My Epicenter and I Feel Fine

You know where I am. You can know at nearly all times. I am epicentered here. And I feel fine.

The Internet is starting to focus on location in combination with feeling, and you can now often know not only where someone is, but how they are feeling. For instance, I can get on the Internet and tell the USGS where I was on Friday morning at 4:42am and exactly how much of the 4.2 earthquake I felt.

I can also watch as people wander around the city, talking about what they see and how they feel. This phenomenon is called bio mapping. Says Brady Forrest on the O’Reilly Radar, “The Bio Mapping project sponsors people to walk around an area with a GPS and a Galvanic Skin Response sensor and logger. The emotional responses of the participants are then mapped.” Just about the closest you get to my house in San Francisco (PDF), you see a “pretty active area with lots of bars.”

Though not always mapped to precise physical location (but often so), on a recent roadtrip, I was able to Twitter about exactly where I was and what I was doing – as if the GPS in the car were not enough to track my whereabouts at all times. The most poignant lingering memory this represents for me is that that vacation is over. (Fear not – another begins next week!). You can even Twitter about earthquakes – though the chatter was decidedly light for Friday’s event. And if Twitter’s interface doesn’t cut it (and it doesn’t, to me), I can always go Jaiku.

On http://www.wefeelfine.org, I can get an interesting feel for what people feel and where they feel it. Someone in Leipzig, for example, apparently feels detached. Someone in Florida feels sandy. I love to click around the happy dots and squares on this site.

One of the coolest recent things I saw along the lines of collective location was a demo of Microsoft Photosynth (link courtesy, as many cool things are, of Michael Biermann at SAP). Towards the middle of this video, you can see a demo of what happens when you take the whole community of geo-informed photos of Notre Dame and patch them together. An awesome moment. Says the demoer:

We can do things with this social environment, taking data from the entire collective memory visually of what the earth looks like, and link all of that together and make something emergent that’s greater than the sum of the parts.

“A ‘long tail’ model of the entire Earth,” they say.

I tend to stay awake after earthquakes. It’s a throw-back to being in the middle of the large earthquake in 1989. I tend to go back in my mind and remember where I was then. But the Internet was not such a self-emotive, geo-located community of shared feeling back then, so I have no collectively preserved archive as such. What I did find was this. Two blocks from where I was then:

Female dispatcher: Can I ask you something?

CEH: Yea.

Female Dispatcher: Did you have something going to Sixth and, what is it, Townsend?

CEH: Sixth and Townsend?

Female Dispatcher: We ordered it a little while ago. Just wondering if you had one.

CEH: I don’t see Sixth and Townsend.

Female Dispatcher: Okay, hold on. (keying police radio transmitter) Unit requesting Sixth and Townsend 408? an ambulance. Boy 103, did you have a Sixth and Townsend request?

Boy 103: 10-4. That’s best way to get in there is Sixth and Townsend, and the Fire Department and police will direct them to where the injured parties are… (Boy 103 is then covered by an unidentified officer who says) They had requested two ambulances.

Female Dispatcher: What’s the level of injury, because they have their lists of priorities up here too. They’re going crazy.

Unidentified Police Unit: It’s going crazy out here.

Female Dispatcher: Yea, what kind of injury? (no answer in few second so she says to CEH dispatcher on phone) Okay, well, Sixth and Townsend, you know, put it on there definitely. They had requested two ambulances.

CEH: Uh-huh

Female Dispatcher: Okay, so, I don’t know. Try…try middle priority.

CEH: Sixth and Townsend, Code 2. All right.

I walked right by the incident to which they refer. It was super scary.

The Internet at its best could really be able to help our communities during times of disaster. While I don’t look forward to those, I look forward to that community, hopefully, being there for us – wherever we are and however we feel.

Whiskey and a Hammer

I’m on vacation next week (first of two in short order this summer), and I’ve been fond of thinking “it’s not a minute too soon.” The past couple of weeks have been very intense, but the work is fun and energizing. Above all, the best part about working is the collaboration, and without a doubt, the various social tools internally at SAP have opened up the world to me at work. This last week was so busy I usually didn’t know whether I was IM’ing or emailing – or twittering?

Among the highlights:

  • My instant-message working collaboration with Michael Biermann. Together with Craig Cmehil, we want to find a whole new way to surface trends and ideas. Michael and Craig are two-men machines of great ideas and skills (and right now may be the most dangerous guys in town); Michael nearly took down the internal wiki in the process – that’s a blast! Thanks Michael for the whiskey and the hammer: and it really does take a village.
  • Moderating the response to an internal newsletter relating to our wiki space, which has been phenomenal – nearly inexplicably so. Again, whole new communities open up to me and I count myself fortunate.
  • Watching and working on the wiki space redesign process between Phil, Will, and Dirk. I’ve concluded that email is not a great way to run design reviews, but I think in the end you guys can gain consensus. Sometimes, it’s good to take a step back and really get a good look around.
  • Working with Jerome across timezones toward an understanding on knowledge architecture. Should be interesting to stay tuned.
  • Wrapping up Pride in San Francisco. It’s typically ironic to me that we get a month to be proud – and then after that? After Sunday we all go back to shame! But seriously – there was much energy inside and out this year. Another kind of importance of community.
  • Our daughter saying goodbye to her favorite teacher so far, Sarah. She drew her a heart and gave it to her. Not even three and she gives us a knot in our throats. Her community.
  • New fire-colored hair. Well, it’s actually apparently a very very bright red, but it looks pink. Is it fuego? Well… you’ll just have to see me after Bandon to find out…

First stop: Bandon, OR. Next stop: Palo Alto. Next stop: Alaska. See you somewhere there!

