Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Cloister and The Fence Jumper

Bob Sutor asks an interesting question about social networks becoming the banks of our personal information. Haren asks if open standards for exchanging social network information will improve that market.

Would that it were that easy, Haren. Let me compare this to the current faux standards initiatives in virtual worlds. The question is

1. The import/export of object serializations still needs a common object model if the behavior of the system is important. One can import/export geometry assets fairly well minus the color pallette (notoriously variant). After that, scripts are the challenge. VRML is the most ubiquitous import/export format for web use with Collada coming up fast. X3D has a better model but isn't as widely deployed.

2. The next issue is the runtime. These formats are usually not reversible, or what we once called 'lobster traps'. The lobster goes forward but can't come back without shedding a limb, sometimes called 'lossy'. XML doesn't protect a data asset from this. Being without semantics, it can't. The XMLers have long claimed XML is a good runtime format, but most of us are document wonks, not real-time 3D systems designers. Given the size of files required to create a seamlessly navigable virtual planet, verbosity matters. A lot. Animators won’t accept slower frame rates to enable open human-readable formats these days. The pioneering days of VRML gave way to the Second Life city-states where ‘stickyness’ is the analog to the Hotel California: check in but never leave.

In other words, highly competitive markets “forge, f**K, hide and deal” to obtain locks on their customers. The Haight experience repeats endlessly in the Valley: it starts off starry-eyed but pretty soon everyone is focused on the bottom line.

So there are two problems: having a common model to share that is operationally compatible, and the will to share.

Social networks have a slightly more dismal story I'm told. Not much attention has been paid here for the same reason the virtual world owners aren't raging for common interchange. Being entertainment venues or light social interaction venues, the idea is to keep eyeballs from wandering, so like a possessive mistress, they tend to guard the secrets of their attractions.

That might be seen as an indicator of the immaturity of the market. Small firms acting small. As larger companies become involved, they tend toward the common data models because they are more interested in increasing the size of the market itself. Note for example Google created KML for its 3D assets and it was implemented in the X3D/VRML editors such as Media Machines Flux. That is a win for the authors because they can move assets independently among the vendor worlds. This would be the result for the social networks; the users can move information assets. The problem is finding some net advantage for the network owners.

A change might be if more of these were P2P and the local machine could be used to protect the privacy where necessary. People would have to be responsible for it and some would rather pay someone else to do that. That was what I was saying in the first post. If a person could provide all of that information to one trusted/paid-to-be-litigable source, then the ability of that source to protect and manage the private information would be their selling point. Think of it as the Swiss Bank model for personal information. That vendor could provide a card or other means which a user then gives to say their doctor or other transaction partner rather than having each partner own a copy of the personal information. That was the problem of the SSN: it gets too widely distributed-by-value rather than reference; so its security is minimized yet it unlocks an incredible amount of personal information.

It is an interesting conundrum: a system designed to distribute (the web) results in the concentration of stored information to offset the dangers of the very characteristic it was designed to enhance.

Then there is the danger of sharing. It isn’t simply a matter of enabling it. If that were so, adultery would be a very well supported human behavior instead of one that while ubiquitous, is generally punishable sometimes by law but most often by social ruin. Just because something is popular to do doesn’t mean it is safe to do, yet Silly Valley investors and developers act as if every thing they sell has a social imperative.

"The web is going to be a much more immersive, a much more multi-dimensional environment," said John Doerr, one of the founding board members at Google and a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which invests heavily in the tech sector.

Mr Doerr's presentation touched on a range of areas that would be affected by the web, in particular green technologies and the energy sector, as well as disease therapy, and he gave stark warning to any firm that was not willing to embrace emerging trends. "In any real revolution there are winners and losers. The internet wasn't some kind of 'kum ba ya' thing," he said.

Doerr is funny if not ironic. His statement comes down to "Buy from us or perish." Actually, the web was a kumbaya thing. When the scout master began to molest the scouts, things changed.

Revolutionary changes don't often come from where the mass is looking. The status quo resists change and nature conspires against intelligence. Revolutionary comes from where few are looking and that few are struggling for their lives in some cause shared quietly if reluctantly by many. That is why it is called ‘revolutionary’.

The first revolution of the Internet is sharing yet sharing has created many problems with identity theft and other social illnesses. The rise of a ‘smarter’ web may be the creation of a cleverer burglar. The problem is protection, not sharing.

The next web is not an open web, but a cloistered one of many walled gardens where the contract is not how widely shared information is, but how safe and protected it is. The rise of the city-state was the rise of a gated community in the beginning. When what goes on inside the gates has enough value, the walls get higher and the guards become more professional.

In a world of competitive dog shows, breeders don't tolerate fence jumpers kindly.

No comments:

Comment Policy

If you don't sign it, I won't post it. To quote an ancient source: "All your private property is target for your enemy. And your enemy is me."