June 26, 2002

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The Semantic Argument Web: Tim Berners-Lee's dream of a Web of meaning is unlikely to happen, at least the way he thinks.
Office of Homepage InSecurity: We should use the Web better than this.
Clueful Marketing: Could you find a better example?
Blogthreads: We need a way to refer to 'em. Shelley is going to give 'em to us.
A Small, Necessary Gesture: A hand signal for when you've been a jerk.
The Invalidator: The official HTML validator ought to loosen up
Walking the Walk: Macromedia and a game maker seek advice from outside their own conference rooms
Cool Tool : Pockey stores 10G USBly
What I'm Playing: Serious Sam: Second Encounter. Too much fun.
Internetcetera: Why am I still using Office?
Anals of Marketing: Mainly bad ideas.
Links: You found 'em, I intermediate 'em.
Small pieces: Alex Golub engages with it.
Email, Arbitrary Insults, and Suspicious Hacking Coughs: More lovely messages from y'all.
Bogus contest: Upcoming Books


It's a Small Pieces World After All

From the Land of Self-Promotion comes this bulletin: Tom Peters' site is featuring an interview with me.



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The Semantic Argument Web

Tim Berners-Lee, blessed be his name (and shortened be his name to TBL for now), has been pondering what the Web could become. His vision is that it spawns a "Semantic Web." I don't believe this particular vision is going to happen. And it's not going to happen for the very reasons that the Web did happen.

I get such a feeling of deja vu as I read about the Semantic Web, at least the bits I can understand. In the late 80s and early 90s, all of human reason pointed to the inevitability of SGML as a document standard. Here was a way of encoding every conceivable document with semantic tags — parts lists labeled as "parts_list", definitions labeled in two pieces as "defined_word" and "definition" — so that machines could search them and assemble them automatically out of pieces stored in a document database. Business would be transformed by the sharing and automation SGML enables. Further, SGML had proved itself in highly-disciplined groups producing highly regulated documents such as aerospace tech documentation and telecommunications data sheets. All you had to do was get businesses to agree to standard document definitions (e.g., a parts list would be tagged as "parts_list" and not "list_of_parts") and entice/force office workers to put in a minimum amount of metadata and, boom!, productivity would soar! Power searching! Re-purposing for multiple outputs! Seamless document interchange! Electronic publishing! Predictable, normalized documents! An eternally open standard! It can't miss!

Of course it didn't happen. It turned out that getting industries to agree on document definitions takes decades. And it turns out entering even a single bit of metadata feels like pointy-haired red tape to office workers. So, SGML remains highly useful in small pockets but has no traction at all with the general business public.

But, you say, it has a great deal of traction because HTML is itself an SGML document definition. Perfectly true. And what lesson do we learn from the failure of SGML to take off and the unprecedented success of HTML? HTML worked because it was so simple, so dumb, and so forgiving. (Well, actually it was the browsers that were forgiving.)

The Semantic Web will fail for the same reason SGML failed. And it will succeed in the same way SGML succeeded: niches and pockets will find it extraordinarily useful.

The basic idea behind the Semantic Web is to put more metadata into Web pages so machines can do more with them. TBL sees RDF as the standard for encoding this metadata. (Ed Dumbill has an excellent article about using XHTML and XSLT instead). RDF is a flexible and open standard that lets you attach as much metadata as you'd like to any object. But that's not enough. If machines are going to make sense of this metadata, they have to know ahead of time what to expect. So, as TBL points out, you also have to have "schema" which are like document definitions in SGML. The Semantic Web gains power as these schema cover more and more of life. For example, if we had a schema for expressing contact information, the Semantic Web would enable us to search for web pages where the metadata attribute "last_name" has the content "Bush" and it would find all the Bush relatives without finding a single page about rhododendra. But if we only had that one schema, the Semantic Web would be confined to searching for contact information. The more schema, the more useful the Semantic Web becomes.

