Monday, August 27, 2007

Party at Hotel Ponnusamy

It's always fun partying. And it gets even better if the party comes at other's costs(He... He.. Sorry Vasanth, this is universal truth, nothing to hide). That is what exactly happened on Friday, 3rd August '07. One of my colleague Vasanth is getting married on coming 30th August and he throws us a memorable party in Hotel Ponnusamy, Besent Nagar, Chennai.

Of all the food items put there, I enjoyed taking one particular fish fry item which is more like french fries, I'm not getting the name right now, will update about it later.

So I take this opportunity to wish Vasanth a wonderful married life. Best Wishes Vasanth.

We stored this good moments in digital memory too in the form of pictures.

Here are few of those,

From L to R: Me(Karthikeyan R), Abdul, and Senthil


From L to R: Wilfred and Rajagopal

I'm travelling to Erode day after tomorrow(29th Aug) to attend his reception and to have some good moments there too(he.. he... definitely not just food).

The fish fry I was talking about is "Nethili Fish Fry" which is wonderful in taste so if you get chance do order it and have it FULL.

Is Web 2.0 Just Hype??

Is the much talked about Web 2.0 is all but just hype??? Definitely Me or people who discuss in a closed cabin cannot take a decision about how far Web 2.0 help rejuvenate the now ill fated dot-com companies help retain their pre-Y2K era popularity. But certainly detailed study and string facts can throw us some light which is what exactly the BBC has tried by having a special story about recent start-ups which are mainly into Web 2.0 technologies in its interesting technology program Click.

Here is excerpts from the BBC program,

Silicon Valley is the southern part of San Francisco's Bay Area, stretching from the city to San Jose. This is one of the top research and development centres in the world; wherever you look someone is having a good idea.

According to the Wall Street Journal, half of the 20 most inventive towns in the US are in Silicon Valley.

Nowadays the place is not just about silicon chip makers; all technology is here.

It is a string of satellite towns full of clever people, incredibly successful tech companies, and hopefuls looking to make the big time.

This place was the centre of the dotcom bubble of the mid 90s, when investors were pouring money into anything with a dot in the title. Of course it was also the hardest hit when the bubble burst. For every surviving big player, hundreds went under.

Now the optimism is back, along with the money.

Cash call

Each week there are meetings, networking events and presentations in which hopeful start-ups attempt to garner interest from investors.

Vincent Lauria, Tech meetup organiser said: "Hi-tech meetups have actually grown phenomenally. We started out pretty small, six people first met up. We met every month and kept growing gradually, bigger and bigger until it hit critical mass and started growing on its own.

"We are now over 1,500 people," he said.

"I try to pick companies that either I feel are on a very good course to do well, or have a really unique idea that nobody else is really touching."

It is often the simple things that take off. Take Data Robotics which makes high capacity home storage systems called Drobo.

Geoff Barrall, Data Robotics boss, said: "Today's storage solutions are all very intensive; you have to move data around, you have to copy files, you have to worry about backing up data.

"The Drobo does all of that for you. So once the data is on Drobo it's going to worry about keeping it safe, it's going to worry about letting you add more storage and grow into the future without you having to do anything at all."

Simplifying storage and back-up has tapped into a big market. Data Robotics claims it is selling its $500 (£250) boxes faster than it can make them.

Green machines

It is not just computer technology that folks in the valley are working on. Green technology is winning investors too, said Drew Clark from IBM Capital Ventures.

"I think [one of] the major drivers in today's buzz in Silicon valley is clean tech or energy tech or energy 2.0, whatever we are calling it these days," said Mr Clark.

"If you look at venture capital statistics it is now the third highest place that money is going into.

One of the green innovations dreamed up is a highly efficient solar panel.

The panels produced by SolFocus reflect sunlight to a central point to harness the energy.

Unlike flat panels it means the expensive materials used to convert the energy to electricity are concentrated in one place. SolFocus claims to use 1/1000th of the area needed by flat panels, which keeps the manufacturing costs low.

