Cory Doctorow – “Other People’s Money”

This is a must read for MBA and VCs everywhere. Smart, humorous and insightful.  The cynical entrepreneurs take on the effects of VC funding — particularly the big money all entrepreneurs are supposed to dream of, is great.

And the fact that it takes place in parking lot of dead WalMart is even funnier.

Cory Doctorow
Other People’s Money
Cory Doctorow 10.15.07, 6:00 PM ET

Gretl’s stall in the dead WalMart off the I-5 in Pico Rivera was not the busiest spot in the place, but that was how she liked it. Time to think was critical to her brand of functional sculpture, and reflection was the scarcest commodity of all in 2027.

Which is why she was hoping that the venture capitalist would just leave her alone. He wasn’t a paying customer, he wasn’t a fellow artist–he wanted to buy her, and he was thirty years too late.

Original Forbes Article

When the NSA Outsources Search to Google…

I’ve been reading — or actually listening to — a lot of Cory Doctorow’s work on the train and two short stories just had me entranced.

The first is this one about a dystopian world where Google starts helping the NSA with search. Specifically search for terrorists.  In classic Cory Doctorow fashion is goes over the top on what the government would be interested in and find the ability to act on, but it does prove a point. 
More interesting is the idea that you could put someone under suspicion based on the ad that are served to their profile, rather then actually having access to the profile.  That is really funny.

Monday, September 17, 2007
Scroogled (by Cory Doctorow)

Cory Doctorow wrote this Creative Commons-licensed fiction story for Radar Online magazine.

“Give me six lines written by the most honorable of men, and I will find an excuse in them to hang him.” –Cardinal Richelieu

“We don’t know enough about you.” –Google CEO Eric Schmidt

Greg landed at San Francisco International Airport at 8 p.m., but by the time he’d made it to the front of the customs line, it was after midnight. He’d emerged from first class, brown as a nut, unshaven, and loose-limbed after a month on the beach in Cabo (scuba diving three days a week, seducing French college girls the rest of the time). When he’d left the city a month before, he’d been a stoop-shouldered, potbellied wreck. Now he was a bronze god, drawing admiring glances from the stews at the front of the cabin.

Four hours later in the customs line, he’d slid from god back to man. His slight buzz had worn off, sweat ran down the crack of his ass, and his shoulders and neck were so tense his upper back felt like a tennis racket. The batteries on his iPod had long since died, leaving him with nothing to do except eavesdrop on the middle-age couple ahead of him.

“The marvels of modern technology,” said the woman, shrugging at a nearby sign: Immigration–Powered by Google.

“I thought that didn’t start until next month?” The man was alternately wearing and holding a large sombrero.

The U.S. government had spent $15 billion and hadn’t caught a single terrorist. Clearly, the public sector was not equipped to Do Search Right.

Googling at the border. Christ. Greg had vested out of Google six months before, cashing in his options and “taking some me time”–which turned out to be less rewarding than he’d expected. What he mostly did over the five months that followed was fix his friends’ PCs, watch daytime TV, and gain 10 pounds, which he blamed on being at home instead of in the Googleplex, with its well-appointed 24-hour gym.

He should have seen it coming, of course. The U.S. government had lavished $15 billion on a program to fingerprint and photograph visitors at the border, and hadn’t caught a single terrorist. Clearly, the public sector was not equipped to Do Search Right.
 More

A Few Recommended Books

A small step into the work of ecommerce affiliate fun that you just can't do on wordpress.com.

And a quick collection of interesting books.  I can see this will have to make it's way to a library page when I get the time.  For now it is simply amazing that one can add a functioning affiliate widget … in less then 10 minutes.

If you haven't read them, want to read them or or going to buy on of them anyway, click through from here!"

Clay Shirkey – Gin & Cognitive Surplus

Just came across this again haphazardly–or not so haphazardly if you consider that I was reading a feed of Clay’s writings–and thought I would post it again.  It is really a great piece of thinking:

I was recently reminded of some reading I did in college, way back in the last century, by a British historian arguing that the critical technology, for the early phase of the industrial revolution, was gin.

The transformation from rural to urban life was so sudden, and so wrenching, that the only thing society could do to manage was to drink itself into a stupor for a generation. The stories from that era are amazing– there were gin pushcarts working their way through the streets of London. And it wasn’t until society woke up from that collective bender that we actually started to get the institutional structures that we associate with the industrial revolution today. Things like public libraries and museums, increasingly broad education for children, elected leaders–a lot of things we like–didn’t happen until having all of those people together stopped seeming like a crisis and started seeming like an asset.

