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August 27, 2006

[foocamp06] Foo is over-ish

The tents are coming down. People are seeking out the one person they really wanted to talk with but did not run into — Foo has grown to 325 people or so. A comically long stream of pizza boxes are streaming in and being emptied one octal bite at a time.

It was a great Foo. Probably the best, at least for me. It is as an astounding set of people with a wide range of interests (within the tech field, of course) and a wonderful group ethos.

There’s a time for calm discussion of hard issues. Right now is the time for thanks. So, thank you for the gift, Tim, and thank you to the gracious and fun O’Reilly crew for running the event not only so well but running it just enough. [Tags: ]


[foocamp06] Everything is miscellaneous, chapter 8

Since I first talked publicly about Everything Is Miscellaneous (a book I’ve been writing for the past few years) at Foo Camp, and last year I had a session to kick around my proposed outline, at this Foo I read a chapter from the penultimate draft. (On Monday I get my editor’s comments and write what is presumably the final draft. Well, besides copy editing. And changing my mind. And being obsolesced.) Chapter 8 is on the virtue of messiness and includes a section on the Semantic Web, since I figured it’d be better to be eviscerated in a small room than in full public.

It seemed to go ok. Some excellent suggestions from the listeners, including for subtitles… [Tags: ]

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[foocamp2006] Thinglinks

Early this morning — so early, that you had to ask people if they were on their way up or down the path to Lethe — I had a chance to catch up with Ulla-Maaria Mutanen, who blogs about design tech, and is the founder of (I’ve written about Thinglink before.) It’s a fascinating idea.

Web pages have unique URLS, but how can people who make physical unique stuff refer to their things uniquely? Go to Thinglink (it’s open source) and get a 6-character random code, which is expressed as THING:123ABC. Simple idea. Some big consequences could accrue.

For example, Ulla says that in April, the University of Art and Design in Helsinki issued a Thinglink ID for each item in its exhibit of work by graduating masters students. This starts a history of the object so its appearances on the Web can be tracked. And it means that conversations about those objects can occur anywhere on the Web, not just on the exhibit’s site. The ability to distribute conversation, confident that they can be pulled together on demand, changes the power balance. All hail unique ID’s! (<hobbyhorse>For things! Things, dammit! Selves are not things. Selves become things by being uniquely and transparently identified.Selves are diminished — nay, betrayed — by becoming things. </hobbyhorse>)

And who does all this aggregating? Does become the center of the world of things, a despotic tyrrant authorizing and tracking all its subjects? Nah. You obviously haven’t met Ulla :) ThingLink maintains a database of information supplied by the person who creates the ID, but the aggregation is done by search engines. Of course, that means you have to stick the Thinglink ID into your post about the lovely, handmade Ukranian sweater you just saw, or into the description of the photo of the sweater you lust for. But, if you do that, your post (or page or photo or video or hit Indie MP3 “I Want to Love You as Much as My Ukranian Sweater”) now becomes part of the worldwide swirl of creativity inspired by the thing. IDs aggregate value because they aggregate meaning.

The standard Thinglink ID consists of three letters followed by three numbers, enabling 17M numbers. But it is extensible, including 3-letter “partner code” prefixes.It’s short so it’s human readable, and (to my mind) more important, human type-able. If it catches on,Thinglink is going to need a bigger space in which to play. [Tags: ]

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As continues to explore ways to do make its searches yet more relevant and more thought-provoking — provocativeness is a possible fourth horseman riding next to precision, recall and relevancy — it’s now leading its search results with the latest three entries from the appropriate RSS feed. So, if you search for “boingboing,” the list is topped by the latest three posts on

Currently, the feature only works for the most popular blogs, and it spottily finds the feeds for search terms other than the blog’s name (e.g., the “cory doctorow” results page lists is topped by Cory’s Wikipedia article, not the BoingBoing feed), but I assume it’ll only get better over time. And why not add non-blog feeds, such as’s?

It’s a nice way to take pull feeds into a spot where people were not looking for them. [Tags: ]

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Interview with moi, part 2

The second part of Mitch Joel‘s TwistImage Six Pixels of Separation podcast with me about Cluetrainy stuff (with a little Everthing Is Miscellaneous thrown in) is up. (Part one is here.) [Tags: ]


The proof we’ve been looking for

From a Philadelphia newspaper:

Headline: Residents react to Pluto Decision [Tags:]


August 26, 2006

[foocamp06] All technology is neutral

[As always, all of this is me rapidly paraphrasing, paying attention most to what happens to interest me, and putting everything worse than the speakers did.]

