Amber Alert in Action

On Monday, I found myself in the middle of a car chase. More importantly, I saw Amber Alert working first-hand.    (23L)

I was driving south on 101 to Campbell from Redwood City for lunch and a slew of meetings. As I drove through Mountain View, I saw an Amber Alert on an electronic billboard, which said that a girl had been abducted in a blue Land Rover. I noted the first few numbers of the license plate in my head, then thought about how great Amber Alert was, and how interesting it would be to see it in action. I was thinking about how Amber Alert could potentially use Instant Messenging in cell phones when I saw the second notice on the sign at Great America in Santa Clara.    (23M)

In San Jose, I merged onto 17 towards Campbell, and a few minutes later, I saw flashing lights in my mirror. I was running a bit late for my lunch appointment, so I glanced at my speedometer to see if I were in trouble, and to my relief, I discovered that — thanks to traffic — I was right at 65 miles per hour.    (23N)

Checking my mirrors again, I noticed the blue SUV behind me change to the fast lane. I remember thinking, “That’s strange. Makes more sense to switch into the slow lane.” Yes, I can be slow at times. As the SUV zoomed past me, I noticed “Land Rover” on the tire cover and recognized the first few letters of the license plate. The three police cars in pursuit confirmed what had slowly dawned on me. That was the kidnapper.    (23O)

I fully realize that if I were truly cool, I would have captured the chase on my cell phone camera and moblogged it immediately. Folks would have seen the chase snapshot live, rather than having to wait for this account two days later. In my defense, I was calm enough to do it. As I watched all of this unfold, I actually called my friend and told him that I was in the middle of a car chase and would be a few minutes late. Unfortunately, my cell phone is four years old. It doesn’t have a camera, and it won’t connect to the Internet.    (23P)

I can happily report that the police did eventually catch the culprit (in San Luis Obispo, about five hours south of San Francisco), and the girl is safe and sound.    (23Q)

PlaNetwork Conference 2004 in San Francisco

The 2004 PlaNetwork Conference is next weekend, June 5-7, 2004, at the Golden Gate Club in San Francisco. This will be the place to gather to talk about the upcoming election, Online Activism, Environmental Sustainability, Social Justice, and applying technology towards furthering all of these causes. Joan Blades of MoveOn and Ben Cohen (the “Ben” in Ben & Jerry’s) of TrueMajority will be keynoting this year.    (1FT)

As I mentioned previously, Blue Oxen Associates is codesigning this year’s event with Tomorrow Makers. The InterActive component is going to be a great place for people to gather, learn, and make connections (both the personal and the knowledge kinds). It will also be a great demonstration of some of the hybrid collaborative processes I’ve talked about so often in this blog and elsewhere.    (1FU)

We’ll also be demonstrating the first prototypes of the Identity Commons system. More on this later.    (1FV)

We’ve set up a conference Wiki for the event itself and also for conversing before and after the event. We also have an IRC channel on Freenode (irc.freenode.net, #planetwork) with logs. I’ll be on that channel a lot over the next week or so, so be sure to drop by and say hello. Finally, if you plan to blog about the conference yourself, please see Planetwork:BloggingTheConference.    (1FW)

I hope to see many of you there. It will be a great opportunity to meet, organize, have fun, and do lots of good.    (1FX)

Manifesto Summit; More Responses

In the two weeks since I last responded to feedback about my manifesto, there have been several other interesting comments. Before I respond to those, I want to make a couple of announcements. First, this Thursday (April 29), I’m presenting the manifesto at SRI‘s Artificial Intelligence Center at 4pm in Menlo Park, California. The talk is free and open to the public.    (1E2)

Second, Blue Oxen Associates is once again helping design this June’s Planetwork Conference in San Francisco. In addition to the usual lineup of great speakers, including TrueMajority‘s Ben Cohen (the “Ben” in Ben & Jerry’s), there will be a parallel interactive component. The format will be self-organizing, in some ways resembling Open Space, and is being designed by Tomorrow Makers (Gail Taylor and company) and Blue Oxen Associates. The purpose of the interactive component is to give people some basic infrastructure to discuss and work on topics of interest and also to enable different groups to connect and intertwingle.    (1E3)

I want to build on some of the interest that the manifesto has generated, and the Planetwork Conference offers a perfect venue to do so. I’d like to propose a summit at this June’s conference for everyone interested in pursuing greater interoperability between collaborative tools. If you’d like to attend, drop me an email, register for the conference at the web site, and rank the topic. I’ll followup later with more details.    (1E4)

On to the comments.    (1E5)

Empowering the Programmer    (1E6)

Several people forwarded Bill De Hora’s response to my manifesto. Bill quoted Chris Ferris:    (1E7)

“Interoperability is an unnatural act for a vendor. If they (the customer) want/need interoperability, they need to demand it. They simply cannot assume that the vendors will deliver interoperable solutions out of some altruistic motivation. The vendors are primarily motivated by profit, not good will.”    (1E8)

then added:    (1E9)

