XML, noun: A magic elixir of legend, claiming to solve all problems while inevitably exacting an ironic cost.
“Once we drink the XML and take care of a few minor things — parser, DTD, entification, well-formed-ness, validation, namespaces, I18N, XSL transformations, schemas — all will be peaceful in the kingdom!”
— devil’s dictionary
“Nonsense. Let Wired keep all that technohip bullshit. Information technology was an economic centrifuge, a wealth and power concentrator. This was the reality of the Information Revolution: efficiency, productivity, and downsizing; NAFTA, and the Walmartification of once beautiful downtowns… the strengthening of multinational conglomerates relative to poor people, human rights workers and small countries, the end of privacy, the eclipse of democracy, and realistic mayhem in video games..”
Sometimes I feel that way too. All this technology that we help create has implications that are both exciting and frightening. John Sundman’s Acts of the Apostles is set in the near-future, or perhaps the present. This work of fiction feels close to reality.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book — a fun and thought-provoking read. I especially enjoyed the contrast of east coast / west coast geek culture and engineering vs. marketing. Sundman’s crisp descriptions of familiar moments reminded me of Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. As an east coast transplant myself, California continues to be a foreign experience after over a decade in SF. Mountain View is another country entirely.
“…Carl was a California boy – a Porche-driving, volleyball-playing, market-watching libertarian libertine. So when Carl called Nick up and asked to meet him for a beer, Nick expected him to name some fern bar where they served microbrews to archetypal Silicon Valley yupsters like Carl himself. Mad Antonio’s Nut House was no yuppie fern bar. Mad Antonio’s was a dark place of pool tables, tattoos, stale beer and TVs that played tapes of Buster Douglas smashing Mike Tyson’s face. From a barstool deep within Mad Antonio’s there was no way to tell that just outside the door the California sun was shining with a soul-numbing cheerfulness.”
Read more details on John Sundman’s website. In addition to info on his books you can find a virtual Bonehead Computer Museum: “…in theory, the Museum will, at some point, sponsor a competition for most egregious kludge, the winner(s) to be presented a “Todd” award, which we envision as something like a hand holding a pair of pliers in order to pound a screw into a piece of wood.” I have debugged source code that I would love to submit; however, I have no rights to that to-be-left-unnamed intellectual property.
I enjoyed Clay Sharky’s article, A Group is its Own Worst Enemy. I’ve often noticed how software influences our actions. User experience is a run-time effect. In non-social software this pattern has been noted in such effects as “ransom note” publishing and verbose word processing.
Social software affects communication patterns, relationships, and identity. Any new communications medium has these effects. Leaving a message through a victorian calling card or modern telephone answering machine has implications to the relationship and the content of the message. As Marshall McLuhuan says “the medium is the message,” in social software the medium influences not only the content of the conversation, but also the character of the speaker and the relationship to the audience.
In real life we have different modes of identity. Each of us has many facets of our personality, as we get to know each other better we experience a multi-faceted human being. The setting of an interaction influences who we are at that moment. If you read a transcript of three conversations: on the phone with my best friend, in the middle of a software debugging session, or in the park, would you know that any of them were me? You know my identity as seen through my weblog. Perhaps if I keep writing and you keep reading for years you would notice if my Moveable Type editor were suddenly taken over by a like minded yet different individual, but if you found yourself conversing with a nameless woman at a party, would you know it was me?
I like Clay Shirky’s notion of a “handle” and being difference from “identity.” I even looked in the Thesaurus, but I couldn’t find a better word for this indentification that is not your complete identity, but is who you become known to be with a particular group. This kind of identification becomes exagerated through social software.
The article listed guidelines for designing social software whcih resonated with me:
Things to accept:
- “you cannot completely separate technical and social issues…the group is real. It will exhibit emergent effects. It can’t be ignored, and it can’t be programmed”
- “Members are different than users. A pattern will arise in which there is some group of users that cares more than average about the integrity and success of the group as a whole.”
- “The core group has rights that trump individual rights in some situations”
Things to design for:
- identification (rather than identity): “design for is handles the user can invest in” … when people communicate they need a sense of history, “who said what when.”
- authority: “design a way for there to be members in good standing”
- cost of membership: not about dollars, but about making having an investment that is tied to identity. In Shirky’s words: “you need barriers to participation…The user of social software is the group, not the individual.”
- protect conversations by limiting scale or by providing an effective outlet when it gets crowded.