It’s been a whole year since my last IdeaFarm post and I thought I would post an update. I didn’t see the truck around for a while (at least in Mountain View– they apparently have people at locations all over the Bay Area), but then, a few months ago, they popped up again, parked near the intersection of Central Expressway and Rengstorff Avenue. They’ve apparently downsized to this trailer and bike (plus what looks like solar panels?).
This week, the trailer was parked at the corner of El Camino Real and Phyllis Ave after having been “silenced by MVPD” (Mountain View Police Department). I’m not sure what they did since I’ve never actually seen anybody next to/around the truck or trailer, but I suppose just parking for long periods of time in front of businesses and at busy intersections could cause problems. Nevertheless, I haven’t seen anything that would actually be illegal and if they had done something illegal, I assume the truck/trailer/whatever would have disappeared altogether.
So, I’d be curious to know what caused them to be “silenced” and how MVPD silenced them, but I still haven’t figured out what the actual, practical purpose of IdeaFarm is, what they do or how they do it. (One commenter summarized it as a version of “libertarian socialism”.) In any case, the IdeaFarm website has been updated once again, so maybe you can take a look and try to make some sense of it.
Otherwise– or perhaps as background– you can check out my previous posts:
I meant to post this a while ago, but here it is now: the IdeaFarm™ truck reappeared at the corner of Castro St. and El Camino in Mountain View, CA in late August. It disappeared apparently on September 11 at the conclusion of its Political Economy course. If you can’t read the sign, it reads (I think): “Mexicans colonize because you don’t receive them as brothers.”
I see this truck almost everyday, parked in various locations along El Camino as I drive from Palo Alto to Mountain View. (I’ve always wanted to take a picture of it, but have never had the chance to, so, even though I have no idea who you are, thanks cjanebuy for posting a pic onto Flickr.) The combination of the self-lettering, the accusatory nature of the phrase/motto of “THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM IS THAT YOU HAVE BECOME A SELFISH PEOPLE, and the strategy here for marketing their message by parking these trucks all over the area and inviting passersby to “come and eat with us” to find out more has all the trappings of a cult, of some type of weird group of fanatics of something. (Not to mention that all interactions are done “anonymously,” participants using only first names.)
I finally bothered to visit the website– www.ideafarm.com— and while I don’t think it’s a cult like The Family International— but it’s definitely an enigma (they also depict IdeaFarm as “IdeaFarm City,” trademarked, of course, and a federal constitutional protectorate of the US.) It’s very Silicon Valley– the “civil and political project funded by the sale of software products and services,” such as the IdeaFarm ™ Piggyback Distributed Operating System (I, like you probably, have never head of this and have no idea of the pros/cons of this OS).
The mission of the project is to “[P]romote unselfish living by creating a compelling economic incentive to live wholesomely connected to other people, to the Earth, and to one’s Higher Power.” The main way to do this is through a yet-to-be-released “zero spam, zero advertisement, zero thought steering, secure email service.” Participants in this project are divided into two groups– the first, composed of non-members, agrees to a) “sign a public declaration of intent to live unselfishly” and b) participate anonymously in weekly community dinners. If you decide to become an actual member, you move up and become part of the second group who agrees to a) “participate regularly in the weekly community dinners,” b) “loan $8 to the organizer for 64 days, and c) pay 1 cent per day.” In turn, you apparently get “nifty” IdeaFarm software products and services plus richer access to the website.
In any case, reviewing the website and information, a few things to note that might raise red flags for you:
For an organization with unselfish living at its core, it is still a “private, for profit entity” and the “owner can dispose of revenue as he sees fit.”
The “owner” or “leader” of the organization is never mentioned or known by his name (not even his first name)– he is only referred to as the “Governing Propietor.” While anonymity is central to their interactions, disclosing the leader’s name (at least first name) seems like an acceptable exception, especially to lend credibility to the whole thing since they claim he is a “libertarian student of political economy, a product of the Ph.D. program in economics at the University of Chicago.”
A stratified system of participation and membership, largely based on financial contributions– Scientology anyone?* To be fair, they do assert that they are not asking for nor will they accept donations– financial contributions are considered “loans.”
Discussion of IdeaFarm and the website will only be done via email.
