When Theory Doesn’t Match Reality

20 08 2007

Anne Zelenka at Web Worker Daily has a really good post about the social graph problem, questioning the whole idea that we even need or want a unified social network and personal profile. I really like this perspective. I can appreciate a great unified theory as much as anyone, but history is obviously wrought with unrealistic and possibly dangerous theories that do not match reality.

Anne asks:

Do you want a unified representation of your social life on the web? Why or why not?

The unified social graph sounds great in theory, but I’ve got to answer an emphatic NO. In reality, I do like life to be scattered about, just like it really is, you know, in REAL LIFE.

Rod at TechFold says Spock, the people search engine, is downright idiocy. There’s a big element of truth that “creepy” is the only way to describe some of these social initiatives.

But we sometimes do need to put the conspiracy theories aside. The potential of a universal, accessible health care data repository improving health care systems trumps concerns of security, so long as privacy implications are clear, both policies and contingencies.

Furthermore, it’s always a great question to ask: are our grandiose theories something we really need, really want or can even afford as a society to exist?

Signs of the Times

13 08 2007

I’m out at a Starbucks and a little kid walks by and says “Daddy, why are there all those types of computers?”

We’re in the connected age and I’m rarely in unconnected situations, but when seen through a child’s eyes, you know our world is irrevocably changed.

But my realization is not in how the “technology has changed the world”, but how “technology has changed our behavior.” Because more shockingly than making our lives more productive – we now ACT completely differently in a wired world. And as much as industry and cars and airplanes have flattened our world, we spend far more time in front of our laptops and devices than we ever do on the move or basically doing anything else.

Not all of this change is positive. It’s just even further proof that we’ve still in the early innings of a remarkably high scoring game of change in human behavior.

What is Web 3.0?

9 08 2007

I’m not sure how the lingo plays out, but that’s the less important and even possibly completely irrelevant question against the broader trends ahead of us.

Eric Schmidt, as well as imaginable, concisely summarizes what Web 3.0 starts to look like, given major trends already forming. Lightweight, customizable applications that:

  • Can be reassembled in any number of different ways
  • Can come to the end user anywhere on any device, platform or application
  • Can spread virally
  • Data can live on the cloud

It’s in essence a sort of a mesh between service-oriented architecture (implementation), widgetization/syndication (syndication), software as a service (business), viral marketing (marketing), and semantic web (standards).

But the important piece is that this hodge-podge of great ideas leads to an even greater idea: it’s cheaper and easier than ever to solve a great many problems. Technology pioneers are bringing us closer and closer to the realization of a virtual erector set. Assembling the pieces sparked the industrial age, but we’re in a revolutionary age where the creation is democratized.

Many have the goal of bringing programming to non-programmers. Changing to a User Interface completely is really the savior. The interface has always been a programming language, but that’s not going to fly for most people.

It’s going to be much faster to bring it to the people than wait for the people to come to you. Basically, the argument against human-powered search engines (versus Google), semantic web (versus practical, interoperable standards), and the command line (versus Mac).

The seeds are planted, but yet we’re in the early days of assembly. When the UI matures and anyone can CREATE something of value, that’s when this Web 3.0 thing really crosses and spreads, virally.

As such, Mr. Schmidt says this will be a huge market. Yet attention amidst this newly created noise will be the scarcest resource, akin to real estate on which homes are built. Those that control the attention, the land will probably reap the largest benefits.

It means a great deal of good for the world, but it doesn’t change the fundamental rules of business. Fix a problem, create value, find a market. Those without a problem trying to find a market still struggle, however Web 3.0 shakes out.

Video embedded below:

Being an intellectual versus being intellectual

6 08 2007

It’s quite a broad subject and everyone has their own definition of what being an intellectual entails. And I personally think about this question a lot more than most around me realize, although not usually in this exact structure.

Uniformly, the stereotype of an intellectual has a stuffy connotation, quoting long passed philosophers and laughing at each others’ brilliantly formed intellectual riffs.

At its essence, the distinction is largely nature versus nurture. Are you born with the innate ability to reason or do you acquire it through practice?

Where strong willed, Type A personalities are required, egos run rampant. It’s prevalent in Hollywood and it’s prevalent in Silicon Valley and it’s prevalent in New York, although each would separately argue that their version of vanity serves a higher purpose than the others.

Yet, an ego is most often a necessity of the job. Greatness is served by confidence in your greatness, a willingness to give it your all, that you can not fail, you will not fail. It’s not one-sided: people then again like to see some humility in their greatest minds, athletes, artists and leaders.

My objection comes in when “intellects” see intellectualism as being about winning the argument, not about helping yourself first, and others second, see the world as it really is from a full 360 degree view. It’s not always possible, but it’s certainly the goal.

It’s really just greed that drives this kind of intellectualism. Yet to me it’s really the worst kind of greed because it doesn’t cost you anything to be understanding, empathetic. This is not a zero sum game. It’s my little definition of being an intellectual instead of being intellectual. The best intellectualism looks outward. It looks at the outside world, appreciates it, then contributes its own small (or big) way.

And this isn’t supposed to be a rant. For I think I’m pleasantly surprised much, much more than I’m violently disappointed in people, but ultimately I think that’s served by the type of people I like to surround myself with. From great professors to great leaders to great family to just great people, I find that default nature is a kind one, a giving one. I look to keep it that way.