My Goals for NYU’s ITP Program

I’m really excited to be starting my Master’s in Professional Studies program at New York University for the Interactive Telecommunications Program in August. In a way, it’s a true culmination of all the things I’ve been doing on my own OUTSIDE of school for so long. BBS‘ing and Sierra Networking in high school, telnetting and MUDding and daytrading and webdesigning in college, blogging and searching in the Army, coding a bit at Georgetown. Not really finding folks who found value in doing anything technical in any of those tribes.

I don’t know how this program will end up, but given that it’s throwing people headfirst into Arduino circuitboards, coding, hacking, social media remixing, designing, creating…I’m hoping to find peers who love to experiment and play and make.

Having seen various sectors of the American economy while living in CA/DC/TN/TX/IZ, particularly the knowledge economy, what I’ve been struck by most has been the lack of technical knowledge. People know their tiny sliver of the world, such as collateralized debt obligations, US-Pakistan policy, aid packages, writing reports…but anything broader than that knowledge is usually treading on very delicate ground. Even in some of the more technical areas I’ve worked in (military intel, social media, innovation projects), there is literally no knowledge of or curiosity for experimentation or remixing.

When I see people who don’t tweet or blog or have much of a presence online, particularly when they claim to be pretty digitally savvy, it makes me wonder. Twitter is all about remixing ideas, combining cultures and taboos and tribes. It’s a swirl of information waiting to produce the next memes or companies or news or collaborative one-offs. To me, not only is this environment fascinating, versatile, and by its nature educational, it also is a cauldron for the next generation of successful projects and people. It’s a testing ground for future successful workers. How can you compete in the working environment if you can’t keep up digitally? I understand if you don’t like computers or the internet, but it’s your own livelihood.

About a year ago, before I applied or even knew what I was going to do, I quit my job for 2.5 months. I got to enjoy the DC summer, but mainly I was coding full-time for my personal project,, having no clue where it would go or how it would ever be more than just a dumb idea. But I was super-frustrated with where my career was going. I wanted to build, to create, to do more with my hands. I think I called several family members and friends looking for advice. I ended up applying for ITP (and nowhere else), shelving for a bit, and returning to work. In April I found out I got in.

The way I see it, heading to NYC, the most creative, diverse, urban, and pragmatic city in the world (I’d argue), to finally be a true geek, I can only see this as a huge personal victory, a huge opportunity to be myself and to create a lot of great things that are useful to a lot of people.

And since I’m older this time around, and have an international development/international affairs Master’s under my belt from the best IR school in the world, this time I know I should have a plan of attack. is what I’d like to be my life’s work.  It’s what I want to be known for.  An open reputation system providing alternative forms of credit and trust, verified through a balance of different interests, using all your life’s data to compute what kind of person you are.

I want my projects to all work on some aspect of, to test its weaknesses and experiment with what it could eventually look like or become.


Prototype Glasses with Visual Augmentation for Reputation

To that end, I want to build the glasses used in Daniel Suarez’s Daemon and Freedom (TM).  Regular-looking glasses that you put on, plugging you into digital layers that show reputational score layers next to someone’s image, route planning towards your next objective, visuals of your level and trade (Level 19 Farmer, Level 3 Government Analyst, etc.) and others, digital inventories you can use with real-world objects, etc.  Augmented reality is being worked on at the platform level, but I’d like to build a functional prototype of some sort (PDF).

Prototype Location-Aware RFID Organizer Bins and Objects

Cory Doctorow’s Makers had his two tinkerers create a cheap and easy tech that consisted of RFID chips in containers and on objects, so that when you needed to locate something in your closet, you could call it up and the container it was in would glow for you so you could find it faster.  RFID and its intermixing with IPv6, linked data, and object reputation will lead to greater connectedness between the digital and real world, and will enhance our ability to interact with the real by mapping the computational digital world onto it.  It’s pretty kludgy the way we look at a real-world object (a book) and then google or amazon it online.

Video Editing

We have already reached textual literacy on the internet.  To the extent that we can remix and reuse text without violating the horrible, innovation-choking copyright laws that currently exist, we’re actually pretty good at finding, searching, and sharing text.  With bandwidth and storage and access increasing for video, we will need to reach video literacy next.  I already know that my posting a video will have far fewer hits than if I post just text.  Many people don’t want to watch a long video, or are at work and are blocked from YouTube.  But once a video goes viral, it has far more of an impact.  I would like to capture some sort of Marshall McLuhanesque understanding of video and get smart on video, Final Cut Pro, AfterEffects.  Video editing I see similar to web design — it’s a way to create and express your own view of the world without relying on others to make it for you.  And now that video is social and allows for feedback, through perhaps the most important tech given to us after the dotcom revolution besides Google (no, not Twitter or Facebook), YouTube:

Music Creation

Instead of being a guy on his night out at the club, I always wanted to own the club, or be playing the music for the club.  While I have no musical ability, I think I’ve at least accumulated enough knowledge from a broad enough swath of songs to be able to start mixing them together.  The tools for music creation, however, are somewhat arcane.  I want to get more comfortable with it.  Out of my straight-laced DC policy/analyst friends, I have seen their better parts/personalities emerge only when drunk and on the dance floor.  That is the power of music and communitas with alcohol and Cee Lo Green-revealed magic of Friday and Saturday night.


I have a few other projects I want to prototype.

ProbablyGonna. DC culture consists of a bunch of people who live in the District and want to go to happy hours/networking events EVERY NIGHT.  I came to DC and went immediately to Georgetown, so I had a built-in group of friends to hang with.  I have a feeling people in DC have a bunch of different circles and tribes they hang with, so the best way to meet up is not necessarily blast e-mails or FourSquare checkins.  What might work best is you signaling your intent to go out on certain nights on the calendar.  Say you want to have a night of clubbing on Friday night, until late, and maybe you want to do Adams Morgan.  You signal that on ProbablyGonna (as in, I’m probably gonna do this on Friday), and anyone else connected with you can signal their intent to do the same.  It’s not mutually exclusive to other events, so you could signal for multiple events.  This solves the FourSquare problem of knowing someone is at a location after they’re there, or in most cases, long after they’ve left.

Men’s tailoring. Most men do not know how to dress.  They certainly don’t own the essentials, the basics, for different social events.  What if you go to a site, select that you want a “business casual” outfit for work, enter your rough dimensions, and order a pretty basic outfit of a suit, shirt, starter tie, socks, shoes, underwear, belt, cufflinks, watch?  Then that kit either goes to a local tailor working with my company, or it goes to you and you schedule your time with the tailor later.  The tailor establishes a personal relationship with you and zeroes in your dimensions for the clothing.  The tailor then mends your kit, and gives you a business casual basic outfit that actually fits you, flatters your shape, and is worth far more than a regular tailoring job.  The best part?  Over time, your purchases get better.  Different outfits (going out Friday, wedding, weekend wear) go straight to the tailor, who tailors your kit, then gives it over to you.  It helps you dress far better for your body shape, it helps the tailor develop clients, it helps my company move product.  Then I can also sell you your pieces of personality, usually in the tie, the socks, shoes, kerchief, etc.

