Making the Best of the “B” in BRT

Don’t let the title fool you, I’m profoundly disappointed that we’re not electing to pursue LRT.

I, like many of the readers here (I’m sure) am sad that we have let go of an opportunity for light rail in our city, and  I have spent the last few days reading and re-reading the arguments, the cases for support, the rallying cries… the apologetic posts and columns that shrug as if to say “this is why we can’t have nice things”.

What I haven’t been reading about, though, is ideas about how we can still have nice things; and no, I’m not talking about rail… That train (metaphorically speaking) has left the station.

So the challenge I put to all of us is how we can make BRT mean Best Rapid Transit… How can we make London’s clear direction for a Bus Rapid Transit System progressive? More importantly, given that we’ve saved a bundle of cash (or rather, saved the province and the Feds a bunch of cash) how can London think differently about the way we use transit and transit dollars, and change the world with our decision to embrace BRT?

Where are the ideas, the innovations, the thinking that could make this system the envy of those cities that blew their wad on LRT?

Lest I be accused of simply trolling, here are some of my (admittedly fanciful) ideas (in no particular order):

  • Take 1/5 of the bus (and adding 20% more buses to the route) and commit it to local high-end coffee providers. In other words, get the riders to skip Starbucks & Timmies and have them enjoy locally roasted & brewed Hasbeans/Red Roaster/Fire Roasted latte literally on the way to work (and on their way home from the Knights & Lightning games).
  • Speaking of, offer Knights/Lightning fan busses that offer pre-game coverage broadcast from the bus itself.
  • Use the fluidity of the fact that these are busses and not rail cars to our advantage by adding routes that support multiple origin points. By this I mean don’t just start the north-end route at Masonville Mall, but create origin stations at other points in the north end, such as Fanshawe & Adelaide, Adelaide & Huron, Wonderland & Sarnia, Wharncliffe & Oxford, etc. and then express those busses on to the BRT route.
  • Give every seat on the bus its own AC power outlet and USB port so commuters can charge up while they get down(town)*
  • Create designated stops at cyclist-friendly trail ends.
  • Let people in all four corners of our city go to the library to “check out” one of a limited number of passes to our community funded arts organizations, and make BRT transit a part of that package.
  • Create a local closed-circuit interactive news and entertainment program that exclusively loops on each bus that talks of weather, current affairs, and local community programming, including live music and comedy performances on one of the busses.
  • Host a LAN party bus (on a longer route) so that gamers can frag their way to work.
  • Offer a singles-only bus Thursday to Saturday nights that allow for speed dating sessions on the way to the bars.
  • Create a UP-style express bus that goes from the University and Fanshawe college gates to King & Clarence (a block from Via Rail) and King & Talbot (a block from Greyhound).

Perhaps some of these ideas seem unfeasible, and perhaps seem unrelated to the interests of the broader population (or even those who are considered to be the LTC’s traditional ridership); however, I think what those of us who were advocating for transit were really hoping for is a different sort of experience in transit from our city so that we could overcome the stigma associated with “taking the bus” in London. So, to put it bluntly, really, why can’t we “progressives” turn our attention to advocating for changing the experiences from our bias against the bus to rethinking what taking the bus could mean?

We have a city full of creative, forward-thinking, and energetic minds… Let’s #hackthebus and see what we can come up with that will make other cities take note of what we can do with what we have, not what we can do that’s already been done. And of course, please feel free to comment with your own ideas for making commutes in London unique and freaking awesome…

And to contribute on Twitter, tag it with #hackthebus #ldnont.

*Cut me some slack, it’s late and I’m rushing through this…

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Open Letter #3 – Our Last Opportunity

Dear Councillor Brown,

I wanted to take this opportunity as a constituent in your ward – in advance of the vote later today – to provide one final, strong voice of advocacy in favour of approving the additional funds requested by Fanshawe College to build out the Kingsmill’s site as a phase II campus.

I read in the London Free Press this morning that you have spoken with constituents that have expressed that they don’t want you to vote ‘yes’, but I also know a large number of your constituents who do.

If I may – this is not about the popularity of the project, rather the stewardship of our city. Moreover, with all of this said and done, if we say ‘no’ to Fanshawe, what will Fanshawe say to themselves the next time they have a project that could be of benefit and value to London? What will Western say to themselves when they wonder where to expand next? What will the critically important 21st Century advanced manufacturing, digital media, and biotech firms say when they consider London but need the support of the City for servicing and infrastructure? Will they say “London’s the City that will make sure we get what we need” or will they say “London’s the place that will throw roadblocks, speedbumps, and refusals in our way”?

