Ruminations on Infospace

This started out as think/write space for myself as I contemplate next steps upon retirement, but I've been making pretty much daily additions and it seems to be gathering speed as it careens downhill...
10 June 2005
I have occasionally spent some time on Information Ecology, mostly in the context of the necessity of empirical study/monitoring of the actual Info behavior of various constituencies at W&L, and with the notion that we should really make careful ethnographic study of how people actually use the broad spectrum of Information resources that we make available. I have written various prescriptive screeds (July 1998, Nov 2002, following up my reading of Nardi and O'Day Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart [MIT Press 1999], and Jan 2003 ...and others) in and around that desideratum, to no particular effect. 'Ecology' seems a natural epicenter to me, emphasizing as it does the notions of flow and interlinkage and evolutionary processes, but it's easy to see how it has become a puffy cliché.

This morning I was listening to Moira Gunn's interview with Alexis Gerard and Bob Goldstein, and the mention of lexicon [1:40 mp3] got me thinking about the design of the tools to manage personal InfoSpace, and that led me to the thought that one's own Information Ecology continues to evolve... and that the suite of tools for managing personal InfoSpace needs to be sensitive to that evolution, and interlink

So the personal InfoSpace needs to persist (safe, always accessible) and must be flexible, designed to be ready to incorporate new media and new helper apps when they happen along, or when the user's interests and purposes morph in new directions.

In fact we all do this, via a gallimaufry of scattered and often not-interconnectable apps and devices (some of which can't be read on current hardware). We preside over cascades of old floppies, hard drives in obsolete machines in attics and basements, heaps of CD backups, bunches of DVD backups, stuff cached on servers with unpredictable half-lives, cluttered C: drives, collections of Web pages, perhaps several blogspaces... If there's any way to order such chaos and make way for barely-imaginable new devices, we must somehow conceive and build

XML lurks somewhere behind all this...

It should be easy to tag/earmark an item, to explore sets of tagged items (with appropriate visualization), to augment any item's or (items') tags... some sort of semantic Web capabilities... ready connection via appropriate APIs of other services... sort and filter by date, by media type, etc... export to Web pages, blogs, RSS feeds... facilitate sharing where appropriate... and the look-and-feel should be easily personalized ...and wouldn't it be nice to have Uniform Resource Identifiers (URI) for every item? ...and some 'items' are simply pointers (tagged, perhaps, or otherwise augmented) to resources that could be anywhere...

What models are out there?

An "idea organizer" like OmniOutliner [Mac only]?
I've been pretty happy with many of the features of Onfolio ("Collect. Organize. Share.")

11 June
Every day (or so it seems) brings items that might fit into what I describe, or that nudge my ideas in new directions, or remind me that lots of other people who know much more than I do are working in these realms. This morning's Bloglines trawl brought It's about the Community Plumbing: The Social Aspects of Content Management Systems (Presentation submitted for Computers and Writing Online 2005, Co-authored by Charles Lowe and Dries Buytaert, May 2005) --about Blogs & CMSs | Collaboration & Social Networks | Drupal...

...and beta, which I haven't figured out yet, but it uses the Yahoo Content Analysis API

By tapping into the Yahoo! web services, we have access to all kinds of content and search functionality. What used to be accomplished through dirty screen scraping hacks can now be done easier, quicker, and legitimately though a REST interface that can be implemented in most any programming language. The end effect is that people can mash web content into interesting ways that the original authors never intended. With the addition of cool tools like Greasemonkey, folks are bending the web into exciting new chimeras of hyperlinked goodness.
Now isn't this just the kind of effort I'm so fumblingly imagining?

12 June 2005
A wiki interview with Alex Halavais --which makes me think about the various niches where wiki is just the thing, when one wants to encourage participation and track the history of changes. It could make a nice frame for a Living Syllabus, a record of what went into a Course that wasn't already scripted from gitgo.

writing for a variety of audiences and freely communicating ideas is at the root of what it is to be an academic. In practice, there are institutional impediments to blogging among those in the professoriate, at least in the US. The average age (all ranks) of faculty hovers around 50, and--though there are certainly exceptions--many of the older faculty are not particularly interested in experimenting with new ways of communicating their research. Those most likely to blog are probably the new, untenured assistant professors, who are expected to be putting all of their efforts toward work that will support their tenure case. There are still those of us who choose to blog, but this is against all odds.

