Q:RE: Identity and the Web: This a wonderful examination and all, but I'm pretty sure there are some who do not want to be labeled, do not care about UPP, and simply take the internet for what it is: interconnected machines, not a whole new land where cities shall rise and wars shall rage and people fight others and themselves for stature. It's mainly a playground, not, as the saying goes, srs bzns. let sites allow anonymity, let sites require identity, just don't force a global decision.
Well put. If it seems like I took a stance in this post, instead of qualifying Moot’s model against my own, then I mis-represented my argument.
Identity and the web: Lessons from social evolution and the Industrial Revolution
I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while. I entertained the idea most when stories about digital identity from the likes of Moot topped the front page of Hacker News, producing abstract ideas sourced by no basis in history or diligent study. Despite these granted voids of credibility, discussions on identity can often only be conducted in relative, imagined terms where quantifiable data has no place. While I likewise come without gifts to the discussion by way of data, I do have a few lessons to share from my coursework in the social sciences (economics, anthropology, geography) which do have a historic context that can be verified and applied to the present situation.
Little known fact: identity [as we know it] is a new abstraction of the past two centuries with roots in the Industrial Revolution. Prior to this, should you had asked someone who they were (to identify themselves), they could only do so in relation to their limited scope of experience. “I’m a neighbor of John, I reside in this town.” Due to their limited means of travel, limited awareness of outside territories, and very locally-specific knowledge, they wouldn’t even have been able to fill out the basic minimums of a facebook profile. A lack of resources per person (RPP) is behind this. Before the Industrial Revolution, individuals (save for monarchs and aristocrats) just didn’t have the possessions and experiences to warrant meaningful self-identification.
Taking a step back, the RPP-identity dynamic is also evident in the transition from nomadic bands to tribal communities to chiefdoms to finally modern-day states. To demonstrate this, I will have to resort to leaving snippets from a midterm paper I wrote at UCLA on this very topic for a course taught by Jared Diamond:
“Nomads consider the possession of concepts to be a form of madness, while the settled see only meaningless drivel in undefined roaming through experience” (Flusser 50). For the nomadic individual, possession of surplus is perceived as a risky liability to his only known way of life: survival.
Organized around a non-existent to weakly effective social infrastructure, tribes cannot amass a surplus and so private property is not of crucial concern… Identity is neither compromised nor negotiated amongst tribesmen, and thus it is not a distinctive element of tribal societies.
Identity is neither compromised nor negotiated amongst tribesmen, and thus it is not a distinctive element of tribal societies… Whereas in a nomadic or tribal society, members perform collectively shared roles toward their own survival, individuals within chiefdoms are expected to perform specific tasks in a specialized manner to receive a share of surplus in return… In addition, greater social infrastructure implies heightened per-labor productivity (Hall 114) which entitles the individual to more resources. If the roles sanctioned by the social organization of the chiefdom are varied and are unevenly productive, a class system may form which has a much clearer defining role on the perceived identity of the individual.
Concerning complex chiefdoms: In the previous three society types, privacy is indistinctly interwoven with the survival experience, lacking in conscious attention. Specialization of labor under this level of social infrastructure allows for the individual’s productivity to increase enough such that leisure time finds its footing amongst the surplus produced… Identity is freed up to be imagined and performed by the individual so long as it is consistent with his lessened obligations to society as a laborer.
Whereas the nomad and tribesmen knew their place and role by the necessity of survival, individuals within the state possess many options for occupational roles, and many options as well for how to fill their surplus leisure time. The individual becomes stripped of his solid identity and is faced with a feeling of no longer belonging to anyone. It is plausible that the alienation of the individual from his once-personally amassed resources and surplus might in turn feed back into the individual’s demand for privacy and comfort obtained by acquiring private property.
The major trend to take away is that over time, the complexity of a society is based on its accumulation of wealth, most evidenced by my paper in terms of RPP. While growing RPP freed from their basic need for survival, individuals became increasingly able to describe themselves based on their traveled experiences and possessions—their biographies could be significantly distinguished from those of their neighbors. The Industrial Revolution in particular—which cheapened the costs of goods and opened up the possibility of cheap travel—enabled more and more individuals (as a percentage of the total population) to amass references for their identity through these terms. Monarchs and aristocrats prior the Industrial Revolution escaped this trend as outliers of their day in terms of RPP and hence had identities which could be recorded and passed on through history (think of the pyramids).
