Thursday, December 01, 2005
Thursday, November 17, 2005
I see and hear my colleagues around the water cooler, in the meetings or even in knowledge groups are quick to offer instant solutions sourced from the WWW search results. And everybody seems to find the same staff instantly. Somehow the garbage always makes to the 1st page of the search results. The management appears to be the biggest suckers for information sludge.
I see a bright future for those of us who know how to find the fine information on the WWW. However, for now we just have to keep our heads above the sea of cyber gunk.
Monday, August 29, 2005
The technocraties built the Internet; then they got seduced by the early cyber activists’ myopic vision of the future wired world. Whilst the growth rate of the Internet is still marveled, I dare to suggest that today the Internet is decades behind where it could’ve been if not for this unholy marriage between the myopic vision of the cyber activists and the techies’ vanity. If other technologies’ development and direction were as slow and misguided as the Internet’s, today we would have steam powered submarines not nuclear reactor powered.
Surprisingly the social discourse today still revolves around the Internet as some sort of remarkable technology which somehow sucked people into a phenomenally boundless communication and community swirl. Many marvel at the extraordinary growth of this technology and its uptake by the global citizenry. The fact is that people are naturally and intrinsically inquisitive creatures who always wanted to do things faster and better or at least differently. Whilst the Internet is a remarkable technological feast, I think it is more remarkable that the WWW with its hyperlinks and GUI browsers in particular, were not invented much earlier. I submit that it is these technologies, once they appeared on the social radar, which infused the Internet as social technology into the societal consciousness. Despite this infusion the Internet is not a divine social elixir as some - especially the early devotees of cyber - would like us to believe. Lisa Palac in 1994 predicted: "The Internet will be to women in the '90s what the vibrator was to women in the '70s. It's going to have that power." Well... that's not what I'm hearing from women. The Internet does many things well; apparently vibration isn't one of them. Although Lisa still managed to fall pregnant, but than again, Lisa's no ordinary woman - she's a self confessed cyber bitch.
What’s even more remarkable is that in the 21st century there are many cyber luminaries who still worship the Internet as if by decree from the Silicon Valley. A decade ago Clifford Stoll forewarned: "Internet hustlers invade our communities with computers ... The key ingredient of their silicon snake oil is a technocratic belief that computers and networks will make a better society. [However] the most important interactions in life happen between people, not between computers… We techies should be more honest about what computers can do and what they cannot do, or else we are setting ourselves up for a big pie in the face."
People have embraced the Internet not because of its technological frivolousness but because as David Phillips put it in his response to the Communities of Play: "There is this animal. It has, over 60,000 years developed a range of very interesting social skills. It liked the Internet because it is a paradigm that suits its social skill set. The Internet became popular with this animal and grew and got better and it grew some more. If we look at the social skills of the animal, we see it and recognise it."
The reality is that there's nothing remarkable about the fast growth of the Internet. It is like the thirsty in the desert, there's nothing remarkable about seeing the thirsty rushing to a water well. Technology is a just side-show; a product of human ingenuity, social interaction, cognition and imagination. Give that "marvelous" technology to any other primate and the real worth of technology on its own will become quite clear.
Those who fail to heed the voices of social commentators with real foresight will be left to languish by the wayside. In a desert even staled water tastes cool and fresh.
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Sunday, August 07, 2005
PS: Something I found somewhere in Nancy White's space: A Poem by Tom Coleman
Monday, July 25, 2005
The Internet was designed as a communication network capable of withstanding even a nuclear hit. To-date this has not been put to the test, however, today and in the future this is no longer a relevant question. The importance of the Internet has grown to such extent that the USA would use nuclear force to protect the Internet if that what it would take to protect it. The future of the Internet thus is inextricably linked to the future of the civilization. The Internet isn't just a communication network of networks, it is a vital social technology and its future is assured no less than the future of the civilization. The question, however, will the future be bright, gloomy, more of the same we are experiencing now? I disagree with the predictions of the social luminaries of both persuasions - gloominaries and the paradaisaics. In the context of the Internet, I no longer make sharp distinction between the virtual and physical reality, for they both are an intrinsic reality of our physical existence. No doubt the Internet will evolve, however, I submit that it will evolve slowly; at least slower than the social evolution of the future generations.
The Internet has never been a particularly effective medium for connecting people to people. Probably most will disagree with such assessment; however, the reality is that the Internet was only really effective in creating and releasing multiple personalities within individuals; it created actors on the global cyber stage and inordinate number of village fools in the global village. The Internet has been exceedingly effectinve in connecting people to their PCs through which people have assumed various acting roles and used the Internet as an acting stage. Unlike in the physical world where there are few actors and many spectators, on the Internet virtually everybody is an actor. The greatest influence of the Internet on the communities was the release of the actor within. Since this process of release has happened throughout the world there’s no much more the Internet can achieve.
