The Myth of Home Ownership

“NEW YORK (AP) — The Federal Reserve says Americans’ percentage of equity in their homes has fallen below 50 percent for the first time since 1945.

The Fed’s U.S. Flow of Funds Accounts shows homeowners’ percentage of home equity slipped to a revised 49.6 percent in the second quarter of 2007 and declined further to 47.9 percent in the fourth quarter. It marks the first time homeowners’ debt on their houses exceeds their equity since the Fed started tracking the data in 1945.” (full story)

It is co-ownership at best – people investing massive amounts of time, energy, and emotion to manage assets owned mostly by banks.

Good Post About Obama by Marc Andreessen

Mark tells about a meeting he and his wife had with Obama in early 2007. Here are some parts of the post:

And here is the full post…

“I carried four distinct impressions away from our meeting with Senator Obama.

  • First, this is a normal guy.
  • Second, this is a smart guy.
  • Third, this is not a radical.
  • Fourth, this is the first credible post-Baby Boomer presidential candidate.

What’s the picture that emerges from these four impressions?

Smart, normal, curious, not radical, and post-Boomer.

If you were asking me to write a capsule description of what I would look for in the next President of the United States, that would be it.

He’s got my vote.”

Clay Shirky Talk in Harvard – February 28, 2008

Clay Shirky on his new book, “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations” (6PM on the Harvard Law School campus, location TBA).

In story after story, Clay masterfully makes the connections as to why business, society and our lives continue to be transformed by a world of net-enabled social tools. His pattern-matching skills are second to none.“-Ray Ozzie, Microsoft Chief Software Architect

From the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard:

All events are free and open to the public… Invite your friends, students, colleagues, co-workers, fellow faculty, research assistants, interns, family, and others to celebrate and collaborate with us. Please don’t hesitate to forward and blog this information.

These events will take place on the campus at Harvard Law School unless otherwise noted, with more information on time, venue, and topic posted on the events page. The events page also includes a complete list of luncheons and other events, which we hope you’ll also be able to join us for!”

One More Thing The Internet Could Disrupt – Car Ownership and Sales

Here we go – I’m back on this blog after a long hiatus.

And it’s Fred again (he’s good at this) – with this post – making me share a “vision” I had a few days ago. The idea is probably in the heads of other people for some time already without me knowing (see Fred’s comment under my comment). Fred’s post was inspired by Seth Godin.

And I should say – I am constantly inspired by Umair Haque.

Here is what I posted as a comment on Fred’s post:

“How about transforming the car ownership into an investment type of thing.

Imagine people being able to lend their own cars for the times they are not using them. Or even making a small business out of owning a few cars. Everybody sets their own prices.

Think of Zipcar – but without the centralized ownership of the cars.

Think of an Internet platform (could be open source… or even at the level of a protocol may be) which supports the data and logic for such a distributed environment.

Imagine the effects of a dynamic price competition for a short term leased transportation… not to speak of the long term disruption of the car sales market… not to speak of all the “green” goodness coming out of it.

The hardware could be developed and sold by any vendor.

Please, whoever starts doind this – give me a credit… :)”

In fact, Zipcar could open up their platform – and become the Goggle/AdSense of cars. Scott Griffith, do you read my blog.

The Structure of Today’s Political Discourse

I’ve been following the French presidential elections on TV5. One thing is becoming quite clear. The French are discussing the same stuff that we’ll be arguing about in 2008. There are differences in the way things are talked about or the specific realities discussed, but the underlying ideological structure seems very much the same to me. Or, at least, that would be what I see as a pertinent structure for today’s political discourse here in the US too. Here are the main dimensions:

competition — cooperation
locality — mobility
predictability — fluidity
identity — context
effective — affective

Most of the other stuff that may come to mind – like “security vs. growth” or “dependence vs. autonomy” for example – seems derivative to me.

New Tagging Service from Google

I want such a service. Google should offer such a service.

Give me a feed of keywords from your search index corresponding to the page I serve… so I can display them as a cloud of “search tags” … working as predefined automated searches.

A few days ago I was reading/commenting a post on A VC’s blog – where Fred Wilson talks about his “learning from Flickr.” The last of his ten points caught my attention: “Machine tagging (autotagging) is the next big thing in web 2.0.”

My first reaction was – what’s the big deal about machine tagging – thinking about some sort of automated tag extraction at the moment of inputting a piece of content into a system – how would that be much different from semantic search engine indexing?

