Real Social Networks

December 14, 2006

A tragedy, not unlike thousands of others that strike each day, recently hit a member of the internet community. Leslie Harpold passed away suddenly sometime last week.

Usually, such an incident, while sad, is met with little to no fanfare. An anonymous individual, who had participated in a few online communities, was suddenly no longer a part of any of them. There may be a eulogy or two on some of those forums, and in a day, maybe less, the thread would have slipped off the page into oblivion.

But this is different. Lots of people have written eulogies for her, which is a tremendous tribute to her ability to make people appreciate her. However, these are individuals from a wide range of locales and interests, running their own blogs about their own interests. Rebecca Blood and Jason Kottke are blogger veterans, having worked on their blogs for years. Fluxblog, a music site, mentioned her. Merlin Mann, who runs the popular productivity site 43 Folders, mentioned her. Metafilter, where she posted, had a post about her.

What’s interesting about all of these is that they operate as a blog royalty. Each was a ‘trailblazer,’ so to speak, in their field; ie. Metafilter was the first large general interest group link/blog site, not unlike the diggs, et al. of today. They form a virtual network outside of their hobbies and interests, yet many had stories of personal interactions with the deceased. Moreover, many are vocal proponents of the ‘social web;’ the flickr, digg, and other sites that are springing up to capitalize on the power of the crowd. Like modern day Adam Smiths, they believe that the invisible hand of the crowd can produce the most relevant and timely information.

They believe this because they belong to a powerful set of intelligent people who early on took advantage of new communication technology to share and propagate their interests. This experience is then extrapolated onto the Internet community as a whole. The thrill of their tight knit, early community should, in theory, intensify with the addition of more users with their competing points of view and experience.

Problems with this logic aside, it shows something really interesting about social networks and how things work in the world. In this week’s New Yorker, George Packer writes (article not available online) of an emerging theory about jihadists that posits that terrorists are drawn into the trade by their social network, not drawn to it out of ideology. In other words, the ideology is synthesized and strengthened by the community the individual belongs to – which is why the modern jihadist is so different from the Unabombers of the past.

At the end of the day, the connections made by these early adopters in terms of music, technology, and other interest areas overcame differences of distance and focus. Breaking into their ‘circle’ is not difficult, but probably not practical without an adherance to their orthodoxy. Based on this reasoning, changing the mindset of jihadist sympathizers will continue to prove incredibly difficult, both on and offline. More importantly, it will require substantial, on the ground work to change the ideas that circulate through these circles. Otherwise, the same messages will propagate and multiple.

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October 26, 2006

List of Homer Simpson’s jobs.

October 26, 2006

Reasons for skipping the blogging. Since I’ve been absent for a good month, I guess I’ll just let other people speak for me. Pick your reason from the link. btw, some of my favorites:

“I got promoted to an officer in my World of Warcraft guild “Trick Model” on Illidan. ”
“I think a post I wrote a couple weeks ago was too big and clogged up one of the tubes leading to my “own personal internet.” Fortunately I just bought some eDrano, so things should be fine now.”
“I forgot my password…”

October 26, 2006

Very Short Stories: Stories in exactly 6 words. eg.:

Lie detector eyeglasses perfected: Civilization collapses.
– Richard Powers

Dinosaurs return. Want their oil back.
– David Brin

Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time
– Alan Moore

Longed for him. Got him. Shit.
– Margaret Atwood

September 22, 2006

One of the funniest discussions of emoticons I’ve ever seen (in an interview of John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats on Pitchfork):

Pitchfork: I figure there’s one way to start an e-mail interview: A friend of mine taught me this emoticon, Q:), which is a smiling Davy Crockett. What ya got?

John Darnielle: My friend Mark Givens and I had an emoticon we amused ourselves with years ago. Not sure if I can remember it. :/> I think it was, but that’s a rough guess. To me, it looks like perhaps it means “becoming gradually but unignorably cognizant of one’s status as a resident of Hell.”

September 12, 2006

The real story behind MySpace: Spam. Oh, and that Tom guy didn’t start it out of his garage.

September 8, 2006

If Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn had provided commentary to the Lord of the Rings DVDs.

September 8, 2006

Bad High School Essay analogies. My personal favorite:

He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.

Science roundup

September 1, 2006

I’ve been out of it for a couple days, so I’m just getting to sorting through my variou science feeds. Some of the gems:

A couple guys took out an ad in the Economist claiming they have designed a perpetual motion machine. The Guardian investigates. Sounds pretty fishy to me.

Landscapes influence human behavior. I think that if this was conducted in a different locale, ie. with people who weren’t used to desert environments, the results might be different. Then again, that may be the whole point.

Seed ran a profile on Richard Lindzen, the leading scientific critic of climate change. In reality, according to the article, he agrees with 90% of the general climate change theory, and even participated in former panels of the IPCC.

They also have a great article on living with HIV as a Palestinian in the West Bank, where you face “medication shortages and security clearances for hospital visits.” Actually, they have a great section on HIV at 25.

Buildings that adjust with the weather.

Nerd alert! The War on Terror from a Unix shell.

Jazz based on cryptography.

The sweet smell of a bygone era – an investigation into BBSes. Some of this is just hauntingly beautiful:

…they tend to feel a little eerie and lonely, like digital ghost towns. Some of the message threads out there have been left hanging and incomplete, with the original post echoing like a thin, ghostly voice through time, still pleading for a response. In some cases, it’s as if an entire online community was caught unawares, swallowed up, and perfectly preserved in Pompeii-like ash. Everything’s there, in place…except the people.

Check out Frink Tank blog – a cheeky guide to science and luddite news. It’s as if your standard sarcastic ahole science nerd sterotype was writing. Oh wait, that’s exactly what it is…

And finally, becuase what post about science could conclude without some discussion of the anti-scientists? I missed the documentary that proves it, but apparently Darwin caused Hitler. Don’t worry, though, because if you wear some Armor of God PJs, you’ll be fine. Pajama Media, anyone?

August 31, 2006

The Simpsons if they were Indian.