Tipping Points: Natural Networks Part 2

Following on from my previous post 'It's a small world', historically, and even now, service design has been all about understanding the motivations of the individual. Social network analysis on the other hand is based on the view that the attributes of individuals are less important than their relationships and ties with other actors within the network, and it is by exploiting these that you can really begin to focus on who's really important in your user network.

As an enterprise, social or otherwise, our users are most likely to belong to a random/exponential social network, but we want it to be a
scale free network with hubs that positively reinforce our service. Now that we’re talking specifically about networks of people, this is where Tipping Point theory comes in. The tipping point is a concept related to collective behaviour and the fact that any behaviour pattern has a threshold at which point there is a sudden, marked and significant change. Tipping points are what makes marketing go viral; turning products into the epidemic type fads that companies dream about, but that’s a concept for another post.

What’s relevant about Gladwell’s book in terms of networks and business intelligence, however, is that he identifies not only the importance of word of mouth and social interaction in the take-up of ideas, products and services, but also three key types of individual that are needed to achieve this - Connectors, Mavens and Salespersons. I’m not going to go into detail here, but Connectors are people with huge numbers of network links, Mavens are people who research everything before they buy, compare and search out all the best deals, and Salespersons are the persuaders i.e. the ones who find a good or deal and have the drive and power to convince others and sell their ideas.

In the real world, Connectors need charm and personality, but I’d argue that online it is different. Connectedness is much easier and more democratic online as people are already well connected through search engines. The really connected ones then are those who not only share their views, but those whose content or opinion is considered valuable by others and visited frequently, added to favourites and followed through RSS. These then, are our hubs. The ideal version are a personality combination of Maven and Salesperson, and if you are an enterprise, your dream hub is someone is also well connected offline too.

The first step is then to set up mechanisms to identify these ideal hubs. Second is to focus on these individuals and try and get them evangelising about our enterprise. In the bricks and mortar arena there is little hope of exploiting member networks because you have no easy way of getting people talking to each other. The online channel however, presents the perfect opportunity.

The basic framework needed in order to leverage the power of our member/user network is to make sure the website provides easy user friendly opportunities for people to comment, review and interact, possibly with profiles that display their activity along with incentives for them to share information. Basic web analytics software will help, but we're really going to need to invest in or develop
network analytics software, involve some intelligent analysts who can both model the audience and help shift it from a random to a scale-free network, and of course use a forward thinking marketing approach to engage and increase the number of ‘hubs’ and really drive word of mouth take up.

It's A Small World: Natural Networks Part 1

This is an adaptation of a post I’d written around natural networks for my 'professional' blog (http://blogs.conchango.com/rizwantayabali). I reckon it has some relevance for us here too.

To start with, here are three books you should read

  1. Small World - Mark Buchanan
  2. Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life - Albert-Laszlo Barabasi
  3. Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
Why? Apart from the fact that they're interesting and easy to read... because they are essentially about natural networks, degrees of separation, hubs, randomness and the importance of weak ties between elements in these networks. All jargon you say? Well maybe, but society is a natural network and both we and our target audience belong to it.

Why now? Because with the improvements in business intelligence and analytics modelling, we can now really begin to understand and map online networks, and identify the ‘hubs’ or key people that we should be engaging with to turn them into advocates in order to drive take-up through word of mouth. With the ubiquity and popularity of blogs, reviews and the web, this area is turning into a marketing tool that should be taken extremely seriously. It might also help us figure out how a volunteer network might function and where we need to focus within it.

Complex networks like those involving people, although seemingly random, surprisingly do actually follow patterns that can be mapped, and essentially fall into two categories – small-world networks and scale free networks. If networks were linear i.e. A knows B, and B knows C, and so on... the link between A and Z would involve 26 steps; and any knowledge, opinion or influence Z might have would be pretty much inaccessible to A.

Small world networks however essentially describe a pattern of interconnectedness that involves a degree of randomness, i.e. maybe B also knows M and X, and maybe X knows Z, which dramatically improves the connectedness between A and Z. The originally studies in this area were carried out by Stanley Milgram who was responsible for identifying the phenomenon we now know as “6 degrees of separation”. Yes, it’s not a myth!

However real world natural networks do not work as simplistically as this. They have another property that’s even more crucial, known as preferential attachment. Preferential attachment is an example of a positive feedback cycle where initially random variations are automatically reinforced, thus greatly magnifying differences. In popular speak this is the 'Matthew effect' i.e. the rich get richer!

