Worse than Katrina? Anti-density bombs over Detroit

September 28, 2010 at 11:25 pm | In cities, futurismo, land_use, politics, scandal, social_critique, urbanism | Comments Off on Worse than Katrina? Anti-density bombs over Detroit

Caught a Sept.23 post by David Byrne today, Don’t Forget the Motor City (found via a tweet by Richard Florida). Byrne writes:

This is a city that still has an infrastructure, or some of it, for 2 million people, and now only 800,000 remain. One rides down majestic boulevards with only a few cars on them, past towering (often empty) skyscrapers. A few weeks ago I watched a documentary called Requiem For Detroit by British director Julian Temple, who used to be associated with the Sex Pistols. It’s a great film, available to watch on YouTube, that gives a context and history for the devastation one sees all around here. This process didn’t happen overnight, as with Katrina, but over many many decades. However the devastation is just as profound, and just as much concentrated on the lower echelons of society. Both disasters were man-made.

That film Byrne references – Requiem for Detroit – occupied a chunk of my evening. It’s truly haunting – unbelievable, except it’s true. (The link Byrne gives goes to Requiem for Detroit in 10-minute segments; the link above goes to the entire 1hr.16min.45sec. film – not sure how that was uploaded to Youtube, but I hope it stays up).

Byrne includes this photo, a google maps overview of a couple of “city blocks” in Detroit today …no density, hardly any houses (most have been razed, the city is trying to “shrink” itself), a sorry accompaniment to the more frightening destruction that has taken place in other areas:


I believe it was in his 1740 essay The Anti-Machiavel that Frederick the Great wrote that the Netherlands, with its small land mass but large population of educated citizens, was far richer than Russia, with its vast but sparsely populated land mass – a population furthermore kept in servitude and ignorance due to a feudal system that enshrined serfdom.

People – engaged, educated, integrated – matter more than machines or raw land. Looks like land use policies (racist) and factory practices (automobile production) came together to make Detroit turn into 18th century Russia instead of Holland.

What about widgets?

July 2, 2010 at 10:45 pm | In business, creativity, futurismo, green, ideas, innovation | 3 Comments

I go to my local YMCA a lot, and every time I’m there I think about energy use: how much energy I could be generating, how much I’m using, how much others are using.

My “plus” membership entitles me to use the sauna and steam room, and I get towel service, too (yes! – love that, because it means less shlepping and less laundry at home!). I use the steam room regularly – since we’re having an unseasonably cool summer it’s welcome, even in July. However, the ladies change room has poor air circulation, and in the summer (even a cool one like this) it gets hot in there. Furthermore, every time we users open the doors to the steam room or the sauna, the escaping hot air contributes to heating the changing and shower area, and the upshot is that the Y is running additional oscillating fans in our change room.

So, to recap: the steam room uses energy, the sauna uses energy, the blow dryers provided by the Y use energy, and now the fans – meant to give the illusion of cooling all this heat that we’re producing through our energy use, also use energy.

Meanwhile, when I’m upstairs on the elliptical trainer – along with scores of others on treadmills, stationary bikes, stairmasters, and rowing machines (it’s a pretty swell facility!) – I could be generating energy, couldn’t I?

Which brings me to…



I’m in love with shiny new technology products (even if I can’t afford them), and long ago drank the Kool-Aid regarding social media platforms and the importance of ‘markets as conversations.’

But lately those things have begun feeling “bubbly” – that is, not too-too solid enough. Today, the spouse sent along an article by Andy Grove, How to Make an American Job Before It’s Too Late. In my mind, Grove’s arguments tie in with Jeff Rubin‘s criticism of globalization, and they also relate to what bothers me when I’m at the Y thinking about energy use.

It’s all about what we’re making (another social media platform that lets us communicate?) and where we’re making it (if it’s not another Foursquare, is it a widget and who will scale it?). As Grove observes:

Startups are a wonderful thing, but they cannot by themselves increase tech employment. Equally important is what comes after that mythical moment of creation in the garage, as technology goes from prototype to mass production. This is the phase where companies scale up. They work out design details, figure out how to make things affordably, build factories, and hire people by the thousands. Scaling is hard work but necessary to make innovation matter.

