Information Overload

Slashdot discusses “information obesity” as discussed in this SMH article: “Another day in the office, which, according to one recent study, consists of handling 46 phone calls, 25 emails, 16 voicemails, 23 items of post, eight inter-office memos, 16 faxes and nine mobile phone calls. While that sounds scary, its even more alarming to think that those figures – taken from a 2000 survey of companies employing between 100 and 499 staff conducted by Pitney Bowes in partnership with the US-based forecaster the Institute for the Future – are likely to have risen.” Scary! And an opportunity for things like Info Aggregators and Digital Dashboards – what we need is “Topsight”.

Sleeping

Sleeping is a universal love. Its also something most of us get less of. In my case, my sleep hours are inversely proportional to how excited I am about what I am doing. A year or so ago, I was sleeping 7-8 hours daily, finding it hard to wake up even at 7:30 am. Then, I started the daily walk – with a friend. That meant a hard deadline on the waking time. I also linked it up with wanting to listen to BBC World News at 5:30 am. Emergic too started and over the past year my sleep has averaged about 6-7 hours at night. The one thing I love is a 2-hour nap on Sunday afternoons. It is not something that happens every Sunday, though!

Countering Spam

NYTimes has conversations with seven people who have come up with ideas for a solution to “unclogging the information artery.”

Esther Dyson: The model I like is the set-your-own-price-to-receive-mail model. Each person decides whether it costs 50 cents or $1 or whatever to send him or her mail. You charge only for mail you don’t already know that you want. The magic of it is, people can really define their own terms. You want to build a system that lets the person you met at a party try you once. In an ideal world, the people you charge drop away, and you only get mail from the people you know and want to hear from.

Microsoft: Our proposal is to allow commercial senders to participate in a self-regulatory program that would provide a seal if they followed a set of best practices. The filters would take participation in such a program as an input.

EarthLink: we will introduce Spam Blocker, which augments what we have done with filtering. Users only see messages in their in-boxes from people in their address books. If you send me an e-mail for the first time, your message goes into my “suspect” mailbox. The system generates a message back to the sender, who is referred to a Web page, where it is necessary to fill in some information, including copying a number from an image that a machine could not read. Then I will see that you want to send me mail, and I can refuse or say O.K. Mail sent by automated e-mail generating programs will never get through.

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TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: Of Stigmergy and Memes

It was one of these serendipitous discoveries that led me to a note by Joe Gregorio on Stigmergy. I was following a link from a Mike Bedan post on Memex. Mikes blog had shown up tops in a search I had on Google for Memex RSS Blogs OPML. I had put that combination of words in Google after many previous efforts. (One of my posts shows up tops in the search on Google.) Hopefully, it is this accidental discovery and click-and-try process tha the Memex will hopefully address!

Back to Stigmergy and Joe Gregorio. Joe quotes E. Bonabeau, M. Dorigo, and G. Theraulaz in giving a definition of Stigmergy: Self-Organization in social insects often requires interactions among insects: such interactions can be direct or indirect. Direct interactions are the “obvious” interactions: antennation, trophallaxis (food or liquid exchange), mandibular contact, visual contact, chemical contact (the odor of nearby nestmates), etc. Indirect interactions are more subtle: two individuals interact indirectly when one of then modifies the environment and the other responds to the new environment at a later time. Such an interaction is an example of stigmergy.

While Joe does not explicitly talk about the Memex (the connection between Stigmergy and the Memex was made by Mike Bedan), he does talk of Weblogs, Neighbourhoods, and Google. And Memes. No, thats not a typo. Memes are, according to Joe, a unit of intellectual or cultural information that survives long enough to be recognized as such, and which can pass from mind to mind. They can be carried by word of mouth, dead trees, e-mail, or the web. On the web, in particular on weblogs, memes are tracked by links to particular sites or stories. In other words, Memes are mind viruses.

A small diversion as we elaborate a little on Memes. To quote Richard Dawkins: Memes should be regarded as living structures, not just metaphorically but technically. When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the memes propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell.

Not only is the word Meme very similar to the Memex that we are talking of constructing, Memes are what a lot of our ideas are about. When we interact with each other, we are transmitting our ideas and thoughts. These stick and grow. This is, in some ways, how writing happens. And as we read what others write, memes are transmitted. What weblogs do is enable the transmission of memes without the need for direct contact. In a way, they provide the shortcuts for meme propagation. And this is a key concept of the Small Worlds theory as articulated by Duncan Watts, which we will consider shortly. For now, suffice to say, that our personal Memex in the form of blogs and personal directories work as meme propagating vehicles.

Tomorrow: Of Stigmergy and Memes (continued)

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