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Knowledge management and Meta26 Nov 2008 at 15:47 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I had explained the etymology of the title and where the seagazing ostriches come from, but that still left the mistery of how I chose the title. So here is an explanation.

In their 1997 article “Browsing is a collaborative process” Twidale, Nicols and Paice coined the term “serendipitous altruism” to describe a willingness among online database searchers to assist one another whether or not they were directly responsible for the search outcome or had a direct interest in each other’s performance. In each case, the users acted as information conduits and filters on behalf of their respective audiences.

This paper had a significant influence on me at that time when I was employed at France Telecom to research cooperation issues in collaborative systems. The meme did not spread very widely, so I appropriated it as a slightly obscure yet meaningful blog title !

Identity management and Jabber and Knowledge management and Military and Mobile computing and Networking & telecommunications and Social networking and Technology and The Web23 Oct 2008 at 14:42 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I have become a user of Brightkite, a service that provides situational awareness in the geographical context. Once its relationship to user location information sources such as Fire Eagle improve, it may become a very nice tool, especially in mobile use cases where location reporting may be partly automated.

But even if they add technical value in the growing world of geographically aware applications, theses services are actually not innovative at the functional level. For example, in the ham radio universe, APRS is already a great system for real time tactical digital communications of information of immediate value in the local area – which includes among other things the position of the participating stations. And there is also TCAS, which interrogates surrounding aircrafts about their positions, and AIS which broadcasts ship positions and enables the entertaining Vessel Traffic Services such as the one provided by MarineTraffic. All these radio based systems broadcast in the clear and are not satisfying the privacy requirements of a personal eventing service. But that problem has also been solved by the Blue Force Tracker which even though it is still a work in progress has already changed how a chaotic battlefield is perceived by its participants.

“Where am I, and where are my friends ?” is not only the soldier’s critical information – it is also an important component of our social lives, witness the thriving landscape of geosocial networking. Geographic location is a fundamental enabler : we are physically embodied and the perimeter of location based services actually encompasses anything concerning our physical presence. So we can’t let physical location services escape our control. Fire Eagle may be practical for now, but we need to make geographical information part of the basic infrastructure under our control and available on a standardized, open and decentralized basis. The good news is that much thoughts have already been invested into that problem.

Physical location is part of our presence, and as you may have guessed by now, this means XMPP comes to the rescue ! We have XEP-0080 – User Location, an XMPP extension which is currently a XMPP Foundation Draft Standard (implementations are encouraged and the protocol is appropriate for deployment in production systems, but some changes to the protocol are possible before it becomes a Final Standard – as good as a draft standard RFC and therefore good enough for early adopter use). It is meant to be communicated and transported by means of Publish-Subscribe or the subset thereof specified in Personal Eventing via Pubsub. It may also be provided as an extension of plain vanilla <presence/> but that is quite a crude way to do it compared to the Publish-Subscribe goodness.

The rest of the work is left to the XMPP client. Of course, the client can show them on a map, just as Brightkite currently does. But I can also easily imagine an instant messaging contact list on my PDA where one of the contact groups is “contacts near me”. I would love to have Psi do that…

Knowledge management and Politics and Security and Social networking08 Feb 2008 at 11:35 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I stumbled upon this gem in Hannah Arendt‘s book The Origins of Totalitarianism :

“The Okhrana, the Czarist predecessor of the GPU, is reported to have invented a filing system in which every suspect was noted on a large card in the center of which his name was surrounded by a red circle; his political friends were designated by smaller red circles and his nonpolitical acquaintances by green ones; brown circles indicated persons in contact with friends of the suspect but not known to him personally; cross-relationships between the suspect’s friends, political and nonpolitical, and the friends of his friends were indicated by lines between the respective circles. Obviously the limitations of this method are set only by the size of the filing cards, and, theoretically, a gigantic single sheet could show the relations and cross-relationships of the entire population. And this is the utopian goal of the totalitarian secret police: a look at the gigantic map on the office wall should suffice at any given moment to establish, not who is who or who thinks what, but who is related to whom and in what degree or kind of intimacy. The totalitarian ruler knows that it is dangerous to send a person to a concentration camp and leave his family and particular milieu untouched; [It is a common practice in Soviet Russia to arrest whole families; Hitler’s “Health Bill” also foresaw the elimination of all families in which one member was found to be afflicted with a disease.] the map on the wall would enable him to eradicate people without leaving any traces of them-or almost none. Total abolition of legality is safe only under the condition of perfect information, or at least a degree of knowledge of private and intimate details which evokes the illusion of perfection”.

