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Intervention by Denise Caruso Read Intervention by Denise Caruso, Executive Director of the Hybrid Vigor Silver Award Winner, 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards; Best Business Books 2007, Strategy+Business Magazine

archive for February, 2008


by ~ February 27, 2008

Last week, Melissa Lafsky cited some statistics on the rampant growth of click fraud and then punctuated the absurdity of the situation by questioning, rhetorically, whether everyone on the Internet is now a criminal for clicking with unlawful intent. Just who made it a fraud to click on a link, anyway? But to people whose immense fortunes are tied to sorting out honest clicks from false clicks, click fraud isn’t absurd at all. So after a flurry of comments about the piece, Lafsky clarified her position in a follow-on post.

Happily, Google’s got click interpretation down to a science, so we’re all off the hook (although the algorithm apparently still struggles with interpreting wit, sarcasm, irony, rhetoric, and French). So now I’m anxiously anticipating the beta of Google Intentions: an app for searching everyone’s click streams, categorized by intent!


by ~ February 27, 2008

The latest (Spring 2008) issue of Strategy+Business magazine is on the newsstand and on the web — and in it, my piece whacking cost-benefit analysis, the bane of innovation and sane regulatory policy. I’m already getting letters …

(Free) registration is required to read the article online.


by ~ February 24, 2008

Earlier this week, Olivia Judson posted a much-commented-upon essay on the biology of clouds at the New York Times site.

I am happy to report that in April 2002, Oliver Morton, Hybrid Vigor Fellow and the news and features editor for Nature (as well as the author of two books), wrote a terrific monograph for Hybrid Vigor on essentially the same subject, The Living Skies: Cloud Behavior and Its Role in Climate Change.


by ~ February 24, 2008

I got a comment on a blog post last week that was simple and to the point: “Interesting post. Thanks.” Reading between the lines of code accompanying the post I found this gem:

{sentby:program running on server}

Very cool! It seems I’ve become popular with the blog-spambot audience. It reminded me of Jemaine Clement’s introduction to “The Humans Are Dead”:

Thank you. That’s overwhelming…. This next song we’re going to do isn’t really intended for humans; it’s probably more for robots, in the future when the robots have killed all the humans. That’s the sort of market we’re trying to get into.

What some vendors won’t do for marketing attention. This bot’s purpose is to post meaningless comments on blogs in order to drop the vendor’s URL on the site. The irony in this case was that the spambot’s owner was a “trust vendor.”

Glad to know the foxes are trust-guarding the hen house. I only hope the subtle allusion to the vendor’s name won’t shake up my spambot fanbase!


by ~ February 20, 2008

Gerry Gebel of Burton Group wrote an excellent post last week called “Moving Beyond Command and Control.” It’s the kind of thing I’d like to have written. It’s the kind of post everyone who cares about Internet security should read.

Gerry’s referring to the prevailing style of computer security, in which an administrator creates IDs and manages access to the system. The phrase “command and control” comes from a militaristic style of management with centralized or hierarchical authority. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the command/control model; the issue is that it’s a horrible fit for Internet security, where authority is unavoidably distributed.

Here are some simple shibboleths to detect a person’s managerial orientation:

If you hear frequent repetition of the words identification card, identity assurance, encryption, rights, management, access control, and policy …

BINGO! This person is a command and control disciple.

If instead you hear frequent repetition of words like reputation, reciprocity, empathy, signaling, collaborative action, recognition, shared experience, social interactions, ceremony, and connection

Then they’re talking about social trust — and that person needs to SPEAK UP and start blogging about it!


by ~ February 18, 2008

Technologists have long admired the almighty algorithm: the piece of patentable code worth millions of dollars. While computer hardware has gone the way of commodity pricing, software and online services companies insist that consumers pay big bucks for use of their proprietary algorithms (when most consumers can’t even say “al-go-rhythm”), in the form of the software packages they buy, or use online for a fee.

But how much is your personal information worth? One woman, Raelyn Campbell, claims her information is worth $54 million. Campbell says she took her $2,000 computer for repairs at BestBuy more than six months ago and hasn’t seen it since. BestBuy offered to settle for about $2,000 to cover the lost hardware. But Campbell rightly points out that in losing her computer, BestBuy also lost her personal information, including account information to a variety of online sites.

Hopefully, Campbell stored only her own information on this computer, and not any HR information from her employer. Stolen or missing laptops are common types of data breaches, as attested to by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. These cases are usually multi-million-dollar lawsuits. Curiously though, Campbell draws on a dry cleaning incident as precedent for her suit. In that case, a customer sued a dry cleaning establishment for losing a pair of paints (see the link to the Campbell story for more details). The $54 million law suit was eventually dismissed after costing the dry cleaner $100,000 in legal fees. Campbell, it seems, has an elevated sense of dramatic irony by attempting to take BestBuy to the cleaners for the same amount as the case of the purloined pants. But keep your shirt on — Campbell admits to using an inflated amount to get media attention. Nice move.

