Solipsism Gradient

Rainer Brockerhoff’s blog

Browsing Posts published in March, 2003

Re: World of Ends

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The traffic around WoE seems to have quieted down a little. Nevertheless, here are some more links to my translation: Caio at 42, Maurício at Blog4Blues, e-fuzion at Where’s My Head At?, Ovelha Elétrica (no permalink!), and Mateus Reis at canal perdido. A full copy has also been published on the Palindromo mailing list.

As often happens, the really interesting comments are starting to come in after a week. Michael O’Connor Clarke has a post and several follow-up comments called World of Ands:

There is a necessary AND logic to the value growing at the Ends of the Net that is completely misunderstood by most of the legislators, regulators, CEOs and other clue-challenged entities at which the WoE piece is evidently directed.

Look at even the most viable Web-based businesses ? how many of them have actually succeeded in putting bricks and mortar companies out of business? How many of them even thought, honestly, that they would?

…A store that exists only in a browser simply can not replace browsing in a store.

I buy MORE books now that Amazon exists, but I’ll still spend hours mooching in bookstores ? and I’m certainly not alone in this view.

AND logic is at work here ? not OR. The two things are different, can co-exist, can even complement one another to their mutual benefit.

and later:

So I think my World of Ands message to business gets re-focused into this:

a. If you make your money selling physical stuff, embrace the AND of the Net to your, and your customers’ benefit.

b. If you make your money selling digital stuff, grab you ankles and see if the rush of blood to your head shakes loose a clue. OR, if it doesn’t, you’re still in the best position for what’s coming next. (btw, you CAN still make money, but only if you submit to a hearty beating with the cluestick now, before it’s too late. A tip: you will probably have to let go of EVERYTHING that currently defines your idea of a business model. And people will lose their jobs. Sorry).

c. If you make your money selling services, I want to see your timesheets.

Arnold Kling posted Five Clues for Geeks:

(1). Intermediaries add value…

(2). Property is not evil…

(3). Computer animation is not a killer application…

(4). Bashing Microsoft does not make you smart…

(5). Markets are not exploitative…

…My goal is to see ignorance reduced on both sides of the Suit-Geek divide. Suits who are ignorant of the Internet ultimately do a disservice to the businesses whose outmoded practices they try to protect with misguided legal weapons. Geeks who are ignorant of markets do less harm, because they tend to limit their activities to applauding one another’s manifestos. However, if the anti-market prejudice that they promote becomes more widespread, they ultimately will do a disservice to their vision of the future. That vision will arrive soonest if market forces are allowed to operate.

Frank Field comments on this:

I really am only worried about “Intermediaries add value.” I think a more correct assertion is that “Intermediaries may add value;” but markets should be allowed to reveal whether consumers want what the intermediaries added – and consumers should be given appropriate opportunities to disintermediate. Without that guarantee, it may very well be that then Arnold’s 5th point would be wrong – such markets could indeed be quite exploitative.

Meanwhile, David Weinberger explains more about “ends”:

A few of the bloggers writing so well about the role of individual and community take Doc and me to task (or, better, to school) for portraying the Internet as a world of ends when in fact those ends are joined in webs of personal connection.

Of course that’s right…

First, that’s the language in the paper from which we took the article’s main insight: “End-to-End Arguments...” Second, Doc and I wanted to talk about the Internet’s architecture so that we could make the quasi-factual claim that boneheaded businesses and regulators are just plain wrong in their understanding; we didn’t want to focus in this article on all the good things that come out of that architecture. Third, we liked the echo of “ends” vs. “means” as in Kant’s Kingdom of Ends.

But, yes, absolutely and definitely, the value of the Internet is the groups it allows…

He also responds to another of Arnold Kling’s comments, regarding spam:

But the World of Ends principle… doesn’t say that no services can ever be built into a network, only that it’s generally better to move services closer to the edge. So, as Arnold suggests, perhaps that means that spam needs to be trapped by the ISPs. I don’t know if that’s the case, but it could be.

Betsy Devine worries about current threats to the WoE vision:

If we could find a way to work together, we’d have a much better chance of fending off attacks on the Internet commons – or at least giving warning when such attacks get underway. Let’s not end up like the goose in the nursery rhyme, looking longingly back on the “rights” we used to enjoy. Let’s get together like the Roman geese who cackled and squawked and woke up the sleeping Romans when Gauls tried to sneak inside the Capitol.

Maybe we could start by thinking about the web-degrading mistakes described in World of Ends. When we spot someone trying one of these ugly tricks, we could try to get our weblogs squawking together – scare off the attacker!