What this means is that the more connected something is, the more likely it is to gain new connections. In a social network this means that any new unconnected member is more likely to become acquainted with more visible members than with relative unknowns. These ‘visible’ elements are effectively hubs with lots of connections and therefore influence, and these networks show a pattern called the ‘Power law’, which basically means that doubling the number of hubs reduces the degrees of separation between elements in the network by a constant; in this case, our users.

In other words all our potential users are connected to one other, and although we all know this, so far I’ve not heard of anyone that’s really modelling this connectivity for the specific goal of building and improving online networks. Personally I'm fascinated by this area and reckon it’s part of the future of the web, which is why I'm keen to see if there's any way we can build some of this thinking into the way we set this project up.

If any of this interests you, check out what the specialists have to say on the network weaving blog online. It's pretty fascinating stuff even if it is a little geeky ;-)

Dunbar's Number

In my various readings on random topics, I often come across ideas and snippets of information that can be interestingly applied to the different things I'm involved with, and so sooner or later I was always bound to hit on something that's at least tangentially related to this project... in this case Dunbar's number.

Dunbar's number is 150. According to
Peter Pirolli from PARC, 150 is "the theoretical limit of the number of people that you can “know socially” in the sense that you know them as individuals and know something about their relations to one another (and you)".

I wonder if this beings to explain why most people on Facebook have somewhere between 150 and 250 friends - something I noticed after the initial feeling of competitiveness everyone has when they first join! If I discounted the number of people I've politely accepted as a 'friend' but can't honestly say I keep up with in any way, I'd be pretty close to Dunbar's number myself.

What's interesting is that in terms of building a network for this project it gives us an idea of the size of our existing close links, i.e. the number of people whose knowledge we can directly tap in to through the members of our Facebook group. Right now there's about 100 members in the group. Even if we accounted for a hugely optimistic 10% overlap of friends between all members, that still gives us (100*150)*(0.9) which is 13,500 people, and all it took was a few friends joining a group over a period of a couple of weeks. How amazing is that?

Subscribe by Email is here!

Yes you can finally subscribe to this blog via email!

If you live and work in a world closely connected to the web, or even if you just read the hype online and in newspapers, it's easy to imagine that everyone knows what they are and how to access them. Have to admit that I've been mildly guilty of the same blinkered assumption, but if there's one thing I've learnt from setting up this blog is that although people will look at blogs, few people have any idea what a blog reader is and fewer still actually subscribe to them.

If you want to know more about blog readers check out my original post on
what this blog is about, but the good news is that you no longer have to worry about blog readers and managing subscriptions etc. Thanks to the good people at Feedburner, you can now read all these posts in your email inbox as and when I add new articles without ever having to visit this website or fiddle about with blog readers. Effortless!!

All you have to do is type your email address into the box on the top right of this page,



Or just click this on this link to subscribe via email and you'll see a box that looks like this:



Simply fill in your email and keep up to date with what's happening with the project. You'll get no spam and your email address is private. Try it out, and if you don't like it there's an easy unsubscribe link in every mail you get!

Setting up a Blog Part 1 - Blogging is tricky but Feedburner is hot!

You'd think blogging is easy. Just sign up to some free host, start writing and away you go. If all you want to do is put your thoughts into a vast nothingness where no one will ever read any of it, then it really is just that simple.

However if you want to actually achieve something with your blog, build readership, community and momentum, then blogging is harder than it looks.

1) Figuring out features

Firstly and most painfully, you have to figure out what you want on your blog. Here are some of the things I wanted:

  • Comment threads (discussion capability)
  • Customisability
  • Polls
  • Multiple author capability
  • Multiple non-blog pages - like a website
  • Export/Import capability to/from other blogs
  • Visitor and hits tracking
  • Advertising
  • Podcasting & Videocasting
Did I get it all? Hell no!! But read on...

Blogs can be hosted by dedicated blog hosting services, or they can be run using blog software. If you want it to look cool and do lots of interesting things you have to figure out how to download and customise at least one of the myriad blogging softwares out there. I never stood a chance.

Having accepted that your tech skills are limited or non-existent, you're suddenly faced with a plethora of preset blogging platforms such as

...or on regular web hosting services that you pay monthly subscriptions for. Of course they all offer different features and templates and customisability. The biggest names in the game seem to be Wordpress, TypePad, and Blogger.

