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~~~ Ramana Rao's INFORMATION FLOW ~~~ Issue 2.7 ~~ July 2003 ~~~

Information Flow is an opt-in monthly newsletter.  Your email
address was entered on www.ramanarao.com or www.inxight.com.
You may forward this issue in its entirety.  
Send me your thoughts and questions:	     [email protected]

~~~ IN THIS ISSUE ~~~ July 2003 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* Introduction 
* The 4th Vertex
* Wiki-ed Problems
* Reader Comments
* 49 Classics (Part 4)

~~~ Introduction ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

First my website.  Then this newsletter.  Then a blog.  This
month I introduce the Information Flow wiki.  Why this onslaught
of mechanisms for writing publicly?  Web pages, newsletters,
blogs, wikis, each have different properties as vehicles for
expressing thoughts and for finding audiences and facilitating

Let me repeat "writing publicly."  The "publicly" part adds real
zing to the seriousness of the activity, because the act of
reaching out to others helps you discover the edges of your own
understanding.  This month's main article is about a idea I am
now calling the 4th Vertex, that has to do with reaching out and
more so with reaching up toward larger goals.

An associated concept is a romantic notion of Whole Person who
has emerged in the Information Flow diagrams as Corbu man (thanks
to Jean Orlebeke, my graphic designer collaborator).  Unlike
Organization Man or Every Man or Joe Six Pack or Soccer Mom,
Whole Person isn't defined by institutions or society but rather
by his or her individuality, intentionality and aspirations.
Indeed, Whole Person is constrained by physical and cognitive
bounds, and stands in overlapping, nested social rings of various
sizes.  But Whole Person is resourceful, and he or she reaches
with a hand up toward a star.  That reach forms the 4th Vertex.

~~~ The 4th Vertex ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A few months back I quite favorably reviewed Open Innovation by
Henry Chesbrough.  The book advances the case that corporations,
which could control innovations in their "fortified castles" at
the beginning of the 20th century, can no longer do so at the
beginning of the 21st, because of the greater distribution and
flow of knowledge and resources.  This requires corporations to
shift from a closed model of innovation to an open model that
accepts the unstoppable flow of ideas.

Reading the book fed right into a question that I've wondered
about for years.  Is it possible, given the Internet, that there
could be say, an Open Network research lab, as inventive and
consequential as PARC?  Which begs a broader question.  Could
there be a slow shift in power from institutions constrained by
their history and institutional structure and agenda to
individuals that self-organize through a socially-negotiated
journeying forward together.

This questioning has crystallized for me into the concept of the
4th Vertex.  The traditional triangle of sources of innovations
and change are formed by the institutions of government,
industry, and academia (and non-profits).  The 4th vertex rises
above the triangle to form a tetrahedron.  It represents the
loose network of people sharing content and working together on
projects of their own choosing on the Internet.  Like SETI
grabbing up free computational cycles on the Net to analyze data,
4th Vertex projects provide and enlist available human cycles
against chosen challenges.

The 4th vertex is enabled by two major factors: (i) a growing
population of individuals with time, resources, skills, and
knowledge; and (ii) the Internet infrastructure along with all
its available content and tools for working together.
Independent individuals, interconnection infrastructure.

Mozart was sponsored by royal courts, Englebart by the cold war,
PARC by the huge returns of a monopoly.  All these cases
demonstrate that truly creative or innovative work requires