There’s a class of articles that tend to look to assign blame to programmers for what’s wrong with software…. I find them ferociously, willfully, ignorant on how software actually is conceived, designed, marketed, built and sold. Blaming programmers is intellectually slothful. We are, and let’s be clear about this, decades past the time the blame could be laid squarely at the programmers feet.    (1EA)

A Manifesto for Collaborative Tools veered close to that, while never quite getting there – exhorting developers, with only token gesture as to how decisions about software are made. Software is a complete commercial ecosystem that extends far beyond hacking code. Ironically like its observation of the semantic web, this manifesto is unlikely to take hold because it does not address the real issue, which is the marketplace and not technique. This failure in analysis is all the more frustrating as I agree with the essential sentiment expressed (we need better tools, now). Plus the writing is wonderful.    (1EB)

My essay isn’t about blame, it’s about empowerment. Bill is right in that I didn’t thoroughly discuss the role of the marketplace. That comes next. The first step, though, is awareness. I’ve learned a lot from Doug Engelbart over the past four years, but the two lessons that stand out most in my mind are: 1. Making the world a better place is a reasonable career goal; and 2. The first step towards achieving this is to think bigger. Very few people — least of all, programmers — understand or want to understand collaboration well. Start with this problem first, then we can talk about the marketplace.    (1EC)

Okay, so the cat’s out of the bag. I’m a closeted idealist. But the reason my idealist side is in the closet is that I’m also a realist. Less (or at least, as much as necessary) talking, more walking. I founded Blue Oxen Associates to help achieve this goal, and so in some ways, our continued existence and progress will be a measure of whether or not this vision can be achieved.    (1ED)

So, how do we deal with the vagaries of the marketplace when it comes to interoperability, especially in light of Chris’s comments? Chris provides the solution. The solution has to start from the bottom-up — the users.    (1EE)

The Identity Commons model (which fits right into the overall framework I describe) is a good example of this approach. These folks want to take on Microsoft Passport and Liberty Alliance. The goal is to provide an alternative digital identity infrastructure where individuals retain control over their information. Realistically, Identity Commons will not be successful by marching into the offices of various vendors with a technical spec in hand and pleading for it to be implemented. Their approach is to target a market sector that isn’t currently being addressed — civil society. Once users there recognize the utility and desirability of the infrastructure, they’ll demand it elsewhere.    (1EF)

Beyond Collaborative Tools    (1EG)

A few people observed that the principles espoused in the manifesto applied to areas beyond collaborative tools. Jamais Cascio said:    (1EH)

Replace “tools” with “movements” (and “tool builders” with “activists”) and Kim’s argument clearly applies to not just to those who are making the technology, but also to those who are using the technology to build a better world.    (1EI)

In his OLDaily newsletter, Stephen Downes suggested that the principles “are as applicable to e-learning software as collaboration tools.”    (1EJ)

There’s a good reason for this. The steps I described apply to almost any collaborative scenario, be it activism or learning. I was especially happy to see Jamais’s comments, because that is ultimately what this is all about.    (1EK)

Semantic Web Evangelists    (1EL)

A few people who read early drafts thought that some Semantic Web folks might take offense at some of the things I said. For the most part, folks have been very positive. W3C’s Dan Connolly, however, expressed some frustration on the #rdfig IRC channel about my claim that Semantic Web evangelists are more machine- than human-centric in their pitches.    (1EM)

Argh! Which evangelists? I’m certainly spending 99.9% of my time working on the balance between effort and reward for people.    (1EN)

Tim Berners Lee for one. Tim and coauthors James Hendler and Ora Lassila opened their May 2001 piece in Scientific American on the Semantic Web with a science fiction scenario where automated agents collaborated with each other to schedule a doctor’s appointment. That scenario echoed tales of Artificial Intelligence’s past.    (1EO)

Now I realize I just said that we need to think bigger, that the audience for this article was broad, and that the authors wanted to open with something sexy. I also don’t mean to pass say that Tim or James or Ora are not people-centric in their philosophy or work. I’m saying that these scenarios are not actually people-centric, even though they might seem that way on the surface, for reasons cited in the manifesto. That’s a problem, because a lot of people missed the point. This is less the case today than it was three years ago, but I worry that the damage has already been done, and the end result was that some of the outstanding work that has happened over the past three years (work to which I refer in the manifesto) hasn’t gotten the credit it deserves.    (1EP)

Italian Translation    (1EQ)

Luigi Bertuzzi is currently working on an Italian translation of the manifesto. You can read the email he sent to me and follow his work.    (1ER)

What I Want To Be When I Grow Up

There were two good posts on careers in the blogosphere recently. Ross Mayfield advises future entrepreneurs in a piece entitled “Budding Entrepreneurship.” I liked all of his points, but my favorites were:    (15C)

  • Change your major.    (15D)
  • Take responsibility beyond your years.    (15E)
  • Have fun with failure.    (15F)
  • Do different.    (15G)
  • Be a businessperson.    (15H)

Alex Pang offers a much different, much more personal take in his essay, “Journeyman: Getting Into and Out of Academe.” Alex’s post resonated strongly with me, but before I talk about his essay, I first have to commemorate this moment. We haven’t actually crossed paths physically before (as far as I know; we both happen to be frequent patrons of Cafe Borrone, so it may have happened), but we’ve crossed paths spiritually in many ways, and this will mark the first time we cross paths online.    (15I)

