Category Archives: web2.0

captcha gone very very wrong

Spam sucks – we all know that. While captcha certainly helps, it also alienates lots of folks. As a society, we’ve never been good at recognizing disabilities. I remember watching a near-blind computer user try to get past captchas and i felt terrible for what our industry does. Yet, i had never felt the frustration. Until today. The Webby Awards uses captcha on every vote. I wanted to vote for Cute Overload (omg… sooo cute) so i created an account to vote. It took me only 2 tries to get passed the first captcha. But the captcha that i got on Blog-Culture took me SEVEN tries to get right. I tried voting for two more categories – i got past the second one after 5 tries and then took another 8 to get past the next one. I gave up on voting. I wonder how many people stop participating because of stupid stuff like this? I’m trying to imagine my grandmother on her model dealing with captcha – that would so never happen (unless it looked like a Solitaire game).

Since i’m thinking about Cute Overload, i might as well share the picture from today that made me ooh and awww:

on being notable in Wikipedia

Back in July, Justin Hall created a Wikipedia entry for me. I found this very peculiar. I was also mildly intrigued by how i was described in such a setting. Since then, some of my colleagues have edited the entry and my advisors have taunted me continuously. The most that i could say was weird weird weird.

A month ago, a discussion emerged in the Talk section about whether or not i was notable and then i was nominated for deletion. My colleagues (who are also dear friends) were accused of crafting a vanity page. People wanted “proof” that i was notable; they wanted proof of every aspect of my profile. Then, when people in my field stood up for my entry in the discussion for deletion, they were attacked for not being Wikipedians. This was really intriguing to me, especially when Barry Wellman (who is an expert on social networks and online interaction) stood up for me. (I was completely honored.) Wikipedia is not prepared to handle domain experts. Of course, this is a difficult issue – how do you know someone is a domain expert? Still, something felt strange about the whole thing.

As the conversation progressed, people started editing my profile. While the earlier profile felt weird, the current profile is downright problematic. There are little mistakes (examples: my name is capitalized; there is an extra ‘l’ in my middle name; i was born in 1977; my blog is called Apophenia). There are other mistakes because mainstream media wrote something inaccurate and Wikipedia is unable to correct it (examples: i was on Epix not Compuserv and my mother didn’t have an account; i was not associated with the people at Friendster; i didn’t take the name Boyd immediately after Mattas and it didn’t happen right after my mother’s divorce; i didn’t transfer to MIT – i went to grad school at the MIT Media Lab; i’m not a cultural anthropologist). Then there are also disconcerting framing issues – apparently my notability rests on my presence in mainstream media and i’m a cultural anthropologist because it said so on TV. Good grief.

Why does mainstream media play such a significant role in the Wikipedia validation process? We know damn well that mainstream media is often wrong. In the midst of this, the reference to my fuzzy hat had to be removed because it couldn’t be substantiated by the press and because i didn’t wear it on O’Reilly. Of course i didn’t wear it on Fox – i was trying to get across to parents, not be myself. As much as i don’t think of the hat as core to my identity, i’m very well aware that others do. Hell, just last week, John Seely Brown decided to start his keynote wearing my hat, talking about how the hat is the source of all of my brilliance while i turned beet red and scrunched down in my seat. As embarrassing as that was, it’s more embarrassing that Wikipedia is relying on Fox over JSB for authority.

What really weirds me out about all of this is that everyone acts like i’m dead and incapable of speaking for myself. It is culturally inappropriate for me to edit my entry, even when there are parts of it that are dead wrong. No one asks me to fact check – journalists matter more than me. I understand why i shouldn’t have the right to get rid of negative commentary about me, but wouldn’t it make sense to allow living “notables” correct facts? Am i not the leading expert on the biographical facts of my life? I wonder who else is looking at their entry and shaking their head at the biographical inaccuracies.

I can’t fully put my finger on why the media-centric thing bugs me, but it does. The media has decided that i’m an expert because of my knowledge in a specific domain; Wikipedia has decided that i’m notable because i’m on TV. Why is Wikipedia not using transitivity and saying that i’m notable because of my knowledge in a specific domain? Why does it matter more that i’m on TV than why i’m on TV?

