Thursday, June 29, 2006

Online Friends Don't Count

America is bowling alone, our latest social crisis. We are running out of confidants and our country is retreating into splendid isolation. Why is this happening?

We move too much.

Our extended families are all over the United States, if not the globe. If you want to talk about scattered, think of where your childhood friends now live, if you even know where they live. Our drive to find a better economic situation stresses the links of our network of trust.

This shrill is dripping with nostalgia, longing for a time when neighbors played bridge together. People still play bridge together, but online. There is little that is romantic about a ghetto, a place where people struggle to conform. And Americans are more connected than ever before.

Stoke the fire and cozy up to your favorite blog that tells all. Never in history have the lives of a people been so transparent to so many others. If anything, intimacy is overwhelming us.

Still think we don’t know enough about our neighbors?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Road is a Two-Way Street

During the Great Migration, a number of roads led to Pittsburgh. Before that, the city was perched on the edge of a great frontier. As the Rooneys recently reminded us, the region was the gateway to the West. Pittsburgh was built on the backs of immigrants.

For most of its past, the road has been very good to Pittsburgh. But moving is in the blood of its citizens. What attracted people to Pittsburgh would eventually lure them away from home, again.

Pittsburgh should celebrate this tradition, just as Fayette County is embracing its place in history along the National Road. Ex-Pittsburghers honor the frontier experience in Charlotte, Phoenix, and Tampa Bay. These new digs and new opportunities are a hyphenated identity. The Western Pennsylvanian is a traveller, taking Pittsburgh with them wherever they go.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Effacing the Political Landscape

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is probing where Charlotte, NC went right and Pittsburgh went wrong. The Post-Gazette plays up the different regional histories, but the key is the legal geography. Charlotte boomed because there was little restriction on development and business, including banking. Pittsburgh did well in the wake of banking deregulation, but that would only go so far in a region where political boundaries continue to frustrate creativity.

Want to know where the next boom will take place? Look for the legal frontier. Way back when, Pittsburgh used to be that place.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Kill Your E-mail Account

Spam and the sheer volume of messages are rendering e-mail exchanges unmanageable. Dealing with your inbox, particularly at work, is increasingly a time-suck instead of a time-saver. More and more businesses are turning to limited membership exchanges, such as instant messaging (IM).

E-mail accounts are only useful for subscriptions and other sign-ups that require some sort of accountability. But exclusive communities render even that need as vistigial. Closed virtual networks increase productivity while almost eliminating unwanted noise. Plus there is the added advantage of a priori archiving, allowing a manager to direct where certain types of exchanges will take place.

Dump your e-mail account and watch your spam concerns disappear.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Looking for Pittsburgh Optimism

If there is hope for Pittsburgh, that promising vision will likely come from beyond the region. I'm a Pittsburgh outsider and every time I visit the city, I see great potential. But when I interact with the local kingmakers and powerbrokers, I hear only pessimism. I wouldn't be the first person to remark on Pittsburgh's deeply fractured political landscape. I didn't notice much in the way of an opportunity to collaborate with any of the regional stakeholders.

The optimists and visionaries have all left Pittsburgh in search of this opportunity. During their journey far from home, they have encountered new ideas. That much of the talent has migrated away from the Pittsburgh region is a good thing. Now these economic nomads must reclaim their homeland.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Incredible Shrinking Cities

Nominal out-migration continues to dog Pittsburgh. During the period of July 1st, 2004-July 1st, 2005, Pittsburgh ranked 10th for fastest shrinking cities with populations over 100,000.

Pittsburgh city, Pennsylvania-1.3
Cleveland city, Ohio-1.3
New Orleans city, Louisiana-1.4
Detroit city, Michigan-1.4
Boston city, Massachusetts-1.5
Hialeah city, Florida-1.5
Fayetteville city, North Carolina-1.6
Cincinnati city, Ohio-1.6
St. Louis city, Missouri-1.8
Norfolk city, Virginia-2.3

This above list tracks population change, which includes replacement population (births and in-migration). Many of those leaving the city stay in the region. But for those who leave the area, where are they going?

Below is a list of the top 20 county destinations for people leaving Allegheny County from 1995-2000:

Cook CountyIL1,926
Maricopa CountyAZ1,804
Los Angeles CountyCA1,691
Fulton CountyGA1,118
Broward CountyFL1,072
Palm Beach CountyFL878
Pinellas CountyFL874
San Diego CountyCA872
Cobb CountyGA731
Santa Clara CountyCA638
District of ColumbiaDC633
Hillsborough CountyFL630
Orange CountyFL619
Volusia CountyFL588
Orange CountyCA569
DeKalb CountyGA541
Lee CountyFL530
Fairfield CountyCT475
New Castle CountyDE469
Sarasota CountyFL443

The top cities for the Burgh Diaspora are Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington, DC. Florida is clearly the top state, something not lost on Primanti Brothers.