As a result, most active academic bloggers tend to be graduate students. I think there are some interesting times ahead for the nature and practices of social computing, and in the long term, that scholars will blog at a rate somewhat higher than the rest of the population. I suspect, however, that blogging at the institutional level--in both the corporate and research world--will be unlikely to succeed. While wikis may well work at the organizational level (and there are ways to insert blog-like structures within those wikis), ultimately the power of blogging comes in its extra-institutional bias.

People (like faculty and students, but also more broadly) need to have really easy access to a means to manage their RSS feeds. Maybe that's the reason to have 'portals'... but how does an institution get the word around to users? Halavais points to RSS at Penn State: An Interview with Tysen Kendig, and it's the sort of thing that I should point Pete Jetton and others toward...

A thought about tagging, one that's been niggling for a while: when I first encountered, I happily forged tags to suit myself, in my own idiosyncratic style (bloggery, culturewars, cyberia, geekery, memery, metastuff, musics, knowledge_web, to name a few tags that have caught a lot of items), thus insuring that I wouldn't be contributing to tag clouds, since I was using terminology that nobody else was using. I set myself up to be an isolate, with the implicit notion that it's desirable to do things in unique/idiosyncratic ways. That's a stance I've occupied in many other realms: not many others play mandocello, few kick against the pricks of conventional "assessment", being an anthropologist allows one to do whatever and it counts... call it all 'personal style'. Anyhow, in the context of social software, my strategies are pretty anti-social. Goes back to Third Grade: ("content to play with like-minded others..."). Thus, my blogging activities, like my logfile activities, have very small audiences, often just the one...

I ought to be thinking and writing more systematically in these realms, and ought to be joining conversations that I lurk on the fringes of. That's never been comfortable for me, as a matter of style. Even this commentary is intended for... well, whom? Principally myself, though I'm happy enough for anybody to read it, if they happen upon it via some serendipitous clickage of links. I wonder if there aren't legions of people out there who do the same thing?

But where does this page belong? It's part of the slipstream of reading and thinking, and it's developing in the context of some processes of redefining what I do or might do... so it should be linked to Endgame, I guess.

Here's an example of the utility of the social: technorati 'reboot7' actually gathers together postings that collectively inform one another... instant Community. I see that technorati 'memery' does link to one of my uses, likewise technorati 'metastuff', so the stigmergic trails are there...

And here's Spike Hall saying "No common tag rules means problems, even dysfunctionality". A posting well worth revisiting, and yet another example of the nowness of blogspace. Here's just what I was thinking about, reflected in what somebody I sort of know was saying just yesterday, brought to me via Edu_RSS...

Of course, all of this maundering could be committed to, or some other blogspace. I guess my feeling is that it's too much in-process for prime time, too much my own notes-to-self, too much for others to wade through for whatever germ of relevance it may offer. It's primarily useful for me, in the "how do I know what I think until I see what I say" way that I've been claiming is what self-education is all about...

13 June
This sort of thing keeps happening, so maybe it's just what I do...

Today's ITConversations brought me Greg Raleigh of Airgo Systems. The teaser: "How would you like a 10x improvement in wireless bandwidths?" ...which I immediately rewrite into what would the implications be of order of magnitude increase in wireless bandwidth? The subject matter (signals, antennas, MIMO [Multiple Input Multiple Output]) is certainly outside my usual interests, but some very provocative things were said, and my takeaways aren't necessarily those that anybody else would bother with. My walking notes remind me to extract "a different generation of data" [20 seconds mp3], and "personal storage devices" and "fueling stations" [1:15 mp3] as exemplars of the fact that the ante keeps being upped.
c.f. From the Wireless Front from Continuous Computing

14 June
On the walk to work I was listening to Daniel Hillis of Applied Minds from ETech 2005. It got really interesting when he talked about maps and an ESRI demo [2 1/2 minute mp3]... and the penny dropped for me about a real-world application of electronic paper: to be able to move around in map space, and ideally to zoom and add layers and pan... After all, the surface is simply a visual display, nothing more and nothing less. In principle couldn't it be any size?