Reputation badges for your outfits:  piggy-backing on You unlock badges that you wear on your clothing or bags when you go out.  They have QR codes or some other unique form of code (e.g. Itizen TRACKit).  Say you’re an excellent wingman and have saved three mates.  You get a wingman badge with two oakleaf clusters.  Or you know CPR.  You get a CPR tab (designates a skill, not an accomplishment).  Designated driver?  Badge.  This mirrors the military uniform system of achievements.  Clothing subconsciously is used to denote class, personality, and tribal association, but we’ve lost individuation and accomplishment that Papua New Guinea and Maori and other tribes used tattoos for, or Roman colors for their togas.  I want to bring that back.  Using’s reputation system as the backend and standardization platform.

So in short I want to play with things.  I don’t expect to get good at any one thing.  I’m not sure I will be very good at 3D printing or laser cutting or making actual models of things, having no prior design background, but I’ll give it a shot.

Setting the Tone

Those are the actual products.  Mostly what I want to do is create things that are useful and happy.  Two of the biggest problems among Internet-Americans is that they 1) have no clue how to make tech that benefits the poor, weak, and under-represented, and 2) they get too cynical or unhappy.  Fortunately NYC is taking on the personality of a digital city, thanks to Mayor Bloomberg and his efforts to push the city online, including appointing a Chief Digital Officer, Rachel Sterne.  As for me, I’ve realized how happiness and laughter and fun make more of a difference in peoples’ everyday lives than being sarcastic, sardonic, cynical, pessimistic, or mean.  While I’m sarcastic and dark in my humor, I want to try being happy.  I want to make peoples’ lives better and happier.  I want to stay away from the easy, which is being critical, doubtful, and resentful, while at the same time being pragmatic, useful, and iconoclastic.

So that’s what I want out of the next two years.  Hold me accountable to it.


When people talk about Wikileaks and transparency, I think what they mean to talk about is accountability.

The US government and other organizations did not choose to release this info.  They did not choose to say in public the same thing they say in private, and to allow the public to see within to verify this.  What Wikileaks is doing is holding the various actors involved in its leaks accountable for what they say in private.  It is disrupting the actions done in secret by outing them, as one essay by zunguzungu, much re-tweeted and linked to online in the past week, explains.

Are the Wikileaks cables damaging?  I believe in a free and open society for the United States, and I believe the Wikileaks dump would be far more devastating to a closed government.

Such leaks do not necessarily change the power structure that already exists; the United States is still the global hegemon, China would still retain an authoritarian government that sought “harmony” instead of the “chaos” of democracy, and geopolitics would still dominate, even if countries were found in a lie.

If anything, the public is far more informed.  Maybe the actors involved already knew the contents of the leaks.  But we as a whole now have no excuse for not knowing. (beyond being banned from reading them by our $employers)

Wikileaks would have far more devastating effects, for example, on corporations.  Evidence of fraud or murder or other crimes would bring legal repercussions in most countries, and other companies would quickly fill the gap and pillage the offending company’s brand and identity.

So also people have been asking if we should trust Wikileaks more than the government.  It’s the wrong way to look at things.  No one should always be trusted — what we should seek is an approximation of the truth, based on corroboration and reputation.  We can expect groups to always represent an issue in the light fairest to them.  Knowing this, why don’t we set up systems that allow multiple sides to share the information, present their case, and calculate the best approximation in the middle?

For example, if we know that the US government will say one thing, and a respected journalist says other thing, and Wikileaks says the government actually internally said another thing, and the target country said yet another thing, shouldn’t the best thing be to know all of these sides and figure out what the truth is likely to be?

What if, for elections, votes would go to different entities?  You go place your vote and it goes to the government, a government & voting rights watchdog, and the press?  If anyone’s numbers are off, then we know that someone was doing it wrong.  The different entities have different motivations for presenting their side of the truth.  It, ideally, is a balance of power.

Granted, different entities can be corrupted.  The journalist tribe has been successfully corrupted by government interests (or anti-government interests, in some cases), while its job should be to fact-check everyone else, as well as itself.  People often say the Supreme Court has become politicized and does not strictly adhere enough to what the original documents or the latest precedents say, being influenced by politics and other players instead.

But the more variety we have in the entities who have access to information, the more we can approximate what the truth is and figure out why the outliers had their numbers wrong.  Granted, these entities need to be authenticated, they should adhere to standards, etc., since a direct democratic system would leave us in a similar state as we currently have (where money dominates).

We can’t design perfect one-party systems like having one authority for verifying all votes or clearing all information for release.  There are always flaws.  Centrality draws those who seek to control it.

We also know from recent history that elections do not equal democracy, and also we’ve learned more about the mechanics of corruption.  We’ve learned how even the most ethical organizations can be corrupted into collusion or bribery or ideology.  We have the technology (encryption, cloud, bandwidth, software pliability) to be able to build multi-agent verification systems.

The reason it doesn’t happen is because we do not want it.  It also doesn’t happen, for the reason that people distrust openness and flee to privacy in the name of security.  Trying to remain invisible is not a viable strategy in a world where it’s becoming easier and easier to unearth your personal data, your shopping data, large intelligence caches, internal corporate memos, etc.  What we should do is not attempt security through obfuscation, but build in actual security measures instead of security theater.  What we should do is turn it all on its head, and trust in open accountability systems to keep each other honest.

Self-Aware Building Blocks

The internet of things is fast approaching.  It’s the idea that all objects will eventually be networked, if not to the internet then at least to contextually relevant networks to those objects.  We are still waiting for IPv6 to take off, giving trillions of objects unique IDs in our universe so we can refer to them, address to them, interact with them.  We are also waiting for a wireless protocol that will be more appropriate for a physical world that doesn’t want to be wired.  Wifi cards are cheaper and smaller now, but not quite cheap enough to be throw-aways.  WiMAX is still struggling with adoption, but at least it is competing with some other standards.  Also we can use RFID chips to poll objects, but that requires using a device that itself can be hooked up to the network.  That device is still tethered as well.

The good news there is that the FCC just announced its support for some finalized rules surrounding white spaces, meaning there will be some new unlicensed spectrum now for anyone to use without a permit.  I consider this to be a game changer.  We could see some new innovations now that all the devices crammed into the space where cordless phones and garage door openers fight over spectrum will have more room to play in.

So the pieces are being built.

I got to thinking about an idea that I first saw in Cory Doctorow’s book Makers, in which two inventor buddies convert to commercial scale an idea where RFID chips on objects are used to help people organize their stuff.  So when someone is looking for this or that object, the tub or bin it is placed in will glow a certain color to indicate where it is.  The idea is that the tub or bin knows that the object which was uniquely identified (or I guess you could even identify it by class of object or any other variable, including who it’s owned by) is inside itself.

When I went to NYC, I went to Toys ‘r Us and spent considerable time looking at their Lego sets.  I used to have a big garbage bag full of Legos as a kid, and I’d used to construct some pretty cool intergalactic warships or major military bases with them.  Now Lego pretty much sells complete sets to build certain objects, although you can still buy some tubs full of pieces that make a lot of noise as you scrounge around inside them looking for that piece you really want.  They should line those tubs with felt or something.

Anyway.  one thing I always worry about with jigsaws or board games or Legos is losing pieces.  Losing one makes the whole thing incomplete.  Obviously this is more important in board games or in a deck of cards.  But unless you have a lot of Lego sets, you won’t have spares.

So what if you could poll your Lego set and it would look for all its brother and sister pieces and report back a manifest to see which parts were missing, if any?

