Archive for experimental ideas

Update on Nomicly, Alpha Available

On Monday, I released an alpha version of my project Nomicly by sending the public link to friends.

Feedback has been generally positive. More than one person has either given me affirmation that they see business value or that it would be a useful place to interact with communities and peers, both of which are key to Nomicly’s success.

I’m really happy with the state of Nomicly now. One major goal was to end the year with a demo-ready product that can help illustrate where I want to go with Nomicly. That is certainly the case with the alpha.

The alpha is admittedly super-simple, and that for me is an example of the platform’s founding principle of simplicity. I’m also taking a fairly lean approach with a mix of calculated incremental design—for the last few years, I’ve taken a “it’s like a game of pool” approach to product design. If the ball just sits there for a turn or two, that’s okay so long as it’s still setting you up for a future shot to the pocket. (I think an old boss at Meltwater may have said that about sales actually–which also illustrates the goal of Nomicly to cross-pollinate people and problems to get really good ideas.)

That said, the progression of Nomicly to a business entity is not going to be easy, and it’s just getting started. Reminds me of a hobbit or two that I know of.

Please feel free to take a look at Nomicly and let me know what you think. :D

Special Thanks

Many thanks go to my wife Adria Mooney for her immense help in making Nomicly something worth looking at as well as her unending patience and support.

Bug Report

Despite my best efforts to ship a completely bug-free alpha, a few things were missed. By my accounts, four bugs were identified within 48 hours, three noticed by friends/me, one unnoticed (i.e. just me being a nitpiker):

  1. Twitter Login (disabled) — I thought this was working. I realize now it may never have been working (bad testing). I attempted to get a fix in quickly but to no avail. Feature disabled for the time-being.
  2. Modifying Ideas (fixed) — A core concept in Nomicly is to modify (and hopefully improve) other people’s ideas. Due to a subtle mistake in the site setup differences on staging and production, the feature didn’t work. Luckily we were able to locate the mistake in a few minutes and get it working.
  3. Timestamps (tbd) — For some reason I thought it would be fine to use gmt. I realize now that the time presented should be relative to the person viewing it. (Duh) Bug? Maybe more of a half-implemented feature…
  4. Idea Creation on the Me Page (fix coming) — This is likely a small regression: idea is submitted, but it doesn’t show up in the feed. (unless you refresh the page. lame.) Nobody’s noticed (AFAIK) but the fix will be going out shortly.

Finding Serendipity Desipte a Rigid Plan

Disclaimer: This post, like most of my posts, was written over the course of two weeks, in spurts between planned and prioritized tasks. Normally, disjointed timelines are edited out so you have a smoother read. I’m departing from that norm and keeping the disjointed time to help better illustrate the overall point of integrating serendipity into a controlled, planned work habit. For the curious, the post itself was developed from Nov 17th through Nov 28th in micro-spurts (as I explain below).

In this post, I explained that I recently started using a Kanban for organizing my personal life, not just work stuff.

What I wasn’t able to discuss in that post from fear of making too winding of a narrative is the nature of experimentation and it’s role (or “capacity”) in a somewhat rigid system like a Kanban.

When I wrote that post, it may not be clear that the Kanban is itself an experiment that I’m running to see how it affects productivity. After a month of using the Kanban to balance all my tasks (not just work), I’m happy with the decision to use it. The single complaint I have is that in the process of switching to the Kanban, I lost my “goals for November” list. I’m blaming the Kanban because it fundamentally lacks a capacity for understanding ‘goals’ in relation to ‘tasks.’ I was able to work out a workaround for December (yes, I am a control freak and plan for December in November.)

Also in that post, I wasn’t able to talk about how despite the rigidity of the Kanban and a process-oriented, organized life, there is still room for serendipitous moments. After organizing our lives, we will put the most important tasks on top, but that does not mean those are the only tasks we can do.

As proof of that, I’m writing this now. The post won’t likely see the light of the Internet for a couple of weeks because I tend to write far in advance of my publishing cycles but I should be putting the groceries away. That is, I went shopping and decided upon walking in the house that I had to drop everything (literally) and write a few ideas down.