With more RPP came the heightened requirements for privacy, which serves to protect the experiences and resources of the individual. Somewhere along the way, privacy began to precede identity, launching a feedback loop between what one owned and what was allowed to be known by outsiders about the individual, which in turn actually affected what one chose to possess as a self-identifier on the basis of who could know it.
While the Industrial Revolution brought upon a “modern” age (related to knowing and classifying things in concrete, predictable ways), this RPP-privacy dynamic gave way to the all-too-meta “postmodern” (related to the different ways of being able and unable to know and classify, which provides wiggle room for meaning).
And that’s where we finally find ourselves when we log on to the Internet:
Social infrastructure’s expansion to the Internet has provided individuals with a means of escaping the question of identity by ignoring the concept’s very legitimacy. “Cloakroom communities” exist where an individual may switch identities easily by willed and probably falsified self-descriptions, which is unverifiable to the individuals to whom they’re identifying themselves (Bauman 31).
Welcome to the Internet, welcome to anonymity, welcome to Moot’s ideal of the prismatic identity. There is a single glaring issue regarding this ideal: early web communities were plagued by the chaos of anonymity, the misuse of words, and the toeing of lines. Nobody in their right mind wanted to be there—these were just the pioneers, and often individuals whose RPP was significantly greater online than in the material world (think low-income households with an Internet connection). On the Internet, with its digital abundance of consumable media, anyone could be an aristocrat and erect monuments to themselves (websites). If you were an early consumer of the Internet, you may recall how few people were there who you actually knew in person as well. The appeal was missing to everyone else because, as non-pioneering individuals, they likely did not have the skill or initial will to create websites or any presence which took more work than going outside and kicking a ball around. The early web’s propensity for identity and privacy was similar to that of nomadic bands and tribes—you could exist, but only to survive and persist. Once you stopped, you faded from view.
And then we got Myspace. Maybe my experience is unique, but I recall Myspace’s rise as the first time all my friends began to go online. On their easy-to-build profile pages, they could easily provide information about their identities, falsified or factual, and in effect erect monuments (like the pyramids). More importantly, many people felt bound to their real names in order to strengthen the power of these monuments to themselves, whereby this attracted more views. The lure of Myspace, its foundation in real identity references (names not withstanding), came in that it represented the real world. The age of early social networks with relation to identity and privacy was like chiefdoms and complex chiefdoms in that people finally found persistence at a much lower personal cost, and could find a basis for describing who they were in more accurate terms than not.
Facebook and its notion of identity correlate most with that of modern states. Characterized by a rigidity which bounds certain identity aspects (name, location, friends), Facebook’s notion of identity was right insofar as providing a reflection of your real world identity would hypothetically award you with more Facebook friends than otherwise, and hence you actually begin to matter. The assumption is that because people are looking at your profile, that they actually care for and believe the information published. Facebook profiles are very effective monuments to oneself when compared to Myspace profiles, both by virtue of clean design representation (as a safety net), and more importantly by the ease of navigation between individuals which accentuated the perceived view-count. Perhaps it was by mistake that Myspace actually allowed you to see the number of visitors to your profile, as the lack of this information might compel you to run away with your imagination instead.
