What news feels like

Bush Announces Iraq Exit Strategy

I was walking down the street today when I glanced sidelong at a newspaper box and caught the words “Bush Announces Iraq Exit Strategy”.

A fleeting moment of relief came over me and I thought to myself, “Finally.”

But sometimes we believe into existence that which we want to see. And sometimes that belief, though powerful, proves false.

Upon further investigation I suffered the let-down of all time: just like always, the Onion was not reporting real news, but merely made up fantasies that were too good to be true.

What’s interesting about this has nothing to do with The Onion, though. Instead it has to do with the medium and with the message.

For one thing, the fact that what I thought I saw was in newsprint still carried with it a certain kind of psychological weight or trustworthiness… it wasn’t like reading Tailrank about some spoofed headline… if it was in print and on the street in one of hundreds of thousands of newsstands around the world, surely there must be some truth to it. Alas, the medium betrayed me.

As for the message — it is revealing to me how sharp the sudden sense of relief was at that the thought that “the war is over”. I mean, facing fact, this is the largest war that my generation has ever seen. We’ve now seen more soldiers and coalition forces killed than went to my high school. More than ten times that have been injured or wounded. And yet the thing keeps dragging on, to no certain end.

Y’know, I’ve always liked war movies — especially ones about World War II. If there was ever such a thing, history has recorded this affair as the feel-good war of the century — where boys were turned into men, women filled the factories and smoking and Coca Cola became icons of the American psyche. The same can nary be said for the current war.

And, whatever the reality of earlier wars, this one seems even further away from reality — even more impossible — and even less certain about its ultimate goal than the previous black-and-white conflicts.

…which I suppose is why the faux-headline in the Onion caught my attention and gave me a sense of, well, hope. Because that’s what this war seems to lack — there is no real villain anymore, no hero, there is no sure outcome, there is no obvious way to end this black hole that’s been unleashed. My dad and my grandfather were both enlisted men and if either were involved in active duty today, I’m not sure that I could really understand what they were after.

Oh sure, protecting freedom; certainly, saving face after removing Saddam without a plan for winning the peace; planting democracy in the Middle East? Um, okay? Saving the world from terrorism? Making the world a better place? How does making war make things better?

Y’know — I live a very privileged life. I’m so grateful to have the things I have: to live in a fantastic city with a fantastic woman; I help run an amazing upstart business situated in a terrific space with some incredible individuals. I work on things that I love and that I’m passionate about. I’m pretty much in touch with my family and I have the most fabulous friends all over the world.

So when it comes to this four-year-old war — with all the good things that I have in my life — I guess I’m just stuck wishing for a headline that indicates something other than that it’s just got to keep going for sake of… keeping going.

Going to root

I’ve decided that, in the interest of the sneaky unobtrusive mode for the wpopenid plugin, I’m going to start using simply factoryjoe.com as my web address instead of factoryjoe.com/blog… this is a pretty big change, but I think it’s both time to simplify and get with the delegation I set up of my root.

Hmmm. Of course this means I now need to put something more interesting on factoryjoe.com… damn.

Last.fm for friends!

Was thinking… wouldn’t it be kind of interesting if there were an attention aggregator for your friending behavior? I mean, being able to see who you’ve friended at many social networks and then inferring other folks you might want to meet would be pretty useful — and as we tend to say — would accelerate serendipity.

And this would go beyond simple XFNing someone — this would actual include identifying and measuring your behavior with and towards each friend over time… for example, do you message them often? Do you recommend links? Who do you always invite or add first?

Anyway, I think I’d like to be able to get friend recommendations and make new connections — kind of like an accelerated LinkedIn… oh well, maybe that’s just me.

Under lock and key

Daniel Quinn has written about civilization and how agricultural farming is what has brought us to our current environmental predicament. In his books, particularly Ishmael and My Ishmael, he points out putting the food supply under lock and key (as opposed to being readily available for foraging) is a natural outgrowth of agriculture, given its surpluses and that our entire infrastructure is built around that condition.

Recently I’ve been reading his book Beyond Civilization, which, contrary to what you might think, is a treatise against civilization in general — not an advocation of improving civilization, but of an abandonment of the notion altogether, for in civilization, we find the memes that time and time again lead us down the path of exploitation and environmental desecration.

Rather than just continue building civilization in a different way, he advocates walking away — and developing a new model of making a living based on tribal economics.

While his vision is appealing to me, I’m stuck wanting to see massive change and revolution, sensing the urgency of our situation. On the other hand, no massive and complete upheaval will actually work, since inverting the triangle would simply result in another triangle.

Instead, and this is the way biological systems work, we need incremental change and new memes that shape our thinking and our approach to our reality.