Now, what if you could be online and query your Lego collection to see if you have the parts to make someone else’s idea/recipe?  Is there something to be said for not having all the pieces, but finding a separate way to make it work?  What if you were required to build a Lego object in the real world, which upon its completion would let the internet know it was completed, thus unlocking achievements or imbuing that object with some digital power? (an idea from the book Daemon (TM))  So, say, you built a city block out of Lego (check out these awesome city sets that Lego has), it would unlock benefits to your digital neighborhood in an online game, like improved grocery logistics, less crime, more tax revenues, etc.  This melding of real world properties with digital properties is the future.

You’re going to have classrooms where kids for their homework will build things, which report the progress to other students and to the teacher online, where there’ll be both automated feedback and criticism/support from the peers and teacher.  Being online won’t be an idle thing like it mostly was for my generation (beyond building our own computers, soldering some things, etc.), because people will be building stuff to unlock things in the digital world.  And vice versa.  The two will interact.

There’ll be some more generic applications of self-aware building blocks too.  If a street light notices that its parts have been separated, it might be able to detect it was hit by a car and report that.  Grocery lists will report that you’re still missing an ingredient while you’re at the grocery store.  Maybe you’ll be like Indiana Jones, traveling the world to collect relics that, when placed in proximity with each other or used at a certain geographical site, will unlock a secret temple.  After all, one inventor using Arduino and GPS geolocation already made a wedding gift puzzle box that only opens when it’s taken to a small island near France.

Excited yet?

NPC Archetypes & Reputation

I’m reading “Everyware:  The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing” by Adam Greenfield and he’s expertly thought and researched about the mediation of technology and cultural norms as a result of computers and sensors that exist in every object and medium in our lives.  He gets to talking about how designing the interface for a real-world system is full of fuzzy areas and uncertainties and multiple users, while up till now, most of our software takes it for granted that one user is readily identifiable (the source of the input it receives), has error-catching and ..else conditionals, etc.

He describes how the artifacts of the future meat/virtual space will have to discern our intentions based on the subtle cues that we give and receive through decades of social conditioning as a species.  Until then, the devices will continue to seem clumsy and feel nowhere close to passing a Turing test.

So I was thinking that maybe gaming will be the first area in which this kind of smart intuition will take place.  But even now, computer AI is retarded in games.  It is almost as if the AI is an afterthought for designers who are more interested in coding other aspects of a game.

It’s also probably a pain because the wheel gets reinvented each time.  Each game codes its own AI from scratch unless it licenses an engine, but even then, the designers still have to build the AI to their specific event.

And this got me thinking to another significant problem with any sort of project:  lack of crowdsourcing.  Why would people (particularly 1 or 2 developers) devote more time to things like AI which will only last as long as software is selling on Steam or in the stores?  Why invest in building a community or a feature if no one will use it after a few months?

So what if NPCs (non-player characters) and AI had a standard character set for use across disciplines, games, online user interfaces, etc.?  What if you built different archetypes of bots that could be tweaked for whatever project it was needed for?  What if the AI archetype’s behavior was networked?  That is, say someone meets a female paladin archetype in a Q&A forum for a company and interacts with it, and the results of that interaction are shared to all the other instances of that archetype in other settings (video games, online sexbots, car dashboard interface) so they can all learn specific lessons about interacting with humans?

This would mean they’d learn over time and be enduring archetypes that we want to interact with.  If one instance of a thief learns that it will get in trouble looking a little too suspicious in one online venue, it might disguise itself better in another setting (a multi-player RPG).  AI entities flagged as “tech support” or “Q&A” might collectively share their wisdom just because they are given that same descriptor of tech support.  Different AI entities belonging to “you” would all share your preferences.  Or not.  Maybe you want to have unique experiences and build bonds with them separately.

I don’t know.  I can just see a future where we will be interacting with bots a lot more, and we will expect those bots to have some continuity and to learn about us to make our lives better and easier.  And I think this will require some highly-networked AI pulling from tens of thousands of interactions with real humans to develop something truly useful — otherwise we’ll just have what we get now:  a bunch of throwaway code that barely accomplishes the task of discerning human intention.

Hot-Hand Theory

My friend MonkeyPope gave me the book “The House Advantage:  Playing the Odds to Win Big in Business” by Jeffrey Ma, knowing full well I’d love reading it.  Ma is one of the members of the MIT team that Ben Mezrich wrote about in “Bringing Down the House:  The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas”, about a team that made a fortune off signalling and counting cards at casino blackjack tables.

One of my favorite discussions in The House Advantage was on hot-hand theory, the idea that people can go on streaks, or simply, that you are more likely to succeed this time because you succeeded the last time, a violation of statistical randomness in most situations.

I think we’ve all sensed that when we are watching a sporting event, sometimes one team may be losing but it’s outplaying the other team and has merely gotten some bad breaks.  Then that team blows it open in the second half and wins.  We’ve seen Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant line up for the shot at the buzzer, knowing they’ll make it.  We’ve seen Big Shot Bob or Derek Fisher take a 3 from the corner after a good ball rotation.  We’ve seen Favre and Elway lead their teams down the field at the end of the game, despite having a horrible rest of the game with no offensive movement.

What’s interesting is that people react to things wildly differently.  Some people see a disaster and run away from it or freeze up, while some charge forward into the fray to see if they can help.  Some athletes lose all their motivation after they’ve sealed a multi-million dollar contract.  Some seem to lose their hunger after they’ve won everything; just look at Roger Federer after he completed his career grand slam.  Some people would make a big shot or throw a nice pass and then feel like they didn’t deserve it, and they start missing the rest of their shots.  Some people always believe resolutely that they will make every shot, and so succeeding gives them even more confidence to feed off of.

These are microcosms of peoples’ larger personalities.  Some push harder when they win or lose, some relent.  Said Dr. John Eliot, by way of Jeffrey Ma, “One shot does not influence another shot.  One shot influences your psychology, and that psychology influences the next shot.”

There are some days when you go out to exercise and you just don’t feel up to it.  While you know how to do what you’re doing, your body doesn’t respond the way you need it to, no matter how much you’ve practiced.  Part of drilling is that your body starts to do certain tasks (like shooting a basketball) naturally or even mechanically, no matter how your mind, heart, or body feel.

There are other times when your legs feel like lead, but then you start making a couple shots and you snap into it.  Or you make a really nice shot and then your legs seem to give way the rest of the time, as your body ran out of juice.

Ma fortunately concludes nicely, saying, “It does a tremendous disservice to the statistics community as a whole if you walk into an audience with anyone who has played sports and champion the theory that there is no such thing as the hot hand. …  I believe that there are some shooters who at times become more confident due to early success, and this confidence leads to future success, that is, the hot hand.”

So how to build this into a real-world system?  You would need to take quantitative data about someone’s life within the context of his qualitative general mood, outlook on life, and typical response to pressure/success/failure.  Two people could have reached the same point but through vastly different ends of the extreme.  Like anything data-intensive, I guess, context is key.

Certainly we are not all just numbers, but shouldn’t we try to explore why and how we generate the numbers that we do?

Updates and Screenshots of Progress

So you may rightly ask what I’ve been working on since I left my full-time job to work on

Basically, I’ve spent 3-8 hours a day pretty much converting what I’ve worked on into a more modular format in PHP, and I’ve had to learn jQuery, which has certainly made the prototyping and constructing the UX much faster and easier.

As you can see below, I envision Galapag.users being able to confirm or deny information that other people add to your profile.  There is a stream of updates that have been confirmed about you.

