Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 21 Nov 02 07:24
Howard Rheingold was an early Internet adopter who understood quickly how computing and 'net-based communication could enhance human capabilities. This fed into an interest in human potential that led Howard to create or co-create such works as _Higher Creativity_ (1984), _The Cognitive Connections_ (1986), and _Excursions to the Far Side of the Mind: A Book of Memes_ (1988). Howard became involved in the WELL in 1985, and this led to his authorship of _The Virtual Community_, a book about his life online and the potential for community in cyberspace. Howard was editor of Whole Earth Review for several years, and of the Millennium Whole Earth Catalog, which was published in 1994. Howard was the first Executive Editor at HotWired, but left to build Electric Minds, which was more of an online community/jam session than a magazine. Howard continues to explore the human impact of new technologies in _Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution_, which explores the impact of increasingly ubiquitous wireless communications devices on social networks, and the evolution of moblike adhocracies that can be either positive or destructive. Bruce Umbaugh leads the discussion with Howard. Bruce is a philosopher who teaches at Webster University's main campus in St. Louis (MO, USA) and via the Net. His interests include computer ethics, epistemology, philosophy of science, cognitive science. Please join me in welcoming Bruce and Howard to inkwell.vue!
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Thu 21 Nov 02 07:44
Thanks, Jon. Howard, I've really enjoyed your book. The ideas you're pursuing are as interesting and engaging as anything I've come across in awhile. So, it's exciting to have the chance to talk with you here about all this. I think one of the first things likely to occur to anyone bumping into *Smart Mobs* is that the title itself is a bit jarring. We usually think of "mobs" as dumb (and in part for that reason dangerous). We often think of only individuals as "smart." So a place to start is asking you what smart mobs are.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Thu 21 Nov 02 12:01
The briefest definition is that a smart mob is group of people who use mobile communications, PCs, and the Internet to organize collective action. That doesn't mean a whole lot without unpacking it. Maybe it will help for me to briefly describe the clues that led me to suspect that we are at the beginning of an important social-technological revolution. In Tokyo, in early 2000, I couldn't help noticing that so many people were looking at their telephones rather than listening to them -- and many were using their thumbs to send text messages to one another. Interesting -- but there are many interesting sights in Tokyo. I recalled this unusual sight (unusual for American eyes -- elsewhere in the world, around 100 billion text messages are transmitted every month) -- when I found myself in Helsinki a few months after my Tokyo experience. I was sitting at an outdoor cafe, drinking a cup of coffee, when three Finnish teenagers encountered two older adults -- maybe the parents of one of them -- right next to where I was sitting. I had no idea what they were saying -- they were speaking Finnish -- but I noted that one of the teenagers glanced at his mobile phone (all Finns carry their telephones in their hands and glance at them from time to time) and smiled. Then he showed the telephone display screen to the other two teenagers, who also smiled -- but he did not show it to the other, older, adults. And all five of them continued conversing as if this was normal. I started asking around, and both my Japanese and Finnish friends told me that many young adults "flocked" -- showed up at the same mall or fast-food joint at the same time from eight different directions -- because they had coordinated and negotiated through flurries of text messages. Again, this was curious, but not world-shaking. I started doing some more serious research when I read reports about the "People Power II" demonstrations in Manila. The Estrada government was accused of corruption, and everyone in the Philippines was glued to their TV set for a time, like Americans during the Watergate hearings, as the Philippine Congress investigated Estrada. When Senators linked to Estrada abruptly shut down the hearings, tens of thousands of Philippine citizens started gathering in EDSA -- the same square where the anti-Marcos demonstrations had taken place. But they showed up within minutes -- almost all of them wearing black. In hours, millions showed up. It was all summoned and coordinated by text messages. Telephone trees are old organizing tactics, but cumbersome compared to texting. Once you get a text message, y ou can forward it to everyone in your address book. I realized that the flocking teenagers and the demonstrating Filipinos were taking advantage of a recently-lowered threshold for collective action. And when I looked into collective action, I realized that much more could be in store. It was when I understood that the mobile telephones so many people carry are becoming miniature computers and Internet terminals that I began to realize that we are on the verge of the third great wave of change, following and building upon -- and going far beyond -- the PC and Internet waves.
