trajectory of categories

I’m doing a little experiment with Wikipedia. More on that later. In this post, lemme introduce a quick theory on the evolution of our understanding and use of emerging technologies. In the future, I'll superimpose it onto Gartner’s hype cycle, but for now, a brief description:

The manner in which we understand and use emerging technologies undergoes a trajectory of categories, from binary --> spectrum --> typology --> promiscuous pragmatic pluralism. Take hyperlinks for example. Search engines currently look for whether or not a site has links (binary: yes or no). But there's increasing talk of link strength (spectrum: weaker <--> stronger). And a semantic web would require search engines to understand the type of link between pages (typology: different types). Applied to links between people, Facebook, with its “How do you know [insert name]?” feature, is attempting to elaborate a "social graph"* based on the type of link between people. Other examples are hanging out in the comments.

Ultimately, as we climb the slope of enlightenment towards the plateau of productivity in Gartner’s hype cycle, it won’t be that a typological approach is inherently better than a binary one, but a matter of when to use which type of categorization (promiscuous pragmatic pluralism). Humanifesto on ppp to come...

*Fight for the survival of "social graph" on Wikipedia. It automatically re-directs to "social network," which is why I had to create an entry for social graphs in the plural. If you talk and discuss, Wikipedians might let it be. But if you wait too long, it might just be left gathering dust in history. Yes, this is part of my experiment with Wikipedia that I'll someday post about.


kisscasting and dancecasting

Remember the beginning of the Brady Bunch, where everyone in the family gets their own little square on a grid? I wanna be able to find all the live streaming videos of people doing x, e.g. kissing or grocery-store-shopping, and make a similar grid. You might feel more inspired while cleaning the toilet. And dancecasting would make a fantastic screensaver.

I used to make rhythms out of emails.

I'd do a search for emails I sent you and you sent me, note the dates, speed up the timing, loop it, and make a crude rhythm out of our emails. But now we can get precise. And fancy. Like Fernanda Viegas and Carolin Horn do with email visualization, or what Aaron Koblin does with data sonification. So, email sonification, or visualization for that matter...why? Just for the beauty of music composed from the rhythm of our communication? That too. But also for the emergent patterns that say something about our relationship. Roughly: you and I as senders are represented by different notes, changes in subject lines are represented by changes in pitch. Back and forth and back and forth, looping the whole thing over and over. There are moments that sound like ping pong. And others that feel like a desert. Why am I always the last to send an email right before we hit a desert? And why do deserts always precede ping pongs? Could we guess what was going on at that particular moment in our correspondence just by listening to it? Mmm.

Now imagine incorporating all media of communication. An orchestra!

I was just wondering.

I s t h i s n e t a r t ?

we the value chain

When we interact with objects, we interact with the people who participated in their production all the way down the value chain, from manufacturing, processing, packaging, retail, and distribution to maintenance, consumption, and (if you regularly interact with people in the future) disposal. Socially responsible consumers like to know who these people are, especially those hanging out upstream. Meanwhile, objects can tell stories via barcodes, RFID's, geotags, etc. Which means that objects can tell stories about the people participating in their production, and these stories can be crowdsourced from these people themselves. This might add a little sentimentality/creepiness to shopping at garage sales and second-hand stores, but when you swipe your cell over the toilet seat at a night club and see a photo of Maria who has to clean your mess on her 3am shift, you might be less likely to make that mess in the first place. Sorry to be so graphic, but etcetera...