By increasing the importance of the Facebook identity monument-to-self, perceived RPP—for the self in particular—was above and beyond anything within reach of most individuals offline. At this phase, identity is what you write about yourself, the pictures you get tagged in, and even less the name you go by. Identity is a luxury which did not comparably exist [for most] prior to any comfortable self-recollection induced by the cheapened price of possessions and experiences first after the Industrial Revolution. Facebook identity, more than anything, became a first online experience for millions of people who otherwise had nothing worth their time on the Internet. While concrete and rigid for its requirements of name and limits to creative expression, it does this to the end of maximizing value to the user in terms of utility per person (UPP). UPP upends RPP because the digital medium pins identity less to “who has what” and more to “who expresses/publishes what”, which is a matter of their own choosing and not to significantly variable personal cost. From my paper on social networks and postmodernity:
Objects and fact are subject to concrete laws in the modern imaginary, bounding what is possible for individuals to accomplish by their inherent abilities—“the more ability, the more possibility, and omnipotence makes anything possible” (Hacking, 1986, p. 229). Social networking sites position their members in a virtual environment where “having” is just a matter of “imagining having”, “being” is just a matter of “imagining being”, and so form. Virtually, they are omnipotent. This is distinctly postmodern, rather than an extension of the modern, because the very world individuals are imagining themselves to be in control of is a world unbounded by laws distinctly imposed on them, such as laws of nature. They are free to live in their own imagined spectacle (Course lecture).
In a digital world where everyone has some sort of identity to protect and make private in some way or other, the self becomes an abstraction, only manifest in the individual’s own autobiographical memory (ABM). ABM is what leads us to believe Facebook identity is not enough. It’s what drives some of us to Reddit, to 4chan, to Foursquare, to anywhere that isn’t Facebook. We want to believe that we are beyond ourselves; we want to look at ourselves in a digital mirror and see something exceptional, above the average. Reddit provides an added group identity which is perceivably massively valuable. 4chan provides us with the sense that we are frontiersmen once again as some of us were on the early web, trudging around in the unpredictable piffle of anonymity. Foursquare adds another dimension to our identity, whether anyone is on the outside looking in or not. A lot of other services that are not Facebook provide this service, on the condition that it’s easy to use (high UPP) and that there is a significant amount of people who might see it and have their perception of you affected (higher UPP). ABM is what keeps us experimenting and trying new things to maximizing our UPP online. Consequently, it becomes a certain engine for online activity and presence.
So let’s go back to Moot and his claims that Facebook and Google+ (which I’m including because it’s essentially a Facebook clone) got it wrong on identity. He asserts that being restricted to a real name (G+ no longer does this) rather than anonymity or a pseudonym is incorrect, because it restricts what we do and share. Is he wrong? Yes, absolutely. Facebook’s identity restrictions are likely what give the Internet any foundational value at all for people who otherwise have no originally-desirable place (UPP) online. The fact that so many people are online today who we know in our daily offline lives is the very basis for that growing UPP which makes pseudonyms valuable in the first place (without the entertainment value of Maddox and the social stickiness / virality of his rants, who would read him?). Are pseudonyms appropriate for Facebook and social networks which actually add some necessary and comforting order to the chaos of the web? Absolutely. If you have a nickname, and everyone else knows you by that nickname in person, going by that nickname is effectively the same as going by your real name on Facebook. In that case, yes, pseudonyms are desirable, but in effect they are not strictly pseudonyms afterall.
But anonymity? No way. Anonymity doesn’t grow UPP. Identity and privacy only matter because of increased UPP. ABM only matters because of UPP, which itself is an imagined, perceived variable. ABM might be boosted by anonymity and pseudonyms, as a way to pull down barriers to risky behavior, but anonymity and pseudonyms do much less for aggregate UPP than postmodern, perceivably rigid reflections of reality on Facebook do. Monuments and view counts do not anonymity make.
You can have a dozen identities, but the one founded by reality is the one which gives the rest even a small foothold and starting point for meaning. The identity founded by reality and pinned to Facebook is the one that empowers the postmodern, abstract pseudoanonymous. Within the scope of non-Facebook communities, Moot is correct. Regarding Facebook itself, Moot’s argument is more akin to pointing out how the fruit of a tree is much better than its stem or trunk.
Identity refers to how we reference ourselves, primarily in relation to relationships, experiences, and possessions.
Facebook’s identity model is rigid at face value but necessary for the sake of driving web use, and necessary for incentivizing the use of identity-augmenting social networks (Foursquare, Instagram).
Anonymity and pseudonyms cannot stand valuable on their own without anyone to promote them. They rest on the shoulders of Facebook’s utility-per-person boosting role, and cannot be valuable for all without the safety nets and foundations of rigid identity to promote their stage.
