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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Elections in Iraq
Iraq held its first national elections in over 50 years today. I don't have much to add to what has already been said, but I will note that it doesn't surprise me that the insurgents were quieter than expected. One of the big advantages of terrorism is the surprise factor, and on a day like today, security forces are expecting attacks and are much more likely to spot unusual activities and investigate. My guess is that attacks will intensify in the coming weeks, as the insurgents test the new government...

Lots of people are commenting on this so I'll try to perform some of that information aggregation that blogs are known for, starting with the Iraqi Blogs, then moving on to the rest of the blogosphere...

Update: Moved all the links into the extended entry. Click below to read on... Iraqi Blogs:
  • Friends of Democracy: Michael Totten is selecting, editing, and posting the reports and photos of Iraqis on the ground in Iraq.
  • Zeyad: An Iraqi dentist travelling in Jordan comments on the elections...
  • Alaa: Another Iraqi blogger comments:
    I bow in respect and awe to the men and women of our people who, armed only with faith and hope are going to the polls under the very real threats of being blown to pieces. These are the real braves; not the miserable creatures of hate who are attacking one of the noblest things that has ever happened to us. Have you ever seen anything like this? Iraq will be O.K. with so many brave people, it will certainly O.K.; I can say no more just now; I am just filled with pride and moved beyond words.
  • hammorabi, another Iraqi blogger, has pictures and some other comments as well.
  • Iraq the Model: More Iraqi bloggers weigh in: "We had all kinds of feelings in our minds while we were on our way to the ballot box except one feeling that never came to us, that was fear."
  • Ali, brother of the Iraq the Model bloggers, comments. He recalls the last time he voted in Iraq:
    This was the same place I went in 1996 to cast my vote in a poll asking if we wanted to have Saddam as a president for life or not. I had to go at that time. The threats for anyone who refused to take that poll were no less than the death penalty. Still our district was one of the places were one could vote secretly, occasionally though. They trusted our neighborhood because it's mainly Sunni military officers who live here with their families. I and some of my friends chose "NO" but we were scared to death as we marked the paper and remained so for days.
    He doesn't seem as worried about his vote today, though.
  • Khalid Jarrar, another Iraqi blogger, didn't vote and isn't too enthused with the less than scientific estimate of 72% voter turnout.
  • Kurdo: Pictures! Lots of purple fingers - "All these fingers are up for you terrorist, anti-democracy, pro-beheading, suicide-bombers, Baathiest, Saddamist and anti-peace people."
  • Shlonkom Bakazay?, yet another Iraqi blogger, has several posts. He doesn't seem to happy with the way the elections are being portrayed:
    I, too, am simply nauseated by the coverage of American news outlets. It's made out to be an exercise in self-help or validation for all the death and misery that has been put directly upon Iraq and America. It is, however, completely understandable that people are tremendously enthusiastic about being able to go through this exercise...even under such draconian lock-down. The next couple months will go a long way to explain what will happen in Iraq. Let us all hope for the best.
  • Raed Jarrar has some pointed words for the Bush adminstration:
    The cowardly and corrupt bush administration, working along with the dirty allow(ie) government is coercing Iraqis to vote. The allow(ie) puppets are threatening Iraqis who don't vote that they will not get their monthly food rations. ... and this is one of the main reasons of why millions of poor and destroyed Iraqis were dragged out of their homes today and sent to election centers in the middle of explosions and bullets. They don't give a damn about elections, they want food.
    Besides the food rumor, he is also not too happy about the turnout estimates...
  • Baghdad Dweller: "Say it loud and clear: I am a Sunni, I am an Iraqi and I voted" He also has an exclusive picture of Al-Zarqawi and he wants to know why so many Americans don't think Democracy will work in Iraq...
