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February 18, 2017

The Keynesian Marketplace of Ideas

The awesome Tim Hwang (disclosure: I am a complete fanboy) has posted an essay
arguing that we should take something like a Keynesian approach to the “marketplace of ideas” that we were promised with the Internet. I think there’s something really helpful about this, but that ultimately the metaphor gets in the way of itself.

The really helpful piece:

…our mental model of the marketplace of ideas has stayed roughly fixed even as the markets themselves have changed dramatically.

…I wonder if we might take a more Keynesian approach to the marketplace of ideas: holding that free economies of ideas are frequently efficient, and functional. But, like economic marketplaces, they are susceptible to persistent recessions and bad, self-reinforcing equilibria that require systemic intervention at critical junctures.

This gives us a way to think about intervening when necessary, rather than continually bemoaning the failure of idea markets or, worse, fleeing from them entirely.

The analogy leads Tim to two major suggestions:

…major, present day idea marketplaces like Facebook are not laissez-faire. They feature deep, constant interventionism on the part of the platform to mediate and shape idea market outcomes through automation and algorithm. Digital Keynesians would resist these designs: marketplaces of ideas are typically functional without heavy mediation and platform involvement, and doing so creates perverse distortions. Roll back algorithmic content curation, roll back friend suggestions, and so on.

Second, we should develop a

clearer definition of the circumstances under which platforms and governments would intervene to right the ship more extensively during a crisis in the marketplace.

There’s no arguing with the desirability of the second suggestion. In fact, we can ask why we haven’t developed these criteria and box of tools already.

“ a way to think about intervening, rather than bemoaning the failure of idea markets”The answer I think is in Tim’s observation that “marketplaces of ideas are typically functional without heavy mediation and platform involvement.” I think that misses the mark both in old-fashioned and new-fangled marketplaces of ideas. All of them assume a particular embodiment of those ideas, and thus those ideas are always mediated by the affordances of their media — one-to-many newspapers, a Republic of Letters that moves at the speed of wind, even backyard fences over which neighbors chat — and by norms and regulations (or architecture, law, markets, and norms, as Larry Lessig says). Facebook and Twitter cannot exist except as interventions. What else can you call Facebook’s decisions about which options to offer about who gets to see your posts, and Twitter’s insistence on a 140 character limit? It seems artificial to me to insist on a difference between those interventions and the algorithmic filtering that Facebook does in order to address its scale issues (as well as to make a buck or two).

As a result, in the Age of the Internet, we have something closer to a marketplace of idea marketplaces “we have something closer to a marketplace of idea marketplaces” that span a spectrum of how laissez their faire is.[note.] These marketplaces usually can’t “trade” across their boundaries except in quite primitive ways, such as pasting a tweet link into Facebook. And they don’t agree about the most basic analogic elements of an economy: who gets to participate and under what circumstances, what counts as currency, what counts as a transaction, how to measure the equivalence of an exchange, the role of intermediaries, the mechanisms of trust and the recourses for when trust is broken.

So, Twitter, Facebook, and the comments section of Medium are all mediated marketplaces and thus cannot adopt Tim’s first suggestion — that they cease intervening — because they are their policies and mechanisms of intervention.

That’s why I appreciate that towards the end Tim wonders, “Should we accept a transactional market frame in the first place?” Even though I think the disanalogies are strong, I will repeat Tim’s main point because I think it is indeed a very useful framing:

…free economies of ideas are frequently efficient, and functional. But, like economic marketplaces, they are susceptible to persistent recessions and bad, self-reinforcing equilibria that require systemic intervention at critical junctures.

I like this because it places responsibility — and agency — on those providing a marketplace of ideas. If your conversational space isn’t working, it’s your fault. Fix it.

And, yes, it’d be so worth the effort for us to better understand how.

