Monthly Archives: August 2005

off to see the wizard

It’s that time of the year. The time when my city drains itself of bottled water, rebar and fuzzy furry items and heads off to create an alternate reality in the desert. As a self-diagnosed workaholic, i love Burning Man because it’s a guaranteed opportunity to goof around with my friends in 10 days of prescribed play time. Plus, i get to wear ridiculous items and build dome-like things. I haven’t seen much of my friends lately so the opportunity to see them in the desert is just heavenly.

I will be camping with False Profit. My previous camp (Monkey vs. Robot) was acquired by False Profit:

For the first time ever, False Profit will have a corporate presence at Burningman in 2005. The rampant success of the Monkey vs Robot venture in 2003 and 2004 proves that this emerging market is ready for the cultural advancements and life-quality enhancements pioneered by FP here in SF. Be on the lookout for exciting new products and services brought to you by False Profit on the playa this year, with Zero Percent Financial Return Guaranteed as always.

Expect to see corporate branding, tree-grown money and perhaps a few exploding market bubbles.

I will be offline until September 6, locatable only in dust. I suspect it will take me a while to get back to email. If there are any emergencies, call my mom.

Why Microsoft-only development is foolish business logic

Any company that focuses on Microsoft-only platforms may gain access to the vast majority of Internet users but in doing so, they also secure Microsoft hegemony.

I’m always stunned when companies who compete with Microsoft support only their platforms, only their protocols. How many companies develop only for MS operating systems, only for IE, only for Outlook? The logic is often practical: the primary target group uses MS and it costs too much to develop on multiple platforms. This should make practical economic sense, right? Wrong.

Companies keep competing on a product-by-product basis, forgetting that they need to be competing on a paradigm level. And forgetting that they need to be competing collectively, not individually. By creating a product that only works on Microsoft, you solidify Microsoft more than you compete with them. You may be competing on a product level, but in the long run, you’ve done Microsoft more good than harm and you’ve just made your competition more difficult. You’ve given people another reason to stay on Microsoft. Why? How can this possibly be good business logic?

The majority of the world _is_ using Microsoft-only. Think about everything that is pre-installed: browsers, calendar, IM, text editor, music player, … It takes a lot of effort to switch any one of those applications. And yet, when IE stopped development, people started to do so. Started. It can happen, but it’s a huge uphill battle. Anyone who has taken the scary jump to switch to Firefox or OSX should be rewarded by being loved and cherished by all in competition with Microsoft, not punished.

People always ask how Microsoft survives when their products are not nearly as good as their competitors. Most people argue monopoly, but while that plays a role, i’d argue that it’s mostly because the competitors are securing Microsoft’s position as leader, reinforcing their power within the tech industry, and giving them the ability to dictate the standards. They do so actively whenever they only support Microsoft, whenever they make it harder for users to switch.

At FOO, i was stunned to see quite a few PCs – i’m used to a Mac-only influencer crowd (although Macs still dominated). When i mocked the PC owners, i received a consistent chorus – i used to use Macs only but then i started working for XYZ big company and they don’t support Macs – i need to use Outlook, i need to use IE, VPN doesn’t work on Macs, … What killed me was the number of people who work for Yahoo and Google who said this. ::smacking forehead:: You have to be kidding me!

This week, Google launched two Windows-only properties to compete with Microsoft. Not only are they ignoring a key early adopter/influencer crowd, but they’re helping discourage mainstream users from trying non-Microsoft products. Why? And why not work together with other companies who are competing with Microsoft?

I still believe that supporting influencers is necessary, but i’m now convinced that you also need to support anyone who has taken the initiative to switch away from your competition. Furthermore, you don’t have the right to espouse open standards if you continue to only build on top of only one closed one. You need to give people choice beyond just the application at hand. Openness isn’t simply about open protocols concerning one application, but about open choice to mix and match layers through and through.

Please, if you’re building an application that is browser/OS/platform-specific, please please please think about this. Think about how your limited development focus secures hegemony of other layers that will continue to haunt your layer.

Note: this post is heavily influenced by a discussion with Ryan Shaw

Ambidextrous Magazine

I just received the first issue of Ambidextrous Magazine:

Ambidextrous Magazine is the design journal of the nascent Stanford It is a magazine for the wider design community, which includes engineers and ethnographers, psychologists and philosophers. Rather than focusing on promoting product, Ambidextrous exposes the people and processes involved in design.

