Discover information of value & wrap it to go anywhere

I often feel like I fail in explaining the workings of and the lifestylelinking open source project .  Probably for many reasons, the wisdom of crowds is counter intuitive for those just finding out about the idea, my choices of words or examples, the unknownness that its use might be bringing to the world/society.  Any how, the title of this post is the closest and shortest words I have found to date to capture the essence of what I am up to:

Discover  information of value and wrap it to go anywhere.

98% of the effort to date has been on the discovery part.  Now, the code is extracting information of value for an individual(s) the task of making it go anywhere begins.  That starts with making it easy to use and making the data portable. A wrapper of OpendID, OAuth, OpenSocial, Activitystreams, RDFa in geek speak.  I found myself pulled to these embryonic communities during my travels to Silicon Valley.  However, I wasn’t the most enthusiastic about this focus of attention as, if no value is there, why do you need to apply, identity, data sharing, social sharing etc?  However, I have kept apace of the significant progress these communities have made and implemented their libraries and standards, it feels like the discovery of value and go anywhere are ready to be brought together.  This is still a fast moving space, it hard to know where to start as new library in one standard may require more or less work in another area.  All this change while the user needs value delivered, easily-seamlessly.  I’m still struggling to fit this multidimensional puzzle together and keep it together when I foresee so much moving.  However, learning by doing has got me thus far and I expect that will hold good in this next phase too.

A Revolution in Kindness

A Revolution in Kindness is the name of a book authored by the late Anita Roddick.  In one of her blogs posts on the topic of kindness she talked about examples that could “help us reimagine kindness as something more than a random act.”  I always liked the way she got to the human nitty gritty of the issues she cared about, in fact she asked us all to “Take it Personally’.   She was an inspiring figure and I have been thinking about kindness and information.

I’ll start out be stating that information is the ‘currency’ of life.

In my economics education I was taught this basic concept: the more scarce a resource, the higher its prices.  In an information age this can be applied as, the more limited the information, the higher the price on that information.  These are kind of unhuman speak.  To attempt to make them more human I have observed this sort of scenario time and time again:

The higher the price the more desperate a human is. E.g. you need to make a last minute booking for a train, bus or for a flight.  A natural disaster strikes or war disruption in a city, prices trend higher.  This has always puzzled me, as the spare capacity e.g on a bus on the day of travel, is lost opportunity, lost sales, lost cashflow.  Infact the whole system rewards the opposite, you know with certainly a long time inadvance your travel plans then, the lower the price you will be offered.  The reward for giving the business a more certain future, a lower price is offered.

What if kindness was the core motivator and persistent in the ‘system’?  Would information flow freer?  I think it would, the system will reward those collaborating and the best way to do that is to be open and share information.  Would this squew to an outcome where those most last minute will benefited the most?  No, this does not have to be the case, those collaborating for longer will have better relationships and have the resources personalized to their exact needs.  Those last minute will be limited in their ability to achieve that.  However, both parties can benefit and I think the best way to explain this is by rewriting how we apply pricing.  Generally, a price is fixed at the time of purchase not at the time of use (less purchase is made in real time ie at last minute).  This does not have to be the case.  A price could be issued for a future time period and lets say when the e.g. time of travel came, a last minute traveler joined the journey of that planned in advance.  The last minute traveler is benefiting from the committed travelers pull of attention towards the journey and a committed traveler can reduce their cost of travel by the arrival of the last minute passenger.  Pricing can be dynamic, and I would think about that not so much in terms of time but of attention (they are different).

In other words a Law of Information would read:

The greater an individuals needs in society, the more the world will transpire to help.  In short kindness.

The Wisdom of Crowds

There is one book that is never far from me, especially if I have my laptop to hand, that book is ‘The Wisdom of Crowds‘ by James Surowiecki.  It’s about five years since the book was first published and I was handed a ‘free’ copy by the author at a promotion event held at Yahoo!’s Sunnyvale office in California.  A big crowd of geeks had packed in to listen to a panel discuss the wisdom of crowds and how they used the idea in their businesses, the author chaired the panel and pulled in the audience for ‘crowd’ participation.

I recall most if not all the examples discussed were about using prediction markets and that some used cash to show commitment to the prediction by an individual while others just used some token currency.  As I listened to all these examples I could not help but hear a voice shouting in my head, ‘there is no need to use cash, the currency of ones life should be used.’    What is the currency of life?  Now five years on, answering what the currency of life looks like is starting to take shape for me.  If asked for a short answer I would say, information is the currency of life.  To the interstellar, ‘can information escape from black holes’ to the origins of life at conception, information contained in DNA is exchanged to create new life.  A bit like energy in physics, many different ways to make it (information) but all with universal measurement to quantify it.   Five years ago, FB and Twitter were seeding social networks, SV had escaped the .com fallout years and web2.0 was the new buzz.  This is producing lots of new content on the web, content made mainly of text, numbers, pictures, video, musics and other media.  The text authored being described as the ‘bread crumbs’ of one activity or life online.  Or the information left in the wake of living our lives.