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December 3, 2016

[liveblog] Kyle Drake: Making the Web Fun again

Kyle Drake, CEO of Neocities, is talking at the Web 1.0 conference. His topic is how to “bring back the spirit of geocities for the modern web.” The talk is on his “derpy” Web site

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

“When you don’t create things, you become defined by your tastes rather than ability,” said Why the Lucky Stiff. “Remember when everybody created Web sites?” Kyle asks. (He points to a screen capture of Mark Zuckerberg’s homepage, which is still available at the Internet Archive.) In the spirit of fairness, he shows his own first home page. And then some very early 90’s-ish home pages that “highlight the dorkiness of the 90’s Web.”

“They looked bad. But so what? They were fun. They were creative. They were quirky. They were interesting, And what did we replace them with? With a Twitter textbox.” Those textboxes are minimal and the same for everyone. Everyone’s profiles at Facebook has the same categories available.”It seems strange to me that we call that new and Web pages old.”

We got rid of the old Web because it wasn’t profitable. “This isn’t progress. It’s a nightmare. So, how do we take the good things about the old Web and modernize it? How do we bring back the old idea of people creating things and expressing themselves?”

That’s why Kyle founded Neocities. 1. It brings back free home pages. 2. No ads. 3. Protects sites against being shut down. It’s open source, too. It currently hosts 100,000 sites.

“This is not nostalgia,” he says. Web sites do things that social networks can’t. A Web site gives you more control and the ability to be more of who you are, with the confidence that the site will persist. And the good news about persistence is that pages still render, often perfectly, even decades later. Also, the Internet Archive can back them up easily. It also makes it easy to create curated lists and collections.

He’s working with IPFS so that Neocities sites can be community hosted.

QA

Me: How does he sustain it financially?

A: You can be a supporter for $5/month

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[liveblog] Amber Case on making the Web fun again

I’m at the Web 1.0 conference, at the MIT Media Lab, organized by Amber Case [@caseorganic]. It’s a celebration of sites that can be built by a single person, she explains.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

The subtitle of Amber’s opening talk is “Where did my data go?” She talks about hosting sites that folded and took all the home pages with them. After AOL Hometown got angry comments about this, it AOL Hometown “solved” the problem by turning off comments“solved” the problem by turning off comments. Other bad things can happen to sites you build on other people’s sites. They can change your UI. And things other than Web sites can be shut down — including household items in the Internet of Things.

She shows the Maslow Hierarchy for Social Network Supermarkets from Chris Messina. So, what happened to owning your identity? At early Web conferences, you’d write your domain name on your ID tag. Your domain was your identity. RSS and Atom allowed for distributed reading. But then in the early 2000s social networks took over.

We started writing on third party platforms such as Medium and Wikia, but their terms of service make it difficult to own and transfer one’s own content.

The people who could have created the tools that would let us share our blogs went to work for the social networking sites. In 2010 there was a Federated Web movement that resulted in a movement towards this. E.g., it came up with Publish on your own Site and Syndicate Elsewhere (POSSE
).

Why do we need an independent Web? To avoid losing our content, so businesses can’t to fold and take it with it, for a friendlier UX, and for freedom. “Independent Websites can help provide the future of the Web.”

If we don’t do this, the Web gets serious, she says: People go to a tiny handful of sites. They’re not building as many quirky, niche, weird Web sites. “”We need a weird Web””“We need a weird Web because it allows us to play at the edges and to meet others.” But if you know how to build and archive your own things, you have a home for your data, for self-expression, and with links out to the rest of the Web.

Make static websites, she urges…possibly with the conference sponsor, Neocities.

QA

Bob Frankston: How can you own a domain name?

Amber: You can’t, not really.

Bob: And that’s a big, big problem.

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October 11, 2016

[liveblog] Bas Nieland, Datatrix, on predicting customer behavior

At the PAPis conference Bas Nieland, CEO and Co-Founder of Datatrics, is talking about how to predict the color of shoes your customer is going to buy. The company tries to “make data science marketeer-proof for marketing teams of all sizes.” IT ties to create 360-degree customer profiles by bringing together info from all the data silos.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

They use some machine learning to create these profiles. The profile includes the buying phase, the best time to present choices to a user, and the type of persuasion that will get them to take the desired action. [Yes, this makes me uncomfortable.]