  • I wonder if Ahmed voted?
  • Abu Khaleel is having some election night jitters:
    On the one hand, I am passionately for democracy in principle. It is the only hope for Iraq. On the other hand, I am passionately against these particular elections. They are only an ugly, distorted imitation of democracy. I am convinced that they will not lead to stability... or even democracy.
    The elections seem to have gone better than he anticipated (this post was written last night, before the elections). Look for more from him later...
  • Xosh 7al, from the Kurdistan Bloggers Union, is making up words. He's got lots more today too...
  • No Pain No Gain: Yet another Iraqi blogger...
  • A star from Mosul: "We'd all like to vote for the best man but he's never a candidate." Ain't that the truth. Welcome to Democracy, Aunt Najma!
  • Ferid has some photos.
Other blogs:
  • Glenn Reynolds: Duh. Lots of stuff. Just keep scrolling. Lots of links in this post are on Instapundit, and it's provent to be a good starting point (as always), so thanks Glenn!
  • memeorandum: This site is great on a day like today. It follows several news stories, and the blogs that link to them.
  • Ann Althouse notes a NYT article headline change, with the help of Memeorandum... (Update: Kevin Drum responds) She's got lots more, including a post on Kerry's appearance on Meet the Press.
  • John Robb avises caution:
    What is the role of elections if the state is in failure? If the elections bring in a new government that can't revive the state, what will that mean? We need to remember that this election is going to be a demonstration of the value of democracy. A failed demonstration would have negative consequences.
  • Juan Cole has lots of stuff, and doesn't seem to enthused.
  • Belmont Club: Wretchard responds to some of Cole's claims...
  • The Indepundit has lots of pictures juxtaposed with quotes.
  • David Foster finds himself reminded of the Alamo(!?)
  • The Commissar reads the news to his daughter.
  • John Weidner comments.
  • Ryan Stiles is a security advisor in Iraq and has a few coomments. "What's Next? Well for tonight, I imagine it's dodging the celebratory fire."
  • BuzzMachine: Jeff Jarvis has tons of stuff. Just keep scrolling.
    This morning, I asked myself whether I would go to vote if I thought I could be bombed at the polling place or shot because of my blue finger. I don't think I'd have that courage. Most Americans would not (hell, most of us don't vote even in the lap of safety). Remember that every single Iraqi who came to vote today is a victory for democracy.
  • Fritz Schranck likes the blue finger look, and thinks that Americans should use it in our own elections.
  • The Wall Street Journal has a roundup of blogs commenting on the election
  • John Cole (not to be confused with Juan) notes some shifting of the goalposts.
  • Chester is all over the story, including some live blogging.
    1:03 This is Geraldo's finest hour. He can't contain his excitement on the ground in Baghdad -- he just said, "I refuse to speak in measured tones. This is truly exhilirating." And he called this, his sixth trip to Iraq since the war started, as the best one yet. Fox is just letting him go. He just compared the election to the fall of the Berlin Wall and 1776.
    Heh. His finest hour? That's not exactly saying much...
  • Powerline: They've got lots of interesting posts, as usual. Surprisingly, there's more praise of Geraldo. Maybe I should give the guy a break.
  • Donald Sensing notes a courageous act by an Iraqi policeman. "Police Constable Abd al Amir cannot be awarded the [Medal of Honor] by the US government, for only members of the US military are eligible for the award. One hopes he will be appropriately memorialized by the new Iraqi government."
  • Ace of Spades HQ has been posting up a storm, and guest poster Dave gives the blogosphere the "Jack Burton Kick-Ass Award for Excellence." Heh.
  • Captains Quarters also has lots (the next two links come from him - thanks Captain Ed!).
  • Kevin McCullough is blue finger blogging...
  • Radio Blogger: Covers Iraqis voting in Lake Forest, CA yesterday...
  • Arthur Chrenkoff has a three part live-blogging series of posts(one, two, three)
  • Daily Kos: "This Election is simply, in my estimation, an exercise in pretty pictures. Why? Because Elections are to choose governments, not to celebrate the day."