Having spent days wading through features and options and complexity, my recommendation is Blogger for the ambitious novice because it has all of Google behind it, and lots of cool features you can add like polls and slideshows and photos and feeds and video with no effort. In my opinion Wordpress felt more basic when I played with it.

But the default templates in Blogger only have two columns and I'm struggling to customise them, there's no inbuilt statistics, podcasts aren't easy to set up and there doesn't seem to be any easy to create multiple pages for a website feel. Sadly there also isn't a free blog anywhere that allows people to comment on comments and thus use blog posts as discussion starters. Ah well!

But for those that persevere, as always help is at hand over the web. There's a great post on the asymptomatic blog on choosing blog software and a really useful blog comparison chart that covers every blog platform out there in a simple grid.

2) Creating an audience

The next problem you face is how to create an audience and what to say to keep them interested. More on this once I've experimented a little longer. My initial thoughts were to keep content focused on the point of the blog, but maybe I should be looking to expand the scope to sharing knowledge that is tangentially relevant to the core theme in order to give readers a little more variety.

Some initial notes based on experience and recent reading:
  • Audience creation for blogs tends to be driven by content originality and relevance.
  • Have a clear focal point.
  • Blog regularly as people lose interest pretty fast.
  • Write something useful, interesting and clearly individual and people start to listen.
  • Focus on subjects people are likely to search for and you've got a winner.
  • Publish often and Google starts to rank your posts higher and higher in its search results.
Finally there's basic marketing and publicity techniques.
  • Add your blog to blog aggregators so that new posts show up to the vast audiences that visit them.
  • Create groups in your social networks like Facebook :)
  • Try and get other (ideally relevant) websites and bloggers to link back to your blog
This blog is always going to be tricky because the focal point is targeted to the group that will be involved in setting up the project, so maybe I need to expand the focus a little. Something to revisit and think about I guess.

3) Feedburner is hot!

Finally I think I should mention Feedburner. Ever heard of it? If you aren't a hardcore blogger you probably haven't. I've been blogging for a while and had no idea what it was or how to work it. To be honest, I still don't fully know what it's about, but it seems to act as a sort of middleman between blogs and blog readers. It's free and you get:
  • A unique and universal feed address so if you change your blog you don't lose your readers.
  • Really nice overviews of how many visitors your blog has had, what countries they've visited from and what type of browsers they've used
  • Details of how many subscribers you've got and which pages people are looking at
  • Various little gadgets and widgets to help publicise and monetise your posts
  • Ability for readers to subscribe to your blog via email, which is great because most people still have no idea what a blog reader is!
  • Podcasting capability for blogs that don't yet support it
All in all, Feedburner seems initially a bit complicated but isn't really, and is well worth the effort!

So this blog is now Powered by FeedBurner :)

An early look at the world of volunteering online

As someone who's been involved with voluntary and non-profit stuff for years, I was pretty surprised this week when I started researching what's already out there in web world for volunteers. Never knew any of it existed, and to be honest there's a good reason why.

None of them are exciting, and their approach is hugely self-service. Big and yes, boring, sites full of information about volunteering opportunities. Completely dependent on proactive volunteers going online, wading through the sites out there and finding the opportunity relevant to them. In our world of instant gratification and information delivered how you want it, when you want it, into whatever space is most convenient, these sites might as well be invisible to the audiences we're talking about with the Urban Survival Project.

It is still early stages, and I'm working on a more detailed analysis of how volunteering currently works online and where exactly the opportunities lie, but I think I can reasonably safely say that the findings will back up why we need to do what we're doing, and our approach to doing it. There is a real need to bring social engagement into the spaces we all use, in ways that remove the effort barriers to getting involved, and make it easy for the busy generation to make the differences they'd like to.

Anyway, having scanned through loads of volunteering sites including many that are specifically for whichever charity is hosting it, here's the list I'm going to look at seriously. Where I can, I'll sign up as a member and see where it takes me. My aim is to really understand what they're all about and why they haven't captured our collective imaginations. When I'm done I expect to be able to show where the Urban Survival Project will both differentiate and fit in. Maybe using a basic 2D grid quadrant - some sort of adaptation of a BCG matrix.

