Monday, December 17, 2007

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Why the hack people suddenly started to care about that whole sexiness of enterprise software?

There is an avalanche of a debate all over the blogosphere about why the enterprise software is not sexy. There is much to say about it, but I would rather see answers to the question above. There is a deep change coming.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

People I Know

There is a very sad film about the "high spheres" life in New York. It is about the politics, the games people play, the artificial and the indifference. It is very sad - but so true. It is so sad because of the contrast between our imaginations based on the artificial glitter and the exalted words and the true life. And it is important because it reminds us how much of our social communication is just conventions and games.

We should remember this when designing social applications and not call the people one know as his friends.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Don't be evil Google!

Google becomes more and more scary - add to that the Android and all the other initiatives - and the picture becomes quite paranoid. It's not a new thought that power corrupts (and absolute power corrupts absolutely). If Google does not want to make farsa out oftheir 'Don't be evil' motto they need to change. Drop the secrecy! Engage into the public discourse!

Don't love algorithms more than people!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Scale Free, Zipf Law and Christopher Alexander living structures

OK - so this is just a brain dump. Some analysis from Software Libraries and Their Reuse: Entropy, Kolmogorov Complexity, and Zipf’s Law suggests that the reuse of software components follow the Zipf law (that is the nth most popular component is reused in c*n^(-1) other places). My intuition is that this is not just a law about software - but about just any system - the economy in the program length would have a direct analogy in the economy of physical system parts. And I would guess that Christopher Alexander patterns and structure preserving transformations are result of the same entropy maximizing principles.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Myspace or Facebook? I put my bet on Couchsurfing.

Why? This is the social networking site that creates real trust. It is a bit specialized now - but this will change.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Spam in comments - reposting

I was spammed and I had to delete the whole post (as there is no way to delete just the spam comment), I repost it here with all the comments. Now comments are moderated.

Online Debate

When there are more than a few participants or the subject is highly political the free form face to face conversation is normally replaced by a more structured form of communication like a debate. The rules of this more structured form can be implicite, coming from common culture, or explicite like 'The Roberts Rules of Order', but there needs to be some rules to govern the discussion that otherwise would turn to chaos. In current online settings, and especially in asynchronous communication like email lists all the immediate cultural feedback - like seeing the angry faces of other participants, that would in face to face situations push the participants to obey the rules, is lost. This leads to the question - how can we compensate for that loss? My first answer was by setting explicite rules coded in the list server algorithm, for example restricting the amount of emails to one per day, but perhaps there are other possibilities?

Update: I need to add that after a face to face meeting, even when it involved only a few participants from the mailing list, the list much become much more productive.

At 8:53 AM, Kaunda said...

Various online discussion forums seem to have different implicit understandings about the the tenor of conversations there.

Perhaps not directly relevant to your question posed in this post, but consider the differences between Usenet and Chat. In Usenet "Prove it!" and a very rough and tumble discourse is the norm. Chat developed in the opposite direction: how many stories of love on the Internet. The extremes of both forms of online communication are in part a result of lacking immediate feedback of face to face interactions. But these features are also reinforced because they're "fun" for lack of a better word.

Blogs which allow comments are different from Usenet, Chat, mailing lists, and other online forums; all forums develop certain implicit norms even without explicit rules. Implicit norms, the tone of the setting can be influenced informally.

Some bloggers have explicit rules for comments. Here's the law Will Bunch lays down:

...but not with racial slurs, potentially libelous allegations, obscenities or other juvenile noise. Such comments will, at our discretion, be deleted in their entirety, and repeat offenders will be blocked from commenting. ALSO: Any commenter advocating killing any government official will be immediately banned. Thanks.

Recently in the blogosphere Juan Cole reacted to a piece by Christopher Hitchens at Slate. At issue was that Hitchens had excerpted--out of context Cole avers--quotations from work Cole posted in a private mailing list. That list serve had the rule:
"It has a strict rule that messages appearing there will not be forwarded off the list."

Your algorithm to restrict to one email a day is clever. Certainly there may be other "technical" fixes to the problem of feedback present in face time not present in Internet discussion. But technical fixes seem less important to me than agreements between participants.

It seems to me that in online discussion forums a space for discussing the rules overtime will be more effective in promoting useful debate.

Kids around the age of 10 learn to play differently. When they play "baseball" at that age it's as much about arguing about the rules of the game as playing ball. There's a similar phase in the development of various online forums. The "rules" are determined both explicitly and implicitly.

At 9:58 AM, zby said...

Thanks for the comment. The subject matter is really complex and there are many solutions. What I wanted to propose is to develope some 'technical' features aimed directly at improving some concrete problem with a communication forum. Perhaps the 'One email per day' rule is too strict - perhaps what would be enough is for example a visible counter (in the email subject?) of the number of emails a participant send in last 24 hours? I do agree that the legitimacy of all of those changes can be reached only via a democratic process - and since our organisation is democratic there is no question that we would introduce them using democratic methods.

At 1:57 PM, phil jones said...