It is structured around a core API that talks to mongoDB and MySQL. They provide “workbenches” that work with the customer’s data systems. They use BigML to operate on this data.

The outcome are models that can be used to make recommendations. They use visualizations so that marketeers can understand it. But the marketeers couldn’t figure out how to use even simplified visualizations. So they created visual decision trees. But still the marketeers couldn’t figure it out. So they turn the data into simple declarative phrases: which audience they should contact, in which channel, what content, and when. E.g.:

“To increase sales, çontact your customers in the buying phase with high engagement through FB with content about jeans on sale on Thursday, around 10 o’clock.”

They predict the increase in sales for each action, and quantify in dollars the size of the opportunity. They also classify responses by customer type and phase.

For a hotel chain, they connected 16,000 variables and 21M data points, that got reduced to 75 variables by BigML which created a predictive model that ended up getting the chain more customer conversions. E.g., if the model says someone is in the orientation phase, the Web site shows photos of recommend hotels. If in the decision phase, the user sees persuasive messages, e.g., “18 people have looked at this room today.” The messages themselves are chosen based on the customer’s profile.

Coming up: Chatbot integration. It’s a “real conversation” [with a bot with a photo of an atttractive white woman who is supposedly doing the chatting]

Take-aways: Start simple. Make ML very easy to understand. Make it actionable.

Q&A

Me: Is there a way built in for a customer to let your model know that it’s gotten her wrong. E.g., stop sending me pregnancy ads because I lost the baby.

Bas: No.

Me: Is that on the roadmap?

Bas: Yes. But not on a schedule. [I’m not proud of myself for this hostile question. I have been turning into an asshole over the past few years.]

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September 21, 2016

[iab] Privacy discussion

I’m at the IAB conference in Toronto. Canada has a privacy law, PIPEDA law (The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) passed in 2001, based on OECD principles.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Barbara Bucknell
, the director of policy and research at Office of the Privacy Commissioner where she worries about how to protect privacy while being able to take advantage of all the good stuff data can do.

A recent large survey found that more than half of Canadians are more concerned about privacy than they were last year. Only 34% think the govt is doing enough to keep their privacy safe. Globally, 8 out of 10 are worried about their info being bought, sold, or monitored. “Control is the key concern here.” “They’re worried about surprises: ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were using my information that way!'”

Adam Kardash [this link
?] says that all the traditional approaches to privacy have be carefully reconsidered. E.g., data minimization says you only collect what you need. “It’s a basic principle that’s been around forever.” But data scientists, when asked how much data they need for innovation, will say “We need it all.” Also, it’s incredibly difficult to explain how your data is going to be used, especially at the grade 6-7 literacy rate that is required. And for data retention, we should keep medical info forever. Marketers will tell you the same thing so they can give you information about you what you really need.

Adam raises the difficulties with getting consent, which the OPC opened a discussion about. Often asking for consent is a negligible part of the privacy process. “The notion of consent is having an increasingly smaller role” while the question of control is growing.

He asks Barbara “How does PEPIDA facility trust?”

Barbara: It puts guardrails into the process. They may be hard implement but they’re there for a reason. The original guidelines from the OECD were prescient. “It’s good to remember there were reasons these guardrails were put in place.”

Consent remains important, she says, but there are also other components, including accountability. The organization has to protect data and be accountable for how it’s used. Privacy needs to be built into services and into how your company is organized. Are the people creating the cool tech talking to the privacy folks and to the legal folks? “Is this conversation happening at the front end?” You’d be surprised how many organizations don’t have those kind of programs in place.

Barbara: Can you talk to the ethical side of this?

Adam: Companies want to know how to be respectful as part of their trust framework, not just meeting the letter of the law. “We believe that the vast majority of Big Data processing can be done within the legal framework. And then we’re creating a set of questions” in order for organisations to feel comfortable that what they’re doing is ethical. This is very practical, because it forestalls law suits. PEPIDA says that organizations can only process data for purposes a reasonable person would consider appropriate. We think that includes the ethical concerns.

