Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

So, I've been told again that my weblog is really hard to understand. (By a non-blogger). The person said that if I could make it easier to understand, it would have so much more value. On the other hand, my blogging community network seems to be expanding and I generally get positive feedback. So what's one to do?

On the one hand, the blogging community is accelerating and as the tools become second nature, we begin to take many things for granted. The blog is a conversation about many things that only bloggers really understand and with inside jokes and keywords whose explanations span many blogs. On the other hand to most people my blog is a just a web page that is getting more and more strange.

Is there a good solution? Is there a blog that does a good job being just a web page, while at the same time being a great blog? I guess Boing Boing is great fun for the casual viewer, but is a great blog. On the other hand, it's less of a conversational blog and more of a micro-content/link blog, it seems to me.

Any thoughts?

In my paper and throughout the "happening" I have argued that we are similar to ants in that blogs are exhibiting a emergent intelligence beyond that of the individual blogs. This is one of the few points that people seem to feel strongly divided about. Liz Lawley blogs

Liz Lawley
But I did still manage to extract key concepts from what we discussed. Key among them was the rallying cry among several participants that "We are not ants!" What does that mean? Well, we were discussing Steven Johnson's book Emergence , in which he discusses the emergent behavior/intelligence in environments like ant colonies. The problem, several of us noted, is that ants do not have much self-awareness, while people do. (Yes, I know, that can be argued on many levels. Let's take it as a given for now.)
Steven Johnson describes the ant-like aspect of blogging much better than me in his blog.
Steven Johnson
The objection revolves around the fact that humans are both more nuanced than ants in their assessments of the world and their decision-making capacity, and that they're capable of understanding the dynamics of the larger system in ways that ants cannot. As Adina Levin says, "The atoms of ant action are simple: pick up crumb, bring crumb to ant colony. The atoms of human action are more complicated: identify people and groups interested in opposing Total Information Act, encourage people to persuade local congressperson."

I think there's a lot of validity to the distinction, but I still think there's value in thinking about ants in this context. To me, when you're talking about emergent democracy in the online world, the equivalent of the ant is not the individual human, it's the software. The atoms of human action are indeed incredibly sophisticated ones, but the atoms of software that enables those actions to connect in new ways are much simpler. It's more like: "follow this link, connect this page to other pages that share links, look for patterns in the links." The decision-making process that leads one human to link to another person's page is indeed more complex than the instinctual actions of ants following pheromones, but the decision of the software to manipulate those links, and learn from them, is much more like the way ants behave ---- or at least it could be, if we choose to build it that way.

In my comments section of the emergent democracy paper, Howard Rheingold says to think about he public sphere, Ashley Benigno, says "Instead of being viewed as enablers, the tools come across as drivers of a process. Ultimately, the human experience is missing from the picture." and she blogs about it on her weblog.

So there are two very important but separate issues here: the will of the people and the social aspect of what's going on and what it means and what we can do and the tools, architecture and the way the tools interact with each other to create a feedback mechanism that increases the signal to noise ratio and encourages intelligence. They relate to each other, but the tools for thinking about these two aspects come from different disciplines and the key will be to try to allow these two disciplines to cross-pollinate and add value to each other, rather than scaring each other away.

So here's an update on my activity in protesting the National ID in Japan.

I've gotten A LOT of negative feedback (All of it indirect. I would be SO MUCH EASIER if they would just talk to me directly, rather than critcize me behind my back.) from the IT community, vendors, peers, professors, etc. about my position to support the anti-National ID campaign. However, the people at the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Post and Telecom who are in charge of the National ID have actively solicited my involvement in trying to "fix" things. I think part of it is to try to use me as "cover". The Minister frequently refers to the fact that he has a "panel of experts" working on the security and privacy issues. At that level, I've been somewhat co-opted and am criticized by my peers. At the working level, I have spent hours with the bureaucrats convincing them of the importance of privacy and the thinking behind better architecture and software. We are now preparing one of the most extensive reports on privacy with the help of many of our friends in the US, Canada and Europe and will be translating all of the material into Japanese. This may be the first report of its kind in Japanese.

The National ID bill says that the National ID number cannot be used for anything other than the processing of local government paperwork. I asked on the record during the study group whether this number would be used as a taxpayer ID. They told me "no." The media, however, are reporting that banks are using the National ID as an identifier, that the police are thinking of using the National ID, they are thinking of using the National ID in passports and that they are considering using the National ID as a tax payer ID as well. The Minister recently told the banks that they should stop using the National ID.

