Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Net Neutrality: Quick Highlights


Looks like there's a new set of proposals coming regarding Net Neutrality from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Some details have been leaked, but we'll have to wait until May 15th to see everything. More than a few people have been asking my opinion, so I'm going to dump everything here, and refer back to it.

1) Net Neutrality is a loaded term.
On the surface, I'm a huge proponent of Net Neutrality. But when I say that, I want to see exactly what the TCPIP protocol was built for: best-effort per-packet delivery, end to end. However, I can promise you that if you put any two people in a room, you're going to come up with two different definitions of Net Neutrality. My idea of Net Neutrality, for example, is much different than Netflix's. (Netflix reluctantly signed an agreement this year where they had to pay Comcast to connect to their network in order to get the speeds necessary to make sure your House of Cards marathon didn't stutter. ) [1] In many cases, you don't want your traffic treated neutrally, you want it prioritized. Which brings us to...

2) Paid Peering.
Paid Peering is the process by which, essentially, big content providers host copies of their servers directly adjacent to or within ISPs so the traffic doesn't have to cross the whole internet to get from Netflix/Google/Microsoft to you, the end user. These agreements have never been covered by Net Neutrality, and it appears the new rules won't try and curb them either. This is a good thing. Network congestion scales exponentially over distances (hops), meaning that every hop we can remove between that Microsoft Update and your home PC is bandwidth freed up. Of course, the difference between Paid Peering and simply connecting edge networks directly together is a bit fuzzy, which is why the FCC wants to address complaints on a case-by-case basis, which Net Neutrality advocates are opposed to. I'm pretty much for it, pending some conditions, for example...

3) Transparency and "Reasonable Network Management Practices"
This is the crux of the recent hissy-fit. The 2010 Open Internet Order from the FCC barred "unreasonable discrimination" against traffic; the new (leaked) proposal allows for "commercially reasonable" traffic management. The difference is a fine one, but it should be noted that the first order was struck down largely because of this wording. Thus the proposed changes. The thing I'll be combing through the May 15th release for is protections providing for transparency and disclosure of the network management practices by ISPs and other carriers. Disclosure isn't going to be an absolute necessity. If you recall the evidence that Comcast was holding up BitTorrent traffic purposely on its network was rooted out by everyday Internet users, using free tools. However,anything that promotes sunlight would help. But the most vociferous advocates of Net Neutrality just aren't going to be happy until we have...



Telecom Regulated: the first 80 years

Telecom Deregulated: the last 20 years 


4) Reclassifying Broadband as a Tier II  telecommunication service by the FCC.
This is what most of the online petitions, and carefully crafted outrage by organizations like Free Press and Public Knowledge are really after. How anybody can look at the track record of the FCC ruling the common carriers and think that it's the way forward to innovation on the Internet, I do not know. It's very tough for me to equate the days of Ma Bell, where the Western Electric Model 302 didn't change for 60 years, to 1984's breakup of AT&T created an explosion of new phone technology and the creation of cellular networks and free long distance calls.

When the proposal is made public on the 15th, I'm sure I'll be revisiting the topic. Wheeler wants to get something approved by the end of the year, which would be at light-speed for the FCC. We'll have plenty of time to argue over it, but until then, don't sign any petitions until you really know the details. You may not be getting what you bargain for.

Updates:
[1]: (4/30/2014): In the Netflix example, Netflix wanted to use Net Neutrality to force Comcast to cover the cost of providing high-speed access from Netflix to Comcast users at no charge to Netflix. This would ultimately mean that non-Netflix-using Comcast customers would foot the bill to subsidize their Netflixing brethren. See how the some interpretations of "Net Neutrality", and their unintended consequences, can get messy fast?



Thursday, March 14, 2013

Google's Killing Me, Killing Reader

Google is killing Reader come July 1, 2013.

This is a real shame, because the RSS protocol is truly a thing of beauty, and one of the great ways that original content gets distributed.  But to do so, it needs a client as good as the spec, and there was none finer than Google Reader, which could follow me from device to device, platform to platform.

It was my gmail, but for web content. 

