Banny Banerjee’s Fishhook Idea at TEDxStanford

Filed under: Ideas,TEDx — Steve Brown @ 3:25 pm May 20, 2012

Yesterday I had the honor of helping organize and then attending TEDxStanford, a local and independent version of the TED conference designed to give a stage to ideas that can change the world. Out of a fantastic array of speakers and performers that rivaled any TED conference, one talk in particular has set its hooks into my mind. It is a simple idea with tremendous consequence.

Banny Banerjee, the director of the Stanford Design Program, described how we often frame the most important questions of our time as opposing alternatives: Either we follow our passion, or we get a well-paying job. Either we enable economic progress, or we save our biosphere. Either we have national security, or we stay out of war. The way we frame the questions ensures that we can never have both: It is a zero-sum, win-lose scale. In this polarized one-dimensional world, we leave no space for innovation.

Banny Banerjee's win-lose framing

What if our framing of the important questions of life is fundamentally flawed? Following your passion is not opposed to getting a well-paying job. It is in a different frame of reference. Following your passion is opposed to not following your passion. Getting a well-paying job is opposed to getting a low-paying job. If we recognize that these two dimensions are orthogonal, we can see the world in a completely new light. Rather than the one-dimensional polarization of everything, the challenges of our time are full of wide-open multidimensional spaces waiting to be filled with creative new ideas.

Banny Banerjee's reframing to inspire innovation

The space up and to the right where both following your passion and getting a well-paying job are possible is the space for creative thought. The space up and to the right where economic progress and preserving the biosphere are both possible is a where we can be inspired to invent new possibilities, to experiment and to innovate.

Banny described compelling questions to fishhooks that get lodged in your brain and continue to tug at your thoughts. The idea of reshaping the landscape in which we think about the challenges around us is one of those fishhooks – whether those challenges are in our own lives and communities, or facing our planet as a whole. Where is the innovation space? How we frame the question opens up entirely new possibilities. Thank you, Banny Banerjee, for sharing an idea worth spreading.

Can Personal Lifestreams Provide Data for Public Good: My Talk from SXSW 2012

Filed under: Catch,Presentations,Quantified Self — Steve Brown @ 3:24 pm March 21, 2012

Here is the presentation I gave at SXSW Interactive on March 12, 2012 in Austin Texas. My talk was the warmup for Shawn Achor’s more extensive talk.

The description from the SXSW website is as follows:

We move through our days with our smartphone apps in hand and mind, noticing and tracking our ideas and experiences into personal lifestreams of information. Can the data we’re recording about our daily progress be used for the greater public good? This conversation will explore the potential for integrating information from individuals’ mobile apps into aggregated data sets in areas as diverse as cultural trends, medicine and environmental science.

Why Donate to Wikipedia

Filed under: Ideas,Internet,Media — Steve Brown @ 2:59 pm November 26, 2011

If you have visited Wikipedia lately, you probably have seen the appeal from Jimmy Wales to donate money. Wikipedia is the fifth largest Internet site in the world, and the only top site operating as a nonprofit. Which means they need to raise money.

Until now, I have ignored Jimmy’s pleas, taking for granted my frequent access to Wikipedia. But this Thanksgiving weekend, as I was cleaning out my home office and attempting to cull my book collection to make some room on the shelves, I realized something that convinced me to make a donation.

The Great GatsbyIf you have ever tried to get rid of some of your old books, you know how hard it can be to pull the trigger.

Some books, like my copy of The Great Gatsby, one of the great novels of the 20th century, are clearly keepers even though it cost just $1.00 at the used book store back when it had an intact cover.

Others books are wrenching decisions. How can I possibly toss out the TED Book Club selection from 2009? I still haven’t read it!

Some books, on the other hand, are easy decisions, headed for the recycle bin because even the library won’t take them. I found a whole shelf of books that I haven’t touched in years. Technology books, software books, reference books.

Information storage, not stories.

I realized that one of the biggest reasons I haven’t touched these reference books in a while, and certainly haven’t bought a new one in years, is Wikipedia.

The information in Wikipedia is fresher, well-written for the most part, and far more extensive than the best reference library. So why buy books that are just information stores when Wikipedia has so much more to offer?