  • Scrappleface: "Iraqi Voting Disrupts News Reports of Bombings"
  • Iraq Election Newswire: Jeff Garzik is providing an excellent roundup of links to MSM news articles.
  • Blackfive
  • Joshua Claybourn: "Flashback: Following WWII, Germany's first election took four years, and Japan's two."
  • Crooked Timber:
    The best possible outcome of the weekend’s election is a successful completion of the present government’s term followed by another real election. It’s often said that the key moment in the growth of a democracy is not its first election but its second, because ... a democracy is a system where governments lose elections.
  • Paul Cella has some comments concerning the Iraqi elections and some historical analogies (including references to regicide!)
  • The Command Post is on top of the story, and also has a great roundup of Iraqi election posts
  • Winds of Change has an Iraq Report (a regular feature at WoC, but this one focuses on the elections).
  • Dean Esmay has been blogging up a storm, and has thoughtfully created an index of his 14 posts (see the "Related posts" at the end of each entry), and put them all in a category (with a single link), making my job that much easier... Thanks Dean!
  • Derek Lowe hopes that Iraqis and other Middle Easter countries step up their scientific endeavors: "Although I generally don't comment on current political events here, I wanted to congratulate the Iraqis who voted in their election this weekend. From a scientist's point of view, it would be a fine thing if they (and the other countries in the region) could have their affairs in good enough order to join the research efforts that are going on in so many other countries. ... I'm showing my biases here, because I think that scientific research is one of the greatest endeavors of the human race. The more hands and minds we have working on the big problems, the better the chances of solutions."
  • Iraqi Election Watch includes a roundup of Iraqi Media, Blogs, and more... [via Volokh]
  • The Counter-Terrorism Blog has the scoop on today's attacks.
  • Michelle Malkin has lots of posts, including one about a ten year old's show of solidarity with Iraqis, one about the lack of leftist blogging about the election (many of the big names don't have much about the elections on their page, if anything at all) and one about women voting. Lots more too.
  • Andrew Sullivan has lots, as you'd expect.
    I think the anti-war left's failure to believe in democracy is a greater failing than the pro-war right's failure to grapple with some of the serious failings of the endeavor. But I hope today that everyone, whatever their view of the war or occupation, can rejoice in the defeat of evil and terror. It's truly inspiring.
    And another one:
    I don't want to be excitable, but aren't you feeling euphoric? It's almost a classic tale of good defeating evil. We always needed the Iraqi people to seize freedom for themselves. Given the chance, they have. This is their victory, made possible by those amazing Western troops. This day eclipses - although, alas, it cannot undo - any errors we have made. Only freedom can defeat terror. Today, freedom won.
  • Pejman Yousefzadeh: "Those who deride this expression of defiance and this irrevocable march towards freedom will themselves be derided by history--and rightfully so. No one thinks for a moment that Iraq's challenges have come to an end, but for all of the obstacles placed in the way of the Iraqis, this day represents a smashing triumph."
  • Joe Gandelman has some comments and a nice roundup of links as well. "The context of this election is unprecedented in recent history -- and perhaps in all of history."
  • Mark Slover has some good stuff, including a roundup and an interesting comparison between voter turnouts of several major democracies.
  • Kevin Drum wonders how the voting turnout splits between the Kurds, Shiites, and the Sunnies (with a prediction of about 70%/70%/20% respectively). He has lots more too.
  • Armed Liberal has a post at Winds of Change:
    I've been betting on the existence of the 'silent middle' in Iraq and throughout the Muslim world, and I'll take a stand here and say that what this election proves, conclusively, is that such a middle exists. Now we'd damn well better do a good job of reaching out to them.
More to come...

