Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

People make shoes, not money…

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Peter Drucker’s insight expanded by JP:

People aren’t interested in medical records, they’re interested in getting well, and staying well. People aren’t interested in bills and receipts, they’re interested in knowing that they did what they said they will do, or that they received what they expected to receive. People aren’t interested in financial statements, they’re interested in what they can do as a result of the security that income and savings and insurance and pensions. People aren’t interested in TV or radio schedules, they’re interested in watching things and listening to things. People aren’t interested in share prices and market movements, they’re interested in the things they can do as a result of performing their jobs well. It’s not the information that matters, but what we can do as a result.

Worth remembering when designing any tool for people to help them do something useful.

Leave-me-alone box

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Need to get myself one of these!

via Machine Thinking

About 7 years ago I was reading an article on Claude Shannon and came across one of the funniest ideas I had ever heard. Claude, you see, was one of these incredibly brilliant engineers with an obviously great sense of humor. As I understand it, he, along with Marvin Minsky came up with an idea they called the “Ultimate Machine”. Basically a plain box with a switch on the top. When you flip the switch, a hand comes out of the box and flips the switch off. Thats it.

Well, after reading the article, and laughing out loud, I decided that I HAD to build one of these boxes. So simple, and yet so funny.

Quote to remember

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When you take an idea or a concept and turn it into an abstraction, that opens the way to take human beings and turn them, also, into abstractions.
- Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel

Rules for open web community

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Eran of Hueniverse has extrapolated 10 helpful rules from his obviously extensive experience of web communities and projects. They seem excellent to me and so I’ll reproduce them here in full for future reference:

Community efforts must adhere to the same rules startups use when trying to build something new. They must be focused, have a clear plan on how they are going to accomplish their goals, and what it is going to take to get there. With that in mind, here are my 10 rules for community driven open-web projects:

  1. Know what you are trying to solve. Start with a single sentence description of the problem you are going to solve. Stop wasting people’s time by writing long essays about the philosophy of your project and ideas. The more narrow your problem the better. Define the outcome and the most important characteristics.
  2. Find the right people. Before you open a project to the public, hand pick those you want to be involved. Like any successful business, community efforts must have a strong foundation which is created by getting the right team together. In a way, you are going to need to put a team in place as if you are not building a community at all. It is rare for community members to do more than provide feedback, so you will still need a core group to get stuff done.
  3. Make it easy for people to join. Don’t start with a wiki, a blog, a group, a website, and a meetup. Pick the one format that works best for your idea. Writing code? Pick a developer oriented solution. Writing specs? A group is all you need. At some point when your project matures, you will need all those other tools, but starting with it just because it makes your project look more real, actually makes it look stupid. If people need to check out 5 different sites to catch up, they will either leave, or contribute the wrong resources.
  4. Don’t be too nice or too democratic. I’m a big believer in enlightened dictatorship, and it is something every community needs. Give a tiny group of people, 3-5, the power to manage the project, make final decisions, and keep the community on track. It will piss off some people, and they are sure to – you guessed it – start their own new projects that are even bigger and cooler. But your project will stay on track. There is a limit to making decisions by taking votes.
  5. Set deadlines. Open-ended projects have no motivation to get anything done. Set timelines and do your best to make them. Don’t go too far into the future, and try to limit your effort to few deliverables. People need to see progress to continue putting time into the project.
  6. Don’t branch out too soon. Almost every single project I read about already has sub-projects going before anything was accomplished. If a member of the community has an idea that doesn’t fit right now, or at all, a better idea is to put it off, rather than split the community resources. This is where #3 comes in – don’t let people hijack your community for their own agenda.
  7. Let your project grow organically. It is funny how everyone talks about viral marketing but rarely apply that to their own efforts. Letting people find out about your project through members and by experiencing the results of your project is always better than posting about it in every blog comment and other community. If people join a group that has accomplished nothing, they are more likely to try and take over, shift the conversation, and generally have little respect towards the leaders. #3 is easier when people respect you.
  8. Start with an accomplishment. Starting with an idea or goal is nice, but rarely gets things done. Write some code, a spec draft, a site prototype – anything – just something others can relate to. Point of reference is the single most powerful tool for getting productivity out of a community.
  9. Don’t be afraid to end a project. If for some reason an effort has not worked out, or did but reached its objectives, don’t recycle the community or force more deliverables just because you have everyone in one place. Most ideas will fail simply because that is the nature of human invention. Recognize that and know when to shutdown a project. The beauty of the internet is that you get to leave behind whatever outputs were created, and that by itself can be a useful lesson. Stale projects are like stale milk. You never buy a one because when you open the fridge it looks like you have milk, and meanwhile that milk is starting to smell.
  10. Know what you are trying to solve. The first rule is so important, it needs to be repeated. The people you want and need to make your project successful are usually the ones with very little free time. Just like getting funding for a startup, you need to sell them the idea and it needs to be very specific. Remember, you can always get one problem solved and pick another.

