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An old rigid civilization is reluctantly dying. Something new, open, free and exciting is waking up.

Monday, July 26, 2004day link 

 Phantom authority in virtual communities
picture Via Smart Mobs: Phantom authority, self–selective recruitment and retention of members in virtual communities: The case of Wikipedia Andrea Ciffolilli discusses how apparently anarchic and uncontrolled virtual communities sometimes can exhibit amazing levels of cooperation and productivity. Specifically he focuses on Wikipedia, a stunningly comprehensive online encyclopedia that basically anybody can add to.
Virtual communities constitute a building block of the information society. These organizations appear capable to guarantee unique outcomes in voluntary association since they cancel physical distance and ease the process of searching for like–minded individuals.

In particular, open source communities, devoted to the collective production of public goods, show efficiency properties far superior to the traditional institutional solutions to the public goods issue (e.g. property rights enforcement and secrecy).

This paper employs team and club good theory as well as transaction cost economics to analyse the Wikipedia online community, which is devoted to the creation of a free encyclopaedia. An interpretative framework explains the outstanding success of Wikipedia thanks to a novel solution to the problem of graffiti attacks — the submission of undesirable pieces of information. Indeed, Wiki technology reduces the transaction cost of erasing graffiti and therefore prevents attackers from posting unwanted contributions.

The issue of the sporadic intervention of the highest authority in the system is examined, and the relatively more frequent local interaction between users is emphasized.

The constellation of different motivations that participants may have is discussed, and the barriers–free recruitment process analysed.
Now, I have a more than cursory interest in what makes this work. Like many other people on the net, I have an almost religious belief that this can and will work. That self-organization works. But I've also initiated several different online environments where it didn't work as expected. Where pretty much anybody was free to join, and there was a noble common purpose to work on, but where it rather has tended towards degenerating into flame fights, and a curious absence of much of lasting value being produced. So I recognize that I don't really understand the keys yet. So, what might they be?
Open source software constitutes the most popular and successful example of purpose–built community, characterized by cumulative dependency. Concerning the size of open source projects as a criterion for their classification, Krishnamurthy (2002) found that the community model is a poor fit for software production. Indeed, the top 100 mature projects on Sourceforge [3], are developed by one or a few individuals. However, Krishnamurthy does not argue that such result implies a sort of crisis in the open source community; as the author correctly recognises, large communities may exist and do things other than produce software. For example, communities may try out products and suggest new features.
So, as far as software go, it might still be helpful with an enthusiastic community, even if it really is just a couple of people who do the main work. But, yes, there are other things to do than sofware, where many people might contibute more evenly.
Wikipedia.com was born in January 2001 as a complementary project of Nupedia.com, which was aiming to create a freely available online encyclopaedia [4]. The publication of articles on Nupedia, in order to maintain high–quality, was based on a traditional review procedure of the publishers responsible for coordinating the project. The result of such process was that the volunteer contributors had to face a long and deterrent itinerary of submission, review and, if necessary, negotiation that ended up in very few articles published. At this point, the idea of Wikipedia emerged as a laboratory in which the advantages of massive collaboration could have been exploited, with the intention of choosing the best articles and letting them take the hard and costly review path leading to Nupedia.

The project has been successful. Six months after the birth of Wikipedia, 6.000 articles were written. Currently, there are more than 170,000 articles. [...]

Wikipedia is based on the Wiki technology that characterizes many Web sites. A Wiki community is open in the sense that it allows anyone to participate, freely viewing information contained in a site, permitting editing of that information as well. Editing Web pages can be done without submitting changes to a publisher and negotiating for them.

Why does this approach work? One might assume that graffiti attacks would eventually frustrate an approach on this sort of large scale. However, Wikipedia has been successful with a great deal of notable content as well as content in a state of constant improvement. For the most part, content disasters — in terms of quality — have not occurred. [...]

Wiki technology in a way literally cancels transaction costs for editing and changing information. Hence, this reduction in transaction costs acts as a catalyst for the development of the community. In turn, these reduced transaction costs means that there is full exploitation of massive collaboration economies. Hence, in the case of horizontal information assemblages, we might argue that any incentive that allows more authors to freely join in a given task, the larger the assemblage of information that is eventually produced (or in the case of Wikipedia, a larger number of articles is possible).

Another secret of the success of Wikipedia is related to the incentives that contribute to a "creative construction" of information, rather than a "creative destruction" of it. As noted earlier, I expected Wikipedia to be engaged in an endless war among reliable contributions and graffiti attacks that would have blocked the development of the Web site. In reality, that has not happened, basically because all changes made to any article are stored; it is possible to undo any unapproved modification with a single click. This makes the activity of littering a page extremely more expensive for an individual (in terms of time and reputation), than it is for anyone else. Therefore, also in this circumstance, it is a matter of costs.

Through this mechanism of editing and undoing meaningless changes or graffiti, an evolutionary process is fostered and only the best contributions survive the selection (Neus, 2001). Moreover, other factors contribute to Wikipedia’s success such as sources of authority and coordination. [...]

Whilst registered users can write articles, edit and discuss changes, administrators can exercise a certain degree of institutional authority. Indeed, they are allowed to ban IP addresses and permanently delete pages and their history. Such actions are undertaken when specific users are responsible for graffiti attacks, or when their writings and edits are not completely objective. Hence it is a general rule of the community that articles should be written from a neutral point of view. For example, one user was banned, who had written numerous contributions on German history [11]. These articles were perceived as right–wing by most, hence ignoring this standard of neutrality. In this case, the decision for banning the user was secured only after a long and lively discussion on the mailing list. [...]

Final policy decisions are up to one of the founders, Jimmy Wales. However, if this sort of benevolent dictator attempted to deviate from a neutral and objective policy towards content (for example, in order to push a specific political agenda), then the license provides a strong counter–balance to his power. The contributors may and should, in such a case, take the database and the software and set up a competing project. [...]

The case of Wikipedia, a successful project committed to the creation of a free online encyclopaedia, was examined. The principal reasons for the success of Wikipedia — namely, the drop in the transaction costs of submitting contributions and erasing graffiti — were described. It was shown how procedural and institutional authorities work for this site. In particular, the importance of reputation, as a source of authority, was emphasized. Reputation is accumulated through participation and that shapes a system of distributed authority in which every participant potentially may have a role in the development of the project.
Hm, not sure if the keys really are clear. There's something more subtle in how a project is presented, and how it feels to people. If somehow the ingredients are mixed right, it is more likely to work. It might be very small nuances in how the purpose is described, or how the site works, that might make a big difference. But, yes, obviously, if the purpose is clear, and vandalism isn't worth the trouble, because it can be removed just as easily as it is put there, and it is just as easy, and more rewarding, to add something useful - that can all add up to a powerful package. But the focus is on how wikis work there. Do all wikis work? And how do these lessons apply to community oriented projects that aren't wiki based?

Obviously that one princple seems to be central: that it is more rewarding to do something constructive than something destructive. And that destructive activities are as easy, or easier, to get rid of as they are to add.

So, I can right away notice that in some kinds of environments, including some that I'm responsible for, it is often really more easy, interesting and rewarding to stir up some trouble and conflict than to do anything else. Not everybody wants to do that of course, but sometimes conflict gets many readers, many comments and a lot of attention. Not necessarily pleasant, comfortable attention, but attention nevertheless. And it seems to be an attention economy. Many online communities can be brought to a grinding halt by one person with a well-placed attack. So, unless the exploration and possible resolution of conflict is considered useful, which might be a possibility in certain types of communities, then it might be wise to rethink things a bit.
[ | 2004-07-26 09:11 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, July 7, 2004day link 

 Better electronic tools for conferences
picture Inspired by the experience at Blogtalk, in part with the 'backchannel' interaction, I can't help but brainstorm a bit on how better tools and organizing can make it better.

