Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Story of a Viral Video

Anyone who has ever been associated with new media marketing and watched a YouTube success story wonders: how and why did this video resonate with the market, and how might I produce such a 2-minute wonder? I remember attending a panel at the Personal Democracy Forum (08) and listening to four people who had done just that. And I remember one panelist saying there was some unknown piece of magic; none of them could guarantee another success.

So imagine my pride when my own 22-year old daughter hit one out of the park on her very first effort – and with a climate change message. I’d loved her idea when I’d heard it the month before. I thought the script looked strong when I edited it a few days before the filming. I was blown away by the execution of the first draft cut of the shoot. My expectations were very very high. I could feel that this was goal to be a hit. But of course, you tell yourself to stay calm and prepare for the usual outcome of low viewership.

The 1.5 minute video hit YouTube around noon on a Monday. A half dozen of us sent the link to our friends, and tweeted and Facebooked it. Within an hour or so, it hit 355 views. And there it sat as the afternoon wore on, and evening came. We heard from friends that they had loved it. We kept hitting refresh, refresh, refresh.

I emailed a colleague with experience in YouTube video postings and he replied that the view count of videos that had a rapidly rising number of views would stick, and then correct late in the day. So as the evening wore on, we hit refresh, refresh, refresh. At around 10:30pm, success! The number changed!

To 1200. We were stunned. What? That’s it? Minor depression set in. Well, 1200 wasn’t exactly bad. I mean, home videos don’t get 1200 views in half a day, but we were really disappointed. As we went to bed that night, a little before midnight, we refreshed again.

22,000! OK! We slept well. On opening our eyes in the morning, the first task was to refresh again.

65,000! We got it into the Huffington Post on its second day, and O’Reilly also picked it up on Fox. The Twitter and retweeting stream was strong. On the fourth day, it rotated into the “Currently being viewed” slot on YouTube’s home page. And it hit their “Most Popular” selections. YouTube has some kind of inscrutable (and no doubt well researched) methodology for deciding where to place its videos on the page, and which page. On the fifth or sixth day, we were definitely among the top three most viewed videos for that week.

Here is the video:

So what were the success factors?

Beautiful young women are always a pull. Yes, we know that. But it also has a nice story line. It opens setting one expectation about what it is about (sexual heat) and flips it into another kind of heat (global warming). There is drama, how far will they go? It’s fun; the people shooting it are clearly having a good time. It has a surprise ending. The music chosen was spot on. The editing is remarkable. The pacing, impeccable.

A small detail: we thought we were going to call it “Supermodels stripping for the Planet.” But a quick YouTube search of “supermodels stripping” brought up a lot of stuff we didn’t want to be associated with and that we didn’t want people to stumble upon if they looked for us using the search function. We changed it to “Supermodels take it off for Climate Change.”

And a last note: a confirmation that perception is in the eye of the beholder. The perceived tone of the video is totally based on the lens the viewer brings to it. Some people thought it was pure as the driven snow, and surprisingly modest. Others thought it verged on pornographic. Sadly, YouTube censorship seems to have come to that conclusion as well. Despite the soaring popularity, they took it off the most popular page. No doubt based on the title and screen capture without having actually viewed it.

Read more!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Holland first city with distance tax

The Dutch lead the way in transportation once again. They look to be the first country in the world to move from a fuel tax to a distance tax, with the cabinet presenting a plan to be voted on.

According to the DutchNews.nl story, the highpoints are "If the legislation is passed by parliament, motorists will start paying tax on every kilometer they drive" and that the "tax will be higher during the rush hour and for more polluting vehicles." Exactly right and as it should be, payment based on distance, emissions, and time of day. I've been saying for a while that movement from a gas tax to a distance tax is inevitable, and here is the start.

What interested me comes from the comment section. Unhappy people worry that it is regressive, represents double and increased taxation, is the end to their privacy, and is another step in the big brother government. These are all common concerns. A careful government presentation of the effort would dispel some of the false assumptions, and dealing head on with the privacy continues to be imperative.

I don't know whether the switch will mean higher road taxes. In the US, it should mean that. Today our transportation infrastructure is financed through gas taxes, and these haven't kept up with inflation. In fact, they remain unchanged at a national level for the last 18 years. That doesn't work! Our infrastructure is literally falling down.

The stimulus money, if well spent, would help a small amount. As a measure of the backlog of projects, we can look at the submissions for $1.5 billion in discretionary transportation projects that was in the ARRA (stimulus). The submissions from states were due September 15. The result: 1,381 applications seeking a stunning total of $56.9 billion -- 38 times the money available! It should be pretty clear that states are desperate for more money for transportation investment.

On the issue of privacy, I've blogged about how to address it many times.

Read more!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Creating the Conditions for Explosive Innovation

Here is the most succinct description of how I think we can drive innovation, economic development, and spur our world on to the new low-carbon economy.

One of the reasons to make anything more open is the admission that there is more value to be extracted. Whatever we are talking about is underused. So in my mind, “open” implies “excess capacity.”

There are also levels of openness. Some kinds of open mean that certain people, with specific attributes (enough money, enough expertise) can participate in the newly opened asset. Other kinds of openness dramatically change the equation of who can participate: this kind of openness reduces the cost of participation and the level of expertise required to participate and therefore is game-changing, especially in the number of people who choose to engage.


Guest bedrooms -> hotels -> couchsurfing (in 10 years since its founding, beds are now available to visitors in 55,000 cities in 231 countries – try that private sector!)

Ma bell phones -> cellphones -> iphone (in 2.5 years since its market entry, over 100,000 applications have been made)

Cars with fixed ownership & fixed wireless offerings ->
Zipcar/TomTom/Sync ->
multi-purpose open devices inviting creation of an infinite number of apps (who knows? We have yet to produce an open in-vehicle after-market platform)

Single-purpose wireless devices ->
Extensible malleable wireless devices ->
Open wireless devices with a mesh communications protocol (ubiquitous low cost local data transmission worldwide!)

