Joho the BlogMarch 2009 - Page 3 of 6 - Joho the Blog

March 23, 2009

Andrew Lih on Wikipedia

Vincent Rossmeier has a solid interview at Salon with Andrew Lih, author of The Wikipedia Revolution.

I’m going to interview Andrew as a Berkman event on Wednesday night, 6pm at Griswold Hall, room 110, at Harvard Law. Andrew is certainly a partisan, but he’s also an insider whose book is quite candid and direct about troubling episodes in Wikipedia’s history. I enjoyed his book and look forward to talking with him. (He and I will probably talk for 30 mins, and then we’ll open it up.)

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Arguing for the sake of Heaven

Disagreement is, in its nature, like the creation of the world.
For the creation of the world came about in essence by way of open space,
without which all would have been endless divinity,
and there would have been no place for the creation of the world.
Therefore, God withdrew light to the margins,
and the open space was formed,
and in that space God created the world,
through acts of speech.
And so it is, too, with disagreement—
for if all the sages were of one mind
there would be no place for the creation of the world.
It is only by way of the disagreement between them,
and their dividing one from another,
each one drawing to a particular side,
that open space comes into being between them—
which, in its nature, is like the withdrawing of primordial divine light to the margins—
in the midst of which creation can take place, through acts of speech.

—Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav (1772–1810)
Jonah Steinberg, translator

This is a text a lecture (now postponed) by Nehemia Polen was going to discuss at a class in Newton, MA.

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March 22, 2009

New blog by old China hand

My old college housemate and good friend Hank Levine has started a blog. He’s was a Foreign Service Office for a long time, and has spent a lot of his life in China, so it’s no surprise that his blog focuseson US-China relations. It’s a bit wonky, but it’s great to hear Hank’s voice.

Hank was the funny one in a pretty funny group. (Funny haha, not so much funny peculiar.) We fell out of touch for about 25 years, but a few weeks ago we video-skyped. He looks distressingly the same. And he’s still funny, although not so much in his blog. Howdy, Hank!

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4.5 things Twitter teaches us

You can tell that Twitter has added something important to the ecosystem by the volume of the snickering. If you dismiss it by asking “Why do I care what you had for breakfast?”, there are only two choices. First, you’re saying everyone on Twitter is an idiot. Second, you don’t understand what you’re talking about. As a Twitterer (dweinberger), I’m going to go with Option #2.

Twitter’s success tells us a lot…including the following 4.5 points:

1. Twitter in its native form assumes we’re ok with not keeping up with the abundance. Tweets are going to scroll by when you’re not looking, and you’re never going to see them. Twitter assumes you will let them go, the way most of us cannot leave unread the messages in our inbox.

2. Social asymmetry addresses the scaling problem. At Twitter, the people you follow are not necessarily the people who are following you. That’s exactly not how mailing lists and weekly status meetings work, and Twitter’s approach impedes the back-and-forth development of ideas. But, maybe that’s not what Twitter is primarily about. And the asymmetry means that some people can have lots of followers but still participate as listeners.

2.5. (Maybe in an age of abundance, the back and forth development of ideas isn’t the only process. Sure, having a small group kick around an idea often works. But maybe in some instances it also works for an idea to be lobbed like a beach ball from one group to another, each putting their own spin on it.)

3. Twitter is an app that scales as as platform. That is, it comes with a set of features that makes it usable and popular. But it’s open enough to enable users and third parties to add capabilities that make it useful for what it wasn’t designed for. For example, a convention has arisen among users that “RT” will stand for “re-tweet” when you want to publish someone else’s tweet to one’s own followers.

4. We’ll complicate simple things as much as we have to. We’ll invent “hashtags” (tags that begin with #, embedded within a tweet) to let people find tweets on a particular topic, getting past the “it already scrolled past” issue. We’ll invent layers upon layers of aggregators of tweets. We’ll just bang away on it as hard as we have to in order to accrete significance. We truly are meaning monkeys. [Tags: ]


March 21, 2009

The wisdom of snake mobs

Amboseli baboons engage in what’s called “snake mobbing”: Rather than fleeing from a predatory snake, they approach it and sound the alarm or even, at times, attack it. (“The Information Continuum,” Barbara J. King, p.43)

Surely this must be a metaphor for something.