Web 2.0 and My Community: Personal Report

The men -- and some women -- of Web 2.0. Keynote audience.

The men -- and some women -- of Web 2.0. Keynote audience.

In several places, the Web 2.0 Expo< at Moscone West (April 15-18, San Francisco) blurred the line between the ethereal online community and actual communities of the world in which we live:

  • Most hearteningly, the line blurred when Architecture for Humanity talked about applying “Web 2.0 principles” in responding with housing to communities in need during times of crisis.
  • Most uncomfortably, the line was blurred when tragedy hit Virginia between Sunday night’s Excite presentation of “K’Nex Guns” (“What are 14-year-old boys excited about? Weapons!”) and Wednesday morning’s recap of K’Nex Guns.
  • And most dishearteningly for me, the line was blurred when Jay Bhatti introduced O’Reilly darling Spock to the audience during Monday morning’s multiple-thousands-packed keynote session.

See Shuba’s report, reprinted on watchyourmouth, for a description of what happened next:

Right after the keynote, there was a Launch Pad session where 3 new start-ups launched their product officially in front of the audience. One of the products was a new search engine that can be used to search for people: http://www.spock.com

The founder and CEO Jay Bhatti made a very compelling pitch that had me raring to give the site a whirl until he stuck his foot in his mouth. The first search he demonstrated for the audience was for “bloggers”. For the next search, he said he wanted to make it more interesting, and asked the audience (mixed audience, 16,000+ mostly tech. crowd) whether they would like to search for Swimsuit illustrated models or for Victoria’s secret models!! Folks in the front voted for VS it seems, so he went ahead and used his search engine to pull up Victoria’s Secret models on the multiple big screens for the crowd. The women standing next to me were disgusted, and walked out literally calling him an idiot.

The point: All representations of results in the demo were men (all geeky techie bloggers and the like) UNTIL he pulled that punch. I had already been perceiving a gender imbalance at the conference and in the keynote audience. I had also been in some disarray by the time I arrived at the Expo. Community was on my mind.

Earlier that morning, after dropping my daughter off at school, I had walked through the Tenderloin (on Golden Gate Avenue – such a promising name) towards Moscone West. During that walk through part of what I consider my community, I stepped over and around sleeping or sick people, jumped over rivers of urine, was offered drugs, asked for drugs, and surrounded by clouds of pot, and felt simultaneously ashamed and humiliated that with all of our collective resources, this is the best community some of us ever get. And these are familiar feelings to many of us.

What I didn’t expect was that my odyssey of community-related feeling would continue throughout my conference attendance at the Web 2.0 Expo, and I didn’t predict that I would wind up feeling saddened as a woman in technology as a result of the Expo.

The women of Spock

The women of Spock

As the Expo continued multiple-day run, I continued to note that women were vastly outnumbered by men (1:10 in most sessions – and of course there were exceptions – in both directions). Women were not represented in any of the Launch Pad companies, and were poorly represented as speakers. Kathy Sierra was supposed to be there – and is still not able to continue with her speaking engagements. Anyone who is familiar with her story will understand how poignantly related this is. Kathy was relegated by our Web 2.0 community back into the pre-1960s – or is it ahead into the 2010’s?

It might have seemed like a fleeting moment on stage and a “what’s the big deal” for many, but Jay Bhatti reinforced exactly that stereotype. Judging by Jay’s personal posse at Spock, the split in the blogosphere, and the defensiveness of some of the company’s response, I can only assume that Spock and its users will continue to reflect those same values as their community and their search results grow.

One interesting thing “Web 2.0″ does offer is a measure of appearance anonymity. Ironically, Spock (and its blurred lines, in turn, between “people search” and “image search”) will serve to strip this away. Mr. Bhatti has indeed assimilated into the community – another by now with which I’m uncomfortably familiar – of (for lack of a better term) “frat boys online who rule the Web 2.0 capital.” Conversely, the women whose images Spock serves will not assimilate as easily – or at least anonymize. Or, perhaps the role to which models are relegated are assimilation enough for Spock.

Tim O’Reilly, for his part, has been even-handed in fielding the blogosphere and Spock itself, for their part, (was it the letters sent by Systers to their VCs?) has cleaned up their Web site of some of its trash, posted an apology (of sorts) to their About page, and continues to try to do (somewhat weak) damage control, the likes of “I’m sorry if we offended you…” A collection of committed people were instrumental in getting Spock to change their behavior – but probably not their minds. The demo (or some would say clever marketing ploy) achieved measures of success both for Spock and for reinforcing a particular image (or lack thereof) of women in technology.

On my way home that evening, I took Ellis Street this time to pick up my daughter. I walked past the long line of people waiting for a bed for the night at Glide Memorial. I wondered what difference any Web 2.0 was going to make for this offline community, while simultaneously feeling like the communities are nothing unless they serve the people who need them the most. My daughter is fortunate: She does not need it the most. But after that day’s regression in gender equality, I wondered.

Ultimately, today’s “search results” are oh-so-fleeting in the great scheme of things and many certainly already wonder what all the fuss is about. But true communities take a long time to build and involve – I believe – trust, compassion, safety, and common goals. In the end, I want these three things:

  • I want, most profoundly, a community in which my daughter can grow up to be anything she wants
  • Actually, I want community in which anyone can grow up to be anything they want
  • And above all, I want a community for people to grow up into in the first place

Spock will be long gone, but let’s hope this unfortunate incident helps Web 2.0 continue its trend towards helping the real communities in need in which we all live, so that the brightest future is ahead for all.

At least the men's room is evolved

At least the men's room is evolved