Now Google's pulling the plug on the service, which is a real shame. I truly hope this isn't the sign of the New Google, where every service must have a 65% market share, and pump traffic into Google+ to stay alive. I'm a huge Google fanboy, and for me to think of something so cynical is probably not a good sign, Mountainview.

See, it's not that I don't "trust" Google (I don't think Google will ever "trap" my data, or use it for bad ends), it's that I have a hard time investing much faith in Google when they are so capricious about the life and death of their products. I just don't want to do too much heavy lifting of my life into Google's services when they live and die by a single company's edict, and not the will of the internet, like an RFC spec.

I guess it's time for me to rethink my commitment to truly open platforms. So expect more light sharing from this blog, and more links back here from Facebook, Google+, and other social media sites. I'm going to try and keep more of my content where I know it's going to stay put. 

And when Google pulls the plug on Blogger, I'll be able to grab my data and put it on a host of my choosing, because HTML and RSS aren't controlled by anyone but us.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Inalienable Rights?

I don't know how to ask what I'm about to ask without pissing everyone off, but maybe that's what makes it good material for discussion. +Jeff Jarvis wrote in his blog today:
Zeynep Tufecki, a brilliant observer of matters media, digital, and social, cautioned on Twitter that we must understand a key difference in attitudes toward speech here and elsewhere in the world: “Forget Middle East, in most of Europe you could not convince most people that *all* speech should be protected. That is uniquely American,” she tweeted yesterday. “In most places, including Europe, ‘hate-speech’ –however defined — is regulated, prosecuted. Hence, folks assume not prosecuted=promoted…. US free speech absolutism already hard to comprehend for many. Add citizen media to mix, it gets messy. Then, killers exploit this vagueness.” Excellent points and important perspective for the current situation.
I, like Jeff, am a Free Speech absolutist. I'm lucky enough to live in a country that has chosen to protect this unalienable right. So much so, that just like the quote above, I had to be reminded that this is far from universal. Watching Erin Burnett on CNN tonight, I witnessed a clip of a protester in Cairo talking to the media, repeating that "Obama is guilty! Obama is guilty!" in reference to the idea that the President Obama, backed by U.S. Intelligence, had to "know about this movie", and "chose not to stop it", as if such a thing were even possible in America.

The concept of free speech was utterly alien to that man.

The distance between an American and the American Government was non-existent to him.

As an American, I fully--instinctually--understand that it is not a contradiction to be utterly disgusted by the hate-filled speech of a fellow citizen, and still stand up to defend that citizen's right to speak it; that the answer for Bad Speech is More Speech. It is so important to our way of life, that it was the very first thing codified in the Bill of Rights.

Here was a citizen of Cairo, demanding that a foreign leader in a foreign country betray one of the most fundamental pillars of that country's way of life, because, not only does he think freedom of speech *should* not exist, but that it *could* not exist. The idea was utterly alien to him.

So the thought that popped into my head that I'm wrestling with is this:
Is this man an exception? Is he the rule?

If the latter, what hope is there in an Arab Spring for freedom in that part of the world, where one of the fundamental tenets of liberty is literally inconceivable? I frequently wonder whether or not Americans--who were born to these concepts--are still capable of shouldering the great burden that liberty demands of us. What, then, can we expect of those to whom these concepts are alien?

I ask these questions off the cuff, and with an open heart and curious mind. I don't mean to offend. At the very least, I hope you find this question more interesting than figuring out which campaign tweeted which statement when--which seems to be the discussion that's taken over CNN for now.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Vote "NO" on SOPA - An Open Letter to Congressman Thaddeus McCotter


An open letter the Thaddeus McCotter,
U.S. Rep. for Michigan's 11th District, and my congressional representative, whom I much admire.

Dear Congressman McCotter:

Please vote NO on SOPA (HR-3261)

Why is SOPA/Protect-IP such bad legislation?

First, let us agree that preventing online piracy is a noble and worthy goal. I don't fault legislators for trying to protect intellectual property. As is so often the case though, good intentions are no excuse for bad legislation. And SOPA is nothing if not "bad legislation".