The footnotes on Wikipedia are one of the best parts of the service. With every article on Wikipedia you are one click away from the best bibliography on the web for any topic.

Crazy as it sounds, my kids tell me that their teachers don’t allow them to cite Wikipedia in their research papers, even though it is the first place the go for any new project. Even so, Wikipedia is an invaluable research tool for students because they can go to the footnotes and find original sources that no one argues with.

To my surprise, my kids also had contributed to Wikipedia. What might a grade school kid add to the greatest encyclopedia on the planet? Adding information about the latest MMORPG? In fact, they had corrected and added to some of the topics being taught in their classroom.

Captain NovolinI learned first hand the rigor of the Wikipedia contribution process.

A curator aptly named the “Red Pen of Doom” had reversed most of my own additions, self-serving edits aimed at revising and correcting the history of one of my early educational video games. Why the rejection? Insufficient references.

Wikipedia’s gift to education is far more than its reference value. It is the notion of radical participation.

Kids today grow up knowing that they can be active participants in the generation and curation of knowledge. The idea that knowledge is collaborative is quite different than my experience growing up with the old Encyclopedia Brittanica. The old encyclopedias engendered the feeling that knowledge only could be generated by inaccessible experts, and never was subject to question.

Windows VistaThe reason I’m giving $100 to Wikipedia this Thanksgiving weekend is not just because I’m thankful to Jimmy Wales in persevering with this project, which has been such a gift to the human race.

It’s also economic.

When I look at my old stale reference books that not even the public library will take off my hands, I realized that I have saved hundreds of dollars over the past few years by no longer buying quickly dated references.

Just knowing that Wikipedia exists, that everything is there, including all the references, I save money — and trees.

Wikipedia has got to be the greatest bargain of the decade. So this Thanksgiving I thought I would give a little of that back.

Keep it up, Jimmy Wales. The world needs Wikipedia to thrive!

Compass by – The biggest location checkin app on Android, still under the radar

Filed under: Android,Catch,Note Taking,Smartphones — Steve Brown @ 3:05 am January 7, 2011

Just behind Twitter and ahead Foursquare, Compass by is one of the most widely installed and highly rated apps on Android. Until now it’s been under the radar.

The point of Compass is to help you find your way. Yes, it starts with a variety of actual compass designs to choose from that point North with as much accuracy as your phone’s magnetometer will allow.

The real power of Compass, however, is to make it easy to save and retrieve places that are important to you together with your geo-tagged notes.

Compass was developed by, and it integrates seamlessly with the Catch Notes application on Android to enable you to attach notes to locations. When you take a note from Compass, the note is automatically populated with your current address and other data gathered from the phone’s sensors.

After you attach a note to a location, you can also add photos and soon a voice note.

Use Compass to annotate your world. Then when you want to find your way back to your important places and recall what you were thinking at the time, Compass points you toward them.

Compass ranks in the top 25 apps on Android, out of over 100,000 apps in the market. As of today, Compass has been downloaded over 8 million times, and is installed on nearly 5 million Android phones according to the Developer Console where Google reports Android Market data to developers. Most Android developers keep this data a secret, but we decided to let you in on how we track installs and usage of our app.

But just being installed on a phone doesn’t mean that people actually use it. That’s why we use Google Analytics Mobile to understand how many people actually use Compass and which features get used the most. Google Analytics shows aggregate usage data that cannot be linked with users. We use this summary data to help understand and prioritize our development tasks.

In December 2010, Compass had 1,762,328 Absolute Unique Visitors according to Google Analytics Mobile. This makes Compass one of the biggest location checkin apps in the world. Despite the many Compass users, the app has been under the radar because Compass helps you track your private places and notes, and there is no push to share your location or geo-tagged content as there is in most other checkin apps. No one can see your checkins and notes unless you decide to share them.

If you use Compass and you have any thoughts and ideas for the product, or if you would like to share a story about how you use it on your Android phone, please leave a comment. If you don’t have Compass, why not give it a try?

What is a hashtag?

