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IFTF has a vision, social networks for toasters worldwide. Love the visuals.

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Trust, reputation, collaborative consumption and service networking

This TED talk by Rachel Botsman describes the online evolution of trust and reputation that’s feeding into new ways of doing business, “collaborative consumption” (AirBNB) and “service networking” (TaskRabbit). More people doing business directly with other people via virtual mediation. Via this trend, people are learning to be more trusting, and with more trust there’s more of this kind of biz.

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Listening to blogs

Detailed Architecture of BlogSum

Kurzweil posts about a system developed for “mining the blogosphere,” i.e. BlogSum, a sophisticated listening natural language processing system for evaluating and indexing blog content developed at Concordia University. “The system is capable of gauging things like consumer preferences and voter intentions by sorting through websites, examining real-life self-expression and conversation, and producing summaries that focus exclusively on the original question.” This is a technical concept that David DeMaris and I had discussed some years ago, thinking of potential activist/political applications. It’ll be interesting to see how this technology is deployed.

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U.S. Army guide to Pinterest

Pinterest is the rave du jour for Inernet mavens. You know it’s mainstreamed when the U.S. Army produces a guide:

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Bots can shape social interaction

Scientists experimenting with Twitter bots found that the bots could “shape” activity on Twitter to some extent. They’re continuing their studies to get a better understanding of what they’re seeing. [Link]

The origin of the study was explained by Tim Hwang, one of the authors of a research paper describing the socialbot experiments. “A lot of people you can hire now say they are really good at community engagement. Can we measure those claims?”

From the paper linked above:

… although each socialbot was able to connect only a relatively small portion of users from its target group, the findings of this study are extremely signi cant. These findings indicate the fi rst successful attempts at automatically and programmatically shaping the topology of online communities. Further, while the scale of this study was relatively small, socialbots are designed to be light, efficient, and entirely automatic { and thus, easily deployable in large swarms. We believe this study marks the rst step towards demonstrating the ability of such technologies to shape online communities at a large scale.

Wonder if this means we’ll have swarms of marketing bots flooding Twitter and other social systems?

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On blogging

ActionCamp San Antonio invited me to give this talk about blogging October 28:

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#Occupy clustering and coping

Micah Sifry writes that “Rapid growth is going to stress the #OWS [Occupy Wall Street] movement,” and he talks about similar stresses on the Students for a Democratic Society in the 60s. He notes that core bonds of trust weren’t sustained as the movement grew. He says “social media may save #OWS from that fate, or just produce other, equally challenging problems of growing a movement to scale while keeping its core ethos.”

Steven Johnson, writing about the Howard Dean campaign, writes about two aspects of emergent political movements, clustering and coping. Steve says

Some simpler emergent systems are good at forming crowds; other, more complex ones, are good at regulating the overall state of the system, adapting to new challenges, evolving in response to opportunities. Sometimes, I suspect, it’s helpful to blur the distinctions between clustering and coping for simplicity’s sake. But when you subject them to the intense scrutiny and pressure of a national political campaign, the fault lines inevitably appear. Right now, emergent politics is brilliant at clustering, but clustering is not enough to get a national candidate elected. In fact, without the right coping mechanisms in place, clustering can sometimes work against your interests. You need crowds to get elected to public office, but without more complex forms of self-regulation, crowds can quickly turn into riots. And riots don’t win elections.

Johnson’s analysis was about a national presidential campaign, but I think it’s applicable to a potential movement like #OccupyWallStreet (or #OccupyWherever). So far, Occupy is about clustering, but to be really effective it should evolve as an organized movement. Does it have, or will it have, the right coping mechanisms in place? Johnson talks about two essentials of coping: “a relatively complex semiotic code to communicate between agents” and “metainformation about the state of the collective.” Those two mechanisms sound very much like what you could achieve through the use of social media for coordination. The so-far sophisticated and effective use of social media by Occupy may be the right sauce.

Photo by Adrian Kinloch

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The U.S. Navy has a clue about Google+

Google+ is my social tool of choice these days, feeling more functional and valuable than Facebook, Twitter, et al. This is especially true for me because I’ve adopted so many parts of Google’s web ecosystem. Via a link posted by David Armano of Edelman, I’ve just found the most clueful Google+ overview I’ve seen – produced by the U.S. Navy.

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Post-Internet Google+ Beta Madness

I’ve been researching, thinking about, and presenting on the future of the Internet, and this week I’m preparing to propose a SXSW panel and getting ready for a presentation next week at Bootstrap Interactive in Austin. At the moment I’m thinking we’re in a “post-Internet” era. The collaborative, peer to peer network of networks has been co-opted and overlaid by a very few large corporations, and as was the case with earlier information technologies (film, radio, television) monopolies (or duopolies) are forming for network access, hardware, and information services, and the advertising model originated by David Sarnoff et al. for radio is pervasive on an Internet thick with ads – increasingly sites you visit throw an obnoxious full-screen ad in your face as you land. I’m hearing more and more conversations about building a new alternative Internet (and, for that matter, alternative economies and forms of governance).

