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Dana Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist for over 25 years and has covered the online world professionally since 1985. He founded the "Interactive Age Daily" for CMP Media, and has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age, and dozens of other publications over the years.
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Moore’s Law defines the history of technology. It held that the number of circuits etched on a given piece of silicon could double every 18 months as far as its author, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, could see. Moore’s Law has spawned constant revolutions since then, not just in computing but in communications, in science, in a host of areas. Moore’s Law applies to radios, and to optical fiber, but there are some areas where it doesn’t apply. In this blog we’ll take a daily look at new implications of Moore’s Law in real time, as it rolls forward to create our future.
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May 15, 2005

PARTI Hearty

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Posted by Dana Blankenhorn

joi ito.jpgTwo decades ago I was part of new social movement called online conferencing.

People from all around the world used a Unix package called PARTIcipate to discuss issues and their lives with one another. I made some good friends then, among them Joi Ito. (That's him to the left.)

But we quickly learned the dark side of this text-based technology. Misunderstandings could happen. They could escalate. Without the visual cues we get in face-to-face conversation, flame wars could erupt. Moderation became essential.

As time moved on, moderation became a frill, because it didn't scale. Many systems left it behind. Instead we atomized into groups built around professions or interests. Those who didn't like the tenor of an online conversation drifted away. Usually. But some refused to do so. I was one of them.

I was often hurt in the process, because I would keep hammering away on points while those who disagreed with me turned from argument to ridicule. My own psyche did not start to heal until I learned to walk away from such fights -- say what you want once, then leave. And even then I could find myself with an unwanted reputation, followed to other forums by bullies looking to hurt me again.

These were hard lessons. And it has seemed, since, that we keep repeating the same patterns. Discussion threads in the blogosphere are, if anything, technologically backward compared to those on PARTI. Many blogging systems, like Movable Type, don't allow forking of threads, or multi-threading. (Others, like Scoop and Slash, do have this functionality.) By allowing people to post anonymously, you can also be hit with a flame from any direction, at any time.

The point is, I've found this week, that everything old is new again. Flame wars are erupting. Feelings are being hurt. To those who feel offended, some advice from an old flame:

  • Say it once and walk away.
  • You can't convince someone who isn't willing to listen.
  • Escalating is easy, de-escalating is hard, but the hard route is the way to mental peace.
  • Apologize first and ask questions later.
  • I can't see you or feel your pain through your words, if I choose not to.
  • Misunderstanding is easy. Listening is hard.

I do let things go here. I don't want to cut anyone off. But I recognize the risks to you, my friends, and I apologize to you for any misunderstandings, with me or one another, that may result from my approach.

Play nice.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Consulting | History | Internet | blogging | ethics | personal


1. Brad Hutchings on May 15, 2005 05:01 PM writes...

No apology necessary on this end. There is a fundamental issue here, which is accountability to reality of people who become public figures. The more public they become, the more accountable they are. As they start to exert influence, sway opinion, their backgrounds become very important. If they shy away, they create a vacuum of information, and vacuums suck. At any rate, the posturing against me for the position I hold was predictable and did not bother me in the least. Except for ragging on me for not getting the Ph.D. -- that hurts like none of you will ever understand. You know, like when you have a belly laugh going for 30 minutes and spit Diet Coke through your nose...

At any rate, this reminds me of a fable my Dad would tell me when I was a young lad growing up in the slums of Danville, CA. The fable is called "Check Under the Lead Ostrich's Skirt". I've never understood the title, but the fable goes like this...

Chapter 1.
There was this guy wandering the road and he came upon a wild herd of ostriches. He walked up to one ostrich and said, "let's put our heads in the sand so the farmer down the road doesn't see us.". So the guy bends down and before he can touch his toes, the other ostrich has its head in the sand. Another ostrich walks up and the guy tells him they're putting their heads in the sand so the farmer down the road doesn't see him. Soon, all the ostriches in the field have their heads in the sand. The guy says, "I'm gonna take my head out of the sand occasionally and see if he's coming. You guys sit tight". And so, the guy became the lead ostrich. Soon he had thousands of ostrichs with their heads in the sand.

Chapter 2.
One day, another guy came walking down the road. He saw what was going on and yelled to the ostriches. You can come up now. Your leader isn't an ostrich and there is no farmer down the road.

Chapter 3.
All of the ostriches took their heads out the sand, plucked the other guy to death, and then put their heads back in the sand.

Chapter 4.
The first guy waited for the farmer to put a fence up around the field and then got the hell out of there.

Chapter 5.
The ostriches rejoiced that they no longer had to be wild, then stuck their heads back in the sand.

The End.

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2. Nate on May 15, 2005 08:40 PM writes...


The invective directed at you, inflamatory and off-subject though some of may be, is to some extent a natural reaction to your unwillingness, or inability, to debate logically and intelligently about this subject. These threads have attracted some people whose emotional ties to this subject seem to interfere with their ability to argue logically, and you certainly appear to be one of them. You claim not to have a vendetta against open source, and that may be fair; that's not necessarily the word I would have used to describe it, but your rather snide tone ("10 Reasons to Stick Geeks in Closets and Lock the Friggin Door"), and your unpleasant experiences with OSSers (which you have related to us at a somewhat confusing length), certainly lead us to suspect your objectivity.

Before you protest, observe the following:
You have been repeatedly challenged to produce something, ANYTHING, of a technical nature on Groklaw, the veracity of which you dispute. This could be an omission, or a bit of analysis, or a conclusion based on the material covered. You previously dodged this challenge by granting to me that everything on Groklaw MIGHT be true, but you then immediately implied that something must be missing: "Where her motivation comes in is then in choosing what to write."

A logical progression to your argument might look something like this:

- Assertion: it is important for PJ to be publicly accessible, with regards to her interests, history, and contact information.
- This is important in general because people in power must seek transparency.
- PJ is a person with influence, and her lack of transparency is hurting her cause (or someone else) because *BLANK*.

You, Brad, have totally avoided that third part. What frustrates people here is that you can't provide us any evidence, so there's really nothing to sustain an intelligent debate. What we want to hear is something like,

"Here's a bit of analysis that I disagree with, because..."


"Here is something important to the case that has been omitted..."

You have been asked for these things over and over again, and in response you continue to repeat your intitial assertions. You state your view that transparency is necessary for people with influence, and then leave it there, as though it doesn't need any further attempt to apply it to this situation. The closest you have come to a direct challenge of the material on Groklaw is to deride PJ's view of the ethics of open source adherents, and you repeat this derision ad nauseum. Your refusal to go deeper is a hallmark of a person aruing only from emotion.

What makes your position so embarrassing is that you end up parroting the spin proferred by Maureen O'Gara and SCO, and in nearly the same form. "Who is this PJ anyway? It's awfully suspicious that no one knows! You people are in an echo chamber!"

If there really is another side to this case that's not getting told, some body of analysis or discussion that is being suppressed or ignored, then SCO could start their own website, and you might be able to provide some of it to us in a rational debate. So far, SCO's own website has only manged to copy documents found on Groklaw, and you have only managed to provide your opinions.

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