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Moving forward with Composr

ocPortal has been relaunched as Composr CMS. ocPortal 9 is superseded by Composr 10.

Head over to for our new site, and to our migration roadmap. Existing ocPortal member accounts have been mirrored.

Websites for a better world

Websites for a better world Even though the world has moved on greatly over the last 150 years, there are still some key problems we as citizens of the world need to solve. I'm a believer that human nature is not ever likely to change – there will always be a passionate minority and an apathetic minority. If you look at ancient texts such as The Bible, the moral issues reflected in it are much the same as those that affect us today, because human nature is the same. I enjoy watching Star Trek, but I also find it unbelievable when they suggest humanity will transcend – sorry, I believe in hope, but I also see millennia where it has been technology that has changed things, not social movements. People may disagree with that statement, but I think all social movements are inevitable human reactions to a world where the technological landscape has changed (e.g. cheap public transport, broadcast transmissions, world-wide communication).

Through technology we can set up constructs that solve many of the world's problems that have so far eluded us.

Because my area of expertise is clearly in websites, in this blog post I am going to summarise a few web sites I think we as a society need to move ourselves forward. Hopefully I have prefixed this list with sufficient context so I don't look like a complete hippy; don't worry I'm still a company CEO, who believes in capitalism ;).

Local movements

Right now there are many great people who offer their time to improve their local communities. For example, people volunteer to set up community gardens, or to befriend people who would otherwise be isolated in the community.

I myself have considered helping out at these kind of things. I need some down time from programming occasionally, and I don't want to spend that time crawling bars, don't want to join any extreme movements, and don't want to do things I don't particularly enjoy (e.g. I'm not big on tourism). I like helping out and it's a great opportunity to meet people too.

The problem is that there is no good way for this all to be organised. I don't really want to do just one thing, and I don't want to have to go mingle around to find what's going on. The Internet is the perfect way to organise it, so people can put out ideas for things to be done, and people can then register their interest, and plan things online.
As far as I am aware there is no great site out there for it. Writing this I actually recall that I think the BBC put something out, but that does not sound like the right vessel for it (not the right organisation, specific to Britain, and too tied up in a bureaucracy).

I would see this site (and yes, it could be done with ocPortal ;)) having at least the following features:
  • It would be International (that in itself would help bring greater world understanding and cooperation).
  • It would tunnel down to being local, via a simple hierarchy.
  • Projects could exist on any point in the hierarchy, depending on how wide-spread they were. For example, large charities may well exist at a world-wide level.
  • People could signup for being members of project communities.
  • Each project gets a forum.
  • Projects could associate themselves with wider collectives (e.g. lots of local walking clubs underneath ramblers association).
  • Projects could give themselves tags e.g. handsdirty, mentalhealth.
  • People could post issues, and projects could attach themselves to those issues.
  • People could vote for issues, against issues, and generally discuss them.

Open Government

Open Government is a big thing. But there are two particular things that concern/interest me that I think the web can solve:
  1. People generally are pretty clueless about issues they vote on, including myself. Democracy is important, but also flawed if people only vote on their own limited experience of issues. For example, the classic 'Taxes are too high' or 'Spending is too low' issues cannot honestly be voted on unless you really have a proper look at the issues and figures involved, and nobody does (I don't) and I find it concerning. The problem is neutral data just isn't centrally available so to actually research things takes more time than people have.
  2. Continuing with the taxation issues – nobody really knows how money is spent. How many people who vote on the issue of benefits payments actually know what percentage of government budget is spent on benefit payments, and how it breaks down against things like unemployment benefit compared to, for example, incapacity benefit. This issue is not just about who you should vote for, because there's a wider issue to me is that there's a huge missed opportunity. Money slushes around in government because high level decisions need to be made fast, but I suspect if everything was more easily scrutable then crowd-sourcing technology could be a huge cost-saver.

So I think we need two things to solve this, for each country:
  1. A neutral wikipedia website for open debate of issues. I think actually a moderated Google Wave would be perfect for this.
  2. A website that has aggregated spending data for 100% of government expenditure, arranged into a tree structure so you can see exactly how it breaks down, all the way down to the toilet rolls. Allow people to make comments on things, if they have spent a certain baseline of effort going through the site to view it. As things stand now, even central government can't do this kind of thing, but if it was open to all amazing things could happen. Just in the area of websites, I see enormous wastage from UK GFO's, mainly due to duplicated efforts – if only the people at large could better detect such things!