M. (or is it X?) at Whuffie comments:

Kevin Marks and Rainer Brokerhoff blogs are ‘abuzz with talk of adding a value system to your html links. That way when you create a link you can assign a value to it to show how much you “approve” or “disapprove” of what you are linking to. While this seems to create a quick and easy Whuffie like system, it is not at all comprehensive, and I have to question if it would really be worth the trouble. Why not just put a header above the link: “I hate this blog, I don’t trust them, they suck, but check them out to mock their very existance” Same effect, no?

I don’t think this is the same effect at all. The proposed link value system is to have a simple way to tell spiders (and similar robots) that scan the HTML for links whether you approve or disapprove of that link. Of course, as Kevin points out, one often will complement this by user-visible styling (or even a header).

While it of course is a “Whuffie”-like system, the effects are not exactly the same – since valued links will usually point at individual posts or news items, the resulting values will not necessarily apply to the whole site. They may not even apply to the item’s author. I agree that it isn’t comprehensive – by design. Rating systems that are installed on a particular site solve other problems entirely, but I’d like a way to say to search engines “here’s a link to this item, but I disagree with it; don’t tally my link on the same list with people who agreed with it”.

MacHack #18 will be held June 19-21 in Dearborn MI (in the Detroit Metro area). Sessions and papers have just been announced.

This will be the first time in some years that I’ll skip a MacHack – every year from 1997 to 2002 I’ve either attended or written a paper (sometimes both). Unfortunately, between the war, possible terrorist attacks, and the mysterious pneumonia outbreaks, the situation is not favorable for a trip to the US this year, and personal concerns have left no time for writing a paper. I hope that I’ll be able to attend again next year.

Re: Trackback, phpBB, etc.

Tim Appnel responded at length to my post about weblogs and bulletin boards:

Rainer Brockheimer recently made a post on recent developments to utilize TrackBack and other related technologies. I’m in general agreement with Rainer and Tom Coates, whose writings he also cites in his post.

Thanks for the reply, Tim. And I’ve got one more item for my lengthy list of mispellings of “Brockerhoff” icon_biggrin.gif.

The following quote I believe requires some clarification on my part being a proponent of this cause:
Rainer Brockerhoff wrote:

…the whole trackbacks are comments movement is an attempt to make weblogs more like bulletin-boards.

I can say this is not my primary motivation nor do I believe it is for others involved in this discussion though certainly these notations descend from its lineage. Furthermore, I don’t see these efforts as a desire to claim a territory unexplored when its patently not. To me this work is only an evolution or a reformulation of past.

It’s often hard to tell about things like motivation from outside. I’m certainly happy to learn that you favor the evolutionary approach, and I agree a 100% with that.

First, I think it worth noting again and in more direct terms that the history of bulletin boards are not lost on me in the least. I have not specifically mention it and perhaps I should have. (I suppose I’m changing that right now.) The fact of the matter is that my experiences with bulletin boards drive my interest in TrackBack, weblogs and the convergence of these related technologies.

Offering a historical perspective on things is always welcome. I have many younger friends who have a weblog and are often surprised to hear about parallel developments in ancient history (meaning, for them, pre-1999). When I started an ISP back in 1993 the most important service we offered was bulletin board software (in our case, FirstClass) to use for support and community-building.

My personal opinion is that bulletin boards (as Mark Pilgrim would put it) suck. They are generally an unfocused collection of threads that, until RSS becomes commonplace, require me to come to it and use its interface to comment. The threaded display makes it even harder for me to grok particularly when it’s a highly active conversation.

I agree with you here, but this is usually just a consequence of the lack of restraint from the boards’ administrators, than simply the software’s fault. The software I use here (phpBB) has great configuration and modification capabilities, but it also has more features enabled by default than the average administrator can cope with. Avatars, ratings, on-line messaging, e-mail, indiscriminate topic starting, and so forth. Just look at the phpBB Support Forum: there are over 44000 topics! This is unbrowseable, and even searching is hard to do.

On the other hand, I found that adding weblog features to phpBB is possible and unwanted features can be turned off, while keeping the really useful stuff. So I have very few topics – which I regard analogous to Movable Type‘s categories. Only I can generate new topics, and inside a topic posts, comments and trackbacks are handled equally. I’m working on an option to display just one thread inside a topic, and with that I think my implementation will be quite useable.

