Yearly Archives: 2007

DNA2.0 or how to google your genome (and put it in a social network)

23andme_social If you haven’t watched Gattaga, this might be a good time for doing it.

23andme is a society funded with 10.000.000 dollars by Google. 23andme was co-founded by Anne Wojcicki, which is the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

23andme sells the following service: for 1000 dollars, you send us your saliva and we send you a complete analysis of your DNA.

This is already enough scary, as sonnoprofondo points out:
“What could be the reaction of someone just learning she inherited a risk for a certain heart disease from her mother? How would you feel if your DNA tells that your father has typically german genes and blue eyes, while you have always thought the opposite? Would you accept easily the idea your 2 years-old son inherited from your the risk for a certain disease?”

But what is more scary is that 23andme will upload your genetic information to a secure database. Then with your own private login, you can then use our web-based interactive tools to 23andme will upload your genetic information to a secure database. Then with your own private login, you can then use our web-based interactive tools to explore your genome. You can discover your origins, learn what the latest genetic findings may mean for you, and connect genetically with friends, family, and others across the globe explore your genome. This is directly from their website.
So this is astonishing, and this is what they are up to (and remember they are funded by google which already knows almost everything about you).

Moreover it is not too hard to guess the password of someone and enter in her account. This is true at least until 23andme does not put in place authentication based on your physical characteristics (“Just spit on your Webcamera and we will know you are you …”) … Uhm, maybe after Gattaga you might consider watching Matrix again.

So, is this a promising market? That is, how many persons will be willing to pay $1000 for getting their DNA? I have no idea about this sector, but my fear is that there will be many. And once 23andme becomes the leading provider in this sector and considering the network effect (“invite your friend to connect genetically to you, by sending her/him this discounted coupon option for DNA analysis”), 23andme will be in a key position for our very very society.

Consequences? Difficult to imagine for me, as I’m not very imaginative. But let me try.
This long Wired article starts with: And what are physicians, most likely untrained in and unprepared for genomic medicine, to do when a patient comes in wielding a printout that indicates a particular variation of a particular gene? This new age of genomics comes with great opportunity — but also great quandaries.
Maybe someone misinterpreting her genome and committing suicide?
Maybe will it happen that someone (with a good genome she would like to show off) starts posting his genome on her blog/page? (Genome Widget anyone?) Will a potential employer first search the Web (GenomeSphere?) in order to find the potential employee’s genome and decide to hire her or not based on this? If the fraction of people who voluntarily post their genome becomes large enough, not posting your genome might be seen as suspect (“has this potential employee/date/friend something to hide?”).
As much as you can trust 23andme to have figure out Web security right, is a computer glitch unwantedly exposing some information totally impossible? What if the government asks for this data?

I don’t know. Is the fact I’m so scared just a symptom of me being too old for these new times? I can already hear people saying “this is only information, more information is always good, then you can make more informed decisions”. Uhm, I don’t know. Are you scared as well, my old friend?

And if you are wondering why the company is named 23andme … how many pairs of chromosomes do you think you have in your DNA? Yes, 23.

On why we accept worthless pieces of paper and what happens when we stop.

Exercise for the reader: Let suppose you are the chief of Saudi Arabia, you sell most of the oil in the world. Why would you ask to be paid in a currency that is not your currency? Think why Saudi Arabia asks to be paid in dollars and not directly in its own currency (Riyal).

Did it?
Ok, so now the news from Reuters: some OPEC countries are considering/threatening stopping asking dollars in exchange for oil. The precise sentence uttered by Iranian President Ahmadinejad was “They get our oil and give us a worthless piece of paper”. For now it is just a threat. And both Ahmadinejad and Chavez announced it for political reason (“crashing the empire of dollar”, as Chavez put it). But in reality also because with a weaker and weaker dollar, they get less and less buying power in the international markets and so keeping accepting dollars simply is a stupid economic decision.
But we know what this means, right? Iraq wanted to dump the dollar and sell oil in euros and we all know what happened to Iraq. But now somehow the situation is different, but not too different.
Anyway, going back to the sentence “They get our oil and give us a worthless piece of paper”, the symbolism is powerful.
A piece of paper has zero value, a piece of paper has value only because we recognize a value in it and we accept it based on this “somehow commonly agreed” value. But what happens when enough people stop assigning value to a certain piece of paper? I fear we will all see it together.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2007. Italy? 84th out of 128

The Global Gender Gap Report 2007 is out.
Sweden (1), Norway (2), Finland (3) and Iceland (4) once again top the rankings in the latest Global Gender Gap Report. The Report covers a total of 128 countries.
Ah yes, you are wondering about Italy? Why really wondering? Anything else to do? Uhm, ok here is the raw reality: Italy is 84th out of 128.
Our cousins of Spain are 10th (!), Latvia is in position 13 and Lithuania 14. Moldova is 21, Cuba is 22, Colombia is 24, Bulgaria is 25, Lesotho is 26, Namibia is 29, Tanzania is 34, Vietnam is 42, Romania is 47, Uganda is 50, Botswana is 53, Albania is 66, China is 73
Did I say that if you scroll down down in the list you find Italy in position 84?
So why cannot an NGO of Lesotho comes in Italy to help us with an international cooperation project about gender issues?