Filed under: Catch,Internet,Note Taking — Steve Brown @ 11:53 am January 4, 2011

If you are one of the 8% of online Americans who used Twitter in 2010, you probably understand hashtags as a convenient way of tagging and organizing ideas simply by sticking a number sign in front of any word. In Twitter, hash tags automatically become links to the entire stream of Tweets that share the same #hashtag.

But for the 92% of online Americans who did not use Twitter last year, including some of my friends and family who asked me “What is a hash tag?” over the holidays, the answer might not be as obvious.

Hashtags emerged because Twitter only allowed posts comprised of 140 characters of free text without any obvious way to organize and categorize the content. The beautiful simplicity of Twitter fueled rapid and viral growth, and the Twitter community looked for ways to organize the flood of information within the 140 character constraint.

Hashtags became a fundamental organizing principle because you only needed to sacrifice one character of your 140 free text field, and putting a # in front of any word gained an easy way to associate information into relevant topical streams.

hashtag example from Catch Notes iPhone

Hashtag example from Catch Notes for iPhone

Catch Notes uses hashtags for the same reason: The notes field starts as a simple free text entry field, without the need to add special titles and categories. The first line of each note automatically is considered the title. Any word with a hash sign in front of it automatically becomes a category and tag for organizing and associating your notes.

I use hashtags in Catch to create interlinked streams of related information about topics ranging from restaurants to recipes, from ideas to expense reports, and just about anything else that I might want to remember and come back to later.

Whenever I find a restaurant I want to go back to, I take a quick geo-tagged photo note using Catch Notes on my iPhone, and I drop a # in front of the word restaurant. Now the note is in my #restaurant stream. Once you have created a few hashtags, the most frequently used hashtags automatically pop up in the hashtag picker when you click the # symbol on the screen.

I also might sprinkle in hashtags like #local or #roadtrip to indicate other associations with a particular restaurant note. Maybe the chef came to the table and told us how he made a dish, and I add a note with the #recipe, automatically linked to all of the other recipes that I have collected or clipped from the web. Or maybe the #restaurant note also contains a business #expense that should land in my expense report, or we talked about an #opportunity and I want to set a reminder to follow up.

Hashtag example from synced notes at

Hashtags in Catch appear as links in the sidebar, like categories. They also appear as links within the note itself, as hashtags. We designed Catch for people who don’t necessarily have an elaborately planned filing system, and and who want to keep their organizing principles fluid. The world around us keeps changing with new information, new topics, new ideas, and it is hard to define a fixed filing system.

The idea behind hashtags in Catch is to allow users to think freely and capture their ideas in the moment without fretting about how to organize them or which folders they should go in. Organization emerges with increased use of Catch, and it is easy to change simply by adding a # in the right places.

Goal Setting for 2011

Filed under: Business,Catch — Steve Brown @ 1:03 pm December 31, 2010

As we enter the new year, here is a goal setting worksheet that a friend shared with me last year. I found it very helpful for 2010, so I thought I would share it here. This year, I think it will be even more effective because I am recording and monitoring my goals using Catch.

After setting up a free online notebook at, create an entry where you write down the following things.

1) Guiding Intention: Choose one word to describe an overarching intention for 2011.

2) Special Focus: What would you like to report in January 2012 about your progress and results with this focus and what you expect to achieve in the year?

3) Goals: Create at least one goal in each category. Where possible, make sure these are “SMART” goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-based.

  • Career/Financial – Can be both business and personal
  • Relationships – Usually has to do with family/friends
  • Well Being – Usually has to do with physical condition
  • Spiritual – Anything that deals with spiritual/intellectual growth
  • Personal – What are you going to do for yourself?
  • Wild Card – What doesn’t fit anywhere else?

4) Business Financial Reporting: Create a one-page spreadsheet with rows for key financial indicators and columns for each month and totals for the whole year. Each month, track your budget, forecast, and actuals on this spreadsheet and keep it handy. If you do this using Google Docs, you can create a secret link to the document and include it in your Catch Notes entry.

