Archive Page 2

Acerca de Jerarquías (On Hierarchies)

Nota: Este articulo se publico originalmente en el Blog Viralogia
Los economistas modernos han restado importancia a un error.  Según ellos nuestro paradigma social y económico es la racionalidad y el interés propio. Pero el interés propio no describe por completo la motivación humana y social, así como tampoco la tan estimada racionalidad económica. Son solo un modelo que funciona en papel y que es elegante por simple.  Como proponer entonces la función del altruismo, de la colaboración y del interés del grupo?  El hacerlo se ha convertido en una clave para sistemas altamente efectivos. Las redes sociales en línea ayudan a comprender como operan estos sistemas de inteligencia colectiva y de colaboración.

Computing: Ubiquitous, Pervasive and Social (Human)

The publication of the book “The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It”  by Jonathan Zittrain opened up an important discussion about the form that the Internet might be adopting as a social and political phenomenon.  At about the same of publication the article “Ubiquitous Human Computing”  appeared in the Journal Philosophical Transactions A of the Royal Society.  Here Zittrain explores some special issues in greater detail. 


Zittrain appeals both to technologists and social scientists.  It is packed with extremely relevant information, insights and examples.  Zittrain makes the case that we are experiencing the advent of “ubiquitous human computing”.  The explanation is that computing devices and active sensors are so common and interconnected that the person itself becomes a part of the network, albeit not always by choice.


Continue reading ‘Computing: Ubiquitous, Pervasive and Social (Human)’

The Memory of the Social Thing

Some ideas about how to go approach writing a history of the Online Social Network, the Virtual World (and MMORPGs)…

The first step is to consider how Tom Standage has made a good case that the first instance of a social network, albeit not online or digital, was the telegraph network.  The telegraph was not only a new way of instant communication, a matter which in itself was quite revolutionary at the time.   More interesting was that people created new social activities within the telegraphic network: they played chess, engaged in romantic relationships over the wire, and new forms of crime and fraud were created.  A similar and probably more marked social role had the telephone network later in the century.  Both telegraph and telephone enabled an instant socio-geographical reach not seen before. 

However, both telegraph and telephone systems did lack one important aspect of the later OSN: storage, or an internal memory of the social.  Both were not able to store the information of the activities between the parties for later retrieval and use.  The information about the social interaction was stored in the outer points of the network, in a different media like paper, recordings and plain human memory.  As such, both systems depended on the human element to function as a social construct.

With the advent of the electronic networks and computers this began to change.  At first computers in the fringes of the networks were able to store and manage the information of the transactions (like early e-mail systems), and then when the storage started moving towards the network itself the possibility of the OSN was created.

The development of an electronic system for the exchange of written personal letters and short messages was the next step.  Electronic mail, or E-mail, as it became widely known, was the first instance of an electronic communication designed for human use that was both a social interaction, and stored the information about the interaction, the parties involved and the relevant time and place circumstances.  It used a store-and-forward method of delivery. 

 The first widespread e-mail systems operated using the ARPANET as a transport medium in 1969 and the early 1970s.  Before that some instances of e-mail were present in time-sharing computers at MIT as early as 1965.  E-mail has remained to this day very much the same in structure, but its social and commercial use, and abuse, has reached enormous proportions in the first decade of the 2000s.  It may be well possible to reconstruct whole social models from the content of e-mail messages alone, since e-mail carries the complete social memory within the message.

Tom Standage,  “The Victorian Internet”, see

The Kamikaze: sabotage of the system

As the V-1s and V-2s started flying off from Pennemuende to London, fire control systems were confronted with a new kind of threat.  The flight of the rockets was highly predictable, and the control systems quickly adapted, or learned, how to deal with them. 

A different case was the Kamikaze fighters.  Apart from patriots they were the response of the human mind to the confrontation with the machine: to introduce the element of unpredictability.

In the Pacific the fight was between fire control systems and humans that were finding ways to exploit the weaknesses.  One can see the flying object as an integral part of the system, as the element that is trained, measured and subject to prediction.  The Kamikaze pilots were part of the system, but they modified their role to be saboteursSaboteurs tend to emerge within systems that become complex and unfathomable.

Capt'n Crunch Bosun Whistle

Hackers used the Captain Crunch whistle to trick the telephone system.  Sabotage can turn out to be more than just pranks.  The emergence of computer viruses understands the computing system as an organism, and exploits its weaknesses in control and self-preservation for self-reproduction and propagation.  SPAMers do the same with the e-mail system.   Social Networks experience the “tragedy of the commons” when its controls are abused and turned against them.

As the complexity of online and mechanical systems grows, it is important to ask what the new role of the human could be.  How can human spontaneity counter sabotage and unpredictability?  Maybe the role of the human operator becomes that of a policeman. 

It is telling that interactive game-like applications are developed to model complex systems with real-world analogies.  In the graphic environment human operators take the role of supervision and security.  Threats are represented by an unfamiliar entity with an odd behavior, which allows the operator to react quickly to sabotage. 

The shooter-game is merged with complex systems to leverage the capacity of the human to react to unpredictable behavior in anyone of its components.  But at the same time sabotage is a process that makes systems more resilient and purposeful.  It is the venom that brings the cure.

