Saturday, May 07, 2005

Joi Ito on Connectivity and Community


Who are the New Super Bloggers that I'm often mentioning and praising?

For one thing, they aren't self-absorbed.

They seek to use blogs, wikis, and other tools to connect with others, to build online communities of shared interests, and to band together to accomplish some good in this rotten world.


In fact, it seems that the hotly debated issue nowadays is Blogs as Community Building Tools.

The emphasis is rapidly shifting away from the narcissistic, self-obsessesed, pointless drivel about mundane trivia (blogging in a vacuum)...

...and moving swiftly toward this idea:

"Well, now that we are all happily expressing ourselves, how can we facilitate the identification of, and connections to, truly interesting, valuable, important online information and resources?"


"Well, now that we are all freely expressing ourselves, how can we connect with others who are on our wavelength, band together, and actually accomplish some good in this rotten world?"


New Super Blogger, Joi Ito, has a few things to say about this.

I've snatched some of his replies to an interview conducted by R.U. Serius on Neofiles, "Connecting in Chaos: Joi Ito in Conversation with R.U. Serius":

[QUOTE from Joi Ito]

People on the Internet have talked a lot about how a sort of intelligence will form just by connecting everyone together.

The issue is how we are connected together.

Since it is an organic/chaotic system you can’t engineer it like you engineer a bridge, you have to get it just right, and I think a lot of it is trial and error.

Although this isn’t a great metaphor, the amount of DNA that separates us from Chimps or even slugs is quite small.

Similarly, throwing social software at the problem of freedom, democracy and leadership is like trying to predict — by looking at a bunch of DNA – whether you’re going to get Einstein, a chimp, or a slug. Some day maybe we will know how to figure this out, but right now, it’s a lot of tasting and stirring.

So what have we learned?

We’ve learned that conversations on mailing lists tend to explode in flame wars.

We’ve also learned that if you make a web page, there is a good chance no one will notice.

Mailing lists are like rooms that people can get into, but very difficult to get people out of. Everyone in the room hears everyone else in the room. Too much feedback.

The sweet spot of emergent order that we see in fractals.

A personal web page .... No one can hear you. Not enough feedback. Life and good emergent systems live in the interesting place between too much feedback and too little feedback, that very special space between chaos and order. It’s the sweet spot of emergent order that we see in fractals, life, and the high of being "in the zone."

My theory is that the critical mass of actors as well as the right balance of the cybernetic feedback systems is getting closer.

Blogs allow you to more easily ignore stupid threads on other blogs, but participate in conversations. This is because blogs ping servers to let you know that they have been updated so they can be indexed immediately and those who have been linked to or mentioned will immediately know. They can read the post and assess whether the comment requires feedback or not.

Speed has increased, feedback occurs, but filtering occurs as well.

Although the dialog on blogs is far from ideal, we have broken past many of the issues in mailing lists and web pages without the additional feedback elements of blogs. And we’ve introduced new issues. People can still troll your comments section and following conversations across blogs is still difficult, although this is getting easier.

Wikipedia is another example of social software hitting the sweet spot.

Wikipedians are a different breed of actors than most bloggers. As I said, I call the Wikipedians the bookworms for the common good. Wikipedians contribute time and energy editing articles, maintain servers, resolving disputes, cleaning up the site, dealing with trolls and vandals — all of it unobserved by outsiders.

If blogging is about expressing your views, wikis are a community of gardeners working together.

Although I hate the word, "the blogosphere" may be a "space", but Wikipedia is definitely a "place." In fact, there is an IRC channel that originally started as a channel for people who commented on my blog, but quickly turned into a place.

Blogs don’t have as much of a sense of place because everything sort of shifts around and there is less interaction with the actors. An IRC channel is a good way to make a place that is associated with a blog.

The sense of place is quite important.

Bloggers may be influential, but they don’t seem to be leaders in the emergent democracy sense of the word.

My definition of leadership in emergent democracy is someone that helps create a place where people can come and provides these people with the right magic to self-organize.


What you realize is that the properties of a leader in an emergent system must 1) attract people, 2) activate bottom up energy, 3) manage feedback systems, and 4) not assert authority.

In some cases, I believe leaders emerge as a consensus in a bottom up process. It’s like the head of a slime mold when it is in the slug-like moving formation. Some of the slime mold units become the head, but it’s really hard to predict.

It’s a lot about being in the right place at the right time and not misinterpreting one’s position as a leader with authority or some sort of privilege.

Jimmy Wales and other emergent leaders can influence their communities, but they can’t command their community to do anything. Howard Dean was great because he listened to the message of the grassroots. Kerry’s campaign sucked because they tried to get the grassroots to carry their message.


So "the net" was all about cyberspace and real life. Free vs. controlled, us verses them. We immersed ourselves in cyberspace and when we stepped away from the computer to take a piss or have a pizza or go to jail, we were in the Real World. In the dreaded Real Life.

Well, guess, what? Cyberspace is part of the real world right now.

A lot of the early science fiction and technologies such as VR focused on the image of immersion and even when we talked about ubiquitous computing, we were talking about little screens everywhere. Portals to cyberspace.

With mobile phones, the "thumb tribe" or "oyayubizoku" in Japanese can blind text with their hands in the pockets.

For these kids, real world and cyberspace are one. Their friends are at their fingertips. They are sharing co-presence with their tribe. The Net is not about content or screens, it’s about presence and community.

With RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), machines join this integrated network. Sure, our eyes are important and augmented reality will soon be a part of our daily lives, but for kids who don’t remember what’s it’s like not to have SMS (short message service) and the Internet, the word "immersion" probably doesn’t make too much sense.

Generally speaking, everything is continuous-partial-attention.

[END QUOTE by Joi Ito]


Now it's your turn, gentle reader.

What do you think about all this?

Teens able to create and send text messages with the cell phone remaining in their pockets, texting "blind"?

Blogs being ultimately about community builiding and united group activism, rather than simple and solitary self-expression?

Are you a blogger? Are you connected to other bloggers? Are you interested in forming a community? Are you eager to change the non-virtual world via digital societies?

your feedback makes the blogosphere go round Posted by Hello

Tell me your opinion.

Email me a comment and I'll post it here.

Let's put our heads together and figure this out.


[signed] Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate aka Leopold the Told

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