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  • Rob Cockerham's Costco prank
    Screen Shot 2010-04-27 At 5.55.13 Pm

    My favorite amateur sociologist Rob Cockerham printed up a bunch of price stickers for absurd products and sent them to his team of assistants around the country, who attached them to shelves in Costco stores.

    One assistant's field notes:

    It was a mad house today with all the snooty rich people fighting over free samples, but that was to my favor.  Everyone was so busy, that it was a piece of cake.  The only hard part was the Polo Assless Chaps, since our Costco hangs the prices above the items.  But nonetheless, I found a display right next to the main aisle of the clothing to place it.  It should be seen very easily.  The Canine Pacemaker Kit was placed right with the dog toys and dog biscuits. 

    The Costco Prank

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  • The Power Of Pull: Joi Ito And Yossi Vardi Have Pull, And So Can You (Book Excerpt)

    Editor’s note: The following set of excerpts is from the recently published book The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things In Motion by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison. The excerpts are taken from throughout the book.

    Joi Ito, Information Magnet

    As the number of people we can connect with expands, our ability to pull from that network the resources and people we require to address unexpected needs expands along with it. Using the tools and platforms emerging today any of us can now find a person in a remote part of the world who just happens to have the knowledge or expertise required to help us out. This goes beyond the reasonably straightforward search engines with which we’re all familiar. Those engines are tremendously helpful. But they mostly help us access information. Today’s search engines are far less adept in connecting us to people or to products. (One of us has a friend from childhood named Jonathan Smith. We’d love to reconnect with him, but a search engine query yields more than 46 million results.) Search engines are rapidly deepening their capabilities. Meanwhile, we can supplement them with our own social networks to find what we need when we need it.

    Joi Ito experienced this first hand a while ago while traveling. Joi, as it happens, is about as experienced a traveler as they come. In his multiple roles as successful entrepreneur, adviser to big companies, angel investor, gamer, guild leader, and CEO of Creative Commons, Joi is rarely in one place for more than three days at a time. Now he’s in Dubai, rubbing shoulders with Pakistanis. Then to Milan for a public debate with a distinguished lawyer who’d recently called him a “pirate” in an Italian newspaper—and who will be a friend by the time Joi leaves town two days later for Tokyo. Then San Jose for a stretch, and on to Amman to meet with Princess Rym Ali of Jordan.

    Seasoned as he was, Joi wasn’t prepared for what happened the first time he visited India. He’d arrived in New Delhi at 3am for a conference. The hotel, when he got there, was in a sketchy area of town—too sketchy, it turns out: he’d been dropped at the wrong hotel, one with the same name as the hotel where the conference was taking place. If he hadn’t been so tired, Joi might never have gotten out of the taxi. When he turned around to look for it now the driver had left already. The lobby clerk, after Joi finally managed to wake him up, handed him half a bar of soap and a padlock for the door of a filthy, heatless room. No drinking water. No towels. No broom for the rat droppings in the corner. Needless to say, the power outlets didn’t work either. Joi was by his own admission getting nervous as he fired up his Nokia GPRS with the last of his batteries and signed on to Internet Relay Chat. Minutes later two guys living in New Delhi asked him who he was, where he was, and advised him not to go outside until morning. Then, they told him, take a right out the hotel and a left on the following street—walking neither too fast nor too slow—and soon he should be able to find a cab the heck outta there, and over to the right hotel, on the other side of town.

    Joi never met the two guys, either before or after they helped him. But that night in
    New Delhi they were just what he needed.

    Yossi Vardi, Mr Serendipty

    Yossi Vardi founded his first company in 1969, when he was 27 years old. Since then he’s been an investor in, or godfather to, more than 70 Israeli tech companies. Perhaps his biggest success was the co-founding of Mirabilis, the company behind the first instant messaging technology, ICQ (“I seek you”), which AOL bought for $400 million in 1998. Yossi is also one of the best connected people in technology. “Yossi is a super-node,” British Technology executive Gary Shainberg told Business Week in 2008.