On another subject, I need to construct the 30-second elevator pitch for my interests. The core of it is

I was struggling to summarize my interests/background/intentions and got far too carried away in prolixity, but some of it does say what I'm thinking, so it's worth quoting even if I'll never use it in any other form:

The evolving world of information systems seems more kaleidoscopic every day. Social software spawns new communication channels, which bind us into virtual communities and enrich our perception of the world. In continuous computing environments, people rely more and more on their electronic devices to cope with the data of daily life. Companies like Yahoo have the vitally important task of building the infrastructure to contain and manage the seas of information and to support learning and decision making. I would like to explore ways in which I might be part of that vital work.

The personal portal developments and social software acquisitions Yahoo has made in the last few months suggests a convergence with my long entanglement with computers and unremitting curiosity about the implications of technology for teaching and learning. During my first career, as a professor of Anthropology at Acadia University from 1973-1990, I was an early adopter of multimedia and exponent of computers in teaching. While in library school at Simmons (1991-1992) I managed the school's computer laboratory and taught reluctant students the joys of Internet exploration. In my second career, as a librarian at Washington and Lee University since 1992, I have had a wonderful time as an evangelist for electronic resources and digital technologies.

I now find myself contemplating the possibility of a third career, outside of educational institutions. I draw upon an interdisciplinary knowledge base, enthusiasm for exploring the implications of technologies, long experience of communication with a broad array of audiences, familiarity with traditional and cutting edge information systems, and a burning desire to keep learning.

This exercise in self presentation has forced me to articulate what I've been doing all these years. Here's another crystallization:
As an anthropologist I've been a student/analyst of human variety for 45 years, using the lenses of geography, demography, technology, music, ecology, agriculture, epidemiology...

As a reference librarian I've gotten good at helping people to articulate questions and find answers. I've taken on the role of horizon-watcher in Information technologies, and become a connoisseur of the implications of emergent technologies for teaching and learning.

Now I want to work with people who will affect much larger populations of information users. I see an imminent tectonic shift in education, in the direction of self-directed [Do It Yourself] and lifelong learning, using a shifting array of digital affordances and the full spectrum of communications media. Conventional educational institutions are entirely unprepared to be active participants in this evolution, which may be driven by hardware evolution (greater bandwidth, improved interoperability, more storage) but will demand much better management tools, and will support virtual communities at local and global scales...

...all of which I doubtless say and re-say, attempting to construct eloquence...

15 June
The Power of Us has come up several times via various blogs, but it took this quote to get my attention:

The nearly 1 billion people online worldwide -- along with their shared knowledge, social contacts, online reputations, computing power, and more -- are rapidly becoming a collective force of unprecedented power. For the first time in human history, mass cooperation across time and space is suddenly economical. "There's a fundamental shift in power happening," says Pierre M. Omidyar, founder and chairman of the online marketplace eBay Inc. (EBAY ) "Everywhere, people are getting together and, using the Internet, disrupting whatever activities they're involved in."

Today's clip: Michael Gartenberg [45 seconds]: "the real winners here are going to understand the contextual nature how each device fits into that ecosystem of consumer interoperability" (which makes more sense in its bookended context).

Some more on Continuous Computing: I think it's correct to say that CC is already a reality for a substantial number of people, but it's (a) not fully recognized and (b) very unevenly distributed in the North American population. The household as a unit of digital operation is just over the horizon --the infrastructure for networking the multiple digital devices is just beginning to be sustainable (geeky early adopters of access and networking devices: "enthusiasts drive the market", sez Gartenberg), but "digital ubiquity" is an established fact. Interoperability is a major challenge.

It used to be that management of personal digital real estate was a matter of folders on drives and desktops [and backup media], but now there's a whole forest of interlinked digital devices upon which people depend. The Personal Information Manager needs to be able to contain and interlink and facilitate repurposing of any and all... and the organizations that have the wherewithal to consider doing something with all that are Google and Yahoo...

16 June
Gardner Campbell talks of "real school", and in my usual magpie/bowerbird fashion I'll repurpose his phrase to suit myself. I take the phrase to stand for profoundly SELF-directed and lifelong learning. It may entail assistance from others, training in formal and informal guises, and sometimes traditional classroom learning/study, but where "real school" really lives is in wetware.

If that repurposage is useful at all, one might wonder (a) how it links to the realities of educational institutions, (b) what "leadership" is in something that is primarily individual and internal [since Gardner is blogging from the Frye Institute, which is all about "leadership"], and (c) where "community" fits in.