Well, my proposed "solution" was a dead loss :-)

I still think that it's worth experimenting with the idea of requiring (or encouraging) contributers to a discussion to explicitly add some kind of tagging or type metadata to their posts. And then allowing the reader to sort and filter according to tag. But the technical and UI details need some rethinking.

Aside : it *is* a very remarkable thing that in an age of a dozen different Ajaxian / web 2.0 to-do lists etc there still doesn't seem to be the web 2.0 version of Slashcode or similar threaded discussion system.

At 3:15 AM, zby said...

Hi Phil, recently I am thinking that there are two kinds of discussion - one that I would characterise as the exchange of ideas and the other which is about deciding about some collective action. When there are only few participants those two can work without any additional rules - but when 'scaling' those two need different techniques. What you propose is more about the 'filtering of ideas' side what I was talking about in 'One email per day' was more about the political deliberation.

At 4:42 PM, phil jones said...

good point zby.

Yep. TTD is definitely to support argument for generating knowledge rather than as a decision-making process.

I wonder what the differences you need to support are. Is it that you need to formally make explicit what everyone's current preference is (a central count of votes for each proposition).

Or are you just worried about taking the heat out of disagreement?

What about combining this with the "thinking hats" thing? For example what about a discussion board that allowed each person to post one message of each hat-colour per hour?

At 5:12 AM, zby said...

I think the first goal would be to concentrate on the things that are common for the participants instead of discussing over and over the differences and trying to convice everyone to one view.

It really seems that there is some deeper subject in that. Currently it is not clear for me when the discussion starts to be political. I believe there are some hidden interest conflicts that start the vicious circle. For example if I am an vi user I would like more people to use vi so that the vi culture thrives, so that there are many new vi developments etc. And also there is the feeling of being right - I chose vi - so when you choose vi too it shows I am a smart person. I am not sure what is the interplay between those two ingredients.

Finally when we go to our personal relation - I know you are a Python programmer, I chose Perl - how come we don't try to convice each other to choose the right programming language?

At 1:33 AM, zby said...

Some related link:

At 4:29 PM, phil jones said...

Well. I'd argue that everything is political. You can't take politics out of human-life.

I don't really think it's a *problem* when politics gets in the way of decision-making, I think it's a *warning* that there are issues that haven't been addressed properly.

Your vi example illustrates this perfectly. What could be more stupid than a paralyzing argument between intelligent people about which editor is best?

But people argue.

Not, I say, because they're stupid, but exactly because of all those *externalities* that you mention. The appearance is that the decision between editors is arbitrary. But the reality is that, due to social *context*, it does matter.

So I'm a bit suspicious that we want social software which tries to "fix" the problem of political argument by excluding it. I think we need social software to help resolve the political arguments by helping people make more of their contextual assumptions *explicit*.

At 4:33 PM, phil jones said...

Oh yeah, and we don't have problems about Perl vs. Python because we trust that Parrot will solve our interop problems :-)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Social Sites Evaluation Team

There are lots of social networking sites and there are new launched every day. Some people just stick to one of them and never try anything new - but I, at least from time to time, I would like to evaluate some of the new sites and see what functionality they provide. The problem is it is really hard to do it in one person - after all it is all about social interaction and not about some lonely web surfing - and it is socially a bit awkward now to ask your friends to join a new and shiny social networking site after so many others. Hence the idea of a web team of people who would declare themselves interested in trying out new social networking sites and joining the new sites by the whole team together to evaluate it.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Facebook and conversations

I am a bit disapointed about Facebook - it notifies me about all kinds of events involving my friends - but somehow I can't find a way to monitor for new posts in groups I have joined. For me having meaningful conversations is the absolute number one feature of social web sites and I don't see much point in using Facebook when it does not make it easy for me. It provides me all the context needed to engage my friends into a conversation - but somehow does not create a convenient place for a group exchange of ideas.

And perhaps I am not alone in that sentiment?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ideograms and SMS

There is much evidence that SMSes are more used in the Far East then they are in other parts of the world. It's no surprise mobile is generally more widespread there, but somehow I cannot imagine reading a book on the screen of a mobile phone. Is it just lack of imagination - or perhaps the text in ideograms just takes less screen estate to convene the same meaning? I don't know. I've tried to look at some web pages (like in English and in Japanese or Chinese - frankly I don't see any difference - but there must be some. Does any one have some real data here?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

“Message is the medium”

This is a quote that I’ve seen somewhere that sums the whole twitter thing so much commented in the blogosphere. By exchanging the perhaps less obviously valuable information you keep the information channel open. This is how our minds work.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Internet controlled agent

Musing about the things you can do at the edge of the network reminded me about my old idea. With Internet you can easily get info about remote places - but by now it is still passive - you just get what the remote host lets you see, and if you want to see what is just around the corner that that internet cam shows, you are out of luck. So here comes my business idea - remotely controlled web cam. A robot carrying a camera might be too expensive by now - but with no problem you can instruct via internet in real time a camera operator.

