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Policy and technology: a "longue durée" view

Random thoughts on policy for technology and on technology for policy

Month

April 2011

Co-designing the future of e-democracy: ideamocracy.it

Today ideamocracy.it was launched, a competition that we organize for the Emilia-Romagna region. It’s a small initiative, but we hope it’s significant. Basically, the idea is very simple. The Emilia-Romagna region has long been active in e-democracy initiatives, but they now want to innovate and identify new, disruptive opportunities. In particular, they want to use technology to widen the range of participants in e-democracy initiatives, through three technological opportunities: online games, social network and mobile apps, if properly combined and well designed, can transform the cost of participation into a direct benefit by leveraging fun, play, instant participation and vanity.

Ideamocracy is a competition for ideas for e-democracy. I’ve written about the advantages of prizes before, and we co-organized the Prize Summit a few weeks ago in London . Today, there is an explosion (and a risk of inflation) of competitions, namely for apps based on public data such as the EU Open Data Challenge. Ideamocracy is slightly different because:

– it targets political participation rather than public services

– it aims at leveraging ideas, rather than working apps

Every such competition is a bet, you never know how many people are likely to participate. In my experience, what matters is an inspiring jury, good communication, and a well designed question. I couldnt hope for a better jury. And according to the reactions of Twitter, we seem to have generated positive feedback. Most of all, ideamocracy makes sense because it addresses a clear, specific need of the Emilia-Romagna region, as Andrea di Maio often recommends.

Let’s see how it goes… feedback is welcome.

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It’s the platform, stupid

So today, “platform” is the buzzword. Everything’s becoming a platform, allowing third parties to add value to what you produce. The more successful a platform is, the more apps are developers, the more users it attracts, the more data are generated, the better apps can be developed etc in a virtuous cycle. More users mean also more money (if you are Apple and sell iPhones) and more data mean more advertising revenues (if you are Facebook and sell advertising). Here’s a picture I drew to represent this virtuous (at least for some companies) cycle. The positive feedback mechanisms is also a problem for companies, and worlds regions, that do not manage to create successful platforms. In case you wonder, yes, I am referring to Europe and Nokia losing out to US players.

Here I list some examples of platforms at different layers:
– OS: most traditional, obviously any operative system is a platform, it allows programmers to develop tools through SDK. What is new is that this has extended to the mobile Operating Systems, which previously were closed

– Social Networking website: Facebook, and most other web 2.0 sites, allows developers to publish “apps” some of which become big hits like farmville, mostly through RestFUL APIs . Google tried to outopen Facebook through the open development platform OpenSocial, but with little success as far as I know

– Browsers: Firefox, as well as others, is well equipped with add-ons and plugins. Not sure how they are developed

– Desktop software: for example, Mendeley just launched the developers’ challenge to develop new apps on top of their platform through API.

– Enterprise software: SAP has a strong developers community

I’m sorry for not refining it, but this post is really just a note to myself, I will update it in the next weeks. If you have additional examples of different KIND of platforms, please add below. For example Arduino…

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