I’ve been thinking about this lately and find that DRM and Intellectual Property Laws represent one side of Daniel’s Quinn’s story — and efforts like Coworking, BarCamp, microformats, open source and others represent, or at least have characteristics, of the other.

In particular, I question any institutional trend towards consolidation, crystallization, centralization or the locking up of naturally occurring resources or readily reproducible resources (like digital data). With much of my work, I’ve attempted to implement or at least follow the framework suggested by Andrius Kulikaukus in his “An Economy for Giving Everything Away”. I’ve also taken lessons from Daniel Quinn’s work and others, and have come to prefer a longer and more incremental approach to the changes that I want to see made real, and I think that this is the path of open source and biomimetic innovation.

Having visited BarCampLondon, I instantly see the value of making BarCamp open and proactively inclusive from the beginning. Retrospectively, I’m proud that there was no urge to trademark or lock down the name, the brand, the model or the community — as anathema to the spirit of BarCamp those actions would have been, they were choices that were made, either explicitly or implicitly, over time. And there are lessons to be had from our experiences.

On occasion, the notion of trademarking the BarCamp name has been brought up, primarily from a defensive perspective, to chill any attempts by “bad actors” or “corporate interests” from taking away from us that which we call our community, much CMP nearly did with their “Web 2.0” trademark. Now, I can tell you that I can understand the reasoning behind this and can sympathize with it. I can also state, quite certainly, that I’d rather the name be taken from us than to bring us back to centralization and the methods of enforcement and protection that I find so unseemly in a gift-based, community context.

Trademarks, patents and copyright all place upon the owners of such Rights obligations that do not beget community. As DRM are the economic shackles of genius, so I would not move to limit the bounds and possibilities that good actors within the community might do. That is not to say that we are immune from abuse, only that our priority should be the encouragement and promotion of proper and positive use.

To that end, we rely on a community of peers to uphold our values and principles, and do not outsource the responsibility of this work to a cathedral, a court of law, a foundation or other centralized establishment. We defer instead to the routing of the network and the creation of nodes in bearing shades of the original.

This is an ecosystem, we are the grid, this is walking away from civilization, this is rise of the tribes of BarCamp.

I’ll conclude with a quote from Daniel Quinn‘s Beyond Civilization, where he invokes an interesting word in describing “A new rule for new minds”:

We deeply believe in taking a military approach to problems. We proclaim a “war” on poverty. When that fails, we proclaim a “war” on drugs. We “fight” crime. We “combat” homelessness. We “battle” hunger. We vow to “defeat” AIDS.

Engineers can’t afford to fail as consistently as politicians and bureaucrats, so they prefer accedence to resistance (as I do). For example, they know that no structure can be made rigid enough to resist an earthquake. So, rather than defy the earthquake’s power by building rigid structures, they accede to it by building flexible ones. To accede is not merely to give in but rather to give in while drawing near; one may accede not only to an argument but to a throne. Thus the earthquake-proof building survives not be defeating the earthquake’s power by by acknowledging it — by drawing it in and dealing with it.

This is the path forward, and the path that I prefer to any kind of control, ownership or dictatorship. I believe that it also the one of the BarCamp community, and so long as we are able to accede to our environment and always respond to it positively, productively and optimistically, I think that we stand a chance to see the change realized that we wish to become.

Higher purpose and conspiring with the universe

Buckminster Fuller

Evelyn Rodriguez picks up on Tara’s recent commentful thread on Higher Purpose and references Buckminster Fuller. I think I’ll add him to my list of heros.

“In 1927, at the age of 32, Buckminster Fuller stood on the shores of Lake Michigan, prepared to throw himself into the freezing waters. His first child had died. He was bankrupt, discredited and jobless, and he had a wife and new-born daughter. On the verge of suicide, it suddenly struck him that his life belonged, not to himself, but to the universe. He chose at that moment to embark on what he called “an experiment to discover what the little, penniless, unknown individual might be able to do effectively on behalf of all humanity.”

Oh, and this fits nicely with The Alchemist’s assertion that, should you let it, the universe will conspire in your favor.

You’re all growing old with me

It just dawned on me, but it’s fairly obvious, but you’re all growing up at the same rate that I am. Some will last longer than others, some will appear to live on forever. But, by in large, we’re not getting any younger, so, while I am as young as am (never to be younger) I just wanted to say that I appreciate those of you I’m growing up around, now, in this time period.

The rewards of the unsought

I’ve just discovered that “” originates from a story of “The Three Princes of Serendip”.

I read by John Perry Barlow the other day. In it, he suggests that the challenge is not to seek happiness but to open yourself to its arrival.

In other words, the challenge is not to seek, but to open yourself to arrival.

Is it that I should learn the meaning of the word by having recently stumbled upon an example which illustrates it perfectly only slightly prior to having the origins revealed to me?