This idea has important implications. For companies, opening up some platforms is a way they can farm for innovation cheaply. Losing ideas lose on their own R&D dollars. Winning ideas can be purchased by the platform-providing company. Voila! low cost R&D with 100% success rates!

For governments, the implications are much more far reaching. If a government seeks to maximize the private sector or individual gain from its expenditures, it should open up as many of its technology investments as possible. It should seek to lower the cost and expertise barriers for participation, with the resulting explosion of uses and innovations on the underlying platform.

This is why I have been advocating that government technology purchases require that excess network capacity be make open, that devices chosen be non-proprietary and able to be multi-purpose, that open standards and internet protocol be used.

Related posts:
Lowering Barriers to Innovation in Cars

Creating an Open In-Vehicle Platform
Open Platforms, Smart Grid & Smart Transportation
Whats "open" got to do with it?
Time for Cooperative Capitalism
Technology Recommendations for Congestion Pricing

Read more!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Which is Faster? The Car or the Alternatives? Marketing provides the Answer

Your vote wanted!

Up first, the Audi ad (30 seconds):

Followed by the opening sequence from "Office Space" (1 minute):

So, which one more accurately reflects reality? the Audi or Office Space? Vote.

Read more!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Powerful Advocacy: Social Media & Toyota

I am really impressed by the power of a MoveOn campaign. It was launched 4 hours ago, and already has 200 Toyota owners, in front of their Toyota's protesting that company's participation in the US Chamber of Commerce (which has been lobbying against passage of a climate change bill in Congress).

This campaign, using Flickr, and MoveOn designed signs, printed out and customized "locally," really demonstrates the power of consumer's wallets on the marketplace. It is just so much more convincing and direct that everyone agreeing to boycott tuna.

We'll have to wait and see if this actually pressures Toyota to leave the US Chamber. But an inspiring campaign.

Read more!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

21 Ways I Reduced My Carbon Footprint

Change takes time. Here below is the list of my path from what was not measured, but likely a typical carbon footprint (around 20 tons per year for an American) to a smaller carbon footprint today. I think I'm down to around 6 tons a year. Goal is about 2 tons per capita worldwide. Below is how I progressed over the last 20 years.

Today minus 20 years
1. Bought a fixer-upper house in dense urban area 5 blocks from subway.
2. Vacation locally (most of the time)
T- 18 years
3. Stopped eating meat (most of the time). Cook most meals from scratch.
T- 15 years
4. Enrolled children in local schools.
T- 14 years
5. Emphasis on Christmas & birthday presents that were consumable or practical.
T- 12 years
6. Installed automatic setback thermostat (55 degrees at night, 65 daytime). Knit a lot of sweaters for whole family.
T-10 years
7. Didn’t buy second car, used carsharing (Zipcar)
T- 9 years
8. Husband got a local job, now commutes by bicycle 100% of the time.
T- 8 years
9. Increase emphasis on second hand or hand-me-down for toys, books, clothes, bikes.
T- 7 years
10. Stopped eating fish (except sardines, I love them so).
T- 5 years
11. Kids stop asking to be driven to school on cold, wet or snowy days because answer is usually no.
T- 4 years
12. Switched all light bulbs to CFLS.
13. Turn temperature of water heater down to ‘warm’.
T- 3 years
14. More carpooling (GoLoco).
15. Greater commitment to biking for errands.
16. Finally put insulation in roof.
17. Wash laundry in cold water and dry clothes on line (my husband getting me over my greatest hypocrisy.) Reduced summer utility bill by 50%.
T- 2 years
18. Bought a farm share at local farm for produce.
19. Curiously also plant small kitchen garden.
20. Started driving the speed limit. On highways too (that’s right).
T- 1 year
21. Selected “green” supplier of grid electricity offered by our utility (wind farm in upstate NY, only 10% more expensive).
22. Replace inefficient appliances with way more efficient ones when they finally die. Front loading washing machine, dishwasher, refridgerator. Insulate and seal old house more, replace a few more old windows, solar hot water on roof, find or build more efficient housing.

This effort will be on-going. My biggest challenge, like environmental evangelists around me, is my air travel. I do a lot of it. I keep track using Dopplr, but I don’t believe in offsets (see CheatNeutral for a beautiful explanation of why).

What's your plan or path? What other good ideas?

Read more!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lowering Barriers to Innovation in Cars

In 1890, there were 2000 car companies in and around Paris. I haven't been able to find the data for Detroit, but its a good guess to imagine that it was the same. Today, what do you think? Maybe 50 new cars being seriously tested for market consideration worldwide?

In a time when everyone is talking about the need for innovation and new vehicle types, it is basically impossible for a couple of clever guys (used in a gender-neutral way) to think up, test, sell, and improve upon their ideas. We have set the regulatory bar so high, that we've basically excluded innovation from any who doesn't have several hundred million dollars handy. The US Department of Energy recently gave Tesla Motors a $465 million loan that will be repayable only if they succeed. This is an expensive approach, for the government and for car manufacturers.

There is a lower-cost way forward, with precedents in the food industry. Here's what I think should be done.

To promote innovation In the existing vehicle stock:

1. Create an open in-vehicle technology platform/device that can be installed in existing vehicles, which brings car-specific data to the internet (with open APIs) for developers/innovators. This will facilitate changes in ownership, access, driving behavior, connectivity to other relevant data in the environment. [This idea is in hand and doesn't need government regulatory intervention.]

To promote innovation of new vehicles and new mobility choices:

2. Create a government insurance plan for small transportation businesses, to be paid into by these start-ups, that provides insurance, likely with reasonable per incident caps, that enables them to try innovative things that don't match the insurance industry status quo. Carsharing, carpooling, pick-up shuttles, PAYD insurance, innovative vehicle designs have all be held back by the insurance problem. By capping at some specific "small business" volume, innovation can be enabled and the real liability risks can be learned from these small groups. Ideas that succeed (and increase in volume beyond small business) will have the track record to move into the private sector insurance industry.

