Three Years and Counting… ZOT! ZAAHT! Zaah Technologies Rescues America from itself.

Do you remember the disruptive behavior of the Aardvark (“ZOT!“) that totally ruled the ants in the great comic strip, B.C.? That’s what our friends at Zaah Technologies are doing to a problem that’s been keeping America from being… well, America!

Yesterday, I mentioned the posts last week by Dave Winer and Doc Searls that really grabbed my attention because of dramatic coincidences of calendar and personality. My little company, ORGware LLC, would not exist without a blog post triggered by a dinner arranged by Dave Winer, three years ago tomorrow. On January 16, 2005, at 3 in the morning (yeah, like this one), my friend Harish Rao wrote The progressive movement is screwed (technologically, at least):

“Tonight, Nicco and I had dinner with Dave Winer. We talked about our podcasts, and a little bit about what we’re up to. Our conversation was at a cheap Italian place, over dinner. The conversation quickly turned to the core business of EchoDitto, and one of the main issues that we face:

“There is no good (i.e., comprehensive, inexpensive, and easy-to-use) web platform that does content management, blogging/podcasting, credit card processing/fundraising, bulk email management, event management, metrics & reporting, CRM, and voterfile management (yes, all of these things should be integrated) properly. Now, there are several solutions and vendors that have some of the pieces. But none of these solutions are comprehensive, and they certainly don’t play nice with one another (i.e., data sharing is non-existent).

“Frankly, we progressives are screwed unless we solve the technology problem (the lack of a decent integrated web platform), because technology should be the least of our worries. Topping it off, we don’t have a lot of time.

“I think we should create an inexpensive (i.e., open source) platform ASAP that draws the best features of all the products out there. And no, I don’t think that it’s bad business to open source software, especially in nascent markets.

“Who’s game?”

The comments were typical of the flash-and-flame-out nature of the blogosphere:

Long Post, but… my heart said, post it. It came to me just yesterday from OK. Already some smart people are commenting on it at our listserve. (It stretches yout topic a bit.) But, please, I want to encourage echo-ditto to GO FOR IT, create this open source magnet…
Submitted by geri on January 16, 2005 – 8:55pm

Great point. Do you (and Nicco?) want to write something for Personal Democracy Forum elaborating on what you see the problems are with not having a comprehensive solution, and how none of the efforts currently underway to provide one do that?
Submitted by Micah Sifry on January 16, 2005 – 9:18pm

Micah –

I did write up a brief talking points memo (two-three) pages that discusses the issue. I’m too embarrased to put it up on this website (it’s very rough), but I will email it to you – send me your email address to MY_FIRST_NAME AT ECHODITTO.COM. I’d love to hear your comments.

Also, Dave suggested we put up a website to get a discussion of this issue going. I’m game for that; honestly, however, time is short, and we need to act quickly.
Submitted by HR Rao on January 16, 2005 – 10:28pm

Did anything come of this? Look around, and you know the answer. Please read all the comments. They will teach you all you need to know why there is yet no public utility to do what Dave asked for last week, almost three years later:

What the electorate needs is to hire someone to lead us for the four years between elections. It needs someone who will ground our collective behavior in something resembling reality, so we deal with the problems that are collectively in front of us:

  1. The honor and prestige of our country (the equivalent of goodwill for companies, settle the wars we started, accept that we have to protect against terrorism, stop hyping it in terms of conventional warfare, that’s insulting).
  2. The integrity of our homes (everything from disaster response to changing behavior on a global level to respond to global warming).
  3. Caring for ourselves (health, education, protecting the Constitution).

…My advice to candidates going back to Dean was and is to start implementing the change you seek before the election, while you have the full attention of the electorate. Ask us to give money, not to buy ads, but to buy health insurance for 50,000 uninsured people in a particular state, so we can see how powerful we are collectively, how we can do good, starting right now. We yearn for this, to feel our muscles flex collectively, and individually to make a difference, not just in your hype, but in real terms. Hillary Clinton could have gotten up yesterday and said “There’s no time to waste. We can’t wait until January 2009 to solve the problems. Let’s start right now.”

Just one problem with all this exhortation: If we had the platform for this, we’d be doing Government By The People. Does anyone else feel the irony I experience every time a politician or strict constructionist or activist or enraged war widow exhorts us:

Tell the politicians this must stop!

Do something!

Don’t just sit there yelling at your TV!


Exactly what do the exhorters expect Americans to do? A million people marched in Washington before the Iraq war and no one noticed. Howard Dean’s real scream was “You Have The Power! You Have The Power!” Well, not exactly.