So, the Internet has passed its social impact bang and technological zenith at the threshold of the 21st century. Since then the evolution of the internet has been slowing down and it will reach its evolutionary tipping point by 2008-2010, beyond which the evolution of the Internet will plateau. I do expect some occasional technological spikes, however none of those will have significant social impacts we have been accustomed from the Internet. Sure more people will get connected to the Internet - especially from the developing economies - but the growth itself will not impact on the future evolution of the Internet. To lucubrate about this point I will digress slightly. The first social technology, which, transformed the world was Gutenberg's printing press. Whilst the printing technology and the medium have reached dizzy heights and still rocketing, the quality of the popular content carried by the print medium reached its spire decades ago and since then has been degenerating rapidly. So, despite the incredible advances in print technology the fundamental output remains the same and will remain; there's no more avenue for spectacular advancements in the print medium. The alternative to it was to invent a totally new social technology with a new social medium. Since the 1st Gutenberg Press it took 420 years for such new technology to emerge - the Internet, and 20 years later the social medium -WWW, became wide open and by 2008 any further development of this social medium will be peripheral. Technological advancements will be in the area of miniaturization - not of the actual devices but rather of the electronic components, wide spread of nano-technology and flexible organic electrical composites borrowed from the nature. All these which will enable manufacturers to build cuter gadgets but adding little value to social interfacing between people. The trend will be to continue to emulate the physical world with all of its desirable and undesirable senses. The problem with such approach is that the physical world is not perfect, and people are looking at something which offers alternative to the physical world rather than the emulation of the imperfect physical. The notion that the electronic medium will make the physical better is a false one. It won't. So there is no grand future for the Internet or the WWW. The present will persist into the future just like the printing medium until the arrival of the mass www. Thus the interesting question is not about the internet's future but what will be that new social medium which will rival or even outdo the Internet. Maybe there will be no more spectacular electronic medium we will just incrementally improve on what we have now… unless organic devices connected wireless or teleporting!
In the meantime and for the foreseeable future the current trend of connecting more people to more computers will continue. Technological evolution will be marginal and of little impact. Eventually, as many people will embrace the marginal developments of the Internet as will exit it or dump it because of boredom and loss of interest.
To be continued … orrrr not?
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
"The era of Information "hunter/gatherer" is fast fading away. Welcome to the era Knowledge Management". This I wrote as a starting statement in my KDR Lab web site. Well, it is my wish only. The information age – as aged and ill as it is now - isn't fading away fast enough. Whilst conventional information systems are excellent for data harvesting and processing they are no longer able to provide neither the required predictability of unconventional situations nor able to cope effectively with the impacts of unconventional situations and events. The idea that we need more information to make sound decisions and to solve our social and organizational ills still persists and is like a millstone around our necks. After countless failed critical decisions which were based on poor information and gut feel rather than on judgment based on discerned information, knowledge and know-how, there has been some realization of the value of knowledge and in many cases – although not many enough - even a noticeable shift towards engagement of knowledge diffusion specialists.
Arve Sund, executive VP in charge of extrusion for Hydro Aluminum North America, Baltimore in an article in the Indusry Week submits: "We are in an information society, and if you look upon the consequences of that from an industry perspective, it has deep implications of how we run our businesses. ...When you look back in history you see that information and technology was the power base of running a business. The consequence of that was that you protected information, you protected technology. If you look at it today, information and technologies are immediately available all over the world at the same time. That changes what is the key to success for businesses. It gets more and more important to look at the human resources side and people side as the key to your response."
Sadly, however, there are still too many snake oil merchants out there selling the need for more information gathering power and information storage to IT managers. What's even more sad is that some IT managers are still falling for the fallacy of the more information gathering power is better; and so they keep hording up mountains of all kinds of information and in the process burying the valuable information under the non-contextual, irrelevant, outdated and incongruent information heap. Welcome to the era of Information Deluge and Knowledge Depravity! Some IT managers worship the technology by decree yet cloak themselves in robes of grandiose slogans like Knowledge Management (KM), Competitive Intelligence (CI) and Business Intelligence (BI), whilst parading as champions of collective knowledge and memory. In reality these information gluttons are just like the emperor with no cloths. *“But the Emperor has nothing at all on! …But he has nothing at all on!” at last cried out all the people.” Yet the corporate information moguls still keep on dragging their organisations into the morass of useless and costly information: *"The Emperor was vexed, for he knew that the people were right; but he thought the procession must go on now! And the lords of the bedchamber took greater pains than ever, to appear holding up a train, although, in reality, there was no train to hold.”