And that's how TBL leads himself down the branch of AI known as "knowledge representation" in which we try to figure out schema for all human knowledge. Without the schema, the metadata are pointless. Yes, multiple schema for the same types of knowledge can be translated into one another, so we don't need the UN to issue the definitive and exclusive list, but it is a big big stinking problem of the sort that sank SGML.

The basic problem with the Semantic Web is that it doesn't scale. Given TBL's track record and the caliber of the people working on the Semantic Web , there is no doubt that it will scale as a technology. But it doesn't scale as a social phenomenon. A company, a set of trading partners, and even an industry may be able to agree on the schema and coerce its authors to put in the right metadata. But as the Semantic Web gets more comprehensive and more useful, it becomes harder and harder both to come up with the schema and to provide the incentive for compliance. The history of SGML, where companies had hard-core incentives for coming up with schema, shows just how difficult it is to get people to do what's so obviously and rationally good for them.

So, yes, the Internet will gradually become enriched with metadata which will make it more useful. And some particular industries and applications will agree on schema; that's already happening. But the TBL vision of a well-organized, rigorously tagged Net that becomes a transparent database of knowledge would require us to agree on schema and then care enough to put in the metadata. Not gonna happen. We're just not that grown up.

I do think there is a way to entice large numbers of people to provide some metadata for their pages. Have Google announce that it will now enable searches on a minimal set of metadata such as the Dublin Core that provides the basic tags most people would find useful. If people knew that this would make it much easier for people to find their pages, they'd probably do it. Thus, we could get a limited set of smarts into the data that would make much of life on the Web easier, although the semantics would be limited to pretty much what is on your dog's license tag. This isn't the type of smarts TBL has in mind.

There seem to be two approaches to making the Web smarter: come up with smart AI-ish applications or make the data smarter. TBL expressly excludes the former from what he considers to be the Semantic Web. But let me suggest a third way.

Some questions are best answered by a database. And, for that reason the answers are often already in a database, solving the problem. If I want to know which DSP chip will work in my multiplexer, I can go to a chip manufacturer's page and query the database. The harder questions are ones like: "Which washing machine should I buy," "Can you give me a hint about how I exit the fourth map of the game Serious Sam?" and "Will I like the new Alanis Morisette album?" For these questions, I really want to talk with people I trust. And while I can certainly poke around the Web and get answers to these questions, it seems foolish that I can't just ask the people I already know in the real world and on the Web.

So, here's a different type of platform idea for transforming the Web. How about if my view of the Internet were to reflect my perspective on the Internet? Suppose it didn't look to me like 20 billion pages swirling in chaos but looked like a set of neighborhoods that reflect the groups I'm actually in? We do this haphazardly now. Suppose there were a more systematic and automatic way of doing this?

I've participated in two startups with great ideas for doing something like this. Both failed. I still believe not only in the problem they were trying to address but in their approaches. But lots more approaches are possible. We should invent them.

Because that's where TBL goes wrong, I believe, or at least doesn't go right enough. The first line of the first paragraph of the introduction to his major work on the Semantic Web says "The Web was designed as an information space..." Who could argue with TBL on what the Web was designed as? But no matter what it was designed as, it's succeeded as a connection space, not a mere information space. If the Net's topology is to be improved, I'd rather see it first reflect its social nature than its metadata-enhanced informational nature.


A Small, Necessary Gesture

When the light turned green, the car ahead of me just sat there. I gave it a good five seconds (i.e., 0.5 seconds) and then blasted my horn. "What did you do that for?" asked my wife. "The light is still red."

So it was. I hadn't noticed the righthand turn light.

So, how do I apologize to the driver ahead of me? We lack a gesture by which we beg forgiveness. I propose the following:

The antifinger gesture of forgiveness - www.evident.com

Use it often.


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Office of Homepage InSecurity

I hadn't been back to the home page of The Office of Homeland Security since I went to get a copy of the color-coded alert system to make fun of it. But I had breakfast recently with David Stephenson, a consultant to business and government on how to use the Internet to change their ways of doing business. He's been thinking about what Might Be when it comes to using the Net to help protect our country from terrorist attacks. David reminded me of just how bad the Homeland's home page is.

