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Tuesday, August 19, 2003

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3:37:12 PM    comment []

Friday, July 25, 2003

Digital Polity

Attended a networking luncheon this week where Reed Hundt gave a speech quite different than two weeks prior at Supernova.  Perhaps he drank the superjuice -- it was very emergent democratic and second superpowery.

The first speech centered on his proposal to provide Universal Broadband Access to over 90% of US homes by 2013.  Americans take the Net for granted more than anyone, while other enlightened countries (Korea being the poster child) make it a mission.  This year's Supernova had a greater focus on policy and Reed's was the one specific policy proposal I heared -- invest an amount less than the subsidy to analog TV for digital ($75b) to maintain economic competitiveness.  Unless there is a plausible path for ILEC demise, this is the best proposal on the table.  Reed also gets open spectrum, so sing a hallelujah and hope something happens.

One thing is for sure.  When Dean showed he could raise money on the Net, politics changed forever.

Previously the Net had demonstrated its ability to influence decision makers through individualize pluralism, beginning when Kevin Werbach set up the first citizen feedback email address.  Over 2 million emails were sent by citizens on the issue of media ownership, at last count according to Reed.  Blogs have also demonstrated the ability of an influential deliberative network to force the media to play their role as the 4th estate, Lott being the poster child.

But now the Net has become a constituency.  Decision makers like to say they are accountable even the poorest residents of their districts, but money is the source of their power and the group they serve is the group that elects them with it.  Dean has shown the Net as means to money.  And now every politician is finally paying attention.

Reed's talk last week was on the digital polity vs. the analog polity.  He spoke eloquently about the rising constituency and how its "not just that things reoccur, its that they get better."  There are core ideals, parties are means towards those ideals, but are largely ineffective.  A new party of a digital polity is emerging that holds certain core beliefs:

  • We know more than our leaders
  • We pay nobody to say what we want to hear
  • Information is percipient and wants to be free
  • We are build on systems and networks, not organizations
  • We synthesize the whole instead of constructing barriers and silos
  • We believe in truth and civil debate

Now I may not have everything word for word (thumbed it into my Palm).  He also stated digital polity principles of privacy, representation, honesty and equity.   He implies that leaders still have utility and a role to play, but they need to engage the digital constituency and build trust.  We don't depend upon the media because we are skeptics and experts, we are global and can engage in collective action without government.  That said, digital needs to negotiate with analog.  But these are powerful and re-occuring themes.

What is encouraging, if not remarkable, is that Reed is a civil servant, nay, politician, who undertands his new constituency and its reasonable demands.

At the end he did casually remark that we should abolish the US Senate, as they are a distortion of representation, serving only 15% of citizens.  The point he is making, though, is that leaders fall behind their citizens (especially in times like these).  Perhaps because they are not engaged with their constituents.  Perhaps because their interests are conflicted.  But the difference is our representatives need to recognize our new found powers to deliberate and represent ourselves at a pace they need to understand.

Which brings me back to Dean.  If a candidate and causes can raise money on the Net, they can engage in institutional pluralism.  Direct participation within the social network of decision makers.  This scares most policy makers, as the game has changed. 

Its a grass roots game ripe for changing minds and policy.  Valdis forwarded a paper, Encouraging Political Defections: The Role of Personal Discussion Networks in Partisan Desertions to the Opposition Party and Perot Votes by Paul Beck, that I found absolutely stunning.  We are bi-polar in our political views by nature, tend to filter out news we can identify is from the opposition and are comfortable in the absence of change.  But when an issue is socialized we have a greater chance of changing our minds.  When our social network provides new ideas and affirmations, we are more likely to take new positions. 

Perhaps that's the power of Dean's use of Meetup.  Meetup collapses time and space for deliberative groups to get together.  Inevitably, some participants are strong ties for affirmation and weak ties for new ideas.  What Dean is doing is opening up discussion at the social level to enact political change. How neofunctional of him.  What Dean needs to do, however, is get more of us to debate -- instead of the candidates.

4:40:43 PM    comment []

Wednesday, July 23, 2003


Article in the NY Times on back-channels of IM and Chat in universities, meetings and conferences. 

