Thursday, April 17, 2008

Transparentization and Freebase

I recently realized that ethical information is pretty much nothing more than making value chains transparent. Karl Tuhkanen and I were thinking of a term describing this and came up with the word transparentization. I got so excited with the word, that I went and registered domains for it! I also found a nice slogan: Globalization 2.0 is Transparentization.

In the perfect world we can track every product back to their components, to fields, mines and factories. In the real world this is not even closely possible, since the manufacturers themselves may not know the origins of their raw materials or even labour. We can go around this problem by adding propabilities to value chains. Thanks to Kalle Määttä for the genious idea. I remember reading that 75% of all cocoa production happens in West-Africa and that it is not rare there to see child labour, even child slaves. If a chocolate manufacturer doesn't know or doesn't want to tell where their cocoa comes from, it comes from West-Africa with a 75% likelyhood and possibly made by children. Propablities can be expressed using percentages, or what I like more, using unambiguous words. "May contain small traces of nuts" goes ethical: "may contain small traces of child labour".

The problem with this is the execution. Creating a data model that supports every possible link in the world of value chains is hard. It is even harder to communicate the idea to users through an understandable user interface. And finally, it is almost rocket science to make all information editable by the users themselves, keeping track of changes, managing administrative rights and keep the user inferface usable.

Luckily, yesterday I found Freebase. It a database, very much similar to what I have been thinking for Consumer Gadget. Freebase is a semantic database containing similar knowledge to Wikipedia, but that is computer readable. This makes Freebase poor compared to very nicely formatted Wikipedia articles, but powerful to applications that want to filter the information. I hope Freebase has a bright future, because my thought of Transparentization and Freebase can work well together. Let's see how the discussions with their developers go. I hope the word "ethical" doesn't scare them.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

About the next version of Consumer Gadget

A couple of words of what I have been thinking about for the past month or two.

Ethical information is rarely about products. Instead it is about factories, materials, company policies, countries or other geographical areas. It is important for Consumer Gadget to know these "abstract elements" behind the products, so ethical information experts can focus only on their area of expertise, but still grow the Consumer Gadget database.

This sounds simple, but requires that we explain the structure of our world in a language that computers understand. Computers make the connections from barcodes to the abstrat elements, which trigger the actual ethical information. In contrast, Wikipedia is a huge database of interlinked information that is only readable by humans. It propably contains all neccessary information for any ethical shopper, but it does not help Consumer Gadget at all. We need to be able to automatically generate an ethical report, tailored for mobile screens.

Semantics is the important word here. I am at the moment designing a system that can handle multiple levels of computer understandable ontologies. The problem is, that the ontologies must be also human readable, because they are updated by the public, who don't have a degree in information science. What is the best format for both computer and human readable information? I believe the answer is "tags". Every product is a tag, every factory is a tag. If you tag a product tag with a factory tag, it creates a computer understandable connection between a product and a factory, meaning that the product is manufactured in the factory.

Now the biggest problem is the user interface. Tags are easy UI-wise, but because of the semantic meaning between the tags, the freedom of tagging whatever with whatever must be removed. Also, how do we educate the users to see everything as tags, not only concrete products and companies, but abstractions like "manufactured in unknown Nokia factory".

Global Democracy and Emotions

Today I was looking for buzzwords describing this project. I came up with Global Democracy, had a laugh and a coffee break.

Global democracy, what is that? Global common understanding is propably impossible to achieve, but globalization does make issues global. Global markets, global consumers... can global consumer intelligence help in global democracy?

Too complex to understand. Does not compute. Still, there is something in it, I am sure about it.

I also started wondering what is the role of lawmakers and what is the role of consumers? The difference in my opinion is facts and intuition. Decisionmaking based on facts is what politicians do. Consumers can listen to their hearts. Politicians are affected by lobbyist, providing biased information. Consumers are affected by marketing people, providing mental images.

Child labour can be a very complex issue in some regions and all related facts must be laid out before making political decisions. But on the other hand, when we don't have to make decisions, we don't have to see the big picture. I believe consumer gets better view on the subject by closing eyes on some facts: children getting education wins over child labour, no matter what.

