Not even the most powerful organs of the press, including Time,
Newsweek, and The New York Times, can discover a new artist or certify
his work and make it stick... They can only bring you the scores.
Like dreams, statistics are a form of wish fulfillment.
I get so tired listening to one million dollars here, one million
dollars there. It's so petty.
Did the good old boys at DARPA have EGR in mind when they set out to create a computer network impervious to nuclear war? Of course not -- but they played right into my hands! Think about it.
Non-sequiturially, I'm in a tricky position these days, having decided to become a consultant. Most consultants are whores. You pay them for the satisfaction they provide: "No, a little lower... That's it, that's it, no, more right there! Ahhhh, oooooh, ohmygod! Yes, Yes!!!"
Granted, stroking a client's ego takes a lot of skill.
But you never really know where they're coming from, so to speak. The point is, you can't just analyze commercial web sites these days, you have to fuck with them. One site I've been fucking with a lot this past week is sixdegrees.http://www.sixdegrees.com
Now the ethical conundrum. If that company were a client (they are not), would I publish the sort of things I'm about to say here? Perhaps not. I'd probably deliver the information discretely to the CEO. "Hey, pal, here's the doc you paid me to prepare on the sixteen reasons your site really bites..."
The marvelous paradox is that, when you charge people as much as I do to deliver the Bad News, they tend to listen. Whereas if you're working for a company directly and do the same thing, they automatically assume your criticism is evidence of a Bad Attitude and just fire your ass on the spot.
So, here's my rationalization -- and believe me, every consultant needs one to support the continued ability to look in the mirror. Because my paid behind-the-scenes counsel is harkened to and taken so seriously, I can reasonably assume it has done some good and served its purpose. It is therefore not necessary to publish this beastly intelligence and blab bad vibes all over the Global Internet, because those in the best position to improve the situation have already been hipped to what they're doing wrong, and will waste no time in righting their egregious blunders. Right?
I warned you it was a rationalization. It's the best I've been able to come up with. An interesting side effect is that this constitutes a none too subtle form of extortion. That is, if your company doesn't hire me, I might just write you up in EGR. Hmmm... now that I think about it for a second, this is probably one of the best models for
e-commerceanyone has ever come up with. And it's infinitely scalable too. There is no upper bound on the number of companies I could have paying me not to write about them! Ultimately, I'd be sitting pretty on some sun drenched beach collecting bigtime for never logging in.
You may object that this is hideously immoral, but I'd argue that it beats the traditional publishing proposition -- widely denied but universally practiced -- of providing editorial coverage in return for advertising dollars. Separation of Church and State, yeah, sure, right, you betcha!
magnet for a mediawhore
sixdegrees is a regular lodestone for someone like myself, because long before turning tricks as a consultant, I was a full-fledged card-carrying mediawhore. Let me tell you, there is no feeling in the world like retrieving your copy of The Wall Street Journal from off the front porch and finding yourself quoted there. Oh man! It gets researched and composed on the West Coast, printed in New York, and big ol' 18-wheelers trundle it through the night toward your peacefully drowsing morning doorstep. You read yourself saying something like:"Who needs Microsoft? We're fast cheap and out of control."...and the coffee just somehow tastes better. I know, because that's an actual quote from The New York Times of something I said to John Markoff, who wrote the story in 1994. You get this feeling that you're part of what makes the world go round, that you're at the livewire happening center of all things. It's more addictive than heroin.
It's utter bullshit of course, an illusion carefully maintained by guess who? That's right: the media. Is it the promise of riches or fame that really drives global commerce? Hard to say. I'd guess the money is usually an afterthought. It's a moot point, though, as what we refer to so fondly as the Free Press is actually shackled hand and foot to the Big Bread -- Murdoch, Gates and such ilk -- so it's ultimately a chicken-egg kinda deal.
But after the metaphorical 15 minutes of that action, trust me, the web is a crashing comedown. "As I wrote in the latest issue of EGR..." just doesn't have the same cache you get by dropping "As I'm quoted saying in current issue of Fortune..." It doesn't matter what you had to say. What matters is where you got to say it.
