[joho] JOHO - March 26, 2004

  • From: "David Weinberger" <self@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <joho@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 27 Mar 2004 11:34:20 -0500

Journal of the
Hyperlinked Organization
March 26, 2004
Editor: David Weinberger (self@xxxxxxxxxxx)
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For the fully glorious illustrated and
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To view this issue correctly, please use a
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| CONTENTS                                    |
|                                             |
| THE FATE OF JOHO: Should we carry on?       |
|                                             |
| excellent reasons to be wary of social      |
| networks. Now want to hear the real         |
| reasons? (Now with FOAF and LOAF!)          |
|                                             |
| Thank goodness for slopes.                  |
|                                             |
| WALKING THE WALK: Open Source at work.      |
|                                             |
| COOL TOOL: AutoHotKey, and an X1 offer you  |
| might not want to refuse.                   |
|                                             |
| GAME I'M PLAYING: Blackhawk down is fun     |
| but disturbing.                             |
|                                             |
| INTERNETCETERA: Miscellany from Linux       |
| Journal and Mother Jones.                   |
|                                             |
| BOGUS CONTEST: Can you figure out what the  |
| the book I'm almost writing is about? I     |
| can't.                                      |
| IT'S A JOHO WORLD AFTER ALL                 |
|                                             |
| I'm totally thrilled to report that I've    |
| been made a Fellow at Harvard Law School's  |
| Berkman Center for Internet and Society.    |
| It's a one-year appointment that enables me |
| to do a little non-credit teaching, draw    |
| upon the wisdom of the other fellows as I   |
| work on a book, and lord it over just about |
| everyone I meet.                            |
| http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/home/          |


Yes, it's been a while. And not for exceptional
reasons. My new normal militates against publishing
JOHO. Should I stop?

Writing a 'zine made sense back when that was the
way you got your long-form ideas out into the webby
world. But now all them durn bloggers are ruining it
for us 'zinists. Doing a 'zine that gets published
once every three weeks -- or once every 5 months
according to my current schedule -- suddenly seems
old-fashioned. And we here at JOHO are noted for
being, above all, hip.

Then there's the fact that I currently write two
blogs and contribute to two others. And I think I'm
about to start contributing to two more. I'm writing
3-5 pieces a day. Putting JOHO together takes longer
than you probably realize, and most of the time
isn't in the actual writing. So, I'm only
getting around to doing this issue because I'm
promising myself that I won't include all the links
and emails. I know if I do include that stuff, it'll
take another three days of work, and I don't have
three days free until mid April.

So, I don't know what to do. Among the choices:

1. Denial. Pretend that JOHO is published every
three weeks, the same as always, but really get
around to it about once every six months

2. Murder. Kill JOHO. Encourage subscribers to read
my blogs.

3. Diminishment. Use JOHO as a way of distributing
the higher-protein blog entries. Drop the links, the
email, the contests, the "Middle World" stuff.

4. Hand waving. Something else and much better.

What do you think? I personally hate #2, so if you
have a way for me to avoid it, please do let me


Just in case, here are the blogs I publish or write

JOHO the Blog. The main one.

Loose Democracy. Politics.

Many2Many (contributor). Social software.

BlogCritics (occasional contributor). Reviews of

I've also agreed to contribute to a blog for an
upcoming magazine.

I update the first two collectively several times a


Oy veh, I've been busy...

[This section came out sounding too full of myself,
so if you want to read it, go to the online version.
In it, to excuse my shirking my JOHO duties, I list
what I've been up to: articles, conferences,
consulting, radio, politics...]

[At the end I mention a Young Adult novel I recently
finished about a kid who wins $100 million in the
lottery but has to keep it secret. I can't find an
agent who cares about it. Anyone interested in
publishing it? Otherwise, I'll eventually put it on
the Net under a Creative Commons license.]

Online version: 


I have some good reasons for looking down my long
and winding nose at Friendster and other such
Artificial Social Networks (ASN). I will happily
tell you those reasons. Then I'll tell you the real


I am a member of Friendster, LinkedIn, Spoke,
Flickr, Orkut, [1] and DeanLink. Friendster aims at
dating, LinkedIn at business contacts, Spoke at
sales team efficiency, Orkut at who knows, and
DeanLink at enabling Dean supporters to organize
local events. I am equally active in all six, even
though one of them is defunct, which tells you
exactly how active I am.