There are several missing components to the power that Dean tried to wish into being. There may be no demand for messages, but there’s plenty of demand for logistics. To paraphrase a great line, “What we’ve got here is a failure of logistics.”

  • Logistics is a protected process to cast an informed vote for every American older than 17.
  • Logistics is the objective counting of those votes.
  • Logistics is the objective reporting of those votes, prospectively and as cast.
  • Logistics is an analytical, not sports-minded, media, reporting substantive issues.
  • In this century, Logistics is a comprehensive, voter-friendly way for people to aggregate their values and voices online, in advance of election day, and to roll up their determination into millions of auditable pledges to vote their values and conclusions.

There are a million reasons why no one has built this public utility for America yet. A few of the comments from Harish’s post 3 years ago explained why it is impossible. Here’s the best example of declaring the impossibility of building the only possible solution to saving the Republic:

No one company is ever going to provide the be-all, end-all solution for “content management, blogging/podcasting, credit card processing/fundraising, bulk email management, event management, metrics & reporting, CRM, and voterfile management”. Period. The problem space is just too big.

It’s especially not going to be provided by a small company which can’t throw hundreds or thousands of programmers for five years at the problem. (Not that a BigCo would have a better chance at producing a usable product — but they could at least write off the failure and survive.)

If you try to have one product that solves all those problems, what you’ll end up with is either a package that does one thing very well and a bunch of other things poorly, or that does everything with a kind of generalized mediocrity.

The solution is not to have a bunch of companies running around trying to build the One True Database. It is in developing protocols through which systems from different companies can interoperate and integrate. Then companies can build products that solve one problem within the problem space, and leave the rest to other vendors.

It amazes me how far behind the curve the nonprofit tech companies are with this.
— Submitted by Jason Lefkowitz on January 23, 2005 – 11:55am.

Hot Damn!! I love being told I can’t do something! The assumption, even among the diehard liberals on this list, is that there is no force in America willing and able to build the comprehensive system that Harish Rao was, and still is, asking for. Can that really be true?

No force in America? Wow.

Sitting in the Front Rao

Above, I mentioned the coincidence of calendar, precisely three years having passed and little to show for it. Last Friday I sat down with the coincidence of personality, my friend Harish Rao. Those of us who poured our hearts into the Dean campaign, especially on the 2nd floor at 60 Farrel Street in South Burlington, VT, always have time for each other. Harish and his colleagues at EchoDitto are therefore willing to listen to my rants once in a while. It had been a year and a half since I’d assured Harish that we were still working on the platform that had, even then, been missing for so long, and that I’d get back to him when we were close to ready. That was last Friday.

Since then, I’ve worked my way through the justification that a single monolithic solution is indeed necessary, at least for now, and that a properly motivated, Goldilocks-type, just-right-sized team is the only way to get it done. I’m pleased that the ORGware platform is just now good enough to criticize (as the legendary Alan Kay said of the Mac OS in 1985). We have finished the heavy lifting and the answer to every demand I’ve seen is done or in our grasp. Most testers say that ORGware even has an answer to some needs not yet expressed, but will be, once people get through the feature set they thought they wanted. Users are funny that way.

I’ve talked a lot about ORGware the last three years, but never revealed our secret weapon. Zaah Technologies, Inc. Part of the reason is that there has been a procession of programmers and teams enthusiastic about the promise of ORGware, but none have delivered the resources required to build what was needed. Zaah seemed too good to be true, so I’ve withheld my excitement. If you’ve never heard of Zaah Technologies, don’t be surprised. They provide really big solutions for really big companies moving really big chunks of data and images around and making it all make sense to we poor users who have to make sense of it.

Zaah may process more photographs than anyone else on the planet, but you’ve not heard of them, because they do it for all those drugstores and gift shops, helping Mom & Dad celebrate another milestone in Jack or Jill’s life. You know, zillions of real people, not like we few Flickr users, so skilled but oh so marginal, compared to the big world out there. Check out Zaah’s portfolio for a glimpse into this company that Doc Searls concluded, is “the real deal.”

If you look on their home page, you’ll see that Zaah is incubating our little company, Open Resource Group/ORGware and just one other, StarStyle, the people who sell you the clothing and bling the stars wear on TV.

Over a year ago, Maurice Freedman and Sandy Fliderman of Zaah Technologies agreed to work with us to build the ORGware platform that otherwise would never see the life of day. It hasn’t been easy, but it looks like we really are close to a set of Democracy Logistics Good Enough To Criticize.


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