26 Sep 2004
I'm nearing the end of my second day in Zurich, Switzerland. Josh and I are in town for OSCOM 4, a conference where we will present a talk about frassle. Zurich has impressed me as a practical town: good cultural, shopping, and eating opportunities, especially if you're rich, but little to fall in love with. There is some tourism, but not too much. People are extremely helpful and polite, there are no bums on the streets, and so far the weather has been cold and rainy.
I have been able to enjoy myself in Zurich, though. Despite being Switzerland's largest city, it's not at all crowded, has an excellent tram system, and one can walk all around it with ease. Josh and I have been spending our time mostly walking and eating. Yesterday we took our time getting oriented to the city and visited some cathedrals and chocolate shops. It's true, by the way—Swiss chocolate is wonderful. Even I, not normally a chocolate lover, can appreciate it. The Swiss consume more chocolate per capita than anyone else—11.5 kg per person—and Josh says he's ready to get started on his share. The best chocolate shops we've been to are called Sprungli.
Zurich has lots and lots of shops. Especially abundant are women's clothing stores, while men's clothing seems surprisingly rare. Everything is very expensive, which shocks Josh even more because he thinks of one Swiss Franc as about a dollar, and persistently underwhelms me because I think of one Swiss Franc as about two-thirds of a dollar. (The reality as of this writing is that one Swiss Franc is about USD 0.79.)
Yesterday (Saturday) evening we asked at the tourist office in the main train station (Hauptbanhof) about local concerts and found a wonderful early music choral program at the Wasserkirche (an old church on the Limmat river). The performers were the Winterthurer Vokalensemble, and the concert called "What is our life?" after one of the Gibbons songs in it. Though it was at times difficult to stay awake during this 8pm concert as we struggled to adjust to European time, the chorus was excellent and presented some of my favorite music from Monteverdi, de Rore, Marenzio, and Gibbons. They also did a spectacular performance of Clement Jannequin's La Guerre, which is perhaps the most fun piece of music written in the early 1500s. I also loved the two pieces they did by Leonhard Lechner (1553-1606), whose music I hadn't heard before.
Peculiarly, the audience did not clap during the performance. A similar thing happened at my own New Century Voices concert in Boston this June, and while there it was definitely not the desired effect, I was reluctant to start clapping on my first evening in a different culture. After the amazing performance of La Guerre, there was much clapping, but I'm still uncertain whether that means clapping is appropriate after every song or reserved for particularly exceptional performances. Perhaps I'll try my luck with another few concerts.
After the concert Saturday night, we returned to the home of our excellent host, who has a gargantuan projector and pull-down screen in his living room. Some friends were over for a screening of Pirates of the Caribbean, and having missed only a few minutes of it we joined in. Josh couldn't stay awake—he's been down a bit with a cold—and went to sleep around 10:30 or so. I didn't doze off for more than a few minutes at a time until the movie ended, about 11:30.
And then we slept until 2pm, proving we were still mentally on Boston time. Our verdict? It feels pretty good sleeping 14-16 hours, but we had a hard time getting to the Kunsthaus museum and seeing its tiny collection before it closed. Following up on Saturday's delightful lunch at the Italian restaurant Pulcino, we went to the Swiss Chuchi next door for a pricy but enormous dinner of fondue and Raclette. The Raclette is a Swiss dish where you grill meat and melt cheese at the table, and we had the mixed Raclette with beef, veal, and chicken, a cute sack of small potatoes, and assorted vegetables from tomatoes to mushrooms. The idea is to toss some meat on the grill, cut up some potatoes, and pour some melted cheese over the ensemble. This was the most delicious cheese I have ever tasted.
Tomorrow morning, we're taking a train South to Davos, where it will be beatiful, rural, and perhaps not severely blisteringly cold. We will stay at a hostel, and I will wish strongly that I had brought better hiking shoes and a warm hat.
26 Sep 2004
Posted by shimon under bostonNo Comments
You got that sign from my blog? I've never seen it before.
24 Sep 2004
Hackers of the world: try our code, fix our bugs!
23 Sep 2004
A cool collaboration tool that puts a translucent picture of your collaborator on your screen. When they move, the image gets more opaque.
22 Sep 2004
This Thursday at 7pm at the Berkman Blog meeting at Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Josh and I will be presenting a test run of our presentation on frassle. The presentation develops a sociological and technological understanding of how blogs facilitate the construction of shared meaning and trust, and explores how technology might be used to advance the utility and scale of these benefits. We call these phenomena Interpersonal Content Management. Then we demonstrate our own prototype Interpersonal Content Management System, frassle.
Everyone is welcome to attend. It should be entertaining and we hope you'll be able to come and offer us some feedback before our presentation a week later at OSCOM 4 in Zurich.
22 Sep 2004
There are surely lots of good ideas. Could you tell us a little more about what your company is doing right now?
20 Sep 2004
For instance, I should be able to categorize this post when editing, and have those categorizations stick (like they used too (whoops)).
19 Sep 2004
This is the first post in a series where I will discuss challenges in social software design and potential solutions.
In social software, how can you decide what to disclose to whom?
Attempts: One common approach is to divide relationships into classes, like LiveJournal's "friends" list or FOAF's relationship types. Another approach is to use your existing articulated social network and choose by degree: some items are open to your immediate friends, some to their friends too, some to the entire network.