I'll probably drop some and add others to whittle it down to the sites we should take seriously. If you can think of any good ones I'm missing that we should look at, let me know.

Beating the xmas blues

Have to admit my ambitious plans to do lots more on the Urban Survival Project over the hols haven't materialised into anything worth shouting about. Been finding it tough to motivate myself if I'm really honest. It's cold and dark and quiet after xmas, and after the initial excitement, sometimes taking on things like this feels like standing alone at the base of some huge mountain with most of the way forward obscured in forbidding mist. But I guess its just a case of taking it step by step until walking becomes running and something takes off.

Of course on top of the general end of year blues and lethargy resulting from eating and drinking too much, for some reason I've always found it virtually impossible to do any work in the ol' family home. Probably explains why I was useless in school! But I have been thinking about things if that's any consolation for those of you who've been waiting for an update :)

...and the Facebook group now has over a 100 members. Wow! Thats about 90 more than I was ever expecting. Hey I always figured I'd be able to twist the arms of at least 10 friends and fam and drag them screaming and shouting into the group, but this is very encouraging; specially since I haven't yet done a huge amount on the motivation front.

But that'll change. Will try and arrange a brainstorm session for all those who've expressed an interest in getting involved, and a general beery catchup evening for everyone in the group to get ideas flowing. Watch this space :D

Answering the question of how you could help out :)

Since I opened up this project to the world in general, the two questions I get asked most often are

  1. How is the whole thing going to work at a detailed level... content, interaction, access, reach etc.?
  2. How can interested people get involved and where can they help?
To Q1 I have only basic answers for the moment, and I'm hoping some of your ideas will help fill in the blanks. The point of this is blog is that I've started with a reasonably comprehensive framework idea, but haven't got to the details stage as yet, and I guess if I had there wouldn't be so much scope to involve you all.

So we've taken step 1, which is to kick off the journey of this idea... and it's on to step 2, which is to begin to figure it out in more detail. And that I guess brings me on to the answer to Q2.

This is essentially an experiment to see if we can tap into our social connections to get this idea off the ground so the easiest way you can help is to get let your friends and contacts know about this project. Basically a one-off exercise - forward on the email or help build the
facebook network group by inviting your friends list.

What I was really hoping for however, is a network that we could send out requests for information to. A group of people like you who are happy to point us to friends you know who might be able to help, get involved or share their expertise with us.

Finally there's those of you who actually want to get involved. There's a whole range of areas I could use help with, and I'm hoping to start to get a team together over the next few months and I'm happy to involve anyone who's game for putting in some effort :)

Here's a quick outline of what I'm going to do next
  • Learning – more about needs of young people in inner cities
  • Research – what’s out there & where we could make a difference
  • Brainstorming – developing user interaction & content
  • Marketing – designing a logo and building a brand
  • Modeling – building a sustainable cooperative business model
  • Planning – setting it all up & figuring out how to get it done
  • Technology – architecting a solution around existing networks
It should be pretty interesting, so if you have a little time and feel like doing a bit in any of these areas drop me a note, and we'll find something that doesn't involve too much time or commitment.

For this weekend I'm going to get on with some investigation into what's already out there that does anything similar to this project; primarily to understand how we differentiate, and where we can improve. If you know anything about existing volunteer or youth services on or offline, let me know. It would be v helpful!

Back in the saddle...

I'm finally back from Granada. Had an awesome time, mostly thanks to Elisa who kept me company, involved her mates and opened up a little bit of real life in southern Spain.
Cheers Eli!!

My favourite bit about Granada is the fact that you get a free tapas with every beer, even if you just order caƱa which is about the smallest glass of beer I've ever seen. How can you beat that for the good life? Beer and free food!!

If you're into photos, I've put some pics of
Granada, The Alhambra and El Albayzin online.

Obviously going off on holiday just a few days after kicking something like this off, isn't usually the best idea for keeping momentum going, but hey life goes on, and I'm back relaxed and ready to go again. Next steps are to get back in touch with everyone who's contacted me about the project and to actually kick the research phase off, probably starting with an analysis of what's already available in this space.

Meantime hope you aren't too stressed out by xmas shopping, and are winding up for a great xmas wherever you are :)

Facebook group up and running - Thanks for all the support!

I should have put up a note about this a couple of days ago when I actually set it up, but I've been doing so many things in parallel and everything is suddenly moving so fast that the whole business of setting up a Facebook group missed a mention!