SOPA is a bill that aims to thwart piracy by turning ISPs, website operators, credit card companies, and domain registrants into police. It guts the DMCA's "Safe Harbor" provision, opening the gateway for Hollywood to shut down websites it believes to be infringing upon intellectual property rights without due process. Lastly, it imposes a huge cost of regulatory compliance on entities that are some of our most economically vibrant, in a time when there aren't many bright spots in the economy.

As is so often the case, the damage it does won't just be to existing services, sites, and companies, but to all the innovation that will be strangled in infancy because a tech company's first hire will have to be a lawyer instead of an engineer.

Make no mistake - if this law were in place 15 years ago, there would be no YouTube, no Facebook, no Google, no iTunes, no eBay, no Craigslist, no Etsy. You could probably name the corporations and organizations that would have benefitted had their business models never been disrupted by the Internet. That list will look a lot like the list of organizations who spent $91 Million lobbying for SOPA. This is not an accident.

In 2006 Yochai Benkler wrote, in _The Wealth of Networks_:
For the most part[...] the state in both the United States and Europe has played a role in supporting the market-based industrial incumbents of the twentieth-century information production system at the expense of the individuals who make up the emerging networked information economy. Most state interventions have been in the form of either captured legislation catering to incumbents, or, at best, well-intentioned but wrongheaded efforts to optimize the institutional ecology for outdated modes of information and cultural production.
Sound familiar?

Destined to Fail

Even if SOPA passed, and all of the effects that I listed above were somehow mitigated, it wouldn't do a thing to slow down, let alone halt, piracy.

The internet is built to route around "damage". That's what it was designed for. And the internet sees censorship of this kind as damage. The major tool for "taking down" an infringing site is to claim its DNS entry (which turns a name like youtube.com into an address that your computer can connect to like 74.125.225.77), and pointing it to a different IP address.

Routing around internet censorship will simply be in the form of the distibution of IP addresses instead of DNS names. We saw this effect when wikileaks.org was "blocked" in 2010 (voluntarily, by its DNS provider). People just went to the IP address directly, and mirror sites popped up to distribute copies of the data.

This kind of "takedown" won't even slow a pirate down. But it will incur a tremendous amount of regulatory overhead for legitimate companies to contend with.

If I were addressing this plea to my friends on the left I might say that this bill is being bought and paid for with $91 Million in lobbying from the RIAA, MPAA, and Hollywood. I might say that they are the 1%, and they'd like to keep it that way, even if it were to harm the consumer, the public, the economy, and the United States.

However, this message is for the one person who has represented me best in Washington, and I know from long admiration, that you, Congressman McCotter, share many of my views from the right. Therefore I say that this legislation is nothing more than rent-seeking from a industry whose business model is failing in the face of innovation. This is the same industry who has tried to legislatively hinder everything from VCRs to MP3 players to cable television, all in the name of protecting their historically comfortable profit margins. They are unwilling or unable to innovate, and are fearful of the creative destruction that awaits them in the face of their obstinance. It's easier for them to petition Congress than it is to face the 21st century, and even if this legislation comes to pass it will do absolutely nothing to save their outdated business model. They are using their present position of relative strength to permanently hinder the one industry that, more than any other, shows promise for American workers in the 21st century.

Finally, (and only slightly in jest):

What would Youtube's fate be under SOPA if the Beatles or Roy Orbison decided that this video of your band playing FarmAid was infringing material?



Congressman McCotter, please consider voting NO on SOPA.

Thank you,
Eric Reasons
11th MI resident and proud Thaddeus McCotter supporter

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Professor Jarvis's Homework Assignment: Jobless Future?


I'm glad that Jeff Jarvis is a professor. Nobody gives great homework assignments like his. I'll welcome comments here as always, but follow the link below if you want to join in the real discussion.