Rather than worrying about thawing frozen fruit, I’m taking a quick moment to capture my thinking. I won’t develop this post now to full completion immediately but there will be a sufficient skeleton structure in place such that when I do plan on publishing it, most of the work will be done. Nonetheless, I’m working outside the normal confines of my plans. This segue is just a quick micro-distraction long enough to capture my idea—and that’s it.

There’s no real way to capture these moments in a Kanban (or any other project management process). And there’s no reason to even try. My stance is that we should simply embrace the distraction, follow it to a sufficient stopping point (that we can come back to easily) and then continue with the regularly planned schedule.

In many ways, this is procrastination. I know I have a really important task to do—in the grocery instance (Nov 17th-ish), it’s the fear of having to clean up melted fruit juice; as of Nov 28th, it’s a matter of shipping some Dragon’s Eggs to pre-order customers. But I’m putting “it” off to do something more interesting to me.

While I’m not going to argue that we should all procrastinate because (in my experience) procrastination is a really slippery slope, I do argue that procrastination doesn’t have to mean “not doing anything relevant or important.” Or that procrastination only means, “playing video games or Magic the Gathering instead of writing marketing plans or debugging code.”

Sometimes we can be equally (if not more) productive by using another lower priority task to procrastinate on a higher priority task.

In this instance, I’m procrastinating on putting the groceries away! (As of Nov 28th, I’m procrastinating on going to the post office because it’s raining like mad outside and the thought of the post office during the holiday rush on a rainy day sounds really crappy.) By using other tasks to procrastinate on other needs-to-be-done, you’re constantly getting things done. Doing this pseudo-procrastination will help you be more productive in a single day than many people you know. (Seriously. People waste a lot of time and the universe knows I’ve been guilty it.)

There are some people like Brian Tracy who will argue that you should only focus on “A-Tasks,” the tasks that will directly impact your finical or career success. While I do agree that roughly 90% of your time should be spent on high-value tasks, it doesn’t mean that we should allow this structure to rule our lives. Sometimes, we just have to do what we feel like doing.

It helps if those “right now” things feed into larger goals or create a cascading affect with other life priorities, but I wouldn’t argue that’s a necessity. (Coming back a week later) For example, though I’m not working on Nomicly right now (arguably the most important task I can do), I am working on something that is important to me (belching my ego to the rest of the world). Doing this task feeds into a sense of accomplishment, powering me up for a bigger, more difficult task (programing, refining a pitch deck, marketing plans, prep’ing for meetings, etc).

The point is that when we’re excited about a subject or task, we’ll often complete it really fast. We get into the zone. We have momentum going for us. We’re enjoying ourselves—and how cool is to actually enjoy ourselves while doing something important and meaningful?

The Kanban can help organize the microtasks that feed into our macro-goals, but it doesn’t allow for creative procrastination. So, while I’m a firm believer in doing the important tasks that make meaningful changes to our lives (and organizing ourselves so that we can identify those meaningful tasks), I also strongly believe that we need to allow ourselves to explore spontaneous hunches and desires without worry that we’re working outside the plan. Sometimes, I suppose, we just need a little break from the rigidity to excel in other areas of our lives.

Okay, procrastination done. Time to put the groceries away…(or in the case of today, go to the post office and ship Dragon’s Eggs…)

Kanban Your Personal Life But Do Not Forget The Real World

Over the last 10 years, I’ve become increasingly into processes. This is really surprising to me because I don’t like hierarchies or rules. Despite my instinctual resistance for rigid structures, I have found good process can save tons of time. I’ve seen this in businesses but I’ve experienced the impact on my own life too.

It sounds super boring but the affects of planning on your (or your organization’s) output is not to be marginalized as ‘nice to have.’ From my perspective, many small companies and people fail to meet their potential simply because they have a crummy process in place. Typically at these organizations (or homes), everything is led by instinct, one mini-crisis or spur of the moment interest at a time.

My wife is also fairly structured extremely organized. For example, she typically has a week’s worth of meals prepared in advance of the work week, so we won’t have to order take out because we’re both too tired to cook a healthy meal at the end of the day. Despite my thinking I was the uptight planner in the house, she’s taken my ideas to a new level: she created a Kanban board for our own personal projects and tasks.

