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The Blorg

Most people know about network effects. You know, the value of a network (to its users) increases with the number of users on that network.

The same is true of information. Look at Wikipedia and Linux.

Millions of users added an article or two each to Wikipedia, and now everyone has a whole encyclopedia. (Actually, most of the users didn’t even submit complete articles. They just added fragments. It still works.)

With Linux, a thousand guys wrote a thousand small inter-operable programs, and we end up with a hundred prepackaged algorithmic ecologies (also known as distributions).

The difference between the network effect in communications networks, and the network effect in information goods is that when not limited by copyright, the value of information goods extends beyond the contributers.

Think about it. You have to join the telephone network for it to be valuable to you, but you don’t have to be a programmer to use Linux (though it helps).

The network becomes more valuable when the nodes are heterogeneous.

These ideas can translate to organizations. I say “organization” because it won’t work if it’s a company.

Companies exist to maximize profit, despite any negative consequences of doing so. Companies will want to lock information away, because it is more profitable (to the company) to create an artificial monopoly (on that information), even though it is less efficient from the market’s perspective.

So don’t make it a company. Make it into a loose group of individuals who collaborate to solve problems or complete projects as needed.

Let them discuss their projects and solutions publicly. This way information on techniques and solutions get documented, and the knowledge travels both within the organization, and outside it, building reputation for the solvers.

Reputation is always connected to a certain skill set. It makes sense that reputation for one skill won’t transfer to a skill in a completely different skill set. You can’t transfer reputation for cooking to reputation for programming. You could get partial transfer for programming in one language to another, because with experience, programming is a skill that becomes independent of the language used.

Have an online marketplace where tasks and projects can be auctioned off to be completed by the lowest bidder, while keeping the reputation of the bidder in mind to judge whether they have a suitable level of skill to complete any given task. (This includes bids by project organizers who then have to form a team.)

The essence of this concept is a fusion of two ideas: Bloggers and the Borg* combine to form the Blorg. The Blorg is a hive mob research organization, a tribe mind think tank, for solving problems and creating value.

Because of the nature of the organization, they would probably focus on cultivating exponential network effects. In other words, rather than solve single problems, they would attempt to solve that class of problems, in order that the problem need never be solved again.

*The Borg is an unrealistic construct specifically because they do not strive towards heterogeneous membership. Their specialization would breed weakness into the system.

Africa Is Big

Africa is larger than China, the USA, Western Europe, India, Argentina, and the British Isles… combined!

Source: White African Via Strange Maps Via Scarlett Lion Via Chris Blattman Via Lane Kenworthy Via Jeff Weintraub Via Norman Geras Via @Joburg

How To Solve The Housing Problem

Simply print them.

University of Southern California engineer Behrokh Khoshnevis and colleagues are developing a 3D printer for houses.

Source: Printable Housing (Via BoingBoing)

Education Meets Social Media - School of Everything

The School of Everything is a site that connects people who want to learn with people who want to teach.

It is one of those fantastic ideas that seems so obvious in retrospect that it’s hard to believe that nobody’s actually done it before.

You can get more details at the source.

Source: School of Everything: eBay for knowledge (Via BoingBoing)

Experimental Media

I like blogging, because it’s still so experimental. Internationally, they might be talking about traditional blogging, but in South Africa we probably don’t even have a thousand serious bloggers.

New media is so new here that we’re still experimenting with “traditional” new media. I want wilder experiments.

Take podcasts for example. Nic Haralambous has tried to make regular podcasts, but so far it has always failed. His conclusion is that regular podcasting doesn’t work, but doing it for special occasions does.

I think he misses the point. It didn’t work because the network infrastructure isn’t there to support it.

Take a hard look at average South Africans. They probably don’t even own a computer, much less have internet access. They might have a radio, or a TV if they’re lucky. About 10% of the most privileged South Africans have dial-up access. A very privileged 1% has broadband.

How do you make podcasting work in such an environment? I would mix up traditional and new media technologies.

It would be cool if radio stations put their shows online as podcasts. It would be even better if they would broadcast locally sourced podcasts. I want radio stations to produce blog posts, and have IRC chat rooms where you can interact with them in real time. Integrate them with wireless cellphone communities.

I don’t want to stop there. There’s all kind of technology mashups that I’d like to see.

I’d like to see video moved through unconventional channels. Do some video logging. Record Second Life events. Do video reports on local geek events or news.