Have I mentioned that it sucks? And in this case, sucking isn't a laughing matter.

The basic problem with the page is that it's primarily intended as PR for the grand job the administration is doing. There's the endless photo montage of Bush signing legislation and Ridge looking tough but slightly bewildered at press conferences. There's the "Homeland Security Timeline" that lists speeches and budget increases but somehow misses the anthrax-based evacuation of the Senate and doesn't list a single one of the alerts Ridge's office has issued.

Most clearly featured are the press releases: "Tom Ridge Speaks to the Associated Press Annual Luncheon," "Remarks by Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge to the Electronics Industries Alliance." The impression this leaves: the greatest weapon in the anti-terrorism arsenal is the rubber chicken.

In one of his speeches, Ridge says, "We're going to knock down the information 'stovepipes' throughout government and turn them into pipelines." Excellent and important. So where are those pipelines on the Homeland home page? Where's even a link to the FBI page? How about a link to something — anything! — that isn't just more PR about what a swell job Ridge is doing?

In that same speech, he says:

The American people must become active partners in their own protection. More than 30,000 have already signed up for the President's new Citizen Corps program. They'll contribute to homeland security at the grassroots, neighborhood level. I urge all Americans to serve.

And how might we serve? Where's the link to the Citizen Corps? Where on the page can we leave a tip, get educated about what "be on alert" means and what "suspicious behavior" is, or ask a simple question? (I'm too civic minded to make fun of Ridge's suggestion that attending a PTA meeting constitutes an anti-terrorist action.)

In fact, the URL is within the whitehouse.gov domain, sitting there along with the pages for White House tours, the first lady, and the "Kids Only" page - all listed as buttons above the Homeland Security title, just one click away. Swell.

Government PR = Propaganda. For shame.

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Clueful Marketing

As one of the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto, I thought I'd pass along this outstanding example of "clueful" marketing that arrived in my inbox this morning:

From: Jenny Witherspoon [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Tuesday, June 18, 2002 7:57 PM
Subject: hello

Hello this is Jenny Witherspoon I am one of the featured girls on www.amatureacadamys.com We are giving away 100 % FREE memberships for this week to see how people like it. Please check it out and let me know what you think! Hit me up on AOL Instant Messenger My Screen Name is JennyAmature82 If you don't like watching XXX videos , webcams, and looking at my NUDE pictures you may not want to join.

Jenny Witherspoon

She really seems to have read and absorbed our book! This is non-money-focused ("FREE"), acknowledging that connection is more important than shoving coins over the line. It's all about joining with other people ("memberships") rather than mass marketing to a faceless crowd. In fact, she even gives out her IM account number so we can make direct contact! She doesn't put on a phony veneer of perfection — you can really hear her own voice. This doesn't sound like it was written by a committee and then deloused by lawyers! She signs her own name. And she's totally upfront about the fact that her product isn't perfect, acknowledging that we may not even be interested in it. Wow! It's great to know we've had this type of effect!

I'm so proud!

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Blogthreads at last?

Shelley at BurningBird has announced plans to build a service that will put the thread into blogthreads. If you register your blog with her new service (ThreadNeedle.com, a few months away from launch), it will automatically scour it for links to other blogs so that when Tom replies to AKMA and Jeneane replies to Tom and then Tom replies to Jeneane and then Jennifer replies to AKMA, all that will be saved and will be made reference-able and link-able as a blogthread. Excellent!

This is something we really need. In fact, I hope that BurningBird's work will be taken up by sites that are in the business of aggregating blogs — Google? DayPop? Are you interested? — so that blogthreads can be assembled from blog entries on sites that haven't registered with ThreadNeedle.com and, most of all, so that they can be indexed and returned by the search engines. Wouldn't it be cool to search on, say, "forgiveness" and have Google and/or DayPop tell you not only that AKMA, Tom and Jeneane have blog entries about this but that there is an extensive blogthread on the topic?

