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The Year Ahead
Alex Steffen, 2 Jan 06

How do we make WorldChanging as excellent as it can be?

We've done a lot in the last year: posted a couple thousand pieces, got a book deal, redesigned the site, started a nonprofit, grew our team of contributors, and, perhaps most importantly, found a core of regular readers who have become a constant source of inspiration and good ideas. We're very proud of everything we've accomplished together.

And we also know we can do better. This year, our goal is to focus more on constant small improvements, making this site as useful, compelling and fun as we can. In making these moves, we're going to let the feedback you've been giving us be our main compass.

What you love the most about the site, you've told us consistently, are two things:

One is the original content we do -- pieces like Ethan's behind-the-scenes visit to the One Laptop Per Child project, Alan's essays on the rebuilding of New Orleans, Emily's interview with Natalie Jeremijenko, Zaid's report from South Africa on ten years of democracy, Nicole's essays, Jer's Biomimicry 101, Jon's email exchange with Bruce Sterling, Dawn's review of Eternally Yours: Time in Design, Jamais' HumanChanging roundtable, or my own conversations with Cory Doctorow and Thomas P.M. Barnett.

We'll be doing more of this sort of thing in 2006: more interviews, more lab visits, more essays, more reviews. Indeed, we'll be stretching our networks to find more people, models, tools and ideas worth sharing with you (you can help by suggesting folks and things you'd like to see us cover).

The second is the regular and more comprehensive content we feature -- Joel and Gil's essays from the frontlines of sustainability consulting, Mike's always excellent sustainable transportation reports, Jill and Sarah's green design posts, and Micki's posts on worldchanging films.

We'll be doing more of these sorts of posts, too, by expanding the team of contributors and both beefing up our regular weekend features and adding some new weekly round-ups.

For one thing, doing this book has taught us that there are whole realms of worldchanging endeavor which we tend to ignore -- not from intention, but simply because none of us on the existing team know all that much about the subject. Other subjects (like public health and green energy) we do our best to cover, but we know that we're missing some great and important stories simply because we're not experts.

In addition, we'll also be tweaking the site design a bit. You guys have given us a bunch of feedback on the current design -- mostly compliments, but also some much-appreciated constructive criticism. We plan to incorporate those suggestions into upcoming iterations.

Finally, we have a few fun new programs we're going to try -- an awards program, and so on -- but you'll be hearing more about those as the year gets underway.

So look for some changes around here this year -- not necessarily profound ones, but hopefully gradual and steady improvements. We've done a lot of hard work, and laid the foundation for this site to not only grow, but grow better, and we're all eager to start building.

We hope you'll lend a hand, or at least tell us what you enjoy and what you think we can improve. As we've said from the beginning, changing the world is a team sport.

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Dear Alex (and everyone else who participates in WorldChanging),

Here's an expression of gratitude, admiration and brotherly/sisterly love to all of you. This is a wonderful enterprise: smart, hopeful, idealistic and wise. Knowing that you're all in the world renews my hope, inspires my efforts and helps ease a certain loneliness.

I hope that in the year to come we can have a patient, honest discussion about means and ends. Do we need only new means, or do we need new ends too? Can our present social and economic arrangements be maintained through elegant technical fixes and accurate market signals? Is re-engineering enough, or do we also need re-invention and re-orientation? Are questions like these appropriate and relevant, or do they merely reveal an ideological bias? Are our social and economic arrangements resilient and durable, or are several 200-year-old economic and social experiments suddenly in question?

WorldChanging offers a steady stream of good news, interesting developments and hopeful insights. From my peculiar perspective, I often see these as tools or good examples. But the value of a tool lies in how and why it's wielded. The virtue of a good example lies in its own merits, and in teaching us how to create something like it elsewhere.

There are many ways that the future is fate. It's vital to understand, accept, adapt to, cope with or gladly embrace such trends. But how much of our future is fate, and how much is choice? Can we re-imagine ourselves, personally and collectively? Do ethics have a role in progress? Or is "progress", as we define it in science, technology, and political economy, itself the highest ethical good? Why is it "strange" in some circles to be optimistic in the human capacity for learning, self-preservation, adaptation, cooperation and even love? Alternatively, why do some people think that "saving the world" only requires "inner work" or a "change of consciousness" - but no changes to hardware or adherence to the laws of physics?

What if our obligation to help create a sustainable civilization requires more of us than cleverness? What if we need to stop living out one description of the world and learn to live according to a new one? Could we do that? Or is that a silly question, one that overlooks the incredible ingenuity and inventiveness of human beings and the enduring value of our institutions?

