Social media creating silence?


[Via Dave Winer's linkblog feed]

How Social Media Silences Debate.


I’m skeptical that social media silences debate. It opens up a different sort of discussion tool, one that both reflects how humans create community and offers new approaches.

First, this deals with a specific issue – the NSA and Snowden. It hits an area where there can be very little discussion. People already have hardened positions not open foe debate. Few will be persuaded to change.

So why discuss it online, where your words are there forever? At best you may talk about it with people that agree with you but no way will you confront those who are on the other side. You do not know if any of them are really crazy. 

People have always refrained from discussion of politics in public. Because people have hardened positions and will not change their views. Because people are crazy. No one talks politics in polite company.

A liberal at a conservative family’s Thanksgiving dinner is not going to be all in on Obamacare. Same with a conservative meeting a liberal group from San Francisco.

No talk of controversial things. Unless it is a company they felt safe in. That already agrees with them.

First, perhaps 2/3rds of a population connect strictly to a local community, one that provides them information mainly from each other and one where opinions match. They do not like lots of new information, feeling comfortable with what the group ‘knows.’

This is true whether online or in person.

On the other hand,  perhaps 10% of a group is highly connected to other groups, moving information rapidly between groups and acting to disrupt the comfortable views of the majority.

The majority usually hates them, calls them impolite at best and jerks at worst. But without them, the community achieves epistemic closure and pinches itself off from humanity, becoming a bubble that has no impact on the world.

A sustainable community needs both. Too few disruptors and it simply becomes brittle and unable to adapt as the world changes. It cracks easily.

Online allows communities to come together much more rapidly and easily. Because the online world facilitates the flow of information by this 10% group, it is no wonder that the majority hates being open on social media. Everyone can see what they think.

For them, it is easier to control the flow of information, and thus who hears an opinion, when at a dinner party than when on Facebook. But being in the minority at a party does not mean you are more likely to speak.

If you do you may never be invited back. 

This does not change online. Those disruptors that speak online can simply be unFriended.

It is not that minority views are more likely to be heard by the majority in an online discussion. Most people only connect to people like them. 

It is that minority views can exist at all, find their own community and sustain themselves. Without online discussion, many of these minority views would simply dissipate. But by forming their own community, they can be sustained.

Perhaps this is one reason we are seeing so much Geek Culture hitting the mainstream. That niche community was sustained in ways that allowed ti to become much more ‘normal.’

Sure, niche communities are made up of humans and will also often exclude minority views. But the ease for creating these communities, for joining and for leaving, means that large amounts of information can flow between communities than could ever before.

I can easily find and join networks that discuss either aspect of almost any topic. I have been part of more vigorous discussions online than I ever did in any other sector of my life. Online communities are expansive for me, not restrictive.

The Twitch purchase – more proof that cable TV is dying

Thrown into the Deep End

Recode: Amazon to Acquire Twitch for More Than $1 Billion
[Via Daring Fireball]

Peter Kafka and Eric Johnson, reporting for Recode:

Amazon is buying videogame streaming site Twitch for more than $1 billion to edge past Netflix and Youtube in a race for younger viewers, according to a source.

Google had been in talks to acquire the company, but that deal died, according to the source. Amazon then entered the picture and completed what is one of its biggest acquisitions to date, this person said.

For the uninitiated, Twitch is a platform for making and talking about videos of videogame play. About a million users a month record themselves playing videogames, while the rest — pegged at 50 million unique viewers in July — watch and comment on the videos. In January, Twitch reported that 58 percent of its viewers spent more than 20 hours per week on the site.

The future of TV is online streaming, not traditional “channels” that come through cable or satellite. It occurs to me that Google’s 2006 purchase of YouTube for $1.65 billion has proven to be one of the smartest and most important acquisitions of the Internet era. My son and his friends watch far more YouTube content than they do traditional TV. Cable TV is dying.


The median age of people watching broadcast networks is 60. The median age for Fox News is 68. That increased  almost 2 years over the course of one – suggesting that FOX is not attracting younger viewers.

So what are the younger people doing if not watching TV? Streaming video on demand is one of them. They can watch virtually anything online. And if it is not online, it is probably not worth watching. 

Netflix is producing great things to watch. At anytime you want. without having to wait weeks to see each episode. Twitch is another novel entertainment solution. I would not expect watching video games played by others to be big but it is.

Heck, even the Emmy broadcast last night made fun of this, with jokes about how many awards Netflix was garnering. Very few of the class programs, from Game of Thrones to Breaking Bad to True Detective or Fargo have to be shown on TV.

Especially as costs drop and disruption accelerates. Netflix makes money of programs like House of Cards if it is able to keep just a few hundred thousand people paying.

I get to watch a lot free video at Amazon if I have a Prime Account (closing in on $100 a year). If HBO had a streaming service apart from cable, would they make more money? There are a ton of hits to get HBO without cable.

$1 billion may be chump change as things progress. 

Do not look if you have a fear of heights

 Hong Kong Skyline

‘In Hong Kong, Getting to the Roofs Is Quite Easy’
[Via Daring Fireball]

Just looking at these photos made me break into a serious sweat. (Via Dave Winer.)


I warned you. These are beautiful shots but wow.

Large city, small town – human social networks are very similar but can carry very different information loads

Even in large cities, we build tightly-knit communities
[Via Boing Boing]

A study of group clustering–do your friends know each other?–shows that it does not change with city size. [via Flowing Data]



An average person in the small town (population – 4233) has 6 connections who have a 25% chance of knowing each other. In a large town (population – 564.657), the number of friends is 11 but the chance that they will know each other remains 25%.