To: [let google find it]

Make the "To:" line in gmail into a google search box. That way, if you wanna email someone who's not in your contacts, you can google their address. Or if you're 'feeling lucky,' google can suggest their address, the way it already does for URL's in the latest version of Firefox.

mob flashdancing down the Wal-mart isle

I heard that Wal-marts film a bird's eye views of their customers. I imagine the footage is sped up and analyzed to detect patterns useful for Wal-mart's 'zero inventory' strategy. (If what we buy and when we buy it can be algorithmicized, then Wal-mart can reduce its inventory to near-zero.) But this also makes Wal-mart vulnerable to the way we move. Hmmm. And flash mob + dance = some kinda mob flashdance. So how about a mob of us flashdance down the wrong Wal-mart isle looking for the wrong product at the wrong time? It probably wouldn't bring them to their knees, begging us to consume-as-usual so as not to confuse their inventory strategy, but it would at least be entertaining for whoever's behind the camera. And it would make for a fantastic Carrotmob video:

Carrotmob Makes It Rain from carrotmob on Vimeo.

(Yes, that's me in the brown hat lathering myself with paper money on the floor of the supermarket isle.)

I used to think aliens were just us in the future.

And that our future selves had learned to travel through time. But when we traveled backwards, our current selves didn't recognize our future ones, so we called ourselves aliens. And now it's happening. Virtual worlds are approximating David Brin's Transparent Society. Etcetera etcetera.

feed aggregators for e-petitions

One-stop shopping for the e-activist in you.


recycle the cloud

We all hear the story about how going paperless is greener, saves trees, etc. We also hear the story about how electronic isn't necessarily greener because our computers use energy, etc. Blah blah blah, the stories go, but it's ultimately a matter of trade-offs. Meanwhile, Google, Facebook, and other gargantuan server farmers give us ever-bigger quantities of space that we fill ever-less-important shit. So we migrate from paper to our drives to the cloud. Ah yes, the innocuous-sounding white, floaty, cloud. But just because the server farms aren't in our backyards doesn't mean they're not using lots and lots energy. So, I declare, recycle the data cloud! Crude possibilities:

>>Ritualistic webmail inbox cleansing parties.

>>Ritualistic burnings of unused alts in virtual worlds.

>>Recycler-magician-performers who transform your virtual shit first into something beautiful and then back into empty space.

>>If anti-file-swapping bots can recognize a song traveling through the network, can’t they recognize duplicates of other data, destroy them, and use pointers instead?

>>If authors just tagged their digital files with expiration dates, e.g. in the metadata.

virtual mergers and acquisitions

Virtual worlds almost never die, writes Castronova). But that doesn’t mean they can’t merge and acquire, especially as demographics change. Will Club Penguin merge with Webkinz or will penguins eat stuffed animals? Or will either of them soon be wearing mini-skirts and staying out past curfew?

AI for EI

According to the World Institute for Development Economics Research, too much economic inequality (above a Gini coefficient of .40) negatively impacts growth, due to incentive traps, erosion of social cohesion, social conflicts, and uncertain property rights, while to much equality (below a Gini coefficient of .25) negatively impacts growth due to incentive traps, free-riding, labor shirking, and high supervision costs (2001). But even if we accept this, who wants to be on the bottom rung of a so-considered optimal distribution of wealth? Well says Edward Castronova, “how do you make a world in which everyone is in the top 10 percent? The answer: AI.” Sounds absurd. But would the economy know the difference?

real photos of cybersex

Sounds gross. But aren’t you curious? At least a little? Google image searching wasn’t too fruitful. (Do cyberLovers get come on the keyboard? Actually, do they use the mouse-keyboard setup, or are there interfaces designed specifically for this purpose?) Some curator would certainly commission this series. Definitely that one in Me, You, and Everyone we Know.

pattern widget

Information about our everyday lives is increasingly digitized via social network sites, social calendaring, blogs, twitters, etc. So how about some kinda widget that digs through the information and finds recurring patterns? A widget that identifies correlations between the activities we do, social interactions we have, emotions we feel, foods we eat, and colors we wear, among other things. Patterns in when we fight with our Lovers (correlated with wearing yellow?), feel most creative (correlated with playing badminton?), experience bad gas (correlated with eating dairy?).

