Is StumbleUpon Good Social Technology

You may recall or may want to look at my post on Good and Bad Social Technology, where having defined social technology as the study, collection and application of tools a person can use to improve their social environment, I went on to write about good social technology, which not only improves the individual’s social environment but is good for the world as a whole, and bad social technology, the opposite, which is bad for the world as a whole.   Considering the global social environment, it can be polluted, harmed by the selfish actions of individuals trying only to improve their own situation.

Elsewhere I have suggested that Facebook is bad social technology in this sense, in that it is actually harmful to society.  I am not talking about privacy and security issues, I am talking about its effect on the social network.  Rather than drawing together people who are genuinely compatible, it makes it too easy to waste time with links that will confuse, distort or not propagate your attempts to pull together network of enjoyable and useful connections.

I am trying to decide for myself whether StumbleUpon might be called good social technology.  It seems to me that it might serve to connect strangers who do indeed have common interests, thus pulling together distant people who truly have something in common together, without requiring them to join discussion groups of dubious value.  Since people have only a finite amount of time, finding good connections this way might weaken connections which are not either useful enjoyable.

I have not made up my mind about this, but it is work exploring.  While thinking about it, I do, of course, actually use StumbleUpon, which is a lot of fun.  — dpw

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Linguistics Fiction

I cannot resist giving away my fiction, especially when it is relevant to something I’m trying to say.  For my new languages and linguistics website, Natural, Artificial and Non-Arbitrary Languages, which deals with ordinary languages, constructed languages, mathematics, music and a possible non-arbitrary language, at, I have been posting drastically revised sections from my lengthy novels, The Green Family Chronicles and Technological Fantasies, somewhat the same text also to be found in the composite Society Changed.

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Languages Site

I have another WordPress based site for all the work on linguistics that I have been doing over the years.  It is at for now, until I think up a nice unique domain name for it.

The site is for ideas, information, data, research and software relating to natural and artificial languages, including non-arbitrary ones.  It exists primarily to report on research from past decades and current work.    The header contains images representing natural and non-arbitrary languages.  The construction of a non-arbitrary universal or world language is a goal, and ways of approaching it will be discussed.

To start with, I have uploaded data in a text file which is a simple thesaurus for one-syllable words is at and a simple Python program which operates on this thesaurus to produce a sorted list of word pairs representing individual meanings is at  A program to turn a list of word pairs back into a thesaurus is at

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Recent Registrations

This site is set up so that people can register, at which point they become subscribers.   They may also make comments.   I have had very recently had quite a few new registrations, and some of them make me suspicious.  One person’s e-mail address turned out to be phony.   Perhaps that was not a person at all — one recent registration is listed on spambot detection sites as a frequent poster, probably a bot.   I get at least one registration a day with a e-mail address.  This is very suspicious.  All of this is recent.  What is happening?  Have I done something to make my site more vulnerable to spurious registrations?  Well, at least they are not as bad as the actual comments themselves, which Akismet catches.

The Akismet plugin is a little too tough on comments, actually, and labels some perfectly good ones as spam.   For some reason almost all of the flattering comments by people who like the site ended up being called spam.  I have recovered most of them, I think.  Thank you very much.   — dpw

— dpw

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Old Social Technology

I have often said that our current level of social technology is like that of medicine before the mechanisms of disease and the need for sterility were understood.   We now have medical terms like microorganisms and sterile field which by themselves speak volumes and by themselves could have changed the course of medical history.   To get society out of the 18th century it might be helpful to have similarly provocative terms.   The term social technology is itself one such expression.  Others are below.  For some of them, see the Wikipedia.

There is now a conspicuous increase in the use of the term Social Technology. Often this refers to what can be called Social Hardware, such as smartphones, but sometimes it is used to mean Social Software. An example of the latter is Facebook, which describes itself as a Social Utility.

One use of the term Social Technology can be traced from the RAND Corporation’s Delphi Project of about 1959, principal researcher Olaf Helmer, through the 1964 book Social Technology by Helmer and others. As I have explained elsewhere, the Delphi Method and the related techniques written up in Helmer’s book are badly flawed since they neglected the key issue of error-covariance. There is absolutely no doubt of this whatsoever. They had a chance to get it right, and they blew it. Considering the amount of mathematical expertise available to them, this is astounding and rather inexcusable.

I suppose I could trace my own use of the term Social Technology back to theirs, but I don’t. There certainly were some influences, though. I read and Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, which mentions the Delphi Method, and enjoyed John Brunner’s very prescient The Shockwave Rider (which first talked about the kind of malware we call worms and was the first to describe someone like a modern computer hacker) – in that book Brunner describes Delphi pools, where people bet on a future event, the accuracy of the result depending on the pool size. This by the way, is the basis for the RAND Corporation’s controversial Policy Analysis Market, later cancelled.

Behind Brunner’s idea of a larger pool of people making a better choice is a grain of truth, since with a large number of people their error-covariances may tend to cancel each other out — but, only if independent. That was his mistake. If this voting was entirely private, it might have a chance, but if public, people influence each other too much.

It is possible to skip one step and say that my own discussion of Social Technology is based on this, since I did make use of decision theory and did (correctly) write about error-covariance, but two things should be noted: first, that I was less interested in the actual decision making than in the possible social relationships between people with minimal error-covariance. An early hypothesis of mine: Two people who tend to make very different mistakes are compatible as individuals – interpersonal compatibility is inversely proportional to error-covariance.  This may or may not be true, a great deal of empirical research would be needed to verify it.   If true, it would simplify things, but the basic idea involved using compatibility in the organization of society, which does not depend on the hypothesis.

