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Geoff Daily

App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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April 29, 2008 11:10 AM

Complexity Prevents Change, Increases Opportunity

Last week after attending the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, I hightailed it back to DC to participate in the Spring 2008 Leadership Forum for the American Democracy Institute on Friday. The event gathered together dozens of young leaders who share a center left viewpoint on the world.

While aligned to fight against the conservative machine I didn't get the sense that these were people who were purists when it comes to liberal dogma. Instead most of the people I talked to seemed to fit within the progressive centrist or pragmatic progressive school of thought to which I belong.

My goal there was to network and spread the good word about the potential for using broadband to further whatever goals need to be set out for our country. But the politics isn't what caught my attention so much as the complexity of everything.

I'm not referring to the complexity of the event but instead of the challenges our country faces. For example, in one session we discussed how ideas can grow from the drawing board to affecting real action, exploring the specific example of pay-as-you-go auto insurance, which postulates that if we only had to pay insurance when we drove it'd create a system that would ultimately encourage people to drive less.

It was daunting to think about how complex the thoughts behind this idea are as well as the challenges it faces on the road to becoming standard practice, all so we can reduce demand for oil by a tiny fraction.

I found my head spinning while at the Expo in San Francisco as well. Going into the belly of the beast, it's remarkable how complex the process of developing applications is. I can't even tell you how many acronyms and jargon I encountered that to the layperson might as well have been written in Sanskrit.

And in talking with developers I repeatedly came across the theme that while the push to Web 2.0, which focuses on standardizing information so it can be shared across applications, is making some things easier, there are still so many variables like disparities in connectivity that developing applications can seem impossibly complex.

So we've got huge complex problems that require deep nuanced solutions, and increasingly sophisticated technologies that can solve many problems but require tremendous expertise to be developed.

Yet despite all this complexity, there's tremendous opportunity to be found if we can find ways to unite these two sides, leveraging sophisticated technology to solve complex problems.

And the people I met on the political side seem ready to embrace these possibilities. I continued to be impressed by the number of people I met who understand the need to start running government more like a business and to find solutions through the use of technology.

On the other side, I'm not yet sure if developers have embraced the challenge of solving real-world problems. The vast majority of what I saw at the Expo were self-referential technologies, applications that make social networking easy for everyone, that make applications easier to develop and distribute, that make sharing files with friends drag-and-drop simple.

What I don't understand is why developers continue to try and create new iterations of basic concepts that already exist in a dozen different forms. Instead, why not focus more of that creative energy on developing applications that truly innovate in providing new features and functionality, especially that which can help further the good of society rather than simply making life slightly easier for the narrow niche of tech-drunk early adopters.

I know this was the Web 2.0 Expo so I shouldn't have expected to find those applications that can change society, but even still I can't avoid feeling impassioned about the potential for innovation in the use of broadband to help solve the many complex problems we face as a society.

But in order to do that we've got to establish a more robust dialog between the people who are trying to change government and the developers who can make the applications to help accomplish these goals.

We need to set our sights on bettering society through the use of technology rather than looking at technology as an end unto itself.

The biggest thing I took away from this event in DC is that there's an urgent need to change the way government runs, and there's a dedicated group of young leaders setting out to accomplish that goal.

And within this dynamic I believe there's unlimited potential for applications developers to innovate in finding broadband-enabled solutions to our many problems, if only we can all see past the complexity to grasp the bigger picture that through broadband lies the potential a better tomorrow if only we can all work together to achieve it.

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