Monthly Archives: February 2004

anti-corporate sig files

I don’t know why, but lately, i’ve been getting more email from the type of corporate folks that drive me nuts with their “this is private” sig. I know it’s not their fault, but their companies.. but still – it’s not even legal. Anyhow, it reminded me of Cory’s old sigfile which i thought i’d repost to make everyone smile in light of the random C&D requests as of late.

The information contained in this communication is intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to whom it is addressed[1] and others authorized to receive it[2]. It may[3] contain confidential or legally privileged[4] information. If you are not the intended recipient[5] you are hereby notified that any disclosure[6], copying[7], distribution[8] or taking any action in reliance on the contents[9] of this information is strictly prohibited and may be unlawful[10]. If you have received this communication in error[11], please notify us immediately by responding to this email[12] and then delete it from your system[13]. OpenCola is neither liable for the proper and complete transmission of the information contained in this communication[14] nor for any delay in its receipt.[15]

[1] Unless it’s something funny that I found on a blog and I’m just forwarding it

[2] I.e. Just about anyone

[3] Or not

[4] IANAL. But I *am* an ordained Minister of the Universal Life Church. So while you don’t get no attorney privilege with me, you may be able to claim some kind of confessor confidentiality. Step into the box and tell me your sins!

[5] I.e., Just about anyone

[6] Except to your SMTP host

[7] Except to your hard-drive as part of your mail-spool

[8] Except from your SMTP host to your mail-spool

[9] I.e., Helping Nigerian generals launder their fortunes, sending postcards to possibly fictitious dying British children, or forwarding bogus but terribly urgent virus warnings

[10] Hey, everything’s illegal somewhere!

[11] In other words, if *I* made a mistake, I plan on somehow coercing *you* into doing something about it

[12] Send all such notice to our special “oops” account:

[13] Also, please write random bits to every sector on your drive seven times, dissolve your RAM with sulfuric acid, gouge your eyes out and get a prefrontal lobotomy

[14] Our server has been having problems with overlong .sigs lately

[15] There is no fifteenth footnote

love to apophenia

Apophenia has always been one of my favorite words. I like quirky “worthless” words. What makes me even happier is when my friends remember my quirky appreciation for these things and send me fun things, like this Atlantic Monthly article on Word Fugitives.

The first word sought was for “a situation in which you refuse to accept that the occurrence of two events is merely coincidental but there is no evidence to link them together.” For this the neologisms included fauxincidence, coincivince, coincidon’t, duperstition, and wishful linking.

Clement J. Colucci, of the Bronx, wrote, “The word apophenia was coined for that condition in 1958.” The Skeptic’s Dictionary, by Robert Todd Carroll, bears Colucci out (“Apophenia is the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena”). Standard dictionaries, however, do not list the word.

I do think that it’s funny that apophenia is usually considered a “condition.” I’ve even heard of it in reference to a “medical condition.” I guess it’s kinda like ADD – you can call it a condition; i call it a fantastic opportunity.

Oh, backstory on why i love apophenia. People often ask me how my research happens and it reminds me of people who ask me how i play Set – i stare at a problem long enough and something pops out. This was much more relevant when i was doing weird things like making connections between depth perception and sex hormones. But, my research still comes from this weird state where all of a sudden, two things get placed together in my brain – often in little mental visualizations. And then i obsessively try to determine if there really is a connection, if my hunches are at all valid. This is why methodology fascinates me. I’ve never been able to stick to one methodology because i see so many different ones as useful depending on what connections come together in my head. Luckily, i’m obsessed with proving myself wrong so my favorite task is to try to figure out what confounding variables are connecting disparate things in my head. Of course, it’s that criticalness that drives others nuts because i’m trying to tear apart everything around me. Tehehe.

Altered States and the Spiritual Awakening

ASSA is back by popular demand! Last year, i helped organize a fantastic cross-generation conference on altered states and spirituality. We will be doing it again this May (and my dear friend Barlow will be keynoting!) So, join us!

Here’s the official invite:

Last year the first Altered States and the Spiritual Awakening (ASSA) conference was amazing, surpassing all of our hopes. Inspired by that great success, Organization for the Exploration of Spiritual Consciousness is announcing that ASSA 2004 is coming up May 14-16 in San Francisco. The conference includes lectures and workshops, opening and closing ceremonies, catered meals, yoga classes, and more. Lectures and workshops will be led by a number of luminaries in the fields of transpersonal psychology, parapsychology, and entheogens.