Chris Csikszentmihalyi says science doesn’t work the way it thinks it does. For one thing, only 3-5% of experiments are re-proven. Often that’s because they’re so sensitive to instruments and materials. Also, much of the knowledge is tacit. Instead, scientific conflicts are usually settled by looking at the lab it came from, etc.

So, his lab wants to know what types of research isn’t getting done.

Three dualisms: 1. The Prayer Gauge Debate. In the 19th Century there were attempts to measure the efficacy of prayer. Science went up against a popular paradigm. Chris contrasts this with lab press releases getting done if they promise a cure for cancer. I.e., scientists learn to mis-represent their projects in order to get funded.

2. Mertonian Norms. Merton said that scientists work for commonality, universalism, and organized skepticism. Vs. 80% of MIT funding comes from the US government. To the scientists involved, the knowledge they develop is not politicized. But Chris’ Indian friends see it as inevitably and very much politicized.

3. Tool neutrality. But saying it’s neutral is like saying that from far away, everything is small. Vs. Technology is out of control. If it’s out of control, it is an agent, and thus isn’t neutral. [Hmm. This contrast isn't symmetrical.]

Chris’ conclusion: We know very little about how technology works, and we tend to very sloppy in how we think about it.

He gives a couple of examples of non-neutral tech: A Lebanese grad student is consistently searched multiple times when coming across the US border, so she built a suit that records the pat-downs.

And a student created a personal audio device that integrates ambient sounds, so that someone speaking to you is brought in as someone singing beautifully.

Me: If someone says what they’re building is neutral, you can ask them, “Then why are you building it?”

Chris: Given where the funding for tech is coming from, given how hard it is, how can we build stuff that isn’t just neutral? Bruno Latour’s example: The thingies that automatically pull the door closed behind you. You get one after the sign you put up that says “Please close the door” fails to work. The door now shifts from normally being open to being shut.

Kaliya Hamlin: The interesting thing is to shift where the money is coming from.

Quinn Norton: Socially responsible investing has the reputation of being money-losing, but it’s not.

Tom Coates: I’m reminded of research that showed that initially took sperm as the active principle and eggs as lazy. And looking at only one sexuality scale rather than multiples is silly. Examining these premises is useful. Not everything is right.

Chris: The idea of bedrock is troubling. Diverse interpretations work.

Tom: But some paradigms advance us. E.g., the info model of the brain lets us do more than the old pneumatic one.

Chris tries to steer the discussion from this topic because, he thinks, it can progress without having to resolve the issue. Chris and Tom agree that all are politicized.

Zack Exley: For the past 150 years ago we’ve been stuck in this abstract argument.The solution is to do something. Make something. Run for Congress. More smart people in Congress.

Kaliyah: It’s a structural problem.

Someone: VCs are investing heavily in non-military projects aimed at making the world better.

[Conversation gets too thick to take notes on sensibly. And, as you may have noticed, the above doesn't capture the conversation up to this point very well. Sorry.]

Chris: Right now, engineers generally look at the efficiency of solutions. My thirty year goal is to expand the considerations. E.g., suppose the democratic quotient or the egalitarian quotient were involved? We don’t have a lot of language for talking about this.

Zack: Why would a corporation do this?

Chris: They can do this in part because of the myth of the neutrality of technology.

Me: But “tech is neutral” is only a rationalization. If you could get the corporate mission to be enhance shareholder value AND make the world better, you wouldn’t have to worry about the rationalization.

Chris: But 18 year old engineers-to-be are taught that they don’t need to consider the effect of their tech on the world because they’ve been taught that tech is neutral.

Kaliya: You should read Engineering by Design…

[It continues...]

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[foocamp06] First life in Second Life

Julian Bleeker is interested in how first life and second life (with as a good example) overlap.

E.g., he designed a game in which players got a word square (jumbled letters that contain words) that they had to track physically in a field, wired with GPS. Some decided instead to “draw” by walking in a path that created a picture.

Nikolaj Nyholm talks about how uses Second Life to prototype user interactions.