    Only when the apple fell from the tree did Sir Isaac Newton begin pondering the nature of gravity. Only by setting sail for India did Columbus find America. Only by trying to relieve angina did a researcher at Pfizer discover a remedy for erectile dysfunction later marketed as Viagra. Only by going to a conference to hear presentations on the future of the Internet did Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page meet Israeli entrepreneur Yossi Vardi, who later gave them an important key for monetizing search results.

    The innovation Yossi suggested was deceptively simple: put a vertical line down the Google search results page, dividing paid search results on the right hand third of the page from free search results on the left hand two thirds of the page. This small visual design alteration instantly made the integrity of Google’s search results visible and apparent by separating free results from those for which advertisers had paid. The change instantly set Google apart from its primary competitors at the time, where the line between paid and free search results was unclear. The uses of serendipitous encounters and discoveries could fill a whole book. In fact, it already has—Robert K Merton and Elinor Barber’s wonderful The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity. Yet most of us, despite the role serendipity has played in our own lives— introducing us to our future spouse, perhaps, or informing us of a job opportunity—tend to think serendipity occurs on its own, a function of fate or maybe blind luck. “But serendipity doesn’t just happen in a serendipitous way,” says Yossi Vardi. “You have to work for it.” Serendipity can be methodically, systematically shaped by our choices, behaviors and dispositions.

    The Power Of Pull

    Whether it’s in online gaming, amateur astronomy, open source software development, apparel manufacturing, or online music remixing—what is it that makes one set of circumstances right for individuals or institutions to flourish while others yield weak or even depreciating results? How can a group of obscure motorcycle assemblers in China challenge the best Japan has to offer? Why does World of Warcraft remain the most popular online game, despite competing titles that keep coming along to challenge it—and failing? How can a big software company attract into a sprawling virtual community everybody it needs to get a difficult new product adopted quickly? What, in other words, does it take to turn passion into success?

    The common dynamic that we see underlying all of these success stories is what we call pull, the ability to connect with resources in ways that help all participants better achieve their potential. Pull gives us unprecedented access to what we need, when we need it, even if we’re not quite sure what “it” is. Pull allows us to harness and unleash the forces of attraction, influence, and serendipity. Using pull we can create the conditions by which individuals, teams, and even institutions can achieve their potential in less time and with more impact than has ever been possible. The power of pull provides a key to how all of us—individually and collectively—can turn challenge and stress into opportunity and reward as digital technology remakes our lives.

    The key thesis is that, unlike previous generations of institutional change—when an elite at the top of the organization created the world into which everybody else needed to fit— the changes required to harness the power of pull will be catalyzed by and driven by individuals, from the bottom up. As each of us brings into the workplace the practices we have mastered in our personal lives, the institutions where we work will be transformed, and our professional lives along with them. Not every one of us will make this leap equally willingly or at the same time.

    To get to pull, first we’ve got to come to grips with what push is and how it permeates our lives. Push approaches begin by forecasting needs and then designing the most efficient systems to ensure that the right people and resources are available at the right time and the right place using carefully scripted and standardized processes.

    Push programs have dominated our lives from our very earliest years. We are literally pushed into educational systems designed to anticipate our needs over twelve or more years of schooling, which in turn are designed to anticipate our key needs for skills over the rest of our lives. As we successfully complete this push program, we graduate into firms and other institutions that are organized around push approaches to resource mobilization. Detailed demand forecasts, operational plans, and operational process manuals carefully script the actions and specify the resources required to meet anticipated demand. We consume media that have been packaged, programmed, and pushed to us based on our anticipated needs. We encounter push programs in other parts of our lives, whether in the form of churches that anticipate what is required for salvation and define detailed programs for reaching this goal, gyms that promise a sculpted body for those who pursue tightly defined fitness programs, or diet gurus who promise we will lose weight if we eat a regimented diet. Push knows better than you do, and it’s not afraid to say, “Do this, not that!”

