For those who need to understand how the Web is changing the way businesses work
Issue: May 16, 1998
Author/Editor: David Weinberger
Central Meme: Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy
Favorite Beatle: John. Duh.
Current Personal Crisis: Zen-style personality disorder: Desperate desire to be liked is one of my least likeable traits
Home page: http://www.hyperorg.com
Contact information: Click here.
Early Warning Signs: First unsub and obnoxiousness warning
The Knowledge Management Metaphor: "Managing knowledge" is as wrong as thinking of the Web as "the worldwide scrapbook". Let's try a different metaphor...
Exhibition Notes: Why is face time important? And why can't conference panels be more like tv?
Why Articles about Search Engines Suck: Reportage on the size of the Web is, well, interesting
Why Search Engines Suck: One in a continuing series
Death of Suck: "Suck" is out. Here's a replacement.
Good Links: Three sites worth visiting
Meetings We Wish We'd Attended: The commercialization of the Soup Nazi
Internetcetera: Race and class on the Net
Email, Comments and Rude Remarks
Bogus Contest: Unclaimed Puns
Early Warning Signs
JOHO passed two milestones since the previous issue.
First, we got our first unsubscription. We have, of course, not honored it, consistent with our policies not to negotiate with terrorists, not to give dime one to blackmailers and not to let telephone solicitors get to "Goodbye." Really, it would just encourage others.
Second, a well-known industry analyst took me aside at a trade show to let me know that JOHO is getting a little too obnoxious and I may start hurting people's feelings soon. So, let's now share a Don Rickles Moment in which I assure you that despite my constant barrage of adolescent, offensive remarks, I love ya, baby.
These Moments will become a regularly scheduled feature of JOHO.
Knowledge Management and the Importance of Metaphors
We have an opportunity, as we start to figure out what "knowledge management" is going to mean to our companies, to use the right metaphors. Nothing will be more important.
Consider how important the notion of the "web" has been in conditioning how we think of it and what we expect of it. Suppose it had been presented as "the worldwide pile of papers" or "the worldwide library," both of which capture some of what the Web is about. The types of contributions people made would be different, and it would have taken longer to realize that the Web isn't just about reading pages. Further, if it were understood as a library, we'd likely be trying to make it into a better library by imposing more controls.
Now we have KM which is itself a metaphor. It is presumably to be understood along the lines of information management, as if there were a class of information -- the royalty -- called "knowledge." Then our task is to manage it, that is, keep it secure, structure it and deliver it to the appropriate people at the right time.
This metaphor is getting in the way of KM. If KM is just about pulling the face cards out of the deck of information, then fine, let's get on with it. But suppose there's actually something important about KM. Suppose it has to do with having our business practices keep up with what we know, with evolving new ideas together, with building a community of people who are smarter together than they are alone. In that case, "knowledge management" is a lousy metaphor.
Let's try an experiment. Instead of talking about managing knowledge, let's instead consider what it would be like to be managed by knowledge. Take it as an exercise ... but I suspect that it's half a league closer to the truth of what our companies need to do.
Pick Sores at an Exhibition
Since the previous issue, my "life" has consisted of preparing for and attending trade shows and board/advisory committee meetings about trade shows. Herewith a couple of observations:
Corporate body language
Trade shows aren't going to die. At least not soon enough. To put this as vacuously as possible, face-to-face contact is one of the highest bandwidth media around. But what exactly makes face-to-face human contact so damn important for people looking to purchase something?
First, people are more interactive than even 333mH computers with 512K pipeline burst memory. People can anticipate your questions, answer the question you should have been asking, and rapidly increase your coefficient of knowledge. (Damn! Someone's probably going to start using that "coefficient of knowledge" phrase seriously! Sorry!)
But the real reason face-to-face meetings are so important is that, left to their own devices, people buy on the basis of emotional relationships. Because capitalism crowds markets with undifferentiated products, feeling good about a company may be the most important differentiator.
This type of purchasing isn't entirely nonsensical (although mainly it is). It is a bad idea to buy an expensive system from a company that seems unreliable, uncaring or unstable. But that misses the real point. Customers will downgrade the importance of a checklist item in order to be able to buy from the company they like. And nothing makes a company more likeable than meeting people that you like.