The only one I liked was DeanLink, and that was
because I wanted Dean to be elected president. All
of them suffer from the following problems, to one
degree or another.

First, they attempt to recreate our social network
by making us be explicit about it. But our social
bonds are necessarily implicit. Making social
relationships explicit uproots them, distorts them
and can do violence to them. Just try describing
your child to someone, with your child in the room.

Second, ASNs make us be precise about that which is
necessarily messy and ambiguous. This not only leads
to awkward social moments (Am I a friend yes-no of
some person I met once and don't know if I like?),
it also reinforces the worst idea of our age: The
world is precise, so our ambiguity about it is a

Third, they inculcate the stupid belief that
relationships are commutative. LinkedIn is
especially guilty of this. I have been C in a five-
term series that A initiated in order to contact E,
which means someone I don't know asked someone I
marginally know to introduce him to someone I kind
of know who maybe knows someone I don't know at all.
The formal name for this is "using people."

Fourth, the fact that they require explicitness in
public about relationships guarantees that they will
generate inordinate amounts of baloney. For example,
some ASNs let you write "testimonials" about your
friends, a feature destined to encourage flattery
and sucking up. Worse, they don't let you refuse
testimonials as part of your profile, so I've had to
explain to a handful of people why I'm not accepting
the sweet sentences they spent time putting

Those are my reasons. I get to pronounce them
with an air that announces my moral superiority, my
greater wisdom in social matters, and my fearless
refusal to support social baloney.

Now for my real reasons.


Friendster has 6 million users. People are rushing
into Orkut like ants into an aardvark. So why am I
not excited?

After all, my buddies and I have been saying for
years that the Net's key value is that it makes it
so easy for new connective applications to arise.
Email, listservs, IM, chat, P2P...it's never been so
easy to invent new ways for humans to connect.

But ASN's we don't like. Why not?

Look, I want to say to the Friendsters of the world,
we already invented a social network for friends and
strangers. It's called the Internet. Why are you
privatizing it? Why do we need a proprietary sub-
network to do what the Internet has already done in
an open way?

And the right response is: Sit down, old man!

I don't like Friendster because, well, I don't like
it. I'm not dating. I'm not even looking for more
friends. I love meeting new people -- not a
statement I would have made before the Net -- but I
like meeting them because we first engage in
discussion about some topic. An email to me saying,
"I disagree with your blog entry about X or Y, and
let me tell you why" is much more likely to lead to
a friendship than one that says, "Hey, I see we're
both interested in video games and Peeps art!" Ok,
then, say something interesting about one of those
topics. That's just the way I am. And I do think
it's generational.

I don't like this thing coming along that implies
that the existing social networks on the Internet --
my social networks, the ones that constitute my
social world -- are so inadequate that some badly
designed system with a derivative name (enoughster
with the "sters" alreadyster!) sweeps the Net like
photos of Janet Jackson's poppin' fresh wardrobe
malfunction. What's a matter, the Net wasn't good
enough for you?

Hey, you kids! Get off of my lawn!


Remember in the mid-90s when the NewsGroups monkeys
would throw poop at you if you dared to acknowledge
that you were an AOL user? AOL was perceived as a
walled-garden for low IQ types who were afraid of
the Wild and Wooly Internet.

I saw a demo of Microsoft's experimental ASN,
Wallop, a few days ago and I reacted in an oddly
similar way. Wallop [2], a research project
restricted to 150 members at this point, is a slick
piece of work with a sweet and swoopy UI written in
Flash, designed to dazzle. And the functionality is
impressive. For example, if you annotate one of your
photos indicating that the smiling face in the back
belongs to Mathilda, Mathilda automatically gets
notified that there's a new photo of her in the
system. That's the sort of thing you can do if your
Artificial Social Network owns all the data. Think
how hard it would be to do the Mathilda trick if you
were posting the photo simply on your own Web site:
Mathilda would have to send out spiders to crawl
areound looking for photos of her, and if it found
some called "Mathilda," it wouldn't be sure that it
was the right Mathilda. That's the price you pay for
working in an open network. But if you can close the
network, you can monitor every event and know who
each person is.