Now expand the scale to include the micro and the macro. Let the widget identify correlations between the social interactions we have, colors we wear, local weather, global economic news, and the stars. President Reagan consulted an astrologer for patterns between politics and celestial movements. We could concoct a widget for patterns between much much more, which would help us not only identify patterns, but engage with and potentially create them. Like dancers and musicians.

hold on a sec, I’m having an orgasm

A man I salsa danced with the other night was wearing a bluetooth. But what the title of this post suggests would be extreme multi-tasking.

the modern wrath of Tartarus

The mountain of shit known as our inbox feels like the modern-day Sisyphus myth. Except that our fate is worse. Not only can we never thoroughly plow through all those emails, but we receive them faster than we can reply. Which means that the mountain up which that boulder must be pushed just keeps getting taller and taller. If only our email clients had video game mode, with bomb-detonating SFX for every delete, we'd have some moral support around here, if not a little fun. Instead of "you've got mail!" it could be...

virtual avatar as 3D mirror

Imagine being able to walk up to yourself, and analyze your beauty from 360+ degrees with zoom capabilities to ensure that every strand of hair is perfectly in place, identify which angles are best for photographs, and have consultants help you with your posture. I’m thinking politicians and wealthy cougars.


the mashup game

Experiment with what can be mashed up using the ingredients below. Consider which ones compliment each other in a single dish. Or don't, and mash 'em up anyway. Which is probably not too far from the methodology of some start-ups and co-evolution:

3D virtual world
Social networking
Cellular communication
Audio recording
Voice activation
Chat room
Bluetooth file transfer
Authoring tools/software programs
Video playing (for watching TV shows and films)
Music playing (for listening to music)
Online gaming
Online community
Short message service (SMS)
Multimedia messaging service (MMS)
Memory/data storage
Open source
Camera (photography)
Camera (film)
Cut, copy, and paste
Presence applications
Tagging (social bookmarking, geotagging, etc.)
Linkbacks (linkbacks, pingbacks, refbacks, etc.)
User generated
Data aggregation (of news, tags, etc.)
Multi-media sharing (of images, video, podcasts, games, etc.)
Language translation
Hair dryer
Washing machine
Nail filer

Existing examples:
- 3D virtual world + social networking + online community + media sharing = Kaneva
- 3D virtual world + wiki + data aggregation + text transfer (e.g. using SMS, MMS, IM, Email) = SL wikipedia ring
- most of the ingredients above = iPhone

Other possibilities:
- voice activation + language translation = a tourist's dream
- a tourists’ dream + GPS + WiFi + camera (photography) + camera (film) + wiki + hyperlocality = a tourist's fantasy
- concept-mapping software + citation manager + tagging = the possibility of adding concepts to an evolving concept map and citing them simply in the act of making notes in the margins
- hyperlinked list of people to call, text, email on a much-more-than-a-phone thingie = performing the list of communication items without having to go back and forth between the list and the items

*Note: ingredients above are not necessarily mutually exclusive (where does one end and another begin?) or presented in their smallest units (there are sub-ingredients within cellular communication).

mixed-world therapy

Use a world other than this one for expressing your anger. Keep both worlds separate until your anger has diffused, then remove the boundary between them. And call me in the morning.


farmers, fisherwomen, and financial analysts

Investors increasingly seek data on the fiscal impacts of environmental factors. And unlike many environmental scientists, environmentally-concerned investors don’t have epistemological hang-ups. I.e. they don’t care how the knowledge is known as long as it works. The day Generation Investment Management LLP hires farmers and fisherwomen and ‘Traditional Ecological Knowledge’ becomes a valuable asset will be a very interesting one.

make your own wine...label

In the vein of allowing customers do the work (and pay for it), à la O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 design pattern of users adding value, give drinkers the chance to design wine labels. Make a label that's a blank stamped postcard, addressed back to the wine distributor. That is, a label that's blank until the best design wins. Call it a label competition, post all submissions online, and let the customers vote. Then throw in some free wine for the finalists and shower winners with fame. Depending upon how much is left in the bottle when the labels are 'designed,' postcards sent back will be at least entertaining, if not label-worthy.

pimp my rental car

Music is already piped into venues with captive audiences, like hold buttons and elevators. What prime real estate for music promotion. Imagine: leaving you on hold forever could become something customer service reps don't need to apologize for, and muzak could become a non-derogatory term.