I've written before about this and about the broader need for a threading standard; a conversation about the broader standard continues over at QuickTopic for anyone who's interested. There's a Quicktopic discussion of the Needly standard itself at http://www.quicktopic.com/14/H/P96CAYje2yc.

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The Invalidator

AKMA points us to Dorothea who points us to the W3C HTML Validation Service, a nicely done tool. Put in an URL and it instantly comes back with the list of syntactical errors in its HTML — attributes that need to be within quotation marks, paragraph tags within block elements, ALT attributes left out of graphic links. Why, there are hundreds of mistakes in the very page you're reading. It's completely, totally, irredeemably INVALID! In fact, the home page for OASIS, the SGML/XML standards group, is INVALID, XML.com is INVALID, the O'Reilly home page is INVALID, Linus Torvalds' home page is INVALID, and the 12-line home page of Google has a bold-faced FATAL ERROR in it.

Reminds me of an old joke. A man goes to a doctor. "Doc, it hurts when I go like this," he says, poking himself gently in the foot with his index finger. "It hurts when I go like this," he says, poking his knee. "It hurts when I go like this," he says as he pokes his thigh. He proceeds the same way up to the top of his head.

"I see," says the doctor. "You've got a broken finger."


Middle World Resources

Walking the Walk  

Michael O'Connor Clark points us to an article in Wired about Macromedia's setting up five of their "community managers" with blogs to talk with the developer community.

Andy Mahood, columnist on game simulations (that is, games that are simulations, not simulations of games) at PCGamer, gave the product of the year award last year to Microsoft Flight Simulator which, in his view, narrowly edged out IL-2 Sturmovik. According to this month's column (July), not only was Sturmovik developed more or less in public by developers who tried out their ideas at gaming message boards and other online forums, but the company has also been collecting bug reports and enhancement requests there as well. They've been issuing "an aggressive series of patches" whereas "Microsoft recently issued a statement saying that it would not be providing any sort of patching process for the bugs found" in their product.

Concludes Mahood: "Is it too late to change my vote?"

Cool Tool
For the Hyperlinked Organization

I just got a Pockey 10G external hard drive and I find my geek gland is engorged. It's a little thinner, longer and lighter than a deck of cards (the Pockey, not my gland, children), plugs into a USB port, and is letting me free up 10G of space on my laptop. In fact, it is now the main repository of my vast MP3 collection. (I have over 7 gigs of the classical repertoire recreated in dog yips.)

On the minus side, the data transfer is noticeably slow, although it plays back MP3s without a hitch. On the plus side, it's powered through the USB connection and thus I don't have to stack another piece of furniture in order to make room for one more transformer plug.

It cost $80 through ReturnBuy, which I found via eBay.



What I'm Playing

Serious Sam: The Second Encounter is just plain great. Built in that hotbed of gaming excellence, Croatia, Serious Sam is a first person shooter that's less gothic and more Chuck Jones. The graphics engine is fantastic and is only outdone by the graphics themselves. Set in large interiors and huge exteriors, SS pits you against endless hordes of alien mutants. Nothing subtle about it. It is refreshingly funny, and not just because of the hero's wisecracks. The creature design is original and ridiculous and the maps take advantage of the engine's ability to bend gravity and light to its will. Total, mindless fun. And a steal at $20.00.


eWeek runs a table (June 17) comparing the prices of various office suites:

Office XP, standard, non-upgrade version


Office XP upgrade


Office for students and teachers


Sun's StarOffice


150+ users


Teachers and students

Cost of CD & shipping


Free download

But the real cost, of course, is that with the new phone-the-mothership licensing, we have to buy separate copies for every computer we own, not for every user. I upgraded my desktop machine and my laptop, but I'll be damned if the kids are ever going to see anything past Office 2000!

With the increased interoperability of XML-based systems, why do we feel locked in to this software? I forget. (Apparently so has Wal-Mart which is now shipping Lindows on some of its PCs.)

