It’s a Small World After All

20 Jan 2003
January 20, 2003

The Net is redefining our social space. Hyperbole aside, in the last week I’ve discovered two new ways to define my net community.

Did I tell you I’m reading Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs? Howard has researched the ways technology is changing how we interact. Yet, as a coworker suggested, he writes about it as if he’s telling a story. Makes a potentially “geeky” read into a powerful and engaging one. Every so often I get really excited by someone’s writing. This is a book I not only can’t put down, but one that immediately puts me into a creative trance. Ideas, sometimes crazy ideas ensue. I must look pretty funny on the subway.

But Howard isn’t the only one exploring new socialspheres. Joshua Schachter has developed GeoURL, officially described as a “location-to-URL reverse directory.” Translated that means you can put code on your web page that describes where in the physical world you’re located (you know, longitude and latitude). Once you do that, you can actually see who (and whose sites) are located close to you in the corporeal sense. Hmmm, should I position myself from home, work, where I work out, or where my Web host is located? Hard decision. It seems I’m all over the map. Maybe I can devise a script that will read my GSM position hourly and update the code to reflect my new location.

Mark Pilgrim has devised another type of Net road map. When you input your URL at Recommended Reading it provides a list of blogs you might be interested in. Rather than your geographical position, Mark’s list is based on which sites you link to and which link to you. Since most bloggers link to sites they like or find interesting, this methodology assumes these links help determine relevance.

So what am I to do with these new connections, these Six Degrees of Separation type couplings? Why contact them of course. What good is a peer-to-peer network if you can’t cavort with your peers.

First stop: Peyser Associates, Inc., located right on top of me according to GeoURL (well, almost). From their front page I see they are “a Washington, DC based firm that specializes in helping its clients gain the resources needed to develop critical projects and programs. Begun in 1982 as a lobbying firm representing U.S. State and local government agencies, we have grown into a firm that succeeds by bringing to bear our formidable expertise and contacts to build support in the public and private sectors – inside and outside of Washington – for our clients’ initiatives.”

A bit of a run on sentence but that won’t matter if I can approach them with some art initiatives I’m heavily involved with. Artists could use a formidable lobbying effort on Capitol Hill.

Next stop was {confusion : journal}, Brian Jeffery Beggerly’s blog (located one mile from my blog via GeoURL). I have only looked around briefly but found a few overlaps there. My name is JeffREY, his middle name is JeffERY. He works for Lockheed (if only for a few more weeks). And my father worked for Lockheed for 35 years. Hmmm. Food for thought. I sent him a message.

• • •

Let’s switch over to Recommended Reading to see if our connection might be a tad more germane. This time I’ll start on the bottom of the list. Last, but certainly not least (I wouldn’t want to offend any of my newly discovered peers, even though the list is generated by a coldhearted algorithm) is Overstated’s subtitle: Anxiety is not a good thing. That’s a very good start.

Cameron, overstated’s author, is a Ph.D candidate at MIT’s Media Lab. I can see why his site was on my reading list. There are some interesting connections here. In a January 15th entry, he talks briefly about the origins and present day ramifications of the tenure system:

Tenure, an infrastructure most people think is as old as the university, is actually quite young institution in America. Based on the German concept of lehrfreiheit, or freedom to teach, tenure also has the effect of locking in to an age heirarchy that undermines young thinkers. While the ideals are good (i.e., disconnecting professors’ ideas from their employment), the resulting system lacks the adaptability and creativity necessary to bridge new ground.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we fire all tenured professors and replace them with younger, less experienced researchers. But when new professors spend their time appealing to the venerable members of their program, they lose their potential to break new ground through alternative methods and perspectives.

Cameron, I went that route for quite some time and I would agree with your assessment. That’s in part why I left academia to join the Federal government work force. New ideas need encouragement.

Speaking of irony, Cameron quotes Kirkegaard on the subject. I was dismayed when they said irony was dead. And to be honest, I didn’t believe them. And I still don’t. If you meet a tenured professor who isn’t threatened by new ideas, I’ll bet he/she believes in it too.

I sent Cameron an email too.

Recommended Reading’s list, made especially for me and based on Phillip Pearson’s Blogging Ecosystem, contains some sites I already read (Zeldman and Textism, both frequent reads). In fact, it helps you refine your index by asking if you already read a particular blog or simply aren’t interested in that entry.

I have always been a network kind of guy. Back in junior high school (when stamps were actually used to send mail), I had pen pals all over the world: Japan, Korea, Czechoslovakia, Norway, and the Netherlands. I still write to my friend John in Holland. So, this is not new territory for me.

I’m going to be making contact with others on my list in the next few weeks. Mark’s list constantly changes as new links come and go. So, like the diet I’m on, I may have to look at this as a long term lifestyle change, something that will be a constant in my day-to-day activities.

If nothing else, linking to them will emphasize the statistically significant relationship we already have. If they write me back maybe something more interesting will develop. We might even meet each other face-to-face some day.

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2 replies
  1. Donna says:

    Someone asked at a party the other night, “Have you heard of blogs?” There was some tv show, I think on PBS. We got into a discussion about it and found most people do not have a concept of what they are. I found Safire wrote a brief bit on the word “blog.” (NYT site).

  2. Jeff says:

    I am not surprised. When I write here on LO I walk a fine line. My audience runs the gamut between casual users to net cognoscenti. Which audience do I write for? Usually both at one point or another.
    Given that, even among bloggers there is a difference of opinion as to what constitutes a blog. Some think long personal stories are more of a diary: a blog being short entries with links.
    I don’t think the form of your writing is as important as the community aspect of the site.

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