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Working Networks
Katie Kurtz, 11 Jun 07
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Networking is at the heart of any conference and at some point the question inevitably arises: how do we carry the momentum forward? Beyond trading business cards, how do people follow up on conversations started over breakfast or crazy ideas hatched at 2a.m.? At the Gaining Ground Sustainable Urban Development Leadership Summit in Victoria, BC (now in its second year), I learned about some new tools to help address this.

The newly launched WiserEarth (World Index for Social and Environmental Responsibility) offers a virtual environment for the massive and unbounded global population of changemakers we often call the "sustainability movement." Paul Hawken, who spoke at the conference, describes the movement in his recent book, Blessed Unrest. In development for the past two years by the Natural Capital Institute, the site amalgamates wikis, social networking, resources, and a job board that intersect at topical hubs (Areas of Focus). NCI seeded the site with about 100,000 organizations and the hope that more will join and create their own profiles, turning the site into an unprecedentedly large and singular aggregation of the world's progress-oriented and do-good organizations. Much like Zaadz, individual profiles on Wiser Earth promote transparency by including users' first and last names. Other features include ways to visualize your connections to other people and a mapping function.

In contrast to other social networking sites, no login is required and you can add individuals and organizations to your network without awaiting their approval. This presumes two things: that users are comfortable with their information being broadcast on the web; and that the person you want to network with naturally wants to network with you. An atmosphere of trust emerges in this configuration that mimics how communities are built offline. Ideally, this level of transparency will discourage trolls or spamming. The navigation is a bit counter-intuitive and the search function can be frustrating but the open source platform allows members to fix these and other issues (if deemed as such) that emerge.

The recently launched Global Urban Sustainable Solutions Exchange (GUSSE), was described by Charles Kelly (Commissioner General of the 3rd U.N. World Urban Forum or WUF) as “enabling curation” of sustainability tools and resources for cities. The site describes itself as an “Amazon.com for urban solutions,” a misnomer that could potentially drive users away as it implies that access to resources requires payment. As yet, I have been unable to locate any resources and clicking on tags lead to “Not Found” pages. However, a lot of the text is written in the future tense (describing what it will do rather than it already is) which indicates it may still be under construction.

Prior to learning about WiserEarth and GUSSE, I came across the Australia-based Appropedia which bills itself as the sustainability wiki. A Google search brings up a number of sustainability wikis but clicking through a selection of them, it becomes evident that they haven't been kept up. I’m guessing we’ll see new sustainability wikis introduced almost daily because, as both Hawken and Kelly pointed out, wikis organize information and networks in a way that a simple Google search cannot reveal.

WorldChanging floated the idea of a Bright Green Wiki about three years ago and the initial questions raised still apply. Since everyone is already working to achieve a lot with limited time – does it make sense to devote energy to developing new wikis or to strengthening ones that already exists? How many online social networking profiles does one person need? Should these efforts be aggregated? How?

Image by webgrl and used under Creative Commons license.

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Comments

Hi Katie, thanks for a great piece that summarizes some of the great, new resources out there. I especially liked being introduced to Alex Steffen's piece of bright green wikis and was surprised how well WiserEarth paralleled what Alex thought this new wiki should be capable of. While WiserEarth might seem like another green wiki, it was designed to be more flexible, open, and transparent than any site out there. I'll go through Alex's points and point out why I think this is so.

1) Write a defining mission statement.

This is WiserEarth's current mission:
***WiserEarth serves the people who are transforming the world. It is an open source, community-editable international directory and networking forum that maps, links and empowers the largest movement in the world – the hundreds of thousands of organizations within civil society that address social justice, poverty, and the environment. ***

In the near future, WiserEarth will incorporate business and government too. Making sure all three pillars of society are represented on a platform flexible enough to produce features that they need.

2) Create a structure.

This is done. The entries on WiserEarth are a combination of structured fields for contact information and wiki text fields. The information is available to the entire community and editable by the community. The data practically screams, "Take me!" and as features develop, the community will be able to take it and give to it, in a variety of ways. All for free.