Hannah Arendt‘s nightmare social mapping system was somewhat mitigated by the technological limits of her time – The Origins of Totalitarianism was published in 1951 and in her mind the information processing technology capable of supporting an extensive social graph was still about as far away as it seemed to the Czarist secret police. But today we are all busy building representations of the social graph to support and enrich our interactions. We are busy on social networking tools making the secret police’s work and making their dream come true.

Have we lost our minds and forgotten about the dangers ? Not quite : privacy management remains at the center of most social graph use cases. But this is a superficial defense : if a totalitarian state was to emerge among our society I know I would be as good as dead – or rather disappeared without a trace.

Luckily I am an European and I therefore enjoy the benefits of a life with historically high levels of freedom. But evil is never as far away as we imagine, and the generation of our grandparents who experienced totalitarism will not remain among us much longer to remind us that.

“You must remember, my fellow-citizens, that eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty, and that you must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing. It behooves you, therefore, to be watchful in your States as well as in the Federal Government” — Andrew Jackson, Farewell Address, March 4, 1837

Knowledge management and Social networking and The Web23 Nov 2007 at 11:04 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I set up a link blog and a collaborative bookmarking site for our tiny geek community. My friends have initially been slightly confused by the conceptual similarities. So here are a few general guidelines to provide a clearer distinction of use cases.

Both tools are relevant for posting links with no significant value added by the poster. If there is value added by the poster in the way of analysis, context, story telling or anything else, a traditional blog entry is a better choice.

A social bookmarking tool must focus on resources that the user might want to come back to in the future, or that he thinks that his friends might be interested in one day. The accent is on easy recall through various means of discovery such as search, feed reading and folksonomic exploration.

By contrast, a link blog focuses on immediate sharing. It is the place to show off the spectacular, the anecdotic, the exceptional – novelty items that you want to share with your friends but whose future recall value for practical use might be low.

The motive for link blogging is not just altruistic : posting in a link blog is also a way to elicit reactions to the content you discovered. And that is why the community gathered around your link blog is important : you want to gather contributions from the people that matter to you. And if you have enough feedback, then there might just be enough new material to warrant more synthetic capitalization in a proper blog article.

As you can see, although the niches of social bookmarking and link blogging in knowledge management do overlap a little, they are definitely distinct and educating the users in extracting the highest value from them is worth the effort.

Design and Identity management and Knowledge management and Social networking and The Web20 Nov 2007 at 6:47 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Open is everything – the rest is details. That is why we must take the best use cases of the closed social networking world and port them in the open. This is a lofty goal in all meaning of the adjective, but a surprisingly large number of potential basic components are available to cut the way short.

Friend of a Friend (FOAF) enables the creation of a machine-readable ontology describing persons, their activities and their relations to other people and objects. This concept is a child of the semantic web school of thought that has its origins about as far ago as the Web itself. In a narrower but deeper way, XFN (XHTML Friends Network) enables web authors to indicate their relationships to people simply by adding attributes to hyperlinks.

Microformats such as hCard, xfn, rel-tag, hCalendar, hReview, xFolk, hResume, hListing, citation, media-info and others provide a foundation for normalizing the information sharing. Some major operators are starting to get it – for example my LinkedIn profile contains hCard and hResume data. If you like hresume, take a look at DOAC while you are at it !

Some code is already available to process that available information. For example, identity-matcher is a Rails plugin to match identities and import social network graphs across any site supporting the appropriate Microformats. This code extracted from the codebase of and this is probably how Dopplr now supports import from other social networks like Twitter.