This fits a lot of previous data – the majority of any community connect with one another to a very high degree. The difference between living in a large city or a small town lies in how big the network is, not in its shape.

And, it shows that the size of the network increases faster than the size of the community. Not only are there more people to connect to in a large city. People in a large city connect to more people than those in smaller groups.

But the chance that those people know each other remains about the same. That is, the structure of the social network does not change. No matter the size of the town or the size of the network, about 25% of the people will know each other.

city size.png

Interestingly, as the size of the town increases, the networks get larger, and people make contact with other people in the networks more often. So not only are the networks scaling ‘linearly’ but the total number of contacts increases super-linearly.

If we look at the total cumulative calls made, we see that more calls are made to more people in large towns than in small towns. 


What they were then able to show in the paper is that because of the types of connections seen in bigger cities, information spreads much more rapidly here than in smaller communities.

In a world dealing with rapidly changing environments and increasingly more complex problems, the ability to move information around rapidly so as to create knowledge and wisdom becomes critical.

But it also shows that people in large cities are not isolated at all but maintain rich connections with others. We live in communities that are about as tightly knit in large cities as in smaller ones. They are just larger.

Hacking traffic lights

Traffic Light 

Researchers find it’s terrifyingly easy to hack traffic lights
[Via Ars Technica]

Taking over a city’s intersections and making all the lights green to cause chaos is a pretty bog-standard Evil Techno Bad Guy tactic on TV and in movies, but according to a research team at the University of Michigan, doing it in real life is within the realm of anyone with a laptop and the right kind of radio. In a paper published this month, the researchers describe how they very simply and very quickly seized control of an entire system of almost 100 intersections in an unnamed Michigan city from a single ingress point.


 This was the line that really got my attention:

The 5.8GHz network has no password and uses no encryption; with a proper radio in hand, joining is trivial.

An important network like this, one where someone could cause huge problems by disrupting, and there is an open network and no password. And there is no encryption of communications.

And then system defaults that leave a backdoor open.

Someone could disable stoplights faster than they could be repaired.

And what is the industry’s response? It has “followed the accepted industry standard and it is that standard which does not include security.”

Science conferences – too often mundane rather than magical

 Army kicks off science conference


Scientific conferences, the too-slow movement of ideas, and giving an engaging talk
[Via Small Pond Science]

I went to a bunch of scientific conferences this summer. Four of ‘em. I have a smorgasbord of reflections on the whole experience to share with you.

Yes, this is a lot of travel. 


Very accurate description of science conferences. They should be places for rapid exchange of information.

But too often they are simply places for a bunch of white men to hang out.

Far too many talks are like every other. And many have little relevance to anyone else. The same information could have been exchanged by telephone.

I suspect this is self-evident to anybody that’s been in science for a few years. We might be studying animals or plants or microbes or rocks, but science is still a human enterprise. The indicator of a good talk — especially for a junior scientist who needs to get and stay employed — is the fact that the talk was impressive. If you had to choose between giving people the impression that: A) you’re an awesome scientist, or B) a particular scientific idea 

Yep, way too many speakers simply do a data dump to show the crowd how hard they have been working, to awe the crowd.

“60 slides in 15 minutes. That’ll do the trick.They will be awed by how hard we have worked!”

Now I have seen the masters of this approach,who also managed to get across big ideas also. In pre-digital days. Lee Hood would have two separate projectors going on two screens at the same time – sometimes popping back and forth between them, other times leaving one slide up for a long time as he discussed another, seldom looking at the screens , never appearing to read from notes and always on point with the idea.

He did not need 60 slides to awe us. I’d look in awe at just ONE slide that I knew represented perhaps 10 graduate student years. On one freaking slide! And he has tens of these slides. 

You had to bow down to the awesomeness of Lee Hood and his lab. But he was also providing tremendous ideas with the data – at that time about how the tremendous antibody repertoire we all have came to be.

Later with sequencing the human genome.

He is still pursuing big ideas – P4 medicine just the latest. But he has had to bow to technology and only uses a single projector these days.

The talks I always have remembered, that had an impact on my research and whose speakers I sought out were the ones that said. “Here is a great idea. We do not have it all figured out but here is some interesting data. Anyone one have any other ideas?”

Hearing how someone has been successful with a project is useful but we can read the papers about that. Describing an interesting phenomenon that has no full explanation is always more interesting to me

And more universal, as all scientists run into problems and have to figure out how to move forward.

Make it magical, with dark corners of unknown wealth, that could hold tremendous riches if we illuminate them.

Rather than a clean, sterile progression  from point A to point B.

Distributed approaches revolutionizing big data

 Data Represented in an Interactive 3-D Form


For Big-Data Scientists, ‘Janitor Work’ Is Key Hurdle to Insights 
[Via -]

Technology revolutions come in measured, sometimes foot-dragging steps. The lab science and marketing enthusiasm tend to underestimate the bottlenecks to progress that must be overcome with hard work and practical engineering.

The field known as “big data” offers a contemporary case study. The catchphrase stands for the modern abundance of digital data from many sources — the web, sensors, smartphones and corporate databases — that can be mined with clever software for discoveries and insights. Its promise is smarter, data-driven decision-making in every field. That is why data scientist is the economy’s hot new job.


Data just exist. They require humans to provide context. They always will.

So creating better ways for more people to interact with the data will lead to more insights.

No doubt about it.


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