Since this is essentially a social experiment to see if we can do this collectively, I figure we've got to be brave and see whether or not the Urban Survival Project concept has potential to be viral.

So step 1 is a group within the network we're targeting. I thought it might be a good way of beginning to build the foundations of the future volunteer network. In parallel maybe it could also form the foundations of a future marketing program, and an interesting insight into how our social networks function.

So hey, we've now got an
Urban Survival Project Facebook Group! I've also set up a 'cause' which is a bit more open to anyone and means that if we get enough members we could start making a difference by raising funds for youth charities long before our site goes live.

Anyway, its only been a day and there's 60 members already! I have no idea whether that's good or bad against the norm but given that I wasn't really expecting anything at all, frankly I think its awesome!!


So thanks a lot to all of you who've joined the group, subscribed to this blog or responded by email. It's really encouraging :)

Evolving the idea a little further

Given that the sort of interactive web 2.0 volunteer network has value beyond just the scope of helping young people, I guess we should consider that the Urban Survival Project might need to evolve into two sister social networking sites that use the same platform. One dedicated to young inner city kids and the other dedicated to building and maintaining a general global volunteer network. So here's Part 2 of what I documented and another vision we should look at...

1) The core Urban Survival Project starting creating the basic platform and network, initially local to the UK but scalable to other regions, and dedicated to helping inner city youth get through education, jobs, small business and life, with dedicated professional volunteer members interacting within a web 2.0 site


Fig 1.

Can Help = Young Professional Volunteers
Need Help = Young people & Social Organisations and Charities

2) The other a non cause-specific volunteer social networking website dedicated to creating and building a general global volunteer network/pool for social organizations to tap into. The premise and platform is likely to be the same, but the latter site may have a different name like "icanhelp.org" (or something a bit more memorable that we need to think about!). The plan would be to adapt the capability of the Urban Survival Project which allows young people to look for help or support, into allowing anyone from the general public to look for help and support across a range of generic categories.


Fig 2.

Can Help = Extended to Any Volunteers
Need Help = Extended to Social Organisations and Charities & Possibly general public

So this leaves us with a bunch of options to consider. We could choose to focus on The Urban Survival Project alone for simplicity; or start with the Urban Survival Project looking to split it into two somewhere down the line once the platform is live and has critical mass; or start as two separate projects from the start; or even simply focus on the volunteer site alone if the information portal and youth interaction proves to be unviable or unfeasible to build for any reason.

Lots to think about :)

Revisiting the original vision and how it could work

I'm really amazed at the response from everyone who has written back, subscribed to this blog or joined the Facebook site - and its only been a day!! Lots more ideas flowing in so I thought I'd put a little more detail down around the project. The initial idea and how it could work has moved along a bit since I first wrote about it, so here's an update. This is Part 1 of what I handed over to 'Jr. Fresh' at Lloyds for safekeeping.

The basic outline (project type 1)

The Urban Survival Project is expected be a
Web 2.0 social networking site for volunteers, that primarily targets young professionals but open to anyone by linking into and feeding out of the existing social networking sites they use, primarily Facebook because it already focuses on just the right demographic.

The other face of the project is an information portal of content developed by Young Professional Volunteer members for young people aged 13 to 21+ with key information, advice, help and tips on making choices about and dealing with education, finding and applying for jobs, starting up small businesses and coping with life challenges. The end goal is for this to be a resource both for young people directly and also the volunteers and support staff that help them.



Content

I discussed a bit about this when
exploring the 4 themes, so I'll keep it short. Content will hopefully include shared profiles, member blogs and posts, podcasts e.g. of advice and experience, videocasts e.g. of mock interviews, rich internet applications and widgets for example around being able to visualise career progression, capability for volunteers to submit written articles and tips and share experience, inter-member interactivity e.g. invite friends and messaging, presence information e.g. knowing who's online, preferences on seeing volunteering opportunities, and points or rewards for volunteering.

Reward points for volunteering could be ratified nationally through formal organizations like the Prince’s Trust or Connexions and thus be valid for use in CVs as an incentive for people to get and stay involved.

The site will ideally also have question and answer capability for young people to ask for help or find mentors and support.

