16 Dec 2002 raph   » (Master)

I'm posting at a somewhat odd time today, to make sure that people get a chance to contact me about dinner tomorrow. I want to follow up on some proof threads, but that will have to wait a day or so.

Felix Mellitus Viridisque

We have a translation! After extremely helpful info from Chris Ryland and forrest, we've settled on "Felix, Mellitus, Viridisque". Finding a really good translation for "sticky" turned out to be quite difficult, so we went for "mellitus" instead, which means literally "honeyed".

The family motto happened spontaneously, in a car trip a couple of years ago. Our previous family motto was, "it's more complicated than that," as it was a phrase we used quite frequently trying to explain to others our living arrangements - at the time, we were living with another couple. It was a noble goal, but ultimately there was just too much tension to make it work.

In a sense, the new family motto represents the opposite of our old situation. Not only was it fairly unhappy, but the woman of the other couple is compulsive about neatness. Neither Heather and I are, so as you can imagine, this was one of the major tensions. For the kids to have sticky hands is just fine if they're happy.

Google Answers

The response to my previous entry on Google answers was very satisfying. Apart from the Latin help, Telsa sent a pointer to an article describing one librarian's experience being a Google Researcher, and her subsequent termination for breaching the silence clause in the Researcher contract. I find that kind of censorship to be uncool in the extreme, if not exactly evil.

Exchanging knowledge can be a purely financial transaction, as in Google Answers, but it's better when it's done through one's social network. I find that most people genuinely want to share their knowledge (or, perhaps, there are a lot of people who don't, but I don't interact much with them). Google's insistence on anonymity of their Researchers would seem to actively frustrate the building of any such community around their service.

One illustration with the problems of Answers as commerce is the frequency of homework problems. Google's policy frowns on these, but of course it's often hard to tell for sure, and I can easily imagine how they'd be tempting for a Researcher to just answer and collect the fee.

Generally, I imagine kids with rich parents, who have learned that it's easier to throw money around to get what you want than to learn how to do it yourself, or tap into a network of people who can teach you. (Why is it that I can easily imagine kids of the Bush dynasty fitting into this pattern?)

Chris Ryland asserts that "getting the best answers from the community, without using a Google Answers-like business, only works if you're already a respected (or at least highly-read, e.g., Winer) leader in your community." I respectfully disagree. Being highly-read lets you be lazy, in that merely posting a question is likely to get you answers at least as good as Google Answers, but I believe everyone has such a network around them, and would do well to cultivate it. The main thing is to go around asking, "do you know anyone who knows (for example) Latin translation?" If you're stuck, many research librarians would be happy to help you as well.

For this sample query, it's interesting to note the importance of the network, as opposed simply to the volume of people reading my diary. Chris checked with a friend of his who's a Latin scholar, and who tutors his kids. Forrest asked an anarchist poet, who obviously was willing to answer the query.

Ever since starting to study social networks for my research on trust metrics, I'm continually blown away by their power. They're one of the most valuable resources at your disposal. I think a lot of people understand this instinctively, but for whatever reason I didn't really grasp it until I studied it academically. Perhaps it's that I grew up fairly isolated.

So, in the end, this is why Google Answers is at best a service that might be useful to some people, rather than the transcendent coolness of Google's search function. It's a substitute for building one's social network of knowledge-seeking, inferior and more expensive.

Dinner

I'm visting the OSAF tomorrow, largely to talk about whether Fitz will be a good match for their needs. Afterwards, David McCusker and I will be having dinner at a Chinese restaurant somewhere on the peninsula, and we'd like to invite a few more people. Please send email if you're interested.

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