Hording up information in corporate silos is easy and glamorous. Creating and diffusing knowledge, however, is difficult and not glamorous. The fact that it is far easier to sell technology than to asemble useful, contextual information and diffuse knowledge has led to the proliferation of coxcomb consultants who equate any kind of information with knowledge and will do anything to tickle technology worshipers' ego for a quick & easy sell. For they understand one thing well: "The more gross the fraud the more glibly will it go down, and the more greedily will it be swallowed; since folly will always find faith wherever impostors will find impudence." (Rev. Charles Caleb Colton 1780-1832)
** “The Emperor’s New Clothes” – Hans Christian Andersen
Saturday, May 21, 2005
The value of the Internet as a repository of useful information is very low. Carl Shapiro in “Information Rules” suggests that the amount of actually useful information on the Internet would fit within roughly 15,000 books, which is about half the size of an average mall bookstore. To put this in perspective: there are over 5 billion unique, static & publicly accessible web pages on the www. Apparently Only 6% of web sites have educational content (Maureen Henninger, “Don’t just surf the net: Effective research strategies”. UNSW Press). Even of the educational content only a fraction is of significant informational value.
So why is it that the Internet is so popular as an information resource for the masses? I submit for 2 reasons:
Since everybody is using the same thing – the WWW – there’s no compelling or competitive pressure to seek out quality information.
- No alternative. All feed on the same junk.
For those who are skilled in finding the nuggets of valuable information an online library of 15,000 quality books is an attractive proposition.
Oh yeah one more thing; entertainment content has little quality information value, however, for as long as it tickles the consumer’s senses the Internet will unfailingly seduce all of us.
Did you know that there were days when the most popular search word on the internet wasn’t sex; it was hotels; sex ranked only 6th. Wow how useful this information is, and it wasn't hard to find.
Friday, April 15, 2005
Pleasure is something that everybody is looking for and is prepared to pay a premium for it. IPs who understand this and skilled to incorporate pleasure element in their information design/proposition will always thrive. As the lecture notes confirm the top sites have always been those with strong entertainment or pleasure (sensual) content. The competition for attention is fierce. People will spend more time on web sites that incorporate information which gives pleasure. Producers of goods and services – including information goods - understand that in the “most valuable item in the information age: human attention” yet “attention is scarce in the information economy” (Shapiro,Varian: Information Rules)
Linda Cornwell in an online article “Kids Who Read Succeed investigates what does it take to increase kids reading achievements? Among other things she states that “Only if kids find pleasure in reading will they spend lots of time reading.”Marketers and producers of goods will pay high premium for consumers’ attention. Thus the value of pleasure component of information is very high. Other “techniques” to win attention is providing content for free. Many independent artists & authors willingly provide the fruit of their labor in hope to attract attention. As Tim O’reilley puts it: “Lesson 1: Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.” Webcasting Live Events in Australia: The Kick-Art Experience by Tom Denison is a fascinating and insightful article. To produce information for pleasure is not an easy task. It requires thorough planning, hard work and at times little or no pleasure during the production phase. Nonetheless, making information pleasurable – whether for entertainment, education (edutainment’s the buzz word) or business transactions – will get people’s attention, thus increase their information consumption, which in turn increases the revenue.
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Friday, April 01, 2005
"Communities are networks of interpersonal ties that provide sociability, support, information, a sense of belonging, and social identity" (Barry Wellman). Castells in his briliant book The Internet Galaxy makes the point in quoting Barry Wellman’s definition of community that there has been a profound shift in paradigm from the traditional concept of communities, which are based on the sharing of values and social organization and spatialy bounded to “network as the central form of organizing interaction….Networks are built by the choices and strategies of social actors, be it individuals, families, or social groups.”
I submit that since not every group can be defined as community, the context is of paramount importance when we look at any group. Whilst a community is also an affinity group, an affinity group is not necessarily a community. Understanding the context behind any group is crucial especially in this post-modern world where everything is fluid, without definable boundaries and nothing is fixed (although post-modernism has been under the deconstructionists’ scalper for some time). The most obvious although not the only determinants of virtual community are:
- Boundless spatiality.
- Time: real-time, near real-time, synchronous, assynchronous.
- Flexible structures and processes.
- Perpetual ephemerality & emphemerality, which I believe is particularly virtualization play specific trait. I can't think of any non VC exhibiting such traits. This virtualization phenomena was evident even on micro level whilst studying the communities of play.