We all author our life and some of the this captured online, still such a small part of the information we create everyday but in term of our entire history this small quantity of web data is the most valuable aggregation of life information ever captured in our evolution.  With such diversity of information even within text can a universal ‘law’ be found to connect it all together?  Can the wisdom of crowds mathematics be applied?  The history of crowd mathematics is summarised in this video.  The expert elite looking for scientific justification for their superiority found out the opposite.  Nature already harness the wisdom of crowds as this video illustrates, simple bottom up ‘rules’ to create visually complex looking sights.  The mathematics of chaos also shows the link between chaos and order is not that one is the opposite of the other, but to get order, repeated patterns, chaos needs to be present.   All this is fair enough but what is the purpose of it all?

Now, that is a question.  Like the elitist looking for evidence to justify their point of view or a flock of birds feeding together to maximize their safety, a purpose is always evident.  The wisdom of the crowd or the collective intelligence expressed by society is being used to support life all the time.  But what is the purpose of life?  That expressed by all living entities in  real time and going to be lived (the future).  There is no definitive answer, everything is relative?   I think there is still vast benefits from harnessing the wisdom of the crowds still to be discovered.  Taking this back to the level of text describing life.  Each of us use different words to describe our lifestyle but we may participate in the same activity e.g. swimming.  The first challenge is to find a universal way to allow this diversity of description to exist while having some ability to connect all individuals.  With this established then a journey to increasing granularity of connection can be achieved e.g. finding a swimming to finding a a swimmer with a shoulder injury looking for the best information to get fit again?

Four guiding conditions are set out in the book and others sight them as necessary to harness a crowds collective wisdom.  Of course these should be crowd sourced!  These are




Aggregation mechanism

The book goes on at length about these condition and the observed negative outcomes that can results when they are broken.  But outcomes are always subjective?  I think these conditions are great introductions to forming a science behind the idea of collective intelligence but I reckon we can shoot for some universal rules that sort of use the crowd to source the ‘right crowd’ i.e. self form to eliminate group think that leads to negative outcomes.

Move over markets

I drafted this post a few weeks back and titled it, The forgotten purpose of markets.  But in the meantime I have been reading the Book, The Power of Pull. I have been writing for while about how demand and supply notion in economics will (is) disappearing but I never really nailed a replacement for markets, the authors of the book have, Collaboration Curves. Maybe this will be shorted in time to just Curves.  I have written about collaboration a good while back in the context of competition.  A Curve will mean much more than a market.  The push of supply to meet predicted demand (or demand made certain by muscle marketing campaigns) will be replaced by real time ‘learning’ to adapt to what the world (people of) need, the author of the book articulate.  More on the book in a later post, now the thoughts on why market forgot their purpose?

One example to be extrapolated to every market.  Car insurance, switch on any television or read a range of web pages and the chances are your attention has consumed a car insurance advert.  ‘Cheapest car insurance’, this comparison shopping site can find you the ‘cheapest car quote’.  The advertising is just the sales/distribution mechanism in the market and should make sure the same ‘product’ is priced accurately through ‘competitive’ forces is what we will reads as the purpose of this part of the market.  There is just so much noise in this activity if feels like its the whole purpose of the market?  Obviously, it will be pointed out that his part of the market is where the interaction with the ‘consumer’ is, therefore, it will dominate the individuals attention.  It is time to get to the heart of the market, in this case the car insurance market (compulsory for car ownership in the UK, already the market is tainted).  We have a 10k car, there is a 1 in 10 chance of having an accident every year so in a world of 10 people, we all pay 1000 premium each year as the one person that writes of their will need to pay 10k to replace their car.  Now, as a society of individual we want to pull together all those individuals that see the benefits of sharing the financial risk of replacing a car in case of an accident.  What the current market has evolved to is to segment the risk of types of individuals, thus they have different prices and they can pass risk on to investors, i.e. the premiums do not cover all the risk in the market, so financial investors to speculators can plug the gap if needed or is less accidents happen then they collect the windfall.  These gap players, syndicate the risks again and again.  Try putting all that into an advert I hear some of you cry.  As the credit crunch shows this is pretty much a black box of transparency and no one really knows if the purpose of the market is in equilibrium?  Repeated evidence suggests this is all out of whack ( no body really knows even though that purpose of the market was unknown from the outset, that is why the market was born into being).

This is really a collaboration curve of mobility (we’ll narrow it to driving a car) (not a market).  In a market individuals that want to pull together to reduce financial risk but this new mobility curve will be much further reaching, it will include all information to make sure an individual get to A to B when they need to move and with nil risk of an accident occurring.  The truth of a mobility curve purpose will be the aggregate all the participants needs.  No marketing segmentation noise (advertising) a price to get you in the door will be required.