Other


The Bayer Center blog has been a lot of fun!  With a busy and small staff, however, it has been a challenge to keep it up.

We are leaving the blog up because there’s a lot of good stuff on here (and you never know, we may come back to it).  In the meantime, we’d love to talk to you on Facebook or Twitter!

Like the Bayer Center on Facebook!

Follow the Bayer Center on Twitter!

So, yes…I’m Bayer Center staff, but I would attend this event even if I weren’t! Here’s why I think you should come:

#10: Good networking opportunity – lots of nonprofit (and some for-profit) peeps in one place.  A great way to say hello to those you know and to make new friends!

#9: Food and drink.  Wine, beer, and hors d’oeuvres – yum!  In my mind, very necessary items for an after-work event.

#8: It’s a celebration AND fundraiser (our first ever, actually), so your ticket cost is going to a really good cause and helps us continue to help the nonprofit community.

#7: The entire Bayer Center staff will be there.  All of us in one place at the same time is a rare event in itself – we are usually all over the place, consulting, teaching, etc.

#6: Bricolage has been commissioned to create a performance especially for this event.  I don’t even know what they are doing, but I checked out their past performances/creations on their website and they do some fun and crazy stuff!  This is not-to-be-missed!

#5: No talking heads.  When we started planning this event, we swore we’d not put people through two hours of speech-making and we are sticking to that promise.

#4: We’re giving something special away to everyone who comes.  I know what it is, but I’m not telling.  You’ll like it.

#3: You’ll get to see the new August Wilson Center if you haven’t been there before.  It’s lovely!

#2: There will be cake.  Who doesn’t like cake?

#1: YOU are the reason for our success.  We want you to celebrate with us!


If you would like to RSVP, visit
http://www.rmu.edu/bcnmregistration.
We hope to see you there!!

Who’s that new person answering the phones at the Bayer Center…?

Shelby GraceyThat’s Shelby Gracey, our new Office Coordinator!

Shelby started working for the Bayer Center just this month and we are tickled to have her with us.  She came to us from Keystone Oaks School District, where she served as the Technical Facilitator, or as she puts it “the tech person.”  Shelby has an A.S. in medical administration assisting, but has spent very little time in the medical field and more time working with other types of nonprofits.

One of those nonprofits just happens to be the Sunset Hill United Presbyterian Church, where her husband is the minister.  Shelby serves as the congregation’s Director of Music, which includes coordinating and performing music for church services, directing a 28- member adult choir, teaching music for the Youth Club, and assisting with the bell choir.

These two jobs keep her pretty busy, but in her spare time she likes to spend time with her husband and children (two left in high school and one away at college) and play with her dogs (three beagles and a cockapoo).  In addition, she loves to read and considers dining out a form of entertainment since it gets her out of the kitchen.

Shelby is a Florida native, having moved to Pittsburgh’s South Hills around 20 years ago.  She said everyone likes to ask “how could you possibly leave Florida?” but she adores Pennsylvania – including the snowy weather.

Please join us in welcoming Shelby to the Bayer Center family!!

The U.S. public debt burden is $7.75 trillion, and “most economists agree that our rising deficit poses a very real threat to the health of our future economy.” We could start paying down this debt – as many Americans are struggling to do with their own personal finances – but our federal government continues to run up even larger deficits.

One of the reasons we cannot reign in our spending ways is our political leaders continue to care more about representing the interest of their state, and getting reelected, than about the future health of the U.S. economy. Take Senator Ken Conrad (D-ND), Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, for example. Sen. Conrad is adamant that Congress and the President need to reign in their irresponsible spending ways and pass a balanced budget. He has even gone on record as saying:

“Yes, the small things are important to my state, but I also recognize that the big things are what matter from a national perspective. What really matters is that we have an overall (budget) plan that is balanced.”

As Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Conrad has arguably more clout over this process than any of his Congressional peers. So, in practice, how does he use this influence? Well, Sen. Conrad awarded his home state of North Dakota with the third highest amount of federal earmarks per capita of any U.S. state ($213 per capita versus the U.S. average of $41 per capita for fiscal 2008 -2009).

