Blog posts tagged "information"

FriendFeed is too much info

May 2nd, 2008


One of the key topics (I think) in my Casual Privacy talk last week was the importance of “context” in privacy and sharing. That some people have trouble understanding how fundamental context is to all social interactions was my primary take away from SG Foo, and I’ve been preaching it quietly where I can.

All by way of saying, I made one of my rare visits to FriendFeed this evening, and I was reminded that I consistently regret it. Breaking down those contextual walls means I consistently like the people I find there less then I did when I was able to interact with them in isolated manners; fire walling the aesthetic from the technical from the political from the personal.

We need routing not aggregation.

Making Netflix “Smarter”

June 4th, 2007

Darts and cobwebs part II

NYTimes has an article on the ongoing Netflix recommendation open challenge thing. ($1mil to a team that can produce the best collaborative filtering mouse trap)

Unfortunately the project is flawed, because the basic question is flawed, fundamentally and in a very simple way. We have moods, we have shifting interests, and trying to compile all those multi-variates into a single vector of interest is impossible.

Rather then making the computers super smart, I’d rather see an interface like the Pandora channel creation where you choose 2-4 songs that suit your mood and the system finds the common elements.

Tonight at the video store I wanted something that was smart and fast enough to be engaging, without being so smart that it took work to follow. Maybe a political thriller? If I could have mixed a recommendation queue out of 3 Days of the Condor meets Wag the Dog meets something like Enemy of the State to find something in that vein that would have been better then all the weighted neural nets.

And I’ll wave the million dollars if they just build it already.

Not sure where this systemic biasis for computer as deep thinker comes from, probably dates all the way back to the Ultra project and other primordial computer science legends. But its the wrong metaphor here and now, smarter, smaller tools to extend the human reach, not replace humans.

(can you tell I didn’t find my movie?)

Photo by wili

On Book Listing Services

November 6th, 2005

For years I’ve wanted a decent website where I can manage my relationship with books. (not especially complicated, but voluminous)

For a while there was largely nothing, then there was Allconsuming which was wonderful, but slowly died, and went dark before being re-incarnated in the mold of a 43x tool. And I have this memory of there being a nifty little $14/mo tool, back in the days when I didn’t pay for websites, but I wasn’t able to find it.

Last Fall, I started sketching down notes towards building my own, and in the intervening year its become an interestingly crowded space. (who knew so many other people felt the pull) Even in the 6 weeks since I first started jotting down sites for this blog post, the space has evolved with LibraryThing coming out solidly on top as the most active: most actively developed, most actively used, and most actively engaged developer.

That said, in a cursory search (mostly of my links) I turned up 5 other very similar services

Also the Bookshelf example app from 24L, and the intersting related services What Should I Read Next?, and Library Elf

None of them are quite there yet, and I want more, more, more!

Read the rest of this entry »

Tagging isn’t Classifying, And Other Uses of Tags

January 20th, 2005

People are still too stiff and rigid with their tagging technique. Loosen up. You don’t have to find the “right category” to put something into, that is part of the tyranny and inflexibility of a classification scheme that we’re trying to get away from. Don’t tell me what it is, the “truth” of it as it were. Tell my why it matters.

For example I use the tag “inspiration” to keep track of ideas I want to steal, or think about more on my various projects. (inspiration+redesign are my first notes towards a Magpie re-design)

Variations on toread, and *toread are in wide use as useful meta-tags, and a handful of people are using variants to track specific research projects, or tasks.

Marnie is experimenting with the tag nptech to build a community of non-profit tech workers, we’re using a different tag for the our anarchist tech work, and there are a handful of bibliographies being organized around a specific indicator tag.

And lastly don’t be afraid to build combos. One of the key ways tags work is the set logic of multiple tags. They’re your links on redesign inspiration, javascript usability, Boston bakeries, or Photoshop books. Much like with wikis, the meaning arises not from the individual components, but when you ram them together to indicate a single new concept. (and I won’t even make you use CamelCase)

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A Future for Paper

November 19th, 2003

The essay that got away is a favorite character of mine, and shows up in many of my stories. As you can see from the link above, you were going to be treated to a thoughtful, and philosophical treatise on: the future, the idea of paperlessness, and the works of Kristine Smith. However, prompted by Aaron’s revisiting of the topic, here a few notes, and a book review, scrawled by the fading phosphors on a windy, rainy night.

A few weeks back Matt Haughey asked, why are we still using reciepts? We live in a computerized society, why is information still externalized onto pieces of paper? Aaron expounded on the fragility of digital information: digital media’s cycle of obsolescence, the illusion of always on electricity/net, blogs’ rather dismal prospects as bath time reading. Matt Web however got to crux of what interests me about the issue when he said paper receipts are primary keys to a distributed database. You see Haughey’s model requires a centralized database which is implicitly trusted.