ASNs are closed networks when it comes to data. Of
course they exist on the Net and use the usual Net
protocols, but these systems get their benefits by
walling off their data. The benefits are powerful.
But, like AOL back when the Web started, they are
protectionist. As a result, as more data is added to
them, their value increases but that value is
invisible to the rest of the Net. The open Net
becomes less valuable as human links are moved into

The Friend of a Friend (FOAF) [3] proposal attempts to
add value to the open Net. Invented by Dan Brickley
of the W3C and Libby Miller of the University of
Bristol -- Dan used to be at U of B and he and Libby
are best friends -- FOAF is a way for a person to
bundle up the sort of information typically
expressed by a home page: name, employer, address,
hobbies, etc. It can also include lists of friends
and acquaintances' sites. FOAF is completely
voluntary and you can put in as few or as many
personal facts as you like. Applications can then
spider from site to site, gathering the FOAFs to
build social networking applications. The
applications are yet to be invented.

FOAF is kind of catching on. For example, the
popular blogging software, TypePad [3],
automatically creates FOAF filea based on user
profiles. (Leigh Dodds' Foaf-a-matic will create a
FOAF file if your blogging app doesn't do it for
you. [5]) Applications for FOAF are not catching on, at
least not yet.

LOAF [6] is a new proposal for making available
information about social networks. It encrypts your
address book and makes it accessible to others. The
most immediate application is in fighting spam: If I
receive a message from someone not in my address
book, LOAF (which stands for nothing, although List
of All Friends seems to be catching on) can see if
it's coming from a friend of a friend.

LOAF is damned clever. It uses a Bloom Filter that
works something like this: Create a series of bits
of some predetermined length, and set all the bits
to 0. Run an application that "hashes" each entry in
your address book, creating a unique number for it;
hash numbers can't be reverse engineered. Turn on
the bits in the series that represent the hash
number. Attach this series to each email message you
send. Let's say the recipient wants to know if "Marc
Cantor" is in your address book. The recipient
hashes "Marc Cantor" and checks the bit series. If
any of the bits representing the Marc Cantor
hash aren't on, the recipient knows for sure that
Marc Cantor wasn't in your address book. If all the
Marc Cantor hash bits are on, then Marc may well be
in your address book; the likelihood of a false
positive depends on the length of the bit series
and the number of hash functions. Of course this
would all happen automatically. The brilliance of
the Bloom Filter is that it is compact (a few
kilobytes would typically suffice) and absolutely
cannot be "decrypted" into the names in your address

FOAF and LOAF add value to the Net, enriching it
with voluntarily disclosed information about who we
are and who we know. In this they are unlike
Artificial Social Networks that capture the
conversations between us but make them inaccessible
to other applications.

The trade-off is high, however. Just take a look at
Wallop and you'll see what I mean.

[1] http://www.friendster.com
[2] http://www.research.microsoft.com/scg/
[3] http://www.foaf-project.org/
[4] http://www.typepad.com/
[5] http://www.ldodds.com/foaf/foaf-a-matic.html
[6] http://loaf.cantbedone.org
[7] Thanks to Joshua Schachter for explaining this to me. 
    He is not responsible for the parts I got wrong.


If we allow same-sex marriages, the next thing you
know, we'll be allowing threesomes to marry, adults
to marry 14 year olds, and then what's to stop Mr.
Ed from marching down the aisle with Wilbur?

I can't tell you how many times I've heard that
argument, including from US Senator Rick Santorum
and respected newspaper columnists, such as the
Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby, as well in just about
every online discussion I've seen about the topic.

It's called the slippery slope argument, and there's
a good reason why it's counted among the fallacies.

In the classic slippery slope argument, you argue
against an idea, let's call it A, by saying that if
we accept A, then B will happen, and then C will
happen, until we get all the way to Z ... and Z is
so awful that everyone agrees we should avoid it.

