an educational nonprofit organization that fosters and supports the Drupal software project, the community, and its growth. Holly has a passion for change and has led a career focused on helping nonprofits create more of it.


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Rashmi Sinha, @Rashmi: Co-Founder of SlideShare which was acquired by LinkedIn. Rashmi focuses on product strategy and design. Before SlideShare, she built MindCanvas, a game-like survey platform for customer research. Rashmi has a PhD in Cognitive Neuropsychology from Brown University and conducted research on search engines and recommender systems at UC Berkeley.


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Wendy Tan, @wendytanwhite: Co-Founder & CEO of Moonfruit, a design-control DIY website and shop builder; recently acquired by Hibu. Wendy is also a 500 Startups mentor. Wendy writes extensively about the need for greater support and recognition for female entrepreneurs and women in business.


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Amra Tareen, @amratareen: CEO of LittleCast, a mobile app and web platform that allows users to sell videos directly on Facebook. Prior to LittleCast, Amra, a former telecom engineer who grew up in Pakistan and Australia, earned a Harvard M.B.A., then joined venture capital outfit Sevin Rosen Funds, where she became a partner, and then left when she founded AllVoices, a citizen news site.


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Kristy Tillman@KristyT: Designer, Developer, and a Media Ideation Fellow. Kristy is building Project Phonebooth, a mobile app that aims to make applying to local government jobs easier for those who rely on mobile technology to access the Internet.


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Padmasree Warrior, @padmasree: CTO of Cisco. Padmasree helps direct technology and operational innovation across the company and oversees strategic partnerships, mergers and acquisitions, the integration of new business models, the incubation of new technologies, and the cultivation of world-class technical talent.


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padmasree

Dr. Umit Yalcinalp, @umityalcinalp: Dr. Umit Yalcinalp is a former Software Architect turned Salesforce.com Evangelist with a Ph.D. in Computer Science, and is a self-described “seasoned technologist, fashionista geek and web technology veteran.” You can read Dr Yalcinalp’s blog at WS Dudette.


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