Anals of Marketing

Dave Curley writes:

You've probably already seen this since it's making the usual plastic, etc. rounds, but just in case.... http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,441298 7,00.html

Essentially, it appears that a PR company - presumably hired by Monsanto - planted postings on a listserv that ultimately led to Nature retracting an article.

Leaving aside the question of whether or not the article should have been published, this, to me, helps show how the internet's strength as a "create your own identity" medium is also a weakness: on the internet, nobody knows you're a dog, and nobody knows you're a lying PR weasel.

Yes, astroturf lobbying exists in the physical world, people are planted in opposing groups, and so on, but it's much harder. Just as the internet makes it so much easier for me to contact you and communicate/connect with you, it also makes it that much easier for me to lie to you.

The Science story is more complicated story than it should be if it's to serve as a simple fable, for it seems that there may have been real problems with the article that was retracted. But, Dave's certainly right. There's no doubt that the there are shills and worse on the Web. We'll be in a constant battle with them as we invent ways of discovering trust and Evil Marketers invent ways of abusing that trust.

Google to Good has, in my view, taken a rare misstep.

From Tom Gross comes a link to Christophe Bruno's article "The Google AdWords Happening" about his experiment with using Google AdWords to have people see his art. He bought some keywords so that his ad would show up when people searched on those words, but ran poetry instead of ads. For example, if you searched Google for "symptom" you'd see:

Words aren't free anymore
bicornuate-bicervical uterus
one- eyed hemi-vagina

As the clickthrough rates fell — Bruno's aim was to present poetry on Google's page, not to get people to click through to his — Google's bot noticed and decreased the frequency with which his ad was served. Finally, his ads were disapproved and Google suspended the "campaign."

This accords with my own experience with AdWords. I bought the keyword "Lessig," as an experiment, and submitted an ad that began "If you like Lessig..."; the rest of the ad touted Small Pieces as a book that Larry Lessig liked. But I couldn't get the three dots past Google because they do not permit "excessive" punctuation. The bot did let me get away with "If you like Lessig-" but I then received a personal email telling me that my use of a dash was ungrammatical. Admittedly, but that's only because they wouldn't allow me to use the grammatically correct ellipsis.

Methinks they're a bit overscrupulous...

Enfish, which makes a great search engine for your own email and desktop files, has a very responsive email support system. So, when I replied to one of their replies, I was aghast with delight to receive a bounce-back that began as follows:

Your reply did not process correctly. Please REPLY to this message and enter the text between the specified lines. Your message has been included below.

Let's see. The robot knows what my message was. It knows which lines my message should have been entered between. But it needs a human to do the cutting and pasting for it.

This makes as much sense to me as the phone error message: "Your call could not be completed. You need to dial a one before the number." If they know it needs the one, then put it in for me!

Jeez, do I have to do everything myself around here?



Steve Yost, the creator of QuickTopic and one of the Web's Good Guys, has started blogging.

As has the always-inventive Stowe Boyd. The fact that he posted a glowing, thoughtful review of Small Pieces doesn't influence my recommendation, although the fact that he's an old pal certainly does...as is only proper.

AKMA has reconceived his blogroll as a new university, the U of Blogaria. AKMA also received tenure at the real-world college where he teaches. Congratulations and enjoy your new life of invincible slacking off!

The ever-vigilant Chip recommends Eric Alterman's big-J-ish blog. Alterman writes for The Nation as well as for just about any other journal that hasn't completely hocked its soul.

Jeneane's husband is blogging from Hong Kong where he's spending a few months with his band. Diary, letter home, article? I dunno. It's a blog!

J. Thomas Vincent blogged a conference on the intersection of digits and entertainment the other day. It's an excellent report of what sounds like an actually useful conference. You'll actually hear people give a more reasonable defense of the Hollings Bill than I'm willing to listen to.

