Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Wednesday, January 1, 2003day link 

 The Magical Soup Stone
picture Do you know the old fairy tale about the magical soup stone? It exists in many versions. Like, a Swedish one, a Japanese version, the Shel Silverstein song, and many more. In brief, a mysterious stranger comes to town, and he claims that he has a magical stone that you can cook soup with again and again. Everybody is really incredulous. But, to prove it, he puts it in a pot of boiling water. And the soup cooks, and it is coming along fine, he declares, but, hm... maybe a little bit of spices would make it just a bit better. So, somebody goes and gets him some spices. And the soup is cooking great. The bystanders are fascinated. But... maybe some potatoes and some carots would top it off just great. And the soup is just about done, but, hm... maybe a bit of meat and some flour would just round off the experience really well. And so forth, it goes on like that for a while... And, the villagers are amazed - the most wonderful soup has been cooked, and they have a great feast together, enjoying and celebrating the magical stone soup.

Superficially you might think it is a story about a con artist who tricks people into giving him the ingredients, while he takes the credit, and gets fed for free. But how I find it inspiring is how it is also a great pattern for how to make things happen starting absolutely from scratch. Most particularly, this works well in a very connected virtual world. The thing is that most of the resources and knowledge needed to do anything is available somewhere out there. You don't necessarily have to legally possess it yourself before you get started. Sometimes it just takes somebody who stands up and declares "Let's make soup!" and who keeps the magic going, while people bring resources to the table.

I've seen it a number of times on the Internet. If you sort of hang up a sign and start to publically inquire into a certain subject, the ingredients will start arriving. The people who actually are experts will come out of the woodwork. Knowledge will start to accummulate. Resources will appear. And it often depends on one, or a few people, who keep the magic in the air while things are coming together. They might have nothing but the idea or the desire to start with. But people will bring what is missing, and along the way there is plenty of opportunity for becoming an expert in soup.

But it doesn't work without the magical soup stone. People, expertise and resources don't necessarily come together by themselves, without a strong continuous intention and a bit of showey magic. It takes a catalyst.
[ | 2003-01-01 18:12 | 8 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Reputed Identity
Seems to me that the purpose of digital identity would be that others, also others' websites, will recognize WHO I am, so they can respond appropriately to me. Both for their sake and for mine. And that WHO structure will inevitably be some sort of simplified representation. The task would be to make it a useful and fairly truthful representation, both for me and others.

I can think of several sections of that, off the top of my head:
  • A. How to identify and maybe locate me, like a finger print or a GPS tracker. Making sure there is one and only one of me.
  • B. How my various public facades and/or credentials are stored
    1. The, possibly several, masks I personally put on. Aliases, interests, contact address, website, preferences, etc
    2. The credentials I have from membership in various groups. My IDs, my job titles, degrees, credit cards, driving record, etc., which I can't directly change, but I can withdraw from a particular group.
    3. What various agencies collect about me without my explicit permission. Search engines, quotes, articles, credit reports, mailing lists, etc.
  • C. How my actual reputation is represented. How well regarded I am, what I've actually accomplished, and how much people trust me.
A would be a binary thing. Is it me or isn't it me? B would be mostly a quantitative thing. How many so-and-so are recorded on me and where are they. C would be qualitative. What does it really add up to?

I am most interested in the problem of how to best approximate a truthful picture of my reputation, and that is probably the hardest part. There is no way around it, but that it has to be assembled from what other people think, not from what *I* think. Maybe there are automated algorithms that can help constuct it from incidental information, but I feel strongly that it has to mainly be from a record of personal relations and transactions, not from a frozen public records, automatic logs of my behavior, or from titles and memberships I hold. What is important is that there are some actual, real people who trust me, and that they themselves are trustworthy. Not whether I wen't bankrupt 10 years ago, or whether I visited a lot of pornographic websites last year, or whether I'm a Rotarian and a Ph.D. In some contexts those things are important, but as a universal index of my character, they're flawed.

I know a person who killed somebody else in a fight and who spent years in prison for it. He is now one of the warmest and most trustworthy people I can think of, and I wouldn't hesitate to trust him with my life. I'm sure he has many friends who would vouch for him, but he's a very low-key person.

I knew somebody else who killed another person in stupidity, but didn't go to prison, as he was a minor at the time. He was still a volatile person many years later, and I would not turn my back with him in the room. He had no friends, and it would be hard to find anybody who could say anything about him.

I knew somebody who was rich, and a respected leader for many people, who would probably have many people around who would vouch for what a stellar person he is, because they depend on him for making a living. His credit record is impeccable and he probably has no criminal record. But I think he wouldn't hesitate long to pay for having somebody else killed if they crossed him in a business deal.

Public records and credit reports would point me towards staying away from the first person, would probably tell me nothing about the second, and would tell me that the third would be somebody to get to know. If we went by testimonials from other people, the third would have the most, because he's known and admired by more people. The first person would have some, and the 2nd would have none.

So, a task is how to organize a system of personal relations and reputation, without having it be affected by peer pressure or large amounts of money. And it needs to remain current, so that we're talking about the situation now, not 20 years ago. People change.
[ | 2003-01-01 18:31 | 10 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Digital Reputation
Andre Durand knows a lot about digital identities. In Anatomy of a Digital Reputation he gives a good overview of issues around digital identity and reputation. Like, on why we even should care about our reputation:
"1) our reputation is often tightly coupled with our sense of self-worth, serving as an external reflection of who we are, or who we wish to be and
2) our reputation can precede our physical being, serving to 'open doors' or generally make our lives more convenient or to close doors, in which case we are blocked from doing something or going somewhere, and we might never know why.

At any moment in time, our reputation is nothing more than a snapshot of our historical interactions with others. If the snapshot supports what we say about ourselves, then our reputation is positively amplified (R+1). If the snapshot contradicts what we have said about ourselves, then our reputation is diminished (R-1).

As reputations bearing any weight and credibility are only built over time, it’s difficult to truly circumvent their creation. This is often why we learn early the value of 'borrowing' a reputation. Namedropping is nothing more than an attempt to place oneself in the positive glow of another’s positive reputation, hoping that it will make our life easier in the process or gain us access to something which we would not normally have access to on our own. How many times have you specifically gone someplace with someone who you knew was bearing the credentials and reputation of being 'well-connected'. (e.g. 'I'm good friends with the owner and he always let’s us in for free.')

Reputations are likely the most important quality enabled by identity and I believe that digital reputations will likely become the core and central reason why individuals will choose to have a digital identity in the future."

[ | 2003-01-01 18:52 | 9 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Samuel Pepys Weblog
Very strange. Samuel Pepys, the renowened 17th century British diarist, now has a weblog. That is, Phil Gyford has imported Pepys' diaries into a Movable Type weblog format. And, not enough with that, now he is arranging it so that, from today, one entry is being posted each day, corresponding to the same date in the year 1660. And the weblog is even syndicated with RSS. It feels strange to read it, across all that time, as if it is happening today.
[ | 2003-01-01 23:58 | 14 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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