Evoting forum in Houston

Last week Wednesday, I was on an evoting panel at Rice University headlined by Professor David Dill. Dill spoke articulately about the need for a voter-verifiable paper trail his presentation is here.
After the meeting, several people talked to me about taking party platform resolutions asking the party to support a paper trail. One participant lives in a Houston-area county that’s considering buying voting machines to replace a paper system. I recommended against it, since a paper system is safer until the electronic systems have a voter-verifiable paper trail.
The drive out to Houston was pretty — through rural areas and little Texas towns. The drive back between 10pm and 1am was very very very long.

Arizona Day Trip 2

We stopped to see the Sinagua cliffdwellings. Sinagua cliff dwelling A village of 200 people built houses that lasted 600 years after they left. Our “big box” Walmart and CompUSA stores are designed to last 8-15 years.
There was an exhibit of Sinagua artifacts. They made rather ugly pottery, and traded with the Hopi for nice pottery. They also made baskets. The Hopi pottery, and Sinagua baskets were very similar in style to pottery, and baskets, and other southwestern objects. There are shopping malls and office buildings and subdivisions designed in the shape of those cliff-dwellings.
One part cultural appropriation, one part cultural continuity. There’s something so compelling about the design patterns that humans replicate them for 1000 years.

Arizona Day Trip 1

Went to Arizona last weekend for a family wedding. On Sunday before the wedding, took a day trip that reminded me why I don’t travel with the nuclear family, though I love them dearly.
The travel itinerary is:
* wake up at 6:30 am
* leave before 8
* drive two hours
* get out of the car
* scurry around an attraction for 15 minutes
* get back in the car
* drive
* get out of the car
* scurry around attraction for 15 minutes
* eat food from bag lunches in back seat
* drive
* repeat for another 2-3 attractions
* get back in the car
* drive two hours back to destination.
My parents are doing lots fabulous travel with their post-kids-at-home time, and it makes them sad that I don’t go with them.
But I really can’t stand it. Hated it as a kid, realized as an adult that you really can travel in a less frenetic fashion, and resolved not to do it again.

Is XFN worse than FOAF?

You might think that XFN would be even more even more decentralized and emergent than FOAF.
Both are decentralized ways for individuals to describe their social relationships, in contrast to the centralized social networking services from Friendster et al. XFN uses hyperlinks to describe the linker’s relationships with the linkee, while FOAF (friend of a friend) uses a file in XML/RDF format listing all the friend relationships.
The reason that hyperlinks are generally such a nice way of showing emergent patterns is that they reflect millions of tiny choices that individuals make about what’s relevant.
But the XFN site anticipates that the primary use of XFN will be in blogrolls. If that’s the case then the relationship is buried in markup, in a list that doesn’t change very often. This replicates one of the major problems with relationship profiles — they are static, while relationships change slightly with every interaction.
Am I really going to update my blogroll to add a “met” attribute for Kevin Marks after meeting him in person at Etech? That kind of micro-maintenance will happen even more rarely than people clean their closets.
Kevin Marks’ “vote links” are a much simpler and likelier use of expressive hyperlinks to show emergent opinion. The choices are simpler — vote-for and vote-against. They let users express distinctions they want to express. In an article about Diebold’s ghastly security holes, you can link to Diebold with a vote-against link.
By contrast, do people really want to declare a relationship as a “crush”, “date”, or “sweetheart”? (These are real XFN vocabulary terms). Imagine the agony of deciding when to switch from “date” to “sweetheart”. Is it after the first kiss, or the third date, or flowers, or what?
Link emergence works when the links are frequent and simple. XFN won’t create link emergence, because the links are static and complicated.

Traction Software Envies Ross Mayfield

Traction Software has apparently taken out a Google Ad for the words Ross Mayfield, the CEO of Socialtext. Traction is our competitor in the enterprise social software market. Ross saw the ad on his Flickr profile and other blogs quoting Ross’s personal blog.
At Socialtext we respect honorable competitors but this is pretty low. If Traction wanted whuffie as opinion leaders and googlejuice as A-list bloggers, they might try to say intelligent, articulate things about the Social Software market instead.
If there’s an alternate explanation for these symptoms of Ross-envy, then let us know.

Daypop != Fitness

On the other hand, Ross Mayfield alleges that the blog echo chamber gathers and amplifies the fittest memes.
* Blog-communities collect conversation, making it easy to form and find groups of people with similar interests.
* Blog amplifiers like Technorati and Daypop make popular memes audible above the noise. In political and organizational contexts, these tools and techniques will be powerful ways to get a zeitgeist check.
Popuar ideas are “fit” by the chosen evolutionary metric. But not all loud ideas are valid. Millions of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein was behind September 11, and that the terrorists on the planes were Iraqis. Doesn’t make the ideas true.
The zeigeist amplifiers make good counsellors but bad dictators.

Censorship != Politeness

Shelley Powers equates community norms with self-censorship. I think Shelley’s right in the extreme case, and wrong for the ordinary case.
Shelly writes: “I guess we’re accountable to each other, and that’s the most dangerous censorship of all — it’s the censorship of the commons.”
As I’ve said in comments to Joi Ito’s post on the topic, there’s a distinction between groupthink — when someone silences an unpopular opinion in the face of social norms — and basic politeness.
I don’t think it’s a bad idea to use a moderate tone when you’re critizing someone’s idea, when you’re speaking directly to that person in front of others. (Assuming the idea you’re critizicing is within the realm of civilized discourse).
Nothing useful is gained by hurting the person’s feelings, or embarrassing them in public.
Here’s what I said in my blog about Don Park’s proposed relationship UI. The post on my blog uses a rant tone to project the idea in a noisy blogosphere.
And here’s the more diplomatic version in the comments to Don Park’s blog. I had never really spoken to Don before this conversation. I certainly didn’t want to insult or alienate Don, though I disagree with his point.
Now that we’ve chatted a bit in comments here and there, I’d feel comfortable being a bit more blunt, though not yet rude.
In social life, there’s a range of ways to say true things, depending on social context. Except at the outer reaches of diplomatic obfuscation, politeness isn’t the same as lying or censorship. Being brutally blunt at all times just yields flamewars with no socially redeeming value.