Give DVDs away with newspapers. Distribute the results though the Johannesburg Area Wireless User’s Group. Put it on DVDs in video stores. Give it away at LAN parties, and 27Dinners. Put it on the sharing networks at universities. Make it available on freedom toasters.

As for getting technology in the homes of the average South African, the SABC wants to go all digital, so why not integrate decoders into OLPC style laptops? Broadcast useful educational info in digital format. Give it an hard drive so it can save the interesting bits. Sell simple plug & play wireless networking components so the boxes can be upgraded to plug into a neighborhood network, or the wider Internet. Get the post office to start selling email boxes.

My point is that although our internet infrastructure is deficient, there are other ways to move the data. I want to see people obliterating the digital divide while playing.

Satanism Lessons In Schools

An East Rand school made Satanism part of their life orientation classes. Parents fear a repeat of the Krugersdorp sword killing.

I didn’t write about the Krugersdorp killing, because I thought it obvious that Satanism, heavy metal, and drugs are just scapegoats. All that is misdirection.

My personal opinion is that the school is at fault, and that they are trying their best to shift the blame. They allowed bullying to get so bad that one unstable kid snapped. They also allowed a kid to enter the school grounds with three lethal weapons.

I don’t care whether they teach Satanism in schools or not. What makes me angry is that they are treating one religion differently. If you want to teach Satanism, then bring the other religions back to school. If you claim that you’re only teaching them about dangerous religions, then remember to include information about cults like Scientology, and information about faith healing caused deaths. Remember to teach them about persecution of and by religions. Then explain to them why freedom of religion is important.

I don’t believe in much, but I believe in impartiality.

Big Business Wants To Dictate Your Morality

It’s not enough getting morality from religion, philosophy, peer pressure and law. Now business also wants to take the moral high ground.

Random House contractually requires young adult writers to behave. Cory Doctorow points out that they didn’t ask him to sign such a contract for Little Brother. This is probably because they realize just how badly he would react to that. Little Brother is, after all, the story of a fight for freedom.

Then there’s the case of Audacia Ray, who is basically a sexologist blogger. Citibank just told her that her money isn’t welcome any more, because she work in “Adult Business”. The slippery bastards tried to get her to keep her personal money in the bank, just not any of the money related to her business.

Who defines “Adult Business”? The bank does of course.

What really makes me suspicious is the abrupt manner in which her paid for blog Naked City was dropped by the Village Voice. Anyone want to take bets on who the Village Voice uses as a bank?

Why Are We Still Paying For SMS?

Twitter is ending SMS support in the UK, because it’s costing them too much.

This got me thinking. Most cellphones these days have internet connectivity. The data cost of an SMS is negligible. (You want to do the math? Think R 2.00 / 1,048,576 bytes * 200 chars). Yes, I know about IM, but it’s still very visibly bolted on. SMS is integrated with the phone book and interface. No install necessary.

So why isn’t SMS using TCP/IP yet? Why are we still paying up to 85c per SMS?

MIT Students Silenced About Subway Vulnerabilities

A restraining order was issued against three MIT students who were to make a presentation at Defcon. They were about to reveal security vulnerabilities that they discovered in the Massachusetts train fare system.

The EFF is appealing the decision on the grounds that the restraining order is a violation of the student’s free speech rights.

Ironically, the MBTA released a security report that reveals more than the presentation would have.

Frankly, I think this is worse than Diebold’s use of the DMCA to keep researchers from revealing vulnerabilities in their voting machines. (Diebold eventually lost their case.)

In the case of these students, they were effectively censored first, and now they have to sue to get their right to freedom of speech back. That’s the wrong way round, isn’t it?

UPDATE: The gag order was lifted. For Great Justice!

23 Free Social Media eBooks

I believe in open content, but I’d settle for open access until the collective consciousness catches up. This is why I love searching the net for free textbooks and ebooks.

I’ve found a couple of classics like the Cluetrain Manifesto, and New Rules for the New Economy, and by now everybody knows about Quirk’s eMarketing Textbook. I’ve also found about five free culture ebooks.

Chris Brogan however, has somehow managed to find 20 free social media ebooks, and I didn’t know about any of them. I’m a little bit jealous. (Thanks to Stii for twittering it.)

And of course, if you know of any other ebooks I’d be interested in, lemme know.