It wasn’t until people started thinking of this as a vast civic surplus, one they could design for rather than just dissipate, that we started to get what we think of now as an industrial society.

If I had to pick the critical technology for the 20th century, the bit of social lubricant without which the wheels would’ve come off the whole enterprise, I’d say it was the sitcom. Starting with the Second World War a whole series of things happened–rising GDP per capita, rising educational attainment, rising life expectancy and, critically, a rising number of people who were working five-day work weeks. For the first time, society forced onto an enormous number of its citizens the requirement to manage something they had never had to manage before–free time.

And what did we do with that free time? Well, mostly we spent it watching TV.

We did that for decades. We watched I Love Lucy. We watched Gilligan’s Island. We watch Malcolm in the Middle. We watch Desperate Housewives. Desperate Housewives essentially functioned as a kind of cognitive heat sink, dissipating thinking that might otherwise have built up and caused society to overheat.

And it’s only now, as we’re waking up from that collective bender, that we’re starting to see the cognitive surplus as an asset rather than as a crisis. We’re seeing things being designed to take advantage of that surplus, to deploy it in ways more engaging than just having a TV in everybody’s basement.

This hit me in a conversation I had about two months ago. As Jen said in the introduction, I’ve finished a book called Here Comes Everybody, which has recently come out, and this recognition came out of a conversation I had about the book. I was being interviewed by a TV producer to see whether I should be on their show, and she asked me, “What are you seeing out there that’s interesting?”

I started telling her about the Wikipedia article on Pluto. You may remember that Pluto got kicked out of the planet club a couple of years ago, so all of a sudden there was all of this activity on Wikipedia. The talk pages light up, people are editing the article like mad, and the whole community is in an ruckus–“How should we characterize this change in Pluto’s status?” And a little bit at a time they move the article–fighting offstage all the while–from, “Pluto is the ninth planet,” to “Pluto is an odd-shaped rock with an odd-shaped orbit at the edge of the solar system.”

So I tell her all this stuff, and I think, “Okay, we’re going to have a conversation about authority or social construction or whatever.” That wasn’t her question. She heard this story and she shook her head and said, “Where do people find the time?” That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. And I said, “No one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the time comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you’ve been masking for 50 years.”

So how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project–every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in–that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it’s the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.

And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that’s 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, “Where do they find the time?” when they’re looking at things like Wikipedia don’t understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this asset that’s finally being dragged into what Tim calls an architecture of participation.

Now, the interesting thing about a surplus like that is that society doesn’t know what to do with it at first–hence the gin, hence the sitcoms. Because if people knew what to do with a surplus with reference to the existing social institutions, then it wouldn’t be a surplus, would it? It’s precisely when no one has any idea how to deploy something that people have to start experimenting with it, in order for the surplus to get integrated, and the course of that integration can transform society.

The early phase for taking advantage of this cognitive surplus, the phase I think we’re still in, is all special cases. The physics of participation is much more like the physics of weather than it is like the physics of gravity. We know all the forces that combine to make these kinds of things work: there’s an interesting community over here, there’s an interesting sharing model over there, those people are collaborating on open source software. But despite knowing the inputs, we can’t predict the outputs yet because there’s so much complexity.

The way you explore complex ecosystems is you just try lots and lots and lots of things, and you hope that everybody who fails fails informatively so that you can at least find a skull on a pikestaff near where you’re going. That’s the phase we’re in now.

Just to pick one example, one I’m in love with, but it’s tiny. A couple of weeks one of my students at ITP forwarded me a a project started by a professor in Brazil, in Fortaleza, named Vasco Furtado. It’s a Wiki Map for crime in Brazil. If there’s an assault, if there’s a burglary, if there’s a mugging, a robbery, a rape, a murder, you can go and put a push-pin on a Google Map, and you can characterize the assault, and you start to see a map of where these crimes are occurring.

Now, this already exists as tacit information. Anybody who knows a town has some sense of, “Don’t go there. That street corner is dangerous. Don’t go in this neighborhood. Be careful there after dark.” But it’s something society knows without society really knowing it, which is to say there’s no public source where you can take advantage of it. And the cops, if they have that information, they’re certainly not sharing. In fact, one of the things Furtado says in starting the Wiki crime map was, “This information may or may not exist some place in society, but it’s actually easier for me to try to rebuild it from scratch than to try and get it from the authorities who might have it now.”