I have no objection to this type of organization because just recently I was frustrated that I am not keeping track of *all* the tasks I’m responsible for: From my perspective, it’s really difficult to create a meaningful prioritized plan if that plan doesn’t account for (nearly) everything that needs to be done.1 The personal Kanban is a good place to start because it gives me a place where I can dump my ideas/tasks/responsibilities as they occur to me, organize them in priority and then track progress on each. (Spreadsheets just don’t do it for me. Crufty, nasty spreadsheets…)

What prompted me to write about this is not just humor in using a project management technique developed to manage the Toyota manufacturing process for personal tasks, including the mundane “make dentist appointment”.

The interesting insight I’ve had is that I still write down my weekly and daily lists because there’s something special about connecting my hand to the output. Typing up digital tasks and moving digital cards around on a Kanban just isn’t as satisfying as writing something down and then later that day (or week) putting a fat checkmark next to it. When I move the task from ‘in progress’ to ‘done,’ I get no endorphin kick. And it’s the endorphin kick that I want because a) it feels good and b) it propels me toward the next task. I really do think people underestimate the value of momentum and personal satisfaction available from tracking progress over time. Probably because it’s pretty boring. :)

Aside: Life-hacking like using a personal Kanban can also feel really rigid. I plan to share a little bit on how to help make it a little less rigid feeling in future posts. Suffice it to say that I did not plan on writing this post today but I’m doing it anyway and my plan totally allows for it. I’d argue that my organization has be far enough in front of my work that I have time to spare. It also helps that 1/2 of this post was written well over a week ago.

Back on Point: I’ve read that people who contribute to abstract projects such as software often experience less satisfaction from their work than people who make physical goods. Moreover, it’s also been found that for this reason artists and craftsmen tend to receive more satisfaction from work than office workers.

This insight into work satisfaction is interesting because it indicates an alienation we’re experiencing by transferring our ideas to a screen, rather than a (semi-)permanent object like a piece of paper. The concept of “done” becomes too abstracted from reality.

Take software as a very simple example: it’s almost never “done”. Despite the valliant attempts of thousands of engineers, Facebook (not to pick on FB) has plenty of areas that can be improved upon. If we use Lean principles, then the product will never be done. If the project cannot be considered “done,” then how are people suppose to receive satisfaction from what they worked on?

From personal experience, I believe there is a difference between digital work and physical work. I’ve found that lists I create on paper tend to have a better completion rate than my lists on screens–and for that reason, my lists will typically start on paper even if I have to transfer them to a digital screen as needed for group planning. In a sense, I attempt to circumvent the alienating digital impact by writing lists and spending time writing in a physical journal. When I complete a task (typically something on a computer, not trying to kid anyone here), I have a physical representation of that task that I’m able to mark as complete. The Kanban we’re using is just a place to capture, organize and prioritize tasks.

Are there other ways you know of to connect our digital output with something physical?

Anyone else use business or project management principles to manage their personal lives?

1 Luckily, most things can be completely ignored because they have no real bearing on life but capturing the idea allows you to expunge it from your mental space freeing up capacity for more important problems.

Viewing the World from Different Perspectives

Have you ever see something up real close and thought you saw one thing and then saw the same something from further away and saw something completely different?

Technical traders are likely pretty familiar with this effect because they will typically flip between different time periods and units of measurement to test the technical readings.

What may appear to be a price floor on a 3 or 6 month chart could start looking a lot like a ceiling on a 3 or 5 year chart. And on the 1-week chart, it may look like an “obvious breakout.”

Understanding the relationship of time/distance to the perspective we have is important–not just for technical trading.

There are ways of seeing how the change in perspective can lead to a number of new insights and understandings.

Take coral as an example.

Here is a species that when alone appears fairly unimpressive. Other than being pretty, it’s some weird mutant half-rock, half-plant thingy. (That’s my purely scientific description of the species. If I were naming it, I would have labeled it Petra Planta)

An example of tree coral. Looks neat!

But when you step back, you can see that coral is responsible for the creation of this:

And it’s visible from space!

Our change in perspective needn’t be so abstract though. We can also do this with our own lives by simply finding our house in Google Maps/Earth and simply zooming in and out.