The second thing to note is that skipped step. I was interested in social technology to do something like network optimization on the social network before I ever realized that decision theory and something like the Delphi Method were at all relevant. I briefly called it Social Network Optimization, shudder, then quickly realized that this sounded too much like social engineering. Nobody wants to be “optimized” or live in an socially engineered world. We do want tools to help us improve our own lives. As I have written many times, such tools are important, but can either improve society as a whole or make it worse. Good or bad social technology. What I am seeking is not only effective but good social technology in that sense. I see it coming.

The more that is written about social technology in general, the more easily it will be to point out how it can be bad or good. I often use the term Social Environment. That is indeed what each individual wants, to improve his or her social environment, finding compatible people, jobs and so on. The push for good social technology is then just another form of environmentalism. To want a powerful car is OK, but to disregard how much it pollutes the atmosphere is wrong. There is a social atmosphere, a social environment, which can not only be polluted, but almost destroyed.  For example,  I blame terrible social technology for wars and even for the Mutually Assured Destruction of the Cold War.   We could never have gotten into that mess if we had good social technology.    But that is an argument for another day.

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Getting an Idea Across

I am still writing this in the first person, mostly, though I have now put up a personal blog. I won’t even bother you with its location until there is worthy content there. I myself don’t matter and would happily drop out of this endeavour of if there was any evidence that others were picking it up. But I did have a clear vision of something, decades ago, and somehow it is just not getting across.

I have had some successes, of course. Years ago I won the annual award for the best social innovation of the year, offered by the Institute of Social Inventions in the UK, which brought with it a thousand pounds, over 2000 dollars, in those days. As a result of this I received a total of two e-mails from interested people. Two.

After that I turned to writing fiction, in an effort to get some ideas across, but just haven’t succeeded yet. Some of you may have read my online novel, Social Tech High. It is clearly a novel of ideas, some interesting, but in retrospect I see that it misses things.

I’ll try again. Any suggestions would be welcome.

By the way, I have been creating websites for elements of my fiction. They almost comprise a new kind of fiction, a mutually consistent set of websites. People who have read Social Tech High may be interested in Green Family Corporation the website for the fictitious corporation begun by Ken Green and for many years managed by Sarah Rivers. It includes “photographs” of Ken Green, Sarah Rivers and their daughter Beth Green. They look like actual photos, I think, but are not. No real people look that way.

The explicit purpose of that website is to explain how Ken Green made his billions, which is not a secret. I’ve only begun to explain it, but will carry on. It might attract somebody’s attention. Or maybe not. Who knows? What might? Again, I am open to suggestion.

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Good and Bad Social Technology

The one sentence, 30 word review:

Social Technology is the study, development and application of methods by which individuals can improve their social environments, finding jobs, friends, sex partners, places to live and ways of life.

As will be explained below, good social technology is that whose use by individuals makes the world a better place overall. Bad social technology is that whose use by individuals makes the world worse.

The definition above in which social technology is treated as something for the use of individuals is not wrong, but is misleading in that it suggests searching rather than matching. We might consider the ultimate goals of social technology to be a set of simultaneous weighted bipartite matching problems:

— match each job in the world with one person to perform it

— match each adult person in the world to a single sex partner or spouse

— match each person in the world with a single best friend

In each case the problem is to maximize the overall quality of the whole set of matches, that is to say, the maximum total weight. Weighted bipartite matching is an O(3) problem, the difficulty of which increases as the cube of the number of nodes or vertices. Obviously any problems involving the whole population of the world is of astronomical difficulty, but can be approximated. Simultaneous matching problems are disproportionately harder, but again may be approximated.

A big question is how these different views of social technology may be reconciled. This can be done if the individual-centred view in the first one-sentence 30 word summary is augmented by the addition of some definitions along the lines of those given above.

Good social technology satisfies the initial definition and furthermore has the property that the actions of individuals using the technology improves the overall match quality or total weights of the various bipartite matching problems.

In other words, good social technology is that in which the actions of individuals makes the world a better place.

Bad social technology is just the opposite, that which works to worsen the overall quality of matches, their total weights. In other words, bad social technology is that in which the actions of individuals makes the world a better place.

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A New Kind of Fiction — Websites

I have been working on a new type of fiction, the creation of a set of interlocking websitess.

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Concerns about other Social Networking Software, e.g. part of TikiWiki

Having experienced the severe problem caused by some version of Elgg, (see previous post) I am now worried about other social networking software.  I am especially worried about TikiWiki, which does include among its amazing list of feature a social network capability.  I have had no problems with TikiWiki, yet, but I worry.  If anyone has had problems, please let me know.  I have one installation, which I am hosting in a subdomain for someone else.  I think they are using the social networking system (though probably not very much.  Since they are using it, I am reluctant to just delete TikiWiki, but I am now a little worried about it.  It seems that a security whole or some other problem might cause it to misbehave as Elgg.  Anyone who can provide advice, please do.  — dpw

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Social Tech High, Online Novel, Finally Finished

It feels like the end of an era.  It has been a busy, fascinating, exhausting six weeks, but it is over, finished.  I have just posted Chapter Thirty-Five, the final chapter of the novel Social Tech High, which has has been coming out in blog format almost a chapter a day on — note that the individual chapters are also available as pages in order, since the blog format is hard for new readers to use.  I am already working on a sequel, and should be able to post its first chapter tomorrow.  — dpw

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