Part of the answer to (b) is in communication of and about the work of one's "real school". Perhaps that's the answer to (a) as well. Seems to me that the essence is the hands-on development of skills with tools that foster exploration and management of information resources, and the creation and distribution of communication to audiences. Perhaps those audiences are the (c). So the affordances that support and encourage communication are a really important part of success... and, needless to say, the information management tools likewise. Designing and promulgating the suite of tools/affordances is a grand challenge...

Some of the above surely fits in with the Academic Commons of Wabash College's Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts, which seeks to be a "catalyst for reshaping liberal arts education in the 21st century."

On a not-so-distant other subject, I'm reading Charles Stross's Accelerando in its html version. Jamais Cascio notes

Like Neuromancer, Accelerando shows us the shape of the future by reflecting the edges, fears and dreams of the present. As such, it shows us quite clearly that the present is a very strange place, indeed.
( )
I found the word agalmia/c, another of those Bourgeois Gentilhomme realizations.

17 June
The morning's inspiration comes from Lost in Translation: IA Challenges in Distributing Digital Audio by Dan Brown and posted on Boxes and Arrows. Many of the now-familiar changes rung, under the mainsail of Information Architecture: distributing digital audio within living space, managing the music library [i.e., the personal hoard, in this case of atomic and molecular music units --cuts and albums, to use the old terminology]. I have a Roku Soundbridge myself, and have enjoyed both the exquisite torture of its user interface AND the freedoms of content access it enables. It works, but there's no doubt that it's a Talking Dog. Part of the problem is "the appalling state of music metadata", part the user's clumsiness/cluelessness in organizing content, part the limitations imposed by basic desktop metaphor of folders as containers. These problems are exactly those that vex users of the current generation of mp3 players: what they are designed to do is play "songs", either as a predefined sequence/queue or in a semi-random "shuffle" mode.

Dan Brown is well worth quoting at length:

Is it fair to compare the user experiences of digital and analog worlds? Until music players carve out a new set of user behaviors, their designers don’t have much choice. People are used to interacting with their personal music collections in a certain way, and deviating too far may slow the adoption of new technologies.
Browsing a long list of album names is not the same thing as browsing jewel case spines. Color, typography and organization of the jewel cases give more information than just the album name; I may know that the Yonder Mountain String Band song I want is on their latest album which has a brown spine with orange lettering. The black spine with white lettering is their earlier album. I may not know the names of these albums, just the look of their spines. This free-browsing of a physical CD library is a nut not yet cracked by the industry. To be fair, this is a serious challenge: how do you support existing behaviors when users are used to browsing by more than just the names of albums or artists?

On the other hand, a virtual environment enables behaviors unimaginable in the physical world. Wouldn’t it be great if I could play tracks:

As online services emerge that compile this and other information, network audio players will need to tap into that metadata to enrich the music playing experience. Virtual spaces with robust metadata models enable the kind of serendipitous browsing you’d find on IMDB, or the “social networking” you’d find on Music libraries are ripe for this kind of experience, and the proliferation of these players could be the catalyst to bring about the change.
While the specific issues Dan Brown is addressing are musical and device-oriented, the wider problem is important in the general context of Infospace: we need interoperabilities in our personal Infospaces, and their fundamental loci need to be distributed --via WiFi or whatever, but the pressure of Continuous Computing and ubiquity of silicon-based life forms means that we have to come up with more effective ways to handle the information management problem. The image I have is of a faceted crystal, where each face is analogous to [or the portal to...] one of the bulleted feature sets above.

It's not that we need to find the one best way of presenting information, but that the presentation should be easily [re]configurable to suit the user's needs, preferences, purposes. User Interface is surely as much a conceptual problem as a design problem or a matter of hardware contingencies.

Another clutch of inspirations comes from a Moira Gunn interview with Tim O'Reilly, in which he talks about [among other things] hackable devices and Make [25 second mp3], the Internet as a platform [1:25 mp3], creative reuse of Web sites [1:20 mp3], the hacking of Google Maps [1 minute mp3], the upcoming Where 2.0 conference [1 minute mp3], and his conviction that "data is the new Intel Inside" [2:15 mp3]. Here we have remix/repurposing and geospatial information and the clear prospect of more and more and more data to organize and assimilate and visualize...

...and Jon Udell is often good for a swift kick:

When all the players are bloggers, podcasters, and screencasters, the game can be taken to a whole new level.
( )
Take that, liberal arts educators...

