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Failure to communicate

A growing segment of the technologically-enabled population is developing what I would best describe as a "derision" towards those who are not technically competent, for whatever reason. This sentiment is immediately apparent in the technical support industry, but I've seen it from peers who've never been formally introduced to tech support as well.

The common factor in the derision appears to be a result of differences between the two groups of people involved: those who feel they have invested much time in competence, and those who they feel have not. Over time, repeated communication failures left unaddressed appear to result in a build-up of resentment towards one (or, more often, both) parties.

One of the clearest examples of this can be found in comics that focus on these conflicts, such as Dilbert, Userfriendly, or w00t; in each, one can find the viewpoint of the "geeks" trying (and commonly failing) to communicate with the "newbies" — often with disastrous results. One can draw parallels to the similarly frustrating interactions between management and employees, as well; the stress of communication failures doesn't seem to be limited to outside interactions.

Standing guard at the far extreme of this reaction is the "Bastard Operator From Hell" series. For many years the saga has enchanted those who have been burned by IT work; at the core of all the angst-laced stories is the story of someone who used to try until it was hopeless, but now has turned to the dark side. Many techs wish they could do some of the things in the stories to their users, even in a humorous, non-lethal manner.

Some efforts exist to counter this trend; the perl-beginners mailing list handles a steady flow of traffic in polite Q&A with novice users; it's worked out wonderfully, thanks to Casey's efforts. Other beginner outreach efforts surely exist as well.

I'm not sure how to stem this tide of bitterness towards others; perhaps including social interaction training with computer training? It's a tough call, and I don't have the information to make it. Comments welcome; specific incidences of kindness would be nice to know about.

Right of passage

During last night's game of Monopoly, I introduced a new twist into the game: right of passage. Trading properties with other players always results in a hotel war, so I tried a new twist: instead of asking for large amounts of cash or trying to execute an imbalanced trade, I requested mutual right of passage: that is, neither of us pays the full rent on the property being traded; instead, only minimum rent will be charged.

It worked out spectacularly. The other player got a complete set, I had passage to one of the three hotels, and the game continued. As time passed, we both had several chances to exercise the new agreement. Near the end, I escaped a loss by landing on a space that couldn't charge me; while I lost, it was an unexpected reprieve.

The dynamic of last night's game was changed rather distinctly by the introduction of a new trade agreement. Give it a shot, the next time you find yourself playing Monopoly, and tell me how it goes. I'd love to hear about other variations out there, as well; the game's been around for a good chunk of a century, so there's probably a lot.

Reporting in eight directions

The community push to syndicate every viewpoint, every post, through semi-interoperable standards like RSS and Atom has resulted in a dramatic shift in the media power balance; media organizations can no longer embargo certain topics, hoping they'll fade into the background noise. In most media organizations (newspapers, radio stations, etc.), you can find topics that are "blacklisted"; I'd never turn to Fox News to hear more about how Fox nearly sued itself over a Simpsons episode; I'd never turn to a corporation's blog to read more about one of their internal memos. In each case, I can rightly presume – these days – that they'll put their short-term interests ahead of longer-term goals, such as honesty and forthrightness.

The problem with embargoes is that they have a dramatic effect, in a world where the media is controlled by a few, not many. I pick up my local newspaper these days to understand how they think people are thinking; they provide a good viewpoint, and state it clearly. That's only one viewpoint, though — and if something were to happen that was an embarrassment to its financial supporters, I'm reasonably certain it'd never see the light of day, either as an article or an editorial.

That's why I read hundreds of RSS feeds. These days, everyone has an opinion (1.5 million people at Blogger, 1 million people at LiveJournal); this results in a new problem, isolating viewpoints I'm interested in hearing more about. I can guarantee that if one person refuses to talk about an issue, another person will happily do so (and probably already has); with millions of viewpoints on millions of things to choose from, I can tap an endless supply of opinion and fact to educate myself more effectively than I ever could with my local paper alone.

It's like Master George Xu said: You must be moving in eight directions. If someone blocks you one direction, you have seven other directions to move in; no matter what direction is blocked, there's always several left to you.

Eventually my local paper will discover the joys of syndicating the news, either for free or for profit, and then I'll be able to include their selection of viewpoints in my daily education. They don't seem to right now, though, and while their viewpoints are valuable enough, they're not enough to pull me to their site more than once a month (or less) — or to subscribe to the print edition, their primary revenue source. Sometimes I miss the local news, though; I'd happily pay for a monthly electronic-only subscription, if one was offered.

Continue reading "Reporting in eight directions" »

Identifying the supernodes

Based on the top 100 listed at scripting.com's community feedlist, one third of the news I read is read by the other 125 people. This list is generated from the top 100 feeds out of everyone who's uploaded OPML; you can do so, too. Just create an account and you're set to go.

With this data, you could identify what blogs the top 100 most-read bloggers *aren't* reading, read them, and feed them interesting tidbits that they might not see otherwise. You could customize your blogging for any audience. You could target only B-list bloggers. You could create a directed network graph of who's reading who, find out who isn't reading who, and fill in the gaps.

If this new service provided an aggregate dataset, I could teach people to become supernodes. Unfortunately, the aggregate dataset being collected by this service is not available for download. I suggest contacting Dave and asking him to please republish the aggregated information in XML form.

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