The conclusion for vendors is obvious: be lovable. The conclusion for purchasers is more complex. For example, the fact that the demo-er in the booth blows you off really doesn't mean that the customer support rep on the phone will have no time for you. And it's not the case that companies with gregarious, happy people necessarily make better products than crab-filled companies.
Aw, what the heck. You're going to buy from people you like anyway.
Why can't conferences be more like TV?
You know the only thing wrong with conferences besides everything? They're not enough like TV.
TV has to be counted as a successful medium, wouldn't you say? After all, most of us aren't spending 16 hours a week sitting by the ham radio. Yet conferences have learned absolutely nothing from TV.
I'm not suggesting that conferences are going to made obsolete by the Web, although you can get more and better product info by browsing corporate home pages than you can by walking booth to booth for two days in some dust-free, light-deprived stockyard of a conference center. All I'm suggesting is that there are better ways to run a panel than to have three stiffs giving marketing pitches.
Why haven't you ever seen a TV show that's run like a conference panel? Because it's stupefyingly boring. The only thing to distract you is the content. Jeez!
I look forward to the day when conference sessions range in format from William F. Buckley-style interviews to Muppet-like sessions in which we try to figure out "which one of these things is different" -- with the default being a talk show format hosted by a witty moderator throwing questions at a couple of guests. So far, Esther Dyson's PCForum For the Rich and Influential is the only conference I know that approaches this TV ideal. For the rest, it's as if the only technological improvement since the 19th Century was the development of Powerpoint.
If you think this would debase the pristine conference experience, consider what it will be like if the vendors are the first to figure out that they have something to learn from TV: we'll be watching live action 30 minute infomercials. It makes the talk show format look pretty good, wouldn't you say?
Why Articles About Search Engines Suck
A couple three weeks ago (April 3), there was a spurt of publicity about a report in Science that there are over 320 million pages on the Web. This is considerably more than anyone else was reporting, especially the search engine companies which have a vested interested in getting the number of available pages to be suspiciously close to the number of pages they've indexed.
You need to subscribe to Science (I don't) to see the full article, but you can register for free to see the abstract at:
Here's an independent summary of the article:
CNN's Web page ran a report from the AP which included gems such as "Hundreds of pages are being added constantly," uttered by the study's author, Steve Lawrence of the NEC Research Institute. Pardon me, but what exactly is that rate again? Did Steve and his fellow researcher, Edie Gorme, [no, we vow never to pass up a chance to make fun of someone's name -- it's how we stay young here at JOHO] figure out how many pages are added a day and then divide by the number of constants in 24 hours? Or is this, as we suspect, an especially pointless comment?
Next comes the dumb-ass explanation that search engines "are kind of like electronic librarians that sort and index millions of pages of data by subject or phrase." Except for being wrong about the "sort" and "subject" pieces, this is dead-on.
But I'm just being crotchety. [It's how we stay old here at JOHO.] The real guts of the article comes here:The researchers analyzed the responses to 575 scientific search questions from the five largest search engines. They then individually checked about 150,000 pages for duplication, errors and mis-indexing. They also checked out the links, the Internet addresses of other sites that were referenced by the search engines.
But, how do we arrive at the number of total pages on the Web?
The Wall Street Journal's coverage (April 3) adds details but not clarity. According to the WSJ, they performed the same hundreds of searches on the five sites and then saw how much the results overlapped. Here's how the Science article's abstract puts it:
...combining the results of the six engines yields about 3.5 times as many documents on average as compared with the results from only one engine. Analysis of the overlap between pairs of engines gives an estimated lower bound on the size of the indexable Web of 320 million pages.
Here's the report's estimates of how much of the Web each of the sites has covered:
% of Web covered
% of bad links
Northern Light 20%
The WSJ article has the following reaction from Excite:
Graham Spencer, chief technical officer of Excite, said it would be impractical for a search engine to attempt to index the entire Web because people already are complaining about being flooded with information.