20 June
Harvest from Gillmor Gang East (recorded in Singapore, 17 June): Mike Hawley of the MIT Media Lab: "Huh..." vs. "Eureka!" [55 second mp3] and intelligence as emergent property [2:35 mp3] and (a subpart of that, with boosted audio) Simon's Parable of the Ant [1:18 mp3] --transcripts

Plenty of Room at the Bottom? Personal Digital Libraries and Collections Neil Beagrie (Joint Information Systems Committee and the British Library), in D-Lib Magazine June 2005 Volume 11 Number 6

As personal collections shift from paper and analogue formats to hybrid and increasingly digital formats, personal digital collections are emerging. These personal collections are often composites drawing material from the individual's private life, work, and education, as well as from external communities and content sources. Ownership and intellectual property rights in such collections are therefore often diverse and complex...

Digital systems are currently poorly adapted to what might be called individuals' discontinuity of interest. There is a focus on the immediate needs of users and little in the way of digital equivalents of physical storage spaces in which material can be laid down and later re-discovered, forgotten or discarded. Some personal interests in collections change or may lie dormant over time. For example, in family history, one of the largest and rapidly growing personal pastimes, use of personal collections and material may lie dormant for many decades. Individuals with no interest in historic material or potential future applications early in life are highly likely to be interested in them at a later stage of their lives. Digital systems should ultimately support digital memory...

Thinking about the Infospace interface: I really want flexibility maximized

...and interoperability of multiple utilities ==> cross-linkage...

A really big issue: getting broadband to the hinterlands, and into people's hands...

21 June
Solstice Rumination

I've spent much of the day cleaning up files and file space, preparatory to mothballing my digital real estate in whatever ways seem the most appropriate and/or I can negotiate. I'm conscious of putting things down, and of being in a position to make choices that close chapters and end commitments. Some of those decisions seem to want Parthian shots, or Last Words... but to what end?

I found a 'summary of activities and directions' that I wrote 3 years ago, as I was preparing to depart on my sabbatical... and note that the questions are still live, and the challenges I fingered are, well, undiminished...

22 June
The day's inspiration arrived in the form of a last piece of Seth Goldstein's Media Futures serial, which began in March with Automata, and now concludes with Therapy: Food for Worms. The nine installments add up to one of the most provocative texts I've encountered in the last three months, each piece arriving into whatever was my stream of consciousness at the moment. My printouts of the installments are crisscrossed with underlinings and scribbled marginal notes, and the backs of many of the pages record the trains of thought that followed upon reading as I walked...

Today's back matter:

Managing one's own Attention
I had been thinking of the challenge in terms of managing Information, and that is the general problem ...but on a monemt-to-moment (day-to-day) basis, Attention fits better.

We Attend for various reasons, including perceived Authority of the source, recognized Apposition to other interests, References by trusted others ("you'll be interested in..."), This to That linkage in texts that capture our interest, perceived Pattern in Context... and others that I'll probably think of later.

Anyway, I started rereading the whole series.

There must be something in the air... on the blog for Supernova (in San Francisco as we speak) it says

In 1997, Linda Stone coined the phrase continuous partial attention. Continuous partial attention is motivated by desire not to miss opportunities... not motivated by productivity but by the desire to be connected. ADD is a dysfunctional version of it. There is a craving for protection, sense of belonging. The aphrodisiac of the future will be full attention.
( )

And O'Reilly Radar is on it too: "You need to read this. Linda Stone just gave a fantastic address on what we pay attention to and what drives human use of software...

26 June
It occurs to me that they're thinking of attention as a fungible: a behavior of individuals that can be herded and harvested (see : "...emergence of attention as the scarce economic resource, but Linda is highlighting the growing social value of attention."). I'm thinking of it more from the point of view of the attender. Here's Michael Goldhaber:

In many ways, attention is quite LIKE money. It is: in strictly limited supply (since it has to come from other human beings, who have limited attention-paying capacities; highly desirable (we almost all want at least some, and there is no limit to the amount we can want; roughly quantifiable (in other words less is clearly distinguishable from more) ; pretty fungible, meaning it can be circulated (if I have an audience's attention, I can, at least temporarily, pass it on to whomever I choose to spotlight, say Genghis Khan˜whom you didn't expect to be thinking about, but now are). Finally, just as money is storable, say in a bank, attention is storable˜in the minds of the people paying attention, since they remember having done so, at least a little.