And how about rental cars? Sure, you bring music wherever you go. But you also like finding new music and getting a flavor of the local music when you travel. So if the car you rented on your vacation in Rio de Janeiro had a surprise in the CD player that was carefully selected to suit your fancy based on everything that had been internet-stalked about you, you might listen. And given the opportunity, you might go to an upcoming concert, make a purchase, tra la la.

The point being: people on hold, in waiting rooms, on elevators, in rental cars, etc. are generally available to listen, which is a potentially exploitable situation.

shabbat take-out

For the young Jewish mom who wants freshly-baked Challah and a different Kugel recipe, but doesn’t have the time or live-in help to make them. It could even come with the Torah portion of the week, ideas for sermons (or if she prefers, "dialogues"), and transliterated Shabbat songs. I’m thinking Manhattan. (Oh and Greg, I Love that we both independently came up with this idea but your name for it is infinitely more awesome: the Shabbox.)

deploy massage

The reasons we end up lying on our backs on a table in a dark room with someone else's hands manipulating our naked bodies are either very very malignant or very very benign. E.g. to be massaged or to be tortured. So why not just deploy massage?


from ‘see you in the next world’ to ‘see you in another one’

From ‘I’m not in Love with you, I’m in Love with your avatar’ to ‘I’m not in Love with you in this world, I’m in Love with you in another one.’

social network site x graph-based interface x time

To literally see how the webs of relationships between people change. Take a graph-based interface of a social network, like Facebook's 'friend wheel' or TouchGraph's Facebook browser. Add the dimension of time in a way similar to this. And you get a graph-based visualization of how social networks change through time. Plus, if you moved from a binary to a spectral or typological understanding of connections between 'friends' (elaborated here), you'd likely discover some patterns.

design principles: web 2.0 & permaculture

Tim O’Reilly’s 8 Web 2.0 design patterns:

1. The Long Tail – Small sites make up the bulk of the internet's content; narrow niches make up the bulk of internet's the possible applications. Therefore: Leverage customer-self service and algorithmic data management to reach out to the entire web, to the edges and not just the center, to the long tail and not just the head.

2. Data is the Next Intel Inside – Applications are increasingly data-driven. Therefore: For competitive advantage, seek to own a unique, hard-to-recreate source of data.

3. Users Add Value – The key to competitive advantage in internet applications is the extent to which users add their own data to that which you provide. Therefore: Don't restrict your "architecture of participation" to software development. Involve your users both implicitly and explicitly in adding value to your application.

4. Network Effects by Default – Only a small percentage of users will go to the trouble of adding value to your application. Therefore: Set inclusive defaults for aggregating user data as a side-effect of their use of the application.

5. Some Rights Reserved – Intellectual property protection limits re-use and prevents experimentation. Therefore: When benefits come from collective adoption, not private restriction, make sure that barriers to adoption are low. Follow existing standards, and use licenses with as few restrictions as possible. Design for "hackability" and "remixability."

6. The Perpetual Beta – When devices and programs are connected to the internet, applications are no longer software artifacts, they are ongoing services. Therefore: Don't package up new features into monolithic releases, but instead add them on a regular basis as part of the normal user experience. Engage your users as real-time testers, and instrument the service so that you know how people use the new features.

7. Cooperate, Don't Control – Web 2.0 applications are built of a network of cooperating data services. Therefore: Offer web services interfaces and content syndication, and re-use the data services of others. Support lightweight programming models that allow for loosely-coupled systems.

8. Software Above the Level of a Single Device – The PC is no longer the only access device for internet applications, and applications that are limited to a single device are less valuable than those that are connected. Therefore: Design your application from the get-go to integrate services across handheld devices, PCs, and internet servers.