My point is that we shouldn’t ingrain ourselves in a habit of viewing the world from one perspective. We have to zoom in and zoom out. We have to do this over and over again to make sure we’re seeing the full picture.

It’s likely you know this already but maybe don’t have the time to do this perspective changing much. Or forget to. I certainly do.

Nonetheless, changing our worldview by orders of magnitude is particularly important when it comes to business/marketing, new products, politics/citizenship, and our personal relationships.

That problem that seems so stressful and worth yelling about while making everyone’s lives miserable?

Probably not that important in the grand scheme of things. Probably comical but we can’t see that until we zoom out.

Motivation and Working Out

My wife Adria and I, like many people, try to maintain healthy, active lifestyles that include mostly veggie-diets and consistent workout schedules. It’s not easy balancing the contemporary pace of life and demands for time with the need to remain healthy.

Over the 12+ years we’ve been together, I’d say we’ve been largely successful but of course there is room for improvement.

We’ve also been interested in being more consistent (a problem many people face)—the challenge is consistently the “little things” that come up or create daunting motivational disputations, whether that be making fresh lunches and dinners rather than getting take-out or going to restaurants or making it to the gym even though we didn’t get a full night of sleep, were really sore from the day before or were just plain working late.

We recently created a new “game” that is helping us overcome these challenges, and it’s effectiveness is far exceeding my initial expectations.

Specifically, Adria and I are now finishing our fifth straight week of working out without a pause. This means seven days a week of working out (almost to day 35!).

Our workouts are generally pretty intense outside our Sunday morning warmup and Yoga session (the “easy day” to help with recovery).

Here’s the general workout schedule we’ve been following:

Monday – Full Body Strength Training
Tuesday – Swim (or equivalent) 30 – 45 min
Wednesday – Fully Body Strength Training
Thursday – Swim 30 – 45 min (or equivalent)
Friday – Badminton 90 min (and/or Strength Training)
Saturday – Swim 45 – 60 min
Sunday – Warmups + Yoga (45 min)

Additionally, Adria and I ride our bikes everywhere, and that’s a really easy way to squeeze in a little bit more activity into our otherwise sedentary lifestyles. But for the purposes of this discussion, it’s important to note that we don’t count it as working out.

So how are we staying motivated day after day? (the really interesting part)

Adria and I developed a game for maintaining our motivation.

Before explaining how the game works, the goals of the game are important to note.

First, we wanted an extra incentive to get us over the hurtles of low motivation. Those days when we just don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, or are tired from a day of work so we blow off working out—or do something really short.

Second, we wanted to balance our diets and lifestyles with the fitness goals. That is, we wanted our desire for “junk food that’s just really yummy and worth eating because life is too short to always and completely deny ourselves of them” with a need for our food to be generally vegan and low-fat.

Third, we wanted a way to reward ourselves for following through and we wanted a way to penalize ourselves for failing to follow through.

What we came up with seems to be on the right path because both Adria and I have admitted that there were times we would have blown off working out if it weren’t for the game.

Here it is

  • We allocated a specific budget for eating out, drinking alcohol and/or eating junk food.
  • On Sunday night, we put this budget into a jar—to avoid needing cash on hand (who really uses that crap anymore…), we’re using Monopoly money.
  • Putting the money in at the end of the week is crucial because people have been found to be highly risk adverse when it comes to *loss*. So, facing equal risk of gain versus loss, we will take more risks when it comes to a potential gain than a potential loss. Meaning, we’re biased toward keeping what we have and avoid the risk of loss more than we are the risk of game.
  • We chose $75 per week (not per person, in total) as a budget. This may seem like a paltry sum for a couple living in San Francisco, but if you’re more selective with how you spend your money, it turns out it’s more than enough. Again, we mostly eat home-cooked, veggie-based meals so the game money really is just for splurging. (Splurging is eating all the things we know we’re not suppose to, like pizza or beer.)
  • If during the week, we do not work out one day, we take out $20 from the jar.
  • On the second (and any subsequent days skipped), $50 is taken out!
  • This means you get one mistake and can still have some fun ($50 goes pretty far) but if you mess up twice, you can basically only buy an It’s-It as the treat for the week. And when you think about this, that makes sense!
  • We worked out 5 days in a week, so we *deserve* a treat like a yummy It’s-It but if we skipped a couple of days, we don’t really deserve the big BBQ dinner or $20 burger and beer. It’s balanced, a key of any well-designed game.