Maybe this will succeed or maybe it will fail. The normal case of social software is still failure; most of these experiments don’t pan out. But the ones that do are quite incredible, and I hope that this one succeeds, obviously. But even if it doesn’t, it’s illustrated the point already, which is that someone working alone, with really cheap tools, has a reasonable hope of carving out enough of the cognitive surplus, enough of the desire to participate, enough of the collective goodwill of the citizens, to create a resource you couldn’t have imagined existing even five years ago.

So that’s the answer to the question, “Where do they find the time?” Or, rather, that’s the numerical answer. But beneath that question was another thought, this one not a question but an observation. In this same conversation with the TV producer I was talking about World of Warcraft guilds, and as I was talking, I could sort of see what she was thinking: “Losers. Grown men sitting in their basement pretending to be elves.”

At least they’re doing something.

Did you ever see that episode of Gilligan’s Island where they almost get off the island and then Gilligan messes up and then they don’t? I saw that one. I saw that one a lot when I was growing up. And every half-hour that I watched that was a half an hour I wasn’t posting at my blog or editing Wikipedia or contributing to a mailing list. Now I had an ironclad excuse for not doing those things, which is none of those things existed then. I was forced into the channel of media the way it was because it was the only option. Now it’s not, and that’s the big surprise. However lousy it is to sit in your basement and pretend to be an elf, I can tell you from personal experience it’s worse to sit in your basement and try to figure if Ginger or Mary Ann is cuter.

And I’m willing to raise that to a general principle. It’s better to do something than to do nothing. Even lolcats, even cute pictures of kittens made even cuter with the addition of cute captions, hold out an invitation to participation. When you see a lolcat, one of the things it says to the viewer is, “If you have some sans-serif fonts on your computer, you can play this game, too.” And that’s message–I can do that, too–is a big change.

This is something that people in the media world don’t understand. Media in the 20th century was run as a single race–consumption. How much can we produce? How much can you consume? Can we produce more and you’ll consume more? And the answer to that question has generally been yes. But media is actually a triathlon, it ‘s three different events. People like to consume, but they also like to produce, and they like to share.

And what’s astonished people who were committed to the structure of the previous society, prior to trying to take this surplus and do something interesting, is that they’re discovering that when you offer people the opportunity to produce and to share, they’ll take you up on that offer. It doesn’t mean that we’ll never sit around mindlessly watching Scrubs on the couch. It just means we’ll do it less.

And this is the other thing about the size of the cognitive surplus we’re talking about. It’s so large that even a small change could have huge ramifications. Let’s say that everything stays 99 percent the same, that people watch 99 percent as much television as they used to, but 1 percent of that is carved out for producing and for sharing. The Internet-connected population watches roughly a trillion hours of TV a year. That’s about five times the size of the annual U.S. consumption. One per cent of that  is 100 Wikipedia projects per year worth of participation.

I think that’s going to be a big deal. Don’t you?

Well, the TV producer did not think this was going to be a big deal; she was not digging this line of thought. And her final question to me was essentially, “Isn’t this all just a fad?” You know, sort of the flagpole-sitting of the early early 21st century? It’s fun to go out and produce and share a little bit, but then people are going to eventually realize, “This isn’t as good as doing what I was doing before,” and settle down. And I made a spirited argument that no, this wasn’t the case, that this was in fact a big one-time shift, more analogous to the industrial revolution than to flagpole-sitting.

I was arguing that this isn’t the sort of thing society grows out of. It’s the sort of thing that society grows into. But I’m not sure she believed me, in part because she didn’t want to believe me, but also in part because I didn’t have the right story yet. And now I do.

I was having dinner with a group of friends about a month ago, and one of them was talking about sitting with his four-year-old daughter watching a DVD. And in the middle of the movie, apropos nothing, she jumps up off the couch and runs around behind the screen. That seems like a cute moment. Maybe she’s going back there to see if Dora is really back there or whatever. But that wasn’t what she was doing. She started rooting around in the cables. And her dad said, “What you doing?” And she stuck her head out from behind the screen and said, “Looking for the mouse.”

Here’s something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here’s something four-year-olds know: Media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for. Those are things that make me believe that this is a one-way change. Because four year olds, the people who are soaking most deeply in the current environment, who won’t have to go through the trauma that I have to go through of trying to unlearn a childhood spent watching Gilligan’s Island, they just assume that media includes consuming, producing and sharing.

