Archive for December, 2010

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Shirky, Jonas, Syndication and Search That Can Count

Word comes down from the Network, @cShirky foretells the death of syndication. Of course, it was not the first time those words were spoken. The economics of syndication require the distribution of physical product in physical space. Syndicators buy a territory in which to distribute a story whose origin is elsewhere.

Visibility on the Network is near nil. You can’t see the copy next to the copy next to the copy. You can’t see the original among the copies. Except when you search for a news story. Then you can see there are thousands of copies of the same story on every major news site on the Network. What looks like value in the context of a single news site, looks like a commodity space-filler when viewed from across the breadth of the Network.

What appears to be an economy of abundance, is actually an economy of redundancy. Original reporting is rare, copies of originals are common. Here’s where we need to listen to Jeff Jonas on counting.

If you think you have five customers moving slowly on an unremarkable vector when in fact these five customers are all the same person – you might be missing the fact this customer is moving on a specific vector with meaningful velocity (e.g., becoming a much better or worse customer).

Why do I speak of this?  Well, I get a chance to see some of the most advanced sensemaking systems being created and tested around the world.  And the way I determine (in about five minutes) whether they have half-a-chance of ever delivering high value is this quick and dirty assessment: Can they count discrete objects?

Imagine, if you will, a search appliance that can count discrete objects. And not just count discrete objects, but tracks their trajectory through time. Original reporting hits the Network in real time and becomes visible through a search (track). Syndication is weighted as a retweet; Syndicators are weighted by reputation; but the creativity of original reporting would weigh the most. The point of origin regains significance.

Imagine how our experience of the contours of the Network would change. The digital makes the copy almost free, counting with a sense of trajectory, revises our sense of the economics. The scarcity of originality suddenly comes into view.

The Cloud Kingdoms of the Network

As the Network continues the process of condensing into discreet clouds, different environmental capabilities emerge and borderlines are drawn between the kingdoms. Sovereignty takes the form of providing a scalable computing infrastructure on which immigrants can homestead. The cloud kingdom must reliably provide arable land, keep the borders between the lands of neighbors and protect the cloud from external invaders. Clouds are not democracies, the Prince is not an elected position— his domain is seized and created out of the aether of the Network.

We seem to be entering the Hobbesian era of the Network, we seek the protection and benefits offered by the Sovereign clouds. As the hinterlands begin to fill up with brigands and pirates, safe transport cannot be guaranteed on the open roads of the Network. Within the borders of the cloud’s sovereign territory, the administrative privileges of the Prince allow for the removal of elements that may disturb the established order.

Once a kingdom has been firmly established, it begins to gather around it the accoutrement of culture. It engages a court architect, scientist, composer, scribe, and jester. It’s through the work of these artisans that the legacy of the kingdom will live in the hearts and minds of its subjects.

In a classical kingdom, the border is defined as the perimeter of the physical lands of the kingdom. As the size of the kingdom grows, the border becomes more difficult to defend. The recent incident with a leak of digital data puts the dilemma of the modern Prince into stark relief. As every node within the cloud potentially stands at the border, the allegiance of the sovereign’s subjects becomes an issue of the greatest importance.

Real-time computing enables the cloud kingdom to offer a privately public message stream that narrates the current state of the kingdom. The subjects of the kingdom tell the kingdom how it is in the present moment through permanent marks in a messaging system. This information is used to the benefit of the kingdom and its subjects. The real-time message stream also creates the possibility of a real-time streaming leak. The admonition to not put into an email any comments that you wouldn’t feel comfortable seeing printed in your morning newspaper, will put a damper on the value of a real-time conversation.

Some would contend that the border cannot be defended, and that only a form of absolutely public transparency is suitable for use within a Network-connected digital medium. This would imply that any broader, more expressive form of speech must occur outside of the digital context. To counter this, the Prince must argue that, within his cloud, the power of his security measures will guarantee the border and the private communications of his subjects.

We live in interesting times.

The Web’s Altamont

There’s little point in asking whether the leaks are pro or con: the bell has been rung, the horse is out of the barn, the cat is out of the bag. Once the bits in question have been linked to the Network they exist everywhere at once. The inside is out. Its effect is much like that of ice nine.

The event signals a change. The Network is now pressing up against every utterance, every written or encoded communication. The membrane between the Network and our conversations has become paper thin. Here we begin to have conversations as though we live in a surveillance state. We look for the remaining shadows, the out-of-the-way corner, the crevice where we’re out of earshot of the Network.

We had a sense that the Network was a neutral medium, open and free to all comers. No one knew you were a dog, and you didn’t need much at all to publish to the whole web of the world. But there’s a difference between the ability to publish and the absolute transparency implied by the leak. No doubt there’s someone somewhere who feels they have a right to secrets you’ve been keeping to yourself.

Some bits have been flipped, what was confidential within a trusted circle is now in general circulation. The opaque is now transparent. But something more than that happened. The disclosure was an exercise of power, it had a real impact in the world. It was a military exercise, a wall has been breached, a boundary overcome. The force of those bits being flipped was felt like a punch in the face. Power was awakened and has been loosed upon the Network. Active countermeasures are an effective means of defending a breached border. We have been ushered out of the garden, and now are filled with the knowledge of good and evil. Power travels along many paths, not all of them in the bright sunlight.

The concert at Yasgur’s farm near Woodstock was held from August 15 – 18, 1969. About 4 months later, the Altamont Speedway Free Concert was held on December 6th, 1969.

The theory is that the targeted system can be paralyzed by causing trusted internal message circulation to be severely limited. The power of the Network can be used to cause a hardening of the arteries. When no member of the system can trust any other, the system ceases to function unless it embraces absolute transparency. Of course any system that attacks another system with this method is subject to the same treatment. And although we might say this new method of disclosure is without a home in a nation state, that doesn’t mean it lives entirely in the ether of the Network— it has plenty of earthly bounds and connections. The structure of the Network will provide a limited amount of protection, or rather it provides camouflage for both armies. It should be remembered, there’s a substantial difference between winning an argument and winning.

The dilemma is that to preserve a ‘free and open’ Network, we must preserve the possibility of evil. And where we once thought the walled garden was an uncalled for limitation on our freedoms, we may soon be seeking its protection.

New Speedway Boogie
Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia

Now I don’t know but I been told
it’s hard to run with the weight of gold
Other hand I heard it said
it’s just as hard with the weight of lead

Who can deny? Who can deny?
it’s not just a change in style
One step done and another begun
in I wonder how many miles?

Spent a little time on the mountain
Spent a little time on the hill
Things went down we don’t understand
but I think in time we will

Now I don’t know but I been told
in the heat of the sun a man died of cold
Do we keep on coming or stand and wait
with the sun so dark and the hour so late?

You can’t overlook the lack Jack
of any other highway to ride
It’s got no signs or dividing lines
and very few rules to guide

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