Ambidextrous is a forum for the cross-disciplinary, cross-market community of people with an academic, professional and personal interest in design. The magazine is geared toward high subscriber participation and interaction. It is expressly designed to be informal, irreverent, and fun to read.

It’s a fanstastic complement to the O’Reilly Make. Instead of focusing on how to make things, it focuses on the design of things (with a science/tech emphasis). The first issue covers everything from vibrating razors to Graffiti Archaeology, HCI sketches to a review of Gladwell’s “Blink” for the design community. If you’re interested in design/tech, definitely check it out!

FOO Camp – Are you a werewolf? Yes OR No!?!?

I had the privilege of attending FOO Camp this year and i have to admit it was an utter blast. I had the great fortune of having a partner in crime in the form of Miss Jane. She’s so amazing at inciting people to play and i’m so in awe of her so the opportunity to collaborate with her was glorious (although i’m totally intimidated by her ability to turn everything into a game). For our “demo,” we created a Zen Scavenger Hunt to explore the ideas of supergaming and social play. Jane explains the rules on her blog. In short, people are told to gather 12 objects and then we hand them a list and they have to find the objects listed amongst their twelve. Here was the list:

A problem (2 points)
A non-scalable solution to object #1 (3 points)
A scalable solution to object #1 (6 points)
A new mobile Web 2.0 platform (demo, please) (3 points)
An experiment in nanotech bioengineering gone bad (3 points)
A self-replicating machine (demo, please) (7 points)
A passenger amenity from the first commercial space flight shuttle (2 points)
A working tele-operated object (demo, please) (7 points)
A tool for collaboration (3 points)
A relic from the battle between the monkeys and the robots. (P.S. Who won?) (3 points)
Edible computing (demo, please) (6 points)
FOObarred TM Anti-Surveillance Device (4 points)

The folks who played were MAGNIFICENT. There were nanotech tooth cleaners, whiteboard wikis, edible tape… and then there was the dirty sock. Oh dear the dirty sock… Poor sock.

Also, with Jane’s instigation tendencies in full force, each night involved extended games of Werewolf. Thank goodness for play… i ended up getting to know so many people that i wouldn’t have thought to talk to otherwise. It broke clique structures and gave people a level playing game to actually get to know one another. Amazing really.

I have definitely decided that Werewolf is necessary for future events in this space. Folks in the Bay Area are going to gather to work through the best form of Werewolf for groups and i can’t wait to see how those iterations affect future conferences.

In addition to play, i did attend sessions and engage with people about ideas. I tried to go to things that i knew little about. The biotech/nanotech stuff was fascinating even though so much of it was over my head. I also went to a few where i could contribute – creating passionate users, public/private masks, taxonomies. I also had 1-1 conversations that went pretty deep. For example, Jimmy Wales and i dove deep into Wikipedia and that was completely mind-opening. That conversation alone made the entire weekend worth it to me.

I also held a session about the ways in which (real, not articulated) social networks connect to innovation and why diversity (intellectual, cultural and biological) is critical for everyone invested in technology. I’m going to work on a longer post about that one shortly. But the session was intended to get people thinking about how their social structures affect their ability to innovate. It helped motivate people to think about their own networks and how they learned from people entirely unlike them. It also created a brilliant conversation about conference organizing, bridging outside of your known relations and taking network effects seriously.


On a separate note, i want to take a moment to address the opening of this post. It was a privilege to attend FOO and i know that there are bad feelings and elitism critiques. I can truly understand both perspectives and i know that O’Reilly is trying to be transparent but that in that transparency, there are also hurt feelings and self-doubt. And this makes me sad and frustrated because i genuinely don’t know what the appropriate response is. I was uncertain as to whether or not i should document this event because some told me that it was irresponsible for me to attend an “elitist” event. But i chose to do so because good things did come of it and i wanted to record that. And i wanted to share the game that Jane and i did.

The problem with privilege is that much is gained from it. Ever since i went to college, i’ve seen the value of privilege. Politically, i’ve never believed in just tossing it away but trying to use it as an opportunity to engage with people about the core issue of privilege. This is why i did the session on networks and diversity – it let me address the topic without ranting; it let me educate and motivate people using their own self-interest as the key.