Now, i love Wikipedia. But i think that there’s something broken here. Personally, i would rather my entry been deleted than have this very inaccurate and media-centric entry written. (Deletion would’ve been far more entertaining.) I think that this approach to notability makes Wikipedia look downright foolish. Personally, i’m embarrassed by this public representation full of mistakes. There has to be a better way to handle living people. The “no original research” approach is really not working here.

I’m posting this both because it’s interesting and because i can’t fully get a handle on why this situation is really bugging me (other than the fact that it’s weird to be an object of inspection). Anyone have any thoughts?

(Here’s a proactive thank you to those who are inevitably going to correct my entry because of this blog post. For those who are looking at the entry after this correction, look at the April 13 version to see what i’m talking about here.)

youth speak or Web2.0 company?

When did “q” gain the right to replace “k”? Or “ew” sounds be represented with 3+ “o”s? And since when is “z “such a popular letter in English? And why are we dropping “e”s? And how did words get dots in them?!?!

People often complain to me about the youth speak that i stare at on MySpace. Y’know the “suP WIt IT pLAY bOI.” But these are the same people who are rattling on about companies named things like Sxip and Flickr and Revver and Goowy and and Zooomr and Oyogi and Zvents. ::smacking forehead:: Just because you’re making weird words to get domain names doesn’t make your behavior any different than the teens making up words to be unparsable by adults.

If you want to have a laugh, check out Cerado’s Web2.0 or Star Wars Character?. I’m worried about the people who can win at this.

conference whirlwind

So, i completely loved having Etech and SXSW back-to-back. I found that this was super conducive to really getting to know some people, have a wonderful blend of serious discussion and complete goofiness. I’m a strong believer that you need play time in order to really bond with people. Folks need a chance to relax, be werewolves, drink a little/lot. Doing so with colleagues supports the working relationship.

It used to be super cool to go to conferences when i was at Brown and at MIT because there were always so many other Brown/MIT people out. Since i started working, i found that it is rare to have my work community all on the same page and attend a conference with the same mindset. Sure, my group would often go but not a sizable contingent of the company. It was really really cool to have Yahoo! there is large numbers and really behind the innovation that is going on. We were able to throw parties, gather interesting humans and really celebrate the people and ideas that are emerging. Plus, it was awesome to see people recognize that this old skool company is really embracing social software and that is why so many folks are going to Yahoo!

Anyhow, it’s impossible to recap all of the great conversations and products i learned about… but it really was a joyous 10 days of information overload. And hangovers. Thanks to all of you who were there with me!

“Academics: Get to work!”

I’m not sure if i should be offended or excited by John Dvorak’s latest post Academics: Get to work!. On one hand, he argues that “we need social studies about the Net and computers” which is great because i couldn’t agree more. Besides, that sounds like a statement that will keep me in business for a while… But on the other, his example is the lack of analysis on MySpace and blogging. Uhh…. ::raises hand:: There are quite a few academics studying this stuff from all sorts of different angles. People from communications, linguistics, economics, political science, sociology, anthropology… Now, whether or not anyone is listening to them is still an issue up for debate. But at least on a personal note, i would argue that there are a few people listening to me about MySpace and i’ve been rattling on about it since 2003, albeit on a limited basis on my blog in an attempt to not be accused of corrupting my data. And there’s no doubt that i’ve been rattling on about blogging, LiveJournal, Friendster, tagging and quite a few other “Web2.0” schtuff. So, i’m a bit confused by Dvorak’s column. Anyone closer to him have a sense of what that’s about?

knowledge systems and collective questioning

Icarus Diving has the most hysterical post called Google the Magnificent which addresses the peculiarity of a “how do you use” search on Google resulting in the following suggestions:

As he puts, “Wow! That’s amazing! I had no idea I wanted to know any of those things! And wasn’t that a great example of what Web 2.0 has to offer? Well, keep at it guys. Any month now you’ll be making the same impression on people that paper clip thing on Windows did.” I cannot duplicate the humor of his post, so read it in full.

I reference this because i think it is a really important issue. We often talk about the power of collective knowledge/questioning and the transparency of such information without thinking about the moral issues. On one hand, it’s a fascinating insight into what people are looking for. On the other, it’s kinda disturbing. What if the queries were “How do you use a machine gun?” or “How do you use a hanger for an abortion?” ::shudder:: Regardless of where you stand on these issues, such queries would make you want to reach out to the person asking them, to see if you can help them. But you can’t. Does the machine have a moral responsibility to prevent people’s dangerous acts? Most people would probably say no. But what if the machine makes its knowledge transparent to people? What happens when those people feel responsible but only the machine has the ability to communicate back to the person in trouble?