passion and patience and time and space to support exploration,
experimentation, refinement.  Characterize it as a clean,
well-lighted place or a room of one's own, but however
characterized, it is about a space for innovation.  Now more than
ever, a large population of individuals has such space defined by
available time, skills and knowledge, and money to pursue efforts
once unimaginable independently of institutional sponsorship.

What can be produced by one person working two hours in the night
with investments that are say five or ten percent of her income?
To begin with the micro-investment makes the statement that he
think the effort is important.  That alone isn't enough.  Picking
up a rock doesn't unmake a mountain, but throwing it well can
sometimes cause an avalanche.

Individuals need a means for amplification and for attracting
other people's micro-investments.  The means is the open network.
The Internet provides a huge amount of shared knowledge in the
form of open content and tools for connecting and collaborating
with other people.  Open networks of content in combination with
open networks of people.  Documents enable the uncoordinated
influence of one person on or by another.  The writer writes, the
reader reads, an idea is transmitted and hence the idea is in
play.  And the web has been generating a range of simple tools
for creating content and for lightweight collaboration, tools for
forming shared agenda, aggregating efforts, coordinating work,
and enlisting others.

What kind of problems can the 4th vertex attack?

My first thought was that the 4th vertex is primarily about
promoting values, essentially, a new form of advocacy and
activism.  The 4th vertex's micro-investments are seed rounds in
pursuit of larger rounds of investments from the institutional
vertexes.  It's another way for people to steer government than
to vote, another way for people to apply pressure on industry
then to buy or not buy.

To be sure, people have caused change for hundreds of years by
dumping tea out in harbors and the like, but now the network
allows activism over a broader range of small, medium, and big
issues, and allows the forming of groups of virtual Bostonians
drawn from a wider net.

There is more to the 4th vertex than a new opportunity for
activism.  It's also about being able to construct or build
things together in ways that weren't possible before.  Two 4th
vertex activities come to mind immediately: the Open Source
movement and the early World Wide Web.  Certainly both of these
have strong ideological roots, but both of these are as much
about the new possibility of working together online on
constructive activities.

Both the Open Source movement and the early World Wide Web
further illustrate that the fourth vertex doesn't operate
independently of the other three vertexes.  Both of these began
and relied heavily on institutional contexts, and neither would
have become such powerful forces without the participation of
institutions.  But still, the 4th Vertex was the source of
impulses that triggered the attention and resources of
institutions and continued to play a role throughout the
development.  And ultimately, the ongoing stream of 4th Vertex
impulses has left institutions less in control.

Still many efforts require the big machinery and the resources
that only large institutions can generate.  You can't send a
person to the moon or map the human genome or cure cancer by the
means of a few people editing Wikis together during 2 hours in
the night.  Or can you?

At the Always On conference recently, I met a passionate and
independent scholar named Chris Duffield pursuing research on
cancer on his own means.  I asked him direct questions about how
he could possibly succeed.  Institutions want to put you into
boxes and he didn't appear to fit anywhere.  He's not just making
the micro-investment of 2 hours each evening, but rather I'd
guess he makes his life fit into 2 hours of pay a day, so that he
can dedicate his energies to advancing what he believes is a
