February 14, 2006

Getting Started

I'm going to keep a small journal as a subpart of the blog to keep myself up to date on what I'm building and writing. Tonight I reinstalled MySql 5.0 (seems like I've done this before) on my main home computer. I installed it as a service and hope it doesn't hog much memory. I've got SQLyog hooked up and that works, so I can see what it does nicely.

I also got Rails installed I think. Just ran the gem package and left it at that. So far so good. That's enough for tonight.

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February 17, 2005

Bloggers on Charlie Rose

Last night on Charlie Rose was a fairly interesting roundtable on blogging and the effect on media. If I could have only been there. But perhaps I can if I trackback. What was completely missing from the discussion were any technical aspects of why blogging is useful. It's not just the 'interactivity of the internet' it is the function that blog software provides to shape the behavior of people at keyboards. With only a passing reference to Technorati, Andrew Sullivan glossed over the possibilities of innovation and the moment was lost.

Secondly, and perhaps predictably, most of the focus was on the conflict between MSM and the 'sphere. While they were right to note that the blogosphere is growing at the expense of political magazines and television, I don't think enough focus was given to democracy itself. Perhaps they remain convinced of the Diebold scandal's ability to scare people away from digital democracy, but the real power is going to be getting people to vote early and often.

It is more than campaign finance reform that this medium is capable of achieving. It is the very process of governing - the nuts and bolts of taking minutes and calling the question. The core aspects of deliberation.

If I could be famous for anything, I would like it to be for XRepublic. If I had a million dollars, I could retire and start working on it. Every year I promise to do a little bit more work on it and every year I push it only few inches further. And yet year after year it seems that the world is ready for what I believe to be my best idea whose realization eludes me. I need encouragement, and programming assistance. XRepublic can be the revolution that the blogosphere needs to take it to the next level.

I would hope that those of you who might feel that the blogosphere is the realization, should read on in my (scanty but substantially inspired) XRepublic & Digital Democracy section. This is the destiny we seek.

At American Digest, Gerard goes into some depth about the processes and practices behind the best bloggers, specifically how tools like Google as well as desktop productivity software enable, extend and expand the 'note-taking' discipline common to journalists. It may seem arcane, but there are software professionals somewhere who are responsive to the needs and requirements of these very intellective acts. And so it goes for every discipline for which software is designed.

The point is that it is not just blog software and 'the internet' but a kind of softwarey-augmented discipline in the hands of millions that make the magic.

Even in the blog world, there are different levels of technical expression. LiveJournal -> TypePad -> MT -> WordPress to full blown CMS. What needed to be expressed was that content managment software has become relatively commodified, and in the hands of millions, it has generated a powerful capability. But there is much more software out there waiting to come down in price and up in usability which will create many spheres and powerful and as influential as the blogosphere. Or if one likes the blogosphere, think of the blogosphere growing more arms and legs and pressing other industries besides journalism.

Posted by mbowen at 08:17 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 12, 2005

Blogswarm Triumphant

It has been official for almost 20 hours now. Eason Jordan lies under the tornado house, his little feet slowly curling into balls. Who now wears the ruby slippers? The blogosphere does not, we cannot. We have too many feet. We are like swarming sentinels in search of The One. A new One will appear, and he will beware.

Here's the way I see it. There are actually hundreds of good ideas, millions perhaps. But as we look backward in time, there have only been a few to circulate them. The blogosphere is the energized part of the international web of ideas and it is expressing its ability to circulate more than the current generation of media can. This is a greater power and a more sophisticated one than even the Cluetrain signers considered. But it is not necessarily a force for good, it is simply a force to be reckoned with. Today, that force has momentarily become arrowlike, pointing in the direction of Eason.

The Blogosphere is set to become a more deliberative medium. The right advances in the toolset will objectify all these deliberations. Then, the true power of the blogosphere will become evident. It won't be the blogosphere - it will be something else. This is the beginning of a real revolution.

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August 17, 2004

Doug Schuler & e-Liberate

Add one more pioneer to the stew.

Motivated by a desire to help make online discussions more productive -- particularly among civil society groups who are striving to create more "civic intelligence" in our society -- Doug Schuler proposed in his 1996 book New Community Networks that Roberts Rules of Order could be used as a basis for online deliberation. Roberts Rules of Order was developed by Henry Robert in the late 1800s to describe an orderly process for people meeting together face-to-face to make decisions fairly. One of the most important criterion was that although every attendee would have opportunities to make his or her ideas heard the minority could not prevent the majority from making decisions. Robert labored over his "rules" for 30 years and they are now in daily use by tens of thousands of deliberative bodies worldwide. One of the interesting things that we have learned about Roberts Rules is that the process seems to scale up: small groups of 5 or so can use as can groups numbering in the hundreds.

I told you this was a great idea.

