open reviews

it is time the academic review process is made more transparent. bertrand meyer on why reviews could learn from open source and weblogs:
It is widely believed that anonymous refereeing helps fairness, by liberating reviewers from the fear that openly stated criticism might hurt their careers. In my experience, the effects of anonymity are worse than this hypothetical damage. Referees too often hide behind anonymity to turn in sloppy reviews; worse, some dismiss contributions unfairly to protect their own competing ideas or products.
Even people who are not fundamentally dishonest will produce reviews of unsatisfactory quality out of negligence, laziness or lack of time because they know they can’t be challenged. Putting your name on an assessment forces you to do a decent job.

if most of your thoughts are in the public record, it affects your thought processes. for the better i think.

phd or not?

i got a second call for papers in less than a week today. open source is all the rage in academic circles it seems. which brings me back to the question whether i should pursue a phd. i certainly holds some appeal, but there are downsides too.

  • worldwide recognition
  • chart new territory
  • help to shape a new paradigm
  • job safety (for a while)


  • submission to the academic process
  • commitment to an endless quest
  • low pay

i guess i know only one thing for sure: i wouldn’t want to become a full-time assistant. i would prefer to do my phd externally. also, university of zurich holds less appeal than other places like harvard, MIT or berkeley.
i should do some more thinking on the subject, for sure. like collecting a list of interesting places to do a doctorate..

algorithmic beauty


  • Judy rarely compromises speed/space performance for simplicity (Judy will never be called simple except at the API).
  • Judy is designed to avoid cache-line fills wherever possible. (This is the main design criteria for Judy.)

it is rare that you get in touch with basic algorithms as a software engineer these days. lo and behold, there is still scope for fundamental improvements to very basic algorithms, such as trees. ah, such beauty. if i only had the mental staying power to fully appreciate it :)

communities & commerce V

i got a bit bored with them interview questions :) george prodded me to take them up again, so here goes:

There are increasing signs that the demise of the advertising – based revenue model (especially as far as the portal-centric online community is concerned) is imminent. What in your view can provide an alternative sustainable revenue model? Subscriptions? Or something else?

there is no one-size-fits-all revenue model. it makes a large difference if your audience is cattle (passive, low income, not terribly smart individuals) or readers that are actually co-writers. if you have smart readers, open up a two-way channel, and you will probably get much valuable advice to make it worth your while. in the context of a newspaper, you could segregate the audience into contributors (who get the content for free, but contribute in a measurable way) and consumers, who pay for content (targeted advertising, subscriptions etc). to really leverage contributions requires advances in content aggregation, annotation, trust models and proper crediting. surely the semantic web can help? :)

OSP: from framework to tools?

fortunately my thesis, rather than collecting dust, continues to inspire others. today i got a mail:

I read your master thesis entitled “A Framework For Open Source
Projects”. It struck me in an uncanny way.

I recently (about 2 months ago) began working on a project in which the goal is to improve process for open software. My motivation is that I have contributed to projects and was amazed at the poor processes they used, and I think this is a way that I can really help
out open source.

The project home page is
The reason I was amazed at your paper is that you point out MANY ideas that I have been thinking about and actually have evidence or references to back them up. In some cases you stated word for word what I have been thinking, and what I want to improve.

I would also like to invite you to be a part of the project,
at any level you desire. By that I mean just sitting on the dev list and making comments from time to time, or actually making major decisions and being a member of the “core team of developers”.

when i looked at the open source landscape, the community’s infatuation with tools was readily apparent. everything was basically a tools problem, and if your project sucked, it must be because you were not using the latest and greatest (ftp/web/irc/mail/nntp/scm/bugtracker/forum/wiki) software. efforts to raise the bar by quality-enabling tools are noble and worthy, but i feel they will fail to do much good because only the good developers would use them. this is why i focused on general education about open source processes and pitfalls more than specific instances or tool support, and i still believe there is a bigger gain by educating the masses about some key concepts rather than by making them use better tools without the proper theoretical insights. i will therefore continue to spread my thesis, and probably even help out with commentary on the hoot project, but probably wont tie myself too tightly to it, even though i laud the effort.

communities & commerce IV

one more..

We witness so many companies that boast their being a community (ironically
most of the times it means adding a mailing list or chat to a website)
while “community” admittedly serves as a catchphrase to lure advertisers
to a website. Even efforts that were backed by visionaries of the
Rheinghold/Electric Minds type failed to become economically sustainable.
And there are so many accounts on why community and commerce are
incompatible. Some refer to Geocities, other point to AOL’s community
leaders programme that backfired…so many stories (on the other hand,
there are so many papers which say the opposite). Do you think that
online communities and commercial practices are a bad fit, an ill-fated
attempt to capitalize on the Net’s ability to enhance our social reach and
enrich our communication space and relationships?

as i
outlined before, closed communities around a brand or a vendor are destined
to fail. the net is much too volatile, and its members too suspicious
to make it work. communities are increasingly nomadic as the cost of expressing
oneself, finding like-minded people, and forming social ties becomes negligible.
centrally hosted communities are a relict of a time when community technology
was scarce, and expensive servers needed to bring people together. these days,
people are far more likely to flock together at a moments notice in
smart mobs. so yes, the community business
models of old are doomed. but new ones emerge to take their place.

george rightly pointed out a fallacy with my smart mobs example. i’m not saying smart mobs is the future, i just wanted to take the speed at which they form as an example. (haven’t read the book either :) and yeah, text messaging is boring :)

communities & commerce III

here we go:

The business logic behind commerce-oriented online communities is that they most efficiently integrate communication, entertainment, interest and of course commerce (according to Hagel and Armstrong ). Therefore, for the sake of convenience and/or because shopping is a social activity for many or/and because we as consumers want to realize our collective power and form online communities in order to help fellow consumers that share our interests (ie. buying sci-fi books or Dylan records or whatever) and then some day even aggregate our purchasing power to get better deals, and so on. In your opinion, is the online community a viable business model? And do we really want to deal with other people when buying staff online? Philip Kaplan (or Pud of argues that we shop online in order to evade the social activity that shopping many times is. Is the mantra “online social interaction helps bring profits” just a myth?

it is a myth if it is assumed that people will mingle on some dull shopping portal. they wont. companies cannot force communities to evolve in the near term, all they can do is to offer enough interesting material and access to the minds behind the firewall to help communities grow. that said, the impact of a specific community on sales and profits is very unlikely to be directly attributable. i’m a fickle buyer, for instance, and will google intensely before i make a purchase (which usually reveals the pros & cons of a product quite nicely). those google hits were likely produced by some sort of community, but not necessarily the one a company had in its cross hairs.

communities & commerce II

here is the next installment of the interview.

In addition, what do you feel about the promise of e-CRM and personalization on the Net? According to the business press, personalization technologies (or processes) such as collaborative filtering are the way forward and companies that deploy (most cited example is will reap substantial benefits. Last year i read in the Economist (UK) that ‘companies now also have the tools to exploit what they know about their existing customers’ Companies are starting to realize that they cannot offer the same quality of service to everyone. They know that the true promise of customer data is to help them to discriminate, in service quality and perhaps in price, and to target their services so that they give priority to the most profitable folk on their books. The way I see it, as far as the online community model and personalization dogma are concerned (sometimes they were one thing such as in the case of My Yahoo!), the rise of e-CRM is based on appreciating cross and up – selling opportunities and differentiating on price and service…what do you think? Should I also add targeted marketing and product/service customization to the above? Is e-CRM just a passing fad or we are simply witnessing the early stages of a wider revolution in commercial practices and is the “commercial online community” a step closer to real “personalization”?

i think the degree of personalization really depends on the product or service being offered. for some of them, personalization might mean that the offering itself is customized (levis jeans), while for other products the customer interaction is the part being personalized. well-informed customers (and you can pretty much assume customers will be well-informed in the future) will take issue with differential pricing. marketing insights:Great care has to be taken with differential pricing online as was shown when Amazon started offering lower prices to first time buyers. Word of this practice quickly spread and Amazon had to withdraw this approach it appears to me that customers will increasingly place trust in recommendations by fellow customers, and will not heed the eCRM activities of vendors (unless these vendors adopt the language and tools of the community, and fit in). eCRM is a fad that brought us the horrors of call centers. the next step will be that a real conversation between employees (finally authorized to speak on behalf of their companies)and customers starts, and customers will begin to trust not anonymous companies, but rather the persons they interact with at these companies.

communities & commerce I

i agreed to an interview with george dafermos. i will answer the questions over the next several days.

It has been suggested that the process/technology of weblogs and collaborative filtering can be deployed for commercial purposes with a striking success. Most typical example is but others extend this line of argument to include websites/online communities such as since so many commercial products and services are discussed within the /. community every single day and we shouldn’t neglect the fact that the most efficient form of marketing is “word-of-mouth”. Essentially, the argument for personalization and mass customization systems on the Net suggests that the process of weblogs/social navigation/collaborative filtering will increase demand and stimulate impulse buying. Some people claim that such systems effectively restrain our ability to explore (limit our choices and eventually lead to a personal straitjacket – the apotheosis of shallow individual consumerism) whereas others point that the “community” on which these processes / technologies are dependent upon in order to blossom will ensure that our ability to explore enhances since there is always a certain degree of diversity among community members and thus, this is a process of cross-fertilization among ideas, opinions, market-customer needs/wants and commercial offerings. What is your opinion regarding the commercial (direct or indirect, forced top-down or emergent bottom-up) potential of such community processes/technologies?

weblogs are the next step in transparency. information about products, persons and causes is spreading ever faster, and weblogs allow clued-in individuals to contribute to the debate. the direct potential of weblogs / community filtering is that companies will increasingly find it valuable to talk to their customers with weblogs. this is a rather obvious consequence and has already begun. more indirectly, weblogs will greatly enhance the brand of me, or the extended resume. this leads to more interesting job offers, consulting gigs. lastly, blogs will never work top-down, because most people suck at writing, and if they are mandated, the fun and intellectual curiosity is very likely gone.

peer production for information assets

i’m going to defend this paper by yochai benkler in a couple hours as part of my masters. benkler argues that there is a third mode of production besides markets and hierarchies (firms): peer production. according to benkler, (and my own experience makes me agree with him) peer production is the most efficient mode of production for information because it reduces the opportunity costs of production that the other two models entail. markets are imprecise at valuating human resources because they have limited information, and hierarchies are inefficient at assigning tasks (also due to limited information). in the peer production model, individuals voluntarily flock to the tasks that interest them most, and where they can apply their skills most gainfully. it is asserted that individuals have the best available information about their skill set, and are thus much more efficient at task selection.

the internet enables a unbounded pool of human resources to seek out problems. these economies of scale easily overcome the additional costs of integration and coordination in a highly distributed environment. with proper attribution and meritocratic structures, problems of burn-out and free riding can be overcome.

it should be an interesting discussion, especially considering that the relevant institute has been conducting research into the open source phenomenon recently.