That's a conversation I'd like to have this year.

Posted by: David Foley on 3 Jan 06


Thank you so much for your kind words, and thanks, too, for your provocative questions. They're critical ones to ask ourselves.

For my part, I have no doubt that we need more than what Thoreau called "improved means to unimproved ends."

Of course we need better tools. We also need better blueprints. But we need other things as well: vision, imagination, ethical clarity, purpose and courage. I suspect that the future we need to build is currently unimaginable, and that this is one of the biggest barriers we have to building it. In the current climate, imagination and optimism are political acts.

So yes, we will continue to cover new and better tools, but we also hope to bring more attention to new models of action, and push harder at frontier of new ideas. We all have a lot of things to figure out together, if we're going to build a sustainable planet, and no time to lose: questions like these are vital.

Thanks again, and happy new year!

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 3 Jan 06

I'd like more succinct posts, or a summary outbox with key bullet points on the longer posts so I can see at a glance if it's something to invest time in reading. Perhaps also where relevant, a clearer separation between the 'facts' and the 'speculative discussion' in a post.

I think it would also be good, using invitations and occasional moderator comments, to encourage the readers to engage more and share more quality input on posts, particularly where they are qualified to do so.

So much focus is on the future (the future generation of people or technology), which delays action when we need to see what we can do in the short term with the tools that are available today.

I like Alan's and Nicole's posts and David's comments because they touch on the cultural and mindset aspects of change.

It would be interesting to see a discussion on this important topic suggested by David: 'why do some people think that "saving the world" only requires "inner work" or a "change of consciousness" - but no changes to hardware or adherence to the laws of physics?'

Thanks for all of your hard work & dedication.

Posted by: Flannel Flower on 9 Jan 06

A big "thank you" to everybody involved in making WorldChanging the great resource that it is! Keep up the good work!

Posted by: Michael G. Richard on 9 Jan 06

Personally I'm not so concerned with succinctness or summaries of posts and I think the site would suffer if those were enforced more strongly.

The reason I say this is because I usually come here by what I read in the site's RSS feed, which does all the digesting for me. The feed brings me in and the depth is what keeps me here reading.

But to address Flannel's concern perhaps the writers here could start each lengthy post off with an abstract. This would let each visitor without an newsreader to scan the page better before they decide to read any posts at length.

I'd also be a little disappointed if WC turns into an "action oriented," near-term, "tips for greener living and a better world" site. I think there are already many groups, educational sites and tools out there to support positive change in the near-term. WC can point to these (And better still point us to ones that are obscure.) but shouldn't join them.

I like WC's big picture, wide-ranging eclectic view. I vote for staying the course. If the near term and action suffers a bit because of this, so be it.

As for community building, well, I don't know. I'm kind of afraid that something will be lost if the site becomes more Slash-like or Kuro5in-like.

I guess I'll just summarize by saying things are just fine. Leave it be. But I'm a stick in the mud. I'm sure a lot changes can be made and I'll still love this site just the same!

On the other hand, I have one specific objection: The function of the columns on the root page seem unclear to me. My naive guess is the middle column is the big stories and columns of the day. The rightmost column is for lesser stories and posts and the leftmost column--well--what is the leftmost column for? Old stories? Persistent call for comment? What?

Perhaps a heading above each column might clearify to the reader what each functions as?

Posted by: Pace Arko on 10 Jan 06

Yeah, I think Pace Arko's suggestion of an abstract (on longer posts) would be good.

also agree the eclectic nature of WC is good - hence I like the philosophical and perspective giving type posts, and I don't like seeing treehugger product type entries appearing on WC.

I didn't mean to say that WC focuses too much on the future aspect! no. I was just verbally meandering whilst trying to say that in general, it's a problem that govt & institutional responses tend to focus on future technologies and future generations (altho WC does sometimes focuses excessively on technological aspects of the future). We need to find ways to become sustainable (socially, environmentally and economically) in the near term (the imminent present). Ie don't do tomorrow what you can do today as your granny would say. I think it's incredibly important but I'm probably not expressing it well. Of course we have to work on future fixes, but there's a lot that could be done today with current tools, processes and social capacities that isn't being done.

I like the broad scope of topics that appears on WC, it helps me keep informed (and to be highly convincing in my trojan horse style of activism!). Even broader could be even better!

Posted by: Flannel Flower on 11 Jan 06



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