Misses recent events

Attention-shifting for early social software experiences will be meme for a while because its also a frame of reference shift.

Cory Doctorow, a science fiction writer and blogger who has experienced this back-channeling at several international technology meetings, likens the chatter to what happens in the corridor just after people leave a conference session.

"We're just moving the corridor into the room and time-shifting it by 30 minutes," said Mr. Doctorow, who takes notes and posts them to his Weblog, or blog, during conferences, enabling people to follow the speaker and Mr. Doctorow's take on the speaker at the same time.

Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor in New York University's interactive telecommunications program, has run experiments using messaging software to supplement face-to-face meetings of 30 people. Many participants find the experience highly stimulating, he said, explaining, "The intellectual quality of a two-track meeting is extraordinarily high, if it is run right and you have smart people involved."

But many speakers at the front of room are less enamored of the practice.

"To me, it's a little irritating, frankly," said Stewart Butterfield, chief executive of Ludicorp, a company that is developing Neverending, a multiplayer online game [and happens to provide Confab, what gives Stu?]. In April, Mr. Butterfield addressed a conference on emerging technologies as listeners experimented with messaging software, including a program called Confab offered by his own company. The next week, when he spoke at a conference without any Internet access, "people were a lot more attentive," he said. (He added, however, that many of them kept opening their laptops during the speeches in the vain hope that somehow the Internet might have magically become available.)

Good account of the PC Forum 2002/Gillmor story I referenced yesterday:

Some people who have experienced the phenomenon cite a speech given last year at a computer industry conference by Joe Nacchio, former chief executive of the telecommunications company Qwest. As he gave his presentation, two bloggers - Dan Gillmor, a columnist for The San Jose Mercury News, and Doc Searls, senior editor for The Linux Journal - were posting notes about him to their Weblogs, which were simultaneously being read by many people in the audience.

Both included a link forwarded by a reader in Florida to a stock filing report indicating that Mr. Nacchio had recently made millions of dollars from selling his company's stock, although he complained in his speech about the tough economy. "No sympathy here," Mr. Gillmor wrote.

"When Dan blogged that, the tenor of the room changed," Mr. Doctorow said. Mr. Nacchio, he said, "stopped getting softball questions and he started getting hardball questions."

Clay on meetings and conferences

Some people are hoping that conferences will evolve to allow the undercurrent of conversation to be projected on a big screen in the front of the room. They say that such public disclosure will enable speakers and unconnected audience members to feel less isolated.

Mr. Shirky, the adjunct N.Y.U. professor, considers openness to be critical to productive discussions and conducts his messaging-software experiments so that all speakers can see what is being posted. At the University of Maryland, where the use of IM became a matter of a heated debate, several students said they were perturbed by the back channeling not because it seemed rude (although some argued that point, too), but because they felt left out.

The split focus of two-track meetings and back-channeled conversations have other drawbacks, not the least of which is that they can be utterly distracting. "There were times when I'd follow a thread and come back to the lecture and feel a little disoriented," Mr. Aral acknowledged.


Joichi Ito, a venture capitalist and former chief executive for the Japanese branch of the Internet service provider PSINet, opened a chat room for back-channeling during Supernova, a communications conference held this month in Crystal City, Va., just outside Washington. But Mr. Ito readily acknowledges the downside. "There is definitely a lot less focus in the room," he said, "but I think we were already starting to suffer from that."

At high-tech conferences where everyone is already wired to the gills with BlackBerry pagers and cellphones and can cope easily with constant connectedness and streaming information, the concept of multitrack communication channels almost seems matter-of-course. "This is not something that is going to go away," Mr. Ito said. As many technology experts point out, if laptops were banned, people would use cellphones. If wireless Internet access were not officially available, networking gurus would find a way to create ad hoc connections.