  • Now, if we make it all seven days, we also wanted there to be a little bonus. A symbol that we made it the whole week. Adria and I chose an extra $5 (basically an It’s-It!).

One thing I realize is that at some point we may need an actual rest day. While we tried to structure the overall workout plan in a way that would balance the different muscle groups and work in rest where appropriate, there may be a time when we just need a day off. So, every three weeks, we put in an additional ‘token’ (we’re using the Monopoly figurines like the dog, hat and wheelbarrow) that signifies a day off.

I didn’t state it so it may not be clear but the jar only empties when we “spend” one of the resources, whether that be money for buying a treat or using our day off tokens. This means that if we don’t spend all the money in the jar (which we don’t for the most part), we actually start building up an additional buffer if something in life prevents us from working out (including us being sleepy-heads!).

While our system is still being tweaked–like how to address buying a bottle of liquor. Do we amortize it across the drinks and weeks we have it? or do we charge for it completely when we buy it? does it all come out of the splurge money or does some of it come out of the general groceries money?– I can say that the system has done wonders for maintaining motivation over an extended period of time.

In part, we’ve balanced motivations using somewhat tangible rewards and punishments but we’re also tapping into what is called ‘Small Wins.’ I’ll be exploring small wins in a future post on motivation.

In conclusion, use motivation and human psychology to best position yourself for success.

If you thought this was interesting, I encourage you to read this post from a Stanford professor on Structured Procrastination, which also uses human psychology against itself to embrace procrastination but still get tons done.

Changing Your Mind, Advice from Jeff Bezos

This post is a response to a blog entry by Jason Fried of 37signals, where Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos visited yesterday.

You can read Fried’s entry here.

Helpful Quotes

He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. He doesn’t think consistency of thought is a particularly positive trait. It’s perfectly healthy — encouraged, even — to have an idea tomorrow that contradicted your idea today.

What trait signified someone who was wrong a lot of the time? Someone obsessed with details that only support one point of view.

Perhaps I simply need more context to be convinced, but I do not believe it’s good for leaders to change their minds very often. (Note, *often*.)

How can a team make meaningful progress if the premises can change on a whim?

I’ve seen this in organizations actually (the leader changing his mind every couple of minutes). It’s a large source of wasted productivity. If life and business is a battle (ala SunZu et Machiavelli), the war will not be won if the marching orders and focus of attack change daily. It really is that simple (imho).

While I absolutely, vehemently agree that ideas and directions should be mutable over time, this act of self-evaluation can not come at the cost of meaningful progress. The risk is too quickly abandoning ideas that may foster large, meaningful results if executed through completion. To explore the adjacent possible we have to fully commit ourselves to unlocking the first possibility.

To some degree, changing your mind a lot (in major ways, not on details) is a sign that you’re not adequately thinking through scenarios—you’re merely piloting by reaction.

I will go so far as to make this claim: All major innovations and accomplishments in human history were not completed by people who changed their minds every few minutes.

Despite the romanticism we conjure when we think of Newton or Darwin, their ideas did not come in flashes of radical re-evaluations, but rather slow, methodical evaluations of a core idea/belief that grew to become a break-through idea.

These individuals looked for real reasons to change their ideas or beliefs, but for the most part they were looking at evidence as a tool guiding them to their breakthroughs*.

Even art is not created quickly and purely through intuition—painters for example have quite a bit of time to make small adjustments as they work the canvas. The core ‘what’ doesn’t change but some of the approaches or techniques may as the artist more and more surfaces the image.

Plans, Ideas, and Strategies can and should change over time but not on whims and not without considerable thought.

*If this is interesting to you, I would recommend checking out The History of Innovation by Steven Johnson or (from a ‘creative, art’ perspective) Little Bets by Peter Sims.

Game Theory and Nomics

Stanford University is offering a free game theory class that I’m enrolled in. I’ve been interested in game theory since reading The Art of Strategy last year.

