Google and wisdom of crowds

Google is Putting crowd wisdom to work. Seems like all the great ideas take about 10 years longer than expected. Of course there was Admiral Ponidexter's terrorism prediction market which was suggested after Sept 11... I first heard if as "Idea Futures", way back in the mid-90s, which someone was goingn to commercialize, but somehow it never worked out. Oh wait ... Foresight Exchange

Google is taking all these good ideas lying around. I guess that's the real secret. Innovation is not like a gold rush, the ideas are there in plain sight. You just have to pick them up one by one, when you are ready, and polish them up. Of course it helps if you are very smart, and have an unbelievable cash flow because you were disciplined about your first idea.

So the question now is, why can't Google use the "wisdom of crowds" inherent in the search engine? Of course selling search ads is a form of that. But I mean in the predictive sense. To take a very crude example, if you know the key words searched by people from a particular company, then that could tell you something about what that company is doing. Not in any direct way of course like: the CEO searched for "bankrupcy law". But in a massive way with tiny correlations being detected in mountains of data.... Oh wait how do we know they are not already doing it?


Chaos theory: from A-nuak to Z-end

I just came across this item in Google news: "Anuak Minorities Facing Insecurity and Terror in Ethiopia", an editorial in Al Jazeerah by Keith Harmon Snow. As I read this editorial, I went from genuine dismay at what is going to skepticism. The timing of this editorial is a bit suspect. He wrote this report for UNICEF more than a year ago, why didn't UNICEF publicize it? Probably because it was not objective. The author definitely seems to have an axe to grind. The guy clearly has been researching this issue -- see e.g. http://zmagsite.zmag.org/Jun2004/snow0604.html, and he raises huge issues, and I intend to read up a lot more on this.

But what's really alarming now is that the Anuak story is blending, or actively being blended into the Ethio-Somalia story. So the virus, that started out as just the Islamic Courts Union versus warlords of Mogadishu, morphed into ICU versus the transitional government of Somalia, then became the coming war between Ethiopia and Somalia, now all of a sudden has mutated into a much more ominous disease:

"The Pentagon and Ethiopian military are prosecuting an entirely invisible war in Somalia, and while persistently threatening, arresting and shooting Anuak men, the Ethiopian military has actually tried to conscript some Anuak men to fight for them in Somalia. This is not a war on terror it is a war of terror. Ethiopia's clandestine involvement in Eritrea is equally invisible, and Human Rights Watch has also documented the ongoing repression against the Oromo people in Ethiopia's Oromo State. Other minorities are being forcibly displaced to serve conservation or petroleum interests."

This is the story that is being told on Al Jazeera. SomaliNet.

I believe we may have already entered the chaotic phase. Not necessarily on the ground yet, in terms of full-scale war. But in the chaos theory sense: small actions will be reflected, and propagated in unpredictable manners, and along every ethnic and religious fault line in Ethiopia, amplified, multiplied, echoed, reverberated by the dynamics of the global crusade/jihad. Every time someone dies, their ethnicity or their religion will be tallied up, sliced and diced. How long before this leads to home grown religious death-squads, and ethnic militias?



I just read an article about wikipedia (New Yorker magazine, July 31, 2006. Alongside the usual praise, it captures some pretty good criticisms:

"Wikipedia has gone from a nearly perfect anarchy to an anarchy with gang rules."

"...infested with moonbats."

"...the open-source model is simply inapplicatible to an encyclopedia. For Software, there is an objective standar: either it works or it doesn't. There is no such test for truth."

Hmmmmm. Aren't we forgetting that other pillar of epistomiological virtue? Popper would say there's natural selection, the market, and ... voting.

So why not add voting to Wikipedia? Like Digg, each article would be voted on by users, and therefore have a score. Each reader would get a binary vote, thumbs up (+1) or thumbs down (-1). Uniqueness of votes can be easily enforced by IP address for each article. The article's score is then simply the sum of all the votes (+1 and -1). This score would of course help the reader adopt the appropriate degree of scepticism.