In a time when we as a country are spending 10% of our revenues ($250 billion) to repay our federal debt, and Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid consume another 57% of our budget ($1,430 billion), it’s good to know our leaders are “looking out” for our best interest. Oh, least I forget, the current 2011 budget request is likely to add another $1.6 trillion to our growing public debt (Did you know that China and Japan, collectively, own $1.5 trillion of U.S. debt?), which went before the Senate Budget Committee this week. The best part of it all is that the Obama administration projects the entitlement programs and the interest on our deficit will “absorb 80% of all federal revenues by 2020.” Therefore, let’s all be clear, our current political leaders, much like their recent predecessors, are fully aware of the approaching fiscal crisis and are doing nothing to avert it.

Speaking of fiscal crisis, let’s not forget about our own state’s budget woes. Last year, the state of Pennsylvania took 101 days after its constitutional deadline to pass its $28 billion budget. PA was the last state to pass its budget amidst the worst recession since the Great Depression. By August of last year, most of the state’s 67 counties could not afford to fund their nonprofit agencies without state money. (Harrisburg did manage to pass an interim budget that would pay the state’s 71,000 government workers, but nonprofit agencies were not included.) During a time of great community need, and declining public contributions, foundation funds, and already scaled back government contracts, Pennsylvania politicians could not decide on how to fill a $3 billion hole in our budget (or 10% of the total budget, which is pretty “cheap” in comparison to our projected 33% federal budget hole for fiscal 2010 – 2011). Instead, nonprofits were forced to take out private loans to continue to operate; reduced their services; furloughed or reduced their staff; and, in some cases, closed their doors altogether.

The bad news for nonprofit agencies and Pennsylvanians alike is the fiscal picture in Harrisburg is sure to only get worse because of the looming debts in both the state employees’ and teachers’ retirement funds. PA legislators entered the millennium with a pension surplus and spent the surplus funds despite the fact that they would one day have to deliver on this “accounts payable”, just as their federal counterparts did (remember Al Gore’s 2000 platform promise to create a Social Security “lockbox”?). Unfortunately, the “payable” starts coming due in 2012, and the Tribune Review and Post-Gazette both estimate it’s going to cost the state approximately $3.5 billion (the Trib says $4 billion, the PG says $3 billion). Mind you, this money will not be used to improve our schools, create new jobs, or improve living conditions in our cities and rural communities, but rather will cover the state’s entire employer contribution for state workers and half of the employer contribution for school workers for fiscal 2012 – 2013. Essentially, the folks in Harrisburg are imitating the same fiscal irresponsibility of their federal counterparts. May the most irresponsible lawmaker “win”, I guess?

Upon joining the non-profit sector, a number of people opined to me that they are happy I’ve decided to dedicate my time and effort towards strengthening the sector’s work. In fact, one of the sound bites I kept hearing is that non-profits – despite their inability to sell equity (and thus raise money through either private investors or the larger public capital market) or the lack of an agreed upon “profit” metric for measuring organizational success – need to behave more like for-profit businesses. So, listen up my fellow non-profit professionals, I’m going to impart some words of wisdom I learned from my days working in the for-profit world (at institutions such as Freddie Mac, UBS Investment Bank, and others).

We need larger pay packages to attract and retain qualified professionals. In order to create the type of fast thinking, innovative companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns, Enron, Tyco and others, we need to increase our compensation packages. Currently, this kind of fast-thinking/innovative executive talent retails for approximately $10.5 million, or roughly 344 times the average worker’s salary ($30,700). Since the average executive director of Southwestern Pennsylvania only makes a mere $96,110, or 3.6 times the average worker’s salary – that’s a lot of innovation we’re leaving on the table! Lesson #1: if we are to attract for-profit executive talent then we must start paying our non-profit executive directors better.

