Scripting News for 4/5/2007

Russo & Hale ignores my proposal 

The Palo Alto law firm that used to represent UserLand, and was my personal lawyer for almost 20 years, ignored my offer to settle, and filed a motion to reconsider allowing them to represent the shareholders of UserLand in an action against me, VeriSign and UserLand itself. Oy!

If there are lawyers tuned in, here’s the motion Russo & Hale filed. I wish they would seriously consider my proposal, and stop filing these motions, it’s a total waste of time and money. Meanwhile they’re becoming known as the law firm that files frivolous (and ridiculous) suits against their clients.

Today’s links 

Forever Geek: Prototype of Firefox Coop released.

Nick Nguyen: Making Firefox more

Om Malik explores the platform vendor dilemma.

AP: “Everything was stripped from a rental home after an Internet classified ad invited people to take whatever they wanted for free. But the landlord says the ad, posted last weekend on the craigslist Web site, was fake.”

KSDK NewsChannel5 has video of the story.

Google’s new user-annotatable maps. Coool!

It’s not the cover of Rolling Stone 

I’m featured on the cover of Wired next month in a special issue celebrating 10 years of blogging. Many of you were interviewed for this issue, so congrats! 🙂

The theory of Twitter 

Yesterday’s piece about the “imbalance” of Twitter was, if I say so myself, an important one.

There’s a theory of social systems, a theory that has yet to be written, that will eventually group them into two distinct sets: balanced and imbalanced systems. Neither one is better than the other, both have strengths and weaknesses. It’s generally assumed that the balanced systems are democratic and fair, and the imbalanced ones are not, but I think that’s too crude.

Let me make a prediction. It won’t be long, if it hasn’t already happened, that there will be an eruption of angst about the A-list in Twitter, just as people grouse about the A-list in blogging. In Twitter terms, the A-list will be people who have lots of followers, more than the average person. It will be more pronounced in Twitter because you can clearly see how many followers someone has. It’s like those Feedburner badges that say how many subscribers a site has, except in Twitter, everyone has such a badge, and it’s in a consistent place.

But this imbalance is what has made it possible for actual work to get done in the blog world. With balanced media, like a mail list, everyone is tightly coupled with everyone else. Imagine a company where every decision had to be ratified by everyone else. A company where everyone had veto power. Only really small companies could get work done. Once you got over a certain level, there would always be a naysayer for everything you might want to do — so in the end, nothing gets done.

I like to joke that at one point I could have a developer’s conference for RSS in the shower or while I was taking a walk, alone. Suppose the aggregator developers (me) wanted the blogging tool vendors (me) to support a new feature in RSS. I usually found they were easy to work with! Once there were more developers in the space, guess what happened — nothing! Even the most innocuous proposals were controversial, and once there’s controversy that’s the end of forward motion.

In open source communities they call the imbalance a benevolent dictatorship. Far from being a perfect democracy some people imagine open source to be, actually a project often sinks or swims based on how good the central decision-maker is. Again, people complain about the A-list, but that’s okay, work gets done over the objections.

I found myself thinking of Twitter as loosely-coupled instant messages. It’s definitely a new thing, and because of that, it’s fascinating. David Weinberger came up with an excellent name for what Twitter is, and the web, and the blogosphere, and RSS (but not mail lists) — he called it Small Pieces Loosely Joined. There are lots of other terms for it, all good, but to assume that imbalance is bad, would be to miss the goodness of the web itself, imho.

Brian O: “Messages are lightly battered and quick-fried.”

Brent Simmons wishes Twitter to remain simple.

Morning coffee notes 

Following up on yesterday’s post about imbalance in Twitter, I think it’s basically a pub-sub environment. Probably would be a good idea to adopt that terminology. So “friend” becomes subscriber. Someone who is being followed is a publisher. On the other hand, it would be hard, at this stage, to try to change the terminology without creating massive confusion.

The problem with April Fools posts is that if they work, they damage your integrity, and if they don’t (the usual case) they show how pathetic you are.

