Monthly Archives: December 2010

Alleviating Problems or Symptoms?

I haven’t written in a couple of days. This is mainly due to a lack of stuff going on in my head. However, not too long ago I watched a video on RSABlogs that really peaked my interest. It’s an interesting video in that it looks/questions the intentions of many “cheritable” companies. For example, TOMS shoes, is a company who’s 1:1 marketing have helped it rocket into prominence. It takes social and corporate conscience to a new level. A lot of companies have done similar things. It’s a new type of capitalism. However, the Slavoj Zizek thinks this is all capitalist BS. There is no good capitalist.

He believes that capitalism doesn’t address the social problems. Further, if Charitable Capitalism (CC from here on) addresses anything, it addresses the symptoms. Further yet, he seems to believe that CC hides the malevolent characteristics of capitalism. I think his system of belief would be true if two things were true: 1) That capitalism was actually a bad system 2) “capitalist” nations are really capitalist nations.

I think that capitalism in its purest form is bad. 1 Slavoj; 0 Dan. We find examples this when we look back in history. Capitalism created some of the groundwork for the innovation found in the 19th century but it also left a scorched path of destruction in the from of toxic sewage, tenement housing and pseudo-feudal ownership (i.e. mining towns). These sorts of conditions are fruitful for the companies making the products (and their investors) but horrible for those that were basically enslaved by the companies. As the government started reigning in the business practices of these companies, things began getting better for all. This was a slow project but it has so far worked wonderfully. Pure capitalism, as Slavoj believes, is not the greatest system. A quick glance at communist, though, gives the same answer. Communism doesn’t for similar reasons. Instead of a private monopoly, you find a government/”public” monopoly. Prices cannot be stabilized (relative to the market) and innovation can die.

So how is it that Slavoj is wrong? It’s true that pure capitalism is bad, but pure capitalism doesn’t exist in industrialized countries. Industrialized nations, the capitalist archetype, are more or less mixed economies. They have more in common with “socialist” thought than capitalist. Think about the US government. They tax you for policing the streets, protecting you from fires, enforcing parking limits, your social security and unemployment insurance etc. These are not things a purely capitalist country would do. Capitalism is a “hands-off” endeavor. Mixed Capitalism is what really is the case in the world.

Slavoj overlooks (possibly on purpose) that most industrialized countries are not purely capitalist but he also seems to miss a distinction. Capitalism is a system not a group of businesses or even a . Capitalism is an open economic platform that individuals can use at for their own purposes. Communism is a closed economic platform that is very well regulated by the government and many times, the government is the only one that can take advantage of the platform. Individuals are the ones that have chosen to tie in ethical issues into their companies. Sure, it could all be a marketing scheme, but nevertheless, it is the individual who has made the choice to build their company in that way. Its not a system/platform enforced requirement.

What does this mean? I mentioned that capitalism is bad in pure form and I have shown that most capitalist nations are more socialist than he makes them out to be. It’s obvious from his video, that he is interested in communism, but as I have mentioned above, that is also not a good path to go down. I have to disagree with Slajov that capitalism, in its present form, is bad. When the platform is open, but regulated, it leads to a much more vibrant economic culture.

Slavoj is misguided in thinking that all that we can do is alleviate symptoms. In many cases, these companies have to target the problem if they’re going to stay in business. This can happen because of system enforced requirements or consumer requirements, or just social requirements.  Just because the system is taking a long time to correct problems does not mean that it, in fact, is not correcting them. In short, the current system is much more favorable than the other known possibilities.

Marry Christmas

Yes, I want to marry it. We live in a secular country but due to the large number of Christians, we are all forced to take the day off. I mean, most of them aren’t going to be buying our products so it would be a waste of money to have our shops open. It just makes monetary sense.

What I’m trying to say is that we need more days off. We should do one of two things:
1) have Christians to celebrate more Holidays
OR
2) have Christians to believe in a religion with a lot more holidays. I want more days off.

Anywho, that’s about it for this little blurb, but I will leave a couple of pages that you might be interested in looking at if you’re bored of your family and friends.

1) A breakdown of incomes based on religious belief (no surprises here).
2) Kenya wants to be the next great “outsource” nation (a reason to look at Western capitalism in a kinder light. Serious.).
3) A funny account of a tech bloggers experience as a bookstore clerk.
4) Jesus Wants You to Read The Bible on Your iPhone
5) A compelling story about helping others (we’ve heard it, but doesn’t like a good bah?)
6) I’ve posted this before but worth posting again. Tomorrow, at the cash registers, this is why the other line is moving faster than yours.
7) A look at what the sick “tests” the Czech Republic is conducting on refugees seeking asylum.
8) Everyone is a-buzz about Christmas!