    Pull is a very different approach, one that works at three primary levels, each of which builds on the others. At the most basic level, pull helps us to find and access people and resources when we need them. Search—including Bing and Google —is an iconic example of this level of pull. There’s a wealth of data indexed and waiting for us. Quick and easy search is ideal when you know what you’re looking for. But in a world characterized by more unpredictable change, simple access has diminishing value. We are no longer certain what to look for – we even struggle to frame the questions.

    In this world, a second level of pull becomes increasingly valuable – the ability to attract people and resources to you that we were not even aware existed but, when you encounter them, you realize just how relevant and valuable they are. Think here of serendipity rather than search. Serendipity often occurs in social networks, where we unexpectedly encounter friends of friends or even total strangers who prove helpful. We’re not simply talking about old style networking, however, where you “work” a party or a conference for everybody who might prove useful to you. We’re not talking about the mutual back-scratching of the old-boys’ network, either, to fix parking tickets or an embarrassing situation with a relative. Nor are we talking about pulling strings behind the scenes, or making Machiavellian use of information. Anyone approaching pull in a mercenary, “what’s-in-it-for-me” fashion is likely to get burned. In
    act, he or she will not really be practicing pull at all, as they will offer no reciprocal benefits to the people and institutions with whom they interact. Pull is a way of creating value, period, not just extracting a bigger piece of some mythical pie for yourself.

    These first two levels of pull—access and attraction—are ultimately static: they assume that the right people and resources already exist and that the challenge is merely to encounter them. But in a world of mounting pressure and unforeseen opportunities, we need to cultivate a third level of pull – the ability to pull from within ourselves the insight and performance required to more effectively achieve our potential. We can use pull to learn faster and translate that learning into rapidly improving performance, not just for ourselves, but for the people we connect with—a virtuous cycle that we can participate in.

    Serendipity is also one of the secret ingredients explaining the continued growth of “spikes”—geographic concentrations of talent around the world. The Silicon Valley engineer attends his daughter’s soccer match and happens to meet another engineer on the sidelines. In the course of their conversation, the engineer stumbles upon an interesting solution to a design problem he had been wrestling with for months. And so on. When talented individuals choose to live in spikes rather than, say, small towns or rural areas5 they’re doing so because it increases their rate of discovery, making it more likely they’ll stumble on what they need. Of course, it’s important to choose the right spike. If you’re interested in surfing (or your child is), it doesn’t do you much good to live in Washington, DC, even if it might be easier to get there. Thus aspiring country musicians move to Nashville, while up-and-coming software engineers go to Silicon Valley or Bangalore, screenwriters to Los Angeles, models to New York, and so on. Talented individuals tend to go where they have the greatest chance of running into what they need in order to take the next step, even if they don’t quite know or understand what form it will take or who might inspire it.

    Online communities are perfect for bringing together far-flung people who have common interests. If you want to find out what it is you don’t know that you don’t know, you need to hang out with other people who might already know it. Online social network sites like Facebook play an interesting role in all this. They help people stay in touch with their existing friends, but, increasingly, they also provide environments for serendipitous encounters with friends of friends or even people that one has never met before. Social scientists call these “weak ties”—people we barely know who can connect us to rich networks of relationships in domains completely different from ours.

    Competitive Advantage Comes From Being In The Flow Of Knowledge, Not Stockpiling It

    In markets and industries that were relatively stable, such as those in the industrial economy, a given stock of knowledge – whether it was a proprietary technology or a unique insight into how to organize production or marketing activities – could be relied upon to generate economic value for an indefinite period. The only challenges were to guard against others appropriating this knowledge and to design and execute the most efficient and scalable ways to extract value from this knowledge.

    What we knew yesterday—either as employees or what our institution as a whole knows about its business—is proving to be less and less helpful with the challenges and opportunities we confront today. Growing topple rates (the rate at which companies lose their leadership positions) gives powerful testimony that stocks of knowledge, no matter how valuable at the outset, are diminishing in value more rapidly. Across many industries, product life cycles have begun to compress – early success with a blockbuster product has become harder and harder to sustain.