Unfortunately not everything is scalable and i don’t know how what should be done. I am very stoked that there was a second camp – BAR camp. And i definitely think there’s an interesting model in there. What would it mean for people to simultaneously organize lots of hyper diverse events? The trick would be to really mix people up – create a good balance of network cohesion and diversity. You don’t want to simply scale one event – not only because of physical space but social structure space. FOO is already too large and i know that O’Reilly is really uncertain of how to deal with success on that front. And besides, more would actually dilute the interaction. I only got to meet a fraction of people that i wished to meet because there’s a limit to the number of deep conversations possible in a short period of time. But the problem with multiple events is that people have to volunteer to organize them and engage people’s trust. That’s hard work.

Erin McKeown tonite

Back in Providence, i lived in a crazy co-op. I used to come home late at night with code on the mind and my roommate Erin would be practicing her music. She often play Ani DiFranco songs just to make me smile. While i’ve been flitting around in graduate school, Erin has toured the world and created an amazing music career without the help of the RIAA. She’s toured with Ani and played with some of the most amazing artists. I’ve always loved her music (biased, i know) and i’m soo in awe of her ability to do it her way.

The last time i saw Erin, it was a complete accident. I got a phone call from a friend wondering what i was doing for my birthday and if i was in New York. Sure enough i was. He had bought me tickets to see Ani & Erin together which was just a complete treat.

Tonight, she’s playing in San Francisco and i’m getting together with lots of old Brown friends to see her play. If you want to hear some amazing music, join me!

Erin McKeown :: The Independent at 9PM (doors at 8:30).

reshelving project

I love Jane. She just announced The Ministry of Reshelving and she wants your help:

How to Serve the Ministry of Reshelving

1. Select a local bookstore to carry out your reshelving activities.

2. Download and print “This book has been relocated by the Ministry of Reshelving” bookmarks and “All copies of 1984 have been relocated” notecards to take with you to the bookstore. Or make your own. We recommend bringing a notecard and 5-10 bookmarks to each store.

3. Go to the bookstore and locate its copies of George Orwell’s 1984. Unless the Ministry of Reshelving has already visited this bookstore, it is probably currently incorrectly classified as “Fiction” or “Literature.”

4. Discreetly move all copies of 1984 to a more suitable section, such as “Current Events”, “Politics”, “History”, “True Crime”, or “New Non-Fiction.”

5. Insert a Ministry of Reshelving bookmark into each copy of any book you have moved. Leave a notecard in the empty space the books once occupied.

6. If you spot other incorrectly classified books, feel free to relocate them.

7. Please report all reshelving efforts to the Ministry. Email your store name, location, # of 1984 copies reshelved, and any other reshelving activities conducted, to reshelving @ Photos of your mission can be uploaded to Flickr, tagged as “reshelving”, and submitted to the Ministry of Reshelving group.

ephemeral data

At some point last night, Tantek asserted that open data environments are more valuable than closed garden walled systems and i disagreed. In the process, i found myself articulating the value of closed systems during the exploratory innovation stage.

A lot of what’s going on in the Web 2.0 sphere is experimentation. Not only are developers learning how to structure network systems and tagging systems and whatnot, so are participants. One of Tantek’s concerns is that in a closed system, we lose all of the data when the system fails. My response: fantastic! There are consequences to the learning phase. On the technological side, we build things that don’t scale or aren’t extensible enough as the systems evolve. But on the social side, we try things out and deal with the scars of being burnt.

With Friendster pretty much dead to most early adopters, some lament the amount of data that is now closed off. Personally, i rejoice. I’m glad that this data is not available on I’m glad that this data is virtually dead. It was not produced to be persistent – it was produced to be ephemeral. People are not yet comfortable in negotiating the boundaries between ephemeral and persistent – they don’t know how to speak for all space and time. So, when they are engaging in ephemeral acts, why make it persistent simply because you can? Wandering around early adopter Profiles nowadays is a bit eerie. 2003 wasn’t that long ago and yet there’s still a graveyard effect – time stood still. On one hand, i want to wander the graveyard in 2013 but i’m very OK with having to step inside to look around rather than running across 2003 every time i search for someone.

In the techno-centric world, we relish persistence yet that is so antithetical to the way in which we normally negotiate the social world. Information production and identity performance are not the same thing even if they both boil down to bits. Often, communication, sharing and identity performance are crafted in the moment for the moment, not for all of eternity.