I haven’t consolidated the navigation or really spent a lot of time figuring out how a person would best use the site, so I’ve just been adding a lot of different entry points into menus for adding info about others.  I hate being on a web site that won’t let me interact exactly when I want to, instead of where it wants me to, and immediacy will be a key for both in providing less impulsively biased info and in collecting MORE data.

screenshot of main profile and addition menus

Below I was just playing with an autocomplete search/console box.

search/console autocomplete

Below is the “evolution sandbox”, where you can create new evolutions (or equations/formulae).  Basically all you have to do is click on the buttons for the variables you want to add, which then enter the variable into the text box below as a “dummy” variable.  That is, it’s (x * 1).  If x exists, then x = 1, so 1 * 1 is added to the final score.  You can of course change the 1 to whatever multiplier you want.  So if you had an SAT score of 600, you might set the multiplier to 0.2 so that 120 points are added to the final score.

I still need to add global variables.  So that your total # of books, the total # of users, etc. can be added.

Definitely I’m influenced by Pandora’s attempt to give individual songs “genomes”.  These are basically tags that help humans create taxonomies for finding things in the way that humans search:  I’m looking for an evolution that predicts good baseball ability, but someone else’s evolution they created may not include “baseball” in any part of the evolution, so tagging it will allow people to find it.

building evolution equations

Once an evolution has been saved, you can vote on it, and create a derivation (by “evolving” it).  It will spit out a total for you based on your own data, and also calculate the maximum number possible in that evolution, thus giving you a “rating”.

browsing evolutions

Here’s a menu that you can access through a mention of any other person’s name.  Still working it out but definitely I think that people will want to classify relationships with other people based on how public it is.  That is, if I’m attracted to some chick and we’ve only gone on a first date, my private status with her might be “sexual interest”, but publicly I may have her as “acquaintance” and between the both of us (bilateral), I may be a “friend”.

changing your interactions with another user

Obviously I’m still working on a lot of data entry-type stuff.  This is pretty tedious, making sure the user can interact with the backend.

I’d rather be working on some of the higher-order stuff.  I think it’d be interesting to be building new evolutions that cross several spheres (including educational variables inside an evolution based around sports).  I think it’d be interesting to start crunching the data in the database and pushing out new hypotheses for people to talk about.

For instance, if people were entering in their individual clothing item data, could they gather more easily to find out where to get another one, or to trade?  Would this be a better way to associate than by google searching?

One could quickly figure out what data men and women tend to focus on when they first get into  Etc.

So right now I’m constrained by a lack of data since I’m the only one who’s really using the thing right now.  But that means I’m focusing on the core of the platform.

It’s slow-going and I could use the help…but I do enjoy doing this full-time for the first time.

Thoughts?  Suggestions?  Can you help?  It’s a pretty simple jQuery, PHP, MySQL project codebase…

Everyday Interactions That Suck

Accountability/transparency start-ups could tackle some of these things that suck:

People (Can we start holding people accountable for being douches?)

  • People who don’t respond to email ever
  • People who are too cool to respond to your email
  • People who email you and then call to see if you got the email
  • People who declare “inbox bankruptcy”
  • People who don’t keep their inbox clean (by archiving) so they “miss” your email mixed in with junk and spam

Job Hunting (Can we start holding companies accountable for being incompetent?)

  • Companies with retarded job requirements that no one could ever fill
  • Companies that don’t list salary ranges for positions
  • Companies that don’t acknowledge job application submissions
  • Companies that make you convert/type your resume into their database instead of just uploading .doc/.pdf
    • Having to create separate entries for each job/address/school
    • Having to fix their shit because the text converter put your NAME in the CITY box (thx Ichabod)
  • Companies that make you jump through hoops beyond a resume before you even get an email/call back
  • USAJobs and its retarded application system that makes you fill out each GS-level qualification, and then go to a 3rd party recruiter to complete it
  • Waiting months to hear back from a company.  Really?!  Who are these people who wait that long?
  • Companies that don’t tell you whether they even looked at your application or denied you
  • 20,000 interviews to maybe get the job
  • LinkedIn and its backwards-ass management that don’t push LinkedIn as a standardized resume for EVERYONE

[see:  reddit thread]

Going Out (Can we stop going out like it’s 1915?)

  • Splitting up restaurant/bar tabs among multiple people…manually
  • Not being able to use a cellphone or device to order at restaurants/bars, especially when waiting to get a bartender’s attention instead of, you know, pressing a touchscreen
  • Restaurants/bars that don’t update their web site, especially if they’re throwing a party that night


Did you know?  Dating sites are actually at the forefront of innovation…  They actually don’t suck to use.

Final note.  Scott Adams of Dilbert fame suggested a start-up country:

“One of the biggest problems with the world is that we’re bound by so many legacy systems. For example, it’s hard to deal with global warming because there are so many entrenched interests. It’s problematic to get power from where it can best be generated to where people live. The tax system is a mess. Banking is a hodgepodge of regulations and products glued together. I could go on. The point is that anything that has been around for awhile is a complicated and inconvenient mess compared to what its ideal form could be.

“I could go on, imagining every element of the startup country as an optimal design, from its local government to the layout of its streets, to the livable nature of its homes. The point is that the startup country could be awesome. And only the most employable folks would be allowed in at the start, so the economy would be blazing, mostly from IT jobs and light industry.”

Interaction Liquidity

So I recently decided to leave my job as an operational analyst.  This means that I am going to spend some time cultivating, hopefully attracting funding and mentorship with my friend Bryn, and am going to give the company a real shot.  It’s an amazing feeling and something I’ve been dying to do for years now.  I seem to have a lot of people supporting me, so that seems nice…but now I have to really prove myself and that’s a little daunting.

Anyway, I’ve been continuing the thinking about liquidity from my last post.

Measuring Interaction Liquidity in Jobs

Some ways of life lend themselves to more interactions with other people.  In my case, I had gone from an Army experience to a grad school environment to a shift-work job.  In terms of interaction liquidity, the Army is an extremely poor environment for finding suitable girlfriends (although I had a wonderful girlfriend at the time) and friends outside my team.  I did meet an amazing number of people, but the other hindrance was that social networking was so stigmatized within the military still that no one would start using Facebook until they all (mostly) got out.  Military folks aren’t always the most tech-savvy either.

Grad school was completely different.  Before my grad program even began, I had started a Facebook group for us, and almost all of our new class had joined it before the first day even began — the rest would later join once they heard that Facebook and Google groups were how people were organizing/disseminating info.  My friend count took off, since you meet so many people in school and are in the trade of ideas, partying, and conversations.  I started using Twitter but even now only a limited group of my classmates have ventured onto it.

At my job, my friend count slowed down — but I think most jobs are like that.  You meet your teammates and that’s it.  You have to be in certain positions, like HR and executive-level and PR to be within the swirling eddies of social networking.  It can be stultifying for professional growth to be in a job where you don’t meet many new people.  It’s a virtual death sentence for people who are single and who want to meet potential mates in a peer environment instead of at bars or through dating sites, which work great in DC, but as Dan Ariely pointed out,

“The dating market is perhaps the only market that we moved from a centralized market to a decentralized market.  You know, we used to have a yentl, your parents used to tell you what to do, all this is gone, now you have to fend for yourself.  On top of that, we move a lot, right?  You go to one place for undergrad, then you go to grad school, then you move to another city for a job, two years later you move again.  You have no time to create a social network. We work long hours, so it’s really a system where we don’t have time to find people for ourselves. It’s taboo to date people at the work place, the social networks are weaker in the physical world.  We move all the time and we don’t have a yentl or parents to tell us what to do.”