Furthermore, how would you feel about your own query (or about the system) if a suggested query like that came up? The things that disturb our moral senses stick with us; they are hard to get out of our heads. Sometimes, there are costs to making the knowledge of a machine visible to people unrelated to the interaction between the person and machine. It’s eavesdropping and it’s not always wonderful to overhear things.

long tail camp and web2.0 humor

Long-Tail Camp will start on November 11, 2005 at a location of your choosing. Just show up and start talking about the long-tail of whatever. There might not be a lot of people paying attention or even showing up but hey, it’s the long tail, what can you expect? We’re certain that Long-Tail Camp will be a huge success and expect it will be over in about 10-12 years, depending on the exact parameters of the distribution…

ROFL. I love geek humor. Oh, and while you’re at it, go Roll Yo Own Web2.0 Company that will guarantee VC attention. Mine is Blinkoious and we create a greasemonkey extension for bookmarks via bittorrent. (There’s also a good one for tag-based dating via bittorrent – Blinodidoo!)

(Tx Barb)

Why Web2.0 Matters, Round Two

This week, SIMS students came together to discuss Web2.0 – what is it and is it relevant to us? In the process, i found myself expanding my own understanding of what’s going on and i wanted to share my thought process here, mostly to get push-back. Some of this is repetitive of others and my own thoughts, but i needed to write it all down for sanity sake.

Ebbs and Flows

I don’t know many people who are a fan of the term Web2.0, but i also don’t know a better term. Sure, folks talk about the semantic web and the read/write web but this is only a fraction of what’s going on. Of course, Web2.0 is a business term… and for good reason. Let me explain.

The technology industry has its phases. Long before the masses were online, people were breaking down boundaries and talking to others across space and time. We were working towards a global village where everyone could share their ideas and passions. For all intents and purposes, it was small, intimate and homogenous. And then some businesspeople realized there was money to be made and we rushed full-speed into the boom.

Looking back, there are a lot of reasons to twitch about the boom (and they usually involve ill-will wishes directed at MBAs). Beneath the hype and chaos, there was genuine enthusiasm. This motivated so many people to think creatively, to expand their horizons, to envision a future and work towards it. It was like MDMA was being pumped through the faucets – serotonin was flowing everywhere.

And then, ::crash:: the Tuesday blues set in and people wandered the streets of SF looking like corpses without a bride in sight.

There is no doubt that things are uber hyped up right now. And that folks are a bit wary of hype. But why do ravers roll even when they know about the Tuesday blues? Because the high is worth it. Folks are brimming with creative thoughts, engaged with glitter in their eyes and really really wanting to innovate. Hype does that, even if it has a cost.

More than anything, what Web2.0 is demarcating is this hype, the next rush of enthusiasm that is hitting web developers. And it’s already playing out in creativity, in passion, and in money. Of course, i saw enough MBA types at LoveParade yesterday to make my hair curl.

Economic Pressures

In Code, Lessig reminded us to always pay attention to four pillars that work as forces in all sorts of change: market, law, society and architecture (code). When all four align, evolution leaps forward. The boom emerged when market and architecture aligned in a way that brought society along. By and large, law stayed out of things. And then, it all came crashing down with the market and architecture splintering (no business model), the realization that society wasn’t as enthused (“why do i want to buy everything online?”) and increasing pressure from law (MS vs. Netscape, Napster).

We’re in the next wave of collusion – the market and architecture are back at it, only this time, they’re a little more aware of the importance of society (but still terrified of law). Web2.0 is the business term for this collusion, an attempt to mark a shift.

I’ve heard lots of folks bitch about labeling something to create a shift. “There is no sudden shift!” they complain. Technologically, they’re right. Things have been progressing pretty linearly. Most of what is marked as Web2.0 technology is nothing new – glorified javascript, newly packaged publication tools, explicitly acknowledged openness. There’s no technological shift happening but there is a very noticeable business shift.

