on Google Wave and predicting how innovations spread

Roy Tennant in Library Journal writes about the newly-unveiled Google Wave platform and protocol. Wave proposes to expand email into an integrated “hosted conversation” capable of incorporating email, IM, documents, etc., and allowing flexible sharing and the replaying of interaction histories.

Observing how Wave’s model is more open and real-time than email, Tennant says: “those of you out there who are just as social as you wish to be at the moment….your world is about to be blown wide open.” (“Just How Social Do You Want to Be?”).

To me, that is a rather disturbing thought… are we such captives of technology or our employers that we’d want or let our whole communicative behavior be “blown apart” because a new tool comes along?

Anyway, adoption doesn’t usually happen that way. The body of research on innovation diffusion, as summed up by Everett Rogers, suggests that adoption generally happens slowly, partially, often not at all, and usually by social networks rather than by imposition. (cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_of_innovation).

Rogers on key factors in adoption: “Innovations that are perceived by individuals as having greater

  • relative advantage
  • compatibility
  • trialability
  • observability
  • less complexity

will be adopted more rapidly than other innovations. Past research indicates that these five qualities are the more important characteristics of innovations in explaining the rate of adoption.”
— “The Diffusion of Innovations.” (Amazon).

From what I’ve seen, Google Wave is truly innovative and potentially game-changing. The Google Wave video demo is well worth watching if you have any interest in collaboration methods, or the future of work.

My first impression is that they’ve gathered many innovative, existing communication models — such as real-time collaborative editing, wikis, IM, threaded email discussions, tagging, social networking, Twitter/microblogging — and woven them together into something elegant and broadly usable. Given the open design (based on a public protocol, with complete API set, etc.) and Google’s tremendous reach and execution skill and global mindshare, perhaps they can bring these communication models to much wider adoption than ever before.

On the other hand, outside of the early adopters, people generally “satisfice” their needs with the tools that are the simplest, most trusted, and most supported by their peers. If Google Wave is an extension of email, and most people are comfortable with and used to email, how quickly could the additional value of Wave motivate widespread adoption across the whole online population?

Also, regarding the “opening” of social behavior, we must recognize that for most people, everyday life requires a degree of dissembling, non-accountability, and rationing of social attention — and we probably woudn’t want things otherwise.

Call it slack (Tom DeMarco), or “necessary illegality” (Foucault), or evasion, secrecy, or social exclusion, this is human nature, or human nature in our world, at least — which we shouldn’t expect or want to be easily blown apart by Google Wave.

A Web Services Taxonomy: not all about the data

full article A Web Services Taxonomy (PDF 84k).

A Web Service, according to a standard definition, is “a software system designed to support interoperable machine-to-machine interaction over a network.” 1

To put it another way, a Web Service is some useful service offered (usually) on the Internet, designed as a sort of building block you can use any way you want.

So, for example, Google Maps, a free service that dynamically draws maps of any location and locates addresses, has been used by thousands of people to build new services such as crime-report maps and real-estate listing tools,

Another way to wrap your mind around Web Services is to consider a range of well-known ones and what they do.  That’s what I’ve done in the chart below, with services such as Paypal, Google, Twitter, and Sabre, the airline-reservations system.  (click on chart to see full-size):


This chart represents a taxonomy, or classification, of Web Services, constructed by characterizing all services according to two factors:

  1. Data quality: from simple/commodity to complex/unique
  2. Transaction level: from basic lookup to real-world transaction.

In my full article, A Web Services Taxonomy (PDF 84k), I define what I mean by those terms, and discuss representative examples of Services that exhibit varying degrees of these characteristics.

Based on this, I suggest that the Services with the most usage, customer value, and/or revenues typically have more complex/unique data, and/or are more transactional. In other words, the typically-cited data lookup services are not where most of Web Services value lies.

See also the above chart in full size, or the full article (PDF 84k).

recalling polymath Jack Schwartz, founder of NYU CompSci dept.

In March, the founder and longtime head of the NYU Computer Science department, Jacob T. (Jack) Schwartz, died at age 79 — the same week I applied to enter a Master’s program at the department. See excerpts from his New York Times obituary, below.

Schwartz had an intriguingly prolific and varied career. These quotes struck me:
“Throughout his life, Dr. Schwartz, who was known as Jack, moved from one scientific field to the next. He was not a dilettante, but mastered each field in turn and then made significant contributions.” “At his death [at age 79] Dr. Schwartz was actively working on research in both molecular biology and logic.”

Like recently-nominated Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, Schwartz was born to a working class, immigrant family in the Bronx, and rose through outstanding academic attainment to the highest levels of his field.