UNLIKE money, attention is: directional, not just a quantity but always going towards someone specific and coming from someone specific Its quantities are meaningful only in connection with how much attention in total whoever is paying it might be able to pay. (What you want, usually, is nothing less than a person‚s˜or many people's full attention, however much that comes to. Where yours goes, and how intensely depends not on rational calculation, usually, but simply on what grabs you, and on who you are most deeply. And, finally, attention is stored, not in some sort of bank, or under a mattress, but out in the world in the minds of the beholders.

29 June
Spacecast: Immersive Information Spaces for Data Access and Dissemination

Exponentially growing data archives emphasize the need for novel approaches to find and extract information. The study will provide an experimental testbed for the graphic representation of a very large data archive based on spatial metaphors.

2 July
A lot has happened in just a few days, and I need to summarize it someplace. This is probably a sensible locale, since it connects with a number of the issues mooted above. I note that a lot is tracked in email messages I've sent to various people over those few days, and that the collection is really a direct consequence of my reading of blogs...

I take a lot of pride in this, I notice: it seems to me the very essence of what I do as an 'Information Specialist', finding stuff and redirecting it to others who might/should want to know. What I do in these realms is mostly hidden away on my pages and in my communications, unless I find the means to expose it more generally, viz: by blogging and thus getting to Technorati and other aggregators/indexes. So there's a sizeable question lurking there, for personal solution and also more generally: how should I seek wider audiences, and do I really want to? My preferred medium, which seems to be the note-to-self and/or brief burst of communication to specific targeted like-minded others, is not easily fitted into others' attention streams --not a familiar form like a polished how-to or an opinion piece or discursive summary (I don't often get around to those, mostly because I've moved on to the next interesting thing). Just how fascinating can somebody else's thought processes and stream of consciousness be, after all, unless one really cares a lot about that person? Still, that's (as I say) my preferred mode, and it surely fits with being a retired gentleman scholar. All it lacks is influence on others. That's what I give up by stepping out of my office and my roles as teacher and go-to person.

One of the facilities I clearly need is parking space for audio snippets, and the wherewithal to manage them effectively. I can see that there's a grand future in audio repurposing, and that my boyscout artisanal methods (essentially using Audacity to chop out new MP3s) aren't particularly sustainable or scalable. Here's another example: a bit on Free Speech from Cory Doctorow (0:57 mp3), from a long interview with Dave Slusher. I note that I'm paying little attention to the evolution of technologies I don't use myself --cell phone, video-- but every so often I'm reminded that they're important frontiers.

Next thing in this blooming epic of discovery: ( voices blog text --and I was surprised at how effective it was with a couple of texts I'd read myself. Here's a bit of Stowe Boyd's commentary, repurposed as a 2:22 mp3. It's interesting to compare the effect as text and as transgendered voice.

Geolocating texts

I woke from an afternoon map thinking "Ujiji"... and thinking that it would be a cool thing to use the geotagging hack to put some diary material onto Google Earth. It turned out that neither the Burton-Speke nor the Stanley-Livingstone diaries had accessible pages that I could find easily, so I contented myself with linking the Wikipedia entry for Ujiji with the place. And then I thought of the Frank Smith Reader diary on, so I linked several of its entries. The result is snapshotted, but of course the real value is in the geolocated hyperlink to the image and transcript of the diary.

8 July
I'm very surprised to find myself caught by the writings of a Venture Capitalist, but a pointer to Tim Oren spawned a blog posting and led me to reading his earlier posts, and turned up this one:

The failure mode best known to the VC is the drift of the buzz phrase and theory from tool for analysis, to substitute for analysis. In the best of worlds, the theory becomes a interrogative model for a business or technology vision. Does this explain what's happening to me? Is this a movement I can exploit? Can I spot a new opportunity that I'm uniquely suited to fill?

In the worst of worlds, I get a business plan littered with catch phrases, where there has been no analysis applied to make sure that the conditions precedent to the underlying theory actually apply. Not only is that annoying, but it's an immediate black eye to the entrepreneur who seems to believe buzz wording is an easier way to funding than actual understanding of the business. VCs get tired of this sort of thing quickly.