First I must mention that there's of course not any panacea in all this computer use that is going on in a setting like that. No guarantee that it is all useful. I'd really much rather have some really good dialogues and small group discussion, without any particular need for computers. But no matter what goes on, there are certainly ways it can be made more rich through the information infrastructure that supports it.

Somebody mentioned that at the previous conference it was new to have WiFi networking and that kind of thing, so it wasn't really used as intensively. But here people really used a bunch of tools that way, in a more active manner. Which means that it is a key part of the conference itself, and should really more formally be made part of the process. I.e. not just try to provide an open connection and leave it at that. But also establish the necessary feedback loops.

The presenters felt a little left out, as they couldn't see what people were chatting about while they were speaking. And the people who didn't bring a laptop felt left out. Or the ones who hadn't discovered the wiki and the IRC channel. Or those who didn't know how to get on IRC. Or those who didn't have Macs so they were missing a couple of the tools used, Rendezvous and SubEthaEdit. So therefore various people got various parts of it, but maybe not all they wanted. OK, the collaborative tools like the wiki are meant for tying the strings together, and people can now go and see notes, and can read other people's postings, to see what they might have missed, etc. But should it maybe be more formally organized? Like a designated note organizer, and somebody who archives the chat transcripts. Somebody who makes links on the big screen available in clickable form in one of the side channels. Somebody who gets questions from those channels back to the presenters.

Anu Gupta has some good comments on some of these things.

Another subject. Despite a number of supporting ways of knowing participants, like them having listed their names and blogs in a wiki page, it can still be difficult to keep track of who people are. It would be useful if there were a uniform list with profiles. Little pictures of each person, liking to a profile with who they are and their blogs, etc. The information is mostly there, but it is scattered in various places. Like, even if I have a link to somebody's blog, it might or might not tell me quickly who they are. I might have to browse around for a while, which takes attention away from other things. I've done events where we took a picture of everybody at the entrance, if they didn't already have a participant profile, and the list of people was made available, and could be checked afterwards. I learned that from Sergio Lub of Friendly Favors and it can work very well.

Presenters put up slides on a big screen. I'd quite likely want to click on their links, but I'd have to type them in first, and the slide has probably changed before I get them all. They could be provided in a side channel, for example by somebody who had the job of typing in all the links as they happen. Or, better yet, the slides on the screen are presented in real-time by a feed, so that I can both click on it, and keep it, instead of trying to frantically re-type it. OK, I don't know how likely it is that one can export PowerPoint to a feed, but it is an idea.

The idea applies quite well here that everything should be a feed, and everything should be aggregatable. There could be one overall feed that shows everything that is happening. Who's speaking, what are they showing on the screen, updates to wiki or to notes, new blog postings from participants, new profile information about participants, etc. Instead of having to jump around and refresh pages, looking for things that are changed.

Self-organization can be fun and useful, but can also be messy and distracting and waste a lot of energy on duplicating efforts and trying to find out what is going on. The experiences acquired can well point out what emerges as being useful, and those things could well be phased into a more organized and stable form.
[ | 2004-07-07 16:50 | 5 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, July 1, 2004day link 

 Space and Status
picture Dave Pollard is reading Impro by Keith Johnstone, a book I read years ago when I was doing improv comedy. Absolutely delightful book. Dave shares some great insights, in part from some parts of that book that I don't remember. I've better dig it out again. Now, for example, about Status and Space:
Imagine that two strangers are approaching each other along an empty street. It's straight, hundreds of yards long and with wide pavements. Both strangers are walking at an even pace, and at some point one of them will have to move aside in order to pass. You can see this decision being made 100 yards or more before it has to. In my view the two people scan each other for signs of status, and then the lower one moves aside. If they think they're equal, both move aside. If they both think they're dominant (or if one isn't paying attention) they end up doing the sideways dance and muttering apologies. But this doesn't happen if you meet a frail or half-blind person: You move aside for them. It's only when you think the other person is challenging that the dance occurs. I remember doing it once with a man in a shop doorway who took me by the forearms and gently moved me out of the way -- it still rankles. Old people tend to cling to the highest status they have had, and will deliberately 'not notice' others while clinging fiercely to the (often walled) inside of the walkway. A bustling crowd is constantly and unconsciously exchanging status signals and challenges, with the more submissive person stepping aside.
Ah, it is coming back to me. We used to do acting exercises based exactly on how status and space relates. A high status person (or rather, somebody who perceives themselves to be high status) will try to fill the space and own the space, and will try to put others in as small a space as possible. And a low status person will try to do the opposite, and squeeze themselves into as small a space as possible. There are all sorts of body language signs that go along with that. Auditory, visual and kinesthetic clues. A high status person might grin, showing their teeth, speak in a loud voice, wave their arms around, etc. Or, even more effective, they might do it in the understated aristocratic way. Having long pauses of silence while they speak, and speak very softly, so everybody else has to be quiet and wait for their next word, which will be some 20 dollar word that only half the audience understands, and they'll force others out of the way by being immobile, but staring straight at their counterparts. It is great fun to play these things deliberately in improv. Hilarious things come out of for example letting two people try to outdo each other in high status. Or low status, trying to be more insignificant than the other. You first; no you; no don't think about me; oh no, I was just about to crawl into this sewer and evaporate, so really, you first.

Beyond comedy, there's really a lot to say about how we relate to each other in the real world, and in this case, how we use all sorts of cues to jockey for position, both up and down, and how we sometimes challenge each other to a duel. Dave writes:
Johnstone is interested on how this subliminal body language and status-checking can be exploited, to both powerful and comedic effect, on the stage. I'm more interested in its implications for human behaviour in a crowded world. I didn't believe the above passage was true until I started observing people (and myself) moving in crowds. You can easily pick out who sees him/herself as dominant, and who's going to move aside, a mile away by their demeanor and body language. It's hilarious to watch. Older people almost always expect, and subtly signal to younger people to move aside, even young people in gangs with attitude. And they do move aside, belying their whole superficial demeanor. Women tend to defer to men of the same age, but old, frail and pregnant women somehow trump everyone else -- everyone moves aside for them. I watched adults puff themselves up and brace for collision with children (especially those of cultures that let their kids learn these status rules slowly) rather than simply get out of their way. In one case I watched a very respectable, well-dressed middle-aged man actually deliberately kick a child out of the way, and then apologize to the mother (not the child) that he (the man) 'wasn't paying attention'.

I never realized how arrogant I must appear in crowds. I tend to dislike them, 'pretend not to see' people in them (much to the dismay of people who later tell me I 'rudely' ignored their smile or nod or wave of recognition), and take on a hurried, distracted, disinterested, hostile and elbows-raised demeanor. It works very well, except with some children, and except when I have to pass people from behind.
I'm fairly aware of these things, and notice a lot of that too. I myself am for one reason or another usually acting like a rather low status person when I'm just walking around among strangers on the street, pretending like I'm invisible. Which of course I'm not. People always scan each other, whether they're consciously aware of it or not. In other types of social settings I typically act high status. Which is certainly the most effective if you have something to accomplish, like speaking to a group, or networking, or just having a good time.

