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San Francisco BART's Day of Shame

Today we learned that San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit has joined Iran, Syria and Egypt in the hall of shame of governments that have used communications censorship to impede civilian protest.

In SF, two major public officials, Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting and State Sen. Leland Yee, both mayoral candidates, spoke out against BART's telecommunications blackout, as did BART Director Lynette Sweet. I tried to call the BART Board and would have liked to leave messages for each member. However, the one listed number and each number that one rolls to have no ability to take a weekend voicemail, and the one live person it rolled to in operations transferred me back into the loop. Additionally, only two of the nine BART board members have listed individual email addresses on their public web pages.

Here is my letter:

BART Directors -

My name is Adriel Hampton. I have been a regular BART rider since 1999, using the system from several times per week to several times per day for the past 12 years. ... we bought our first home based primarily on its proximity to the station. I have always been a huge supporter of the system.

Until today.

Today we learned from press reports and your official press statements that on Thursday agents of BART ordered and carried out a shutdown of cell communications in several stations in order to impede a protest. This cannot and must not stand. I don't need to lecture you on the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. I am asking you to immediately suspend all management officials in the police and other BART divisions responsible for this heinous act and to initiate an investigation to terminate all responsible management employees.

I also want to say how regretful it is that only a handful of your members have listed individual email addresses, and that your publicly listed phone number on the BART board web pages has no voicemail, nor do you appear to have individual voicemail numbers.

I want to thank directors Franklin and Raburn for listing direct email addresses, and Director Sweet for making immediate public statements questioning the actions by BART management today.

Additionally, here is Ting's statement, which includes the three valid contact email addresses, and here is Yee's statement, which says he will call on the FCC to investigate BART's actions.

For my part, if there are not suspensions in the BART management ranks by end of business on Monday, I will join in any coordinated efforts to unseat complicit BART Board members.

  • BART Board email addresses - boardofdirectors@bart.gov; bobfranklinbart@aol.com; robertraburn@covad.net
  • Phone - (510) 464-6095
  • Fax - (510) 464-6011

(I do not believe disrupting the ridership of BART is an appropriate response here; I will be taking the bus instead of BART depending on Monday's Board response.)


Google+: Isolating the Individual

I really enjoyed Google+ when I first jumped on. The concept of circles was interesting as it allowed me to quickly set up a network that actually represented how I interact with folks socially. Sure you can do this with Facebook and Twitter lists, but Google made it more intuitive.

Then Google started suspending friends and people I admire for coloring outside the lines of its ambiguous "real name" policies. And many people jumped to the defense of Google, admiring its guts and commitment to creating a sterile social network. Animated GIFs and social marketing are great; don't let any of those gender freaks or Second Lifers intrude on our public timelines, they seemed to say. Oh, poor Huxley and Orwell, you are dead and gone.

And then this morning, I realized what's really wrong with Google+ as a social network. Its sharing architecture actively contradicts tribe behavior and isolates the individual. You can create any type of group you like with circles - but the other group members don't choose to be there. You can mark someone as a friend and they have no choice in the matter, whether to affirm or deny. They don't even know what you've called the circle you've put them in. So while Google is requiring utmost transparency at the individual level, it is cloaking key group recognition identifiers. You are robbed of all the semantic and contextual relationship data that both Facebook - with friending and grouping - and Twitter, with listing, provide about how your interactions with others are perceived by others.

On Google+, you are sharing into a maelstrom. And you are alone.



Winnowing a Twitter Outreach List with NationBuilder and Klout

One of the very cool features of NationBuilder is its Twitter databasing. I get a record of everyone who I've mentioned on Twitter or who's mentioned me or one of my nation's linked accounts, in a chronological activity stream along with their profile. With five Twitter accounts linked to my nation, though, it can get a little busy.

I sorted to find out who in my Twitter database was not a follower and came up with nearly 5,000. With a goal of converting some of these into followers and allies in my quest to promote technologies that help people organize democratically and improve civic life and to use social networks for social good, 5,000 was simply too big to target.

So I used another advanced search feature and batch actions to cut the list down to folks with a Klout score of 40 or more. That gave me a manageable list of 123. From here, I can weed out folks who I know followed me at one time and where future interaction is unlikely, then work with my nation's volunteers to convert some of the remaining to supporters.


Adriel Nation - Technologies for democracy; social media for social good

I am writing to ask you to join Adriel Nation, my network for promoting emerging technologies for better government, democracy and self-governance and for sharing opportunities to help charities around the world. All of my blogging is now on this new platform, powered by NationBuilder.

Adriel Nation has two key focuses: promoting emerging technologies for improving democratic and self governance (Gov 2.0 RadioNationBuildercivic tech events and more); and using social networks to create awareness of and raise funds for organizations doing social good (XBAR Gives and more).

If you join, you will also have the opportunity to suggest organizations we should be supporting and to make other suggestions for the focus of Adriel Nation.

Thank you!


Back on the SF Political Scene with NationBuilder

In one of my previous lives, I was a go-getter political and City Hall reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. Then six years of work as an investigator for City Attorney Dennis Herrera took me out of the political scene as I dug deep into the bureaucracy of city government. But since May, I've been getting back into the familiar rythms as part of my job as chief organizer for NationBuilder, a startup web platform for organizing that supercharges political websites and campaigns

NationBuilder is already hitting its stride in San Francisco politics, and I suspect we'll see several more sites go live this cycle. So far, we have my SF Tech Dems, the SF Young Dems, Joanna Resse's mayoral campaign, and the effort to preserve the "Care Not Cash" welfare reform program. Apolitical sites are popping up to, for the new Golden Gate Center for Social and Economic Research (led by SF political scene veteran and personal friend Bruce Cuthbertson) and the Golden Gate Breakfast Club.