Change is driven by need, and so far, the needs of the open social web has not been fully figured out. We don’t need projects to talk and discuss ideas, and we don’t need to give them big names.

Note: There are a couple of issues I have with Eran’s approach to the proliferation of often mismanagement and sometimes pointless web projects – the answer is not to sit it out or wait. Change and improvement happens because someone got pissed off and did it right. :)

Quote to remember

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We’re looking for the mouse. We’re going to look at every place that a reader or a listener or a viewer or a user has been locked out, has been served up passive or a fixed or a canned experience, and ask ourselves, “If we carve out a little bit of the cognitive surplus and deploy it here, could we make a good thing happen?” And I’m betting the answer is yes.
- Clay Shirky, Gin, Television, and Social Surplus

a4mouse4401.jpg

Note: I know I linked to this yesterday in video and text, but this is close to my heart as that’s what I am trying to do myself.

Humanity Lobotomy

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Net Neutrality Open Source Documentary:


Save the Internet | Rock the Vote

My take on net neutrality from June 2006.

Frozen in NYC

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A new type of ‘crowd control’? Talk about collective action! Is this what Clay Shirky means when he talks of the cognitive surplus no longer sucked up by TV? ;-) Wonderful.

via Scott (commenter on an Endgadget post)

Cognitive surplus

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… of human creativity that for the last 50 years or so has been sucked out by TV and other cognitive heatsinks. Clay Shirky as always – making sense on stilts. Watch to hear how the Victorians got through industrialisation and the shock of it with the help of.. gin. More importantly, he addresses the stupid question I hear so often from those who don’t have a clue about what the online world is like and what drives people in it – “Where do people find the time?!” It is a variation on too much information and I have fought on that front for a while.

The answer Clay gives is that as options to TV and other passive engagements emerge, people switch away to participate and create. He argues that with the web we start to see cognitive surplus as an asset (creativy, innovation and participation) instead of something to be dissipated. I believe he is right, let’s hope our faith in humanity is vindicated. :)

The money quote: Here is what a four year old knows – a screen that ships without a mouse, ships broken. Media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for!
. Amen, brother.

via Johnnie

Here is Clay’s post based on his talk.

On data shadows and giving up control

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Bruce Schneier on what keeps me awake these days.

In the information age, we all have a data shadow.
….

What happens to our data happens to ourselves.
….

Who controls our data controls our lives.
….

We need to take back our data.
….

This is a tall order, and it will take years for us to get there. It’s easy to do nothing and let the market take over. But as we see with things like grocery store club cards and click-through privacy policies on websites, most people either don’t realize the extent their privacy is being violated or don’t have any real choice. And businesses, of course, are more than happy to collect, buy, and sell our most intimate information. But the long-term effects of this on society are toxic; we give up control of ourselves.

This is why I want the Mine! and why I have designed it as a place where you can reclaim your data, without abandoning the goodness of connectivity and benefits of the network. As I keep saying in my email signature: The network is always stronger than the node… but a network starts with a node.

The individual needs to be stronger, more in charge of their domain. I believe that will improve relationships and transactions with others as well as bring benefits to the whole network.

From misapprehensions to alternatives

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There has been some confusion about the ‘Feeds Based VRM’, the Mine! and its provenance, possibly due to this post and this one. I’d like to put the record straight about where ‘Feeds Based VRM’ comes from and what the Mine! is and what it isn’t.