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Thu 21 Nov 02 13:28
So these "mobs" depend on particular technolgies in order to exist as mobs. (And to be "smart" as well? Or is the smart part human, rather than technological?) And they differ from what preceded them relying on the Internet and PCs in being mobile (and relatively ubiquitous). Anything else that's distinctive about the tech? And why is this revolutionary, rather than just more of the same?
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Thu 21 Nov 02 13:47
Let's talk about the big picture for the moment: communication technologies, social contracts, and collective action. For a LONG time, humans hunted small game and gathered roots and berries in small family groups. At some point, not all that long ago in our evolutionary history, those family groups began to cooperate with others who weren't directly related to them, organizing big-game hunts -- a form of collective action that brought in more meat than any one family could eat before it spoiled, thus creating the first public goods. Whenever a means of communication, a social contract that enables people to trust one another on a new scale, and collective action produce new public goods, human society becomes more complex: agriculture, alphabets, printing presses, etc. The printing press broke out the secret code of the alphabet, which had been invented by the accountants for the first great empires and had been reserved for the ruling elite for millennia. Within a couple centuries of the emergence of literate populations, the collective enterprises of self-governance and science emerged. The Internet enables people to connect with strangers in other parts of the world, getting together around shared affinities -- the whole virtual community story. Ebay adds a reputation system, and a new market emerges. Peer to peer methodologies enabled 70 million people to share their hard disk space via Napster, and 2 million people to amass 20 trillion floating point operations per second of CPU power to search for messages from outer space. What will happen when billions of people carry devices that are thousands of times more powerful than today's PCs, linked at speeds thousands of times faster than today's broadband connections, perhaps with distributed reputation systems that enable us to find people with whom we have some common cause -- on the fly, in the real world? That's the essential question of smart mobs. The flocking teenagers, the Philippine demonstrators, the Napster and SETI@home and eBay crowds -- they are only the first outbreaks. After all, the PC I used when I first joined the Well in 1985 had 640K RAM and communicated at 1200 baud. Now, fifteen years later, I can access the Well from a handheld device (I use a Treo 300) that is a thousand times more powerful, and a fifth the price. And the speed is probably a thousand times faster. This is not to say that smart mobs are wise mobs. Not all groups who use new technologies to organize collective action have socially beneficial ends in mind. Criminals, totalitarian governments, spammers, will all be able to take advantage of new capabilities -- just as the first to take advantage of tribes, nation-states, markets, networks included the malevolent as well as the cooperative.
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Thu 21 Nov 02 14:33
One aspect of the historical arc you're describing, Howard, is the diminishing importance of geography or physical proximity in organizing human affairs (or collective action, at any rate). Once upon a time, our mates were limited to our mates (and offspring and forebears). Spoken language made coordination and a host of personal relationships feasible with others near enough to speak with. As communications technologies developed, larger groups could work together across distances. Two important constraints were (1) a time lag that limited the pace of activity and (2) central control over the technology (early on a matter of limiting literacy, later owning the press or antenna) that could try to limit who communicated and what. PCs and the Net have made a serious dent in the second (setting aside digital divide issues for the moment, but knowing we'll get back to them): everyone's a publisher now. (I remember you made the point forcefully in *The Virtual Community* that it was important to preserve the ability to communicate "upstream" on the Net for that value to flourish.) PCs and the Net have surely altered the first radically, as well, checked to a degree by the need to be at a jack in the wall to be online. But the new technologies you're describing are faster and nimbler. And they travel with us. So they allow coordination with arbitrary people wherever they are (without even having to meet them). They allow coordinating right past other people who are physically near (as in your Finnish teens example). That change of pace and transformation of geography (replaced, I guess, by various network topographies and other relationships?) does seem profound. It would be surprising if our existing social norms and habits regarding privacy, trust, and so on, proved to be easily applied right out of the gate for dealing with this new arena. If these technologies stand to empower some people (or The People), that must threaten some other people. That was obviously true about literacy and printing, and almost everyone reading Inkwell will be familiar with the last decade of political wars over the Internet. Are we on the brink of the greatest power struggle since the discovery of fire?