But part of the appeal of a social networking platform is how it empowers the user with control of what information he makes available, how it makes it available and to whom. So microformats are not sufficient : a permission management and access control system is necessary, and that requires an authentication mechanism. That naturally takes us to OpenID.

OpenID is a decentralized single sign-on system. Using OpenID-enabled sites, web users do not need to remember traditional authentication tokens such as username and password. Instead, they only need to be previously registered on a website with an “identity provider”. OpenID solves the authentication problem without relying on any centralized website to confirm digital identity.

The OpenID project is going even further than just authentication – authentication is just the surface. What OpenID really is about is digital identity management. OpenID Attribute Exchange is an OpenID service extension for exchanging identity information between endpoints. Although the list of attributes included in the OpenID Attribute Exchange schema does not match a nice collection of microformats, a process is defined to submit new attributes. And anyway, such a standard looks like a great fit to cover the need for keeping the user in control of his own content.

Finally, the social graph is the support for applications that must interact with the user’s information wherever it is hosted. That is why Google’s OpenSocial specification proposes a common set of API for social applications across multiple websites.

So a few technologies for social networking do exist, and they seem able to provide building blocks for an open distributed social networking. The concept of open distributed social networking itself has been in people’s mind for a long time. But until now only large proprietary platforms have succeeded in seducing a critical mass of users. Thanks to them, there is now a large body of information about the best practices and use-cases. What is now necessary is to think about how those use-cases can be ported into a decentralized open environment.

Porting a closed single provider system into an open distributed environment while equaling or surpassing the quality of the user experience is a huge challenge. But social networking and digital identity management are such critical activities in people’s life that the momentum behind opening them may soon be as large as the one that led Internet pioneers to break down the walls between networks.

Brain dump and Knowledge management and Mobile computing and The Web10 Oct 2007 at 15:47 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Someone asked : what is the mobile Web ? Here is my take :

The mobile Web is not just about overcoming the connectivity, ergonomics and device constraints that make access more difficult than on the desktop that the Web originated on. Focusing on these issues is merely playing catch-up with the “normal” Web.

The value that the mobile Web brings is context sensitivity. The mobile Web is about being there, in contact with the physical world away from a desktop. So bring on location sensitive services, search by photo similarity using the on board camera, search by sound similarity using the on board microphone, augmented reality (for navigation, social life or technical help), QR code readers and barcode readers using the camera, RFID readers, permanent presence management including location and activity…

Shoehorning complex applications on a handheld device is hopeless. On the other hand, the handheld device is the one you being with you, so when time comes to interact with the environment anywhere there is just no other choice. Linking the physical world to the virtual one, that is the mobile Web.

When the physical world merges with the data, wonderful things happen !

Brain dump and Knowledge management and The Web03 Aug 2007 at 15:02 by Jean-Marc Liotier

It has been said from the start but with the availability of a proprietary application platform it became so glaringly obvious that this spring the rumor became insistent – Facebook increasingly looks like the new AOL :

“Fast forward to Facebook 2007 and see similarities: If you want access to their big base of users, develop something in their proprietary language for their people who live in their walled garden. Strangely, many young facebookizens aren’t very net savvy (Facebook *is* their internet) & they have little desire to go beyond the walled garden — just like the old AOL users. There’s even a proprietary Facebook messaging system (kids don’t use much open internet email).”

But it is really Jason Kottke’s “Facebook is the new AOL” followed by “Facebook vs. AOL, redux” that made the rumor grow into a swell in July :

“Facebook is an intranet for you and your friends that just happens to be accessible without a VPN. If you’re not a Facebook user, you can’t do anything with the site. Nearly everything published by their users is private. Google doesn’t index any user-created information on Facebook. All of the significant information and, more importantly, interaction still happens in private. Maybe we shouldn’t be so excited about the web’s future moving onto an intranet.”

Steve Rubel sums that up : “Facebook gives nothing back to the broader web. A lot of stuff goes in, but nothing comes out”.