The significance of the Information Professionals’ role in the formation and exposition of VCs was not articulated clearly until relatively recently. One of the reasons perhaps was the lack of “critical mass of participation”. The VIC Government’s Global Victoria paper suggests regarding the critical mass “participation goes beyond simply creating awareness. It involves giving people and business compelling reasons to participate”. The critical mass participation I believe has been achieved and is largely attributable to 3 reasons:
- Technological advancement: (affordable hardware, ease of use of web browsers, rich and easily accessible WWW content).
- Commercialization of the Internet, albeit many die hard cyber activists and punks keep decrying that the commercialization which is destroying communities.
- Engagement of IPs in the process of building Information Enterprises and Information Communities
Many still lament about the loss of community “spirit” or disintegration of communities (Robert Putman, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community). I beg to differ. If anything, communities have expanded both in numbers, sizes and variety. The dominance of VCs, however, had not spelt out the end of traditional communities. The slight dents on the traditional communities made by VCs are far outweighed by the benefits VCs brought to the traditional communities. VCs brought to communities aspects, which in the past would either shackle the community or would spell the end of them; such as distance, no space to “hide” unless one leaves the community, no possibility of living out multiple personalities & role plays, ephemeral relationships without uprooting the long established relationships and very importantly both polemics as well as apologetics can coexist concurrently without undermining community structures. Communities in this wired (actually wireless is gaining ground as well) online milieu are created, thrive, evolve, mutate, transform, die and re-born constantly and fast and the best thing about all this is that VCs add value to the traditional communities. Castless points out that even Sherry Turkle, one of the pioneers of the social technology in her classic study on identity-building declared that: “the notion of the real fights back. People who live parallel lives on the screen are nevertheless bound by the desires, pain, and mortality of their physical selves. Virtual communities offer a dramatic new context in which to think about human identity in the age of the Internet” (Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, 1995). I believe that by now the fight is over. Today I believe there’s a natural balance between online communities and “real” communities. VCs provide what non-VCs can't provide and vice versa. So people join or form communities according to their likings, circumstances and context. It is interesting to observe that another early pioneer of the online communities Barlow still lives in the past.
Saturday, March 19, 2005
David Green begins the 1st chapter of his brilliant book “The Serendipity Machine” with: “It’s risky business to make predictions about the future of technology” and than he goes on to demonstrate it by referring to IBM’s founder’s prediction about the future of computers. We know how off the mark Tom Watson was. This poor prediction is often quoted by many. Fair enough or is it? Tom Watson predicted 5 computers. What about the other crystal ball gazers? What did they predict? The point here is that whilst it is risky business to make predictions, the mankind owes the risk takers its existence. I submit that taking risk and erring on the risky side is still far less perilous than hiding under a rock. I’m not suggesting here that David Green mocks Watson. On the contrary, as you read Green's book the Watson’s prediction exemplifies as well as amplifies the serendipity effect. For what did Watson have besides his experience and vision to make such prediction?
With all the retrospection we have today we keep wondering how Watson could screw up so badly, yet I see no evidence that most of today’s visionaries’ view is any less myopic than those who had no such retrospection. We have now all the high tech gizmoes, quirky algorithms and fancy models; are we any better predictors of the future technology? I doubt it. In fact some very obvious realities are still viewed with amazement. For example the amazement about the “incredibly fast” take-up of the Internet in the recent decade. The Internet has been around for many decades and was fast becoming an archaic technology until the introduction of graphical browsers. Once PCs became affordable and the GUI browsers were pulled over the telent and its clumsy IBM variant TN3270 the fast take-up just had to be a natural thing. What’s so amazing about seeing a thirsty crowd rushing to a well? If anything, it is more amazing that WWW and GUI browsers were introduced so late. With the rollout of affordable PCs, WWWed content and the interaction complexity dropped to clickable level it would be extremely amazing if the fast rate of the Internet take-up wasn’t huge.
Often the truly surprising discoveries get overlooked, ignored or oversimplified because we focus too much on making everything simple. To quote H.L.Mencken: “ For every complex problem, there is an answer that is short, simple and wrong.” It seems we get amazed by huge numbers – it is simple - without the context behind those numbers, which is complex.
I started this deposition with Green’s 1st chapter. I may as well end it with Green’s last chapter (ch. 12) where he begins it with a quote from Peter Nelson “One of the problems the Internet has introduced is that in the electronic village all the village idiots have Internet access.”
The serendipity effect as Green describes it in his book is astonishingly beautiful and truly amazing, until we become obsessed with sensationalisaition of the trivial and the typical whilst being beset by complex problems and phenomenal phenomenon we choose to trivialise. "It is serendipity gone mad." (David Green).