Making the world better through your browser

Want to improve the world? I’m getting attuned to that more and more, especially since listening in on last weekend’s Global Voices conference. So, I’m keeping my eye out for how people and organizations are using technology to improve the world. I’m talking with Mark Liu and Marnie Webb of NetSquared right now on the phone. They are keeping track of non-profits and how they are using social media.

GhostCycle, for instance, is Marnie’s favorite. It collects stories and other information about Seattle-area cyclists who’ve had accidents and puts them on Google maps, which lets people see patterns they might not otherwise see. You can read more about GhostCycle on NetSquared’s site.

She’s wondering what kind of tools that non-profits need to succeed? Is there a way they can work with developers and volunteers to help out non-profits? She’s also wondering what they could do to hook up big companies like Microsoft with non-profits?

Another site I saw at Global Voices that was inspiring is PledgeBank. Here you can make a pledge and get people to join in (or you can join an already made pledge). At Global Voices last weekend I got a demo of this and it’s really making a difference already by letting people know about needs in their communities and giving them a way to join in.

How are you improving the world?

#29: I gave Douglas Engelbart a mouse and a book

Tonight I peered into the eyes of the creator.

And heard his frustration.

It all started earlier this afternoon when Buzz Bruggeman asked me in an email “want to have dinner with Douglas Engelbart?”

First of all, if you don’t know who Douglas Engelbart is you better do some reading. He invented the mouse and many of the concepts that you are now using to read my words. And he did that 40 years ago. Yes, he was that far ahead.

Oh, Buzz, do you have to ask?

Anyway, turned out he had been talking with Bill Daul, one of Doug’s friends and they quickly arranged a dinner. Six people in total. Andy Ruff, program manager on Microsoft’s Entourage team. Buzz. Doug’s friend Bill. I had a previously arranged dinner with Joseph Jaffe, so I invited him along.

What an incredible dinner. The five of us hung on every word Doug spoke. The conversation was interesting and diverse.

I filmed part of it but the restaurant was so noisy that that probably won’t be very useful.

Some key things stuck with me.

1) Doug is a frustrated inventor. He was frustrated over and over again during his career by people who just didn’t get his ideas.
2) He says he has many ideas that he hasn’t shared yet. We talked about the way the system could change from how it sees what you’re paying attention to, for instance.
3) He repeated for us the creation of the mouse. Said they still don’t know who came up with the name “mouse.” That was the part of the dinner I filmed.
4) He challenged the business people at the table (specifically looking at Andy and me) to come up with a way to increase the speed that innovations get used. He didn’t say it, but his eyes told me that taking 25 years for the world to get the mouse was too long and his career would have been a lot more interesting if people could have gotten his ideas quicker. I told him that ideas move around the world a lot faster now due to blogs and video (imagine trying to explain what Halo 2 was going to look like if all you had to describe it was ASCII text).

It was an incredible evening. One that I just can’t do justice to by writing on my blog. I got to say thank you to a real visionary who plowed forward even after everyone had told him he was nuts.

I handed him a pre-release copy of our book, wrote in the front “thank you for inventing the world that made all of this possible” and gave him the mouse that I used. Hey, he gave all of us mice, seemed to be the least I could do.

Joseph Jaffe just posted about the night. Thanks Joseph for the kind words, your ideas on the new world of marketing are inspiring.

But peering into the eyes of the creator I realized something. He’s also the best evangelist I’ve ever met. He can draw pictures and inspire in a way that few people can. And, this 80-year-old can run intellectual circles around most 25-year-olds I’ve met (and certainly runs circles around me). He’s an amazing person and certainly an American treasure.

Amazing people doing cool things with technology

Dean Hachomovitch, head of the IE team, called me last night just raving about some of the people he had just met as part of the “start something amazing” awards that were handed out yesterday on campus.

Today I’ve been watching some of the videos and I think you’ll enjoy meeting some of these people and seeing what they are doing.

If that doesn’t work for you, check out the video I just put up – Dean Hachomovitch and Dave Leubbert have a chat that we filmed at Gnomedex. Dave worked on the Mac Word 1.0 team and they talk about some of the fun times in the 1980s working at Microsoft.

The red poppy

Interesting, today I walked around Microsoft and did some digging for what should be in our next Channel 9 videos and I met Warren Stevens over on the IE team. He’s development lead. But that’s not what’s important. He was wearing a red poppy on his shirt. He told me what that’s all about.

It is a symbol that Canadians (correction: and others) wear around this time of year to remember their war dead. November 11 is Remembrance Day. He recited — from memory — the poem in Flanders Fields. What an emotional poem. My little HTML characters aren’t doing it justice. But Warren did.

After talking with Warren I sauntered out of building 2 along the paths near the soccer fields on Microsoft’s main campus and thinking that I have the best job in the whole wide world. I get to hang out with really great people. And I get to talk about technology and life with them.

And they get to remind me that millions of people have died so that I can have the life I now lead.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the Memeorandum gaming, or the Ray Ozzie memos, and forget that we’re building products for people. And that people build those products.

Thanks Warren for reminding me of what’s important in life. Simply by wearing a red poppy.