Some observers say that the multitrack channels will simply be considered a given by a young generation that has honed multitasking to a fine art and grew up on VH1's "pop-up" videos, in which commentary about the artists pops up on the screen during the song.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ito is already creating a new riff on the concept. He said he was working with a group on designing a "hecklebot," a light-emitting diode screen that displays heckling messages that are typed during online chats at conferences. "I want to make something that I can put in a suitcase and take to conferences," he said. He describes it as a subversive device that will get people thinking about the significance of the back channel. From the chat room, he said, "you could send something like, 'Stop pontificating.' "

If the speakers were logged on, they could play the game, too. Maybe some would type, "Pay attention."

9:17:01 PM    comment []

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Trade Winds

The community that was fostered at AO2003 is now providing more pensive analysis.  This is a great time to reflect on how social software is changing the events business and the "trades" in general. 

An excerpt from Conferenza, which provides a tad more traditional paid research coverage of trade shows, contains this golden nugget of controversy:

Still, there were interesting insights, some intended and some not...

·   As a demonstration of the power of interconnection, a panel on Web services featuring CEO Mark Benioff provoked the most talked-about moment of the conference – at Benioff’s expense. Asserting that the largest e-commerce software supplier is, Benioff pointed toward co-panelists from IBM and Sun Microsystems and said, “None of these companies has any position in [that] market at all. Even Apple’s iTunes music store was built on Amazon,” and asserted that Amazon has 300 people working on its proprietary software.

We thought this was news, until Ross Mayfield, CEO of one of the Web’s leading blogging software providers, Socialtext, led an online chat charge showing that most of this was apparently untrue: Amazon uses standard XML out-of-the-box stuff, and Apple’s iTunes doesn’t use Amazon’s software at all, the chatters charged. As Benioff continued, the audience watched as a group of online contributors disputed fact after fact, input Benioff apparently did not see. “It was sort of like a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit,” said one attendee. “As Mark spoke, we could see his nose growing longer, like Pinocchio.”

How it played out in the Chat (Archive) was Kevin Marks did the fact checking, which was simultaneously projected on to the big screen:

[11:51] KevinMarks: no he didn't
[11:51] adina: bthey /are/ mentioning public web serivces

[11:51] KevinMarks: he licensed the patent
[11:51] KevinMarks: iTunes backend is not Amazon
[11:51] toughcrowd: this panel is showing lots of promise - but I love that cynical suspicion "lovefest"
[11:51] Ross: Amazon's real smart move was an API for developers
[11:52] adina: tross /greencard/
[11:52] Ross: but they dont get decentralization. witness
[11:52] adina: ross /greencard/ again
[11:52] Ross: Kevin, did he say it was?
[11:52] KevinMarks: Apple had ahuge online store already selling Macs
[11:52] KevinMarks: they built on that for iTunes
[11:53] Ross: real-time fact checking Kevin, I love it
[11:54] DariusD: Do you know that the Apple onnline store was not built on Amazon technology?
[11:54] KevinMarks: It is built on Webobjects

Here's Apple's story of how iTunes was built and how they licensed the one-click form from Amazon.  Before we get carried away with the event of a fact check, rather than dynamic itself, its important to understand the context.  I doubt Marc had negative intent, he had little to gain if so, and he was just plain conversing.

This parallel channel, a second superpower on a finite scale, first emerged at PC Forum 2002 when Dan Gillmor blogged a fact check on Joe Nacchio.  Clay fostered the first experiments with social software as an in-room chat tool.  Supernova I was the first to formalize a group weblog.  PC Forum 2003 was the first to incorporate a conference wiki.  The O'Rielly Emerging Technology conference renewed interest in IRC and Hydra in parallel to the wiki.  Supernova II was the first to incorporate chat and wiki.  AlwaysOn was the first to add video streaming (Archive), creating a richer remote participation experience.

For some, the choice of modes is overwhelming at first, something we are tuning.  But Social Software and its practices for events has a reached a level of maturity where it is solving fundamental tensions of event structure. 

Take Bob Frankston's experience with remote participation after in-person attendance the first day:

While it's not the same as being their in person, I was surprised how well the combination of the video and Wiki worked. Over my standard home Internet connection I had very good audio and video quality in looking at the panel.

