Thursday, February 7, 2008

Challenging The "Popular" Theory Of Group and Individual Interaction by puts his two cents in on the Fast Company article By: Clive Thompson regarding Duncan Watts' research.

Duncan Watts' research is challenging the theory that a small group of influential people are responsible for triggering trends as explained in Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point.

"If society is ready to embrace a trend, almost anyone can start one--and if it isn't, then almost no one can," Watts concludes. To succeed with a new product, it's less a matter of finding the perfect hipster to infect and more a matter of gauging the public's mood. Sure, there'll always be a first mover in a trend. But since she generally stumbles into that role by chance, she is, in Watts's terminology, an "accidental Influential."

Perhaps the problem with viral marketing is that the disease metaphor is misleading. Watts thinks trends are more like forest fires:

"And nobody," Watts says wryly, "will go around talking about the exceptional properties of the spark that started the fire."

Jason has more here of what he has previously covered about the topic of the article.(link)

Seth's Blog by Seth Godin has its own perspective on Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point plus that of some other Web 2.0 elite via The Hyping Point.

As I understand it, people are influenced by the people around them. That we act, like buffalo, in a herd. The idea that a single influential individual (even a blogger like Guy or a talk show host like Oprah) can individually change the herd is crazy, and I don't think anyone has argued that.

What should be really clear, though, is that people with big audiences certainly count as one of the people around you. If the guy down the row at work buys a Mac Air, it counts. If Guy buys a Mac Air, it counts just as much (or possibly a bit more).

Since people with big audiences have more 'friends' and have more 'people down the hall', they have more influence. Not because they count for more, just because they 'know' more people.

Cory Doctorow's take on it is here. Steve Pyke provides a guest perspective at Guy Kawasaki's blog. Steve agrees with Seth that this is One more reason not to obsess about the A list in any media category. Worry instead about people with passion and people with lots of friends. You need both for ideas to spread. That was Malcolm's point all along. I can agree with that

Seth uses his own Unleashing the Ideavirus as an example which he says, didn't spread because 'important' people endorsed and promoted it. It spread because passionate people did.

I can't fully buy Seth Godin's thinking on this one. He seems to be trying too hard to keep everybody happy. One issue is that we are looking at this from a very slanted and narrow perspective - marketing. At least narrow when compared to the larger fields of human psychology and sociology. We could even go one step further and talk about organic and inorganic information systems and how they interrelate. This weblog has posted previously to the ability of birds to communicate individual data that is transformed into group decisions in flight, basically bird-brains can effectively work in unison. While humans afflicted with ancient hate have the same deterministic predictability as inorganic chemicals. Seth is right in that it is a matter of balance, but as has also been argued in a previous post Nature Is Better At Balancing Complex Systems Than We Are. The problem is that this seemingly goes against what was said about feedback to and from a subsystem within a larger (information) system when dealing with unintended consequences. This is going to take a bit more thought.

Stumbled Upon A Social Tagging System

Recently, this weblog hooked up with StumbleUpon, a tagging system based on social networking principles. This weblog now allows visitors to stumble a particular post and somebody did for one one on healthcare. At first I was only interested in how my weblog integrated with it, but was pleasantly surprised after exploring a bit more.

It is definitely preferable to digg to my mind, but my criteria seems to be different from many people. Popularity is not the most important factor for me. The wisdom of the crowds concept is one that has not been fully vetted as of yet. StumbleUpon does though add some weight to the pro argument. StumbleUpon has an appeal to serendipity inherent within it which is a concept appreciated by this weblog. Pressing the Stumble! button on the taskbar seems to randomly generate a new and interesting weblink based upon my previous provided areas of interest.

There is also some argument for StumbleUpon being better for what this weblog seeks to get out of blogging than digg though there are no doubt advantages to both systems. This weblog also recently started using aiderss, which reports the number of "conversations" on delicious, Google and digg, to rank its own posts and the weblinks it endeavors to promote. For this weblog's top 20 posts, the vast majority were listed primarily by, then Google, with only a few listed by digg.

The various weblinks developed over the short life of this weblog and found under and other tagging systems have been submitted to StumbleUpon with a number of them being designated "discovered". There is also a StumbleUpon access button under the Lijit widget.