Acer refunds Windows in Italy so I asked for the removal of Windows

Traduzione in Italiano alla fine di questo post!
Acer announced they refund Windows if you don’t want it (link to a news in Italian)! This is great news! I was waiting for this moments since years! Also it is a very lucky coincidence since an association which I already helped making their website, Gruppo Trentino di Volontariato, bought an Acer laptop this very last Saturday and luckly enough we didn’t yet push the dooming button “accept the plague windows”. So I already offered with enormous pleasure to work out the refund process. In fact it is not too easy, nor too advantageous from an economic point of view: you have to send the laptop you bought to their central assistance office in Milan (cost of transport and insurance is on you), then they simply format the hard disk and send you back an empty (clean I should say!) laptop (cost of transport and insurance is again on you). And how much do they refund for Windows Vista?
Vista Home Basic 30 euros
Vista Home Pro 50 euros
Vista Home Business 70 euros
Vista Home Ultimate 90 euros
It is really a small amount of money, especially of you consider you have to pay for sending the laptop to the assistance center and back, but I don’t do it for the money, I do it because I want Acer and all the laptop producers know there a lot of people who don’t want Windows preinstalled on their machines. I often said “I would buy a laptop without Windows even if it would cost 200 Euros more” so here there is my chance. And I also hope that in this way all the laptop producers can start imitating Dell which already sells computers with Ubuntu GNU/Linux installed on them. And we can put an end to the cancer that stopped innovation in computer science in the past 10 years (at least!), yes I’m referring to Microsoft (some time ago Ballmer was using the term cancer referring to Linux).

Acer might have changed its policy after being ruled by a judge in France to cough up €811 in damages to Antoine Gutzwiller over a €599 laptop because of a dispute over pre-loaded software (windows, MS Works, PowerDVD, Norton Antivirus, …)

I don’t think we are asking too much: we simply ask freedom of choice in which operating system we want on our machines. As simple as freedom.

This is great news.
I’ll keep you posted about the progress, at the moment the laptop is in the Acer offices in Milan.



Acer ha annunciato che ora rimborsa Windows se non lo si desidera. Come fare ad ottenere rimborso? Devi spedire a Acer il portatile acquistato (entro 30 giorni), loro lo formattano e poi ti restituiscono gli euro (Vista Home Basic 30 euros, Vista Home Pro 50 euros, Vista Home Business 70 euros, Vista Home Ultimate 90 euros).
Ho fatto domanda di rimborso e spedito il laptop e scrivero’ su questo blog come e’ andata appena ho notizie.
Perche’ farlo? In modo da far sapere ai produttori di hardware che non vogliamo Windows preinstallato sulle nostre macchine. Vogliamo semplicemente la possibilita’ di scegliere, niente di piu’.

Report from the Information Architecture summit (day 2)

After the first day, there was the second day. Yes, yes, I was surprised as well.

I overslept a bit and I miss the first talk, sorry.
The second one was titled “The Web2Architect” and given by Chris Addison, Antonella Pastore, Pier Andrea Pirani. They work for Euforic which is an organization that is actively trying to push adoption of web2.0 tools in international cooperation organizations and so I was very very interested because I’m actually helping a local NGO with this.
Actually the talk was partially ruined by the fact the lamp of the projector was totally going to die and the slides could just be intuited behind a black veil, very unfortunate, especially because it was another fancy, very visual presentation. Anyway they basically shown us how they use all the web2.0 instruments (, blogger, flickr, slideshare,, pbwiki, google calendar (and all the other services by Google), facebook, …) in an integrated way for their work. It was not extremely unexpected since I guess most of the people in the audience already knew all the services but it was good to get an overall view (and a lot of pointers I should add! “euforic” is on dozens of different social sites!!!). I think they somehow failed to summarize their message at the end. I guess their point was something like “information architecture for us is just reuse existing services, nothing more” but they didn’t make it clear which is a pity since the conference was about “information architecture”.

Another extremely interesting talk was given by Dario Betti and Stefano Bussolon and was about “La classificazione fatta dai cittadini. Il caso”. They told us how they worked through the (re)creation of, a portal for the welfare wanted by the local government.
I liked the suggestion we should speak about stakeholders and not users, since one of the goal is that stakeholders feel the project as their own project. They used the cardsorting technique, with an online tool called Netsorting developed by Stefano Bussolon as part of his phd thesis in sociology at the University of Trento. I really need to dig a bit more into this instrument. The overall goal of the redesign was to let the lexicon and the structure used in the site come from users, in order to give the stakeholders what they really want.
They collected a very large number of feedback reports from users and based on this they were able to redesign the site. Very interesting!