I studied History of Science in college and have continued to pursue my interests in that field in small ways. One of those was an extension school class at Stanford I took in 1998. The class was on postmodernism, but Tim Lenoir, who taught the class, soon learned of my other interests and showed me a project he was involved with. It was called the MouseSite, and it was an online oral history of the mouse (the device, not the rodent). Alex was also involved with that project, and his name stuck with me because his middle name is Korean.    (15J)

Fast forward five years. I accidentally discovered his blog several months ago via GeoURL, and I’ve been enjoying his entries ever since. (I’ve bookmarked at least two of his past entries with the intention of blogging about them, but never got around to doing so.)    (15K)

I didn’t follow the same career path Alex did, but I did some of the same soul-searching that he describes in his essay. I have always loved scholarship, and to this day, I long for the days I used to spend lost in the stacks at the library, taking pleasure in all of the things I didn’t know. As brilliant and as diverse and as intellectual as the Bay Area is, it still does not come close to the experience I had in college of being immersed in scholarship and surrounded by scholars.    (15L)

The flip-side of this is that I’ve also always been interested in entrepreneurship and social change, neither of which are commonly associated with academia. Resolving this schizophrenia has not been easy. Pang suggests that the institutional language (at least in academia) is so narrow, we don’t even know how to think or talk about careers that deviate at all from the “path.”    (15M)

I chose to work in the “real world” and pursue my scholarly interests on the side. This was possible from the beginning because Jon Erickson — the editor-in-chief at Dr. Dobb’s Journal, my first employer, and a good friend — strongly encouraged this. As a curious side note, one of my responsibilities at DDJ was putting together its special issues on software careers, which included writing editorials. Of the five that I wrote, four were about the importance of spreading your wings and extending your learning outside of your given field. My favorite was a piece entitled, “Reading, ‘Riting, and R-Trees.”    (15N)

I loved my work and the people at DDJ, but I eventually left because it only took me 80 percent of where I wanted to go. The boom made it a great time to explore, which I did as an independent consultant for four years. Then the boom became the bust, and I had to start thinking seriously again about what I wanted to do.    (15O)

I did two things simultaneously: I applied to a few Ph.D. programs in History of Science and I started Blue Oxen Associates. I did the latter with the belief that my (and other academically-oriented people’s) skills and interests were valuable in convergent ways and that there was an opportunity to create something that took advantage of this. I was directly inspired by organizations like Institute for the Future (which currently employs Alex).    (15P)

Last spring, a few weeks before we threw our launch party in San Francisco, I received an acceptance letter from one of the programs to which I applied. I decided not to go back to school, a decision that was more gut-wrenching than most people probably realize. Blue Oxen was progressing the way I had hoped it would progress, and a lot of people at that point had begun to jump on the bandwagon. I couldn’t give up on the vision at that point, and more importantly, I couldn’t give up on the people who supported me and were counting on me.    (15Q)

We’re still progressing, but we’re also still several years away from my larger vision for the company. I probably shouldn’t admit this here, given how I rant about being action-oriented and changing the world, but part of that vision has me sitting happily in a corner of the library, following some obscure and fascinating train of thought, and then joining fellow researchers afterwards for coffee and speculation about the life, the universe, and everything.    (15R)

Culture Clash, Shared Language, and Story Telling

Speaking of names, a recent Newsday article on Viggo Mortensen, who plays Aragorn in the Lord of the Ring trilogy, notes that Danish people find his name:    (KK)

“Corny?” he says. “Yeah, I know. It would be like being called Oscar. Or Otto. It’s an old name. A really, really old name. And a little bit corny. Like Oswald or something …”    (KL)

Elmer?    (KM)

“Yeah! Elmer. Yeah,” Mortensen says. “I think there’s a comic strip in Denmark, a Dennis the Menace character, and his name is Viggo. He’s all over the place.”    (KN)

Names are a great example of how our different cultural backgrounds can make Shared Language challenging. There are many great examples of brand names gone wrong because they mean something obscene in other languages.    (KO)

When we first started discussing patterns of collaboration at Blue Oxen Associates, I identified casual social interaction as an important pattern, and I called it Water Cooler. Shinya Yamada, a collaboratory member based in Japan, had no idea why I chose that name. Shinya had worked in the U.S. before, so he understood my explanation. He also noted that he had never seen a water cooler in a Japanese office before, and that — unlike in the States — casual social interaction with strangers in the office was unusual.    (KP)

Another great example of the challenges of Shared Language cropped up at the GivingSpace workshop in San Francisco last Thursday. Six of us were discussing small, concrete steps that lead to transformation, and Heather Newbold described how Matt Gonzalez for Mayor campaign buttons had galvanized the progressive community in San Francisco. Four of us knew exactly what Heather was describing, because we lived in the Bay Area and followed local politics. All she had to do was mention the buttons, and we understood what she meant. The other two people at our table, however, had no idea what we were talking about. One was from San Diego, and the other simply didn’t follow politics.    (KQ)

Language itself is not enough. Telling stories is what makes language shared.    (KR)