But part of all that bothers me as much as Dave:
What disturbs me most is what this bodes for us idealists trying to establish non-hierarchical, leaderless political and economic structures -- communities of peers. Are such structures unnatural? Or do we simply need to learn to recognize the pecking order for what it is -- a primeval tool for minimizing conflict and deciding who will do the breeding -- and what it isn't -- a license to take an unfair share of wealth and power?
Hmmm. I think maybe a flat organizational structure is at best an even playing field. Not really a lack of structure, but an absence of arbitrary structure. It is allowing for structure to emerge naturally, as it seems appropriate. And to dissolve and turn into something else when its time is over.

It is unavoidable that there's some kind of natural selection and ad-hoc organization going on, and we couldn't do without it. If we're a group of people sitting in a circle to discuss something, somebody will speak. It can not be all of them at the same time. Somehow a sub-verbal negotiation takes place, based in part on who burns the most to speak, combined with various indicators of different roles and timing and relationships and balance. And status too. That's probably all fine, as long as nobody manages to turn any temporary 'advantage' into a permanent one. If the first speaker hogs the microphone for the rest of the meeting - that doesn't work, of course. As long as the relationship remains dynamic, and everybody fundamentally has an equal chance of participating, it can work.
[ | 2004-07-01 19:26 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, June 24, 2004day link 

 Being an entrepreneur
picture I still haven't figured out how to be an entrepreneur. It is really what I ought to be. I don't really want to be anybody's employee, at least not unless they pay me a lot of money and let me do what I feel like doing. As it is now, I'm indeed independent, but I tend to be extremely passive about it. I.e. I wait around for people who show up to insist on paying me money for doing something for them. Which sometimes works well, but when it doesn't, I don't have anything very organized to do about it. I'd really like to change that, and be a lot more proactive about it.

Yesterday, at an event for entrepeneurship and franchising, I met a guy who had paid 50,000 euros for a web consultant franchise. It essentially set him up to market himself as somebody who could sell people websites, and then either find people to pay for doing the work, or existing packages he could use for standard functions like e-commerce or help centers, or whatever. And the company provides some infra-structure for that, and provides an image one can borrow, with logos, etc. Duh, he could do the same thing without being anybody's franchise of course. As could I. You create an image for your company, and promote and network, and give people quotes, and then you either do the work yourself, find some software that will do it, or you pay somebody for creating it. Anyway, he was quite happy with his arrangement, and, apparently, having a company behind him made him feel much more confident in doing it, even if it in principle was an unnecessary waste of money. A great business for the franchise company, obviously.

At the same event I spent some time sampling educational CDs and videos about how to form a new small company. Establishing a focus, making business plans, getting financing, choosing a company form, incorporated or not, getting good advice and help, finding offices, marketing, keeping track of the numbers, etc. Nothing big I didn't know. But some of these things are pretty complex here in France, such as the zillion different social taxes one needs to pay in different directions, so it is not very straightforward to choose the proper format. For me it pretty much comes down to that I have to make at least twice as much money as I need to pay myself in order to be able to afford any of the formats, to be able to afford all the social security charges and taxes. Before even getting around to personal taxes. And I don't. It is a bit of a puzzle.

Anyway, on the subject of the proper MBA recommended way of starting and running a business, it is refreshing to then read Dave Pollard's "A Heretical Approach to Entrepreneurship". He's talking about what Charles Handy calls Existential Enterprise and what he himself calls New Collaborative Enterprise. It is a more sensible and centered, but, yes, maybe heretical approach, if we compare it to the MBA way. Do stuff that really is needed, rather than trying to market stuff that nobody really wants. Don't borrow money to do it. Do it with people you really trust and care about. Don't bother incorporating. Make a flat organizational structure without titles, and let things get done organically and collaboratively. Work out between you what each person really needs and wants to get from the business. Create the goals for the enterprise together, and choose the roles that come most natural. Spend quality time time with people. Network effectively with customers and potential customers, and with allies and potential allies, and with coaches and experts that can help you. Keep your own needs and happiness as a priority. Then try to keep the customers happy. Then pay attention to the community around you. You are the guys that make it happen, and it is important that it works for you. There are no absentee owners or share holders or creditors.

I like it a lot. For that matter, I can hardly imagine another way of doing it. But I have to take a hard look at what I'm missing, of course. A clear focus on what I'd want to do, for one thing. And what problems it actually will solve for somebody. And who exactly I'm doing it with. And I'm not really proactively networking and having quality conversations with potential customers, partners and allies. Not that I'm hiding. But I'm not building business. I work on what happens to come my way. Which usually means too much scattered work for too little result, and not much control over making it any different. I know most of the answers, of course, but it is not easy to change one's own patterns.
[ | 2004-06-24 15:17 | 8 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Friday, June 18, 2004day link 

 Synchronicity and the Web
picture Richard MacManus wrote a couple of articles about synchronicity and the web: Statis and Synchronicity and A Theory of Synchronicity for the Web.
Synchronicity is a term made famous by the psychiatrist Carl Jung. He defined synchronicity as an "occurrence of a meaningful coincidence in time". Further, it as "an acausal connecting principle". Which is to say that a connection occurs through the sharing of a common meaning, not because one event caused the other. Jung went so far as to boldly state that "synchronicity could thus be added as a fourth principle to the triad of space, time, and causality".

Synchronicity has come to mean a variety of things. Laurence Boldt claims that synchronicity reflects the "underlying interconnectedness of all things within the Universe" [my emphasis]. An attractive theory for those of us addicted to Web culture! Stephen J. Davis states that synchronicity is "a very personal and subjective observation of this inter-connected universe of which we are but a small part". Another keyword that pops up in writings about synchronicity is "flow" - which of course reminds me of the Web's Information Flow. When used to describe synchronicity, it's all about the "flow of life". For example, this quote:

"When we are in the flow we experience more synchronous events, more pleasure and less pain. The flow of coincidences is our path to higher ground."
So, yes, we need more synchronicity and more serendipity. He doesn't really say how that actually might work, but nevertheless it is an important subject.

We could use a synchronicity engine, really. Some tools that increase synchronicity.

Randomness is one way of going about it, even though it isn't enough in itself. If you look at some random, unexpected content frequently, you're likely to run into something unexpected that really fits for you. Random links used to be popular, but probably give you too much junk most of the time.

Collaborative Filtering might suggest new things to you that you didn't know about, but that fit your interest areas. E.g. Amazon will suggest a book to you that you maybe didn't know about, which has been bought by other people who've bought similar books as you. That's useful of course, but it is rarely what we would call synchronicity.

Blogging and the reading of many news feeds tends to increase synchronicity. You only look at a small sub-section of the world, as you read blog feeds you've already picked as being somehow interesting. You don't control what people write about, and you scan whatever it happens to be. And sometimes themes form unexpectedly. Several people write about the same things at the same time. Which might appear mysteriously meaningful and timely. OK, sometimes it is merely because they happened to read the same article and comment on it. The blog world is a bit inbred, as many people comment on the same things, and mainly scan each other's feeds and standard news sources for input.

Sometimes the most stimulating posts are either when somebody picks some unnoticed or old item or when they write about their own life, without referring to any news item. Looking around for unnoticed or new snippets of information is likely to increase synchronicity, as the item might appear timely and relevant for a bunch of other people, but also unexpected.

I like using semi-random content on some sites I've done. Quotes, web links, pictures, etc. The combinations of what pops up often seems meaningful to people. Like the quote was selected just for them.