Ignore sustainability and adopt a “do whatever it takes” attitude to exceed your short-term goals. We in the nonprofit sector spend far too much time talking about creating sustainable programs and achieving long-term outcomes. Instead, we need to adopt a more market-centric view of the world, just as for-profit businesses have to when their performance is measured by the market. Take General Motors, for instance. In the late 1990s and well into the first decade of the 21st Century, GM ignored suggestions that the company should rethink its focus on the sale of light trucks and SUVs and instead become a pioneer in the production of fuel-efficient (sustainable) automobiles. However, GM’s short-term focus on becoming the premier seller of light trucks and SUV (its most profitable product line) seemed to be paying off:

In 2002, GM sold more than 8.5 million cars and trucks and was the first auto manufacturer to sell 1.2 million SUVs and 2.7 million trucks in a calendar year. The company set industry sales records in the United States and owned nearly 15 percent of the global vehicle market. And investors took notice – the company’s stock rose approximately 45% over the next year.

Of course, you know the rest of the story by now – fuel prices rose and consumers grew tired of paying for non-fuel efficient vehicles. GM was stuck with a bunch of cars and trucks (mostly trucks) that they tried to “give away” with 0% financing and large rebates – again, focusing on exceeding the company’s short-term sales numbers even at the expense of hurting long-term profit margins – but nobody wanted them. Lesson #2: for-profits rarely practice sustainable planning so why should your organization.

The market rewarded GM's banner 2002 year with stellar market returns in '03. Nevertheless, GM's lack of a sustainable business model finally forced the company into bankruptcy in '09.

Transform your board. Nonprofit executive directors, not only are you egregiously underpaid relative to your for-profit brethren, but also you need to hold more board power. This year’s Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics winner, Oliver Williamson, in a recent article, “Corporate Boards of Directors: In Principle and in Practice,” submits that today’s corporate boards are largely ruled by the CEO and are passive financial stewards. He writes:

The CEO is in de facto control of the operation and composition of the board…most boards most of the time are responding with nodding approval, and boards are beset by inertia, hence are slow to become active when the corporation experiences adversity” (260).

In hindsight, we’ve spent far too much time espousing the idea that nonprofit boards need to be active and chart the agency’s strategy, raise money, etc. After all, when is the last time you heard of a corporate board functioning this way? No, on a corporate board the CEO/Chairperson sets the agenda and the remaining board members are asked to “nod in approval.” Lesson #3: we need to retrain our board members to be passive financial stewards and centralize all power with the executive director (and newly appointed chairperson).

As you read these “lessons,” I hope it is apparent by now that there is an awful lot each sector – the for-profit and non-profit – can stand to learn from one another. I think the three lessons above illustrate areas the for-profit sector should take a cue from the nonprofit sector and consider adopting these practices. Conversely, there are a number of for-profit practices – strategic planning, capital budgeting, using data to inform evaluative programmatic judgments and more – that I believe are beneficial for nonprofits to adopt. However, to think that either sector has a monopoly on best practices is just over simplistic and flawed logic. As Jim Collins’ writes in his monograph Good to Great and the Social Sectors, “We need to reject the naïve imposition of the ‘language of business’ on the social sectors, and instead jointly embrace a language of greatness” (2). Touché, Jim.

 

Happy ThanksgivingWhat does Thanksgiving mean to you?

For many, it means food, family, fun (hopefully) and some time to get away from work and relax.  Not everyone is so fortunate, however, and it is good for us to take a moment or two and reflect upon our blessings, no matter how small or insignificant they might seem.

Here are the things I am thankful for this year:

