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Weeknotes #186

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olafur eliasson

The paperwork up front: As J. pointed out, weeknotes aren’t supposed to start at number #001 necessarily but rather at the first week of whatever it is you’re making notes on. I had a bit of a hard time finding a good starting point, but now figured one out: So from now on I’ll count from the first week after I decided not to stay in my job as an editor for a political magazine-slash-think tank, but rather went freelance to do web stuff on my own. It’s somewhat misleading as I had worked freelance for years before as a student, and would still be writing my masters thesis afterwards, but that’s as symbolic a starting point as there is. So, dating back to the first day after my brief editing stint, 17 October 2006, today it’s week #186.

It’s been a pretty productive week, and there’s just three things I’d like to highlight:

Betahaus study

We did a brief study on social security among the coworkers at Betahaus. I won’t go into the details (executive summary), but rather at how we got there, as I think it’s a good example of how quickly you can get something off the ground, particularly in a coworking context: Christoph Fahle of Betahaus and I talked about all the journalists checking out Betahaus and how the majority seems to expect coworkers to be there because they’re poor they can’t afford a “real office”. Since we had a gut feeling that they might – like ourselves – be at Betahaus voluntarily we decided to just ask and do this mini study. That was a couple of weeks ago. The first draft of the form was online hardly 48h later, then it took us a few hours over a span of maybe a week to tweak the details. Two emails (to invite and remind the potential participants) and 16 days later we closed the online form again to sit down and crunch the data. That, plus writing up the report, took about two full days. Idea, a few emails to coordinate, then just get it done: that’s the agile coworking way. Or at least it felt pretty good.

Mozilla Drumbeat

Mozilla organized a Berlin event (also at Betahaus) to spread the Drumbeat love. This deserves its own blog post, but allow me to summarize: It rocked.

Olafur Eliasson

There’s a new exhibition in town. Olafur Eliasson (Wikipedia) is a Danish-Icelandic artist living in Berlin these days. With major exhibitions at Tate Modern and the MoMa he certainly doesn’t need introduction, but if you’re in town, do not (NOT!) miss his exhibition at Martin Gropius Bau Innen Stadt Außen. (Don’t let the boring website turn you off.) In fact, go there now.

Image: Olafur Eliasson

Study: Are Coworkers Poor?

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Spoiler: not necessarily. They tend to be under-insured, but they don’t seem to mind.

Christoph Fahle and I conducted a short study on social and financial security among the coworkers at Betahaus Berlin. Betahaus is one of the largest coworking spaces worldwide, and certainly one of the coolest, too.

We did the study simply because so many people are interested in coworking (some recent media coverage: “the future of work“, “digital nomads“). Journalists often try to frame coworkers and other Macbook-hugging knowledge workers like some kind of digital peons. Since both Christoph (as co-founder of Betahaus) and I have a slightly different take on coworking – we both love it and chose to pursue this style of working very much voluntarily – we thought we should go on a fact-finding mission.

So we asked the residents of Betahaus about their financial situation (income, insurances etc), threw in a few demographic questions (age, gender etc), stirred for a while and out came this brief report. For good measure we also tacked on some ideas for improvements of the overall situation of freelancers at the end of the document.

The whole report is available here (in German): Betahaus Kurzstudie “Soziale_Absicherung” (PDF)

Here’s a translation of the executive summary:

Betahaus is a central work space for freelancers in Berlin, from so-called Digital Bohemia to laptop knowedge workers. The large majority of Betahaus users is freelancing or just founding a company. (A few full-time employed are the exception that proves the rule.) Beyond that, the residents of Betahaus can hardly be pigeon-holed as the Betahaus workforce is a very diverse, heterogeneous group regarding income (below €1.800 to over €5.000), age (22-47 years) or profession (design, media, mechatronics…).

If you were to depict a typical Betahaus resident based on the average of all data we found, he would be male, 25-35 years old, freelancing and working full-time. He has health insurance, but no pension plan and hardly has any insurance besides that, but feels sufficiently socially and financially secure. From the government he wishes less bureaucracy, more flexible support and less disadvantages compared to full-time employees. But not just the average, but particularly the statistical outliers find a home at Betahaus, from precarious post-grad to well-earning startup founder or regular employee who is looking for an office away from his office.

In the study we paid particular attention to social and financial security. We came to some remarkable and partly alarming results: Just about 40 per cent of respondents have an all-round insurance package, i.e. health insurance, pension plan and at least one more relevant insurance (occupational disablement insurance, additional private pension plan or life insurance). Still, more than half feels sufficiently financially and socially secure.

Asked for their vision of a perfect social security system, the respondents criticized Germany’s social security system and expressed wishes aimed at politicians: Freelancers are structurally disadvantaged compared to regularly employed, and Betahaus residents wish equal treatment. This includes less bureaucracy as well as more flexibility in the social security system: flexible rates of contributions, the option to exit or change membership in the social insurances, unbureaucratic support in bridging temporary crises or phases of client acquisition. The wish for the option to easier switch between regular employment and freelancing was expressed, particularly in regards to pension plans and health insurance. Particularly young freelancing parents have a hard time as the system for financial support for parents is aimed primarily at regular employees.

We, the authors, are part of the demographic we studied here. In addition to the mere interpretation of the data we would like to offer some perspectives and food for thought in the last chapter. These inputs are aimed as much at politicians as they are at the freelancing community:

  1. Equal treatment of freelancers and regular employees
  2. Make the first steps easier
  3. Allow flexible switching between employment and freelancing (and back)
  4. Flexible micro credits
  5. Support young freelancing parents
  6. Support coworking spaces
  7. Collaboration instead of competition

Christoph has more details in German at the Betahaus blog.

The study is licensed under Creative Commons (by-nc-sa), so share as you wish.

Thanks everyone at Betahaus for your contributions!

How video is changing young people

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…and turning them into reporters, commentators, producers. This video is quite impressive in its being so simple, yet compelling.

While tapping into some very interesting points in itself, the clip was produced by Demos, a “think tank for ‘everyday democracy'”, as a teaser for their report on Network Citizens (PDF). From a first glance, the report looks like it digs into some interesting points. From the executive summary:

Social networks are providing tremendous opportunities for people to collaborate. But until now, thinking has focused only on how organisations can respond to and capitalise on networks. This report argues that we have to look equally at how networks use organisations for their own ends. That is where the new contours of inequality and power lie that will shape the network world. We have to face networks’ dark side, as well as their very real potential.

Interestingly, the report concludes that in economically tough times, networks are even more important than at other times:

The kind of networks considered in Network Citizens–relationship ties between workers in different types of organisation – are likely to be more important in difficult economic times. Our analysis suggests that the ‘ties that bind’ within organisations are important incubators of innovation and productivity. Networks contribute to organisational resilience, a vital attribute in an economic downturn.

This is something I have thought about quite a bit recently and hope to get around to posting some thoughts on this blog soon.

(via)

Study: Real vs Fantasized Identity on Social Networking Sites

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FaberNovel Consulting has just published a study on best practices from social networking sites.

The whole study contains a great overview over what’s important if you analyze social networking sites. Two aspects stood out for me, though:

First, the authors pointed out four dimensions to help distinguish social networks:

FaberNovel: 4 Dimensions of Social Networks

Second, the study also covers the way, identity is constructed in social networks, and how different networks foster cater to different needs in this area. For instance, MySpace rather aims at exposing yourself and your fantasized identity, while Facebook serves more to expand your social network around your real identity:

FaberNovel: Real vs Fantasized Identity in Social Networks

It’s a great take and I highly recommend you scan this study. The whole presentation is also available in slide show format:

(via Read/WriteWeb)