Is there anyone interested how London looks like today?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Facebook applications

There is much talk in the blogosphere about third party facebook applications. In the strategic perspective it has already been analyzed in much detail - here I'd like to post just two obserwations.

  1. The applications seem to be not integrated with the underlying platform at all. I have not yet tried myself to write anything there - so I don't know how much it is the fault of the programmer and how much it is the platform itself, but when an application asks me to create a new user id and password for it then it is kind of missing the whole point (this was one of the instant messaging apps).

  2. The model where at the registration of the new application you invite your frieds is faulty. At that time I don't know what is the utility of the application, I have no information to deduce who of my friends would like it and who would not. Please Facebook change that.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The web is more meta and meta

Today I've
googled for "database table name plural singular"
and what I see as the first result?

Yes - the first result was 'Googled "database table name singular plural", I find this issue has been discussed many times. I feel the only compromise of plural school, ...'.

Unfortunately I cannot find that phrase on the linked page.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Wikis and fora - other ideas

I am really fan of the idea of integrating wikis and fora. Fora are good for conversations - wikis are good for storing knowledge. For a good theory building system you need both. The question, of course, is how they should be integrated. It is not easy. Ideas start with conversations - then they can crystallize to some semi stable state - but it never ends there - the crystallized ideas produce more discussions and eventually can be completely changed. There are users who addictive follow the whole process - and those who come at some later stage, the former have the whole history of the conversation in their head, the letter need some introduction that would inform them about the summary facts without reading the whole history. There are also occasions where you would like to refer to the exact words of someone for political reasons.
It's all very complex - and I guess we shall never have some ideal solution that will work for all purposes - but I believe we should experiment with different settings.

The integration solutions that I've seen thus far are mostly about adding some forum functionality to wikis: a discussion page paired to a 'main' page (on wikipedia), a 'attach to page' method that adds a comment to the wiki page with some special visual style that makes it different from the other content. But there can be many more ways of doing that integration. In particular I see many ways of doing it the other way around - by adding wiki functionality to forum sites and letting it's users:
  • edit the list of subjects just like they would edit a wiki page
  • 'overwrite' a part of the conversation with a summary that would be a wiki page, editable by all the participants in the overwritten part of the conversation with the expectation that it will contain a consensus between them on what was written, the overwritten text could be available behind a link
  • edit some small 'pagelets', or menus used for navigation (with more and more screen realestate we can add more of them)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Niagara 2 - the first Open Source main stream processor?

This sounds like news:
the blueprints for our UltraSPARC T2 (I personally like the moniker, "Niagara 2" - named after Niagara Falls, btw, and the great volumes of water that pass over them), the core design files and test suites, will be available to the open source community, via its most popular license: the GPL. Making Niagara 2 the only commodity silicon whose core designs are available to the open source community - whose strength, and market power, only grows by the day.
Jonathan Schwartz in his blog

I wander how will it be vexed by the Free Software community.

And by the way - will this amount of parallelism help Hurd.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Return of Fora?

The most interesting presentation at the yesterdays London Wiki Wednesday was a talk by Alan Wood and it was not about a wiki - but something more like an interenet forum (or biulettin board system or ... whatever).

I was always of the opinion that there is much unrealized potential in this old software genre.
It is message based - like email or RSS - so in fact it fits better the conversational nature of most communication then document based wikis. But it is also centralized - and that means you can do many things you cannot with a decentralized system (like version control of attachments, uniform visualisation of the conversations - i.e. less need for quoting, moderation, statistics etc.). All the talk now is about Social Networking Sites - but in fact the networking part is so insignificant in all of them - and most of the interaction that happens there is exactly the same as you had on internet fora and BBSes.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Instant Messaging and Social Networking - Snimmer

Snimmer is a web based service with chat (supporting all the major networks - and even Jabber) and Social Networking features. Looks like great idea - I wander when the major SN sites will catch on with IM widgets on their pages.

Friday, July 20, 2007

See your name in hyerogliphs

Egyptian Name Translator

I've read in wikipedia that the alphabet was discovered when Egiptians needed to record names of foreign labourers - they had no hieroglyphs for their names so they invented assigning hieroglyphs to phonemes and then composing the names from them.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Pirates of the Internet

In a brilliant move the notorious Pirate Bay - a Swedish bittorrent tracker - reappriopriated the romanticism and disruptive potential of the pirate mythology in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie series:

Monday, March 19, 2007

Why Vote?

This freakonomics article is not new - but I have read it just recently. A nice economic analysis of voting - but the authors don't take into account the fact that the payoff of a vote is a dependent variable related to the number of voters. The fewer people vote the more important are they votes - so even in this pure economic model the number of voters would never drop to 0.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Reading Shah of Shahs

In the nineties, after the communism collapsed in Poland and shortly before her death my grandmother used to attentively watch at least 6 news programs on TV every day. She was not involved politically - she was just used to a different information diet. I myself do remember days when Radio Free Europe was jammed by the communistic government of Poland. It is hard to imagine now how different the world was back then.