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Thu 21 Nov 02 14:35
One other element regarding my contention that we are at the beginning of a revolutionary wave of change: Mobile telephones, which are quickly morphing into portable Internet terminals with significant and growing onboard computation power, are used by people who have not had access to PCs and the Net, and are used in parts of our lives that computation on online communication have not reached. One in eight people in Botswana have mobile telephones. Six weeks ago, in Sao Paolo, I saw barefoot people in the slums talking on their mobile telephones. Somali traders of the coast of Dubai make deals via telephoneIn rural Bangladesh, the mobile telephone has been introduced via payshops run by local women -- and the shops have become new social centers. The PC (except for laptops) and the Internet have been confined to desktops. Now we carry computation and online communication into the streets, automobiles, trains -- places where computing and instant global communications were not available before.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Thu 21 Nov 02 14:45
(Bruce slipped while I was adding that last post) Part of Smart Mobs examines the relationship between knowledge, communication and power -- most famously pioneered by Foucault -- and the power struggles that cut through the many technological and sociological issues raised by smart mobs. Central power versus decentralized power is an ongoing arms raised. The Internet is now the site of control struggles: Cable companies are merging, resisting wireless rebroadcast of bandwidth, petitioning for the right to discriminate against content from competing providers. Control over the root domain servers could grant what had previously been considered technically impossible -- control of the Net. The Hollings bill, the DMCA, trusted computing initiatives purport to be about intellectual property, but they are most centrally about control of innovation -- will a 19 year old dropout be able to shape the new medium and become the richest person in the world, will a Swiss physicist be able to reconfigure the entire network because he gives away an idea, or will the innovators of tomorrow have to be employees of Sony, Disney, or AOL-Time-Warner? The anti-WTO protestors in Seattle won that battle in part through the use of smart mob technologies; not too long after, the G8 summit was held in a remote part of Canada, and wireless communications were blocked locally. Will top-down schemes like 3G bring wireless broadband to the masses, or will it grow fromt he ground up via Wi-Fi networks? Will the FCC continue to favor today's telcos and broadcasters and regulate spectrum according to the technological regimes of the 1920s, or will Wi-Fi, cognitive radio, ultra-wideband technologies force a radical restructuring of the way spectrum is regulated? There are power struggles between political power holders and the disenfranchised, between existing business models and disruptive innovations, between content aggregators are consumers. It wouldn't be wise to be too optimistic. Unless citizens gain a great deal more knowledge, and wield a great deal more influence than we wield today, it doesn't take a prophet to predict that the powers that be will win these battles. I wrote this book not because I believed that disseminating knowledge of these struggles will guarantee a victory for liberty and for tomorrow's entrepreneurs and new technologies, but because I am convinced that without widespread knowledge of the stakes and the players, entrenched interests will certainly win.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Thu 21 Nov 02 14:46
(I meant "arms race" instead of "arms raised" -- interesting Freudian slip).
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Thu 21 Nov 02 14:59
Well, that's a great image, anyway. . . o/ | / Can you say a little more about one of the examples in there? Maybe one of the more hopeful scenarios for now--cognitive radio or WiFi networks? What are they, how do they stand to help the causes of liberty and entrepreneurship?
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Thu 21 Nov 02 15:13
Our crusty old Wellite, Dave, is in the thick of the battle over spectrum regulation. Disclaimer: I think I do a pretty good job at perceiving broad patterns, but I make no claim to technical expertise. Perhaps a less polite way of describing me would be "ten miles wide and a quarter of an inch deep." The FCC was set up to regulate the spectrum on behalf of its owners -- the citizens. It happened in the wake of the Titanic disaster, where "interference" was an issue. Radio waves don't physically interfere with each other -- they pass through each other. But the radios of the 1920s were "dumb" insofar as they lacked the ability to discriminate between signals from nearby broadcasters on the same frequencies. So the regime we now know emerged -- broadcasters are licensed to broadcast in a particular geographic area in a particular frequency band. For the most part, licenses to chunks of spectrum are auctioned, and the winner of the auction "owns" that piece of spectrum. We have seen in recent years that the owners of broadcast licenses have amassed considerable wealth, and that those owners have consolidated ownership in a smaller and smaller number of more and more wealthy entities. And of course, political power goes along with that wealth. These aren't widget-manufacturing industries. These are enterprises that