Frank Paynter has interviewed Denise Howell of the Bag and Baggage blog. "Interview" isn't the right word, though. More like, um, a one-act play presented as an e-epistolary interchange with the public looking over its shoulder. It's got anecdotes, banter, theories, jokes, links, poems, photos, a top ten list and therapy. Also homeless people who smell like Dungeness crab. And now he's interviewed Jeneane.

Glenn Fleishman was one of the semi-frozen bloggers on the Geek Cruise into the Cold and Dark. He writes about it — and includes photos — here. (Doc was also along for the blog, worth reading as always.)

Doc Searls has the definitive comment on David Gallagher's piece on "warbloggers" in the NY Times. And he also has some great quotes from David Bowie in a John Pareles piece in the aforementioned Times. Bowie says, matter of factly, that the music industry isn't going to be around in a recognizable form in ten years and that "Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity." Rock on, GlamBoy!

David Isenberg has found an interesting French search site. It shows the results graphically, connecting the nodes to display, well, I have no idea what it's displaying. But other people on the mailing list to which he sent the link seem to think that it's quite helpful to those who didn't sell their graphical lobes to artistically challenged millionaires in the early 70s. It's called Kartoo.net and if it works for you, then I delight in your success.

Marek recommends ResultsUSA, a site that works on ending world hunger.

Gary Unblinking Stock sends us back to our favorite comic strip, mnftiu, to discover that there's going to be a "Get Your War On" book. All of the proceeds will go to landmine relief efforts in Afghanistan.

Bob Frankston has an excellent, readable, and clear article on what needs to change at the FCC. Must reading.

Vergil Iliescu writes

At The Edge (http://www.edge.org/) there is a wonderful set of images called "Twelve Flowers" by Katinka Matson. What is different is that these are produced via a flatbed scanner, not a camera. The images are quite beautiful - they are of flowers - with a kind of depth and colour that is remarkable. I'm viewing them on a modern high resolution LCD computer screen, and they are breathtaking!

Yes they are. Here's an example, sized too small to do it justice:

Hank Blakely is funny. He just is, durn it. Especially if you think Bush is a moron. His Bush Diary is good, but what I really like are the email messages announcing new entries in the diary. He writes with great confidence which is hard to do with comedy because humor writing is inherently a type of pandering, and his confidence is justified ... which is also rare with comedy. For example, in this message he waxes comedically about the sorry state of readiness of the National Guard patrolling California's bridges and recommends that we replace them with trolls. He archives his msgs here.

I think it's Chip who recommended the following

Forwarded message: The Breast Cancer site is having trouble getting enough people to click on it daily to meet their quota of donating at least one free mammogram a day to a woman. It takes less than a minute to go to their site & click on ""Fund Free Mammograms"" (pink window in the middle). Their corporate sponsors and advertisers use the number of daily visits to donate a mammogram in exchange for advertising. Here's the website! Pass it along to all your friends!!



There's a very cool "powers of 10" trip at http://micro.magnet.fsu.edu/primer/java/scienceopticsu/powersof10/index.html

Brian Millar, who is in my pantheon of the Just Plain Funny, is collecting words he cannot pronounce or at least so uncertain about that he is afraid to say them out loud.

My list includes:


And my number one word that I can't pronounce:

President Bush

Small pieces


Daniela Elza has written a long, thoughtful review of my book, Small Pieces Loosely Joined. Thank you, Daniela.

It's going to take a bit longer to thank Alex Golub for his review since it's not a review so much as a critical piece. In the best sense. In fact, it is a superb response to the ideas in the book. He kicks at the spots in my "argument" that most need kicking and, most important, he laughs at my jokes.

Alex is an anthropology grad student at the Univ. of Chicago who maintains an excellent site about Hans Georg Gadamer. He writes passionately, personally and with a ragged edge I enjoy:

The book starts small and you don't get the theory 'til the end: He spends most of the book shaking the big can of whup-ass he holds in his hand and giving you an I-dare-you, 'don't make me open this big can of whup-ass' look. And when he finally does open it in the last two chapters, you realize Why You've Been Fearing The Whup-Ass All Along.