Membership

Both Volunteers and Young people needing help should have membership profiles and rich interaction capability, but profile and content synchronisation with social networking sites is really only expected to be relevant for volunteers as it is difficult to imagine that anyone is going to want to flag to their friends that they're asking for or receiving help - but thats someone we need to verify. I'm also currently hoping to set it up in a way that means any offline interpersonal interaction between volunteers and vulnerable young adults will be facilitated and managed through links with existing youth organizations, who will be responsible for the necessary police checks and supervision in order to ensure safety for vulnerable young people.

Extensions

The aim is to enable the volunteer network to also be open for Social organizations and Charities to tap into, so they may also have profiles and the ability to add and maintain volunteering opportunities. A further extension of this would to be able to take donations and raise funds either to maintain the project or to raise money for other charities.

I'm hoping for the project to be a profit making social enterprise with revenue primarily generated through partnership, advertising or sponsorship, possible subscription services and merchandising of branded material; but for any revenue to be managed by a transparent social charter that ensures open and ethical distribution of any funds accrued.

Technology

For now I'm aiming for this to be an open source website either interfaced with or built upon the Facebook API, OpenSocial or FOAF, although the exact technology is yet to be determined. People will have the capability to develop their own content for the site as applications or add-ons, and be actively encouraged to help by doing so.

Funding?

In my ideal world we'll do this without the need for funds, essentially by tapping into our professional social networks. I think we could get pretty far by first setting up a conceptual model which will cost nothing but a bit of our own brain power, and then developing it through the help of volunteers with technical skills (Plan A). The fall back position of course being to go the trational route and fund the development (Plan B) - see my post on
Plans A and B. Looks like this will need more discussion though.

Networking technologies of the future?

Considering that this project is planned to essentially end up as one or more volunteer based websites that link into the social networking sites we all currently use, I guess the question of what technology to build it with can't really be avoided. Given the young professional demographic I think we should focus on, Facebook is the obvious place to start.

Facebook then, provides a set of APIs that third parties can use to build applications that link in to its website. An API is an 'Application Programming Interface', which basically means that it allows applications and websites to communicate with each other without having to write lots of complicated code. I'd point to the wikipedia definition but frankly its pretty impossible to understand! Anyway, key point is that this interface is specific to Facebook only. If we wanted to link into other sites we'd have to repeat the whole process again.

But timing couldn't be better because the geniuses at Google have just released
OpenSocial, which does the same thing as the Facebook API but for a whole range for social networking sites simultaneously. It allows developers to access the following core functions and information at social networks:

  • Profile Information (user data)
  • Friends Information (social graph)
  • Activities (things that happen, News Feed type stuff)
Which would be great if Facebook was part of the mix. But it isn't. Still, all's not lost, because a couple of guys on the web have set up OpenSocket which is a project to bridge the gap between Facebook and OpenSocial. So I guess its a case of watching this space...

Finally, there's also FOAF. Did we really need another acronym?? But it is worth a mention because it could well be the future beyond Facebook and MySpace.
FOAF or the "Friend of a Friend" project is a "simple technology that makes it easier to share and use information about people and their activities (eg. photos, calendars, weblogs), to transfer information between Web sites, and to automatically extend, merge and re-use it online." Unlike the others this is about standards based freely available tools. This could just be the next disruptive technology and another one to keep an eye on.

If you or anyone you know knows how to develop on any of these platforms, or is a budding genius looking to explore these for fun or to boost their CV... drop us a note :)

Isn't a blog date-stamped?

The whole registered posting thing all seemed a bit ancient and out of date with the speed of change and life as we know it right now. Blogs clearly show time and date of posting, and frankly any computerised written content is pretty much date-stamped at point of creation. Word docs included. Wonder if the legal system has caught up and recognises the legality of web posting. Obviously the fact that I still did the old-skool thing shows my view on that one. I suppose there'll have to be some landmark case some day in the future to set precedence before the law moves on in any way!! You never know though...

Copyright Protection For Your Idea

So it turns out that ideas per se are not subject to copyright. They aren't trademarks, designs, inventions or patents so the long and short of it seems to involve holding them close to your chest and hoping desperately that no will steal them.

Lawyers I've spoken to seem stumped and the fresh faced bank manager at my local branch got all fidgety before he admitted he didn't have a clue. It seems we're an unusual case. Creating an enterprise in full view of the world is not the usual way of doing things.