Have a look ...

Read more

Identity+: When Corporations and the Social Mob Determine Who You Can Be

I'm sure my sensitivity to self-chosen identity has a lot to do with living in the San Francisco Bay Area, where celebration of diversity is a keystone value. It also has much to do with spending much of my time online immersed in all kinds of social networks. 

Adriel_Hampton_-_obscura.jpgYesterday, in what is now one of my all-time most discussed blog posts, I wrote a short reaction to a friend having her profile suspended by Google+ for not meeting community norms. The discussion on that post was great. It is clear that Google either utterly tone-deaf or worse on issue of identity. From sexual identity to cyber culture to X-Men 3, alternative identity is hardly an unexplored topic and the mega-corp had to have thought out how it would respond to the diversity of the web.

Google apparently has chosen to encourage community policing, and its algorithmic robots then pick off the offending profiles with automatic suspension. In the last several days, they've got a number of Second Lifers, including prominent blogger and early Google+ enthusiast Strawberry Singh, the community profile for the 700-member X-BAR Empire Avenue community, Girlfriend Social founder Amanda Blain, and, in what finally brought mainstream attention, William Shatner

Sadly, there have been plenty of people piling on in support of Google (Facebook has similar policies about online identity - I am picking on Google+ because there is time to turn this ship). As is so often the case in civil rights battles, as long as one's own rights are not threatened, it's fine to side with the authority against the minority.

I wonder, how many of these would still be on Google's side if they were required to use their latest driver's license photo or another imposed and unflattering likeness on their profiles? (Fascinatingly, one commenter on my prior post actually had a digitized and privacy filtered copy of his license ready to post to prove his identity.)

The issue here is not anonymity. We are talking about well-defined social identities run by real people. We are talking about people who choose to use alternative pictoral representations of themselves. I would go as far to defend parody accounts and pen names, too.

At issue, though, is whether we will sit idly while major corporations that have full access to our intimate and public lives through search results, friendship mapping, email, phone usage and more arbitrate our identities, and, worse, subject our beings to the vagaries of the social mob.


Happy Birthday, Kai!

Seven years ago, my first son, Kai, was born. Due to one of those 3d sonogram deals, we'd expected a girl (Kaiser, our hospital, wouldn't do extra screenings just for gender determination) and had the name Naomi picked out. So the first several hours of Kai's life was us scrambling for a great name for a healthy little boy. 

Today is the first "Oceans Day" in Japan, a new national holiday, instituted, we suppose, because Japanese simply work too much if they aren't told not to. Kai's kanji is "ocean," so it is a fitting holiday for our fast-growing boy. 

Kai has begun to express an interest in blogging, which I heartily support. This year I will be teaching him and helping him discover the wonders of connecting to people and places through the Internet, photography and prose. "I like the Internet," Kai says, "because I can blog for my friends and my dad." 

I hope you can help make Kai's birthday - and the launch of his blogging career - special by leaving a brief comment and including your current location. Thank you!


Google+, Identity and The Corporation: The Second Life Purge

July 20, 2011 update: Berry's Google+ account has been restored without comment. My latest thoughts are here and I will be exploring these issues in greater depth in an upcoming edition of The Social Media Monthly. I believe it is important to continue to push for individual control of identity on the web - including on the large and general community socnets.

When I first began exploring Google+ as it opened up over the July 4th weekend, one of the things that fascinated me was the activity of Second Life participants. Other than a bit of Gov 2.0 crossover - such as public works applications for SL and the City of Edmonton build - I admit to not knowing much about Second Life. I learned a bit more over the past year as a significant Second Life community set up on Empire Avenue, the social stock market. Second Lifers, it is clear, have a strong tech early adopter community. They were very prominent in the first iteration of my Google+ stream, and seemed to quite enjoy the new social network.

One of the Second Lifers I met on Empire was Strawberry Singh, a Second Life blogger and photographer who makes her living in distance education. One of my first interactions with her was in context of blog posts she wrote about the Second Life community's response to the March 2011 Japanese quake and charity efforts by various avatar "skin" and apparel designers.

Yesterday, Google+ suspended "Berry," as she is known, for violating its policies against using "fake" avatars to represent oneself on the service. Berry and other Second Life folk had seen this coming from the onset, and slowly they either reverted to "real" identities or were picked off by the Google police.

Of course, any service is free to set its terms of service. But what troubles me is the power that corporations like Google, Facebook and others have to force a standard of identity on individuals. And it got me thinking about what constitutes an identity as Google+ also looks to bring "business" profiles into its fold. A corporation - a concept taken legal form to sell services or products - will be accepted by Google. But not an individual who chooses to represent themselves outside Google's defined norms. 

It is easy to mock Second Lifers. But I have to say I am coming to value more those who recreate themselves online than those who accept a life in which too many of us devote the majority of waking hours to jobs that we hate. And I don't want a world where "Google" is more real than "Berry."



The Daily Radiation Report

It has been four months since a massive quake and tsunami devastated Sendai and much of eastern Japan. Here in Tokyo, 232 miles from the epicenter, life is pretty much normal from a foreigner's perspective. There is little outward sign of one of the most severe natural disasters - and related man-made tragedies - to ever hit Japan.

I have been visiting my wife's family home in the Tokyo suburbs annually for more than a decade, and shortly after the quake, her family reported food shortages in the supermarkets and power shortages due to the nuclear power plant failures.  

Today, the supply chain is back to normal, and power saving, not blackouts, is the norm. The signs of the disaster are subtle. Trains and shopping centers are a little darker. Kids come home from school with tips on reducing energy use. The big summer fireworks festivals have been cancelled due to national mood. And the daily weather report for Tokyo includes a radiation reading.


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