Adam: How can companies facilitate trust?

Barbara: It’s vital to get these privacy management programs into place that will help facilitate discussions of what’s not just legal but respectful. And companies have to do a better job of explaining to individuals how they’re using their data.

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February 1, 2016

Tung oil from a good vendor

We made the odd choice of replacing our miracle composite kitchen floor — zero upkeep — with a knotty pine floor. Pine is beautiful, and we think it helps make our kitchen look more inviting, but it’s very soft wood.

So we’re conditioning it with tung oil. Tung oil penetrates the wood and polymerizes, hardening it while enriching the color and giving it a satiny sheen. The floor will still be softer than our miracle composite, but you have to resign yourself to thinking of the dents and scratches as signs of its being lived in. Or on. Also, because tung oil penetrates the wood and isn’t a layer on top, you can sand out some dings, and you can always wipe on a little more oil. We may live to regret it, but we like it so far.

floor before and after

Unfortunately, tung oil is a pain in the tuchus when compared to, say, polyurethane. You brush poly on, you let it dry, you lightly scratch it up with brillo or sandpaper, and you do it again. Boom done. Tung oil takes several coats, it smells, it takes longer to dry before the next coat, and it takes much longer to fully polymerize.

After a lot of research — Thank you, Internet — we decided on going with Real Milk Paint tung products. The rational reasons are:

1. They seem to have high quality products. Since there are various types of tung oil pretenders on the market, that counts.

2. For the initial applications, the Internet recommends cutting the tung oil with a solvent. Real Milk has a pre-mixed prep called Half and Half that cuts the tung with citrus oil. True to the claims, we found that it dries quickly and doesn’t smell bad — sort of citrusy, unsurprisingly. (Nevertheless, we trained a fan over the floor while it dried to blow the odor away from us humans.)

But the real reason we went with Real Milk is that they seem like Real People who know their tung oil. I came to this conclusion by reading their discussion boards and watching their videos. They seem to be craftspeople who love finishes that bring out the beauty of the wood they have just worked. They are straightforward and non-defensive. They are on the side of their customers.

I confirmed this minutes ago by calling customer support with a question and talking with a couple of folks there. Our third coat wasn’t drying. They told me what to do about it (dry it) and reassured me that this is in fact a sign that the wood has been saturated. Now we just have to walk carefully on it for a month until it’s fully set.

Could I be wrong about the people and the company? Absolutely. I’m wrong about most things. Maybe they’ll turn out to be the robotic face of a Big Tung, a mega-corporation peddling relabeled motor oil drained from Chernobyl. But I will have at least been fooled for the right reasons.

And that counts for a lot.

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December 13, 2015

From boosting the Net to remembering it

My role on the Net is going through a large swing: from explaining why the Internet is different, important, and (overall) good, to reminding us—especially college-age kids—how different and difficult so many things were before the Net existed.

For example, I gave an informal talk at Tufts last week and a few weeks ago at Emerson College. In both of them, and in the discussions afterwards, I did the Old Man thing of talking about how things were in the pre-Net days. For instance, it used to be that you’d read a newspaper article, have questions and want to know more, and there was no place you could go. You got whatever was in that rectangle of information and that’s all. Shocking! Outrageous!

The two roles are not unrelated: explaining what’s different about the Net and why we should overall be grateful and optimistic about the opportunities it has opened up. But what’s surprising to me is summed up by the comment by one of the Emerson students after the event was officially over: He thanked me for saying positive things about the Net since “All we ever hear is how dangerous it is.”

So, there’s still work to do. Hope over fear. Hope over fear.

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November 22, 2015

Bing can’t find Windows 10 Ten Cents sale…but Google can

I heard that Microsoft has some excellent $0.10 deals for Windows 10 owners like me. So I checked Bing:

bing listing

The top hit (an ad by Microsoft) takes you to a page for corporate sales of Windows phones.

The second hit (an ad by Microsoft) takes you to the generic Microsoft Store front page from which it is virtually impossible to find the $0.10 sales.

