“Windows and alcohol”

Venkatesh Rao on the relationship between Silicon Valley and laughter:

Yes, and someone will come up with an app that measures body state to detect the optimal relaxation trough at which to present an incongruity input and then post the resulting jokes on a social site. There, ratings and rankings and machine learning will provide feedback as well as result in a constantly improving repository of jokes that is provably superior to traditional old-economy humor that still runs on Windows and alcohol. Metrics will be constructed based on measured laughter and information theoretic measures of surprisal between setup and punch line. Gamified learning models will be created to teach anyone to achieve higher L-rank than Lewis Black in just three weeks of 4-hour laugh hacking. Eventually there will be meetups, a humor-hacking movement, a Paul Graham essay soliciting humor-based UXes in product design, software that automatically suggests toppers, and VCs looking to invest only in growth stage humor genres that have provable laughter traction.

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3-D Manufacture, Individualism, Customization, and Localization: A Return to an Earlier, Romantic Time or a Logical Progression from the Industrial Age?

I was recently talking to a friend about 3-D printing and explained the theory that the technology, driven by shared software designs and relatively easily transportable raw materials, could lead to the re-localization of manufacture.  He mentioned the irony that advanced industrialization could support a physical relationship between manufacture and residency that more closely reflects pre-industrial societies.  He seemed to be charmed, as well, by the move from mass production to mass customization.

The image of locally-manufactured, customized products does seem to have some romance.  In that sense, a sort of boomerang effect is apparent.  Other aspects of this process may be more linear, however: For instance, one way to view a potential future move to 3-D manufacturing is from production-multiplying machines to design-multiplying machines.  That is to say, the 19th and 20th century factory multiplied the number of products that could be produced successfully from one design, and the 3-D, software-driven manufacturing process of the 21st century will, through software-supported guidance, multiply the number of designs that can be produced successfully from one thinker.  Another way to conceptualize the process is that 3-D printing allows the designer to distribute the manufacture of her product across a wide network of sites.  In that sense, the production could be taking place on an even more massive scale, just not all in one place.  So, production occurs at an increasingly great scale, and design is occurring to increasing scale as well.  In these senses, there is no romantic reversion to the interaction of the individual craftsman with the individual production elements, and no reversion to the relatively isolated interaction between a workshop and its surrounding community.

The product itself may very well be individualized/customized but the infrastructure of ideation/design/production is pretty clearly supported by interventions of the ‘crowd.’  Of course, once this is said, we are reminded of the fact that even early craftsmen were supported by the ideas, methods, and tools of their fellows.  What will be different in the future is that the speed of such interactive support will be so great that it will not be easily forgotten, while the image of the isolated, creative craftsmen may have seemed more believable in earlier times.

The romantic conceptualization of the individual craftsman may only last as long as the age of centralized, mass production lasts.  A future age of customized manufacture supported by distributed networks may force us to temper the lofty image of individualized genius that itself may currently serve as a counterpoint to our mass society.

Accelerated Consumer Interactions Change How Companies View Us

The dot-com bubble may be receding into corporate history, but it is still reshaping supply chains and will continuing to do so for years to come.  Companies such as Amazon . . . have shifted the focus from delivering products to delivering on customer needs — Ken Cottrill, Harvard Business ReviewSupply Chain Strategy newsletter, October 2005

The description is a good one but the question is begged: What is inherent to dot-coms that favors such a shift in corporate perspective?  A key factor, I would argue, is that e-business attempts to insinuate itself into a person’s daily routines: ‘convenience’ means not just logistical convenience (allowing a person to buy with a few clicks) but intellectual convenience (allowing a person to buy without focusing as much energy on a purchase as s/he would in a store).

Though the process may appear as a triumph of consumerism, it is equally a triumph of the individual: that is, as Cottrill states, the needs to serve the purchaser, rather than the need to serve the product, is increasingly becoming a focus of businesses everywhere.

Balancing Crowdsourcing and Reliability

How can organizations ‘crowdsource‘ while still ensuring reliability/quality?  I’ve discussed why software development is the first place to look when thinking about an issue that is relevant to every business.

The Business Readiness Rating (BRR) represents one effort to standardize appraisal of crowd-based software development.  I’m posting the twelve criteria the BRR employs, and highlighting a few that speak to the unique dynamics of crowdsourcing:

  • Functionality – does the software meet user requirements?
  • Usability – is the software intuitive / easy to install / easy to configure / easy to maintain?
  • Quality – is the software well designed, implemented, and tested?
  • Security – how secure is the software?
  • Performance – how does the software perform against standard benchmarks?
  • Scalability – can the software cope with high-volume use?
  • Architecture – is the software modular, portable, flexible, extensible, and open. Can it be integrated with other components?
  • Support – how extensive is the professional and community support available?
  • Documentation – is there good quality documentation?
  • Adoption – has the software been adopted by the community, the market, and the industry?
  • Community – is the community for the software active and lively?
  • Professionalism – what level of professionalism does the development process and project organisation exhibit?
  • In the future, we’ll consider whether/how reliability and crowdsourcing can be balanced in other product development processes.

    Thoughts on Software, Business, and Culture

    Programming and End-Users

    • Programming highlights the reciprocal nature of the relationship between human and machine: Storing information in variables is a continuous concern for a programmer–the desired product cannot be achieved without a mindset that constantly considers how the machine is ‘thinking.’
    • Many end-user tasks, on the other hand, cloak the idea of ‘storing’ information; the experience of saving work, which is generally intermittent, is the most common interaction end-users have with the idea of  ‘storing’ information.

    Software: The Extended Arm of Collaboration

    • Any machine allows us to collaborate, so to speak, in an asynchronous manner with the designers and producers of that machine.  In software, the line between design/production and use are not so clear as they are in, say, a lawnmower or even a missile.

    Countercultural Software Development

    From a reader response to Andrew Sullivan’s blog:

    John Markoff chronicled the connection between computing and the “counterculture” in his 2005 book, What The Dormouse Said. Markhoff [sic] revealed what everyone in the Valley has always known, that the counterculture was not limited to runaway kids dancing and screwing in the park. The researchers at SRI and other research facilities in the area were getting high and fighting the status quo. They sent their kids to the famous Peninsula School in Menlo Park by day and went back in the evening for meetings of the HomeBrew club where they discussed how the computer would be a tool for personal and communal transformation.