GeoURLs, metablogs and categories

Folks are worried about creating a mess of useless and undifferentiated information with GeoURLs. To solve the problem, people are proposing controlled vocabularies, or auto-categorization approaches (I’ll talk about auto-categorization in a future post).
Prentiss Riddle articulately expresses the concern here:

I think GeoURLs are delightful but I don’t understand how people can proceed down this path without addressing questions of scale and of additional metadata (e.g., a taxonomy with an associated controlled vocabulary) to permit useful lookups.)
What happens if every business, blog, or blog entry — in the standard metaphor, every lightbulb — has a GeoURL? Aside from the question of whether a central GeoURL server can handle the load, won’t the concept soon cease to be useful if every GeoURL report consists of a jumble of 500 “things” in the immediate neighborhood?

Josh Schachter, who created the GeoURL service, writes (in comments conversation with Prentiss on the GeoURL site):

obviously, geourl is just a first pass at the idea. the problem with, as you mention, letting people choose where into the “controlled vocabulary” they fit is that it will be abused. you’ll note that the meta keywords tags are basically unused due to spamming abuse. so basically you’d need google-like powers to sort through it all. perhaps we need some sort of zen of what should be geourl’d and what shouldn’t? some sort of policing mechanism? obviously this becomes complicated very quickly indeed.

Maybe it’s not necessary to worry so much.
With classic transactional applications, it’s imperative to have distinct categories. In a hospital database, it is important to clearly distinguish which user has the role of “Doctor” and which has the role of “Patient.”
But GeoURL and metablog applications are just content. A little bit of ambiguity won’t cause the wrong person’s appendix to be removed.
At the Austin Metablog, we’re starting with no categories. Human editors will categorize posts. We’ll see which categories emerge,and then maybe decide how to automate them. The categorization emerges from the application as it matures.
The meta tag system for web sites failed miserably, since people learned to game and spam the system. But web site meta tags were intended to be a general-purpose system. There was no domain or community to confine the use of meta tags. So the system got out of control.
But GeoURL and metablog applications are build around specific communities with specific applications.
On another community metablog project we’re working on (that we’ll talk about soon!), we’re planning to use a defined set of categories. We think this will work because it’s a specific application, with a particular relevant set of categories.
Communities can add policing mechanisms when they are necessary. If people start to spam Austin Metablog, we can start thinking about human moderation, or automated moderation. There’s no need to develop strict security policies in advance for every possible misbehavior.
For people who’ve done content repositories for many years in other domains, please talk to me about which wheels we are reinventing!
via conversations with Greg Elin

FOAF and Digital ID

Marc Canter picks up on Ben and Mena’s plans to include “friend of a friend” ID and relationship logic in Movable Type.
Marc connects this to an ongoing conversation about Digital ID. “Persistent digital ID’s is a foundation building block needed for social networking and what I call ‘the mesh’. (I got the link from Euan Semple)
The problem with proposals for top-down digital ID is that they don’t do anything good for individuals — they give governments and businesses more power for intrusive marketing and surveillance.
The problems with all the proposals for bottom-up digital ID is that they don’t give any immediate return to individuals. You fill out a form on your desktop computer, and the data is encrypted, and then what? Bottom up movements have gotten no traction; there’s no incentive to the individual to play.
Blogspace is different. People are already using weblogs to connect to their friends and build new connections with people with common interests.
A FOAF-based blogroll gizmo would automatically build a blogroll with data about the friends and aquaintances in your blogroll. Somebody could provide hosted services for bloggers using simpler tools.
This semantically rich information could be crawled, parsed, and mapped to reveal beautiful and useful patterns about the relationships between people and ideas.
The application will spread across the network, because it meets a need that people already have — to keep track of each other’s blogs.
Thereby creating the critical mass for other decentralized, user-driven id services.
Watch blogspace.

Augmented reality vs. social software

Ross Mayfield blogged a good article in Popular Science by Steve Ditlea that helps illustrate the points that I was trying to make the other day about augmented reality.
Ditlea describes AR technology as providing additional information to the visual field, enabling soldiers, doctors, and techicians to work more effectively.

With AR, you’ll simply slip on a tiny visor and guided repair instructions will appear next to each under-the-hood part that you gaze at: “Now that you’ve disconnected the radiator hose, move it to one side and unscrew the carburetor cap.”

