Archive for August 2007

Design Feast

August 27, 2007

Check out Design Feast:  A metablog covering the known universe of all (OK, nearly all) domains of design. Nate Burgos has really been having fun with this site – a blog-o-blogs, there must be hundreds of new sites and ideas here to enlighten any designer. I’ll be keeping this site up in a Firefox tab as a constantly updated reference to the world of design.

(However, no direct connections to design fields of interest to me: Transformation (which may be Sustainable, but not always), Participatory design, and Dialogic design)


Perspectives on Dialogue: What Matters?

August 23, 2007

In Why the Crowd Has No Wisdom I pushed several issues with the “wisdom of the crowd” idea:

1. What is distributed wisdom? Wisdom can be considered an emergent pattern of meaning from participants in a dedicated search for meaning and guidance.Collective wisdom emerges from a dialogic engagement among observers that have actually pondered a situation. Is Wikipedia “wise” or just really a helpful set of editors sharing what they consider factual and informative?

2. Can the crowd help me with a problem? What is the intention of the group from which we expect to find wisdom or even knowledge? Where knowledge is the entry fee we pay to generate wisdom from the group, it is not the outcome of the group. More knowledge is not what we need, we usually need some sort of contextual direction based on understanding of a situation.

3. Are large groups effective? When generating distributed knowledge from a large, generally unknown group – like a prediction market – can we achieve anything better than a measure of popularity or sentiment? Do we have any evidence that large groups have any better sense of the future, or any consensus toward solving difficult problems facing us? Maybe an individual in the group has a killer idea, but won’t that idea be washed out by too many uniformed participants? If the crowd was right, wouldn’t everyone in stock markets be buying the same stocks?

Margaret Mead and Peter Block hold the small group as the best working unit of wisdom generation. While dialogue circles can scale to large sizes, their effectiveness to make group decisions based on a group understanding diminishes in correlation to size.

There are several demographic studies that compel attention toward a less-informed populace, not more, Internet be damned. Even the French (friends of the intellectual life) have weighed in on their cultural decline – consumer caprice!

School Faced With Consumerist Barbarism

By Philippe Meirieu, Le Monde,Thursday 22 March 2007

In France, debates concerning education are too often reduced to debates about school. Our history certainly invites that: no other country is built through and around its school system more than ours. And if we don’t restore hope in an institution that today has been broadly reduced to a triage center, we will have to face both the explosion of youth and the depression of teachers. When fatalism triumphs and disappointment is the rule among those who incarnate the future, we have something to worry about…. In consequence, let’s celebrate the way the electoral campaign has made a place for scholastic problems.

We are faced with a completely unheard-of phenomenon: caprice – which used to be only a stage in the individual child’s development – has become the organizing principle of our collective development. We, in fact, know that the child always goes through a phase in which he believes he can boss beings and things around. Whether one talks about initial narcissism or infantile egocentrism, one always emphasizes the same phenomenon: the child, enmeshed in desires that he cannot yet either name or register in an encounter with someone else, is tempted to move to action. The educator should therefore accompany the child; teach him not to react immediately with violence, not to rush headlong into a collision…. To take the time to question himself, anticipate, reflect, metabolize his impulses, construct his will. That’s the business of pedagogy.

The bolded sentence advises self-dialogue, an interesting orientation to pedagogy. While not directly supporting a case that crowds are less wise than we may hope, it suggests the selection of population sample (or stakeholders) is very important.

My colleagues have responded with some compelling distinctions.

Dr. Liss Jeffrey of the eCommons/Agora and New Democracy Workshop (see the Netizen News) makes an impressive case:

I would say that I take a more conventionally grassroots democratic view ( as in demos or perhaps ‘demosophy’) as crowd sourcing seems to me an interesting and worthwhile if never infallible or even reliable ‘ bottom up’ approach.Nor do I share your disdain for “the mean” ( this used to be the mass I guess, an equally flawed concept of some kind of abstraction of a person quantified. I have a lot of respect for the common sense of Canadians.I refuse to blame Americans en masse as this position lacks nuance and suffers from obvious contradictions).

