Tuesday, December 30, 2008

communication and collaboration - the big upgrade

The responses to my blog are always a little surprising to me. Yesterday's post didn't have a whole lot of substance, but it did include one good product idea, which is to somehow let other people edit my posts.

Someone on news.yc was not impressed by my idea though:
I was going to disagree with those negative comments below but then read the blog and damn; this guy has a freaking ego to think people would want to edit his ramblings for him in any other way than comical..

Next, I looked at the comments that were on my blog directly. One of the first ones was from Paul Graham, and it said simply:
deniable -> deniability :-)

Well, apparently Paul Graham wants to edit my ramblings, and in a way that would make me look smarter too... I'm pretty sure that he would have just made the correction himself had it been as easy and obvious as leaving a comment, but unfortunately no blog software seems to do that, most especially not Blogger.com.

Last year, someone translated one of my posts into Chinese (and I had Google translate it back).

This all reminds me of one of the blog posts that has been trapped in my head for a long time...

It starts off with something about ants, because my house must have been built on top of a giant anthill or something, because they are continually staging giant invasions and I'm always having to set them on fire or vacuum them up or something. So I'm always thinking about ants, and ants are kind of interesting because, more so than a lot of animals, the individuals are not really viable, and the hive (or colony or whatever) is kind of like a creature of its own (yeah, I know, I'm not the first person to notice this). It even has a short term memory in the form of pheromone trails left on my floor, and I erase those memories with a paper towel and some soapy water. So the ant colony is fairly sophisticated, but each ant's behavior is relatively simple -- they are just following some simple rules and don't really comprehend why or how the colony works. They don't see the "big picture".

And that reminds me of our brains, which are built out of relatively simple neurons. Each neuron simply sums up it's inputs, and then generates an output that gets passed along to some other neurons (or something like that, I'm sure it's a huge simplification, but you get the point). Certainly no individual neuron can possibly comprehend what it's doing -- it just cranks along summing up inputs and generating outputs. The magic is in the wires, the connections among the neurons.

Individual humans aren't terribly viable animals either. They almost went extinct not that long ago (100,000 years?). However, since then we've managed to pretty much take over the entire planet and build all kinds of amazing things like airplanes, computers, and burritos. Humans started out kind of similar to other animals (but weaker and less numerous) and then became something fundamentally different. That transition occurred because we are able to communicate and collaborate like nothing else. We can communicate though both time and space. We learn from people who died thousands of years ago on the other side of the planet. Even a survivalist hunter who goes off into wilderness alone is still relying on all the training and knowledge that was passed on before the journey began.

So in many ways, the human society (or human superorganism) is kind of like the human brain -- the magic is in the connections. Significant advances have occurred when we upgraded the wiring that connects everyone. The inventions of spoken language, written language, and the printing press were all revolutionary because they enabled more sophisticated communication and collaboration.

And now I can ramble on about ants and neurons and stuff, and people all of the world can read it, and digest it, and tell me I'm an idiot, and make their own ideas, and pass them on to other people, and it all happens in a matter of minutes. As much hype and excitement as there has been around the Internet, I think that people may still be misunderestimating its importance. We are literally upgrading the wiring that drives human society.

This is also why I'm excited about things like FriendFeed. The flow of information and influence is rather fundamental to way our world works. In the past much of that information flow was slow and hierarchical. It had to pass through one of a relatively small number of tightly controlled networks and publishers. But suddenly, the information can come from anywhere, and go anywhere, and it doesn't need anyone's approval. If it's completely random, it won't work any better than a bunch of randomly wired neurons (which I assume isn't very good), but with the right wiring, everyone starts to get the right information for them, and maybe we can stop being so stupid. I'm not yet sure what this new human architecture looks like, but that's what makes it an interesting (and extremely important) problem.

I sometimes think of FriendFeed as a kind of "distributed broadcast channel", but that's just part of picture. Better collaboration, like having other people edit my blog posts, is another part. It enables each of us to do what we do best, which improves the overall system efficiency and intelligence (and more importantly, I can avoid things that I don't like doing).

Keeping with the brain anology, it's very likely that we can't even comprehend what's going on. I certainly don't. I'm just a little neuron, summing up my inputs, and then passing the result along to you.

Monday, December 29, 2008

blog, v2

I haven't posted anything here in about eight months, mostly because I've just been very busy, but also because:
  • Blogging is too hard
  • I post a lot of things over on FriendFeed, which is easier, and I'm lazy (and you really should subscribe to my FriendFeed if you find anything I post here at all interesting)
  • I got tired of my blog posts. When I read them, there's something I don't like.
Nevertheless, I sometimes want to share something more than a FriendFeed message or interesting link, so I'm going to give it a second try.

However, I've decided that in the future my posts will be more rambling, and more pointless. I think part of what I don't like about the older posts is that they are sometimes arguing a point or something, but my real point (or my intention, at least) is just to share some kind of idea or thought, not convince anyone of anything. Also, I think this will be a lot easier to write because I can just type a bunch of words and they don't have to fit together in any particular way, and it's also a good excuse to not bother with any editing, so I should be able to crank these things out really fast.

I also have this idea to outsource the writing of my blog posts to someone, ideally everyone. The idea is that I'd write a bunch of stuff and then someone else (maybe wiki-style) would turn it into something coherent and readable. That would save me a lot of time and also provide plausible deniable when I write something that turns out to be especially stupid or offensive. But that's in the future. For now, it will just be a bunch of words that keep going until I get bored or distracted, and then I'll hit "send" :) (I'm also writing these things in Gmail since the blogger interface upsets me)