  • Revenue
  • Gross Margin
  • Profit Before Tax
  • Cash Flow
  • Cash
  • Net Worth/Equity

5) Key Performance Indicators: Write down what you will be tracking as your Key Performance Indicators this year. What are the metrics on your financial/company-performance dashboard that are leading indicators and help you predict your performance? These leading ndicators can be integrated with your one-page monthly financial tracking sheet.

Be sure to write down your goals and keep them someplace that you can easily reference. Catch is useful for this purpose because you will have the key information handy on your iPhone or Android phone and synchronized with your account online.

For the spreadsheet with your financial metrics and key performance indicators, take a screenshot and attach it to your Catch note as an image. That way, you always have a fixed picture of what you were thinking at the beginning of the year.

Another advantage of using Catch for your goals is that whenever you put a hash or number sign in front of a word in your notebook, that word automatically becomes a “hashtag”, which is both a tag or category for organizing your content and a link to all other notes with that hashtag.

I am using the hashtag #Goals so that whenever I make progress with my goals or want to record any related thoughts and ideas, I mark them with the same #Goals tag. Both my original goals for the year and the stream of events, ideas, and progress notes throughout the year always will be with me.

Health 2.0 Developer Challenge — Move Your App!

Filed under: Developer Challenge — Steve Brown @ 12:55 pm October 9, 2010

Great innovation starts with great problems, and there is no shortage of great problems in healthcare.

One of those problems is couch potatodom.

Earlier this year Jamie Oliver challenged us to help him create a movement to fight obesity. We responded by partnering with HopeLab to challenge mobile software developers: Can you build an Android app that burns calories?

We called the developer challenge “Move Your App!”

In Phase 1, Peter Ma was selected by a panel of judges for “Pickup Sports” among a very competitive field with some great finalists. Peter was invited to TED Oxford where he showed his app.

We then expanded the challenge with Health 2.0 to allow teams of developers who missed the first round to enter their ideas. The winner was just announced this week at Health 2.0.

When Anthony Lai and James Yang got an email about Move Your App from the Stanford Computer Science department, they responded by dropping the class project the were working on, and started building Happy Feet, location-based exercise tracker with built in incentives and social connections.

To download and try out Happy Feet, the Health 2.0 challenge winning app, click here.

Snaptic Developer Conference — May 27, 2010

Filed under: Developer Challenge — Steve Brown @ 11:12 pm May 31, 2010

On Thursday, May 27, Snaptic hosted its first Developer Conference. You can find the Flickr photo set embedded above.

120 mobile developers from around San Francisco gathered at Mighty to hear a fantastic lineup of speakers at Snaptic’s conference “by developers and for developers.” The topics ranged from practical tools and techniques to new ways of thinking for mobile developer entrepreneurs seeking to change the world.

We also announced the winners of the Move Your App! developer challenge. Here is the schedule:

Snaptic Welcome

11:00 Doors Open
11:15 Steve Brown & Andreas Schobel, “Welcome to Snaptic’s First Developer Conference and Move Your App! Developer Challenge”

Opening Your Mind

11:30 Marten Mickos, CEO of Eucalyptus and former CEO of MySQL, “Scaling and Succeeding with an Open-Source-Mind”
11:50 Cindy Alvarez of KISS Metrics, “Analytics: Getting to Paid”

12:05 LUNCH

Using Apps to Solve New Problems

1:15 Marko Gargenta, Marakana, “Deep Dive into Android Developement”
1:45 Clay Graham, ServiceTattler, “Our Experiment”
1:50 Zhao Lu, OrangeLabs, “Bringing User Presence To The Voice World”

2:00 BREAK

New Core Tools for Developers

2:15 Jamie Taylor, Metaweb, “Semantic + Location”
2:35 Marius Eriksen, Twitter, “geo @ Twitter”
2:55 Adam Schwen, GravityMobile, “Interface in Your Face: 11 Ways to Break Your Heart”
3:15 Geoffrey Clapp, “Developing with the Snaptic API”

3:30 BREAK

Building a Business Around Your App

3:45 Charles Yim, Google AdMob division, “Latest mobile data and best monetization practices”
4:00 Ashish Toshniwal, CEO of Y Media Labs , “Goto Market Strategy”
4:15 Brian Chen, WiRED, “Hacking the Press”