If London is to be known as a “can do” town for industry, healthcare, and education, we must walk that talk and live by those principles.

The vote today will have an impact long beyond the close of this council, and I believe a ‘no’ for Fanshawe – even if it’s so that the matter can be left to ‘the next council’ or cushioned by an alternative plan such as the one suggested by Councillor Swan – will dramatically and profoundly hurt London’s opportunities with a broad array of other partners in both the long and short-term future.

I have copied the City Clerk on this email and it will be posted as an open letter on my blog at

Thank you again for your time and consideration,
Adam Caplan

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A Response & A Reply Re. Fanshawe and Kingsmills

Note: I received a response on Saturday afternoon from Councillor Denise Brown, I have asked her permission to post it here, and will do so in the event that she grants that permission. The following is my reply to her response.

To: Councillor Denise Brown
cc: Janette MacDonald, Joel Adams, Bob Usher

Hello, Councillor Brown,

Thank you for your speedy reply and for the additional information. With your permission, I will post your reply on my blog alongside my response (the latter will be posted at just after I hit ‘send’ on this email).

To begin, I don’t envy your circumstance – stewarding a city of this size isn’t easy, and I know making the ‘right’ choice may not mean making a popular choice, or even a choice that represents a clear plurality or majority. And yet, in spite of this, you are expected to make the ‘best’ choice – one that will likely not please everyone. Unenviable, indeed.

It is for this reason that I won’t attempt to “armchair quarterback” past decisions, nor will I address the nuances of the proposal’s history and changes as David Billson, CEO of digital media company rtraction and chair of the Pillar Non Profit Board, has done so fabulously in this post on

Instead, I want to focus on some of the objections you – among others – have raised regarding this latest proposal and the reasons I would feel compelled to say ‘yes’ to this latest ask were I in your position.

I’ll start with the elephant in the room. Fanshawe has come back to the City, seeing Council as the most expedient way to offset the increased costs of their downtown expansion due to an opportunity that simply wasn’t available in 2011: The purchase and renovation of the Kingsmill’s building.

I’ve spoken with some people who feel that – as you’ve mentioned – the initial ask was promised to cover both the current and the second campus, and that now Fanshawe is seeking to take advantage of the City. This view seems to have been met with a ‘fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me‘ conceit and certainly your response suggests you were viewing this matter through that lens.

I don’t believe that Fanshawe is heading back to an ‘easy trough’ with the latest ask; rather, I believe that the College has seen the benefits of being in Downtown London and wishes to ‘double down’ by adding not 1000 students, but 60% more than the original projection, with capacity to grow to 100% more students – 2000 in total, at a cost of half the initial investment.

Additionally, Fanshawe is not the only beneficiary of this plan: That these students will be a boon to our City is indisputable and the Brantford Study figures referenced by both David Billson and Emerging Leaders certainly supports this position. I’m certain our current, fiscally responsible Council would not have endorsed the initial plan were this not the case.

I’ve also heard the sentiment expressed (and again, your reply also indicated) that Fanshawe seems to have enough money to advance this on their own. I’m no financial whiz, and I have not looked through the College’s financial statements, but in any case, the questions around ‘how much money does Fanshawe actually have‘ really ought to be asked of the institution’s officials, not left to conjecture by the community.

With that said, we have most certainly learned one thing from the first ‘no‘ that we handed the College: if they were bluffing – and we did call their bluff – the fact that the institution let the deal expire should tell us something about their financial position (either that, or they have an awesome poker face).

Similarly, and relating to your concern about the source of the $100,000 per year for the next decade being offered by LDBA (which, as you know, is a business improvement area that has its budget – I believe – based on an enforced levy of downtown merchants rather than the broader London tax base, and is being offered from a constituent group that contributes 9% of the City’s tax revenue), I feel this is also best not left to conjecture, rather these questions should be put to the staff and board of LDBA at committee so that Council can make the most informed choice. I have copied Janette MacDonald, Bob Usher, and Joel Adams on this email so they can have an opportunity to provide a response in this forum, should they so choose.

With that said, if LDBA has chosen to commit to working with community partners in a fundraising effort to provide this support without compromising existing programming, their loud advocacy for this project should – if nothing else – demonstrate how much that organization and its constituent merchant members want this deal to happen. It’s important to note that this support, I’m given to understand, is mirrored by the offices of the City Manager, the Planning Department, and the City Treasurer, the latter indicating the full ask can be covered with no increased burden on the taxpayer.