He attended City College of New York, founded in 1847 as the Free Academy of the City of New York and the first free public institution of higher education in the United States. CCNY has traditionally been a haven for the most talented poor and immigrant students in New York, until recently charging no tuition; it numbers among its alumni luminaries in many fields.

Wikipedia notes:
“In the years when top-flight private schools were restricted to the children of the Protestant Establishment, thousands of brilliant individuals (especially Jewish students) attended City College because they had no other option. CCNY’s academic excellence and status as a working-class school earned it the titles ‘Harvard of the Proletariat’, the ‘poor man’s Harvard’, and ‘Harvard-on-the-Hudson’.” “Even today, after three decades of controversy over its academic standards, no other public college has produced as many Nobel laureates.”

Other alumni of note:
in public life: Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter, Henry Kissinger, NY Mayor Ed Koch, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, WWII spy Julius Rosenberg, and Robert F. Wagner, Sr., the US Senator who introduced the National Labor Relations Act.
In the arts: Woody Allen (attended briefly), playwright Paddy Chayevsky, composer Ira Gershwin, director Stanley Kubrick, Sterling Morrison (musician, co-founder of “The Velvet Underground”) actor Zero Mostel, and great modernist photographer Alfred Stieglitz.
Authors: Bernard Malamud, Walter Mosley, Mario Puzo, A.M. Rosenthal (former executive editor of The New York Times), Upton Sinclair, Lewis Mumford.
Stanley H. Kaplan, founder of Kaplan Educational Services; Andrew S. Grove, founder of Intel Corp; Herman Hollerith, inventor of key punch and electric tabulator for Census Office, founder of precursor firm to IBM; and Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine.

The department Schwartz started at NYU seems to be going strong today: see http://www.cs.nyu.edu/csweb/ for view of the multitudinous and multidisciplinary events & research going on there now.

Jacob T. Schwartz, 79, Restless Scientist, Dies
New York Times, March 3, 2009

“Jacob T. Schwartz, a mathematician and computer scientist who did seminal research in fields as diverse as molecular biology and robotics, died Monday at his home in Manhattan. He was 79.

“He died in his sleep of liver cancer, his wife, Diana, said. He was chairman of the computer science department at New York University, which he founded, from 1964 to 1980.

“During a career that also included 42 years as a professor at the Courant Institute for Mathematical Sciences at the university, Dr. Schwartz wrote more than a dozen books and more than 100 scientific papers and research reports. At his death Dr. Schwartz was actively working on research in both molecular biology and logic.

“Throughout his life, Dr. Schwartz, who was known as Jack, moved from one scientific field to the next. He was not a dilettante, but mastered each field in turn and then made significant contributions. […]

“The son of Ignatz and Hedwig Schwartz, Dr. Schwartz was born on Jan. 9, 1930, in the Bronx. He received his bachelor of science degree from City College of New York in 1949 and his master’s degree and Ph.D. from Yale.” […]

Tweeting but not returning calls: Twitter and the Theory of the Firm

“I see your tweets and status updates, but you haven’t answered my mail”…

Anecdotally I’ve noticed that the rise of social media activity (Facebook updating, Tweeting, etc.) seems to correlate with a drop in direct communication, e.g. email or phone.

You can see how a shift from the latter to the former would make sense, in terms of interpersonal economics. The value of a single relationship must be very high to justify investing effort in a single-person communication, when you can efficiently seek the gains of communicating to an entire social network.

It’s interesting to relate this to what, in economics, is called the “theory of the firm” (cf.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_the_firm). Why do companies or organizations exist, rather than just individuals transacting directly? Why do they exist at certain sizes and structures, and how/why does that change over time?

The firm may be explained as a means to decrease “transaction costs,” reduce cognitive burden, employ team psychology, or cultivate moral reciprocity, etc. It has long been observed than changes in the relative costs of communication may alter the basis for efficient firm size or structure: e.g., email and online project tools may allow projects to be done by freelance teams that formerly were done only within companies.

What strikes me about the shift to social media, though, is that social gratification and broad social status, rather than transaction cost and *local* roles, may be becoming key factors in people’s everyday communication. A co-worker perceived as not part of one’s social world, or a means to social advancement, has decreasing claim on one’s attention, regardless of their “official” or corporate position.

recommended: R. H. Coase 1937 paper “The Nature of the Firm”, an all-time-great paper in social science:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/2530438/COASEThe-Nature-of-the-Firm. http://instruct1.cit.cornell.edu/courses/econ352jpw/readme/coase%20nature%20of%20firm.pdf