The scaling process is no longer happening in the U.S. And as long as that’s the case, plowing capital into young companies that build their factories elsewhere will continue to yield a bad return in terms of American jobs.

When I think of energy use at the Y, I’m thinking not of platforms that let me tell you what I think about energy use at the Y. I’m thinking of widgets that would make it easy to measure energy use, for example, so that it becomes less risky for individual users (home owners or building managers) to install efficiencies. The next step – staying with Andy Grove’s call to arms – means thinking about what happens after some tinkerer in a garage invents a measuring device. Where does it get manufactured, and who gets to be employed doing so? Jeff Rubin argued that the cost of oil will eventually force countries like the US to re-introduce manufacturing at home because it will just get too expensive to ship raw materials from one continent to another, and the finished product to yet a third.

While I sweat in the steam room, I might think about what it would mean to have efficient “air curtains” installed just outside the steam room and sauna doors – air curtains that capture the escaping heat when doors open, and recirculate that heat for hot water use. But how or why would anyone install such a thing – even if it readily existed, although you could adapt and reverse engineer the air curtains that some stores use – without having widgets or gadgets capable of calculating, predicting, and (most importantly) measuring, to provide immediate feedback to calibrate energy use? If you don’t have the feedback (measurement), it’s just …hot air!

As I blogged a while back in Creating Value Through Sustainability, Eric Hespenheide said it best: “You measure what matters, and what gets measured, gets done.”

We’re desperately ignorant most of the time of our energy use, if we bother to think about it at all. I’m pretty sure I’m a weirdo in taking three consecutive Bikram yoga classes and then stopping because I thought the energy footprint of that type of yoga is outrageous. (And I also thought the hot room was a gimmick.) Doing hot yoga, you need to be clean (showered) before you start (hot water, towels, soap) because even incipient bad BO is going to knock out the others as you start to sweat like mad. After the class, you need to launder whatever you wore (no way you’re wearing it again unwashed) and you need to shower again (more soap products, more hot water, more towels/ laundry). The amount of energy needed to heat the yoga room to the required temperature is crazy, as are the HVAC requirements (unless you very quickly want a moldy building). (And incidentally, where do the Bikramites and others get off doing competitive yoga? Maybe I’m missing something…)

But enough of yoga and sports.

We need to measure what we use. “You measure what matters, and what gets measured, gets done.” To do that, you need tools.

Who’s building the tools? On a big scale?

Manufacturing today takes place elsewhere, not in North America. Grove again:

The job-machine breakdown isn’t just in computers. Consider alternative energy, an emerging industry where there is plenty of innovation. Photovoltaics, for example, are a U.S. invention. Their use in home-energy applications was also pioneered by the U.S.

Last year, I decided to do my bit for energy conservation and set out to equip my house with solar power. My wife and I talked with four local solar firms. As part of our due diligence, I checked where they get their photovoltaic panels — the key part of the system. All the panels they use come from China. A Silicon Valley company sells equipment used to manufacture photo-active films. They ship close to 10 times more machines to China than to manufacturers in the U.S., and this gap is growing. Not surprisingly, U.S. employment in the making of photovoltaic films and panels is perhaps 10,000 — just a few percent of estimated worldwide employment. (source)

I bet any tinkerer in his/ her garage working out the kind of measuring widgets I’d like to see every homeowner and building supervisor have at his/ her fingertips is going to end up getting the widgets manufactured in China, too. Just read Grove’s section on Advanced Batteries to see where we’re heading. He argues that “abandoning today’s ‘commodity’ [battery, or television] manufacturing can lock you out of tomorrow’s emerging industry.” That is, innovation needs an ecosystem – and we’ve got a pretty good one on the social media platform front, but it could be looking better when it comes to widgets. If you drop in on your local gym, you can even see that for yourself.

Notes on walking architecture

May 21, 2010 at 10:40 pm | In architecture, cities, futurismo, ideas, innovation, jane_jacobs, land_use, ubiquity, urbanism | Comments Off on Notes on walking architecture

It’s not everyday that you see Guy Debord and Steve Jobs in the same presentation, is it? Courtesy of Matt Jones‘s People Are Walking Architecture, or Making NearlyNets with MujiComp, it’s not only possible, it makes sense. (Read the full document on Scribd.) Jones makes the case for building “smart city networks by making inviting, intelligent products,” hence the juxtaposition of critical thinkers and people who make “inviting, intelligent products.”

