Yearly Archives: 2007

The end of corruption, brought to you by Lawrence Lessig and powered by millions of us

Lawrence Lessig is a genious. He decided to dedicate the next 10 years on ending corruption (after spending the past 10 years on reframing copyright issues), there is really an hope that a vast movement will self-aggregate around him and got an unstoppable momentum. After watching his tv interview (embedded below), I’m really optimistic a solution to this plague can be found.

Links for 2007 10 06

Links for 2007 09 26

Social graph portability with a simple rel=”me”

Brad Fitzpatrick’s Thoughts on the Social Graph few weeks ago ignited a spark in the blogosphere. The quest for a simple, neutral protocol for portability of your data (and relationships) and identity management is nothing new. Brad is able to explain the need clearly and he got a lot of attention because he is highly respected for having created very useful Free Software, for example LiveJournal software, and this is good. The mailing list he started for discussing this attracted a lot of minds in few days. Brad puts it like this:

There are an increasing number of new “social applications” as well as traditional application which either require the “social graph” or that could provide better value to users by utilizing information in the social graph. What I mean by “social graph” is a the global mapping of everybody and how they’re related, as Wikipedia describes and I talk about in more detail later. Unfortunately, there doesn’t exist a single social graph (or even multiple which interoperate) that’s comprehensive and decentralized. Rather, there exists hundreds of disperse social graphs, most of dubious quality and many of them walled gardens.

On the mailing list there were thousands of good comments and presentations of services. The one I’m linking here is Plaxo Online Identity Consolidator

At Plaxo, we believe strongly that users should have ownership, control, and portability of their profiles and friends list. No service you use should claim your data as their own and keep it trapped in their “walled garden”. We will continue to publish tools and articles here and on our blog to empower users and support a truly open social web.
An important aspect of the open social graph is being able to declare the different sites you use and tie them together. The easiest way to tell people—and computers—about the sites you use is to link from your home page, blog, and profile pages to the other sites you use. If you add rel=”me” to the link tag, it says “this is another site about me”. Many sites already do this, and services like wordpress make it easy to annotate your links like this.
Plaxo’s Online Identity Consolidator—which you can use here or download the source code and use yourself—starts with one of your web sites and crawls all the rel=”me” links to find the other web pages you want people to know about.

See how the Online Identity Consolidator works on my identity page ( All of this is made possible by a simple rel="me" added to the HTML link tag. But as usual the hard part is getting adoption …

Well, maybe the title is misleading, I’m not claiming that rel=”me” solves all the problems, simply that it is a simple idea with a lot of powerful and this is the correct road.

Also check A Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web and the social network portability page collectively kept on the microformats wiki (microformats rock!)

Linus Torvald is convinced version control should be based on trust networks

Thanks to Jesse, I started exploring Git, a version control system alternative to CVS and SVN. Git is based on a very different metaphor. While in CVS/SVN there is one repository which is maintained in a single location, in Git there are as many repositories as users and all of them are maintained in a decentralized fashion, on all the machines of all the users. From centralization to decentralization, it is an interesting twist and change in perspective.
And so what about the risk of balkanization of code? And the fact that there are 10.000 (different) versions of the Linux kernel? Well, according to Linus, the answer is trust. Linus explains the metaphores behind git and the trust issues in an extremely interesting Google Talk.

From the talk of Linux (via Victor):

The way merging is done is the way real security is done, by a network of trust. if you have ever done any security work and it didn’t involve the concept of network of trust it was not a security work; it was a masturbation.
…we don’t know hundred people. We have five, seven, ten close personal friends…

This way of managing a software ecology is wonderfully adhocratic. There are now thousands different versions of the Linux kernel. Currently most of the people rely on Linus’ version but it is possible, in a perfect adhocratic way, that different people will rely on versions of different people. Go decentralized, go trust-based. Cool.

Northern Rock bank crash: what happens when trust ends?

Telegraph’s article “Restoring the savers’ trust” (about UK bank Northern Rock huge credit problems, see below for the story) is extremely interesting to read.

Investors can make happen what they least want to happen. The viability of any bank is dependent on the confidence of the people who trust it with their money. When that confidence goes, there is a run on the bank, and the bank fails. If the contagion spreads from one bank to others, then the system itself becomes liable to collapse, with catastrophic economic consequences for everyone. That is what happened in America in 1929.

