Strategies for a discontinuous future.

Consulting & advisory, research notes, in the press, about bubblegen,
next wednesdays.

Saturday, September 18, 2004


Andrew Sullivan today:

"...CIVILIAN DEATHS: Several people have told me to look at this site - but its biases are so blatant and so hostile to the liberation, I'm not going there."

The site was iraqbodycount.

I don't think you could find a nicer example of the blogosphere's incentive being not truth-telling but hyperpolarization if you tried.

The interesting question is - what can we do about it? I'm thinking of an open-source trust filter, where trust can be assigned/redistributed. Hopefully, the worker bees on both sides would cancel each other out, letting the filter pick the signal from the noise.

This mechanism would reveal different info from, say, link aggregators - my guess is that the most trusted parties wouldn't be the most 'authoritative' in Technorati etc terms (aka linkage).

Whether or not you think this particular idea is cool, hyperpolarization is creating a huge market gap that is begging for a response.

-- umair // 7:51 PM //


First world is the new third world...

Shady Canadian corporations have found new safe havens to prey upon naive investors. Read some incredible stories of indulging in the fine craft of fraud, deceit and regulatory arbitrage for fun and profit here.

-- Mahashunyam // 6:56 PM //

Friday, September 17, 2004

If I was the world's dictator for a day...

I'd just pick up 90% of laws and regulations in poor countries and throw them in garbage. A lot of world poverty just stupidity tax in disguise. Growing up in a country where it took over 50 years after gaining freedom from colonial masters for the Supreme Court to prevail over a kicking and screaming buearucracy, and declare it legal for a citizen to unfurl the national flag, I always dreamt of being able to just take a large power hacksaw and going at all the absolutely idiotic laws and regulations I saw all around me. On the insanity scale, the pinning down of the collective creativity and energy of the world's poor by their governments is unmatched in modern times. It takes an incredible amount of work, energy and ingenuity on the part of such stifling bureaucracies to keep their citizens mired in poverty.

The one true radical strategy missing from the global war on poverty is precisely this. The War on Poverty should really be War on Bureaucratic Oppression and Trade Protectionism. The World Bank report mentioned in the Economist article is a step in the right direction. Note to anti-poverty NGOs around the world : the World Bank is not your enemy. Please fight the stupidity of the governments ruling the world's poorest countries.

-- Mahashunyam // 4:35 PM //


Businesswek (finally!) discovers BoP. Some interesting examples of innovation from around the world.

-- Mahashunyam // 4:54 AM //

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Vital Points

Democrats = naive idealism. Republicans = bullying. The Dems will lose, unless they can understand how to deal with bullies, who usually don't have the motivation, balance, or capabilities to enter into real conflict.

-- umair // 4:36 PM //


Object Fetish

Sony's new multimedia clie is pretty cool.

-- umair // 2:58 PM //


Spectrum Trading

Regulatory shifts are happening which will let market structures emerge. (Via WNN)

-- umair // 2:55 PM //


Paul Boutin and others debate the future market structures of WiMax - will regulation fragment the market? It's an interesting question; my money is on (rogue) municipal WiMax emerging in the face of FCC licensing.

-- umair // 2:14 PM //


The Memos and the Economics of the Blogosphere

This is an important post - I've been travelling and so haven't been able to write for a few days. I mark the memos affair as the day when the big problem (tm) with blogs revealed itself - although it won't be discussed much for a while, when the noise dies down. Incidentally, I also mark it as the moment when blogs jump the shark - aka, when the growth rate begins to decelerate, but that's another story...

What's the big problem? In a word, hyperpolarization: total choice creates total hyperpolarization. I've discussed this before, but let me restate and summarize the argument:

In a world of perfectly efficient (costless) filters, our tendency is to seek reinforcing information (aka which already fits with your beliefs). This is a case of loss aversion run amok (we are more averse to losses than gains). It exacerbates information asymmetry.