Like last year’s conference, ASSA 2004 will be welcoming and financially accessible to everyone with an interest in consciousness and spirituality, including people who have not yet been able to connect with a spiritual community.

For more information and to register for the conference visit:


Ann Shulgin
Beverly Rubik
Delvin, Naasko, and Sijay
Dennis McKenna
Erik Davis
Jean Milay, Ph.D.
John Perry Barlow
Leslie Gray, Ph.D.
Myron Stolaroff
Ram Dass
Sasha Shulgin, Ph.D.
Shabda Khan
Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D.
Stuart Sovatsky, Ph.D.

For more information about Organization for the Exploration of Spiritual Consciousness visit:

Which YASNS is best?

Over and over again, people tell me that one of the YASNS is *far* better than any of the other ones. Usually, they want me to agree with them. Sometimes, people just ask me which one i think is best.

Given that this is me, i have a problem with this question. My problem is not personal or political… it’s contextual. In this case, “best” is in the eye of the beholder. Thus, i often ask people what *they* want in a YASNS. Almost always, there’s one overwhelming factor that makes one YASNS better than another for the individual: “people like me.”

In a post-finals hallucinatory state, i decided to attend a gathering with some of my peers last December. A group gathered into a “panel” to talk about social software. One very smart, very respected VC spoke about how she believed that LinkedIn was hands down the best YASNS. I found myself speaking… or more accurately exploding because of her conception. It’s not that i don’t believe that LinkedIn was the best for her – i truly do. It’s that i don’t believe that there is a universal best.

When i was interviewing early Friendster adopters about the site, over and over again, they told me that they loved it because it was a site fool of cool hipsters like them. They identified with the people on the site and they loved feeling like everywhere they turned, they saw other people that they thought were cool. They were not looking forward to it being mainstream because then there will be duds on the system. Each sub-hipster group was likely to run across more people like them depending on their linking structure. (Homophily again.) Because most people joined under one context, they never saw the other “non-hipsters” that they dealt with in everyday life. When that started happening, they were disappointed.

When Orkut exploded, all of the social software fiends jumped on the train like it was going to Disney World. It was the end-all be-all of the YASNS. Of course it was… to them… It was filled with people like them – their colleagues, those that they respect, etc. It felt like home.

Guess what? At, there are lots of people who feel at home and spend exorbitant hours on the service. Same with MySpace. Same with Everyone’s Connected. Same with Live Journal.

The battle is not simply about the best tools. In fact, that’s a truly secondary issue. It’s about motivating a coherent group to join, participate and make it home. What makes the best pub? Is it really the beer or the price? Hell, the only reason that the music usually matters is because it draws people that you like to the pub. It’s the combination of environment and people.. but the environment brings the people so the environment DOES matter.

There’s an architectural lesson there… Environment matters because it draws the right people. This is why niche shit works. The biggest joke about the Internet is that the most profitable services are barely public. They address a niche market completely. One of the most unfortunate things about social software is that everyone is trying to court everyone to their service. Frankly, a far more appropriate response would be to try to figure out which users are most suited for your tool given its current state and then try to meet their needs completely. Figure out your audience. And don’t simply focus on your desired audience because the tool you created may not have met their needs… be able to shift if you find that you’ve built something far more appropriate for another group. Cause frankly? If you have, the users know it and are using it more completely there.

[Note: Friendster’s popularity in Asia isn’t because it’s a good tool; it’s because the way the site was structured met that population’s needs/desires without much translation. It was inadvertently and accidentally best for them, not well designed for them.]

Orkut stats

I noticed that Orkut put statistics up. The demographics are fascinating and i’m intrigued to see that 37% of the population is under 25. This means that Orkut has gone into new domains. Mmmm.. yummy.

Of course, i’m less than thrilled to see the member stats. They have it broken down into connectors, celebrities and stars. I wonder how much this motivates different people to connect more, put up sexier pictures, pressure friends to indicate each other as fans, etc. ::sigh::

login to Friendster

If you haven’t logged into Friendster in a while, you should check it out. The new little announcement suggests that new things are coming. In the meantime, you can control who all can see you and send you messages. Very interesting.

the webby awards: community

So, i’m helping out with judging in the Webby Awards this year, in the Community category. I’m hoping that some of you might have some good suggestions of sites that should be considered. In particular, i’m curious to see some of the more quirky niche community sites nominated (not just the big tool sites).