Several Updates: Gah! Information overload. Many links added, but I think I'm done for the night. The funny thing is that I haven't even begun to scrape the tip of all the good information that's out there. Partaking in an exercise like this is one of the things that really puts the need for good information aggregation into perspective. But this is a start, I guess...

Another Update: I lied, several new links.
Posted by Mark on January 30, 2005 at 07:06 PM .: link :.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

In a stroke of oddly compelling genius (or possibly madness), Jon Udell has put together a remarkable flash screencast (note: there is sound and it looks best in full screen mode) detailing the evolution of the Heavy metal umlaut page on Wikipedia.
It's a wonderfully silly topic, but my point is somewhat serious too. The 8.5-minute screencast turns the change history of this Wiki page into a movie, scrolls forward and backward along the timeline of the document, and follows the development of several motifs. Creating this animated narration of a document's evolution was technically challenging, but I think it suggests interesting possibilities.
Wikis are one of those things that just don't sound right when you hear about what they are and how they work. It's one thing to institute a collaborative encyclopedia, but Wikis embrace a philosophy of openness that seems entirely too permissive. Wikis are open to the general public and allow anyone to modify their contents without any sort of prior review. What's to stop a troll from vandalizing a page? Nothing, except that someone will come along and correct it shortly thereafter (Udell covers an episode of vandalism in the screencast). It's a textbook self-organizing system (note that wikis focus not on the content, but rather on establishing an efficient mechanism for collaboration; the content is an emergent property of the system). It should be interesting to see how it progresses... [via Jonathon Delacour, who also has an interesting discussion about umlauts and diaereses and another older post about wikis]
Posted by Mark on January 27, 2005 at 08:02 PM .: link :.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Long Tails, TV, and DVR
Apparently Chris Anderson (author of the Wired article I posted last week) has a blog in which he comments regularly on the long tail concept.

In one post, he speculates how the long tail relates to television programs, DVRs and the internet. In short, he proposes a browser plugin that you could use when you see a reference to a TV show that you are interested in and want to record. You would simply need to highlight the show title and right-click, where a new option would be available called "Record to DVR," at which point you could go about setting up your DVR to record the show.

I don't have a DVR, so perhaps I'm not the best person to comment, but it strikes me that if you're reading a recommendation for a show, you might want to go back and watch all the previous shows as well. For instance, a lot of people have been recommending Lost to me recently. If I had a PVR, I might set it to record the show, but I'd have missed a significant portion of the show (I don't know how important that would be or not). What I'd really love is to go back and watch the series from the beginning.

Comcast has a feature called "On Demand" which would be perfect for this, but they don't seem to have much in the way of capacity (though if you have HBO, I understand they sometimes make whole seasons of various popular shows available) and they don't have Lost. Evan Kirchoff recently posted something that put an interesting twist on this subject: other people are his PVR. When he finds a show he wants to watch, he simply downloads it via torrents:
What I really wanted all this time, it turns out, is just the assurance that somebody out there in the luminiferous aether is faithfully recording every show, in case I later decide that I want it. Setting a VCR in advance is way too much work, but having to download a 350-megabyte file is an action that's just affirmative enough to distill one's preferences.
It's certainly an interesting perspective - a typical emergent property of the self-organizing internet (along with all the warts that entails) - and it's a hell of a lot better than waiting for reruns. I don't have the 400 gigs of hard drive space on my system that Evan does, but I might check out an episode or two. Of course, there's something to be said about the quality of the watching-tv-on-a-computer experience and, as Evan mentions, I'm not quite sure about the legality of such a practice (his reasoning seems logical, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything). Perhaps a micropayment solution (i.e. download an episode for a dollar, or one season for $10) would work. Of course, this would destroy the DVD market (which I imagine some people would be none to happy about), but it would also lengthen the tail, as quality niche shows (i.e. the long tail) might be able to carve out a profitable piece of the pie.

The best solution would, of course, combine all the various features above into one application/experience, but I'm not holding my breath just yet.
Posted by Mark on January 23, 2005 at 11:55 AM .: link :.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Chasing the Tail
The Long Tail by Chris Anderson : An excellent article from Wired that demonstrates a few of the concepts and ideas I've been writing about recently. One such concept is well described by Clay Shirky's excellent article Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality. A system governed by a power law distribution is essentially one where the power (whether it be measured in wealth, links, etc) is concentrated in a small population (when graphed, the rest of the population's power values resemble a long tail). This concentration occurs spontaneously, and it is often strengthened because members of the system have an incentive to leverage their power to accrue more power.
In systems where many people are free to choose between many options, a small subset of the whole will get a disproportionate amount of traffic (or attention, or income), even if no members of the system actively work towards such an outcome. This has nothing to do with moral weakness, selling out, or any other psychological explanation. The very act of choosing, spread widely enough and freely enough, creates a power law distribution.
As such, this distribution manifests in all sorts of human endeavors, including economics (for the accumulation of wealth), language (for word frequency), weblogs (for traffic or number of inbound links), genetics (for gene expression), and, as discussed in the Wired article, entertainment media sales. Typically, the sales of music, movies, and books follow a power law distribution, with a small number of hit artists who garner the grand majority of the sales. The typical rule of thumb is that 20% of available artists get 80% of the sales.