Now, the blogosphere is abuzz with the notions of distributed intelligence and truth-telling incentives creating some kind of UltimateMedia machine. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The incentives in the blogosphere aren't to truth tell, they're to gain credibility. Now, credibility may come from truth-telling; but more often than not it comes from agreement, or consensus. Digby summarizes this nicely - it applies to both sides:

"...Here on planet earth even if writers correct their errors, readers pick and choose which versions to believe and continue to battle the arcane details long after everyone else has lost interest, clinging to their own version of reality as if it is a life raft. The "transparency" of the blogosphere is as clear as orange juice with pulp. Nobody gets stuff "right." They just get stuff. Errors are sustained forever. The "collective mind" is schizophrenic. The blogosphere demystifies the craft of journalism all right and turns it into an endless self-referential loop of The Osbornes.

What an nice bizarro blogosphere it is indeed when you just dismiss fully half of it as "moonbats" in order to believe that you have achieved a pure and real set of facts. I'd like to go there. It sounds soothing. What's the URL?

In Sullivan's blogosphere, credibility is granted once everyone (who's anyone) agrees."

This article by Cass Sunstein makes the above points vividly clear (Via Mefi). In it, Sunstein discusses the notion of public spaces (parks, squares, etc) as vital to any kind of mechanisms of discourse. That, I think, is a killer target to aim for: new kinds of public spaces which challenge the massively reinforced information asymmetries the blogosphere helps generate.

The blogosphere is not the ultimate truth-telling mechanism, it isn't the ultimate form of decentralized intelligence. Cognitive bias and costless filtering make it inevitable that blogs create echo chambers, not truth finders. In the real-world, as online, public spaces are what truly alter the dynamics of discourse, by vaporizing search costs not just for new information - but also for new information which is cognitively costly; new information you're simply not motivated to speak to or find in a world of costless filtering.

The tension between these two - hyperpolarization and public spaces - will, I think, tech business models for quite some to come. We can immediately think about one market where the tension is evident: radio. The future of radio as conceived by folks like last.fm is hyperpolarization - everyone in their own tiny radio bubble. Clearly, this is not enough, by itself - a public space is necessary for the market to grow. How will this happen/what will the model be behind it? I'm not sure (at least for radio).

-- umair // 1:54 PM //


Politics of the Day

Bring em on. This is why we fight. Never again.

Besides, it can't happen here.

-- umair // 1:53 PM //


Why Democrats will lose....

Analysis of Republicans' strategy of framing issues on their terms : interview with Berkeley Prof George Lakoff. Don't miss the second part.

-- Mahashunyam // 6:16 AM //

Monday, September 13, 2004

A great web page that explains the principles of quantum computing in 'as close to english as possible'. Presented by a former Universite de Sherbrooke Ph.D. graduate (Alexandre Blais) in quantum physics.

-- dhd // 8:58 PM //

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Disruption and opportunity in alternative energy

Biodiesel Gathering Momentum. West Coast leads the way, as usual. Four crazy Canucks from Vancouver are traveling halfway around the world in their biodiesel-fueled 1971 van. Wow! So nice to see the spirit of sixties alive and well around here. Here's their travelogue.

-- Mahashunyam // 7:23 PM //


How Greenpeace changed the world forever.

"Greenpeace was really good at delivering succinct messages," says Weyler, a former North Shore News journalist who played a key role in Greenpeace's antiwhaling and -sealing campaigns. "A boat on a nuclear test site--that's a clear message. Ecologist in Zodiacs between whales and harpoons--that's a clear message."

Hunter called those messages "mind bombs"--effective salvos that provide a lasting image in the battle for public opinion. He soon realized how successful that first Amchitka voyage had been, and he tracked the success of Greenpeace's efforts less by a boat's place on the map or the mood of the crew and more by the number of mind bombs the group effectively delivered.

Weyler says trying to win the hearts of the public with facts rather than images is a losing proposition. Science is complicated and inexact, he explains, and the opposition will always try to sow doubt: "The numbers aren't declining as fast as we thought"; "There's no clear evidence that people will die."

Very cool analysis of their strategy of using strong images and media, which was a pioneering concept in social activism. I had no idea that the founder of Greenpeace was so strongly inspired by Marshall McLuhan. A picture like this (from the website of the Ruckus Society, mentioned in the article) is indeed worth a million words. Lots of strategy lessons in this article for all the wannabe activists out there.

-- Mahashunyam // 7:13 PM //



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