It is like the old creativity technique of blindly finding two words in the dictionary, and then pretending that they relate to a particular situation or problem at hand, and looking for the meaningful connection between them. It is very often there, and it is often useful. That's a way of generating synchronicity.

There needs to be a wide-range freedom of motion for synchronicity to be more likely. If I only change between 3 quotes on my webpage, none of them will seem very synchronistic to most people. But if I have a few hundred, and they're good quotes in the first place, many people will find them strangely relevant.

Synchronicity is also increased the more different items I practically can manage to be shown. Again, if I see only one quote per day, chances are fewer that it will be really meaningful than if I could stand paying attention to 100. But I maybe can't. There's a sweet spot somewhere, where you're presented with enough diversity, but not so much that it becomes a blur.

If I go to a party with 10 people, and it turns out that two of us are wearing the same shirt, that's a coincidence I'll notice, even if it is not very meaningful. If we talk, and find out we were wearing the shirt for the same unlikely reason, then it begins being meaningful. But if there were 1000 people, and one of them was wearing the same shirt as me, that would just be statistics at work.

As to the net, the question is how to provide me with an increased number of coincidental fits, in a number that is great enough to be useful, and small enough to be remarkable.

There's probably some strange way of calculating the generative diversity in a volume of information, blog postings or whatever. And then maybe the synchronicity potential. You know, the information has to be sufficiently relevant to me in the first place, for me to bother paying attention to it. But sufficiently diverse and unexpected to supply me with new fits that I couldn't have guessed on my own.

In any stream of data one can measure the amount of information, at least theoretically. If I tell you 000000000000010000, then the information is in the part that is different. The 1 is the interesting part. The rest can easily be compressed into a very small space.

Same with the stream of postings in blog world, theoretically. How much of it is really people talking about the same things, and saying very similar things about them? How much of it is really new? How much of it is information? How much of it is knowledge being transferred, i.e. you actually get something you can do something with?

Synchronicity is often that you send out a signal you weren't aware of, and you get a response. If you're aware of it, it is something else. If I search for something on google, and I find it, it isn't terribly surprising any longer, and it isn't synchronicity. But it might be when I get an answer to something I didn't quite know I was asking.

I vaguely hear somebody mention a book at another table in a restaurant. I walk into a bookstore five minutes later, and there it is on the shelf, and when I open it, I realize it is very interesting and relevant to me. That's a synchronicity.

Aha, that gives some inkling of how we technologically can help it happen. Something needs to capture way more channels of information about you than you normally bother paying conscious attention to. At least not at the same time. What people have been saying around you recently; what clothes you're wearing; what's on your bookshelf; all the people you know; all the subjects you're interested in; all the projects you're working on. And something needs to be matching all these items with other people's items, and items in your surroundings, as a background process.

There's no reason you shouldn't be able to have access to sufficiently extensive and automatic information sharing that you can walk out on the street and something says "Beep! That person walking on the other side of the street is out to buy a washer. You have one for sale. Why don't you talk with him?"

We're simply talking about some kind of location-aware device that knows who's close by, in the real world, or in an online setting. And then some way of representing a large number of needs and wants and what's available. That's the harder part. Expressing a lot of fairly fuzzy human resources and resource requirements in a finite enough way that they can be automatically matched. Even if they might not have been deliberately voiced.

In principle the objective is simple. You'd carry a lot of informational receptors in your space. They will link up with matching reciprocal receptors that are available in your environment. If done right, it is a technology-assisted way of being in the flow all the time.

What most people want is out there, and probably close by. What most people offer is needed somewhere, probably close by.

We could very well get used to having things matched up effortlessly, rather than having to spend a lot of energy looking for things that aren't there. And lot of things would just be working, by lightning speed.

It can take several frustrating hours to look for a suitable plane flight that is cheap and actually available. There's no good reason you shouldn't get the information that you eventaully end up with, but right away, in the first try. It can take hours looking for the right product for some purpose. It can be a good deal of work selling some item, as you need to locate good places, and there are several of them, and you aren't in any way guaranteed to find the people who really want your item. All of that kind of thing could simply be an automatic underlying substrate of connectivity, that connects those things that fit, and lets you know about it, and which doesn't waste your time with all the things that don't fit.

The Synchronicity Engine. We need it soon.

[ | 2004-06-18 18:55 | 6 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, June 17, 2004day link 

 Structural Holes
David Teten writes on Online Business Blog.
You will usually benefit if the members of your network do not know one another. Ronald Burt, in his innovative and influential book, Structural Holes: The Social Structure of Competition, provides fascinating support for the argument that both people and companies benefit by sitting in a “structural hole” of a network. A structural hole exists when there is only a weak connection between two clusters of densely connected people.

For example, let us say you are the head of German country sales for Hasbro, Inc., a major manufacturer of games and toys. Your value to Hasbro is as a pipeline to the German market. It is in your interest to build relationships with many people in both Hasbro headquarters and in the German market. You fill a structural hole between those two groups. In order to preserve that structural hole, we recommend you should probably not introduce the two pools of people (the American Hasbro toy-sellers and the German toy-buyers).
I suppose that is traditional wisdom of job-security, applied to social networks. But I think that, as a general philosophy, that sucks big time. You try to deliberately keep the people from talking to each other that would most benefit from talking to each other, by making yourself the networking tollbooth.

Oh, I think most people do it in one way or another. Most people have their job because somebody somehow believes that they're needed for it. And if we're talking about knowledge work, or about the work of connecting some people over here with some people over there - then your job security might easily seem a little fragile. So, one easily gets into keeping some key pieces of information secret, so that nobody will be inspired to cut you out of the loop. Doesn't make it right, though.

In my ideal world, it would be the people who actually make the most difference who'd have the best job security. Not the people who pretend they're invaluable, simply because they hide part of the picture from everybody else. But, alas, society doesn't really work that way. You get paid by making somebody feel they have to pay you, not particularly by doing great work.

Although, the people who actually have figured out the system are doing the opposite. I.e. getting themselves out of the loop, rather than trying to seem like an invaluable link. I'm talking about the people who make businesses, as opposed to trying to hold a job and appear like a good employee. The trick is just how to engineer that most of us possibly might end up being so skilled or lucky.
[ | 2004-06-17 16:02 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Friday, June 11, 2004day link 

 Infinite Games
picture Via FutureHi, Kevin Kelly mentions James Carse's "Finite and Infinite Games":
The wisdom held in this brief book now informs most of what I do in life. Its key distinction--that there are two types of games, finite and infinite--resolves my uncertainties about what to do next. Easy: always choose infinite games. The message is appealing because it is deeply cybernetic, yet it's also genuinely mystical. I get an "aha" every time I return to it.
It is also one of my most favorite books. At least the first part. The book's message has been very important to me. My notes from the book are here. Here's a bit of the wisdom in it:
A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.
Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.
To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.
The death of an infinite player is dramatic. It does not mean that the game comes to an end with death; on the contrary, infinite players offer their death as a way of continuing the play. For that reason they do not play for their own life; they live for their own play.
I can be powerful only by not playing, by showing that the game is over.
Infinite players do not oppose the actions of others, but initiate actions of their own in such a way that others will play by initiating their own.
Evil is the termination of infinite play.
No one can play a game alone.
There is but one infinite game.