I figured out what I want from Technorati — in addition to finding blog posts that comment on my posts, or ones lots of people are pointing to, or blogs that have lots of inbound pointers, I’d like it to find me interesting stuff that not many other people are reading. Thoughtful articles written by people who know what they’re talking about. Not the usual mindless repetitive stuff that perpetuates top positions on various lists. I want ideas, stimulation, food for thought.

13 responses to this post.

  1. How would Technorati define something as interesting?

    The FlickR model doesn’t seem applicable…


  2. It’s not easy, but it’s something that could be iterated.

    I remember early-on in the blogging world there was a service that figured out where links originated, it followed the adoption of a story as it was passed up from the blogs to mainstream media.

    Maybe that’s a good starting point. Identify the blogs that influence the other blogs, and cut the intermediaries out of the loop. That’s what the Internet is about, disintermediation. 🙂

    PS: I’m pretty sure my site would do well in such a system.


  3. Although natural language processing leaves plenty to be desired I believe it has at least enough under the hood to perform a fairly good analysis of processing text to discover some measure of concept depth, variation, language intelligence level which could be a good starting point. You could then do then play around with an inverse popularity ranking or filter out anything appearing in the top 100 “newsy” sites to find things off the beaten path that are worth finding.


  4. interestingness would be so great if it was weighted to my feeds and friends. 30boxes does some neat autofinding of what my conections are, flickr friends, twitter friends.

    I was chatting with scoble at NV07 about how cool google reader could be if they started showing how many times an item was stared or shared. filters on filters so to speak.


  5. Christian: If you want weighting towards your friends, check out TailRank


  6. Dave,

    I finally posted a Happy 10th SN post.

    Best wishes for the next 10!



  7. Regarding the imbalance of Twitter, I think about this analogy. It’s a like a conference where A-listers are meeting with each other, talking with each other about what they are up to, what they are thinking about, etc. With Twitter, someone has just opened the door and let everyone (the followers) into that conference. But these followers can only use their ears because there is masking tape over their mouths. Every now and then the masking tape gets pulled off (an A Lister adds one of their followers as a friend). I just wonder how long this will go before there are too many conversations going on and the A Listers leave Twitter for a place that is not as noisy.


  8. Mike D, interesting, but I don’t think entirely true.

    I guess you’d think of me as an A-lister. I have over 650 subscribers, and I seem to get about 20 or 30 new ones a day.

    But I subscribe to Evan Williams, and he doesn’t subscribe to me. He might be the most influential person on this network, and getting his ear would be high value, but I don’t have his ear.

    And here’s something else that’s interesting — you get an email when someone subscribes, but there’s no email when they unsub! How about that a weird social effect. You may thikn someone is tuned in, but they’re not.

    So you have to kind of leave it at narrating your work, and not really talking to anyone in particular if you want it to make sense.


  9. @DaveWiner, Also we all have different levels of listening ability. I have 67 “friends” but have to miss out on conversations because they fly by so fast. I have work to do.


  10. Re: “Imagine a company where every decision had to be ratified by everyone else. A company where everyone had veto power. Only really small companies could get work done. Once you got over a certain level, there would always be a naysayer for everything you might want to do — so in the end, nothing gets done.”

    Dave, it sounds like what you’re looking for is consent-based governance systems, like sociocracy, which has been helping some businesses and other ventures run successfully for decades. Rather than the straw-man “everyone has veto power” alternative you posit above (and which many see as the only alternative to centralized top-down command-and-control authority), the intentional communities movement including cohousing, religious groups like The Society of Friends (Quakers), user groups, and yes, even businesses and unconferences like BarCamps are using these sorts of decision-making systems to let all voices be heard yet move forward, make progress, accomplish the mission, effectively serve customers, without getting stuck. John Abrams of South Mountain Company in Mass. wrote a well-selling business book, “The Company We Keep”, which looks at some alternatives in making his business into a worker co-op. Consensus and similar tools really can lead to more-effective governance, greater employee/member buy-in on decisions, while delivering necessary agility and performance.



  11. Small Pieces Loosely Joined — or SPLJ. Is that pronounced “splooj”? 😉


  12. @DaveWiner
    You’re right, I didn’t really address the scenario of A listers not always listening to other A listers. I actually think that Twitter has done a lot to level the playing field even though there is still the imbalance that you described.


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