Matt Bidulph has been doing Second Life mashups. You can use http, he says, to pipe out info from SecondLife, including what people are saying. Cory Ondrejka, Second Life CTO, says that there’s been an explosion of interest and development since they put in http requests. (Someday, he says, they’ll make every object a Web server.) He says that there are 100 classes a week inside Second Life in how to use the API and scripting language.He looks forward to the day when there is a Second Life renderer inside a Web browser.

Phillip Rosedale, Second Life founder, says that they’re a small development house. They’re focused on opening Second Life up and getting it to run fast.

Nikolaj says that it’ll be at least five years before we can programmatically and ubiquitously locate someone in terms of latitude.longitude based on their phone positions, but we can already (see Imity) see who is around a particular phone number. GPS will take that long to get put into cellphones because of battery life…

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[foocamp06] Future of news

Mike Davidson of opens by saying this is a time to talk about how to improve the editorial process. How to decide which stories are important and interesting without human intervention? E.g., looks at what A-Listers and B-Listers are linking to, while Digg lets everyone vote.Newsvine measures how long you spend looking at a story.

Jay Adelson of says he’d like to see the mainstream media reflect more of what people actually are interested in. Steven Levy of Newsweek worries that this would result in even more coverage of runaway brides, etc. Digg says that people tend not to digg porn, etc., because it’s associated with their profile. Dan Gillmor wonders how you add reputation to popularity.

Someone asks about journalism on demand. Dan says that some projects are going on now, including Jay Rosen’s also does something like this.

Me: I want to get recommendations based on what my friends are reading and, as Dan points out, what friends of my friends are reading. Jay points to some people’s desire to be anonymous. Dan touts pseudonymity. Karl Fogel says that that permits covert corporate and government sponsorship. Dan asks how we out bad actors. Suggestions: eBay-like recommendation system. Newsvine has a probationary period. Slashdot karma.

Newsvine tried eBay-like ratings — report bad articles — but found that the best writers were about 80% because some people didn’t like what they said. The bland writers had 100%.

Me: The simple way to start is to let me build a list of people I actually know and whose judgment I want to influence what’s recommended to me. Then I don’t have to worry that the person is in fact the CIA or Wal-Mart.

Gabe Riviera of Techmeme is using the implicit social network based on who refers to whom.

Does Diig track how many people diig a page before they’e clicked on the article.Jay doesn’t quite answer.

If we only listen to people we trust, how do we get challenged?

Dan recommends, an effort to measure MSM.

Adrian Holovaty from the is interested in optimizing information collection. How do we get journalists to collect information in ways that machines can reuse it. Newspapers are a collection of information desperate for a framework, while Wikipedia is a framework desperate for information, he says.

Graeme Merrall augments reporters’ stories with metadata.

Dan says there’s a difference between stories and data. Steven Levy says that without training journalists in how to write a story, the data won’t ever become a story.

Already, he says, journalism is becoming a matter of filling in forms and then letting computers build the story. E.g., at one small paper, there’s a visiting band form that the journalists fill in.

Dan points out that Adrian did an app that plotted police/crime info. [I missed the url.]

John Gruber points out that columnists are not so easily replaceable.

Dan rises to defend reporters. Reporting is hard than we’re making out.

Mike Davidson wonders if 5-10 years we’ll be able to say that we want to read a story about the new Apple, written in the style of John Gruber of Steven Levy, etc. He’s skeptical.

Lily Chen says that it depends a lot on what people care about. She cares about what happens on her street but no one is writing about. An automated system might be able to be of value there.

Karl Fogel says that people in the US feel isolated from worldwide news sources in part because there’s no translation. In the open source world, documentation has been translated within days, he says.

Jay wonders if info will continue to go behind the pay wall after a few days. General opinion in the room (actually, in the tent): Nope.

Rabble says that more journalists work as PR people than journalists. Dan says that we need more transparency. Mike of Newsvine says companies have offered to pay them to put their legitimate sources on their site. BestBuy has paid someone to write an article about, say, hot products, that contains a single quote from BestBuy. Newspapers run the article knowing that it’s in effect a paid placement. It’s labeled “ARA” but that’s the only sign.

Adrian says that the categorization onus should be on the reporter. All the info in it ought to be categorized so, if it’s a report on a mayor’s speech, we can see all the speeches by the mayor, all speeches about the same topic, etc.

Graeme points to for media search. AOL says that their Drambuie project does something similar. [Tags: ]


[foocamp06] The hot phrase of the conference, so far

“Mechanical Turk” [Tags:]

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