You know why, Graham? It's because Search Engines Suck, that's why. If they didn't suck, a user could get the relevant hits. Ah, but he replies, "We try to focus on relevance, the information our customers will actually use," he said. "We scan a lot more pagers than we actually index." (I suspect Excite isn't actually scanning pagers -- just another little CNN/AP typo, the mark of quality.) Relevant to what? To whom? To why? Smells like poop to me.In a final burst of optimism, the report continues: Lawrence said the Web's data explosion may be better controlled by the "meta-search engines," such as Meta-Crawler and Ahoy!, that have developed thinking techniques that sense what readers are looking for and seek out pages not found on most indexes.
Oooh, thinking techniques that sense what we're looking for! Very groovy! (Of course, you could get a success rate greater than random chance if you just returned Pam Anderson sites for every query.)
Let's close with a priceless remark from Louis Monier, technical director for AltaVista, in the Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Monier claims he never needs to use any search engines but his own. "I usually find what I need," he says. "I usually find too much."
Big flippin' duh, Louis. Do you think maybe this is the chief reason your search site sucks?
Why Search Engines Suck
Sometimes you want to find the exact phrase you're looking for. This requires the search engine to know exactly where in a page each and every word is so that when you ask to see "United States of America" it only finds pages where each of those words is adjacent. This also obviously requires the engine to index all the "stop" words, the words that occur so frequently that most engines ignore them.
Imagine my surprise, then, to find that Hotbot, flushed with victory, can't really find the phrase "coefficient of knowledge," returning instead sites that use phrases such as "coefficient from knowledge." Apparently, Hotbot doesn't really index the stop words, so doing a phrase search for "coefficient of knowledge" is really a search for "coefficient * knowledge" where the asterisk is a single-word wild card.
Death of Sucks
Although most people think I am kidding, I'm responsible for the common gesture of slapping the back of your hand into your palm twice quickly, an action performed by everyone from David Letterman to Ronald Reagan. In 1986 I purposefully set out to introduce this gesture, a point I made explicitly and repeatedly in presentations at the time. I have to modestly acknowledge that I was lucky and hit the wave of ironic detachment perfectly. Nevertheless, I have the trademark on that hand movement until the year 2005. (In 1992 I generously waived all royalty compensations and donated my accumulated earnings to Jews for Zeus; donations for this noble cause are gratefully accepted.)
Having established my credentials, it is with a sense of great portentousness and self-worth that I declare the word "sucks" officially dead. It has entered the common lexicon, and has lost its always-mystifying relation to fellatio. (The Oxford English Dictionary cannot decide if it originated as "Suck the big one" or "Suck the hairy bird," a dispute I would not touch with, well, a ten-foot pole.)
Just as "sucks" replaced "stinks," ("Don't say 'stinks,' dear; it's not refined"), so too we need a word to replace "suck." The new word must have just enough shock value so that the leading edge can use it to differentiate themselves from ordinary folks. And it probably should relate to some bodily function, continuing our millennial tradition of bodily self-hatred.
In my extensive research, I have come across several possible replacements that just did not meet the high standards I enforce for the good of our language and culture:
Digests: Nicely alimentary, but not tactile enough
Sags: Works for men and women, but has lost some punch in this post-Viagra age, and, in any case, sounds like a euphemism for "sucks"
Licks: Feminist replacement for "sucks," but perhaps not different enough
No, there's only one word that can take the place of "sucks". And the answer is: "probes" ... as in:
That really probes.
That probes the deep one.
My team of researchers has come up with three key reasons why "probes" works so well as a "sucks" replacement:
- It has a gross physical association
- The aging male boomers who are the key demographic consumer and producer of the word "suck" increasingly have a, um, visceral fear of being probed
- Two words: Kenneth Starr
So, "probes," it is.
This is not optional.
- Dan Bricklin has started a site dedicated to helping people write well for online distribution. It's well worth a visit: www.gooddocuments.com
- Here's a good online computing encyclopedia: www.whatis.com. ("Word of the day: jumper and jumper setting")
- Michael O'Connor Clarke points out www.glassdog.com, which he refers to as "extremely bizarre (but drop-dead cooler-than-thou)." Well, I can't speak for thou, but it's sure cooler than me.
Meetings We Wished We'd Attended Dept.
Here's the text of a print ad that "Century by Buick" ran on the day of the last Seinfeld:
Dear Jerry, Elaine, Kramer and George:
After your last show, we'd be pleased to drive you home.
And bring the soup guy too.