My angle differs in that it seeks to overcome specific temporal and spacial boundaries assumed by Robert as well as work on multiple levels of sophistication. An XRepublic can thus generate resolutions of varying complexity on similar topics in different time frames - it doesn't seek to force every quorum to develop a comprehensive resolution for larger majorities, rather to generate specific resolutions for specific constituencies which are related one to the other. One of the things I am trying to achieve is a balance of simplicity and completeness such that the language necessary might be more rule-based. This way one can review the effectiveness of amendment with regard to enforcement.

For example if one constituency leaves out clauses which specify "you cannot murder by poisoning with mercury" in a murder law, and it doesn't have a mercury poisoning, then the resolution is safe enough. Why add to its complexity in anticipation of a sophistication that doesn't exist in the constituency?

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August 05, 2004

The Wisdom of Crowds

Note in passing the following commentary vis a vis the potential for facilitation of collaborative judgements in XR. Drezner recommends James Suroweicki.

What was missing from the intelligence community, though, was any real means of aggregating not just information but also judgments. In other words, there was no mechanism to tap into the collective wisdom of National Security Agency nerds, CIA spooks, and FBI agents. There was decentralization but no aggregation and therefore no organization. [Senator] Richard Shelby's solution to the problem -- creating a truly central intelligence agency -- would solve the organization problem, and would make it easier for at least one agency to be in charge of all the information. But it would also forgo all of the enefits -- diversity, llocal knowledge, independence -- that decentralization brings. Shelby was right that information needed to be shared. But he assumed that someone -- or a small group of someones -- needed to be at the center, sifting through the information, figuring out what was important and what was not. But everything we know about cognition suggests that a small group of people, no matter how intelligent, simply will not be smrter than the larger group.... Centralization is not the answer. But aggregation is.

This is absolutely correct. I'll be passing it on to the folks at Deme.

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July 29, 2004

Quaker Decisions

Paul Kingston writes about an alternative way of deliberation which is fascinating.

The prototype I've been into is an attempt to provide a web space for business meetings on the Quaker model. You may well know that this is characterised by not (ever) using voting, and by trying to avoid individuals developing personal positions. In a Quaker business meeting all those present are trying to "perceive the will of God" in the matter before the meeting. So the challenge is to enable people's contributions to float free (a contribution, not a position) and to support the process by which the clerk of the meeting produces a minute, and that minute is refined towards agreement. The Quaker model of business meeting has characteristic advantages (and disadvantages) compared to what I might call the conflict model (state position/negotiate position/win the vote)- particularly, the ability of the meeting to turn on its heel and adopt a very unexpected position (since no-one has built up emotional investment in earlier positions). I've heard it suggested by people with more direct experience than I have that the Quaker model is closer to what happens in succesful boardrooms (at least, some succesful boardrooms) than the conflict model.

I think this is brilliant, and I've not considered such things in relation to XR. While I am generically familiar with various 'national' ways of business decision making, this is a new angle. I haven't been able to locate the international business style guide for some time now, so I'll briefly mention them from off the top of my head.

Germans look to a senior expert to architect a solution. Prestige is accorded to those who can closely follow within the strict discipline of an organization or methodology established this 'thought leader'. Dissent is not encouraged. This is what make Germans excellent engineers.

Japanese work in harmony according to plans that are driven by concensus. What is most important is the sanctity of the agreement. Anyone can object. Nothing goes forward until all are satisfied. Once written the plan cannot be altered.

French define the model of conflict. Every idea is battled until the strongest survives. Every nit can be a point of contention.

The American model focuses on the pitch, the resources and the goal. People are assembled and organized any way possible to reach the target. If personalities conflict then they are reorganized or replaced. Decision making is cyclical and may evolve at any time during a project.

Chinese work in the context of what assembled people and their relationships can do. In contrast to the American model, the team is most important and relationships between team members are settled before any work is begun. If there are conflict then it changes the goal.

These are very broad brushes of how various cultures organize to accomplish work. As I said there is more real research in this area but I cannot remember where I found it.

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July 21, 2004


Art McGee forwarded me a paper on Deme that I deem to be pretty interesting, if only because it formalizes much of what I've been thinking about when I think about using internet technology to the ends of deliberative collaboration. It's interesting that they come at it from the angle of the underprivileged. But now that it's happening at Stanford, I suppose it can be said to be truly happening. Todd Davies is the man driving this interesting vehicle. I've written him to get in touch with whatever he's doing. He's right, of course.

I'm going to, when I figure out how to get by with a little less sleep on a nightly basis, figure out how to integrate this new finding into my thought process as well as possibly collaborate with the authors. As for today, I'm making ends in the trenches and paying off debt. As you know, I am the father of an old neglected but brilliant theoretical child called XRepublic which has not been nourished recently.

In the meantime, I suppose I should be reading Habermas.

Posted by mbowen at 11:17 AM | TrackBack

January 20, 2004

Rushkoff: Open Source Democracy

Douglas Rushkoff weighs in. From the intro.