Another intersting talk was given by Michele Iovino “Hardware Hacks e Context-awareness”. He introduced projects such as arduino, processing, wiring and in general the concepts of open hardware.

The Closing keynote titled “The DIY Future: What Happens When Everyone Is A Designer?” was by Joe Lamantia. Another fancy presentation. I didn’t get his main points but I have to admit I was too tired to follow it.

At the end there was the 5 minutes madness session: the microphone was placed on the table and everyone was free to pick it up and speak, about the conference, about the topic, about anything. Some crazy/funny things arose such as “la corazzata Potemkin e’ una cagata pazzesca” (if you are not Italian, you cannot understand this, it is from a Fantozzi movie) and the Buttered cat paradox. There was an applause after every short intervention … so it was not too much madness but it was a very very interesting modality for ending a summary anyway.

A final short point about the summit. I think there were 2 extremes in presentation: one axis was about presentation style, the other was about reality groundness. About presentation style, some presentations were very intriguing and fancy (lots of cool full screen images and lots of single word slides and black background, presenters moving around, making jokes, changing tone) while the rest was very boring (white background, lots of text, presenters never moving, not changing the tone of voice). Unfortunately I think I’m much more a presenter of the second type so next time I’ll try to create a fancy presentation. Anyway I’m not sure that fancy presentations are really that good for conveying concepts to the public: while a boring presentation does not convey any concept (simply because the target is not following it but doing something else (browsing, sleeping, …)), a fancy one might amuse the public but at the end the viewer might be in the state “funny, 30 good minutes, but what was the message?”.
About reality groundness, I have to admit that academics usually propose things that will never ever see any application in reality simply because they are too … uhm … unrealistic, while entrepreneurs and consultants have to propose something that works, now, and so they focus on reality, but I guess this is not a surprise for anyone. I prefer the reality grounded approach, expecially if the topic is information architecture.

Closing, I should really thank the organizers for giving me the opportunity to assist to such a diverse and thriving summit. Thanks to Alberto Mucignat, Emanuele Quintarelli, Andrea Resmini, Luca Rosati.
Also I liked a lot the idea of using a kitchen timer (shaped like a tomato) for setting the time for presentation. It was friendly, funny and ice-breaking, but still very very strict in keeping the speakers on time, I think I’ll borrow the idea if I ever get the will of organizing a (un)conference or similar.

I think I’ve learn a lot from this summit.

Report from the Information Architecture summit (day 1)

During the past weekend near Trento there were many interesting events: a conference about new media and communication “Creativita’ in video” in Rovereto, the South Tyrol Free Software conference 2007 with speakers from Google, Gnome, Samba, MIT, OpenOffice, in Merano and the second Italian summit on Information Architecture in Trento.
I decided to attend the latest and I was satisfied with the choice.

On Saturday we were more than 200 people, some of the speakers were from abroad and the summit was really worth, I really enjoyed it.

What follows is a short summary of the talks I found more interesting and, at the end, about the summit overall.

The summit was opened by Gianluca Salvatori, local minister for Research and Innovation of the Autonomous Province of Trento. I asked some people how they found his talk and many were surprised by it (“Wow, it was not the typical talk of a politician!”). In fact Salvadori knows a lot about innovation and research trend and research management (I suggest you to follow his very interesting blog, in Italian). Actually I was a bit disappointed, I think he could have been much more insightful and provocative but maybe he didn’t want to.

The opening keynote was given by Eric Reiss and was titled “Invention, Innovation, and the Future of IA”. It wanted to be a show and it largely was. I didn’t get entirely its points (is X innovation or invention?) but I got some laughs and this is already something.

“Confusi e felici: il Web 2.0 e le nuove sfide cognitive di Internet” by Cristina Lavazza – Andrea Fiacchi reported a small experiment (only 10 people) about how young and not-young people browse and find Web2.0 sites. The results were somehow as expected but the talk was very well given.

I liked a lot the talk by Luca Mascaro “UI per applicazioni Web 2.0: FaceTag”. He spoke about a small, but real case of participative redesign. The main interesting point is that he really did something and shared the process with us. Coming from academy, I’m really more willing to listen to people who did things and share their experience instead of people who instructs on how things should be done!

After the first part of the first day, I was asking myself: “what is the worst feature of Trentino research? Well, it is too much top-down. Maybe it would be much better to just finance lots of very small groups of young people like the ones we have seen presenting, without asking 200 pages of possible project in order to decide if it is worth financing it. Being more bottom-up and more fast in assigning (small amounts of) funds to many different small groups. Maybe this is another possible path, trying to reproduce the venture capital dynamism of Silicon Valley with public funds, I don’t know, it is not an easy task.