There's plenty of room.
Imagine, then, the scene as the 20-something marketing tyke unveils the new ad for his boss:
Tyke: You're going to love this ad, JB. It leverages the Seinfeld wave and makes our killer point about this car seating five. Gorgeous demographics!
Boss: Great thinking, kid! I hear that Seinfeld thing is really hot in the 18-35s! I don't get it myself, but let's take a look at what you've come up with.
Tyke removes sheet of black cardboard from in front of ad
Boss: [reads ... chuckles ... reads some more ... smiles and nods ... reads some more ... turns red and stands, leaning within biting distance of the tyke] "Soup Nazi"?! You're putting Nazis into Buick ads now? Nazis?? Are you out of your frigging mind? Even the frigging Volkswagen ads aren't showing the new bug with Adolph frigging Hitler doing the heil thing through the frigging sun roof!
Kid: Um, not a problem, JB. I'll take it back to the copywriters ...
And so we have a They-Just-Don't-Get-It Award winning ad that features the always-popular "Soup Guy."
(On a monumentally tangentially related note, at one of this past week's conferences, when someone asked where we should eat, I chimed in with "Not seafood." This got parsed by several people as my insisting that we eat "Nazi food." The place we went had a disturbing decor and clientele, but the beer was excellent.)
Middle World ResourcesA BiWeekly Compendium of Resources
The help files are conceivably the finest ever produced on this topic, although I can't tell because they're in Polish.
The Ny Times has noticed that Web statistics are amazingly unreliable. The unfortunately-named reporter, Rebecca Fairley Raney (is she a journalist or is she a Muppet?), reports
The second week of April, a journal in New England published a study showing that people who use the Internet reflect the racial composition of America, and that gaps in sex, income and age among users are closing rapidly. ...
A week later, another study made national news. The journal Science published a study conducted by Vanderbilt University researchers that revealed that blacks in households with incomes below $40,000 were far less likely to have Internet access than whites at that income level.
Both studies were based on national surveys. So what explains the difference?
Well, the author of the Vanderbilt study, Donna Hoffman, explains that
In aggregate numbers, her study showed that blacks comprise 10 percent of the Internet population -- little different from Birdsell's findings. However, comparing Internet access at different income levels showed disparities between racial groups.
Hmm, wouldn't that mean that blacks in households above $40,000 are far more likely to have Internet access than whites at that income level? That'd be an interesting result.
In any case, can you imagine that race and class differences are reflected on the Internet? I'm shocked! Practically outraged!
Email, Rumors, Rude Remarks
David Scarbro passes along a striking metaphor. I had read the same article and was also struck by it's, well, ripeness. Here's Dave's message:I was intrigued to learn "like is a dead animal just lying there. You are sending dead animals back and forth". And that, XML is like "live, interactive animals doing whiz-bang things."
I'm having trouble understanding these analogies. As a "marketing spokesperson" I am hoping you can better explain these analogies. Perhaps it would help if you could name the dead animals? For example, is EDI like a dead cat or a dead fish? There's a big difference. And along the same lines, is XML like a live tree toad or a young Chihuahua? Again, there's a big difference.
First of all, Dave, if you read my business card a little more carefully, you'll see I'm a marketing spokesmodel, not spokesperson. As you might say, there's a big difference.
As to the difference between EDI and XML using animals as our metaphor, I'd have to agree that EDI is indeed like sending dead animals in the mail, but we need to be more specific. Even accepting the basic metaphor, there are many different types of sending-dead-animals-in-the-mail. Is EDI is more along the lines of the steak-of-the-month club than the horse-head-from-the-don-sent-COD sort of thing. Or is XML like sending dead animals in the mail in the delivery-from-the-eyebank-for-you type of thing?
Until we get these basic issues cleared up, I'm afraid I can be of no further help.
Word from Chris RageBoy Locke:
Please please please use *well-formed URLs*. This isn't misplaced SGML purism either. My mail reader (Outlook 98) let's me click on things likehttp://www.hyperorg.com/current/current.html
but things likewww.rageboy.com and www.rageboy.com/IBMvEGR.html
are indistinguishable from plain old text. Last time I used Eudora (3.x) it did the same thing with http-less Earls (i.e., nothing at all).