The emergence of the interactive mediaspace may offer a new model for cooperation. Although it may have disappointed many in the technology industry, the rise of interactive media, the birth of a new medium, the battle to control it and the downfall of the first victorious camp, taught us a lot about the relationship of ideas to the media through which they are disseminated. Those who witnessed, or better, have participated in the development of the interactive mediaspace have a very new understanding of the way that cultural narratives are developed, monopolised and challenged. And this knowledge extends, by allegory and experience, to areas far beyond digital culture, to the broader challenges of our time.

Also names to note in the Acknowledgements:

Thanks to Tom Bentley and everyone at Demos for the opportunity to extend this inquiry to a new community of thinkers. Thanks also to my editorial assistant, Brooke Belisle, and to colleagues including Andrew Shapiro, Steven Johnson, Ted Byfield, Richard Barbrook, David Bennahum, Red Burns, Eugenie Furniss and Lance Strate.

I'm looking forward to hearing from these folks in the future. These are precisely the kinds of questions I'm asking about here.

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January 05, 2004

Cleaning Out My (XR) Closet

I have begun to clean up the XR demo which has a bunch of broken links. As well, I will be creating and updating more of the background and design docs in the site.

I've moved it around so many times that it has gotten away from me, and somehow Dreamweaver didn't do its job.

Additionally, I am reviewing ways in which I believe XR will and will not work in the context of how the blogosphere works. This will be of use to help explain what it will feel like and how it will operate in comparison to the blogosphere. To that end here is a reprinted comment of mine.

I think that blogs are a great place for individuals to clarify their own thinking and are natural aggregators for like minds. The Bear Flag League, which is kind of a unique and unexpected result of political blogging can be thought of as a partisan group of conservative Californians.

It is the creation of partisan groups that is a big part of XRepublic. One aspect of the system (which I was just discussing with a collaborator) is the notion of affinity searches. If you were on the wonk path, you would likely perform affinity searches to help you create partisan groups.

XR depends a lot on the willingness of wonks to do their work of gathering people to their cause. It is not clear that the blogosphere does any such thing despite the existence of the Bear Flag League and observable preferences in blogrolls. (Conservatives almost always have Instapundit, Volokh & LGF, Liberals almost always have Atrios, TPM & Yglesias) Whereas the blogosphere encourages the wonky to talk a lot, XR would encourage them to link a lot.

The use of trackback which encourages me somewhat.

But I am fairly certain that getting some of the top bloggers involved in XR would assure its success, even if its just rehashing of comments already made. There are certain documents that stand on their own.

I happen to think that writers like DenBeste, DeLong or Orcinus who tend towards the exhaustive, would fare very well as crafters of artifacts that would be long-lived and well referenced in an XRepublic. I also think that the more sophisticated reputation management system would be attractive to the egos of the blogosphere.

At the very least, even those who do not participate on a regular basis would find it useful to have some of their verbiage RSS'd into various XR artifacts, and I can definitely see bloggers having a sidebar of their blog with links to resolutions which include their works as referents.

Both XR and the blogosphere compliment each other. I hope I can exploit their synergy.

Thanks to Ward Bell for keeping me on my toes not just recently, but for many years.

Posted by mbowen at 06:26 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 01, 2004

e-Voting, Diebold and Collaborative Policy Creation

The Diebold electronic voting 'scandal' is yet another issue that I haven't taken quite seriously. One of the reasons is that I think voting is overrated and policy creation is underrated. My angle on the e-ization of democratic processes has everything to do with the deliberative process and not the tallies. Studious observers of the political scene have undoubtedly noted the horseracing aspects of political commentary which has left principled analysis in the lurch.

On the bright side, the rise of the fisk, in the toolset of amateur political bloviation is a very good, if sometimes nauseating thing. The interjection of hyperbole at least shows we have a passionate pulse for critically directed mental activity beyond handicapping. The problem is that while nobody seems to be spared from the distraction of the endless posturing of right and left, I can only really cite Begging To Differ as a joint blog dedicated to present views from both sides of the one dimensional spectrum. Everybody is a critic, few synthesize.

The tools of blogdom and the entire internet are not designed for, and therefore not well-suited for synthesis and collaborative consensus-building. This is the aim of XRepublic, as I have not often enough brought to the attention of myself and my readers. However I may be in a position to further the aims of the XRepublic project this year if my fortunes go as planned. Indeed, I have found an alternative way of getting development done.

So I am saying publicly that I will pursue this with a bit more vigor this year because I am convinced that the blogosphere possesses the right combination of talent and energy to make the content work. I am also convinced that Six Apart are the people who can make it happen, and it is my intent to develop the system in the context of the MT blog & what I understand of RSS. So let me email MT and get on it.

The point is not the voting system we have today. It is pitifully outdated, and we will have to let oldfolks die. I'm talking to people today who are gamers, who have no qualms about representing themselves online; people for whom online reputation and peer systems are second nature. They will make this happen, and to hell with the boomers who get off dissing the young whippersnappers.