I think part of the point is to inform people and provide opportunities for them to inform themselves and others on a given question and topic. I do not always know what matters, (who does?), and anyway it may change.

Dialogue is powerful, but creating the conditions for dialogue so it seems to me takes education, information, lots of hope and many other tactics .That’s where I think the real struggle is situated, nurturing those conditions and building platforms and practices for the dialogue engagement.

Restricting the dialogue to an ‘intentional small crowd’ while this may be practically useful (maybe the room only holds 30) seems to me on principle objectionable.

I do not know on a given day with whom I may need to or may find myself in dialogue, as I make my way through the public part of my life, however surely that readiness for dialogue is part of what we are trying to achieve – those of us who make dialogue part of our practice …

Dr. Peter Pennefather of the University of Toronto suggests a middle way, that we frame any dialogue (online or F2F) well enough so that multiple perspectives are encouraged and accommodated.

Peter Jones responds to some articles cited earlier in this dialogue about blogging and the possible outputs of a million monkeys typing <as well as the above article by Meirieu complaining about the capriciousness of crowds and more specifically of millennials.) This article reflects a common complaint about the capriciousness youth and their lack of commitment to a defined doctrine or a consistent worldview. This seems to have a parallel in a longing for the good old days of insurgency when the battle was over running the nation state in contrast to the fuzzy foes of today’s Brave New Wars who just want to exert influence over a bit of turf they can call their own and will stop at nothing to drive away competitors who compete for that influence.

Unless there is a framing of the dialogue it is difficult to recognize the points of view or perspective that drive elements of the discourse. This is what I think is most important about all the blogging that is going on. Not only are opinions being recorded, but it is now possible to interpret those opinions in terms of the writer’s identity and perspective that can be deduced from other information on the web, often nicely arranged and summarized on their home page.

It’s not the collective knowledge of crowds that is emerging but rather an ability to recognize the collective diversity of perspectives. It is this multi-perspectival view that helps locate information artifacts and to characterizes their nature more completely.

Perspective is developed and usually enabled by “standing on the shoulders of giants” (or monsters). An ability to consider things from multiple perspectives leads to perceptiveness. Perceptiveness is a property generally associated with the culture of ideas. One quality that makes a written text literature is that it is widely recognized as having the quality of perceptiveness. Intellectuals and scholars train themselves to be perceptive and to have the capacity to provide a sophisticated analysis of events. Thus, for focused questions it is efficient to establish a dialogue amongst key informants.

However, in my opinion, all dialogue is useful and increases the overall perceptiveness of the participants. The consensus that can sometimes emerge from dialogue is not a homogenized mean but rather an appreciation of different points of view and a better appreciation of where the uncertainties lies or the level of facticity of the observations bandied about. I agree with Liss that assessing a situation and responding to that situation invokes different cognitive and neurological systems. However, I would not like to separate dialogue from action. It is the coordination of information input and action outputs (including dialogical inquiry to obtain more information) that increases our ability to adapt to what the world throws at us.

The democratic and dialogical principles that should be brought into at play during a staged discourse on a limited platform of ideas aimed at providing long term guidance for the operations of government (e.g. during election campaigns) are different from democratic and dialogical principles that should be applied during a focussed dialogical inquiry aimed at assessing the value of possible solutions to a specific focused but difficult problem. Nevertheless, in both situations there will be common forms of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs that will favour participant satisfaction with the process. The skill of being able to inspire imagination in others and the belief in widely dispersed wisdom to be found in the most unlikely places are two such useful elements. These common elements can be developed (taught) through various exercises and must be maintained through continuous use

Is this a middle way between amusing sophisticated discourse by insiders and mindless mass mouthings (typing) of platitudes?