Follow me on twitter @weirdpikachu. I forgot to mention twitter in this post. Twitter is a fine hybrid platform for identity, but it doesn’t have the same adoption numbers as Facebook. If twitter were all pseudonyms and nobody important to follow, I doubt it would be as successful as it is today. I also doubt that the humorous tweets from gag accounts significantly drive aggregate usage of Twitter.
If you would like to read the sourced papers in their entirety, you can download them below. I warn you beforehand that the jargon is loaded and sounds nonsensical at times for the sake of conciseness.
Neovella: crowd-sourced stories, the sales figures after 12 hours
On Valentines day of 2011, neovella.com launched with the promise of “instantly co-author stories with your friends”. It hit Hacker News front page for the day, got tweeted around a great deal, and even landed me a few media interviews. Despite all of this, somethingawful.com drove the best-quality traffic—I won’t divulge why in this point (my special sauce). The premise of the application is that you can take turns writing a story with multiple people, such that you are constantly building on top of a plot that no one individual is driving. The hypothesis there was that creativity levels would be unbounded, and the results would be quite unpredictable—but ultimately, they would be socially validated by virtue of the method, and their quality can’t be too horrible if so many people are going to continue giving up their free time to write.
Neovella.com launched with a promise of publishing the best-quality stories to come out of this literary production mode. A few days ago, after much editing, calculating, and emailing, I finally released our first volume ebook on Amazon: Neovella, Volume I: Not Safe For Work.
Yesterday, May 9th, I began the process of marketing the work. First, I hit up the somethingawful.com forums, since their users had a majority stake in the work. This produced respectable sales figures. Next, I had a link to the Amazon page posted on Hacker News under the title “First 100% Crowdsourced Book (80 authors)”. Clearly, no one can so factually claim the status of “first” these days—what, with 12% of all humans ever in existence being alive today? I chose the title because of some figures I found on HN not too long ago regarding front-page link title statistics: numbers appealed to the math crowd, any claim of 100% is inherently controversial with room to debunk it, “crowdsourced” is a beloved buzz-word, and the claim of a “first” was bound to inspire the investigative skepticism so thoroughly rampant on HN. (Then again, perhaps the success of a front-page post lays in the sheer amount of people one might have willing in collusion to up-vote an item, and the karma of those individual’s accounts.)
On HN, many commentators posted that this was not the first crowdsourced book at all. The proper rebuttal was that Neovella is crowdsourced on a more granular level: every sentence could potentially be contributed by a different author—heck, every-other-word would also be possible with the app on neovella.com. The other crowdsourced books mentioned would only compete if the Neovella volume were 17 stories by 17 authors, compiled into one book. Hence, there is no direct competition in crowd-sourcing techniques.
On twitter, another small dispute brewed about the controversial claim of “first” in the new and uncharted waters of the term “crowdsourced.” It ended reasonably and in good taste.
So what does this attention translate to in terms of sales for our first volume? Well, before I go there, I want to share with you our rankings after about 12 hours in the spotlight (at the height of it all).
Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #774 Paid in Kindle Store
#7 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Short Stories
#9 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Short Stories
#27 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Comic
#29 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Humor
At some point, while I as asleep, http://www.alexa.com/whatshot listed Not Safe For Work (Neovella) at the #2 spot. Of course, over time all these rankings fall due to stagnating sales. The only way I imagine the magic might continue is perhaps a visit to the Colbert Report, The Daily Show, or perhaps even a small shoutfest with Bill O’Reilly. Does anyone know a guy who knows a guy?
So, how many ebooks do you have to sell to reach these rankings? Apparently, not a whole lot. 120 ebooks were sold in total for that 12-hour time period, receiving 4 stars and 8 reviews, including a video review. As a startup, we take 10% of royalties after Amazon grabs 30%, and as an author contributing to several of these stories I amassed about 5%.
$37.26 is how much I made in a day with the publication. The entire publication made $248.40. For a day, it’s not bad—but who knows how long this can sustain in sales, even on a top-10 list competing against well-known, highly-recommended fiction? Maybe I should go find a day job? Actually, the next volume is probably going to be here sooner than later.