As for security. I honestly believe that it is a tempest in a teacup.

I have not been convinced that the nation's ATM banking network has ever been compromised in any significant way. In fact, I would argue that part of the great vulnerability of electronic voting is that it wouldn't take place often enough. A single wealthy donor could assure that votes get Counterpane levels of security. And if that is not the level of security afforded international interbank transfers, then such schemes could be adopted as well. I'm never going to find out where stolen plutonuim, hijacked IPOs and diverted gold transfers at national central banks have gone. Neither are you. Nevertheless, we can establish at least that level of trust in electronic voting. It is not a question of technology. Again, an open alternative will be open-sourced together, it is just a matter of time.

In the meantime we should develop the means and wherewithal to open up policy making to distributed deliberative bodies. This is a crucial direction in establishing a functioning self-determination. I cannot emphasize how important this is, which is why I am so very conflicted about my desire to develop it in an open way. I can only assume that someone familiar and patient with making fortunes can explain the compromises necessary vis a vis licensing and Creative Commons. A system like XRepublic, designed to advance us beyond the meatspace machinations of Roberts Rules of Order, is both a necessity and a boon to the world of collaborative decision-making. Its potential ought to be available to masses...Eh. I should be able to figure out something at least as clever as a record company producer.

In the meantime, if you or anyone you know can assist in this project, I'm all ears. I'm not interested in reviewing any theoretical literature. I already know what Scott Reents has said and built. I think my solution just needs to be built, and then we'll move on from there. The vision is crystalline in my head, I only need my demiurge.

Posted by mbowen at 02:40 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 12, 2003

XR Dynamic Footnote

This reference by Drezner via Pejman should be useful in expressing the value of an XR system. For my readers who don't know, XRepublic is my big project.

The XRepublic can be thought of as a virtual parliament and it is from that perspective, using the terminology and technology of web-based online conferencing, that it was originally conceived. It is designed from the ground up to take advantage of Internet technology in order to make the kinds of deliberative processes currently found in governments, universities, intelligence organizations and other deliberative bodies available to a distributed group of people connected by networked computers.

Posted by mbowen at 07:59 AM | TrackBack

October 28, 2003

Tanking Down Big Media One Peg At A Time

Kieran Healy takes a swing at Gregg Easterbrook over at Crooked Timber.

As some folks have noted the blogosphere is a catalyst in changing the balance of power in the wider 'memepool'. As the most broad, deep and visible avatar of the chatting class, the blogosphere with its interesting divisions of labor, has the capacity to take down stars of traditional media, politics and just about every other intellectual activity. Note that this is a function of the entire sphere and not necessarily the work of one or two individuals. I claim that the emergent behavior of the network of political and cultural bloggers are making their impact felt as a whole.

The most notable tool of the blogosphere is the 'fisk', named after outspoken journalist Robert Fisk who was often the target of 'anti-idiotarian' rants and other verbal puncturing. A fisking represents the evolution of the flamewar. It is smarter, it is more detailed and it is more effective.

Since the blogosphere is open and news travels fast through it, people are likely to criticize certain controversial or popular positions from many angles. The blogosphere supports the highly focused interest of partisans of all stripes and once a higher order blogger in its ecosystem latches onto a topic, it quickly brings out almost all angles of opinion.

The fisk represents the level of interactivity and detail orientation I have been hoping to find within computer mediated communications for some time. That the blogosphere demonstrates this proves several things. The first and most important is that collaboration is a necessary part of the effect and impact of blog writing.

Provocation is a necessary component of this activity. Someone of a particularly partisan bent can speak out on a particular issue in such a way that it provokes a reaction. Thus a critical mass of bloggers and their commenters.

One of the features of this emergent behavior involves a kind of indemnification accorded to certain bloggers once they reach a certain status. It can either be an indemnification of link mass or of credibility. Often they are both. Once an issue to be debated reaches one of the indemnified bloggers

Sometimes the issue needs only a brief glossing over or a reference to other bloggers at an indmnified site. This doesn't detract from the value of the indemnified blogger because even these small inputs sustain interest and add fractal detail to the overall debate.

Posted by mbowen at 08:14 PM | TrackBack

September 18, 2003

The New Democracy

I just stumbled across this student government website. This is awesome and very encouraging.

Posted by mbowen at 05:16 PM | TrackBack

September 09, 2003

Political Multidimensionality

It has been a while since I've heard a good new idea. Here are some principles, fuzzily stated that are at the core of good thinking.

Imagine the standard Nolan Chart, but pretend at first that only economic liberties are at issue, that only that left-right spectrum counts. You can use the standard Downsian analysis to predict (under first-past-the-post, winner-take=all) a pair of dominant coalitions (parties) situated just far enough from the median to deter third party entrants. Call those points at which the parties form the consensus points. Now, drop that second axis, personal liberties, into play. Depending on the distribution of voter preferences in this new 2-D opinion-space, the consensus points shift, not only up and down, but also along the original left-right axis. You can drop a third line representing some other issue (foreign policy, abortion, etc.) and repeat the shift in 3-D space, and in principle on into N-dimensional space for N issues. (Each of "economic" and "personal" freedom are conflations of positions on a range of sub-dimensions, which could be represented as separate dimensions as they grew salient.)