Jarvis announced his intention to give the following talk at SXSW on Google+:
The SXSW proposal title is, "Honey, we shrunk the economy."
The proposal: Technology now leads to efficiency over growth. That means that we're not going to have a jobless recovery. We're going to have a jobless future. Pick any industry and see how technology, the internet, global connectedness, and transparent markets are bringing tremendous efficiency. Newspapers have shrunk by hundreds of thousands of jobs and may disappear -- while news expands at less cost. Borders, Circuit City and untold stores are gone, replaced by a new retail supply chain -- aka, Amazon. Construction has imploded and won't reinflate and recreate jobs. We will discuss the implications for business, technology, education, and policy. Instead of bailing out the old institutions -- GM, banks, even governments -- we should enable and invest in the entrepreneurs who will disrupt them. Education must shift to nurturing those entrepreneurs and retraining the jobless. We must invest in efficiency. Help me explore these ideas, this future. 
Questions I propose to address with the room:
Why is technology different now? Why isn't it creating more jobs than it kills?
How are incumbent institutions preventing change and slowing this progress?
How should government help this process? Can it?
How must education change to serve such a world?
Are we headed to an economy no longer built on growth but instead on efficiency?
And that room, I hope, will be filled with he entrepreneurs and technologists who are creating this future, the investors who are funding it, the educators who are supplying it, the government wonks who should be enabling it and the rest of us who are trying to figure it out.
First off, I'm not sure that we're destined for a jobless economy, and I'm not sure Jarvis is either, but he likes to go a bit over-the-top, (it's his shtick) so I won't quibble with the plainness of his statement.

I do have some direct comments to some of his points. Jeff's original text highlighted below:
Education must shift to nurturing those entrepreneurs and retraining the jobless. We must invest in efficiency.
Retraining can soften the blow somewhat, but let's face it--most government jobs programs are largely about digging, and then filling holes. And, not to be tautological, but if efficiency is killing jobs without replacing them, is investing in efficiency going to change that effect, or just speed it up?

On to his questions:

1) Why is technology different now? Why isn't it creating more jobs than it kills?

It may eventually build new markets we didn't know existed. The entire news/entertainement/leisure industry only popped into existence as we gained the leisure time to spend on it (See Shirky's talk about the 5-day work week and cognitive surplus). Filling our leisure time wasn't a viable market until the 20th century, and it was created out of whole cloth thanks to the technologies that enabled efficiency (i.e. the assembly line and agricultural automation). I wonder if these transitions were as smooth as they look from our viewpoint in history. Maybe people asked these exact same questions as they moved from farms to cities?

The unique problem right now is that many people think they've identified this next stage of post-industrial economy as "the knowledge economy" (something you tacitly appear to agree with when you suggest retraining), which is when the second part of the problem kicks in (Shirky's "double whammy" you commented on earlier): if we're increasingly creating and sharing for each other for free, there's going to be an economy there to retrain for? We are starting to use our leisure time to help fill the leisure time of others, thanks to the Internet. This new internet infrastructure is extremely efficient, and maintaining it can't possibly be enough of a need to employ the displaced. We need something new, and it has to be something that we're not really willing to do for free (that's why we get paid, right?)

2) How are incumbent institutions preventing change and slowing this progress?

Short answer "any way they can." The MPAA and RIAA are increasingly defending intellectual property rights in the face of a sea-change of technology that shows us how fragile and impossible it is to keep a business running when you depend on people *not* copying bits.

Software companies are increasingly engaged in ridiculous patent wars that stifle innovation instead of spur it on.

I'm not weighing in on whether intellectual property as a concept is good or bad, (I have my opinions) but I think in the face of technology today, it's simply untenable in the long run. The technology to copy bits will outstrip the technology and cost to enforce their protection. It will be increasingly diificult to impose artificial scarcity, and thus impose market forces on what are essentially ideas and expressions.

And if you think it's bad now, wait until we get 3D printers online, cheap, and ubiquitous.

3) How should government help this process? Can it? 

I divide my answer into two parts. The cynic in me says, flat out, "It won't". In 2006, Yochai Benkler wrote, in _The Wealth of Networks_:
For the most part[...] the state in both the United States and Europe has played a role in supporting the market-based industrial incumbents of the twentieth-century information production system at the expense of the individuals who make up the emerging networked information economy. Most state interventions have been in the form of either captured legislation catering to incumbents, or, at best, well-intentioned but wrongheaded efforts to optimize the institutional ecology for outdated modes of information and cultural production. 
I have found no indication that this trend is going to change.