[ | 2004-06-11 12:03 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

Tuesday, June 8, 2004day link 

 Attention Economy
Seb Paquet:
I think Phil Jones provides a powerful insight in his page on Google Juice. As attention online becomes explicit and accounted for, we may "start to apply it more, to put it to better use, going out of our way to earn it by writing more, and thinking more and offering other favours to our net-friends. In other words, an attention economy can stimulate people to do stuff the same as the money economy."
Hm, yeah. We are to a large degree moving into or already living in an attention economy. Which suddenly makes it a bit worrying if Google is the bank. If Google adjusts their page ranking algorithm a tiny bit, "fortunes" change hands, in terms of attention. Is that good and fair? Shouldn't the mechanism somehow be in our collective hands? No good way of accomplishing that at this point, but it is an important issue, as one's Google fueled attention account gets increasingly important. Phil Jones also says:
In the old money economy, passing money around was the definition of or the creation of economic activity. It's what let us "measure" economic activity. In fact the indexes of economic growth can be increased simply by pulling gifts, favours, friendship services from the non-accounted realm into the payed realm.
So if we're serious about such an economy being meaningful, does it then make sense to work hard on increasing one's holdings of attention? Maybe, maybe not. It is noteworthy that the people who work most hard on improving their position are not the people who most naturally circulate in such new kinds of economies, but rather the folks who're thinking of money and advertising and leverage all day. The people who tend to do best in the attention economy are exactly those who "act naturally", who don't waste any time jockeying for position. I don't think Doc Searls or Joi Ito are scouting around for people to do link exchanges with or who they can persuade to be their friends. They're following their own authentic attention and interests, and that is what is interesting about them.

What we need is rather ways of weeding out the fake attention. Sure, I'd enjoy if more people were reading what I'm saying. But I know very well that if I made a hundred fake websites that linked to myself, that wouldn't really do it, even if I could temporarily fool Google to bring me more traffic. Google already brings me plenty of attention, more than I deserve on certain subjects.

Should I work on finding a lot of new friends on Orkut and Ryze? Would it make me a more popular guy who's rich in attention? Maybe, but only if I really have anything to say that's worth paying attention to.

In brief, I think that, no, the thing to do is NOT to treat attention as if it were cash you could just circulate around to create economic activity. It works by different rules altogether. If our shared information space becomes sophisticated enough, we might get better at drawing and giving attention where it really is warranted. Which might include some activities that vaguely resemble self-promotion. But beyond a certain somewhat fuzzy line it starts being virtual check kiting. And that is going to turn out to not be very useful to anybody.
[ | 2004-06-08 18:28 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Saturday, June 5, 2004day link 

picture Alas, I didn't make it to Planetwork, although I'd really have liked to. But I can't be everywhere, except for virtually. There's a wiki and an IRC channel going on, and a bunch of people blogging. Like Jay Cross or John Beatty. E-names is one of the technical themes. But it isn't just technical. A mix of a socially responsible, activist, techie crowd. General themes:

  • Social Networks and Civil Society The New ID Commons Technical Protocol
  • Environmental: Proactive Responses to Global Warming & Mass Extinction
  • Digital Democracy: Civil Rights & Civil Liberties from the DMCA to Touch Screen Voting
  • Alternative Economics: Online & Offline Strategies Complementary Currencies, Electronic barter & beyond
  • Independent Media from Blogs and RSS to DV and TiVo, new technologies for independent networked news
  • The Real-World Game: Bucky's Spaceship Earth meets Sim Earth a multi-player online game using real data to model future scenarios
    [ | 2004-06-05 18:19 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

  • Thursday, June 3, 2004day link 

     Where Social Networking needs to go
    Marc Canter on Broadband Mechanics, via Quickdraft Blog
    Though explicit social networking could be considered the hot new trend in software today, it is a solution without a context. Only by placing digital Identity, social networking and web services into a particular context – can their full potential be exploited.

    Next generation on-line communities will combine all their predecessor’s features (message boards and blogging/RSS) with a timely relevance to individuals and particular groups of people.

    What’s been missing from social networking up until now are the activities and transactions that should follow once people have found each other!
    Yes! So we can find each other - then what? It is not that hard to find each other any longer. But then what do we do? Send e-mail to each other? We could use better ways of existing in the same space as a bunch of other people, and sharing things we need and want to share, without over-simplified approaches like us having to join the same forum on some proprietary site. We need ways of not having to worry about the details. I should be able to concentrate on what I'd like to share with who, and from whom I'm interested in what, rather than having to bounce around trying to end up on as members of the same forums as them.
    [ | 2004-06-03 14:18 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

    Tuesday, June 1, 2004day link 

     Proactive Money
    picture This is an old article of mine, from 1995. I've posted it before, but it is probably as timely now as it has ever been, so I don't want to forget that thought.

    I was just pondering how the concept of money can make sense at all in an information economy, and I've got some ideas.

    Before the arrival of agricultural societies money wasn't needed. Hunters and gatherers would simply take what they needed or wanted, fight for it if necessary, and continuously move on to where they could find the resources they were seeking.

    In "first wave" agricultural societies surpluses would be produced. The land would be worked to produce food stuff and what is produced is either stored up or it is traded. Trading would open the need for money as a means of exchange. Also, it suddenly became important what you HAVE, what you own. If you have land you can grow stuff and sell it. If you have produce you can sell it. Power and affluence is measured by how much you currently own.

    The "second wave", the industrial revolution, centralized production and brought about the need for a lot of machinery and buildings that needed to be in place BEFORE something valuable was produced. That brought about the need for financing, for somehow having or borrowing money before you could create more. And then the monetary value of what you produced is in part based on the need to recuperate the investments made, and the costs of the resources that had to be acquired to put into the product. As opposed to agricultural production, industrial production requires that you get stuff from elsewhere that you can build your products of and with. Money comes to symbolize what is OWED for the previously used resources that went into what you are paying for. Wealth is based on how much you have produced in the past that you are now being owed for.

    The "third wave", the information society, changes the equation again, even though the change isn't fully realized yet. Information and knowledge do not have mass or weight. They can potentially be arrived at instantly and they can in principle be replicated any number of times without any use of resources. What becomes important is not what happened before, but what happens AFTER a piece of information is generated or distributed. The value of an idea is in what it allows you to do, not in the amount of trouble it took to arrive at it, nor in its value as a possession of yours.

    But our economic system is still based on second wave principles. Our currencies are still defined by the amount of debt they represent. Our financial institutions are based on the financing of production that then is owed for and needs to be repaid with interest by the proceeds from trading with the production.

    Information products fit poorly into this scheme and it creates friction and unnecessary hindrances to their use that they are treated by the old industrial model. For example, the concept of intellectual property is an attempt to treat information as material products.

    If a factory produces a car, a certain amount of materials go into it and it is in itself a very tangible product. It will always be worth something in that there is a limited number of cars and raw materials and there is a need for both. It is quite workable for the car factory to expect to get back what they've spent on making the car, and then some, in exchange for granting somebody the privilege to take possession of the car. That person would after all be able to trade further with the car, as it has value in itself.

    A knowledge product, such as a software program, works quite differently. It can be reproduced with no incremental cost and without any resources required by its original manufacturer. Potential users will of course quickly discover that they themselves can manufacture a fresh instance of a software product.

    A car manufacturer could probably care less if you went home and constructed a copy of his car in your garage, because he knows that he gets paid for the resources and work he puts into the production of his car. A knowledge worker can not have the same assurance and might have impossible difficulties ensuring that he will get his investments in time and resources back, because he has nothing tangible to show for it. Somebody might help him installing some kind of police state methods of monitoring how people use his product so he can be paid, but that is really only stalling the inevitable conclusion.

