Is your past coming to get you?

Just after my last post I read this article about the way digital traces from a young and sometimes foolish past can catch up to you. In the article I mentioned above from danah boyd a hypothetical case is written where somebody gets confronted during a job interview with the fact that she has protested against the WTO and Chinese policies (full case from the Harvard Business Review can be found here). In the guidance committee for Rathenau I talked about in the last post we also talked about a similar issue: what about all the pictures, video’s and other digital traces that show that we did some pretty silly things (well, I did… of course way past …).
Some of these things we would like not to be brought up during a job interview (or during a sales call, or …). Privacy seems to be terminally ill if she would not already have been deceased during my last post. Or is the context changing?
I think that the context is changing rapidly. Not just my silly actions from the past are online, yours are too, with the rest of the world. If people do not put the information online themselves, your ex-partner will (I will not post the link to this site due to bad taste, of the site that is :-)). It is a bit like in the movie “Crocodile Dundee”

Crocodile Dundee is explaining how they handle it when somebody has a problem in the Bush: If you have a problem, you tell Wally. Wally tells everyone … No problem.

When all our escapades are online than we will not be surprised to find all kinds of information that in the past we would have found not suitable. But now all is online. Just look in the digital mirror once in a while…
You put it on Internet, Internet tells everyone, No problem!

Privacy or piracy

Privacy is dead and I am afraid we are all to busy to attend the funeral. And face it, we don’t love her as much as we used to.
It is amazing how much information can be found on all of us. So much that it amazes me when I can not find digital traces of a person on the Internet. Recently I talked to a job applicant at Telematica Insituut. One of the things I always do before the interview is Google the person. Sometimes quite interesting information pops up that you can use in the interview. In general I feel this is good. It gives me much more insight in what a person really has done. When I googled this person, to my surprise, no info at all came up. It surprised me so much that during the Interview I made it a subject to talk about (after all, we did make him an offer…).
But there is also a down side to this. I am member of a committee guiding the research on privacy by the Rathenau instituut, an institute that does research on politically sensitive subjects in order to inform parliament and other politicians. During on of the discussions we had on a report that is recently published (you can find it here) somebody gave an example that made me think:

Suppose you are female. And you are three months pregnant. And you are looking for a job.
As as society we have arranged that a future employer is not allowed to ask if you are pregnant. Because this would put women in a disadvantaged position. After all, men can’t get pregnant. This is a delicate issue: the future employer, especially if it is a small company, can be seriously harmed this way. But as a society we feel that this solution is the best possible.

Next comes our wonderful world of social software. Buying and selling things (baby stuff), discussion on all kinds of fora (what to do when you are three months pregnant) and of course blogging (how happy you are). The more important these kind of fora are for us, the more chance there is that digital traces can be found. And that may Not Always Be A Good Thing. Of course, people can use other names but the more important these Internet based social structures are for our lives, the less room there will be for fake names (remember reputation?).
On the one hand I think that we will have to accept that the nature and importance of privacy has changed. More and more we will have to look in our digital mirror to see how the other people see us through the digital domain. I think many people already sometimes type in their own name in Google to see how the world sees us. I do! On the other hand we have to realize that, because of the different mechanisms on the Internet, we have to develop other measures to protect people in situations we have agreed to protect.
I do not believe in a ban on googling an applicant. Employers will do this anyhow and will take the information they have found in consideration. Making some sites not searchable is also not the answer since this would make them worthless. I do not have the answer but I do know that we, as people working on social software, will have to develop the answers in the coming years.