As I was thinking hard about this, and digging deeper, Google + launched, and the geekiest cohort among my friends started showing up for the limited beta. Plus is YAAS (“yet another activity stream”), probably better-engineered and more social than Facebook’s. No real marketing vibe so far, just a lot of people hanging out (often literally, using G+’s “Hangout” feature, a high-quality form of videoconferencing that’s very cool but crashy).

Google + is the Next Big Rockit. People who are (or wannabe) paid to think about social media are filling many buckets with bits of speculative and often redundant information about the system, which doesn’t strike me as particularly new and innovative in the patterns it’s aggregated. But it is a welcome change from the other high-adoption social environments du jour, namely Facebook and Twitter. Unlike Twitter, it allows longer-form posts and inline media-sharing. Unlike Facebook, it has functional management of relationships (via Circles) and better handling of both transparency and privacy…

And did you mention Diaspora? Their launch has been so constrained as to be a mere whisper, next to the great swooshing sound of the Google+ launch.

I saw Robert Scoble post that he likes it because he can share videos and articles with everybody, and I assume that his emphasis was not on the ability to share (because we’ve been sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed et al), but on the idea of sharing “with everybody.” Google + is structured so that you can see and reach more people, and when you’re selective about what you see it’s your choice, not a selection by algorithm as you have in Facebook’s “Top Stories.” At Google + you can drop people into “circles” according to whatever categorization scheme fits your DNA, and that’s really the only operational filter at this point.

But, back to my point about the post-Internet world, what’s been cool about Google+ so far has been the absence of that overlay of commercial messaging that has fogged other sites. It’s been a relatively spam-free zone, reminding me what fired me up about online social spaces from the 80s onward. How long the beta period will last I don’t know, but it’s been a nice reminder of what we could potentially have, if we could turn down the volume the advertising and marketing blasts that seem so much pervasive online lately than even on television or radio.

Back to thinking hard about the future of the Internet.

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Technology: tipping the balance

Roger Cohen in the New York Times:

Something immense is happening as the world transitions to a hyperconnected state where, for many, the distinction between the real and virtual worlds has ceased to exist. All the trailing paraphernalia of states and borders and government-to-government palavers, not to mention privacy laws, look so 20th century.

The more I speak and write about “the future of the Internet,” the more I realize that I’m talking about the future of the human world. Cohen goes on to say “that technology and international relations are becoming interchangeable topics. There are many more networks in our future than treaties.”

Clueful, yes. Also interesting is the article’s mention of Google Ideas and Jared Cohen’s thinking

that technology is agnostic: It can be used in the cause of freedom β€” and has been to great effect from Tunis to Cairo β€” just as it can be used in the cause of repression. So how do you β€œtip the balance in favor of the net positive?”

There’s seven billion people in the world, population’s growing every day. We’ve been organized as nations, and more recently corporations have been taking power and authority for action (though they still work through legacy forms, i.e. legislatures that are influenced by various means, including contributions of money and personal persuasion). We see a tendency for people to want to have something we call “freedom,” though the meaning of that label, and its limits, are not always clear. Traditionally effective action has been associated with authority and leadership, and the nature and meaning of leadership in a democratized world is unclear. (Also the pervasive influence of corruption, and how it will play out if systems of authority are diminished, as we have more “freedom.”)

We live in exciting and “interesting” times, but we should be skeptical – and I appreciate Jared Cohen’s point about the uncertain potential in social technology. We should be exploring how to tip the balance.

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Filter bubbles

This talk by Eli Pariser reminds me of discussions with David Weinberger about online echo chambers. I recall that this came up as social technology became part of the political process in ~2004. I’ve been concerned that the polarization we’re seeing in the U.S. and elsewhere is exacerbated if not caused by our tendency to pay all of our attention where we agree, and none of it where we’re challenged by opposing or new ideas.

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More fun with the DMCA

Facebook took down Ars Technica’s page on the site because of allegedly infringing content. Read about it here. The page is back after much wrangling. The problem for Ars Technica (and potentially for anyone else against whom there’s an infringement complaint) was that Facebook didn’t tell them what content was allegedly infringing or offer them an appeals process or an option to remove the content. Evidently Facebook didn’t think through a process for handling these complaints, which can easily be bogus.

I’m not an attorney (so don’t take my word for this), but I can suggest a process: the DMCA says Facebook should promptly block access or remove the material, so they really have to do something. My process would be to block the page temporarily, notify the page owner of the complaint and specify the content, give them an opportunity to take the content down or make the case that it’s not infringing. The Online Copyright Infringement Liability Act says that the counter-notification from the page owner saying that the material is not, in face, infringing would be enough for safe harbor from liability.

Attorneys, please comment if I’ve got this wrong.

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Connectivism

Have you ever thought about how completely irrelevant structured learning is? Indeed. “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot unlearn and relearn.” – Alvin Toffler. The video below advocates a change in how we learn – network-centric, personal, based on your context, not based on some institution’s agenda. (Thanks to Judi Clark for sending me the link to this video.)