Do your readers and yourself a favor and add the extra seven bytes.
[please note that that last is written in newsletter-quotable style and not meant to be as obnoxiously admonitory as it sounds.]
RageBoy, if there's one thing JOHO readers have learned, it's how to recognize when you're being obnoxiously admonitory!
As to your request, it is hereby regretfully declined. The slightly longer URLs cause wrapping problems. And wrapping problems are, as you know, the bane of my existence. I am the very Cristo of wrapping.
By the way, this exchange lead to a small skirmish between Chris and me over what is the best text editor around. Chris strongly favors TextBoy, no, wait, TextPad. I maintain that UltraEdit is feature for feature as good. Chris is probably right. Again. Sigh. Other opinions are welcome.
Clinton Glenn writes:I must be very tired or perhaps I have finally lost it altogether - the constant dialogs about dying documents and web sites is beginning to make sense to me! I have to stop these 80 hour weeks!!!!
Clinton, I find that after a relaxing soak in a tub with a glass of warm milk it all begins to make nonsense again.
Michael Heim (whose books exploring the philosophical impact of computing are now listed on our JOHOprah Book Club page-- Booknews says he's known as "The philosopher of cyberspace") writes to say that he edits the web version of JOHO, bracketing the page with "blockquote" tags. This causes the entire page to be indented about a half inch.
Michael, I'm going to to save you the trouble. From now on, you can rely on the web version being well and truly indented. This is my personal pledge to you.
Neil Wilson was stirred to take fingers to keyboard in response to last issue's article comparing Las Vegas and the Web:Thoughts on Las Vegas... the web site...
Elvis returns from the dead with the hit single.. "Viva Las Web Site"
Hollywood make a depressing film starring Nicolas Cage about a guy who drinks himself to death whilst trying to design the perfect web site "Leaving Las Web Site"
How about Losing Last Web Site, a depressing movie about how your cache/cash got emptied?
Flash! Chris likes me. And I like him! A few of you expressed concern about my relationship with Chris based upon a couple of remarks in the previous issue. Basically, Chris called this eminent journal "crappy" and I referred to his venerable journal (EGR) as a pile of pointy-tipped dog poop. The truth is that we're old friends and were merely engaging in the sort of webby hyperbole and saying-the-opposite-of-the-truth that has made both of us highly respected industry observers and wits.
To end on a serious note, Sir Larry Bohn responds to last issue's call for design suggestions for a memorial for the Veterans of the SGML Wars:I want to be sure that the first name in the SGML memorial goes to Yuri Rubinsky. Yuri was a beloved character who spent his professional life championing SGML for real-world benefit. I will always think of Yuri as the Moses of the net--from the mountaintop he saw the promised land but he could not enjoy freedom with his followers because his roots were in SGML. He was the link between the past and the future and we all miss him.
Bogus Contest: Unclaimed Puns
Tired of stupid damn punning headlines? As the Web's sprawl threatens to encompass every possible combination of letters (there are a hell of a lot of monkeys at a hell of a lot of keyboards), it's harder and hard to come up with original puns.
Here are some random puns (with less random explanations) along with the number of times HotBot, Alta Vista and Lycos report they've been used already.
CORBA the Geek
Zestful object-oriented programmer
Espionage resource site
Corn futures dealers go on line
What's left of Apple's web site after Microsoft squishes them
E-Commirth (or Ecommirth)
Internet traffic in jokes via email
Retinal recognition software
Web language for describing things that really probe
You'll notice that these results somewhat support the study discussed above, although the uneveness of the results is astounding. Also, my random dips into the hit lists showed that usually the pages didn't really have the terms on them (especially with Lycos). You may also want to come up with some hypotheses about the correlation of the humor value of the puns with their prevalence on the Web. Then you can use that information to derive which is the search engine with the best sense of humor.
Your official challenge is to come up with some puns that are not yet registered in the major search sites. Good luck. And remember, here at the Bogus Contest, To Enter Is to Win.
The following information was found trapped at the top of my washing machine when I ran some issues of the JOHO through it.
JOHO is a free, independent newsletter written and produced by David Weinberger. He denies responsibility for any errors or problems. If you write him with corrections or criticisms, it will probably turn out to have been your fault.
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