It’s also become my motto, when people ask me what we’re doing–and when I say “we” I mean the larger society trying to figure out how to deploy this cognitive surplus, but I also mean we, especially, the people in this room, the people who are working hammer and tongs at figuring out the next good idea. From now on, that’s what I’m going to tell them: We’re looking for the mouse. We’re going to look at every place that a reader or a listener or a viewer or a user has been locked out, has been served up passive or a fixed or a canned experience, and ask ourselves, “If we carve out a little bit of the cognitive surplus and deploy it here, could we make a good thing happen?” And I’m betting the answer is yes.

Thank you very much.

Book Notes – Halting State – Charles Stross

Where do you begin with this book.  When books have great thoughts in them and I’m in a remembering mood I bend back the lower corners to be able to find whatever it was made you chuckle, or roll your eyes back and think, at the time.  This book has a host of them.

First comment has to be the narrative style — I’d heard of Second Person narration, but can’t remember second person narration that shifts in each chapter and is identified up front.  As Cory Doctorow points out, it works.  And it makes the tech fiction in the pieces really punch.

Your smartphone’s nagging you about hitting your transferrable overtime limit, and you’ve already blown your quota for time off this month; if this goes on you’re gonnae have to put it on upaid hours and file for a time credit from Human Resources.  It’s even been threatening to snitch it to the Occupational Health Department that your Work/Life Balance is out of kilter; if this goes on, it’ll be off to the compulsory Yoga and Aromatherapy classes with Stress Management for you.

Classic to think what a public service employee (she’s a Scottish Cop) will have to put up with when the phone is tracking time and talking to the bureaucracies.

In the office we’ve started using both enterprise video conferencing and local Skype or video ichat.  No longer first generation, but hardly ready to jump the Chasm.  Here is a great one for when video interviewing is in full adoption — and the computers have the ability to manipulate the signal in realtime:

‘Good.’ Mr. Pin-Stripe nods, jerkily, at which point the brilliantly photorealistic anonymizing pipeline stumbles for a the first time, and his avatar falls all the way down the wrong side of uncanny valley — his neck crumples inwards disturbingly before popping back into shape.  (You can fool all of the pixels some of the time, or some of the pixels all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the pixels all of the time.)

And of course the implication of ubiquitous broadband wifi, gps-driven data overlays and internet-enabled glasses could be quite useful to the police — or Polis as they are called in independent Scotland in the 2020s.

CopSpace sheds some light on matters, of course.  Blink and it descends in its full glory.  Here’s the spiralling red diamond of a couple of ASBO cases on the footpath (orange jackets,blue probation service tags saying they’re collecting litter.)  There’s the green tree of signs sporouting over the doorway of number thirty-nine, each tag naming the legal tenants of a different flat.  Get your dispatcher to drop you a ticket, and the signs open up to give you their full police and social services case files, where applicable.  There’s a snowy blizzard of number plates sliding up and down Bruntsfield Place behind you, and the odd flashing green alert tag in the side roads.  This is the twenty-first century, and all the terabytes of CopSpace have exploded out of the dusty manila files and into the real world, sprayed across it in a Technicolor mass of officious labelling and crime notes.

Sound far-fetched?  Consider the Lumus glasses that were at CES this year.

Of course it doesn’t have to be technology to be good science fiction.  It can also be something as archane as describing bureaucracy … just in the future.

‘It’s about the car insurance.’ […] ‘What’s the damage?’ ‘Well, Sally’s carrying six points on her license and she had that car-park smash last year.  She’ll lose her no-claims discount, which’ll cost us about eight hundered extra when we renew the insurance.’
‘Ouch.’  Driving’s an expensive pastime even before you factor in deisel at €5 a litre, speed cameras every quarter kilometre on all the A-roads, and insurance companies trying to rape the motorists to recoup their losses on teh flood-plain property slump. ‘Who are you with?’
‘Nationwide.’
Well, that’s a relief – an old-fashioned mutual society, instead of a pay-by-credit-card web server owned by Nocturnal Aviation Associates Dot Com (motto: ‘We fly by night’) out the back of a cybercafe in Lagos.

Or just some fun — thinking of how unsettling virtual reality can be when mixed with real life.

Yesterday upon the stair I met a man that wasn’t there.  He wasn’t there again today, I wish that man would go away.

Tech Fiction – We're All Geeks Now

How can everyone not love near future fiction?

I've just finished Charles Stross' Halted State which is a great read on a whole host of levels — from 10 year out science fiction with pervasive high bandwidth wifi, smart location services, vision-enhancing glasses with data overlays and a second-tier economy between massive multiplayer online games. It is a nice vision of technology and when I get a moment I'll tap in some of the amazing quotes this guy has come up with to share.