3. Remove government oversight of safety standards for low sale-volume vehicles. There is insignificant public health risk from small volume vehicle accidents. As an analogy, the health standards we apply to the corner deli are different from what we apply to Nabisco. In the vehicle space, there is only one rule that applies. And like the corner deli, locals won't frequent one that serves old or unhygenically prepared food.

4. Consider creation of low speed, low weight class of roads on which any vehicle and mode of transportation is at low risk for mortal accidents, and on which these small volume new vehicles could travel very safely. "The probability of death from an impact speed of 50 mi/h (80 km/h) is 15 times the probability of death from an impact speed of 25 mi/h (40 km/h)....only 5 percent of pedestrians died when struck by a vehicle traveling at 20 mi/h (32 km/h); however, the proportion of fatalities increased to 45 percent at 30 mi/h (48 km/h) and to 85 percent at 40 mi/h (64 km/h)." Source data.

On this last point, I'm imaging that many urban areas (and perhaps some roads or some lanes in suburban/rural areas) could have this classification. If this new classification were just by speed, allowing a diversity of vehicles could travel on those roads, we would get one kind of innovation. If we pushed the restriction further to include weight restrictions, these low speed/low weight roads would have a totally new and different characteristic that would favor pedestrians, bicycles, and small vehicles. Right now, many people tell me they don't ride their bikes (or let their kids ride) because of the weight/speed problem of other traffic.

Read more!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Innovation in Transportation

Time magazine held a panel in Washington 10 days ago on which I participated, and then published highlights in this week's Time magazine.

Here is the print version on innovation.
Here is the almost the same thing, but the edited video (along with Amory Lovins and Dan Barber)

Read more!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Creating an Open In-Vehicle Technology Platform

A nice interview conducted by Vincente Everts in Amsterdam at PICNIC last week on the whys and wherefores of creating an open in-vehicle technology platform.

Read more!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Caution: School Zone

This goes into a list of "What is our Country Coming To?"

A few excerpts from a New York Times article on the large percentage of parents who won't let their kids walk to school.

Two facts:
--In 1969, 41 percent of children either walked or biked to school; by 2001, only 13 percent still did, according to data from the National Household Travel Survey.

-- About 115 children are kidnapped by strangers each year, according to federal statistics; 250,000 are injured in auto accidents.

And an anecdote:
"Recently, Amy Utzinger, a mother of four in Tucson, Ariz., let her daughter, 7, walk down the block to play with a friend. Five houses. Same side of the street.

Afterward, the friend’s mother drove Mrs. Utzinger’s daughter home. “She said, ‘I just drove her back, just in case ... you know,’ ” recalled Mrs. Utzinger. “What was I supposed to say? How can you argue against ‘just in case’?”

woah!!!@#! For the record, I have three kids and they have all walked and biked to school. None abducted. None in car accidents. Guess the statistics worked out nicely in our favor.

Read more!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Worlds Collide

Using a transportation metaphor to illustrate the impacts of climate change. See the text that goes with this article, and then join 350.org.

Read more!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Another downside for Cap & Trade: lack of transparency

The opposition says action on climate is all about raising taxes, meaning higher costs for the common man. Proponents say the bill is all about preventing the human race from a nasty, brutish, and short future, and the creation of jobs that will come with a new economy that meets the needs of the future.

As many of you know, I’ve been pretty opposed to Cap & Trade for a whole host of reasons, but I’ve been willing to bow to political pragmatism. What I really want is for the government to create a strategy that will reduce CO2 emissions in the timeframe required, and enable a new economy to flourish. I’ll take that outcome any which way it needs to happen.

But I have a new Cap & Trade fear as I watch the current debate, and remember past ones similarly built on misinformation and speedy adoption by Americans in a hurry.

If a cap & trade bill is passed (which it might), and the price of oil goes up significantly (which it will), it feels like we are guaranteed to have a Republican argument that attributes high gas prices to cap & trade. And it will be totally “provable” to people who believe what they are told. The whole point of C&T is to hide the carbon tax from consumers. Therefore, they won’t know that 80% of the rise in oil prices as nothing to do with C&T.

I think we are setting ourselves up for future political losses by offering an easy target that will require a lot of explaining to untangle. A carbon tax would be so simple, and obvious, and not be able to get mucked up with other issues. Am I wrong?

The day after I posted the above, we find this is already being done! At a fake grassroots rally against the climate bill in Texas, the American Petroleum Institute was passing out T-shirts that read "I'll pass on $4 gas."

Read more!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The new GM could get it right

I just read a fascinating blogpost by Bernard Avishai describing a GM electric power-train called Voltec. I read that first sentence and laugh. Fascinating power-train? Puh-lease.

But Bernard writes:

"GM has a chance to become the software powerhouse of the newest new economy...a design hub and anchor for hundreds of new software solutions companies that will focus on the tiers of communication the electric car portends: battery-pack to vehicle, vehicle to electric utility, and utility to sources of renewable energy."

This is definitely going in the right direction. The question will be, will GM take this vision all the way? -- making its communications protocols and vehicle APIs open to everyone? As some of you know, GM's OnStar is my poster child for a great idea that failed because they kept it closed. [My oft-repeated line: OnStar is like having a smartphone that can only call your mom. Sure, I like calling my mom, but there are thousands of other people and other uses I'd put the phone to if they'd open it up.]

Ultimately, we need to connect and open up for innovation all car data (remember, no one could actually do anything to your car without your explicit permission). We also need the communication protocols to include a peer-to-peer mesh, and imagine, as GM begins to, that data is data, and therefore this protocol is good not just for smart cars, and the smart grid, but for smart infrastructure, smart governments, and smart people as well.

