The Longest Now

Soft, distributed review of public spaces: Making Twitter safe
Monday October 27th 2014, 2:56 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,ideonomy,knowledge,popular demand,wikipedia

Successful communities have learned a few things about how to maintain healthy public spaces. We could use a handbook for community designers gathering effective practices. It is a mark of the youth of interpublic spaces that spaces such as Twitter and Instagram [not to mention niche spaces like Wikipedia, and platforms like WordPress] rarely have architects dedicated to designing and refining this aspect of their structure, toolchains, and workflows.

Some say that ‘overly’ public spaces enable widespread abuse and harassment. But the “publicness” of large digital spaces can help make them more welcoming in ways than physical ones – where it is harder to remove graffiti or eggs from homes or buildings – and niche ones – where clique formation and systemic bias can dominate. For instance, here are a few ‘soft’ (reversible, auditable, post-hoc) tools that let a mixed ecosystem review and maintain their own areas in a broad public space:

Allow participants to change the visibility of comments:  Let each control what they see, and promote or flag it for others.

  • Allow blacklists and whitelists, in a way that lets people block out harassers or keywords entirely if they wish. Make it easy to see what has been hidden.
  • Rating (both average and variance) and tags for abuse or controversy can allow for locally flexible display.  Some simple models make this hard to game.
  • Allow things to be incrementally hidden from view.  Group feedback is more useful when the result is a spectrum.

Increase the efficiency ratio of moderation and distribute it: automate review, filter and slow down abuse.

  • Tag contributors by their level of community investment. Many who spam or harass try to cloak in new or fake identities.
  • Maintain automated tools to catch and limit abusive input. There’s a spectrum of response: from letting only the poster and moderators see the input (cocooning), to tagging and not showing by default (thresholding), to simply tagging as suspect (flagging).
  • Make these and other tags available to the community to use in their own preferences and review tools
  • For dedicated abuse: hook into penalties that make it more costly for those committed to spoofing the system.

You can’t make everyone safe all of the time, but can dial down behavior that is socially unwelcome (by any significant subgroup) by a couple of magnitudes.  Of course these ideas are simple and only work so far.  For instance, in a society at civil war, where each half are literally threatened by the sober political and practical discussions of the other half, public speech may simply not be safe.

Lila Tretikov named as Wikimedia’s upcoming ED
Thursday May 01st 2014, 5:49 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire,ideonomy,knowledge,popular demand,wikipedia

And there was much rejoicing. Welcome, Lila!

Inversionistas inmobiliarimos en Chile de hoy
Sunday November 03rd 2013, 5:43 pm
Filed under: citation needed,Glory, glory, glory,ideonomy,international

En Puerto Varas, para ser precisos. Un articulo por Sebastian.   ᔥmadre.

Hay paisajes extraordinarios, pienso, y luego este. Esos campos y poblados guardan un centenario orgullo que emociona.

Plumpy’Nut Patent – Has their “patentleft” option seen wide use so far?
Monday July 15th 2013, 10:31 am
Filed under: citation needed,ideonomy,knowledge,metrics

In 1996, two French food scientists, André Briend and Michel Lescanne, developed a nut-based food formulation to serve as an emergency food relief product in famine-stricken areas.  The goal was to have a high-density balanced food with a long and robust shelf life – one which, unlike the previous standard of milk-based therapeutic food, could be taken at home rather than in a hospital.

They soon formed the company Nutriset to further develop and commercialize the idea.  Their most popular product, Plumpy’Nut, has shipped millions of units and currently makes up roughly 90% of UNICEF’s stocks of ready-to-use therapeutic foods [RUTFs] for famine relief.

In forming their company, they captured their idea in the form of a patent (a standard way to declare ownership of and investment) and went on to build a production chain around it.  This included tweaked formulas and a family of products; production and packaging factories; and grant-writing and research to get certification + field-feedback + approval from various UN bodies.  This involved few years of up-front investment and reputation-building, and then ramping up mass production of millions of pounds of Plumpy’Nut and its derivatives. They later set up a novel “patentleft” process allowing companies in developing countries to use the patent commercially, and make derivatives from it, at no cost — after a brief online registration. This is something which has received surprisingly little attention since, considering how simple and elegant their solution. Read on for details! (more…)

Kenya’s laptop dream: reaching for the firmament, and rote naysaying
Saturday July 13th 2013, 11:51 am
Filed under: Blogroll,ideonomy,international,knowledge

Over at ZeroGeography, Mark Graham shares a prepub version of an essay he wrote for the Guardian, about the new Kenyan drive to provide laptops to its primary students. Firstly, thank you to the author for posting your thoughts on his blog as well.

The argument that “this [money] could be better spent“, however, is a bit stale.  I don’t generally go in for critical theory and analysis (despite the obvious rightness of tvtropes!), but sometimes patterns show up so strongly in someone’s writing or argument that they are clearly part of a larger social norm and can be understood as such.