None of the rest of the results on the first page of the Bing search gets you anywhere close.


Same search at Google:

google listing

The top hit (a Microsoft ad) takes you to the same generic front page of the Microsoft Store as the second hit on Bing, which makes no mention of the $0.10 sales.

The following Google results take you to pages about the $0.10 sales from which you can actually get to the goddamn sale.


Yes, these sales are real. For example, this is from the Microsoft.com site this afternoon:

google listing


I got there by going to the WindowsCentral.com post listed in the Google results….although right now the Windows site is telling me that something is wrong and I should come back later.

PS: To get to the Hitman Go sale, my best advice is to go to the Windows Store on your Windows 10 machine. The $0.10 sales are featured there. Or search there for Hitman Go.

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October 6, 2015

Doc Searls’ "The Adblock War" series

Adblocking is, as Doc Searls claims, “the biggest boycott in human history.” Since August 12, Doc’s been posting what I can only call an in-depth, analytical, evidence-based rant. It is not to be missed.

  1. Separating advertising’s wheat and chaff (12 August 2015)
  2. Apple’s content blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech (26 August 2015)
  3. Will content blocking push Apple into advertising’s wheat business? (29 August 2015)
  4. If marketing listened to markets, they’d hear what ad blocking is telling them (8 September 2015)
  5. Debugging adtext assumptions (18 September 2015)
  6. How adtech, not ad blocking, breaks the social contract (23 September 2015)
  7. A way to peace in the adblock war (21 September 2015, on the ProjectVRM blog)
  8. Beyond ad blocking — the biggest boycott in human history (28 Septemper 2015)
  9. Dealing with Boundary Issues (1 October 2015 in Linux Journal)

Doc says (in an email) he is “building the case for what ProjectVRMCustomer Commons and Mozilla (notably its Content Services group) are quietly doing to disable surveillance capitalism.”

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October 2, 2015

Reason #2,645 to love the Web

Back in the early 1980s—yes, children, it’s time for an anecdote from the Dark Ages—WordPerfect was my writing tool. I was a power user and was quite attached to it. But there were some things I thought they could do better. So, I wrote a four page letter that was (as I recall) very appreciative of the program overall — not a set of gripes, but a fan’s notes. I sent it to the WordPerfect corporation.


I never heard anything back. Not even the form letter I expected.

That was back then.

On my Mac I frequently use Sync2Folders “its techie rawness is one of the reasons I like it”to, well, sync two folders. It does exactly what I want, and it’s free, although donations are suggested. (I’ve donated the suggested €6 more than once.)


In terms of the look and feel, Sync2Folders isn’t slick, and in its functionality it tends towards the techie. But it’s simple enough that I can do the basic things that I want to do. In fact, its techie rawness is one of the reasons I like it: It does a job that’s not trendy, and it does it without gussying itself up.


Also, and perhaps more important, it looks like something that a developer created and put out in the world for free. Which is exactly what it is.


A couple of days ago I got an automated email from the developer, Thomas Robisson when I donated for the third time. I’d like to pretend that I’m just that generous, but the truth is that I’m just that forgetful. So, I appreciated that the developer noted the duplication, told me how to avoid the app’s request for fiscal aid, and reminded me that a single license can be used on multiple computers.


I responded by email to thank Thomas, and also to point out a feature that I’d like and that I’d thought was in an earlier version. I was confident that this was going to turn out to be a DUM— a dumb user mistake — and at least I was right about that.“ The Net occasions the generosity of people like Thomas” Over the course of a couple of emails in which Thomas asked for some basic debugging info, it turned out that, yes, I had simply missed the button that did what I was asking for. D’oh.


I know that the Internet is the defiler of youth and the death of civilization. But it also occasions the generosity and creativity of people like Thomas.


Further, before the Net, there was only the slightest chance that a user and a product creator could engage. And if they did it was likely to be in the stilted, inhuman voice of the Marketing department.


So, thank you, Thomas. And thank you, Internet.

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