On the other hand, the pragmatist in me says that, if there was a way that government could help, not the transition itself, but to ease the pain of it, it would be to stop trying to inflate the economy to cope with all of our debt (personal and national), and find a more meaningful way to deleverage ourselves. Many of the benefits people could see from the disruption and efficiency brought about by technology rely on lowering our cost-of-living through it. effectively deflating the economy. We may make less, nominally, but we'd spend less, thanks to efficiency being passed on to us. Let's call this the "Walmart" effect for a moment. The problem we'd have to solve is paying back all of our debts in deflated dollars. In a deflationary economy, you borrow cheap money up front, but then have to pay it back with the same "amount" (nominally) of expensive money down the road. It's a non-starter with all of us leveraged to our eyeballs. I don't see an easy way through this problem.

4) How must education change to serve such a world?

Mostly, I think our expectations of education have to change. Let's leave the skills and knowledge aside we are supposed to get from our education aside for a moment. In the 20th century, the education system was built to teach us certain intrinsic values as well as skills. In k-12, we show up on time, 5 days a week, and have a teacher broadcast accepted knowledge top-down from the front of the room, which we were quietly to consume. Then students regurgitate spoonfed answers back to verify them for quality control. This level of education would largely prepare us for blue-collar jobs.

In college we're taught, in addition, how to navigate a complicated beauracracy, get our paperwork filed the right way, and the top-down model was expanded to show that, if properly trained and credentialed, we may be able to add to that knowledge base in our professional lives. This would prepare us for white-collar jobs.

This education system was built in the 20th century for 20th century work. Entrepreneurs are almost always some form of outcast our outsider to this progression. We trained against entrepreneurship, and instead trained excellent workers. If you jumped through all the hoops the right way, you were rewarded with the reasonable expectation of a career.

We need to teach entrepreneurship, independence, and initiative from the start. I don't know how to achieve this, or if it can even be done, but I think that's the target we need to aim for.

5) Are we headed to an economy no longer built on growth but instead on efficiency?

Efficiency can fuel growth if there's a proper channel for it. When agricultural automation started taking over farms in the 19th and 20th centuries, people started to leave for the cities, to build the machines that would make our food instead of making the food directly. This produced a new set of problems as we coped with managing the needs of city life. Each new practical problem to solve created a market. We need to transport machines to the country and food back to the city. We need to store food in the city instead of consume it on the spot. We need food prepared for us. We need sanitation, advanced construction, a more concentrated police force, etc. We need services and entertainment to soak up our free time on the weekends and cope with our alienation from work that was less connected to the products of our labor (God, I sound like a Marxist). Each of these needs and desires created brand new markets, entrepreneurs, and and ever increasing need for new technology. (Whew, capitalist again.)

As we migrated to cities in the 19th and 20th centuries, for the first time ever, our life wasn't just about working sunup to sundown to put food on the table. Work was part of our lives but not the sum total. I think there's a kernel of insight here into what possibilities are next for us.

The real question is, what are the direct and personal needs of the 21st century that we need to pay people to do, and which will we do for each other for essentailly free thanks to the Internet and intrinsic motivation to create and share? What markets are going to have to spring up out of whole cloth to fill those needs and desires that we won't fill intrinsically?

Hopefully some of the very smart people listening to your talk at SXSW have some ideas.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Jobless Recovery or Jobless Future: A Reply to Jeff Jarvis




 suggests over on a Google+ post, that "We're not going to have a jobless recovery. We're going to have a jobless future. "

Back in 2009, he sent me and others off on this topic, so I thought it deserved a thorough response now that he's announced his intention to focus on the issue again. I wanted to reproduce my response here, but I encourage any readers to carry on the discussion over on his g+ post. 

Here's my response:

Jeff -- you sent me down this rabbit hole back in 2009, and I haven't emerged since. I'm glad to see you've circled back around to it, because I think it's terribly important, and few people could focus attention on it like you can.

I take it as given that disruptive innovation, particularly at present, yeilds efficiency more than it yields growth. (Mike Masnick would probably kick me in the shins for saying this so plainly, as he did here).