known better treatment for cancer.  Take a look, particularly
reading for his motivations.

~> http://iptq.com/about_us.htm

Chris also mentioned the efforts around independent space launch.
Though it doesn't fit the story perfectly, it is related.  (Near
misses or near hits are quite useful for testing ideas and
refining frameworks.)

~> http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.07/space.html

I expect to see the 4th Vertex, as it expands and matures, attack
and even solve extremely challenging problems, say so-called
wicked problem, ones involving great social grappling, requiring
an intelligent investment of huge amounts of social capital.  For
example, environmental problems or world problems like Africa and

~> http://www.cognexus.org/id42.htm

The 4th Vertex seems a striving toward a greater level of
societal intelligence, driven by the reach of an aspiring person,
our hero, the Whole Person.  If this seems overly idealistic or
downright naive, let me tell you a story.  Some twenty years ago,
I first heard what Stallman wanted to do with Free Software.  I
really didn't think much about it then, but I vaguely remember
dismissing it as unlikely.  Now having seen where idealism plus
means can lead, it doesn't seem to me crazy to expect a lot from
the 4th Vertex over the next twenty years.

4th Vertex spaces of all kinds are being created on the Internet.
People are writing and talking publicly in Blogs and Wikis, and
before them on/in shared websites, Muds and Moos, Usenet
discussion lists, mailing lists, chat rooms and the like.  All
that writing and talking is about many things, but in many place
on the Web, you can clearly see the 4th Vertex engaging into

Do you have some examples of 4th vertex projects?  What better
way to organize thoughts on the 4th vertex than through a 4th
vertex experiment?  Join me in searching out and understanding
4th vertex projects on the Information Flow Wiki.

~> http://www.ramanarao.com:8080/iflowwiki/

The most updated collection of pointers will of course be on the
Wiki, but for your convenience, here are some immediate examples:

~> MoveOn.org: Frequently Asked Questions

   A grassroots advocacy effort to re-inject the citizen's voice
   into the political process.  The ways that the effort
   leverages the web are not that different from many other
   things happening on the web, but it is a good demonstration of
   the basic 4th Vertex mechanisms.

~> PlaNetwork Consortium

   This initiative is a more unusual blend of open source,
   environmental, and, let's say, gaia utopian agendas.  It's
   specifically targeting the potential for building and using a
   network of people that use their energies toward the goal of
   sustainability and social justice.

~> Minciu Sodas 
   Minciu Sodas means Lithuanian for Orchard of Thoughts and is
   pronounced as min-CHEW SO-dus.  And therein begins the
   challenge of understanding what this effort is all about and
   whether it could lead to anything.  As they say (and "they" is
   significantly one seriously dedicated guy), "Minciu Sodas is
   an open laboratory for serving and organizing independent
   thinkers. We bring together our individual projects around
   shared endeavors. We remake our lives and our world by caring
   about thinking."

~> Lazy Web
   As coined by Matt Jones, in a blog entry, says the first rule
   of the lazy web is "if you wait long enough, someone will
   write/build/design what you were thinking about."  In a
   circular genesis, the LazyWeb website came out of a lazyweb
   request by Clay Shirky.  It allows a requestor to describe
   some feature they want on the web and then somebody else might
   build it.

~> Wikipedia

   An open content project building a multilingual encyclopedia.
   It started in January 2001 and now has over 145,000 articles
   already with thousands of contributors adding dozens of
   articles and making thousands of edits each day.  All done as
   a Wiki.