First the story, as usual from Wikipedia (the article is of course currently under wikirage)

On 13 September 2007, Northern Rock asked the Bank of England, as lender of last resort in the United Kingdom, for emergency funds due to problems in raising funds in the money market. The problems arose from difficulties banks faced over the Summer 2007 in raising funds in the money markets, caused by the subprime crisis in the United States. The bank is solvent but has a liquidity problem because a large part of the bank’s assets are held in mortgages, and are not accessible quickly.
On 14 September, the first day branches opened following the news, many customers queued outside branches to withdraw their savings (a run on the bank). It was estimated that £1 billion was withdrawn by customers that day, about 5% of the total bank deposits held by the Northern Rock. In one incident, police were called to the branch in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire when two joint account holders barricaded the bank manager in her office after she refused to let them withdraw £1 million from their account. Their money was held in an internet only account, which became inaccessible after the Northern Rock website became inaccessible due to the volume of customers trying to log on
On 17 September, as worried savers continued to flock to some Northern Rock bank branches to withdraw their savings, it was reported that an estimated £2 billion had been withdrawn since the bank applied to the Bank of England for emergency funds. By early afternoon in London Northern Rock’s shares, which had lost 32% on the previous Friday, fell a further 40% from 438 pence to 263 pence.

Well, to put it shortly, money does not exist, it is a social creation, it exists as long as the large majority of people think it exists. But figure out this, what will happen if tomorrow all the people in the world will go to their banks to withdraw all their money in cash? Well, it is not hard to figure, that money does not exist so it will happen something interesting, and violent for sure.
Now, do I want that most of the people realize that money don’t exist? Well, I don’t know. Maybe yes, possibly in a slow, non emotive, rational way, just like all the people in the world have enough free time to reason and discuss on how the economics system works and how it could be changed (read ripple it). But this is unlikely to happen, probably what is more likely to happen is a big crash, caused by impulsive reactions like the ones are happening about Northern Rock. It would be easy to think like Cypher (in Matrix): You know, I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.
Similarly, money doesn’t exist. But Ignorance is bliss. Lot of people prefer to remain “plugged” into the system.

I also suggest you to read the book “The Great Crash, 1929” by John Kenneth Galbraith (1954). It is an economic history of the lead-up to the Wall Street Crash of 1929. It is inspiring to read the declarations of authorities and politicians which become more and more unreal as the time passes. The worst the situation becomes, the more politicians insist on “There is no problem, everything is going well and this small second of crisis is already ended, tomorrow the economy starts to grow again, don’t be afraid”. Now of course politicians and economics authorities must say so, I would do the same if I were the chief of the central Bank or the Prime Minister but the fact we all know this means that nobody (really?) trusts their words and the more they say “there is nothing to worry about” the more people start to worry. There is an interesting comment by Stephen King (not the writer) on the Independent titled When reassuring words aren’t enough which compares the words spoken today by UK authorities and the words spoken in 1928 by US authorities. Check the differences if you wish.

Again, ripple might solve some of these problems (introducing new problems of course or shoud I say new opportunities?). Understanding how the economics (social) system works is something we all can no more postpone, I think.

Jacob Moreno: an amazingly mad visionary

I’m reading “The Autobiography of J.L. Moreno” (actually I’m reading the Italian translation “Il profeto della psicodramma” because this is what I found in the local library) and Jacob Moreno was really an amazingly mad guy. I looked for something of him because Moreno is often cited as the first one studying social networks (in 1930s) and hence doing social network analysis.
Well in the autobiography he states that he was feeling he was God since the age of 5. Gosh. And through all its life he was convinced to be God and to live like God. Amazing. Not an ordinary person, eh? Moreno is in fact an amazingly prolific person, father of psychodrama, father of sociodrama, father of role training, father of sociometry, father of group psychotherapy. (In Wikipedia there is the List of people known as the father or mother of something, how good would be to end up in that list sooner or later, eh?) but also with an incredible life, creating hospitals for animals, religions, refusing to be paid as a doctor, meeting Hitler, Freud, Einstein, etc, I cannot resume it, you really have to check his autobiography!
The image on the left shows an an attraction network in a Fourth Grade Class from a paper by Moreno (note that triangles are males and circles are female, or vice versa, I don’t remember precisely).
Let me conclude this post with two excerpts from “Il profeta della psicodramma” (translated from Italian into English by me, I apologize already) but I suggest you to read his entire life in the book.