David Holmgren’s 12 Permaculture design principles (paraphrased):

1. observe and interact – engage in continuous observation and reciprocal interaction with the design subject

2. catch and store energy – use existing wealth to make long-term investments in natural capital

3. obtain a yield – use captured and stored energy to maintain the system and capture more energy, i.e. to obtain a yield

4. apply self-regulation and accept feedback – use positive and negative feedbacks to design systems that are more self-regulating, thus reducing the workload

5. use and value renewable resources and services – in business terms, use income over capital assets

6. produce no waste – design systems to make use of all outputs so that no waste is produced, à la Bill Mollison’s ‘it’s not an excess of snails but a deficiency of ducks’

7. design from patterns to details – use patterns in nature and society to understand what is seen, and use patterns from one context/scale to design in another

8. integrate rather than segregate – place elements in such a way that each serves the needs and accepts the products of the others; each element performs many functions and each function is supported by multiple elements

9. use small and slow solutions – design systems to perform functions at the smallest scale that is practical and energy-efficient for that function

10. use and value diversity – incorporate diversity to enhance resilience

11. use edges and value the marginal – recognize and conserve the value of edges, the marginal and invisible aspects of a system, and actively expand them to increase system productivity and stability

12. creatively use and respond to change – design to change in a deliberate and co-operative way, and respond to unforeseen and uncontrollable change creatively

I’ll try making some sense. (But we make sense like we make pie: we just make it.) Using O’Reilly’s patterns as the basic recipe, and embellishing it with Holmgren’s principles:

1. The Long Tail – reaching out to edges of the entire web and not just the center as Holmgren’s 11th principle of using edges and valuing the marginal (easy as pie)

2. Data is the Next Intel Inside – seeking to own a unique, hard-to-recreate source of data as an aggressive variation on Holmgren’s 2nd of catching and storing energy mixed with his 3rd of obtaining a yield (data as a yield of energy?)

3. Users Add Value – involving users both implicitly and explicitly in adding value as Holmgren’s 5th of using and valuing renewable resources and services, and 8th of integrating rather than segregating (user integration as a renewable resource/service?)

4. Network Effects by Default – setting inclusive defaults as Holmgren’s 2nd, 3rd, 8th, and 11th principles, with a dash of his 6th of producing no waste (confusion of flavors, including escargot)

5. Some Rights Reserved – designing for hackability and remixability as Holmgren’s 4th of applying self-regulation and accepting feedback, and 8th of integrating rather than segregating (design self-regulating applications by making their elements/functions hackable and remixable)

6. The Perpetual Beta – not packaging features into monolithic releases but adding them on a regular basis as Holmgren’s 12th of creatively using and responding to change, with a counterintuitive sprinkle of his 9th of using small and slow solutions (the perpetual beta as small-scale design for change)

7. Cooperate, Don't Control – supporting lightweight programming models that allow for loosely-coupled systems as Holmgren’s 8th of integrating rather than segregating (cooperation as integration, segregation as control)

8. Software Above the Level of a Single Device – designing applications to integrate services across handheld devices as (yet again) Holmgren’s 8th of integrating rather than segregating (devices as elements that perform multiple functions and/or functions supported by multiple elements)

Which leaves the question of how to incorporate:

1. observe and interact
7. design from patterns to details
10. use and value diversity

into Web 2.0. Or 3.0. Or Webs. So…when can we start up the Macy Conferences again?

twittering our way to prosperity

Prosper facilitates direct people-to-people lending. Twitter facilitates direct people-to-people social networking and microblogging. Mash them up for direct lender-to-borrower social networking and microblogging. Add Kiva for networking and microblogging between developed-country lenders and developing-country borrowers. So Ms. Lender can see that in the course of taking a yoga class, going to the farmer's market, having lunch with a friend, and picking up the kids from soccer practice, Ms. Borrower has walked to the stream to wash clothes and walked back. Yes, this is crudely stereotypified. And yes, if only Ms. Borrower could twitter in the first place. But it may have something to do with the singularity.


