Collaboration at NetSquared N2Y4

I spent much of the week at the NetSquared N2Y4 conference in Silicon Valley. NetSquared brings together social entrepreneurs, whose tech projects compete for funds. Last year the projects were mashups. This year’s theme was mobile.

To see the sort of work the competition inspired, take a look at the 14 featured projects that made it to the finals, or see my notes about the projects that presented on Wednesday.

Want some cooperation with that competition?

But what best illustrates the spirit of cooperation that underlies the N2Y4 competition involves two projects that, as it happened, did not win big prizes at NetSquared.

  • PublicStuff wants to be the craigslist of local government interaction. This is a big job. In part, the project team envisions itself as a replacement for 311 systems (where citizens report litter or building code violations), at least for smaller cities.
  • SeeClickFix takes on one part of this: it allows people to report problems in neighborhoods (graffiti or litter, say). It lets folks watch a particular neighborhood, and can provide email notifications when problems are reported there.

PublicStuff is trying to solve a much bigger problem. At this point, they have a working demo. SeeClickFix in contrast, has already released a product, with a widget that enables it to be used elsewhere, and a preliminary API.

Hearing both teams pitch, I wondered about this overlap. It seemed a shame for two startup teams to spend their time building the same thing. So I asked Kam Lasater, SeeClickFix’s tech lead, about the overlaps. Had the teams been in touch?

They had been talking since early in the competition. And PublicStuff was most likely going to use SeeClickFix’s maps.

What if PublicStuff made their money connecting SeeClickFix’s maps with government help desks?

Fine by them, Kam said. “We don’t want to do content management.”

And that, in brief, is why NetSquared is my kind of competition. There were other examples: SMS agricultural and medical projects in different countries left NetSquared intending to collaborate across teams. Multiple projects used the same FrontLineSMS technology.

In the end, social problems are bigger than any one of us. It’s rewarding to support a competition that brings that sort of altruistic thinking out in its participants. I’m a fan of NetSquared.