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March 19, 2009

Transparency and noir journalism

David Eaves makes a crucial point in a post inspired by Clay Shirky‘s and Steven Johnson‘s recent brilliant postings about the future of journalism. Pardon me if I rephrase David’s point, and possibly shade it a little differently.

The mythic figure of the journalist is still that of the young Woodward and Bernstein. They are detectives in a noir world where everyone — and, most important, every institution — has a secret. The journalist is the lone truth teller, forcing the secrets out into the light. The institutions keep as much secret as they can because they have selfish interests to protect. The journalist, on the other hand, has no interests other than the truth. Thus he (and in the myth, the journalist is a man) is committed to and guided by objectivity: seeing things as they are, untainted by self-interest.

That’s a valuable myth so long as institutions are built on the assumption of secrecy. But imagine a world of perfect institutional transparency. If all is light, the noir journalist is a peeping tom at a nudist colony.

Now, we are not going to have a world of perfect transparency. But the defaults may be flipping from need-to-know to need-to-hide. Customers, clients and citizens already casually betray most of what institutions used to keep hidden, from the real-world mileage of cars to the spread of protests in totalitarian countries. Laws and norms are changing, bringing institutions to disclose more on their own.

Will this bring about a fundamental change in the practice of journalism? By itself, probably not. Much of traditional journalism already assumes transparency in business, government, and, yes, sports. Greater transparency will give current journalists more to report on. But there will always be people and institutions with dark secrets, so we will always need noir journalists.

But it’s certainly not yet settled what the new mythic journalist will be like or how we will support our old noir types.

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Least impressive Daily Show connection ever

I’m on the Daily Show site!

No, I haven’t been exposed as the pompous evil little man that I am. Not yet, anyway. The site runs an anagram contest, and mine was one of three the selected this week. The headline you had to anagram was:

Envoys to Afghanistan and Iraq Are Named

Mine was:

On the QT, Iran damns any gain of area saved.

I have to admit that the first pick (by Dharam) is better than mine:

Q: Are any afraid to have an assignment nod

On the other hand, I think there’s a steep fall-off in quality with #3:

God in Heaven! Idea man farts, annoys Qatar.

This week’s headline is:

An outpouring of anger from lawmakers at AIG hearing

I just submitted:

A gain? A mean Frank urges room: Torture, flog, whip again


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March 18, 2009

Benoit Felten on the economics of unbundling

“Unbundling” means that the companies that run the Internet wires to our homes and businesses also act as wholesalers to others who want to be our ISPs. Benoit Felten of the Yankee Group gave a talk recently arguing that this can be very profitable for all involved. (It also creates competition, which generally is good for us users.)

Scott Cleland disagrees with Benoit.

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Animated graffiti

By blu.


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March 17, 2009

[berkman] David Post on scaling governance

David Post is giving a talk at the Berkman Center about his book In Search of Jefferson’s Moose. I haven’t read the book yet, but it looks fascinating. It looks at cyberspace through Thomas Jefferson’s eyes. [NOTE: I’m live blogging, with all the weaknesses and inaccuracies thereupon. Be warned. And I’ve done a particularly poor job of capturing the details of David’s talk.]

David says the Net is all about scaling. “The Internet isn’t big because it’s the Internet. It’s the Internet because it’s big.” It’s the inter-network that got big. Jefferson figured out how to scale a democratic republic, which works at the town level but hadn’t worked at the national level. Likewise, he says, we need to be thinking about how scale law and governance for this new territory.

He gives the example of copyright. Even if you wanted to clear the copyrights for a YouTube, it’d probably take you 10 hours. Copyright doesn’t scale. “Copyright is supposed to be incentivizing creators” but these works only get created if people ignore copyright. Jefferson scaled a republic to continental scale, we need to do the same for the Net, he says. David says he doesn’t know how to do it. Not through the UN. “We need collectively to begin working on this.” He sees his book as the start of that conversation.

