Just days after I launched GlobalCommit.org, there was a big hullabaloo that came out regarding using “Big Data” to solve global problems. That’s fine. I believe in that too. I mean, that’s the point of starting GlobalCommit.org. I want to create some really cool projects to address big world problems. I want to create a global model of crises and conflicts. I believe it is vital to crowdsource data, and blend it with information from NGOs, governments, businesses, and non-profits.
Yet it was who was behind this other movement that got all the media attention and sucked the oxygen out of the room for everyone else.
Because the person making the news was no less than Bill Gates. His gatesnotes summary was entitled “A Call for Global Citizens.” The media was all atwitter this week about it, including a Forbes article about an initiative that Mr. Gates is endorsing, called GlobalCitizen.org.
It was right up there in my same philosophy for GlobalCommit.org. Sweet! Great minds think alike! So, the same day I read the article, 21 Jan 2015, I joined it too, and posted on Facebook for my like-minded friends to join it too:
Bill Gates is asking me to be me: a Global Citizen. I wonder how open Bill would be to giving me a million or two to help GlobalCommit get off the ground. Anyway, Bill, if you’re reading this, get in touch. I have a plan to help you win your bet. Meanwhile, yes, I registered at globalcitizen.org. I hope my friends do too.
Then I started poking around. Wait. Some projects seemed to date to early in 2014, or 2013. Huhn? I thought this was just announced. Poke poke… Hrm… Why were there so few comments in each group? Well, there’s a story here.
Bill Gates is not starting GlobalCitizen.org; he’s just now going to be funding it. The organization itself has been around since 2012.
Bill and Melinda Gates have been doing some great stuff. Yet anyone who has ever used Microsoft software can attest: not everything he touches turns into quality product. Sometimes it takes a few years, or a decade, to shake the bugs out of the system.
Ahem. Bill, know I love you like a brother. Please hear my feedback honestly and forthrightly offered. The GlobalCitizen.org initiative has its heart in the right place, but it can be done far better. (And yes, I am speaking about this from my own little anemic website which is barely little more than a just-installed vanilla WordPress site myself… I’ll honestly admit I need to do a lot with my own site. One major difference, of course, is that I don’t have your wallet, Bill.)
Let’s get into the specifics:
“Like and Share” Won’t Save the World
When doing crowdsourced collaborations on chronic and acute world problems, you need to do a few things more than “like and share.” The process is an increasing intensity of effort.
- Awareness – Can you even perceive a problem exists? Can you sense it?
- Knowledge – Do you have data to scope the problem? Its structure, symptoms, size and severity?
- Interest – So you know there’s a problem. Are you interested in learning more? Helping out?
- Understanding – Can you define root causes of the problem? Its nature? Contributing factors?
- Concern – Are your sympathies sincere? Is your heart in the right place to help? Check your motives.
- Vision – Can you imagine a solution to the problem? How should the world actually work in your vision?
- Expression – Do you share your concerns and desires for change with others?
- Influence – Can you persuade others to change their course to align with ideal solutions?
- Involvement – Even if you care to do something about it, do you take action? Deeds beyond words!
- Commitment – Do you work on a problem until it’s solved? Traction and action!
That ten-step process — from initial awareness to commitment of action — is what differentiates passing ephemeral extemporanea from world-changing personal passions.
When I went to GlobalCitizen.org, I had all the passion of someone running his own small and nascent non-profit initiative that wants to tackle major global problems: violent extremism, domestic civility, food security, historic preservation, disaster response.
“Take Action” — Awesome!
“Ebola Action Center” — Great!
Err… Then I am presented with a bar of logos, and a bunch of photos. Hrm. Uhm…. Okay. What do I do here?
I click on “Most Recent…”
And the page doesn’t change.
I click on “The Campaign.”
And I see two pictures of “Thank You @Yale President Salovey for Being a Global Citizen!” and “Universities Must Help Their Staff Work on Ebola.”
Hrm. Okay. That’s not what I was looking for…
“Updates” (with a bullhorn logo)
And I get a bunch of pictures of … One Direction? Legos? A couple of other pictures, but… all of this looks like newsfeed stuff. “Ebola in NYC and We’re All Still Here.” (No kidding. Why are you pandering to #Ebolanoia?) “Ebola Outbreak in the UK – Should We Worry?” (Answer: No.)
I don’t get what they want me to do. This isn’t a call to action. Instead of Legos, where’s the logos to contribute to MSF? International Mutual Aid? Where’s the links to the WHO Situation Reports or UNMEER?
Seriously, with all the faux-newsish alarmist questions and the celebrity pix, this page looked like it was disaster relief organized by People Magazine. And that’s an insult to People Magazine.
“Ending Ebola.” Okay. Finally we’re getting somewhere. “16 Organizations That Are Working To End Ebola in West Africa.” Yay! Yet why is this buried so down deep? One of a bazillion links to click on, many of which are in-the-past news stories of little current interest or urgency.
