The new Depot of the Boymans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam is becoming an amazing building.
I visited the ThingsCon conference recently in the Nieuwe Instituut across the road from the building site of the depot. Walking towards it I saw the entire Rotterdam skyline with high rises reflected in the building. They’ve only recently added the mirrors to the facade. In the end, the building will have trees on top.

20191212_104240image by Ton Zijlstra, license CC BY NC SA

The Depot itself when finished will be opened to the public and allow access to the entire collection of the museum. It’s still a depot, so nothing is curated into exhibits, but you can opt for guided tours through the collection. The regular museum next door will have the curated and temporary exhibits. Rather amazing that you can go see a museum’s entire collection. Like visiting an Alladin’s cave of modern art. Can’t wait until they reopen.

For the 12th year in a row I’ve send out Kiva Cards as Christmas gifts to clients. As many of the people I and our company work with are civil servants, it isn’t acceptable to give them anything of value. That’s why in the first year I worked independently I decided on a Christmas gift to business relations that doesn’t carry any risk of challenging the receiver’s integrity, nor mine as the giver.

That gift is a Kiva Card, a voucher for 25 USD. They’re perfect for my purpose. The gift can only be accepted by giving it away again. Kiva is a microcredit platform, where you can lend small amounts to entrepreneurs and others in developing countries. To use the card you have to apply it to a microcredit. Over time you get repaid and then you can lend it out again. If you do not use the card, it will become a charitable donation automatically after a year. In each case someone else will benefit, not the receiver or the giver.

My work is in open data mostly, and my interest in technology is about enabling more (networked) agency. In both those cases freely sharing is the starting point to create the potential benefits. Kiva Cards only can be used by sharing them again too, and turn into a donation if you don’t use them.

So these Kiva Cards are perfectly aligned with the spirit of my work, can’t call my or the receiver’s integrity into question, yet the joy of a gift remains.

Over time I’ve made over 300 microcredit contributions myself, forever re-using the funds I put in. I’ve especially tried to make meaningful loans in countries and regions where I’ve worked, in Central Asia, and non-EU Eastern Europe for instance, and most if not all to women.

It’s easy to join Kiva and start supporting an entrepreneur somewhere around the world

Screenshot of some of the people with Kiva microcredits I’ve contributed to

I feel we have an obligation to re-use. The best way to keep things from humanity’s pool of cultural artefacts and knowledge available is by re-using and remixing them.

Most of my work is in ensuring more material becomes available for everyone to use. Such as open government data to enable socio-economic impact, with my company, or to allow for more democratic control in my role as chairman of the Open State Foundation. Such as creative output, in the form of images, text and music, in my role as board member of Open Nederland, the member organisation of the Dutch Creative Commons Chapter.

There already is a plethora of material available under open licenses. And while my work is all about adding to that pile and encouraging others to make good use of that, I find that personally I could be more active to re-use the cornucopia of human cultural expression and knowledge that is out there. In this blog I often re-use Creative Commons licensed images from others, and started adding images to my weekly reviews with that specific intent. But I could be much more aware of the opportunities re-usable cultural artefacts allow.

Last May, Elmine’s birthday gift to me was a set of 5 A3 sized photo frames, to fill up the mostly empty white walls of my home office. For months I didn’t get to actually selecting images to put in those frames. Browsed through the 25k of images I have on Flickr myself but couldn’t choose. Then I started playing with some existing images in the public domain or released with an open license, developed some ideas, but still couldn’t choose. Elmine broke the deadlock last week when she suggested to treat them as temporary objects. It isn’t about choosing the perfect images for my walls, it’s about choosing a few good-enough ones that speak to me at this moment in time. Our A3 printer will patiently spit out new images if I so choose.

So yesterday I decided on 5 images. Today Elmine helped me prepare the images for printing, as she has all the right software tools for it, and I don’t. And now they’re on the wall, joining two images already there.

Here are the images and their background as open cultural artefacts.

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The eastern wall presents three images. The leftmost one was already there, a photo of me drinking coffee in Lucca, Tuscany in the summer of 2015. A month of healing with the two of us in a year of personal losses. Elmine took this picture and she publishes most of her pictures with a Creative Commons license that allows non-commercial re-use. In general Flickr is a resource to find great images with an open license.

In the middle is the most famous footprint not on this earth. It’s the imprint of Buzz Aldrin’s boot on the moon surface, taken during Apollo 11 in July 1969. NASA has published and is publishing a wide range of images of all their missions, all freely re-usable. This includes the set of Apollo 11 images, with this footprint. I selected this because it shows how even the most amazing human endeavour ultimately is a sequence of single steps.

On the right is a remix of two images. The first image shows our city’s water-gate, Koppelpoort (1425) around 1640. The image is an illustration made by A. Rademaker for a book dated 1727-1733. The Amsterdam Rijksmuseum is putting tremendous effort in digitising all the artefacts in their collection at high resolution and making those images available for free re-use. They also organise design competitions to stimulate people to come up with novel forms of re-use of the art works in their collection. As an overlay I added the iconic primary colored planes of a Mondriaan painting. Piet Mondriaan was born in our city, where his childhood home is now a museum of his work. As Mondriaan died in 1944, his work entered the public domain in 2015 and is freely re-usable. The image thus combines the medieval and modern history of Amersfoort.

Those primary colors are continued in the images on the southern wall of my office, the one my desk is facing.