Only later did I realize that Fred had in mind – mostly, it seems – the behavioral tagging occurring when a site records and displays user gestures in context – ala Amazon’s “customers who viewed this… also viewed…”

But misunderstanding being often the way of creative thinking – the idea came to me about a new type of web service from the likes of Google.

Why not have Google’s index out in the open, on my web pages – as a contextualized self-updating interface to related content – perfectly in synch with our common AdSense based interests. A simple click on a “related” keyword (close to the main content) is 10 times (my educated guess) easier than having to come up with good search words (too much thinking) and typing them into a search box (too much work) somewhere else on the page.

Web links are THE web interface… not search boxes.

We had “aidjumps” (my partner Ivan coined the term) on Aidpage since the very beginning in 2004. We would take user created tags and offer them also as preset Google searches. (We had to take these “aidjumps” down because of a conflict with the AdSense terms of service. For another unrelated reason, you won’t even see tags now on Aidpage… we’re working on a major upgrade.)

The idea is that Google may offer such a free web service to anybody quite easily – as an additional discovery interface. In a way, it sounds fair – I allow Google to index my pages but I want Google to give me back the results of the indexing – as tags that I can put back on my pages.

The whole Google index returned back to the periphery… exposed in the original contexts from which it was extracted… feeding back traffic to Google. Each such tag is an immediate Google search… much easier than using a search box… sending people to Google search results – what could be better for Google, or for any search engine for that matter.

People tend to forget that Google’s engine is not some sort of a super smart AI based meaning extraction machine. The smart thing about Google’s search engine was always the relatively simple recording and computing of the original human social gestures on the web (a.k.a. web links). Web links are the original social bookmarks too. It is this early social Web2.0 thing inside Google that made Google great… and hugely profitable.

Add to this the personal bookmarks Google now collects through their toolbar…

So, if Google’s greatness relies mostly on the social and personal bookmarks collected from my web pages and my browser, why wouldn’t Google give me back free RSS feeds of my tag clouds – on my web pages, my browser, my RSS reader…

I want to know what Google knows – immediately – without the cumbersome search box between us.

The exploration/discovery experience would gain much if we combine user generated tags (author self-tagging + social bookmarking), local behavioral tags (footprints, etc), and search tags from the likes of Google with their machine power and global view of the web.

UPDATE (October 2009):

Well… Google just did what I suggested here almost three years ago – see Google Related Pages and Search Words.

Thank you Google… :)

"The Giant Zero" At The Berkman Center At Harvard

Doc Searls (blog) gave an interesting talk today at the Berkman Center at Harvard. The talk was called “The Giant Zero” – pointing to the image of the Internet as a hollow sphere enabling all periphery (end) points to connect.

Doc talked a lot about the importance of the metaphors we use when thinking about the Internet. He referred to Lakoff’s books about the language as something that largely operates our thinking (the language “speaking” us) as opposed to the everyday understanding of language as something we merely use as a tool to communicate our thoughts (we “speaking” the language). Without having read Lakoff, my impression is that he is mostly re-telling European post-structuralist theories from 20-30 years ago to American audiences nowadays reluctant to read French authors (for whatever reason).

Update: It seems I was completely wrong about George Lakoff in my last sentence above… Tom Maddox’ comment on Doc Searls blog sent me read about Lakoff. It is clear that Lakoff has his own intellectual path independent and different from the post-structuralists I had in mind.

Why Did We Start a War With the "Stalin" of the Mideast…

Why did we start a war with the “Stalin” of the Mideast after being attacked by the region’s “Hitler” and “fascists”… just asking. The smart communication strategists of the Bush administration (well versed in political and war history no doubt) started with these analogies… not me.

The last time the US had to deal with a “Hitler” and a “Stalin”… the war strategy was different… and victorious.

A related question… You have enemies with (may be) nuclear weapons – some of them led by religious fanatics believing in martyrdom and others led by atheists who do not believe in martyrdom nor life after death. Who’s more dangerous? Who can be deterred in the traditional “cold” war fashion? Who has more of a stake in staying alive… here, on earth? Hitler killed himself and Eve without hesitation. Would Stalin have done something similar in a similar situation? Probably not… he was very much like Sadam… clinging to his own life no matter what.

Generally speaking, isn’t it safe to assume that it is easier to scare atheist enemies into some sort of a negotiated peace and not exactly so easy to have this with religious folks ready to “stay the course” at any cost?

"Relationship Blend" vs. "Productive, Rational Behavior"

Another good article in The New York Times by David Brooks. Here is the starting snippet:

“In the world of public policy, there are ecologists and engineers. The ecologists believe human beings are formed amid a web of relationships. Behavior is shaped by the weave of expectations and motivations that we pick up from the people around us every day.