Let’s back up a bit. After the crash, left in the ruins were a handful of big companies in various degrees of shambles. Microsoft, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Macromedia… For the most part, these companies weren’t in competition and they spent the next couple of years trying to retrofit their companies, trying to make them a little more earthquake-resistent. Along came Google. At first, no one cared and many loved to quirky search company. But, slowly, Google has come to compete with every one of the boom survivors on their own turf. Alongside Google, energy re-emerged and start-ups began popping up, innovating in entirely new ways. This re-awakened the big beast-like survivors of Round 1 and we are back in full competitive swing. Of course, the competition is fascinating because people are having different approaches. Acquisitions are happening left right and center (four billion dollars!?!?!?). Google has never really seen competition before. Microsoft is more afraid of D.C. than other tech companies and so they’re innovating in Asia to compete. Adobe is playing a Microsoft and simply buying their competitor (under the polite term “merger”). Web2.0 is a marker of the re-invigoration of competition more so than technology.

The fun thing about academics is that we’re obsessed with long-term frameworks and we like to understand patterns situated in some broader body of knowledge. Some of us are sitting back trying to make sense of what all is emerging and what its economic, legal, social, and technological implications are going to be. We are the meta.

And we’re off…

There will be increasing technological advancements, but to be significant will require adoption on a social level. Yeah, javascript and amateur publishing have been around but in the last two years, we’ve seen genuinely mass adoption because of AJAX and blogging tools. Of course, the funny thing is that i keep seeing adverts for “Web2.0 Developers” but i still haven’t seen an advert for “Web2.0 Social Scientists.” We are still working in an advertising economy which means eyeballs matter and acquisitions have shown that adoption matters. So why not hire people who understand people’s needs? Anyhow…

I think that the biggest loose canon is the business model of all of this. Are we really comfortable relying on advertising still? How long will that last? Is there an economic innovation this round?

I also still believe that the answer to figuring out a lot of this is glocalization. It is not just about the social component, but introduces the legal, market and technological needs. We’ve got to move beyond the global village and focus on how people will repurpose it for their needs. This is why i think that issues of remix are essential to this narrative. What hiphop artists and anime remixers are doing is teaching us what it means to consume and produce as a connected process. In tech land, this is the value of OpenAPIs – this is fundamentally about remixing technology. Of course, all the efforts to legitimize this are dangerous. Part of the glory of hacking and remixing is the rebellious feeling of resistance. More importantly, anyone remixing is understandably wary of the institutions who are opening up or creative commons-ing the process. Aside from not wanting to be told what to do, there is fear of being too reliant on the master. This is part of the trick of OpenAPIs and CC licenses – they allow the owners to maintain power through a different incentive system. You are meant to feel like you have access as long as you want, but the one who giveth can taketh away. That, of course, is a longer conversation. But it’s important to remember that the power issues in remix are not solved by OpenAPIs and CC licenses. Of course, i’m all in favor of OpenAPIs because i think that they will push us further into remix culture, much to the chagrin of current hegemonic institutions. We just need to be careful so that we don’t get it all banned.

So what will Web2.0 be? Right now it’s hype that’s motivating innovation. Should it be slowed down for fear of another crash? Or should it be encouraged because innovation will occur? How do we keep greed from running the innovation ship aground? How can academics provide valuable frameworks and how can academia and industry learn from each other? How does business innovate on a social level without just simply trying to hoc their wares? How is law going to try to slow this down (remix is definitely playing with fire)? How will it support or disrupt hegemony? How can this innovative energy move beyond a few regions?

I know a lot of folks who don’t want to engage because of the hype. (It’s funny – business gets energized by hype; academia gets cynical.) For me, i think that everyone who cares about the next 5 years of technological innovation and techno-social culture needs to be involved and help move the big ship in a positive direction. Otherwise, it will collapse in the hands of business rather than pursuing its potential to affect people’s lives for the better.

Why Web2.0 Matters: Preparing for Glocalization

Recently, i found myself needing to explain Web2.0. Unfortunately, here’s a term that has been hyped up in all sorts of ways with no collectively understood definition. The Web2.0 conference talks about the web as a platform, a business-y concept that i find awfully fuzzy. Technologists and designers have differing views focused on either the technology and standards or the experience. Even Wikipedia seems confused and cumulative definitions are not inclusive. Buzzwords associated with Web2.0 include: remix, tagging, hackability, social networks, open APIs, microcontent, personalization. People discuss how the web is moving from a read-only system to a read/write system and they focus on technologies like GreaseMonkey, Ajax, RSS/Atom, Ruby on Rails. Of course, others talk about the paradoxical relationship between openness and control. The reality is that when people talk about Web2.0, they’re talking about a political affiliation with The Next Cool Thing, even if no one has a clue what it is yet.