I don't know how to capture the screen picture that included the video so I simply used my digital camera to take a picture. That's Tony Perkins summing up the conference discussion log is in the lower left. There was a lively discussion with people in the room and others outside such as Joi Itcho in Japan and me at home. Joi mentioned that he was attending in his underwear and people wanted to get a video of him. He obliged though only above the waist...

...I judge events by the attendees more than by the panelists and, by that measure, the event has gotten off to a good start. The concept of being always-on or always connected is a good one though, in my opinion, it is important to distinguish between the transport issues that enable connectivity and the question of what one does with connectivity and the implications. This confusion is reflected in some of the panels.

As I write this I'm still attending remotely. I can view the conference over the Internet with very good audio and video quality. Socialtext is provided a live commenting facility using their Wiki software. This is wonderful for those like me who want to jump up and say "that's stupid" or maybe even be positive. There were problems with 802.11 connectivity the first day so I had only a few opportunities for such commentary though I did make good use of it. Today, from home, it appears to be working better and I've been able to add my own comments on the side.

Participating from afar is interesting. The audio/video works very well but I miss the ability to kibitz with others. A side-chat facility would help. Still, this is my first time trying such remote participation. Having been there for the first day I have some sense of the context and it works very well. Of course this is early stage and I can think of a lot of improvements but it is mundanely useful rather than being a novelty.

David Weinberger recently wrote a great piece in Darwin on the Death of Panels:

...Panelists and audiences do not share the same goals. Audiences want to learn and be entertained. Panelists want to impress and sometimes want to sell. Conversations work against the panelists' natural inclination to manage their speech; conversations develop their own gravitational fields that fling panelists together in ways they can't control.

If you're organizing a conference, as an audience member I implore you to cast aside the spurious safety of panels. If you're a moderator, you'll do everyone a favor if you rearrange the chairs, eliminate the opening statements, confiscate the bulb in the projector and get your participants to just talk. Don't "leave time" for audience participation; open it up from the beginning. Hell, screw the bulb back in and project the online chat where the real life of the conference is probably happening anyway...

Mike from Techdirt yearns for conferences with semi-structured small group interaction.

...An ideal conference, then, would be more like a day full of these lunches - that forced people to think in different ways. Thus, I'd love to see a conference where people are either randomly (or carefully planned by the organizers) split into small groups, and given a task or a challenge. Let them do some scenario planning that forces them to think creatively. Get people thinking, get them involved with the ideas, get them interacting with others and force them to think outside of their own viewpoint. Maybe challenge them. Have different groups "competing" in some way to get people to really pay attention, and really try to get their minds around very difficult issues. ..

Trade Winds

Social Software and Social Networking Models provide the greatest threat and opportunity for the trade industry (trade magazines & shows) -- because they change the notion of audience into participants.  The rise of weblogs and participatory media allow domain experts to contribute without making contribution their full time job.  Networking models allow people to connect regardless of space or time as is the case with LinkedIn, or in space and time with Meetup.  Because these tools work so well in virtuality, it is natural for them to be extended to reality (whatever that means).

Trade shows will fundamentally change their structure to become more participatory -- and the result is more connective, constructive and conversational.  Remote and in-room participants will moderate panels, there will be greater use of working groups and communities will persist between events.  We used to come to trade shows for the people in the place.   As Dr. Weinberger says in Small Pieces Loosely Joined, the web is a set of places itself.  Now we have places upon places, where the network is the conversation.

This isn't the place for me to talk about commercial value for event organizers, but let me say this.  There is no such thing as a closed system.  Bloggers are coming to your conference.  You can't throw up Walls.  The energy can dissipate or enjoin with the event.  Do what Tony did and give out blogger passes.  Augment experiences.  Create a greater and more open context for your event and the wind will blow at your back.

11:51:45 AM    comment []

Friday, July 18, 2003

Making Friendsters in High Places

Good article by Leander Kahney in Wired News on Social Networking.  And I'm not just saying that because danah and I are in it. 

Friendster has hit viral level of exponental growth which is drawing new interest into the space. 

And as danah points out, people are starting to sell their networks on eBay.  One measure of value to users, where connections are the virtual economy.