Going through the 59-page document, a few pages that attracted my attention especially:

p.15, Archigram were basically right, a sentence inspired by Chris Heathcote’s Cheer up, it’s Archigram. Why Archigram (about which I’ve blogged here)? “Essentially they were user-centric designers, working with technology to create humane exciting environments with technology …with a liberal dash of 60s psychedelia…” (p.14). Archigram’s architects thought about enabling behaviors, not just about buildings. Cool. (Jones even calls them interaction designers.)

Archigram envisioned the car as the “ultimate symbolic technology of personal freedom,” but as Jones points out, that didn’t quite pan out. Today, we’re more likely to see mobile technology (phones, etc.) in cars’ symbolic stead. (p.16)

Car = 20th century; mobile phone = 21st century. (p.17)

Hence the jump to Steve Jobs – and back (in time) to Guy Debord, who defined psychogeography as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” (p.18)

Jones points to smart phones as the gadget that lets users manipulate the experience of psychogeography from an individual perspective: “…a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities…” (p.20)

Cities are now “linked and learning” (Sir Richard Rogers, British architect who designed Paris’s Centre Georges Pompidou), hence people are walking architecture. It’s back to Archigram, see? Architecture should enable behaviors, and what we have today are gadgets that enable behaviors relating to how people experience and shape, in a feedback loop, the urban experience. The urban experience is still informed as well by buildings, but who hasn’t also found that it’s informed by behaviors – often experienced as negative, like traffic jams, congestion, and bad infrastructure? Today – and into tomorrow – those behaviors will be more and more fine-grained, as people carry tiny mobile devices that allow ubiquitous computing, which in turn shapes the city as much as cars, roads, and other infrastructure did.

People are walking architecture, shaping the urban-scape as they move through it, devices in hand.

Next up, Jones covers Eliel Saarinen (“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context …a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan”) and Clay Shirky (Situated Software), and a bunch of other things (MujiComp; porch computing; doorways; nearly nets).

And then he gives Jane Jacobs the last word (which I appreciate, if only because every other person mentioned in his presentation is male):

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” (p.58)

Jane Jacobs, last word

Let’s say you own an airline…

April 6, 2010 at 10:57 pm | In futurismo, green, innovation | 2 Comments

Here’s an interesting question: where are today’s business leaders when it comes to solving pressing social and economic issues that affect our common wealth (and health)?

The other day, Fred Wilson’s post, No conflict, no interest, broached this question by describing a major historical precedent, the creation of the New York City subway system around 1891. Back then, “conflict of interest” didn’t fundamentally hobble participation by business, although that changed during the course of the 20th century:

In this day and age, having a financial interest in something means you’ve got a conflict and your opinion is somehow “tainted.”

But that wasn’t always the case. (source)

The New York City subway system was shepherded into existence by the Steinway Commission, which consisted of a team of differently-minded (and differently-interested) men.

Does that happen any more today, or does “conflict of interest” prevent it?

As it happens, I recently learned about the Carbon War Room, co-founded by Richard Branson of the Virgin group of companies (which includes Virgin Atlantic Airlines).

The Carbon War Room‘s front page states:

Our global industrial and energy systems are built on carbon-based technologies and unsustainable resource demands that threaten to destroy our society and our planet. Massive loss of wealth, expanding poverty and suffering, disastrous climate change, water scarcity, and deforestation are the end results of this broken system.

This business-as-usual system represents the greatest threat to the security and prosperity of humanity – a threat that transcends race, ethnicity, national borders, and ideology.

Maybe there’s some productive and welcome “conflict of interest” at work here. With carbon-based fossil-fuel-burning travel as one of the key pieces in the Virgin group, it seems a risky proposition to declare a “war” on carbon, but that’s the plan at the Carbon War Room.

In the section Strategy & Tactics we read:

The Carbon War Room has identified 25 battles across 7 theaters that are material to winning the war against climate change. Each battle accounts for over 1 billion tons (or more than 2%) of global anthropogenic CO2e emissions annually.

The battles encompass the full spectrum of challenges that must be met to implement a post-carbon economy, from energy to agriculture to carbon storage. Once the determinants of a battle’s outcome are understood, the Carbon War Room plans targeted operations to achieve victory.

