April 2011

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We’re doing something different at next week’s IIW: inviting investors. So here’s a pitch that should resonate with investors — especially in Silicon Valley, where IIW happens (appropriately, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View)…

Here’s a chance to check in on development work on a huge new disruptive market play: empowering customers as independent players in the marketplace, and building new businesses that serve liberated customers who want choices other than those between silos and walled gardens.

We’re talking here about equipping demand to drive supply, rather than just the reverse. (Which is fine and necessary, but it’s been done. A lot.)

We’re talking about creating tools and services proving at last that free customers are more valuable than captive ones.

We’re talking about how much more can happen in a marketplace where customers collect, control and selectively share their own data, for their own purposes — which nobody on the vendor side needs to guess about, because the customer knows, has the intent, and has the money.

We’ve been working on these tools for awhile now. My own work, both through IIW (which I help organize) and ProjectVRM at Harvard’s Berkman Center, has been to encourage development of tools that liberate and empower customers in the marketplace. Thanks also to the good work of allied efforts, many of these tools now exist, and more are coming along.

These tools fall into many categories. Some are open source efforts that equip developers with essential building material. Some are commercial efforts at the angel or pre-angel stages. Some are already funded. Some are existing businesses looking for partners. Whatever breed they are, all should be interesting to investors looking to place bets on customers, and on companies that align with customer interests and intentions in the marketplace.

IIW — which stands for Internet Identity Workshop — has always been about development. Since 2005 we’ve been getting together twice a year to share ideas and move work forward. As a workshop, it’s organized as an unconference. No speakers, no panels. Participants suggest topics and everybody breaks out to rooms and tables where those topics get discussed, whiteboards get marked up, and in many cases code gets shown and improved.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, May 3 and 4, the workshop will follow the usual routine. But on Thursday, May 5, we’ll visit a new topic which we’re calling “Yukon”: a one-word play on the line, “You control your own data.” As it says here,

Something New: IIW + Yukon: One of the longtime themes of IIW is how identity and personal data intersect. Many important discussions about Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) have also taken place at IIW. In recognition of how personal data and identity are intertwined, the third day of the IIW, May 5, will be designated “IIW + Yukon” and will stress the emerging personal data economy. The primary theme will be personal data control and leverage, where the individual controls and drives the use of their own data, and data about them held by other parties.

This isn’t social. It’s personal. This day you can expext open-space style discussions of personal data stores (PDS), PDS ecosystems, and VRM. One purpose of Yukon is to start to focus on business models and value propositions, so we will specifically be reaching out to angels and VC’s who are intersted in personal data economy plays and inviting them to attend.

Whether or not you’re an investor, or just friends with some (as pretty much all of us are these days), you’re invited. Looking forward to seeing you there.

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Ford River Rouge plant

Got my first good clear look at Detroit and Windsor from altitude on a recent trip back from somewhere. Here’s a series of shots. What impressed me most, amidst all that flat snow-dusted spread of city streets, a patch of grids on the flatland of Michigan and Ontario, flanking the Detroit River and its islands, was what looked like a dark smudge. Looking at it more closely, and matching it up with Reality, I discovered that this was Ford’s famous River Rouge Complex in the city of Dearborn.

Says Wikipedia,

The Rouge measures 1.5 miles (2.4 km) wide by 1 mile (1.6 km) long, including 93 buildings with nearly 16 million square feet (1.5 km²) of factory floor space. With its own docks in the dredged Rouge River, 100 miles (160 km) of interior railroad track, its own electricity plant, and ore processing, the titanic Rouge was able to turn raw materials into running vehicles within this single complex, a prime example of vertical-integration production. Over 100,000 workers were employed there in the 1930s.

As an inveterate infrastructure freak, I would love to see this thing sometime.

Royal pains

The Royal Wedding Not the Royal Weddingisn’t my cup of tedium, but olde blog buddies Eric and Dawn Olsen will be covering the show for The Morton Report, so I urge you to follow it there. I’ll do my best as well.