He takes me to task most systematically on the question of knowledge. Alex thinks I approach this too much from the philosopher's viewpoint according to which knowledge is the defining human experience: "I think he places too much emphasis on 'truth' and not enough on 'body'. We do not just laugh - we cum." (I told my publisher I didn't have enough "fuck"s in the book!) Furthermore, he says I get stuck on "knowing" rather than seeing that underneath the change in knowledge is a more important change in the nature of convincing, i.e., rhetoric. To this I reply with an emphatic and enflamed: Yeah, that's right! So, take that! That chapter was trying to do something fairly specific: kick the pins out from the traditional view of knowledge that leads us to absurd, anti-human, anti-body ideas about what it means to be a human. On the other side of the Dam of Knowledge there's all of life, including jokes, porn, mysticism, mindless entertainment and RageBoy. I didn't mean to imply that on the other side of the Dam is only a different type of knowledge. At least, I don't remember meaning to imply that. In truth, I believe Alex has smoked out a genuine prejudice and consequent blinkering in the chapter.

Alex uses this to help make his larger case: "I guess what I'm saying is that philosophy can only advocate for lived experience for so long before it's out of its league." What else does Alex the anthropology graduate student think is needed? Hmm. Wait for it ... Anthropology!

David has taken us 90% of the way, but to get over the finish line he needs [not] only anthropologists to help him along, he needs artists and artisans - the people who weld, sing, dance, fuck - as well.

To which I reply, vehemently, that little vein in my forehead throbbing: Absolutely correct! I didn't intend this to be the last book written about the Web. We need poetry, science, religion, and every other way we humans have devised to understand ourselves and our world.

So, let me be clear: I love Alex's review.

(Here's an amusing picture of Alex.)


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Email, Arbitrary Insults, and Suspicious Hacking Coughs

 Mike Fitzgerald writes with regard to the email version of JOHO:

I changed to a monospaced font and stretched my window — but that didn't help it all make sense.

Mike, Mike, Mike, did you check out the message spelled out by the second letter of the second word on each line? I mean, how obvious do I have to make it?

Frank Schmidt seems to be having a bad day (or week or even a year):

Subject: fuck the internet...and the piece of shit that it has become...

...and fuck verizon pop-ups, and orbitz pop-ups and viagra spam and every one of the scumbag marketeers who are driving me crazy with their goddam merchandising and fuck all of the bullshit email that is flooding my inbox

swear that i will NEVER, EVER, go near any of the products that they push in a thousand years

will go out of my way to ignore any product that any of them are behind

Does this mean you're never going to Nigeria? At the very least, can't we donate some lower case letters to them?

Peter Tunjic writes about the article in the previous issue defending lying:

I was particularly struck by the following:

...but our social lives are long threads with tangled strands and so much reflection and refraction from what I meant to what you wanted to hear that if we only said what we know to be true, we would be as interesting to talk to as ants laying down pheromone trails.

...It is at the level of motivation that I'd advocate avoiding lying or inconsistency. Though I think at the level of motivation it manifests itself more as recklessness as to why or indifference as to the consequences. I'm thinking that it is the consistency of motivation that ensures that you do have long threads and tangled strands to your name. It creates a congruence of you in time and space. Maybe the threads are broken when you lie are indifferent or reckless. I'm also thinking that it is this congruence that ensures you have interesting people to talk to. To take the pheromone analogy a little further, consistency helps people you might find interesting find you. Ultimately the proof is in the pudding ...

Motivation, but also character, tone, interests... Our threads are pretty thready.

Jeff Chapman cogitates in response to a blog entry about Thomas Friedman's comments about the role of the Internet as a source of mis- and disinformation:

...traditional journalism is based upon a certain model that no longer applies. The old model is that you can produce a newspaper for a dime and sell it for fifty cents, which (if you sell many papers) will make you enough of a profit. You can include things in the paper like national news, foreign news, business news, weather, sports, and want ads. Even though a reader might only be interested in one quarter of the national news, the weather, and one quarter of the business news, that has enough value that the reader will pay the fifty cents for the newspaper. Each reader has their own peculiar interests, but if you cover enough of them in the paper then you justify a large enough readership to keep your staff employed.