Related articles and blog posts I've written on this subject:
On connecting everything up in this Wired article
On what the car companies should do to dig themselves out, in this Fast Company piece.
On why open is the right choice in this blogpost.

Read more!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Open Platforms, Smart transportation & smart grid

Nice Treehugger podcast interview with me that explains my vision on the how and why of open platforms for cars, the connection to the smart grid, and how creating a mobile internet can become an engine for economic development. Phew, all that in 15 (?) minutes.

Read more!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Michael Jackson trumps end of our world

News of Michael Jackson's death has prompted action on the parts of millions of people worldwide -- maybe even hundreds of millions. So many people spread the news so quickly, it took Twitter down. Thousands stand in lines to create and see makeshift memorials. Hours are spent consuming music, video, and hashing and rehashing it all over with family, friends, colleagues, and even strangers.

Meanwhile, this same week, MIT researchers released the results of their new climate study. Using a detailed computer simulation of global economic activity and climate processes, they ran the model 400 times with possible tweaks. The result:

"without rapid and massive action," we will see an almost 10 degree rise in temperatures by 2100, more than double earlier predictions of a 4 degree rise.

There is little about the world we live in and rely upon today that will be familiar or viable in that world just 90 years from now. Water, agriculture, land use, species -- our survivability -- will be in a totally different territory. Really, not just metaphorically.

We need this reality to get at least as much attention as Michael Jackson's death. It should motivate more tweets, more street action, more conversations, more pondering about what life means, makes it worth living, legacies, life potential, and the fate of offspring.

If MJ's death motivated to you spend 4 minutes listening to song you wouldn't have listened to last week, then email your Senators and tell them the climate change bill before them is far too weak and too slow. Tell them that you'll willing to commit more than $175/year by 2020 in high energy prices (the impact of the House version of the bill), and then start talking with everyone you know.

Article about new MIT study

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Frightening stats on elder & teen driving

I found this table when I was looking into Massachusett's Graduated Licensing Program because my 18-year-old son decided he'd like to get a driver's license. It is shocking isn't it?! Twenty-two percent of 16&17-year-old drivers get in accidents in each year! Wow. But then, I read this statistic from a Boston Globe article on elder drivers:

"But elderly drivers, who typically have a small orbit, cause
almost four times as many fatal accidents as teenagers when you take
into account miles driven, according to a Carnegie Mellon study."

Double wow.

More reasons on why it is time to focus on more transportation options that don't involve cars.

Read more!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

What I love about the Internet: past & future

Most people who use the internet don’t appreciate how it came to be and what makes it so special. This post is a very very short history lesson that will give you a flavor of the past, and a taste of the future some of us want to create – it should take you about 20 minutes to get through it, but it is worth it and will likely change how you feel about the word "internet."

First, read this endearing account of an important piece of internet history by Steve Crocker for the New York Times and then come back to this blog.

The critical points are that the internet was designed to be open, was able to evolve, and welcomed participation. Steve Crocker told me “We had no idea when we started that this is where we’d end up.”

Here is an excerpt from a longer talk David Isenberg wrote, that describes what makes the internet we have today so special.

"The Internet derives its disruptive quality from a very special property: IT IS PUBLIC. The core of the Internet is a body of simple, public agreements, called RFCs, that specify the structure of the Internet Protocol packet. These public agreements don't need to be ratified or officially approved -- they just need to be widely adopted and used.

The Internet's component technologies -- routing, storage, transmission, etc.-- can be improved in private. But the Internet Protocol itself is hurt by private changes, because its very strength is its public-ness.

Because it is public, device makers, application makers, content providers and network providers can make stuff that works together. The result is completely unprecedented; instead of a special-purpose network -- with telephone wires on telephone poles that connect telephones to telephone
switches, or a cable network that connects TVs to content -- we have the Internet, a network that connects any application -- love letters, music lessons, credit card payments, doctor's appointments, fantasy games -- to any network: wired, wireless, twisted pair, coax, fiber, wi-fi, 3G, smoke signals, carrier pigeon, you name it. Automatically, no extra services needed. It just works.

This allows several emergent miracles.

First, the Internet grows naturally at its edges, without a master plan. Anybody can connect their own network, as long as the connection follows the public spec. Anybody with their own network can improve it -- in private if they wish, as long as they follow the public agreement that is the
Internet, the result grows the Internet.

Another miracle: The Internet let's us innovate without asking anybody's permission. Got an idea? Put it on the Internet, send it to your friends. Maybe they'll send it to their friends.

Another miracle: It's a market-discovery machine. Text messaging wasn't new in 1972. What surprised the Internet researchers was email's popularity. Today a band that plays Parisian cafe music can discover its audience in Japan and Louisiana and Rio.

It's worth summarizing. The miracles of the Internet :
any-app over any infrastructure,
growth without central planning,
innovation without permission,
and market discovery.

If the Internet Protocol lost its public nature, we'd risk
shutting these miracles off…

Like other great Americans on whose shoulders I stand, I have a dream. In my dream the Internet becomes so capable that I am able to be with you as intimately as I am right now without leaving my home in Connecticut.

In my dream the Internet becomes so good that we think of the people in Accra or Baghdad or Caracas much as we think of the people of Albuquerque, Boston and Chicago, as "us" not "them.".

In my dream, the climate change problem will be solved thanks to trillions of smart vehicles, heaters and air conditioners connected to the Internet to mediate real-time auctions for energy, carbon credits, and transportation facilities.

In my dream, we discover that one of the two billion who live on less than dollar a day is so smart as to be another Einstein, that another is so compassionate as to be another Gandhi, that another is so charismatic as to be another Mandella . . . and we will comment on their blog, subscribe to their flickr stream and follow their twitter tweets."

For visions about David’s nightmares, go read his full speech.

Following up on David’s words and dreams, read this piece written by another David (Weinberger) about my vision of how we can extend the internet’s promise and path, and bundle with technology investments this country is about to make, so that we can start to live the dreams David Isenberg so eloquently expressed.

