RE: virus: epistemology of email

Dave Hall (
Mon, 17 May 1999 14:36:21 +0100

Hi Eric,

>It is the latter problem that plagues Virus -- to the point where
>nothing is ever decided. The problem is thus one of knowledge
>creation: we need an epistemology of email; a systemic understanding
>of how knowledge is (or could be) created via email discussion.

Email lists, Web forums and usnet groups are, IMO, the cybersocietal equivalent to a beerhall. And using it as such can serve a pretty useful function. Use email, don't let it use you. IMO.

One can never hope to catch all of the "good stuff" in a beerhall. Rather you indentify and meet like-minded people via "beerhall-like" mini-conversations, build trust and respect and then go "offline" to create a realtionship .. either for the sake of friendship or to solve a problem.

I use the word beerhall specifically because I've tried to imagine the 20s-30s (age wise) of people like Tesla, Nietzche, Goethe "growing up" in and around the various of the various "Germanic" universites. As I have no interest in re-inventing the polyphase adaptor itself, learning the "message" that came from Tesla is/was not important ... rather what was important (for me) is learning to think LIKE Tesla so as to use the "thinking skills" he consciously developed. His clues for his inventions came from his environment, and those included the "beerhalls" where students/terachers could gather for a night of idle chatter and pick up clues, and more importantly "spot" like minded people.

To position myself: I've spent the last 9 months drowning myself in as much email possible (1000+ / day .. from a wide variety of topics) to get a feel for authentic "info overload" (not just the idea), develop "mental" coping mechanisms, and understand where this "email thing" is headed .. in order to try build a picture of a functional UI of the future, say over the next 10 years. Over the past 10 years, I've <un?>fortunately had the experience of developing 3 different "functional UIs" on top of the IP protocol "application" layers of nntp, smtp, ftp, http etc. starting in 1991. So I have a bit of an idea of where the actual problems lie and a few ideas for solutions. No rocket science involved .. this is just one of the ways I get my kicks in life.

Anyway, the following is a piece I posted to the Extropian list 2 monthas ago, where the volume of smart-ass quips noise is ginormous. I havn't edited anything .. just cut & paste from the original post. It kind of positions my software tool/utility design philosophy on this whole "email" thing, though the "image" of a solution continues to evolve daily. I'm an ANTI-feature software guy .. if something new has to be built, it should reduce a multiple-step/confusing operation to a single "no-brainer operation" .. otherwise don't waste time, just use the existing tools.

Sent: 03 March 1999 10:31
To: Extropians
Subject: META: Mirror-1post/day solution suggestion

I have no idea what "META:" is supposed to stand for in the context of this list, but I assume it's for making suggestions on improving infra-structure, and thus our ability to *learn* from what people post.

Too many solutions proposed in this list require a "they" or "someone" factor. For example, "someone should write a program for my nifty ingenious idea I just thought of". So the idea is posted, and quickly attacked by the hordes of commentators just itchy to get their memetic comms fix. There are some excellent comments and commentators. I sort my daily posting reading by Author first, then select the most interesting subject line and read that. If it looks appealing I then sort by subject and attempt to wade upwards looking for interesting bits. And the amount of garbage that has to be waded through to find the *good* stuff (because it is out there) becomes intolerable.

In terms of design, the tools currently available for knowledge gathering (as opposed to status/money/sex hunting) have truly outlived their usefulness. BUT it takes a lot of money and effort to develop a new tool product from scratch, and economic forces can crush attempters at any time. The trick is to use solutions that can be found by deploying basic common sense usage of existing tools. If nothing else it will show the SUPPLIERS (the current software vendors) that there is a DEMAND for changes to their tools. So what was a wire-and-nails solution then becomes a commercial product or service so that it can be easily replicated to all similar knowledge distribution systems.

As writers are satisfying an urge to be heard and should be given every opportunity to say what it is they have to say, I suggest a kind of "mirror" list to the main list, where each compuslive writer submits ONE posting per day, in *addition* to the normal load in the regular list. Those with the patience to wait a day before manically attacking their keyboards, thereby be able to choose and give thought to the best discussion topic get to do it in style and with professionalism. And then spend an hour, instead of dozens of 5 minute "CyberRoadRage" bursts to write thoughtfully about the topic.

That way we get the best of both worlds. It's all about supply and demand. I am a READER pleading with the WRITERS to improve the quality of your work, so that I may better learn from your insights. In terms of basic supply-and-demand, that was just a clear signal demanding some supply. That "up-a-level" list may in turn begin to flood, at which point the system can naturally migrate to a higher level, where edited manuscripts in Rocket eBook format are required and can be purchased for say 50c each. In a book form, a writer would need to have the publishing industry sell the piece for $48 to get 50c. If you're any good, you get read, and sold. Simple.

This list, is after all a CONTENT PROVIDER in the true sense of the word. It commands more of my time than any other single content provider, with the exception of perhaps Wired News, where I read everything because it's well presented and well written and well chosen content. Same can be said for The Economist which I read for it's quality of writing and selection of topics. Recognise the economic implications of that and it becomes extremely easy to see that the "only way out is up". One creates demand by providing quality.

[Durban, South Africa]