Personally, i don’t find comfort in any of the business, technological or experiential explanations. Yet, i do believe that a shift is occurring and i find myself emotionally invested in it. So then i had to ask myself: what is Web2.0 and why does it matter? The answer is glocalization.

Glocalized Networks

In business, glocalization usually refers to a sort of internationalization where a global product is adapted to fit the local norms of a particular region. Yet, in the social sciences, the term is often used to describe an active process where there’s an ongoing negotiation between the local and the global (not simply a directed settling point). In other words, there is a global influence that is altered by local culture and re-inserted into the global in a constant cycle. Think of it as a complex tango improvisational dance with information constantly flowing between the global and the local, altered at each junction.

During the boom, there was a rush to get everything and everyone online. It was about creating a global village. Yet, packing everyone into the town square is utter chaos. People have different needs, different goals. People manipulate given structures to meet their desires. We are faced with a digital environment that has collective values. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in search. For example, is there a best result to the query “breasts”? It’s all about context, right? I might be looking for information on cancer, what are you looking for?

A global village assumes heterogeneous context and a hierarchical search assumes universals. Both are poor approximations of people’s practices. We keep creating technological solutions to improve this situation. Reputation systems, folksonomy, recommendations. But these are all partial derivatives, not the equation itself. This is not to dismiss them though because they are important; they allow us to build on the variables and approximate the path of the equation with greater accuracy. But what is the equation we’re trying to solve?

On an economic level, globalization has both positive and negative implications. But on a personal level, no one actually wants to live in a global village. You can’t actually be emotionally connected to everyone in the world. While the global village provides innumerable resources and the possibility to connect to anyone, people narrow their attention to only focus on the things that matter. What matters is conceptually “local.” In business, the local part of glocalization mostly refers to geography. Yet, the critical “local” in digital glocalization concerns culture and social networks. You care about the people that are like you and the cultural elements that resonate with you. In the most extreme sense, the local is simply you alone. There is certain a geographical component to the local because the people in your region probably share more cultural factors with you and are more likely connected to you in network terms, but this is not a given. In fact, the folks who were most geographically alienated were the first on the digital bandwagon – they wanted the global so that they could find others like them regardless of physical location.

When the web started, the hype was that geography would no longer matter. Of course, we know that now to be utterly false. But the digital architecture did alter the network structure of society, allowing interest-driven bonds to complement geographically-manifested ones. Web1.0 created the infrastructure for glocalized networks.

Glocalizing Web2.0 Systems

Glocalized structures and networks are the backbone of Web2.0. Rather than conceptualizing the world in geographical terms, it is now necessary to use a networked model, to understand the interrelations between people and culture, to think about localizing in terms of social structures not in terms of location. This is bloody tricky because the networks do not have clear boundaries or clusters; the complexity of society just went up an order of magnitude.

Our first rough approximation at this was the individual vs. the collective. The personal is critical – it is the maximal localization and contribution stems from the individual first. Think about tagging – it’s all about starting with the individual and building into collectives. But the goal should not be universal collectives but rather locally constituted ones whereby one participates in many different local contexts. This is critical because the individual and the collective do not exist without each other; they are co-constructed and defined by their interplay. Individual identity gets crafted in context of a collective and collectives emerge through the interplay of individuals.

Social networks give us a vantage point for seeing the relationship between collectives and individuals. As such, they have been at the root of the Web2.0 narrative. We want to understand how people and collectives are interrelated in order to support local needs. Articulation was the first step but, more than anything, it let us understand how broken our questions are, how complex the structure is. These models are not good enough for Web2.0 but they are a decent initial approximation.

Reputation systems emerge to help localize the social structure, to indicate contextualized trust, respect and relations. Reputation is not a universal structure, but one deeply embedded in particular cultural contexts.