Not speaking of which, I am old enough to remember the last Royal Wedding, which happened on my birthday in 1981. What sticks most in my mind about that event is an exceptionally funny send-up of the whole thing: a book titled Not the Royal Wedding, by Sean Hardie and John Lloyd. My sister, who (I’ll let her explain) served “on the personal staff of the  Commander-in-Chief, US Naval Forces Europe as the Protocol Officer, living in a mews flat in Chelsea, working on Grosvenor Square and having the best time of my life”, brought the book back to the states, and I laughed my rocks off reading it, even though I’m sure many of the jokes sailed past me. One item that stands out is a large spread on the royal silverware, including a “bitchfork.” The price on Amazon at that last link is also pretty good: “5 used from £0.01″, it says.

MOLTENI NET WORKSAs a (literally) old basketball player, I have always hated dealing with net-less hoops. Full satisfaction for a shot well made requires a net. But nets do wear out. Schools and cities fail to replace them. So I sometimes take matters into my own hands, and replace nets personally.

This is also what Maria Molteni does, but in a far more artful and fun way.  She explains,

MOLTENi NET WORKS function simply. Participants will hand-crochet basketball nets to be installed on hoops where such are missing or damaged. I’ve created a blog and gmap to keep track of spaces where nets have been installed or have yet to be. Contributors may follow the progress of the project, reporting sightings and requests for nets in their own neighborhoods. Efforts have begun locally, and spread to additional projects such as artist Kevin Clancy’s “Portable Utopia” in Johannesburg. I aim to engage other creative enthusiasts collaborating via workshops and skill shares to fabricate nets and exchange new design ideas.

This good work is what earned MOLTENI NET WORKS an Awesome Foundation award in February from the Boston chapter, of which I am a trustee. We have never had a more deserving recipient. Here’s what Kara Brickman reports in our latest blog post:

The MOLTENi NET WORKS project is well underway with a recent exhibit at Cambridge’sMEME Gallery in Central Square that also included workshops where participants were able to hand-crochet basketball nets to be installed on bare hoops. Efforts have begun locally in Allston, MA and there are several local organizations (Boston include Artists for Humanity, Villa Victoria Center for the Arts, Design Studio for Social Intervention, and Massart’s Fibers Department) interested in putting on more workshops.

If you’d like to get pitch in, there are a few ways you can get involved.

  • Give your time and skills by attending a workshop and putting in some elbow grease making nets.
  • Kick in to the Kickstarter fund so that the MOLTENi NET WORK project can extend it’s reach across the globe…

I’ll make the party. And I can’t wait to drop some three-pointers through one of those colorful new nets.

And enjoy more of Maria’s art here.

Blogging, emailing and messaging aren’t owned by anybody.  Tweeting is owned by Twitter. That’s a problem.

In all fairness, this probably wasn’t the plan when Twitter’s founders started the service. But that’s where they (and we) are now. Twitter has become de facto infrastructure, and that’s bad, because Twitter is failing.

Getting 20,500,000 Google Image search results for “twitter fail” paints a picture that should be convincing enough. (See Danny Sullivan‘s comment below for a correct caveat about this metric.) Twitter’s own search results for “hourly usage limit”+wtf wraps the case. I posted my own frustrations with this the other day. After Eric Leone recommended that I debug things by going to https://twitter.com/settings/connections and turning off anything suspicious, I found the only sure way to trouble-shoot was to turn everything off (there were about twenty other sites/services listed with dependencies on Twitter), and then turn each one back on again, one at a time, to see which one (or ones) were causing the problem. So I turned them all off; and then Twitter made the whole list disappear, so I couldn’t go back and turn any of them on again.

Meanwhile I still get the “hourly usage limit” message, and/or worse:

twitter fail

So Twitter has become borderline-useless for me. Same goes for all the stuff that depended on Twitter that I turned off.

In that same thread Evan Prodromou graciously offered to help set up my own Status.Net server. I’m going for it, soon as I get back from my week here in Santa Barbara.

