Great post from Brad Burnham: Web Services in the Mist.
I get it, tagging is inverse search. It occured to me while evaluating the merits of different taggings formats that the quotation style used by Flickr seemed the most natural. Why? Because that's the way I do queries in Google. If I'm looking for an article in Fast Company about offshoring, I enter:
...which is precisely what I might enter if tagging a noteworthy article.
So I'll cast my vote down on the side of Flickr-style tagging.
But more importantly, I see that the phenomena of searching and tagging are just two sides of the same brige; the bridge connecting people with the stuff they want. Greg said it right, Yahoo should integrate delicious bookmarks into their search.
(Search placement has monetary value, and if tagging affects placement, tagging will attract cheaters. That's where Outfoxed comes in...)
On digg last week was the case of a guy getting abused in trying to buy a digital camera. He got his revenge by getting the story on digg, and some users took vigilante action against the alleged scammer. The story got picked up by others, and now BoingBoing has a follow up post about yet another case, this time with a "I'll break your neck" voicemail:
"You better not pick up, bitch. I’m gonna to come down there and break your god damn neck. You heard me, alright? Kid, you better hear me, bitch. Do you hear me, BITCH? Yes, you’d better believe it. You’re in biiiig trouble, my friend."(MP3)
The problem is that this is wild west justice. Shouldn't there be a better way of getting back at the company than posting their phone number? A way that will get the information out to people beyond the nerds who read digg or BoingBoing? A way that will have a lasting effect? We can't expect every shady vendor to get front page coverage. (Nor can trust the veracity of every blog story about being ripped off, even if it's on Digg or BoingBoing.)
I posted before about the three magic ingredients needed for effective use of metadata on the Internet. Blogs have given us step 1, the easy publishing of opinions. But the seconds steps, filtering and application, are still stuck in the pre-computer age. People have to hear about blogs and use old fashioned measures to decide its trustworthiness ("Does this guy have anything to gain? Do I know this guy?") And when it comes to applying this information, people have to rely on their own memory ("I think I remember reading about this company in a blog sometime back") or on proactively searching. (Searching for feedback about the company in a search engine.)
What is needed is a system that can see that you're at xyz.com, consult all your trusted sources for information about xyz.com, and give you immediate feedback. The people getting ripped off don't have to hope for front page coverage to get the word out, and the people who need to be warned don't have to try and remember every bad vendor out there.
This is what we're trying to do with Outfoxed.
It's always great to see a bad guy get what's coming to him. In the past weeks, two cases have unfolded on discussion boards on the web. First is the scammer on metafilter who was caught posing as the victim. The metafilter folk wasted little time in tracking down all traces of the scammer.
The second case came on a 4x4 Forum, where a kid tried to secretly up the price on 4x4 gears. This story even got down to real threats of violence to the scammer:
It just so happens that I am planing to be in MorroBay next weekend to see my cousin's baby. I will be on morro ave about 5-10 min from SLO. I could send Mike the money for you after I fuck you up real nice.
These threads are entertaining reads, but is there a better way of saving internet peer-to-peer commerce? Clearly these two scammers were not the sharpest crayons in the box, so what of all the smarter scammers that didn't get caught, or the stories that didn't catch the fancy of high-traffic internet forums?
A step in the right direction comes from MySpace's new classifieds. Sure, its a blatant rip-off of the venerable craigslist, but adding social networking to the mix makes for a potent combination, allowing you to see how you are socially connected to the seller. After all, wouldn't you feel better buying something from a stranger if you knew they were a friend of one of your friends?
Of course, this only works if everyone involved is on MySpace. And this is what MySpace would like, but its not the answer that's best for the internet community. What we need are open cross-domain social networking standards, not more walled gardens like the stream of social networked dot coms streaming out of the valley these days. FOAF is a rather limp-wristed stab in the right direction, but must more is needed. And even more importantly, we need tools that take social networking links as seriously as Google takes HTML links.
Had a fantastic Thanksgiving holiday back in Boulder, 31 of my extended family meeting at my cousin's house. Also had a great meeting with local VC Brad Feld, who made me feel very good about my decision to return to Boulder. He wrote a bit about our meeting in his blog.
In talking with my old friend Matt Kelley about social networks, we got to thinking about their potential application to politics. Politics comes easy to Matt, but I don't follow politics very closely and always feel a little guilty at election time when I am compelled to vote on issues and people that I really don't know much about. Wouldn't it be great, we thought, if in lieu of voting directly I could delegate a trusted other to make the decision for me? In other words, if I could indicate "I don't really know what to think of Y, but I'll cast my vote on it the same as X."
Maybe this is what the founders of the United States had in mind when they instituted the Electoral College. But of course the Electoral College today doesn't capture this idea, since very few US voters know and trust any of the college electors. And that's not surprising, since the maximum scope of any persons social group is generally 150 people.
It's a wild idea, but something to think about. We are just beginning to tap the possibilities of computers and social networks. (For another wild political idea that I like, see Robin Hanson's Futarchy: Vote Values, But Bet Beliefs.
I'm flying to San Francisco today for the Web 2.0 conference. I'll be there to talk about my work with AttentionTrust.org, a site that is all about user's reclaiming their attention. That might sound odd at first, but when you start to think it, attention is a fundamental concept of the internet these days. The record of what you pay attention to has real value, which is why spyware companies are out there trying to steal it. And they want to steal not only the record of your attention, but your attention itself: Spam, pop-ups, and normal ads are all trying to steal your attention. Now there's even a word for it: Attention Theft (via David Beisel).
If any of you will be at the conference, or just in the San Francisco area, I'd be happy to meet up and talk about trust, Outfoxed, attention, AttentionTrust, or all of the above.
An updated list of Rogue/Suspect Anti-Spyware Products & Web Sites made it on to del.icio.us/popular this morning. The creator of this list, Eric Howes, has given me a lot of help and guidance in the development of Outfoxed, and his two informer pages are among the most trusted informers around. (Dialers and Crapware Domains)
The question is: Why were people bookmarking this site, and what does it mean? We can safely assume that most people bookmarked this because they took it to be a trustworthy reference. But the list is far too long to memorize; the only possible use is as a reference when installing new software, or maybe when trying to diagnose problems on someone else's computer. But will people actually remember to go back and consult it? This reference is only useful when actively searched, something which your average computer user won't remember to do even if they had bookmarked it. And furthermore, del.icio.us users hardly represent a average cross section of online users! (Considering that most users barely know what spyware is, it's unlikely they'd even know that rouge spyware products exist.)
This is exactly the problem that Outfoxed is designed to solve: automatically consulting trusted references, right when you need the information. So when you or your computer novice friend somehow stumbles upon filth like this, they can automatically know that it's dangerous and get directed to links like this.
The shear length of Eric's list reminds me that several people have suggested that Outfoxed is an endeavor best left to Sisyphus, pointing out that the "bad stuff" can change identities so easily and spawn so quickly that you'll never be able to track it all. I'll discuss this in my next entry.