People researching interactions that don’t start their work with an analysis of the spontaneous-creative matrices of their experimental projects are like architects trying to convince you that an house can be built without foundations.

Our goal was to prepare almost 50.000 people as sociometrists to be sent in every area of America life and also abroad with the goal of creating a new democracy, in which, citing our introductory declaration “every member of these groups will be taught by means of sociometry to understand that a genuine leaving democracy cannot be accomplished unless it is based on the science of actual relationships working at interpersonal level and among groups existing and functioning under the surface of institutions, laws, courts and the different cultural agencies inside them.”

Links for 2007 09 14

Bandwidth as a currency and Free Software as a strategy. Tribler: from Europe to Harvard.

Read Researchers Aim To Make Internet Bandwidth A Global Currency over at Lockergnome. I thought I wrote before about Tribler but I didn’t find anything on my archive so let me do it now.
Tribler is peer-to-peer software for video file sharing that has a basic understanding of human friendships, of user tastes in content, and of Internet connectivity between users. Tribler is also a research project At Delft University of Technology and De Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Most of the Tribler team is funded by the I-Share project, which is part of the Dutch Freeband Program. Freeband itself is funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs of The Netherlands.
Why it is interesting? It is an innovative way of using P2P sharing and online videos, it comes from Europe (and not US as usual), it is a University research project (and not a cool, hacky, just born, extraslim californian startup as usual) but really works and funded with public money from the state (and not from venture capitalists, sadly not that spread in Europe), it decided to adopt a Free Software strategy since the beginning (again not very usual).
I tried Tribler some months ago and it is a cool piece of software (you can keep a list of video friends and a lot of other social features but you can also see and rate YouTube videos, for example) and has the potential to be extended and improved in many ways.
Being Free Software, people in Harvard decided to extend it in order to test some other research hypothesis: mainly understanding how bandwith can be used as a global currency.
From the article on Lockergnome:

The researchers envision an e-commerce model that connects users to a single global market, without any controlling company, network, or bank. They see bandwidth as the first true Internet “currency” for such a market. For example, the more a user uploads now (i.e. earns) and the higher the quality of the contributions, the more s/he would be able to download later (i.e. spend) and the faster the download speed. More broadly, this paradigm empowers individuals or groups of users to run their own “marketplace” for any computer resource or service.

The researchers concede that the greatest challenge to any peer-to-peer backed e-commerce system is implementing proper regulation in a decentralized environment. To keep an eye on the virtual economy, Parkes and Pouwelse envision creating a “web of trust,” or a network between friends used to evaluate the trustworthiness of fellow users and aimed at preventing content theft, counterfeiting, and cyber attacks. To do so they will use a feature already included in the enhanced version of the Tribler software, the ability for users to “gossip” or report on the behavior of other peers. Their eventual goal is to find a way to create accurate personal assessments or trust metrics as a form of internal regulation.

The enhanced Tribler version is redistributed by Harvard, choosing to release it as Free Software was very clever from the Dutch Universities which can benefit from more people involved. Great choice!
If you use Ubuntu GNU/Linux (you should!), installing the standrad version of Tribler is an easy charm.
1. Start the package manager from the System / Administration menu
2. Open the Repositories menu from the Settings menu
3. Click on the Third-Party Software tab
4. Click on the Add+ button
5. Type deb feisty main
6. Click the Add Source+ button
7. Close the Repositories menu
8. Click the Reload button to retrieve the package info from the Tribler repository
9. Click Search and search for “tribler”
10. Mark Tribler for installation by clicking
11. Ignore the warning about authentication, it is harmless
12. Install Tribler by clicking the “Apply” button at the top

Or if you are a command-liner, 3 quick steps:
sudo echo "\ndeb feisty main" >> /etc/apt/sources.list
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install tribler