Ex-Pittsburghers are chasing more than jobs. They are chasing sun and fun. Maybe those who went to Chicago could be enticed to return, but most of these economic migrants would be better served if someone brought Pittsburgh to them.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Lead-User Innovation

A dedicated few make the world of online communities go round. What blogs, wikis, and message boards reveal are the most talented knowledge workers. The select few act as guides while generating value. Tapping into this talent is proving to be quite lucrative, particularly in the world of marketing, as the article To Charge Up Customers, Put Customers in Charge indicates:

In a time of ever more talented technology enthusiasts, hobbyists and do-it-yourselfers, all connected by Internet-enabled communication... the most intensely engaged users of a product often find new ways to enhance it long before its manufacturer does. Thus... companies that aspire to stand out in fast-moving markets would be wise to invite their smartest users into the product design process.

Consumers are increasingly involved in production, with the Internet facilitating this economic innovation. But not all consumer-producers are equal. Online communities that strive to attract or create sufficiently "smart" users will have a strong competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Communities of Common Cause

Where is the boundary of your region? How do you define your region? And why will your region better underpin a sense of community than other forms of common identity?

A number of regions are struggling economically, suffering from the out-migration of youth and intellectual capital. Upstate New York is no different. An editorial in the Sunday New York Times tells a tale familiar to many places, including Pittsburgh:

This is a drearily familiar story, one that could be repeated with variations in far too many places in America. But the common denominator is nearly always the loss of jobs. When a young person moves, say, from Utica or Rochester to Los Angeles or Atlanta, it is easy to assume that the reason is climate or a more urbane way of life. But those factors weigh far less heavily when the local economy is exuberant enough to offer the prospect of a real future.

Promoting domestic immigration to your region is a zero-sum game. Your region’s gain is some other region’s loss. And despite the above editorial assertion, climate does matter, particularly in an economy defined by the increasing mobility of capital AND labor. The losers in today’s game have much in common, but they will compete with each other as well as with those favored locations in the Sun Belt states.

But the fickle economic geography that troubles these regions should bind them together. Instead of dreading mobility, they should work together to embrace it. Let Atlanta struggle with funding an overburdened infrastructure, while Pittsburgh enjoys a steady flow of remittance.

A good education should make a person more mobile and more likely to leave the region, not stay. Help those young people stay connected as they travel the world and enrich their hometown.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Free Markets of Knowledge

The march of global economic liberalization is a process that many people misunderstand. Ideally, government regulation retreats, unleashing the power of markets. Thus, as economic globalization advances, the nation-state retreats.

There is a problem with this vision. Markets need the coercive power of states to survive. For example, if we lack an effective legal regime to protect intellectual property (IP), knowledge and information markets cannot function well. Furthermore, restricting the flow of IP online runs counter to the utility and usage of the Internet.

But the Internet is hardly a place of freely flowing information and knowledge. While Wikipedia demonstrates an emerging model for the knowledge economy, some coercion and hierarchies of power are necessary. This article in the New York Times highlights the debate about Wikipedia's editorial policy:

At its core, Wikipedia is not just a reference work but also an online community that has built itself a bureaucracy of sorts — one that, in response to well-publicized problems with some entries, has recently grown more elaborate. It has a clear power structure that gives volunteer administrators the authority to exercise editorial control, delete unsuitable articles and protect those that are vulnerable to vandalism.

The days of the Wild West on the Internet are quickly drawing to a close. Protocols are developing that improve the efficiency and efficacy of these online knowledge communities. Promoting the knowledge production of novices, instead of experts, takes a great deal of work and gatekeepers are a necessary evil.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Burgh Education 2.0

Pittsburgh should be in the business of opening up expertise to the novice and making transparent the cult of knowledge production. The best way to do this is to train the workforce (and the polity) to master social environments that promote the open sharing of ideas and experience. InfoWorld's visionary Jon Udell has commented on the democratization of knowledge production:

Patients with no ability to read specialized medical literature are, nonetheless, doing so, and then arriving in their doctors' offices asking well-informed questions. Willinsky (only semi-jokingly) says the Canadian Medical Association decided this shouldn't be called "patient intimidation" but, rather, "shared decision-making."

The goal of new educational initiatives should be enabling students to successfully engage in shared decision-making. Virtual networks are the knowledge engines where this can take place, but only if we train people how to use this space. Trained networkers of the Burgh Diaspora could share their wealth of knowledge and experience instead of hoarding. I'll take 10 well-connected novices over one expert any day of the week.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Telecommuting Hubs

Can you imagine commuting over 1,000 miles to work? An article on the front page of the Sunday New York Times told the story of airline pilots working at hubs over 1,000 miles from their place of residence. One pilot moved out of the United States to Panama City, Panama, in order to leverage her income in a place with a very low cost of living.

Telecommuting can accomplish the same thing, without spending all day in an airport waiting for an open seat so you can go home. Pittsburgh is home to a relatively low cost of living, a major airport, and world class universities. What is lacking is the infrastructure to support a large telecommuting community.

What kind of infrastructure is needed? First, Pittsburgh should transform public education to provide students with the skills needed to work and socialize via telecommunications. Second, the region should invest heavily in broadband technologies in downtown areas. That is, draw the telecommuters downtown to free hot spots and fully equiped workspaces, along with associated services. Third connect key areas for the developing knowledge economy, namely downtown Pittsburgh, Oakland, and the airport. Rail with free WiFi would be the transport of choice.

