Joho the BlogApril 2007 - Page 3 of 7 - Joho the Blog

April 22, 2007

Where Ethan works

Ethanz has a terrific, honest, and unresolved post about living locally and globally.

I’ve spent summers near where Ethanz lives all of my life, and I’ve even been to Ethan’s house. So I understand the raw pull of the geography itself.

He also has a list of “great talks to watch.” I look forward to watching… [Tags: ]

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April 21, 2007

Zero tolerance for humans

This post of mine just went up at HuffingtonPost:

John McCain singing “Bomb bomb bomb, Iran” to the tune of “Barbara Ann” wasn’t even exactly a joke. He was clarifying a question from the audience that used euphemisms and circumlocutions to urge him to bomb Iran. Being famously quirky and ready to blurt out what he thinks, McCain not only said the words that the questioner had been afraid to utter, heturned them into a refrain.

A great moment in politics? A terrific witticism? A graceful Kennedy-esque use of humor? Nah. But in seizing on it, progressives are doing more harm than McCain’s little ditty could have done even if we take it at its worst. We are dragging the process down, legitimizing the tactic, debasing understanding, and driving nuance out of the system. Frankly, taking McCain down a peg just isn’t worth it.
more…

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April 20, 2007

Everything Is Miscellaneous launch party at Berkman

The Berkman is holding a launch party for Everything Is Miscellaneous on April 30. I’ll give a talk at 6pm in Pound Hall Room 335, and then there will be a reception at 7pm at the Berkman Center at 23 Everett Street. (Pound Hall is a block away.)

You are invited.

Last night the Center threw a similar affair for John Clippinger’s new book, A Crowd of One. These are really nice events. John’s talk was terrific and engendered a lively discussion, and the wine-and-cheese party at the Center embodies much of what’s best about the Center. So, I hope you’ll come. [Tags: ]

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[berkman] John Clippinger: A Crowd of One

John Clippinger is giving a presentation about his just-published book, A Crowd of One: The Future of Identity. [As always, I’m typing quickly, missing some stuff, getting things wrong, and making a seamless talk sound all choppy. But in this case, the remedy is easy: If you want to know more about what John is saying, buy his book.]

John approaches human nature through evolutionary biology and neuroscience. Identity, he says, is social and multiple. Trusted identity is essential for community, he says. And he’s interested in how virtual worlds “allow us to build new kinds of institutions, economies and identities.”

The brain is not a blank slate, he says, citing Steven Pinker. The brain is “highly specialized, opportunistic, and jerry-rigged.” Some of our most important decisions originate at a prec-conscious level. This is very different from thinking we make rational decisions. “It’s more a reflex.” He points to our “mirror neurons,” that enable us to have empathy. Descartes, Hobbes and Rousseau, and the Enlightenment are wrong. Research shows that our natural inclination is to reciprocate, trust and coordinate. Virtual worlds are the new state of nature. You may think you can create any identity you want, but “our identities are socially embedded.” And we all have multiple selves.

How do you have a trusted community on the Net? You need a persistent, trusted identity, says John. “But the Web was born without an identity layer.” We need one. Just look at all the fraud, flaming and phishing. “How do you make people accountable for their actions without having overly draconian measures? You have to have some way of creating a cost for breaking the rules, being deceptive, etc.” John refers to biological signalling theory — there’s a cost for deception. [I may be getting this wrong.] You want to make the cost greater than the payoff. That’s essential to any kind of trust network, says John.

In re-imagining identity as the virtual and real worlds become more intertwingled, people will want control over their identities. They’ll want to have a persistent identity. They’ll want multiple identities, the ability to take their identity info in and out of different virtual worlds. They’ll want a range of degrees of identification, from anonymity to authenticated anonymity to complete disclosure. And they’ll want to develop peer networks of trust and authentication.

Over the past two years, John’s been working on a project called “Higgins,” an open source interoperable identity system. (It’s called “Higgins” because higgins is a long-tail mouse.)

We are getting “new narratives about cultural and political futures, not laden with moralistic doctrine.” This is a kind of “social physics”: there are some predictable behaviors and phenomena. It looks for “evolutionary stable strategies.”

There’s an opportunity, John says, to invent new digital institutions: governance mechanisms, more reliance about measured risk and reputation, transparency and accountability for all forms of authority, and acceserated social innovation through digital experimentation. He says the Chinese are very interested in social physics because they want to know if there are rules are principles they can use. [China’s interest in social physics as a way of predicting and managing social behavior is not necessarily a good thing.]

