Welcome package

This blog has been silent for some time because I was struggling with a post about trolls, comments and talking about discrimination on-line.
It was meant as a intelligent response to being profusely insulted by several people, some of whom you know, while I was already pretty down for other reasons. I thought that I could express express myself freely on the subject, but the handful of friends who read any version of it immediately cut ties with me. They have refused since to answer to any of my message. I have no idea why, nor do I wish to loose more friends on the subject, so I decided to be a coward. I won’t summarise it, but I can say I quote, critically, from Ethan Zuckerman, Judith Donath, The Cluetrain Manifesto or Obama’s Pittburg address.

Please accept my sincerest apologies for not trusting you with this.

The only thing I would like to say about it is the conclusion; it might seem extreme, or candid: it is neither, on the contrary. Before banning anyone, or calling him a troll, offer him to have coffee together.
That idea is actually the origin of the name of my blog: my concern at the time and now is that to actually do that, you might have to come to Paris, and that coffee will probably be improved by two croissants (one for each of us). Sharing something surprising both simple exceptional, a delicacy every can enjoy, rises the conversation with a common, human, positive respect. Plus, the way you eat a croissant is probably the most socially revealing thing I can imagine: anyone can learn how to eat a lobster, and nouveaux-riches can train; there is no étiquette about to eat viennoiserie.

Soon before the incident, an American scholar whose blog I read religiously came to Paris. (We had some croissants, that’s all you know.) The conversation was delightful, it went in all directions, and he mentioned the few things a foreigner might have a hard time finding or figuring out, but that a local could easily provide. I had been thinking about how to organise such a “Welcome package” for quite some time, but this put my ideas to the test. I was wondering if you could prevent more experiments by providing your own insights, as guests or hosts.

The key element with tourists seems to be the meeting point: they have no (or partial) memories of the city, wouldn’t know if they are in the wrong place, feel dizzy with the foreign-speaking crowd at any popular meeting point, often only have an old photo of you, can get lost and easily end up half-an-hour late… So, assuming I pick up someone at the airport or the train station with a package, what should it include?

  • An active Sim Card is the number one demand: roaming might not be expensive but it is still unpredictable, and it is surprisingly hard to get a local contract without an address and a local bank account — 3G, mini- or standard, with talk-time, data plan?
    Many are enthusiast about having an iPad: it is great, and I don’t mind lending a device with a GPS-tracker, but it seems those who care have one already, and they prefer to keep their own applications handy, and install those useful for Paris on top of that (I suggest a list on Quora);
  • pass-codes to the most common wifi-sharing networks;
  • a universal power-plug adapter is nice to have too;
  • a full map of Paris, with advised places properly marked and commented; I know Galerie Lafayette gives one away, but it’s poorly designed, and misses half the street: I know because I keep helping out lost tourists, and this map is akin to Flash on Mac: the main if not exclusive source of confusion;
  • metro tickets, or a travel pass; for the pedal-inclined, a pass for Vélib’, the “free” rental system;
    Some might prefer a car rental: I subscribe to something very similar to the bike plan, but insurance is obviously a problem; I could recommend you and deal with the paperwork in advance — and the keycard comes into the package;
  • Cash is always convenient for non-Europeans (against a transfer to my account abroad; I like to be generous, but handing over money is improper according to Dan Ariely) or the address of that one money-change that isn’t ripping people off;
    There has been several attempts to impose money-holding cards, all unsuccessful so far.
  • basic translation tools, phrase books can be useful—although that might be a more personal choice;
  • and of course, a stamped envelope with return address, to send back all the re-usable stuff easily just before boarding back home.

What am I missing?

Posted in Personal Updates, Tourists in Paris | 2 Comments

Clay Shirky in giving away the news

Clay Shirky’s latest book (Cognitive Surplus, follow-up to Here Comes Everybody) is about generosity: giving away something making an effort for no apparent reason, outside of a closely controlled reputation system, without clearly anticipated benefits for doing so. It echoes my forgotten-and-found-again definition of my research object: Everything that tastes better when it is shared, every good or service whose utility increase when offered or suggested to, subscribed or adopted by a third party, presumably a friend, colleague or relative — a definition around generosity that made lots of sense to me then, and still does now. Thank you for that.