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The future of global online journalism

(Update: Alfred Hermida blogs Vivian Schiller’s 7 reasons to be cheerful about journalism at Reportr.net.)

The evolution of networked global communication infrastructures is disrupting and changing delivery of news and the way journalists work. While some publishers have been wringing hands and tearing hair over the collapse of the business model for news publishing, others in the industry get that news, and news authority, will always be relevant, that there will always be a need and a market for informed delivery of and interpretation of facts. I just spent two days (Friday and Saturday, April 1st and 2nd) at the University of Texas’ 12th Annual Global Symposium on Online Journalism, organized by brilliant, forward-looking Professor Rosental Alves. After stewing in the juices of the future of journalism for two days, I’d like to summarize what I think I was hearing.

The future of journalism and the future of Internet are intimately related. The Internet has catalyzed a democratization of knowledge, and is (in my opinion) a force beyond our control, though there are enough discussions about controlling it in some way that I’m seeing discussions of substance about how to resist that control (which are interesting, but out of scope for this post). The democratization of knowledge and the evolution of social tools on the Internet are the two aspects of intense interest on my part that have led me to seemingly diverse projects and discussions involving futurism, politics, evolving markets, participatory medicine, and online journalism. While to some I may seem all over the map, I see a consistency in all of these: they’re all part of an Internet-driven evolution. Politics, marketing, healthcare, and journalism are all experiencing disruption and difficulty as the global online information infrastructure becomes increasingly pervasive and sophisticated.

(Notes:

1. This might be a good place to quote P.D. Ouspensky: “In order to understand a thing, you must see it s connection with some bigger subject, or bigger whole, and the possible consequences of this connection. Understanding is always the understanding of a smaller problem in relation to a bigger problem.”

2. I don’t see “democratization of knowledge” as an inherently wonderful thing. While I’m dedicated to open and distributed knowledge systems, I recognize the relevant issues: “a little knowledge can be dangerous,” “in the wrong hands, knowledge can be dangerous,” etc. I’m also committed to participatory or democratic systems, but with the understanding that they have significant issues – democracy doesn’t scale well, doesn’t necessarily result in the best actions or decisions for all, can be little better than “mob rule,” etc. We have to be thoughtful about these things, and attend to the down sides.)

Internet forces have undermined business models for publishing and news delivery – enough’s been said about that. The UT conference I attended looks beyond that disruption and focuses on the new reality of technology-mediated news dissemination and a new more symmetrical relationship of news organization with news reader. Readers have similar access to the means of production as news organizations, and have the expectation of an environment where they can readily provide feedback on news, if not participate in gathering and disseminationg news stories. Bloggers and small independents are breaking stories and conducting deep investigation. Journalism is becoming a partnership of the news professionals with their more or less informed audiences.

Here are some thoughts and questions I’m having, inspired by the conference (and to some extent by the Future of Journalism track at SXSW Interactive that I helped curate).

  • Today’s newsroom is a high technology operation. The new journalist understands code, and there’s a new breed of developer (in the hacks hackers, program or be programmed mode) who understands journalism well enough to be an effective partner in application development. In this context, there’s an evolution from “shovelware” to apps that effectively leverage diverse platforms, especially mobile platforms.
  • Will the web and the browser continue to be primary platform for news delivery, or will mobile apps be more prominent and effective? Or (more likely) are we looking at an ecosystem where both will be adopted and used? The web has advantages, including ubiquity, existing infrastructure, linkability, bookmarking and social tech.
  • How important are aggregation and curation vs reporting? Are aggregators practicing journalism, or “making sense of the Internet.”
  • Many publications are integrating social media, becoming more conversational. How well can conversations scale? Does this have a democratizing effect?
  • Revolution in Egypt wasn’t driven by social media alone, but also (if not more so) by Egypt’s independent press.
  • How polarized are we, how do we become less polarized, what is the relationship of news to politicization and polarization, and is there a relationship between polarization and credibility?
  • What is the impact of moving from a workflow heavily based on editing to real-time publishing models?
  • What’s the relationship of news to engagement? How can you both engage and scale?
  • New concept: “newsfulness,” or likelihood of a device to be used for news access.
  • Is public journalism a public good? Does it make more sense for investigative news organizations to be nonprofit rather than for-profit?
  • How do news organizations use, and monetize, Twitter?
  • “Gatejumping” vs gatekeeping. Twitter allows early gatekeepers to jump the gates, deliver news directly and immediately.
  • Do online journalists have more autonomy than their offline counterparts?
  • Open APIs catalyze developer communities, potentially bring new revenue potential, speed up internal and external product development.
  • How do news organizations keep up with increasing R&D demands with decreasing budgets?
  • What is the impact of pay walls, and how well will they succeed? What makes paywalls viable: scale still matters, but brand is back. Users are depending more on brand authority, advertisers are getting back to basics.

Link to my tweets from the conference.