It’s also been raised that Fanshawe is an academic institution, and as such it’s up to the Province to fund this initiative. From what I understand the reason Fanshawe is expanding is to accommodate organic growth of their program through that Provincial funding. Given that the funding of higher education is the responsibility of other levels of government, the assertion that London should not be footing the bill for these programs is correct; however, it seems to me that the issue is not one of funding the education program, but rather of how to pay for the facilities infrastructure required for new space, and – more to the point – where to put that new space. Again, from what I understand – capital infrastructure has historically been supported by institutional fundraising, and by all three levels of government, including Municipal, and thus this request is not out of order.

A prime example and analog of this model can be found with our community’s hospitals: operations and care are funded Federally and Provincially, but it’s regarded as the responsibility of the host community – through local fundraising and municipal government – to provide a significant financial contribution towards the infrastructure that – with the support of the other levels of government – will house those services.

I think it’s reasonable to assume that Fanshawe could choose to put these facilities virtually anywhere in London; specifically, they could choose to place the new facility in a part of the City that’s far less expensive to build on, even if they were building from scratch. I believe that Fanshawe has chosen – in part – to locate downtown because London has asked both Fanshawe and Western to bring some of their facilities (and their very valuable students and faculty) into our core. That it may be to the benefit of those institutions doesn’t negate the fact that the City can benefit as well – and, in the context of the selected location, the benefit weighs disproportionately in favour of the City in the long term. My view is that Fanshawe is asking that the City help support the further move into the downtown simply because it’s more expensive to buy and renovate in the core rather than place the facilities at a site in another, under-developed section of the City rather than the place we need it most.

Aside from all of the above, the simple truth is that London needs this. We need energetic, vibrant youth to come into the downtown and bring new life and infill density to our core. We need our City’s elected body to recognize one of those rare opportunities that can – relatively painlessly – be a catalyst in a broader sea change that will benefit all citizens of our City.

We also need to think about the messages were sending to large institutions beyond Fanshawe and Western. With our City gaining an enviable, global reputation for innovations in health sciences, advanced manufacturing, and digital media, opportunities for high-value, knowledge worker and skilled labour jobs are not just on the horizon, but at our doorstep; When it comes to the organizations who are choosing London over other places around the World, do we really want to be know as ‘The City That Won’t’ rather than ‘The City That Can’?

Finally, I’ve also heard it said that a lot of London taxpayers don’t want their hard-earned money going to the Downtown because they never go there; or that Fanshawe shouldn’t get their money because their kids are going to another school; or don’t have kids that will attend Fanshawe; or that they’re already paying enough tuition to the school on their children’s behalf. Well, in our city we have a lot of facilities I never use; a lot of programs I don’t have need for; and a lot of projects that I’m not necessarily supportive of. The reason I don’t write letters to you (or to the paper) and decry them is that I know that these places, programs, and projects are important to other people, and that sharing resources to make our City a great place to live for everyone is what can make us a stronger, more vibrant, and prosperous community today, and tomorrow.

Please let me know if I can provide anything further, and I thank you for your tine and continuing consideration in this matter,

Adam Caplan

Posted in London, London Ontario, Ontario | 4 Comments

Fanshawe & Kingsmill’s: An Open Letter To Denise Brown

To: Councillor Denise Brown, Ward 11
CC: Janette MacDonald, Executive Director, Downtown London

Dear Councillor Brown,

I am writing to you today to strongly advocate that you accept Downtown London’s proposal to re-open discussions regarding providing municipal support for Fanshawe College’s interest in purchasing the Kingsmill’s building referenced in this London Free Press article. I have copied Janette MacDonald on this email.

I am a constituent in your ward, and I chose to take this opportunity – the first time I have written to a City Councillor as an advocate for any matter facing our City – because I believe this issue is of critical importance to our community’s vibrant future. We – as a Community – need our leadership to be able to see the opportunity that has been presented to us and to make informed, considered, and forward-thinking decisions on our behalf. In my mind, the decision to support Fanshawe College’s Gown-to-Town expansion is an easy one.

The dollars – over 10 years – that Fanshawe College is asking for is not onerously nor egregiously unreasonable, in fact, I believe that investment will be returned time and again by the College’s students as they spend money on food, supplies, entertainment, and lodging. One need look no further than the intersections of Queen and McCaul and Dundas and McCaul Streets in Toronto and their proximity to OCAD to see what an impact an influx of talented students can have on a neighbourhood.

And the College is aware of this responsibility to return value to our community: I recently toured the current facility that Fanshawe has on Market Lane and – in addition to marvelling at the architecture and the state-of-the-art facilities – I was impressed and delighted to learn they have no cafeteria nor any large dining area. Students are expected to use the Market and other public spaces to purchase and consume meals. There was even discussion that the Market was looking into accepting Fanshawe Meal Plan Cards!

