Archives for November 2007

Micro-elites and user generated content

Andy Oram discusses how only a miniscule subset within the hordes of users participating in Web 2.0 type collaboration actually add value. Interesting viewpoint, helps see any Web 2.0  user numbers in better perspective.

But I have a couple of points to add:

  • Notion of elites is not always necessary to add value to content. We need to think about what types of content we are looking at. Say Flickr, you don’t need much beyond ability to click and upload a photo. In contrast an entry on Bosons requires a good knowledge of particle physics.
  • Perceived elitism can mangle a open collaborative framework. Better to allow inclusion by default. Even having filters, lets say a certain educational qualification to contribute on Wikipedia, to keep out irrelevant or low value contributions will give rise to a distinguished class. I like the Wiki model of self-correcting collaborative and open systems, than the selective collaboration of closed systems. Of course the self-correction happens by chosen elites!
  • I see better social value in the process of collaborating, regardless of the utility of the outcome. Content needs to gathered first. It should be the problem of those who want to harvest this information to look at the chaos through the lenses of reason and order.

Thoughts?

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I am Lust, I am Power!

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It starts with the uncanny visual realism, yet something is not quite right – skin that looks like skin but is too perfect to be real, a face too taut and a posture straight out of the Renaissance period. The voice actors are first class – what strikes you is how self-sure the voice is. Everything about this movie seems to stand out for me – Beowulf is a retelling on the old English epic poem, with a little help from Neil Gaiman.

The trailer is amazing and am eager to see it regardless of what the critics say about it.

There is this sequence in the trailer where Beowulf shouts out “I am Lust, I am Power” and so on, expounding various facets of his personality. I feel this is perfect characterization, keeping in mind the time and culture in which this story takes place. And I found it so consistent with my understanding of those ancient times.

Often times, especially in India, where we confuse artistic merit with the personal morals of an actor to pour our fanship, it is  hard to come by a character, live or imaginary, that reflects reality. Reality not as in portrayal as is, for that is but one definition of what art can be, but even by amplification or contrast of our lowest and highest impulses and aspirations. It is almost as if the creative sap of the race has been dried out by the geniuses(Vyaasa, Valmiki, Kalidasa, Tagore etc) who have come before us. What we have now are pale imitations, counterfeits and imaginary dwarves who don’t deserve the crown of posterity. The impoverishment within reflects in the kind of characters whom we choose to create and idolize. Perhaps a more complete destruction of the national character and forms of culture is needed to bring about fresher and more puissant creation.

Ouch! That should have hurt…

Such a nasty blow! That was the competitive equivalent of thrust, twist and pullback. And for all the blood shedding one barely hears a squeak, from the offended party or the press.

Of course I refer to the forking of Java by Google Open Social. The ostensible reason being better performance on constrained devices, which I don’t disagree with in principle. But what it does to the Java ecosystem is the point.

Do no evil – Sounds like a hypocrite’s whisper, rather than the cry of the righteous it was before. Google, as always, puts its best interests first, as I believe every corporation should, rather than pay obeisance to any socialistic impulses. The irony is that somehow labeling something a ‘open’ process has legitimized Google’s brazen attitude to ‘platform development’ so much so there is barely a whisper from anywhere.

The last time this happened, when Microsoft forked Java, for the same reasons as Google, for better performance, there was such a hue and cry that resulted in every one and their aunt painting Microsoft as the evil wolf. And now Google calls something ‘Open Social’, throws in a couple of million dollars from its billion dollar cache and there is nothing but an awkward silence. The way I look at it, the industry is yet to unravel the intent of this behemoth.

The options as I see it are i) To shout wolf! ii) Swallow the betrayal and work out a place within the ecosystem that will come about. What is at stake is not the future of Java(or Sun), its about what the industry is willing to concede to Google, without putting up a fight. And the longer it remains silent, the more Google will take.

And I seem to be getting more prescient as I get older… 🙂

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ODF, Metadata & what am I missing?

Today I discovered the weblog of Rob Weir called “An Antic Disposition“. Rob is a member of the OASIS ODF TC amongst others. The blog has been a delight so far – be it the technical content, the perspectives that are revealed or even just the list of books from his library, all indicate an individual with a richness of thought and perception that goes beyond the minutiae of technology and its implementation.

The specific post that caught my eye was the ODF gaining support for XML/RDF driven metadata framework. A metadata framework would allow application developers to provide the means to gather contextual information that allows interpretation of content within a document.

For example if you come across the term “711.25” within a document, how would you interpret it? Is it the price of something? Is it distance between two locations? Honestly, it could be anything. In this case it is the last trade price of Google as on 02 Nov 2007. Note what helps us disambiguate this number is multiple pieces of information i) Traded stock is Google ii) The number is the last trade price and iii) As on 02 Nov 2007. And that is just the start of what would be required to clearly interpret a number as one we just saw.

This is an admirable step for an open source effort but what I don’t get is this – Microsoft Office has had extensible metadata support since Office 2003. Especially on Word, using the Smart Document feature, one could attach a custom schema to the document and have it annotate content. The metadata lives interspersed with the content, allowing you to mark every fragment of text with XML tags and attributes that make disambiguation possible. We have used this feature for over 3 years and in spite of the niggles have realized that this feature adds the “Smart” to “SmartDocuments”!

Now, neither in the post or in any of the linking articles did I find a reference to the fact that this feature exists already elsewhere. Nothing wrong with it in principle but guess one can learn from prior art. Note that I restrict myself to metadata addition frameworks for office productivity applications, which I believe is the scope of ODF 1.2.

Am I missing something here? Would like to understand this better, Rob?

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The Myths of Innovation – A must for fanboys of every genre!

It is not often that a book grabs you by the scruff in the very first line and this one does! In the author’s own words the goal is to use “myths about innovation to understand how innovation happens“.  And it starts with…

By idolizing those whom we honor we do a disservice both to them and to ourselves…we fail to recognize that we could go and do likewise. – Charles V. Willie

That line resonates in so many contexts to me. That all that has gone before us is achieved and open for further expansion. Be it science, literature, philosophy, religion or any other field of human endeavor – all that has gone before is only a prelude. To be stuck in a past however glorious, to derive self-esteem by association to attributes and victories that are not ours, to define our life and outlook by standards laid out many hundred years ago in an alien culture…one could go on.

I believe one could advance the state of art that exists. The scope of that change might not be universal. Might be so local that its subjective rather than something that manifests externally. The change so miniscule that one hardly perceives it within. But advance it we must. Sri Aurobindo touches this subject in an aphorism on Karma. I have covered the aphorism and my commentary on it here.

And I just finished reading the preface! Hope to update you all with a review.

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Google Open Social – Beware Greeks bearing gifts

The industry goes gaga over the OpenSocial API from Google. And methinks this is another instance of fanboys missing the forest for the trees. In my honest opinion this is nothing more than a wrapper over each social site’s API, legitimized by Google’s overarching status in the industry. I wonder how the conversation would have gone behind the scenes between Google and its so called partners!

This gesture has no more relevance than as a means to counteract other larger players in the social networking space(Microsoft with Facebook). After all how do you stop momentum from a competitor but to adopt Open Source religion. IBM did it with Java, being more open than the creator of the language Sun. So much so Sun is no longer a credible threat to anybody, leave alone IBM.

I wish the industry was a little more balanced in its opinions of Google. True they have changed the computing landscape as we had known it but not all that comes from that stable is benign. Microsoft’s clout would be a pale shadow of what influence Google will wield in another 5 years.

But the immediate benefits remain for developers who wish to aggregate content from these social networking sites without having to resort to hacks.

But its prudent to be wary of gifts that come by.