Meanwhile, I’m also raising a cheer for whatever Dave is doing toward “building a microblog platform without a company in the middle”.

Tweeting without Twitter. I like the sound of that.

 

 

That’s my Idea For a Better Internet. Here’s what I entered in the form at http://bit.ly/i4bicfp:

Define the Internet.

There is not yet an agreed-upon definition. Bell-heads think it’s a “network of networks,” all owned by private or public entities that each need to protect their investments and interests. Net-heads (that’s us) think it’s a collection of protocols and general characteristics that transcend physical infrastructure and parochial interests. If you disagree with either of the last two sentences, you demonstrate the problem, and why so many arguments about, say, “net neutrality,” go nowhere.

The idea is to assign defining the Internet to students in different disciplines: linguistics, urban planning, computer science, law, business, engineering, etc. Then bring them together to discuss and reconcile their results, with the purpose of informing arguments about policy, business, and infrastructure development. The result will be better policy, better business and better deployments. Or, as per instructions, “a better place for everyone.”

There should be fun research possibilities in the midst of that as well.

It’s a Berkman project, but I applied in my capacity as a CITS fellow at UCSB. I’ll be back in Santa Barbara for the next week, and the focus of my work there for the duration has been Internet and Infrastructure. (And, if all goes as planned, the subject the book after the one I’m writing now.)

So we’ll see where it goes. Even if it’s nowhere, it’s still a good idea, because there are huge disagreements about what the Internet is, and that’s holding us back.

I gave Why Internet & Infrastructure Need to be Fields of Study as my background link. It’s in sore need of copy editing, but it gets the points across.

Today’s the deadline. Midnight Pacific. If you’ve got a good idea, submit it soon.

After your taxes, of course. (Richard, below, points out that Monday is the actual Tax Day.)

I know Chicago well — from the air. I’ve flown in and out of O’Hare countless times, always enjoying the view from my window seat. I’ve also flown over Chicago a lot, en routes from cities east and west. And I’ve shot a lot of pictures, which I usually used to put up on Flickr; but I’ve slacked off since concentrating on a book and getting the willies about Flickr’s own survival.

I’ve also studied its roads, its infrastructure, usually by looking at the pictures I’ve taken and studying their subjects. Examples here, here and here.

Yet I’ve spent very little time in the town itself. Back in the early ’90s, when I consulted the late Zenith Data Systems, Bruce Fryer once took me downtown to show me around. Linda Hayes (also with ZDS at the time) once took me on a tour of the Lake View area. And I think I went to exactly one trade show at McCormick Place (the white thing near the bottom of the shot above). That’s about it.

So I’d like to fix that, one of these years. Meanwhile, I thought it worth sharing the latest fly-by, en route from Salt Lake City to Boston by way of Phoenix. Click on the shot above for the whole series.

The first time I went to Twitter this morning, I got this:

Before that, the computer had been asleep all night.

I still haven’t tweeted anything this morning.

There must be some meaning behind the message, but the message itself says nothing useful.

When I’ve seen this before, I thought perhaps Twitter in my browser had been hitting the API too hard for updates or something. But I didn’t even have my browser open. Neither my computer nor I had been doing anything with Twitter — as far as I know.

This story says, “Twitter restricts the amount you can access the service to a set rate in an effort to prevent apps from mercilessly pinging Twitter every x number of seconds.” But what apps are pinging the server? How? What can a user do to get an app to back off — or even see which app needs to back off?

I have many dozens of apps on my phone. Could it be one of those? Since the computer was asleep and the phone was on I’d guess so, but I have no idea. When I look at the apps that might be open, in the “tray” (or whatever that is) at the bottom of my iPhone screen (which only appears if I double-click on the button), I see nothing obvioius that might hit Twitter. Clock? Calendar? Voice Memos? Foursquare? Of those I’d guess Foursquare, but I can’t find where in Foursquare I could control how it hits Twitter’s API, or have anything to do with Twitter. Its settings say nothing about Twitter.