influence what people perceive and believe to be happening in the world. Recently, different new radio technologies have emerged. Cognitive radios are "smarter" in that they have the capability to discriminate among competing broadcasters. Software-defined radio makes it possible for devices to choose the frequency and modulation scheme that is most efficient for the circumstances. Ultra-wideband radio doesn't use one slice of spectrum, but sends out ultra-short pulses over all frequencies. It is possible now to think of "intelligent" broadcast and reception devices that use the spectrum in a way similar to the way routers use the Internet: devices can listen, and if a chunk of spectrum isn't being used by another device for an interval (millionths or billionths of seconds), the device can broadcast on that frequency; reception devices are smart enough to hop around and put the digital broadcasts together, roughly similar to the way packets assemble themselves as they find their way through the Internet. Again, let me caution that there are probably many people who read this who can point out gross technical generalizations and slight inaccuracies in this description. The point, however, is that spectrum no longer has to be regulated the way it used to be. Politically, however, those interests that benefitted from the traditional regime have the ear and pocketbooks of rulemakers, whether they are regulators or legislators. Yochai Benkler at Yale has proposed an "open spectrum" regime, and Lawrence Lessig has discussed a mixed regime, in which parts of the spectrum continue to be owned and sold the way they have been, but other parts are opened to be treated as a commons. Now the notion of a commons extends beyond spectrum. Indeed, part of Smart Mobs is about the way biologists, sociologists, economists, mathematicians, political scientists have begun to converge on issues of collective action, problems of commons, the evolution and maintenance of cooperation.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Thu 21 Nov 02 15:37
As for Wi-Fi, as I note in the book, there are some problems with scaling -- "interference" problems among them. But the interesting part is that you can put a $100 box on your cable modem or DSL line and broadcast broadband Internet access in a sphere of a couple hundred feet to a couple hundred yards. If you use inexpensive directional antennae (most notoriously constructed from Pringles cans), it is possible to extend that range to several miles. Anyone with a $100 (and dropping) card in their laptop can tap into that bandwidth. You can go to Bryant Park or Washington Square Park or a dozen other locations in New York City and similar "hotspots" in other cities around the world and tap into WiFi access points that have been deliberately or inadvertently left open. The community wireless movement combines the many to many publishing capabilities of the web with Wi-Fi: put up an access point, send someone an email, and it appears on a website map. Some parties, notably certain cable providers, don't like that at all. To them, it is theft, and breach of contract. NYC Wireless legallyprovides bandwidth in public places in NYC because they can find upstream ISPs that are happy to give them a contract that permits bandwidth sharing. An economic case can be made that WiFi access could be provided cost-effectively as a municipal utility. It's certainly useful, and definitely orders of magnitude less expensive to provide than water or power or sewage. Dave Hughes has been selling the Welsh parliament on a scheme to blanket the entire country with WiFi access. If you would like to attract young, entrepreneurial, culturally interesting people to your part of a city, one way to do it would be to put up WiFi hotspots, and they will begin congregating. This is a larger issue -- cellphones and wireless Net access are changing the way people use cities. I get into this at slightly greater length in the book. Some will argue that there are flaws and inefficiencies to WiFi, and so far, it operates in only a small slice of spectrum allowed for unlicensed operation. But as Larry Lessig says, the 1200 baud modem wasn't an efficient means of accessing the Internet, but it was a catalyst and a bridge to applications and innovations that helped create the broadband Web as we know it. So far, for the most part, WiFi has been a grassroots phenomenon driven by amateurs and enthusiasts. However, telcos in Japan and Korea are getting into it in a big way, as a supplement to or substitute for more costly 3G infrastructure. And here in the US, ATT and Intel are teaming up to provide tens of thusands of hotspots. Interestingly, Larry Brilliant, cofounder of the Well, is deeply involved in that. All I can say is that my world changed when I could sit and write barefoot in my backyard (as I have been doing since the first PowerBook) and not have to trot into the house for Net access.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Thu 21 Nov 02 16:09
Here's an interesting back-of-the-envelope speculation. Some people think the PC took off in the marketplace when the price dropped down to around the average monthly salary of the American middle class consumer -- around $2000/month. The average monthly income of the world is around $40. Moore'slaw is going to drive the price of today's handheld PC -- itself around 1000 times more powerful than the first PCs of 20 years ago -- to around $40 in about 6-7 years. And that included broadband wireless capabilities.