His latest stance against private newspapers insist on generosity —that has been less covered so far in the coverage or the book— rather than abundance and I like it: papers’ democratic role supposes a civic duty, that is only possible it they render the news accessible to the whole public, presumably giving away enough through titles to help even non-customers to take proper action. Political information is a great example of generosity, an issue that David Kirkpatrick deems essential to Facebook contribution by dedicating his first chapter, main point and conclusion to it — an area where Facebook influence is major, and not neutral.

However, by presenting news as a common gift, Shirky criticizes Murdoch for dreaming of a world where only customers get the news. Shirky forgets that correspondents (and business newspapers) were originally paid for by businessmen to report on things (ie. spy on their agents) abroad and spot any trend, need, issues — in a private manner. The aggregation of it into newspapers was similar to some of today’s financial advice or industry-specialized leaflets, where “sharing with the public” is not what readers want to see. Exclusive pay-walls wouldn’t make sense for the Times if it covers areas where what makes news and how to frame it is controversial (hence defining it helps your readers agree on what is to be known) and if mentioning details doesn’t give more gravitas as being able to prove them (making inter-individual sharing useful).

An increasing number of trend-defining tools, decreasingly relying on larger publication (and the trend to use those to define one’s editorial line) justify a departure from the role of trendsetter. The increasing ‘social’ization of media, and the growing reflex of readers to doubt a report, be cynic and generally have like a stat-litterate mind driven by scientific doubt makes the ability to share one’s paper clips even more necessary—so unless I can convince all my current-events debating friend to subscribe, that pay-wall will be a problem; and I can only convince them by letting them read the quality reporting not as the current indifferent freebie, but as a priced service, in order for them to consider buying it themselves. I’ve always believed paying news could only work with a (controlled) mean of sharing excepts — and I don’t care for poorly targeted ads, or shill-as-journalists.

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Three great things about David Kirkpatrick’s book

Second in my series: why you must read his book:
(Offering it was fine, but I’d rather have the positive post wait in top of my list during the week-end)

  • He offers a very nuanced articulation of accidental success vs. trying, stealing ideas vs. implementing them; “The Face Book” wasn’t unique, but it was the one that managed to compare better, playing on the line by surrounding similar services, opening in neighboring universities; the role of the vision —unnecessary until it’s implemented, badly understood by investors, hard to glimpse for previous major innovators— is very refreshing;
  • The portrait of the hacker-as-an-apologist. Not only does he rightfully considers the News Feed as the biggest thing Facebook did, but he matches that success with Zuckerberg’s attrition at the time. I’m afraid the “move fast, break stuff” model encourages to break as much as possible, rather than was needs changing — but:
  • The grown-ups are here, but they overlook rather than orient; Sheryl Sandberg is probably benefiting the most from the book: most of Zuckerberg’s lieutenants are making their mark through Quora.com but Sandberg’s crowd, ie. Fortune usual suspects, needed an explanation to why she isn’t CEO yet. That book articulates innovation and growth in the way she understood it: like all hagiographies, it’s more about justifying the role of the second-in-command and her power, should the prophet be called to his maker than the prophet itself.
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David Kirkpatrick’s book — three sentence reaction

I finished reading David Kirkpatrick’s The Facebook effect a second time; I took many notes and compiled them —ten page worth— but I’ll blog them progressively, to avoid dispersing the attention.

First, it’s an essential book to read: so much, I’ll give it to you. If you live in Paris, I’ll lend you one of my copy (provided you promise to lend it to someone else after two weeks); if you live too far, send me your address and I’ll have one mailed to you—or I’ll arrange a similar lending chain. Three major critics are in order, however:

  1. It barely mentions critics: Arrington loved it but compared D. Kirkpatrick to a teenager in love, and that fair; it is an hagiography, the life of a saint, and how his calling revealed. Kirkpatrick is right not to indulge into ConnectU; gives enough details to make sense of Eduado Severin, but he completely misses Open Web advocates — probably because Zuckerberg does to.
  2. The core claim of the book is false. The subtitle, the first and last chapter state that thanks to the NewsFeed, “Any/everybody can start a movement” because complete nobodies started massive, influential groups. (Like with Shirky’s Here comes everybody, or Anderson’s Long Tail or Free, all three are onto something big — but the plural of anecdote is not data, and they stop one idea away from coherence, one conversation with a Internet statistician/economist before a sound, major and valid theory.) Traditional barriers to launch upheavals (massive or not) seem less decisive as before; in spite of great efforts, no one has identified rules for unpopular person to reach a large audience through social media yet, and simulation based on a social graph complex structure appear non-ergodic. But, hopefully, we are not confronted to any loony’s message to the world: Kirkpatrick misses to characterize a scale-free filtering process that relies on Friend-ing conventions and the NewsFeed algorithm, but no one seems to understand it; I can’t say if Facebook engineers realize it — but political outcome depend on it.
  3. About half the book is about deals with investors and partners: an expected angle from a Fortune journalist, but the rest is peppered with quotes of Zuckerberg saying that this doesn’t really matter. The book seems to be focusing on minor issues and missing major concerns. There is a remarkable work to explain what would a “Social utility” be, and some insights on internal understanding of privacy and openness — but that’s it. The many factoids about Zuckerberg unusual and decisive psyche yelled “Asperger” at me (a diagnosis you would expect from someone so familiar with tech experts, and going up one notch would have added many more insights than finding his analytical silence impenetrable). Apart from saying Moskovitz learnt by doing there is nothing about the technical aspects of the book: scaling is barely defined, the person who suggested a Newsfeed algorithm is named, UX & AI might be somewhere… Facebook redefined three large areas of computing: I would understand that Kirkpatrick felt less at ease with those, but the explosion of the site has more to do than user’s indiscretion. I’m mostly disappointed at the gaping hole between Zuckerberg’s interest in WireHog, a distributed system and the demands for similar openness by “opentards” like Diaspora, or Google. After studying this for the past five years, I know how those are impossible to wrap your mind around. Balancing users’ control and privacy, innovating forward while designing against misunderstanding are hard, and hard to appreciate; those could have used more examples.
    The early corporate culture is seminal, but the latest concerns about growing would have used a second word, next to “challenging”. The bias mutes needed postmortems on the public (mis-)perception of the service.
    The Largo Winch turned-reality moment with investors, and the story about advertising are priceless, however.

It is a must-read book — but I count room for three more of the same caliber, demanding the same access, the same insight, and more technical skills.

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Clay Shirky on KQED

I wanted to use Clay Shirky’s promotional tour of his latest book as a pretext to criticise his work, but… he is really good. It’ll let you listen if you want to save on your book budget.

Three elements in there typical of Shirky’s touch: His comment about Baby Boomers’ moral authority, around 30’, is welcomed — and I love how he embraces “There is a problem, we are addressing it; I’ll come back to you when we know more.” as the thing to say from leaders; and, I like how Ushahidi came not as an empowerment tool, but a reaction to institutional abuse of technology. He didn’t explicitly quote research about Social Media helping acquaintances, and that stronger ties are often about sharing several tools of connexion: for that, check Barry Wellman, Caroline Haythornwaith et al. or Bernie Hogan‘s work. That there is no natural type of relation is a greatly appreciated comment, and new to me — seemingly against Robin Dunbar’s systematisation, but I’m sure there is more personal conversation between the two than actual disagreement.

He explains how people were turned to Gin, but one point that he doesn’t address is how this ended — except by saying a new generation will come. Is he saying, by comparison, that people won’t enjoy TV Series for their asymmetric quality will just die of old age? Or is that revolution far too fast paced to use demographics and urban-pooled germs to change society?

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Mickael Arrington interviews David Kirkpatrick

Mickael Arrington interviewed David Kirkpatrick about his latest book: a very interesting conversation, less simplistic and as funny as his subsequent blog post where he compares Kirkpatrick to a teenager in love. The complicity between tech journalist is interesting—and characteristic of the intersection of two worlds where cooperating with your competitors makes your output, and doesn’t prevents ruthless competition.

The introduction lets Kirkpatrick repeat his view, after decades of covering the tech industry, on what makes revolutionary company: it is those who empower people. Facebook, according to him, allows people to make a statement and be heard—a essential point, and the main point of disagreement I have with his book.  I wholehearted agree with the details he then gives: the Newsfeed reversed the model of messaging; now people do things and talk about it, while people who friend you actually subscribe to you feed of actions — the way readers are determined is what Kirkpatrick calls a “complex”: settings let people twist thing, but it it mostly an algorithm that pools together people who have more common interest than others.