Merry Christmas! (CLICK IT!)

iOS and OSX

UPDATE: My roommate informed me that there are button commands that do what I want. Look below if you didn’t know these tricks already. As a side note, I want the delete option to be native (not button driven) and the to-top option to be gesture driven.

I’ve been an iPhone user since the start in 2007. It’s an amazing product and I don’t really see myself leaving it. This past November, Apple introduced OSX Lion, their new iteration of the OSX family. I was impressed by some of the features and can’t wait to see all of them. Here are a couple of features I’d like implemented on Macs.

Quick Delete
If you’ve used an iPhone to text someone and have made a huge mistake and want to erase the whole thing, there are two things you can do. You can shake it or you can hold the delete button. I highly doubt you want to shake your iMac or Macbook. The other option is much more reasonable and still fast. When you hold the delete button it starts off by doing a character-by-character delete but then progresses to a word-by-word delete. I truly hate having to delete every single letter. Even highlighting is annoying. It has to be easier.

To-Top Touch
Another feature that I find myself wanting while I browse is a To-Top Touch. When I’m browsing a long page, I sometimes just want to go to the top quickly without having to scroll. Even with inertial scroll, it doesn’t always quite make it up to the top with one flick. This would be super awesome for my Mac experience.

The Future of the Humanities

In the humanities, there aren’t a lot of numbers. The humanities are not an exact science. Actually, I sat in an anthropology class once and was blatantly told by the professor that it couldn’t be. Physics isn’t 100% accurate but we call it an exact science and I think we can get close enough to call the humanities the same. I have mentioned in an earlier post that I think that social networking sites (SNSs from here on out) will help fix this quantitative problem. The amount of data being produced by the users is massive. We now have 2% of the world’s power usage being taken up by data centers! That is an incredible number and I am sure that it will only get bigger as we share more information. I want to use this post to talk about how SNSs will change the humanities.

From Dreams to Reality
If you have been in the humanities you know what a scattered field it is. If you are a science major and your college requires general education courses, I’m sure you wanted to rip your hair out when you took sociology, psychology or economics. They can be a real pain quantitatively. Sitting in those classes drives me nuts because the data or rather the evidence is anecdotal at best and tainted at worst. Anecdotal because the professor sees it one way (then go to class 102 and you get a different theory based off the “evidence”) and tainted because humans act different when they are being watched.

This is all changing now. In 2008, in a disastrous interview, Mark Zuckerberg said something that really enthralled me. About Facebook he said, “we’re not trying to create new communities, but help people communicate with people they already would have.” What does this mean? Facebook’s goal is too create an online mirror of their users offline happenings. This is what a lot of SNSs are doing too. A couple months ago Facebook launched Facebook Places where people could check in to different locales. This means that they not only have your personal and friendship information but also now have your location information. Social information is becoming quantitative. It’s an advance that will make mirroring the offline world much easier.

The potential of SNSs is growing every year and they will expand greatly in the next decade. The information they have right now is not an exact mirror, but it will get closer. If you think we’re the Social Networking Generation, you’re wrong. I know a lot of people (myself included) that are apprehensive about using location tags. However, children growing up with these sites will see it as commonplace. They will share more information than we do and they will do it happily. In 10 years, the data found in whatever SNS dominates the market, will be a treasure trove to researchers. But how?

The Nitty-gritty
As it stands now, the human research is happening internally within these companies. Google is making search rankings reflect human rankings and Facebook has a pretty good sense of who your real friends are and who are just acquaintances. Foursquare is trying to figure out at what time you buy and what you’re buying and some ingenious people are using Twitter to predict the market. Clearly internal human prediction products are being created and with much success! With more information, they can only get better. I want to describe a couple of areas where we will get or are already getting a lot of information from users. (I won’t describe old areas like search, regular social networking and blogs).

Location
These services have been out for a while not but are becoming more popular. If you’re on Facebook you already see friends checking-in to different establishment. These services will change the way we’re served advertisement. We will not be given random advertisements from Gap but instead you’ll get an ad from Joes’ (Your City) Café right down the block. It’s a game changer. In terms of social sciences, not only will they see human movement patterns but they will also see human interaction patters. Not interaction over the net, but offline interactions. Sociology will get a kick out of this information!