So you might be asking at this point, does it even matter how much interaction liquidity you have?  I don’t think it matters for most people, but I do think it’s a valuable metric that may show larger trends.

For instance, what if you could compare companies and how much internal and external interaction liquidity they have?  Would you work at a company that doesn’t seem to provide much liquidity for its employees?  Could it signal dysfunction inside a company if it has fewer interactions/period than its peers?  What about cities?  Is it a desirable quality for a city planner to want to increase interaction liquidity?  This would seem consistent with architects and designers in modern theory wanting to build spaces more conducive to public gathering, drawing people in instead of away.

Which leads us to…

Landmark Interaction Liquidity

There’s a key series of scenes in the movie Before Sunrise, that movie with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke which has NOT aged as well as its sequel, Before Sunset, that I think sums up landmark interaction liquidity quite well.

In short, the movie is about two people who meet up on a train in Europe and spend the rest of the evening and early morning falling in love while walking around in Paris.  They visit different places in the city throughout their long date.  But at the end of the movie, they part ways.  It all concludes by showing all the sites they visited, as the sun comes up.  The places, since it’s early, are all empty, and the scene which had previously been so intimate, private, and unique to the couple have resumed form as landmarks, placeholders, statues, squares, etc.

So it interests me that certain locations, over time, build their own interaction histories.  In the same day, or even at the same time, different groups of people converge on those places and use them in different ways that are unique to the different parties.  So at one moment here in DC, Dupont Circle may have a couple flirting with each other, a musician playing for on-lookers, some people meeting up after a bike ride, people playing chess, people on their way home from work, people eating a quick dinner, people reading on the lawn.  This could register, say, 1,000 interactions in an hour.  That space is continually transformed, re-used, and remixed over that time.  This is immensely valuable for social interaction.

Certain locations take on a reputation.  Dupont Circle for instance was used last month as venue to watch two World Cup games.  In this case, it was being used as a shared space by many, many people to experience the same event.  But each person had their own experience within it.  And this is radically different than the epic snowball fight that took place in the circle this winter.

Is there a way to measure interaction liquidity for certain places?  Some places do it, like measuring foot traffic at Grand Central or counting tickets at Nationals Stadium.   Can we build a history for a place, which shows a list of interactions that have taken place there over time, searchable by # of people involved, observability (how many people witnessed it), importance (was it a political rally?  did an interaction lead to socially-agreed positive outcomes like marriage?), etc.?  I think we can.  At the very least, we need the tools to develop these kinds of metrics, and the ability to define our own variables to build those metrics.

Reputation is too important in our daily lives for us to have not done more with it.  Especially when it’s filled with our own individual biases and backed by little hard data and statistical analysis about what the reputations of people, places, and things actually are.  When you start thinking about reputation and identity, you start to see it everywhere.

Social Network Liquidity

Playing with some new ideas.

Victor Turner's book, with cover art representing social network connections

I’ve been studying the news cycle pretty deeply, from how tweets lead to flash reports which lead to news blurbs which lead to breaking news chyrons which lead to fleshed out Associated Press/Agence France Presse/Reuters stories, and then ensuing blog overview/granular commentary and re-posting.

I’ve also started reading my grandfather Victor Turner’s famous work, “Schism and Continuity in an African Society: A Study of Ndembu Village Life”, which discusses his ethnographic work of seeing how different villages use social drama to thicken community ties and play out deep human cultural needs and instincts.  His book’s cover design has an immediately recognizable influence from social network diagramming.

Real Life vs. Internet

Most people see a huge rift between their “real” life and online life.  The usual complaint is that the online world deprecates friendships and relationships to meaningless online gestures which are not as meaningful as meeting face-to-face.  For the “real” world, the complaint from those in the online world is that the real world does not offer enough data, information, or relevance on its own to be efficient.  Why not layer on more data?

There is also a massive conflict between modernity and tradition.  This is seen most visibly through religiously-justified social morality debates, about abortion, science vs. faith, the permanence of marriage and the utility of sexual practices outside of marriage and religion, etc.  But there are other examples, as I read in Stefan Tanaka’s book, “New Times in Modern Japan”, a book about the Meiji Revolution’s imposition of a western calendar on Japan, which caused massive upheaval in a culture dependent on its own calendar for all its rituals, traditions, and even business meetings.

As an aside, a lot of people say that Al-Qaeda is a traditionalist organization fighting western modernity.  I would disagree.  Clearly they use the cutting edge of technology and our understanding of culture and adaptation to bring new followers into their fold and to kill our soldiers.  What I feel they are fighting against is, and always has been, western foreign policy.  They are defending their Muslim culture and land.  Maybe that is not something you agree with, or think they are right to feel, but that is what motivates them and what motivates newcomers, at the core.


I want to approach these issues as a matter of time.  Progressivism for humankind as a whole is moving in a linear path (although it certainly retrogrades and stagnates in the short-term at times) — wouldn’t it be fair to say that we can assume eventually racial tensions will decrease as cultures intermix more over generations?  Is it fair to say that stigmas are being removed around women as independent actors even in the most patriarchal societies and gays and other marginalized groups are eventually going to be protected as reasonably equal citizens?  Stigmas and taboos will exist in some form (we need someone to blame) but in terms of “race” and “gender”, I think a lot of today’s biases will be rendered obsolete.

So we’re moving along a slow path to a destination where some of the parts we can already imagine.  Some people on the journey are moving faster than others.  How does this actually look?

Geography:  Politics & Culture

I see geography as the slowest mover.  It is very hard to change a geographical community’s culture.   For example, France will always be France, and somehow it will always have different attitudes than Germans, who are neighbors with them.  Their cultural DNA is just different.  Different geographical areas become known for different things.  We associate Silicon Valley with start-ups, engineers with lots of money and lust for risk, we associate Manhattan with finance and a maelstrom of cultural creativity.  Sure, these communities can be utterly destroyed (and are, regularly, in insecure areas of the world), but they are VERY hard to destroy completely.

Civilization 4's culture borders. French cultural influence is represented by the purple border, forming a "culture bridge" across the water channel. In Civ4, a city's influence can cause other civ's nearby cities to switch allegiance.

Thus, for foreign policy/international relations (IR) types, knowing history and geopolitics are crucial towards understanding professional IR tradecraft.  One of the most influential books I read was George Friedman’s “The Next 100 Years:  A Forecast for the 21st Century”.  His geopolitical focus on the world reveals inflexible rules of the world we live in, which include Iran being an inescapable regional power in the Middle East, Russia as being perpetually insecure along its borders and hinterlands, and the US enjoying fairly safe borders, access and coastlines for the two key oceans and access to natural resources.

Culture/geography dominates discussion, even online. From

Certain geographies, geopolitical world views would argue, lead to certain kinds of cultures flourishing.  They lead to different attitudes and philosophies.  In this way, cultures can be seen as unchanging in their core, although some more readily adopt modernity or change.