My point of dissent is that this process is neither clear, nor neutral and no one seems to make fully sense of it.

“With much power comes much responsibility” the quote from Lord of the Rings, and a geek motto; it remembered many visionaries to prepare for the challenges their technologies would bring, but I don’t see too much of that concern around how the newsfeed changes politics and whether balances such as extremism vs. freedom of expression, local vs. global focus or more generally the role of personal kirks is to be addressed; according to Kirkpatrick’s book, Facebook calls it the Squirrel principle (people care more about a squirrel dying in their yard than a genocide in Africa) — but the treat it more like a human fact to be indulged, rather than the concern that journalist have to use local ads to pay for a war correspondent.

The rest of the interview is certainly worth the hour, if only for the many caveats from Arrington, who pretends to have to explain to a colleague why he has to be mean. This should be compared to Kirkpatrick refusal to be mean, answering one of the last question, about the board of the company.

Kirkpatrick repeats that Facebook was not the first or the only company to re-organise information that way, but is by far the largest, hence its importance. Arington’s joke on the telephone connecting everyone was spot on — but Kirkpatrick missed to opportunity of the connection to show how Facebook treated public discourse. I’m not sure Kirkpatrick insists enough on how difficult this really is: being large not just a question of numbers, but no service that size can ignore new types of problem—generational, cultural, etc.— and Facebook succeeded where say Digg remained a tool for a single, albeit diverse, community.

The first question corresponds to Arrington’s main criticism: isn’t the book too one-sided: World Peace, really? I regret this question focused on the Winkelwoss twins (I like Kirkpatrick justification of his talking to them, though: we’ve heard enough in court) while Open Social Graph advocates have far more points — I did like how Kirkpatrick introduce the likelihood of seriously regulations, but regret he wasn’t more specific on what could happen; “corporate identities are not new” no, neither are laws on what corporation should do with those, nor internationally coherent. The scope of issues is too vast not to be addressed.

The discussion on how Facebook handles censorship, using local legal basis would be a riveting story on cultural adaptation, and the threats of physical violence against Zuckerberg in Pakistan show how important.

The rest is rehashing questions well covered in the book (but probably a faster way to understand them, including the tone at stake here): the attitude towards growth over the business model, that Zuckerberg considers this more a project about society than a for-profit company, Sheryl Sandberg’s and Sean Parker’s role, users’ paradoxical attitude towards changes and privacy and the way Facebook uses that to force innovation while limiting the offenses through opt-out features.

Kirkpatrick confirms that the internal attitude towards innovation is indeed “Push, push”. I like his description of his and many pundits’ opinion on the matter: the attitude is cavalier and shouldn’t be encouraged, but it’s hard to argue against it because so few users behave like they care. Zuckerberg’s enlighten dictatorship does indeed look like Steve Jobs’ “I know better than the users do want they want.”

Kirkpatrick sees a pattern among the five crisis against users (no surprise), and also confirms that the first one, around the Newsfeed was the most contrite Zuckerberg ever got, down to a more recent “Things will blow over”: I’m not sure why he doesn’t see it either as a diminishing trend (because of an habituation of critics, a dilution of users who care less, or an improvement of Facebook staff to present the change), or corresponding to the magnitude of the change: Facebook Open Graph API would then be legitimately second in volum. He also confirms the technical possibility that (some) Facebook employees can access private account information (chat and message) and the dependance of Facebook’s internal respect on its own policies: employees were fired upon this, but the scandal prone public/media might mostly care about Facebook’s own CEO, being “sole in charge”, to enforce the reserve on himself. Controlling such accesses by making them more visible might be a better, more pediagogical solution. Eg.:

One of your friends (or friends of friends) has signaled your profile photo as being inappropriate; we are investigating it—you can anticipated in three ways:

  • My bad: I see why; let me remove that picture myself;
  • I see why, and I would like to make a case against that person;
  • How dare you write to me in that way?


Someone not related to you/
One of our algorithms has signaled your profile as problaby not from a real person, or not using your real name; we are investigating it—you can anticipated in three ways:

  • No, my name is really [James Bond] and you can’t imagine the grief I get for it;
  • I’m modified my name to protect my privacy; please show me how to set my profile so that no one I don’t approve doesn’t see it anyways;
  • I am not a “real” person; please show me how to set up a page for an institution.