    Information providers, such as copyright owners, software producers, or artists running around angrily trying to stop people from using their information without paying for their past work, is a sign of the economics no longer being in tune with the methods of production and distribution.

    The fact of the matter is that information inherently can be reproduced infinitely and there is no inherent value in simply owning it, or in having worked hard at it. There is only value in using it.

    If instances of information in themselves had value, all one needed to do to be rich would be to duplicate them a zillion times. It is nonsense of course. Making repeated copies of a software program on your harddisk doesn't produce any wealth.

    We can not measure the worth of information by the resources that went into producing it earlier. An idea that it took a second to generate might revolutionize the world. A 50 million dollar movie might be an unwatchable flop.

    Producers have no inherent right to be compensated for what they did just because they did it. A car maker doesn't expect to get anything more than what people are willing to pay for each instance of his product, and if that isn't more than what he spent making it he will go broke. An information producer in an industrial society economy can't expect to be treated any different. That is, he will be paid for each instance of his product what people are willing to pay, and if he doesn't succeed in paying his debts he will go broke.

    The concept of having to be paid for what one did earlier is no longer valid in the natural 3rd wave economy. It will probably go out kicking and screaming before it is replaced with a new scheme.

    "Pay me if you want my property" is 1st wave thinking. The most appropriate currency for that is one that converts into tangible property in a predictable manner, such as gold.

    "How do I get back my investment?" is 2nd wave thinking. Dollars, defined inherently as debts to the banks, are likewise 2nd wave currency, destined for obsolesence.

    "What can I do with my knowledge?" is 3rd wave thinking. It is no longer about being paid for what you have or what you spent. It is how can you spend the resources you have in the most productive way.

    Existing information is free and infinitely reproducable so there is no need to ration it and charge money for it or own it. The most valuable services in an information society is to produce/invent something NEW or to show people the way to what is already there. We're talking not only of information, but of adding value TO information. Information itself will be without inherent value in an advanced information society. Getting new information that you need when you need it is what is valuable.

    How do we account for new useful information and services being made available? Do we need to account for stuff at all?

    There is really no big need to account for existing information, as it isn't limited. The same with creativity. It isn't limited and is impossible to quantify. What we CAN quantify and account for is anything that is in a limited supply.

    As more and more resources get transformed into an unlimited supply they will no longer need to be accounted for. For example, if we need some kind of fuel to create electricity with, and there is a finite quantity of it, we need to account for it, as well as for the electricity produced. But, if for example we make solar panels ubiquitous, available for anybody, and since sunlight is for our purposes inexhaustable, we don't have to account for either.

    For a 3rd wave economy we need a currency that doesn't reflect ownership or past work, but that stimulates future creative work.

    A more natural 3rd wave type of money would be something that doesn't attain value before one spends it in a productive way. It would be present or future oriented, rather than oriented towards the past. It is an expression of what one finds use in or one's prediction of future benefits.

    We could regard that kind of money as a voting system for what one finds of value, rather than as an enforced exchange of scarcities.

    Information and benefits are potentially unlimited. It therefore doesn't make sense to match them up with a scarce, limited medium of assigning value. The valued currency should be able to expand to match the value of the benefits that are experienced, rather than the estimated values having to be shrunk to the supply of currency available.

    How exactly to do that, I don't know. And how to combine that with a medium that can be used to acquire goods that actually ARE scarce and limited in supply, I don't know.

    But, it is apparently to me that the current money systems are not very helpful in creating a better future where all of our needs are met, and it is not very practical as a measure for what is actually valuable in our lives.

    We need new money that is proactive, that freely supports a desirable and viable future, rather than money that is reactive, only representing past acts and acquired possessions.

    Currently only banks can use money pseudo-proactively, creating it by lending it out. But that is done with some heavy strings attached, and the inherently impossible condition that more money needs to be paid back than what is given out. That equation doesn't add up in that only banks can create money and they all need to be paid back more than the money that they give out.

    We probably need a system where anybody who creates or perceives value also creates money, and the money is not a loan to be paid back, but a gift to be passed on.

    In such a system new projects would be financed, not by borrowing money, but by gaining the trust of others who will believe in the project and voluntarily give money to it, because they want to see it happen. Or by producing value that people will feel like rewarding, thereby funding further production of value in the same vein.

    That is not possible with scarcity money, but only with money that people can freely give without experiencing a personal loss from doing so. Money that gains value from being used on something desirable, and that retains no value from being kept.
    [ | 2004-06-01 14:50 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

    Saturday, May 22, 2004day link 

    picture I'm missing dialogue. Dialogue as per the principles outlined by David Bohm. See
    Dialogue - a Proposal. I used to be in a dialogue group that met once per month for half a day. Run by the people from The Dialogue Group. Dialogue done this way is something unique, very specific, but yet strangely nebulous. It is a gathering that doesn't have any direct purpose or aim. Nobody's trying to "accomplish" anything or to gain agreement or to arrive at an outcome. One sits down in a circle, quiet at first, and then when somebody feels inspired to speak, one speaks. When they're done, when somebody else feels inspired to speak, they do so. What others said forms part of your impetus to talk, but you aren't directly answering the others. Everybody focuses what is in the "middle" of the circle. We're in a way talking about the same thing, but without having agreed on what that is, and without any requirement to agree. We're kind of talking about what we see, what we experience. We can explore our assumptions, ideas and feelings. And, magically, it leads somewhere. Not necessarily a neat result, and it is hard to say what exactly came of it, but something will. It is a different kind of space than what one finds just about anywhere else. It is free, real, authentic. People are present. Where it goes is entirely open.
    Dialogue, as we are choosing to use the word, is a way of exploring the roots of the many crises that face humanity today. It enables inquiry into, and understanding of, the sorts of processes that fragment and interfere with real communication between individuals, nations and even different parts of the same organization. In our modern culture men and women are able to interact with one another in many ways: they can sing dance or play together with little difficulty but their ability to talk together about subjects that matter deeply to them seems invariable to lead to dispute, division and often to violence. In our view this condition points to a deep and pervasive defect in the process of human thought.

    In Dialogue, a group of people can explore the individual and collective presuppositions, ideas, beliefs, and feelings that subtly control their interactions. It provides an opportunity to participate in a process that displays communication successes and failures. It can reveal the often puzzling patterns of incoherence that lead the group to avoid certain issues or, on the other hand, to insist, against all reason, on standing and defending opinions about particular issues.

    Dialogue is a way of observing, collectively, how hidden values and intentions can control our behavior, and how unnoticed cultural differences can clash without our realizing what is occurring. It can therefore be seen as an arena in which collective learning takes place and out of which a sense of increased harmony, fellowship and creativity can arise.

    Because the nature of Dialogue is exploratory, its meaning and its methods continue to unfold. No firm rules can be laid down for conducting a Dialogue because its essence is learning - not as the result of consuming a body of information or doctrine imparted by an authority, nor as a means of examining or criticizing a particular theory or programme, but rather as part of an unfolding process of creative participation between peers.
    Here are some other links, with much material:

    Bohm Dialogue
    Dialogue and Conversation
    UIA Dialogue Links
    Global Dialogue Institute
    Open Forum

    I haven't seen much real dialogue happen online. At least only rarely. But some of what works well with weblogs leans in that direction. Where you can just state what's on your mind, what's going on, without having to worry much about what others will think or whether what you say corresponds properly to what others are saying. But when it works, we might talk into the same space.
    [ | 2004-05-22 08:35 | 5 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

    Thursday, May 6, 2004day link 

     Anarchy, Open Source/Content and Value Systems
    picture Interesting article by Gerald Gleason.
    In trying to think about the success factors for Open Source (OS) projects, and evaluate their character and structure, as well as thinking about extending this idea to other areas, I had the insight that the essential character of OS project organization is anarchy. As a political/intellectual movement, Anarchy is probably the most pure form of Libertarianism. Forget any associations you may have with the idea of creating anarchy in communities or societies by throwing bombs and other disruptive acts, since these are both factually incorrect, and have nothing to do with what Anarchy advocates. The correct association is of anarchy with "a state of nature", the Garden of Eden, if you will.