Finally, to provide a bit of context (and transparency), I am a small business owner operating in the downtown – I have a video production company called – and I depend upon Fanshawe College for my staff. I currently employ 2 full time individuals, and 2 part-time individuals. Each of these very talented people attended Fanshawe College. The two part-timers are seeking to build their own small businesses, and in one case, with much success; in fact, she has started accepting co-op students from the College, and hires her own production assistants from time to time, a circumstance that I know will only increase in the time to come.

My parents are also business owners and my family has property in the core, property that our family hopes will see assessment valuation growth and consequently return more property tax to the City in the future. Fanshawe’s growing presence, the services and products their faculty and students will undoubtedly consume, and the opportunities for new ventures that will arise from the more entrepreneurially-minded young people are the right ingredients to make that hope a reality.

In summary, each of the points above are just some of the  many reasons why your leadership and consideration for this initiative should be re-examined and ultimately supported.

Thank you for your time and consideration, and please do feel free to contact me if I can be of any assistance.

Adam Caplan
Founder and Principal

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The Spaces Between Us

Note: This is the first in a series meant to inform our municipal election. I’m not running for office myself, so I’ve created an “Open Source” political platform to help form consensus for the next four years – and beyond – in London, Ontario.

The Spaces Between Us – Part I: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

My job affords me the truly astounding privilege of some unique insights into our community, and among those insights is the opportunity to witness firsthand the sort of awesome talent in digital media and content creation that our city’s institutions of higher education – specifically Western and Fanshawe – are able to produce. During my time at EK3, and in my current position, I’ve reviewed some truly remarkable portfolios, and been profoundly inspired by what I’ve seen.

So when, a few years back, I was invited to a personal tour of our Province’s premiere digital media incubator – nGen – I happily made the drive across an Ontario not yet recovered from the ravages of Winter to visit Jeff Chesebrough at the next-generation facility he’d founded.

Jeff toured me around the state-of-the-art building, showing me millions of dollars in digital and interactive media creation tools: professional digital film edit bays, Hollywood-calibre visual effects workstations, two $50,000 RED camera kits, rapid prototyping industrial 3D printers, and the most advanced 3D motion capture studio on the East Coast of North America – all available to everyone in Canada at aggressively competitive rental rates.

Where was this marvellous facility? Toronto? Kitchener-Waterloo? Ottawa?

It’s in St. Catharines.

“We knew we had a ‘if we build it they will come’ situation here, and where we located was less important than what we provided access to” Jeff said in his office after the tour.

“See, people in Toronto, they don’t see us as St. Catharines, London, K-W,” Jeff continued, his gliding hands pointing to an imaginary map in the space between us above his desk. “They see us as the rest of Ontario.”

His arms went wide – inclusive. “And Montreal or Halifax? They don’t see us as Toronto, St. Catharines, London. They see us as ‘Ontario’, and BC sees us all as Eastern Canada, and the US sees all of us as Canada, and Europe sees us as North America, and so on and so on.”

I suddenly saw what he meant: If Canada is to take full advantage of the global supply chain of innovative manufacturing and digital media creation that has rapidly grown to our doorstep, we need to match the awesome talent coming out of our schools with the best-in-class physical tools, resources, knowledge and opportunities that are being developed around the World.

Yet without the ability to easily, affordably, and frequently access those facilities, plus the other people and ideas it obviously attracts, many of us (and right now I mean London) will be excluded from the opportunities that are being created there.

Some folks have proposed that we focus on locally replicating commercialization and incubation centres – across a variety of sectors and industry – using a ‘Made in London’ philosophy to tailor each facility to our needs. The challenge I see with this approach is two-fold: first, unlike the nGen philosophy of inclusion, I believe this strategy would serve to isolate London from national and global opportunities by creating a competitive bias; and second, it’s unrealistic and fiscally impossible to replicate all of these centres here in London.

To find the answer, I find myself echoing the sentiments of Kevin Kelly, who has famously suggested that “Access is better than ownership,” and that we are moving towards a time when owning something – even as a municipality – is less desirable than gaining access to that thing.

Yet, try to book a train or a bus ticket to St. Catharines and you’ll find that your only options take hours (the Greyhound bus trip is 5 hours each way, Via doesn’t offer an option), so, realistically, the only option is to drive, which ends up excluding many of the very talented young (and not so young) people that could benefit most from the nGen media incubator.

So following up on a brilliant idea and campaign created and executed by Kadie Ward over at Build Strong Cities: What if we connect our community to the rest of Ontario and Canada with affordable, convenient rail and public transit (bus) to access all of the world-class facilities and opportunities in our Province? The secondary benefit to this plan is we would also end up providing the World with access to the one-of-a-kind resources (some of which are chronicled here) that we are so proud to host in our City.