  1. I am gainfully employed. I work in the building that houses the local job center and I see so many people in the lobby and elevator visiting that office.  I’ve chatted with several of them in passing and some are so sincerely wanting work and are at their wit’s end – it makes me sad.  On days at work when I want to pull my hair out, I remind myself that I am lucky to have a job and to just “get over it.”
  2. My parents. For some reason, practically every electronic device, appliance, and automobile I own has decided to go on the fritz in the past year in a big way.  I despise myself when I have to borrow from my mom and dad, but they are more than happy to lend it and I feel fortunate that they’ve got my back.  I know it’s not always going to be that way.
  3. Smartphones. I recently broke down and bought a Google Droid.  I am continually amazed by how much convenience is afforded in one small device that fits in the palm of your hand.  Ten years ago, I complained to a friend that I wanted a single device to replace my music player, my camera, and my PDA.  Apparently I wasn’t the only person who felt that way and I’m glad the tech giants were listening.
  4. Holiday music. I listen to holiday tunes starting in July, but they become very prevalent around this time of year (which means more variety and listening options).  My favorites are the oldies – Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Andy Williams, etc.  When I was very young, I had a record player and adored my Perry Como and Andy Williams Christmas albums.  Hearing those songs is like a time machine to the days when life was simple, and my brother and I woke our parents up at 5 am because we couldn’t wait to get started opening our presents.  Holiday music = nostalgia = good feelings.
  5. Online shopping. I used to do the Black Friday insanity – camping out at my store of choice at 3 a.m. to get the “good stuff” before it was gone.  Those days are over for me.  I do all my shopping online, where the deals are just as good if not better than in the stores.  Once again, hooray for technology.
  6. The nonprofit sector. I know that there are many days when we feel like we are beating our heads against a wall.  When I think about how many lives our sector touches and the work that we collectively accomplish, however, I can’t help but feel grateful that nonprofits do exist.  I cannot imagine leading a life driven solely by making money and I am grateful that I can work in a place that has meaning and a mission.
  7. President Obama. People are starting to complain that he isn’t effecting change fast enough.  Give the man a break already.  He’s taken the leadership mantle under the worst possible conditions – do we really want him making snap decisions?  I like that he looks before he leaps and that he recognizes that problems that have been years in the making cannot be fixed overnight.
  8. Our soldiers. I frequently disagree with the decisions made by our government in sending troops overseas, but I appreciate the men and women who go forth willingly and do service for our country.  We owe them our respect and gratitude.
  9. Windows 7. It’s about time you got it right, Microsoft.  Thank you for finally making a decent OS that is stable, attractive and intuitive.
  10. Social networking. I love that I can talk to people with whom I went to high school so many years ago again.  I love that I can play a game with someone in Thailand or Norway.  We may not have figured out all the ways in which social networking can be leveraged, but I’m enjoying it as we do.

What are you thankful for this year?  :)

I decided to venture forth last Friday, September 25, for the day of the scheduled height of G-20 activity — both sanctioned and otherwise.  Like much of downtown Pittsburgh, the Bayer Center offices were closed, and I was unsure how difficult it might be to get in.  We are located in the Regional Enterprise Tower in what was designated as a restricted access zone.  In addition, our lobby was the media welcome center.

As it turned out, access to my office was shockingly easy.  My wife dropped me off on her way to her office on the North Side, and we were able to get to within about 2 blocks of the building.  Other than a slightly circuitous walk from there,

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

it was no problem at all — in fact, due to a lack of traffic, it was easier than on a normal work day.  I’m sure if I had to worry about parking or took a rerouted bus, it would have been a little trickier — but not much.

Upon reaching the city around 10 a.m., what I found was some limited access, some evidence of security — most strikingly in the form of mounted police whose powerful steeds completely blocked off Grant Street –

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

and a decided lack of people.  Businesses were closed, some windows were boarded up (no apparent logic as to who boarded up and who didn’t), and just no people.  It was downright eerie.  I walked in the middle of the streets.  Pittsburgh on a Friday morning was emptier than a western ghost town selling tickets to tourists (maybe we should have tried that).

I spent some time in the office, then headed out around noon for what turned out to be a 4-hour hike.

As I walked deeper into town, there was one overwhelming impression — force.  The more I walked, the more intense it became.  Cops on every corner, Pittsburgh police, then state police, Erie police, Indianapolis police… they were brought in from all over.  And soon it wasn’t just regular police.  More

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

mounted police, cops on motorcycles, SWAT units, humvees, and various forms of riot gear — shoulder pads and knee pads and sticks and helmets and shotguns and body armor and utility belts that would make Batman salivate.  They looked like a cross between Darth Vader’s Storm Troopers and the Michelin Man.  And let me tell you, when you see these guys up close, they are intimidating.

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

Police in force, and police in numbers.  Riot-garbed security in groups of 100, shoulder to shoulder, moving in formation and leaving no doubts.