The first thing fishy about a slippery slope
argument is that it argues against A by distracting
us. The problem with A, it says, isn't with A or
even maybe with B, but with that awful, awful Z. But
that's usually not what the arguer really thinks. If
you show them the slope isn't really slippery, and
it doesn't lead to B or C or Z, the opponents of
same-sex marriage don't say, "Well, I guess A is ok
then. Thanks for changing my mind!" No, they're
still against same-sex marriage. The slippery slope
argument doesn't reflect their real issues with it.

But is there really a slippery slope from same-sex
marriage to all those awful Z's? You could just as
easily argue against heterosexual marriage because
if we allow it, then inevitably we're going to face
demands that gays and lesbians be allowed to marry.
Is the slope from same-sex marriage to child
marriage any more slippery than the slope from
heterosexual marriage to same-sex marriage?

It depends on what slippery means. How inevitable
are such slopes? What would force us to go --
inevitably -- from same-sex marriage to the awful
Zs? For many people, it's all about setting a
precedent. But precedents are peculiar: We humans
get to pick what constitutes the precedent. If we
allow same-sex marriage, is the precedent that any
creatures who claim to be in love ought to be
allowed to marry? Then, sure, we'd be saying we're
ok with child marriages, people marrying their
goldfish, or whatever absurd Z you want to come up
with. But that'd be a ridiculous precedent to draw.
The more realistic precedent is that gender doesn't
matter in marriage -- a precedent that doesn't lead
to any of the catastrophic Z's the arguers dangle
before our eyes.

Besides, we get to make up our minds as an
electorate. We lowered the voting age to 18, but
that doesn't mean we then have to lower it to 7.
It's up to us. If we decide people of the same sex
can marry, there's no way Americans would then say,
"Well, I guess I'm going to vote in favor of child
brides." The slope just isn't slippery.

Beyond the particularities of same-sex marriage,
the slippery slope is fundamentally dishonest. It
often masks a fear of change, because every time we
change our mind, we look up a hill at our former
self's beliefs. They're standing there, smug and
certain that they're right. But now they look a
little foolish. That's the price of change.

Twenty years ago, I would have argued vehemently
against same-sex marriage. The slope I went down in
changing my mind wasn't very slippery. In fact, it
was rocky and I got scraped going down it. I
deserved the bruising: I was a jerk who refused to
see the loving relationships that were before my
eyes. So, I look at my old self standing at the top
of the hill, and I'm ashamed. And I say: Thank
goodness for the slope.

| MIDDLE WORLD RESOURCES                 |


Malcolm Wheatley in CIO Magazine (March 1) reports
on a whole bunch o' companies going open source.
Employease, "which provides employee benefits
administration services to more than 1,000
organizations" has 25 application servers running
Red Hat Linux. "It's not about being cheap," says
Employease. "It's about doing our jobs
effectively...We want stable software that does what
it says it will do."

Linux has cut the rate of server failure from one a
day to at most two a month. Plus, Linux is running
faster than NT. "Linux increased our capacity by
between 50% and 75%."

Likewise, La Quinta claims cheapness isn't the
reason they're moving their booking system to Linux.
On the other hand, Sabre Holdings, the company
behind the Sabre Travel Network, is willing to own
up to its cheapness: It's moving to open source in
order to save tens of millions of dollars in the
next ten years.


I'm enjoying AutoHotKey[1], although I really
shouldn't be.

It's a free, open source keyboard remapper that lets
you program just about any keystroke to do just
about anything. And I mean "program" literally. For
example, this is the script for getting the Windows
key followed by "s" to open my weblog:

        SetTitleMatchMode, 2
        IfWinExist, Joho the Blog
           Run, %ProgramFiles%/Internet Explorer/iexplore.exe

If I had any brains at all, I'd prefer ActiveWords
[2] that does the same and more without requiring a
drop of programming. But for some reason, I like the
spareness of AutoHotKey. And so far it's been
working well.

[1] http://www.autohotkey.com
[2] http://www.activewords.com


I've touted X1 before, except that it was called
"Find" then. Since it's a desktop search engine
that indexes your email and files, it was truly an
act of marketing genius (of the Not kind) to rename
it X1. Anyway, release 3 is out, and if you click on
this link, you can get it for $49.95 instead of the
usual $99:


(No, I don't get anything if you take advantage of
this offer.)


