The Pebble and the Avalanche

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Current Revolutions in Business and Technology

by Dr. Moshe Yudkowsky,

author of The Pebble and The Avalanche: How Taking Things Apart Creates Revolutions


Wed, 2010-Mar-24, 21:14

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On Automated Tracking

Insight into automated services that send your location to your social network:

Too bad. I wanted to stay in touch with my friends, not their software.
Once again, we face the challenge of sorting the wheat from the chaff in a world that can generate chaff without limit.

Wed, 2010-Feb-03, 08:46

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Of Quail Eggs and Twitter

Does everyone in the world need to know that I had quail eggs for lunch on Monday? I think so, so I'll broadcast that on Twitter in a few minutes. But sometimes the most surprising people read Twitter.

Early Tuesday morning I mentioned on Twitter that I was not going to vote in the Illinois primary election. Although I almost always vote in the primaries (and I never miss a general election), this year I was too thoroughly disgusted with the choices on tap and decided to protest by staying at home.

And then I got a telephone call from a reporter at The Chicago Tribune, who interviewed me about the reasons for my refusal to vote. The reporter had noticed my comment on Twitter and was curious enough to ask me.

I do admit that I'm curious about what tool he uses to scan Twitter so effectively, but that's not the point. The point is that the most innocuous short remark can provide information to someone, perhaps not very efficiently but in real time. Twitter has accomplished something profound and I think we don't quite understand the implications just yet.

Fri, 2010-Jan-29, 09:23

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"Is this still you?"

A friend just sent an email message to my email address to ask "Is this still you?" I added in a few more details about how to find me:

  • A microblogging service
  • Two different IM networks
  • Two social networking sites (the ones I use most often)
  • Three of my blogs (again, the ones I update most often)
The question "is this you?" is more complicated than ever before.

Thu, 2009-Mar-12, 08:48

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Does This Count as Twitter Abuse?

Most technical conferences use a "back-channel" for attendees to message each other during the conference. If the speaker makes a reference to a company, someone will post the URL; if an attendee doesn't like one of the speaker's arguments he can say so. I expect some people find this disconcerting, but smart conference organizers monitor the back-channel to see what's been said to take the pulse of the audience.

At the recent Emerging Communications Conference (eComm), for example, a stream of comments in the back-channel prompted the conference organizer to stand up and demand that the attendees who disagreed with the speaker give the speaker a chance to respond by asking their questions publically.

The most common tool for a back-channel used to be IRC: simple and cheap, with some bells and whistles for advanced users — IRC is in fact designed for discussions. Instead, eComm asked us to use Twitter, and we did, with the "#eComm" tag (you can still find the entire conference and post-conference discussion if you like). This meant our back-channel was public; no great worry. It also meant that eComm rapidly became one of the most ten popular topics on Twitter during the span of the conference.

But it also meant that we carried on a two-way conversation via a micro-blogging service that's meant for short broadcasts to the world. Twitter simply doesn't support that very well, and at least one of my subscribers temporarily unsubscribed from my feed because of the number of tweets I made. One fellow attendee solved this "flooding" problem by creating a temporary Twitter account just for duration of the conference.

My conclusion: eComm certainly received decent publicity for the conference; as for myself, I found a number of new people to follow on Twitter and they found me. The public at large learned some interesting facts. But in practice Twitter isn't really meant for conversations, and the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. We need to figure out how to combine IRC's conversational nature with Twitter's public presence.

Tue, 2008-Nov-25, 09:11

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Telephone Calls from Your Plants is So Last Year

I've heard from Kate Hartman again; it seems that phone calls from your house plants are just too dated for advanced thinkers. She and Kati London and the rest of the gang now have a kit that lets your house plants contact you via Twitter.

This is a team to watch, with tremendous creativity.