Our agents of change are entrepreneurs of all kinds – including business entrepreneurs, corporate intrapreneurs, and non-profit/ social entrepreneurs. Critical to our success, entrepreneurs will be directed to engage all means and tools necessary to disable and replace business-as-usual systems. They will drive the innovation establish new sustainable practices, while unlocking wealth, security, and wellbeing for the world’s inhabitants.

The other co-founders are Craig Cogut (of Pegasus Capital Advisors) and Boudewijn Poelmann (of Holland’s National Postcode Lottery). For more on who’s involved, check out the Executive Team and Executive Board pages.


A featured event listed on the front page is an upcoming summit, Creating Climate Wealth at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. Looking through the agenda, it’s clear everyone involves means business.

And maybe that’s just what we need.

(Hat-tip to Guy Dauncey for the initial pointer to the Carbon War Room.)

Do complex systems need resilience?

April 3, 2010 at 11:44 pm | In futurismo, ideas, media | 2 Comments

Fascinating new post by Clay Shirky: The Collapse of Complex Business Models. Shirky takes Joseph Tainter‘s theories around social complexity and collapse (less well-known than Jared Diamond‘s) and draws parallels to business complexity – and collapse.

This paragraph from Tainter’s wikipedia page expands on the differences in Tainter’s and Diamond’s approaches:

Tainter begins by categorizing and examining the often inconsistent explanations that have been offered for collapse in the literature. In Tainter’s view, while invasions, crop failures, disease or environmental degradation may be the apparent causes of societal collapse, the ultimate cause is an economic one, inherent in the structure of society rather than in external shocks which may batter them: diminishing returns on investments in social complexity. For contrast, Jared Diamond‘s 2005 book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, focuses on environmental mismanagement as a cause of collapse. Finally, Tainter musters modern statistics to show that marginal returns on investments in energy, education and technological innovation are diminishing today. The globalised modern world is subject to many of the same stresses that brought older societies to ruin. (source)

Shirky’s piece takes Tainter’s economics-based analysis of social complexity and applies it to analogous complex systems, such as specific businesses or industries themselves.

Reading the piece, it struck me that collapse or survival comes down to what sounds like resilience (or its absence). Shirky describes Tainter’s proposition, that societies build up to benefit from complexity, but that then, something goes wrong:

Early on, the marginal value of this complexity is positive—each additional bit of complexity more than pays for itself in improved output—but over time, the law of diminishing returns reduces the marginal value, until it disappears completely. At this point, any additional complexity is pure cost.

Tainter’s thesis is that when society’s elite members add one layer of bureaucracy or demand one tribute too many, they end up extracting all the value from their environment it is possible to extract and then some.

The ‘and them some’ is what causes the trouble. Complex societies collapse because, when some stress comes, those societies have become too inflexible to respond. In retrospect, this can seem mystifying. Why didn’t these societies just re-tool in less complex ways? The answer Tainter gives is the simplest one: When societies fail to respond to reduced circumstances through orderly downsizing, it isn’t because they don’t want to, it’s because they can’t. (source)

In other words, complexity without resilience becomes a precondition for collapse.

So the question might be, how do you bake in resilience? Is it feedback loops? Early warning systems? But those (by themselves) don’t guarantee action – it’s really easy to keep on the same path, even if the red lights are blinking and sirens are sounding.

Tainter wrote that “under a situation of declining marginal returns collapse may be the most appropriate response,” and Shirky adds: “Collapse is simply the last remaining method of simplification.”

He describes a mid-90s conference call with ATT, where the company couldn’t conceive of running a simple, failure-prone system. Its internal culture valued perfection, because the latter depended on a high degree of complexity, bureaucracy, and failure-aversion (naturally). ATT’s problem was diminishing returns on investment: how could it make money on a (quite possibly flaky) $20 per month web-hosting model when the company culture valued its famous “five 9’s” reliability (services that work 99.999% of the time)? Furthermore, it would be impossible to sign up enough users at $20-a-month to deliver that level of service and still make a profit.

Since then, as Shirky puts it, “the supply part of media’s supply-and-demand curve went parabolic, with a predictably inverse effect on price.” That is, returns on investment have not perked up. Yet, “a battalion of media elites have lined up to declare that exactly the opposite thing will start happening any day now.”