These are all principles of structured dialogue: Demosophia (Wisdom of the People), Framing the Dialogue, Embracing and including multiple perspectives. Thank you for contributing to our shared collective wisdom!

“Mass consumerization of health information”

August 18, 2007

What does that really mean? Here’s the reference, from this week’s NY Times: Google and Microsoft Look to Change Health Care (And since they charge for content once its a few days old, I’ve posted a few paras fair-use style below).

I see the possible head-on collision of supply-side healthcare information services with the recognition of individual health needs. The fact is that people also use Google to search for sites that might contain valid information or perspectives on a disease condition. That does not ipso facto lead to people storing their healthcare records with Google’s servers.

In the US insurance system, I would not even want my search history of healthcare related issues to be available. Trust Google with personal information requiring that level of privacy? Would you trust your permanent record with Google?

The article suggests some powerful directions for systems and services designers to consider: Healthcare must become more collaborative. Patients with chronic disease conditions interact with multiple healthcare professionals, and ask different questions and express different needs at different times. With the U of T Laboratory for Collaborative Diagnostics we are exploring diagnostics tools and collaborative informatics for collaborative practice. We are also creating new tools for engaging the individual as a central participant in their healthcare intervention. Not just patient-centered medicine, but individual-centered collaborative healthcare.

What will Google and Microsoft do? Well, Microsoft has already purchased Medstory – We should start exchaning our experiences with using it for real clinical issues. (I’m not sure it helps any more that a straight Google search for the trials I’ve made with it.) So, what else do we think Google or Microsoft will show up with? Are these strategic acquisitions?

Here’s some of the article, from Steven Lohr – who covers this beat for the Times:

In politics, every serious candidate for the White House has a health care plan. So too in business, where the two leading candidates for Web supremacy, Google and Microsoft, are working up their plans to improve the nation’s health care.

By combining better Internet search tools, the vast resources of the Web and online personal health records, both companies are betting they can enable people to make smarter choices about their health habits and medical care.

“What’s behind this is the mass consumerization of health information,” said Dr. David J. Brailer, the former health information technology coordinator in the Bush administration, who now heads a firm that invests in health ventures.

It is too soon to know whether either Google or Microsoft will make real headway. Health care, experts note, is a field where policy, regulation and entrenched interests tend to slow the pace of change, and technology companies have a history of losing patience.

And for most people, typing an ailment into a Web search engine is very different from entrusting a corporate titan with personal information about their health.

Google and Microsoft recognize the obstacles, and they concede that changing health care will take time. But the companies see the potential in attracting a large audience for health-related advertising and services. And both companies bring formidable advantages to the consumer market for such technology.

Microsoft’s software animates more than 90 percent of all personal computers, while Google is the default starting point for most health searches. And people are increasingly turning to their computers and the Web for health information and advice. A Harris poll, published last month, found that 52 percent of adults sometimes or frequently go to the Web for health information, up from 29 percent in 2001.

If the efforts of the two big companies gain momentum over time, that promises to accelerate a shift in power to consumers in health care, just as Internet technology has done in other industries.

Today, about 20 percent of the nation’s patient population have computerized records — rather than paper ones — and the Bush administration has pushed the health care industry to speed up the switch to electronic formats. But these records still tend to be controlled by doctors, hospitals or insurers. A patient moves to another state, for example, but the record usually stays.

The Google and Microsoft initiatives would give much more control to individuals, a trend many health experts see as inevitable. “Patients will ultimately be the stewards of their own information,” said John D. Halamka, a doctor and the chief information officer of the Harvard Medical School.

Already the Web is allowing people to take a more activist approach to health. According to the Harris survey, 58 percent of people who look online for health information discussed what they found with their doctors in the last year.

It is common these days, Dr. Halamka said, for a patient to come in carrying a pile of Web page printouts. “The doctor is becoming a knowledge navigator,” he said. “In the future, health care will be a much more collaborative process between patients and doctors.”