My point exactly.

Posted by mbowen at 11:16 AM | TrackBack

September 02, 2003

Freedom Isn't Free

..and democracy has a price.

All us Californians have been inundated with the factoid that D. Issa, the San Diego Republican spent over one and a half million dollars of his own money to finance the signature drive for the gubernatorial recall. We've also heard from the Secretary of State of California that this special election will cost about 36 million to actually hold.

36 million? I didn't know elections were that expensive. But apparently, Accenture did and that's why it bought the struggling Election.com. Any time you want to nurse a big headache, think about how much elections actually cost.

Right now, election.com is primarily handling stockholder proxy elections but I can see how the election business can become big business. And importantly how a pricing model for features and functions in an election system can bump up the price.

Posted by mbowen at 04:49 PM | TrackBack

August 05, 2003

Internet Guided Voting

What Eugene Volokh suggests in these 22 paragraphs are some interesting thoughts on online voting. I'll engage him for a moment.

I don't like the idea in that his system, as proposed, tightly aligns the automated process of guidance to the actual vote. I think the vote should be a pure expression of will. The idea that an automated system could actually capture every nuance of decision making is flawed. The entire thing can be spoofed, not to mention subverted. But the fundamental flaw is what happens to interest group standing and the consequent effect of omissions and conflicts in the system's likelihood of setting up limited choices.

Contrast Guided Voting (GV) to XRepublic. It is fair to view GV as a watered down version of an XRepublic, whose function is more oriented toward the more wonkish work of deliberation and crafting of resolutions. In XR the processes and outputs are dynamic, with GV the processes are deterministic. Linking them to voting makes the outputs deterministic as well.

It is this particular aspect that bothers me the most because at bottom there will always be a bottleneck in the capacity of the system. At issue is the mechanism used to determine which selection of interest groups merit inclusion in the weighting algorithm of GV. At the heart of the GV system are will be some affinity scoring algorithm that maps voter opinion through the lens of interest groups onto ballot choices. There are a couple places this gets dicey.

The first area for contention would be in weighting the scores. This is what I call the interest group conflict problem. Let's say a thumb (binary choice) is requested on 2nd Amendment question in the form of a gun control ballot initiative. On all the points of the language of a proposal behind the ballot initiative, the NRA scores .89 certainty for a NO. On all the points of the Gun Nuts of South Texas also scores an .89 certainty for NO. Some representative of the GNST, upon hearing this claims to be a .92. It is a matter of pride for their partisans to be stauncher supporters of gun rights than their rival organization, the NRA. Who arbitrates? How long? Where is the science? Who certifies it?

The second issue is that of omission. What incentive do maintaners of the system have to include 'redundant' or 'superfluous' interest groups? What standing is required to become legitimized as an interest group? This problem is rather obvious so I won't elaborate.

The third is an issue of horseracing tripwires. In this case, the system programmers, in programming the system's affinity matrix notice some interesting sets. By estimating the number of voters who have generally announced their affinities in other elections for the NRA and GNST interest groups, they will be able, by dint of their knowledge of the affinity matrices, to project with certainty the outcomes of elections. This knowledge will get into the hands of campaigners and can be used strategically to undercut democracy in a must cruel way. I can think of no clearer example of this than the current recall election in California. Who would have thought that for a mere $1.7 million dollars, approximately 1.02 per signature that a recall measure could force a vote of confidence (which incidently costs the State of California $32 million simply to launch). The point is not the expense but the increased determinacy of tripwires in elections that only require narrow activism to force public change.

It may be that within the scope of the decision space of any one election, a limited set of influencing interest groups will provide sufficient diversity to allow voters more than enough 'free will' as determined by the affinity algorithms. But this is something that needs to be watched very closely. I would strongly suggest that any such system be decoupled from actual voting and tried on the simple merits of guidance.

Posted by mbowen at 01:59 PM | TrackBack

July 22, 2003

Kali, H20 and Rotisseries

I've been having a rather intense discussion with Kali Tal who is somewhat legendary for being annoyingly right when it comes to gender and racial issues. I am pleased to call her a friend, as much as one can have friends that meet once in 10 years and have periodic talks on the net, but I understand how being on the dummy end of a debate with her feels. I also know what it feels like to be inspired by someone as tireless and fiercely intellectual as she. It's more of the latter which is why I am proud of our association. Part of this discussion was about what is the best way to communicate via internet technologies. She brought up a stellar point. To wit:

Styles of discourse are not natural. They differ from culture to culture, and are a product of socialization. Socialization takes place through institutions--the family, schools, religious traditions, etc. Men and women are socialized to different styles of discourse in this culture (again, I refer you to the voluminous and oft-duplicated research on this question). When women adopt male discursive strategies, they're punished for it (again, see the research on conversational patterns and the disruption caused by women embracing "male" speech patterns, and see both my posts [and other women's posts] to this list). The mechanisms of punishment are engaged automatically, without deliberate or conscious effort on the part of the men in the conversation because that is simply the "normal" reaction to female speech that challenges the status quo. That's the very definition of institutionalized oppression--when enforcement mechanisms become diffuse, naturalized, and automatic, so that no individual needs to take responsibility for keeping another in her place. It just "happens."