Finance
There are already a couple of online services that help you with your finances. There is mint.com and some intuit stuff but they aren’t really too social. Blippy is one that stands out in that they are recording your purchases and putting them in a Twitter like feed. This allows users to share their purchases with others and comment on the item or service. Sounds a bit strange but it might just work out. Google is doing some research of its own. With Google Checkout they are building a reservoir of financial profiles that they can use to better serve ads. This can be a boon for economists, sociologists and psychologists. Economists could track purchases made by millions of individuals and see money flow. As it stands the information is very hit or miss. If all transaction information was aggregated and digitized it would become much more certain. Sociologists and psychologists could connect information found on their Facebook and tie it their financial profiles (they might be one and the same if Facebook makes a checkout clone). This in turn can give them interesting information about how people react to certain purchases or how certain economic classes make expenditures.

In a related note, there are a ton of internal research articles found on the blogs of both Facebook and Google. Facebook just released one yesterday on the trends found among statuses. Google’s Blog has a ton of articles on the research they’ve done. The most recent involves the Ngram reader that looks at word trends found in the millions of books it has scanned. As we collect more information, we also increase the probability of finding interesting information about human behavior. Computer systems will mirror human systems.

Social networking, search, location and finance will help us make the humanities real sciences. I can think of other interesting avenues but it would make this post too long. When these other things come into play they will make the information much more rich. As it stands now, only social networking (a la Facebook) and search (a la Whoever) are coming close to mimicking the offline world. Location is definitely starting to flicker into something amazing. As years the years pass it will really be a treasure trove of information. Financial information is still a zygote. I’m not sure if it will take off in a social medium but I think that it will be tied to some social network. That is, people will make purchases using a SNS’s checkout product that doesn’t necessarily post it publicly. Instead, it may save it as a receipt of some sort. Ultimately, the company that holds most of this data will be king. But it will also be a great place to start quantifying the humanities and turning them into real sciences.

Twitter Q&A

Twitter recently acquired Fluther in a talent acquisition. However, I hope that Twitter takes that talent and creates the greatest Q&A service. Not only do I think that Twitter can create the best but I also think that it could attract new people to the service. New users = more money! So, what I want to do with this post is go over what I think Twitter should do and how they can monetize it!

Ask Button
I’m not sure if Twitter would want to do this because it adds a “level of complication.” New users would need to learn that regular tweets are done by the “Tweet” button and that Questions are done by the “Ask” button. Doesn’t seem like a big deal but I’m sure there will be many who don’t know how to use the service properly.

The ask button would be the key part. What I envision is that when someone pushes the “Ask” button they will be directed to a question thread where other’s can come and answer the question. The page will be like the Quora Question page but it will be real time. Answers will pop up instantaneously. The only part I’m not sure of is how the service should go about making these question pages. Should they make a page for every question asked or should they redirect users to an already asked question page. For instance, suppose user X asks Question 1 (Q1 from here on). Then that user Y asks Q2. If Q2=Q1, should Y be redirected to X’s question or should a whole new question page be created? This wouldn’t fix the problem of semantic question redundancy, but it would fix a literal question redundancy. That is, it would fix word-for-word question redundancy but not meaning-for-meaning redundancy. Unless they have some sort of algorithm for that.

Social Asking
The service as it stands is amazing already but it needs an addicting characteristic. It needs to serve relevant questions to users. It could get boring if the questions being served are irrelevant or impossible to answer because you’re not in that particular field. Twitter already has a lot of information about the people you follow and what field they’re in. If you follow a lot of people in the financial sector, it should serve you proportional amount of financial questions. If you follow a ton of celebrities, you should be served a lot of celebrity/gossip questions. It’s easy and I’m sure that Twitter can implement this with ease.

More importantly, I think there should be a mobile aspect to it. This is where it’s going to be amazing for Twitter. When someone asks a question about LA Taco Trucks, they should be allowed to tag their city. It then should serve the question over to people who are in LA and have shown interest in the Taco Truck industry. When mobile hit’s Q&A it will change the industry for ever. In an unrelated note, there is also the question about the 140 character limit. Should Twitter keep the 140 character limit for questions? This is one of the reasons that the “Ask” button, location tags and possibly topic tags are important. If people include these in the tweet box it might be too limiting.

Although this service would already be very social I think there should be another social layer. It might be the part that makes it even more addicting. When the thread get’s going there should be “up” and “down” votes for the people answering questions.  This will help Twitter create Q&A rankings for people. Those who answer correctly will be rewarded (so will those who answer incorrectly but wittily). Will it have some problems? Yeah sure, but it’s going to be fun. It’s social. Answers don’t always have to be right. As things settle maybe the right answerers will win. But then again…

Making That Scrilla (Money)
Well, this is a good service and all, but how can we pay for it?! There are two ways that Twitter can make money off of this. One is more likely than the other. I’m going to start with the most likely monetization candidate.