Dave Hughes (dave) Thu 21 Nov 02 22:27
bumbagh says in 3 "...why is this revolutionary, rather than just more of the same.' Forget the digital technology. Start with the human communicative technology that has been with us for millions of years. The voice, produced in the throat, is technology. Hearing, through ear-drums is technolgy. With those two only, humans could 'communicate' going from grunts to words. But only within limited ranges - a few dozen feet, except for shouts. So human 'groups' stood, sat, lay in close proximity to each other, and organized themselves. Sight is technology. And real time. And while one can 'see' far, one must be pretty close to 'see' detail. And signalling came out of that. From hand waving to semaphore flags or smoke signals. All technology beyond what animals did except in the most primitive forms. Then drawings were made on cave walls. Pictures. Followed by symbols. Fixed on walls or rocks. So while groups of people moved (while hunting, for example) they took, thanks to the technology of memory, images, sounds, ideas to other groups. But it wasn't until symbols - early languages - were put on either practical pots, or carryable tablets - that ideas could move between groups, independent of who was carrying them. So cultures arose, limited and circumscribed by natural boundaries of course, but kept alive and evolving because of human forms of 'communications.' Then came light paper, writing surfaces, making carrying easier. And scribes painfully duplicating the important ones in small numbers. Then of course, the printing press. Lots of copies, widely distributed. All 'technology.' And then voice over a wire - a telephone. Two way, interactive, but perishable. Then came teletype - printed words over wires. Opening when coupled with mass printing, whose new ways people 'related' to each other in local groups, neighborhoods, towns, cultures, nations. Then came radio and television. Essentially ONE WAY broadcast 'communications.' From the center out. The edges being passive consumers of what communications brought. Then came personal computers, permitting individuals to write and locally publish. Followed by modems. But THEN the erstwhile 'consumer' could become (1) a producer (2) organize with others at a great distance, (3) become part of 'other' than their primary, and/or local 'group.' Even many groups. And with the speed, low cost and ease of being, even only for a few minutes, part of a scattered 'group' which does not recquire 'real time', but 'asynchronous' dialogue, with this 166 is, individuals could become intimate parts of large numbers of groups. Groups which cut across local physical lines, town lines, state/regional lines, national lines - and someday galactic lines. BUT, almost ALL communciations by modem, PC, to/from others was a commercial activity. Telephone and ISP 'services.' Then came the kind of unlicensed, spread spectrum, secure, digital, wireless, communications in which the only key cost was the price of ones wireless device - radio - attached to a pc, a laptop, a mobile pda. i.e. between two points, which can be 1, 10, 50, 75 miles apart from each other, the 'communications' AND in voice, sound, written, image, or running video form, as cheaply as when the first humans 'talked' to each other! And linking these local 'last mile free' links capable of - soon now - communicating what is in one mind to that of another with bandwidth as wide as the human brain can function with communciating with another, THAT I propose is Revolutionary. Mind to Mind communications. Limited NOT by the speed, cost, or bandwidth of the devices - wired, wireless, processor - but by the natural limitations of the mind to concentrate on the act of communications with another mind. So THEN groups will begin to function very differently. My goal, as Howard may recall, 23 years ago, was, and still is, to connect up all 6 billion minds on this planet to each other. We have the technology, can afford the scale. Will that be good? How the hell would I know. It would be, in human organizational terms, DIFFERENT, from all that went before. I think its an experiment worth trying.