What we haven't seen yet, but see in virtual worlds, is exodus.  As users become invested in social ties, if the software doesn't continue to evolve to meet their needs, the colony will seek a new hive.  Perhaps that's because we still see the value of these social networks in ties alone, rather than the flow they support.


4:05:06 PM    comment []

AO Reflections

Settling in after some very intense days at the Always On Innovation Summit.  It was a great experience, excellent networking and a different use of Social Software for events.  Socialtext provided an integrated video/chat/wiki conference support system. 

During the first day, wifi was frustratingly spotty, so the bulk of its use was from remote participants.  High quality video streaming allowed people to listen, the BackChat allowed people to interact and the wiki to annotate.  Unfortunately the lack of in-room connectivity led to less wiki collaboration and public blog posting right at the time when it usually engenders wider participation.

But the real dynamic took hold on the second day, wifi enabled, where it became part of the program.  The Remote Posse and the people Blogging Always On really had an impact.  The BackChat was particularly vibrant, with in-room and remote participants (from as far away as Tokyo and the Netherlands) exchanging commentary.  A big font version of the chat program was projected on to the big screen, the feedback loop was complete: 

  • BackChat participants kept the discussion relatively high brow.  They fact checked, posed questions, had side discussions that were pertainent and in general participate without denegrating into vulgarities or
  • Moderators fielded questions from the chat, particularly with the open source panel
  • Panel members interjected requests to respond to things on the chat and in general were kept in check from being to commercial, not revealing bias or ducking questions.
  • One member of a panel noticed that people were paying more attention to the BackChat screen than the panel itself.

The golden moment was at the end of the show, when I had them project JoiTV.  We caught Joi in his underwear and the heckler became the hecklee.  Joi waved, we all waved back.  Some folks told me that was when something clicked with them about how large the room really was.  And many of the remote posse enjoyed a richer participation experience than they have had before.

You have to hand it to Tony for having the vision to run with an untested mix of video with our conference system.  You also have to hand it to him for having the grace to extend blogging passes.  I hope he has set a precedent for other events.

A bit on some of the folks there.   Chris took great photos.  Scott posted beyond the limits of connectivity. Jason had his camera phone (took a nice snapshot of me, Pete & Adina).  Ev wore a blogger shirtDave left shortly to do other things.  Adina kept it real.  Esther is community.   Ramana gets information flow.  Richard gets biology.  Zack was fully on.  Edward is still settling in.  Keith is into real-time people.  Eric, Larry & Sergey still don't have a blog but that's okay.  Dan is our hero.


Chat with Google Founders (photo by Chris Gulker)

And remote posse awards go to Greg, Ed, Kevin & Joi.

3:45:56 PM    comment []

Sunday, July 06, 2003

Second Coming of AOL

So now we know that the September that Never Ended is coming to the blogosphere.  AOL Journals enters Beta this summer and launches in the Fall. I blogged before on the business opportunity this presents for AOL.

Thursday, AOL invited Meg Hourihan, Nick Denton, Anil Dash, Jeff Jarvis, and Clay Shirky to critique its upcoming weblog product, AOL Journals. 

Jeff: AOL blogs!

Clay: AOL, Weblogs, and Community.


Clay frames the big questions for AOL.  Will AOL Journals be a set of blogging tools or a community platform?  Walled garden or open?  

AOL Journals will let users blog from IM, a leverage on par with Google's Toolbar push-button publishing and a further reduction in the transaction cost-to-post.  IM is more than messaging however, its a base of strong social clusters.  When you think of what AOL has to leverage, its more than 40 million users, its existing groups -- which if measured by Reed's Law is of greater value.  When buddy lists become blogrolls adoption will be driven by existing strong ties.

They are smart enough to speak RSS, our language and foundation for openness.  Jeff also makes a strong case for opening up AOL/T-W content assets.  But the backend is where new forms fourish.   Blogspace is more than individuals contributing content, we contribute code (and for the most part, get along doing so)

Jeff frames the big question for us.  Will blogspace be inclusive or attempt to redicule and reject new entrants?  We have a history of doing so.  Heck, Jeff did with AO.  LiveJournal is its own world because blogspace didn't build bridges and derides it as kiddy blogging.  If we do not embrace new entrants, the culture that makes blogging work will die.