This essay is one part imperialist critique of developing countries investing in new tools, one part assumption of bad implementation, and one part missed context.

Graham worries that Kenya’s new e-learning plan — which extends recent efforts to make laptops available to older students, to all primary schools — is not part of a larger strategy; though the budget speech he cites describes such a strategy.  He makes assumptions about how much of the national budget goes to different basic needs which don’t seem to be accurate.

The central argument is one I hear often about why underdeveloped regions should slow down technological & educational change.  It runs something like this:

A) don’t introduce new things, fix old things first.
B) come up with a strategy addressing all possible issues before including modern tech.
C) if your country is poorer than mine, there must be something basic and low-tech you need more.
D) technology amplifies existing skills.  it is wasteful to subsidize it for the less privileged, who can’t use it properly anyway.

These arguments don’t stand up to a second look.  Sure, it would be ideal to fix “all the things” — various underlying inequalities, inadequacies of the existing system of experts and mentors and teachers, gaps in the quality of textbooks and in local job opportunities for better-educated youth. But no single effort will do all of that.  If you are lacking many things, your primary long-term bottleneck is often your ability to develop new solutions: you need more seed corn, not more ugali.   Outside of an immediate crisis, you need knowledge, tools, factories, and other local capacity, so you can go on to invest in your own community while resolving other problems, basic and complex.

And lastly, the idea of not offering a powerful opportunity to those less privileged, because it might take them some time to make the best use of it… that sort of argument is not even wrong.  In the short term, any opportunity would be used ‘more thoroughly’ by the already-privileged.  But they have usually had that opportunity to begin with; government programs simply subsidize it for those without.  Comparing who could “use it better” is a fallacy.

By definition, when you start bootstrapping you don’t have a lot; you get there step by step.  And every individual and community deserves access to bootstrapping tools: Blackboards, electricity, glasses, phones, bikes, computers, and other technology.  Not necessarily for free, sometimes requiring sweat and barnraising by the community, but as part of a civil campaign to make this part of society everywhere.  These are all generative technologies, catalysing other new work, returning far more than their cost in what they enable.  This is true three times over for computers: they are communication devices, creative tools for making and sharing, and factories for new tools. So the results of a community learning to use them includes trying and discovering new things not currently imagined.

Graham does make the following excellent point in his essay:

There is a long history of people and states framing information and communication technologies as a solution to economic, social, political, and even environmental problems.

So there is.  Kenya should be clear that having tools, capacity, knowledge, stronger social networks, and access to more markets and jobs is not the same as solving specific problems.  This will make it easier to solve some problems; it will create others; it will add to the general standard of living and also the expectations that come with it.  It will empower people to do both good and bad things. It will be a boon to gamers and activists and gambling and muckraking and cottage industry and artists and pornography and transparency.

But it will surely prepare the country’s youth to be an active part of the internetworked world in which we live, and to help design its future.

Open physics questions foreshadow future insight yet elude answers
Friday April 05th 2013, 6:16 pm
Filed under: ideonomy,knowledge,Uncategorized

See John Baez’s Open Questions in Physics.

Big Data Maven On Knowledge Topology: 9 Insightful Posts
Saturday March 30th 2013, 3:31 pm
Filed under: Glory, glory, glory,ideonomy,meta

Read the Big Data and the Topologist series, from the “low-dimensional topology” blog, written by 5+ budding topologicians.

They maintain a handy list of open problems they have discussed.
Michael Stone.

Half-Baked Idea (fit for the half-bakery): a Coffee Presser
Wednesday February 20th 2013, 6:51 pm
Filed under: ideonomy,international,knowledge

Java-Logs exist. They’re just like firestarters but they smell nice and are made of coffee grounds; wrapped in paper just like regular firestarters. Coffee machines produce lots and lots of grounds that get thrown out (ideally into compost but usually not. often they just sit around, uncompacted, and grow mold.)

So: someone should design a “Coffee Presser” add-on to traditional popular coffeemakers – and standalone for dumping the dregs from your French Press – that produces mini Java Logs and wraps them so you can hold then when spit out. Perfect for those climes suitable for both lots of hot coffee and nightly fires.

New research ventures by Curiositate aim to change the world
Sunday December 09th 2012, 5:25 pm
Filed under: Glory, glory, glory,ideonomy

I’ve been talking to my dear friend Elan recently, who has been accumulating research insights — often brief incisive hacks bridging a gap or circumventing a self-imposed obstacle to some cutting-edge technique — related to renewable energy, computation, and human biology.

This is the sort of cross-disciplinary thought we should all spend more time pursuing; and that more polymaths should be encouraged to explore. “curiositate research” seems like a suitably tongue-in-cheek name for their team; I hope to see great things from them soon.

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