Dave Hughes (dave) Thu 21 Nov 02 23:26
Howard, in #11 above, notes "Dave Hughes has been selling the Welsh parliament on a scheme to blanket the entire county with WiFi access" Not exactly. I started by showing Welsh people in local Pubs how they could connect up themselves broadband to the Internet, wirelessly, from every farmhouse. The word spread - from the bottom up. Welsh BBC (SC4) came to film me in Colorado. The word spread further. Always built on the boast I made in a tiny pub on New Years Eve 1997 in a tiny pub, in a tiny village (Cymduad) one pub, one chapel, one inn that 'I could connect up every farmhouse in Wales to the Internet, broadband, bypassing hated British Telecom, cheaply, by turning every Welsh pub into a wireless ISP.' After the Welsh National Assembly (their parliament) heard British Telecom tell the English Parliment, that unless the government subsidized them with millions of pounds, there was no way theu could bring broadband to rural England (including Wales, of course) until 2022. So the Welsh National Assembly, in effect said "To hell with that. Where is that crazy American" So they paid for me to come over there, make 12 presentations in 5 days, with dinners, before government, geeks, university aundiences, civic leaders, south to north. And do a 'model' valley wirelessly. And the PEOPLE demanded that the Assembly get them wireless. I only had to convince the 2d Minister one on one that I knew what I was talking about - technologically, economically, regulatorily (British and European Union Radiocomms) - AND CULTURALLY, before he popped for 100 million pounds for Broadband for Wales, with a big component of linked satellite-wireless, and a few bones thrown to BT for ADSL. I guess I organized a smart mob. I intentionally worked from the bottom up, not top down. And I drew on all my limited, but historical, knowledge of Welsh culture, derived from my desultory survery of its history through the 600 years I can trace my ancestory, (as much, since 1996 via the soc.culture.wales newsgroup as any other way. So I said 'You Welsh like your 'communities.' And you like to do things by 'councils.' So what is the old Welsh word for 'community?' F-r-o fro. And how many communities are there with a radius of no more than 3 miles (a nice wireless distance). 600, they calculated. 'Good, I said. We shall have e-Fro's. 600 e-fros, each one organized into a non-profit e-fro Council, which shall own the server, the base radio, and be legally responsible for the upstream link. And the SERVER at the center of each community, shall reflect the unique culture (in Welsh and English or whatever) of THAT one e-fro community. And you can then relate to each other, wirelessly, across the community go out to the Internet, and grow on your server what you want the rest of the world to see and know a about you. And sell or give to the world what you have, or are. Your music, your stories, your bardic traditions, your writings, your history, your castles, your sheep, your nurse's shawls, and slate wall hangings. And your Welsh language. Well, it appears to have hit a deep nerve midst the Welsh people. For I started with their culture, their being, and only used wireless and technology to express it, to make it valuable to others. Although I must admit here, that even though I am 4th generation American, from 13 generations of Welsh on my grandfathers side (Dafydd ap Hugh, 1585), and about 17 generations on my grandmothers side (Owen Tudor, 1485) I share with them the feeling of being oppressed by the haughty English. So with malice aforthought am seeing whether 'Electronic Wales' can become independent of England. So smart mobbery may turn out to be a bit more than that in the long run. (You can see the e-fro formal program at www.e-fro.cd, text, stills, and videos on a couple of my speeches.) So, Howard, a slight course correction to my electronic activism in Wales. I am only doing what the Welsh people say they want to do - get connected, become prosperous, retain their culture.
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Fri 22 Nov 02 08:09
Dave, thanks for joining us! Great recap of the history of technology. Dewayne Hendricks gave a talk at Computers, Freedom, and Privacy, called, "Are the Tools the Rules? The Future of the Digital Commons," on wireless spread spectrum and cognitive radios. We talked about it in inkwell.vue topic 146, "On the Scene: CFP 2002" http://engaged.well.com/engaged.cgi?c=inkwell.vue&f=0&t=146&q=101- 113 One thing that's gone on, putting together Howard's post and Dave's second one, is that governments have treated spectrum as a scarce resource. But it doesn't have to be, right? Or not so scarce, at any rate. Which means that the current situation of consolidation of power over telecommunications in the hands of the few is historical artifact rather than law of nature. We're envisioning truly democratic -- even populist -- telecom policy here. But that threatens entrenched Powers That Be. And as a commons brings with it a lot of problems about coordination and collective action. To unbelievably mind-boggling extent if we're looking at this as a truly global phenomenon by the end of the decade. So, I find myself looking for examples that might show how we coordinate activities using these means. How, for example, are rules set for the Welsh e-Fro councils and how are the councils coordinated? Do they translate cross-culturally? How does a social network like eBay or Slashdot (or the Well) facilitate cooperation and distributed collective action? What can other networks learn from them?
