Open vs. closed networks

As part of my [thesis][] research, I have been reading a stack of books, including [Linked][linked], [Six Degrees][sixdeg], [Design For Community][dfc] and [The Future of Ideas][tfoi]. At the same time I’ve been exploring and studying various online communities, trying to determine what makes them tick.

Is there a common characteristic of successful communities? So far, I’ve been nursing along the notion that “openness” is a common feature (among others) of the groups and communities that I’ve been studying.

[thesis]: /archives/2004/05/my_thesis_topic.html
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My Thesis Topic

I am currently working on my thesis for a Master’s degree in Engineering Management. The topic I am studying and writing about deals with online collaborative environments and communities. Specifically, I’m compiling case studies of various successful online collaborations, looking for the qualities that are common among them. My hope is that I will be able to identify some fundamental characteristics necessary to foster effective collaboration across geographical and cultural boundaries.

The groups/communities I am currently investigating are the Apache Software Foundation, Wikipedia and {fray}.

I’ll be posting more on this topic in the near future.


Another door opens

Scripting News: “At some point in the next few months, there will be an open source release of the Frontier kernel.”

Congratulations to Dave Winer on reaching a new milestone in the history of Frontier. Another loop closes as a new door opens.

The roots of blogging today can be traced back, in part at least, to the release of Aretha in May 1995. At that time, Frontier was locked away, unused, unprofitable and largely unappreciated. It could have ended there. But Dave made the software free (as in beer) and so started a chain of events that eventually lead to Clay Basket, Manila, Radio, XML-RPC and RSS. It also helped launch the career of Brent Simmons, the author of NetNewsWire.

Of course, that is not the whole story of blogging, but Frontier and Aretha are clearly high up in the Blog family tree. I’m glad to see Dave and Userland taking it a step further and I look forward to seeing where this journey takes us. Thank you and good luck. Let a thousand flowers bloom.


The Power of Design

Business Week: The Power of Design (cover) The cover story of this week’s _Business Week_ is titled [“The Power of Design”][bw]. It focuses on the process and practices of design firm [IDEO][], a major competitor of [frog][].

For me, it’s an interesting look into the way a competitor does things. I think this article is good for IDEO, obviously, but also good for design in general, by exposing a broader audience to some of the current design best practices (contextual inquiry, rapid prototyping, usability testing), and the real business benefits to be gained from them.

The problem is, the article portrays IDEO as if it is the only company using these practices, which is far from the truth. frog, for example, uses many of the same practices–and some others–and we are not alone. IDEO is portrayed as the 800lb. gorilla in the design industry, while its competitors (including frog) are described as if we really aren’t much competition at all.

This paints a misleading picture of the competitive landscape (IDEO is only slightly bigger than frog, and we regularly compete and win against them), though I’ll concede IDEO is currently winning the PR battle. It stings now, sure, but ultimately this will be good for frog and our clients. Nothing like some strong competition for the “world’s greatest design firm” title to sharpen our focus and create opportunities to innovate internally, improve our processes, practices, and (ahem) our PR.



Actions speak louder than words

Headline from the Austin-American Statesman, my local newspaper: “Rumsfeld doing ‘superb job,’ Bush says” (registration required). Apparently, Bush gave Rumsfeld a public back-patting yesterday. Atta-boy Rummy.

The Senate also approved a resolution condemning the torture of Iraqi prisoners, and apologizing to them and their families. That’s a good start, but condemnations and apologies ring hollow if they are not followed by action.

This is a great opportunity to teach the Iraqi people a core tenet of democracy–that leaders are held accountable to the will of the people. It is precisely this accountability that separates our leaders from tyrants.

Speaking of accountability, consider this statement from White House spokesman, Scott McClellan:

“The president’s reaction was one of deep disgust and disbelief that anyone who wears our uniform would engage in such shameful and appalling acts.”

Are you kidding me? The president is laying all the blame for this at the feet of the prison guards? What happened to “the buck stops here?”

When Saddam was in power, we didn’t blame his soldiers for the torture conducted in his prisons–we blamed him. And rightly so. Then, we toppled him from power because of it (that and some as-yet-undiscovered WMDs). Following the same logic, what right does Bush now have to remain in power?

This is no time to be shifting blame, now is the time to show the Iraqi people (and the world) the power of democracy in action.


Sunday Night Movie

My wife and I wrapped up another busy weekend last night with what has become our Sunday night ritual — take-out Chinese and a movie. We started this habit when we were newlyweds (we celebrate our 9th anniversary this week), but back then we were watching the X-Files with our Mongolian Beef and Lemon Chicken. These days, NetFlix has replaced the X-Files. Last night’s movie: Big Fish. My fortune cookie read: “You are imaginative in using your skills.” Ha!