But since we're doing it anyway, I looked into it a little further. As far as I can tell, ideas themselves are not protectable but documentation is. Documenting ideas in some kind of date-stamped way then is copyrightable and protection enough as it is recognised as defendable collateral in any kind of legal dispute over theft.

For reference this applies to any kind of creativity. According to the Government's
Business Link Website" You automatically hold the copyright on any literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works that you create or that your business employs somebody to create. These works can range from information booklets and computer programs to sound recordings and films."

It is difficult however to enforce IP protection so it helps to be able to prove authorship and date. The two recommended approaches are

  1. Lodge your ideas with a lawyer or bank for safekeeping
  2. Registered post them to yourself and keep the package unopened
Just to be sure, I've done both so I guess we're now as protected as we're going to be and can get on with being openly creative!

More info on this in the Protecting your business & ideas section of the Business Link site. Have a look at the bit on Copyright.

How do you protect an idea?

Some people recently sued the Facebook guys for stealing their idea based on a conversation in a bedroom, which got me thinking. Should I try and protect this one? And if so, how?

The problem is complicated. The whole premise of this project is openness. I'm not looking to make money out of this, and I don't really think I'll get it done alone, so being open with ideas is for me an easy step. If other people get involved and share their knowledge like I'm hoping you all will, this could take off pretty quickly, which leaves me in a slight quandary.

What if we did all the thinking work and some third party lifted the concept and went off, built it and pocketed the returns? Firstly they'd probably get it wrong, secondly all those people who put time and thought into it would never get recognition for their efforts, and most importantly the revenue streams may never feed back into supporting vulnerable young people's dreams and ambitions. So I figured I ought to at least have a go at affording our intellectual property a little protection.

I'll discuss how I've done this in the next post, but maybe you know someone that could advise on how we can do this better? Drop me a note if you do...

Sign the 'Guestbook'!


Yes I know, it’s very makeshift! I have no idea how to create a real Guestbook so this post will have to suffice :D

Signing’s easy enough. Just click the Comments link below to say hello, leave a message, or simply share whatever takes your fancy! It's open and you don't need to have an account to leave a note.

Cheers

Riz

A Bit About This Blog

The Urban Survival Project is a work in progress. I’ve worked out the basics of what it could achieve, but I don’t yet know exactly how. This isn’t really a concern given that it’s only been a few weeks since I first thought about doing this, and we’re still very early on in the journey from thinking of an idea to making it a reality. There's a long way to go in terms of planning and understanding user needs and interaction, linking up with social organisations, figuring out the design and technology, and of course the basic business and legal implications of setting up a social enterprise.

As I keep stressing, there’s a lot I don’t know, so I need all the information I can get. But it doesn’t seem very fair for me to expect my friends and network to get involved and share their thoughts and knowledge with me if I’m not prepared to share mine with them. So this blog is essentially a reciprocation of sorts. An open ideas forum.

The goal of this blog is to give something back to you for visiting; to allow you to share your thoughts; and to help us find support to develop and evolve the ideas we have. Think of it as the human equivalent of social computing. One brain alone hasn't got a hope of achieving something on this scale, but pooled together, we should be able to do this easy!

This blog and its related Facebook group (secure) and Facebook cause (open) are also the first steps in bringing together a network of socially minded people and possible future volunteers that might form membership and audience well before the project goes live, and better still work together to make a difference well before that.

Please comment, be critical and ask questions about anything you read. Over the next couple of months all I'm aiming to do is test the validity of the ideas we have, and flesh out the scope and plans required to get the project off the ground.

Right now all that’s needed is brain power and information, so please pass this blog on to your friends and anyone you know that might be able to add something useful, and if you want to get involved then drop me an email at info@urbansurvivalproject.org and join the team or become an author. If you feel like it, leave me a message on my makeshift guestbook!

Finally, even just making the effort to come here and read this is a much appreciated step in the direction, so thanks a mill for visiting and hope to see you again :)

ps. – If you’re not quite sure what a blog is, it’s basically a news platform that updates you remotely via RSS so you can keep up with what’s happening without actually having to visit the website. Google has a great free RSS reader you can use from anywhere on the net -
http://www.google.com/reader

Google Reader

If you want to subscribe to updates, the easiest way is to simply click the RSS icon in your browser and it will add to your feeds list, or subscribe using your feed reader via this link
http://feeds.feedburner.com/urbansurvivalproject.

 

Creative Commons License

The Urban Survival Project is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.