So i’m kinda happy for the closed walls while we work the social issues out. I will enjoy the archeological digs, but i definitely want to have to visit them rather than be faced with the past and present simultaneously forever.

While i believe that creating data boundaries is good in the exploration phase, this of course does not mean that i believe companies should own people’s data. It’s important not to confound those two issues. Closed walls can have social value that is not about economic value.

feeds and social bookmarks

So i am starting to use feeds again (and it’s all Barb’s fault)… ::gulp:: The problem is that i read them on my mobile when i’m waiting around for BART. And i’m finding myself utterly frustrated with folks who have mixed their and Flickr feeds with their blog entry feeds. links have no value to me on my mobile and photos take forever to load (and i’d rather access them through Flickr directly). Can folks who mix the feeds explain why they do this to me? (The only reason that i can think of is that people want to give the perception that they are posting/linking more.)

I also realized that i want a different interface for interacting with feeds of links. I want the social-network blogdex version of social bookmarks. I want to see the most popular links from the feeds i read in a temporal pattern (maybe even with a nice slider like in my Flickr viewer so i can see the list change over time as collective validation happens). I want to see patterns that are not easy to detect when they’re amidst a bunch of different feeds (that i end up scanning and not really reading anyhow). And then, when i’ve read one of those links, i want to be able to hide it so i don’t keep seeing it. I actually do want to see what folks are linking too, but i mostly want to see what my social collective is linking to.

I do enjoy going to the front page of Y!MyWeb2.0 and seeing the MyCommunity listing (far more than the front page of which is mostly irrelevant these days because it’s everyone). I end up checking Y!MyWeb2.0 each morning to see what links i should read. But the popularity amongst my community part doesn’t have temporal data which is unfortunate. Still, that’s much more functional for me than the links people mix into their blogs especially because i read link lists when i’m in a position to click on links while i read blog entries when i’m in a position to read.

pandora: authority-driven music streams

Thanks to Ryan, i’ve been playing around with various music streaming sites. I’m particularly having fun with Pandora which creates radio stations based on “essential” qualities of particular songs. You put in a particular artist and they rotate around that.

To test it, i created four different stations – Bluetech, Tipper, Ani DiFranco, Aphrodite and Ween. Tipper is a bit strange – they seem to think it’s jazz. (Perhaps there’s another Tipper that doesn’t do breakbeats?) With Ani, i get a lot of folks and i am not really into folk other than Ani, but it all makes sense in terms of “essentials” – this is just where cultural components are missing because i connect things like Kaia to Ani even though they’re structurally different sounds. Bluetech is *dead on* and i got to listen to a whole lot of psychill by artists i’ve never heard of so that was super super exciting. Aphrodite is also fantastic, but drum and bass is pretty easy to match. Ween is interesting. They seem to be latching on to Ween circa “White Pepper.” (For those who don’t know Ween, Ween is known for mocking every music style on the planet, from country to funk, sappy love songs to deathcore.)

Most hysterically, when you look at why it recommends certain songs, it tells you a bit about their “essentials.” Apparently, most of what i listen to has “mumbling vocals.” Aphrodite has “lyrics about partying.” ROFL.

I’m very fascinated by this because its antithetical to the tagging approach. This is all about having an authority tell you what music you should like based on qualities that they have marked as experts. As much as i love tags, i’m already pissed that some asshole on Last.FM labeled shit like Led Zeppelin and Tool and Stone Temple Pilots as psytrance. This totally ruins my ability to stream all things tagged psytrance since i can’t alter others’ tags. Clusterfucking the radio station is far more irritating than messing with my Flickr photos. At least with Flickr, i can scan and skip and not be too annoyed. But with a stream, it disrupts my focus completely.

Once again, issues of authority versus collectives come up…

Wikipedia used for viral marketing

Check out this Boing Boing post on using wikipedia for viral marketing. Of particular interest is a quote from one of their readers:

I can’t say who I am, but I do work at a company that uses Wikipedia as a key part of online marketing strategies. That includes planting of viral information in entries, modification of entries to point to new promotional sites or “leaks” embedded in entries to test diffusion of information. Wikipedia is just a more transparent version of Myspace as far as some companies are concerned. We love it (evil laugh).

::cough:: Clay! Comments???