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November 2006

"Always Do Your Best": Always or Never?

Fouragreements Don Miguel Ruiz' Four Agreements, and the book he wrote about them, have had a powerful influence on my perceptions, thoughts, feelings and actions (reflected in a number of blog posts, as well as the Values statement for Interrelativity, my closed-down start-up) over the two years since I first encountered them:

  1. Be Impeccable With Your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
  2. Don't Take Anything Personally: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.
  3. Don't Make Assumptions: Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
  4. Always Do Your Best: Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

I find all four of these agreements inspiring and challenging, and have always struggled the most with the last one. In the book, Don Miguel elaborates in some ways that are very appealing, e.g.,

Doing your best is taking an action because you love it, not because you're expecting a reward.  ...

When you do your best, you learn to accept yourself. But you have to be aware and learn from your mistakes. Learning from your mistakes means you practice, look honestly at the results, and keep practicing. This increases your awareness.

I'm all for intrinsic (vs. extrinsic) motivation, and believe that everything we do is a practice. I also believe in [the art of] making mistakes wakefully ... and, somewhat paradoxically, also believe that there are no mistakes, only lessons.

I am a perfectionist by nature, if not nurture, and [so] I can look back on any action (and many perceptions, feelings and thoughts), and see how I could have done better, if only I'd been more mindful, attentive, considerate, thoughtful, actful, perceptive, prepared, thorough, etc. I don't know if I can reflect upon anything I've done (/seen/felt/thought) and honestly say that I did my best ... I could always have done better.

Don Miguel offers an exculpatory perspective: "Your best will sometimes be of high quality, and other times it wll not be as good."  But can it ever be of the highest quality? And if, other times, it is not "as good", doesn't that mean it could have been better ... and thus, not my best?

As far as I can determine, I'm either always doing my best -- and so, trying to do my best is moot (at best) -- or I'm never doing my best -- in which case, trying to do my best may be futile (at worst). This is all closely related to my ongoing dilemma about acceptance and striving -- accepting myself exactly as I am while, simultaneously, always wanting to be[come] better (and I'll note that this acceptance dilemma arose in a New Year's Eve Party discussion last year, and this "always do your best" dilemma arose in a post-Thanksgiving Party discussion this year ... so I may not be the ideal invitee to a holiday celebration ... I tend to gravitate toward large talk rather than small talk).

My Warrior Monk training has left me [a bit] more open to accepting -- if not (yet) embracing --paradoxes, and so the dilemma of whether I'm always or never doing my best doesn't keep me awake at night. However, given how compelling I find the other three agreements proposed by Don Miguel Ruiz, I'm wondering whether I'm missing something obvious (perhaps I'm not doing my best here :-).

I never presume that anyone is reading my blog ... but if anyone does happen to stumble across this, and feels inclined to sharing any wisdom (or confusion) on the topic, I'm very eager to gain greater clarity on this issue.

Web-2-Mobile Business Plan Competition

I was surprised that Nokia was not among the sponsors of the recent Under the Radar Mobility Conference I attended, at which 32 entrepreneurs pitched their mobile products and services. A number of other major players in the mobile web space were represented at the event as sponsors and/or panelists, e.g., Motorola Ventures, Intel Capital, T-Mobile Venture Fund, and Yahoo! Mobile Web. I felt that Nokia was conspicuously absent from this lineup.

I was, thus, happy to discover this week that Nokia is the primary sponsor of another local forum for entrepreneurs targeting the mobile space: the Web-2-Mobile Business Plan Competition.

Open to all qualified entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and around the world, we are looking for technologies and services that harness the power and ubiquity of mobile devices – that create new business models, and the systems that will accelerate mobile work-styles and the mobile lifestyle.

This competition offers a prize that no one else can: the winning entrepreneurs will be invited to visit Nokia’s world-famous labs to have an opportunity to develop and test their innovations. Winners will also be profiled by Red Herring and all entrants will get valuable exposure in front of a panel of experienced VCs and investors.

Important Dates to remember:

  • Competition entry deadline: December 10, 2006
  • Finalists announced: January 2, 2007
  • Finalist presentations to judges & winners selected: January 24, 2007

I do not know yet whether the presentations will be in a public forum, but I'll post more information if / when it becomes available.

Brining and Grilling a Turkey

We brined and grilled a turkey for Thanksgiving again this year.  We did it once a few years ago, and I forgot nearly everything we did, so this year, I decided to bookmark a few online resources and snap a few photos to help me remember how to do this more easily in the future.



We picked up a 15 pound Heidi's Hen Certified Organic Range Grown Turkey from our local Whole Foods on Tuesday. Wednesday evening, we prepared a turkey brine mixture based on How to Brine a Turkey (, removed the innards from the turkey, rinsed it thoroughly with cold water, placed it sideways in our Coleman Personal 16 quart cooler (which we lined with a plastic garbage bag), and poured the brine over the turkey, adding about a dozen ice cubes on top before closing the lid. I was a bit concerned about the resident coyotes, but decided the handle lock for the lid would be strong enough, and so left the cooler outside on the deck overnight.



Thursday, I fired up the two outer burners of our Weber Genesis Silver B gas grill, pulled the turkey out of the brine, and let it drain on a rack in the sink for a bit while the grill heated up (I decided not to rinse it or pat it dry, although several sets of instructions I found recommended doing both). I pinned the wings to the main bird, so as to prevent them hanging out directly over the active burners, placed the turkey and rack in a roasting pan, added about a cup of water, and placed the whole rig in the center of the grill, which left just enough room to close the lid of the grill while cooking.

I loosely followed instructions I found for Grilling Your Bird on the Barbeque (, calculating the cooking time as 3 hours (12 minutes x 15 pounds), and maintaining a near-constant grill temperature of 350 degrees. However, since I was using a roasting pan, I decided would only turn the bird once (at the 90-minute mark, at which point I added another cup of water), and only reverse direction (180 degree rotation) rather than do a complete flip. Unfortunately, the propane tank expired shortly into the process, and I overcompensated by cooking the bird an extra 15 minutes -- it was a little dried out (though not badly so), and I think that I would have been fine at the 3 hour mark (even with the period of time the grill fell below 350 degrees). Next time I will start checking the temperature of the turkey with a meat thermometer about 30 minutes before the target end time, to reduce the likelihood of overcooking.