Because of the expense of producing the physical product, and giving it a physical point of sale (shelf-space, movie theaters, etc...), this is bad news for the 80% of artists who get 20% of the sales. Their books, movies, and music eventually go out of print and are generally forgotten, while the successful artists' works are continually reprinted and sold, building on their own success.

However, with the advent of the internet, this is beginning to change. Sales are still governed by the power law distribution, but the internet is removing the physical limitations of entertainment media.
An average movie theater will not show a film unless it can attract at least 1,500 people over a two-week run; that's essentially the rent for a screen. An average record store needs to sell at least two copies of a CD per year to make it worth carrying; that's the rent for a half inch of shelf space. And so on for DVD rental shops, videogame stores, booksellers, and newsstands.

In each case, retailers will carry only content that can generate sufficient demand to earn its keep. But each can pull only from a limited local population - perhaps a 10-mile radius for a typical movie theater, less than that for music and bookstores, and even less (just a mile or two) for video rental shops. It's not enough for a great documentary to have a potential national audience of half a million; what matters is how many it has in the northern part of Rockville, Maryland, and among the mall shoppers of Walnut Creek, California.
The decentralized nature of the internet makes it a much better way to distribute entertainment media, as that documentary that has a potential national (heck, worldwide) audience of half a million people could likely succeed if distributed online. The infrastructure for films isn't there yet, but it has been happening more in the digital music world, and even in a hybrid space like Amazon.com, which sells physical products, but in a non-local manner. With digital media, the cost of producing and distributing entertainment media goes way down, and thus even average artists can be considered successful, even if their sales don't approach that of the biggest sellers.

The internet isn't a broadcast medium; it is on-demand, driven by each individual's personal needs. Diversity is the key, and as Shirkey's article says: "Diversity plus freedom of choice creates inequality, and the greater the diversity, the more extreme the inequality." With respect to weblogs (or more generally, websites), big sites are, well, bigger, but links and traffic aren't the only metrics for success. Smaller websites are smaller in those terms, but are often more specialized, and thus they do better both in terms of connecting with their visitors (or customers) and in providing a more compelling value to their visitors. Larger sites, by virtue of their popularity, simply aren't able to interact with visitors as effectively. This is assuming, of course, that the smaller sites do a good job. My site is very small (in terms of traffic and links), but not very specialized, so it has somewhat limited appeal. However, the parts of my site that get the most traffic are the ones that are specialized (such as the Christmas Movies page, or the Asimov Guide). I think part of the reason the blog has never really caught on is that I cover a very wide range of topics, thus diluting the potential specialized value of any single topic.

The same can be said for online music sales. They still conform to a power law distribution, but what we're going to see is increasing sales of more diverse genres and bands. We're in the process of switching from a system in which only the top 20% are considered profitable, to one where 99% are valuable. This seems somewhat counterintuitive for a few reasons:
The first is we forget that the 20 percent rule in the entertainment industry is about hits, not sales of any sort. We're stuck in a hit-driven mindset - we think that if something isn't a hit, it won't make money and so won't return the cost of its production. We assume, in other words, that only hits deserve to exist. But Vann-Adib´┐Ż, like executives at iTunes, Amazon, and Netflix, has discovered that the "misses" usually make money, too. And because there are so many more of them, that money can add up quickly to a huge new market.

With no shelf space to pay for and, in the case of purely digital services like iTunes, no manufacturing costs and hardly any distribution fees, a miss sold is just another sale, with the same margins as a hit. A hit and a miss are on equal economic footing, both just entries in a database called up on demand, both equally worthy of being carried. Suddenly, popularity no longer has a monopoly on profitability.