An earlier paper on ‘Feeds Based VRM’ has dealt with the data logistics using feeds mechanism. Althought it did not explore the Mine! in detail – that was done in a paper posted here last Sunday – it has always been predicated on the existence of something like the Mine!. The feeds approach has appealing simplicity and it has caught the attention of some who assumed it fits in with some of the existing approaches to VRM. To clarify, the ‘Feeds Based VRM’ is an alternative to identity based VRM, not an evolutionary step. This has led to some misapprehensions and the slides and diagrams drawing on the ‘Feeds Based VRM’ and the Mine! amount to running around with the bathwater, often without the baby. Before explaining in more detail, some definitions:

Having opened the user-centric can of worms by pitching the term against user-driven, a couple of other terms have sprung up, such as individual-driven and human centric. The first one misses the point that user and usage is a component of the design and the second is merely a variation on user-centric. Just replace ‘user‘ with ‘human‘ in user-centric sayz – we are going to build a system, put the user in the centre instead of the system to see what I mean. Same thing. A good test of user-driven is whether the user can add value to an application or the (by definition emergent) system itself.

John Dodds hits the nail on the head:

Sorry folks “individual” and “social identity” are pretty much useless because there are too many subjective definitions and associations pertaining to them out there. The strength of user-driven lies in the verb – there can be no doubt here, the user is in charge and actively driving and thus delineates it from user-centric and all the others. That is what you need a term to do.

User-driven has been coined to drive home my discomfort about the term user-centric. It is the user that adds value to the system, which then serves that user and other users. Think Twitter or BitTorrent – applications only as valuable as the user activity on them. The functionality provided depends entirely on whether people use it and more importantly how they use it. For example, Twitter’s reply functionality @USERNAME has come directly from users, they started doing it as part of conversations and Twitter turned it into a reply function.

A design principle for the Mine! applies here:

We are creating better tools for users, not trying to improve what they want to do; i.e. giving them better ways of doing what they are already doing. If we try to improve what they want to do, we are not doing our job – nifty technology is good but usage is even better.

When it comes to driving usage, scaling a network or relying on user-driven design, an important distinction between the primary and secondary objectives has to be made. There often is just one objective – either the benefit to the designer/developer of the application that flows from others using it; or some pre-defined result that benefits everybody but that will emerge only if many people use it towards that end.

Two types of objectives need to be present to foster a community or scale a network.

  • The primary, which taps into the user’s needs, objectives and convenience. Here the benefit to the user has to be immediate, the functionality delivering now.
  • The secondary, which motivates the application designer or the network builder who foresees future outcomes that may be desirable and emerge through users’ behaviour.

User-centric design often focuses on the secondary objective, with no or little attention given to the primary one. The result is often a range of applications or a system with no relevance or convenience to the user. This in turn breeds misconceptions about users and their motivations, habits, preferences, needs and levels of tolerance. I lost count of the number of times I heard some usability wonk or a UI design agency assert their conclusions about ‘users’, their wants and needs, without any first hand experience of how people behave and interact online, in the wild. If not for the open web and the ability of users to bypass the ‘professionals’ by building tools and applications for themselves, scratching their own itch, the system/human/user-centric designs would not be unravelling as they are today.

The Mine! is currently about the primary objectives, with occasional indulgent glimpses of the secondary ones. It needs to be ruthlessly modular:

We are not creating a tool/application/platform that can do everything for them, we are creating the best modular tools for specific functions and let the user put them together. In terms of a car, we build the engine but the user decides the shape, colour, number of doors, seats and, of course, how and where to drive it.

I can, and do, take educated guesses where all this might lead and what the emergent benefits will be (and will do so in the follow up paper on the Mine!’s applications), but that is a far cry from allowing functionality that is not essential to the user now to be hardwired into the Mine!. I want to see what the user does with it, what is useful and what has to change, what the user breaks and what empowers him more. That is why with regard to technical aspects, the Mine! will be an open source project with goals to

  1. invent as little as possible
  2. reuse only popular technologies, techniques and user-interface metaphors in order to enable VRM, and…
  3. provide maximal inclusiveness and extensibility to its implementation, to permit the greatest potential for growth.

My preference for minimalism and modularity aside, this is a practical consideration. The Mine! doesn’t need to spend years in standards committee (we are using Atom and HTTP) or in formats kerfuffles (we are addressing data logistics as we find it with the currently used formats).