Amy, her aunt Nell and cousin Katie prepared all the other fixings, and everything was ready about the same time. In preparation for the special dinner, I had cleared all the Interrelativity equipment and paperwork out of the dining room -- which had been my office during my startup [ad]venture (maybe I'll clean up, or at least update, the web site during the Christmas / New Year holiday week), so the nine of us (including Katie's sister, Heidi, husband, John, and daughter, Georgia ... and, of course, Meg and Evan) could all eat around the table.


For wines, I followed what has become my traditional Thanksgiving wine and food pairing strategy: drink what you like, bringing out a selection of southern Rhone wines: the 1998 Patrick Le Sec Chateauneuf du Pape "Aurore", the 1998 Domaine de Villeneuve "Ville Vignes" and the 1999 Chateau St. Cosme Gigondas. As some of the guests wanted white, I also opened up a 1999 Silver Lake Chardonnay "Founders Series" and a 2000 Renwood Viognier.

I just realized that after carefully capturing the preparation of the meal, and even snapping a photo of the wines, I did not take any photos at the meal itself ... that will be the goal for next Thanksgiving ... when [hopefully] the meal preparation won't require quite so much attention.

Under the Radar Mobility Conference

Undertheradar_1 I attended the IBDNetwork's Under the Radar Mobility Conference at the Microsoft Conference Center in Mountain View yesterday. Being rather new to the mobile technology space, it was an informative and enlightening experience for me, helping me better appreciate the challenges in creating successful mobile products and services. And although the presentations were informative, relatively few were impassioned or inspiring ... helping me better appreciate the passion of the presenters -- and the direction of the coaches -- in similar events sponsored by the Northwest Entrepreneur Network, my alma mater from my own startup experience.

I'd earlier written about entrepreneurial passion and discipline -- and more recently about passion  and professionalism in a research context -- and I was a bit surprised that discipline and professionalism seemed to be so much more prevalent (or at least evident) than passion in most of the presentations given yesterday. I don't know [yet] how much to attribute this emphasis to the mobile industry, the northern California culture, the sponsoring organization or the nature of the event. As N=1 at this point (in my experience of all of those dimensions), perhaps it's too early to generalize.

Focusing more on the content of the presentations, most presenters highlighted one or more of the technical challenges involved in creating a new mobile product or service: the plethora of mobile devices (I heard several references to supporting "400+" devices), the multiplicity of platforms (Symbian, Windows Mobile, Linux, and all their variations and versions), and the differences among wireless networks and operators ... the latter offering political challenges that in some cases are at least as daunting as the technical issues.

Each of the sessions had a panel of judges, all of whom represented potential investors -- either venture funding companies or large telecommunications / technology companies. The audience was encouraged to vote (via an SMS service provided by Mozes) for their favorites. Judges were also polled for their favorites ... and although there was some disagreement between the winners selected by each group, there was little divergence of opinions.

Media Sharing (Session 1, Track 1):

PixPulse: Jimmy Lan (Intel), presenting in lieu of of David Xue (CEO), who was at another meeting that was related to raising revenue, described PixPulse as "a media publishing platform for enterprises to build private label social networks and deliver media". One of the judges on the panel asked a question repeated often throughout the day: is this a feature or a company? Answers to nearly all questions were [understandably] deferred to the [disappointingly] absent CEO.

PixSense (audience favorite): Faraz Hoodbhoy (CEO) described PixSense as "offering mobile carriers the infrastructure for monetizing user generated content". In addition to providing some of the most interesting and helpful background information about the target market -- e.g., 79 billion camerphone photos were taken in 2005, 227 billion are expected to be taken in 2009, 95% of cameraphone photos never leave the handset -- Faraz also offered what I consider to be the most compelling competitive advantage of any company presenting yesterday: PixSense's Bio-Compression Technology, that achieves 60-80% compression of image, video and audio files on the handset. The value proposition for the user is lower cost (money and/or time) for transferring high quality multimedia files; the value proposition for the carriers is a resulting increased inclination by users to transmit such files using underutilized data services.

Sharpcast (judges' favorite): Gibu Thomas (Founder and CEO) described "a platform that allows any application to be a service", managing data across desktop/web/mobile, and online/offline, careating a Blackberry-like experience for consumer media. Gibu had one of the catchiest phrases of the day -- syncing without thinking -- and emphasized the value of convenience (I've always thought that if necessity is the mother of invention, convenience is the father). The key question, of course, is [how much] will consumers pay for that convenience. Toward the end of the Q&A session, Gibu shared some interesting thoughts about important characteristics for a successful entrepreneur: tenacity, scrappiness and humility (the latter reminding me of Bill Buxton's recent point about the risk of "precious" ideas).

TinyPictures: John Poisson (Founder and CEO), described Radar (no relation to "under the radar"), a service to enable people to "instantly share pictures from your cameraphone with people you choose". John showed three ways that chosen friends can view and interact with shared photos -- channels view, list view, comments view -- that are available on both a desktop client and mobile client. What I enjoyed most about John's presentation was the strong emphasis on the human (vs. technology) side of the equation. He emphasized that Radar offers "an ongoing visual conversation between you and your friends" and provided specific examples of daily usage: a 19 year old who posts 2-7 photos per day, views 60-90 photos, leaves 6-8 comments on friends' photos, and checks in 25 times per day (18 via desktop, 7 via mobile client), and his 45 year old mother, who posts 5-7 photos, views 10-20, leaves 1-2 comments, and checks in 6-8 times per day.