I too have long been interested in what silences are created and destroyed when dealing with racial issues in cyberspace - why cyberspace is supposed to be a deracinated place where 'intellectual discourse floats disembodied'. For a time, my entire reason for posting into cyberspace was an experiment in 'post-modern blackness', and so I learned a great deal about what is real and what is not in this communications medium.

Since Kali and I are still in the midst of this discussion, you can imagine my delight when Art McGee found H20, which is precisely the sort of thing that might mitigate against our despairing that the internet might not yeild the kind of environment for real discovery and collaboration between parties whose styles of communication are at odds. H20 offers this wisdom:

The Rotisserie implements an innovative approach to online discussion that encourages measured, thoughtful discourse in a way that that traditional threaded messaging systems do not. The basic concept of the threaded messaging board is to enable broadcast-to-broadcast communication among a group of people, meaning that every participant in the conversation receives every post from every other participant. This mode of discussion inevitably leads to the domination of the discussion by a few very verbal participants and silence by the lurking majority. The Rotisserie breaks this mode by assigning every post within the conversation to another, specific participant for response. The resulting conversation guarantees that every post will be responded to by at least one other participant and that every participant must respond directly to the post of another participant.

This is a stellar idea and a very different way of conceptualizing a solution to this complex problem. It seeks to avoid conflict through enforcement of rules that determine when it is appropriate for contributors to speak which is predictable and orderly. This is completely different than the way I had envisioned managing speech restrictions which, quite frankly, is more oppositional.
Bozo filtering.
This is the first There is one level of peer review. If a particular individual becomes worrisome, he can be filtered in such a way that his comments do not appear to the filtering party. This is done on an individual by individual basis as is widely recognized in major contemporary Web Conferencing systmes.

If a person proves himself to be a bozo of sufficient dimensions, then within a house, this citizen can be Censured. Censure involves a vote of Citizens. Censure is a very strong punishment requiring the consent of 20 citizens of a house. These 20 citizens must be members of atleast 2 unaffiliated Partisan Groups. The result of Censure is that his speaking privileges (ability to write statments) are suspended for a period of 30 days. Any individual who is Censured cannot be Censured again for 60 days after regaining speaking priviliges in the House.

PNG is a bit more serious. It means that a person is essentially expelled from a House. He becomes Personna Non Grata in that House. He may remain active in another house, but the PNG remains permanently on his record. In order to PNG an individual citizen, 25 House members must concur that he be expelled from that House. PNG however requires a 'standing writ'. This means that those Citizens who PNG'd him must remain active in that house for as long as the PNG stands. The standing writ is established by the active status of 10 of the original Citizens who voted for PNG.

In defense of my method, I think it gives participants more control and responsibility for the tone of discourse, but as Kali notes, if there are culturally irreconcilable differences below the conscious level of the participants, it doesn't seem likely that simply lopping off the heads of offenders helps. It might create more silence than it overcomes.

In any case, as work on systems such as these progresses, I believe we are going to find a new world of computer mediated deliberation which will be more productive ways of making decisions across broader populations than our world has ever seen.

Posted by mbowen at 08:04 PM | TrackBack

July 10, 2003

23 Million Clues

The creators of MoveOn.org should be encouraged to see that 23 million people have called to register their telephone numbers on an telemarketing opt-out list. Politicians should also take note. This is the future of democracy - it will move as quickly as markets.

Whatever reasons Congress has given to change the rules for opt-in vs opt-out as the default for electronic marketing have now been slapped around.

Posted by mbowen at 12:24 AM | TrackBack

July 01, 2003

Sunglasses in the Auranet

This afternoon I took the kids ice skating at the top of Palos Verdes. While I still have my buddha working, there are times when older sensibilities take over, when I'm dressing, for example. I wore my A&F snowboard pants (not really thick at all). But to over compensate for the fact that I know that in such environments, I should wear no labels whatsoever, I wore a sheer RL Polo Sport shirt that says so right on the front. And furthermore, I wore that black Kangol skull cap my wife bought me for Christmas. Hedging my overcompensation, I brought along my black fleece with the zipper neck and no labels. Nevertheless I decided against the slightly worn cap with some obscure reference to yachting or golf. Needless to say, I was awash in mixed signals, then again, I'm quite a code-switcher. I also came armed with small talk. Get down to business quickly and get back out again is the rule. I think I ended up talking too much to one guy and not enough to another. Whatever. This is paragraph #1.

