October 17th, 2007

monk john

It's the end of the world as we know it...

...a pundit just a-pol-o-gized...

No, really. Robert Strohmeyer wrote an error-laden post, and instead of trying to justify it or dance around it, ala Dvorak and too many others, he apologized and corrected it.

Don't believe me? Read it yourself:
Dear readers,

Last Friday, I posted a commentary about the shortcomings of the iPhone with respect to business computing environments. Unfortunately, in my hasty exploration of the iPhone's software, I overlooked an important feature of the device and erroneously stated that the iPhone does not include support for virtual private networking. In fact, it does include VPN support. I also misstated that the iPhone does not open Word and Excel documents. What I had intended to say was that it cannot edit them. I deeply regret these errors, and I offer my sincere apologies to all of the readers of Networking Know-How and PCWorld.com.

The original text of the post follows.

Robert Strohmeyer
If only more folks would do that, what a bright world this would be.

Technorati Tags:

monk john

Stupidity in large numbers doesn't equal smart

It just equals mass stupidity.

One of the things I rant about regularly is the tendency towards "echo chamber" behavior in the "blogosphere". That is, one site publishes something and dozens more all automatically agree with it, even if it's stupid. Sometimes, especially if it's stupid. Now, this is nothing new. Echo chamber behavior has been going on as long as there have been people. It's just that the intarweb makes it happen so much faster. A great example of this was the somewhat recent dustup about Harry McCracken at PC World. He quit to preserve his "journalistic integrity". Everyone came down on Colin Crawford, because, supposedly, Colin didn't like an article that was critical of advertisers. This idea was ridiculous if you have followed the publications Colin's run, but once the "blogosphere" echo chamber got ahold of it, bang, done. The funny thing was, out of all the posts about it on Techmeme, there was pretty much one original article. The rest all linked to/quoted that. It was a "big" story, but only one person did any actual work. Everyone else? LinkLinkLinkLink.

The result? Echo Chamber at warp speed.

Some other folks are noticing this, such as Tim O'Reilly. In a recent post on O'Reilly radar, he says:
There's always a risk of self-fulfilling prophecies in social media. Sites or applications become popular, and then stay popular because they are popular. This may be a key to the unusually high concentration of Facebook applications in the "short head" rather than the "long tail." When a system provides powerful feedback mechanisms for herd behavior, it can actually undermine the "wisdom of crowds" rather than enhancing it. (One of James Surowiecki's key observations in his book of that name was that a diverse collection of independently-acting individuals produce the wisdom of crowds effect. To the extent that those individuals reinforce each other's opinions rather than preserving independent decision making, they tend to undermine that group intelligence.)

But there's an even more insidious corollary: when a group of seemingly independent actors are making decisions based on the same limited pool of information, they become more highly correlated, and thus "stupider."
Now, in this paragraph, Tim is specifically talking about things like Facebook, but it applies to the way the "blogosphere" works in general. Don't believe me? Take a look at what happens when Scoble or Winer say something stupid. (It doesn't take long.) Because they're "A-list" bloggers, they get up on Techmeme. Of course, this prompts a dozen or more posts that are little more than comments on what the original stupid was, but these new posts are not commentary or analysis. For the most part, they're an electronic version of Limbaugh "dittoheads". But they keep that original stupidity going, and suddenly, the stupid has become the truth, because there's so many people talking about it like it's true. It's "The Big Lie", only at speeds that make worldwide propagation nigh-simultaneous.

(As an aside. I am not saying that you should never comment on someone else's post, or write your own article about another post. Since this article, and quite a few of my other posts are literally, about other posts, that would be silly. But don't *parrot* the posts. It is the *parroting* that creates the echo chamber.)

Later on in the article, Tim directly addresses this:
So what does this have to do with techmeme? When reviewing the Techmeme leaderboard, and then bouncing from there over to Techmeme itself, I was struck by the fact that the surest way to stay up on the leaderboard is to make sure to comment on stories that are currently appearing on the front page of techmeme! This is a self-reinforcing system, where all of the major tech blogs end up covering the same stories. Yes, someone always breaks the news, but you see this amazing pile-on effect. I'm not sure it's healthy.

Pile-on = echo chamber.

It's not just Tim O'Reilly talking about it. One of my favorite Chuqs, in fact, the only Chuq I know talks about this too, and uses the iPhone as an example. He has a great quote on this effect:
The first thing an echo chamber does is convince itself it's not an echo chamber
Chuq further uses the Apple TV and the iPhone to illustrate not just how silly the echo chamber can be, but how self-delusional.
Classic cases of this are the iPhone and the Apple TV. Both are products that are built for consumers, and while they have strong geek attraction, they aren't built and designed for geeks. Geeks complain about things these products don't do. Apple ignores them. Geeks try to spin them into failures because they don't cater to geeks. the product sells zillions of units anyway. The geeks brains hurt.
Dear lord yes. If you tool around the "blogosphere", you'd think both were utter failures, or the tools of ultimate evil because they don't cater to geeks. But that's not really the case:
for instance, best as I can find, the new generation Tivo sold 30,000 units in the first few months. Apple TV? 250,000 units. Yet you look around the geek echo chamber, and they declare the Apple TV a failed product, while drooling over Tivos. Of course, if you read Sean Avery's NY Times article this week, you'll see he calls out his Apple TV as a toy he loves. It's a great product. Just not a geek product. But since all products ought to be geek products -- that makes it a failure inside the geek echo chamber.
One thing to keep in mind about the "blogosphere": the number of Scobles in it far outnumber the number of normals. That is, regardless of how many people chant the mantra of the blogosphere, "it is the ultimate in democracy, and therefore the perfect medium", the truth is, it's still mostly made up of technophiles. Crap like Techmeme and Digg exacerbate this to where most of the volume is from a crowd of geeks and technophiles, all convinced that they are the true force in making great products. This is hilarious when you consider how few of them have ever created anything beyond geek toys. Winer's one of the few who ever did anything for normal people.