    Humans, being highly social animals with highly advanced systems for communication of symbolic knowledge, have the ability to impose rules of all sorts on this original state. In principle, there is nothing wrong with this, but history shows many examples where "the rules" become highly oppressive. In tribal societies, the social unit is a small group where social "norms" can operate effectively, and it can be argued that the "norms" are essential for the survival of the tribe, but human development did not stop there. With the development of agriculture, the stage was set for creating hierarchical structures, monetary systems and large scale warfare (i.e. beyond inter-tribal conflicts for territory).

    It is well know that Libertarian thought is pervasive in the highly technical software development community, and it is easy to see the attraction of these ideas to a class of highly intelligent, somewhat individualistic people. Add youth to that, and you get a lot of contempt for conventional systems of power and authority. In the beginnings of the software industry, there wasn't much of a market for additional copies of specific programs, and a lot of development happened in academic and other research labs, so there wasn't much thought or attention from the capitalists. Programmers freely shared their code with anyone who asked, and nobody thought about cashing in by selling millions of copies of a program. Richard Stallman created the GPL in reaction to the way code sharing was being closed down by the potential to cash in by selling code over and over. [...]

    All of this is the essence of an anarchistic organizational system. Yes, formal structures are developed and put in place, but only with the tacit support of the community. It only works because everyone is free to participate or not, according to their desires and interests. There would be no debate about any of this if we weren't embedded in a system of market capitalism where value is equated with money, and money is necessary for each of us to be able to live and make choices. [...]

    The bottom line is that while monetary systems and markets work well to efficiently distribute scarce commodities, they also tend to simplify complex systems of values into a single dimension, and they are particularly bad at promoting the efficient development of IP resources that gain their greatest value the more widely they are shared. It should be clear to most of us by now that this one-dimensional value system becomes non-functional in an information economy, as well as undervaluing the diversity and quality of the natural environment necessary for our long-term survival. The way forward will involve the emergence of new value systems based on sharing of information. To get there from here, we need to operate in the context of market capitalism, and actually exploit it to fund the transformation. This will involve convincing those who control the money to fund the rapid development of the IP Commons for the benefit of everyone.
    Indeed. A one-dimensional value system no longer works, as our collective relationships become more complex and multi-dimensional. The purpose of an economy is to facilitate the valuation, distribution and coordination of items we need for living, and which we don't already possess. An economy and an organizational system that is based on centralized control and valuation by only one parameter is no longer adequate. Effective coordination among free people, who basically can do what they feel like, is certainly a harder problem. But not unsolvable, if we recognize that a new paradigm is required. The payoff can be enormous.
    [ | 2004-05-06 10:07 | 8 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

    Sunday, April 4, 2004day link 

     Continuous Partial Attention
    picture Via Get Real, mention of Linda Stone's distinction between multitasking and what she calls "continuous partial attention". Here, from Inc. magazine:
    Despite her bureaucratic title [Microsoft vice-president of corporate and industry initiatives], Stone is a creative thinker who has coined the term continuous partial attention to describe the way we cope with the barrage of communication coming at us. It's not the same as multitasking, Stone says; that's about trying to accomplish several things at once. With continuous partial attention, we're scanning incoming alerts for the one best thing to seize upon: "How can I tune in in a way that helps me sync up with the most interesting, or important, opportunity?" She says: "It's crucial for CEOs to be intentional about breaking free from continuous partial attention in order to get their bearings. Some of today's business books suggest that speed is the answer to today's business challenges. Pausing to reflect, focus, think a problem through; and then taking steady steps forward in an intentional direction is really the key.
    OK, so the ideal is not that we work on everything at the same time. We've got to give significant focus to the major thing we're working on at the moment. But at the same time we need to have ways of always being well-informed about anything that is going on that might change our priorities. If you're engaging in a business activity with other people, some of which aren't in the same physical location as you, it simply doesn't work if you hide away, fully engrossed in a project, paying no attention the outside world. Lots of time and effort can be wasted, just because you weren't there to answer a quick question, or because you didn't hear before days later that circumstances had changed. Stowe Boyd of Get Real puts it very well:
    "The trick may be to filter events so that only those that are material intrude on our reflections and heads-down work. We shouldn't jump up and run in circles every time the wind shakes the leaves, but we cannot afford to become so engrossed in what we are doing that we miss the leopard about to pounce.

    There is no absolute here. Those that simply refuse to carry cell phones, or never log in to IM are dangerous to their organizations. If you are a solitary journalist, or a very senior executive, such behavior may be workable: in the former case, no one is harmed by your opting out, and in the latter case you are likely to have staffers who filter the outside world for you. But for the average person, linked in a dense, cascading social network of collaborators who depend on your timely response to critical events, it will prove increasingly difficult -- if not impossible -- to veer away from continuous partial attention. We will have to learn a new balancing act, and it will be strongly canted toward spending more cycles scanning the horizon and fewer looking down at the piecework in our laps."
    It is a balancing act indeed. We don't get much done if we spend all our time browsing around in "what's going on". You have to focus to get real work done. But you also have to stay plugged in to the channels of information that are relevant to your work.

    I mostly work that way. And I notice the disconnect with people I work with in one or another who don't themselves work that way. Some people I can't get hold of for days, to ask a quick, but critical question. And I get it the other way. Sometimes somebody will come and tell me they've been trying to get hold of me for a week, and it is a big crisis. That's invariably people who don't use IM and cellphones, and who don't really get the IM thing, and all they did was maybe to send me an e-mail a week ago, saying IMPORTANT in the subject line, which got munched up by my spam filter, and they're waiting for my answer. And they never realized that they can reach me quickly and easily with IM, and if somehow it has to be this second, my cellphone is always with me. Send it an SMS if you're worried I might be asleep. But don't even think of using those channels to strike up a live smalltalk conversation with me about what I might have been doing the last few months. You can have my PARTIAL attention at any time as long as we're exchanging relevant information, and you realize that I'm probably doing something else right now.
    [ | 2004-04-04 11:29 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

    Tuesday, March 16, 2004day link 

     Narrative and Action
    From Chris Corrigan, key ideas from a paper How stories affect human action in organisation:

    1. Organizations are not "things" but rather relational processes.

    2. Human beings use story to represent and understand the patterns of experience.

    3. Stories only represent partial versions of reality and so narrative interpretation is subject to power dynamics.

    4. Powerful storyteller can make people "captives" in the story; this is the process of mythmaking.

    5. "Organisations, in fact the 'organising via relating, exist in order to 'do something'. Hence somehow, the individuals in the organisation need to 'act'...if our identity is clear and we are actively interconnected in interdependent processes that when information comes available, action can emerge. The information sharing happens in interactive processes between individuals (either inside or outside the 'organisation')."

    6. "In the language of Gover (1996) 'our identities are being constitutes and reconstituted with their physical, cultural and historical contexts'. The roots of narratives and identity, he claims, 'merge, inextricably embedded and nurtured in the soil of human action'."