Marketing / Advertising (Session 2, Track 1)

Admob: Omar Hamoui (Founder and CEO) presented the world's largest online marketplace for mobile web advertising. Admob's pay-per-click text ads have had over 300M views in the 11 months they have been operating, through 6 channels: communities, contextual search, downloads, entertainment, news and information, and portals. A do-it-yourself interface enables advertisers to target text ads based on location/carriers, platforms, phone capabilities and/or manufacturers, and a bidding process is used to determine placement.

Cascada Mobile: Neil Closner (President) presented a pair of applications that facilitate word-of-mouth referrals for mobile applications (primarily, if not solely, games) delivered to friends' phones. The Cascada Tag Engine enables developers to integrate cross-carrier, cross-handset referral capabilities into applications; Cascada Tag Marketer is a customizable, branded, on device portal for mobile content distribution and advertising. Neil claimed that they have a 25% acceptance rate -- I find it hard to believe that 25% of the people who have received referrals from friends have clicked through to buy the games ... maybe to try the games, although even then, I wonder what the sample population size is.

GreyStripe (audience and judges' favorite): Michael Chang (CEO) presented the first and only fully ad-supported mobile game distribution service (, with over 100K users, and over 10K game plays per day in a market that is $300B. The service inserts ads before and after gameplay (via their AdWrap web service). Michael said that "free" fixes the biggest problem for mobile gaming: education & awareness, and suggested that advertising in mobile games is additive to "for pay content" -- it helps offer gameplaying further down the long tail of prospective gamers. They currently target ads by game genre and/or gamer demographic (location, time of day, handset model / manufacturer).

Mobileplay: James Ryan (CEO) presented an ad-supported mobile content aggregator and community portal, with a large publisher network and a number of large customers. I was surprised to learn that they can fetch $35-50 CPM rates for banner ads (5 times what James claims is the typical rates on the web).

Social Messaging (Session 3, Track 1):

EQO: Bill Tam (CEO) presented "mobile communications for the social web", with a potential market of 875M IM users across 400 networks. Their goal is to extend the social web, IM, and VOIP to the mobile phone. The service was launched 8 months ago, with 27 handsets; they now handle 400+ handsets, 260 carrier networks, and 10 languages. Their mantra is "take your buddies with you".

Flurry: Sean Byrnes (Co-Founder and CEO) offered a similar message: "It's your world. Take it with you". His goal is to make mobile data service features (e.g., email, news and RSS subscriptions) avaialble to non-technical users. They launched in January, and now support 400+ models, 6600 email providers, 700+ carriers, 200+ countries. One of the panelists suggested that their primary sustainable advantage is their tool for rapid porting.

Loopt (audience and judges' favorite): Mark Jacobstein (EVP Corporate Development, and self-described "grey hair and mentor-in-chief") presented the first social mapping service for mobile phones. Mark noted that the most common instant message in the world is "where are you?"; Loopt provides an answer: showing where your friends are on a map. The service currently uses GPS, but can also use other location finding capabilities (cell-ID, TDOA, etc.), and enables users to send proximity based broadcast messages to friends and get alerts when a friend becomes, well,  proximate. In the future, they plan to offer the capability to tag places, create events (Evite on your phone) and offer local search. The target demographic is 18-34 year old urban folk. These ideas have been around for years, but Mark claimed that changes in the infrastructure (location APIs, support for mobile 911), along with Loopt's careful and conservative approach to providing safety, security and privacy will result in a fundamental change of behavior (e.g., user acceptance). He noted that once a user experiences the "enhanced serendipity" once, they will never want to be without the service. They soft launched 7 weeks ago with Boost (part of Sprint/Nextel, targeting the younger crowd with a tag line of "Where you at?"); they already have 40K users, and will be doing a major launch in December (at which point the application will be pre-installed on all Boost phones). Thus far, they have experienced viral growth, with the average customer inviting 6 new friends, resulting in 5K users / week, with subscriptions priced at $2.99/month ("freemium"). They will be rolling out a "Yelp on a phone" service on Monday. Managing privacy issues will be crucial to their success; Mark said everything is opt-in, requiring an explicit invitation, acceptance, and activation, and it only works if you know someone's phone number.

Renzoo: Denis Kotlar (CEO) presented an application that enables users to get email and voicemail, anwhere, anytime, from any account, including skype, using any mobile device without requiring any download. Renzoo enables full atachment viewing (MS office & PDF), as well as ringtones, mp3 and video.

Unfortunately, I had to leave early, and so did not hear any presentations during the fourth session, nor the wrapup on "The Mobile Playbook", but it was certainly an enlightening experience to hear about all the challenges and approaches to succeeding in the mobile arena from an entrepreneurial perspective.

Microsoft: The Republican Party of the Technology World?

Microsoftlogo Gopelephant My children sometimes ask me to explain the difference between Republicans and Democrats (especially during election season). While I admit that sometimes I can't tell the difference myself, I generally simplify by saying that Republicans trust business to do the right thing, but don't trust individuals to do the right thing, while Democrats don't trust business to do the right thing, but trust individuals to do the right thing. Another way I sometimes put this is that Republicans want to de-regulate businesses (pro free trade) but regulate individuals (anti same-sex marriage), while Democrats want to regulate business (pro pollution controls), but de-regulate individuals (pro choice). These are, of course oversimplifications, but they I do believe they have some merit.

I recently posted some notes from the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW 2006), which included several inspiring aspects of Bill Buxton's closing keynote, and a brief allusion to [what I judged to be] his dismissive comments with respect to Linux. Bill kindly posted a comment on that blog entry, clarifying his position (and elaborated on what he said during his keynote). I posted an additional comment regarding closed platforms and open platforms, boundaries, societies and culture.