Consumers have the opportunity to think with their hearts and it should be embraced. The facts are also out there, but they can be complex. The decisions based on complex facts scatter statistically like decisions based on randomness, watering the idea of consumers having the power. I see that if consumers make decisions based on simple emotions, they will be statistically similar and thus affect the businessess.

The question is, what is too complex fact, and what is a simple emotional issue? And how these thoughts come alive in the next version of Consumer Gadget, I don't know...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The very long tail

So we all know about the long tail,

The long tail says that nowdays marginal products (physical or electronic) have as many, even more combined customers (people who pay money or attention) than popular products. If a product has only one customer, it adds to the total customer count of marginal products.

The very longness of the tail adds one important aspect. Some products are not interesting to anyone, not even to the creator's mother. Some products are not even marginal, they are just junk! This is not a joke, instead this is very important. Junk creator contributed resources and time to the product. Junk creator had a big enough motive to start the creation process.

If you spend 5 hours doing junk and it gets total attention of 5 seconds, the attention time is not important, but the creation time. The creation happens with a set of production tools. How the 5 hour creation process changes the creator, what is the role of the tools?

With ethical shopping this is very important. I would say that ethical content creation changes ethical point of view much more than ethical content consuming. I think Consumer Gadget should provide a set of research tools and a set of information publishing tools that encourage to discuss what is good or bad, not just facts.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Server up and running again

Apparently configuring Linux is not my strongest point. Managed to screw it up and had to buy some expertise from the hosting company.

The idea of "legal entity framework" has been strenghtened. I have learned three new words: taxonomy, ontology and folksonomy. "Legal entity framework" is somewhere in between. There should be similar thinking out there, but I haven't found it yet.

The next academic step will be to find the right terms, google them and start understanding the name of the field I have wandered into. But now is not time for academic steps, instead I started doing the API.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Consumer Gadget 2.0 API

Consumer Gadget just turned into a construction site. This spring we will introduce Consumer Gadget 2.0 API, which allows anyone to access Consumer Gadget information. Until the new version is ready, will be very unstable.

The information model will separate "legal entities" from other content. Legal entities model the real world where we live in. Every product, company, geographical area or person is a legal entity. They can be linked together into a network, which can be used for example to understand "where the money flows".

This "legal entity framework" has nothing to do with ethical information. Ethical information is just added on top of this framework. I hope the same framework can be used by similar projects, which add information on top of "the real world".

Addressing legal entities is very intersting question. What is a link between virtual and physical reality? With Consumer Gadget, EAN barcodes are essential, but also stock exchange codes or simple keywords can act as links to virtual legal entities. Very interesting link to real world is GPS coordinates -- every location on Earth is a legal entity, that someone owns.

But now I have to learn how to install new versions of Debian, Apache, MySQL and PHP.

Friday, October 12, 2007

2008: Consumer Gadget 2.0

Over a year of silence and Austria strikes back! Consumer Gadget is one of the finalists of this year's EUROPRIX Top Talent Award. I don't actually exactly know what it means, but it gave a mighty boost for our motivation, which has been "moody" lately.

The current motivation level gives me the power to say that the next year will be the year of Consumer Gadget, Consumer Gadget 2.0 in fact. It has been clear for a long time that Kulutuskapula, the original Finnish version of Consumer Gadget is not getting on its wings, no matter how much the press loves the project. Getting facts or even fiction into a databse is difficult with our limited network of non profit organizations in Finland. It's about time to go international and social and add 2.0 after the logo, or something like that.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Linz doing fine, I guess

So, the Ars Electronica Campus Exhibition has started and ethical queries about Austrian beers are rolling in. The Beer Exchange Stand's first public appearance is happening right now. I'm not very happy that I couldn't make it to see the exhibition, but Kalle Määttä managed to set it up nicely, see the photo he sent.

My thougths about Consumer Gadget and The Beer Exchange Stand are really messy right now and I don't know what to blog, so I think the picture is enough. See also, and print those coasters.