As a quick aside, I actually read the book because I wanted to be sure to properly align the incentives of Servio’s workers on CloudCrowd. That is to say, on CloudCrowd we have some really awesome workflows that involve allowing workers to receive bonuses for correcting work they’re reviewing (rather than rejecting the work and only getting a low-base rate for rejecting flawed work). We also have a workflow that sends rejected work back to the original worker for “self-corrections.” Our workflows are quite fascinating to me because we’re building a work platform that (as long as I get to contribute) will continue to align itself more and more with how “the real world” works. However, because of the complexity in our workflows, it was important (as the product manager determining payouts, expected user behavior, policies around eligibility, etc) that I have a fairly strong handle on the relevant game mechanics governing worker interactions.

When I read Cognitive Surplus late last year, I first learned about the “Nomic Game.” I’ve been a little obsessed with how we can leverage the Nomic Game, as a principle if nothing more, to create a collective consensus building platform ever since. I think I’m on to something here, and hearing the founder of Votizen speak at a TedX conference (via YouTube) affirms this belief. Remember, one of my first inspirations for the Nomic Game was the Occupy Wall Street movement and their inability to create an actionable, cohesive consensus—it’s worth noting that a “leap of faith” assumption, to use Eric Reis’ term, is that social movements of today—political involvement methodologies of contemporary society—need to “catch up” with normal business and consumer technologies. I mean, we’re still using an electoral college for presidential elections, and from what I can tell the system was only in place because of the technology available during the 1800′s (i.e. horse drawn carriages). We’re still using horse drawn carriage paradigms for elections!? This is mind numbingly retarded to me. (If that bothers you too, check out what Jennifer Pahlka is working on. It’s pretty awesome.)

Coming full circle to the Nomic Game, the concept was originally proposed by a political science professor Peter Suber in The Paradox of Self-Amendment, and Suber used the game as a way of illustrating how The Constitution works for his students. One of the main lessons of the game is that through self-amendment, “unalienable rights” can be revoked through a consensus of modification of the “unalienable-ness” of a right. It’s a very interesting read, albeit a bit dense.

One of the first questions I had when thinking through the Nomic Game was “What are the game theory implications of the Nomic Game?”

This question isn’t as straight forward as you might expect. To understand what I mean here, let’s walk through a simple mental game.

Particularly in the fashion I plan to implement it, the Nomic Game helps people establish consensus around ideas. Another word for “idea” in this scenario is “belief,” and this is an important point. (Background: In game theory, beliefs and motivations play a key role in understanding games where players play multiple rounds before completing the game. And, the Nomic Game is exactly that.)

At first we may think (without the math, aka “a priori“) the (weakly) dominant strategy is to simply agree with ideas so that we can arrive at a consensus and move to the next problem. That is, if we all agree with an idea, then as a society we will (presumably) receive the same utility. But, as an additional premise, we’re not just working with bland ideas like “let’s go get a cup of coffee,” we’re dealing with important ideas like “we should stop the production of nuclear arsenals.”

Now we’re treading into a contentious area.

My beliefs about the implications of stopping nuclear arsenal production come into play. Tangential beliefs about what it means to no longer produce nuclear arsenals need to be evaluated. Moreover, is it a weakly dominant strategy for me to agree with an idea that does not properly align with my belief system even though I may access some utility by doing so?

If we take a step back for a moment, we can see this same weakly dominant strategy at play in our political election system today: Your choice for the next president (or Senator or whatever) is Twiddle-Dee from the Republican Party or Twiddle-Dumb from the Democrat Party. To be a bit more explicit, the argument, “I don’t want to throw my vote away” is a tacit consent that the the political actor (the voting citizen) is taking the weakly dominant strategy of choosing the “most likely person to win.” This is playing the dominant strategy.

Whew, I went over a lot here but I didn’t reach my main goal. I wanted to explore a formula for the utility of a Nomic Game player but I have to go to work. Next time!

(Btw, I’m still looking for a better name than Nomic Game. What do people think of “”?)

Pushing Forward on the Nomic Game

I was able to get a few more hours into the Nomic project today. Not quite to the point where it’s even remotely presentable (even for this dirty of an experiment) but some good progress.