    We must accelerate a shift to a very different mindset and practices that treat knowledge flows as the central opportunity and knowledge stocks as a useful by-product and key enabler. Increasingly, strategic advantage for corporate institutions will hinge on privileged positions in relevant concentrations of high value knowledge flows and the practices required to participate in and profit from these knowledge flows.

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  • Facebook Open Graph: What it Means for Privacy

    At Facebook’s F8 Developer Conference today, the company fleshed out its plans to become the social center of the web. With the new Open Graph API and protocol and the ability to integrate websites and web apps within your existing social network, the platform will become more robust than ever before.

    The potential for this new technology is great — which is why partners like Yelp, Pandora and Microsoft have already jumped on board. But what does all of this interconnected data mean for user privacy?

    Privacy has always been a bit of a thorny issue for Facebook and its users. In November of 2007, Facebook’s Beacon advertising experiment resulted in a class-action lawsuit, and Facebook’s big privacy overhaul in December provoked immediate criticism. The company’s more recent change to privacy settings for Facebook apps has been better received, but the user response to Mark Zuckerberg’s “public is the new social norm” stance has already forced the company to overhaul its privacy policy again — this time with user input.

    Now that sites and apps can better integrate directly with Facebook in more than just a tangential way, the potential for privacy issues grows substantially.

    What Is Changing?

    In the past, apps that accessed data from the Facebook APIs could only store that data for 24 hours. This meant that apps and app developers would have to download user information day after day, just to keep up with the policy. Now the data storage restriction is gone, so if you tell an app it can store your data, it can keep it without worrying about what was basically an arbitrary technical hurdle.

    While this might sound scary, it doesn’t actually impact how developers can use user data, just how long they can store it. Again, many developers were just hacking around this policy anyway, so users shouldn’t notice any changes.

    Facebook is also getting rid of its Facebook Connect branding. Instead, Facebook login modules will be available to site owners, and users can not only log in or sign up for a service, but can also see how many of their friends have also signed up for the site.

    Now, this new feature is cool — as is the universal Likes and customized content additions — but it also makes what you designate as “public” potentially more public.

    While the login boxes and activity feeds that appear on websites will be customized for each user (meaning that what I see on a page will differ from what fellow reporter Jenn Van Grove sees), this information is potentially more easily viewable than it was before. It’s not like your Facebook friends couldn’t see this information in the past, it’s just now a lot more contextual and available in more places.

    Privacy Will Become the User’s Responsibility

    I took a look at the different documentations of the Open Graph API and the different social plugins, and gathered that the data collection and overall privacy settings don’t differ from what has already been available. Again, what changes is how that data can be displayed to different people and how it can be integrated in different ways.

    Nevertheless, it is imperative that users who have concerns about privacy make sure they read and understand what information they are making available to applications before using them. Users need to be aware that when they “Like” an article on CNN, that “Like” may show up on a customized view that their friends see.

    Public no longer means “public on Facebook,” it means “public in the Facebook ecosystem.” Some companies, like Pandora, are going to go to great lengths to allow users to separate or opt out of linking their Pandora and Facebook accounts together, but users can’t expect all apps and sites to take that approach. My advice to you: Be aware of your privacy settings.

    What isn’t yet clear is if there will be any granular permissions for public data. For instance, I might want to share that I “Like” a article with a certain group of people, but not make it public to my entire social graph. For now, users need to assume that if you do something that is considered public, that action can potentially end up on a customized stream for everyone in your social graph.

    How Facebook Can Avoid Getting Burned

    Because there aren’t really any changes in policy with the Open Graph system, Facebook will likely avoid any massive privacy violations; after all, if you agreed to make something public, it’s public. However, as Google learned with Google Buzz, users aren’t always aware of their default privacy settings.

    Facebook can offset a lot of confusion and concern by doing a good job of educating users about the meaning of “public” and how the personalized feeds will work on various websites.

    Developers can also help by making what information they collect and what information can be shared throughout the social graph more accessible and easier to understand.

    Right now, it really doesn’t look like Open Graph will have any technical changes to Facebook user privacy. That said, the nature of how public information can be linked across different sites is now more robust, which makes it that much more important for the privacy-concerned to read the fine print.