Law/Relationship With Government

The next slowest mover I’d define would be the law.  Changes in regime can lead to massive changes in the largest of civilizations (see Mao Tse-Tung’s Cultural Revolution), and certain laws can lead to inescapable economic realities (see Sarbanes-Oxley, the Communications Decency Act  (Section 230 leading to a boom in blogging).  Corporations in the US spend a fortune on lobbying precisely because they know that spending a little money now to get a law crafted in a way beneficial to them could lead to decades of easy growth.  As an example, look at how corn subsidies and sugar tariffs in the US along with cheap oil imports led to high fructose corn syrup additives in all foods we eat while sugar was relegated to an utter luxury.

The Internet

I’m skipping over a lot of movers here but I know this blog post will spiral out of control and I think that the Internet has been the huge game changer for human civilization.  The striking reduction of transaction costs to communication and knowledge-sharing and time lags has resulted in true ability to crowdsource and communicate in real-time across large spaces.

Now stories in peoples’ daily lives instantly get polled up on reddit or Huffington Post, so that if BP is restricting the media from taking video of an oil-spilled beach, the internet learns about it pretty quickly.  The internet also knows about other things quickly, like Tiger Woods backing in to a tree to get away from his angry wife, Brittany Murphy dying of an overdose, etc.  In other words, the role of mainstream media as an editor of what the top stories might be was diluted with millions of new editors who considered far more topics as being the “top news”.

Much of the news is useless, true.  Check out, an organization which attempts to look at the news and figure out which stories will have been seen as huge developments far into the future.  Most of the most important stories come out of scientific research.  Below is a TED Talk explaining what The Long News considers important:

At the fringes and margins of the internet are where the cool stuff is happening and where lightning quick news is being developed.

The internet is a well-spring of innovation.  Instead of people being limited to their geographies and the people who share their environment, they can go online and share with those of similar creative interests and skillsets, thus meaning there is a better, tighter matching of people online than off.  So you can see awesome collaborative projects like Linux and Wikipedia and all the stuff that is fed into disseminators like reddit or digg or Twitter that would never exist in pure meatspace.

Agents in The Matrix detected anomalies through their earpieces

For news, people are taking photos and tweeting about what they see in their worlds, so as soon as there’s a public installation closure because of a police incident, people are talking about it.  Metaphorically, this is like in the Matrix when one of the Agents puts his fingers up to his earpiece because one of the plugged-in humans somewhere is freaking out about an abnormality somewhere in the world.   While the privacy debate is important along with the role of government in keeping people safe, for this scenario I’m more interested in how much technology and the internet have aided us in being able to communicate our realities instantly to each other in the form of tweeting or texting about emergencies/news.

Let’s Merge the Real World and the Digital World

That was a lot of set-up for what I really wanted to talk about.   What is coming is augmented reality, where the real world will be intimately wedded with the online world, so our “real” view will be augmented with data layers showing nearby waypoints, markers where our friends are checking in, where nearby swarms of people are, where public safety incidents are taking place, historical hot zones where crimes have taken place, and perhaps cooler stuff like paths for augmented reality questing (follow a path in your data view that takes you to a quest destination).

The contradictions and weaknesses of either world will be attacked by designers and hackers and capitalists who want to combine the two worlds.

Will this mean that the temporality of the real world will change?  I talked earlier about how slow cultures, geographies, and laws are to change, but that is because there are such high transaction costs there.

If you are born into a rural area with a set of classmates who will eventually graduate school with you, marry you, become your lifelong friends, and all remain in the area your whole lives, while you drive everywhere in your city or village, then the transaction costs are high — the chances are that you won’t receive lots of creative input that you might in a city, and you won’t meet too many people with the exact creative interests you have.  This lends itself better towards a community that values building families and having stable lives (microfamilies).

If you are born into or move into a city (or even a slum), you are constantly bombarded with change, new people coming in or leaving, creative inputs, daily lives where you see hundreds of people a day, etc.  The costs of communicating are lower because you can walk not more than a few blocks to get food, conversation, drink, sex, business.  Driving is less needed, meaning your chances for interaction increase.  Things that impact one person in a rural area might only affect that one person.  In a city, any change is likely to affect multiple people.

So think about the mathematical delta — the amount of change — for different layers of civilization.  The delta for geopolitics, law, government is usually really low.  The delta for anything internet-related is extremely high.

Sometimes there are problems as we try to mediate between the two.  We try to hold reputations and identities that are life-lasting, but often the world we interact with daily exists in a Twitter-like state of constant updates and a lot of irrelevant information.

This is why I consider digital reputation collaboration to be so important for a sustainable cultural future.

Cultural Memory

At Uluru in Alice Springs, Australia, the Anangu Aboriginal tribe used to take its boys and girls to separate caves where they learned how to be adults.

Cultural memory has traditionally been passed along verbally from parent to child, from community to its children, from rumors, old wives’ tales, conspiracy theories, propaganda.  This of course lends itself to high levels of re-interpretation, revisionism, and selective memory.  Arguably this is one of mankind’s strengths, since we are at times fickle, emotional, destructive, unreasonable, and blatantly hurtful, but it also makes us human and passionate and willing to do things outside ourselves.

Layering digital reputations onto our community-held reputations will challenge a lot of our conventions and self-images.  In some ways we will be presented with the cold hard truth of numbers.  In other ways we may use the data to deceive ourselves into thinking something false is actually true.  But the ability to log our lives, crunch the data, and compare it with each other, to see what kinds of people end up being successful in different ways for different paths…that is some really deep, powerful stuff that only our species’ best mentors, teachers, academics, and leaders have been able to express to us in ways we can understand.

Crowdsourcing reputation will be akin to the internet’s crowdsourcing of information, or Wikipedia’s crowdsourcing of knowledge.  It will induce the Nick Carrs and Evgeny Morozovs of the world to write scathing excoriations of free-wheeling privacy slayers.  It will cause grouchy old columnists to write ham-handed pieces on how kids these days just don’t understand.  It will challenge cultures to become more accepting of diversity of practice (just imagine if religious leaders knew what their followers REALLY did).  There is a lot of potential for abuse and gaming and problematic behavior, but there’s no escaping that crowdsourcing reputation will eventually happen and that the good will outweigh the bad.

The technology is getting there, where transaction costs for social networking are becoming cheaper, and where our own data is becoming available to us in formats we can manipulate (thank you Tim Berners-Lee for pushing for linked data).  Social transaction liquidity is increasing across time and space, which will lead to a more networked world that requires new types of reputation not controlled or siloed by governments or businesses.  We are not quite yet there, but it is coming quickly.

Other Thoughts

On the continuum of movers, I can see a reputation system as being highly problematic towards the status quo.

After all, you really can’t change geographical culture very quickly.  Already some  economists are pushing for not just free trade, but free labor movement, as the only way to allow capital and labor to properly aggregate themselves in the clusters they need is to allow free movement of people across borders.  This is unlikely to happen very soon.

Governmental regimes and legal systems are likely to resist data, even if it’s undoubtedly true.  You can see it already in development economics and behavioral economics, where the newer studies show that human behaviors can be highly irrational and defensive in light of trust/paranoia.  Overwhelming evidence to the contrary becomes a weapon that a status quo will fight against.

On the plus side, I think having a system that lets any user join, and lets any user create a profile for any other user until it’s claimed, will lead to census-takers and human rights advocates to catalog every person on the planet, and that can have powerful implications towards giving even the most nameless, invisible person on the planet a voice and an identity.  I’m hoping that an extensive system will stop people from disappearing from the face of the earth.  I’m hoping that, if anything else, the major constituent to benefit will be the individual.