Gary Conley, SolFocus explained: "These cells have efficiency over double that of the best silicon today. We concentrate the sun 500 times on that small amount of cell, hence the 1000th of the amount of material used, or the expensive part.

"When there is no sun, or you can't see the solar disc, our panels produce zero power. They only produce power in bright sunny locations or when the sun is out."

Contracts have already been signed with the Spanish government for a large scale solar farm in Southern Spain.


The other boom area is something called mash-ups which build on the crop of richly interactive websites that are part of that nebulous movement called Web 2.0.

This has given us sites such as, which lets people express their like or dislike of almost anything, and, which lets you shop by searching for stuff similar to what you have already bought.

"Mash-ups come from hip hop DJs mashing together sounds to create new sounds," said Mr Clark from IBM.

"Web 2.0 really was fundamentally about the web enabling that kind of thing, but not necessarily music but other kinds of content.

"Google went out there with Google Maps and Google Earth and provided the early mash-ups. So a lot of creative people came together and monetised it.

"They basically said real estate listings are boring, so what if we took the text and the geographical coordinates and mash them up on a map so you can actually look at the house and see where it is.

The next big idea could be very local too. In the age of virtual networks many of us know more about Apple than our next door neighbour. aims to tell you more - if you are interested.

Although research suggests that fewer than 1% of tech start-ups will be successful in attracting enough cash, it is not hard to see the potential returns if you pick a winner.

Peter Rip, venture capitalist, said: "A lot of the things that I see in web 2.0 are features, they are not really businesses and they are frankly pretty easy to replicate.

"Two people with a couple of computers here in South Park can do a lot of things very quickly, so the risk you have as an investor is to have something unique and differentiate it.

Mr Rip told the story of two developers who had worked on a project for four years before they showed it to him.

"So they had a deep intellectual property and they actually had invented something that wasn't easy to replicate, he said. "That gives them a barrier to go and build a business around it."

Oops!!!! End of a Long Marathon!!!

Yes I should say I got to celebrate the real Independence Day today. Today I'm very much relaxed and in highest level of confidence in recent times. Successfully released a BETA version of my project namely I have given all the energy that I have regained after the recent happenings in my life to this project. In this project, I have got an interesting role to play and got all out support from all my colleagues, without which this feat in such a time frame is impossible. Many thanks to Abdul, Loga, Mahesh, Senthil, Suresh, Rajeshwari and Rajavelu.

A very good experience for me to take stock of how well a team effort can do and how important & difficult it's to be honest to all. Interactions with this many number of colleagues for a project is first for me and I'm happy that everything went fine with new set of challenges at different milestones while developing the project. Now I need to look back to document how things went through and how some can be improved.

I have talked about my experience with project, but haven't told what this project is all about. is a aggressive new aggregating portal which categorizes the news neatly for rich user reading experience. is very popular among NRI community to know more about the latest happenings in India. So do check out my project here and give me your valuable feedbacks here.

If you're reading this blog bit late, by this time we might be out of BETA. So check this URL then, this is standard one which will have latest stable version.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

An American Indian Citizen Story

Year : 2021
Place : Two Americans at IBM, USA
Currency Conversion Rate: Rs.1 = $100