This would lead to more reflexion on how to give access to Facebook data, at the statistical level or otherwise, and later include social scientists to study them, and the risk of dis-anonymisation through such process, etc.

Back to the interview, one interesting point that was Facebook makes money from several, distinct sources (four, and apparently evenly split): that is very reassuring news for the business model. However, they still make two-orders of magnitude less money than Google. Zuckerberg cares deeply not to have irrelevant information on the site, and I’m not sure that revenues from relevant ads along the Newsfeed can soar two orders of magnitude… except (and I blame both tech journalists for not drawing that parallel) that the relevancy criterion was, and still is, Serguei Brin and Larry Page’s original critic of ads — yet, search advertising seduced them right-away.

“You friend Lucy will attend Twilight Première, will you come too?” is a great pitch, but there is only so much ad that you can sell by using such pretexts, while using social recommendation to non-newsfeed triggered queries (about travel, services or product to buy) should be huge. All this should be a very big signal that Facebook is considering Search, very much like Google does. I can only interpret Arrington and Kirkpatrick silent evasion as an embargo on this issue. Tom Krazit stirred up the flames on that, just last week.

I’m waiting for John Battelle to weight on the Search aspect of things—but things are clear to me on that front: it’s a race between giants to make the web semantic through meta-data. Facebook leverage of the Like button to stir users’ initiative is better adapted to their passivity, and far more encouraging for website owners than Google’s Intelligent Snipets. What company will make a similar step forward to encourage the upstream, language-processing kind of semantic against Google’s Voice? Apple-controlled Siri?

All in all, a great interview, but I still believe their are some misconception on the service that need to be addressed: the biggest is the actual, fair empowerment of users; the second is new models to explain how Facebook handles privacy; competition and data-portability would demand another book, very different from Kirkpatrick’s, while a row-full of books should be written on the second search battle looming.

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Eye candy in lieu of an update

There’s this idea I’ve been rummaging for quite some time:

Facebook could actually be the Open Social Graph that mention the Scriptures (en lieu of Diaspora, OSW, Buzz 3P structure, AppleSeed) — except the best way to open is to first have as many people on board, and then open the ground they stand on, for two things:

  • to reach an agreement on what conventions should make the social web (how to handle faceted identities, relevancy, structure control);
  • to lock-in users, before the storm of necessary adjustments to the opening: attention management, data portability, structure informations, etc. all come with too many issues to anticipate them all.

I believe a platform could reach significant adoption and openness by never being ‘closed’ (like Apache, WordPress or Firefox did) but Facebook’s method could actually be faster, if not the only one fast enough not to fail at offer.

(As much as I love rhyme-book paining, the eye-candy is actually further down.)

Mark Zuckerberg keeps repeating “to make the world more open & social,” without any definition of either; he doesn’t argue against the critics who demand an interoperable platform or portable data — two of the many actual, contradictory, technical options of what “Open” can mean. Why? He has repeated that he likes about “doing stuff” and not talk about it prior, so he most likely has something in mind, that needs to be done and that would quiet such critics.
Kirkpatrick insists on how Mark worked on Warehog, a distributed file-sharing system: he makes it sound like a dead-end, except it helped set up the Application platform. Part of the euphemisms are due to the legal risk, and part to Kirkpatrick’s orientation: he studies tech as a business — but Zuckerberg is visionary enough to make the connection between what he learnt working on a distributed file-sharing system and a more ambitious distributed social network; that explains his investment in Diaspora, for instance. That’s why I expect Facebook to become “more open,” but only after being an omnipresent identity connector. Before that, I believe (that Zuckerberg believes) that the platform would lack the experience to make it feasible: users wouldn’t understand what is an identity provider, and those in charge of developers wouldn’t know how to present them the framework.  It might end up being in Facebook economic interest to do so.