Filling Gaps in the Online Ecosystem

I am still amazed daily at how quickly the internet is maturing.  Lately I’ve been looking for decent freeware and finally moved from the iPhone+AT&T to the HTC Droid Incredible+Verizon. (Verizon makes AT&T look horrible, by the way…I will never go back.)   The level of cloud integration is exciting, but still sub-surface.  Most of my friends are still skeptical of Gmail, and are wary of Facebook’s privacy rules.  But there’s so much more going on than just these things, although e-mail as one’s verifying identity and the social graph are crucial building blocks for the internet.

While I’m happy with the internet (and recent FCC enthusiasm for net neutrality), there are significant gaps that affect me professionally and personally which, when addressed, will help the online ecosystem to flourish.  Here they are:

Head Coverings, Niqabs, and Faces:  Visual Security

Some Anglo countries are wrapped up in argument about whether people should be allowed to wear head scarves or niqabs in public or in school.  An incident in Australia where a man wearing a burqa committed an armed robbery has caused some in the opposition government to push for a ban on full-face Islamic veils.  A woman in Italy was told by police to remove a veil covering her face.  In Belgium last week, every single deputy in the lower house voted in favor of a ban on the burqa or niqab in public, so now the vote goes to the Senate.  Germany and France could be following suit.

Certainly Europe is having trouble with integration — it is seen that Muslims and immigrants are not becoming fully European enough.  Arguments against veils also summon the complaint that women are not treated as equals in much of Muslim society.

From Jawa Report:

Both sides have valid complaints here; it is true that Muslim immigrants worldwide (not as much in the US, but that’s really not saying much given the anti-Muslim distrust Americans have right now) are having trouble freely expressing their identity in the face of prejudice.  It is true that some Muslim women choose to cover their faces and bodies, as part of their culture and expressing positively their religious faith.  It is true that Muslims feel under siege by the rest of the world, and this has united the Muslim faith about as much as that is possible (it is still highly fragmented by country, culture, sect, etc. etc. etc.).

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a terrorist apologist.  I joined the Army to join the hunt in killing those who follow Al-Qaeda’s beliefs.  I respect the sentiment of online terrorist hunters and harassers like those at Jawa Report who point out jihadists who are threatening violence against the US out in the open and are not being prosecuted/shut down for it.  While there are many white Americans who say despicable things about Muslims in general, there has also been a sharp rise in the number of American-born men who have become radicalized.  Some degree of political correctness has muddled efforts to investigate those who are becoming true risks to national security.  It is true that the attackers have all been Muslim, so it would be dumb to not link the two.

This is for another time, but I do regard jihadist-based terrorism as mainly a function of US foreign policy, but it has become inter-mingled with American patriotism, Muslim identity, freedom, and security.  Not simple to unpack.

What I mainly want to talk about here is one way in which I think technology, openness, and transparency can mitigate cultural traditions.  In Daniel Suarez‘s books Daemon and Freedom (which compare with Ender’s Game, The Matrix, and Snow Crash in my mind), he writes about a genius programmer who created a company, successful worldwide, which let players play online in different virtual worlds.  [Here’s a good review of the book.]  Eventually though, the programmer, diagnosed with a terminal disease, sought to create a networked game that hooked into the real world.  He ended up creating an alternative economic system that used augmented reality, social reputation, and vast computing power to replace corrupt, established security and economic interests.

To explain, people could wear custom-made glasses which had a HUD which showed datapoints mapped onto their field of view, so you could look at a city street and see text labels of the buildings and reputation scores and online identities for the people who walked by you.  Here’s a sort of mock-up, combining Suarez’s vision with mine in a simple way:

Sam Martin’s article “Envisioning Your Future in 2020” has some better-designed mock-ups:

This sort of digital identity verification (it used biometrics to verify the wearer’s identity) could turn visual identification on its head.  One big issue I see with the burqa bans is that it shows how primitive our identification system still is.  We consider it less safe in the west if we cannot see someone’s face.  If someone’s face is hidden, we cannot trust them.  We assume they have something to hide or they’re about to do something that requires them hiding their face from us and from the growing number of surveillance cameras.  We cannot read their facial expressions to (oftentimes incorrectly) judge their intentions and mood.

Now, to someone who believes women should hide themselves, this, I would presume, indicates that he feels less concerned about strangers committing a crime against him than he is about acknowledging women as individuals.  To a fair degree, it is the opposite in the west.

There was a good op-ed in the NYTimes about this whole debate just last week.  The US has an analog to burqas by the way:  baggy clothing, sweatshirts, and sagging pants.  These represent a style, an identity, to many kids.  But by security professionals they are seen as clothes that hide one’s face (see in The Wire, the muscle always puts on their hoods right as they attack), clothes that can hide the bulges of firearms and weapons, and clothes that make one appear to be larger than they actually are.

So imagine we had a system where you could use your glasses to see what someone’s rating and reputation was, to see how networked they were within their community, to see whether they had any jail offenses or criminal records, to see how trustworthy they were.  Would it then matter what they wore?  Would it become like online games where people spend many hours tinkering how they appear even though it has no game mechanic value?

Perhaps it could even have positive effects:  in Freedom, Suarez has one of the characters go to a mechanist to imbue a 3D-printed object with “magical” properties — that is, it is a real-world object that is identified (presumably through something like RFID) as something that can unlock things in the virtual world.  Perhaps wearing a burqa in this new system would improve one’s rating as it is seen by those of that person’s religious faith.  While this may or may not be a good thing in terms of women’s equality, it removes much of the tension of visual security vs. individual/tribal identity.

Public Sensors

This brings me to my next topic.  We need more reporting, both intentionally created by observant humans and automatically by sensors and devices.  One of Twitter’s strengths is that it’s so accessible for sharing content quickly.  A sensor that detects changes in its environment can easily use the Twitter API to publish its statistics and results to the web for immediate analysis.  At the same time, mobile phones and cameras are becoming faster and more connected to networks, allowing individuals who witness events such as police brutality, spontaneously-created social gatherings, magical NBA moments (barring copyright restrictions, sigh), massive accidents, terrorist attacks, and weird stuff that happens every day to be immediately reported online.

Trendsmap aggregates tweets by location for tracking trends.

This will require more technological literacy.  People will need to be more comfortable using their tools.  That will be the easy part.  The hard part is getting people to understand the utility of sharing what they experience every day.  Most people still think sharing online is narcissistic, useless, and degrading to quality social interaction.  They think it is more important to call or meet up with a friend than to share a photo online to the internet that is directed towards no one in particular.  Further than that, they value their privacy and want to control who knows certain things about them.

While this is understandable, there are considerable reasons to share.  If you witness a car accident, or someone assaulting someone else, you recording footage of the incident and uploading it may allow for justice to be served.  It is evidence.  If you witness an ephemeral moment of kindness or happiness and share it online, it is saved in the digital record of humanity that we will one day be able to search for, catalog, and show as example of our collectiveness as a civilization.  If you live near the beach and you see tar balls coming in from the Gulf oil spill, you putting photos and videos online show on-the-ground proof that it is happening — this is citizen reporting/journalism.  It makes it better for journalists who are trying to get an accurate picture, and it helps civil and governmental leaders allocate resources better when they have better perspective of how bad something is.

Louisiana Bucket Brigade, using the free Ushahidi software to record oil spill-related incidents.