One of the core American myths (and to a large, but lesser extent, all of Western society) is the myth of progress — the constant drum beat of the march to the future, a linear progression that renders the old bad, and the new both better and inevitable.


  • books were to be doomed by the information superhighway
  • a love of paper understandable for aesthetic and nostalgic reasons, but on its way out.
  • blogging is supposed to replace/kill old media because it is so democratic/innovative/natural.

One of the favorite tropes of this march of progress is “paperlessness”: the paperless office, the paperless government (egovernment), and, apparently, paperless shopping. A brave new future of the receipt repudiated by the database.

Interestingly current events are starting to wake us, as a society, up to the value of paper. It seems that a central database, affectionate known in the literature as a “Big Brother” model, is vulnerable to a variety attacks, a broad subclass of which fall under the moniker of “Diebold attacks”. Apparently large, central databases, without proper, verifiable audit trails, have some issues. (Google pdf2html version) All of a sudden some people are asking for paper tickets (also known as “recipets”), a total contradiction to our consensus on what the future looks like!

Which makes it fascinating to read Kristine Smith’s scifi trilogy (Code of Conduct, Rules of Conflict, Law of Survival) featuring aging heroine Jani Killian as a “document examiner”, and 2 distinct cultures (one of them alien) built upon (or at least seen through the lense of) paper, paper trails, paper handling, and verifiability. Part religion, part art, utterly techie (such cool gear!), the paper system, and document examiners (dexxies) stitch together the consensus reality of the intergalactic future. The books project forward from trends of today where digital data and records are easily forgeable, and photography no longer meets the criteria of proof in many courts. Dexxies are the hacker-esque trained specialist that keeps the it all working.

At first I was a bit turned off by Smith’s use of words like “shooter” and “skimmers”, they sound like baby talk. No society is going to refer to its weapon as a shooter, not even as slang, sounds moronic, and it is a classic first scifi novel mistake. I almost put the books down at that point, and wrote her off. I’m glad I didn’t as the paper system is utterly unique in my experience of the genre (or any genre). The only futurist I’ve encountered who did take the Micosoftian (think Faustian) hype that we’d all be moving to a paperless existence to heart. Instead she did some original thinking about the evolution of human interactions with information with interesting results.

As a geek/hacker/trained specialist in charge of today’s communication infrastructure I found the paper system to be Smith’s most interesting creation. However her idomeni, alien creators of the paper system, are also quite good, and reminiscent of Cherryh’s Foreigner books. (in fact Cherryh writes the cover blurb for book 3, as Asaro did for book 2, and Moon for book 1) They suffer a bit from “Atevi syndrome” which says that in order to have a really indepth exploration of an alien’s psyche you have to make them pretty damn human, or it is just too alien to be meaningful. Reality is still much more alien then fiction, but Smith is hardly unique in failing that metric.

Code of Conduct is her first book and a bit rough, but over the next two books she settles down to writing good, strong, character driven fiction (which unfortunately seems to have become code for “scifi written by a women”, but I digress) with hackers as heroes, and some genuine insight into the nature of technology.

Lastly, for all I find Smith’s paper system compelling, I would like reiterate my plea for a decent ebook implementation.

  • Writing up these notes would have been greatly facilitated by a full text search feature built into the book
  • I would have felt distinctly less uncomfortable carrying, and reading these books in public if I’d been carrying a generic ebook reader, as Eos has seen fit to saddle them with truly hideous covers as if they got jobbed out to someone who usually works for Harlequin. (Kristine keeps the faith, it only took Bujold a dozen critically acclaimed novels, winning every major genre award, and switching publishers to get a decent cover.)

.pps, in Laws of Survival the rebellious Haarin give a most damning condemnation of the Liberal “play nice” strategy of social change. Warmed the heart.

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Quick Links from the Underground

November 21st, 2002


Mark is back from his near month long hiatus, and on fire.

newdoor – is an aggregator that learns using seed data from Blogging Ecosystem. Usable agents, and the promise of webservices in one fell swoop.

He is also talking about how hard it is being perfect, and the traps of XHTML 1.1.


Over at the boingboing guest blog, Clay Shirky has also been on fire.

Continueing the theme of group forming found in new door, Shirky hilights seminal documents in 3 online communities (LambdaMOO, Slashdot, and Wikipedia), in his post Morning constitutional(scroll down), links to work on developing a social rhetoric, and links to the oldie, but still relevant, The Tyranny of Structurelessness.

Online Organizing Sucks

I’ve got lots of links, ideas, and rants about group forming, online organizing, and managing discussions all bubbling inside my head right now. No time to blog them. Hopefully soon.

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