Eventually, Ditlea predicts, this will be available to the rest of us:

“And when AR headgear does shrink down to the size of common glasses, it could be a must for up-and-coming managers, to avoid career or social gaffes at business meetings and cocktail parties. Everyone will be packing extra data in their spectacles. Each time you look at someone across a conference table or a crowded room, information about who they are and what their background is could appear before your eyes.”

All of these examples are factual data provided to the individual. The second example is the image that I was talking about earlier — a person getting secret information that gives them advantages over the other people in the room.
This is very different from the story Greg Elin told about Aaron Swartz and Cory Doctorow hanging out on a couch at the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, chatting with each other in person while also sending aside comments, checking references, and forwarding code snippets on the computers in their hands.
Aaron and Cory are getting an overlay of internet data, and using this as a source and a channel for their conversation.
So this is what I meant. In popular science, augmented reality is data informing and isolating the individual. In life as we’re living it, augmented reality is data informing the connections between people, and the cyborg — the part-human, part-machine entity — is a conversation.
(We’ll leave Prof. Mann out of it for now, since Abe Books cancelled my order for his book, so it’s over to )

Weds: Austin ACLU meeting

Jan 29 Wed. 5:30-6:30pm
Speaker: Kathy Mitchell, chair of the leg committee of ACLU of Texas, President of Central Texas Chapter on how to be both safe and free — Improve Texas financial situation by lowering prison population; privacy, property rights, campus free speech, open government, corroboration for undercover police officer testimony and to oppose bills that violate the Bill of Rights.
Location: Marimont Cafeteria, 38th St., just West of Guadalupe
Info: Ruth Epstein; 459-5829
Sponsored by: Central Texas Chapter ACLU

Social Cues for Mobile Phones

A design team at Ideo has brainstormed and built five prototypes of features to make mobile phones less socially rude.
The most disturbing on the list is this one, which doesn’t seem to reduce the amount of rudeness in the universe:

For example, the first phone, called SoMo1, gives its user a mild electric shock, depending on how loudly the person at the other end is speaking. This encourages both parties to speak more quietly, otherwise the mild tingling becomes an unpleasant jolt.

via BJ Fogg’s class on Captology

Cyborgs (from comments)

Facts corrected. My impression of Professor Mann comes from (always-flawed) press coverage; glad to hear from human beings in person!
It’s very interesting to hear that the real cyborg experience is a community, which is different from the media and commercial stereotype.
My commentary about the cyborg is more about the popular image, and less about Professor Mann’s book, as he and his students are saying loud and clear!
I do think there’s a difference between common popular and commercial images of augmented reality that isolate the individual; and some emerging kinds of communication tools — including, it sounds like, Prof. Mann’s work.
I haven’t read the book yet, though it is certainly now on my list.
p.s. The book is out of print, but I just picked up a used copy at ABE Books, and there are more in stock at

Socially augmented reality

From conversation with Greg Elin:
The typical image of augmented reality is MIT University of Toronto professor Steve Mann, who walks around with a special set of glasses that feed him data about the world around him. You know its cold, he knows it’s 17 degrees out. You can see that the Verazzano Narrows is a long bridge, he can see that the main span is 4260 feet long between towers.
The cyborg is smarter than the rest of us; he can correct our facts; and the extra data separates him from others around him.
At Clay Shirky’s Social Software conference last fall, the physical reality of the conference — the speaker talking, verbal comments — was augmented by people chatting online, projected to a big screen for folks without laptops. (Greg modified Manual Kiessling’s A Really Simple Chat Client for the experiment).
Interruptive comments were diverted to screen; people checked references and took notes and passed notes (in the 6th grade sense).
Augmented reality is experienced and created by a group of people, not an isolated individual. There are many places around the world where text messages on mobile phones are used this way (see Rheingold’s Smart Mobs if you haven’t read it already or don’t live there).
In the Steve Mann image, the cyborg is an isolated being, made less connected by a stream of data.
In the Clay Shirky conference room, and the world of augmented reality we’re starting to live in, the cyborg is a conversation.

Is society a small-world network

Mr. Barabasi believes the human social network is scale-free with the expected smattering of richly connected hubs. Mr. Watts disagrees. “If you asked people to list the number of people they recognize, that could be scale-free, everyone recognizes Michael Jordan,” he said. “But if you said, `Who would you trust to look after your kids?’ That’s not scale-free. As you start to ratchet up the requirements for what it means to know someone, connections diminish.”