Alex : hi John, you didn't come yesterday to office?
John : yeah, I was in Indian embassy for stamping.
Alex : oh really, what happened, I heard that nowadays it has become very strict.
John : yeah, but I managed to get it.
Alex : how long it took to get it stamped?
John : oh, it was nasty man, long queue. bill gates was standing in front of me and they played with him like anything. thats why it got delayed. I went there at 2 am itself and waited and returned by 4 pm.
Alex : really? in India, it is a matter of an hour to get stamped for USA.
John : yeah, but that is because who in India will be interested in coming to USA man, their economy has been booming.
Alex : so, when are you leaving?
John : anytime, after receiving my tickets from the client in India and you know, I will be getting a chance to fly air-India. sort of dream come true.
Alex : how long are you going to stay in India?
John : what do you mean by how long? I will be settled in India, my company has promised me that they will process my hara patta.
Alex : really, lucky person man, it is very difficult to get a hara patta in India.
John : yeah, thats why, I am planning to marry an Indian girl there.
Alex : but you can find lots of US girls in Bangalore, Hyderabad and mumbai.
John : but, I prefer Indian girls because they are beautiful and cultured.
Alex : where did you get the offer, Bangalore?
John : yeah, salary is good there, but cost of living is quite high, it is rs. 1000/- for a single room accommodation.
Alex : I see, that's too much for us people, rs.1/- = $100/-. oh god! what about in Chennai, Mumbai?
John : no idea, but it is less than what we have in Bangalore. it is like the world headquarters of software.
Alex : I heard, almost all the Indians are having one personal robot for help.
John : you can get a bmw car for rs. 5000/-, and a personal robot for less than rs. 7500/-. but my dream is to purchase ambassador, which costs rs.200000/- but has got a sexy design.
Alex : by the way, who is your client?
John : a pure Indian company, specializing in embedded software.
Alex : oh, really, lucky to work in a pure Indian company.they are really intelligent and unlike American body shoppers who have opened their fly-by-night outfits in India. Indian companies pay you in full even when you are on bench. my friend paul allen, it seems,used his bench time to visit bihar,the most livable place in India, probably world.there you have full freedom and no can do whatever you want! ! I wonder how that state has perfected that system.
John : yeah man, you are right. I hope our America also follows their footsteps.
Alex : how are you going to cope with their language?
John : why not? from my school days I have been learning Hindi as my first language here at New York. at the consulate they tested my proficiency in Hindi and were quite impressed by my cent percent score in TOHIL i.e.test of Hindi as international language.
Alex : so, you are going to have fun there.
John : yeah, I will be traveling in the world's fastest train, world's largest theme park, and the famous Bollywood where you can see actors like, Hrithik, and all. and don't forget superstar Rajnikanth and his style.
Alex : you know, the pm is scheduled to visit us next year, he may then relax the number of visas.
John : that's true. last month, Narayanamurthy visited white house and donated rs. 2000/- for infrastructure development at silicon valley and has promised more if we follow the model of silicon city of Bangalore. bill gates also got a chance of meeting him. very lucky person.
Alex : but, Indian government is planning to split Narayanamurthy 's Infosys.
John : he is a hard worker man, he can build any number of Infosys like this. every minute he is getting rs. 1000/-. it seems, if you keep all his money converted as rs. 100/- notes you can reach Pluto.
Alex : Ok, good luck John.
John : same to you Alex. and don't go to consulate in a kurta pyjama because they will think you are too Indianised and may doubt you will ever come back and hence your non-immigrant visa may get rejected. but don't forget to say "namaste, aap kaise hai" to the visa officer at window 5. it seems he likes that and will not give you a visa if you don't greet him that way.

Magnificent Tamilnadu Temples

Here is the compilation of few most famous temples of Tamilnadu which shows the deep rooted culture and art loving tradition of Dravidian's. These pictures of famous Tamilnadu temples are just few and likewise numerous other temples are scattered all over the state.


















Do You Count Yourself In Big League?

We all believe that we are In the Line of Fire everyday. This mail touched, moved and inspired me.

Vivek Pradhan was not a happy man. Even the plush comfort of the air-conditioned compartment of the Shatabdi expresscould not cool his frayed nerves. He was the Project Manager and still not entitled to air travel. It was not the prestige he sought, he had tried to reason with the admin person, it was the savings in time. As PM, he had so many things to do. He opened his case and took out the laptop, determined to put the time to some good use. "Are you from the software industry sir," the man beside him was staring appreciatively at the laptop. Vivek glanced briefly and mumbled in affirmation, handling the laptop now with exaggerated care and importance as if it were an expensive car.

"You people have brought so much advancement to the country sir. Today everything is getting computerized."

"Thanks," smiled Vivek, turning around to give the man a look.

