Saturday, April 07, 2007

Joi Ito on Jaiku vs. Twitter

I surfed over to annd spent a few seconds looking at the big map on their homepage, the one that looks like Twittervision, in which new messages show up on the globe as they're posted. Coincidentally, Joi Ito posted just that moment to note that he had blogged on the differences between Jaiku and Twitter.

Well, it was fate, so I clicked through.

The post is interesting in that Ito has a relationship with both companies, and he elaborates minimally on the point he made at SXSWi2007 that the US has been slow to "get" SMS compared to Asia and Europe. But the post ends abruptly, as if Ito had been called to dinner just before starting the main point of the post. Maybe we'll see more thoughts later.

Joi Ito's Web: Jaiku vs Twitter

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Jaiku, social networking, and human activity

When looking at Jaiku, a Helsinki-based service with some similarity to Twitter or Dodgeball, I noticed that the co-founder was Jyri Engeström. Engeström + Helsinki may ring some bells, and in fact, one of Jyri's contacts is Yrjö Engeström. It's not clear what their familial relationship is, but I can guess.

Jyri is a Ph.D. student at Lancaster, studying the relationship between technical innovation and organizational transformation.

What I'm interested in is how these study insights are being transformed into a social networking app. It's unclear to me how many of these services have any sort of theory behind them, so it'll be interesting to determine whether this particular service can translate theory into practice.

Jaiku | About Jaiku

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Everyone's talking about the currently-just-proof-of-concept social browser Mozilla Labs is working on. Steve O'Hear on the Social Web has a pretty good take, and asks the obvious question: Where does this leave Flock?

I've been using Flock, the social browser built on Mozilla Forefox, for a few months now and am finding that it has more potential than it has realized. I love being able to use as integrated bookmarks searchable through the search window; I love the Flickr integration; I like (but do not love) the integrated post-to-blog feature (which I'm using right now). On the other hand, so much more social networking integration is possible, and the integration that exists is not entirely smooth. For instance, I sometimes bookmark pages that never show up on, or do so only after a long delay.

So Coop seems like a promising development in that it offers competition in the social browsing arena. On the other hand, I feel a little bad for Flock's backers: Flock has done a lot to advance social browsing, and it looks like they will get the customary thanks that first movers get in the tech arena.

» Firefox exploring social networking features | The Social Web |

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Obama campaign goes Web 2.0 on policy

Barack Obama's website has a policy page in which citizens follow this process:

  1. Weigh in with their own ideas, stories, messages, and video
  2. Collectively "define and refine the best ideas"
  3. Incorporate the best ideas into the campaign's policy
This process is touted as "open source policy development," but shares a lot with participatory frameworks such as future workshops. It'll be interesting to see if it takes off.

techPresident – Open Source Policy Development

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Zinch: Social networking for those seeking universities

From the description (my emphasis):
Zinch is a disruptive technology that changes the way students will find and be found by universities. The current system of college recruiting and application is broken. The only way the universities can find students is to buy list of students with a high ACT or SAT score. This is only useful to the most cerebral universities and students. Everyone else is left on their own. Zinch solves that problem by recognizing that students are more than a test score and that most universities care about more than your test scores. Students get to represent themselves however they would like by posting test scores, videos, text, images, music etc. This is changing the game by bringing the universities to the students instead of the other way around. - Bring the Schools to You -

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Reading :: The Age of the Network

The Age of the Network
by Jessica Lipnack, Jeffrey Stamps

David Ronfeldt offhandedly cited this book in his monograph on societal organization, so I put it on the list. It's oriented toward business readers, and perhaps in consequence it is thin on the scholarly side and overpromises the results of networked organizational structures. However, it does provide a useful introduction to the differences among organizational structures.

Lipnack and Stamps' central argument is in a pull quote on the first page:
The network is emerging as the signature form of organization in the Information Age, just as bureaucracy stamped the Industrial Age, hierarchy controlled the Agricultural Era, and the small group roamed in the Nomadic Era. (p.3)
Sensibly, the authors point out that networked organizational structures do not supplant earlier forms of organization, but coexist with them. Hierarchies don't cease to exist. (Ronfeldt cites this argument in his similar argument about societal organization.) And although the distinctions are made a bit superficially, the authors do provide some good examples of how networks coexist with other structures and how they are implemented through "teamnets," "coopetition," and boundary crossing.

Lipnick and Stamps argue that networks have five key organizing principles: unifying purpose; independent members; voluntary links; multiple leaders; and integrated levels (p.18). Networks, they say, exist at the top of "organizational sediments" that include previous forms (bureaucracies, hierarchies, and "small groups" or what Ronfeldt calls tribes)(p.35). Like Ronfeldt, they peg these organizational types to epochs (p.38) and, later, to human evolution (p.140). In this latest phase, the Information Age, "relationships are the dominant reality" (p.42) and links across agents increase dramatically, leading to greater horizontal complexity across and within organizations. Those links convey the benefits of flexibility, power, and speed (p.70), but only if the complexity can be managed.

That's the meat of the book; the authors go on to discuss case studies and extract principles, but also to offer heuristics that seem a bit too simple (such as a "hierarchy ruler," p.137). They get positively giddy in Chapter 7, which is about online communication, and promise far too much. But the first few chapters serve as a worthwhile primer for net work.

Reading :: Sources of Power

Sources of Power
by Gary Klein

I've been sitting on this book for weeks, waiting for my other projects to quiet down so I could spend the time to review it. It's a really fascinating book about how people make difficult decisions under trying circumstances.

I'm not that familiar with the field of decision making, although it has a lot of apparent overlap with the problem solving studies that I've read (Lave & Wenger, Suchman, Scribner, etc.). In fact, he acknowledges that problem solving and decision making tend to blur in natural settings (p.141).

