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Freada Kapor Klein and Mitch Kapor: Incubating the Future

Thu, Nov 13, 2008

I was very fortunate to be in San Francisco last week for the Web 2.0 Summit 2008 co-presented by O’Reilly Media and TechWeb (see my upcoming post “Web 2.0 Meets World 2.0: The Civilization of Data”). But I was doubly fortunate to spend the historic election night, the day before the Summit, at 543 Howard Street – where Freada Kapor Klein and Mitch Kapor are incubating the future.

In the picture above: Chandler, Freada and Mitch (who is keeping one eye, perhaps, on fivethirtyeight.com).

543 Howard is a large, child and dog friendly building South of Market. It is home to several organizations all connected with one another that Freada and Mitch founded.  Some are non- profit and some for-profit, but all share a common kind of value framework – trying to make a difference in the world.

This incubator of the future links business development to building a better society. It is a community of entrepreneurs and social activists answering the call, in a daily practice, to the question at the heart of the Web 2.0 Summit.

how the Web—its technologies, its values, and its culture—might be tapped to address the world’s most pressing limits. Or put another way—and in the true spirit of the Internet entrepreneur—its most pressing opportunities.

Like the Web 2.0 Summit, 543 Howard Street is deeply rooted in the hallmarks of Web 2.0 culture where “the Web’s greatest inventions are, at their core, social movements”  (for more on the Summit’s Web Meets World theme see the intro to the Web 2.0 Summit here).

And 543 is a hot house of thought leaders, and world class entrepreneurs.

The picture above is Bettina Neuefeind (married to Larry Lessig – Change Congress). Bettina and volunteer, Roy Bowers, look as though they are feeling confident shortly before Barak Obama became President Elect.

Bettina, a photographer (see her election photoset) and attorney, took leave from her job as an attorney to work as Volunteer Office Manager for the SF Obama for America HQ back in September.  Bettina organized an overflow phone bank at 543 Howard during the November 1-4 Get Out the Vote (GOTV) .

Freada encapsulated the mission of 543 Howard to me:

So it is about empathy, It is about building understanding and it is about building bridges between the non-profit world and the for profit world, between the geeks and the social justice types between lots of different types of groups.  Everybody is smart, everybody has a big heart and everybody is working on great things. So we are really trying to work together and build community.

I will pick up more on this theme of “empathy” in my next post. I think Freada’s emphasis on empathy highlights something that will, perhaps, be key to Web Meets World thinking:  Networked intelligence which is at the core of today’s Web and, increasingly, it will become integrated with emotional intelligence. This  was a theme I saw developed in some interesting ways at Web 2.0 Summit.

Mitch explained more about the organizations at 543:

There are several organizations all connected with one another, some non- profit, some for-profit but all efforts that Freada and Mitch founded. There is Level Playing Field Institute – an activist non-profit – which Freada started that runs scholarship and leadership development programs for underrepresented students of color and is involved in reducing bias in the work place. Also there is The Mitchell Kapor Foundation which has grant programs in education, the environment and voting access.

We did a whole big program this year to help organizations in terms of people’s right to vote.  And on election day we have been hosting one of the National Call Centers for the Election Protection Coalition. We have room full of volunteer attorneys hooked up to phones connected to 866 Our Vote. So we are part of this national system where people can refer any problem they are having voting.

The Election Protection Center has been in the works for months.  We had to get tied into their 800 number.  There is a lot of set up for that. Election Protection is strictly non-partisan.  As you noticed,  when we were together there, I had to take off my Obama T-Shirt when I went in the room.  It is like a polling place you can’t have any political signs.

Also for the last few days here, we have been hosting a call center phone bank. Obama For America ran out of room in their office space in SF and we had some extra space. So they have their own cell phones and charges, and we have been making the space available so they can make get out the vote calls in the final days of the campaign.

Everyone was quite nervous at the beginning of the night!

I went into Second Life (Mitch Kapor was the Angel Investor for Linden Lab) to find people were anxiously watching there too – on Capitol  Hill.  Capitol Hill was built by Steve Nelson from Clear Ink. Steve’s Interactive Polling Map is only one of a number of interesting projects he has pioneered in Second Life.  See New World Notes for just how big the victory celebrations got in Second Life.

But we all relaxed when the results started coming in.  Freada gave me a signed copy of her book “Giving Notice: Why the Best and the Brightest Leave the Workplace and How you Can Help Them Stay” Thank you Freada!  The beaded Apple II and Lotus 1-2-3 box in the picture below were commissioned by Freada.

Mitch continued with the story of 543:

We also have start-up activities that I do. So there is an internet start-up called Foxmarks.  It is a very popular extension for the Firefox web browser.  It synchronizes bookmarks and passwords and will soon do lots of other things as well. There are also some other new startups that are being incubated here.  They are not exactly in stealth mode but they like to control their own PR.

I met Ross Fubini of CubeTree. He is the person with the laptop in the picture above where everyone is nervously watching results at the beginning of the night. But, as CubeTree still in Private Beta, my lips are sealed!

543 incubates a set of diverse projects, Mitch explained:

Then there is Change Congress which is a guest here It is a non-profit started by Larry Lessig and Joe Trippi that is trying to secure reforms on congress financing and an end of ear marks and things like that.

Larry Lessig (Creative Commons) gave a brilliant High Order Bit on Change Congress at Web 2.0 Summit. Creative Commons was also housed in 543 before it got too big and found its own space.