On another note finishing one book set me off looking up others and in the process came across a few videos of another favourite author, Neal Stephenson, which I came across it in classic web linking fashion seeing the link because both spoke at Google's Mountain View authors series. 

Never ceases to amaze how uninteresting the TV becomes when you can watch 2 hours back to back of interesing writers.  (And how effective putting good content online gives you a better appreciation for the brand the sponsors it.) At anyrate I noticed Stephenson called out one of my favorite lines by saying in a commencement address that "we are all geeks now."  Not his best presentation but the content is excellent:

His idea is that we all have an area of passion that we can feed because of the freely available information today — and publish as easily. My idea when I called the great and good of marketing and advertising at the Ogilvy Verge event "geeks" and said it was ok because "we're all geeks now" was we are all become adept at using technology to live fuller lives.

Either way we should all embrace it — technology is here to stay and will do wonderful things for all of us. Long live techno-utopianism.

Advertisings death is greatly exaggerated

Jeffrey Rayport is a HBS professor and was a board member of Organic back in 1999-2000. He has been both active in the industry and influential.

No question as he states here that there is a “Marketing Confidence Gap” as we call it Ogilvy — basically that interactive media is under weighted in media plans. The difference between 6% and 30% is too great.

But has it been proven that it needs to be 1:1?

Print has historically be a higher percentage of budgets then its media consumption time. Is that simply because it works — or is because it is easy to buy and do creative for? Are the big 4 dominant because they work or is it because they are the easiest to buy and run?

Advertising is not an efficient market and as long as interactive marketing wraps itself in complexity it will be held back.

 

OUTSIDE THE BOX

Advertising’s death is greatly exaggerated

Commentary: But marketers are losing touch with customers

By Jeffrey F. Rayport

Last Update: 12:10 AM ET Jun 8, 2007

BOSTON (MarketWatch) — No one could have missed the mad rush in recent weeks among advertising and technology players in their high-stakes game of musical chairs over online advertising assets.

read more | digg story

Book Review: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

It is funny when you stumble across a book that immediate grabs you.  I came across Snow Crash staying at a friends in Auckland, picked it up and didn't put it down until it was done.

Here's the opening line:

The Deliverator belongs to an elite order, a hallowed sub-category. He's got esprit up to here. Right now he is preparing to carry out his third mission of the night. His uniform is black as activated charcoal, filtering the very light out of the air. A bullet will bounce off its arachno-fiber weave like a wren hitting a patio door, but excess perspiration wafts through it like a breeze through a freshly napalmed forest. Where his body has bony extremities, the suit has sintered armorgel: feels like gritty jello, protects like a stack of telephone books.

Classic cyber-punk in a way with all of the great references to science fiction technology.  But this man isn't a mercenary — he is in pizza delivery.

Why is the Deliverator so equipped? Because people rely on him. He is a roll model. This is America. People do whatever the fuck they feel like doing, you got a problem with that? Because they have a right to. And because they have guns and no one can fucking stop them. As a result, this country has one of the worst economies in the world. When it gets down to it–we're talking trade balances here–once we've brain-drained all our technology into other countries, once things have evened out, they're making cars in Bolivia and microwaves in Tadzhikistan and selling them here–once our edge in natural resources has been made irrelevant by giant Hong Kong ships and dirigibles that can ship North Dakota all the way to New Zealand for a nickel–once the Invisible Hand has taken all those historical inequities and smeared them out into a broad global layer of what a Pakistani bricklayer would consider to be prosperity–y'know what? There's only four things we do better than anyone else

music
movies
microcode (software)
high-speed pizza delivery

The Deliverator used to make software. Still does, sometimes. But if life were a mellow elementary school run by well-meaning education Ph.D.s, the Deliverator's report card would say; "Hiro is so bright and creative but needs to work harder on his cooperation skills."

Absolutely fantastic.

The book carries on to introduce virtual reality and a prescient (or proscriptive?) version of Second Life called the Meta-Verse, but that can be found in reviews all over the net. 

More interesting to me is the tying of economics, sociology and good character development.  Take this final excerpt about our Deliverator's life code which is based on Sumari culture:

"There's no difference between modern culture & Sumerian. We have a huge workforce that is illiterate or aliterate & relies on TV–which is sort of an oral tradition. And we have a small, extremely literate power elite–the people who go into [cyberspace], basically–who understand that information is power, & who control society because they have the semimystical ability to speak magic computer languages."