If you want to understand what it means to talk about radio spectrum, and radio waves using compelling methaphors so that it might actually make sense for you (it did for me), read this beautifully written article by David Weinberger, about David Reed’s recommendation for management of radio waves. How could we as the public evaluate what the FCC does with the public airwaves?

If you are feeling particularly curious, and have a wee bit of nerd in you, I highly recommend this 1 hour talk by Van Jacobson about content-centric networking, which just might be the technical side of the future that I've just glossed over.

Read more!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mom driving update (1)

Some of you will remember that my mom (age 84, pictured above carrying the torch in the Florida Senior Olympics) totaled her car about one month ago (no injuries involved).

Here has been her progress. If I had more time, I can see the article/book now “The 4 stages of Car Separation,” as received by email from my mom.

“I will enjoy life more now that I don’t have to worry about driving.”

Accommodation (my mom is very social and sociable. She was able to get herself rides quickly).

“so far is it going well, I have a woman who will pick me up for golf and we will go to lunch after it or eat inside which is lovely. Tonight I am going to a party whereby I will ask one person that lives a little distance from here but goes to the club once a day to take me one day a week and bring me home. I met a lady from my church and she will arrange for me to get there and return from the early service, or I could go with Ada my neighbor that goes weekly to the ll o-clock service.”

Reality Sets in
“I figured out if I use the drivers I have, it will cost me over three hundred dollars a month which is a lot of money. I have a friend from the club that says he will take me twice a week …and a friend that will take me to golf, and… the lady that takes me to church will let me off after church. It still adds up to that much money. It is five dollars a trip. I can use the Council of Aging but I know there is waiting for them”.

And my reply to her:
“Mom, I know $300/month seems like a lot to you, but that equals $3600 a year which is a deal,and cheaper than owning your own car. Really! Don't let the price stop you from going where you need to go.

Insurance $1200/year ??
Gas $40/mo? -- $500/year
Maintenance -- $300/year
Depreciation ($20k for a new car, lasts for 10 years)-- $2000/year

Total: $4000k/year --- if not MORE. The average per car per year is $8000. This is really what you were paying. You just didn't notice it because it dribbled out little by little.

You are paying LESS than you did before. Enjoy the rides. You can afford it. You were already paying that.”

And so my mom, is exactly like the rest of America, and like myself, who can hardly believe what we really are paying to get around with our own personal cars.

Can we all get to the fourth stage?

Happiness & Satisfaction

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Friday, May 8, 2009

The Grid, Our Cars and the Net: One Idea to Link Them All

David Weinberger did a brilliant job translating my complex nation-wide communications infrastructure vision into an engaging and comprehensible article for Wired.

Read more!

Al Gore seems to be the one man on this planet who bridges science and populism without talking down, sugar coating, or playing political games. I admire him deeply on this. His Repower America campaign has the right goals working in the right time frame for action.

Washington is deep into hearings on the Waxman-Markey Cap and Trade bill which started out with relatively weak goals (20% reductions by 2020). Lobbyists are hard at work getting legacy setasides, and extra dollars for dirty energy that has to convert (paying the polluters rather than the polluters paying). Politics is driving everything while the reality of the need to reduced emissions sharply and quickly almost goes unmentioned.

This 8 minute update by Gore gives us the context. I hear the emotion in his voice -- still -- despite the large number of times he has spoken on this topic.

Read more!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sharing is Better

Good magazine, and one of their editors Eric Steuer, did a nice job reworking my words into an article on the topic of sharing and squeezing excess capacity out of every resource. Short and to the point. One of my favorite photos.

Read more!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

My mom just totalled her car

I just got a phone call that my 84 year old mother had a car accident: early afternoon, traveling about 35 mph on a divided two-lane road, lined with retail and parking in a commercial district, about a half a mile from her house. She dozed off after exersize and a big lunch, wrapped the car around the telephone pole that crushed the car, narrowly missing her head.

Car totaled. She is fine and no one was hurt.

An excellent wake up call for her. And for her family. And why not for the nation? As long as we invest heavily and almost exclusively in a car-dependent environment, with no good alternatives for safe walking, biking, shopping, or quality transit, we will continue to see such accidents across America, and many without the happy ending.

As long as we continue to believe that the status quo is just fine, we will continue to have seniors (and juniors, and the poor, and the wise, and the economical, and the impaired) without options.

And for the record, her car gets 40 mpg. Fuel efficiency isn’t going to solve this problem.

What does it take to wake us up?

See 5/27/09 Mom update

Read more!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Radio Spectrum & the Internet Story made simple

Here is a brilliantly written article, that explains in clear language using powerful metaphors, exactly what makes the internet, openness, and wireless communications so beautiful, so powerful, and so filled with potential. If you are remotely interested in these topics, you should read it – just a couple of pages published in Salon.

Dare I give some highlights? giving you an out from reading the whole piece? They are better in context:

“Here Reed is dogmatically undogmatic: "Attempting to decide what is the best architecture before using it always fails. Always.”…If you want to maximize the utility of a network,… you should move as many services as feasible out of the network itself.”
This is the opportunity we have before us in thinking about how we build out the smart grid, and road user fees. Both huge and ubiquitous wireless networks that will roll out across the US over the next decade.
“Reed and his colleagues argued, keep the network unoptimized for specific services so that it's optimized for enabling innovation by the network's users (the "ends").
That deep architectural principle is at the core of the Internet's value: Anyone with a good idea can implement a service and offer it over the network instead of having to propose it to the "owners" of the network and waiting for them to implement it. If the phone network were like the Internet, we wouldn't have had to wait 10 years to get caller I.D.; it would have been put together in one morning, implemented in the afternoon, and braced for competitive offerings by dinnertime.”
Ok, did I neglect to mention that this article is 6 years old? And that it was written by two friends of mine? No matter. It is a must read. Here is the link again. Hey, I only read it the first time myself this morning.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What’s “Open” Got to Do with It?