Advertising
Since what I’m suggesting involves creating a whole new page for the question itself, what Twitter can do is put Google like advertisements on the sides. This would mean that they should make the Question Page look like Old Twitter. This will allow for not just text-based ads but display ads. What’s important here is that those answering and those who are asking the question will be directly interested in the content and hopefully content-related ads. This is the simplest and most obvious way to monetize the Q&A service.

Pay-Par-Answer
This might seem really stupid from the get go. Twitter is already a free service where lots of celebrities answer questions for free. However, Twitter could make some money by having a pay-per-answer from celebrities. Those who have been verified could enter this program. People could pay a dollar per question and Twitter splits it 50/50. This will give celebrities an incentive to answer questions and it will give user an incentive to ask them questions (i.e. they answer their questions). Of course, this is a much more complicated affair because some people might be disgruntled by the answers they paid for. For example, if a user asks Celebrity X something, and X says “no comment.” That can cause a problem. But then maybe someone can ask “Who are the worst celebrities to ask questions to?”

Quora and Aardvark

I’ve been using Quora and Aardvark the last couple of days and they are really awesome services. They are much more dynamic than the work that has been done by Yahoo answers. I’m sure that these will blow up. I definitely suggest that you get in on it. I think, all in all, Quora is the winner here. You can ask a question about something very important and have it answered by the horse’s mouth. Since Quora is a service developed by some ex-Facebookers you find that there are a lot of high-up techies answering question about current industry events. Really cool! I can’t wait to see the service blow up and see Politicians, Celebrities etc. answering not just question about themselves but about other subjects!

As exciting as these two services are, I am really looking forward to Twitter’s new Q&A service. I think it might be the winner if they pull it off right. The real time aspect of it is going to just propel it into greatness. In a longer post I will write out my wish list for Twitter’s Q&A service. Maybe they’ll take my suggestions to heart!

A Little Late: My 2¢

I just read an article written on June 3, 2010 asking that Mark Zuckerberg resign from his post at Facebook. People are welcome to their opinions but I wanted to respond to some of the reasons given in the article. Plainly, I don’t think that Zuckerberg should leave his post as CEO and I don’t think that the reasons given in that article are valid.

Overlooking User base
It’s true that Facebook has had some privacy flops and that the tech savvy media have made everyone aware of it. The problem with this stance is two fold. First off, the people who were complaining about the privacy channels were not necessarily the main user base but instead, tech savvy bloggers. It got some traction with the mainstream media, but it was all show. What I mean by this is, the main user base doesn’t care about these issues even though they are issues. Privacy is not something they are very aware of or even want to worry about. Secondly, if we think back to the days when every tech blogger was threatening to leave Facebook, what were they angry about? They were angry about the granularity of the privacy settings! They were angry that there was so much control over the privacy. They worried that the normal user couldn’t figure it out. I had an easy time going around it. I’m sure that if a regular user (non-tech savvy, doesn’t care about privacy much) were to use it they could get around it too. Ultimately, the real user base doesn’t care and if it did, it could have figured it out.

Behind The Stage
In the article, there is also talk about Twitter and Google being “enduring” enterprises due to their respect of their user base.  Oh, how much has changed since June. We have a Google app that does background location information without the user knowing, Android and Apple apps are sending information to third-party advertisers etc. These companies are freemium services and will and have always been cataloguing information from us. Sure, the more user and privacy friendly one, given they are technologically identical, will win. But they again, as mentioned above, most people have a hard time caring about their privacy. I don’t know many people (even tech savvy one’s) that will sit down and read page after page of term of service agreements. It’s absurd. Maybe should work on that.

As for Twitter, they seem to have a pretty good record. They are basically squeeky clean. They also seem to have a pretty clean bank account. They might be expanding their revenue streams due to new ad products but we can only wait and see. Given other companies track records, I wont be surprised if Twitter has been aggregating data without our knowledge. What happens behind closed doors doesn’t always stay behind closed doors.

He’s Just Under Pressure
I’m not really sure why this PR faux pas was even mentioned. He’s a young guy and he was under the spotlight (pun intended). Public speaking shouldn’t be the measure of a great CEO. Further, did we really expect Zuckerberg (or any other CEO) to admit some real wrongdoing? That would not only bring down morale at the company but might also frighten users. Any good CEO would protect the investors and reassure the users that nothing is wrong. I think that whether it was intentional that he dodged some of the questions or just mere coincidence, it was what should have happened.