In paragraph 2, I relate a somewhat obscurely related fact, which is the matter of sunglasses on eBay. Some of you may know that if you have some difficulty registering, or are a newbie, or have changed your identity in the past 30 days, you will have a probationary thingy attached to your account in the form of a pair of sunglasses. This indicates to potential buyers of whatever it is you are trying to sell at eBay, that you may not be whom you appear to be and that only minimal information is available about you. Nice concept.

Here in paragraph three, I attempt to be a bit more serious and come to the real point of the discussion which is to reflect about some of my first thoughts about that which Howard Rheingold has provoked me into thinking. I have been unassiduous in my completion of his Smart Mobs, but yesterday somewhere just past page 176 he mentioned Auranet. Auranet is a 12 foot 'personal space' in which smart items located on your person will automagically coordinate and negotiate this and that information about you to similarly equipped persons at some point in the future.

Like what?

I'm married. Do I keep a copy of my kids photos, or do I protect those from all strangers? I've got a lot of money in the bank, which credit card do I expose - do I set a profile for when I'm slumming? I'm horny and on the make, do I set to beergoggle mode, and what if She is the Right One? How much do I go about wearing on my sleeve? Which labels do I select from my electronic closet? What's in your wallet?

In answer to the question of what we should be asking ourselves now that we are in the golden era of bigger and more pervasive is better of course, I suggest the following. This has always been the great warning I have held, which is to beware of perfect simalcra. As Marshall Blonsky instructs, very little of what we process as real information is actually authentic, and we are not protected. The news and information and knowledge we present in the future, about ourselves, about the world, about any and everything will come without a metadata guarantee. We will be so intent on getting the crap through the goose of the electronic global mind, that we won't pay much attention to its provenance. Instead we will rely upon systems of reputation to give us credibility, and these systems of reputation will be content agnostic. It will be more important to us to trust people and systems to connect with us than it will be that everything they tell us always be verifyable. Half the point of establishing a trusted friend is not having to second-guess everything they tell us. The problem, of course is that crap will get under the radar.

I'm thinking about this crap factor as I prepare myself to review the resignation letter I have recieved from trusted sources several degrees of separation from the originator. But I know that this letter has not got a PGP signature attached, and never would. I am not the original target of this letter, so I cannot know that it's not a fake, nor can I know if it is generally undoctored if it isn't a complete fabrication. And though I am likely to trust the folks that sent it to me, and having generally reconciled its existence to the fact that I have seen it coming from multiple directions of trust does not change the fact that the entire artifact may be a fabrication.

Which brings me to a point about modifying the architecture of the XRepublic to accomodate the blogosphere. What would it take to completely defraud the blogosphere? How difficult or easy would it be to get the top blogsources commenting about X knowing that X would inevitably lead to certain conclusions being drawn by rational people? I'm suggesting that such a thing, if not practical now, could be done with a sophistication heretofore unknown. I am suggesting that the margin for error is significant. I'm saying that anything can ultimately be hoaxed. I'm also saying that we'll be used to that.

This is the context for the discussion of sunglasses in the Auranet.

Maybe I don't want you to know that I'm married. Or maybe I just brought my kids to the ice skating rink and stood around taking digital pictures like an idiot because I was really spying on Mr. D who I just happen to know would be there today. Maybe I'm just shy and not from around here and don't really want to talk to anyone today. One never knows, does one?

The more we depend on our electronic auras to present ourselves, even as we get more and more sophisticated with our labels and social signifyers, people will remain as opaque as they wish to be, and sometimes inadvertantly more than they want to be. I raise the flag because we may lose the skill. Just as some of us smalltalk well, others of us are completely awkward. We depend on some electronic Cyrano to express ourselves, and wind up incapable. We will literally be at a loss for words from processing so many digital signals and icons. Who hasn't been tongue tied? Who hasn't found the perfect personal ad and found ourselves practicing dozens of times what message to leave on Her answering machine, only to sputter like an idiot. Maybe she had Caller ID and I am screened for life.

Which brings me to the second to last paragraph, which was The Last Castle on television last night. Robert Redford spoke to a dyslexic corporal sharing the same bighouse prison yard. The corporal was 2 years into a 7 year bid. He had been in the service 13 years, and committed a crime that took 15 minutes. Redford suggested that he was more Marine than anything else. This is easy for a certain type of human to do face to face...

Today, I'm very concerned about my privacy. I want to wear sunglasses and I don't want to submit to mind-cavity searches by the authorities. In that, I am like many of my peers in the information technology business.  We may come to regret that. We never know when we may have to run down the street screaming for assistance like Griffin Dunne in After Hours.

Posted by mbowen at 04:54 PM | TrackBack

February 11, 2003

Power Law Distributions

I'm somewhat skeptical of this, but it makes for a fine theory.

