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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage

Transition Web project: recommendations report
Several authors, Transition Network
… Right from the first few conversations in the mists of transition time, it became clear that we needed to facilitate systems that enabled three things to happen:

  • quick and easy internet presence for groups
  • community networking platform
  • knowledge sharing platform

Initially, we envisaged this as a single solution or platform, a kind of “build it and they will come” response to these requirements. Over time, we’ve shifted our focus to a much more distributed architecture, and we now think of that shift as being “from skyscraper to ecosystem”.

… There are a few differences, in web terms, between a skyscraper and an ecosystem. The former is expensive, difficult to maintain, goes out of date quickly, is centralised and doesn’t guarantee take up. But it is very tidy in a web architecture diagram. An ecosystem, however, is messier, cheaper, tougher to manage, much more resilient and, by virtue of its inclusive design, guarantees take up by a significant number of initiatives.

On our travels, we’ve encountered a few skyscrapers, and we’re continually struck by their out-of-datedness, their costs, their top-down orientation and their lack of resilience — particularly with regard to their dependence on a single developer (or very small team). That’s the route to ulcers and a very bad use of our meagre resources.

So what does a web “ecosystem” look like? We have some great diagrams that will do the job of 10,000 words, but in essence, this web system ecosystem:

  • encourages conversations to be face to face
  • involves social processes as well as technology
  • starts small and stays nimble
  • captures and makes available write-ups of projects undertaken by initiatives around the world
  • affords space to elements and solutions that are already in use and address the functional requirements listed above
  • links up these existing elements and alllows them to share assets
  • involves creating new elements
  • creates conditions for the emergence of self-organising elements
  • establishes key partnerships (eg with School Of Everything)

This project appears to be breaking new ground with considerable interest already generated among the open-source development crowd. It goes against the trend of a) building skyscrapers, b) focusing on individuals (a la Facebook) and c) ignoring social processes.

Instead, we’re recommending a distributed ecosystem that’s designed around nested networks of groups, that is underpinned by social processes and protocols that put humans face to face as much as possible and that pulls together the key shareable asset — project write-ups — so that each community can stand on the shoulders of others that have gone before.
(4 June 2009)
Rob Hopkins comments at Transition Culture:
Transition Network is seeking someone who can carry out the job set out in this Job Description, orchestrating the development and implementation of Transition Network’s new, and rather wonderful, web strategy. We envisage a marriage between process and technology to create the mechanisms for transitioners to connect, share energy and information, and get/give support. In the words of one of the attendees of the Web strategy presentation at our recent conference “That’s the best web strategy I’ve seen since I first got involved in the internet and software in 1994.

FTC plans to monitor blogs for claims, payments

Deborah Yao, Associated Press
Savvy consumers often go online for independent consumer reviews of products and services, scouring through comments from everyday Joes and Janes to help them find a gem or shun a lemon.

What some fail to realize, though, is that such reviews can be tainted: Many bloggers have accepted perks such as free laptops, trips to Europe, $500 gift cards or even thousands of dollars for a 200-word post. Bloggers vary in how they disclose such freebies, if they do so at all.

The practice has grown to the degree that the Federal Trade Commission is paying attention. New guidelines, expected to be approved late this summer with possible modifications, would clarify that the agency can go after bloggers — as well as the companies that compensate them — for any false claims or failure to disclose conflicts of interest.
(21 June 2009)
I think the bigger problem is covert support of bloggers for political lobbying. Corporations and political groups can influence public opinion via the web, for which there are fewer safeguards than the traditional media.

A review of three ‘sort-of’ post-oil novels

Frank Kaminski, Seattle Peak Oil Awareness

Prairie Fire: A Novel
By Dan Armstrong
483 pp. iUniverse, Inc. – Apr. 2007. $25.95.

Taming the Dragon: A Novel
By Dan Armstrong
163 pp. iUniverse, Inc. – Feb. 2007. $13.95.

The Carhullan Army
By Sarah Hall
209 pp. Faber and Faber – Aug. 2007. £14.99.
U.S. release – Apr. 2008, under the title Daughters of the North (240 pp., $13.95).

The year 2007 is when novels depicting a world after peak oil can truly be said to have arrived. Just as prices were surging at the pumps, so bookstore shelves were teeming with fiction that dared to imagine what life might resemble once there was no gas left at all.

The subject of oil’s peak and decline served as the very raison d’être of two of these novels from 2007 (Andreas Eschbach’s sublime Ausgebrannt and Alex Scarrow’s ridiculous Last Light), but it figured more subtly in the remaining books. These latter novels—let’s call them “sort-of” post-oil novels, for lack of a better term—featured peak oil as merely one in a smorgasbord of issues, some of the others being climate change, depleting grain reserves, and the loss of rights and freedoms. Among these sort-of post-oil novels, Dan Armstrong’s Prairie Fire and Taming the Dragon, and Sarah Hall’s The Carhullan Army, are particularly notable.

I like Armstrong’s two novels a lot. Set concurrently in the near future, but on opposite sides of the globe, they tell two halves of the same story. It’s a complex, sharply written, melodramatic suspense yarn that manages to be at once as entertaining as any kind of Jason Bourne/Ethan Hunt adventure and as serious a treatment of today’s issues as an exposé by Upton Sinclair.

Hall’s Carhullan Army, in contrast, isn’t nearly so much to my liking. While the book caused quite a critical stir, I personally found it to be as wrongheadedly understated as Armstrong’s novels are vividly pointed, and as gratuitously oppressive and macabre as his are fun and exhilarating. Try as I might, I could not acclimate myself to that novel’s sense of morbid gloating, with recurrent images of ingesting feces, crows pecking out eyes, and maggots riddling carcasses (and even one live body) being particularly graphic examples of this ghastly motif. I don’t fault Hall for imagining a horrific post-oil future—I fault her for not being able to turn the horrifics into something more meaningful than mere malignant decoration. In short, reading Carhullan Army was an excruciating endurance test that proved as inconducive to worthwhile post-oil insights as it was to a healthy appetite. (2X June 2009)

I always like hearing about new books and authors that I am not familiar with. I will be checking out Dan Armstrong now! KS