He says we should buy his book because “the omens are with me.” The day he sent off the final draft of his manuscript, a male moose was standing in front of his house in Vermont. The moose stands there for a day and a half. It’s the first one he saw in twenty years. Then, a week after the book was published, they found a complete fossilized skeleton of a mammoth under the new Thomas Jefferson law school, and under that was a whale, and under that there was a giant ground sloth of the same genus as the one Jefferson wrote a scientific paper about. His book is about scale and they find a mammoth, a whale, and a giant sloth under the Jefferson law school.

Q: [zittrain] You’ve vindicated a strand of thinking about the future of the Net. Just as Jefferson was living in a privileged time to think about frontiers, is cyberspace undergoing a similar transformation from frontiered to settled and suburbanized?
A: No. Not if we can keep it growing and, um, generative. There’s a self-fulfilling aspect to our discussions of this. It continues to be a frontier.

Q: [benkler] Why did you mention the UN? Are you suggesting we turn to it? What made the republic scalable was its loosely coupled architecture. That’s what made the Net grow. What is the shape of this international that’s not UN that’s presumably more grownup than cyber-jurisdictions, that retains this loosely coupled…
A: I really don’t know. It’s not too farfetched to think about small groups joining together into larger and larger organizations and coming to the table and saying they deserve respect as a law-making body. It might happen via real world courts that might say that they respect the local laws of this community on the Net.
Q: [benkler] What’s not sustainable about muddling through?
A: It’s totally sustainable, although there are scaling problems that will need to be addressed in some form or another. But then we’ll miss the opportunity to build something even more extraordinary.

Q: You say in the intro that this isn’t a scholarly work, but at the end you do take on the unexceptionalists [i.e., those who think the Net isn’t an exceptional case]. How do you get from your discussion of scale at the routing level to the application layer.
A: Take Wikipedia as an application. I’m not sure that it can continue to scale.

Q: I’m interested in the interaction between copyright law and publishers. We no longer need publishers for the dissemination of scholarly information…
A: I don’t know what the future of copyright looks like. A subtext of the book is to try to have people start fresh, at least as a thought experiment. How might we design copyright law? I don’t know what that looks like or how we get there from here, but it’s worth thinking about … The Jeffersonian insight is that there are two types of people: Those are instrumentalists who only want copyright law if it helps people to create. Others think it’s a moral or natural right. These two views are irreconcilable.

Q [zittrain] Do we need a constitutional convention for the Net? The Clean Slate project at Stanford, David Clark at MIT…What do you think about those projects? If you were at a Clean Slate meeting, what would your charge to them be?
A: They may be premature. I’d like to see a call to netizenship, i.e., citizenship in this space. Taking seriously this as a place where important things happen. At Clean Slate, I’d start with copyright because you could get a consensus among netizens that the system is profoundly broken and needs a new paradigm…maybe a hybrid of law and tech.

Q: [me] Do you worry that if there were a founding constitutional moment for the Net, it might provide an opportunity for, say, the Taliban to object to the very protocols of the Net (as well as the rest of the stack) because the protocols don’t permit the control of content? Might we end up with something far from what you and I want?
A: I worried about this when ICANN was founded. I don’t know, but I have Jeffersonian faith that more discussion is better than less. You have to shine your light and take the chances that you will lose those battles.

Q: [lewis hyde] The Google Books settlement is a constitutinal moment. Isn’t this an example of an ad hoc agreement: Two parties show up in court and the court settles it. If you could change one thing in the settlement, what would it be?
A: I don’t want to shoot my mouth off about that. The Google Books settlement illustrates a point about scaling. There are 40M people who have written books who aren’t represented.

Q: [ethanz] Why doesn’t the conversation start earlier than consitutional moments, i.e., with revolutions that give you the constitutional moment. When and how do we reach the point where we say we can’t just muddle along. We rebel against Facebook but we only get a new fiat from FB. When do we stand up and say that we need to govern ourselves?
A: That’s why I say constitutional moments may be premature. We’re in early days. When people live more of their lives in cyberspace, then I think they care more about the rules under which they live. [Tags: ]


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