Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Rock A Bye Baby

Force vs culture: force loses. It is a rock fighting water. The rock loses every time over time but it takes time. Even with a large rock, enough small streams crossing will erode it to dust.

We seem to be approaching such a time in the evolution of the global Internet and a more massive shakeup in the power structures of our companies and governments. Where companies and individuals talked open standards and open systems, we seem to be witnessing attempts to close it on several fronts particularly given the opportunity to use the emerging markets for virtual worlds to gain keiretsu locks on the technologies. A considerable numbers of streams seem to be crossing.

Single Language Unification

There is an emerging effort on the surface from several domains to propagate the idea of single language unification. After all, that is what HTML is, right?

This is the wrong approach for many reasons. It creates an unhealthy ecosystem. Even where there is one language for a period of time, requirements for it diverge sufficiently to cause either so many variants that they may as well have separate titles or to eliminate areas of application that look similar on the surface but are quite different in the domain in which they operate (eg, design time vs runtime datasets). Generic markup succeeded precisely because it is the antithesis of the single language ecosystem. Think of DNA and you see how the engines of living systems actually work in cooperation or competition with the host environments.

The single language approach has a very long and public history of failures. One only has to look. XML succeeds precisely by NOT being a single language approach. SGML stalled because of having too many variations in the approach to a syntax unified system. HTML bifurcates because of too many necessary variations in the object frameworks that support it and the plethora of scripting languages that animate it.

This single language meme is stacking up to be one of the Big Idea discussions in the next year given the numbers of ostensibly separated emergence points I am seeing across various blogs and forums. Taken to extremes, it is a very bad idea. Not considered in terms of the technical reasons it is advanced, it is a dangerous idea to ignore. Not understanding that some of the motivations at some of the emergence points are not technical in nature makes it insidious.

Standards Or Not

While the discussions of social networking make for a fascinating coffee table book collection of musings, the elephant in the room is standards for interop.

1. Platform unification: pick a winner among the various competing gardeners. That's a non-starter for obvious reasons.

2. Keiretsu unification: a consortium of non-standard technologies are pulled together to create a network of interlocked walled gardens. Christian Renaud might want to use a different analogy than speciation. Look at the emergence of cities and city states. This one succeeds for some time but it is the Roman Empire approach to civilization. It has the advantages of money AS a force for integration but it creates a short lifecycle for the content. 3D content minus RADs is very expensive. Caveat emptor.

3. The Language IS the Platform. This approach has historically produced the healthiest ecosystem of standards. Languages are much more like living entities in their development cycles if you want to use speciation metaphors. The lifecycle advantages for the authors and owners of content are far greater as they force system vendors to compete for talent by offering better rendering and other services. The service bundle becomes the product for host vendors. In the X3D/VRML history, multiple vendors vied and died. Had it not been for the language basis, the content would have died with them. That is the ultimate outcome of building walled gardens in the desert. Archaeologists are the inheritors.

On the other hand, The Single Language Theory postulates that multiple languages create fractures with the most popular meme being the Tower of Babel myth interpreted as "God's vengeance on audacity". The counter interpretation is that it was God punishing one King who wished to become the single intercessor and that multiple languages enabled all to pray with their own expression.

The second analogy more nearly fits the situation we encounter with 3D standards. The problem is as Watte points out at Forterra, performance. This is the place to start thinking about 3D interoperability: runtime languages with high performance versus design time languages (eg, X3D, Collada) with desirable lifecycle characteristics.

That is the convergence we have to solve. The rest is marketing politics.

Games In the Workplace

This is a profoundly BAD idea. Many years ago the founder of Fairchild tried posting salaries as an exercise in motivating employees. It was the same reasoning: transparency leads to better performance. According to the stories, it almost destroyed the corporation as the inside games quickly became more important than external business. I’ve seen similar problems with so-called peer reviewing systems that then submit names to a committee to pick the so-called ‘high pot’ performers. Who ever dreamed that one up was certainly high on something. The key clique insiders began to game the system immediately. The results were very predictable.

This is folly because it assumes people are rational and given good information will act to improve the situation for themselves and others. The AI guys know the fallacy of rationality is bogus. The humans will take many kinds of acts given such rating systems but most of them are destructive. There are reasons for privacy laws and for restricting the flow of certain kinds of information. Transparency in proximity means closing the door to the bedroom first.

China and The Rest of the World

With cheap labor and dirty manufacturing coupled to the infinite desire of the West for More Stuff, the Chinese have amassed a substantial cash advantage. It is a bit like Google or Microsoft in the software market. Keep a lock on a market long enough and eventually you hold all the cash and most of the high cards in the deck. So goes the pace of globalization. IBM surrendered to China and other companies are kowtowing as fast as they can send salesman.

This is normal and predictable. The US dollar is in the toilet for awhile, the Chinese are holding the notes, and just as we had to do in the late 70s and 80s to dig our way out of the oil debt and the falling dollar post-Viet Nam, we have to do some major kowtowing to rebuild from our latest misadventures. Again, this is predictable as sunrise.

Markets seek levels like water seeks low ground or metal anneals when heated. The problem of annealing processes is sub-optimum minima that have to be socked really hard to restart the flow. One wonders where the thump will come from but those poisoning events will rattle something. What is truly entertaining is how strange the bedfellows become and how former bad guys turn out to be the good guys at the denouement.

It isn’t that the mammals aren’t rational. It is the shocks it takes to get them to use it. They claim the Chinese curse is ‘may you live in interesting times’. I think the right word for what is happening is ‘insidious’ because it is otherwise, deadly boring. What was that old quote about “lulling them to sleep”?

Rock a bye baby, indeed.

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