The second reason for the wrong answer is that the industry has a poor sense of what people want. Indeed, we have a poor sense of what we want.
The need to figure out what people want out of a diverse pool of options is where self-organizing systems come into the picture. A good example is Amazon's recommendations engine, and their ability to aggregate various customer inputs into useful correlations. Their "customers who bought this item also bought" lists (and the litany of variations on that theme), more often than not, provide a way to traverse the long tail. They encourage customer participation, allowing customers to write reviews, select lists, and so on, providing feedback loops that improve the quality of recommendations. Note that none of these features was designed to directly sell more items. The focus was on allowing an efficient system of collaborative feedback. Good recommendations are an emergent result of that system. Similar features are available in the online music services, and the Wired article notes:
For instance, the front screen of Rhapsody features Britney Spears, unsurprisingly. Next to the listings of her work is a box of "similar artists." Among them is Pink. If you click on that and are pleased with what you hear, you may do the same for Pink's similar artists, which include No Doubt. And on No Doubt's page, the list includes a few "followers" and "influencers," the last of which includes the Selecter, a 1980s ska band from Coventry, England. In three clicks, Rhapsody may have enticed a Britney Spears fan to try an album that can hardly be found in a record store.
Obviously, these systems aren't perfect. As I've mentioned before, a considerable amount of work needs to be done with respect to the aggregation and correlation aspects of these systems. Amazon and the online music services have a good start, and weblogs are trailing along behind them a bit, but the nature of self-organizing systems dictates that you don't get a perfect solution to start, but rather a steadily improving system. What's becoming clear, though, is that the little guys are (collectively speaking) just as important as the juggernauts, and that's why I'm not particularly upset that my blog won't be wildly popular anytime soon.
Posted by Mark on January 16, 2005 at 08:07 PM .: link :.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

State of the Blog
Yet another year has ended, and I've found that it is good to periodically step back and take a look at what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, and where I'm going from here. I've been blogging for over 4 years, but what I do now is much different than what I did when I started. About a year and a half ago, the blog wasn't doing well, so I changed some things. Things have progressed reasonably well since then, but there are a number of things I do (or don't do) that pretty much ensure that this won't become a huge blog. This doesn't particularly bother me, for reasons I'll get into later.

Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost has been posting about how to start a blog and how to make it successful: These posts aren't perfect, but they are a good start, and they got me to thinking about why my blog isn't particularly popular, and why it doesn't bother me that much.
  • Posting Frequency: The big change I made a year and a half ago was to improve consistency by setting a schedule. I vowed to post at least once a week, always on Sunday. This is good, because consistency is important. However, once a week probably isn't enough to attract a regular readership. I often write very long entries, which could make up for some of that, but long posts can be a barrier in themselves. I prefer to write longer posts, rather than a series of small posts, so this will probably stay the same. I will occasionally make a post or two during the week, but the lack of consistency there doesn't help.
  • Breaking News: The Sunday posting schedule means I'm rarely on top of the latest news. I can think of one occasion when news was breaking on a Sunday, and I was able to pick it up and run with it. Otherwise, I'm usually commenting a few days afterwords, if at all. Perhaps because of this, I tend to gravitate towards writing about more general issues. This means that when news breaks, nobody comes here to see what I have to say about it. On the other hand, it also means that my content is still fresh and worth reading after a week or month or a year (not always, but usually).
  • Time and Motivation: I don't especially have much of either. One of the reasons I write here is to learn. Many of the subjects I write about here are unfamiliar to me, and I use the process of writing about them to learn. This usually means that I will need to familiarize myself with a bunch of material, or spend a lot of time thinking about something and figuring out what it means and how to write about it. This usually takes a lot of time and effort, and I prefer to have a few uninterrupted hours to compose something like that. This is why I post on Sundays, because I have the time then. I honestly don't know how other bloggers do it, especially the really popular ones who still manage to have a large output of original material. As I mentioned above, I tend to view blogging as an exercise in thinking, a way to learn, and a way to have fun. As Carter mentions in one of his posts:
    Blogging can be a form of enjoyment or relaxation just as jogging can be used as a means of relieving stress. But just as there is a difference between the casual jogger and the competitive runner, there is a difference between the average blogger and those destined for success.
    My posts on Self-Censorship and Arranging Interests in Parallel expand on this subject a bit more.
  • Ambition: I don't particularly have much for this blog. I would like a few more regular readers and commentors and perhaps a few links, but it really doesn't take much to make me happy. At one point, Carter says "Blogging is easy. Anyone can start a blog. Having a successful and popular blog is difficult. Incredibly difficult." I've written before about how I don't particularly want to deal with all the baggage that comes along with running a "successful" blog. There is just too much that needs to be done, and I don't have the time or motivation to do that much.
  • Marketing: I have a hard time marketing the blog. The concept of "link whoring" does not appeal to me at all, so my methods tend to be a little more subtle. This means hoping people notice a link from me in their referrer logs, or posting a bunch of comments on others' blogs. This is somewhat problematic because of the next subject...
  • Reading and Linking: This has become a major problem for me. I have a difficult time reading a lot of other blogs (more on why below), and thus it follows that I don't link to a lot of other blogs either. Combined with my infrequent posting schedule, this is quite problematic. This also makes my preferred way of getting noticed (see marketing above) a bit more difficult.
As of right now, I actually do read a lot of blogs. In fact, I've been stumbling around the blogosphere looking for new and interesting blogs for a while now. Unfortunately, this tends to induce some bad side-effects in me, and it's happened before. This was the cause of the last lull in blog posting a few years ago. I described it thusly in a post about information overload:
I used to blog a lot more often than I do now. And more than that, I used to read a great deal of blogs, especially new blogs (or at least blogs that were new to me). Eventually this had the effect of inducing a sort of ADD in me. I consumed way too many things way too quickly and I became very judgemental and dismissive. There were so many blogs that I scanned (I couldn't actually read them, that would take too long for marginal gain) that this ADD began to spread across my life. I could no longer sit down and just read a book, even a novel.
This is more difficult to diagnose than it sounds, but I've decided to curtail my blog reading in favor of activities which allow me to focus. I don't think this will change much, though. To a large extent, this is the sort of thing which has already shaped my blog to be what it is (warts and all, as described above), and I don't think it's going to change much. It's not the act of writing the blog which is the problem here, especially since I tend to write on more general subjects. This is more of a small calibration, along the lines of re-setting a clock when it begins to go awry (as even the best made clocks eventually do), than a major change (or defiant posturing).