There does seem to be a greater tendency to seek high numbers within the digg community more so than with other sites. Near-Revolt on Digg Underscores Site's Dependence on Its Users via Wired: Top Stories by Betsy Schiffman on 1/24/08 which deals with a narrowly averted boycott of Digg by some of its most prolific users shows just how dependent social media sites are on the goodwill of their audiences. This all can arguably be related to the recent debate ongoing about Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point concept.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Tagging Lessons Learned, Learned Again

One of the lessons learned during this weblog experiment is how useful tagging is for both organizing and discovering new website of particular interest. The favorite tagging system for this weblog is still which still has the greatest level of participation regarding websites in which I am generally interested. Another benefit is the ease with which different concepts can be combined.

A combination that should have been obvious to this weblog before this are combining the tag creative-destruction and the tag entrepreneurship. The combination of creative-destruction/entrepreneurship brings up some expected and already discovered results, but it also brings up some new insights that have been added to the online MyStuff Creative-Destruction folder. Whether the online folder is preferable to the tags may be a matter of preference.

We are trusting each others tagging assignations though over time and wide enough participation this seems to work out. Sites are unlikely to be widely miss-tagged. What would seems to need to happen is the constant application or combination of new ideas and concepts. One could, of course, always choose the combined term and Google it instead, getting day one 138,000, day two 150,000 websites to select from, but then there isn't the social verification component, for whatever that is actually worth.

How To "Create" A Job You're Not Qualified For - Yet

Penelope Trunk on 1/29/08 through her Brazen Careerist blog discusses "How to get a job you're not qualified for"

Her post is not really targeted to the "Getting tired of their own rat race but not ready for a rocking chair" crowd. However, as she points out, getting hired even when you're not qualified is one of the most important skills to have if you want to keep your work life interesting, which applies to your post-career work as well. I have never focused on wealth accumulation, (though I am making sure my retirement finances are optimized) but now I can focus more on making sure my learning curve doesn't go flat-line, and making sure a post career work life is not only not really boring but of some benefit as well.

So here are her three ways to get hired when you're not qualified for the job, but rearranged in my particular order.

1. Take responsibility for your own education.

2. Create a project from a different arena that interests you.

3. Just apply.

Currently, I am at step 1 and creating this weblog is part of that endeavor, both as an educational means and end. The 3 part process of getting a job your not qualified for, also fits in nicely with the Four-Step Process offered by Sam Davidson of CoolPeopleCare. Again, I am currently I am at step one - One: Dream while learning the ropes.

  • That dream develops a passion.
  • The passion develops a plan.
  • The plan determines the action.
  • The action helps us to dream better.

I also believe that it means Defining who you are for yourself before defining or re-defining yourself for others. This is also different for those undertaking their odyssey years at the earlier stages of life and those taking them at the later stages (Jason and the argonauts would be a better metaphor for the early stages of life explorations.) At this point, I am not at all sure where this could end up. I see examples which point to new directions that suggest possibilities that could manifest into something 5 or more years from now, but at this point in the journey I am just going to enjoy discovering new things.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Back to Single Digits

My recent forays into garnering "item use" clicks through FeedBurner at a triple digit rate each day seems to have come to an end, at least for the time being. I can't complain as I have no idea was to what factors raised my count to a high of 510 item clicks for a single day and have no precise idea why it has dropped again. However, I do have a hypothesis. This weblog provided to a limited audience a number of weblinks which generated some interest. That audience consists not only of direct subscribers and site visitors but others with interest in specific sources of information and relatively little direct interest in this weblog itself. Once a particular item attains its maximum interest limit in that finite market it drops off, perhaps then following a long-tail configuration.

On account of a diversity of interests, this weblog had a variety of different posts that readers found appealing out on the web at the same time. If this weblog's audience increases at sometime in the future and there are pockets of similar interest within that expanded audience, then there may be another swell of "item use clicks". The same could happen if I hit a different vein of interest with some future posts. Until then I am taking heed of some advice found in a recent Brazen Careerist post.