Dave Hughes (dave) Fri 22 Nov 02 08:39
I have to be gone most of the day, so won't check back here until evening. I suppose, in sum, I have always tried to fit Technolgy to Cultures, and not Cultures to Technology. Knowing full well that the spread of technologies, such as grass roots, powerful, but affordable wireless communications devices, will itself 'change' over time, cultures. Whether for good or ill remains to be seen. One of my sons reminds me of the Tower of Babble. Another of the Time Sinks. Another of the Coursening of Discourse, online - the flaming, the vulgarity. And sometimes I wonder whether I *really* want to know what's in other's minds. Often a very ugly scene. That perhaps I, like lots of people, would prefer the 'myths' of others 'communicated' by their carefully groomed dress, speech, appearance, manners. The historical way humans have evaluated each other. And there is another, recent, phenomonon. Noted by Alvin Toffler in Future Shock a good 30 years ago. Accelerating change. Which technology merely speeds up. And creates even more seperation even within age groupings from otherwise cohesive local communities. Which permits individuals to 'live' physically, on one place, and interrelate on a face to face basis with others locally, while 'living' in their minds, thanks to interactive telecom, with one or more physically distant, and even totally scattered, 'groups.' Mobs? Is that an absolute good? Or does the human psyche 'need' the reinforcing attributes of 'place?' I have been online a long time. 22 years at least, every day to one extent or another. I have read (give or take 10%) over 500 million words online. And written nearly 30 million words online (a reporter having trouble understanding me, once helped me work out the numbers). I've been in many 'virtual gatherings' all over the world. But I also spent 10 years bringing a run down old Victorian brick neighborhood back from the dead, and my very high tech offices with all my advanced wireless devices, is in a brick building in my small-scale (3 blocks long) Old Colorado City neighborhood. Which has fostered, as I thought it would, a 'high tech, high touch' place, which balms my soul while my mind has to starwars itself across cold space with ultra-modern design (ergonomically) tools. And my small company, which is in one of those buildings, and has been for 18 years - same leased space - is a virtual company. Nobody is IN the office daily, even though I live only 2 short blocks from it. Our staff is scattered from Dallas to Richmond. So I am not one to embrace, willy nilly, the Great Promises of ubiquitous, global, low cost or even free, wireless aided connectivity. Without putting it all in the context of human culture and psychic needs - which have not been erased by technological tools. Evolutionarily, eventually? Maybe. But 802.11b - 11mbps to 802.11a - 56mbps took less time than it took my fingernails to grow to where I needed to clip them. And every smart mob may be light years from the next one, in terms of personal, group, human, social, ethical, legal, political, values. Gotta stop now and walk to my office. A rare thing, as I work best right here at T-1 speed TO and THROUGH my office, wirelessly, 902-928mhz (not 802.11b, which wouldn't punch through the trees and brick building between my home and my office).
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Fri 22 Nov 02 09:40
Economists have told me that eBay is a market that shouldn't exist because the buyers and sellers, separated by hundreds or thousands of miles, who have never met and may never meet and might never engage in another transaction, each take the risk that the first mover will get stiffed -- the person who sends the check won't get the merchandise (or it will prove to be less valuable than the seller claimed, or in worse condition) or the person who sends the goods won't get paid. A classic Prisoner's Dilemma, and an example of a collective action dilemma (rational self interest can lead to collective disaster). A very simple reputation system on eBay enables a multibillion dollar market to exist where none had -- or could -- exist before. There are ways to game eBay's reputation system, and ways to guard against gaming -- another classic arms race. Slashdot's moderation and metamoderation system is another reputation system that attempts to solve a problem inherent in online discourse -- vandals, trolls, and idiots can drive down the signal to noise ratio, discourage people who have something valuable to say, and diminish the value of the forum. Without compromising the freedom of any moron with a modem to spew, Slashdot makes it possible to filter out the noise. Again, the system is far from perfect, and while it makes it possible to tune out the noise, it doesn't necessarily raise the level of the discourse, it does balance freedom of speech versus the limited attention of discriminating readers. Will reputation systems evolve? Can they be applied to mobile, peer to peer communications and transaction systems? I devote a chapter to the question. BTW, there are a lot of resources at <http://www.smartmobs.com> -- I've posted the bibliography, searchable by keyword and by chapter, and blogged references are archived by category. If you are interested in the state of reputation systems, you can start with the references there. Wellite Fen LaBalme has been working for years to develop open-source reputation systems: Enchancing the Internet with Reputations, for example: <http://www.openprivacy.org/papers/200103-white.html>
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Fri 22 Nov 02 10:25
The focus on reputation systems is really important. One of the things that Axelrod's work showed was that iterative games are significantly different from one-off games. Various ugly strategies might be successful in single- round games but fail terribly when the game is repeated. eBay, /., and the Well take various approaches to making participants identifiable from one encounter to the next, but most transactions at ebay, say, don't depend on any ongoing relationship between the parties. Reputation systems kind of consolidate series of transactions between disparate parties into a metric that does the work of iteration in Axelrod's games. So, even if I don't expect to do a deal with you again, I still have to deal with the consequences of doing you wrong. The eBay and Slashdot reputation systems are both top down -- they're features of the code developed centrally. Are there bottom-up reputation systems we should pay attention to? How are they different?
