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Getting ready for the big bang

Posted by webmink on July 6, 2003 at 1:02 PM PDT

Supernova is part of what The Register calls "a giddy social whirl of conferences and and other airmile aggregation opportunities". As most of the speakers have weblogs, we have the opportunity to peek inside and perhaps get a preview of some of the content.

Cory Doctorow has started an interesting thread, on a topic Liz Lawley hinted at a while back - whether always-on-ness is helpful or harmful. I remember the same questions about compulsive use of the PDP-11 when I was at university, mind you, so it's not a new question. Delegates at this event however will have an impressive array of alternative feeds even without leaving the event - a wiki, blog and blog aggregator just for the event, before they've event started reading speaker blogs and the like. Positive: If my speech is no good the delegates won't suffer (or even notice); Negative: My speech will have to be pretty compelling to even make people look up.

Mind you, if the have the HeckleBot Joi Ito writes about, being ignored will be the least of my problems. With WiFi becoming common at conferences, there's more and more back-chat going on live, and while I've been known to play too, I'm not sure it's altogether a good thing to turn a conference into a gong show.

Amy Wohl hasn't been blogging much lately, maybe because the fight with spam is becoming overwhelming. The worst part of the spam problem is the way some of the anti-spam tools are being deployed. I tried sending an e-mail to the committee I chair at OMA yesterday and was greeted with a bounce message thus: "554 SPAM-Relay detected". While spam is clearly a bad thing, software that assumes if can detect it 100% reliably without user confirmation is clearly deluded. The best server-side software I have found so far is MailScanner (written by my neighbour Julian Field), which is more a pluggable framework than a single solution. But with broadband access available, I prefer to handle it client-side. David Weinberger relies on PopFile, and so did I until I got my PowerBook and started using the Mac, which has filtering built-in. Leaving the final decision to the user (even if it's to blindly ignore things tagged as spam) seems vital to me.

It goes further than just spam. One of the discussions here on is about inappropriate postings. As well as discussing whether it should be personality dominance, community consensus or technical merit that sets standards (all three can be the same thing, of course), Clay Shirky's excellent essay on groups reminds us that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, and that spam is just the harbinger of the sort of group behaviour that killed Usenet for most of us. His suggestions on how to design for success bear investigation.

This post has already gone on far too long - following Anil Dash's lead I should probably stop here and not be too much more ADD. Assuming my attention span will hold that long, my talk at Supernova will be about the way becoming massively-connected is having consequences at all levels in both technology and society. The network is now the computer, and the effects - always-on-ness, appropriateness of communications, a gong-show attitude and more - are inevitable, important but hopefully transient if we can learn from research and history. Much more of an issue for me is how the development and maintenance of standards will evolve. Massively-connected development is in beta-test; massively-connected specification is in early alpha-test. These are the key trends.

[Also posted to Webmink : the Blog]

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