The engineers believe all this relationship talk is so much mush. They believe behavior is shaped by incentives. You give people the resources they need and socially productive, rational behavior will usually follow.

Most politicians are ecologists who turn into engineers once in office…”

I totally agree with his criticism of Hillary Clinton’s “American Dream” plan. I had exactly the same reaction when I read about it – such a tired approach, such a lack of imagination, such an inability to produce something that may “change the rules of the (social) game” and inspire constituencies…

And here is the predictable (for me) conclusion:

“But the fact is, when it comes to helping people flourish, the ecologists are usually right.”

I find David’s argument absolutely pertinent to my own preoccupation right now – building an online social software service. I am talking about Aidpage – and our current work on its next major upgrade… coming soon on a computer near you… :)

"Progressive Realism"… Not Too Different From "Considerate Idealism"

An online test recently defined me as a “considerate idealist.” I liked that. It is very close to what I am thinking of myself.

I also identify with what Robert Wright describes as “progressive realism” in his recent New York Times article.

In my previous life under a communist regime, I almost inevitably would bring a conversation to the point where someone would call me a naive idealist for believing in democracy and market economy. To which, my reply was “no, I am not naive… don’t you see the US is stronger than the USSR.”

Similarly, when confronted with all the abundant evidence (see this and this just from today) about how morality must be left aside if you want to make real money, I would simply point to the fact that the two richest guys in the world (you know who) do not seem to be morally bankrupt crooks.

And I liked David Brooks’ “Democracy’s Long Haul” from a few days ago. It reminded me of my own theory about the sometimes necessary “Pinochet” period for countries transitioning from long dictatorial one party systems to democracy.

So, now you know where I stand… :)

Beyond Broadcast, May 12-13 2006

Beyond Broadcast: Reinventing Public Media in a Participatory Culture

“… an open convening at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School… to explore the thesis that traditional public media – public broadcasting, cable access television, etc – face a unique opportunity to embrace new social media models – podcasting, blogs, social software, etc – and create a stronger and more vital public service.”

I’ll be there… happily “browsing” interesting people.

Zayko just completed a large site for NEAVS…

My wife’s Zayko just completed a large web site for the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS). The site is probably the most comprehensive online source documenting the fate of the chimpanzees used in US scientific research laboratories. The main purpose of the site though is to be the online support center for NEAVS’ major campaign called “Project R&R: Release and Restitution for Chimpanzees in U.S. Laboratories.” Here is a thing you can do right now: sign Project R&R’s online petition! (takes 20 seconds with the reading of the petition).

Study: Prayer doesn’t affect heart patients. Sad.

(From CNN)

NEW YORK (AP) — In the largest study of its kind, researchers found that having people pray for heart bypass surgery patients had no effect on their recovery. In fact, patients who knew they were being prayed for had a slightly higher rate of complications.

Wow… bummer! But… wait a minute… hope is on the way:

Dr. Harold G. Koenig, director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at the Duke University Medical Center, who did not take part in the study, said the results did not surprise him.

Science, he said, “is not designed to study the supernatural.”

Right here… right now… I just spent 15 minutes pondering… but no… I don’t have anything to say. Sad.

Update (10 min later): The title… why isn’t the title stating correctly the results of the study… like this for example:

Prayer has a slightly negative effect on heart patients.

And what about this non-sense “…had no effect….” Prayer had an effect – a slightly negative one – definitely not the effect people would wish for after heart surgery. From now on… “And please, do not pray for me, would you.”

But again, let’s not forget:

Science, he said, “is not designed to study the supernatural.”

Enough pondering for today… back to work.

Update (from The New York Times, March 31, 2006):

…the most scientifically rigorous investigation of whether prayer can heal illness, the study, begun almost a decade ago…

…In another of the study’s findings, a significantly higher number of the patients who knew that they were being prayed for — 59 percent — suffered complications, compared with 51 percent of those who were uncertain. The authors left open the possibility that this was a chance finding. But they said that being aware of the strangers’ prayers also may have caused some of the patients a kind of performance anxiety.

Ok, what about when patients don’t know they are being prayed for?

The study also found that more patients in the uninformed prayer group — 18 percent — suffered major complications, like heart attack or stroke, compared with 13 percent in the group that did not receive prayers. In their report, the researchers suggested that this finding might also be a result of chance.

Well… chance or no chance… next time I am in the hospital… please, do not pray for me, would you. All I need is love.