For the first part of my open source civic platform, I propose that the next council make it a priority to work with the Province and the Feds to build a regional public transit hub – with London at its centre – that would employ rapid rail and bus service to connect our region’s talent, skills, and ideas to the facilities, resources, innovations and jobs that exist only a few hours away. In turn, we can open our doors to a World of opportunities, because when it comes to so many facilities and World-class resources, ‘we’ in London have already ‘built it’, now we need to help ‘them’ come here to access it.

In my next post, I’ll talk about a conversation I had with a colleague about 8 years ago, and why his – again – brilliant and simple idea makes more sense today than it did back then.

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Before The Gloves Come Off

I’m of the belief that all citizens of London, Ontario want to live in a city that we continue to be proud to call home; a place that people from around the globe aspire to emigrate to; a place where global businesses see a future bright with opportunity for growth and innovation; a place where the next generation chooses to live as they start a family, a career, or even launch a new startup.

It also seems to me that London, Ontario finds itself looking through a rapidly closing window of opportunity; a unique and precious moment in time wherein I believe we ought to make a commitment to ourselves as a community – if for no other reason than for the sake of democracy.

And so, in this time, before a gauntlet is thrown and before any gloves come off;
Before lines are drawn in the sand, and missives slung like missiles;
Before fingers get pointed, and motives questioned;
Before the first salvos are fired on the virtual fields of social media…

…I think we ought to agree that rather than use digital media to tear down those that hope to lead, we should use those same digital tools to help all candidates imagine a bright, prosperous future for ourselves and for our children.

So in the race towards October 27, 2014, I appeal to all Londoners:

That when opponents opine;
When voices on the radio scorn and scoff;
When ink is put to press, and bits to blogs;
When armchair policy-makers comment, tweet, post, and poke from the safety and comfort of their, well, armchairs…

…that, when these things happen, before you hit publish, or like, or comment, or tweet, or retweet, please remember this:

We all know their records, just as we all know how they spin, but if we spend the next nine months focusing on the missteps of the past (and I’m referring to incumbents and challengers alike), we’re going to miss out on an opportunity to clarify aspirations for our city, provide a Council with a considered mandate, and unite our community behind a shared goal that benefits all of us.

Democracy has provided us the time to engage in a dynamic, exciting, and visionary exploration of what our City is truly capable of achieving, and by working together towards our shared success we can craft a considered, compassionate and creative vision for prosperity and happiness for all the citizens of London, Ontario.

Finally, if none of the above has convinced you, please – above all else – do remember that the World is reading, listening, and watching.

It’s up to us to decide what they’ll know about Canada’s London.

Posted in London Ontario | 2 Comments

Don’t Let Social Media Become the Internet’s Catty Corner

Nearly a decade ago, I sent a very angry e-mail to a group of colleagues at the startup company I was working for at the time.  It was rancorous, it was self-righteous, above all… I was right, goldarnit.

Shortly after I sent the missive, my boss – the CEO of the 80-person-strong startup I was at – called me.  It was strange that he used the phone rather than replying to the email.  It was stranger that he didn’t just walk the three doors that separated our offices; but no… he called me.

“Do you have a minute?” he asked. “Can you come see me in my office?”

I was suddenly nervous and wondered if it had to do with the email I’d just sent out.  I was pretty sure my job was safe, but… one never knows.

When I arrived at his office moments later, his back was to the door while my email was splayed (in very large text) across his screen.

“Adam,” he began timidly, slowly turning in his chair Bond-villain-style. “I know you’ve been a consultant for a long time, and aren’t yet accustomed to working in a group setting.  That’s why this is a really important thing for you to know now… before it becomes a problem.”

I was ashen.  OK – I was ashen-er than I usually appear.  I had really screwed up – big.  Lecture from the CEO big.  Then he made one statement to me – a question, really… almost rhetorical, but somehow pointed.  A dull sort of sharp, like the edge of a letter-opener.

“Before you send an email like this, ask yourself: Would you say this aloud – in person – to the people you’re sending it to?”

I rethought the email in my mind and realized that no… I most certainly wouldn’t ‘have the [guts]’ (as he would later say to me) to say this in person to any of the recipients of the email.

I think this same rule applies, perhaps more-so, to social media vehicles like Twitter, Facebook and even comments on blogs and YouTube. All the time, it seems, I see short barbs carried across the tubes that would have no place in casual conversation with a group where there are contrary views, or even intimate chat between two individuals who are at odds.  People have no problem, for instance, twittering about politician X’s latest misstep, whereas they would have no ability to speak their displeasure in the presence of that party.