I’m sure that encryption vendors love this kind of story. And yes, encrypting our data is a good idea in theory. But it’s not particularly easy or convenient. It messes up indexes, so you can’t ever find stuff when you need to. Simply put, we’re a few ideas short of a solution to this problem.


by ~ February 15, 2008

The juxtaposition of two events in the last week exemplified the growing tension of social trust on the Internet. First, the OpenID Foundation announced the additions of Google, IBM, Microsoft, VeriSign, and Yahoo! to their board. A few days later, the New York Times reported on people’s frustrated attempts to delete their Facebook accounts.

It seems identity theft is officially passé: now you have to worry about “soft” identity theft by social sites that play keep-away with the information you provide. Thankfully, some users have reportedly succeeded in getting their accounts permanently excised from Facebook (for example, see this post on the 2,504 steps to closing your Facebook account).

But their Pyrrhic victories do little to stem the deluge of personally identifying information pouring into and being captured on the Internet.
For example, how do I delete my profile from Spock, when I didn’t even set it up in the first place? Can I instruct Google not to index information about me?

So, last week while technologists were building out the apparatus for connecting people’s information across sites, real people confronted an Internet that neither forgives nor forgets.

Of course, the OpenID folks are convinced that their approach—a decentralized, single sign-on system—will improve privacy by reducing the number of accounts people need. Control of one’s personal data is a tenant of the “user-centric identity” movement that OpenID represents. But OpenID is an identification system, not a trust system (in either the technical/cryptographic or the social sense), by the designers’ own admission. So while I’m encouraged to see an impressive list of tech companies working together on identification systems, it’s unfortunate that they’ve wholly missed the point. It’s not the ID system that needs fixing.

Sure we’re all bugged to have to remember 57 passwords, but it’s a nuisance, not a betrayal of trust. The announcement I’d like to see is that the same list of companies is collaborating on an apparatus for improving social trust online. For those of you frustrated with the eternal stickiness of social sites, I recommend never using your actual identity—create a persona instead. Unfortunately, personas aren’t that easy to create and maintain at the moment, but it’s something we’re working on here at Hybrid Vigor.


by ~ February 15, 2008

Just wanted to let you know that I’ll be on WBAI-NY (99.5 FM) tonight, with a brief commentary (that I mentioned earlier this week) on the life of Josh Lederberg. It will close the evening news, which runs from 6 to 6:30 Eastern.

The station streams live at http://www.wbai.org and I’m told the broadcast also will be archived …


by ~ February 13, 2008

A friend just sent me a story from Monday’s Guardian U.K., on control of the net by corporations, a.k.a. “net neutrality.” I’ve been writing about this issue since the early ’90s, back when I was writing Inside Technology at the San Francisco Examiner. And then again at Digital Media. And again at Technology & Media. And then at NYT. And again, now, still, same as it ever d**m was.

Back before the days of AT&T deregulation, it wasn’t called Net Neutrality. It was called “conduit v content,” and AT&T — kind of the King God of conduit owners — had long been banned from controlling what traversed it.

You know, that pesky First Amendment and all that.

But deregulation shifted those sands as Judge Greene’s Modified Final Judgment that ruled who could do what after the breakup was slowly but surely modified to death in the courts.

Nicholas Johnson, a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission from 1966 to 1973, was the only commish who was raising a ruckus about the importance of the issue back then. He called it “the No. 1 public policy issue confronting our nation,” critical for providing the “channels of communication for a democratic society.”

It makes me very cranky that we are still dealing with this fracking issue.

I’m on the advisory board of Public Knowledge, a tremendous organization run by the irrepressible Gigi Sohn, which does killer work in this area. Fight it. Hard. We won’t know what we’ve lost until it’s gone.


by ~ February 11, 2008

While researching a radio commentary I’m writing on Joshua Lederberg, the Nobel Laureate who died last week, I found a interview he did with Computerworld Magazine in November 1986 for its Computers & Society issue. Called “Tying Minds Together to Advance Science and Social Intelligence,” Lederberg offered some fascinating and prescient perspectives on the role of computers in the practice of scientific research.

Beyond their use for data analysis, he said,

… what has been perhaps a greater interest to me — and this is the thread that goes through the work I did with Ed Feigenbaum at Stanford — is the use of the computer in the communications network as the technical support for improving the social system of scientific advance. It’s a way in which minds can be brought together more effectively and make an effective use of the expertise that’s present elsewhere.

One need only look at the role that the Internet plays in so many interdisciplinary research centers to see how right Lederberg was on that count.

He also made a remarkable statement that today’s mas macho, chest-thumping genetic engineers in particular might want to pay heed to. Talking about expert systems, he said one of the best things about them was the ability to discover logical inconsistencies in the background of the expert knowledge used to build them:

You might call that criticism rather than creativity, but I think we have to keep in mind that with any scientific advance or cultural one, that these two have to be kept hand-in-hand. We need a lot of imagination, and it has to be checked by criticism.