On emergent policy and ‘self’ vs ‘governance in common’

I had “gone away” from the microformats-discuss list a month or so back owing to Andy [Mabbett]’s sometimes abrasive tone and pedantic reasoning. I simply didn’t have time to parse through all the hub-bub, as interesting as it might have been to certain folks in the middle of it.

I’m glad that Tantek has taken action, as I previously encouraged him to do, because, though I value Andy’s positive contributions to the list, the wiki and the community, many of his contributions worked to unravel or undue the positive karma they earned him.

As Tantek said, it’s a balancing act — and Andy was very good providing net neutral contributions.

But, I do not wish to dwell on that topic, for, at the very least, groundbreaking action has been taken finally, and action that we can learn from, in light of what’s also come before us.

What I did want to talk about, however, are two things — namely the meta-centralization that the microformats-dot-org community represents and the emergent policy that microformats, as an effort to codify a series of best practices that become standard in web-transmittable computer code, stands for. My goal is to illustrate the broader purpose and perspective of the work we’re doing, to propose a proper ego-placement with regards to this work, and suggest potential parallels which make the cabal-like governance work in certain circumstances, and unravel in others, even within this community.

  1. Where microformats fits in the broader picture.

    I’ll get this out of the way right now. The terms and names of microformat classes, rel-values and so on don’t matter. They don’t. In many sense, they’re arbitrary, just as AJAX and HTML caught on. They’re simply placeholders for meaning, like the dollar bill is used to transmit the meaning of value in society.

    What is valuable, however, is agreement on terms. Agreement and implementation between organizations and institutions — for implementation is non-binding, but by supporting a common cause, both parties stand to benefit in ways neither is quite sure of yet, but sees no reason to act to the contrary.

    In this case, microformats such as hcard and hcalendar have found wide support, because, unlike other external efforts that tried to reinvent schema, we (Tantek in particular) dispensed with coming up with yet more schema and went with existing convention (note that when we have undertaken the “naming” process with new microformats, that process is often where most of this community’s contention and dissension lies).

    But naming is an ego-driven event that is similar to an artist signing his or her work; and when has a community produced a singular piece of artwork? Rarely, if ever!

  2. Why the microformats community operates as a cabal, and why it should continue to do so.

    Anyone who has participated in this community for some time will know how hard it is to get a new microformat “blessed” — that is, accepted, documented, promoted and ‘officialized’ by the community. There are many microformats efforts that have been relegated to the scrapheap of semantic history or to the personal industry of smaller parties, but very few efforts actually result in what we all would call a microformat when we see it.

    Truth be told, coming up with standards of any kind is a difficult and harried process. There are those among us who have direct experience with closed bodies who have and have not been successful with their charge to develop interoperable standards and who could teach us all about the quagmire that is standards development. But there is strength is focus and in defending an ideal by intuitive fiat, even if it seems unfair to those who have a great deal to offer but do not have the same deftness that the incumbents possess.

    As such, those who have been around from the beginning and have weathered the hills and dales of this community have, in my opinion, earned their seat at the table of the cabal. Fortunately, this cabal is dependent upon the support of the community and upon obeisance of its dicta or else it would simply cease to exist. In that way, the controlling cabal is still very much subservient to the implementations and good works of the community to give it its power; if people stopped implementing or caring about microformats tomorrow, regardless of their perceived arrogance or very real self-assurance, their importance would only be to themselves.

    And in that way, there is an important balance achieved, between despotism and collaboration fueled by meritorious leadership. But, this only scales to such a degree — and feudalism can only hold so long as the needs of the tenants are being met often enough. In the case where centralization and cabalism leads to paralysis of natural growth and species development, certain changes are in order.

  3. On the continued rhizomatic development of microformats

    A rhizome is a type of root-based plant that sends out lateral roots to create offshoot new instantiations of itself. Strawberries are rhizomatic as is ginger. What’s important about a rhizome is that it’s growth path is predicated on similar and equal offshoots being cultivated in environments in which the original may not have been borne. As such, the offshoot is better healed to deal with the foreign environment than if the original had simply been cloned or if it had tried to impose itself on a foreign or hostile soil.

    What does this have to do with this community? Well, for one thing, the cabal-like institution of the microformats community leadership is powerful because we give it its power. And I trust it to look out for our best interests; at the same time, I think that there are opportunities to both relieve some pent up pressure as well as consider alternative models that would continue to effectively spread microformats and the practices that this community espouses beyond our areas of natural influence.