4:45 BREAK

Developing with a Vision

5:00 Juan Enriquez, “We Know What is Now, But What’s Next”

Developer Challenge Fun

5:30 Richard Tate, HopeLab, and Steve Brown, Snaptic, “Why Move Your App”
5:45 Jamis MacNiven, Buck’s of Woodside, Neil Izenberg,, Juan Enriquez, Excel Ventures, “Judges Discuss the Finalists”

6:00 Move Your App! winners

6:15 Dinner, drinks, mingle, hacking

Snaptic at SF New Tech

Filed under: Developer Challenge — Steve Brown @ 4:44 pm May 15, 2010

At the SF New Tech Mobile event in San Francisco on May 5, Andreas Schobel and I had another chance to present the Snaptic notes technology and some of the developers we are working with in the Android market.

When we presented at SF New Tech the first time in 2009, we were a simple notepad app for Android smartphones. Then we found a way to add value to dozens of other Android apps as a note-taking function that developers easily could call and integrate using three lines of code. We used our 15 minute presentation at SXSW 2010 to highlight some of the top developers in the Android market that are working with us.

Three million active installs later, we have published our API and are becoming a notes platform, in the cloud and on smartphones, designed to make it easy to capture information that is important to you personally. Where Twitter is for content you want to promote to the world, Snaptic is a more personal space for information and data that you want use to improve yourself in some way. We make easy to capture what matters and make that information more useful by innovating in how we use context and semantics.

At SF New Tech this time around, we introduced our Move Your App! Android Developer Challenge. We brought together partners like the TED Prize, HopeLab, and KidsHealth to make it really worthwhile for developers to come up with Android apps that promote and track physical activity. The developer who can convince the judges that his or her app will get people off the couch and burn the most calories could win a trip to TED Global 2010 in Oxford.

Can Your Android App Burn Calories?

Filed under: Developer Challenge,Press — Steve Brown @ 4:57 pm April 22, 2010

Snaptic and HopeLab Announce the Android “Move Your App” Developer Challenge
TED to invite winner to attend TED Global 2010 in Oxford

Snaptic Press Release

San Francisco, CA — Snaptic , a developer of smartphone and web applications that capture, organize, and share information has partnered with HopeLab, a non-profit focused on improving the quality of life for young people with chronic illness, to sponsor the “Move Your App” developer challenge in response to the 2010 TED Prize Wish.

It is widely recognized that the obesity epidemic and sedentary behavior are catastrophic to global health. Today’s smartphone platforms, such as Android and software APIs like those offered by Snaptic, offer new tools for developers to create apps that give individuals more power and control to improve their health.

“Onboard smartphone sensors, the growth of large online social networks, and mass adoption of mobile software offer fertile ground for a new breed of apps that encourage and measure movement,” said Steve Brown, CEO of Snaptic. “We are excited to work with HopeLab and the Android developer community to help everyone reach a higher state of health and well being.” (more…)

Augmenting Your Brain With Android — Steve Brown’s Presentation at SXSW

Filed under: Presentations,Smartphones — Steve Brown @ 6:22 pm April 10, 2010

Last month, I had the chance to speak at South By Southwest 2010 — 15 minutes of fame in the Future 15 mobile track of the world’s hippest interactive conference. I was invited to talk about the Android ecosystem, where Snaptic is a leading developer with over 2 million active installs of our note-taking and geo-tagging applications. Here’s my presentation, entitled “Augmenting Your Brain With Android.”

SXSW started as a music and film festival, but has emerged as one of the biggest affairs for the Internet and new interactive technology. Since tech turned the music industry on its head and is in the process of disrupting the film business as well, it makes sense to combine tech with film and music. 2010 also was the first year SXSW had a track dedicated to mobile, which also makes sense as we enter another phase shift with the next billion connections to the internet coming through smart mobile devices.

With such powerful, always on, always connected technology in our hands around the clock, we posed the question of what this means for our brain. How can we use smart mobile technology to become smarter in managing the increased flow of information? With the flood of content generated by others people and important to other people, what is happening to the content that is most important to us?