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On the left is an adapted page of Lego’s US patent. Patents are public documents (you get commercial protection for your invention in exchange for publishing how it works and thus adding to the world’s pool of knowledge). Patent offices publish patents and Google makes them searchable. So you can search for your favourite invention, whether it’s a Lego brick, a moonlander, a pepper grinder or Apple’s original iPod interface, and take a page from the patent to hang on your wall. Elmine added primary colors to the bricks in the patent illustration on my request.

In the middle is the photo I took last week visiting the Groninger Museum, with both E and Y in front of a giant head in primary colors, in the Alessandro Mendini exhibit. The image is available under a Creative Commons license (for non-commercial and equally shared re-use).

The rightmost photo was already there, a beautiful gift from Cees Elzenga, a photographer and photo journalist, who was our neighbour in Enschede. It is a photo in the rain, at night, near Brandenburger Tor in Berlin, and it strongly evokes the gloom I encountered visiting the still divided city in the second half of the ’80s. This is the one image on the wall that is not openly licensed.

One image is still missing, as I loaned one of the photo frames Elmine gave me to Y temporarily, until her own pin-board arrives in a few days. She uses it for two photos her grandmother sent her, after visiting the Unseen photo exhibit in Amsterdam with her. When it returns I will use the final frame for another NASA image, that of an ‘earth rise’ on the moon, similar to what I use as a background image on my Mastodon (and Twitter) profile page.

As my friend Peter says, we have an obligation to explain. So others may follow in our footsteps of tinkering and creating.

I feel we also have an obligation to re-use. The best way to keep things from humanity’s pool of cultural artefacts and knowledge available is by re-using and remixing them. What gets used keeps meaning and value, will not be forgotten. My office walls now make a tiny contribution to that.

A few days ago I took a look at my LinkedIn data, and realised while writing it that I exported my Facebook data in the fall of 2017 when I first strongly reduced and then later closed and deleted my original October 2006 account (I do keep a new account with limited interaction and much fewer contacts). The Facebook data also has a list of contacts with the date they became a contact.

From that export I therefore created the same data I did for LinkedIn: the number of added contacts per year and its gender balance, and the cumulative number of contacts and its gender balance. This in response to Rick Klau’s description of his ‘do-it-yourself contact management‘ Between 1 October 2006 and 30 October 2017 I added some 650 people on FB, of which 161 women (25%)
Those numbers are even more out of balance than with LinkedIn, although in recent years it improved in much the same way per year as on LinkedIn, though it comes out slightly below LinkedIn for the total. I suspect for Facebook a social aspect is in play more than on LinkedIn: for a larger social distance I suspect it is socially more likely I’d add a male contact. To test that I would need to arrange the contacts by my perceived social distance, which is an interesting experiment for another moment.


cummulative per year


new contacts added per year

I’ve held for a long time that whenever someone says “we’d like to hire women but we don’t know any” or “we really want women as speakers on our event but we don’t know any and if we do they say no”, it is really down to the lack of quality and balance in their network of contacts. When I organised international conferences myself, with our team we made sure to invite speakers while conscious of the lopsidedness of our own networks, overcompensating in our invitations to get a result closer to a 50/50 balance. Now that my company is hiring new people every now and then, that too is an opportunity to counteract such imbalance.

Last week I wrote about ‘homebrew CRM‘, in which I mentioned Rick Klau’s post on his contact management routines. One element that jumped out when I was reading his post was that he had taken a look at his contact lists to see how the men/women ratio was in his network. There’s nothing in LinkedIn that let’s you explore your contact list as a single data set. It’s only a rolodex still, no way to visualise the data in that list in any way (e.g. geographic or sectoral distribution, or other cross sections of the list). Rick mentioned he had downloaded all his LinkedIn data and all his Twitter data, and then used that data export to work on. I requested the same data from LinkedIn and Twitter.

It turns out that LinkedIn’s export contains a list of contact names (but not the link to their profiles, as that isn’t ‘your data’), and a key piece of information they normally don’t show you: the date you connected. (Interestingly LinkedIn offers you nothing to record the context and reason you connected. The Xing-platform, heavily used in Germany, does do that, and I find it very useful)

Having names and dates, I manually indicated someone’s gender, and then used the dates for basic insights into how my recorded network developed over time. (Typing this I realise I still have the export from Facebook when I deleted my original account 2 years ago, and I could do the same there)

For now I looked at two measures: the balance between women and men in contacts I added each year, and the balance between women and men in the total number of contacts each year. Currently I have some 2150 contacts, of which some 600 are women, for a percentage of 27%. That is significantly lower than I had intuited. I think such overestimation is a known effect.

Looked at per year for the contacts added that year, the balance over time has improved from 10% in 2003, to between a third and 40% in the last handful of years. That last number is in line with the overall percentage I had intuited, so apparently I am using my perception of recent years as the estimate for the entire period. That low 2003 starting percentage has a lot to do I think with the general imbalance of the early adopter crowd that came into LinkedIn when they launched in May 2003 (I joined in June ’03) and the low number of people I connected to those first months on the platform (11 in 6 months).

Getting closer to a 50/50 balance on LinkedIn isn’t completely within my control I realise (unlike in my feed reading), as it also depends on who I actually meet in my work, and each working environment has its own existing gender distribution. It is also not completely outside my control. There is agency in new situations and contexts, such as whom I seek out for conversation when participating in an event. Yet, getting to a 50/50 balance for the total would mean connecting only to women for a few years, adding about a 1000 new contacts that way. History does keep one back clearly.

cummulative per year

new contacts added per year