Archive for October, 2009

Archive for October, 2009

PostRank “Buckets”

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After an incredible amount of time working with, and for, PostRank, I think I have finally landed on what I would like to do with their technology that would be useful to me.

Back when I was working a lot on their Google Reader Greasemonkey overlay, one of the features requested was “sort by PostRank”, which never made a lot of sense to me. Sort what by PostRank?


I want to read basically everything that comes through my feedreader, or at least see the headlines, but I may not care about it all at this moment. I don’t want an interestingness sort or filter, I want a bucketizer. I want to be able to say “I’ll read the best stuff right now when I’ve got a few seconds, and the rest later.”

I may never read the rest, which then amounts to filtering, but I may, and that’s different.

The best way to implement something like this would be to allow for “filtering” by PostRank ranges instead of having a max cutoff. That way I could have a 7+ feed, a 3-7 feed, and a 3- feed, for each feed. I’d then make (in my reader) a “Best” folder, a “Good” folder, and a “Bottomfeeder” folder. I’d process the content in “Best” a few times a day, “Good” at least once a week, “Bottomfeeder” whenever I had extra time to read stuff.

I actually really like this idea. A lot.

DiSo Dashboards and the Future

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So, finally someone talking about the future of distributed social networking. The tech and the connecty bits we want have really been mostly there for some time now, the problem is, no one has been very clear on what the next step is. Chris Messina has been a bit distracted with the Activity Streams project, and no one else has really been saying much about DiSo.

The next step, however, is really coherent UI. I’ve been talking about it off and on as my “ultimate aggregator”, Marc Canter is calling it “dashboards”.

One of the things he talks about in the presentation is “distributed friending”. This is something I’ve brought up before. IMHO, the best way to go about this is to have magical buttons that, when clicked, take the user to their “dashboard” with the target’s URI (or one of them, anyway) already filled in. At that point, you have an asynchronous friending model. The local software can then do different things (like permissions, autofilling searches, pulling in content, just making the list available to other services than then do these things, whatever) based on this data, but no magical “protocol” or anything is needed, because with an asynchronous model all you’re really doing is making a note of the relationship in a data model and letting the software use that list for whatever.

Past integrating the posting/following/aggregation UI a bit more, I’m not really sure there’s anything left, conceptually. I’d like to dig up some code and make OAuth+AtomPub work for sure with the newest version (so that any aggregator can talk to my WP blog 🙂 ), and code can always be improved, but really, what is a social network? It’s an aggregator of sorts, a posting mechanism of sorts, and email. We’ve had the later two for ages, which is why so much work has been dancing around the first one.

Overregulation Weakens the Rule of Law

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Lawrence Lessig, “Free Culture

Wars of prohibition are nothing new in America. This one is just something more extreme than anything we’ve seen before. We experimented with alcohol prohibition, at a time when the per capita consumption of alcohol was 1.5 gallons per capita per year. The war against drinking initially reduced that consumption to just 30 percent of its preprohibition levels, but by the end of prohibition, consumption was up to 70 percent of the preprohibition level. Americans were drinking just about as much, but now, a vast number were criminals. We have launched a war on drugs aimed at reducing the consumption of regulated narcotics that 7 percent (or 16 million) Americans now use. That is a drop from the high (so to speak) in 1979 of 14 percent of the population. We regulate automobiles to the point where the vast majority of Americans violate the law every day. We run such a complex tax system that a majority of cash businesses regularly cheat. We pride ourselves on our “free society,” but an endless array of ordinary behavior is regulated within our society. And as a result, a huge proportion of Americans regularly violate at least some law.

This state of affairs is not without consequence. It is a particularly salient issue for teachers like me, whose job it is to teach law students about the importance of “ethics.” As my colleague Charlie Nesson told a class at Stanford, each year law schools admit thousands of students who have illegally downloaded music, illegally consumed alcohol and sometimes drugs, illegally worked without paying taxes, illegally driven cars. These are kids for whom behaving illegally is increasingly the norm. And then we, as law professors, are supposed to teach them how to behave ethically–how to say no to bribes, or keep client funds separate, or honor a demand to disclose a document that will mean that your case is over. Generations of Americans–more significantly in some parts of America than in others, but still, everywhere in America today–can’t live their lives both normally and legally, since “normally” entails a certain degree of illegality.

The response to this general illegality is either to enforce the law more severely or to change the law. We, as a society, have to learn how to make that choice more rationally. Whether a law makes sense depends, in part, at least, upon whether the costs of the law, both intended and collateral, outweigh the benefits. If the costs, intended and collateral, do outweigh the benefits, then the law ought to be changed. Alternatively, if the costs of the existing system are much greater than the costs of an alternative, then we have a good reason to consider the alternative.

BitTorrent Monitization Proposal

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There are lots of “monitize p2p” proposals floating around out there. Most of them look like a levy. The problem with this model is that, using existing p2p networks, there is no particularly good way to know what music is popular, and thus, who gets the money. Also, since some will download far more than others, and there’s no good way to measure how much anyone should pay.

The solution from the private sector so far looks like the Amazon MP3 store or Apple’s iTunes. Much less content, in fewer formats. The big argument from media is that online distribution is a hard problem one that will take research to solve. However, we know quite well that the p2p networks, and especially BitTorrent, have solved this problem.

My proposal? Marry the distribution power of BitTorrent with a sales model. Create a modified tracker that requires authentication. Seed high-quality versions of movies, music, books, and everything on this tracker. Set prices per download/sample and/or membership plans (10 ¤/mo for 3 movies/mo). People have to either have money on their account, a PayPal/credit card associated, or be on some kind of plan, otherwise the tracker refuses them service.

The big media from the big companies gets seeded, and people get it and pay for it. All the old media, small media, etc that becomes available through p2p still shows up as users connect to the network and start seeding stuff, but it too gets paid for, with the money routed to the right people.

Some will argue that there are those who will still pirate if such a system should exist. Of course there will. There will always be those who justify breaking the law. I’m talking about giving people a better option, which right now they don’t really have.