The afternoon was opened by Alessandra Cornero and her talk “Architettare per trovare: la documentazione della Pubblica Amministrazione in Rete” about how to make accessible documents created by the public sector. The current situation is too fragmented, every administration builds from scratch and independently its information portals and architectures, sometimes well, sometimes not that well. People often resort to search engines but they cannot be used for reliable information (“is this the last applicable law?”). She was suggesting that investing in human-edited catalogs should not be seen as a cost but as an investment, because they let citizens save time and find “reliable” information. I asked her “what about one of the mantra of Web2.0, participation, in this case involving citizens in the loop? Are you thinking about this? For example public sector sites could display on every page a widget by which citizens could “report as inaccurate” a certain information. Or on the other extreme the public sector could reverse all its (already electronic) documents on a wiki, with a big disclaimer on top such as “this information is not necessarily accurate”, and let citizens integrate it, comment on it, build on it…” Well, the answer told me that there is still a lot of work to do. And this of course is an opportunity.

Jess McMullin, with “The Business of Experience”, gave as another fancy presentation. By fancy I mean “lots of cool full screen images and lots of single word slides and black background”. I don’t have much experience with this kind of presentations. I’m more used to see boring, very textual, white background, academic presentation. I’m not sure I get a lot from these fancy presentations, at the end I’m often left wondering “wow, that was cool, but what I remember of his points?”. I’m also a bit curious about how you learn creating presentations like these. Just by viewing a lot of similar presentations? And how long does it take to create such a presentation (more or less than boring, textual ones)?

Alberto Mucignat, one of the organizer, tried a fancy presentation about “SEO & IA”. I didn’t follow it too much but he got an applause when suggesting we should move, after Web2.0 and Web3.0, to Web5.0, as an homage to Fibonacci. This is the picture that opens this post in fact.

Franco Carcillo and Vincenzo Mania presented “Tag per i cittadini: il caso TaggaTO”. TaggaTO is a very very interesting service provided by the city of Torino, which is really become an hub of innovation in Italy, see for example TorinoValley and the fact Sterling moved to Torino for 6 or 8 months). The service TaggaTO is a service of social bookmarking by which Torino citizens can tag resources provided by the local administration, in a way very similar to Some of the questions they raised were: can classification of public services be an object of sharing? Is there a conflict between burocratic/law terms and popular jargon for tags? Which kind of monitoring is needed on tags? Also very interesting the fact they didn’t ask to Torino already web2.0 savvy citizens to switch over TaggaTO but they let them use their social bookmarking services (such as and just tag resources there with “for:taggato” so that TaggaTO can fetch the tagged resources. I wonder if they were already the target of some tag spam attack.
The talk was very interesting, but not fancy style, which I actually preferred because there were a lot of interesting content in it.

Peter Van Dijck gave us the concluding talk for the first day “Global IA: How to Organize Global Websites”. It was very interesting and very fancy, but I was too tired. Some concepts I might want to search on his blog later on were: in Craiglist Dubai (women seeking women?!?), Google Korea and animations, Dewey vs the Maori, …

And then there was the summit dinner which is something people always look for when they come to conferences in Italy. It was good. ;-)

Links for 2007 11 09

Google: “All your network are belong to us”

This is huge, singularity is approaching fast! From Google OpenSocial To Launch Thursday:

Google wants to create an easy way for developers to create an application that works on all social networks. And if they pull it off, they’ll be in the center, controlling the network.

Great comment by Alex to the post:

On the other hand ALL the social networking sites will now have to open up otherwise they will lose members.

What Google proposed is, I guess since the details will be revealed tomorrow, a simple API with a minimal set of methods, something that thousands of entities (programmers, startups, companies) could have done in a similar way. The challenge is not too much technical. The challenge is social: if Google proposes an OpenSocial API, it will get adopted in seconds, if some unknown entity propose the very same API, nobody will notice it. What is happening is that Google is quickly becoming the globally recognized entity in charge or defining the evolution of the Web: Google is quickly taking the role of W3C that, according to Wikipedia, is “the main international standards organization for the World Wide Web (abbreviated WWW or W3).”

Title of the post? See All your base are belong to us page on wikipedia.

Recommender Systems conference in Minneapolis

I’ll be in Minneapolis for the Recommender Systems 2007 from October 18th until October 22nd presenting a paper titled Trust-aware Recommender Systems which is a summary of a part of my PhD thesis. I’ll be hosted by Renee, couchsurfing as usual. If you are around and would like to discuss anything, let me know, k? See you soon, on the other side of the pond!

Links for 2007 10 13