    I think a salient example of this came recently when my partner, Tara Hunt, was consider for deletion on Wikipedia (as I have been consider before). Now, Wikipedians obviously have the interest of Wikipedia in mind when they consider removing things from the index and they also, one might surmise, have the readers in mind as well. However, in both discussions over whether to remove Tara and myself from the index (and this has been repeated for other people in the index as well) it was the *individual bias of Wikipedia editors* that ruled out over the unspoken interest of the minority communities that stood to benefit from our inclusion (one person even suggested that I be kept in the index since I was a “Notable programmer that assisted in creating a few notable groups and browsers” — those who know me know that I can’t code for shyte — and thus the reasoning for keeping would have been arbitrary at best).

    So, coming back to microformats, I think that it’s time, as a matter of governance and Darwinian evolution, that we actual begin thinking about allowing new species of microformats to exist in the wild — they may not receive a “blessing” by us, but I hardly think that all the creatures on earth today were predicted in any non-secular books.

    To this end, I would recommend the specific explanation and characterization, vis-a-vis the microformats process, of efforts that fall into any of these categories:

    1. best practice — a technique has been discovered to make the composition of XHTML documents more consistent or more semantically accurate, for example, using the <cite> tag
    2. design pattern — this isn’t necessary a “data format” in the sense that microformats should be about data interchange, but a design pattern is XHTML that can be used to facilitate the development of human interfaces, and may, for example, leverage existing microformats to achieve its affect (an example could be if flickr applied a behavior to hcards that allowed you to add a person marked up with the hcard microformat to your friends list)… the presence of microformats for a design pattern, however, is purely optional
    3. exploratory/brainstorming — gee, wouldn’t it be great to have a format for Smooth Peanut Butter? — primarily at the early stages, no code is necessary to explore a concept, but an interested or committed following is present and is willing to document the problem they’d like to solve and existing behavior
    4. working draft — essentially a series of conventions or best practices have been developed that may show up in the wild and that are probably “good enough” to start putting into use, with the understanding that changes are still likely
    5. recommendation/specification — this is where things solidify enough so that making a change has some impact… in fact, you could use this stage to definitively mark up your documents knowing that a change is unlikely; what separates this stage from becoming a “real” microformat is implementations in the wild; if no one adopts or puts this work into practice, you have a dead standard that would serve only to clutter the microformat ecosystem
    6. microformat — only when there is mass deployment in the wild, such that, given any significant sampling of pages on the open web, you *might* bump into this format, should it then be considered an actual microformat — for in practice, the community at large (the one that subsumes the microformats community and its leading cabal) has shown its support by adopting the conventions recommended in the spec and have shown their approval of it by *actually deploying it*

      The last and final stage is the hardest, as it requires influence, political might and campaigning; but those are the microformats that will likely last and be embraced — and, futhermore, are the most indisputable because there are real, rather than imagined or potential, statistics behind them.

    7. Note that that list is preliminary, but does pay homage to the W3C process stages, but in a much more informal way:

    1. Working Draft (WD)
    2. Last Call Working Draft
    3. Candidate Recommendation (CR)
    4. Proposed Recommendation (PR)
    5. W3C Recommendation (REC)
  4. Finally, to conclude, I would like to suggest that expanding and making more explicity the preliminary stages of “microformat crystalization” allows external communities to take this effort and expand it beyond our natural sphere of influence or first-hand knowledge. The purpose, of course, is to avoid the kind of Wikipedian-myoptic purview that would lead the effort down the path of exclusivity and stagnation. If anything stands out about the current governance structure, it’s that we have a strong political will in Tantek who does a damn fine job keeping us on target but who, to the detriment of the whole, hasn’t allowed for market forces to take care of the nascent efforts that might emerge external to this list.

    If anything else, I want to avoid at all costs, now that we’re seeing popular support from Firefox et al, the conversion of our rich and diverse community into a Tech Crunch-like kingmaker — that people somehow think they have to win favor with in order to be successful. I think the point is that anyone should be able to build out and see through the execution and development of a microformats, potentially entirely outside of this list, simply by religiously adhering to the principals by which we govern ourselves and allow ourselves to be governed.

    For all the times that Andy has asked Tantek “what gives you the right?” there is an equal opportunity to say, “I give myself the right” to take these ideas, these practices, the fundamental goes and assumptions of this community and to strike out on my own, to pursue that which I know is right and is valuable to a community that those who reside on the list are unfamiliar with. For all Andy’s struggles to have his way, there was a larger goal of using simple principles to semanticize the web that he could have, at any point, taken elsewhere and not forked the community, but done his work in an environment that suited him better.

    I know why Tantek did why he did and I support him in his decision. But I also support Andy’s ability to pioneer his own efforts, not necessary under the microformats name, but under the same principles. And should he be successful, well, he certainly would have some valuable bargaining chips to lay down when he offers his opinions to the us and to the cabal, wouldn’t he?