A BoingBoing post yesterday on Vista DRM is bad for Microsoft got me thinking about how Microsoft is like the Republican Party of the technology world: they don't want regulations on business (no anti-trust), but want to regulate individuals (no copying):

Computerworld has published a blistering indictment of the DRM in Vista, Microsoft's new OS. Microsoft has a bunch of competitive problems in the market -- security, ease of use, elegance, and so on. DRM fixes none of these -- and it makes security, much, much harder. It's far easier to secure a computer that is designed from the ground up to lock out remote attackers who want to use the machine in ways that the owner objects to, but that's precisely what DRM does. Microsoft's Vista strategy has been to design an OS from the ground up that lets remote parties override the computer's owner. This will not make Vista a better, more competitive product in the market.

Other headlines that came streaming through my Google Sidebar yesterday seemed to reinforce this notion, e.g., ZDNet's article on Can Microsoft brand its way to coolness?, reminding me of Republican attempts to be cool, and a Guardian article on Gates leads Microsoft's charm offensive in Europe, reminding me of similarly targeted charm offensives undertaken by our Republican president.

I was going to let all this go without posting any [further] comment ... until I read the most recent post in "I, Cringely", on Divide and Conquer: The Microsoft/Novell deal is more about disruption than cooperation:

In the U.S. elections this week, a change of power took place in the Congress that had an almost instantaneous effect at the White House. Just a few days before, President Bush said of a potential Democratic takeover of Congress: "The terrorists win and America loses." This week his line has changed to "reconciliation" and "bipartisan effort." That's the way it is with dogma, which is heartfelt right up to the moment when it is no longer felt at all. That might be the best way, too, to understand Microsoft's recent deal with Novell and apparent embracing of Linux.

There was a time -- right up to a week ago -- when Microsoft appeared to feel, from the statements of Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, that they could ridicule Linux out of corporate America or use a campaign of fear uncertainty and doubt (FUD) to undermine the open source operating system. There was nothing good about Linux, they said, and a lot that was bad. They even argued that paying Microsoft for Windows was less expensive than getting Linux for free. Yeah, right.

But Linux happens. And Linux isn't going away. As a server operating system, Linux is far more important than Windows and that trend isn't changing, something that Microsoft has finally acknowledged, not just through this agreement with Novell, but also through the PHP license Redmond also announced this week. But Microsoft is still Microsoft and has its own peculiar way of changing with the times as we see in this very interesting agreement.

The article goes on to quote Bob Metcalfe quoting a Microsoft executive (in explaining why 3Com suffered after making an earlier deal with Microsoft) as saying "You made a fatal error, you trusted us" ... reminiscent of a statement about trust made in 2000 by George W, Bush: "If you give me your trust, I will honor it".

In the aftermath of our most recent election, Nancy Pelosi, the country's top Democrat, is now asking for our trust:

The American people - many Republican and independent voters among them - entrusted Democrats with their hopes and aspirations for themselves, their families, and their future. We are prepared to lead and ready to govern. We will honor that trust, and we will not disappoint.

As I noted in my earlier comment, I do not consider myself a Microsoft basher -- I know many Microsoft employees with high levels of intelligence and integrity (and, for the record, I know a few Republicans with both of those characteristics). I don't know how well my analogy between Microsoft and the Republican Party will bear out, but given the transitions going on at Microsoft, this might be a good time for the company, whose reign in the technology world precedes the takeover of the U.S. Congress by Republicans in 1994, to re-evaluate some of its core values and strategies.

Social Artificial Intelligence: Objective vs. Subjective Reality (and Representation)

Timo Honkela, Chief Scientist of the Adaptive Informatics Research Centre at the Helsinki University of Technology, and head of the Computational Cognitive Systems group there, visited Nokia Research Center, Palo Alto, today, and presented a talk on Social Artificial Intelligence and Mobile Devices. Timo stressed the importance of viewing intelligence in a social context (vs. an individual context), and drew upon an emergentist perpsective, with a linguistic bias, recognizing that every word we use reflects each person's different experience, different models and different language. The biggest takeaway for me, having not paid much attention to artificial intelligence for the past 10 years or so, was Timo's emphasis on the notion of a subjective vs. objective representation of reality, where meaning is negotiated through co-constructing shared models of the world.


Timo proposed an approach in which self-organizing maps are created through [the simulation of] a community of interacting agents, each with different perceptions, models and linguistic constructs regarding the world. He alluded to imitation and flocking behaviors, and how simple agents (e.g., birds) use strategies of separation, alignment and cohesion in order to maintain some semblance of order and make forward progress, and provided examples of projects in which camera[phone]s were used to collect images and labels to create or negotiate a shared understanding of some portion the world. Examples include Pockets Full of Memories (in which museum visitors took photos of items from their pockets and associated labels with them), Manhanattan Story Mashup (in which players received labels via mobile phone and had to take photos to correspond to those labels) and the Human Speechome Project (in which a birds eye view of large portions of the audio and visual stimuli in the first three years of an infant's life will be captured and analyzed).

Timo noted that the key to [understanding] intelligence is action -- and interaction. Pertti Huuskonen suggested that the key is in the repairs -- detecting misunderstandings in interactions, and retrying (or trying new communicative actions). As a refuge (if not refuse) from artificial intelligence, this seems like a[nother] collection of AI-complete problems, but I have to say that the way that Timo framed the problem was more appealing than some of the more objective formulations I typically associate[d] with the field when I was more immersed in such issues, and suspect that pursuing this approach will yield useful results for social computing, if not artificial intelligence.

[Speaking of which, I see there is a Special Track on Social Semantic Collaboration (SEMSOC2007) at the upcoming  20th International Florida Artificial Intelligence Research Society Conference (FLAIRS 2007), with a submission deadline of Monday, November 20.]