Q: [me] Having an identity layer would solve of bunch of problems, but is there demand for identity itself, as opposed to a demand for solving those problems?
A: At SecondLife I was surprised that people do want to be able to authenticate themselves to others. But that doesn’t mean they know your real world identity. There are degrees and types of authentication and identity. The user gets to control it. You may give up small attributes or fragments of your identity for particular purposes in particular circumstances. Community norms will arise to govern that.

Q: Is it to authenticate you as a consistent person or to get to a level of trust?
A: There is a need for persistence, frequently, although that can just be a number. And there’s another issue about whether you can authenticate the claims you make about yourself. Another party may have to authenticate those, and they may change over time.

Q: How will reputation factor in the changing nature of public opinion? E.g., Don Imus.
A: You have to be careful what you mean by reputation. It may be people rating each other for particular attributes, e.g., trustworthiness at eBay. Those are often easily gamed. I’m interested in work being done on understanding how the immune system [the real one] identifiers cheaters.

Q: Do you see a role for government?
A: Government is going to play an important role. When you have a Linden Dollars exchange, [where Second Life money can be brokered for real money], the government will get involved. And when you set up ecommerce sites, identity matters.

Q: [me] Right now, sites solve their identity problems differently, and generally satisfactorily, pretty much. Given that there are risks to having an identity layer, at what point do we say the ad hoc system is broken enough that we want to have such a layer?
A: The layer won’t be uniform. There are risks of abuse, of course, but the identity layer will be an interoperable set of tools for disclosing what users want to disclose.

Q: [chris meyer] Massachusetts no longer uses the SSN for drivers licenses, presumably because it’s insecure to have a single number encode so much…
A: There may be one number that makes multiple sign-ins far more convenient. That will enable innovation. But you can’t get that without a pretty sophisticated layer underneath. Ad hoc-ery will give way, but not necessarily to uniformity.

Q: People worry about uniform identity not in Second Life but in larger systems. E.g., people have proposed used SpeedPass to use to issue tickets for speeding in the tunnel.
A: They’d be persistent, not consistent. It’d be hard to link them. And people will not do business with businesses that betray them.

Q: [chris meyer] Transparency is two sided. When you suggest it, people get worried that they’ll connect up too much information. When does transparency engender trust and when does it not?
A: Transparency may be transparency on not your full identity but on a chosen set of attributes.

Q: Integrated health care records are important for healthcare. If you try to set up a false identity, you could hurt yourself badly from a healthcare perspective.
A: [irving wladawsky-berger] When it comes to health care and children, I believe there will be legislation.
A: [someone else] Yet at Virginia Tech, people didn’t know the killer had been hospitalized because of privacy laws.
A: [clippinger] Right now it’s ham-fisted. It’s either/or. We need it to be more flexible so people can see what they need to see. That’s the new generation of social technology we now need.

[Fascinating, although I remain skeptical about the need for an “identity layer.” And the reception afterward was a great time to talk with some amazing folks, including the Clipmeister himself.]

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Gender Genie confirms I’m a man, pretty much

Over at Everything Is Miscellaneous I’ve posted about the Gender Genie, a tool that guesses the authors’ sex based on her/his use of innocuous keywords. ..

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April 19, 2007

Joe Trippi joins Edwards campaign

Joe Trippi, Howard Dean’s campaign manager, has joined the Edwards’ campaign.

I’ve been doing some volunteer work for that campaign. Having Trippi on board makes me very happy. If you want to know why, read Trippi’s book, The Revolution Will Not be Televised. Joe understands the transformative power of the Net, he understands that it’s about we the people connecting and taking democracy into our own hands, and he is an inspiring — and yes, sometimes maddening — leader.Trippi and the team he assembled invented a lot of what’s most important in the Internetting of politics. He’s got a ton of feet-on-the-ground experience in politics, but I’m betting he’s not anywhere near done innovating. Trippi’s an idealist who kicks butt. And that’s just what the Edwards campaign needs now, imo.

(And while you’re ordering books, I strongly recommend Elizabeth Edwards’ Saving Graces, which is heartbreakingly insightful and true about many things, including the Internet.)

I think this is a very good day for the Edwards’ campaign. And that means it’s a day in which our democracy has gotten a little more lively. [Tags: ]

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The Ghost Map – Steve Johnson’s latest is terrific

Steven Johnson just keeps getting better as a writer and as a thinker. He takes big ideas and makes them compelling by finding their connections to unexpected ideas, and then uses them to pry up the floorboards of our assumptions. Just at the level of putting words together, Steve is a master. Best of all, he’s young, so we have many more years of his writing to look forward to, if the wily universe permits.