alien diplomacy

Wag the Dog x Children of Men x Aliens = alien diplomacy. Forget about troop surges and never-ending negotiations. Just deploy UFOs and aliens. That’ll stop things at least for long enough to think about more existential matters, like our place in the universe.

social calendaring x RSS

Instead of subscribing to event listings on your own or having to copy & paste events into a social calendar, just have the listings that you and your friends subscribe to automatically feed into one collective calendar. Then you can compare options and smartly mob the best one.

if you're scared that “virtual reality” is replacing “real reality”

...(and you know who you are), don't be. Sure, if you zoom in real close, some of us may go through a virtual dark age for a sec. But if you zoom out again, all this virtual stuff will just make us (re-)enamored with the real thing. Because we could have never made it this good. We'll wander reality as if it were virtuality, and wonder how in the world that designer made the dog bark just as the wind brushed my neck while the light changed and the smell of that woman’s cigarette permeated my olfactory jurisdiction. Experience a busy street intersection. And imagine trying to design it. The question is not whether we'll choose virtuality or reality. But the age-old one of who is the we that gets to choose what.

where does MySpace end and Wikipedia begin?

Wherever we want. You can just as easily post your MySpace page on Wikipedia and voilà: you're in “the biggest multilingual free-content encyclopedia on the Internet." (Yes, this happens all the time, but I'm not pointing any hrefs here.) So it would be kinda cute to have a button that automatically booted a Wikipedia page onto MySpace. Kinda cute but kinda dangerous.

can you please spare a cell phone call?

Carrying only plastic is such a comforting excuse for not acquiescing to panhandlers. But with mobile financial services, money can be transferred between cell phones. 'No change to spare? All good, just put your friend on hold for a sec and transfer it directly to my cell.'

a revolution for the revolution

Dance, Dance, Revolution as the interface for telecommuting to the sweatshop.


virtual terraforming

According to network topology, the topology of any directed network – such as the internet – consists of four continents: 1) a central 'core,' whose sites are highly interconnected, 2) an 'in' region, whose sites link to the central core, 3) an 'out' region, whose sites are linked to from the core, and 4) 'tendrils' and 'disconnected islands,' whose sites aren't linked to/from the core, or are completely disconnected from the rest of the internet.

This topology affects how we surf the web. The continents give some surfing spots more gravitational pull than others. And the uni-directionality of links creates swells, for example from the ‘in’ to the ‘core’ and from the ‘core’ to the ‘out.’

Imagine if a smart mob of netizens inhabiting the 'in' continent broke their hrefs to a particular site in the ‘core,’ and re-directed them towards a ‘disconnected island,’ effectively bringing the ‘core’ site ‘in’ and the ‘island’ ashore. Or if linkbacks and reverselinks were deployed to create bi-directionality and alter the swells of internet topology (yes, this is my self-reflexive way of landing my blog on Greg Niemeyer's website).

So what? Think about what search engines do and don’t find. Think about the power law distribution of website traffic. Think about news, political campaigns, e-commerce. And think about more at the website of network topologist named Albert-Lazslo Barabasi.

Then taste a hint of virtual terraforming in the Passively Multiplayer Online Game (PMOG), where you can use lightposts to choreograph web surfs and link previously unlinked web pages together. Imagine if the web, as terraformed by PMOGers, were search-able with Google's search algorithm. How might search results differ between GOOG and PMOG? Imagine if treasures and mines could be deployed not only on web pages, but in the links between them. What might it say about a page if all the links that pointed to it were laced with mines? It starts to sound something like semantic web-weaving.

Although it can either network or notwork, hyperlinking becomes political. And it's this politically-motivated hyperlinking for purposes of shaping internet topology that I call virtual terraforming. Though you could also call it cyber-landscaping or other things. (Note that this is closely related but not the same as Google bombing/Googlewashing.) A revolution in virtual terraforming feels nigh as linking undergoes the trajectory of categorization. They're even talking about it here on Wikipedia.