In this book -- which is well written and accessible for a lay audience despite being based on rigorous qualitative research -- Klein tackles the question: why do people work so well and make such good decisions under difficult decisions? To investigate, he describes several careful naturalistic studies of decision making
  • under time pressure,
  • in high stakes activities (firefighting, warfare),
  • by experienced decision makers,
  • with inadequate information,
  • when goals are unclear,
  • with poorly defined procedures,
  • involving "cue learning," the ability to recognize patterns and make distinctions,
  • in context,
  • under dynamic conditions, and
  • in teams
  • (pp.4-6)
That's a lot of constraints, but together they make for a focused set of studies that cut across several domains and enable Klein to make some strong claims about decision making.

For one thing, he becomes very skeptical about formal decision-making processes (p.29), arguing instead for a renewed valuing of tacit knowledge: "Intuition grows out of experience," he argues (p.33), sounding a lot like researchers who have studied tacit knowledge in education and HCI and workplace studies.

He also argues that "mental stimulation" -- the ability to model consequences of different solutions mentally before trying them out physically -- is a central skill (p.45), although limited by the mind's memory constraints (p.53) and the tendency to rationalize conflicting evidence (p.65). He claims that successful decision makers operating under these constraints tend to come up with a single strategy for solving the problem; unsuccessful ones often follow a more formal comparative evaluation, which is appropriate for deliberation but not for decisionmaking under these constraints. Similarly, "forcing functions" of the environment lead plan structure: stable environments and plentiful resources lead to complex interconnected plans, while rapidly changing environments with scarce resources lead to modular, limited plans that were more fault-tolerant and segmented (p.145). (Klein doesn't go into the implications for netwar, but they seem obvious.)

Klein identifies eight aspects of expertise: "things that experts can see that are invisible to everyone else." I'll just block quote these:
  • Patterns that novices do not notice.
  • Anomalies -- events that did not happen and other violations of expectancies.
  • The big picture (situation awareness).
  • The way things work.
  • Opportunities and improvisations.
  • Events that either already happened (the past) or are going to happen (the future).
  • Differences that are too small for novices to detect.
  • Their own limitations. (pp.148-149)
Klein also points out that expert decision makers generate counterfactuals as well: "explanations and predictions that are inconsistent with the data" (p.154).

Not surprisingly, Klein advocates for increasing initiative in organizations (such as military and fire-fighting units) by decreasing central control, pushing decision making out to the people who are most immediately engaged with the decision making context (p.224). He stresses that this means commanders have to learn how to communicate intent while leaving discretion to those who implement that intent (p.225). (This is the distinction between command and control that we're seeing a lot about in netwar and power-to-the-edge approaches.)

Towards the end of the book, in Ch.14, Klein draws some regrettable analogies between team and individual minds and between team development and the development of individual cognition. These analogies are problematic, given what we know about early cognitive development, but present only a minor flaw in the book.

Klein ends in Ch.17 with a discussion of the naturalistic research he conducted and a stirring defense of qualitative research in general.

Overall, I was impressed by the book and would even consider assigning readings from it for a qualitative research class. Klein's clear descriptions, well chosen illustrations, and careful research make for a solid piece of work that sheds light onto decision making and complements the sociocultural literature on problem solving.


This looks really, really interesting. It's a sort of cross between Basecamp and TaDa Lists. But the killer here is that you can list your tasks in various ways: by project, by chronology, by color (arbitrary categorization). It also uses tags.

HiTask - free online task management

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Instructional videos are now almost as easy as instructional text

Sure they are. Digital video is cheap, often built right into your phone. YouTube is out there. And startups such as 5min and Jabbits aim to create specialized platforms for short instructional videos and video Q&A, respectively. Just as the read/write web allowed everyone to share their text instructions, these changes will allow everyone to share video instructions -- probably a beneficial move, since people have different learning styles.

CSUN report

Josh Whiting of WebAIM reports on the recent CSUN conference. Among the highlights: WAVE 4 is coming out soon, including a new toolbar for Firefox.

WebAIM: Blog - CSUN 2007

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Prom Queen

TechCrunch asks:
Is the future of new media going to be a world where stories are told over eighty episodes that are each ninety seconds long?
Maybe. Episodes of that length are also easier to watch on one's phone, something that people seem to  be forgetting.

Shakespeare, Happy Days and Prom Queen

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OpenFloodgate is a self-publishing site like Scribd, but gives creators more control. Documents are published as "series of image files or PDFs," something that makes plaigiarism -- and reading -- harder.
OpenFloodgate: Online Publishing with Control

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Redefining IMG -- it can only get better, right?

Michael Arrington reports:
The basic format for embedding images into a web page using the [<IMG>] tag has been around almost as long at HTML itself, since the first graphical web browser. It works, and it is used constantly. But can it be better?

That's the question that advertising network AdBrite's new BritePic standard is trying to answer: "Just by changing the embed code, web publishers can add a caption, watermark, zoom, share, resize and other features."

Unfortunately, BritePic doesn't seem to have any embedded accessibility features: no embedded ALT text, no <NOSCRIPT> functionality. My sense is that these would not be hard to add for basic image description, but really problematic for reproducing all the functionality BritePic tries to embed (e.g., adding pictures to RSS feeds, emailing them, linking to them, etc.).

Redefining The IMG Tag

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I'm glad April Fools' Day is over ...

... because a significant minority of the stories in my aggregator were either obviously fake, or repeated an obviously fake story, or gave earnest commentary on an obviously fake story (I can't find Dave Winer's commentary on the story above, but it was there yesterday).