Collectivist societies, Deming, and Agile development

I just read an op-ed in the NYT by David Brooks called Harmony and the Dream. He talks about collectivist vs individualist cultures. He suggests that the USA, as the most individualistic country, has a lot to learn from collectivist Asian societies.

This made me think of W. Edwards Deming, the American who helped reorganize Japanese industry after WWII. In this country Deming is mostly known for teaching statistical quality control methods, to be used in manufacturing. But Deming was not just a statistician — he viewed corporations as integrated systems, made up of a dense mesh of relationships between employees, management, suppliers, customers, and even competitors. He encouraged corporate culture that stressed these inter-dependencies and lines of communication, where every employee was aware of, and to some degree responsible for, the larger system around them. It was very collectivist, and it worked very well in Japan.

It also made me think of Agile software development, which is a set of techniques that acknowledge how unpredictable software development (or any creative business process) can be. Agile techniques emphasize openness, communication, and group awareness to keep the process flexible, efficient, and satisfying.

Knol is not Wikipedia

I’ve been reading about Knol from Google. It’s supposed to be like Wikipedia except the articles have a single author who is identified (by their real name). The author controls all edits and can even choose to copyright an article (although it’s still free to read). Wikipedia articles are supposed to be neutral and encyclopedic, while Knol articles can be full of opinion, conjecture, argument, persuasion, and perhaps even libel.

You can see how this might appeal to an author, who gets credit and keeps control. If you post an article in Wikipedia you are setting it free. It’s no longer yours. Sometimes this matters.

If you’re writing about something where you have special knowledge, and you put a lot of time and get the words just right, then you probably don’t want someone messing it up. Especially since your name is on it. Or if you pen a clever op-ed full of inuendo and double meanings, you don’t want it dumbed down and neutered.

On the other hand, I think almost anything can be improved by a talented editor, and I’m wondering how this will develop. Will Knol set up some way to hook up writers with editors?

Knol also allows comments and has a rating system, so in some ways it is like a huge collective blog or a textual YouTube. Will some authors gain fame and become influential? Probably, just like bloggers do now.

And there’s the question, why bother with Knol? It’s easy to find a place to publish your writings for free so what does Knol add? Knol sounds like as good a place to publish as any, and better than most. It’s like YouTube, people know it’s the place to go for that kind of content and there is infrastructure and organization already set up. You can choose your license, and you can try to harvest ad revenue.

From a reader’s perspective Knol seems very different from Wikipedia, which will be obvious once articles about current events and politics appear. Knol started with a bunch of authoritative medical articles, which seems like Wikipedia content, but soon people will be writing about home remedies and personal experiences — the kind of stuff that’s not neutral enough for Wikipedia. You’ll go to Wikipedia to find out about tendinitis; you’ll go to Knol for hangover cures.

Web 2.0 Minus Minus

Y’all know what Web 2.0 is. The social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, content sharing sites like Flickr and YouTube. Blogs are early two-point-ohh, chatty places like Twitter and FriendFeed are late. Maybe they’re about 2.0.8.

And Web 1.0 must be all those shopping sites from the late 90s. Most of them are gone now, killed by the popping dot-com bubble. But there’s plenty of 1.0 still around: Amazon thrives, eBay’s doing OK for now, Yahoo is hanging on. Remember eToys,, and

And what about Web zero-point-ohh, what is that anyway? Early search engines like Aliweb, Infoseek, Lycos, and AltaVista? IRC? Bulletin boards? Walled gardens like CompuServe and AOL?

Which brings us to Web -1.0 (negative one), which is Usenet newsgroups and 30-baud modems.

And of course Web i.0 (the square root of negative one) which never actually happened. This is for stuff like PointCast (push) and TV over the internet so you can buy things with your remote.

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