Doc Weinberger Part IV: Metadata and the Web

“So now let’s talk about metadata. Here’s an example. Put a label on a gas pump to draw attention to the right button, and users push on the label instead. We go wrong with metadata when we try to make it explicit. We rob it of context. It’s like pulling up a tangled mess of roots. It’s a violent act.

“Look at social networking. The idea here is you recreate your friendships on the web. You can’t do that. [Long Friendster example here: when you just have friend and not friend, how does that capture old friends vs. acquaintances vs. not wanting to add someone as a friend but not wanting to offend them?] You need a slider, or categorization, or something. But even that fails. Because this is not solveable. No amount of metadata can solve it. Ambiguity is the core of relationships. The extent to which you know more about a group than you can state explicitly is the extent to which the group is real.

“This is what art is: speaking the unspoken and letting it sink back into unspoken again.

“So now let’s talk about the miracle we need on the Web. We need it from Microsoft corporately, and you individually. We are at a point where the web is so big that we are being tempted to a Faustian bargain, one where we give up our individuality, our voice, our soul, in exchange for the illusion of power. We are so big as amarket that it will take a miracle for corporations not to try to take control and turn it into a broadcast medium. That will kill the Internet.

“We have publishing—sending messages, advertising—and publishing—making public. Or making the public. There is a possibility that we can advance as humanity not by seeking perfection, seeking control, but by embracing imperfection. We need one more miracle to ensure that that happens.”

Afterwards, during the Q&A, a few interesting points came up. Dr. Weinberger expanded on his point about not taking control by talking about DRM. His conclusion is substantially the same as Cory Doctorow’s, but he appeals to our shared cultural heritage by saying that the act of experiencing a work of art—a song, a book—is the act of appropriating it, of making it part of our lives. Of reacting to it, sharing it, drawing the wrong conclusions from it. He argues that by tightening down on these secondary uses, we kill the mechanism by which culture is created.

He also made an interesting point about personalization, in the context of corporate web sites, e.g. Amazon. He said: the best thing that Microsoft could do for personalization is to help me find other customers. Get out of the center, and let me talk to the other people who use your products.

Doc Weinberger part III: blogs and the Dean campaign

“So full disclosure: I was the Internet advisor for the Dean campaign, which means nothing. He lost, after all. He was a little governor with fringe views from Vermont. So why was he the front runner for months with the message, You have the power to take your country back?

“Normally politics works like marketing. Broadcast messages to the footsoldiers who will take it to the masses. Not much like democracy, is it? And you can’t turn it on its head—680,000 people can’t send messages directly to Dean. Intimacy doesn’t scale.

“So let’s give up some element of control. Put Dean in the center. Let users talk to each other, end node to end node, just like the Internet. We’ll set up an infrastructure and culture that encourages that and see what happens. And instead of a press person, let’s put a weblog in the middle of the campaign. And it effectively became the center of the campaign. The webloggers were able to speak like human beings. Not on message—Microsoft has 655 blogs and counting, and they’re not on message, but they’re being human faces. But better. Instead of marketing, you get loyalty. And engagement. Every campaign conversation contained the pros AND CONS of Dean’s candidacy. It was exciting, we felt that we were reclaiming democracy. Not from Republicans, but from marketers! Instead of being in messages, we were in conversations.

“So let’s talk about blogs. There was a reason the Dean campaign used them. They’re fundamentally about voice. Home pages were a place; blogs are a self. To do this, you have to write badly. If you’re not comfortable publishing rough drafts, you can’t be a blogger. You have to be subjective.”

Doc Weinberger Part II: So what do we do?

“So what is the opposite of marketing? Voice. This is about who we are in public; a new second place that we are rushing to, trying to figure out how to live in. —That’s what publishing means: making public, in both senses of the phrase. And with the Internet, we are all doing it, and we are doing it with the sound of our voice. Our voice in this public place is who we are, and we can do things in this space that we can’t in other places. We can be ourselves. That gets right to the heart of being human.

“Look at memos vs. email. Memos are formal, reviewed, voiceless, narrowcast. Email is a voicier medium. (By the way, the Internet is not a medium. It’s a place I enter into, not just something I send bits through. If you don’t get that, you miss what is drawing people in.) Email: really different. Hugely informal, not reviewed, individual, cc: everyone. (Or brief, funny, hastily written, ill conceived, thoughtless, and regrettable.)

“Look at mission statements. Many, including Dell’s, say nothing. But some, e.g. Ben and Jerry’s, say something. In fact, B&J’s has a flavor graveyard on their site. Why is this interesting? Because human fallibility is interesting, but businesses rarely make mistakes. But Ben and Jerry’s lets that humanity through, and it endears us to them.

“Let’s pick on someone. Kenmore. Their site is full of marketing crap. And it has useful information, but it’s buried eight clicks deep. If I want useful information, I go to everybody’s home page, and I find myself here, in this discussion. Why do I trust the information more in these than on the web site? Because it’s badly written (therefore human), positive AND negative, and followed by discussion so I can fact check. It’s human and deals much better with the deep ambiguities of the world than marketing. Look at this thread: there’s a physicist of lint here talking about dryers! Conversations like this on the web are smarter than any company can be.”

David Weinberger at Microsoft: professionals and amateurs

David Weinberger spoke at a symposium on web publishing here at Microsoft today. He argued that while professionalism is great, we need to be aware of and respectful of the amateur voice on the web as well. He says it’s not really “community” in the sense of people who care more about each other than they really have to, but it is at least about groups. These are going to be impressionistic notes…

“Professionalism: let’s search for clip art on the key word professional in Outlook, shall we? Scary.

“Management and the Web: the Web violates a long standing rule of human efforts that the larger the effort, the larger the degree of control required. This is true for dams, but not for the Web. The control function was taken out in order for it to scale. And it has. But in the back of our mind we know that we are in a permission free zone. Which is part of the joy of the web.

“Then we go to our jobs, which are like forts. We selectively release information to our customers, which is called marketing; to our employees (visualized as Oompa Loompas), which is called managing; and to our partners. But the walls are full of holes, and the company is now one of the worst sources of information about its own products.

“How did we get here? Markets used to be about conversations; now marketing is a verb and it’s done to people. We release as little information as we can to control our customers. It goes back to the industrial revolution. Interchangeable goods, interchangeable workers, interchangeable customers. You know, before the 1920s, consumption was a disease. It meant you were coughing up blood. Now it’s not even an insult any more. We can look at these interchangeable consumers as a way to drive down the cost of advertising. Reduce them to the lowest common denominator, cram the messages down their throats, and sell more stuff!

But as Doc Searls says, there’s no market for messages. We all run from them, Tivo past them. And marketers respond by making marketing even more ubiquitous. So marketing becomes like war; marketing campaigns, saturation marketing, targeted marketing, etc.”