As of 5/13/2011, we have sold 216 e-books.
Everyone is Wrong, why you Should NOT be a Startup Entrepreneur
… because if you really should be a startup entrepreneur, it wouldn’t matter if you saw some blog post by ANYBODY telling you how to analyze your own highly-contextualized situation. Hell, you probably wouldn’t even bother reading that article is you truly had the balls to throw down everything and take a risk. If they told you to give up, no matter who they were, you would still be a Startup Entrepreneur. I will tell you a million times not to be one and you will go right ahead and be one anyways. Only then should you really dive in.
Now quit spamming Hacker News with this pseudo-self-help how-to-clean-up-after-yourself how-to-be-an-entrepreneur bullshit. It doesn’t work like that. You are who you’ve made yourself as a result of your experiences, NOT what you have read anywhere by anyone else.
Time-space says you’re too late to the game
At large, we appear to be disillusioned by what has already happened. Did you see something in the night sky that amused you today? Chances are, it’s old news—older than you can fathom. Thanks to the laws of physics, that strange blinking star in the sky emitted those patterns millions of years ago, and probably much earlier. Yet you sit there as if that’s all happening right here and now. You sink into your own perceptions and assume yourself in sync with the present that is in fact a long-gone past. You perceive, you take in the signals of history, and you react. You think you’re just fine—but really, you’re too late, and you can do better.
If I’ve lost you already, here’s a true story from my high school days in marching band: our instructor had a trumpet player stand at the opposite end of the football field from where the rest of the band was. Upon the instructor’s hand wave signal, the trumpeter would play a loud note synchronized to the motion.
The instructor waved and we watched the trumpet player output a note. A split second later, we finally heard it. The visual signal traveled at the speed of light while sound moved much slower, and so visual cues were ruled errant and we were told to watch the marchers around us for when we should march.
So there you are, trying to come up with a great strategy or scheme to get ahead in the business world. You’re waiting, you’re looking for opportunities, and you’re looking for a safe market to open up for your labor investment.
YOU’RE TOO LATE.
You can pick up the crumbs of those involved with letting those signals go public, but the process of waiting on information damned you from reaping the greatest rewards from the very beginning.
To hold influence, to change the world immensely, or to become a person of persuasion, you really have to move first and become the force that drives the ears and eyes of those who wait for the safe route. We have sheep and we have sharks—the former wait for opportunity while the latter instinctually pursue it—but they’re still far behind in their appetite for blood.
There is a type of individual/animal far above the shark and sheep—both of which can be devastated by environmental disasters. The enigmatic influencer has to act independent of environmental cues, instead emitting them. By the time any signals or cues are internalized to be acted upon, the competition for their utilization has already ramped up. Be the cue, be the impact, be the signal to everyone else that opportunity exists—or else you won’t even have a shot at getting to the top.
If you’re reading this instead of doing that, I’m sorry to have your eyes averted.
The Chain Game for Change: Willed Path Liberation
Fix a new future otherwise unlikely and your interpretation of the past will change to suit it. Better yet, the real result is that new future chosen and unfolded. The future is freed from the past that has “passed” already. Reality finds a new direction, linked by the temporal chains of perception.
By establishing a future, you select a conscious tunnel vision which leads to that “only” destination. The past, condemned to the same flexibility, is also selectively recalled to prop up this newly chosen temporal momentum.
For a single individual to change the reality and future of other persons, perception must be swayed for all. Work backward. What are the necessary triggers for that future? Split up responsibility for its outcome and set up the dominos. To mimic natural momentum, circumstance and happenings must not be traceably centralized in the domain of a single player. Divide up the innocent tasks which will compound into triggers for the eventual grand finale. Self-interest fuels the natural schema, so offer incentives to each influential player. Work behind shadows.
The more chains linked the less risk of suspicions of reality-creating. One person’s demands and actions alone are a selfish atrocity of tyranny—an entire population’s abnormal desire-tugged activities are a grand phenomenon, a “natural” force of reality unfolding. The former can be beheaded whilst the latter suffers no ill consequence for the same motivations. Reality is responsible, the individual innocent of intent.