See the parallels to Tainter’s analysis of social collapse? “When societies fail to respond to reduced circumstances through orderly downsizing, it isn’t because they don’t want to, it’s because they can’t.” Substitute “companies” for “societies,” and that’s where a lot of companies are at.

After running through the assertions of several famous representatives of the media elite (Barry Diller of IAC; Steve Brill of Journalism Online; and Rupert Murdoch of News Corp), who all claimed that users will just have to pay for news again, Shirky adds:

Diller, Brill, and Murdoch seem be stating a simple fact—we will have to pay them—but this fact is not in fact a fact. Instead, it is a choice, one its proponents often decline to spell out in full, because, spelled out in full, it would read something like this:

“Web users will have to pay for what they watch and use, or else we will have to stop making content in the costly and complex way we have grown accustomed to making it. And we don’t know how to do that.

Again: the analogy to Tainter’s view of complexity and collapse is clear: “When societies fail to respond to reduced circumstances through orderly downsizing, it isn’t because they don’t want to, it’s because they can’t.”

Next, Shirky looks at bureaucracy (which can, as he notes, “temporarily reverse the Second Law of Thermodynamics” because for them “it’s easier to make a process more complex than to make it simpler, and easier to create a new burden than kill an old one,” all of which explains why change management in a bureaucracy is akin to squaring the circle). I was very interested in the bureaucracy angle since I live in a government town (Victoria is the capital of British Columbia), but the bureaucracy Shirky describes here is an industry-specific one (the Writer’s Guild and its role in the television industry), not government.

Within the television industry, simplicity is turning into a game-changer: if success is measured by how many times something is viewed, then simple, often user-generated videos (outside the complexity orbit of traditional television production) uploaded to sites like YouTube are winning the game.

Hence all the quailing about barbarians at the gates, just like in the days of ancient Rome…

When ecosystems change and inflexible institutions collapse, their members disperse, abandoning old beliefs, trying new things, making their living in different ways than they used to. It’s easy to see the ways in which collapse to simplicity wrecks the glories of old. But there is one compensating advantage for the people who escape the old system: when the ecosystem stops rewarding complexity, it is the people who figure out how to work simply in the present, rather than the people who mastered the complexities of the past, who get to say what happens in the future. (source)

That’s Shirky’s closing paragraph, something to think about.

Shirky’s article has given me lots of food for thought, not least because part of me clings to the complexities of the past, that’s for sure, in spite of my latent iconoclasm. I’d like to think that with resilience, it may be possible to carry forward those things that have not just served well in the past but continue to inspire in the future.


For more on Shirky, see Mat Wright’s April 1 post, Why Online News Paywalls Will Fail, which includes a pointer to the excellent video of Clay Shirky describing “the changing news landscape that has put accountability journalism at risk, and outlin[ing] a ‘journalistic ecosystem’ that is needed to preserve essential watchdog role of the press.” (source)

A note: I wrote this late in the evening, excuse the nonsense title. Of course complex systems need resilience…

Another wave …of mirror neurons

February 10, 2010 at 11:44 pm | In comments, futurismo, social_critique, social_networking, ubiquity, web | Comments Off on Another wave …of mirror neurons

Well, it’s not called Wave, it’s called Buzz now.

I opted for it, used it a few times, and then doused it with indifference. Actually, more than indifference: an article pointed to by Dave Winer (via this tweet), WARNING: Google Buzz Has A Huge Privacy Flaw, prompted me to go to my Google settings to make sure that buzzy news wasn’t going to be publicly available. Call me old-fashioned, but I think email (and who I email with) is my business, not the world’s. Yeah, sure, the world isn’t interested in me and my email, but on principle, what Google did with default public settings is wrong.

Mat Wright blogged about Buzz earlier, and I left several persnickety (even curmudgeonly) comments. (Mat is used to this – we are co-conspirators on and co-creators of JohnsonStreetBridge.ORG and he has heard me rant often. It makes for a refreshing change that this time around it’s not about City of Victoria politics, I guess.)


Sunday Afternoon at the Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat (Louvre)

Sunday Afternoon at the Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat (Louvre)


What really intrigued me a lot more today than Buzz, however, was chatroulette (which I hadn’t heard of before, but read about on Fred Wilson‘s blog post here).