Computer Supported Cooperative Whatever: Reflections on Work, Play and Passion at CSCW 2006

Creatingpassionateusers As I reflected upon the reflections that were offered during the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW 2006) last week -- and some of my notes on CSCW 2006 -- a promiment theme that emerged [for me] was the tension between professionalism and playfulness. The conference, which celebrated its 20th year anniversary this year, had its genesis in -- and continues to be dominated by -- the study of work practices, and the design and deployment of technology to support those practices, with an aim toward helping organizations achieve more efficient use of their human resources. There are, of course, other goals for collaborative technologies, and while I was glad to see a slightly increased focus on computer supported cooperative play (Bonnie Nardi's and Scott Counts' presentations, which I noted yesterday, stand out in this dimension), most of what I saw were very professional presentations of very professional research on very professional contexts into which professionally designed and developed technologies have been or might be inserted. There was something else missing from many of these presentations, but I couldn't put my finger on it ... until I caught up on some of my reading of Kathy Sierra's blog: passion.

Slack The field's focus on work is certainly well-founded-- many of us spend many of our waking hours (and some of our sleeping hours) working, and thus understanding whether and how technology can help us work more effectively is an important and useful pursuit. However, I believe that individual and group efficiency sometimes comes at the cost of enjoyment (Tom DeMarco, in his book, Slack, has far more to say about enjoyment, engagement, effectiveness and efficiency in the workplace).

When the first conference was first convened in 1986, collaborative technologies were far more expensive (relatively speaking) than they are today, and so workplaces were the primary settings for their deployment. However, as personal / mobile / ubiquitous techologies proliferate, they are increasingly being used outside of traditional workplaces ... or used inside of workplaces for activities that are not traditionally considered work.

A quick perusal of the proceedings suggests that 40 of the 62 papers from the conference were focused on work, 5 focused on play, and the remainder being focused on the home, or [aspects of] collaborative technology that could be applicable in work or non-work contexts. There was a panel scheduled on CSCW and Games Research, but this was (unfortunately) cancelled. Googling for computer supported cooperative play turned up three papers, none of which was presented at a CSCW conference:

In response to a question of "Why is this CSCW?" following one of my favorite presentations of the conference (on a study of World of Warcraft), Bonnie Nardi replied that "we decided last time [CSCW 2004] that CSCW is about play, too". Well, FWIW, Elizabeth Churchill and I decided that CSCW 2002 was going to be about play, too -- we half-jokingly described CSCW as Computer Supported Cooperative Whatever in our informal calls for participation at ECSCW 2001 and elsewhere, and arranged for an invited performance and panel on computer supported cooperative theatre (where, of course, the play's the thing) -- and the call for participation for CSCW 2000 included "entertainment" in its list of application areas. Still, change comes slowly, and despite these decisions and calls, and the explosion of the use of technology in supporting activities not typically associated with work, there has not been a parallel increase in the coverage of computer supported cooperative play -- or playfulness -- in the papers presented at CSCW.

I think this is due to several reasons. One is the the growing "professionalism" that Judy Olson observed in her presentation at the panel on "Twenty Years of CSCW - What Have We Learned?" (although as I noted earlier, she also provided -- or played -- one of the most playful episodes of the conference: a hilarious Prairie Home Companion skit on Linda Wertheimer struggling to communicate over a telephone link with a remote correspondent). Scientific professionalism -- and professional science -- is not always the most conducive environment in which to explore, much less promote, play ... although I recently saw Jonathan Keats present, and model, a playful approach to science [and art] ... and Bill Buxton, in the closing plenary for CSCW 2006 quoted Albert Einstein as saying "the most important ingredient to science is play" ... leading me to wonder if perhaps the difference is in the profession (or presentation?) vs. performance of science.

Another factor may be the source of funding for this research. Most of the companies supporting CSCW research[ers] -- including several of the sponsors of the conference -- sell technology products and services to [other] companies for supporting collaborative work conducted by their employees. While there is a growing awareness of the importance of a curious and playful attitude in performing innovative work -- Doug Rushkoff's book "Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Outside In" being my favorite exposition on this theme -- I believe that many employers still view work and play as incompatible. Perhaps Blizzard Entertainment will sponsor future research in computer supported cooperative warcraft (though this also sounds like an area that would be appealing to DARPA).

A final factor I'll note on the topic [here] is the difficulty in measuring enjoyment.  While I noted a few techniques for measuring happiness in an earlier post on The Art, Science, Business and Politics of Happiness, techniques for measuring worker and workgroup efficiency are more mature and prevalent than those for measuring enjoyment ... and in a field grounded in empiricism, if you can't measure something, it doesn't exist ... though I sometimes wonder if there is an inverse correlation between ease of measureability and interestingness.


And, speaking of inverse correlations ... Kathy Sierra recently shared some words (and images) of wisdom on the tension between professionalism and passion in recounting a recent episode where two simple words of passion -- f***ing cool. Kathy first channeled the insights of Kevin Broidy about the desired user response to his products:

I don’t want their reaction to be a measured, rational, dispassionate analysis of why the product is better than the alternatives, how the cost is more reasonable, feature set more complete, UI more AJAXified. I don’t want them to pause to analyze the boring feature comparison chart on the back of the box.

I want 'f**king cool!' Period.

I want that pure sense of wonder, that kid-at-airshow-seeing-an-F16–on-afterburners-rip-by-so-close-it-makes-your-soul-shake reaction, that caress-the-new-Blackberry-until-your-friends-start-to-question-your-sanity experience. I want an irrational level of sheer, unfiltered, borderline delusional joy.

After which Kathy notes:

But "f***ing cool" is not a "business appropriate" phrase. It's unprofessional.

I did not hear any exclamations of "f***ing cool" during CSCW last week. There was little passion evident in most of the paper -- or panel -- presentations at the conference. There were a few sparks of passion during the Demonstration and Interactive Poster Reception (Carl Gutwin and Marty Moore stand out in that dimension), and Bill Buxton was passionate during his closing keynote, but during much of the rest of the conference, professionalism reigned supreme.

I hope future CSCW conferences will include more passionate presentations by passionate researchers who are studying, designing and/or deploying technologies that help spark the passions of their users.