Another example is the hue and cry over iPhone unlocking. If you believe the blogosphere, everyone wants this. That's crap. Geeks want this, and the only numbers I've seen, (courtesy of Chuq), look like, at most, ten percent. Now, ten percent is a decent number, but it's not a majority, it's not even a large minority. But it is a loud minority. Or as Chuq says, (he thinks the unlocking numbers are closer to 5% rather than 10%):
Still not a small number: 5% of a million iPhones is 50,000 iPhones; a great little cottage industry, but it's still ONLY 5%. And for all of the geeks who want the iPhone to fail because it doesn't do all the things THEY want, and obviously, everyone wants those things.

Except, of course, Apple's selling hundreds of thousands of iPhones. Why? because if you get outside the geek echo chamber, most people don't CARE about what the geeks care about. They want the iPhone.
That, by the way, makes geeks crazy. Just frothing at the mouth nuts. They won't admit it in "public", not ever, but deep down, they know that they are this minority, and the iPhone, and the Apple TV, and the Wii are all wildly successful without their approval. Even worse? The manufacturers of those products don't give a rat's ass about geek approval. Telling geeks that "As it turns out, selling to everyone but you is a much better idea than not" makes their insecurities rise to the fore in a big way. Once that happens, well, even reality doesn't mater.

Just because a lot of people agree on something, they're still wrong. They're just louder about it.

Technorati Tags:
, , ,

monk john

It was as though the voices of a billion pundits cried out, and were silenced

In another "letter to the world", Steve Jobs announced that there will be an iPhone SDK in February.

Gee, what a shock. Let's see, Leopard comes out on the 26th of October, and about 4 months later, there will be an SDK for the iPhone and the iPod touch. Why, one would think that you'd need Leopard to properly develop applications for the iPhone, and that it was silly to think that you'd get an SDK prior to Leopard. I wonder why, in all the screaming and crying and whining about the lack of an SDK on the iPhone, no one every pointed that out. Oh wait, a few of us did, but when you're the voice of reason in a room full of cranky infants, well, you don't get heard. But there were some voices saying that you probably wouldn't get an iPhone SDK until after Leopard.

Like mine:
The point is, unlimited third-party development on an embedded device with stringent operational requirements is not the magic spell of good and light that people think it is. That's not to say that I don't think Apple should release a "proper" SDK for the iPhone, just that I'd rather they take their time and create one that, above all else, does no harm. It's an iPhone -- I expect that part to never be troubled by anything other than carrier signal.
But there's another possible reason as to why Apple didn't release an SDK at the iPhone release: The version of OS X the iPhone is running. I'm going to make an educated guess, based on the way the iPhone does certain things, and how the iPhone's launch delayed Leopard, and say that the version of OS X that the iPhone is running is not, in fact, an embedded version of Mac OS X 10.4, but an embedded version of Leopard.

This is speculation, but I'm pretty happy with the reasoning behind it. If this is the case, then it would be quite difficult to release an SDK that allowed you to build features that don't run on the current OS release. Apple could build a "simulator," but unless that simulator included the full iPhone OS, it wouldn't be something you'd want to trust. True, Apple could have released an SDK at the recent WWDC, but then you'd have a (probably) beta SDK that used beta developer tools running on a beta OS release that targets a device with a tiny margin for error. This is not a recipe for reliability.

So I do think we'll see a "real" SDK, but it won't be until after the release of Leopard, at the earliest.
Mmmm...sweet, sweet reasoned analysis, even sweet 'cause it's mine.

Hmm...let's see...without screaming or whining, but a bit of critical thought, I was right. No screaming, no demands, none of that shit. Just a bit of thinking about what the iPhone is running, what Apple is doing, and the timing of various things. Maybe some other people getting all dramatic about stuff should think that over a bit.

Nah, it's the "blogosphere". Who wants "thinking" in that?

Oh, and Nick Winfield? Contrary to what you think, Apple never said "No non-web applications ever", so no, they did not in fact reverse their position.

Technorati Tags:

monk john

Some days, the proof just writes itself

So of course, with Apple announcing the iPhone SDK for February, I had to go see what my favorite echo chamber propagator had to say.

I was not disappointed:
How news spreads…

Dave Winer just called me and said Apple is coming out with an iPhone SDK next year.

How did he know? It’s on Twitter. Not on TechMeme.

MacNN has the story. I just got up, so more to come after I clear my head.

The fact that the original story came out on Apple's Hot News RSS feed, and then everyone picked it up from there? Nah, it really happened on Twitter. (okay, how funny is it that Mr. RSS himself, Dave Winer, and his sidekick, "I read 8702348750238 feeds a day Boy", Der Scoble don't read that news feed?)

To his credit, Der Scoble does link to the original story, but then overlooks it as the real source so that he can pump up the "Twitter is where all the news comes from" echo chamber.


But the reality won't matter, because the Twitter echo chamber will say "We didn't say it started on Twitter, that's just how it spread". Along with every other way. For me, it's more MacSurfer than anything else. Oh, and the MacNN artcile? It implies this is a reaction to the hacking on the iPhone. For some reason, I seriously doubt that.