Although the topic of The Ghost Map is the cholera epidemic in London that led to the discovery that the disease is spread through contaminated water, it operates on several levels. In fact, it’s about the need to operate on several levels. So, at one level it a terrific procedural mystery with compelling real-life characters, at another it’s about the biology of bacteria, and at a third level it’s about the structure of cities. We would still be at the mercy of cholera if the hero of the tale had not been able to go up a level of abstraction to see the statistical pattern of deaths. And Johnson’s own meta-explanation requires going up to another meta-level to show how all the levels are required to tell the tale and understand the truth. It opens up a means of explanation that is rich and sometimes so surprising that it makes me laugh with delight. This fluidity with levels of abstraction also informs Steve’s books Emergence and Mind Wide Open. And with its multilayered points of view, The Ghost Map serves as further evidence for Steve’s point in Everything Bad Is Good for You that our culture is becoming more comfortable with complexity.

Steve is an intellectually sympathetic writer, which is a rare virtue. Rather than dismissing the then-prevalent theory that a “miasma” caused cholera, he is able to explain the good reasons why the miasmists held on to their theory so long. A lesser writer would have dismissed them as stupid, hide-bound, or buffoons. Steve is also able to explain why the doctor who figured it out was able to do so, tracing it to his previous work with ether, rather than claiming it was a bolt of genius lightning.

And to top it all of, The Ghost Map is a compelling, fun page-turner…a terrific read, as we say nowadays.

Steve makes my writerly cheeks burn with envy.

(Disclosure: I’m delighted to know Steve a bit. ADDED April 20 ’07: I should also have noted that Steve blurbed my book. Nevertheless, The Ghost Map is a really good book.) [Tags: ]

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Colleges marketing through blogs

The Boston Globe has a good article by Marcella Bombardieri about colleges using students to blog to give prospective students a sense of what life is like there. About 25% of colleges do this. Some pay, some don’t. Some see the blogs before they’re posted, some don’t. All say they have a high tolerance for negative or embarrassing posts.

Wouldn’t a prospective student do better to find students who are just blogging, rather than ones who are sponsored by the school admissions department? On the other hand, have you tried to find, say, MIT blogs at Technorati? Let me give you a hint: The “related tags” listed for “mit” are “technology, und, der, zu, den, das, von, ein and auch.” Who tags anything “zu” or “von,” the equivalent of tagging an English-language post as “to” or “of.”

(Disclosure: I’m on Technorati’s board of advisors.) [Tags: ]

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April 18, 2007

Why I like Twitter

Twitter limits you to 140 characters per posting. You see the postings of people in your social network. The limit encourages frequent postings of small significance.

Twitter thus sounds dumb.

In fact, Twitter is about the intimacy of details. Through it I see small events in the lives of friends about whom I otherwise might only learn the Big Events when we “catch up” after long intervals. [Tags: ]

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Union Diamond – give them a call

I’m at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association meeting in New Orleans where I sat a lunch table with Scott Anderson, CEO of Union Diamond, the second largest seller of diamonds over the Internet. His company’s phone policy is that if a telephone rings for twenty seconds, that’s ten seconds too long. Everyone in the company is charged with answering calls and seeing them through. I asked him how he’ll manage this as the company gets bigger. He said he’s like to continue the policy but perhaps have a set of numbers that would direct calls to the right group within the company.

BTW, Scott says that they support the Kimberly process, and only buy from suppliers who certify that they are not selling conflict diamonds.

Nice guy, good policies…I’m ready to buy! I wonder what of mine would look good studded with diamonds…


Here’s a random sampling of topics (Day 1 Day 2) at the WOMMA meeting:

JetBlue: Inside the Cockpit of their CrewBlue Brand Ambassador Network

General Mills: Using Community Outreach to Build Buzz

TheFind.com: Tapping into the Web’s Power Influencers — Women

Yahoo!: Doritos Crash the Super Bowl Contest with Yahoo! Video and Jumpcut

Flying Dog Brewery: Leveraging Your Brand’s Intrinsic Values

CASA: Honing Refer-A-Friend Word of Mouth Tactics in a Not-for-Profit Setting

Cold Stone Creamery: Using PR as an Integrated Marketing Tool

O, The Oprah Magazine: Driving Brand Advocacy with Special Events


Here’s the WOMMA code of ethics. They take it seriously. I talked with the group this morning about the importance of respecting not just the “consumer” (as their first principle states), but respecting the conversation as well. What would marketing look like if it took the ongoing customer conversations as paramount?

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