  • You never know what people will link to
  • Not all traffic is equal, and linkbait doesn’t garner the best traffic.
  • Many posts on my blog that did not get as much traffic ended up attracting more people who returned to the blog over and over again.
  • The real linkbait is an interesting, useful, well-written posts.
Ms. Trunk also advices:
Turning posts into lists. People like to scan posts and find one thing they like, and then they call it out on their own blog. And it’s a gift to the reader anyway, to parse a post into lists of bullets for an easier read.
At the very least, this weblog tries to highlight items of interest and make them readily available.

Seth Godin on 1/26/08 at his own Seth's Blog advices:

Just say it

Don't let the words get in the way. If you're writing online, forget everything you were tortured by in high school English class. You're not trying to win any awards or get an A. You're just trying to be real, to make a point, to write something worth reading.

So just say it.

Based on the above, there won't be any change in the direction this weblog has taken since its inception. This still serves as an effective learning tool about not only blogging and web 2.0 but a number of other areas of interest, so there won't be any chasing of high hit numbers. If my interests match that of others in the future, and they also get some good out of this so much the better.

Don't Dumb Down For People Let Them Do So For Themselves

Seth's Blog has a post on "Dumbing down"

Think about the stuff you hear on the radio or read about in mass market publications. When they attempt to cover something you really know about, they seem pretty stupid, don't they? Oversimplifying to the point of getting it completely wrong. They're busy pandering to the masses, dumbing things down for the lowest common denominator.

He also has a post on Who are these people? via his Seth's Blog which sounds like he is talking about the same people.

If you look at the numbers, you soon realize that a huge portion of the population apparently:
  • Has read two books in the last year, Harry Potter and The DaVinci Code
  • Uses only two websites, Google and Facebook
  • Visits only a few blog posts a day, and every single one of them is on the home page of Digg
  • Watches only two or three TV shows, including the Super Bowl
  • Eats only at McDonalds
  • Watches only incredibly snarky or juvenile videos on YouTube
Many bloggers seem to be on a perpetual hunt for the front page of Digg. Sure, it brings you hordes of eyeballs, but then they turn around and leave. What's the point of that, really?

Doesn't it make more sense to incrementally earn the attention of a smaller, less glitzy but far more valuable group of people who actually engage with you? And the best part is, your odds of success are a lot better.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Keeping Busy

It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?"

Henry David Thoreau
author and naturalist

Looking For Loopholes In Law of Unintended Consequences

Stephen J. Dubner of Freakonomics wrote Toward a Better Understanding of the Law of Unintended Consequences on 1/25/08.

We recently published a column describing a few instances of the law of unintended consequences — specifically, what happens when well-meaning legislation winds up hurting the parties it is designed to help.

I thought it was a pretty good column. But I see now where it could have been better. Alex Tabarrok, writing on Marginal Revolution, , addresses the law of unintended consequences per se,

Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution cites Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science which had the post on What kind of law is the Law of Unintended Consequences?

The Statistical Modeling ... blog is maintained by Andrew Gelman, Aleks Jakulin and Masanao Yajima.

This weblog linked to the original Freakonomics post back in October and has further considered the concept of unintended consequences with regards to the healthcare programs of the Gates Foundation and other related organizations.

Andrew Gelman does a u-turn on the citation back to Alex Tabarrok.

P.S. Interesting comments below. Also, Alex Tabarrok has further elaboration:

The law of unintended consequences is what happens when a simple system tries to regulate a complex system. The political system is simple, it operates with limited information (rational ignorance), short time horizons, low feedback, and poor and misaligned incentives. Society in contrast is a complex, evolving, high-feedback, incentive-driven system. When a simple system tries to regulate a complex system you often get unintended consequences.

I can agree with the concept of complex and evolving but would argue that we only know in hindsight what the system is evolving into. There may be high-feedback for the system as a whole but we don't have full access to that total system information so the problem of limited information remains. The alignment of incentives is also something it seems to me that is determined only after the event and can involve complex interactions which are often not always apparent. I also have problems with the implied concept that there is some overall arching system out there which is true and correct and our little political/economic systems are poor and inadequate copies. We also need to look at the alternative options that Andrew Gillman provides, "examples of intended consequences that actually happened? Or unintended consequences which, although unfortunate, were minor compared to the intended consequences," including as well "unforeseen adaptations".

There are a number of expanding links related to this subject running through the posts and comments and it's interesting to see the difference in approach between the economist and social scientists.