CSCW 2006: Notes on the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work

Cscw2006 The ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW 2006) was held in Banff, Alberta, Canada, last week. The conference, which celebrated its 20th year anniversary this year, included 62 papers and notes, dozens of demonstrations and interactive posters, three panels and a pair of keynotes, and was attended by approximately 400 people. Unfortunately, due to air travel problems -- my 9pm connecting flight from Denver flew all the way to Calgary, circled the fogged-in airport once, then flew all the way back to Denver ... another flight the next morning did manage to land -- I missed the opening keynote and the following session, but I managed to arrive in time for the remainder of the Monday's sessions, and stayed thru the closing keynote on Wednesday.

Unlike UbiComp 2006, for which I posted separate entries each day (and then some), I will split my blog entries on CSCW into two: this one, which will primarily report some of the highlights of the talks I saw, and another in the near future, which will include more commentary.

Shilad Sen (University of Minnesota) presented some work he had done with his colleagues at IBM Research (during an internship) on FEEDme: A Collaborative Alert Filtering System [slides], in which they explored ways of determining when to alert people about changes in different types of resources -- message, file, chat, screen snapshot, folder, task -- that are shared within the IBM Activity Explorer application. An web interface enabled people to rate alerts (thumbs up or thumbs down), and these ratings (for 6385 alerts received by 34 people over 29 days) were used to assess different filtering mechanisms, with the collaborative naive Bayes classifier -- combining personal and group ratings -- achieving the highest accuracy (73%) ... although as the authors note, higher accuracy is probably required for long-term acceptance.

Kimberley Tee (University of Calgary) presented a paper on Providing Artifact Awareness to a Distributed Group through Screen Sharing [video], an effort to translate the kind of informal awareness of activities provided through the artifacts on one's physical desktop into virtual desktops, for the benefit of remote collaborators.  The paper described a component added to the CommunityBar application that regularly updates thumbnail images of users' screens in a frame in the CommunityBar, so that users in a workgroup can see what's on each others' desktops. In order to accommodate varying privacy concerns, the component includes capabilities for users to control the frequency of updates, the zoom level, the distortion level and the window regions shown to others.[Code and more info can be found on the CB Screen Sharing project page].

Jakob Bardram (IT University of Copenhagen) presented "AwareMedia - A Shared Interactive Display Suppoting Social, Temporal and Spatial Awareness in Surgery", the latest in a series of reports on the iHospital project, a long-term effort to design technology to assist collaboration in a life-critical hospital setting. I posted a few notes on Jakob's colleague Thomas Hansen's presentation on some of their experiences at UbiComp 2006. At CSCW, Jakob described an electronic whiteboard application, AwareMedia, that included real-time scheduling information, a video feed from operating theatres, context information about who was present in each operating theatre, and an instant messaging capability, and highlighted its impact on temporal, spatial and context-mediated social awareness.

Bonnie Nardi (University of California, Irvine) presented "Strangers and Friends: Collaborative Play in World of Warcraft", in which she and her co-author participated in and observed a variety of collaborative activities and organizational units within the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMO[RPG]), World of Warcraft. These activities included fleeting lightweight encounters such as acts of kindness -- e.g., "buffing" (casting a spell to help another player), "kill assist" (helping another player kill a monster) and escorting lower level players out of harm's way -- and acts of violence ("ganking" and "corpse killing"), moderately structured collaborations such as parties, raids and interactions with "friends", and more highly structured collaborations such as participation in guilds, joining battlefields, and engaging in duels and trades.  There are also random acts of fun, where people can use emote commands for delightful and unpredictable actions (e.g., spontaneous dances), helping to create a less inhibited ambience ig (in-game) vs. irl (in real life).

I have yet to participate in or observe any MMORPGs myself, and yet I am increasingly fascinated by this increasingly popular sphere of human activities, and the benefits enjoyed by those who do choose to participate ... and [so] may post a future blog entry delving into more details of the Nardi and Harris paper, and related work. However, as I mentioned in my notes from the most recent Microsoft Social Computing Symposium (which focused on games worlds), I am concerned about whether the benefits realized in these immersive virtual worlds translate into benefits that are realized in the physical world ... or whether the participants in MMOs get -- and give -- their fill of goodwill online, and thus feel less inclined to engage in actions that are of benefit to friends and strangers offline.

Scott Counts (Microsoft Research) presented "Sandboxes: Supporting Social Play through Collaborative Multimedia Composition on Mobile Phones", an application designed to promote interactivity, flexibility and cohesiveness in the creation and sharing of multimedia content via mobile phones. Creators (sharers) can add or manipulating text, symbols (e.g., a smiley), sounds and photos; viewers (sharees?) can chose to playback multimedia compositions in two modes, slideshow or historical. In trial deployments, users co-opted the platform for unanticipated types of social gaming, such as tugs of war in manipulating multimedia items on the canvas and one-upping each other in posting the most humorous photos.

Cliff Lampe (Michigan State University) presented "A Face(book) in the Crowd: Social Searching vs. Social Browsing", in which he and his colleagues conducted studies of Facebook users. They found that most users of Facebook are far more likely to use the online social networking service for social searching -- finding out more about someone online that they have already encountered offline -- than for social browsing -- finding someone online that they want to encounter offline. Among the interesting statistics they compiled were: the percentage of freshmen surveyed who had Facebook profiles increased from 85% to 96% from September 2005 to January 2006; most users report using Facebook at most 30 minutes per day (after initial profiles are created); and only 5% of users thought that their professors viewed their profiles (Cliff reported the collective jaw dropping that occured when he announced to his class of 200 freshmen that he had looked at every student's profile). [I can't find an online version of this paper, but here's another, more comprehensive, paper on the topic -- the CSCW paper was a "Note" -- by the same authors: Spatially Bounded Online Social Networks and Social Capital: The Role of Facebook, by Nicole Ellison, Charles Steinfield and Cliff Lampe, presented at the Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (ICA), June 19-23, 2006 in Dresden, Germany]