Just go read Fred’s post and then especially read through the many comments. I decided to leave a comment about chatroulette (also viewable on my Disqus profile), even if my thoughts on this app are half-formed – full disclosure: I haven’t used chatroulette and probably never will (just the mention of 4chan is enough to keep me off), but I was intrigued by the “don’t next me!” pleas from a user. The technology brings us “together” (in a weird way), but it then also gives us the power to delete people wholesale.  …Don’t taze me, bro! Don’t delete me! Don’t next me! I find this fascinating. It’s a dialectic of violence that’s built into the very thing we’re using to touch one another. The threat of harm in the promise of contact is part of the package.

If you’re really curious, you might even want to spend 8 minutes watching the …er, unusual video, 1 man 2 fish censored, posted on the blog comments board. Mirror neurons firing like it’s the Fourth of July – but what are they hitting?

Toward a new medievalism?

June 28, 2009 at 3:45 pm | In business, comments, futurismo, ideas, media, social_critique, web | Comments Off on Toward a new medievalism?

I just left this comment on avc.com. It’s me going off on a typical theory bender, but the idea of Twitter’s Suggested User List (SUL) sparked another “here come the Middle Ages” image/moment for me. (As I note in the comment, they’ve been popping up for me since the late 1970s: my first one happened in the south of France, in a literally medieval town on a street with lots of commerce: pop!, a vision of what we could go back to – and I didn’t like the distinctly anti-modernist feel of it.)

That’s an interesting exchange between you and John Battelle, Fred. Now I’m going to go totally off-topic here and get all abstract, but I have to say that to my mind there’s something Medieval in some of the emerging business models and how they’re changing the nature of markets.

In the feudal Middle Ages, powerful patrons – either the Church or the Feudal lords – determined the markets. Markets weren’t free, they weren’t determined by market forces (as we think we understand them since the various emancipations) or really shaped by the “little people” (who in the modern period developed into powerful consumers).

When I read (as per transcript): “…if you think about what businesses and celebrities and brands need on Twitter and what they’re not getting today, there’s a whole set of premium services that are there,” I’m *understanding* something that reminds me of feudal medievalism where markets are determined by the needs of powerful patrons (church and/or lords). (John Battelle repeats the point further down when he says, “You said something about brands on Twitter, sort of like celebrities having the ability to sort of build an official presence.”)

I didn’t understand recent controversies about Twitter’s Suggested User List (SUL). I saw Dave Winer’s tweets about the SUL, but didn’t understand why he questioned the concept. Maybe I do now – albeit in my own weird way (Dave probably would roll his eyes at my interpretation…).

The SUL concept nudges markets back into a feudal framework where forces other than actual market forces determine the market landscape.

Maybe I’m crazy – I’ve had occasional bad dreams for nearly 30 years now about how feudal Medievalism is clawing back bits of Modernity. (Blame Umberto Eco, whose writings encompass Modernity and the Middle Ages.) The idea comes to me in pictures, which is maybe why I struggle so much to get the words right (the anti-icons, the iconoclastics). Me no likey what I see with SUL-type aspects of the business model and how it has the potential to alter markets.

I love the internet and all the great stuff out there, I plunge right in, sound off, play along. I love pictures and emblems and icons, but at heart I’m a daughter of the Enlightenment (words, words, words). Pictures, specifically icons, are Medieval. Yet in the new world that we’re making, even words – such as passed links – are turned into image, into something that’s consumed like an image (in a glance, or uncritically). Exegesis – trying to understand and interpret words – is still important it seems, as per the comment that reading the transcript of the video is better than watching the moving image…! But you could chalk that up to Medievalism, too. They did a lot of exegesis back then. 😉

Ok, I’m generalizing (wildly?), and I’m going off into my own little theory-land here. But as you said yourself, “Social media together is going to be bigger than Google.” Google and the internet certainly changed our thinking about everything, including thinking about thinking itself. Tell me it’s not rewiring our brains – of course it is. Now social media are poised to rewire the market. I just happen to think that bits of it are kind of medieval, and every time the notion of the tribe (certainly an important idea in the new market place) is celebrated without critical reflection, something in me dies a little bit.

