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Why I'm an Acolyte of the Cult of Dean

Normally I'll have nothing to do with any sort of organized religion, as almost every one has an aggressive branch of proselytism. It's interesting, though; I've never been averse to being spiritual, to having faith in things, etc.

Howard Dean's found a way to proselytise without being rude: provide an open forum for people to congregate, and never waver from what's in his heart. I think this method works for anybody, but I've never seen anyone with the power to go for President realize this; it sounds like JFK might have been the last.

Interestingly, those are some of the core principles that we're discovering at the roots of this whole "blogging" thing; you cannot waver from the guidance of your heart, you must be honest and direct. The technological implementation of blogging is where we find the community-building, though; some provide comments, some provide forums, some link to others, some quote others.

The root principle is the same, though. He's following the course that's true to his beliefs, and inviting those who wish to walk with him to talk. He's actively trying to communicate, by doing whatever it takes to let people talk. In addition to the traditional press releases, he's tapping into every means of communication he can find in order to allow people to talk -- and that shows a respect for something higher than some campaign.

Given the reaction of the people (and myself) to Dean, it seems evident that a need has been growing for a certain kind of leader: someone who knows how to both speak and listen, with their heart for guidance. While the world of blogs has an incredible surfeit of these people, American society has very, very few. Dean has demonstrated that it's possible to make it in politics without allowing the corruption in; his campaign reminds the citizens in the trenches that it is possible, after all, for good people to succeed in politics without corruption.

Link: Garance Franke-Ruta wrote a wonderful article about how Dean is awaking in his followers a long-dead sense of faith; it's the trigger for this article; definitely worth reading.

A thousand monkeys filtering advertising

A common thread between the most effective forms of online advertising is the introduction of a hyperlink to a targeted user. In this respect, there is no difference between Google text ads, Orbitz pop-ups, and DoubleClick banner ads: for the advertisement to be effect, the viewer must follow a link.

The browser market is ripe for plugin that, like Vipul's Razor, harnesses the efforts of many humans to identify and block unwanted advertisements. Users have proven with the SpamNet that they are willing to flag spam for the greater good, as long as it serves them as well; browsers should provide a mechanism for them to do so. Once the browser detects a community-reported ad, it can automatically obscure it – or remove it completely.

This solution is in no way limited to banner ads. When a blog comment is identified by the community as spam, it can be hidden from view on all participating sites. When instant messenger spam is identified, it can be filtered before it ever reaches the client. When an RSS article is identified as an advertisement, it can be filtered by the reader before ever seeing the light of day.

As these systems are implemented (and linked together), mass advertising becomes less cost-effective — the less customized the advertisement, the sooner it'll be tagged by the community; the more customized the advertisement must be, the more expensive it is to produce. Since advertising can't succeed when costs outweigh income, at a certain critical point they'll start losing money on the ads. That's considered a "win" in my book.

Link: Blueblog wonders: "can I live in a spam free world?".

Link: Kalsey writes the comment spam manifesto; I support it fully.

Link: Kalsey's written about distributed comment spam blocking as well, and I never even realized. Must read.

Note: This'd be useful for preventing wiki link spam, as well; when someone tries to introduce a link that's believed to be advertising by the community, the change could be delayed pending approval — or rejected outright.

Driving away customers with inefficiency.

Forty-five minutes at my local Kinko's has left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Even with the help of the friendly staff, I was unable to accomplish one simple goal: get a digital scan of my student photo identification onto my laptop. Stopped at every turn by limitations of their operating system as configured, the only immediately alternative was to spend five times as much money to get my data. My card was refunded for my time, and I'm taking my business to somewhere that can be of actual service: a friend with a scanner, for free.

Things started off well. I put my debit card into their machine, logged onto the computer (after accepting a ten-page terms of service agreement), and spent the first minute locating and opening Photoshop. Two more minutes were spent working around their misconfigured scanner drivers. Another minute to do the actual scanning, and I have (2) three megabyte files. Now the fun starts.

When I logged in, I presumed that their toolset of software would include applications for sending files to remote fileservers, a feature corporate types often require from their network administrators. In this, I was wrong: Kinko's does not provide functionality through their Macintosh installations to upload files to the Internet.

After logging out to the consider the situation, I realized that the web browser could be (ab)used as a file transfer agent. As I attached my laptop to the Ethernet connection one cubicle away, it occured to me to try file sharing from the PowerBook (since OS 9 should be able to talk to OS X). Unfortunately, this is not the case: my attempts to see the laptop's file sharing from their workstation failed, even with AppleTalk enabled.