Even Anger… What Is Charity… Terrified Nonprofit Leaders… Does Compassion Need Incentives?

A colleague found a very interesting article – “The Kindness of Strangers” by Robert V. Levine. Here is a snippet:

“Over and again, New Yorkers told us they cared deeply about the needs of strangers, but that the realities of city living prohibited their reaching out. People spoke with nostalgia for the past, when they would routinely pick up hitchhikers or arrange a meal for a hungry stranger. Many expressed frustration—even anger—that life today deprived them of the satisfaction of feeling like good Samaritans.”

I just hope that Aidpage will eventually give those unhappy New Yorkers… and the many like them all over the world… the informal and immediate ways to be good Samaritans again. That’s my work now… and the work of my team at Aidpage… Ivan, Tzenko, Boby, Valcho, Pencho, and Stamen.

And then… another good… somewhat philosophical article… from The New York Times… “In Pursuit of Unhappiness” by Darrin M. McMahon. He writes:

“… the philosopher John Stuart Mill, came to a similar conclusion. His words are all the more worth heeding in that Mill himself was a determined proponent of the greatest happiness for the greatest number. ‘Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so,’ Mill concluded after recovering from a serious bout of depression. Rather than resign himself to gloom, however, Mill vowed instead to look for happiness in another way.

‘Those only are happy,’ he came to believe, ‘who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.’ For our own culture, steeped as it is in the relentless pursuit of personal pleasure and endless cheer, that message is worth heeding.

So in these last days of 2005 I say to you, ‘Don’t have a happy new year!’ Have dinner with your family or walk in the park with friends. If you’re so inclined, put in some good hours at the office or at your favorite charity, temple or church. Work on your jump shot or your child’s model trains. With luck, you’ll find happiness by the by. If not, your time won’t be wasted. You may even bring a little joy to the world.”

And then another article from The New York Times… by Stephanie Strom… originally titled “What Is Charity?“… as of now suspiciously archived under the totally meaningless “Aftermaths.” What were the “maths” for changing the title… I wonder. Did it sound a bit too much of a “questioning” for the good taste of some influential charity?

Here are snippets from “What is Charity?”…

“… among the many who had been turning away from Americans most in need of charity was the philanthropic sector itself. Last year, the share of giving going to organizations most directly related to helping the poor hit a record low, accounting for less than 10 percent of the $248 billion donated by Americans and their philanthropic institutions…

Other statistics also suggest that the nonprofit sector has drifted from core notions of charity. Nonprofit hospitals provide no more charity care than taxpaying counterparts do. While university assets soar, tuition continues to outpace inflation. Only a sliver of giving to churches is spent on social services…

So what is charity today if it is not aimed primarily at the have-nots? Has its definition been stretched so broadly that it no longer has meaning? If so, are the tax breaks that propel our philanthropy justified? Representative Bill Thomas, Republican of California, the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, has raised those questions in a series of hearings examining whether tax exemption is justified for certain types of nonprofits.

The question, in his words, is, ‘What is the taxpayer getting in return for the tens of billions of dollars per year in tax subsidy’ offered to donors through tax write-offs or to nonprofits through their tax exemptions? According to the Treasury Department, the charitable deduction will amount this year to a $40 billion tax subsidy, mostly to upper-income households – overshadowing the roughly $20 billion the human services sector is likely to raise. No official estimates exist for the cost of the tax exemption covering money that nonprofits spend and for the property they own.

The hearings have received little public notice but have terrified nonprofit leaders, more than a Senate Finance Committee threat to tighten regulation of charities.

‘When you start to ask what is the fundamental underlying rationale for tax exemption and the charitable deduction for donors, it leads to questions that are far more difficult to answer than questions about greater disclosure and better governance,’ said John D. Colombo, a tax-law professor at the University of Illinois who testified before Rep. Thomas. ‘It gets you to questions like, why should an institution with billions in the bank get tax exemption?'”

(Here is more than you ever wanted to know on the “questions about greater disclosure and better governance“…)

I am tempted to ask my own questions though… Does compassion need incentives? If you want to give $10… why would you want a $1 tax break? Why not simply give $9? What’s the point of this tax incentivized “giving”…? But I must be too simplistic here… I probably don’t know enough about the complex dynamics of the partnership between government and private (some call them “special”) interests… bla-bla… bla-bla… whatever…

That’s it for today… and may be for this year. Hopefully, I did not break too many laws by doing these extensive quotes.

Here is a mirror of this post on Aidpage.