Far too frequently I see Tweets or Facebook Fan Page posts flung indiscriminately as bait that is clearly designed to entice a contrarian response (as with Mr. Clement’s most recent Twitter spars with those for and against the census issue).  Much of the time, the subject of such attacks are derided for “not getting the two-way” of social media when, in fact, such a comment wouldn’t merit a response in TRL.

In one particular circumstance, a Social Media aficionado declared that (paraphrasing) they were going to ‘unfollow’ a particular local politician because they were too one-way: Highlighting the notion that this politician was using social media to broadcast their achievements but bemoaning the fact that they weren’t listening to the other people in the social media space.  To this I say the following:

I would do exactly the same… as the politician.

Social media is not a private conversation; indeed, on the contrary, it’s a super public, archived forum.  I wouldn’t expect a politician to candidly go on record regarding a hot topic in a private conversation with me, and were I a political advisor, I wouldn’t suggest that anyone, ever, express an opinion on a hot issue in < 140 chars that hadn’t been carefully crafted and considered by about 20 politically-minded copywriters (and if you think that Obama is actually writing even 1/140th of any Tweet, well… I’ve got ocean-front property in in Calgary to sell you).

If you take issue with a politician – especially a local one – or even if you take issue with a politician’s party’s policy… make an appointment and go see them.  If you’re a constituent, it’s almost unheard of for them to refuse you an audience.  It may take a week (or five), but they will see you, and they will listen, and they will respond.

If you want more out of a brand… write a letter, or speak to a manager, or stop doing business with them.  Heck, I’ve been seriously guilty of slapping a brand via Twitter (, and I’ve even considered “Liking” an Anti-[Insert hated company here] page on Facebook, but it’s rare that I do something about it (other than boycott Bell and McDonalds – my favourite brand hate-ons), so I’m certainly guilty of using my online persona as a passive-aggressive shield as well…

The argument I often hear back is “These companies/politicians/public figures should communicate with me the way I want to be communicated with”, to which I reply “Horsepucky” (to borrow a phrase from M*A*S*H).  Organizations of any size have finite resources, and can’t respond to every single social media meme that starts getting press.  E-Mail, snail-mail and phone support still work – as does walking into a store or an office and making one’s case.  Just because you send 2000 tweets a day and @yourleastlikedbiz has a Twitter handle doesn’t make them fair game.

And that’s the point.  If you want a two-way conversation – especially one that’s controvercial with ANYONE, politician, your favourite brand, or band, or (again) anyone — don’t hide behind an avatar (even if it is a reasonably well-represented likeness) ask yourself if you’d have the [guts] to say it to their face… the same litmus test you’d use with e-mail.

If you have a problem with this post, give me a call, and we’ll discuss it over a beer or a coffee.  I’ll even buy it for you.

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Robin & Sagi Mini-blog

For all of the friends and family following this blog – please check out my mini blog of Robin & Sagi’s wedding. You can find it at and I promise to update it with the latest and greatest from the Wedding festivities (along with points of interest from here in Israel) as the week goes on!

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Canada 3.0 And The Illusion Of Scarcity

Canada 3.0 Conference LogoThe other night I was having dinner with a friend and her teen-aged daughter who – not unlike many of her age – was struggling with the idea that some people, specifically those of a ‘wiser’ generation, just didn’t understand things like the Internet, Facebook, iPods, and the like. We tried to explain to her that, as someone who had never spent a day in her life “un-connected” from the always-on global network, she looked at the world through a radically different lens than many of her elders, and that different point of view represented a massive shift in perspective.  She remained unconvinced until a hypothetical was posed…

“What if” her mother asked, “tomorrow there was no Internet, and no cellphones… how would your life be different?”

Ashen panic crossed the youngster’s face… “Don’t – I mean… you can’t!”

That existentialist crisis is at the root of the unsettling feelings that consumed me as I emerged from Canada 3.0 a few weeks ago: That while there is a digerati (the digital-minded ‘elite’) in Canada that live and breathe the digital lifestyle every day, they are largely unable to guide the rest of the population, including those in industry, government, and even academia, towards a digital future because the digerati – the early adopters – and the non-digerati – the mid-to-late adopters – are looking at the world through radically different, fundamentally incompatible lenses.

Digital Beings

Being Digital, as Nicholas Negroponte so articulately expressed in his thusly titled seminal book, is a wholesale paradigm shift  – it is, as its name implies, an all or nothing proposition; a binary code – a 1 or a 0. One either thinks digitally, or one doesn’t – there is rarely a middle ground that can be found.  The inherent challenge that emerges as a direct result of this polarization is at the root of the crisis we Canadians face if we’re to catch up with much of the rest of the developed world, digitally speaking, and this challenge was the core conceit of Canada 3.0.