The complex relationship between personal, local collectives, and global must all be modeled in glocalized networks for Web2.0 to work. We need to break out of the global village model, the universal “truth” approach to information access. We need to situate information access in glocalized culture. Folksonomy is emerging as a dance between the individual and the collective; remix occurs as individual and collective responses to the global. They are forms of organizing and situating global information in a glocalized fashion.

Glocalized information access does not mean separate but equal. Instead, globally accessible information needs to be organized in a local context where meaning is made. Recommendations emerge as a way for local collectives to organize information, sitting on top of individual recommendations combined with networks and reputation.

Institutional Structures

In addition to the techno-social systems that are being developed to allow for glocalized information access, there are institutional structures at play. While Open APIs certainly have political cachet, they are also critical to glocalization. People want to slice information for local cultures; this means that the local cultures need to be able to do the slicing rather than rely on institutions that are more likely to create universal organization schemas. No organization has the diversity necessary to build all of the different glocalized systems that people desire.

The structure of companies is also critical to Web2.0 and there is going to be an interesting relationship between innovative start-ups and big corporations. Startups can focus on particular technologies and build for specific cultural contexts, but they do not have the resources to build the larger infrastructure. This is where big companies come into play because they will be the ones putting the pieces together. Yet, the responsibility of big Web2.0 companies is to provide flexible glue to all of this innovation, to provide the information infrastructure that will permit glocalization, to allow for openness. Big companies span multiple cultural contexts but if they try to homogenize across them, they will fail at Web2.0. They need to be stretchy glue not cement. Cement works when you want a global village, when you want universals but it is not the way of Web2.0, it is not the next wave.


Web2.0 is about glocalization, it is about making global information available to local social contexts and giving people the flexibility to find, organize, share and create information in a locally meaningful fashion that is globally accessible. Technology and experience are both critical factors in this process, but they themselves are not Web2.0. Web2.0 is a structural shift in information flow. It is not simply about global->local or 1->many; it is about a constantly shifting, multi-directional complex flow of information with the information evolving as it flows. It is about new network structures that emerge out of global and local structures.

In order for Web2.0 to work, we need to pay attention to how different cultural contexts interpret the technology and support them in their variable interpretations. We need to create flexible infrastructures and build the unexpected connections that will permit creative re-use.

It’s important to realize that Web2.0 is not a given – it is possible to fuck it up, especially if power and control get in the way. Web2.0 is a socio-technical problem and it cannot be solved in a technodeterminist way. Technology needs to support social and cultural practices rather than determining culture. Technology is architecture and, thus, the design of it is critical because the decisions made will have dramatic effects. Digital architecture is unburdened by atoms but it is not unburdened by human tendencies for control. We’ve already seen plenty of digital architects try to control the flexibility of their artifacts rather than allowing them to morph and evolve.

Web2.0 requires giving up control and ownership of information; information is meaningless to someone else if they can’t repurpose it to make sense of it in their context. It is for this reason that technology is not enough – there will be political features of Web2.0 as technological development and cultural desires run head-on against legislation and political support of old skool information organizations. This is why IP and copyright issues are also critical to Web2.0.

Web2.0 also requires keeping local cultural values consciously present at all times. There is a great potential to be problematically disruptive, to destroy local culture while trying to support it. We all have a tendency to build our needs into technology but the value of Web2.0 is to allow everyone to build their needs into the technology, not just those doing the building. Trampling culture would be devastating.

For Web2.0 to be successful, technology and policy must follow glocalized needs and desires. This will be a complex and challenging process full of complicated issues as technologists, designers, social scientists and politicos engage in an unknown dance with very different values and pressures. This dance can and probably will disrupt nation-state and institutional structures; these groups will work hard to stop the destruction of their power. Neither China nor the RIAA really wants Web2.0 to happen and folks like them have the potential to really foul it up.

Those who believe that Web2.0 is the way to go must take on the responsibility of focusing on the people first, to keep them and their needs at the forefront of your mind while you design and build, re-design and re-build. Let the technology and business follow the desires and needs of people. Otherwise, Web2.0 could completely collapse or simply become a tool for the maintenance of structural power.

I will say, it’s an interesting time to be in the Valley. There’s so much potential and i really want to see Web2.0 go as far as possible in supporting a meaningfully distributed glocalized society.

Special thanks to Barb and Marc for helping me think through this.