If my favorite enlightened Marxist, Groucho, were still alive, I wonder how he would position himself, market-wise, in the social media landscape, and if he would want to be on the SUL? 😉

Originally posted as a comment by Yule Heibel on A VC using Disqus.

Reblogged to here as mnemonic / string around the finger.

Diigo Bookmarks 05/24/2008 (a.m.)

May 23, 2008 at 5:32 pm | In architecture, futurismo, green, innovation, links | Comments Off on Diigo Bookmarks 05/24/2008 (a.m.)

It probably all comes down to quality

February 11, 2008 at 12:58 pm | In business, fashionable_life, futurismo, ideas, web | 2 Comments

A couple of days ago, I finished reading Walter Kirn‘s hilarious article, The Autumn of the Multitaskers, in the current issue of The Atlantic monthly. I suppose part of “successful” multitasking (if you grant that multitasking actually exists successfully in any way shape or form) is having a clear vision of what exactly it is you’re trying to accomplish. And having a clear vision of what the quality of that “way” should be (that’s a bit of a “zen” reference — the way is the goal and all that…)

Today I came across two new online services that promise to customize and micromanage my potential multitasks. In the latest MIT Technology Review, Erica Naone reports on a new start-up: “Maintaining Multiple Personas Online.” Naone’s article describes MOLI, which (as Naone’s subtitle explains), is a “new site [that] lets users create profiles for the different sides of their personality.”

Will this mean that your multiple personalities can multitask independently of one another? Walter Kirn must be doing backflips…

On the other hand, MOLI does seem to offer real help to the chronically (or promiscuously?) connected:

Online social networks have allowed people to easily stay in touch with large groups of friends, but the flip side has been well publicized. Some users have struggled over what to do when certain people–such as a boss or an ex-boyfriend–ask to be listed as a friend on their profile. Adding someone as a friend gives him access to the user’s profile, photos, and daily musings. Worries about privacy were renewed recently when Facebook’s Beacon advertising initiative began broadcasting information about users’ purchasing habits throughout its networks. (See “Evolving Privacy Concerns.”) Now Moli, a recently launched social-networking site, aims to win over concerned users. President and COO Judy Balint says that the site is intended for a more mature audience than the teenagers targeted by many social-networking websites. Directed at users who are trying to balance personal and professional networks, Moli offers multiple profiles–with different privacy settings–within one account.


Users of Moli can set up as many profiles as they want, and they can choose to make them public, private, or hidden. Anyone, whether he has signed up for Moli or not, can search for and view a public profile. A private profile will show up on searches, but to access it, a user must be a member of Moli and must have approval from the profile’s owner. A hidden profile is invisible in searches and can only be viewed by people invited by the owner. Balint says that users are free to set up multiple profiles of various types, with the requirement that they must designate at least one public profile.

Balint says that the site is also intended to appeal to small-business owners, who can use it to set up an intranet and extranet for free. For a fee, businesses can run a store through Moli.

And as if that weren’t enough, my husband just sent me this press release from a start-up based in Victoria’s own Vancouver Island Technology Park, a new company called Sprout:

MT Mind Technology announced the launch of its first product, Sprout, as a public beta on February 8th, 2008. Sprout is a new platform that sources hyper-personal online content. Sprout learns the user’s likes and dislikes based on simple positive and negative feedback. Designed with no initial set-up and a low cognitive load, users can start cultivating their content immediately.

To try Sprout for yourself, check out www.yoursprout.ca.

Located at the Vancouver Island Technology Park in Victoria, BC, MT Mind Technology was founded in 2006 by Evan Willms and Duncan MacRae. The company is developing solutions for individuals and organizations to effortlessly avoid information overload.

According to Sprout‘s webpage, the service aims to personalize web content for all the yous you are:

Can a search engine, blog or newsreader personalize its content to suit your tastes perfectly? The straight answer is “no”. So, we designed Sprout to be everything they’re not; from its ability to pull the freshest content from thousands of sources online, to its ability to learn what you’re into and weed out the rest. That’s right, folks. The future of intelligent online content sourcing is here. And it’s leafy.

A new leaf. A fig leaf, too, perhaps? Could be very interesting.

…Now if only Walter wouldn’t make such a racket, jumping up and down! 😉

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