In early March, I happened to be in Washington meeting with Ed Markey. It turns out that the incredibly important words that required the $6.6 billion in smart grid demonstration projects to use "open standards and internet protocol" was his amendment! These words were modified in the final Economic Recovery Act by industry lobbyists to include "where available and appropriate."

I was in Markey’s office to explain to him why these same words should be applied to wireless demonstration projects in the transportation sector, in health care digitization efforts, and likely in education, although I don’t know. Markey was excited by my interest, and wondered if I could explain to the layperson why open standards mattered.

A week and a half later, I bumped into a state Secretary of Energy – one of the very people who would get to spend the smart grid demonstration project money. This person didn’t understand the implications of “open standards” and asked me to explain it. Over the course of the last month, I’ve met with high level officials in transportation, energy, and environment positions from several states, none of whom understood the value of openness.

We are about to spend billions and billions of taxpayer dollars on technology infrastructure and many of those advising precisely what to buy have every incentive to say that closed proprietary systems, networks, devices are the best way to go. How does this missed opportunity make you feel?

A friend blogged on this subject and I loved his headline:
Using Public Dollars to Build Proprietary Systems?

Proprietary systems have their own secret languages and secret rules. You can play only if you are invited in (by buying the ratified stuff) and you can only play the games agreed upon (your ideas for new games or new ways to play the old games are unwelcome, unheard, and impossible to incorporate). Examples of closed proprietary systems abound, but a nice irritating example would be how you have to throw away your current cell phone if you want to change carriers.

Open standards mean that different people/companies/devices could, if they wanted to, find common ground.

Here, excerpted from a piece David Reed wrote for The MIT Communications Futures Program Principal Investigator Blog is a nice description of how the internet -- which is an open standard -- works:

“The Internet is a set of agreements among members (who happen to control small, medium, and large networks). The agreement required members to carry each others’ packets, delivering them via best efforts to the hosts at the edge of the network—your laptop, Google’s server…each member of the Internet who contributed to the mutual enterprise gained connectivity disproportionate to the member’s contribution.”

As David puts it, "The Internet is not a technology, but a set of interoperable standards."

Open standards give the ability to evolve over time.

Sure, proprietary systems can evolve, the speed depending entirely on competitive pressures. Most government contracts come with nice long contracts: three, five, ten, and even 99 year terms! Why bother to innovate during the first seven years of a ten-year contract? Steve Crocker, one of the Internet’s founding fathers, wrote a really wonderful piece for the New York Times that describes how the Internet’s open standards were able to evolve over time. As he told me “We had no idea when we started [forty years ago] that this is where we’d end up.” Of course, who among us can predict the future?

Another friend offered a simple test: “If you think this is the final and best version, buy the closed proprietary system. If you think it will continue to evolve over time, go open.”

Open standards invite and encourage participation

From a Steve Crocker email “Open standards become particularly important when they enable new products and services to be built on top of existing ones. Openness is not just about enabling others to build the same products and services and compete directly. It’s also about enabling huge vistas of new inventions that brings the enormous expansion and payoff from new technologies.”

I'll close with Steve's penultimate paragraph from the NYT:
“As we rebuild our economy, I do hope we keep in mind the value of openness, especially in industries that have rarely had it. Whether it’s in health care reform or energy innovation -- [OR smart transportation adds Robin] -- the largest payoffs will come not from what the stimulus package pays for directly, but from the huge vistas we open up for others to explore.”

Some interesting links about open standards not referenced in the above:
In health care and in promoting multimodal transportation.

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Anatomy of Sharing podcast

Here is the podcast interview that went with my talk, the "Anatomy of Sharing," for the Association of College and Research Librarians. Some of this is library/education-specific, but it also covers all the ideas that surround collaborative production, collaborative consumption, and cooperative capitalism that I've blogged about here. How do we identify excess capacity? what do we do with it? what are the opportunities?

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Openness if we want Intermodal

Just blogged on this topic for the National Journal. Basically, if we want to be able to go between feet, bikes, carsharing, bus, transit, rail, private parking (and for freight to be similarly multi-modal), we need to use open platforms, open devices, and open up networks paid for with taxpayer dollars.

Type rest of the post here

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Climate Code Red? Use the Recession

George Bush appeared to have won his re-election in 2004 on the back of American’s fear of terrorist attacks, reinforced by periodic security alerts from the Whitehouse: Code Orange! Code Red!

Pre-November 2008 elections, I often wished that Democrats (or even Republicans) could manufacture similar pseudo events to evoke that same primal fear but in service of climate change. What would make Americans take the threat seriously? Make them act with the urgency and commitment the situation requires? Wouldn’t it be great if a big chunk of the Antarctic ice shelf snapped off unexpectedly? Giving everyone a good scare but not threatening any lives?

Basically, I drew a blank. I couldn’t think up anything that matched a “Code Red” – evoking fear and delivering action but without any long-term consequences.

But the current r(d)ec(pr)ession just might do the trick.
Yes, there will be (there already is) some real collateral suffering. But it just might be that this real short-term suffering gives us a chance to avert long-term irreversible planetary changes that results in long-term human suffering.

This recession has a three-fold potential:

• Reduced economic activity means reduced energy consumption and reduced emissions. It just might be that worldwide CO2 emissions don’t increase this year. [If deforestation pressures in developing countries aren’t accelerated by the lack of alternative sources of income.]

• Government (and business) economic restructuring and reinvestment presents us with the opportunity to create more sustainable systems with each new investment and new rule set.

• People’s values and behaviors are likely to profoundly change on the back of these very difficult economic times.

After the Great Depression (does that get capitalized?), American’s attitudes changed in fundamental ways that lasted for at least a generation. People who felt the painful reality of those years, or maybe just watched others feel the pain, had a deeply seeded attitude change about life. They tended to use things up, store things that might have a useful life some time in the future, expect rainy days and save for them, keep jobs they didn’t like just in case, and value community and friendship over consumption status symbols.