They’re using a yahoo email address. Weak.
Anyway, so if you see this truck around the Bay Area, now you know a little bit more. Judge for yourself!
* PS to the Scientology folks: please don’t sue me.
I’ve been working somewhat with, among others, the instructors (especially BJ Fogg and Dan Ackerman Greenberg) for the Stanford Facebook class CS377W: Creating Engaging Facebook Apps, figuring out how to use Facebook and its application development platform to encourage development of apps to promote student life, aid in teaching and learning, reach out to alumni, and more. (My department, Student Computing, is currently running an app contest to encourage development of just those kinds of apps.) Wednesday night, I attended the class final– a full-blown presentation on the class (including the journey from the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab exploring how to computerize persuasion in 1993 to the development of the class itself), aims of the course, lessons learned, and, most importantly, the apps produced by the class’ 25 student teams.
The class has gotten a lot of hype, especially in the blogosphere, and much of it has been about how students were looking to find the secret to building the next big app and, in turn, making big money from it (check out this WREX-TV, NBC11.com video and try not to be distracted by the dumbed-down and sometimes nonsensical tech imagery for the narration). Much of the class focused on metrics and taking advantage of the viral nature of social networking sites like Facebook– aiming, for each app, a high number of users (especially daily active users) and high engagement (number of page views and time spent with the app). The apps developed, as you can tell from the phrase “10 million in 10 weeks,” were largely successful in achieving these goals with over 10 million installs, over one miliion daily active users, and a handful ranking in Facebook’s top 100 apps (out of over 10,000): Perfect Match, Send Hotness, Hugs, and KissMe (originally based on the Full Moon on the Quad tradition at Stanford). (Sorry if I missed any that reached the top 100.)
However, focusing on getting the largest number of users doesn’t always result in developing the “deepest” or most “socially meaningful” applications– as one commenter put it, even the “Stanford intellectual elite [can be] devoted to producing such monumental drivel.” (Before the Stanford-developed KissMe app, just think of the success of the unbelievably simple Zombies app.) So, instead of focusing on the apps that had the highest number of users, I want to point out two apps that are particularly socially conscious and show how to take advantage of the power of the Facebook network:
The Giving Tree – the developers of this app partnered with Kiva to piggy-back on the growing awareness of the power of microlending. Facebook users don’t even need to pony up their own money– instead, once 50 people have added one of the selected businesses to their profile, $25 is pushed to the business using money donated from companies.
Save the Rainforest – here, the developers partnered with The Nature Conservancy to take advantage of some of the time Facebook users are spending on the site everyday. Users play a vocabulary game and for every six correct answers, one square foot of the rainforest will be adopted through The Nature Conservancy’s Adopt an Acre program. As of the class’s final presentation night (December 12, 2007), 5,000 square feet had already been saved!
You, like me, are probably trying to reduce the app clutter on your Facebook profile, but if you’re going to use apps, I think these two are certainly worth it.
And with that, I leave you with a short video of Dave McClure leading the audience in The Wave to get them psyched up for the presentations:
As the drama of Hurricane Katrina continues, I fear that somehow Americans will end up giving more to tsunami victims than those who suffer in our own backyard. I certainly don’t want to say that one person’s suffering is greater than another’s, that we should put value on one person’s life over another, but what does it say about Americans if we fail to help our own countrymen? Isn’t that always how it is? We’ll go through so much and pay so much to adopt an orphaned child from somewhere in Asia or Africa, but we won’t take in and care for the child who lives homeless on our own streets.
But there is one silver lining that I want to take note of: the way the educational community is coming together. Universities, including those I’m directly affiliated with, Stanford and Carnegie Mellon, are coming together to reach out to college students affected by the hurricane and to help make sure that their educations are not severely interrupted. Despite my frequent frustrations, I have to say that a part of me is proud to be part of the higher education community today.
But of course, what about the young children who don’t have homes or food, much less a school to go to today or tomorrow or the next day? How many children will be orphaned and how many dead bodies will continue to be pulled out from the waters? Americans are certainly capable of supporting its citizens– consider the outpouring of support for victims of 9/11. While we may not have terrorists to band against in this circumstance, certainly the suffering and need for help is just as great.