In many ways, however, I think Masnick is correct. The post he was responding to was focussed merely on the *threat* side of the equation. We can't forget that the upside of this disruptive efficiency is that consumers reap the benefits of it in terms of lower cost-of-living. 

So the real question becomes: can we reap the benefits at a rate that corresponds to the pain that transitioning the workforce is costing us? 

As I said in the linked post above:
"[Disruptive efficiencies] cost jobs and are not likely to replace them. Too many of these jobs relied on the traditional inefficiencies of their business models--inefficiencies that have been *eliminated*, not just shifted to new markets. The closer the markets are to intellectual property, the faster they fall.
Lastly, all of these displaced professionals are going to go seeking work in still-viable markets, if they can attempt the transition at all. The labor supply will increase as both knowledge markets and traditional markets restructure to take advantage of new efficiencies, and that restructuring will include taking advantage of the aforementioned increase in labor supply. Hours will be cut. Wages will fall. So too will the cost of living fall as these efficiencies are passed on the consumer. *The balance between these two forces will be the key to determining how painful the transition is.*"
Again, is our current economic discomfort a temporary situation, caused by the difficulties in transitioning our workforce, or is it a more permanent restructuring? The same question may have been put to a farmer at the turn of the 20th century, or (closer to home for me) a factory worker in 1980's Detroit. Today, America produces more food than it did 100 years ago, and (contrary to commonly-held belief) manufactures more than it did 25 years ago. But much like you point out in your post, increased production (in those markets) does not equal increased employment when new efficiencies are introduced.

Consumers may reap the benefits of efficiency, but can it make up for the costs in terms of employment? Finding a meaningful measurement of those two rates of change, I think, are key to properly addressing this very important predicament.

--

Followup questions still to be framed and wrestled with:

1) Unintended consequences of deflation:

Assuming that deflation wouldn't be so terribly if we could capture the benefits of it (i.e. Would you take a 20% pay cut if bread, housing, music, movies, etc. were 20% cheaper?), what other unintended consequences would deflation hold (since public policy at present is trying desperately to use inflation to ease our debt burden)? You see, we've already agreed to past prices for these things (largely mortgages), but would be asked to pay them back in future deflated dollars. This is a huge problem, since we're all in debt up to our ears.

2) In a world of bits. not atoms (your term, which I love, Jeff), we're increasingly creating value for each other without exchanging money. Price can't always capture value. What happens to the supply-and-demand curve when supply is practically infinite? See my post on Scarcity, Abundance, and the Knowledge Economy.

--

Lastly, you may want to check out this excerpt from Kevin Carson's book as well. It's barking up the same tree. It also rightfully credits you with stirring up this conversation in the first place.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Google+: Managing Community and Audience

(First, let me apologize if this post is specific to Google+, a service most people aren't even allowed in yet. However, there's already a lot of chatter about what it is and what it is not, and I wanted to collect my thoughts.)

It was sheer luck that a conversation I had a month ago led me to pen some thoughts about the qualities that can make or break social media platforms. At the time, I had no idea that Google+ was less than 30 days from launching it's "Field Test". In that post, I cite some literature on the "150-connection gap", which shows that the limit for social circles seems to settle in at about 150 real connections to real people, and that when you start interacting with more than those 150 real connections, you're acting as an Authority does to an Audience, not participating in a community/conversation. I then posit a hypothetical new social media service, and claim that if it can't "cross the 150-connection gap", then it will have a difficult time gaining traction amongst the general population. Facebook and Twitter eventually became decent at managing this dynamic. Buzz was horrible at it (more on that, below). So what can Google+ do to cross the 150-connection gap? The key is in the Circles feature, and in "re-sharing".

Will we "Make Lists"?

Mark Zuckerberg famously said "Guess what? Nobody wants to make lists."

I know it's just a single data point, but I think Gina Trapani has a pretty strong answer to that question.

So let's assume for the sake of argument, that we're willing to make lists by using Circles, because they are useful to us. How many times have you decided not to post something to twitter because the audience is too broad, won't care about what you write, or it's a little *too* personal? Let's assume we are more willing to share with an audience that we think will be more interested in the topic we're sharing. Google is betting the farm on it.