Susan Wyche (Georgia Tech Work to Play Lab) presented "Technology in Spiritual Formation: An Exploratory Study of Computer Mediated Religious Communication" [slides], a report on how the leaders of megachurches are using technology to communicate with their congregations. Susan and her co-authors found a variety of religious practices in which senior pastors used technology, including administration, education, counselling, preparation of sermons, processing prayer requests and audio / visual support for presentations. What struck me about all of the examples described in the study was that they support the "command and control" paradigm that characterizes most large organizations (be they military, commercial or religious), rather than the "listen and participate" model that is one of the distinguishing feature of Web 2.0 technologies ... which [hardly surpisingly] did not appear to figure prominently in the religious institutions the authors studied. In an earlier post on spiritual computing, I pondered the differences between religion and spirituality. I believe this paper focuses more on former than the latter, as did a paper on techno-spiritual practices at UbiComp 2006 by Genevieve Bell. I am happy to see religious practices, an important realm of human activity, recieve more attention at these conferences, however, as technology further empowers independent and collective action outside of traditional structures, I hope we will see more work on the use of technology to support extrareligious spiritual pursuits in the future.

Kathy Lee (Stanford University) presented "What Goes Around Comes Around: An analysis of as social space" [slides], in which she investigated the perceptions and effects of social presence for the users of the shared bookmarking system. Kathy described a "return bookmark" mechanism (that I never knew about) wherein one user can subscribe to another user's tags, and when the subscriber reads and tags an item originally tagged by the other user, the original tagger is notified, reinforcing a sense of presence -- and audience. Recipients of return bookmarks are twice as likely as other taggers to annotate their bookmarks, and while one questioner raised the issue of causality (vs. correlation), this does seem like another instance of [the awareness of] the audience providing positive feedback to the performer (similar to the correlation of the number of comments by blog readers to the probability of future blog posts by a blog author).

Paul Dourish (University of California, Irvine) presented "Re-Space-ing Place: 'Place' and 'Space' Ten Years On", a reflective piece on a seminar paper he and Steve Harrison published at CSCW '96 on "Re-Place-ing Space: The Role of Place and Space in Collaborative Systems". The aim of the earlier paper was to take ideas from architecture to infuse meaning [place] into [virtual] spaces. In the new paper, Paul questions his earlier adoption of the layer-cake model of socio-technical systems (proposed by Rob Kling) as not sufficiently accounting for the interactions between the social and technical, and raises issues of spatial practice, power geometries, and views space as collective and cultural, with technology acting as a lens through which it is understood.

A.J. Brush (Microsoft Research) presented "Revisiting Whittaker & Sidner's 'Email Overload' Ten Years Later", a study in which she and her colleagues investigated how email, and the technologies and techniques for processing it, have changed since the publication of a seminal paper on email overload at CSCW 1996. The earlier study was based on 20 users at Lotus, and the newer study was based on a profile of 6000 users at Microsoft. What was most surprising was how little has changed -- the email clients look the same, the average number of new messages received per day hasn't changed significantly (49 in 1996 to 87 today), and the average size of inboxes hasn't changed (approximately 1000). There were a number of interesting points raised in the Q&A session, regarding the impact of multiple email addresses (e.g., personal gmail accounts to get around corporate-imposed quotas, or to partition one's digital selves), the practices around email (e.g., frequency of using email during the day), viewing inboxes as a space, and the preference for email vs. other communication tools such as instant messaging or social networking services. In keeping with the retrospective theme, Paul Dourish shared one of the most interesting quotes I heard at the conference, from an earlier observation of information overload:

One of the diseases of this age is the multiplicity of books; they doth so overcharge the world that it is not able to digest the abundance of idle matter that is every day hatched and brought forth into the world.

-- Barnaby Rich (1580-1617), writing in 1613 (!); quoted by de Solla Price in his 1963 book "Little Science, Big Science."

Rounding out an afternoon of reflections on CSCW was a panel on "Twenty Years of CSCW - What Have We Learned?", with Irene Grief, Jonathan Grudin, Tom Malone, Judy Olson and Lucy Suchman. Irene introduced the panel, providing a history of the conference, and noting that two of the panelists (Jonathan and Judy) have continued to come to CSCW conferences, and two (Tom and Lucy) have not. Jonathan presented more historical background and some interesting statistics about the institutions that dominate CSCW: each year, 50% of the authors come from 6 institutions, and over the twenty-year history of the conference, 50% of the authors have come from a total of 12 institutions ... evidence of an in-group and out-group for this research community. Tom asked the question of why attendance at CSCW (and UbiComp) has been relatively flat during a period where the CHI conference has grown, and though he has not attended CSCW in many years, toward the end said he was hopeful about the future of CSCW. Judy noted a growing "professionalism" in CSCW ... and yet also provided -- or played -- one of the most playful episodes of the conference: a hilarious Prairie Home Companion skit on Linda Wertheimer struggling to communicate over a telephone link with a remote correspondent. Lucy raised the issue of US-centrism and said that she has shifted her focus to other areas, highlighting some of the work of her students along the way.

Pam Hinds (Stanford University, and co-chair of the conference) presented "Structures that Work: Social Structure, Work Structure and Coordination Ease in Geographically Distributed Teams", which reinforced the importance of social ties (in collocated and distributed teams), and emphasized the importance of more transparent work structures and the potential benefits of technology that tracks and makes visible emergent interdependencies.