Microsoft and Google are hoping this will lead people to seek more control over their own health records, using tools the companies will provide. Neither company will discuss their plans in detail. But Microsoft’s consumer-oriented effort is scheduled to be announced this fall, while Google’s has been delayed and will probably not be introduced until next year, according to people who have been briefed on the companies’ plans.

A prototype of Google Health, which the company has shown to health professionals and advisers, makes the consumer focus clear. The welcome page reads, “At Google, we feel patients should be in charge of their health information, and they should be able to grant their health care providers, family members, or whomever they choose, access to this information. Google Health was developed to meet this need.”

A presentation of screen images from the prototype — which two people who received it showed to a reporter — then has 17 other Web pages including a “health profile” for medications, conditions and allergies; a personalized “health guide” for suggested treatments, drug interactions and diet and exercise regimens; pages for receiving reminder messages to get prescription refills or visit a doctor; and directories of nearby doctors.

Google executives would not comment on the prototype, other than to say the company plans to experiment and see what people want. “We’ll make mistakes and it will be a long-range march,” said Adam Bosworth, a vice president of engineering and leader of the health team. “But it’s also true that some of what we’re doing is expensive, and for Google it’s not.”

At Microsoft, the long-term goal is similarly ambitious. “It will take grand scale to solve these problems like the data storage, software and networking needed to handle vast amounts of personal health and medical information,” said Steve Shihadeh, general manager of Microsoft’s health solutions group. “So there are not many companies that can do this.”

This year, Microsoft bought a start-up, Medstory, whose search software is tailored for health information, and last year bought a company that makes software for retrieving and displaying patient information in hospitals. Microsoft software is already used in hospitals, clinical laboratories and doctors’ offices, and, Mr. Shihadeh noted, the three most popular health record systems in doctors’ offices are built with Microsoft software and programming tools.

Microsoft will not disclose its product plans, but according to people working with the company the consumer effort will include online offerings as well as software to find, retrieve and store personal health information on personal computers, cellphones and other kinds of digital devices — perhaps even a wristwatch with wireless Internet links some day.

Mr. Shihadeh declined to discuss specifics, but said, “We’re building a broad consumer health platform, and we view this challenge as far bigger than a personal health record, which is just scratching the surface.”

Yet personal health records promise to be a thorny challenge for practical and privacy reasons. To be most useful, a consumer-controlled record would include medical and treatment records from doctors, hospitals, insurers and laboratories. Under federal law, people can request and receive their personal health data within 90 days. But the process is complicated, and the replies typically come on paper, as photocopies or faxes.

The efficient way would be for that data to be sent over the Internet into a person’s digital health record. But that would require partnerships and trust between health care providers and insurers and the digital record-keepers.

Privacy concerns are another big obstacle, as both companies acknowledge. Most likely, they say, trust will build slowly, and the online records will include as much or as little personal information as users are comfortable divulging.

A person might start, for example, by typing in age, gender and a condition, like diabetes, as a way to find more personalized health information. If a person creates a personal health record and later has second thoughts, a simple mouse click should erase it. The promise, the companies say, will be complete consumer control.

There are plenty of competitors these days in online health records and information from start-ups like Revolution Health, headed by AOL’s founder, Stephen M. Case, and thriving profit-makers led by WebMD.

Potential rivals are not underestimating the two technology giants. But the smaller companies have the advantage of being focused entirely on health, and some have been around for years. WebMD, for example, traces its lineage to Healtheon, a fallen star of the dot-com era, founded by the Netscape billionaire Jim Clark.

Google and Microsoft are great companies, said Wayne T. Gattinella, WebMD’s chief executive, but “that doesn’t mean they will be expert in a specific area like health.”

Specialized health search engines — notably Healthline — are gaining ground and adding partners. AOL recently began using Healthline for searches on its health pages, even though Google is a close partner.