The new paradigm though is different. If I am interested in the Weather, I go to the particular sub pages at the specific weather sites that interest me. I then go to the particular pages of the specific business sites that interest me, et cetera. Each site provides deeper information with immediate cross-links to related information that I can't get in the paper, and I don't have to wade through the stories that don't interest me. And hence my viewpoint of the value attached to each site is less. The whole glob of daily information is still worth fifty cents to me, but now it's source is split between ten web sites, so the data at each individual site is only worth a nickel. And the point is that the nickel's worth of information at each site actually isn't worth charging for, because if you don't supply it for free I can find some other site that will. Newspapers have hence lost their "aggregation value."

Journalism and reporting is still alive; it's just that the vehicle for delivery has been struck into millions of ""small pieces loosely joined"".

Hee hee hee.

And RSS helps automate the aggregation. I just added RSS tags to my blog and will do so to this newsletter as soon as I figure out some of the details.

Greg Carter points us to Brad Blanton's amusing site on the concept of radical honesty. On its surface, the site is bland, but if you poke around you'll find pockets of genuine voice (and a whole lot of o'er-weening self-confidence). Here's a snippet of a description of one of Brad's seminars:

This is an eight day program which provides you with the hilarious experience of a new family based on honesty which will give you all the training necessary to sustain ongoing transformation for yourself and ongoing torture of your real family and friends back home. It will also serve nicely to mess things up at work.

Now, Greg points this out because of my recent comments about the importance and inevitability of lying. Judging from what I can glean from Brad's site, he seems to think that there is such a thing as The Truth and that we either tell the truth or we don't, although he acknowledges that there are many ways in which we "lie." The difference between him and me is that he doesn't like any of 'em, whereas I'm quite fond of a whole bunch of them. In fact, our human relationships are so complex and mutually refracted that there is no such thing as The Truth, and shaping and shading our stuff together constitutes much of the joy of sociality. Two people just telling one another the truth would be boring when it wasn't insulting. Oh, and, by the way, it's also impossible.

Val Stevenson responds to our article about the Pope's Internet pronouncement. I wrote:

But this papal communication is oddly mute about the implications of connecting each of us — even, eventually, the meekest and humblest — one to another, unmediated and direct.

Val responds:

You may have missed www.avemariasingles.com, a unique dating agency. (Also the very lovely www.catholicfreebies.com, where the offers include "The Seven Daily Habits of Holy Apostolic People". What a neat idea to re-purpose corporate ladder manuals for people who want to fast-track to sainthood...)

Thank you, Val, for sharing your very personal religious experiences with us.

And to think that I recently let www.AmIDamned.com expire! (Really.)

dividing line

Bogus contest: Upcoming Books

USAToday reports that Katherine Harris, Florida's Secretary of State during the first annual Florida Fraud Month, is working on a book about her experience. It's called Center of the Storm: Practicing Principled Leadership in Times of Crisis.

This should make us think of other upcoming books:

The Stealth Executive: Managing the New Distributed Business by O.B. Laden

With the Help of My Friends: Succeeding in the New Gift Economy by Senator Robert G. Torricelli

Letting Go: The Art of Creative Severance by Gary Condit

Tough Love: The Slobodan Milosevic Story

And your favorites would include ...?

(How dare I compare Harris to Bin Laden or Milosevic? You're right. I don't.)

Contest Results

Morbus Iff, whose Amphetadesk I am only now beginning to truly appreciate, responds to our perpetual Ambiguous URLs mini contest:


AnalBumCover or AnAlbumCover?

Hmm. This was a category in one of Saturday Night Live's parodies of Jeopardy. Nevertheless, it suffices to keep this contest alive and accepting submissions.

Until next time. If there is a next time.

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