If you been there done that and all you're left with is a brokendown webzine, you have to work your ass off to get anywhere near the same attention. And make no mistake, attention is what it's all about. If you're a bigwig politician or an industry mogul, it's called media exposure. If you're a trash-talking zinester it's called exhibitionism. Same difference. But whichever you are, the real question becomes: how do you get more willing suspension of disbelief? In the former case, you can try to buy it. In the latter, you have to rely on your wits.
You first ask your current subscribers to turn their friends on to what you're doing. You beg, you plead, but do they respond to these pathetic supplications? Of course not. Soon, you find yourself daydreaming about spammers and the 1% returns they get on mailings to 10 Million Unique Addresses, Only 49.95!!!. Hell, just one-a them babies and EGR would have 10,000 subscribers overnight. But, as Nixon once said: it would be wrong.
What if you could find out who your subscribers' contacts were, though, eh? Work your way in behind the curtain, as it were? This is where sixdegrees gets really interesting, because if you plan things right, it enables you to do just that. In our penultimate transmission, we encouraged you all to go sign up there and create a close relationship with RageBoy. Naturally, only the Innermost Sanctum of The Faithful actually did this, but even so, the results have been nothing less than astounding. In our last pseudo-issueBring Me the Head of Carl Steadmanwe told of starting with a mere 11 first-degree contacts, which by the time of that writing had grown thusly:
http://www.rageboy.com/carlshead.html1st degree = 77 contacts 2nd degree = 332 contacts 3rd degree = 2,413 contacts 4th degree = 9,537 contacts 5th degree = 25,605 contacts 6th degree = 62,552 contacts
Now, less than a week later, those stats stand at:1st degree = 211 contacts 2nd degree = 1,634 contacts 3rd degree = 7,981 contacts 4th degree = 27,737 contacts 5th degree = 70,709 contacts 6th degree = 133,800 contacts
Everyone who signs up for this service is constantly reminded that "Of the 1,174,722 sixdegrees members, 1,016,440 are connected to each other in one 'big cloud' of connections." (The stats are good as of today, 10/12/98; they change rapidly and, I have to assume, upward.) What this means is that I'm now practically hardwired to better than 13% of that Big Cloud -- the ultimate utility of which is a giant headscratcher. For one thing, it enables me to get instant messages like "hi! I'm in your sixth degree and wonder if you enjoy telepathically communing with three-legged Tasmanian marsupials?" from people I've never heard of, but who are now bound to me through multiple layers of complex relationships, even the very root of which -- since I omnivorously linked anyone who asked to be my sixdegrees Friend -- is entirely questionable.
However, this growing circle of connections has enabled me to bust my pal® Carl Steadman's chops in new and even more dubious ways via the sixdegrees bulletin boards. (Apologies to those of you for whom seeing these once was already one time too many.)Where is Carl?
Posted: 10/8/98 9:11pm
The EGR/RageBoy Front has grown from 11 to 157 noble warriors in a mere 48 hours."You have 666 people in your second degree, for a total of 823 people in your circle."
We believe that first statistic to be highly significant, underscoring as it does the dark and arcane power of gonzo!
Yet Carl sulks in his tent and does not rise from his cot. He sends secret entreaties to our minions, asking them to become his siblings or parents or significant others. Yet he does not appear on the field of battle like an honourable contender.
Fie 'pon thee, O Carl! Show thyself!
And...Does Carl Exist?By the way, Best Response to the latter Question (may I have the envelope please...) was posted by Steve Champeon of Raleigh, North Carolina:
Posted: 10/10/98 11:00am
Several individuals have responded to our previous postings with the question: "Who is Carl?"
Our point precisely!
Following the format set by St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica --God's Existence and Essence
-- please proffer your proofs for the existence of Carl. These will be refuted in order of receipt.
Given the ease with which identity can be spoofed on the Internet, we are surprised that no one has yet guessed that "Carl Steadman" is no less an alias than "RageBoy." For extra credit, demonstrate whatever proof you have that we are in fact two separate people.
RageBoyThe Scatological Argument for the Non-Existence of Carl Steadman.
- if Carl exists, he's everywhere.
- if he's everywhere, he's up your butt.
- if he were up your butt, you'd know it.
QED: Carl does not exist.