It took me a few minutes (as in 60) to get back into the groove of writing code, but I’m now recording new ideas and just about ready to start allowing voting. I forgot to implement a few things with regards to the ancestry of an idea but getting that in will only take a few minutes.

The Nomic Game will be a pretty clunky version even when I get voting in because I won’t have a notion of “people” yet. :p I’ve been waiting to get the bulk of the ideation process in place first before moving on to user identification. Then I can address issues such as “who gets to vote” and “limiting votes”.

To identify people, I plan to use Facebook and make the Nomic Experiment a Facebook app so that I can leverage their authentication process.

Ideally I’ll have time to setup the Twitter API so that users can auto-feed their ideas to Twitter. I’ll probably “ship” the prototype without it though because I’m eager to get feedback on the base concept.

Hopefully this prioritization (ideas and votes before people) doesn’t bite me in the butt. I tried to make sure I had some design thinking in place to account for people and I believe the highly modularized approach I’m taking to the code will give me the flexibility I need. I haven’t built any unit tests yet, but I plan to! (I say this knowing I’ll probably rely on ad-hoc testing for the foreseeable future.)

You might have noticed that I keep referring to the project by different names “nomics”, “nomic project”, “nomic experiment.” This is the result of not having a name for it! It really only occurred to me recently that I’m probably the only person who wants to call this “Nomics”.

Got any ideas? Maybe Idea Factory? That’s what I put in the meta description. But I haven’t even spent a lick of time looking for domains. I’m figuring that has to be the least important aspect of the app–at least until a day or so before I want to release it.

If you somehow stumbled across this post and have no idea what I’m talking about, read my first post specifically on the Nomic Game or this post where I first started contemplating the need/value of the Nomic Game.

The Nomic Game Schema

So I haven’t updated on the Nomic Game since the first post.

For the reader who was perplexed by the “philosophical design” of the Nomic Game, here’s where I took this crazy ramble:

Reflecting on the “philosophical design,” I produced this set of notes:

some notes i had jotted down

Don't mind the handwriting. I can read it! ;-)

From these notes, I created these tables:

| Tables_in_nomics |
| community_admins |
| community_list |
| community_members |
| error_logs |
| following |
| ideas |
| people |
| votes |

I have another table to create called “plans” which are just going to be collections of ideas. Long story short, I reasoned that a “plan” is really just the collection of a number of small ideas. I felt ‘plans’ were an important notion to capture because if the Nomic Game can generate real action (as I hypothesize is possible), then there needs to be some way to collect “ideas” into a “plan”.

What I thought was particularly interesting about my contemplation of ideas was the exploration of “sentiment.” Related to another project I’m working on, I’ve been looking through different models to understand “decay” rates. I’ve been studying up a bit on Normal Distribution, and some other fun things.

When I applied some of this decay and Normal Distribution thinking to the notion of a “sentiment,” I arrived with this basic behavior:

A general model of sentiment.

Two models for measuring sentiment.

Without divulging the exact formula(s) that I’ll be tweaking to measure sentiment, the general idea is that as an idea moves from neutrality to agreement (or disagreement), it’s also building up an “area” proportional to the number of people participating in the idea. This is important (imho) because not all ideas will garner the same attention and so we wouldn’t want to present relatively unimportant ideas to people.

Using those two models, I think I can measure “consensus” (general agree/disagree) and also “impact of consensus” (how many people actually give a sh*t).

Anyone want to help me with this part of the project? I’m not an expert at statistical modeling and it’d be great to get some pointers. :)

Nomics – A Game for Finding Consensus

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been interested in how we participate in the policy decision making process. I went so far as to state that both the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements were a reflection of deep frustration with our political process. I say this because, despite differences in demands and world views, the two movements are populist in nature.

From my perspective, the big “ah-ha” moment was when I started looking around for how the Occupy Wall Street group was organizing itself. There were websites here, Facebook fan pages there, but nothing cohesive. Moreover, nothing that I could find represented a “this is what we believe and this is what we want”.

Of course, I then asked myself, “What would people use to reach a consensus?”

I thought of the Nomic Game.
Eric Reis, author of Lean Startup, once said (something along the lines of), “People spend a lot of time worrying about their ideas being stolen…need to just get it out there…and I’ll bet that even if you tried to have someone steal your idea, you couldn’t.”