My mother was one of those people (and not my father, so this idea isn’t universal). And the house I live in now -- that sheltered one family between 1902 and 1987 when we bought it – definitely held people with those sensibilities. Bags of old men’s shirts, useful one day as rags, but with the buttons removed and stored elsewhere, filled one corner of the basement. “Perfectly good” wallpaper rolls, from the 30s, 40s, and 50s, were stashed under a work bench. Tin cans with nails, screws, bits of rope, old copper mesh (we’ve made good use of that!) were shelved between the studs.

So, this crisis provides us with an unexpected opportunity to move to a more sustainable and low GHG world economy. Will we make good use of it?

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Protecting location privacy of drivers

As background to this one. you might want to read the more general article we just wrote for the Huffington Post on why we call for a national dialogue about (and promise for) location privacy. Below are some specific ways we might technically provide location privacy in for cars.

We start with what we consider to be the gold standard:

A privacy-preserving taxing protocol should reveal the minimum possible amount of information needed to achieve the policy goal, in this case the amount of tax owed.

Most current systems (e.g., E-ZPass) operate on the "trust us" model:
the government promises to properly respect the security of the driver, but collects potentially invasive information. But we all know, there just aren’t any “trusted third parties” that can be trusted forever. And we don’t need to rely on them.

For some kinds of applications, simply having a tamper-resistant device in the car that calculates the tolls and reports only the amount owed would suffice. Such a device could be auditable (so that drivers could know that the device is not secretly delivering information about their position) and equipped with a self-destruct feature (to erase location information) so that the driver could hide her information if necessary (perhaps at a cost of paying an excessive "default toll").

But wouldn't it be great if the tolling and traffic software could run on any smartphone? For this kind of setup, there are more sophisticated solutions available. One of the truly amazing aspects of modern cryptography is that it makes it possible to design protocols for mutually untrusting parties to act as if there is a trusted third-party mediating, without actually requiring such a third-party. For instance, electronic cash allows people to pay bills anonymously and untraceably, but in a way that assures merchants that they are actually getting paid (it's hard to forge). Anonymous credential systems allow individuals to prove that they are authorized to access certain data or enter particular areas without revealing their identity. We need to demand that these sorts of protections are required and part of any future road pricing systems.

Cryptographic protocols can be designed to allow the government to collect taxes, detect infractions, and record aggregate traffic statistics without violating the privacy of drivers. For a more comprehensive discussion of such solutions, see here. The big contractors likely to be involved in designing and implementing the road pricing systems (e.g., IBM and Siemens) have on staff some of the finest cryptographers in the world. Requiring such protections would pose no substantial obstacle to the technical adoption of a mileage-based system.

This post was co-authored by Andrew Blumberg.

Photo by Gerlos.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

If I were CEO of a Big-Three Car Company

Fast Company, April 2009, published 25 Ways to Jump-Start the Auto Industry. Here is what I sent them, found alongside the other ways.

"Let's assume the bailout solves the immediate cash crisis. Now what? First, I'm going to ask Congress to raise the price of gasoline. I need to be assured that there will be enough demand out there to merit an investment in more fuel-efficient cars. If our gas prices are in line with those of other countries we like to sell cars to (perhaps starting in 2011 when my new cars will be coming off the line), I'll be confident that consumers will embrace these new cars.

Next, I'm going to start experimenting with new product and service models. We recently passed the tipping point of 50% of the world's population living in urban areas. 'One adult, one car' doesn't work in congested and parking-scarce urban environments. Let's expand beyond manufacturing and selling cars to selling transportation as a service.

I'd take 10% of my current R&D budget and put it into a venture fund. I'd finance startups, experimenting in areas where I lack core competency: truly alternative vehicles; services that relate to car maintenance and in-car experience; services that conceive of the car as one node in the larger transportation network; and ideas that leverage my cars and my consumers as a means of collecting data or marketing other in-car services. This is a smart use of my money because I would be investing alongside others instead of financing all the R&D in-house. In the process, I'd gain firsthand insight into a whole realm of business models that might be my future.

Third, I'd definitely stop fiddling with closed, proprietary wireless technology inside my cars and immediately introduce a generic wireless platform into every new car. A standard feature of this platform is the ability for owners to access critical car information remotely. I'd send owners text and email updates telling them about their fuel and battery levels, when it's time to change the oil, and when the car received an unusual bump while parked. This would tie car owners to my company, provide dealers an ongoing revenue stream for maintenance and repair, and give me insight into exactly how consumers use (and abuse) my vehicles. I'd also develop a device that could be easily installed into cars already on the road so I'd have more owners participating.

This wireless platform lets me farm for ideas. As an open system, it would attract the minds, money, and efforts of thousands of innovators to think up desirable applications that a person with a screen in a car might find useful. This platform would be like my PC: Car owners could download any apps they find useful. I'd let the loser applications or those with no revenue model muddle along, and I'd buy up the winners.

By mitigating our investment risk and placing lots of low-cost and low-risk bets, we'd bring the Big Three into the future."

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Monday, March 2, 2009

The Anatomy of Sharing

I just wrote a new talk to be given in full form in Seattle in the middle of March, that I previewed in a 6 minute 40 second version (Pecha Kucha) last week here in Boston (wish that had been taped!). It really held people's attention. This structure does a nice job clarifying where sharing has come from, its current technology-enabled potential, and how and where 2.0 is game changing. Here are the cliff notes (anecdotes, jokes, and facial expressions excluded).

Types of sharing:

Simple sharing (personal): My stuff shared with my immediate trusted friends typically unplanned and so by luck. Think food, books, the spare bed, the car.