Oddly enough, when I compared these cloudy interpretations with the grief on the technical forums for the more “open” alternatives, it made me think of an argument that I had against Free Software vs. Mac: if “Free” is about doing what you want with your computer with no restrictions — than the free-er option to 95% of computer users is a computer where they can find all the necessary menus, options without being stalled by problems beyond their ability to comprehend them. Or rather, to take a more optimistic view, if you want 95% of the users to care about what they could be tweaking on a free machine, let their first machine be well designed — they’ll want to install GNU-Linux even faster.
The same argument about speed seems to apply to Social Network(ing) services. Just to make sense of it, I tried to draft a presentation about those dynamics (.mov, click to move forward): What do you think?

[If you know how to embed a Keynote presentation in a wordpress.com blog, I’d love to improve this.]

All this is fairly speculative, but not theoretical. Facebook is at least —like iPhone was to Android— a stepping stone: something to prove feasibility, show how to design the interactions, architecture (the non-distributed parts), something to pillage from when barrier-less competition overcomes exclusivity to the inventor.

Coming soon: detailed comments on David Kirkpatrick’s book The Facebook Effect;
Coming sooner: Competition between location based services (LBS) & the efficiency of the star graph structure.

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I’m late, I’m lost and on the right track

I haven’t updated to this blog for a while, for many reasons—the main reason is because I’m poorly organised; the subsidiary reason is because I had to seriously revise m life plans too many times for the last two years. I’m working on that, but just to be clear: this blog is trying to discuss the cooperation and competition dynamics between services based on digital social networks; I usually simplify it by saying “Is Facebook a monopoly?” The idea I had five years ago that barely made sense then (the mere idea of Social networking sites left most people puzzled) became the hottest topic around (I expect it to pop up at G8 and G20 summits anytime now), so I know all the efforts I did to understand digital competition, complex graphs and social networks are not vain. In other words: I’m late, I’m lost and I’m on the right track.

I hesitate between many careers right now, from doing on-line videos to explain simply complex things (not unlike Khan Academy or Common Craft), more common academia, working R&D for a Big TelCo, launching a start-up (or at least publish specks of software I’d love to use), learning code, being an independent consultant… I doubt anyone reads this blog, but I’m sure your advice will be dearly appreciated.

For the last two months, I spent every waking hour trying to understand the changes Facebook announced at f8 and the reactions, talking about it to friends and reading on-line. For the first month, none of the expert made sense to me: I craved to take the time to post a blog, but after a month, some opinions came out that were more nuanced like Chris Saad, or respectful of participants talents, like danah boyd (I should provide far more references than those two, next time). For instance, I still don’t understand how making things more public favors Facebook bottom-line. And I still thing that the semantic aspect of it has been overlooked.

One important aspect that I’ve seen, and the key question to me is: what does the majority of users think of all that? I can’t possibly tell, I don’t know them all — but I did mention these issues to friends, and friends of friends, including very active Facebook users with amazing background: diplomats, constitutional scholars, coders, etc. (I have fancy friends, I know, and I’m so proud of their achievements because I saw them struggle through their studies to get there.) Even the best and the brightest just don’t get the point of all this. All assume Facebook changed “The Privacy thingy, Terms of Service or whatever.” They don’t care, and don’t want to; any message from Facebook, even the simplest or most daring is overlooked: it’s a wooden pannel in front of the entrance to their living room, and they want it out. People have changed their privacy settings often after a crisis, depending on a friend’s poorly articulated advice. Even people whose work s about having distinct social conventions agree, managing expectations, merging formal codes don’t get what is Facebook actual job.

That would be a problem, but the reality appeared much worst to me: I spend hours stumping the most basic things, using common metaphors (“Facebook comments are neither private, nor public, they are in-between, like café discussions.” “They do not give away users profile to advertisers, no more than magazines do: they give stats on users and handle the targeting.”) to have the very same person I talked to keep on thinking what I just told was wrong, minutes after I was too tired to keep on — so education won’t help, it seems. The reaction to modal panels and pedagogical efforts that I’ve seen make it grimmer. All this makes these appear a lot like details about how to make car engines to me: if you get it wrong, people will hate you; if you get it right, they don’t care. Which makes my potential readership almost as small as my actual readership.