In a comment to Jeff Atwood’s “Avoiding walled gardens on the Internet”, Alex Chamberlain makes another parrallel with an historical precedent that seems lost to many among the current generation of Internet users :

“I’ve had the same uncomfortable feeling about web-based message boards. Prima facie, the walled-garden model violates the principle that information wants to be free.

Think of how Fidonet helped to open up the insular world of BBSs. Think of how Usenet was designed to be inherently inclusive (just start a news server on a Net-connected machine and all its users instantly join the “conversation”) and eternal (because decentralized). Now, Usenet is irrelevant to all but a tiny online subculture, BBSs are dead, and the traffic that those media would have borne is now happening on Web-based message boards, whose owners can edit content, forget to pay for their server space, or shut down for good at will, and whose content (more important) is essentially invisible to Google unless you know the secret password (the URL of the site’s archives). Balkanized again !”

Just as most of them are using stupid proprietary instant messaging networks instead of Jabber, they are now deliberately walling themselves in again. As Matthew says :

“Facebook is reinventing the wheel a little in an attempt to give anybody and everybody their very own web presence. Except it’s not a web presence, it’s a Facebook presence, bound by Facebook’s rules. The experience feels forced and leaves me wanting more. [..] I want to be able to find you on Google, read your weblog and browse your Flickr photos”.

But it is not just the users who drink the Facebook Kool Aid… As the RSS blog mentions, even developpers are falling for it :

Everybody is going nutty about the Facebook platform. They are writing custom widgets for Facebook. They are saying that Facebook is the greatest because it support proprietary widgets. WTF ? We already have an API for widgets, it’s called HTML. We’ve been embedding widgets in MySpace for years using HTML. Why does Facebook need a proprietary widgets API ? It’s called lock-in. A walled garden. The work you do on your Facebook widget doesn’t port to other social platforms. In this case, platform means proprietary. When the euforia fades, just how many $billions are going to get spent by 3rd parties to better the Facebook platform ? This is nuts !”

Yes, many developpers are happily coding for a closed platform. And they are definitely locked in as Richard MacManus explains in “How Open Is Facebook, Really ? :

“Facebook ultimately is a closed, proprietary system. Primarily this is because Facebook doesn’t use existing Web standards for mark-up or database language. Instead of using HTML and SQL, Facebook uses two “variants” – called FQL and FBML. The official reason for the variants is that they offer more functionality and integration within the Facebook environment – which is no doubt true, however it also of course means your apps can only run in Facebook. As Andreessen noted, the upshot is that “Facebook’s own code and functionality remains closed and proprietary.”

But Facebook now has such an influence on the mass market that it can’t be ignored and even people like me can’t resist taking a look if just to see what all the fuss is about. So here is my Facebook profile… Oops ! That’s right. The walled garden thing. Forgot about that. You have to be a member… Screw that !

So welcome to Faceprison ! Nice clean interface conveniently packaged in a proprietary walled garden from which your data shall never escape.

A little search later I find that the word “Faceprison” has been by used by Neil Dixon who last June posted feelings similar to mine in “Facebook – a very big claustrophobic bubble” :

“There is one element to Facebook that makes the alarm bells ring for me, in contrast to almost every other major social network: you have to be logged-in to do anything, anything at all. Nothing is visible or accessible to the outside. Even notification emails about messages, etc., force you to log in to view them. Everything is designed to get you inside, and keep you there.

Facebook to me feels immediately claustrophobic, a state of interweb virtual bondage where the only safeword is ‘logout’. The sterilised, razorwire-topped walls are (currently) unscalable and the locks are more sturdy than Broadmoor. But even in a physical prison you can have real visitors: in Facebook, your visitors have to join and become part of the exclusive hive themselves, trapped squirming in its peer pressure driven, shallow society.

I fear the worst for those lost souls in particular who will suffer a similar fate to those of us who took up AOL in the early days”

Users never learn and history repeats itself. Have fun poking each other to digital death ! Or go read Ethan Zuckerman’s “Web 2.0 and the web serf” and understand why friends don’t let friends sink their data into proprietary bottomless pits.