What Circles can do for us

Presently some early g+ users are complaining that the Stream is too "noisy".

Robert Scoble documents this issue well here, where he says:
So, until Google gives us the ability to control noise Google+ will continue not being used by average people (my metaphorical “yo momma and yo daddy.”
The thing is what is noise control?
Two things, one of which Google is known for:
1. Search. The ability to say “show me all cool new items that talk about venture capital.”
2. Sifting. This is similar to search, but goes beyond. “Show me all future items that talk about venture capital.”
Following someone does not necesarily corellate to targeted ideas. I follow Jeff Jarvis to hear about social media development and it's impact on disrupted institutions. I get a lot of penis news too.

Essentially, Scoble is highlighting a problem that Buzz was also notorious for: If you follow a famous person, you are beset with noise that drowns out your "real" connections, and leaves you little ability to gain topical control over what you hear from whom.

Scoble wants downstream filtering (read, "an algorithm") to help him select what to read (and this is by no means a bad idea, escpecially given how good Google is at this sort of thing).

Google+ tackles this problem head on with their Circles feature, but the present limited population of g+ is hiding how useful Circles can be. The most useful part about circles is that they *filter twice* - I pick who I follow, and they pick what they share *topically*. In g+, the intersection of these interests will be what I actually see.


It is a huge step forward in crowdsourcing curation. It can hugely reduce the noise that a reader gets compared to twitter and facebook. It may rely on the author to select their (initial) audience,which may seem inconvenient, but in practice this is exactly the feature we've been clamoring for in other social media tools. Circles finally gives us that power.

So why don't we see this emergent property of Circles yet?

Presently, Google+ is populated only by "Internet Celebrities" (to quote Leo Laporte), and their nerdly hangers-on (myself included), and I think this population is masking this very important feature, making the graph (at present) look more like this:

The Internet Celebrities are followed by almost everybody, and they're making everything public, as is their way. (Your mom isn't on g+ yet, and most g+ conversations going on right now are--surprise!--about g+).

If Circles allow an author to feel as though they're sharing with a targeted community (and more than just the Internet Celebrity/Early Adopter community is present), then they'll be useful enough at the source to help more open sharing, and more targeted conversation. This can solve the "Community" problem of social networks, but what about the transition past the 150-connection gap to an "Audience"?

Sharing, Resharing, and crossing the 150-Connection gap

Jeff Jarvis highlights a currently talked-about issue with re-sharing, where he essentially says, that disabling re-sharing stifles discovery by a third-party audience. (From my standpoint, this is a kiss-of-death to an emerging social media technology). Sometimes, we may *want* that discovery stifled, and should be allowed to announce it to our circle by disabling re-sharing (which is, by no means, a guarantee that a malicious member of the audience won't find a way around it--Jeff's excellent point). The question is really a matter of *defaults* (Defaults matter!), and I'm glad to see that g+'s default is to allow re-sharing.

Why?

Because re-sharing is one mechanism by which we crowdsource curation which is important in the long-term for social technologies, and the Internet in general. But it also allows a relevant post to jump from Community to Audience, which is, as cited before, the key feature for a social technology to "take off". That's not to say we ought not to offer as much control to the author as possible over their intended audience, but we should leave that control to the social pressures that work so well in this space, as opposed to relying on technology to lock away information in a space that was actually built for sharing it. We need the system simply to promote transparency of the author's intentions to their chosen circle (i.e. to let your circle know that the message was intended for them and only them), and let social pressures handle the rest. (If you violate my trust, you'll find yourself quickly removed from that Circle).

Having the ability to disable re-sharing is an important signal to the audience that this is for them only (see Gina Trapani's excellent thoughts on why having the ability to disable re-sharing is important here), but hiding away anything not explicitly marked "public" would hamstring any social media technology before it has a chance to even leave the ground.

Conclusion

Google+ looks like it has the genetic makeup to be a very impressive social technology. If we find utility in "making lists", and sharing defaults are kept open, it has the tools to help people interact with thier close communities, as well as allowing relevant content to jump to a wider audience. There are many other hurdles to clear to see if Google+ will gain the critical mass of users needed to sustain any new social media technology, but it's off to a very promising start.