Weblog comments only slightly improve on this by organizing the conversation to a single thread and quite often (and thankfully in my opinion) display them in a flat rolling manner. These discussions are also started by one or a select few individuals that typically increase their quality. While many are beginning to take advantage of the RSS generation functionality found in weblogs tools, weblog comments still require that I use their interface. Furthermore those comments are limited to that one weblog unless I cut, paste and post them elsewhere.

The standard MT implementation is, for me, quite unwieldy. From the main page, one often must click on a link to see the full post. To read and post comments, a second link must be clicked, and to read and post trackbacks, a third one. So, my point regarding your trackbacks are comments thread is that this makes weblog posts as readable as bulletin board topics: the original post and all pertaining comments are on the same page. By the way, one important note on usability (which can be applied to both weblogs and bulletin boards) is Joel Spolksy‘s article Building Communities with Software. I disagree with some of his points – for instance, I favor quoting and previewing, while he’s against it – but it’s a great article.

A key differentiator is that TrackBack-enabled comments have a standardized remote API. It’s my belief that this capability could give rise to tools that allow prolific power commentators to work from one interface. They also allow for me to comment from a post to my weblog. It’s also noteworthy that the distributed loosely coupled nature of TrackBack-enabled comments (quite a mouthful) can be organized and grouped by the individual. (This of course assumes that individual is so inclined. I would because I think some of my best thoughts are not on my weblog.) Bulletin boards and weblog comments alone are constrained to a specific site and grouped by a certain topic or theme.

This is a very important point. phpBB has a somewhat complex posting procedure, which I’ve simplified to implement trackback. But it’s reasonably RESTful, which is positive. I won’t go into the REST vs. XML-RPC discussion here, though. But posting comments to someone else’s weblog usually throws me into a different interface, as you say. Not to speak of the various ways of writing links, styling text, seeing a preview (or not).

I see some hope in the convergence of tools like, for instance, NetNewsWire and Feedster. Hopefully in the future we’ll be able to post an article on a weblog/bulletin board, and the next day see aggregated responses to it in a single window, write a comment or rebuttal right there, preview how it will appear, and have it redistributed (as posts, comments, trackbacks or whatever is appropriate in each case) to the interested parties. It would effectively be a distributed bulletin board architecture, among other things. I’d be very interested in discussing how this might be done…

Posted by 42:
42 wrote

World of Ends, por Doc Searls e David Weinberger traduzido pelo Rainer. Aproveitando para inaugurar o Trackback no 42. /bb/viewtopic.php?t=10…

Re: Trackback, phpBB, etc.

Posted by tima thinking outloud.:
tima thinking outloud. linked to this post

Elaborating on TrackBack-enabled Comments.

Rainer Brockheimer recently made a post on recent developments to utilize TrackBack citing Tom Coates’ essay on the excesses of “social software.” While I’m in general agreement with both, we see the same circumstances differently. As a proponent of TrackBack-enabled comments I attempt to elaborate and perhaps clarify my thoughts on the matter.

Kevin Marks at Epeus’ Epigone is posting about a very important subject: anti-links or vote-links:

I propose that we add an optional attribute to the (link) tag in HTML. Its name is ‘vote’. Its value can be “+” “0” or “-“, representing agreement, abstention or indifference, and disagreement respectively.

An untagged link is deemed to have value “+”.

Additional human-readable commentary can be added using the existing ‘title’ attribute, which most browsers show as a rollover.

The motivation is, of course:

how about some extensions to the ‘a href’ tag to say “I’m linking to this, but I disagree with it” and maybe “I’m linking to this but don’t count the link as a vote”. Google and other link spiders could note these distinctions, and distinguish between popularity, notoriety and ubiquity.

There is also a lot more scope for deriving a personalised search this way – excluding what Cory calls ‘left-handed whuffie’ and returning search results from places you are likely to agree or disagree with, as well as showing more nuanced rankings.

I’m all for this. In the past I’ve either deliberately avoided linking to some sites I disagree with, or linked to them with strong misgivings.

I also agree that a numerical value (vote=”3.14159″) will not be as efficient, as there’ll be disagreement over the maximum and minimum values – should they go from -1 to +1, -10 to +10, -100 or +100, or what? And people are sure to post values beyond the limits, possibly causing some breakage. On the other hand, at least one degree of nuancing might be good to have – so I’d propose “++”, “+”, “0”, “-” and “–“. And missing or invalid values would be equivalent to “+”.

Joi Ito has picked up the subject; read the comments on his site, very interesting. Some people there are advocating FOAF or RDF solutions, which I think are way too complex for simple page-to-page links.

Let’s hope this will be implemented in some form…

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