Also, as I have argued constantly, I believe that maintaining our personal reputations will become a primary way we receive access to credit and to jobs, as we will have public evidence testifying to our quality of character, ability to share and learn and lead and educate, and more.  Those who decide they value their privacy will not be as trustworthy in the minds of those who do share more.

In other words, they will be seen as wearing a digital data burqa by the rest of the wired society. I see people who are deleting their Facebook profiles and writing long screeds against Facebook and sharing online as the same as media companies.  Media companies are fighting the distributive, massive computing power online.  That data is just about free to share and disseminate means that those who had monopolies on that data before will lose their ability to control (and therefore monetize) that data.  It is no surprise why those who own magazines, book labels, album deals, and so on would fight against the sharing of media freely online.  That is their monetary stream, and they are no longer the only distributors of it.  Their value as aggregators is still needed, but it must adapt to the changing conditions introduced by the internet in the same way that the Gutenburg printing press took away power from monks and scholars.

Individuals, most of whom have little inkling of what privacy actually means or what it should mean to them, attack Facebook instead of the NSA.  Certainly it is more visceral to be worried about what your boss might see about you than what the FBI might obtain about you through a warrantless wiretap (which you might see yourself as something that would never possibly affect you).  But our priorities are off.  People like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Shawn Fanning of Napster and Sergei Brin/Larry Page of Google do not value the old industries and ways of doing things very highly.  They understand the power of the internet and how it can be used to create more efficient, useful systems.  Just like Fanning did not really care about copyrights on music, Zuckerberg doesn’t care about privacy.  I would say that Zuckerberg DOES care about protecting privacy, but he also envisions a digital world (like Fanning does) where data is shared openly and transparently, allowing it to be used by a wider amount of people and getting far more reach than what was possible before.

It is people like these who are unlocking the doors to a more democratized world, where power is more evenly distributed amongst a larger swath of people and away from governments and gatekeepers who seek to hoard that data and sell it off/use it to protect themselves.  I’m not saying Zuckerberg is a peace-loving democracy builder, since he, like Brin, Page, Gates, and Jobs all seek to create models for making money, but I do think that he “gets it” when it comes to the future.  Far ahead of what society claims it’s ready for (yet it continues to flock to Facebook…).

Comment Systems

Another huge gap I see in the internet is within comment systems.  Right now, some news sites allow for comments, while others don’t.  I’ve seen small border town newspapers with vibrant comment communities, and large metro newspapers that don’t even allow you to give feedback.  There still exists no global comment system that lets you give comments on any web site you visit for anyone else to see when they visit (although attempts have been made here).  There doesn’t even exist many good systems that allow you to rate comments and filter them out by post quality, humor, utility, anecdotal evidence, etc.

All of which makes reading comments mostly a useless endeavor.  If I can’t read ONLY the comments that share new insight into a topic, or those comments which are hilarious, then I’m left with YouTube, which has absolutely the most offensive, stupid, and pointless comments anywhere.

Plug-and-play comment systems like Disqus and Intense Debate don’t even let you search all their comments on a topic.

The lack of more sophisticated commenting on the internet is surprising since it was one of the first things one could do online (via replying to e-mail, and writing to Usenet), but I suspect it is because those companies don’t have the massive capital necessary to invest in the computing power it would take to index those comments for global searches.  This hints that such a task is something Google would be especially good at tackling.

We need both supply and demand in comments.  We need news sites to build a network of searchable comments that are aggregated by post quality and also by topic (via standard tagging of the stories the comments are from).  So that I can read all the comments on the internet that relate to the topic of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, for example.  Right now, those comments are scattered across hundreds of web sites.

If I want to read what oil rig engineers are saying about it, or what beach property owners in Alabama think, or what ecological scientists think, I can only read their opinions at great expense to my personal time by way of searching local blogs, sifting through hundreds of junk comments, and so on.  This must change.  It must be easier, cheaper, and more integrated and ordered.

Topic discussion on reddit.

Right now the quickest way to get intelligent comments is to use reddit or hackernews or other niche sites.  What’s great about reddit is that it attracts interesting people who do interesting things, and they find the newest cool stuff on the internet.  I would estimate that much of the content you eventually find going viral starts off on sites like reddit and digg.  I love reading reddit comments to get quick feedback.

Another request I would have for the comment system gap is to link all comments one makes to an identity.  This is, fortunately, one of the more developed features within the identity layer right now, as Facebook is letting us log in to web sites, and Disqus lets you view all your comments that you’ve sent using their service.


Lastly, the internet needs to find its humanity.  Anthropologically speaking, online folks in my opinion tend to have little understanding of the importance of tradition, ritual, faith, and tribe.  I think they should be able to intuit it, at least, because many of the most hardcore internet folks had to undergo a rite of passage to become a hacker or a web geek/designer.  They know they exist within a virtual tribe that the rest of the world can barely understand or place value in.  I don’t think the online world has provided much to people in the way of religion or faith, though — that is one piece that you can only get offline for now.  Unless, of course, you are Muslim; while Christians don’t really use the internet to organize (while most web geeks I would bet are mostly agnostic/atheist), the cases of jihadists online have shed light into how Muslims disconnected from their people worldwide will use online forums to learn proper Muslim practice of prayer, meditation, and custom.

What I’m proposing is something I’m working on for  See this screenshot:

I want to build in records of one’s rites of passage, both real and virtual.  Achievement systems within games (like Modern Warfare 2) and on Xbox Live are like rites of passage systems — they mark achievements you have made as you transform from a nub to a pro.  I want to build in digital incentives for public service and volunteering in the real world, to affect your online reputation.  All those good things that can be done that many don’t do because they don’t see it as advancing themselves or being noticed, should be captured.  Right now it, sadly, takes a great amount of caring, dedication, and commitment to do all those good things in the world that receive almost no recognition.  I’m not saying that people should do good deeds or give back to society only if it gets them notice, but I do believe it is inherently human (and even mammalian) to seek external as well as internal encouragement.  We are social beings.

Lastly, I think we’d be able to properly assess and monetize worthwhile careers that have traditionally been paid less well.  For instance, we all know that there are journalists and authors and priests and social workers and mothers and soldiers who provide a public service and who are valuable to the community and those around them in ways that cannot be compensated in money.  Imagine if, like an MMORPG like World of Warcraft, you were rewarded and could level up for doing these deeds?  Imagine if you used your level 20 status to get a job at the Washington Post, or if you used your level 15 hiker rating to get a job with Parks and Wildlife?  What if your high math and quant levels got you in at Wall Street?  Isn’t that what we’ve been trying to create and use all along?


Anyway, these are major gaps I think need to be filled.  Until I find myself in a lot of money, I cannot fund these myself.  If I ever get off the ground, I’m worried that I’ll have to quit my job and do it full-time and raise at least enough money to hire people to work for me.  That is a risky proposition.  I am hoping that the proper funders like Ted Leonsis or Mark Cuban or Bill Gates will invest money in filling these gaps, approaching it from a humanitarian point of view and less of just a venture capital-what’s-in-it-for-me point of view.

I’m happy to see more and more projects just in 2010 geared towards OAuth, OpenID, and distributed online identity projects such as Diaspora* (which I helped back on Kickstarter, and which reached its minimum level of funding).  I think the growth of identity layer tools is actually starting to take off in 2010.  And we’ve needed that for a very long time.