Yet, to borrow a phrase from the great Leonard Cohen, there is a crack in everything… where the light gets in, and this circumstance is no different.  Despite the black-and-white chasm between digerati and non-digerati, there is a massive grey area when it comes to consumerism and technology adoption.   For technology to be adopted, even by the digerati, it needs to be both useful and valuable.  When we reflect on the digital technologies that have achieved wide adoption – and I’m specifically thinking of digital cameras, iPods and e-Mail – there has always been a clear analog and an established use that the digital realm, also known as bits, simply did a better job at accomplishing for the user than its meatspace counterpart… commonly referred to as atoms.  Indeed, with each leap from atoms to bits – truly a black and white distinction, there’s been a shallow pool for non-digerati to dip their toe in – a comfortable, easy-to-use, familiar killer app that’s driven broader adoption.

For example, E-mail, widely considered the killer app of web 1.0 Internet adoption, has a natural analogy to paper snail mail. To, From, Subject and Signature are all remnants of dead-tree letter writing… even “CC” and “BCC” (carbon copy and blind carbon copy, respectively) are remnants of this atom-based communication methodology. Napster and YouTube, while relatively new, are still familiar ways to consume familiar content (linear, non-interactive music and video), and each has, in its own way, driven broadband adoption and demand.  Finally, Facebook, by using us and our friends as a familiar source of valuable content, is actually driving much of the adoption of mobile digital technology (AKA web 3.0), and is even furthering much of the understanding and adoption of web 2.0 sharing practices among non-digerati.

The Slow Tectonic Shift

If consumers are slow to adopt, then it serves to follow that industry, too, is slow to change. While there are many risk-takers, the vast majority of those in business are risk-averse and protectionist – a completely understandable practice given the pressures of having to be responsible for the massive volume of livelihoods and standards of living that are at stake. Businesses people, especially those in big business know that when new threats or opportunities emerge, play to your strengths and shore up your weaknesses — trust your instincts, work with what you know, and above all when drafting a strategy: Stick to the fundamentals.

While much of the strategic thinking – and the tactics they produced – may have worked in a pre-digital era, there has been one, fundamental shift that is causing tremendous disruptions in the strategic planning process across a variety of industries.  It’s a big, lumbering shift that is causing all manner of headaches and keeps executives and politicians lying awake at night. Simply put, the shift is that our newly minted digital economy is moving us from being driven by scarcity to being founded on abundance.

Buh-bye Scarcity, Hulllllloooo Abundance

Scarcity, as Chris Anderson has discussed in not one, but two significant tomes (The Long Tail and Free: The Future of a Radical Price), is a venerable concept that has served our economic thinking for literally thousands of years. Trade and markets are governed by it: Scarcity of commodities such as oil and agriculture drives the price of said items up… abundance drives the price down. Consider the final scene of “Trading Places” where Dan Ackroyd and Eddie Murphy make a killing by convincing the marketplace (illegaly, mind you) that there wouldn’t be enough oranges to fulfil demand for the world’s yen for frozen concentrated orange juice. The presumed scarcity drove the price of orange futures sky high, and when the price had gone as high as it could go, it was revealed that there would be an abundance of oranges that would easily meet demand and the price bottomed out faster than you can say frozen concentrated orange juice.  Summary: Few oranges – high price.  Lots of oranges – low price.

In the digital age, scarcity of many products – largely media related, but certainly not limited to that arena – is, by-and-large, a non-issue. With concepts such as the limitless shelf space of iTunes, and emerging business practices like on-demand production techniques at, we are continuing to make great strides towards abundance.  Yet the vast majority of industry – certainly here in Canada – is determined to try to preserve scarcity as the arbiter of its pricing and economic models, even if they need to artificially create it.

The Illusion of Scarcity

In order to acheive this illusion of scarcity, Canadian media (content) and ICT (Information & Communication Technologies — i.e. conduit) industry veterans are looking to government to aid them in this effort.  These providers need things like digital locks on devices that are protected by ‘copyright law’ – not so they can stop piracy, although that’s part of it – but so that they can continue to be the exclusive purveyors of narrowly licensed content.  They also want government to let them continue to ‘manage’ the Internet (that, by the way, the government has subsidized with our tax dollars) so that it is not a level playing field, but rather resembles the way our Cable and satellite TV packages are productized today.  The natural evolution of this practice will end, not with a freely accessible abundance of content and Websites, but rather with a programmed, pay-per-service or pay-per-tier productization (i.e. scarcity) of content (startling thought experiment example here).

