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Jim Cashel Interview
moderated by Paul DiPerna
Jim.. you have a very interesting, diverse set of life experiences
before your co-founding Forum One in 1996. Can you describe events
home that might have sparked your interests in Web strategy, development,
introduction and online community?
During graduate school I was working in
the Soviet Union about the time the Berlin
Wall was coming down. Most people think of
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that event as allowing the free flow of people.
What they forget is it also allowed the free
flow of information -- I think Moscow had
RSS for interviews about 20 international phone lines for the Cashel's Bio
entire city at that point. A group started
something called the Sovam Teleport, which connected San
Paul's bio and projects Francisco and Moscow electronically. We then figured out how to
Paul's email extend it to Ukraine. Before you knew it a country (and subsequently
group of fifteen countries) that had been completely cut off was now
fully wired to the Internet. It was clear that the web and online
community would be very influential there -- and elsewhere.
How have medical school and your earlier professional
experiences shaped your current priorities at Forum One -- regarding
the development of online collaboration?
In medicine, I saw lots of examples where good service was
hindered by poor communications: patients and doctors who spoke
different languages, problems with medical records, even doctors with
poor handwriting that would create problems. Clear and powerful
communications can solve a lot of problems. The web gives us the
most significant communications capabilities ever, and partly because
of what I saw in medicine, I was attracted to work on web issues.
You mentioned that in the former Soviet Union you saw the opening
of access channels to information, resulting in the free flow of
Do you have any concerns about government policies or market
forces scaling back the free flow of information in the United States?
Not a clear cut issue, as there are reasonable arguments on both
sides. Earlier this year Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide
Web, came out vigorously in support of "net neutrality" ... amid fears
that some telecommunications companies may charge for access to
certain types of Web content, or even bock websites. However on the
other side, organizations such as the Cato Institute have argued
against net neutrality legislation. (see report)
Do you have strong views, one way or the other, about this
emerging issue ?
I heard Lawrence Lessig speak recently on net neutrality and
confess to being very persuaded by his arguments. This is a big
issue, the significance of which is lost on most policy makers. I also
was involved in a conference panel recently discussing censorship in
China, which is also a significant issue. Despite these challenges,
however, there is so much more access to information now than even
five years ago that I'm sure we're heading in an exciting direction.
Can you describe how things started for Forum One?
"... starting a
Two of my Kennedy School consulting firm
classmates and I were working in at the
DC in public policy organizations,
seeing the emerging influence of
the Internet in all of our work. We'd
meet periodically and have
irrational thoughts about starting a consulting firm that lay at the
intersection of technology and public policy. The challenge is it is really
hard to go from nothing to something -- you basically need to work for
six months or a year with little or no salary. That's what we decided to
do, and slowly built up momentum.
Has there been a Forum One project that has been particularly
rewarding to you? If so, why?
We work with a lot of organizations. What pleases me the most is
when I see in the press coverage of an important organization or
issue, and I know that we were involved in that organization's
communications work. This holds for big groups like the World Bank
or UN, but also for many smaller issue-specific organizations. Our
firm will spend about 25,000 hours this year doing hard work to make
the web a smarter place on important issues.
Stated on its website, the International AIDS Economic Network
(IAEN) "provides data, tools and analysis on the economics of
HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in developing countries, to help
developing countries devise cost-effective responses to the global
How has this project progressed over the last 13 years? With
respect to its online usage, what have been.. or remain.. IAEN's
IAEN is an interesting example because it is a virtual organization,
lying between many international groups working on global AIDS. As a
virtual organization it has the advantages of speed and flexibility -- but
it is a difficult model to fund. Despite very limited funding recently, the
community still moves along.
How large is the IAEN online community today?
It's about 10,000 policy makers in 100+ countries.
There has been an encouraging news report about the U.S.
Intelligence Community launching wikis for collaboration and
communications purposes, a project called Intellipedia.
Any reactions to this news?
My initial reaction was that this seems like a smart idea. Wikis lend
themselves well to collaborative development of directories, and
presumably the enormous intelligence community should be able to
marshal impressive resources towards this. I'm skeptical about a lot
of the wiki-based ideas I see, but this one sounds straightforward and
For people who are just getting interested in online communities
and the social side of the Web, do you recommend any readings,
websites, or organizations that have deeply influenced you?
We publish the Online Community Report site which links to some
useful resources (especially the Del.icio.us feed on the site). Outside
of that, I recommend mostly reading social software blogs and talking
with practitioners. There are also some good books (The Wealth of
Networks the best recent example) that discusses community
November 9, 2006
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