    What do you think of the privacy implications with Open Graph? Let us know!

    For more social media coverage, follow Mashable Social Media on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook

    Reviews: Facebook, Pandora, Twitter, Yelp

    Tags: f8, facebook, facebook open graph, Open Graph, privacy

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  • Revisit Lets You Create A Beautiful, Animated Twitter Wall

    Need to create a visualization of tweets centered around a certain topic? You needn’t look any further than Revisit, a simple free tool that visualizes the temporal dynamic of a Twitter stream.

    Revisit collects tweets related to a topic of your choosing, and displays them along a timeline. Tweets that receive more retweets or replies are displayed near the center of the stream, and have larger icons.

    It’s not a static image, though: When a new related tweet arrives, it is highlighted; you can see its content and the relation to other tweets on the timeline. When there are no new tweets, a tweet is randomly chosen from the bunch.

    The result is a nifty, animated visualization that can provide great background on a conference or a presentation. To make it even more attractive, you can type in a custom title and switch to full screen.

    [via Infosthetics]

    For more social media coverage, follow Mashable Social Media on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook

    Reviews: Facebook, Twitter

    Tags: Revisit, twitter, Twitter wall, visualization

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  • The User’s Manifesto: In Defense Of Hacking, Modding, And Jailbreaking

    There’s a trend that’s been disturbing me lately. When the topic of modding or jailbreaking comes up — say, in the wake of the iPad announcement, or Sony’s restrictive PS3 update — there is an outcry. Who am I to tell Apple what’s best for their devices? How can I in good conscience urge others to void their warranties or break license agreements? And why should anyone care when only a small proportion of people hack or jailbreak their devices?

    These questions are natural, because a few years ago they wouldn’t even be possible. What reason would you have for breaking open an first-generation iPod, or hacking an original Playstation? The question of “unauthorized software” on System 9 and Windows XP was plainly moot. But as the capabilities of the PC, console, and phone have expanded, so have their magisteria. And as their power grew, so did their chains. These chains were so light before that we didn’t notice them, but now that they are not only visible but are beginning to truly encumber our devices, we must consider whether we are right to throw them off. The answer, to me at least, seems obvious: no company or person has the right to tell you that you may not do what you like with your own property.

    Continue reading…

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  • Networked Networks Are Prone to Epic Failure

    Shared by Digittante

    For the networking nerds among you/us/me (self-disclosure)


    Networks that are resilient on their own become fragile and prone to catastrophic failure when connected, suggests a new study with troubling implications for tightly linked modern infrastructures.

    Electrical grids, water supplies, computer networks, roads, hospitals, financial systems – all are tied to each other in ways that could make them vulnerable.

    “When networks are interdependent, you might think they’re more stable. It might seem like we’re building in redundancy. But it can do the opposite,” said Eugene Stanley, a Boston University physicist and co-author of the study, published April 14 in Nature.

    Most theoretical research on network properties has focused on single networks in isolation. In reality, many important networks are tied to each other. Anecdotal evidence — the crash of communications networks (.pdf) in lower Manhattan after 9/11, the plummeting of markets around the world after the Black Monday stock market collapse of 1987 — hints at their fragility, but the underlying mathematics are largely unexplored.

    The Nature researchers modeled the behavior of two networks, each possessing what’s known as “broad degree distribution”: A few nodes have many connections, some have an intermediate amount of links and many have just a few. Think of the networks as having only a few branches, but many leaves. On their own, such networks are known to be stable. A random failure is likely to disable a leaf, leaving the rest of the network’s connections mostly intact.

    In the new study, the researchers connected two of these networks. While many node failures were required to crash the networks when they were independent, a few failures crashed the networks when they were linked.

    “Networks with broad distributions are robust against random attacks. But we found that broad interconnected networks are very fragile,” said study co-author Gerald Paul, a Boston University physicist.