For instance, in “Take Action,” two of the articles are from August 2014. That, in “virus time” is over 19,000 cases and 7,600 deaths ago. The virus has grown 12x in terms of cases, and 9x in terms of deaths since that time.
The user/community comments under the One Direction-photo-leading “Band Aid 30: Friend or Foe?” were terse and useless. “Very inspiring,” and “Be proud and yolo.” (For those who don’t know, “YOLO” stands for “You Only Live Once.” Which the Urban Dictionary defines as “The dumbass’s excuse for something stupid that they did” [sic]. Take that for what it’s worth.)
Seriously, Bill. Is this what you’re backing? It utterly belies the Forbes’ article which gushes about “Big Data.” This is just social media pablum. Comments and little else. There’s no geoindexed mapping system here. There’s no public health database behind this. There’s no time-series regression analysis, real-time newsfeeds, or anything that would constitute “data,” never mind “big data.”
For instance, if you go to HDX, you’ll find no less than 49 datasets of information about Ebola, in formats from XLS and CSV, to JSON and GeoJSON, Geonode and Shapefile. The UN is waiting for someone to slurp up that data and make something useful out of it.
That’s the sort of data I want to get at for GlobalCommit.org.
I truly see success, traction, coming from a triad of input sources, with three legs:
- Tactical Data — from social media-connected individual perspectives and groups.
- Operational Data — from local non-profits, community-based organizations, businesses
- Strategic Data — from governments, multinational NGOs and multinational corporations
What I’d like to do with it is to create a close-to-real-time global “conflict and crisis weathermap.” It’s been my vision for years, since my early foray at Global Understanding, to create such a global map, and then have “problemspace portals” with maps, lists of organizations active in the area, ways to get involved, etc. A very similar vision. Only… Far more focused on activity and accessibility. Something that works and was pragmatic, rather than looks great.
What I got from GlobalCitizen.org was not really… well… it felt like it was a pretty-looking site, and with some good articles, and possibly something inside it that was worth finding if you wanted to keep clicking to find what you needed, but not with great methods exposed to actually engage towards these initiatives. It was not really collaborative. There was no workflow. There was no Wiki. There was no way to roll-up-your-sleeves and get down to business. Do I have that yet with GlobalCommit.org? No. But that’s what the world needs. In a serious way.
Crickets Chirping or Crowds Cheering?
Exploring further in GlobalCitizen.org, in some groups, there had been little or no comment for months or a year, or ever. Why draw people away from, say, Facebook, to join up at GlobalCitizen.org, just to hear crickets chirp? There are lively groups on Facebook, such as the Ebola Social Media Coalition, with nearly 600 social media advocates, or Ebola Virus Information and Awareness Campaigner, with over 19,500 West African and global citizens all attuned to listening for Ebola updates. I know what I do for these groups, including the weekly Ebola Situation Report Analyses.
When I post my updates, I get thank-yous from people who are hungry for pertinent information. When I stop to answer a question about a false alarm of Ebola in New Jersey, I get a grateful “Whew! Thank you!”I couldn’t tell who was behind each of the GlobalCitizen.org groups. How many people were part of it? What were they working on, if anything?
The content and call-to-action on GlobalCitizen looks good, but doesn’t pass the scatch-and-sniff test. It needs to be curated more aggressively, getting weeks-and-months-old data archived. There need to be more conversation starters in each of the discussions. There needs to be more watching for comments, and fishing up people’s interest into deeper commitments. There needs to be more policy and process around getting involved. More workflow. More traction.
Frankly, if I, as a web site and content professional, was confused with what to do, imagine what your typical off-the-street citizen is going to make of it.
Now, maybe all this will come with a top-to-bottom site redesign now that Mr. Gates is going to contribute his vast resources to GlobalCitizen.org. I really engaged with the site with the best of intentions. Even now, I see it as a problematic and flawed idea, but one worth pursuing to perfection. I harbor them no ill-will, and, indeed, would love to work with them as some sort of peer or partner. Yet it would be vital to not be distracting from where real work and attention is needed. and where real communities already exist to address the problems the world faces.
Let me end by also sharing my follow-up comment on Facebook from 22 January 2015, after I had a chance to poke around on GlobalCitizen.org:
Bill steals my thunder again! I just had started GlobalCommit.org when he launched this. Reminds me of the time in the Cisco Executive Briefing Center when, one day, I was telling customers about this remarkable thing called “the World Wide Web,” which was going to change their world. When suddenly Bill Gates walked by. “Did you see that?” “Yeah! That was Bill Gates!” His cult of personality trumped my little demo. Bill, I love you, but you keep stealing my thunder, dude. Anyway, I appreciate what they are trying to do with GlobalCitizen.org. I signed up. I’ve contributed a few comments so far. It’s going to take a lot to really get people plugged in together. I hope to partner with them with my efforts, GlobalCommit.org. Bill, next time you’re down here in the Bay Area, look me up. firstname.lastname@example.org, 650-906-3134. We should talk.
Peter Corless is the founder of GlobalCommit.org.