Failures: Both of these approaches are broken, precisely because they are automatic. Human relationships are both finely nuanced and ever changing, and any automatic system effectively moves the question of "to whom should this be sent" up to the point of content creation. This is reasonable for a party invitation or personal ad, but inspires no confidence for the sharing of actual secrets. One could argue that this is because current a priori neftwork specifications are too coarse, but any style of relationship specification even close to the required level of complexity would be far too difficult to articulate—and then far too brittle. So until computers can read minds, if we want to facilitate the sharing of truly privileged information, we have to do it differently.
Solution: Rather than attempt to predict disclosure from the context of content creation, facilitate disclosure from the context of existing interpersonal contact. This reflects real life: you won't send updates on your romantic life to your old girlfriends, but when you see one at a party you might discuss that for a while. You might do this for some ex-girlfriends but not all. You might want to discuss this and change your mind when you hear she's just been dumped. But you can almost picture going up to her with a big list of potential things to talk about, and then screening some away as you communicate.
The software should provide a similar interface. In the context of authoring a message or other piece of content with a known audience, offer the author a way of reaching into his palette of private content and tossing something special into the communication. Select potentially relevant items based on data mining of past, similar interactions; and offer full-text search. Present this alongside the ongoing dialogue:
This way, the author can pick and choose what to disclose at the time of disclosure. The challenge is thus not to develop more powerful ways to express relationships before authoring content, but to support with flexible, intuitive tools the retrieval of private content when the author may actually need it.
18 Sep 2004
I noticed this interesting idea while browsing around on Google's site:
[A business goal is] Using millions of computers to solve important problems requiring substantial CPU resources, such as cancer and disease research. For example, we have recently begun small-scale tests with the Folding at Home project at Stanford University with a few thousand selected Google Toolbar users, in preparation for a much larger scale system that would enable our millions of Google Toolbar users to opt-in to contributing their CPU cycles to solving important problems.
A company like Google investing its substantial brand recognition and technical know-how to enable world-wide grid computing would be an interesting adventure indeed. That would be a good way to grow beyond search but advance further in their other, behind-the-scenes competency: running lots of computers together. Possibilities boggle the mind.
17 Sep 2004
There are two conflicting designs for RSS aggregators. On one hand are email-style three-pane readers, typically found in desktop aggregators such as SharpReader, RSS Bandit, and others. On the other hand are blended-feeds aggregators, like Userland's Manila and Radio, which take the latest news from all of your subscriptions and blend it into one big time-sorted page.
Dave Winer strongly advocates for the blended-feeds style. When I first heard him rant about this, in person at a Berkman Thursday meeting, I didn't know why he cared so much. I had used both styles of aggregators, and I thought the difference was really just an issue of taste.
That was when I had a small number of subscriptions, around 30 or 50. Now that I have over 200, there is a major difference. In a three-pane aggregator, when you can't read all the news, you skip feeds that aren't often of interest. In a blended-feeds aggregator, you skip postings that are older, or have boring-sounding titles and no pictures.
While the latter seems like a more arbitrary way to prioritize your reading, it actually has some advantages. If you have a big set of feeds that you kinda-sorta read, but aren't devoted to tracking every last post, it works better. With a three-pane aggregator, there is some point where you just give up on a feed—it gathers messages for months, but you can't remember what the hell it is, so you never click it. After a while you can't remember what it's there for and the 312 unread posts makes skimming it too intimidating. Unless you regularly schedule time to organize your subscription list, it just sits there. (Maybe we need a way for computers to emit smells, so you can actually notice it rotting?)
On the contrary, with a blended-feeds aggregator, you'll occassionally see a message from that feed. Either you'll like it and keep the feed, or you'll realize what crap it is and unsubscribe altogether. You're less likely to maintain a meaningless subscription. And the subscriptions you do maintain will all be given a fair shot: your existing preferences for a certain core set of feeds don't preclude everything else to the dustbin.
There's a reason this advantage isn't evident to new aggregator users: it depends on a particular memory threshold. For a while, it's easy to (implicitly) rank a bunch of feeds in your head. Some you check every time they go bold, and that's great, because you never miss or wait for news from the sources you care about. Others you check at specific times, like the comics I read every morning. Others you might save for when a certain topic crosses your mind, or simply for when you're bored.
Up to a certain number of feeds, your mind is capable of telling you when to read what with pretty good accuracy. But at a certain point, the accuracy starts falling off. It becomes risky to subscribe to a new feed because either (1) you will love it and it might push off something else you care about, or (2) you'll not love it enough at first and it will fade into the abyss. But what if it starts to be interesting again? You're not giving it even partial continuous attention, so you miss it.
That's right: in an aggregator that seems designed to help you read every post, you actually miss all sorts of interesting posts. In one that seems to make it difficult to ensure you've read all you care about, you're relieved of caring—and in the process, you're more flexible and open to exploring.
Nonetheless, both approaches have their advantages. Thus the problem is that you're forced to pick one or the other for your whole aggregator. No fair! I have feeds from friends, colleagues I respect, serial publications I want to follow every bit of. I also have feeds from a gazillion social software nerds where I often want an update but can't possibly follow everything.
So my aggregator should let me put the most important feeds on watch lists. It should make sure I've read every post on my watched feeds. And it should let me quickly skim everything else in the more flexible, more efficient blended-feeds format.
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