He always found it difficult to resist appreciation. The man was young and stocky like a sportsman. He looked simple and strangely out of place in that little lap of luxury like a small town boy in a prep school. He probably was a railway sportsman making the most of his free traveling pass. "You people always amaze me," the man continued, "You sit in an office and write something on a computer and it does so many big things outside."

Vivek smiled deprecatingly. Naivety demanded reasoning not anger. "It is not as simple as that my friend. It is not just a question of writing a few lines. There is a lot of process that goes behind it." For a moment, he was tempted to explain the entire Software Development Lifecycle but restrained himself to a single statement. "It is complex, very complex."

"It has to be. No wonder you people are so highly paid," came the reply.

This was not turning out as Vivek had thought. A hint of belligerence came into his so far affable, persuasive tone. "Everyone just sees the money. No one sees the amount of hard work we have to put in. Indians have such a narrow concept of hard work. Just because we sit in an air-conditioned office does not mean our brows do not sweat. You exercise the muscle; we exercise the mind and believe me that is no less taxing."

He had the man where he wanted him and it was time to drive home the point.

"Let me give you an example. Take this train. The entire railway reservation system is computerized. You can book a train ticket between any two stations from any of the hundreds of computerized booking centers across the country. Thousands of transactions accessing a single database, at a time concurrency; data integrity, locking, data security. Do you understand the complexity in designing and coding such a system?" The man was stuck with amazement, like a child at a planetarium. This was something big and beyond his imagination.
"You design and code such things."
"I used to," Vivek paused for effect, "But now I am the Project

"Oh!" sighed the man, as if the storm had passed over, "so your life is easy now."

It was like being told the fire was better than the frying pan. The man had to be given a feel of the heat.

"Oh come on, does life ever get easy as you go up the ladder. Responsibility only brings more work. Design and coding! That is the easier part. Now I do not do it, but I am responsible for it and believe me, that is far more stressful. My job is to get the work done in time and with the highest quality. To tell you about the pressures, there is the customer at one end always changing his requirements, the user wanting something else and your boss always expecting you to have finished it yesterday."

Vivek paused in his diatribe, his belligerence fading with self-realization. What he had said, was not merely the outburst of a
wronged man, it was the truth. And one need not get angry while defending the truth. "My friend," he concluded triumphantly,
"you don't know what it is to be in the line of fire."

The man sat back in his chair, his eyes closed as if in realization. When he spoke after sometime, it was with a calm certainty that surprised Vivek."
I know sir, I know what it is to be in the line of fire," He was staring blankly as if no passenger, no train existed, just a vast expanse of time. "There were 30 of us when we were ordered to capture Point 4875 in the cover of the night. The enemy was firing from the top. There was no knowing where the next bullet was going to come from and for whom. In the morning when we finally hoisted the tricolor at the top only 4 of us were alive."

"You are a..."

"I am Subedar Sushant from the 13 J&K Rifles on duty at Peak 4875 in Kargil. They tell me I have completed my term and can opt for a land assignment. But tell me sir, can one give up duty just because it makes life easier. On the dawn of that capture, one of my colleagues lay injured in the snow, open to enemy fire while we were hiding behind a bunker. It was my job to go and fetch that soldier to safety." "But my captain refused me permission and went ahead himself. He said that the first pledge he had taken as a Gentleman Cadet was to put the safety and welfare of the nation foremost followed by the safety and welfare of the men he

"His own personal safety came last, always and every time. He was killed as he shielded that soldier into the bunker. Every morning now, as I stand guard I can see him taking all those bullets, which were actually meant for me. I know sir, I know what it is to be in the line of fire."

Vivek looked at him in disbelief not sure of his reply. Abruptly he switched off the laptop. It seemed trivial, even insulting to edit a word document in the presence of a man for whom valour and duty was a daily part of life; a valour and sense of duty which he had so far attributed only to epic heroes.

The train slowed down as it pulled into the station and Subedar Sushant picked up his bags to alight.