However, despite the high level of quality information conveyed by these substantive communications, and all the linking mania that has since ensued, very damn few of these folks are converting to EGR subscribers. So duh, what's the fuckin point? Sans the EGR-specific concern, this is a question everyone seems to be asking each other on sixdegrees. Even those without a sub-agenda. In fact, it's a question everyone seems to be asking themselves about the web as a whole: "Hey, wow! We're all connected! Now what...?"
the numbers gameThere are some attractive features to sixdegrees, no doubt about it. This probably explains why I'm getting so much mail from readers damning me to eternal hell for screwing up their week just by suggesting it. It's habit forming, at least for a while. The "people surfing" section is especially fascinating, as this is where you can see who's linked to whom, and how.
But for a site that runs on statistics, is based on statistics, sixdegrees has some odd failings -- like not being able to update itself properly and therefore reporting wildly fluctuating contact numbers. One minute I'd have 147 contacts and the next it would tell me 80. Maybe Carl and I broke the system last week. It's possible. These anomalies do seem to have straightened out since.
But also, people who are listed as being logged in are just as often not. Any idea of "instant messaging" becomes a joke in these cases. Three days later, someone logs on and gets "degreemail" saying "Yo! Wazzup?" The typical reaction would of course be along the general lines of "Huh?"
Then there are the bulletin boards. Date tracking on sixdegrees seems to be totally broken. It will tell me I have a certain number of unread messages, but when I finally find where they are (if ever), I also find I've already read them three times. It doesn't seem to remember. This may not seem such a big thing until you consider the ramifications of a message like the following:Your circle has posted 382 QuestionsYeah, but where are they? No indication is given of which threads ("Questions" in sixdegrees parlance) contain these responses. And there's no way to search for a Question by topic or anything else. So you have to go hunt for them by brute force. Worse, these are presented 20 Questions at a time (was that an intended pun I wonder?), which, given 382 Questions, means 20 separate screens to page through! Plus, this paging is no clickety-click kinda deal. Did I mention this puppy is S-L-O-W? All the teeny-weeny graphics are real nice, thanks, but they don't seem to cache, so every page is like, you know, The First Time.
There are 3133 Responses
There are 11 Responses to your responses
But wait, it gets richer. Say you've made it to screen number 8 -- i.e., through 160 Questions -- and you decide to dip into one of them to see if maybe that's the one in which someone posted a reply. First of all, because date tracking is so hosed, it's more than a little likely you've already read the damn thing, so you hit the "back to question list" button and viola!, you're returned to the very first screen of those 382 Questions -- meaning now you get to start all over.
Who designed this interface, The Great Horned God Beelzebub?
To me, this is central to sixdegrees' -- you should forgive the expression -- Value Proposition. People ostensibly come here not just to do some sort of pan-galactic-Rolodex-DNA-exchange, but to actually meet each other. However, the meeting-each-other functions are a lot less developed than, oh say, the functions for rotating the ubiquitous advertising banners. I don't that much mind the latter -- all God's chillun gotta make a buck -- as long as the system itself performs as advertised. And on a system supposedly designed to connect people, an inability to handle discussion threading is not exactly a minor glitch.
More fundamentally, the logic of grouping discussions by "circle" -- i.e., your first- and second-degree contacts -- is of debatable merit. What do I care that a Friend of a Friend of my Service Provider wants to blather on about the joys of whitewater kayaking? (Hint: not one jot.) Whereas I might be extremely interested in someone writing about gonzo zinery, regardless of that person's preestablished -- but highly arbitrary -- relationship to me. Even at the second degree, it's a considerable stretch to imagine that such a loose aggregation of individuals would necessarily share much in the way of common interests. A high level of noise is thus guaranteed -- where noise, according to David Wienberger's recent theoretical formulation, is defined with respect to the dictum that information equals"factual statements we care about for whatever reason."
In other words, a topical breakout of searchable discussions would probably make a whole lot more sense. Hey, I know! They could call it Deja News! (except for the fact that the latter is so sadly chockablock with spam).
Turning to the realm of minor annoyances, I was put off by the message that came up in "degreemail" when I tried to explain something that took more than a one-liner:"The text of your message is too long. It cannot exceed 510 characters. Please shorten your message."
You can easily understand how this would constitute a pissoff factor for one so prolix as myself. More critically, however, b-board postings that attempt to go much beyond "yeah, me too!" are greeted with:"Your response was too long. It must be less than 2000 characters. Please resubmit."