Several commentators on the Web 2.0 Summit have described a shift from Web 2.0 culture to World 2.0.

Thomas Clayburn’s post for Information Week, headlines, “Web 2.0 Summit: President Elect Obama Typifies World 2.0.” Clayburn reports on the discussion with New York Magazine writer John Heilemann, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, and political strategist Joe Trippi who illuminate how the internet and social networking were key to the Obama victory.  Here is the panel discussion.  It is, certainly, one of most interesting conversations at the summit.

Changing the World: “Fairness matters”

ZDNet reports that the message of Web 2.0 Summit was “It’s Up To Tech To Save The World.” And, Larry Brilliant of Google.org stressed  “ideas, flexibility and entrepreneurship” are at the heart of this endeavor.

Freada Kapor’s Level Playing Field Institute, “promotes innovative approaches to fairness in higher education and workplaces by removing barriers to full participation.”  This initiative takes up the challenge of making sure, that if tech is going to change the world, we tackle the obstacles to full participation.

Eric Wong is a Creative producer for Kapor Enterprises‘ creative team (see picture below).  Kapor Enterprises is a service organization that provides services for all the other entities in the building, accounting, IT and creative services. Trevor Parham, who I saw several times that night but without my camera in hand, is the Director of the Creative Group and a SMASH instructor.

Joining the Players of Web 2.0

A theme of Web 2.0 Summit  was that even in the worst of times and in “this is the New, New, New Economy where $50,000, MySQL, Rails, PHP, WordPress, Twitter, and passion go a long, long way.”

The panel “Tech Hunch Thrifty” featured several startups including Rashmi Sinha’s SlideShare and Garry Tan cofounder of Posterous.  Mitch Kapor is an Angel Investor in Posterous.

Rashmi was named by FastCompany as one of “The Most Influential Women in Web 2.0.” FastCompany also noted a stat that needs to change “only a quarter of those involved in computer and mathematical occupations are women.”  Changing this is something that Freada Kapor has put on the top of her agenda.

After watching Mitch Kapor post by email to Posterous I was hooked!  Check out Mitch’s Posterous and this post Mitch’s K9 Election protection crew. He is emailing it in the picture below.

I just emailed my third post on my new Posterous blog the picture below taken in the Web 2.0 Summit media room with exquisite timing by the artist/super star blogger Brian Solis.  See Brian Solis’ Flickr, www.briansolis.com, bub.blicio.us

I am with some legendary bloggers, who know each other very well. From left to right: Steve Gillmor (check out Steve Gilmor’s interview with Dan Farber and post here – a piece of blogging artistry contextulizing some of the key threads of Web 2.0 Summit); Dan Farber; Gabe Rivera; and Michael Arrington.

OMG! I am not sure if I can blog the inside story of the Summit Media center. But suffice to say, I learned a lot about Web 2.0 in my hours there.

Yes, from the primordial ooze, who gets to define the data rules!

Of course, one of the wonders of Web 2.0 is that Wikipedia’s collectively generated user content ranks top in Google. I had a very interesting conversation with Jonathan Hochman about Wikipedia and Second Life (see upcoming interview). There are some very interesting lessons for the pioneers of Web Meets World in how these large user generated communities negotiate the definition of data.

In the Media Center, I got a first hand look at how super star bloggers conjure up page rank and influence when they hit post. And just in case you were wondering what we are looking at, we are checking out whose post on John Battelle’s interview with Jerry Yang came out top in Google.  Not mine, of course!  I am still working on my Web 2.0 Summit posts.

Oh well that is one of the problems with writing 5000 word articles!  But, I take heart, Steve Gilmor said to me 1000 word posts, at least, are the way things are going in blogging these days. But 5000, I wonder?

Story of A Successful Startup: Foxmarks

I interviewed Todd Algunick, CTO of Foxmarks to find out what were the ingredients that had produced this successful internet start-up. Todd told me a fascinating story about how he met Mitch in a Computer store when he was a 12 years old.  And how Mitch used to come in after late night programming binges to show off the latest thing he had been working on. Todd said:

I started talking and explaining to him how some of the things he was doing could be done a little bit better. And he ended up hiring me as a contractor tp help him out on some of his projects……. We spent a lot of time working together.  I was there at Lotus in the early days while it grew into the thing it is.

There was a middle part of my career when he and I parted company.  I was out on the West Coast and he stayed East.

A few years ago we reconnected and started exploring different things that were happening. It seemed like there was something we could do in this new web space that was opening up. We experimented with a lot of different things – some protocol things, some event related things.  And we finally settled on Foxmarks just as something Mitch needed personally. We built the first thing as a prototype for Mitch to use and it worked…and we said, “well I bet other people want this too.”

Linden Lab offer $10,000 Prize

When I got back to NYC, Monday, I noticed this timely announcement on the Official Linden blog.  Second Life residents now have an extra incentive to get involved in “working on stuff that matters.”

From the Official Linden blog:

The Linden Prize will award one Second Life Resident or team with $10,000 USD, paid in Linden dollars, for an innovative inworld project that improves the way people work, learn and communicate in their daily lives outside of the virtual world. The award is intended to align with Linden Lab’s company mission–to connect all people to an online world that advances the human condition.

categories: crossing digital divides, Linden Lab, Metaverse, Mixed Reality, Second Life, Web 2.0, World 2.0
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