I’d love if you could help me think of different sites. To do so, just click here for a Webby Awards form and make your suggestions. (Oh, and don’t bother nominating a YASNS – they’re all nominated… and not even by me.)

echo-chambers and homophily

I’m thousands of blog entries behind in my RSS and not doing much better on email, but i just re-read a (semi-)recent thread on echo-chambers in light of David Weinberger’s Salon article. As much as i really respect the people involved in this conversation, i’m having a hard time with the content. And the reason is homophily.

Let me back up. [I know that i’m missing key parts of the conversation so i’d be stoked if anyone would be willing to include them in the comments.] It seems to me that the primary question is whether or not the Dean campaign failed because the people involved were only talking to other people of like minds and didn’t realize the larger context. The notion of an echo-chamber is that people only communicate with people like them and their conversation is irrelevant to the outside world. Some argue that this is prevalent on blogs.

The thread seems to have posed lots of questions, but most of the “answers” are either personal anecdotes, tangents about the implications, or a childish “blogs are echo-chambers!” | “no they’re not!” Of course, these kinds of conversations make my little brain go !research! Unfortunately, i don’t have time to research the answer, but i do have some theoretical underpinnings that i think are quite relevant to the discussion.

In social networks literature, there’s a concept called homophily. The basic idea is that birds of a feather stick together. There’s a good reason for this. The more we have in common with someone, the more points of context, the more capable they are of supporting us. We are more likely to gain social and emotional support from people who are awefully similar to us. Our strong ties are usually very similar to us.

One approach for considering the echo-chamber question would be to analyze the strength of relationships between bloggers. If we’re going to talk about a notion of “community,” we have to think about what the focus of the community is. Often, the focus involves activity. Some might argue that blogging is enough of an activity to link the community together. But if this were the case, there would be a random probability that any blogger would link to any other blogger. This is not the case. My hunch would be that a blogger is more likely to link to other bloggers who share multiple points of context in common. This does not mean that two people have to share political values in common, but this is a completely valid context to share. Furthermore, the more contexts two people have in common, the more likely that they will know each other. Thus, it is more likely for two like-minded bloggers to know each other than two diverse people.

Part of the problem with having this discussion surround blogging is that blogging is relatively new. Only a few years ago, there were very few bloggers. As such, i would suspect that political views were less important because the fact that the person was a blogger (a rare thing) made them interesting enough to connect to. As there are more bloggers, blogging doesn’t end up being as strong a context point as before.

Another theorist that i think plays into this discussion is Manuel Castells. As an urban sociologist, Castells is interested in the consequences of gated communities. He suggests that, when given the option, people will retreat to “safe” communities of people exactly like them. Thus, he suggests that it is the responsibility of urban planners to construct environments that force people to engage with heterogeneous populations. He is worried that the interweb gives people the choice and thus they will form homophilous environments.

The problem with this conversation is that it’s breaking down into SHOULD and DO. Certainly, people have the option to read anything that they want, connect to dissimilar people. But do they? That’s why it’s a research question, not a question that bloggers can simply answer by considering personal habits. In fact, the conversation is kinda reminiscent of one that came out during anti-racist movements. Sociological fact: most white people hang out with mostly other white people. Individually, everyone immediately screams not me! and starts listing off all of the people of color that they know. Individuals never want to see themselves as non-diverse, but the desire to be seen in a positive light does not make someone diverse.

Weinberger asked “Behind the echo chamber controversy lies the question of whether the Internet causes people to solidify their beliefs or to diversify them. Does it open people up or shut them down?”

I don’t know that i’d agree with the structure of his question because i don’t think that this question is the primary force behind the controversy. One of the biggest motivators for a lot of people to get online in the 90s was to find people like them. The goal wasn’t to solidify or to diversity, but to feel validated. Suggesting solidification/diversification implies that the primary motivation behind engaging online is to participate in purposeful dialogue, to be educated and educate. Frankly, i don’t believe this to be true. I think that people interact to be social and that discussions of politics are a key way to be social and to be validated.

Weinberger goes on to call the “echo chamber meme” destructive and misinformed. Don’t get me wrong: i don’t think that it has been proven and i think that there are significant consequences for digital designers if it is accurate. But i’m also not convinced that it’s simply an ill-formed meme. I think that it’s a very valid research question. What i’m worried about is that people have too much invested in it being (in)accurate.

Update: Since this post is now the top post in a Google search for ‘homophily’ i feel the need to directly reference a canonical essay on homophily since this blog entry is by no means authoritative. Instead, read:

McPherson, Miller; Lynn Smith-Lovin; James Cook. 2001. “Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks.” Annual Review of Sociology 27: 415-444.