    The interconnections fueled a cascading effect, with the failures coursing back and forth. A damaged node in the first network would pull down nodes in the second, which crashed nodes in the first, which brought down more in the second, and so on. And when they looked at data from a 2003 Italian power blackout, in which the electrical grid was linked to the computer network that controlled it, the patterns matched their models’ math.

    That broad networks could be so fragile is surprising, but even more important is how rapidly the crash happened, with sudden catastrophic collapse instead of a gradual breakdown, said Indiana University informaticist Alessandro Vespignani in a commentary accompanying the paper. “This makes complete system breakdown even more difficult to control or anticipate than in an isolated network,” he wrote.

    According to Raissa D’Souza, a University of California, Davis mathematician who studies interdependent networks, the findings are “a starting point for thinking about the implications of interactions.”

    D’Souza hopes such research will pull together mathematicians and engineers. “We now have some analytic tools in place to study interacting networks, but need to refine the models with information on real systems,” she said.

    Research into linked systems could help engineers build more resilient networks, or identify existing weaknesses. At the very least, they stress the importance of preparing for sudden, catastrophic failures. “We must recognize the possibility of big disasters, and take steps to prepare,” said Stanley, noting how unprepared political and economic leaders were for the financial collapse that triggered the current recession.

    “These stories underscore that when trouble happens, we’re surprised. But we shouldn’t be,” said Stanley.

    Image: From left to wright, a failure cascades through an Italian power network (overlaid on the map) and the internet nodes that depend on it (above the map)./Nature.

    See Also:

    Citations: “Catastrophic cascade of failures in interdependent networks.” By Sergey V. Buldyrev, Roni Parshani, Gerald Paul, H. Eugene Stanley & Shlomo Havlin. Science, Vol. 328 No. 5976, April 15, 2010.

    “The fragility of interdependency.” By Alessandro Vespignani. Science, Vol. 328 No. 5976, April 15, 2010.

    Brandon Keim’s Twitter stream and reportorial outtakes; Wired Science on Twitter. Brandon is currently working on a book about ecological tipping points.

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  • Maps on the back of detective novels

    Strange Maps points us to an interesting collection of 577 "map backs" published by pulp magazine company Dell Publishing — illustrations that pinpoint exactly where incidents happened in famous detective novels published between 1943 and 1952. This one is from Alfred Hitchcok's The Rope; other authors represented by Dell included Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, and Lange Lewis.

    Maps of Murder: Dell Books and 'Hard-Boiled' Cartography [Strange Maps]

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  • Station Ident: You’re Shitting Me

    Jones just saw this in a London shop window.


    BIGTRAK! He who shot the dog but lived to deliver the apple. Which will mean nothing to almost all of you, so I include this:

    I am Warren Ellis, and today I have seen my childhood repackaged as a high-end replica. Which I guess happens to us all, but bugger but does it make you feel old.

    (I never even had a Bigtrak. Too expensive!)

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  • Interview: Ben Folds Talks Chatroulette and Merton [VIDEO]

    When Merton the Chatroulette Piano Guy burst on the scene last month, a considerable number of people believed him to be musician Ben Folds. Folds, in turn, started making like Merton at concerts, uploading his “Odes to Merton” to YouTube. Mashable recently sat down with Folds via Skype to talk about Merton, Chatroulette and whether he is, in fact, the man behind the hood.

    Merton the Chatroulette Piano Guy garnered his fair share of fame from going on the video chat site and composing improvisational songs on his piano about the people he encountered there. Mashable recently spoke with the man, who prefers to remain anonymous, about his musical aspirations as well as striking resemblance to Ben Folds.

    Many of you (including some Mashable staffers) remained unconvinced that Merton and Folds are not one-in-the-same. After Folds released his final “Ode to Merton” last week, we decided to contact the musician and get the lowdown on his foray into the infamous social site.

    After speaking with Folds, I’m pretty much 100% sure that he and Merton are not the same person. Check out the interview below if you’re still not convinced, as well as our original interview with Merton himself.

    For more web video coverage, follow Mashable Web Video on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook

    Reviews: Facebook, Mashable, Twitter

    Tags: chatroulette, music, viral video

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