Yesterday, I had a very frank discussion with the bureaucrat who is in charge of the National ID. I told him that I had heard that "it's starting" and that everyone was starting use the National ID for other things beyond the original intent of the bill. He told me that they were not going to budge from their position and that they would resist expanding the scope of the National ID. He said that they did not HAVE to create a bill for the National ID in order to build the network, but that they did so to try to make sure there was a public debate. I'm not sure if I buy this completely, but it sure did spark a debate. He said that because of the way the bill was written, anyone using the National ID would have to change or amend the bill and that they couldn't do it without permission, which he wasn't going to give. I told him that this would be a great opportunity for the Ministry to show it's credibility by striking down the various proposals to use the National ID for other things if they were sincere. I agreed to try to let them convince me that they were sincere and that if I were convinced I would try to convince others.

After spending time with the folks from the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecom, I'm starting to get a sense that maybe they're not the "bad guys." They don't understand a lot about technology and are very focused on local government and supporting infrastructure. I think it's actually the Financial Services Agency, the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry and a variety of other Ministries who are pushing for expanding the scope of the National ID and that the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs and Telecom is sort of "in the dark" on a lot of this stuff. Focusing on them may be the wrong approach. Supporting them in holding true to their promise to limit the use and bashing all of the other people trying to piggy back on their ID system may be the more effective approach. I'm going to have to investigate this more.

One of the biggest problems with my position against the National ID is that it continues to grown and morph into things that have negative effects. My position is that a National ID without a method to limit the scope of its use, without a watchdog organization, without an ethical privacy framework including "privacy impact assessments" when building new stuff around it was irresponsible and increased risk. I am not so concerned about the security of the current ID system, which is quite limited in its scope, but rather, the data structures, architectures, and additional systems that might try to use this number scheme in the future.

I do not have a strong position on the current privacy bill as it relates to private enterprise and I don't think that the media's right to investigative journalism should be limited at this point. I am only concerned that the part of the privacy bill that outlines the use of personal information and databases by the government is very weak and without much substance.

My problem is that people seem to think I am against using IT in government, pushing for stronger government control of private enterprise, questioning the security of the National ID system and blowing the risks out of proportion, using ignorant politicians to put undue pressure on the bureaucrats, trying to make money by scaring the public and selling security solutions and generally being stupid and unfair...

So my current action items are:

Sit down with the non-techie activists and make sure that they are focused on the important issues and not on the emotional issues that are not relevant. ("Cows are 10 digit numbers, why are we 11 digit numbers!" or "I don't want to be a number!")

Talk to the vendors who are criticizing me and figure out whether they are confused about my position or whether they are trying to sell some weak system and fear a privacy impact assessment.

Talk the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecom into taking a strong stand on privacy issues and combating publicly and legally those who attempt to abuse their infrastructure.

Educate the public about privacy enhancing technology, educate MYSELF about privacy enhancing technology, and try to support its development and deployment.

Engage in a global debate about privacy issues in general and make sure Japan is in sych with the rest of the rational world. (If there is any left.)

Ernie quotes a new blogger friend of his, Steve Covell. He calls it the three stages of blog awareness

Ernie the Attorney
"OK, a couple of weeks ago I knew nada about the subject of blogs. Here is my take on the 3 stages of blogging:

1) There must be something to blogs because so many people are into it, but I don't have a clue.

2) OK, it does seem kind of cool and there is much, much more to it than I expected. I just don't see any really practical applications.

3) Oh my God, the things I can do with this are coming to me faster than I can keep up with."

Actually, there is at least another stage:
4) Oh, no. I'm addicted to blogging...

You are addicted to blogging if you answer "yes" to at least 3 of the following questions:

Do you think about everything in terms of whether it will make a good blog entry?

Do you keep your computer in standby mode beside your bed and wake up at 2am to blog?

Do you skip lunch and blog instead?

Do you accept speaking engagements or make travel decisions based on whether they will make good blog material?

Do you have your RSS newsreader open during meetings and keep hitting "refresh"?

Do you sit around trying to figure out how you can redesign your job so you can blog more?

Do you think blogs will suddenly cause an emergent democracy and save the world?

An op-ed that I drafted with the help of everyone here and here (with a final re-draft by Pamela from WEF) just ran. They cut my "special thanks" section...

The Internet, and the "blogs" (Web log services) in particular, provide opportunities for the passive Japanese public to wake up before the catastrophe. The Internet is also a way to enable the youth of Japan, currently silenced by the older generation and destined to get stuck with supporting them, to speak up and organise themselves before it is too late. This is critical both for themselves and for Japan as a whole.

You need to register to read the article online... Thank for all of your help with this everyone!