I spent thirty minutes (!) on IRC, discussing both my dissatisfaction with Kinko's and possible solutions to the problem with several groups of people (altogether, about two hundred people were present to hear my complaints). Several solutions presented themselves during this time, none of which were viable or cost effective:

  • Purchase a USB dongle hard drive
  • Email the files (somehow) to Kinko's at $10 per CD
  • Use a webmail interface to upload the files (too large)
  • Use a file upload form to get the files to a webserver (requires access to a public webserver)
  • Print the scans (print.. scans?)
  • Burn them on a CD (can't burn CDs at the workstation)
  • Buy and save them to a Zip disk (I have no Zip drive)

The careful application of money, or the forethought to carry a pile of spare connectivity cables, would probably have saved me much of this experience. In a business such as Kinko's, where customer service is key, neither of those should be a prerequisite to use their facilities; if I had chosen to apply such forethought to my spur-of-the-moment Kinko's attempt, I would have gone with a friend's scanner instead.

So, all in all, forty-five minutes of my lunch hour wasted. This is completely unacceptable, for what should have been five minutes at 20 cents a minute. Thank you for trying, Kinko's; I'll call on a friend next time instead.

Link: Chuq Von Rospach points out that this is a very one-sided story; I concur. I recommend reading his counterpoint to this post; it's the grain of salt I didn't include.

Lessons learned from online journals

There are lessons to be learned from the first round of online journals, hammered out over time in the private spheres of close friends and associates. Many from that time have moved on to other things, but their legacy remains at the core of blogging's foundations.

Write for an audience of friends.

When you have an audience of a million people, there's no way to anticipate what the best viewpoint to reach them all is; remember that your writing is an expression of your viewpoint, and express it as such. Express your viewpoint as if you were talking to a group of friends: clear, to the point, and perhaps a dash of humor.

Aesthetics speak a thousand words.

The appearance of a site frames the content contained within, setting the tone for the reader. If your color schemes makes it painful to read, they won't. If your paragraphs blend together and your punctuation is rare, they won't. Aesthetics are reflected unconsciously in the mind of the reader, directly affecting their interpretations and feelings.

Passion and eloquence garner respect.

There's nothing more boring than a long-winded essay on a topic that the author can't seem to find inspiration to write about. Keep your words focused, on topics you personally care about; whether they agree or not, your readers will thank you.

Relationships are built on honesty.

Many forget that the Internet isn't a faceless crowd, it's a crowd of invisible faces. Each reader will remember you; perhaps not by words, but they will take away some small thing. Your writing has a direct effect upon anyone who listens, and some will remember you. These days, the world is a very small place; you may find yourself discussing what you've written face-to-face someday.

Continue reading "Lessons learned from online journals" »

Withering spheres of privacy

We talked about the fact that many blogs are abandoned, and yet many others go on posting, unlinked-to and perhaps unread. You have to admire these people.

Many bloggers are bringing to the table the online journal experiences from the end of the last century, before LiveJournal had collected a force of online diarists. If you wrote an online journal, it was for your own benefit, and for the benefit of your immediate friends; random visitors were a curiosity. As Google brought the masses into the journal communities, many writer locked or shut down their sites, in an effort to keep out the prying eyes of the many. "The private intermediate sphere, with its careful buffering, is shattered."

Nowadays, we've turned things on their end; no one is safe any longer from the prying eyes of the indexers; anything that is said on a journal may very well show up in a digital archive somewhere, locked permanently away in stone. I think this has dimmed the light of the journal writers, somewhat; some amazing works have been shuttered forever.

Danny wrote an insightful piece yesterday about O'Reilly's FOO camp, discussing the implications of public, private, and secret. Within is a brilliant quote: "The public is what we say to a crowd; the private is what we chatter amongst ourselves, when free from the demands of the crowd; and the secret is what we keep from everyone but our confidant." Highly recommended.

Six Degrees of Dean

Dean's campaign seems to be learning to take advantage of social networking. Last night's meetup included a directive from the official campaign to "bring a friend" to the meeting on November 5th. Coincidentally, I read "Emergence" this week; it seems as though the campaign is taking a leaf from emergent network theory to build a base of voters.

There's currently more than 100,000 people (120,167, right now) participating in the Meetup system; by asking each of them to bring a friend to the next meeting, there's huge potential for growth. If 15% of the people bring one friend to each meetup, each month, the population of the meetup could more than double. If 30% bring one friend, the population reaches close to 500,000 people. If 50% bring one friend, the population grows to a million people in six months, in meetup alone.

Maciej Ceglowski's girlfriend had dinner with Dean earlier this week, and seems to be heavily involved in Meetup. Maciej's been working with directed networks and search technology; it's eerie that a week later, Dean's campaign introduced activities evidencing a clear knowledge of network theory.

One of the videos shown at the meeting was Dean with a group of GenDean members, asking them to get people involved to vote; not for him, necessarily, but simply to get them on the rolls and in the booths.

First he stumps for participation, then he taps the Internet with meetup, and now he taps social networks. Dean's tapping the power of people to take action, when guided; at this rate of growth, he could very well develop a force to contend with the entrenched lobbyists, businesses, and religious conservatives.

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