    7. Narratives that resonate with an individual's experience create meaningful and sustained emergent action.

    8. If people in organisations don't pay attention to the Individual Intention, the likelihood of the vortices of the narratives in those organisation resonating with the vortex of the Individual Intention is purely one of chance. It is due to individuals themselves to actively spend the time to understand other people’s Individual Intention.

    9. By consciously working on understanding Individual Intention and consciously work on fuzzifying the narrative the complex responsive process of interaction between the people will move to the attractor at the critical point. This can only happen in self-organised process of interactions where meaning can start to flow.
    Important stuff about the deep connection between narrative and action. The story or myth about what is going on can sometimes integrate things and inspire action in a way that goes beyond what we easily can express consciously.
    [ | 2004-03-16 16:13 | 0 comments | PermaLink ]

    Thursday, March 4, 2004day link 

     Major subways
    picture The major subway systems of the world, presented on the same scale. Why do I find that interesting? Well, it is somehow interesting to be able to compare stuff that one hasn't noticed being compared before. Particularly somewhat hidden infrastructure. Here is more info about those subways: length, number of riders, etc.
    [ | 2004-03-04 15:06 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

    Sunday, February 15, 2004day link 

     Commons-based peer production
    picture An article The Microsoft Killers about the success of open source and how it is spreading to other areas than software. And this nice general description of what it is we're talking about:
    Yochai Benkler, a law professor at Yale University, has called this "commons-based peer production." The commons refers to the sharing of the underlying code or the output that is open to all, akin to the public land that farmers once grazed their livestock upon. Peer production means that producers participate for their own varied reasons and in ad hoc ways, not necessarily via legal contract or management fiat. Benkler calls this a third mode of production for the market, distinct from the company and the "spot market" (or, in employment terms, the freelancer). Open source shows that it is possible for part of the economy to function without companies but with many self-employed individuals contracting with each other.
    It mentions various expamples. Nasa's Clickworkers project where 85,000 people successfully helped identify geological features on Mars. The Wikipedia, a fabulous online encyclopedia that anybody can contribute to. MIT's OpenCourseWare, freely available study materials for hundreds of courses. Open access academic journals like BioMed Central. And more.

    I can't wait for it to spread to more areas.
    [ | 2004-02-15 12:58 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

    Friday, February 13, 2004day link 

     Lessons from social networking
    picture Danah Boyd gave a speech at the Emerging Technologies conference a couple of days ago which seems quite interesting, looking at the transscript. She goes through various kinds of research related to social networks. Things that have been learned, things that don't work, misunderstandings, etc.

    Like the famous 6 degrees of separation. The well-known experiment found random people to be on the average 5.5 hops away from other random people. But that was when they had to guess at who they should contact to get to somebody else, and when they didn't really know. It would be different if we could actually see the whole network. Like, fewer jumps.

    Research has shown that people often find, for example, jobs through weak ties. I.e. people you know, but not very well. And online social networks usually try to mimic a setup of having strong ties and weak ties, and one of the implications is that it would help you get jobs and dates. But the friends you have in an online network aren't necessarily like the friends in real life, and the friends or those friends are not really like the weak tie connections in your life.

    And there's the matter of context. Just because you know somebody, even very well, in a certain context, doesn't mean you feel comfortable about doing things for them in another context. It might not seem right to make an introduction to a job you know nothing about, just because you often go out drinking with somebody. And the expectation of your connections that you'll do that kind of favors for them sort of wears on you and your actual network.
    "Asking favors is fundamentally different than offering them. People gain by being bridges. Thus, to be able to tell you about a job gives me whuffie in our relationship. Feeling pressured to connect you to an open job makes me uncomfortable. In all of the networks described above, the bridge got to control the information flow. In Milgram's "Small Worlds," if you didn't know that i knew the target person, you may not have tried to pass it on to me. If you don't know that i am dating someone who has something that you want, you won't try to pressure me into giving you access to it. Thus, i can choose when to reveal my connections in a situation where i can come across as being helpful, rather than being put in a position to feel cornered. Revealing the network shifts the power."
    Which reminds me that a few of the best networkers I know wouldn't really dream of using an online network where you list all your friends, and catalogue everything you're into. I get to think of one friend who's name I'm not even going to mention. We only talk at the most once per six months or a year. But every time we talk for an hour or so, and usually he introduces me to some concept or project or person that he carefully has handpicked for me. And each time it is very valuable and appropriate. And he wouldn't dream of just introducing everybody in his rolodex to everybody else.

    So, even though there are lots of benefits from free-flowing networking and sharing a lot of things in blogs, all of those connections aren't necessarily what they seem. Some connections are really weaker than they seem, and some are more important than is apparent. And the properties of the network interface makes people do all sorts of things that might obfuscate the real story.

    We still don't really have all the solutions. Social behavior doesn't necessarily have merely technological solutions.
    [ | 2004-02-13 20:04 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

    Friday, January 30, 2004day link 

     Corporate Psychosis
    Kottke has a post about the move The Corporation and accompanying book. A quote from The Corporation:
    Considering the odd legal fiction that deems a corporation a "person" in the eyes of the law, the feature documentary employees a checklist, based on actual diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organization and DSM IV, the standard tool of psychiatrists and psychologists. What emerges is a disturbing diagnosis.

    Self-interested, amoral, callous and deceitful, a corporation's operational principles make it anti-social. It breaches social and legal standards to get its way even while it mimics the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism. It suffers no guilt. Diagnosis: the institutional embodiment of laissez-faire capitalism fully meets the diagnostic criteria of a psychopath.
    It makes sense. And of course not all corporations are like that. Corporations that are run purely for a profit motive and that lack any people-oriented culture are mostly like that. Good capitalistic theory says that a corporation HAS to have exclusively a profit orientation. Luckily not everybody's thinking like that. The Kottke article mentions a quote from a book:
    A business develops an identity by providing a product or a service to people. To do that it needs capital, and it needs to make a profit, but no more than it needs to have competent employees or customers or any other thing that enables production to take place. None of this is the goal of the activity.
    Unless of course if somebody owns that business and they decide that it is. Which they do a lot of the time. A corporation is a convenient way for individuals to covertly act as psychopaths without owning up to any responsibility for it. And of compelling other people to do the dirty work involved, again without responsibility.
    [ | 2004-01-30 12:12 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

    Wednesday, January 28, 2004day link 

     The Oldest Weblog
    picture Fluid Flow, via McGee's Musings:
    "A standard definition of a weblog is a series of posts in "reverse chronologic order". I can't give you a reference here because the standard online reference sites don't have a definition for "weblog"

    But, as a geologist, I understand "reverse chronologic order". Reverse chronologic order is youngest on top and older as you go down. This is a stratigraphic order. Younger deposits bury older deposits, so you get progressively older as you dig down. So weblogs view the world in a stratigraphic order.

    It would be nice if the weblog folks acknowledge those who have gone before them. The Earth has been recording events in reverse chronologic order for over 3.8 billion years. The oldest weblog is the Earth."
    Sometimes I try to convince my wife that the mess on my desk is a deliberate attempt of organizing things like nature does it. Old lifeforms and cultures live their lives and leave their remains around, and new things are simply built on top, on the shoulders of the old. And a complete archaeological and geological record is left behind. You can in a logical manner dig down to various layers and find out what life was like last week or a hundred years ago. And you don't want any amateurs to come along and mess up history by disturbing the authentic arrangement. She usually doesn't buy it.
    [ | 2004-01-28 19:22 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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