I’d like to take that bet. I’m going to present some initial conceptual thinking I’ve done on the Nomic Game as a tool for organizing political though. I feel comfortable doing this because I agree that it’s highly unlikely that someone will steal my idea. Or more accurately, if the idea is “stolen,” it was “stolen” because the person who originally thought of the idea didn’t do anything to move the idea from “idea” to “reality.”

In terms of what is built, I have the database (mostly) designed/implemented and will likely have something “poke-able” by the end of the week. That’s my goal at least.

When reading the conceptual overview, you’ll note a bit about “community” at the end. A big challenge that we deal with at Servio is, “How do we know that particular person is qualified to participate in this project?” I’ve put in a smidgen of initial thinking in this regard and see “communities” as a v.future feature set. I believe a little thinking about “how to protect an idea from the wrong people participating” (i.e. people who aren’t qualified) because I think a major mistake at crowdsourcing companies is that they don’t think about “project guards” up front. (I spoke about at CrowdConf last year; here’s a blog post on it).

Conceptual Overview of Using Nomics to Solve Political Engagement—my notes

There are people.

People can create or modify ideas.

People can agree with an idea.

People can also disagree with ideas.

Goal: Find the best idea with the most consensus.


This means there needs to be a way to associate one idea with another, as in an anscestory of ideas.

That implies we have a root idea, partent ideas, and children ideas.

The root is a parent but not the parent of all ideas.

The root is the parent of itself.

The root can have many children but no ancestors.

The root idea is the ancestor of all present and current ideas.

Some parent ideas are children of the root idea but others are children of children of the root idea.

The root idea is a mere proposal for more proposals.

The root idea cannot be agreed with or disagreed with.

The root idea can only create children ideas.

Once a child idea is created, it can be modified, agreed with or disagreed with.

A modified child idea is a new child idea.

The new modified child idea’s parent idea is the one from which the modified child idea originated.

At some distant time in the future, ideas can be merged with other ideas to create new child ideas–child ideas with two parent ideas.

Also in the future, a child idea can be merged with its parent idea or ideas.


To track the consensus of an idea, the count of moment of agreements or disagreements must be tracked.

A moment of agreement or disagreement is a point in time when a person evaluates an idea and decides to either agree or disagree.

There can only be one moment of agreement or disagreement per idea per person.

A person can change his mind from/to agreement or disagreement.

If agreement changes, the count of agreement or disagreement should equally change.

Another word for moment of agreement or disagreement is vote.


A simple idea is a belief.

If a belief cannot be stated simply, it is likely ill-understood.

Complex ideas originate from a lack of understanding.

Ideas should be simple, at least to start.

Ideas should have a one sentence-ish summary.

Ideas should have a three to five sentence description.

Ideas longer than this are likely too compelex and should be revised to be consise.

Access to ideas may require guarding.

All people do not have authority over all ideas.

There are communities of people.

People belong to many communities.

People who belong to some communities do not below to other communities.

People who do not belong to a community may or may not be allowed to access an idea.

Access to an idea is a decision of the person or community who propose it.


An idea’s creator is the person who proposes it.

If two ideas are merged, the new merged idea’s creators consist of the originating ideas’ creators.

The root idea has no creators.

If the root requires a creator, the root idea is its own creator.

People are known or unknown.

Unknown people belong to a community of unknown people and no other communities.

Only known people can belong to communities of known people.

A community is a self-selected group of people.

Self-selected means that the people see themselves as consistently coming to consesus on ideas.

People can discover or create communities by identifying people who consistently agree or disagree with the same ideas.

An idea is only priviate to a community if the person who proposes the idea decides to make it so.

A consensus is the current balance of moment of agreements and disagreements.

There is no definitive consensus with an idea.

A consensus is a spectrum of agreements and disagreements.

There should be transparency into the specturm of agreements and disagreements.

There may also be a summary consensus which translates the spectrum consensus into either Agreement, Netural or Disagreement.

An agreement is when over 55% of moments of agreement occur.

If there is no majority of agreement or disagreement, 55%, the consensus is neutral.

People should create new ideas or modify ideas to resolve neutrality.


People should be able to see what the parent or child ideas of the current idea are.