You are irresponsible for the outcome! As a watcher, a perceiver only, your innocent existence both defines and self-defines what comes up ahead. To watch and to be aware is your exhilarating freebie—the visible world is not your doing. It is simply simultaneously synchronized to your most heartfelt desires, most-just outcomes. You exist too now.
By looking at a single future, you neglect past events which would otherwise make it impossible. This implies the past is non-binding.
By looking at the past in a certain definitive scope, you leave the future open to only a very limited few possibilities.
See no past? The future quickly comes to you, per the exogenous forces at work.
See no future? You remain in the past and no future may congeal quickly.
Be blind to past and future? Right now becomes king and you rule everyone’s present, if open.
Causation is a myth. The complex circumstance and context of existence tends to a future yet realized, but readily linked to it. No one or thing can be entirely, alone, responsible.
People believe that their actions are based on decisions made in the present. Yet the “present” is based on the storied past. Without influence, exogenous life triggers recollection of certain reminders of the past. Yet if I am able to selectively reproduce a past in an individual’s recalled memory, only that past will lead to any certain and immediate future. The future can be selectively invented!
My silent suspicions seem to be the perceptive-passive forces which animate my experience and reality through time.
“The neurocognitive model claims that dreams are usually forgotten because they are internal narratives; unless internal experiences are tied to external cues, such as times and places, they are bound to be forgotten.”
Create a context, and then maximize the rewards. As the designer of conflict, victory is with the wise planner.
We invent the past, locally. The whole appears to invent the local. You can change the whole locally, a dynamic component from within it.
In sum: commit to your dreamed fantasies with indestructible certainty.
Did the Internet industry spearhead economic decline?
- Why does it matter if a farmer now knows how an airplane works?
- Why does it matter if a student who wants to become an accountant, now knows how to program in five languages?
- What does it matter if the factory worker has the knowledge to become a successful manager, if the labor mobility is not there?
All of these empowering knowledge gains required some time and hence out-crowd opportunity for further current-employment specialization.
Knowledge without opportunities for its productive application: for now, it is a waste.
Did the Internet information industry, by way of Google and facebook, spearhead the economic decline? There may have been a financial meltdown, but in a world where knowledge (as vastly available and spread as it is today) has productive ($$) application, those mortgages may have been able to be paid off.
We are well below our productive ability as an economy. When someone finally develops a way to put a money-making value on the information we consume every day, this recession (now “ended”) will, in retrospect, be read as a silly blind-spot in applied employment. Common employees are worth more than ever before.
tldr; employees are now much more valuable than ever before, with high MVP, but our economic modes of production do not take full advantage of the related human capital input.
Epiphany in Contexts & Scales
I was driving down from Berkeley to Los Angeles two nights ago. Without strong FM signal or an mp3 player, it turned out to be a very mindful drive.
An idea occurred to me, perhaps only for its counter-conventional entertainment value. What if instead of myself driving a car over the earth from one geographic point to another, my car was remaining stationary and rotating the earth unidirectional underneath it? In the scope of spatial understanding and functional value, this proposition is incorrect—but who is to say? From the context of myself in my car, the idea that the interaction between my tires and the universe produced movement only outside of itself was not entirely wrong. Context always matters immensely.
Economic equations and models can only be accurate insofar as the variables in place are the variables that exist. Exogenous forces can throw off accuracy, but the internal context and its outcomes should be stable with respect to each other otherwise.
So while it may not be true that my car and I were stationary within a moving universe, it is also not right to say that my car was independently propelling itself over the landscape. If there were a strong wind in the favorable direction or even, for the sake of proposition, an objection in LA with massive gravitational pull for my car only, these would also have to be included in the description of how reality unfolded.
Both the micro and macro scales for observation and description are correct with respect to their variables, but they remain incomplete. We are only as good as the information we have. Every smallest unit of space is independently interdependent, causally or correlated, but the biggest picture is still yet to reflect perfect accuracy. The unknown is simply what’s next. Space-time wins.