Could it be the Twitter app? I just noticed that it was open too. I can’t think of any other culprit at this point.

This piece by Chat Catacchio points to Twitter’s Rate Limits FAQ. That in turn points to a Rate Limits page. That points to an About Rate Limits page. And that points to an API rate limiting page. Nothing helpful in any of them, that I can see.

Adds Chad, “Some API clients, including Twitter’s own products, have additional rate limit allowances.” What those ‘additional rate limit allowances’ are, only Twitter knows.”

Whatever the trouble is, Twitter doesn’t provide an easy way to shoot it.

Here’s the bigger problem: We have come to treat Twitter as infrastructure, and clearly it is not. It is a huge single point of failure, and it sorely needs to be substitutable.

By that I mean you can tweet on other sites, or on your own server, and have those tweets followed by anybody. It means your followers don’t need Twitter to follow you — they don’t need anybody other than you.

Can you do that with Status.Net? If so, somebody please tell me how. (This should be helpful.)

[Later...] I turned off the Twitter app on my iPhone, and haven’t run into the usage limit again yet. Coincidence?

If the Twitter app really is to blame, there needs to be a way it can warn the user that it’s hitting the API too often, and offer a way to reduce that form of background traffic.

[Later again...] Well, it’s now the 13th. I haven’t had the Twitter app open on the phone, I’ve turned off a number of other services on the Web that might be hitting the Twitter API on my behalf, and I hardly looked at Twitter at all today before making one tweet. And I got the “hourly usage limit” message again.

This is fucked up.

By the way, I would pay Twitter to avoid this hassle. I that the idea? If so, maybe it’s working. But it’s a shitty shakedown, if true.

 

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What started as plain old Web search has now been marginalized as “organic”. That’s because the plain old Web — the one Tim Berners-Lee created as a way to hyperlink documents — has become commercialized to such an extent that the about the only “organic” result reliably rising to first-page status is Wikipedia.

Let’s say your interest in “granite” and “Vermont” is geological, rather than commercial. The first page of Google results won’t help much if your interest goes beyond visiting a headstone mineSame goes for Bing. I notice this change because it’s becoming harder and harder for me to do casual research on geology (or most other topics that interest me) on the Web.

Yesterday Vivek Wadhwa tweeted a perfect line: “Google is paying content farms to pollute the web”. This is true, yet the problem is bigger than that. The Web is changing from a world wide library with some commercial content to a world wide mall with intellectually interesting publications buried under it, in virtual catacombs. Google’s mission of “organizing all the world’s information” is still satisfied. The problem is that most of that information — at least on the Web — is about selling something. The percentage of websites that are Web stores goes up and up. SEO only makes the problem worse.

The Berkman Center has a project that should encourage thinking about solving this problem, along with many others. Specifically,

The Berkman Center and Stanford Law School are pleased to announce a new initiative in which we invite the world to submit their ‘Ideas for a Better Internet.’ We are seeking out brief proposals from anyone with ideas as to how to improve the Internet. Students at Harvard and Stanford will work through early next year to implement the ideas selected. Interested parties should submit their ideas at http://bit.ly/i4bicfp by Friday, April 15. Please spread the word far and wide, and follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Ideas4BetterNet.

So get your ideas in by Tax Day.

So I’d like to find authoritative sources for two quotes. Here’s the first:

“I prefer the company of younger men. Their stories are shorter.”

No idea where I got that one. It’s too right not to be real, but I can’t a source yet. (That’s a job I’m giving ya’ll.)

The second quote I memorized instantly while reading a book, though I don’t remember which one.  (I’m guessing it was .) This is what Hughes said Parker wrote in a guest book at William Randolph Hearst‘s when the old man was still living with his consort, the actress :

“Upon my honor
I saw a madonna
standing in a niche,
above the door
of the private whore
of the world’s worst
son of a bitch”

Could be I’m one wrong about that one too. Dunno. Sources and corrections, anyone?

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