Eventually, I made my way as close to the Convention Center — the meeting place for the G-20 — as I could get.  I did this by passing through a security checkpoint, then walking a few blocks along Penn Avenue.  On my right were businesses, including some stores and restaurants that stayed open, although I can’t imagine they were happy about that decision.  On my left was the

10-foot steel fence, running unbroken along the curb and caging me in as completely as it caged in the roadway that was a feeder to the Convention Center.

I wandered down to the Point where a tent city was supposed to have been erected.  It was totally vacant.  Not a tent, not a sign, not a protester in sight.  Just a large lawn.  Where was everybody?

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

It got to be time that the main body of protesters should have been reaching downtown from the start of their march in Oakland, so I headed out in search of them.  I found them at the City-County Building where they had gathered for some speeches and music.   After listening for a little while, I left to find a place on Fifth Avenue to watch their ensuing parade.

I use the word parade deliberately, for, to me, that’s largely what it was.  There was almost a partying, paradelike atmosphere as they passed by.  I found myself just past Macy’s (appropriate for a parade) at, coincidentally, my regular bus stop.  5,000 or so of them passed — drummers and costumed dancers, anarchists and

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

socialists, those concerned with climate change and capitalism, freedom for Tibet and jobs for everyone, advocates for the Falun Gong (these were the most quietly elegant among the marchers) and for the Pittsburgh Penguins (where were the Steelers fans?).  It was a complete cacophony of issues.  And it left me feeling frustrated and a bit perplexed.

This was not 250,000 people gathered to end the war in Vietnam.  This was not 1,000,000 indignant human beings demanding civil rights for all.  It was a mishmash, a general objection to, well,

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

just about anything that might be institutionalized or established.  To the extent that there was a unifying theme, it was the black-garbed, bandanna-faced anarchists, followed by the socialists.  Amazing to me, even the Philadelphia Democratic Socialists of America (who knew?) found their way to Pittsburgh.

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

“Down with everything!  Up with anything else!” was the message of the streets.  This is not to diminish the fact that there were many passionate, principled, committed people in this crowd.  But with no focus, what were they accomplishing?  Who, that mattered, was really listening… or, for that matter, could even if they wanted to?  When there is so much noise — both figurative and literal — how can your voice be heard?  This was protesting in the internet age, when all voices are equally loud and fragmentation of micro-interests is global.  The protesting equivalent of Twitter – tweating by marching.

On the flip side, I found the whole experience to be rather inspirational.  This was truly democracy at work.

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

Corny as this may be, I am proud to live in a country where this kind of dissent is possible.  This was also a remarkably harmonious event.  The protesters were self-controlled and peaceful, the security phalanxes were restrained.  Were there problems in some of the outlying neighborhoods, notably in Oakland where student density is high?  Sure.  But, given the scale of the event, they were minor.  Were mistakes made?  Of course.

With so much hype and so many people, mistakes are inevitable.  Yes, I know that Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann will have much to complain about.  Yes, I know that the Thomas Merton Center alleges mistreatment of protesters and, I’m sure, there are police who are outraged by things that were “tolerated.”  Both the NRA and the ACLU may feel the need to weigh in.  But, let me tell you, I was here, and it was remarkable.

Some have suggested that the show of force was excessive.  Well, maybe, but I think the proof is in the pudding.  Pittsburgh did not

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

end up like Seattle.  Pittsburgh did not end up like London.  And we did not end up like Kent State.  I respect and admire the restraint of the police.  I respect and admire the restraint of the protesters. When a protester marched down Fifth Avenue jabbing his finger at the face of each cop he passed, hissing, “Fascist!  Nazi!”, the police remained stoic.  When the young man riding his bike down Fifth Avenue did not move off the street as quickly as the police wanted and they grabbed his arm and he fell over, the crowd groused, but that was all.  No one was harmed, the cops weren’t rushed, the young man was fine, bricks didn’t fly.  And the marchers continued to march.

I was a skeptic, but I’m impressed.  I think we accomplished something for Pittsburgh (a city I appreciate more and more the longer that I live here).  My hat is off to the protesters for how they behaved.  My hat is off to the police for how they behaved.  And my hat is off to the planners of this event for a remarkable job.

Photo by Scott Leff

Photo by Scott Leff

My paternal grandma passed away this past Sunday.  I went looking for her obituary online this morning and could only find a one-liner in The Daily News.  No listing in the Trib or the Post-Gazette at all.

