Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Tuesday, December 31, 2002day link 

 Portable Product Truth Device
picture Here's an idea for a useful gadget or application: You walk around the supermarket and you see a product or a brand you might consider buying. Before you do so, you enter it into your little handheld wireless device. Maybe even by scanning the barcode. It then looks up information about that company and/or product on the net, organized to be from sources you trust in that regard. So, not simply a google search and certainly not the company's own website, but the inside scoop from people with no vested interest in faking it. It gives you a quick snapshot about who owns the company, what they're doing in the world that is good or bad, what the product actually is about, and how other people have liked it. Instant consumer guide investigatory report. The technology is not hard, as it is just about there. It is more in the packaging of it. A wireless PDA or cellphone with a simple web browser. Small barcode readers are available, but it should be integrated. Aside from that, the trick is mainly in putting the knowledgebase together in a way that can be trusted, and providing an interface that makes it a 5 second no-brainer thing to do as routine. Of course you want to know that the company in question employs child slave labor and that they've patented Basmati rice, and that previous customers liked the alternatives better. And you'd want to know what those ingredients really mean, right there on the spot. Such a device could change the world overnight. Even if you aren't an activist eco-freak, it would inevitably change your choices.

...[later in the day] Ah, Seb Paquet mentions CueJack is doing something very much pointed in that direction. It uses the cheap CueCat barcode reader. I remember getting one for free attached to a copy of Wired, but I think I threw it away because I didn't know what to do with it at the time, as its proposed use (looking up a company's website while you were reading a magazine) sounded stupid. DigitalConvergence that made them has gone under. But there is now apparently an open source database of UPC (the system used in barcodes). CueJack will look up in that, and will do a search engine search on 'boycott', 'corporate abuse', 'profits' and that kind of thing in relation to the product. Cool, those are big steps in the right direction. But, I'd want housewives to be able to have it in their purse, and preferably something more direct than searching in search engines.

And then Paul Hughes has a piece on very similar ideas about "Participatory Capitalism":
"I think as wireless, wearable internet access become ubiquitous, we are going to see consumer power re-assert itself in an unprecedented way. Imagine for example, CueCat (a technology previously with little purpose), except this time each barcode is cross-referenced with a moblog not only neatly containing everyones opinion of this product, but also its ethical/corruption index. These types of measurements would be made via decentralized ad-hoc smart mobs in conjunction with individual reputation systems. So, not only will you be able to vote with your pocketbook, but you will be able to make informed, even ethical consumer decsions based on people you trust. I can see this web-of-trust rapidly superceding top-heavy "consumer" capitalism, transforming it into a bottom-up grass-roots participatory capitalism."

[ | 2002-12-31 03:39 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Rich people don't show on U.S. census
From an article by Michael Parenti, quoted at SynEarth
"The super rich, the less than 1 percent of the population who own the lion's share of the nation's wealth, go uncounted in most income distribution reports. Even those who purport to study the question regularly overlook the very wealthiest among us. For instance, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, relying on the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, released a report in December 1997 showing that in the last two decades "incomes of the richest fifth increased by 30 percent or nearly $27,000 after adjusting for inflation." The average income of the top 20 percent was $117,500, or almost 13 times larger than the $9,250 average income of the poorest 20 percent.

But where are the super rich? An average of $117,500 is an upper-middle income, not at all representative of a rich cohort, let alone a super rich one. All such reports about income distribution are based on U.S. Census Bureau surveys that regularly leave Big Money out of the picture. A few phone calls to the Census Bureau in Washington D.C. revealed that for years the bureau never interviewed anyone who had an income higher than $300,000. Or if interviewed, they were never recorded as above the "reportable upper limit" of $300,000, the top figure allowed by the bureau's computer program. In 1994, the bureau lifted the upper limit to $1 million. This still excludes the very richest who own the lion's share of the wealth, the hundreds of billionaires and thousands of multimillionaires who make many times more than $1 million a year. The super rich simply have been computerized out of the picture."
That is probably a pattern to watch. A lot of things can go unreported and relatively unnoticed because there just isn't an official category for it. You won't be counted in the traffic statistic if you fly your own jet. You won't be counted as a bank customer if you own the bank. Your political views won't be polled, because you're more likely to buy both candidates than to vote for anybody. There's a level at which you become invisible among the regular folks.
[ | 2002-12-31 14:02 | 0 comments | PermaLink ]

 Digital Identity and Reputation
picture There is a discussion on digital identity happening among several prominent webloggers: Eric Norlin, Doc Searls, Mitch Ratcliffe, Britt Blaser and more. There seems to be general agreement that there needs to be a basic level of a person's public identity which the person himself will control. But aside from that, it is a bit fuzzy. Norlin outlines three tiers of identity, where the part the individual controls would be T1, but it doesn't sound like he's quite getting the other two right. I agree with Ratcliffe that the next level (T2) would be where one grants some kind of community the right to compile some kind of reputation information on you. Like in eBay where one can see how many trades people have done, and how happy the other parties were, or like in NCN where one can see how active other people are, and how well other people trust them. But one should be able to revoke the right to be tracked that way, in case one would rather be anonymous or start all over. And, of course, others would have the right to not deal with you because of that. Doc Searls calls T1 MyIdentity, T2 OurIdentity, and T2 TheirIdentity. The third tier (T3) would then be the composite guesswork made by marketers based on some demographics and public history. Ratcliffe and Searls relate Andre Durand's idea that "When T1 identities have real customer relationships with T2 partners, T3 goes away. We will have the final defeat of Marketing as Usual." Ah, yes. Correct and useful collaborative information will out-compete the sloppy one-sided centralized guesses. This whole discussion arises in part because there are big corporations who would much prefer if THEY own and control your identity altogether. So, this is a grassroots attempt of coming up with something better. Britt Blaser points out correctly that an individual never will own every aspect of their own ID, because it is our collective sense of a person that matters, not their own. People will interact with you based on their idea of who you are, and what you yourself tell them is only one part of it. Your history with them is more important. Overall, I think the task is to come up with something that as correctly as possible represents people's real reputation, which they obviously can't be allowed to construct on their own; and that has some built-in accountability, so that one can't easily run away from transactions without paying; and that can't be thwarted by the person himself entering false information; and that isn't either controlled by big heartless corporations who could care less if you're branded as a loser for the rest of your life. And fundamentally you need to be free to choose who you are in life, and how much of yourself you want to share with the world. It is a hard puzzle to solve well, but very important.
[ | 2002-12-31 16:55 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

 Happy New Year!
picture May 2003 be gloriously new and different, and may the best of your dreams come real in surprising ways!

"Far better to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." -- Theodore Roosevelt

[ | 2002-12-31 17:45 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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