Dumb and Dumber

Evolution is driven by selection and attrition. The adapted ones flourish and the others wither away into oblivion. That also means that new and improved versions (of our genetically previous us for example) are build upon the DNA of the already improved version. And that is a Good Thing. As well as being the main reason we evolved in creatures that created Internet, Blogging and Youtube.
One of the nice aspects of the days before the Internet was that a lot of mechanism were available to filter talent so we will not be pestered by people incapable of the content they are pestering us with. In order to make a movie you had to go to a academy and before somebody gave you a budget you had to prove you have the talent by showing previous work, e.g. work done as an assistant to somebody else.
Also, quality costs money. Well, in most cases anyhow. You can not imagine a movie like Schindlers list, Moulin Rouge or Forrest Gump made on a shoestring budget. Talent costs money. High level camera’s costs money. There are of course the proverbial exceptions: El Mariachi from Robert Rodriquez (7000 dollar budget) and maybe The Blair witch project (or was this the first example of Internet hype?). But normally big budgets show through the quality of the movie and increases the chance of a good evening.
At the moment all filters have been removed for producing content. A camera can be bought for a few hundred euro’s, everybody wants to be a star and once uploaded to Youtube, you and me can watch it (or have to plough through it in order to find interesting work). According to Andrew Keens and this book “The Cult of the Amateurs” this will kill our culture. Everything will gravitate to mediocrity because we do not have filters to prevent the amateurs from publishing.
As you can imagine lots of comments are heard from the blogosphere. People like Jeff Jarvis, Dave Winer and others are scolding him for placing doubts on the Great New Future that we are entering (though Clay Shirky has a much more balanced opinion). Where all people have numerous ways to express themselves and democracy will set us free. Problem is that with all those people expressing themselves, who will listen? Who will risk the time and money to produce quality content and will we find it? If you look at Wikipedia it is obvious that much information is in there because people first found it in serious media like encyclopedia’s and copied it or wrote it from recollection. When Wikipedia has starved the encyclopedia’s: who will do the research needed to separate fact from fiction? We might end up as the monkey behind the typewriter (or the “improved” version behind Microsoft Word).
One of the things we have to realize is that our filters from production side are gone. We now have to create the filters on the consumer side. Youtube is a million times crap and a few diamonds (and everything in between). And my kind of diamond may not be yours…. Research into the mechanisms to filter content are only just beginning. Number of views is a very basic mechanism. We need much more advanced mechanism based on who did the tagging, how does his profile look like me, did he stop looking after 3, 15 or 300 seconds. And much, much more. The amount of noise we have to filter is not ten times as loud but a million or more times as loud. This I think is one of the most important directions for research.
An important one I think is that our current structures to create quality are under pressure. When there are numerous producers most will all barely make a living. As consumers we get our niche content on the long tail but won’t we miss the high quality content? Music selling three times a month may be a business model for Rhapsody but it is no viable business model for the artist. Who is going to support the journalist that has to do deep and extensive research (who would uncover Watergate)?
I love the Internet, I (to my surprise) love blogging, I love Youtube and fact that many can express themselves. I love the freedom that “zero cost” distribution means for the availability of niche content. But beware of the Evangelists who only look at the positive side of this.
As a colleague of mine, Rogier Brussee, always says: people remain people, in real life and on the Internet. Same goals, same dreams, same motives. Good and Bad. The difference is some limits are removed that we have in normal life are not there on the Internet, for the good as well as the bad guys. For this we have to create new modes of organization. Like the reputation mechanism on E-bay, Karma on Slashdot and others.
Evolution as a society means adapting ourselves to a new reality, the good and the bad sides. Turning a blind eye to all the negative aspect means that (human) nature takes care of the attrition of all the wonderful possibilities that there are because many people will stop using them. Only the fittest survive. And that is a Good Thing!

Talent and Scarcity

Open Source, Wikipedia and others attract lots of people who spent lots of time in adding information and improvements. All for zilch, noppes, nada. At least financial terms…
Some think this is the way of the future. All new paradigms first attract the idealistic people. In the first days of the Internet commerce was simply not done. Flame wars should not be stopped by imposing rules and enforcement but by netiquette. Funny thing is that many of these idealistic first users also happen to be a bit anarchistic. This seems logical because these are the people that venture into the uncharted territories precisely because of the lack of rules there. I feel sympathetic to that. While reading the book of Yochai Bankler you get the feeling that we are on a new era of the altruistic society. I would love to believe this but I don’t buy it.
In 1982 Güth, Werner, Schmittberger, and Schwarze wrote an essay with the title: “An Experimental Analysis of Ultimatum Bargaining,” (Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 3:4 (December), page 367). In this they laid down a special version of economic game theory called the ultimatum game. The game goes like this:

There are two players, A and B. B gets 10 euro’s and can decide how to split the money. A can either accept the offer or reject the offer. If he accepts the offer he will get what he is offered and B keeps the rest of the money. If A rejects the offer both get zilch, noppes, nada.
This of course means that whatever A is offered, he will always be better of accepting the offer because when he rejects he gets nothing.

