Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Steve Messam: On the Lifecyle of Art

Artist Steve Messam spent some time writing about how creative works can evolve and still remained tethered to their original intent. In his original installation, Steve uses local wool to give form to a prototypical welsh farmhouse. As the piece came down and after being asked by local farmers what the practical implications could be for the installation Steve explored how the materials could refresh and reconfigure into new works but remain tethered to the original intent. I think there's some provocations in here about the games of fix and flux we engage in to understand and make use of the world. Check out his thoughts at Mud'N Art.

Monday, November 28, 2011

RelayRides meets GM meets Google

General Motors and RelayRides are teaming up to streamline the peer-to-peer car sharing process. The companies' exclusive relationship will allow millions of GM vehicle owners to rent out their idle cars through the OnStar mobile communication system.

RelayRides, a P2P car sharing service, already allows vehicle owners to choose rates and legally rent out their idle vehicles by providing an online marketplace and a $1 million insurance policy to make the transaction safe and convenient.

GM and RelayRides work together to develop a mobile app that will allow users to check for available vehicles, make a online reservation online, locate their reserved vehicle via GPS and lock and unlock the vehicle, all through their smart phone. RelayRides will leverage OnStar to allow borrowers to unlock GM cars with their mobile phones. The integration makes all eligible OnStar vehicles immediately "RelayRides ready" without having to install additional hardware.

In addition, Google Ventures has invested an undisclosed sum into RelayRides. August Capital also took part in the company’s first round of fundraising. This funding points to how fast automobile transportation as a product service system is evolving. There are now three generations of car sharing developing simultaneously - fleet based, peer-to-peer, and Google's automatic driving. And other big companies including Hertz, Daimler, and Enterprise have gotten into the game fairly recently creating hybrid services like car rental with ride sharing (take a passenger with you to lower your car rental cost).

"In addition to the significance of the Google investment to stimulating new investment in the space, the rapid growth of car sharing could accelerate the growth of the sharing economy in another way. Our New Sharing Economy study showed that car sharers share across significantly more asset categories than non-car sharers. This suggests that car sharing is a gateway drug to sharing. It echoes a consistent theme I see as publisher of Shareable, that sharing begets more sharing. In fact, sharing is viral. Once someone sees that it works in one area of life, they want to try it in another. And since you can't share alone, you take other people with you down the path to a more shareable way of life." --Neal Gorenflo Editor of Shareable

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sharing Cell Phones and Knowledge to Improve Healthcare in West Africa

Here's a high level case study around the development of a free tele-communications service that connects healthcare professionals in Ghana. In addition to the free network for doctors, Switchboard distributes directories to every doctor in the network, so they can find the right person in the country to communicate with when they need to.

Africa suffers more than 24% of the global burden of disease but has access to only 3% of health workers. With ratios as low as one doctor per 30,000 patients, they must be prepared to face a wide variety of conditions: high levels of disease, lack of basic supplies and medicines, deteriorating or substandard equipment, and, in remote areas, isolation from medical peers, One simple way to help is by providing better means for health professionals to share knowledge and collaborate with one another.

It's worth a read to understand the basic evolution of the service from a design and business development perspective. As well as creating a viable system based on strategic partnerships, the service is enabling a type of data collection that was before inconceivable. The SIM cards brought doctors into a calling network, and allowed Switchboard to track the specialties and locations of nearly every doctor practicing in Ghana. This was the first time this was possible in Ghana. They could see where all the OBGYN’s or pediatricians were located in the country, and how few surgeons there were. This data provided a broad view of the high-level healthcare needs, and served as the foundation for improving collaboration through their printed Doctor Directory, which was distributed to every doctor in the network.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Debt: The First 5000 years

David Graeber, in a recent article, provides a brief chronicle of the evolution of debt through credit, monetization and bartering. In his view, the idea that bartering preceded credit is a myth. This is likely because bartering was a fluid, on-the-spot negotiation which didn't generally result in an equal exchange but an "I owe you one" agreement. He asks then, "how does that broad sense of ‘I owe you one’ turn into a precise system of measurement – that is: money as a unit of account?"

By the time historical records are written in ancient Mesopotamia, around 3200 BC, it’s already happened. There’s an elaborate system of money of account and complex credit systems. (Money as medium of exchange or as a standardized circulating units of gold, silver, bronze or whatever, only comes much later.)

So really, rather than the standard story – first there’s barter, then money, then finally credit comes out of that – if anything its precisely the other way around. Credit and debt comes first, then coinage emerges thousands of years later and then, when you do find “I’ll give you twenty chickens for that cow” type of barter systems, it’s usually when there used to be cash markets.

Graeber proposes the onset of credit from one of two places. One is what was found in Egypt: a strong centralized state and administration extracting taxes from everyone else. For most of Egyptian history they never developed the habit of lending money at interest. Mesopotamia was different because the state emerged unevenly and incompletely. At first there were giant bureaucratic temples, then also palace complexes, but they weren’t exactly governments and they didn’t extract direct taxes – these were considered appropriate only for conquered populations. Rather they were huge industrial complexes with their own land, flocks and factories. This is where money begins as a unit of account; it’s used for allocating resources within these complexes.

Interest-bearing loans, in turn, probably originated in deals between the administrators and merchants who carried, say, the woollen goods produced in temple factories (which in the very earliest period were at least partly charitable enterprises, homes for orphans, refugees or disabled people for instance) and traded them to faraway lands for metal, timber, or lapis lazuli. The first markets form on the fringes of these complexes and appear to operate largely on credit, using the temples’ units of account. But this gave the merchants and temple administrators and other well-off types the opportunity to make consumer loans to farmers, and then, if say the harvest was bad, everybody would start falling into debt-traps.

Eventually the Egyptian approach (taxes) and Mesopotamian approach (usury) fuse together, people have to borrow to pay their taxes and debt becomes institutionalized.

(Excerpt above from an interview conducted by Philip Pilkington, a journalist and writer based in Dublin, Ireland.) For a full read of the article visit What is Debt from Naked Capitalism