I envision Pittsburgh as a center for telecommuting innovation, a colloborative cauldron for the Burgh Diaspora.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Power of Virtual Networks

To what extent could we eliminate face-to-face interaction? Urban geographers understand well the value of place. Certain industries demand close proximity to various resources, forcing them to cluster in the central business districts of major metropolitan areas. This creates an urban hierarchy, meaning you must travel to the big city in order to find certain services. Cities compete to sit atop the urban hierarchy, subsidizing sports franchises and providing tax breaks to the top businesses. Cities can be understood simply as centers of high end services and culture.

The advent of the Internet would be well on its way to obliterating urban hierarchies save our preference (thanks to our education) for face-to-face interaction. As we socialize more online, we become more comfortable with other forms of communication.

We have much to learn from the rest of the world, including the recently departed terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi built a virtual terrorist network that spanned the globe. The New York Times article points out:

Mr. Zarqawi's Web propaganda generated and probably embellished his reputation in the Iraqi insurgency. But it also helped secure the Internet as a center of terrorist recruitment and instruction, partly supplanting the role of old Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, according to counterterrorism officials and analysts.
What Zarqawi did for al-Qaeda's terrorist aims, Pittsburgh can do for its Burgh Diaspora. You can already see the power of this network among Steelers fans who interact online at various fansites. Not only do they share information about their favorite team, they talk politics, exchange photos, and organize tailgating events at away games close to their new place of residence.

The trick is figuring out what would galvanize the Burgh Diaspora to network like Steelers fans do.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Beyond Regions

Recent hot terms for igniting economic development include "entrepeneurship", "knowledge management", "knowledge economy", and "regional innovation economies". Kenichi Ohmae hypothesized, in his book The End of the Nation-State, that regions would supplant states as the primary geographic unit of the global economy. To the extent that regions cross established national borders (see European Union), we are witnessing a novel development and an economic opportunity. But regional economies within nation states are old news and do not offer a robust model for economic development.

However, intranational regions could integrate globally in order to jumpstart the local economy. Why do you need a regional identity to accomplish this?

Another model for a regional innovation economy would be the return of the city-state. The process of economic globalizaiton could be understood as the intensification of the networks between global cities. The scale of the nation-state is diminished, removing the mediation between the city and the world.

Missing from this discussion is the increasing mobility of labor, domestically and internationally. Increasingly, where you are is less important than who you are. In other words, the economic utility of the region is in the decline.

The goal shouldn't be to network a region, but to network a people who share a common identity. That common identity could be a shared cause. Or, it could be a regional identity carried with people wherever they can find work.

The primary barrier to developing this relatively ageographical network is the socialization to non face-to-face interactions. MySpace is a good example of a demographic socializing in a new medium. So are Blogger and the various sports fansites. The trick is turning these social networks into economic networks, fostering an explosion of

Pittsburgh could be a center for this emerging economy.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

International Migration Lessons for Pittsburgh

When I fall in love with an idea or a concept, an entire world perviously unknown to me begins to appear everywhere I look. My current passion concerns virtual networks and knowledge management. Many of us are currently struggling with communicating in a non face-to-face environment. Our education did not prepare us well for the emerging knowledge economy, which stresses collaboration with many people in a variety of locations. A recent article in the New York Times helps to illustrate this point: Immigrants hear God's word, in Chinese, via conference call.

Lonely and geographically isolated Chinese migrants in the United States are finding community via a church conference call. The sermon itself is not as remarkable as the resource network that has developed. Organized religion has a long history of connecting people around the world who will likely never meet, particularly the Catholic Church. But only recently has technology allowed these people to share resources and enjoy regular contact despite barriers of distance.

Pittsburgh should pay attention to these migrant networks, reorienting itself and its educational system to take advantage of a developing economic, political and social structure.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Welcome Pittsburgh Diaspora

As an active member of a Pittsburgh Steelers fansite, I've taken a particular interest in the large number of fans who live far from the city that hosts their favorite team. For a fansite, this widely spread out community is our market. And this market is one that a revitalizing Pittsburgh views as a liability that can only be an asset if the favorite sons and daughters return.

I view Pittsburgh Diaspora as Pittsburgh's greatest untapped asset. Pittsburghers are remarkably loyal to their hometown and their parochial mindset sets them apart from the local population of where they now reside. There is a kind of Pittsburgh nationalism that lends itself to current patterns of international migration, which take advantage of the various new forms of telecommunications to remain linked to their country of origin.

Akin to a university alumni network, graduates of Pittsburgh have left the nest and thrived in new environments. The entrepreneurial spirit that currently eludes revitalization efforts is alive and well in the Burgh Diaspora.

This blog isn't about Pittsburgh the city or Pittsburgh the region. This blog is about the Pittsburgh Nation or Pittsburgh World. There are a number of Little Pittsburghs around the country that deserve their own voice and are waiting to be connected with the people who share this identity.