~~~ Wiki-ed Problems ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Both blogs and wikis can be personal or group, but each has its
natural sweet spots.  Blog are about an individual expressing
herself over time.  You can usually get a strong sense of a
particular person from reading her blog.  The wiki by contrast
makes more sense as a tool supporting a group working together on
something.  In Wikis, you certainly start to see the individuals
over time, as you do in any group space by being there as the
action develops.  A little like joining a team and not knowing
much about anybody in the team, but by the end of a project
knowing lots of things about the roles, strengths, tendencies and
so on of each team member.  

A wiki is a shared hypertext space that nicely support several or
even many people writing together publicly as well as organizing
communal sensemaking activities, all from a browser.  The general
ethos of Wikis, for now anyway, is open and trusting, allowing
anybody in.  Infrastructure and practice protect the space.  If
somebody writes graffiti on the walls, the community just paints
over it before the next morning.  If a vandal tears down the
communal structures, they can be restored from chronological

The first Wiki, started in 1995, is known as WikiWiki.  Though it
is easy to fall into a free fall over who deserves credit for
what as an invention, it's quite clear that this original Wiki
holds status inside the Wiki Beltway.  Browsing around the
following pages will provide a pretty good idea of WikiWiki.
Most other Wikis I've seen are similar in spirit.

~> http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WelcomeVisitors
~> http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WikiSocialNorms
~> http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WikiHistory
~> http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WhyWikiWorks

Wikis are popping up all over in the Open Source and the Web
Builder community.  The blog technology elite are hashing out a
new standard for blog syndication and web services, not on a
Blog, but on a Wiki.  Many major open source projects are using
Wikis.  A number of professional groups or communities are using
wikis.  (Often the same groups will also use a mailing list or
other tools.)  A smattering to look at if you want:

~> Echo:     http://www.intertwingly.net/wiki/pie/FrontPage
~> Chandler: http://wiki.osafoundation.org/bin/view/Main/WikiHome
~> Meatball: http://www.usemod.com/cgi-bin/mb.pl?MeatballWiki
~> Wikifish: http://wikifish.org/
~> IAwiki:   http://www.iawiki.net/IAwiki

A great way to explore the Wiki world is on the Wiki TourBus.
It's the equivalent of Web Rings if you know what they are.  If
not, try it, and you'll understand pretty quickly.

~> Meatball Wiki: TourBusMap

And of course, come on over to Information Flow Wiki and add your
comments and pointers to wherever they may fit.

~> http://www.ramanarao.com:8080/iflowwiki/

~~~ Reader Comments ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chris Envoy has added the Information Flow 49 classics links to
his Usability Views website which is a site that organizes links
related to design, information architecture, and human-computer
interaction.  He also has a list of people he calls Userati.  And
yours truly, moi, has a Userati score that rounds to 49!

~> http://www.usabilityviews.com/if_by_backlinks.html

On the topic of Why 49, Ken Bryson commented that he was going to
hypothesize given various things I said that it was a "tip of the
hat to Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49."  Thanks for the
connection, perhaps I'll be reading it soon.

Nick Michaels wrote:
    "Your number 49 created great intrigue for me.  I ferreted
     through links endlessly and found so many possibilities for
     the number 49 that I was amazed that you had only 2
     responses!  Do people use the ingenious tools that are built
     for them? Or, like me, an unfashionable lurker, ingesting,
     digesting, assimilate, but not contribute.  Should there be
     a tax on people like me?"

And Nick provide me a variety of interesting facts.  Indium is 49
in the periodic table.  The 49th key of the piano's keyboard was
chosen as a physical starting point for tuning the piano.
Siddhartha Gautama, at 36, fasted 49 days under that now-famous
tree in Bodhgaya, India, achieving Enlightenment. (BTW, I got a
new cell phone today with the last four numbers 3649.)  Clearly
Nick is lurking no longer, and I grant him a huge tax credit now.

Speaking of lurking, I've tried different things to draw reader
response.  From bribing, to borderline whining, to shaming, to
enticing, to trying stupid surveys.

This time I'd really like to see activity on the Wiki.  It's more
important there then in any case I've tried.  Give it a go,
*especially* if you are nervous about hitting the "Edit" on a
Wiki page.  I've been studying two deep questions for many years
and here's your chance to contribute deep answers.

1. Why do designers wear black?
2. Is the glass half full or half empty?

Find the right place on the Wiki to put your answers and do so!

~> http://www.ramanarao.com:8080/iflowwiki/

~~~ 49 Classics cont. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Some of this month's entries are a bit more conditional, in fact,
think of all so far as nominees.  In any case, all of these
papers are worth reading, whether or not they ultimately remain
in the list of 49.

~> Mudding: Social Phenomena in Text-Based Virtual Realities,
   Pavel Curtis, 1992

   Also check out:
   My Tiny Life: A Rape in Cyberspace

   TechTV | The Incredible Tale of LambdaMOO

~> It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know: Work in the
   Information Age, Bonnie Nardi, 2000

~> The vocabulary problem in human-system communication,
   Furnas, G.W., Landauer, T.K., Gomez, L.M., Dumais, S. T., 1987

~> Visual Information Seeking: Tight Coupling of Dynamic Query
   Filters with Starfield Displays, Ahlberg and Shneiderman, 1993

~> Toward an ecology of hypertext annontation, Cathy Marshall, 1998

~> The Second Coming - A Manifesto, David Gelernter, 2000

~> Social Information Filtering: Algorithms for Automating "Word
   of Mouth", Upendra Shardanand and Pattie Maes, 1995

Ramana Rao is Founder and CTO of Inxight Software, Inc.  
Copyright (c) 2003 Ramana Rao.  All Rights Reserved.
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