I just finished BlackHawk Down. You're in Somalia in
1994, shooting your way out of peril. The game play
is pretty good, although you're only given a limited
number of saves for each mission, so you end up
playing the same scenarios over and over.

But it's hard to get past the overall tastelessness
of the game's turning a real-life disaster into a
video game. It's too fresh and it's too specific.
Plus, everyone you kill is black. Wow, that's a
nasty feeling. It's not like the game could do
anything about it, but that's the problem with
taking an actual, recent event as your entertainment

The game does have some nods in a human direction.
You are penalized (sort of) for shooting non-
combatants, many of whom throw a stone at you and
tell you to get out of Somalia. Even so, this is a
tough game to recommend.

| INTERNETCETERA                         |
|                                        |
| According to Linux Journal (March      |
| '04), Sun projects it will roll out    |
| 800,000 Linux-based Sun Java desktops  |
| in the UK, and is "aiming at"          |
| deploying 500,000,000 Linux desktops   |
| in China.                              |
|                                        |
| And, the same magazine says that       |
| installing Linux at Hill House         |
| Hammond (tag line: "We have no idea    |
| what we do, either") enabled them to   |
| go from 500 to 50 technical support    |
| people.                                |
|                                        |
|                   ---                  |
|                                        |
| Mother Jones (Sept/Oct. '03) has a     |
| similar list of context-free stats.    |
| Included:                              |
|                                        |
| ---                                    |
|                                        |
| Tons of additional air pollutants      |
| permitted to be released by 2020       |
| under Bush's 'Clear Skies' plan: 42    |
| million                                |
|                                        |
| Estimated amount that Clear            |
| Skies-related health problems will     |
| cost taxpayers, per year: $115 billion |
|                                        |
| Years that the Bush administration     |
| says global warming must be further    |
| studied before substantive action can  |
| be taken: 5                            |
|                                        |
| Amount that the energy advisory board  |
| members gave to Republican candidates  |
| in the 2000 election: $8 million.      |
|                                        |
| Average annual number of species       |
| added to the Endangered and            |
| Threatened Species list between 1991   |
| and 2000: 68.4                         |
|                                        |
| Number voluntarily added by the Bush   |
| administration since taking office: 0  |
|                                        |
|---                                     |
|                                        |
| Look, I know that there are plenty of  |
| ways the above statistics could have   |
| been bent to serve Mother Jones' (and  |
| my) agenda. But I'll trade some        |
| indignant activism for accuracy at     |
| this point.                            |


For about the past 18 months, I've been trying to
figure out how to frame a book I want to write. I've
known the set of topics I'm interested in and what
the sub-text conclusion is. I know that at some
level the book is about the fearsome price we pay
for thinking that the world is precise and ambiguity
is a failure, when just the reverse is true: The
world is analog and continuous, and ambiguity
is required for understanding our shared world.

Only two problems with that: No one would want to
read that book, and it'd be impossible to write. To
take a self-aggrandizing example, Malcolm Gladwell
didn't go to his publishers with a proposal to write
a book about network topologies, even though that's
what "The Tipping Point" is about (sort of).

So, here's what I think my book is about:

        Information about information has always been
        embedded in the way we understand and navigate
        our world. But now, because of the explosion of
        information, we are being forced to deal with
        this "meta-information" explicitly. But there's a
        problem: When we make information-about-
        information explicit, we uproot it and it loses
        its context and its richness.
        This book looks at the science, art and culture
        of information-about-information and how its
        changing role is transforming how we understand
        and navigate our world.

Something like that.

So, I have three challenges for you:

1. Boil that down to a single phrase, on the order
of "The Tipping Point is about how small changes can
have big effects."

2. Suggest topics for me, or people with whom I
should speak. Taxonomists, ontologists, librarians,
indexers, and, most important, the sorts of folks I
would never think of. The more unexpected, the better.

3. Suggest titles and, possibly, subtitles. For a
while I liked "Contents: One Book." "The Arrow's
Tail" is another contender. Eh.

The prize: A grudging mention in the
acknowledgements of the book, if a book ever comes
out of this.


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  • » [joho] JOHO - March 26, 2004