May 17, 2005

Gatekeepers series conclusion

Jon Garfunkel concludes with NewGatekeepers Part8: The Future, calling for better technology design:

We shouldn't be surprised if the new gatekeepers start acting, or even looking, like the old gatekeepers. That's one future and we'll have to like it.

Or, if we really want a more flat society, with "power to the edges" and the "grassroots" and the "long tail" and any other marketing term that can be substituted for the citizenry, we ought to do what we set out to do in the first place: we have to design the technology specifically for that purpose.

I'm in fact pessimistic about the prospects. Not because I'm anti-technology. But because of the immense difficulty of the problem. There are business opportunities for people who want to do start-ups in the burgeoning new fields of data-mining or popularity-presentation. I could even see myself doing something along those line someday. So I suppose I shouldn't be too discouraging.

But nobody knows how to do good technology for nonhierarchical organization, and there's an annoying number of evangelists, touts, hucksters, con-men, and similar ilk, all generating lots of self-serving noise.

Ernie Miller had some reactions to the series:

Would you rather have a gatekeeper of production, of distribution, or of audience? It does, ultimately, make a difference. If a law is passed does it matter if it was passed by a democracy or a dictator? It may be the same law, but process matters.

And my initial thought on this was, no offense intended, that it's somewhat like asking if you'd rather be killed by enemy forces or "friendly fire". You're still just as dead for the end result.

To me, it's almost a joke - "So, Seth, your extensive research languished unread, abandoned, not because of gatekeepers of production, but because of gatekeepers of attention - don't you feel that's a crucial difference?". No, sorry, not really, why should I care?

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on May 17, 2005 10:58 AM (Infothought permalink)
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The interesting thing is that people end up with hierarchical models even in the area of free software development. See for example:

Although in this case, I believe it's little to do with control, more with hiding inefficiencies across the hierarchy.

Posted by: Florian Weimer at May 17, 2005 06:11 PM

Florian: James Surowiecki makes the same point in The Wisdom of Crowds, which I cited in part 5.

Seth: Thanks for your support and the original inspiration for this series. I hope it's useful to someone. If I think back to a year ago (when I had merely an inkling that blogs were inadequate), I couldn't possibly have come up with the New Gatekeepers theory then. It took a number of months of research on this. To what ends of course-- it doesn't matter a lick until I get the modules written.

For readers waiting for us to actually disagree on something, here's an attempt. I don't see the difficulty being in the technology-- but the decision to go ahead. It's like when my Mom discovered that AT&T customer service used web-based IM to respond to her, and that was the first she had encountered it. Wow! She asked me, how did they do that? And I explained that IM was a fairly old technology; the big work was in getting the CIO to sign off on it. (especially tricky considering there haven't been, to my knowledge, conferences on "IM, Telephones, and Credibility."

It seems like you felt that the idea TrustRank was a good step in the direction of trying to meet these sorts of needs. I'm happy with working towards half-solutions, which are better than the non-solutions we currently have.

Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at May 18, 2005 01:33 AM

"I'm happy with working towards half-solutions, which are better than the non-solutions we currently have."

Ah, but it's more like one-googol-th (not a typo, a pun) solutions. And even those are very hard.

I'm not *against* them, or even against trying - it's just that I think they're much, much harder than might be apparent on first glance.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at May 18, 2005 11:35 PM