Well… I can’t conclude on such a dark note, so I’ll cite the more hopeful outlook of Jason Kottke about Facebook :

“Faced with competition from this open web, AOL lost… Running a closed service with custom content and interfaces was no match for the wild frontier of the web. Maybe if they’d done some things differently, they would have fared better, but they still would have lost. In competitive markets, open and messy trumps closed and controlled in the long run. Everything you can do on Facebook with ease is possible using a loose coalition of blogging software, IM clients, email, Twitter, Flickr, Google Reader, etc. Sure, it’s not as automatic or easy, but anyone can participate and the number of things to see and do on the web outnumbers the number of things you can see and do on Facebook by several orders of magnitude (and always will).

At some point in the future, Facebook may well open up, rendering much of this criticism irrelevant. Their privacy controls are legendarily flexible and precise…it should be easy for them to let people expose parts of the information to anyone if they wanted to. And as Matt Webb pointed out to me in an email, there’s the possibility that Facebook turn itself inside out and be the social network bit for everyone else’s web apps. In the meantime, maybe we shouldn’t be so excited about the web’s future moving onto an intranet”.

As Jonathan Kahn writes, “microformats and OpenID will kill Facebook’s business model“. Information wants to be free !

Email and Knowledge management20 Apr 2007 at 9:31 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Last year when I reviewed the IMAP keyword tagging scene, I said :

Thunderbird supports IMAP keywords but only allows five of them. This is a known bug but it has been open for more than four year so I’m not holding my breath for it. The amount of comments made to that bug show that user expectations about IMAP keywords are slowly growing.

Eager taggers rejoice : your wishes have been heard… Among the feature list of the just released Thunderbird 2 I read :

Thunderbird 2 allows you to tag messages with descriptors such as “To Do” or “Done” or even create your own tags that are specific to your needs. Tags can be combined with saved searches and mail views to make it easier to organize email.

This is exciting because last year I was pleasantly surprised to see both IMAP servers and MDA providing apparently mature support for IMAP keywords, but I concluded that we were just some client support away from being able to use them.

So the the last missing piece of the IMAP mail tagging puzzle may have been delivered and I shall soon play with it to see if it lives up to its potential.

Brain dump and Knowledge management and Photography18 Nov 2006 at 1:20 by Jean-Marc Liotier

After a football game three months ago I wrote womething about forgetting AI servo :

“I surely made the focusing on action even worse by shooting with AI focus instead of AI servo. I’m quite ashamed of that mistake. Maybe I forgot to set it up properly because I’m not used to do it on my 300D which does not offer that choice… As usual, discovering new hardware on the event is a truly bad idea… I guess that’ll serve me as a reminder to force AI servo next time and to get intimately familiar with new hardware before covering an event”.

Well… I just did that again : for the football game last wednesday I set both cameras on AI Focus. How daft is that ? I am furious at myself. The manual of every Eos body in the last 20 years has been clear that AI Servo is the proper autofocus mode for sports. What was I thinking ? I was even wondering why the autofocus was a bit slow to start tracking while I was believing that I had set it to AI Servo… I could probably have had three times more keepers ! At least I guess I won’t forget to set it to AI Servo next time…

I feel incredibly stupid. 10k Euros worth of hardware dangles from my neck and I can’t even set the AF mode properly. This morning I felt too ashamed to tell anybody. But keeping silent would have been a grave mistake : an important part of experience capitalization is that you should not be afraid of explaining the most horrendously stupid mistakes you made.

Many knowledge management projects are rather useless because their participants refuse to show how they failed. Everyone loves to tell a success story and let their ego bask in the praise lavished upon them. Too bad because the failures often contain more actionable information than the success stories. And since people want to avoid failure even more than they seek success, a failure story will anchor new knowledge even more efficiently than a success story.

For example, during the run up to D-Day, the entrance of a commando training camp in Britain was graced by mock graves with obituaries describing the fictional deaths of trainees. That was recognized as an efficient way to impact the trainees and get the important safety messages accross.

So you can really pay your peers a big favor by telling them your worst. As the demotivator poster says : “It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others”

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