But the score could also be used in a derivative way. One of the problems on Wikipedia is situations where two contributors get into a big battle if repeteadly deleting the other's changes because say the article is on a controversial topic, or simply because whoever is wrong is stubborn or fanatical... Well each contributor could have a an editor rank based on the value they have added to articles they haved edited in the past (which would be something like the average change in score of the articles before and after their edits), and presto, in a dispute, the person with the higher rank, which should the one proven more reliable over time, wins! Truth wins, and Wikipedia lives happily ever after....

Seems simple enough... Why not? Imagime Ebay without the seller rankings... Yaiks.


ETC to outsource all services

Just came across this: ETC to outsource all services

Hmmm, very interesting... I'm not sure I understand.

Does it mean "privatize" as in selling shares of ETC to private owners, or "outsource" as in contracting an external entity to perform some of the work for ETC. Those are two very different things... maybe they are doing both with one entity, i.e. an equity for services swap?

Also, it's unclear what the news is. Is it that there's a deal being negotiated to implement the existing policy of trying to sell 30% of ETC to a foreign telco? Or is it reporting that a new revised policy is coming up?

If anyone has more info, please pass it on! I really hope the latter. Privatization is not the cure. Competition is. Privatizing a monopoly is merely handing over the profits to an outsider, and not necessarily a recipe for innovation and growth.


Black Gold

I can't wait to see Black Gold, a movie about fair trade and coffee. But, in an effort to keep myself honest, let me state my opinion before seeing it, since it will surely change. So here we go..

Fair trade? Fair schmair! In trade, the only thing that's fair is the price you can get. Guilt about grower's poverty is only going to work on a minority of global buyers and therefore have a limited effect on the overall price. What is needed is an appeal to consumers desires, not their guilt. Desire is a very powerful thing that influences price dramatically. Just look at Starbucks. Here's something I wrote about this a while ago Digital Coffee (I don't feel bad about being too self-referential -- this is a blog isn't it? All about me).

What coffee growers need is brand marketing or something like that. Decommoditize the commodity. Then instead of the retailer getting 90% of the value, the source would get 90% of the value. The day rich consumers insist on House of Jimma Ethiopian Coffee, just like they do Godiva Belgian chocolate, or Emmentaler Swiss cheese, that will be the day of the rich coffee farmer.



Test driving the blog... Can't yet trust it with anything new,
so let's try recycling some old musings.
Here's one from 1998

Licensing, Microsoft and Salvation


Many have compared Microsoft in the 1990s to Standard Oil in the 1890s, and Gates to Rockefeller. But I think there's a better (even if slightly exaggerated :) historical analogy to be made.

Almost everyone who buys a PC pays about $90 for the Windows95/98 license, about 10% of the cost of the computer (about the same percentage if you look at NT machines too). For centuries, peasants in Europe (and other Christian feudal societies) paid about 10% of their harvest to the church automatically ("la dime"). It was the licensing fee for the Bible. I'm sure that at the beginning, it appeared to make sense. What's 10% in exchange for eternal salvation? But they didn't tell you about the bugs in the Bible. They didn't tell you all the things that you wouldn't be allowed to do under future releases. They didn't tell you you wouldn't be able to boot Buddha, and that the Islam API was not compatible. Instead, you are told to wait for the upcoming release which will solve all your problems... provided you stay faithful.

Why is this important?

Afterall, most of the suffering in the world today has nothing to do with what's good or bad in the computer industry. But! when the work patterns, the relationships between capital and labor were being put in place, in the mid 19th century, only a small fraction of the world was involved in the industrial economy. By the time it became "important", it was already too late to change it rationally, only extreme violence could challenge the established order.

So, what happens today in operating systems and the software industry in general, could well shape the basic structure of human society for the next century. Do we want to wake up in the year 2050 and see 3 billion enraged slaves of "intellectual property" led by Vladimir Info Lenin, or Mao Techno Tung?


hello world

One timid foot into the blogosphere for me, one giant irrelevance for mankind.