At the current state-of-editing, the present rant is already over 28k. Granted, no one is going to put up with that sort of thing, not even EGR "readers" as we call them out of tradition if nothing else. But browsing around sixdegrees, especially in discussions dealing with economics and political issues, I found quite a few messages that were cut off in mid-sentence, or that continued in the next post "as I was saying..." Many will no doubt think these limits a good idea, and probably wish I had one imposed on me when hacking out EGR. However, my own carefully considered opinion is that they suck! Doubly so because the system doesn't support clickable URLs. You can insert a web address, of course, but a reader has to copy and paste it into a browser to go there. And in these latter days of diminished post-AOL expectations, the few who can figure that much out are considered Power Users. The message all this sends is clear: keep it light and frothy (I have tried to comply), don't scroll down too far from those ad banners, and don't click off to someplace else.
Sounds a bit like chat to this boy. Speaking of which, sixdegrees chat does, oddly, have live URLs. Why not in the b-boards then? Perhaps the click-away concern is less there, what with such compelling featured presenters as "Robin Gorman Newman: Relationship Expert and Author of 'How to Meet a Mensch in New York'" along with the ever-lovable fully televisionated Snapple Lady. Personally, I was sorta hoping for a hot channeling session with Attila the Hun.
who gives a rat's ass?So site reviews are not EGR's forte. OK, I can accept that. But I took all these notes, you see, and I couldn't just let them sit around doing nothing, could I? I could have, you say? Well yeah, I guess you're right.
Except... except... Look, I hate to admit this, you know, but that word "community" used to mean something to me once. Call it naive, call it romantic, but getting people hooked up and vibing back and forth always seemed like such a natural for online. Only -- and this is the interesting part -- it doesn't really seem to work.
EGR is a community. Well... sorta. Maybe it works, if it does at all, because I'm here and you're there and we can just leave it at that. I don't have to get all excited about whitewater rafting with you (hoo boy, here come the unsubs from that contingent) or agonize over Y2K and what a Big Fucking Deal that's gonna be (here come some more) or pretend to wring my hands over the inherent problems of digital democracy (well, there goes the whole boatload). Does this represent lack of interest? A lack of sufficient caring? Or could it possibly be an unsuspected weirdball form of respect? As in: you go your way, I'll go mine.
Now, some folks'll talk about your Virtual Community as if the ultimate model were some down-home barn-raising event. We can all try some of Aunt Sally's scrumptious apple pie and when Clem gets the fantods we can all go see him in the Virtual Nuthouse. When I die, if you're my Real Friend®, we'll all solemnly converge via some super-riffy high-tech videoconferencing system so you can see and hear me deliver my last words, which will probably go something like "Ughnh..."
Why don't I find this appealing? Why do I find it, in fact, appalling? Am I just too far gone into some horribly misguided throwback to rugged individualism? Maybe. But it's all so... how should I frame this? Tawdry.
So what the hell. I hook up with everybody to maintain my anonymity. It's a kind of an inverted privacy, I guess. I hang my ass out for the world because I couldn't care less what it thinks about my ass. And I write on the open web because -- in stark contrast to the auto-censorship "feature" of the sixdegrees chat system -- there's nothing to stop me from saying fuck, shit, piss, cock, cunt, and other favored Anglo-Saxon terms of endearment, if for no other reason than to remind myself I can.
That's not much of a basis for a community, is it? But neither is a business model based on eyeballs and ad banners. And I guess that's why I wrote this. So go to sixdegrees, by all means, and check it out. It's got some interesting wrinkles and you can even make a new pal or two. Just don't forget what you went there looking for. Because when you're lonely and it's freezing cold outside, the mercury plummeting into the single-digit ice-nine Kelvin range, the disappointment of not finding it there is the only real friend you got.
Heute sixdegrees, Morgen Die Welt!
from my sixdegrees StartPage 10/12/98
100,000 people 200,000 people 1st° 211 2nd° 1,634 3rd° 7,981 4th° 27,737 5th° 70,709 6th° 133,800
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Entropy Gradient Reversals
CopyLeft Christopher Locke
"reality leaves a lot to the imagination..."
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