Sabotage is the intentional introduction of noise into the system, and human participation in feedback is the most effective way to regain control.

Relics and Social Networks

Tooth of Mary Magdalen

Tooth of Mary Magdalene

This is a photo of a reliquary holding a tooth of Mary Magdalene, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  As I stood in front of this piece and took this photo I could not ignore the flood of information it conveyed to me by its symbolism.  A mixture of cultural, historical, religious and ethical information.

Relics were an early method of constructing a social network that spread over many geographical areas and cultures.  Their authenticity was not relevant (there are more “nails of the cross” than the number that were actually used, if at all).  Important is the effective system for the dissemination of information.  “Sticky” information carried and spread around the world.  Relics represent units of cultural history and ethical meaning, beyond being objects of veneration.

Yet more than that, relics created a form of social cohesion around its significance.  A cohesion that went beyond geographical boundaries.  One has to think only of the pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela or the veneration that relics like the Holy Shroud inspire in persons scattered around the world. 

It may be interesting to show that a network of relics can be structured that contains the most relevant information about the shared culture and faith of a group.   And how this network of symbols is the basis for a superimposed social network connected by the  information developed by the same group over time.

Pervasive Social Production Networks

It is remarkable that the development of online collaboration, of social production networks and online communities, and of the New Commons itself, is happening in a backdrop of increased wariness with the perceived maladies of over-extended globalization, the surge in power of transnational corporations, the exclusion of large populations from participation in a world dominated by the unequal relation between technological have and have-nots. 

It seems to be a response by the global digital citizen that will not relinquish his capacity to choose the community, market or production network that he or she is willing to participate in.  The digital citizen that is not content with being forced to consume commercial software, institutional encyclopedias or mass media. 

In some sense it is the creation of a new socio-economic environment for production, integration and collaboration.  The idea may seem just another social Utopia, but the vitality of its emergence and the results to date point to the contrary.   Might the communitarian ideal be possible by pervasive social software?

“Ubiquitous Human Computing” (Zittrain) makes working independent of location, employer and the body itself.  Productive workers can be integrated into a loosely connected PSPN by virtue of residence in the Internet “cloud”.  New and very productive ways of linking people, computers and work are becoming reality.

The work performed in a PSPN is inherent to the community and goes mainly to increase the social capital and common goods of the community.  The advent of the PSPN has been declared a “shadow workforce” (Howe), a group of individuals outside the realm of markets and companies that perform work and are engaged in a productive process of their own making.  There is growing interest in markets and companies to be able to tap into this network of informally working individuals for profit.

Online social networks apparently obey neither market pricing rules nor corporate command.  Their rules are framed by collaboration, trust, common property and personal motivation.  Their social codex can be disturbed if changes in those rules are attempted, which can lead to a sort of “Tragedy of the Commons” (Harding): overuse and failure to generate reciprocity.  Their leading design principle seems to be cooperation, in some cases even altruism, as opposed to selfish (i.e. capitalist) economic interest, running counter the idea of the homo oeconomicus.

Online social networks and the PSPN are not systems that emerge out of pure chance and selfless attrition.  They are indeed economic systems in which motivations and gains can be studied and reproduced.  The communities have an important role in designing and implementing a working organization.  Their characteristics, policies and rules are varied and carried out in many different ways.

The Herd Effect

We digital citizens are sometimes described as a herd.  We follow leaders, gather at certain places to exchange information, roam.  The herd can muster collective action, very much like swarms, using the most basic signals and feedback.  The herd is also a New Commons and its social capital is digital information.  We can just feed on it, like at the social networking sites, or we can take action, like at the crucial time of the Orange Revolution.  The idea is the collective, the possible aggregation of information to make sense.

Following a part of the herd, I registered at a couple of weeks ago.  I became member number 58. is a website designed and managed by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society @ Harvard University.  The name comes from the fusion of “Herd” and “Verdict”.  The site aims to collect the verdict of the herd on various issues.  The first two are PC Health and Network Health.   Using a piece of software installed on every herd member’s PC, reports are sent back to with information about its characteristics, installed software and apparent problems. 

Given a large enough number of herd members active in the system, it could be a good source of information about which applications are causing trouble, which malware is extending and giving the herd a though time.  But it could also signal problems with the Network itself.  Problems that go beyond the merely technical.  For example, it could spot areas or countries where Internet access is being cut off, or filtering and blocking of sites is being practiced.   This could make it easier for digital citizens to by-pass restrictions on Internet access and censorship by using tools like Psiphon.  As such it could become a valuable tool for ICT4D and the movement for an open Internet.

But also other possibilities arise.  These are not at once evident, but could be a call for collaboration of a very different sort.  In one Gedankenexperiment, herd members could put to use their healthy computers to assist and clean up infected computers or “zombies”.  In this way a user that has advanced knowledge on how to fight off malicious software could help many users worldwide that don’t have the skills or that don’t know that their PCs have been sequestered. could very well become a place to start such actions and measure success.

See an article in MIT Technology Review: The Web’s Dark Energy: Community policing can make the Web safe, by J. Zittrain.



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