In any case, this means that the blog will continue much the way it has, but that it won't become particularly successful anytime soon. As always, I hope to gain a few new readers here and there, and I see no reason why that couldn't happen. In a future post, I'll be talking about why I'm continuing despite my lack of ambition (which will, in turn, tie this post in with my recent posts regarding self-organization and the blogosphere).
Posted by Mark on January 09, 2005 at 08:33 PM .: link :.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Everyone Contributes in Some Way
Epic : A fascinating and possibly prophetic flash film of things to come in terms of information aggregation, recommendations, and filtering. It focuses on Google and Microsoft's (along with a host of others, including Blogger, Amazon, and Friendster) competing contributions to the field. It's eight minutes long, and well worth the watch. It touches on many of the concepts I've been writing about here, including self-organization and stigmergy, but in my opinion it stops just short of where such a system would go.

It's certainly interesting, but I don't think it gets it quite right (Googlezon?). Or perhaps it does, but the pessimistic ending doesn't feel right to me. Towards the end, it claims that a comprehensive social dossier would be compiled by Googlezon (note the name on the ID - Winston Smith) and that everyone would receive customized newscasts which are completely automated. Unfortunately, they forsee majority of these customized newscasts as being rather substandard - filled with inaccuracies, narrow, shallow and sensational. To me, this sounds an awful lot like what we have now, but on a larger (and less manageable) scale. Talented editors, who can navagate, filter, and correlate Googlezon's contents, are able to produce something astounding, but the problem (as envisioned by this movie) is that far too few people have access to these editors.

But I think that misses the point. Individual editors would produce interesting results, but if the system were designed correctly, in a way that allowed everyone to be editors and a way to implement feedback loops (i.e. selection mechanisms), there's no reason a meta-editor couldn't produce something spectacular. Of course, there would need to be a period of adjustment, where the system gets lots of things wrong, but that's how selection works. In self-organizing systems, failure is important, and it ironically ensures progress. If too many people are getting bad information in 2014 (when the movie is set), all that means is that the selection process hasn't matured quite yet. I would say that things would improve considerably by 2020.

The film is quite worth a watch. I doubt this specific scenario will play out, but it's likely that something along these lines will occur. [Via the Commissar]
Posted by Mark on January 02, 2005 at 05:34 PM .: link :.

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