Bill Buxton (Microsoft Research) presented the closing plenary, ambiguously, or perhaps ambivalently, entitled "Tufte Doesn't Understand the GENESYS of PowerPoint", and announcing that "I am not a scientist anymore, I'm an entertainer". Bill's presentation was, indeed, entertaining, providing more questions than answers. After getting bogged down for a while in an entirely unnecessary (and, I believe, misguided) dismissal of Linux, he went on to raise some important issues with respect to design, collaboration and technology. Claiming the blackboard, invented in 1801, was the most innovative technological development in the history of education, he went on to propose a wager with the CSCW community: "I will buy drinks for everyone at CSCW in 7 years if the following is not true: It will be as cheap (in cost per square feet) in 7 years to buy 100dpi displays as it is to buy whiteboards today". Bill also offered some retrospection, noting the brilliance of Genesys, a line-driven animation system created by Ron Baecker for his Ph.D. Thesis in 1969, and the surprising lack of progress beyond this work ... until recently, when this feature was added to PowerPoint ... and given a somewhat more playful platform in Line Rider. Bill finished up with a number of insightful, potentially inciteful, and inspiring ideas:

  • The most important ingredient to science is play (Albert Einstein)
  • The worst thing in the world is a precious idea
  • The worst person to have on your team is someone who thinks his idea is precious
  • Good ideas are cheap, they are not precious
  • The key is not to come up with ideas but to cultivate the adoption of ideas

The idea that Bill wants to cultivate is that we can change -- and have changed -- our culture through design, and the goal Bill wants to achieve is to transform Microsoft from the world's leading software company into the world's leading design company in the next five years (although he didn't offer to buy anyone drinks if this does not come to pass).

Bill's talk, as well as several of the other presentations and informal discussions at CSCW, brought up alot of issues for me. Rather than making a long blog entry even longer, I will compost some of my thoughts in a separate entry in the near future.

[Update: Jorge Aranda, from University of Toronto, has posted some notes from the conference, including: "CSCW seems like a misnomer, then, for research that is really about the interaction among people through any kind of technology – from the ways airplane pilots use paper notes, to how World of Warcraft players form in guilds and throw virtual parties with conga lines."]

Everyone's a Nerd About Something: The Network Effects of Social Mobile Media

Marc Davis, Social Media Guru at Yahoo!, gave a far ranging presentation on "Mobile Media: Connecting Context, Content and Community" at the Stanford Mobile Computing Seminar this week. Marc started out highlighting the imbalance between the proportion of people who currently consume and produce text and consume other types of digital media (music, photos, videos), and those who produce non-text digital media. and claimed that one of the core problems behind this imbalance is the relatively ineffective provisioning of metadata for these richer types of digital media (in comparison to text). Marc went on to present a series of research projects -- and products -- that use context and community to help fill in some of the gaps for this often missing content.

Marc posited the "4 W's" of social media metadata -- where, when, who, what -- and claimed that knowing 3 of them gives you a pretty good idea on the 4th. He presented results from experiments showing that using contextual information alone (where, when, who) can outperform deeper content-based computer vision techniques for analyzing images. [Links to papers he and his colleagues have published on much of the work he talked about are available on Marc's web site.]

Marc observed that with respect to the predictability of human behavior, the two ends of the spectrum might be denoted "prisoner" and "lunatic" ... and sugested that most people -- or at least those who work for a living or go to school -- tend to dwell closer to the "prisoner" end of that spectrum with respect to the periodicity of their patterns.

Another observation, giving rise to the title of this post, was that everyone is a nerd about something, i.e., everyone has at least one thing about which they are passionate and knowledgable. Thus, even though only a small segment of the population may be cameraphone nerds -- having the latest technology such as mobile cameraphones with Bluetooth and GPS, and/or manually specifying meticulous tags for their photos -- the actions of such people can be pooled with larger communities to enable others to benefit. This exemplifies a theme Marc mentioned several times during the seminar -- [with respect to [mobile] digital media], stop thinking so much about individual users and start thinking more about the network -- and brings to mind a variation on one of my favorite quotes (by Margaret Mead):

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed nerds can tag the world.

Toward the end, Marc showed a great slide depicting the four quadrants of media and metadata, distinguishing producers and consumers of media on one axis, and the creation of implicit and explicit metadata on the other, with some suggestions about how the interactions among these groups may, in fact, change the digital media world. [If I can get a copy, I'll post it here.]

Johathan Keats on Art, Science and Religion

Jonathan Keats gave a curiously engaging presentation on "Extraterrestrial Aesthetics, Divine Genetics, and Other Thought Experiments" at the Art, Technology and Culture Colloquium of UC Berkeley's Center for New Media Monday night. Jonathan noted that both art and science are too inwardly focused, so he uses art to tease out nuances in science, and science to tease out nuances in art, with a style of conceptual art that was introduced as a "purposeful rejection of pragmatism."

Among the projects he covered was the quest to pass a law that couldn't be broken (collecting petition signatures in Berkeley for Aristotle's law of identity), the creation of a futures market for neurons in his brain (a new type of brain trust), the founding of the International Association for Divine Taxonomy (an attempt to genetically engineer God) and the buying and selling of real estate in the extradimensionalities identified through string theory.

Jonathan has raised some interesting questions in each of the projects he has undertaken. What I found most interesting, though, were the more general insights Jonathan shared about art, science and religion. His observation that art is interesting for its ambiguity, its open-endedness and the questions it raises contrasts with the goals of science, which are more focused on certainty, decisiveness and the questions it answers.

These distinctions reminded me of themes raised by James Carse in his book Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility, in which the author notes that

A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continiuing the play ... Finite players play within boundaries, infinite players play with boundaries ... Finite players are serious; infinite players are playful.

At first, I pondered how science might be considered a finite game, and art might be considered an infinite game. But upon further reflection, this distinction breaks down. While much of science might be described as incremental -- filling in the details within boundaries (previously defined by other scientists) -- some scientific advances represent paradigm shifts where boundaries are shifted in signficant ways. And although the many notable works of art also stretch boundaries, I believe that much art is rather incremental as well.

Curiosity is a trait that Jonathan emphasized several times during his talk, a trait that is shared by both artists and scientists. The differences may lie more in the way that curiosity is channeled, and in the perspectives that people adopt in facing the unknown(s).

Jonathan's observations about openness and embrace of ambiguity suggest that the distinctions are largely attitudinal -- how one goes about creating art or science ... or religion, which seems much more closely aligned with science, and its quest for certainty, decisiveness and answering questions, differing primarily on what constitutes a basis for declaring victory ... the kind of declaration that is absent from art and other infinite games.