Christian Crumlish (xian) Fri 22 Nov 02 10:26
just an etymological aside: isn't the word mob itself derived from "mobile" or its Latin cognate, denoting a moving crowd of people?
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Fri 22 Nov 02 10:31
Howdy, <xian>! welcome to the party.
Christian Crumlish (xian) Fri 22 Nov 02 10:41
happy to be here! i think i have my own inkwell thingy starting today but i don't see it yet, and this is as copasetic a place to hang out on the Well right now as i can imagine.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Fri 22 Nov 02 12:10
I didn't know that, Christian! I appreciate the opportunity to learn. Thanks. Some interesting preliminary work has been done on distributed reputation systems by a group at the University of Oregon in Eugene: Disseminating Trust Information in Wearable Communities <http://www.cs.uoregon.edu/research/wearables/Papers/HUC2K.pdf> and there's more in the way of bibliographic citations at: <http://www.smartmobs.com/book/book_bib_ch_6_30_60.html> This whole issue is a critical uncertainty: Moore's Law, Metcalfe's Law, and Reed's Law give me confidence that we will see very large numbers of computationally powerful, mobile, wirelessly-linked devices over the next ten years. It is less clear to me that reputation systems will evolve to become a useful kind of "glue" that will enable the people who carry and use these devices to assemble carpools, marketplaces, and other social networks. Even though it's early, and the sources I've cited indicate that economists and computer scientists are actively studying online reputation systems, I see at least one problem: It's easier to get a bad rep -- fairly or unfairly -- than to redeem that bad reputation. Ask anyone whose credit rating has been dinged through identity theft or error. And where is the possibility of redemption -- a formerly bad actor reforms? Clearly, these questions must involve both social and technical disciplines. I've tried to make the book and blog a good resource for others in different disciplines who are interested in pursuing these questions, and who need to be aware of what others are doing. Smart mob theory, but its nature, must be interdisciplinary.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Fri 22 Nov 02 12:16
Another important aspect of reputation systems is that truly useful and widescale systems are going to have to use some kind of implicit metric: only geeks tweak preferences. However, as Marc Smith has shown with Netscan <http://netscan.research.microsoft.com>, it is possible to do a lot with implicit measures. As Smith says: "Don't watch what people say -- watch what they do." For example, Boeing has close to 80,000 employees in the Seattle area. They pay the city a lot of money (as does Microsoft) for the wear and tear on transportation systems that this headcount represents: there is an incentive for ridesharing. A simple reputation system might make it possible with technology that exists today (mobile, location-aware devices) to say to your telephone: "I am leaving my house right now and driving to my office. Who along my exact route is looking for a ride right now -- and has a reputation for being trustworthy and reasonably interesting to ride with?" A simple example: People whose riders tend to ride with them once and once only are probably less valuable than people whose riders repeat; conversely, riders who are offered repeat rides by one or more drivers are probably more valuable than those who tend to ride once with one or more drivers. This is a simple example of a simple application that might make a big difference.
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Fri 22 Nov 02 12:22
You give a good example of a watch-what-people-do substitute for a metric in <doctorow>'s approach to finding the auction items he wants. I enjoyed that one.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Fri 22 Nov 02 12:35
Interviewing Cory, and subsequently becoming addicted to bOINGbOING, was one of the high points of the research phase. Wellites <doctorow> and <dave> are definitely colorful characters, if not heroes, of the book. Cory is epigrammatic in a way that book authors love: His description of Napster's solution to the collective action dilemma is classic: "Sheep that shit grass." The architecture of Napster, he pointed out, makes it easy for people to provision the same resource they consume: While you are searching other people's MP3 directories for music to plunder, the music you have plundered is, by default, exposed to all the other Napster users who are looking for music to plunder. This situation has been called by Dan Bricklin (co-inventor of VisiCalc, the first electronic spreadsheet), "the cornucopia of the commons."
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