If this seems silly and impossible, consider how we Canadians access our Internet, our media content, and our mobile telecommunications currently:

  • Internet: We choose from a dog’s breakfast of plans, each with bandwidth caps and speed limits. While Internet access is actually abundant, the big 3 networks keep telling us (without providing the documentation) that network capacity is perilously close to failing, and thus they need to ‘manage’ the access to the network by limiting speeds on specific types of files, and the source of those files, that we transfer over the Internet. More importantly, the artificially scarce marketplace is anti-competitive, and as the upstream providers control the marketplace under an oligopoly, there is limited opportunity for new entrants and competitors to level the marketplace and provide a so-called neutral net.
  • Media Content: Most people, digerati included, are still very much in an un-digital mindset for the content we consume, even if the content is delivered digitally. We still “move” the content around from device to device (i.e. CD to computer to iPod), rather than recognizing that every piece of digital content is always available virtually anywhere. Additionally, for the most part, the content is hardened, meaning that producers rarely sell or otherwise provide the components of a work (e.g. unmixed tracks or unedited scenes) so that consumers and others in their industry can remix it to their liking (or play it in the default setting).
  • Mobile Telecommunications: Rather than paying for wireless network access that we can do with as we please, we’re offered plans that create an artificial limit on voice minutes, texts, data, and even certain content types. As a particularly dangerous example of this mode of artificial scarcity, consider this promotion for Rogers Wireless which promises “…free, unlimited access to the most popular social networking sites and more.” for only 50$ per month. Consider what that would mean if one was on the Internet – Pay 50$ per month for free, unlimited access to Facebook, otherwise it’ll cost 99¢ every time you view it (or be entirely inaccessible until you subscribe to Roger’s ‘Facebook channel’ – again, thought experiment here). Even today, Rogers, Bell and Telus are using exclusive content (and using digital locks to secure it) to differentiate their products, rather than fundamental value propositions like speed, price, or quality of service.

In each case, there is a demonstrable illusion of scarcity, and to be fair, in the short term, this artificial scarcity will protect profits and jobs… but in the long run, as the world around us moves with the digital shift from scarcity to abundance, Canada will be left with precisely what scarcity promises: very little.

New Technologies, New Monetization Models

The ironic thing is that there is arguably a lot more money to be made in exploiting abundance, and certainly more ability to influence the consumption behavior of your customers. When you combine abundance with disintermediation – the act of removing steps between consumers and producers – you end up with a need for filters and aggregators that can help consumers navigate the abundance of content. More choice equals more value to the consumer in helping them find what they want… Less choice means that consumers will find alternate ways to access the plethora of content, even if that means turning to illegal means to get the content they want the way that they want it.  It’s also cheaper to deliver to them, and you can charge (yes, charge) content producers for introducing their wares to your customers.  You also get to learn a lot about your customers and can start to curate not only content, but products, services, and even other people for them; BUT, in order to accomplish this, you must start from a place of abundance, and not from a place of scarcity.

At Canada 3.0, digerati and industry squared off, but neither was really listening to the other. The content stream (that I participated in), had a number of digerati, but was largely influenced by and populated with members from traditional industry; However, far from reaching consensus, the digerati and non-digerati communities were staunchly holding to their 1’s and their 0’s, and rather than focus on mechanisms for adoption of digital tools to support abundance – the only grey area in the discourse – the dialogue became increasingly polarized.  In the end, what emerged after two days of discussing Canada’s ‘Moonshot’ – our national digital strategy – was ultimately tilted towards the protection of the illusion of scarcity rather than the exploitation of abundance.

While my friend’s daughter may never wake up in a world without an abundant Internet and her mobile phone, the rest of Canada may one day wake up to what a lot of the rest world already knows – there’s no future in scarcity.

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Social Media for the Arts: An Un-Conference

After a conversation with Andrea Halwa, Executive Director at The London Arts Council, followed by a subsequent conversation with Carol Kehoe, Partnerships Manager at Museum London, I have become involved in organizing an Un-Conference on Social Media for the Arts.

This event will feature a full-day of sessions and discussions that seeks to connect artists, art administrators, and even art dealers with the social media practitioners and enthusiasts who can help them understand the value, potential, and benefits of new media.  London’s very own social media experts, Titus Ferguson and Bill Deys are on board as the event’s key organizers.

For this podcamp-style event, we’re currently seeking sponsorship, and will soon be requesting speakers.

In order to help potential sponsors and speakers understand our intentions and plans, this document describes our work to this point on this conference.

Social Media And The Arts Overview (PDF)

Feel free to contact me with any questions!

Posted in General, London Ontario, New Media & Society | Leave a comment