"It was nice meeting you sir! "

Vivek fumbled with the handshake. This hand had climbed mountains, pressed the trigger, and hoisted the tricolor.
Suddenly as if by impulse,he stood at attention and his right hand went up in an impromptu salute.

It was the least he felt he could do for the country.

Addendum: The incident he narrates during the capture of Peak 4875 is a true-life incident during the Kargil war.
Capt. Batra sacrificed his life while trying to save one of the men he commanded, as victory was within sight.
For this and his various other acts of bravery he was awarded the Param Vir Chakra the nation's highest military award.

Live humbly, there are great people around us to learn from!!!!

What Is Powering Orkut? Behind The Scenes of Orkut

I recently read an article about the logic behind the "Groups" concept. Though the article is long, in which case I usally graze over the artcile instead of reading it but that is not the case with this. I found it very interesting since the logic behind this can be applied to contemporary grouping tools like Orkut, Yahoo Groups etc... Here is the excerpt from a really long article. It was delivered in a speech by Clay Shirky.

"Good morning, everybody. I want to talk this morning about social software ...there's a surprise. I want to talk about a pattern I've seen over and over again in social software that supports large and long-lived groups. And that pattern is the pattern described in the title of this talk: "A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy."

In particular, I want to talk about what I now think is one of the core challenges for designing large-scale social software. Let me offer a definition of social software, because it's a term that's still fairly amorphous. My definition is fairly simple: It's software that supports group interaction. I also want to emphasize, although that's a fairly simple definition, how radical that pattern is. The Internet supports lots of communications patterns, principally point-to-point and two-way, one-to-many outbound, and many-to-many two-way.

Prior to the Internet, we had lots of patterns that supported point-to-point two-way. We had telephones, we had the telegraph. We were familiar with technological mediation of those kinds of conversations. Prior to the Internet, we had lots of patterns that supported one-way outbound. I could put something on television or the radio, I could publish a newspaper. We had the printing press. So although the Internet does good things for those patterns, they're patterns we knew from before.

Prior to the Internet, the last technology that had any real effect on the way people sat down and talked together was the table. There was no technological mediation for group conversations. The closest we got was the conference call, which never really worked right -- "Hello? Do I push this button now? Oh, shoot, I just hung up." It's not easy to set up a conference call, but it's very easy to email five of your friends and say "Hey, where are we going for pizza?" So ridiculously easy group forming is really news.

We've had social software for 40 years at most, dated from the Plato BBS system, and we've only had 10 years or so of widespread availability, so we're just finding out what works. We're still learning how to make these kinds of things.

Now, software that supports group interaction is a fundamentally unsatisfying definition in many ways, because it doesn't point to a specific class of technology. If you look at email, it obviously supports social patterns, but it can also support a broadcast pattern. If I'm a spammer, I'm going to mail things out to a million people, but they're not going to be talking to one another, and I'm not going to be talking to them -- spam is email, but it isn't social. If I'm mailing you, and you're mailing me back, we're having point-to-point and two-way conversation, but not one that creates group dynamics.

So email doesn't necessarily support social patterns, group patterns, although it can. Ditto a weblog. If I'm Glenn Reynolds, and I'm publishing something with Comments Off and reaching a million users a month, that's really broadcast. It's interesting that I can do it as a single individual, but the pattern is closer to MSNBC than it is to a conversation. If it's a cluster of half a dozen LiveJournal users, on the other hand, talking about their lives with one another, that's social. So, again, weblogs are not necessarily social, although they can support social patterns.

Nevertheless, I think that definition is the right one, because it recognizes the fundamentally social nature of the problem. Groups are a run-time effect. You cannot specify in advance what the group will do, and so you can't substantiate in software everything you expect to have happen.

Now, there's a large body of literature saying "We built this software, a group came and used it, and they began to exhibit behaviors that surprised us enormously, so we've gone and documented these behaviors." Over and over and over again this pattern comes up. (I hear Stewart [Brand, of the WELL] laughing.) The WELL is one of those places where this pattern came up over and over again.