While it was this failure mode that inspired my original post, the phenomenon is hardly new. Another instance within the memory of most readers is the whole 'network effects' and 'increasing returns' notion of the late 90s. Nothing wrong with it on its face, it encapsulated many consequences of platform layering and standardization, electronic distribution, and the creation of markets by reduction of transaction costs. But soon those touting their own little network effects were forgetting to note that the same effect can work against you, increasing selling and adoption costs until the magical tipping point is reached. When this flaw was noted, soon every wannabe plan was 'viral' - the whole point being not to have to pay those costs. And a little further on, those buzz phrases ceased being magical at all. Not that they are any less true at root: Ask Microsoft, or eBay, or Amazon. But somewhere along the road, the majority of the usage of these notions changed from analysis tool to crutch, and in so doing 'jumped the shark' as a useful synchronizing vision.

...Then there are the buzz phrases that are just wishful thinking, that don't actually stand for any True pattern of human behavior and technology possibility. They tend to come and go a bit faster, since market validation never arrives. But they can take quite a lot of money and effort down with them. phrases and their attendant theories are a bit like drugs. Taken in moderation, they can be beneficial to your business analysis and model. But they carry the same warnings: Make sure they fit your symptoms. Take only as directed. Throw away when expired. And beware of quacks.

Some of this is very helpful in grasping why grand schemes sometimes butter no parsnips: one gets caught up in the implications of vision...

9 July
The Slipstream

Ho hum, another day begins with a scan of blog stuff, and the first half hour is spent on two links from the first (this time it's Bag and Baggage), which points to another location, Doc Searls, "Re-Grokking Grokster" from Linux Journal's Suit Watch newsletter, with this on Mark Cuban:
At the Web 2.0 conference last fall, he said, "When you're sitting around a table at a tough negotiation, you need to look around and see who the sucker is. If you don't find one, it's you." IT Conversations has a podcast of the whole interview...
Of course I've grabbed that Cuban interview to listen to later today...

On to the next blog, JD Lasica's Darknet, which offers When the studios won't give permission, quotations of responses to his requests to use short clips in a home video.

Next up: Keyhole Community for Google Earth explorers

I'm more and more aware of the significance of filtering blogs, like Global Voices Online and Edu_RSS, which I scan and occasionally follow outward.

Last night I marked for re-reading a post at Maciej Ceglowski's Idle Words. The moray eel just may be an appropriate totem, hole-living, sharp teeth, unpredictable...

Maybe this is really blogfodder... and that I should consider making that turn into a more public presence.

14 July
I've been following the occurrences of H5N1 in blogs indexed by Technorati, and I note more and more entries in Japanese, pretty much daily new discoverers of the threat, a good deal of lightly-muted hysteria and misinformation, and very occasionally a worthwhile/interesting entry by somebody who knows something. Mostly it's very reactive. I guess that I keep watching the feed as another sort of finger-on-pulse...

I'm following a number of mostly-music feeds, though I don't find them particularly worthwhile. Blogdigger MP3 is mostly music I'm not interested in, but about 1 in 100 turns out to be valuable

I sent out a plaint about bloggery, to Blackburn, Harris and Whiting:

I'd really like to orchestrate a Conversation among those who might care about the future of blogging and wikis at W&L. I perceive NO serious interest on the part of University Computing in the development and promulgation of these daily?more?essential tools of the Active Web ("Web 2.0" is getting to be a widespread label), and I can only hope that the Library will step into the vacuum, and that Kyle Felker will be interested and/or freed to do some work on support and development (he'll arrive 15 August or so). How, I wonder, can I contribute to that possibility?

What I'd really LIKE to see is a MoveableType 3x blog established on a REAL machine ( is the 2.61 version, and the machine is an old piece of junk), with RAID or some other backup solution, and a Wiki environment so that people can create Wikis hosted at W&L. I'd certainly LIKE to have this machine be accessible to me, so that I can play around with it. I don't think it's particularly desirable for me to be the Weenie from afar (i.e., somebody on campus should be the primary contact and main go?to/maintainer), but I'm certainly willing to do that if that's what it'll take.

SO: what are the prospects of finding a box, putting Linux on it, getting it up and running as the successor to, all in the nnext 6 weeks? Or are there none? Or is it something that I should just faggeddabout? Who else could possibly care?

How about we start a conversation among the 4 of us, via reply?to?all email, to get some idea of what we think individually and collectively? Can you think of anybody else to recruit into the cabal?