Now this may be the fault of the funeral home, but I think my grandmother rates more than a one-line note in the local paper.  Patrick Swayze, god rest his soul, got an entire article and he’s not even from this area.

We’ve talked a lot on this blog about She-Roes, women who are admirable, courageous, and strong.  I’d like to tell you a bit about my grandma, who is one of my She-Roes.

My grandma, born in 1919, was the daughter of Irish immigrants who spoke English as a second language.  She became pregnant at an early age and was, to hear family members tell it, basically party to a shotgun wedding.  This would have been in the midst of the 1930’s, while America was coping with the Great Depression.  Not an ideal time to start a family.

She proceeded to have 14 kids over the next 25 years, each pregnancy around 2 years apart.  One was a set of twins that were miscarried (or stillborn – not sure on my memory for that one), so she raised 12 kids total.  Obviously birth control wasn’t a common thing back then, and in Irish farming families, the more kids you had, the more free labor you had available to you.  My grandparents weren’t farmers – I’m simply pointing out that it was not unheard of to have that many kids.  If she were attempting this today, she would have probably been given a reality TV show.

As if having 12 children weren’t enough to bear, she had married a man with some anger management issues.  Back then, spousal abuse wasn’t discussed, unskilled women and mothers didn’t leave their husbands, and people didn’t have the wonderful nonprofit resources available like we do today.  From what I understand, she dealt with regular physical and mental abuse from my grandfather until he got heart disease and died in the early 1970s.

Who knows what my grandma might have done in this life if she hadn’t been in these circumstances?  Her entire life, to me, seems to be a series of unfortunate events with no real choices to be had.  What I admire about her is, I’ve never heard her complain or whine about her life.  Until she got dementia around 10 years ago and more recently, cancer, she seemed to be happy enough.  I remember that she used to love to go shopping and to church – loved trinkets, knickknacks, and small things like that.  She was not difficult to please in the least – she was grateful for the smallest item or kindness.

She was also tough, in her own way…a survivor and a fighter.  When she got cancer a year or so ago, she must have gone into the hospital three or four times for internal bleeding and other issues.  Each time, the family was called in and told that she was ready to go.  Each time, until this last, she bounced back and was released.  I recall one time, about a year ago, she was in the hospital and looked white as a sheet when I visited her – I thought for sure that was it.  Two days later, my dad called me to say he had to stop her from pulling the IV out of her arms, and that she was ready to go home.

She died this past Sunday at age 90.  I can only hope that, in my own life, I will have half the courage and strength that she had.  When I think about the way her life went, it makes me incredibly grateful for my own adversities (which seem minor compared to hers) and thankful that we have such a variety of nonprofits that educate people about birth control, provide abuse shelters, send single moms to college, and otherwise help people today who have it like my grandma did.

Rest in peace, grandma…you’ve earned it.

Here’s a risky strategy: begin a blog post with the bold step of combining two cliches in order to say something potentially new and useful.  The first cliche shall be the business school action phrase “adding value”.  The second shall be the rule that destroys Internet business models: “information wants to be free”.  From these two old saws, we shall construct a useful question (and potentially some answers):

How do we add value to information that wants to be free?

In a delicious bit of blog post research transforming blog post thesis, my background work on this post turned up a very interesting fact about that “information wants to be free” motto.  It turns out that the original remark was more complex and interesting than the shortened motto that has emerged into the culturel.  Furthermore, the more complete original quote delves right into the question I’ve knitted together from these handy cliches.

Stewart Brand, speaking at the first Hackers conference back in 1984 (way pre-Internet) said:

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.

Yes, “information want to be free” has developed a life as an organizing philosophy around free content and free access and data sources playing nicely with each other.  But the original statement raises the problematic flip side of free information.  Information has value, and that value creates tension with the impulse toward freedom now thought to be possessed by information, espeically on the web.