This talk is in three parts. The best explanation I have found for the kinds of things that happen when groups of humans interact is psychological research that predates the Internet, so the first part is going to be about W.R. Bion's research, which I will talk about in a moment, research that I believe explains how and why a group is its own worst enemy.

The second part is: Why now? What's going on now that makes this worth thinking about? I think we're seeing a revolution in social software in the current environment that's really interesting.

And third, I want to identify some things, about half a dozen things, in fact, that I think are core to any software that supports larger, long-lived groups.

Part One: How is a group its own worst enemy?

So, Part One. The best explanation I have found for the ways in which this pattern establishes itself, the group is its own worst enemy, comes from a book by W.R. Bion called "Experiences in Groups," written in the middle of the last century.

Bion was a psychologist who was doing group therapy with groups of neurotics. (Drawing parallels between that and the Internet is left as an exercise for the reader.) The thing that Bion discovered was that the neurotics in his care were, as a group, conspiring to defeat therapy.

There was no overt communication or coordination. But he could see that whenever he would try to do anything that was meant to have an effect, the group would somehow quash it. And he was driving himself crazy, in the colloquial sense of the term, trying to figure out whether or not he should be looking at the situation as: Are these individuals taking action on their own? Or is this a coordinated group?

He could never resolve the question, and so he decided that the unresolvability of the question was the answer. To the question: Do you view groups of people as aggregations of individuals or as a cohesive group, his answer was: "Hopelessly committed to both."

He said that humans are fundamentally individual, and also fundamentally social. Every one of us has a kind of rational decision-making mind where we can assess what's going on and make decisions and act on them. And we are all also able to enter viscerally into emotional bonds with other groups of people that transcend the intellectual aspects of the individual.

In fact, Bion was so convinced that this was the right answer that the image he put on the front cover of his book was a Necker cube, one of those cubes that you can look at and make resolve in one of two ways, but you can never see both views of the cube at the same time. So groups can be analyzed both as collections of individuals and having this kind of emotive group experience.

Now, it's pretty easy to see how groups of people who have formal memberships, groups that have been labeled and named like "I am a member of such-and-such a guild in a massively multi-player online role-playing game," it's easy to see how you would have some kind of group cohesion there. But Bion's thesis is that this effect is much, much deeper, and kicks in much, much sooner than many of us expect. So I want to illustrate this with a story, and to illustrate the illustration, I'll use a story from your life. Because even if I don't know you, I know what I'm about to describe has happened to you.

You are at a party, and you get bored. You say "This isn't doing it for me anymore. I'd rather be someplace else. I'd rather be home asleep. The people I wanted to talk to aren't here." Whatever. The party fails to meet some threshold of interest. And then a really remarkable thing happens: You don't leave. You make a decision "I don't like this." If you were in a bookstore and you said "I'm done," you'd walk out. If you were in a coffee shop and said "This is boring," you'd walk out.

You're sitting at a party, you decide "I don't like this; I don't want to be here." And then you don't leave. That kind of social stickiness is what Bion is talking about.

And then, another really remarkable thing happens. Twenty minutes later, one person stands up and gets their coat, and what happens? Suddenly everyone is getting their coats on, all at the same time. Which means that everyone had decided that the party was not for them, and no one had done anything about it, until finally this triggering event let the air out of the group, and everyone kind of felt okay about leaving.

This effect is so steady it's sometimes called the paradox of groups. It's obvious that there are no groups without members. But what's less obvious is that there are no members without a group. Because what would you be a member of?

So there's this very complicated moment of a group coming together, where enough individuals, for whatever reason, sort of agree that something worthwhile is happening, and the decision they make at that moment is: This is good and must be protected. And at that moment, even if it's subconscious, you start getting group effects. And the effects that we've seen come up over and over and over again in online communities.

Now, Bion decided that what he was watching with the neurotics was the group defending itself against his attempts to make the group do what they said they were supposed to do. The group was convened to get better, this group of people was in therapy to get better. But they were defeating that. And he said, there are some very specific patterns that they're entering into to defeat the ostensible purpose of the group meeting together. And he detailed three patterns.

