I just finished reading the Book “What would google do” from Jeff Jarvis. It is an interesting book but it puzzles me on two parts. In two words: Adds and Apples.
As for Adds, on the one hand he stresses the importance of the business model of Google by selling adds based on the data that you collect of a person. And of course, Google is wildly successful in selling adds. But on the other hand he explains that, due to the networked transparency that the Internet creates, advertising is less important. He even points out that not needing to advertise is a sign of success. To me that sounds like a contradiction. The more successful companies become in using the transparency of the Internet (created and improved in a large part by Google) the less profitable Google will become (and therefore not being able anymore to sustain their role in creating transparency). This catch 22 type of situation will no doubt have some equilibrium but is totally disregarded by Jeff Jarvis.
Another question about the business models on advertising that always puzzles me how far it can take us. If everybody would have advertising as their business model, who would pay for add? This “Addtention” economy can not encompass all, somewhere along the line people will have to pay for real products and services (and the companies selling these services are in the end the ones that are paying for the adds).
The second thing that puzzles me is Apples or, since they are unique, Apple. In many ways Apple is the opposite of Google. They create their products like an autist in splendid isolation. They are completely secretive about what they are doing and what products they are working on. They are closed in their hardware and most of their software and are ruthless towards people that breach that secrecy (or perhaps, HE is) is. And they too are wildly successful. This discrepancy is mentioned by Jeff Jarvis but immediately is put aside because “Apple is a class in it’s own”. But of course, Google is a class of it’s own too. The reasons why companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft are successful can never just be copied because their current success feeds on the fact that they became an outlier (meaning a small difference in the beginning created the opportunity to keep enlarging that advantage).
The good thing about the book are the hypothetical cases he discusses in the end. What if banks would be operated in a Google manner, or insurance companies, or a hospital. Lots of foods for thought there (talking about food: also what if a restaurant would operate like Google).
Recovery.gov is the website that Obama uses to deliver on his promise to let us monitor “to the last dime” of the government money that is being spent in the simulus package. However, reporting on progress and spending is a difficult thing if you have to fall back on formal reporting mechanisms from the whole country to the lowest bureaucratic levels. At this moment they are saying that the first reports will be delivered somewhere in Oktober (november, december …).
In comes a commercial company, Onvia, that made a website that tracks the planning and spending of the stimulus package on the website recovery.org. This website relies on a crawler mechanism that checks thousands of websites on information about spending in relation to the stimulus package and make this information available to the public. For companies to lead them to intesting projects to pitch and for citizens to check what kind of projects are being setup in your local neighbourhood and make it possible to complain about silly projects to local politicians. Below is an interview with the CEO of Onvia:
I think this is an interesting development where formal reporting procedures are turn out to be much slower than can be achieved with public scanning of websites and some intelligence of crowds. Question of course is to check the validity of the information but, as they say in open source: with enough eyeballs all bugs are shallow. Enough citizens using a website like this to check on progress and projects means a pretty good check on the validity of information.
Some time ago I had a discussion at the Rathenau institute with Geert Munnich about a new project they are setting up (the picture on the side I took of Geert and Mirjam Schuijff to show them that it is not only information they publish themselves that may harm their privacy but also pictures someone else might take that includes date and GPS data). During this meeting we talked about the idea that in a way the Internet is often used for the same purpose as the formal databases are used to find information about people. There is so much valuable information to find on people if you take some effort to find it. It is probably even richer than the data in many formal databases like those form the civil service.
In relation to this I came across this article. It deals with Judge Scalia of the supreme court in the USA. He has always played privacy issues down in relation to information stored on the Internet. However, recently a professor of law in the USA asked a group of his students to compile a dossier on judge Scalia based on information they could find on the Internet. This turned into a 15 page dossier with much information that is fairly personal like the food he likes, the movies he goes to, private e-mail addresses and more. The response of Scalia was as follows:
It is not a rare phenomenon that what is legal may also be quite irresponsible. That appears in the First Amendment context all the time. What can be said often should not be said. Prof. Reidenberg’s exercise is an example of perfectly legal, abominably poor judgment. Since he was not teaching a course in judgment, I presume he felt no responsibility to display any.
I think this reaction completely disregards the duty we have as a society to protect people from too much information floating around. We know that not everybody will be responsible with information they find.
Of course, there is nothing of interest to find about me …