Still, 58 percent of people seeking health information online begin with a general search engine, according to a recent Jupiter Research report, and Google dominates the field. “Google is the entry point for most health search, and that is a huge advantage,” said Monique Levy, a Jupiter analyst.

Indeed, it is the market reach and deep pockets that Google and Microsoft can bring to consumer health information that intrigues medical experts, and has lured recruits. Dr. Roni Zeiger, a graduate of Stanford’s School of Medicine, a medical informatics researcher and a former primary care doctor, joined Google last year. The 36-year-old, who still sees patients some evenings and weekends at a nearby clinic, said, “At Google, I can use my expertise and knowledge to potentially help millions of people each day.”

2Collaboration with Elsevier

August 15, 2007

Beta launch of 2collab – Elsevier’s new social bookmarking and networking tool has been released in Beta. I’ve registered and started tagging some articles – I’m finding it very simple to get in and working with it. Try it out yourself and see –

On June 26, the beta version of 2collab was launched to the Scopus and ScienceDirect Development Partners. 2collab is a new collaborative research tool that enables researchers to share bookmarks, references or any linked materials with their peers and colleagues. Users can share, collaborate and discuss resources either in private groups or openly with the wider scientific community.

A common scenario involves a researcher writing an article with co-authors around the globe. Using 2collab he/she can store and share information resources such as research articles centrally so colleagues can access them. Bookmarks can be tagged to allow new ways of searching and accessing information. In addition, researchers can comment, rate and evaluate these resources in their groups. This makes collaboration more efficient and helps researchers share, connect and explore. All without the need for long and complex email strings!

“2collab beta is just the starting point,” says Michiel van der Heyden, Senior Product Manager, ScienceDirect. “We plan to create a platform that allows researchers across the globe not just to collaborate on evaluating information but also to help them build new networks, share expertise, and discover new information resources. And we gain from having an opportunity to observe and learn from their behavior.”

While I realize Elsevier’s ScienceDirect and Scopus are the flagship services here, 2Collab would seem to be a great fit with Scirus. Since 2Collab tags open resources that others can locate from your tags, Scirus’ indexing across open science resources would be a good for the early discovery stages of lit research.  Also, Scirus recommends terms to you drawn from the search results. I know tagging is supposed to be user-specified, but the idea is to use meaningful tags recognized by other users – Scirus has a great index already from its (linked) suggested terms.  How about an icon to display Scirus terms accessible to 2Collab?

End of the Master Brand Strategy

August 13, 2007

Brandchannel announces that your Master Brand strategy is dead. Master Brands were so millennial anyway, long before Web 2.0 and UGC drove brand messaging up the wall with its po-mo Cluetrain messiness. As this notice issues from the famously inward-looking industry itself, we can assume the trend has been underway for some time. Here is the full paper (from Straightline).

For those who don’t work the consumer-facing side of marketing and design, the Master Brand concept was driven through the influence of giant marketing consultant Interbrand‘s strategy of establishing a mono-megalithic brand that subsumes other brands in a brand family relationship. Since corporate value accrues to the highest-level meaningful brand, the Master Brand presented a way to manage message, visual and corporate brand identity, brand creep – and it attempted to roll up consumer perception to the brand owner as much as possible. A proliferation of brands dilutes the corporate brand and reduces effectiveness, and increase choice complexity – so the Master Brand has its place.

Here’s a blurb:


Master brands and brand architecture are two of the many inward-focused notions that have come to define the world of branding. While these concepts heralded an important milestone, continued adherence to their principles may lead to branding’s downfall. Inflexible models and exclusive language inherent to these concepts are alienating branding’s most critical potential proponents, giving the impression that as branding practitioners, we have built artificial processes to justify higher fees for what otherwise would be considered “expensive marketing.” In this article, we will make the case that traditional brand jargon, brand architecture and its numerous flavors – such as Branded Houses, Houses of Brands, Endorsed Brands and Sub-brands under a Master Brand, and any other “branding” term that puts unnecessary conceptual distance between a business and its brand(s)—is ultimately detrimental to the discipline of branding. We will then provide an alternate view of brand system management that we feel is more relevant to the needs of businesses and the many stakeholders they serve.


