2009/12/22

Open is as Open Does

Why I'm happy to be working at Google: The meaning of open (Official Google Blog).  Open technology and open information are ultimately about freedom and control.  Open technology gives everyone freedom to invent, compete, and improve the world; open information gives people ultimate control over the literal bits that belong to them.  These are aspirational, ambitious, long-term goals.  And yes, in the long run they benefit Google as well as the world  but the point is that they do this, at least in principle, by increasing value for everyone.  That's a good goal.  It's a difficult goal, and it takes a lot of up-front investment and a long term perspective — something the world needs more of right now.

Happy holidays!

2009/12/12

Massively Collaborative Mathematics via Blog Comments

This year, the hive mind proved a theorem, and is going to submit a paper under the pseudonym D.H.J. Polymath.  The NYT reports:


In January, Timothy Gowers, a professor of mathematics at Cambridge and a holder of the Fields Medal, math's highest honor, decided to see if the comment section of his blog could prove a theorem he could not.
In two blog posts — one titled "Is Massively Collaborative Mathematics Possible?" — he proposed an attack on a stubborn math problem called the Density Hales-Jewett Theorem. He encouraged the thousands of readers of his blog to jump in and start proving. Mathematics is a process of generating vast quantities of ideas and rejecting the majority that don't work; maybe, Gowers reasoned, the participation of so many people would speed the sifting.

It's unfortunate that the NYT doesn't link to the blog, because the procedural discussion is very interesting.  Part of the kickoff is setting the norms for participation, which are of course aimed at helping to move the massively distributed discussion forward.  From an educational point of view, it's interesting to see the public record of how the discussion actually evolves -- that is, how people actually do high level mathematics.  There remain thorny questions about credit, as publications are currency, and it's not clear how credit would work in this sort of collaboration.  Gowers writes:
It seems to me that, at least in theory, a different model could work: different, that is, from the usual model of people working in isolation or collaborating with one or two others. Suppose one had a forum (in the non-technical sense, but quite possibly in the technical sense as well) for the online discussion of a particular problem. The idea would be that anybody who had anything whatsoever to say about the problem could chip in. And the ethos of the forum — in whatever form it took — would be that comments would mostly be kept short. In other words, what you would nottend to do, at least if you wanted to keep within the spirit of things, is spend a month thinking hard about the problem and then come back and write ten pages about it. Rather, you would contribute ideas even if they were undeveloped and/or likely to be wrong.
What's next up?  Possibly, the origin of life.

(Via /Message.)

2009/12/03

"RE": Open alternative to ReTweet

Just discovered a useful alternative microsyntax to Twitter's RT: "RE" (via Stowe Boyd). It's been available in Tweetdeck's menu since this summer but I hadn't noticed. It's effectively an equivalent to email's In-Reply-To that creates mail threads, and it uses links rather than copying tweets, so the 140 character problem is solved.
I love RE's potential because it can solve all the problems with newRT and oldRT, and opens up some new possibilities as well:




gregarious I really like when the clocks change



about 2 hours ago from Twitter
Retweeted by 3
stoweboyd: I disagree with @gregarious about daylight savings time
themaria: he sleeps all day anyway
brianthatcher: I never come out in the light of day


Note that the target of an RE doesn't have to be a tweet; it can be any URL. So RE can also reach outside the Twitterverse and unify all sorts of threaded conversations. In particular, if the target of an RE were Salmon-enabled, a tool could trivially send a salmon representing the RE back to the source -- allowing for truly distributed conversations that retain threading, authorship, and provenance.
The only problem with RE at the moment is that it turns the target into an opaque URL, which looks ugly in today's clients. This can be solved, as shown above, with smarter RE-aware clients. It's not a huge amount of work either -- and the payoff is that you can have your newRT collapsed/summarized view and still have conversations. And even better, they can be open and distributed beyond just Twitter.

2009/12/01

OpenID delegation for Google's OP



Following up on Brad's announcement of last week, I wanted to test out OpenID delegation. I just set up http://www.johnpanzer.com/ to delegate to Google's OP, which lets me use my own domain as my identifier.  Earlier I was using AOL's OP; you can pick any OP you like without changing your identity.  Doing this for a static web page like this is fairly simple:
  • Make sure you know your Google Profile URL; it's useful to pick a nice readable one (which will be taken from the GMail namespace).  Mine is jpanzer.at.acm.
  • Add the following two links to the <head> section of your page HTML, substituting your own Google Profile link for jpanzer.at.acm:
<link rel="openid2.provider" href="https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/ud?source=profiles" > 
<link rel="openid2.local_id" href="http://www.google.com/profiles/jpanzer.at.acm" > 

Note that the Google OP supports only OpenID 2.0.  This is a Good Thing.