Simple sharing (corporate): Company’s stuff, shared with usually anybody who is willing to pay for it. Company distributes its resources across a geography (or it might be virtual). Think hotels (formalized bed sharing), public libraries (books), cars (of course). I was struck by the fact that when looked at in this light, Zipcar wasn’t that innovative. On the other hand, I guess I’ll take credit for the fact that no one had previously thought you could easily (and profitably) share cars. Technology was required for that breakthrough.

Upsides: Pay for only what you use. Distributed locations expand access. No responsibility when not yours. Users might come up with interesting innovations if owner is open to it.

Downsides to this kind of sharing: company has to place the assets in the right place (see poor green guy in bottom left whose need is unmet?) and the assets need to be adequately used to merit their existence (lots of red dots with no takers, unfilled hotels and resorts).

Collaborative and Distributed Sharing (personal): Our (those who choose to participate) stuff shared with just about anyone. Think Flickr, Facebook, GoLoco, couchsurfing (and lots and lots of others).

There are some distinctive aspects of 2.0: Messier and less predictable sharing. Requires much less “stuff” than if everyone had to own their own (this applies to corporate sharing as well). Lower threshold to reap benefits since all the assets are “excess capacity.” This reduced ROI demand has some important implications: the sharing can succeed in more ecosystems, a faster uptake (both supply and demand)is possible since threshold to participation has been lowered. Where there are intangible (non-monetary) benefits to be had, these are likely to be captured, valued, and enjoyed, again because of lower investment to participate.

Can we have the “collaborative and distributed sharing (corporate)”? I believe we can, which is what I was arguing for in my blog on Cooperative Capitalism.

A critical piece to the anatomy of sharing is to think about not only the assets (and where there is excess capacity), and the demand for them, but also about the platform itself, that enables this participation. In the olden days, these transactions were difficult and so sharing didn’t happen. In these new technology-facilitated days, beautiful platforms make for very “greasy” platforms – easy and quick participation.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Why a Road User Tax is Fabulous for the Economy

The National Infrastructure Financing Commission just released its report today (OK, I know that sounds boring, but it is an important report for transportation people, and for people who use transportation), recommending that we move from the gas tax to a "vehicle-miles-traveled" tax.

You could read the report, or read my vastly more entertaining and much much shorter post on this topic at the Huffington Post here.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Which DOT programs should be axed?

I am also blogging at National Journal, where the most recent question was which DOT programs should be axed. I played nicely. My response is here.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Where Do Cars Belong in 21st C America?

Right now the transportation world seems polarized into two camps. Depending on where you live, what your past is, and who your patrons are, the vast majority of experts seem to place themselves into one of the two sides. And it does feel like a polarity. Trying to avoid characterizing these as 1 vs 2, A vs B, loaded names vs loaded labels – how about columns? Darn, there is still left to right. It seems impossible to be balanced.

Because of America’s past -- cheap fuel; government spending priorities (the interstate highway system and federal funding for highways) and tax incentives (home mortgage interest deductions fueling sprawl); lots of land; and lack of foresight about adverse effects (in addition to climate change, see below) – we find ourselves today with this reality:

Ninety-two percent of American households have access to a car and 87% of trips are taken by car.

The benefits of cars: fastest, most convenient, cheapest and often only alternative to get from A to B for the current built environment in the US.

The costs of cars:
- high cost of participation in the system (middle income Americans spend about 22% of their annual incomes on cars and the lowest 20 percent income bracket spend 42 %);
- escalating number of hours, number of affected roads, and parking lots classified as congested;
- 46k traffic deaths and much larger number of injuries,
- high rates of asthma, obesity, and other adverse health affects;
- loss of farmlands, wetlands, water resources and other negative land use impacts;
- 50% of the population unable to participate directly because they do not have a license or own a car;
- 20% of CO2 emissions.

As we move toward the future, in which we are both an active player – infrastructure can be destiny – and passive recipient of unfolding demographics, we can make some confidant predictions about some aspects of 2025. And 2025 is where we will fully feel the results of decisions made over the next four years around government infrastructure spending priorities, tax incentives, and regulations.

In 2025:

• 80% of our population will live in metro-areas
• 18.1% will be older than 65 (up from 12.4% in 2000)
• Fossil fuels will be more expensive (increased world demand & reduced supply)
• Carbon taxes (whatever form they take) will shape energy demand & type

If we turn this into Tom-Friedman-speak, and try to describe America in 2025, it will be urban, older, fossil-fuel efficient. Therefore, the bulk of our transportation investment dollars should go to meet the needs and desires of this population shape.

Urban means less car dependent because there is no space on the roads or in parking garages to accommodate the 1 driver to 1.1 cars ratio we find in America today. We see this reality in the more free-flowing cities of New York City (50% car ownership) and Boston (75% car ownership) and its opposite in the most congestion cities like Atlanta.

Older means less car dependent if we don’t want to spend increasing portions of local budgets on transporting the aging around to meet their routine food, medical, and social needs.

Fossil-fuel efficient means that yes, all motorized transport will prefer fuel efficient and alternative fuel sources.

But government and planners cannot forget or neglect significant minority groups, poorly defined here as “non-urban,” nor dismiss the occasional need of even the most committed urban environmentalists for a car sometimes. So, we shouldn’t be talking in terms of being pro-car or anti-car, or thinking about solutions that will only work in rural America, or only work in urban America (hmm, I feel like I’m echoing a certain President).

But we do need to move from our increasingly broken status quo that is almost entirely car-dependent to one that reduces both the burdens of today’s car-dependent costs (remember that list above) and looks ahead to meet the needs of our future. Moving this country and the world toward cleaner transportation fuel and better vehicles is absolutely critical, but low carbon cars alone will not solve today’s problems nor meet tomorrow’s needs. President Obama, legislators across the US and around the world, I repeat: low carbon cars alone will not solve today’s problems nor meet tomorrow’s needs. For that, we need to improve the balance, and enable more Americans to lead car-independent routine lives. Not no cars and highways, just fewer and better ones.


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