The whole business of Social Software, Darknets, the uses of beyond-text media in teaching and learning... all those are fascinating and even essential, though I'm really less sure than ever about where to place the fulcrum and how to position the lever, in order to have the desired effect upon the vast mass of Education. As a means to summarize the import and potential, Continuous Computing really nails it, and Wade Roush's Social Machines seems one of the most accessible entrées.

25 July
I hear ominous noises from the bearings of the hard drive that contains, so I've backed up my content and generally prepared for the server to disintegrate. I made a summary of the experiment, concluding that it's been very fruitful for me, but had almost no other effect or influence beyond the students to whom I introduced blogging.

I'm not so much discouraged by this as bemused at how little anybody seems to care, or to be connected to the tectonic developments out there. Fuggeddaboudit.

27 July
I happened upon a very nice example of visualization of a literature:

...see more details ...and see the PNAS SupplementMapping Knowledge Domains (2004) for much more!

4 August
On the Uses of Lewis Carroll

I've been reading John Markoff's What the Dormouse Said, which is full of the familiar for me, from my sojourns at Stanford 1967-72 and 1979-80. As I remember the Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit (first heard in Sarawak in spring of 1967, shortly before our return from Peace Corps to a much-changed US), it was the Dodo who Said. But in fact "Feed your Head" isn't Carroll at all, and all the texts I can find on the Web say that it was the Dormouse anyway. I can't consult the vinyl of Surrealistic Pillow, which is packed away in Maine. And so I downloaded it via Yahoo! Music for $.99, and sure enough, clear as day, 'Dormouse'. Just goes to show... something.

But I got to wondering what did the Dodo say, remembering that he was pretty sagacious, and that he was in fact Do-do-dodgson his own very, very self, and found the answer(s) in Chapter 3 of Alice's Adventures. Here are a couple of nice quotes:

'...the best thing to get us dry would be a Caucus-race.’...

At last the Dodo said, ‘everybody has won, and all must have prizes.’

And here's the full text in which the Dodo appears:
‘In that case,’ said the Dodo solemnly, rising to its feet, ‘I move that the meeting adjourn, for the immediate adoption of more energetic remedies—’

‘Speak English!’ said the Eaglet. ‘I don’t know the meaning of half those long words, and, what’s more, I don’t believe you do either!’ And the Eaglet bent down its head to hide a smile: some of the other birds tittered audibly.

‘What I was going to say,’ said the Dodo in an offended tone, ‘was, that the best thing to get us dry would be a Caucus-race.’

‘What is a Caucus-race?’ said Alice; not that she wanted much to know, but the Dodo had paused as if it thought that somebody ought to speak, and no one else seemed inclined to say anything.

‘Why,’ said the Dodo, ‘the best way to explain it is to do it.’ (And, as you might like to try the thing yourself, some winter day, I will tell you how the Dodo managed it.)

First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, (‘the exact shape doesn’t matter,’ it said,) and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no ‘One, two, three, and away,’ but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half an hour or so, and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out ‘The race is over!’ and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, ‘But who has won?’

This question the Dodo could not answer without a great deal of thought, and it sat for a long time with one finger pressed upon its forehead (the position in which you usually see Shakespeare, in the pictures of him), while the rest waited in silence. At last the Dodo said, ‘everybody has won, and all must have prizes.’

‘But who is to give the prizes?’ quite a chorus of voices asked.

‘Why, she, of course,’ said the Dodo, pointing to Alice with one finger; and the whole party at once crowded round her, calling out in a confused way, ‘Prizes! Prizes!’

Alice had no idea what to do, and in despair she put her hand in her pocket, and pulled out a box of comfits, (luckily the salt water had not got into it), and handed them round as prizes. There was exactly one a-piece all round.

‘But she must have a prize herself, you know,’ said the Mouse.

‘Of course,’ the Dodo replied very gravely. ‘What else have you got in your pocket?’ he went on, turning to Alice.

‘Only a thimble,’ said Alice sadly.

‘Hand it over here,’ said the Dodo.

Then they all crowded round her once more, while the Dodo solemnly presented the thimble, saying ‘We beg your acceptance of this elegant thimble’; and, when it had finished this short speech, they all cheered.

At that point things go downhill when Alice mentions the proclivities of her cat Dinah as a mouse- and bird-catcher, and her audience (mouse and birds) evaporates...