Snaptic is developing technology to augment your brain, and we are looking to the brain for design inspiration. There are no database schemas, no tables with rows and columns, in your brain. Instead, your brain is a vast network of synaptically connected notes that grows and evolves as you capture and connect information that is important to you.

The information model for Snaptic note-taking applications is a network of interconnected elements of data, retaining and using context so that your notes make more sense and are easier to find with less effort. We have opened our notes platform to developers, making it easy to capture and connect information from any app.

We can’t do it alone, which is why we are open-sourcing more of our technology every day and inviting more developers to work with us to create a new information space designed like the brain and for the brain. Check out to follow our open source projects, and check out for information on our upcoming developer challenge and developer conference.

Changing the Context for Exercise — My Treadmill Laptop Computer Stand

Filed under: Behavior,Exercise,Health — Steve Brown @ 1:29 pm January 31, 2010

Yesterday, I built a contraption that turned my already hideous treadmill into something even more aesthetically questionable: a home office. I am typing this blog post on my MacBook as I walk on the treadmill at 3.5 miles per hour.

Treadmill Laptop Computer Stand

Treadmill Laptop Computer Stand

Like millions of people around the world, this New Years I again resolved to exercise more. After a bunch of failed attempts in prior years, this year would be different. I decided to word my New Years Resolution a little differently as well:

Find a sustainable exercise pattern that works for me, together with the tools to support it.

Emphasis on sustainable, as in beyond the first quarter. I also said I would find a pattern that works for me by the end of the year. That way I don’t need to feel like a failure even if I have not found the right thing for me when summer rolls around. There still will be plenty of time to keep looking.

This year I also told a few friends about my goal, which implicitly makes me feel more accountable. Actually, I did that before, and no one really cares about someone else’s exercise goal. What’s new this year is that I wrote this blog post, shared it on Facebook and Twitter, and now the whole world can see my New Years Resolution, and my laptop treadmill contraption, if they happen to stumble across this site. More importantly, I changed the context for exercise.

The first principle of behavior change is that our behavior is highly context-dependent. Our behavior at the office is different than at home. Our behavior at home is different than at the ball game. Our behavior at the ball game is different depending on whether our team is winning or losing. When it comes to behavior, context is everything.

In my 2010 exercise experiment, I am changing the context of my morning email routine so that the default behavior, the path of least resistance, encourages something healthier.

By nature, we are lazy. And even if we don’t think we are, the laziness assumption is always a better strategy when designing new tools and processes. We seem to be obeying one of the most fundamental laws of physics, to find an equilibrium point that minimizes energy consumption.

For a lot of us, this laziness equilibrium point is on the couch with chips and drink in hand watching American Idol, which, this time of year is on TWO nights a week.

Since it looks and feels kind of stupid to stand on my treadmill and type on my laptop with the treadmill turned off, I turn on the treadmill and walk. Next thing you know, I have walked five miles, answered all of my emails, reviewed a new contract, checked in on Facebook, written a couple of tweets, and completed this blog post.

Maybe this year my resolution to exercise more is actually going to work! If I only can convince my wife that my new treadmill office contraption is as aesthetically pleasing as it feels…

Connected Health: It’s Going To Happen

Filed under: Health 2.0 — Steve Brown @ 9:01 pm October 23, 2009

This is a short blog post on the way home from Connected Health 2009. I’m in the air on Virgin Atlantic typing on my iPhone connected to the web with inflight WiFi — that’s why it’s short and may have some typos.

First of all, Connected Health is a much bigger idea than the original idea of telemedicine, which was all about laying the painful last mile of technology to finally reach those with the greatest needs to communicate about health.

Connected Health, in contrast, is not about devices, sensors and gadgets. It is about the idea that how people connect with each other has a profound impact on health.

As Nicholas Christakis, author of “Connected”, reiterated in his keynote speech, our connections to each other, probably even more so that our connections to our doctors and nurses, has a measurable impact on our health.

Despite the big idea of connected health, too many of the Connected Health sessions followed the same format:

1. Most of the trillions in health spending is the result of chronic illness which in turn is the consequence of our lifestyle and behavior.

2. There is compelling evidence that connected health can improve quality and reduce the cost of care, referring to proactive care models that coach and monitor patients at home.

3. The only barrier to widespread adoption of a more rational model of connected care that will save our health system from impending collapse is Medicare coverage of remote health monitoring technologies.

This is the same conversation we had six years ago when we introduced the first connected health ideas as part of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003. Six years later, it seemed like nothing had changed.

In fact, much has changed, and the next few years will be profoundly different than the past six. The fact is, we are all becoming connected in a tighter web of relationships enabled by technology. 300 million of us are on Facebook, maintaining a constant awareness of how our social network is faring. Soon we all will be able to keep tabs on our most important relationships on our smartphones.

When Grandma is also on Facebook, and her friends and family know how she is doing and she knows they still care, do you think there will be fewer crises that lead to hospitalization? I think so.

In a world where we can blog and tweet from an airplane while watching satellite TV, we surely have the tools to create the kind of connection that will improve healthcare. It’s going to happen, not because of policies and reimbursement, but simply because connected health is far better for everyone than isolation.

Lessons Learned in a First Social Media Experiment Designed to Measure and Reward Passion For Social Causes

Filed under: 3banana,Causes,Ideas — Steve Brown @ 10:38 pm October 4, 2009

The “Share To Win” Experiment

Last month, my company sponsored a “crowdsourcing philanthropy” experiment in which we offered to donate money to causes based on their ability to rally supporters online. Our premise with the Share To Win challenge was that a cause needs two ingredients to be successful in the modern world: An idea worth spreading, and a core group of passionate people to light a fire online.

A recent Harvard study found that just 10% Twitter users generate more than 90% of the content on the popular and fast growing microblogging service. The numbers must be even more skewed when it comes to the much more involved act of traditional blogging. If you have an important idea that you want to spread, and especially if you are a non-profit cause that relies on the generosity of others to back your idea, you are going to need to have some of those Internet extroverts on your side.

The methodology of our challenge was straightforward: Anyone could nominate a cause by creating a note on describing why people should support their cause, and then share that note through social networks like Twitter and Facebook. The five causes that attracted the most endorsements – as measured by unique visitors who left a comment – would win our donations, a total of $10,000. The challenge would give champions an excuse to spread the word about their cause, but without asking for money – which tends to reduce the virality of any idea online. (more…)

Quantified Self and Augmenting Your Brain

Filed under: 3banana,Brain Fitness,Note Taking,Presentations,Quantified Self — Steve Brown @ 3:36 pm September 15, 2009

Here’s the presentation I gave at the Quantified Self meeting at Institute for the Future in Palo Alto this week. Sixty smart and passionate people on the frontier of personal life and health monitoring technology joined the discussion about using lifestream data to improve memory and cognition, enhance self-awareness, and understand health. Some attendees were researchers trying to discover signals in lifestream data, starting with their own. Some were developers and investors in health and behavioral monitoring companies. Some were from Google. Some were simply curious.

One presenter from Fujitsu demonstrated his around-the-clock blood pressure, heart rate, and blood oxygen monitoring results in an effort to understand which medications influenced his sleep apnea. Esther Dyson showed her 23andMe genetic profile and compared it to her family members and colleagues, while another researcher showed the challenges of posting his genome on Twitter. (Hint: at 140 characters per Tweet and 1000 Tweets per day, it takes two years and you have a high risk of being flagged as a spammer.) Others logged symptoms and environmental factors related to medical issues, analyzed language to passively capture information and insights on mental health, while one person showed his 10 year mind map.

The common denominators at the Quantified Self meeting were that everyone was interested in taking notes on their life experience in a quantifiable way in order to better understand their own experience and to solve problems. In each case, the limiting factor seemed to be the ability and persistence to take notes that could be converted into something useful. It’s just too much darned work.

Simplicity is the key to any kind of self-monitoring and information capture, because no one needs a bunch of extra work. I learned the strength of simplicity working in the field of personal health monitoring for many years as the founder and former CEO of Health Hero Network, the developer of the Health Buddy System, a pioneering effort of electronic “lifestreaming” to improve chronic care. (more…)

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