The first is sex talk, what he called, in his mid-century prose, "A group met for pairing off." And what that means is, the group conceives of its purpose as the hosting of flirtatious or salacious talk or emotions passing between pairs of members.

You go on IRC and you scan the channel list, and you say "Oh, I know what that group is about, because I see the channel label." And you go into the group, you will also almost invariably find that it's about sex talk as well. Not necessarily overt. But that is always in scope in human conversations, according to Bion. That is one basic pattern that groups can always devolve into, away from the sophisticated purpose and towards one of these basic purposes.

The second basic pattern that Bion detailed: The identification and vilification of external enemies. This is a very common pattern. Anyone who was around the Open Source movement in the mid-Nineties could see this all the time. If you cared about Linux on the desktop, there was a big list of jobs to do. But you could always instead get a conversation going about Microsoft and Bill Gates. And people would start bleeding from their ears, they would get so mad.

If you want to make it better, there's a list of things to do. It's Open Source, right? Just fix it. "No, no, Microsoft and Bill Gates grrrrr ...", the froth would start coming out. The external enemy -- nothing causes a group to galvanize like an external enemy.

So even if someone isn't really your enemy, identifying them as an enemy can cause a pleasant sense of group cohesion. And groups often gravitate towards members who are the most paranoid and make them leaders, because those are the people who are best at identifying external enemies.

The third pattern Bion identified: Religious veneration. The nomination and worship of a religious icon or a set of religious tenets. The religious pattern is, essentially, we have nominated something that's beyond critique. You can see this pattern on the Internet any day you like. Go onto a Tolkein newsgroup or discussion forum, and try saying "You know, The Two Towers is a little dull. I mean loooong. We didn't need that much description about the forest, because it's pretty much the same forest all the way."

Try having that discussion. On the door of the group it will say: "This is for discussing the works of Tolkein." Go in and try and have that discussion.

Now, in some places people say "Yes, but it needed to, because it had to convey the sense of lassitude," or whatever. But in most places you'll simply be flamed to high heaven, because you're interfering with the religious text.

So these are human patterns that have shown up on the Internet, not because of the software, but because it's being used by humans. Bion has identified this possibility of groups sandbagging their sophisticated goals with these basic urges. And what he finally came to, in analyzing this tension, is that group structure is necessary. Robert's Rules of Order are necessary. Constitutions are necessary. Norms, rituals, laws, the whole list of ways that we say, out of the universe of possible behaviors, we're going to draw a relatively small circle around the acceptable ones.

He said the group structure is necessary to defend the group from itself. Group structure exists to keep a group on target, on track, on message, on charter, whatever. To keep a group focused on its own sophisticated goals and to keep a group from sliding into these basic patterns. Group structure defends the group from the action of its own members.

In the Seventies -- this is a pattern that's shown up on the network over and over again -- in the Seventies, a BBS called Communitree launched, one of the very early dial-up BBSes. This was launched when people didn't own computers, institutions owned computers.

Communitree was founded on the principles of open access and free dialogue. "Communitree" -- the name just says "California in the Seventies." And the notion was, effectively, throw off structure and new and beautiful patterns will arise.

And, indeed, as anyone who has put discussion software into groups that were previously disconnected has seen, that does happen. Incredible things happen. The early days of Echo, the early days of usenet, the early days of Lucasfilms Habitat, over and over again, you see all this incredible upwelling of people who suddenly are connected in ways they weren't before.

And then, as time sets in, difficulties emerge. In this case, one of the difficulties was occasioned by the fact that one of the institutions that got hold of some modems was a high school. And who, in 1978, was hanging out in the room with the computer and the modems in it, but the boys of that high school. And the boys weren't terribly interested in sophisticated adult conversation. They were interested in fart jokes. They were interested in salacious talk. They were interested in running amok and posting four-letter words and nyah-nyah-nyah, all over the bulletin board.