The very fact that AOL held an A-list focus group is strong sign that they are listening.  Openness on the front-end and back-end, coupled with access to AOL assets, will provide AOL access to a wider market of opportunities.

2:04:20 PM    comment []

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Personality, Tools and Getting Things Done

A must read by Clay on how blogs and wikis differ as tools for getting things done, using the Echo wiki as an example:

RSS, Echo, Wikis, and Personality Wars. The weblog world has taken the 4 elements of organization from mailing lists and usenet -- overall topic, time of post, post title, author -- and rearranged them in order of importance as author, time, and title, dispensing with topics altogether. (Choosing a formal topic, as Many-to-Many does, is both optional and rare.) This "author-first" organization gives the weblog world a huge boost, as the "Who said what" reputation system we all carry around in our head is a fantastic tool for organizing what we read, as well as acting as a kind of latent bozo filter.

...Most wikis that matter don't operate on a public scale, being used for coordination of small and focussed groups. ( is about the largest I've seen.) Most wikis that operate on a public scale don't have much impact -- the social facts of the wikipedia are far more interesting than the content itself. The Echo wiki, though, is an interesting experiment in when, why and how to use a wiki to convene a large and heterogenous group to deal with a thorny and contentious problem, as well as possibly providing an antidote to personality as an organizing principle. [Corante: Social Software]

8:05:16 AM    comment []

Is the Web Democratic?

David Hornik at VentureBlog takes on a question from the Internet Law Program: Is The Web Inherently Democratic?

...In an interesting exchange this afternoon, professor Charles Nesson led a discussion on the Internet and emergent democracy. The discussion was principally focused on the question of whether the Internet aids democracy (or perhaps is a democracy in and of itself). In typical lawyer fashion, the discussion stalled almost immediately while everyone debated the definition of "democracy." But once Professor Terry Fisher had created a definition framework, the conversation was back on track -- Fisher made the distinction between political democracy (the ability of the people to have a say in political process), economic democracy (the ability of the people to have a say in their ways and means of making money) and semiotic democracy (the ability of the people to influence mass culture).

... And, as a tool, the Internet can be used to empower each of Professor Fisher's democratic forms: individual political voices (e.g. MoveOn and the MoveOn Primary), individual economic voices (e.g. GetActive as an organizing tool for the AFL-CIO), and individual cultural voices (e.g., HotOrNot and Are You Hot?, the awful TV show spawned from HotOrNot).

... My strong opinion is that blogging is indeed an excellent example of the democratization of information.

... The efficiency with which blogs are now spreading points to a discussion earlier in the day led by Professor Lawrence Lessig. Lessig argues that one of the primary forms of regulation in cyberspace is architecture. ... The difference between bulletin boards and blogs is simple: RSS. The architecture of RSS feeds and modern publishing platforms make the dissemination of information created on an individual level potentially massive. It makes it possible for someone like me to became a source of news that is cited in the mainstream media. Thus, to Lessig's point, by virtue of the architecture of modern blog tools, the limitations of bulletin boards are removed and the information can flow freely.

Despite the potentially democratizing nature of the Web, I think one of the important lessons learned from the Internet and this afternoon's discussion is that the Internet and blogging are indeed just tools. They can be tuned to better promote a point of view or better disseminate information, but they are only as good as the "content" they are spreading. VentureBlog is cited by other blogs when we have something interesting to say. And the more interesting the things we say, the more referrers and traffic we get. But it is not the inherent nature of blogs or of the inherent nature of the Internet that causes that dissemination of information. Similarly, while MoveOn may be able to give Howard Dean a better platform from which to disseminate information about his campaign for the presidency, MoveOn can not make Dean a better candidate. Howard Dean using MoveOn will never have the impact that Bill Clinton would have had using MoveOn. So I think that the democratizing nature of the internet is one of access -- the Internet empowers a vast array of participants to produce and share their own content, the most successful of which will rise to the top and become a mass phenomenon by virtue of the power of that content and the robustness of the tools that allow the virus to spread.

7:57:39 AM    comment []

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