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What I’m not writing about

I had the realization the other day that the main way in which I procrastinate from the work I should be doing is by taking on other work that’s interesting, but not always necessary. So while I should be finishing a book proposal and authoring a couple of articles before succumbing to the challenges of new parenthood, I’m picking arguments with the transparency community and putting a new roof on sections of my house. In other words, I’m an idiot, just an idiot as described by Max Weber.

So rather than spending the next three days writing blog posts about topics that have fascinated me, let me offer links and a thought or two, in the hopes that perhaps you’ll write something and I can read it, and I can write the pieces I’m supposed to write.

The conversation about Lessig’s “Against Transparency” article is proving to be a lively one. New Republic has published four responses – pushbacks from David Weinberger, which I read in draft and which helped shape my thinking, and from Sunlight’s founders. The other two are from Jeffrey Rosen, who sees a role for the courts in mediating between secrecy and disclosure, and Tim Wu, who argues that the system’s too screwed up for transparency to help, and that the key is better leadership. Good, provocative stuff. Hope that Lessig will address some of Ellen, Michael and David’s pushbacks at some point soon.

The fine folks at the Nieman Journalism Lab have been taking a very close look at AP’s plans to save the news industry by ensuring that news content is accurately attributed and paid for. Basically, it’s a giant middle finger pointed up at Google and other entities AP believes unfairly aggregate and profit from their content. It’s got echoes of RIAA’s lawsuits and depends heavily on technology that AP admits doesn’t yet exist. Should be fun to watch this roll out.

Nieman did a great job of exploring AP’s “Protect, Point and Pay” plan in August, and I missed it, as I was blind at the time. I came across the plan and the Nieman analysis because Zachary Seward wrote up a fascinating talk by AP head Tom Curley to a group of journalists in Hong Kong. A note to Curley – if you find yourself saying, “We’re not actually that dumb” more than once in a Q&A session, you might, in fact, be that dumb.

Kiva, the online microfinance-promoting community, has received a great deal of (deservedly) laudatory attention over the past few years for driving a new set of “donors” into supporting microfinance – since people who give to Kiva are generally paid back, “donors” needs to be in quotes. Now Kiva’s coming under some scrutiny for glossing over some of the details in their model. In a great post on Center for Global Development’s website, David Roodman explains that “Kiva Is Not Quite What It Seems“. You’re not actually lending money to the smiling entrepreneur in the picture – you’re lending money to the microfinance institution that has already lent to that entrepreneur.

This nuance has some commentators, like Roodman, drawing comparisons between Kiva and child sponsorship programs, which invited you to sponsor a child – who you received photos and letters from – while your funds went to sponsor community development programs. Roodman points out that some of these letters were faked, leading the development community to crack down on some of the worst offenders. A blog post from Saundra at Good Intentions are Not Enough titled “Deceptive advertising hurts the entire aid industry” comes out swinging, citing industry best practices that seem to contradict what Kiva is doing. And Tim Ogden has “Even More Questions about Kiva“, largely focused on the possibility that Kiva donors may be especially vulnerable to financial losses by microfinance institutions.

Kiva’s done a great job of communicating with participants and building widespread buzz and support for their work – should be very interesting to see how/whether they address these critiques.

Heard of OKCupid? If you’re a happily married guy, expecting a kid, (as I am) the safe answer to that question is “no”. (I asked Rachel, and she knew immediately. Hmm.) It’s a free online dating service that has marketed itself aggresively via LiveJournal and Facebook quizzes. And it’s clearly a company with a badass statistician somewhere in a senior position, as they’ve just released a pile of fascinating stats about communication between members, segmented by religion and race.

Basically, the data is normalized by “interest” – i.e, it’s looking at a set of people who have answered some common questions and should have a high interest in one another independent of demographic factors. OKCupid’s invisible, snarky statistician has then looked at who actually sends a message to another – i.e., what site users actually do when presented with a possible match – and grouped response rates on a matrix that looks at the reported racial origin of participants.

I expected a big “homophily line” down the center of these matrices, evidence that white people were more inclined to date white people, Asian people to date Asians, etc. What resulted is far more interesting. In quick summary:
– Men are much more likely to respond to an inquiry from a woman than vice versa. (Duh.)
– White men are much pickier about responding than men of color.
– Black women are more likely to respond to messages than any other women.
and lots of other weird, fascinating stuff, like an apparent fascination for Middle Eastern women by white men, and a mutual disinterest between Indian men and women.

As you can imagine, all comments on these stories – and on ReadWriteWeb’s overview article, “‘White Guys Suck’ & Other Insights from OKCupid Study on Race & Online Dating” – are polite, well-reasoned and civil. :-) Okay, they’re not, but they are fascinating, as is OKCupid’s discussion of religion and dating online.

And that’s what I’m not writing about. Hope you’ll pick up the slack.