And the adults who had set up Communitree were horrified, and overrun by these students. The place that was founded on open access had too much open access, too much openness. They couldn't defend themselves against their own users. The place that was founded on free speech had too much freedom. They had no way of saying "No, that's not the kind of free speech we meant."

But that was a requirement. In order to defend themselves against being overrun, that was something that they needed to have that they didn't have, and as a result, they simply shut the site down.

Now you could ask whether or not the founders' inability to defend themselves from this onslaught, from being overrun, was a technical or a social problem. Did the software not allow the problem to be solved? Or was it the social configuration of the group that founded it, where they simply couldn't stomach the idea of adding censorship to protect their system. But in a way, it doesn't matter, because technical and social issues are deeply intertwined. There's no way to completely separate them.

What matters is, a group designed this and then was unable, in the context they'd set up, partly a technical and partly a social context, to save it from this attack from within. And attack from within is what matters. Communitree wasn't shut down by people trying to crash or syn-flood the server. It was shut down by people logging in and posting, which is what the system was designed to allow. The technological pattern of normal use and attack were identical at the machine level, so there was no way to specify technologically what should and shouldn't happen. Some of the users wanted the system to continue to exist and to provide a forum for discussion. And other of the users, the high school boys, either didn't care or were actively inimical. And the system provided no way for the former group to defend itself from the latter.

Now, this story has been written many times. It's actually frustrating to see how many times it's been written. You'd hope that at some point that someone would write it down, and they often do, but what then doesn't happen is other people don't read it.

The most charitable description of this repeated pattern is "learning from experience." But learning from experience is the worst possible way to learn something. Learning from experience is one up from remembering. That's not great. The best way to learn something is when someone else figures it out and tells you: "Don't go in that swamp. There are alligators in there."

Learning from experience about the alligators is lousy, compared to learning from reading, say. There hasn't been, unfortunately, in this arena, a lot of learning from reading. And so, lessons from Lucasfilms' Habitat, written in 1990, reads a lot like Rose Stone's description of Communitree from 1978.

This pattern has happened over and over and over again. Someone built the system, they assumed certain user behaviors. The users came on and exhibited different behaviors. And the people running the system discovered to their horror that the technological and social issues could not in fact be decoupled.

There's a great document called "LambdaMOO Takes a New Direction," which is about the wizards of LambdaMOO, Pavel Curtis's Xerox PARC experiment in building a MUD world. And one day the wizards of LambdaMOO announced "We've gotten this system up and running, and all these interesting social effects are happening. Henceforth we wizards will only be involved in technological issues. We're not going to get involved in any of that social stuff."

And then, I think about 18 months later -- I don't remember the exact gap of time -- they come back. The wizards come back, extremely cranky. And they say: "What we have learned from you whining users is that we can't do what we said we would do. We cannot separate the technological aspects from the social aspects of running a virtual world.

"So we're back, and we're taking wizardly fiat back, and we're going to do things to run the system. We are effectively setting ourselves up as a government, because this place needs a government, because without us, the place was falling apart."

People who work on social software are closer in spirit to economists and political scientists than they are to people making compilers. They both look like programming, but when you're dealing with groups of people as one of your run-time phenomena, that is an incredibly different practice. In the political realm, we would call these kinds of crises a constitutional crisis. It's what happens when the tension between the individual and the group, and the rights and responsibilities of individuals and groups, gets so serious that something has to be done.

And the worst crisis is the first crisis, because it's not just "We need to have some rules." It's also "We need to have some rules for making some rules." And this is what we see over and over again in large and long-lived social software systems. Constitutions are a necessary component of large, long-lived, heterogenous groups.

Geoff Cohen has a great observation about this. He said "The likelihood that any unmoderated group will eventually get into a flame-war about whether or not to have a moderator approaches one as time increases." As a group commits to its existence as a group, and begins to think that the group is good or important, the chance that they will begin to call for additional structure, in order to defend themselves from themselves, gets very, very high...."

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