3) Create a social contract.

A lot of consulting was ton with wikipedia to copy much of their editorial process. It doesn't have the number of dedicated editors wikipedia has yet, but the platform is there.

4) Create a taxonomy of sustainability.

Alex hit this one right on the head. WiserEarth recognized the need for a taxonomy too and developed over 400 Areas of Focus for the launch of the project that cover both social justice and environmental issues. And the community can suggest new areas of focus and in the future the community will vote for, and write definitions for new areas of focus (or rewrite old ones).

5) Invite participation.

The staff at NCI is currently spending a lot of time working with members of civil society to understand their work and how WiserEarth can improve to help them.

6) Create a community for discussion of broader issues.

WiserEarth already has a discussion feature for talking about organizations, areas of focus, upcoming events, or anything else the community wants.

7)Promote the resource.

A never ending process, the staff at NCI has already begun.

In summary, WiserEarth was built on a mountain of data to start (over 100,000 organizations) and wrapped in a flexible platform to respond to the communities needs to strengthen connections across civil society, and in the future business and governments.


Posted by: Michael Spalding on 12 Jun 07

Thank you for your synopsis of the current state of resources, and for your mention of Appropedia. Indeed there are many tools available and some degree of redundancy, dilution of the input pool, erroneous information and various states of upkeep. We are part of the core team of Appropedia, which does bill itself as the Sustainability Wiki. You ask:

"Since everyone is already working to achieve a lot with limited time – does it make sense to devote energy to developing new wikis or to strengthening ones that already exists?"

We believe that it makes sense to devote energy to strengthening current wikis. To that end: Five wikis have fully converged into Appropedia, and so consolidation occurs in parallel with proliferation. Others have joined forces with us because Appropedia is being kept up and has a lively, vibrant community of contributors, and their joining has helped to make that more true. (Some months ago we also reached out to BrightGreenWiki, but the site had gone quiet by then.)

We have just passed our one year mark and have received over 800,000 page views and 20,000 page edits. Although our site is not Australia-based, Engineers Without Borders – Australia just partnered with us, like Village Earth before them. In addition, we feel that Wikis do not fit every need, therefore we are both looking to extend the functionality of our site, and also pursuing partnerships and encourage work on social networking/organizational taxonomy sites like WiserEarth (we're acquainted with Michael Spalding who commented earlier) and architectural development sites like Open Architecture Network, along with many others.

In the end, it will take many processes, tools (and policies and conventions and community awareness) and most importantly people to address the problems we face.

We sincerely value Worldchanging for its part in developing awareness and solutions. Thank you for all your work!


Posted by: Curt Beckmann on 12 Jun 07

"Appropedia... bills itself as the sustainability wiki."

I believe this is accurate. If there are any other substational, active wikis covering sustainability, please let us know so we can work on collaborating (or merging, in my preference).

"Should these efforts be aggregated?"

Yes!

"How?"

1. The main thing is not to start new networks or resource sites (especially wikis) unnecessarily. I, together with others from Appropedia, have been strongly encouraging people in this field to collaborate rather than compete. And collaboration has been happening in an amazing way. An encouraging lack of ego has been shown by people and organizations merging their wikis to form what is now Appropedia.

I would have also encouraged WiserEarth to do the same... except we only found each other shortly before their launch. Plus, they are taking a different approach and have a lot to offer. We are in communication and do hope to work closely - hopefully the sites will join seamlessly with little overlap, in time.

2. Work together, looking for areas of synergy. There's a lot of potential synergy between Appropedia and WorldChanging - so let's talk about what we can do.


Btw, Appropedia is increasinly international... but it now even less Australian than it was, as the only Australian in the core team, i.e. me is in Indonesia, connecting with development and sustainability efforts here. We do have a Canadian tech-admin in Melbourne but that doesn't quite make us Australian-based :).


Posted by: Chriswaterguy on 13 Jun 07



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