March 19th, 2008

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Passion is, sometimes, the enemy of sleep

Up before dawn for the second day in a row -- those who know me well will know how unnatural this is. Sadly, it's very difficult to keep work thoughts out of my head, and I'm gradually coming to realize that tossing and turning in bed thinking about them is counter-productive. Indeed, I probably should have simply gotten up two hours ago, rather than lying in bed thinking: I'd have been more likely to get back to sleep afterwards.

On the bright side, if I'm going to be kept awake by thinking too much, at least it's by something I'm passionately interested in, not just the usual day-to-day worries. This means I can get up and do something about it...
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Should I write an LJ interface to CommYou?

I think I need to take a survey of my friends. I'd appreciate it if you'd take a minute to fill out the following very brief poll -- it's likely to have a big impact on exactly how I shape CommYou in the very near future. (All of the long text that follows is by way of details and explanation: you can skip it and go straight to the poll if you want.) Feel free to point others to this, if you think they'd be interested.

Things are steaming along towards release 0.1, the very earliest and simplest alpha of CommYou. It's still ridiculously feature-light (it has less than a third of what I consider the necessary features), but almost getting real. My remaining steps are "Make The UI Suck Less" and "Break It Enough To Work With IE6". Once those are done, I need to write a proper build system, and then build the actual site. So I'm probably a few weeks from having the thing really up and running.

The question du jour is, what next? In particular: I've been planning, all along, to fully deploy this thing for Facebook before worrying about any other social networks, but I'm having second thoughts about that, especially since most of *my* friends are over here on LJ. I don't think LJ is quite such fertile ground as Facebook in the long run (partly because LJ already has adequate conversational tools, partly because it's simply a lot smaller), but I'm considering porting the thing to LJ simply so more of my friends are likely to try it out and participate in the development process. As quickly as possible, I'd like to be "eating my own dog food" (to use the software industry's standard slightly nasty metaphor) -- I would like to be having the discussions about CommYou's development and evolution *in* CommYou itself, so I want to get a bunch of interested people into it soon.

A quick review of the system itself: CommYou is superficially similar to LJ in some respects, but with a focus on conversation instead of blogging. The top posts aren't going to be quite as privileged as on LJ, and there is going to be a lot more tool support for the ensuing discussions. The biggest single difference, and the one that's visible upfront, is that the system tracks what you've already read and what's new to *you*, so you can more easily keep a whole bunch of conversations active at once. Also, the UI is much more interactive, and designed to make it a bit quicker to skim through what's going on. But there's lots more coming, ranging from tight IM integration to live online chatting to the ability to treat different conversations differently, depending on how important they are to you.

What CommYou is *not* is a social network: instead, it's designed to be a conversation system that works with and across social networks. The long-term game plan is that CommYou will integrate with *all* social networks, insofar as possible. Plenty of people are dealing with tracking who your communities are; I'm trying to make it easier to talk with them.

A LiveJournal adaptation of CommYou necessarily wouldn't be as tight as the one for Facebook -- LJ just doesn't have the hooks -- so it would basically be a separate site that knows about LJ and uses it. I believe you would sign into LJ via CommYou; CommYou would synchronize with LJ and import your friends and communities. You would be able to start and respond to conversations with your friends and in your communities inside of a CommYou webpage. The topics of those conversations could be posted into LJ in the appropriate places, but they would point to CommYou for the discussions themselves. I'd probably also support many of the LJ clones (GreatestJournal, DeadJournal, etc) quickly, simply because it would be easy to do. Within some limits, CommYou would merge your identity (if you wanted) across all social networks it knows about: initially, this probably means that you could share conversations with friends in both LJ and Facebook.

So, given all that, the question is: would you use it?
Poll #1156733 Would you use CommYou if it was adapted to LiveJournal?

How interested are you in trying CommYou, from the bits you know about it?

Sounds like it may be cool -- I'm interested in keeping an eye on it, talking about it, and helping figure out what it should do
17(37.0%)
I'd like to try it out and kick the tires a bit, but probably won't do much more than that soon
22(47.8%)
I'm not likely to play with it, at least not soon
7(15.2%)

If you answered one of the two top answers above (that is, you might try it out soon), would a port to LJ make a difference to you, or is Facebook integration good enough for now?

I already have a Facebook account, and I'd be fine using that for playing with CommYou
8(19.0%)
I have a Facebook account, but would strongly prefer something LJ-centric instead
9(21.4%)
I don't have a Facebook account yet, but would be willing to get one in order to play with CommYou
5(11.9%)
Facebook: ick, ptui! An LJ port would be necessary in order for me to play with CommYou
20(47.6%)
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Oh, yeah -- that's going to hurt McCain

I had suspected it, but this poll from CNN confirms it -- most people think that the Iraq War is part of why the economy is tanking.

Regardless of whether it's true (I happen to think it is, but I'm sure it will be argued), it's a very potent weapon for the eventual Democratic nominee. An argument that boils down to "Your War is why Americans are losing their jobs" is wildly over-simplistic, but likely to hit home quite effectively. McCain has put his entire reputation on the war, and while he may be able to sway people on the moral argument, I suspect that winning the pragmatic one is going to be a lot harder. The more people think about this link, and see McCain's justifications for the War, the crankier they're likely to get. Even Clinton can argue that she's been trying to disengage for a good while now, and that that might have spared the country the worst of the economic impact.

(Of course, this assumes that the economy is still in recession in November. I suspect that it will at least be perceived that way, even if a turnaround has started by then -- it takes time to shift the public perception, and I don't expect this particular setback to be either mild or quick...)
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The neo-cons sow the seeds of their own demise?

This article, in the latest Newsweek, set me thinking about political trends and mindset. And it occurs to me that it's one more way in which the neo-con movement may have seriously shot itself in the foot.

The article is about the way that Iraq has changed the military and the men in it. It's a profile of an Army captain, and how he's learned to navigate his way through his mission -- the compromises he's learned to make, the subtlety of the decisions, and the need to talk first and shoot only as a last resort. I can't say how typical it is, but it does seem like a plausible reaction to the situation.

The thing that most strikes me here is how utterly *un*-neocon it all is. I mean, the Bush administration has done its damnedest to turn the military into yet another ideological arm, just as it has with so many other branches of government, purging anybody who disagrees with their approach. But precisely because of the intellectual bankruptcy of the movement, they seem to be failing. The successful leaders in Iraq, from Petraeus on down, have had to adopt a very thoughtful and pragmatic approach to the war -- precisely the opposite of the "we aren't engaged in nation-building" overwhelming-force-always-wins ideology that Donald Rumsfeld started the war with.

Today's military leaders always influence or become tomorrow's political ones. The relationship is subtler in the US than in some places, but the ideological lessons we learn from each war tend to influence the thinking of the succeeding generation. And the principal lesson that seems to be coming out of this war is that Manichaean us-vs-them thinking is a fine way to totally foul things up -- you have to work with people and make hard compromises in order to succeed.

Frankly, that may be the best thing that comes out of this bloody mess. If we wind up with an up-and-coming generation of leaders that has been forced to learn better than the simple-minded divisiveness that they were raised on, it might bode a little better for years to come...