Here’s where I really agree with their strategy and intent. They say: “However, to realize its operational and strategic potential, branding must evolve beyond its inaccessible jargon and artificial models to play a more dynamic, inclusive role that bridges connections between stakeholders and adequately represents management challenges and the cultural and motivational realities of the companies they serve.” This part sounds like a dialogic design problem space, and the paper goes on to show how they are encouraging a type of dialogue among various stakeholders, and not a consistent brand image.

I wonder if they have such a methodology for sufficiently engaging multiple, competing, disagreeing stakeholders to reach consensus on a common brand identity and plan? Something like our Dialogic SWOT Analysis?

How Google Works: Is this Relevancy?

August 13, 2007

A tip to Barry Ritholtz’ Big Picture for this reference: How Does Google Work? Barry’s is the best overall blog for Investing Plus Economics views, so given the events of last week (credit market meltdowns, Hedge Fund troubles, big index drops) I look to him for context. And with Barry you always also get the techie info-porn treats such as the ref to the Google map.

My apparently Bush-formed blog question (“Is our children learning?”) refers to discovering that “How Google Works” is about the operation of Google the enterprise, not Google the search engine. There’s nothing about the puzzle of Google’s internal relevancy algorithms other than the mention of the age-old citation linking strategy it uses – they do not even mention PageRank or remind people they can find Page’s 1999 Stanford paper online. The overview remains clever and visually appealing, just not very informative. Info-p@Rn.

There are many problems with our total reliance on Google and other purveyors of computational relevance. Relevance is inherently a cognitive concept, not computational. Algorithms can mine large databases and index content, but only approximate relevancy. With wide recall (reach and scope of a search) we can spend all day looking for something we suspect is in the corpus searched. With more powerful precision we can search all day for a better match to terms and qualifiers. As LexisNexis users have always discovered, the meaning of relevance is internally judged, it is with you, not a property of the content. Relevance as cognitively judged is similar to Gary Klein’s Recognition-Primed Decision-Making : A searcher recognizes relevance based on matching available content to a kind of mental model benchmark representing the issue of interest, the information need (usage), and the sufficiency of responses. Also, for information decision making, the temporal value of the information artifact may be extremely valuable. That’s why people pay so much for LexisNexis and Bloomberg. Validity and timeliness are worth a LOT. But relevance can only be judged by the human “in charge.”

Don’t tell me the Semantic Web will fix this. For relevancy to an issue other humans must also weigh in to the discussion. No one person knows the entire scope of an issue, and no scope of content, no corpus, is complete. Sometimes multiple representations of relevancy – from informed participants or experts – is necessary. Think of how to reason through and determine the relevancy of medical research to a physician needing to identify the validity and process of a new procedure.At what point does a professional believe they have sufficient relevance AND validity to make an informed individual decision when the facts and evidence are unclear, but the decision has enormous potential for helping?

These are the problems Google will not solve with search algorithms. For these types of issues and the relevancy of content to wicked problems, you need multiple perspectives, a variety of related experiences, knowledges across disciplines and corpora, and a way to pull them together. We are working on this …  And it looks as though Google is also working on collaborative tech. No surprise there.

So, the other economics blogs you should read and plug are:

  • Bull / Not Bull – Michael Nystrom’s excellent aggregation & no-hold commentary
  • Mish’s Global Economics – Good thinking about the underlying dynamics of markets and behavior
  • Nouriel Roubini – Because deep in your heart, you know this bearish economist has been right all along
  • And Brad DeLong – Who merges into political dynamics more than the others, thank you.