Funny thing is that when people are offered less than 2 euro (20%) they tend to refuse the offer and therefore lower their own earnings. With the help of MRI scans during this decision process it seems that we humans do this because we wish to punish the one that is unfair to us by too low an offer. This is interesting but what has this to do with open source software and altruistic people?
Talent is scarce. Very few people are capable of making a good video, few people are good at writing and even less are good at writing good on interesting topics. But a lot of people love to watch a good movie and read a good story and are willing to pay for it…. Hey, that sounds llike a business model…!
Because some are willing to pay for a good (say, reading a blog) either directly or by being exposed to advertising than there will be people that will start to write for money. But if some schmuck who can’t write can get paid than you as an excellent writer also want to be paid. Otherwise you will feel like a loser. It’s like a virus: once it starts spreading it will develop like an epidemic. And when there is a market there will always be somebody who will act as patient zero.
Now getting back to the ultimatum game. I think that when somebody is going to make money based on the work that you or I deliver, we want a fair share of the pie. And when we do not get it, we will stop contributing (and of course be miserable because we loved contributing. But that is the essence of the ultimatum game). As long as nobody was making any money it was ok. But when somebody is making money the definition of fairness changes. And like I said, when there is a market it will be serviced.
Jeff Howe from Wired recently wrote a blog about this: Digital Sharecropping: Mesh takes on Crowdsourcing. But in his view people are motivated mainly by “respect”. But I, based on the above, think that once the virus spread more and more (talented) people will ask for payment. And once they are getting paid it will be like a normal business.
A nice example of a new business model is Here users can brainstorm, develop test and recommend new electronic products. Once they are succesfull the creators get paid for the work they did.

First life in 3D

Sometime you see a piece of technology that really takes your breath away. A friend of mine, Maarten Vos, sent met this link about a lab site from Microsoft (yeah, they bought the company and technology …). Think of this in combination with Google Earth. Somehow they are capable of mapping all the flickr images in real world 3D about an area make them browsable based on location and point of view. Play a bit with it and you will be flabbergasted.
It is fascinating to see how more and more content is searchable based on location. This is after all a fairly intuitive way of finding much of the content that surrounds us. I do not know how far they can go with this technology but I think it is pretty impressive.
I wonder what is next. Being able to track a person by mapping all the Holiday pictures tourists take all over the world?


Don’t you get tired of choice? I do.
Some time ago I had to arrange a new connection for TV, Telephone and Internet for my mother who has moved from Spain to Arnhem. In the old days you just called KPN and: presto. Now there is unlimited choice with very little help. In the end I always have the nagging feeling that I probably did not make the best choice possible…
I have the same feeling when looking at sites like Youtube. There is so much choice and I have to make all those choices myself. Yesterday I was drinking a beer with Rene van Buuren and, beside other issues I will not talk about here :-), we had a conversation about choice. His statement was that unlimited choice (for example in TV channels) is a temporary thing. In the end we will have a limited number of channels that we watch. The difference with now will be that on those channels there are no fixed broadcasters but a selection will be made from the unlimited supply of content. Partly by experts and partly by “the crowd” in a “free zone”.
Though I am not sure about the fixed number channels I agree that unlimited choice is not a natural and sustainable state for us humans. We do not want to choose all the time but we wish that many choices are made for us. You can see it in the way people watch video’s on youtube: I think many people hardly ever completely watch the video but they get bored and move on to the next. Many of the top viewed movies are terribly boring but just happened to show a nice woman in the thumbnail picture (some things never change…). So watching a fixed channel may be a good solutions to be entertained.
I do not think the channels will be fixed but that we will be able to create a profile. The selection of content will be based on that profile. TV will be much more tailored to the person watching without the  burden of choice but only some feedback once in a while.
Add some random choices to it so you get surprised once in a while. Than finally we can get back to a couch potato evening.