A persistent theme among people writing about the social aspects of weblogging is to note (and usually lament) the rise of an A-list, a small set of webloggers who account for a majority of the traffic in the weblog world. This complaint follows a common pattern we've seen with MUDs, BBSes, and online communities like Echo and the WELL. A new social system starts, and seems delightfully free of the elitism and cliquishness of the existing systems. Then, as the new system grows, problems of scale set in. Not everyone can participate in every conversation. Not everyone gets to be heard. Some core group seems more connected than the rest of us, and so on.
Posted by mbowen at 08:32 PM | TrackBack

February 01, 2003

Reflections on the Blogosphere

starting today, every blogger and his mama are going to be talking about the shuttle disaster. you will read through a million blogs before you find out more about what actually happened to cause the explosion. you certainly will have a wealth of tangential information (if you can call that wealth), but the core truth of the matter will become distributed like light through a house of glass and mirrors after an earthquake. take away one shard/blog and what do you have? an imperceptible loss of value. add another million shard/blogs and what do you have, very little more light.

now the analogy breaks down because these blogshards are more like transducers of light with their own power supply than inert glass, so they add their own light which may amplify, distort, color and block out the original source. but they do so without any coordination or direction. they merely zoom in on a few reliable sources of light, link and then do their translating/transducing business. what you get is a marvel of emergent behavior, but it is still incomprehensible. you cannot ask anything of the blogosphere and get a coherent answer. for that, your best bet is to go back to the source and make your own interpretation from that.

now that i've used the word 'coherent' in the context of light...

what if you could smartly coordinate all these blogshards in such a way that they continually reflect upon their collective reflections and transductions? what if you made it impossible for light to escape the blogosphere until it had reached a certain threshold of uniformity? what if you designed a chamber in which all the little mirrors with all their own sources of power focused issue by issue until they had a resolution? and finally what if you looked not at the reflection business but the resolved light? you would be blinded by the power of that light because you would be staring into a laser!

building that chamber is my aim. until that time, i view the blogosphere as a house of broken mirrors reflecting the news of the day every which way. very nice for the connoisseur of the eclectic, but practically useless for seekers of verified knowledge.

Posted by mbowen at 08:36 PM | TrackBack

January 29, 2003


This is the closest thing I've seen to the kind of reputation management I envision for Sleeves. I'll investigate further. It looks very good.

Millions of individuals turn to the Internet to provide or receive support via discussion style mailing lists and forums in health, travel, technology and others. With Affero, those who receive support within these forums or through private discussions can now say "thanks" quickly and easily through ratings, comments and donations to the causes an expert that provides support selects
Posted by mbowen at 08:38 PM | TrackBack

January 27, 2003

Post-Knowledge-Industrial Society

Once upon a time in Europe, only monks could read and write. I'd say the process is fairly commodified now.

One of the things we forget about the star trek universe is that the development of anti-matter power generators and replicator technology fairly destroyed the concept of material prosperity. Material prosperity is infinite and ubiquitous in that world. If we develop technologies that destroy knowledge scarcity, what will that world be like?

I believe a number of problems that we are having are consequences of the fact that we are destroying knowledge scarcity faster than we can invent new forms of value. I'm slightly shifting my worldview in order to accommodate this idea.

The knowledge industry is coming out of its infancy. Right now, we are the equivalent of serfs just seeing the dawn of the industrial era. We live in knowledge squalor. Only a few of us even get information. Knowledge transfer is a very tedious, time consuming, expensive and labor-intensive process. We make a fetish of human intelligence because of the pride we take in overcoming barriers to learning, but learning is just a natural part of human existence, like growth. Yet our intellectual health is stunted because of our feral knowledge environment. We have yet to master the tools that will surround us with the proper environment, we have yet to develop the discipline to stay away from unhealthy knowledge.

We are still like foragers with cast iron constitutions. We still experiment with wild ideas and have yet to grasp the unadorned nutritional value of the information we consume. As we evolve our mental cuisine we will come to understand such things.

Our media industry recognizes the fundamentally unquenchable desire for mental stimulation. We know that deprivation of human contact and mental stimulation is the greatest torture. So the industry feeds us massive amounts and we never get enough. We have shown little capacity to reject more and more, we become obese with information.

Posted by mbowen at 09:37 PM | TrackBack

January 02, 2003

quant jockeying

it has been a week or two that i've been immersed in the blogoverse and i think it's time to introduce all 12 of my readers who didn't already know that i'm rather interested in applying computer technology to this mushy thing called democracy.

i'm not the first nor will i be the last to try something like this, but i cannot tell you how encouraged i am by the progress made by the blogoverse. in fact, i think that the world is actually ready for the next step, which is the x-republic.

so i'm going to dave winer and see what he says. i think he'll understand and get it immediately, the question is whether or not he's willing to share credit. well, here goes suicide.

Posted by mbowen at 08:40 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack