January 22, 2003

"State of the Union" and Creative Commons licensing

Public Campaign (a beltway non-profit focusing on campaign finance reform) has created a really interesting poster called "State of the Union".  It is an expose into the buyout of America's political system through large corporate campaign donations, and the data they present is quite compelling.

The other interesting part of this story is that they released the poster under a Creative Commons license, which is a first (I believe) for a large political policy group.  Their intentions are to see the electronic version of the poster disseminated widely - emailed, printed and posted on office doors.  The Creative Commons licensing was intentionally chosen to let people know that it is OK to copy and print out the poster so long as it is done for non-commercial purposes (they are selling a 2'x3' version of the poster on glossy poster paper for $15) and also to promote the ideals of Creative Commons.

This is an experiment on their part, and I think it is something that should be supported.  It (a) gets the Public Campaign message out on the net, and (b) gets policy wonks inside the beltway to sit up and take notice of the work that the great folks at Creative Commons have been doing.  Maybe, just maybe, it'll help another political organization to release their work under a similar license.

Avalanches start with a single flake of snow...

Full disclosure: My brother Micah works at Public Campaign (msifry at publicampaign.org), and he and I had long discussions about using the Creative Commons license. I also host one of Public Campaign's sites and mailing lists on a server I own.

January 14, 2003

Blogging Hours

The past few days, I've been back at Johns Hopkins, my alma mater.  I was there giving a talk to their intersession class on Entrepreneurship (I've put up a PDF version of my slides, btw)

Afterwards, I got to see and talk with some of my old professors and it was great to talk with some of the best and brightest and catch up on their current work.  They asked me what kinds of things they could do to (a) improve alumni relations, (b) improve or change the student experience, and (c) increase or enhance the reputation and knowledge sharing at the University.

I've been thinking about it, and I think I've got a suggestion:

Give every faculty member, graduate student, undergraduate, and employee at the university a blog

If I had a million dollars to give to the university, I'd split it into $10,000 chunks and I'd make them available as grants to the 100 people that posted the most interesting, useful blogs during the school year.  Make it a contest.

Imagine that - 100 members of the JHU community blogging daily.  Some would talk about their current research, some would write about daily life, some would post poetry and writings, who knows.  The conversation would be phenomenal.  It would get national and local press.  It would open an window to the entire world of the interests, knowledge, and thinkings of 100 of the world's finest professors, students, and administrators in higher education today. 

I think it would also start conversations.  It would attract students to the school.  As Doc likes to say, it would be arson.  It would light fires of interest, collaboration, and involvement.  Just spending 3 days down here, talking with some of the great people, I got intrigued by all the potential.  I saw the stovepiped information pathways, the bureaucracy, and - to a person - everyone railed against it.  Here's an idea:  Give the university a choir of voices.  Make it easy for people to talk, easy to post.  Imagine the connections that would happen just by doing a Google search, researchers across the world that could find each other.  Throw away that old-fashioned quarterly newsletter, or even better - supplement it with the best of the conversations that these blogs start.

From an infrastructure perspective, it would cost almost nothing.  An extra server or two.  Training?  Writing a blog has become point and click.

Heck, Lessig blogs.  Reynolds blogs.  When I think about Stanford, guess who I think of?  When I think of the University of Tennessee, again, guess who?  Imagine an entire faculty doing what these guys do.  Wow.  Office hours are from 2:30 to 4.  Blogging hours are from 4 to 4:30.

The first university that gets serious about using blogs will create a huge impact in profile, research quality, cooperation, and collaboration both inside and outside of the university.  The first one to do it will show its cluefulness.  The value to the rest of us would be huge as well. I would bet it would end up increasing alumni giving as well.

The key thing is to create incentives for people to communicate.  Go ahead, put up a disclamer on the blog pages, and get a blogging policy.  But it is key to not punish people for publishing their thoughts.  Don't get PC.  Trust the students.  Trust the faculty.  They will rise to the occasion.  After all, they're signing their names to the work.

I would read them, sure as hell. 

God, that would be great.