Holding organisations to account

We are moving closely into an age where regular people have access to historical records at a finger print. This is fantastic, but it's not enough. We need the historical records to be better organised so even less research is needed to find things out.

Let's take an example. Let's say "Company X" is drilling for "Liquid Y" off the shore of "Country Z" run by "Government P". Let's imagine Company X made a statement as to the safety of this drilling to Government P. The statement is available in one place, which is great. Let's say there is a disaster and Company X say various things about how they were mistaken in their statement, and those things are available on YouTube - great. 20 years later, the same thing happens. Unfortunately, YouTube no longer exists in the same form, and the congress records are filed away somewhere obscure – only really obsessive researchers can draw conclusions about what has happened, and they can't present their case fairly because Company X has a huge PR budget and government P.3 is talking too, along with a thousand futurepaper commentators – they can't get their word in – and the regular public don't have time to research things for themselves.

This is exactly what happens all the time in my opinion. Organisations are not properly held to account because past statements and history get stuck in a mess and to really dredge up truths you have to fight so hard you look like a nutcase in the process.

This is exactly why we need a way of organising knowledge, to cut out of this "he said, she said" politics and so the general public know the truth behind things.

And of course, the situation may well be the opposite. Company X could benefit from the central record, and be able to stand up for themselves, for example, to a government out to get them due to may be one of that governments backer's investment portfolio.

Resource sharing

The amount of wastage of resource sharing in the world is absolutely huge. How many people share the same set of things yet only use them for 0.01% of the time? If I talked about people sharing house-hold things like lawn-mowers that probably would be a bit much for people – but there are other things that absolutely could be shared. Let's say Bob built a shed and has two bags of coarse sand left over, and Henry next door needs a bit of sand to re-sit their paving. Surely it makes sense if Bob sells the sand to Henry at-cost; he is getting rid of a non-liquid-asset and Henry saves a trip in the car.

The problem is we don't have any good way of organising this. We could improve world efficiency enormously by a simple online inventory system of things people would be willing to share, categorised by like how books are categorised by ISBN numbers, and detected via bar code readers in phones.

This is probably all sounding pretty crazy so far, I admit. But what if you extend it to companies – imagine if company A has a down-turn in the amount of work they have and company B has an up-turn. This system could save somebody's job if they just were able to transfer companies temporarily. Imagine the knowledge sharing that would come out of that too!

Community heat maps

There are certain things that people are encouraged to do, but because they don't lead to direct perceived personal benefit people, in the end a minority of people only end up doing them out of a wish to be "a do-gooder". It's the self-actualisation stage on Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Some of these things include:
  • Eating healthily
  • Recycling
  • Donating blood
  • Signing up as an organ donor
  • Carpooling

Another big problem is that we all suffer from extreme time pressures and extreme information overload. How many people can really keep up with all the recommendations, when we are all competing in life for houses, dates, the best car, or whatever else. It's not a problem of resources, it's a problem of competitive systems (think Game theory) being focused often on short-term immediate interests.

What we all need is some better encouragement, better advice, and a better way to measure how we are doing.

I think the solution is very simple – just have a feature on Google Maps where heat maps are shown (driven via some kind of Government feed, from example), that show how we are all doing. As I mentioned, I think people neglect things due to how we compete, but this changes the rules of the competition. People want to "keep up with the Jones's", but after this hopefully communities will want to do well compared to neighbouring communities. I also think it is beautiful that for once, regional competition isn't about stereotyping and hostility, but who can actually be better to themselves and the world at large.

I realise this last one does make me look a bit like a crazy hippy, or a bit of a control freak, but this idea is about creating personal or community motivations at a grass-roots level, and I think is a better solution than having the conformist police take over!

That is all :). I would love to discuss some of this stuff, or even better, see it actually start to happen. I believe there are some serious business possibilities inside all this and possibly a lot of money to be made if executed by the right people.

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