Finally, and most importantly (and that should be the main element to take from that post): people estimate the service from their direct experience. Usability is key, fast rendering reassuring, and you assume that those you see in your timeline are those who take interest in yours. Users and pundits don’t understand the importance of stalking, but SNS operators —and Facebook in particular— has data on it, and takes their decision based on web traffic; they do it to improve not their bottom line, but what appears to them as users’ experience. Having people show what they saw through ‘Like‘ is the best feedback loop to users, to avoid the massive discrepancy between asymmetric stalkers. From what I’ve seen, I doubt this can be very well used for targeting ads (not as well as click-through and time spend, contamination sustainability, etc.) but I’ll have to come back to that later.

Next up: ‘Open’ alternatives, why Facebook idea of Friendship won, Location based services, collaboration and… many more. Please tell me if you read, enjoyed or disagreed with any of that.

Posted in Academic, Personal Updates | 2 Comments

Asymmetric conversation on Twitter

I was upset at Twitter for a simple reason: many (A-listers) claim that it’s fantastic to have many people answer your questions. I’ve tried: it’s not — at least for what seams to me to be a standard account: around hundred followers, and as many followees, one third of each being respectively stars and spamers, one half being physical friends. I barely ever have any relevant answer any to simple question, and I’ve tried most subject. I’ve also tried @-replying, links to blog posts, talking to perfect strangers: you get significant kudos — but insights are dimes a penny.  So far, the service is mostly a terrific link-source, better (complementary rather) then Hacker News. Therfore, a good service, disruptive for the press or stars mostly — like blogs were — but not a revolution on human interaction like Facebook is proving to be.

I was upset, until a friend of mine, who is helping VIPs to tweet (Nobody active yet, and I advised him against using any ghost Twitterer, or at least to reveal them if he does — this blog will keep its strict policy of not revealing any juicy news) asked me about hecklers. I tried to explain to him the rule about seeing @-replies (you only see the replies from people you follow to people that you follow) and it made me realize: Twitter managed to set up a fantastic tool for stars, a great filter for context-dependant elements. If you are well-known and someone comments your last tweet, then only people following him get to know what this is about: hecklers talk only loud enough to have their friends hear them. As a star, you can repeat what they say and make them famous if you need — but you don’t have your hard-earned audience hi-jacked by commenter like you kind-of have in blog comments. Asymmetric conversations are finally possible, and can happen in parallel, with little interference.

This structure (character limit excluded) does resolve the comment issue that I’ve mentioned earlier: a commenter cannot value easly his contribution between blogs with the same coherence that a blogger can. Because of that, that kind of rule (you only see replies from those your follow to someone you also follow) seems very important to me now; Facebook only partially does it, with comments on Fan pages (your friends have priority, but a couple of comments can always appear to encouarge you to go further). I’d love to know that @ev and @biz are aware of it and don’t kill it in another re-tweaking of their principles.

There is still one thing that would be great: a RT filter that would delete any non-commented RT of a message that you’ve seen already — but I do realize that this wouldn’t help partially attentive Twitterer notice important news. Being only almost exhaustive myself, I like to know that I can still skip the river from time to time.

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Generativity — Take 2: Hulu has issues closing itself

I didn’t want to appear hostile to the idea of generativity, a notion that I found far more appealing to economics then what J. Zittrain seems to assume; hopefully, the most recent development of the Hulu/Boxee disagreement gives me the opportunity to call a quick-sanded fool when I see one.

Hulu is a fantastic free video-on-demand service that has all the features right: great quality & fast stream, all the right content, well structured; the distribution technology is a massive CDN and might benefit from some P2P support to be more affordable, but the ads are relevant enough to make the whole thing possibly profitable.  However, it has been fighting against people outside of the US accessing the service (nothing was done, in spite a clearly identified existing demand: that’s just lawyers’ unacceptable laziness) and is not preventing Boxee users to access it through a specific hardware (I guess because of the ad-filtering DVR larger screen); the latest technique seems to include a convoluted HTML encrypting.  Both battles seem to be loosing grounds.   The third axis of generativity that Hulu is killing with its artificial barriers are social aspects: if a hacker wants to develop a Hulu-based live video commenting system using Facebook Connect, well. . . Too bad.  Letting many test early adopter test such systems, suggest their own, even offer a sea of solutions would have been the profitable, generative way to go — presumably opening the way to far more relevant socially targeted ads.  I’m starting to see a pattern of executives killing good ideas early, and that worries me.

I’d love to say the similar things about the current debate in France on three-strike laws — but the talks are simply too depressing.

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