Embedding various metadata into feeds is not the way we are going. Suggestions to add any metadata to feeds describing rights, access to objects etc have been and will be resisted for reasons of unnecessary complexity and tech bureaucracy. Such proposals are about attaching another object with metadata such as licenses or access rights to each object in the feed. So my wine feed – a photo of wine bottle, a review of bottle of wine, then another photo of wine bottle – would end up with more metadata objects dropped into it, each of them stipulating how a particular picture may be used e.g. the first one with creative commons license, the other all rights reserved etc. In the end, every object in the feed would require some more metadata objects, amounting to many months in standards committee deciding what format(s) this will be in.

In my view, this is not the web way of doing as it involves invention of and obsession over creating new XML objects. There are simpler ways of achieving this, if and when such metadata is required by users. The non-committee way is simply here’s is a URL of my feed of objects, one that is personalised for you. The first time you access it, you’ll be required to click a button saying “everything I retrieve through the feed will be creative commons license”. Simple, really.

I, for one, want to use the Mine! as soon as possible, for my own purposes. And if there are others who will find it similarly useful, they will be the ‘adoption’ curve. Standards and formats will come back to haunt us but no need to court them before usage.

Now back to the ‘drawing’ board – last week I came across a drawing based on incomplete understanding of the Mine! and ‘Feeds based VRM’. It prompted me to further differentiation between that view and what I am actually working on.

The Mine! is not merely a personal data store – it is a structural element on the web that meets four requirements:

  1. take charge of my data (content, relationships, transactions, knowledge),

  2. arrange (analyse, manipulate, combine, mash-up) it according to my needs and preferences and
  3. share it on my own terms
  4. whilst connected and networked on the web.

This does not happen by the Mine! being a database or a data store, however personal. Store implies passive and static, with some distribution via feeds, whereas one of the major elements of the Mine! is equipping individuals with analytical and other tools to help them understand themselves better and give them an online spring board to relationships with others (in VRM context this includes vendors).

The personal data store implies that there is no other reason to be using it other than to slave yourself to someone’s CRM system. Herein lies the fundamental problem with the graphic and the approach it illustrates – it treats people’s Mines! like a back-end to vendors’ CRM systems. It does not capture using the Mine! to manage relationships – see the reference to ‘User Accounts Records‘ which in no sense reflects the customer being in control of their own data.

It is a good example of a user-centric or human-centred approach, but certainly not user-driven. The purpose of the Mine! is not only to put the individual in the centre and align the vendors around him. That is a far more gargantuan effort than what the Mine! is designed to do as the vendors have very little motivation to do that in ways that are useful to the individual. The idea behind the Mine! is to give the individual ability to become the authoritative source of information about him by handling the living breathing data as they go about their life. Taking just the feeds and not groking the autonomous space for my data is like looking at a vast landscape through a key hole, not bothering to open the door.

So once more, with feeling – the feeds and the Mine! feed technology are a subset of the Mine!, which has been conceived as an alternative way to provide data logistics for the individual on the web, one with a higher degree of autonomy and control over one’s preferences that is possible now. It originates from the social web, not from the identity space or any other area. It is a platform for the individual, with the aim to shift the balance of power between individual and platoform (or customers and vendors or other types of locked see-saw). It aspires to be an infrastructure for other solutions but it is not and should not be defined in terms of any of those solutions – identity, VRM, authentication, data portability and hopefully many more. A collection or selection of those solutions can be used as use-cases and that is what the Mine! community is working on.

For the moment, the Mine! prototype is being build according to the concepts described in the paper, (functionality designed by me, with coding by Alec). It is aimed at other hackers who appreciate the non-trivial distinctions that I have laid out and might want to join the open source project to improve it. Those who want to know more feel free to contact me directly via email on this blog. I also organise regular monthly VRM Hub meetings in London where we often discuss the Mine!.

Blockbuster store museum

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Historic 2018Blockbuster2019 Store Offers Glimpse Of How Movies Were Rented In The Past

This is the reason why the film and media industry is imploding, not piracy. It ignored, then fought the technology and now is fighting people who used to be their markets. Not a good way to buttress a business model. Bring on the museum tours…

links for 2008-05-17

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