There are some ways that we can add value to information.  Some examples:

CountyLists

This is like a children’s puzzle: What’s the difference between these two lists?  It’s easy, right?  List B is sorted, and list A is not.  Sorting is a simple way to add value to information.  We mostly notice the value of sorting when we encounter a list in no recognizable order.  Alphabetical is wonderful; scope and scale (in any measure) is often useful; for some lists, time is irreplaceable as an order.

When we rate information, we add value to it.  A few ways to add rating to lists:

allmusic

itunes

The second rating may be more familiar: it’s the Populartiy bar in the iTunes store.  We gain information by seeing what track has been purchased most often.  This helps in iTunes because different versions of a given song are available for sale, and often the most popular one is the most familiar one and more likely the one you want.  The first rating is a simple checkmark on the list of songs at the AllMusic Guide, which indicates that this is a “track pick” by the editors at the site.  Expert picking rates in a very different way than populartiy, right?  The Internet tends to raise questions about the role of the expert in the face of crowdsourcing.  Both kinds of ratings add value, though: the wisdom/traffic of the crowd on the one hand and the highlighting by the expert on the other.

Finally, if you love something, set it free.  Paradoxically, when we free information, we can add value to it.

GoogleTransit

The above image comes from Google Transit, a result of the Port Authority of Allegheny County opening up its route data to Google, who enhanced that information by putting it in an interface that the Port Authority had not developed on its own.  Google Transit enhances searches for transit directions by making the search and results work as well as (and actually quite similarly to) online driving directions.  I would argue that even as Port Authority gave away something of value in making its information available for Google’s interface, there was an exchange of value.  Ridership should increase because people can find their way more easily on Port Authority’s buses and trolleysdue to Google Transit.  In being freed, the information gains value.

What information in your vaults could be enhanced today by some sorting, rating or freeing?

That was then, this is now.

I just finished reading a fascinating, revelatory book by Clay Shirky called Here Comes Everybody.   shirkyIt’s about the radical changes in this brave new world we’re inhabiting when it comes to things like communications, organizing, publication…

We all know it’s going on.  From texting to blogging to Facebook to tweeting, everything’s different from the way it was last century, last year, heck, almost last week.

For old folks like me, we know Web 2.0 is out there, we may even use some of the tools, but we don’t really “get it.”  In fact, to some extent, we never will.  For example, at my house we have grad students living next door to us.  My wife and I have been stunned by how unfriendly they are when we pass in our back yards.  But our son explained to us that they’re not being rude, they just don’t interact with people that way – the way that we do.  They do it through technology.  Our son understands this because he’s 21.  And, at 21, he already feels a gap between himself and high school students!

The world is a very different place.  Mass amateurization and collective wisdom (notice that the link I inserted above for explaining Web 2.0 goes to Wikipedia, a poster child for these changes) are replacing dedicated, authoritative (also, sometimes, authoritarian) sources for news.  We are relying on the self-correcting collaboration of the masses for the dissemination of knowledge.  And the centuries-old model of filter (e.g., evaluate for accuracy, relevancy, etc.) first and then publish has been turned on its head as the Web has become a medium in which we publish first then let external forces filter the information after the fact.

But back to Twitter.  Who cares that you just left the coffee shop, or you’re going to get a haircut this afternoon, or you’re telling a snarky little in-joke that I don’t understand?  I certainly don’t.  But that’s just the point.  I’m not supposed to.  Those of us who don’t “get it” see all this as public communication.  But it’s not.  It’s just chatter among friends, across cyberspace instead of across a table, but not intended for those outside the small circle.  And once you understand that – once you realize that even though this overwhelming barrage of messages is out there for all the world to see, they’re only meant for an infinitesimal, carefully selected group of people to actually look at – this whole thing starts to make sense as a way for a new generation to communicate.  Those of us from the old school have been confused by thinking the medium is the message, but it’s not.  The message is the message.

And this is just the insignificant beginning.  Twitter is saving people who are unjustly imprisoned.  Twitter is leading to election protests that stress entire governments.  Twitter and the new organizing and communications power of Web 2.0 are changing the very framework of how society functions.

bandwagon Don’t underestimate this, and don’t forget it.  If you want your nonprofit to be meaningful in the future, Web 2.0 is one bandwagon (remember those? – I don’t!) you’d better figure out how to get on.

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