Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Sociology of the Sociology of Science

Before I dove into the startup life in '96, I was a PhD student at UC Berkeley in the history of science program. I overlapped there for a year or two with a smart guy named Alex Pang, who now works at the Institute for the Future and writes a blog called Relevant History.

As opposed to his regular interesting posts, Alex recently made a [thankfully rare] comment on academic sociology of science, which caused him to quote this passage:

[C]onstructivist sociology of science offers case-based analysis celebrating contingency and locality, favors archival and ethnographic methods, emphasizes agency over structure, and often focuses on issues related to epistemology and knowledge. Neo-institutionalism, on the other hand, searches for patterns over time and space, is more enthusiastic about using statistical and quantitative methods, emphasizes how structure can constrain actors, and returns in part to a sociology of scientists and organizations that was more characteristic of the pre-constructivist, Mertonian era.

Ye Gods. That's just painful to read. I don't know who wrote that, but they're never, ever going to be able to communicate with normal human beings unless they start speaking English. I thought it would be interesting to do a quantitative comparison between that ...stuff... and actual prose. Alex is a fully trained SoS practitioner who's broken free from his chains to rejoin the human race, so I compared the academic passage to one of his recent posts that I consider a favorite:

As an historian interested in Silicon Valley, I'm fascinated by Castilleja. More than any other place, it's given me a sense of just how tightly-knit the area's elites are: for all its global reach and influence, the Valley is still a bunch of small towns, knit together by schools, churches, volunteer organizations, and all the things that turn groups of people into communities. I come to events here, and the parents include people who were recently on the cover of Business Week or Wired. The real power scene isn't Stanford or Sand Hill Road; it's the line of parents waiting to pick up their kids from Menlo or St. Joseph's or Casti.

The students are in their dress whites this morning. Since they're normally in dress blue, it actually isn't that much of a step up in sartorial splendor, but it's a nice gesture. It's hard to raise a bar that's already high. Friedman is pretty high-profile, but the school has a constant parade of Macarthur genius prize-winners, Nobel laureates, people who used to have Secret Service details, and other generally fascinating people who come and speak to the students. (It's hard to raise the bar....) If, as I've sometimes heard, middle school here is like high school in most other schools, the speaker series rivals that of many colleges.

Introduction.... actually being done by one of the students. That's cool. She started an NGO that does relief work in Africa. Okay, that beats my vice presidency of my high school chess club (two years in a row). Would my high school record even get me into community college today?

Friedman's up now. Some anecdotes... why the world is flat... some more anecdotes... references to Lexus and the Olive Tree... I've posted the rest of the talk on Future Now.

Q&A is restricted to students. Love it: I recognize half a dozen CEOs and VCs, people who normally are the center of attention, and they're sitting in the back, listening. And not grumbling. Here, they're just parents.

I don't have to tell you which is better by any rational measure. But here's a numeric measure:

* Passage 1: 509 characters, 77 words, average word length 6.6 letters.
* Passage 2: 1625 characters, 337 words, average word length 4.8 letters.

Winner: Alex.

Social science grad school: Add 37% to your word length and remove 99% from your prospective audience. And it only takes away four, er, six years of your life.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Zlango: Didn't we solve this problem 3000 years ago?

Techcrunch is reporting on the launch of Zlango, an SMS icon service from Israel. According to Mike:
"Zlango...has created a very interesting new language...that could change the SMS landscape. The language is based on icons, or pictures. Each icon has a specific meaning - a person pointing to himself for 'me' or a heart for 'love'. There are over 200 icons included in the Zlango language today."

Didn't the Phoenicians solve this problem 3000 years ago by inventing the incredibly flexible and efficient symbolic alphabet? Because it sure looks like hieroglyphics to me.

Zlango's millenium-busting innovation:

State of the Art:

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Zvents 2.0 is launching today

By the time you read this, Zvents 2.0 should be up and running.

Right now, hitting our site gives you this message, a portent of good things to come:

What's new and improved about this version of Zvents?

* Improved search relevance -- when you've got thousands of events in a metro area, relevance becomes a key to happy users. Our results are materially better than before, and we're committed to continuous improvement for relevance.

* Category navigation - refine or browse to events by category, reducing time and effort to find what you're looking for.

* Embeddable calendars are now CSSable version 2, vastly improved - a live example of a 1.5 version is Visit Marin.

* Much faster, lighter code -- less than 1/2 the size -- means faster response times.

* Improved navigation and look and feel

You'll also notice that we've got less features, not more -- we're running against the "features are king" silliness of Web 2.0 here, but we think that great design means focusing on what matters most.

Coming in the next 30 days - major customer announcements, plus bonus fun stuff!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Lunch 2.0 at Zvents -- the aftermath!

We got a huge turnout for Lunch 2.0 at Zvents on Wednesday - thanks to Mark Jen and the guys at Plaxo for creating this cool event. I would guess that about 40 people turned out - we bought burgers and sausages for 44, and the last two people to eat had to split the final one! sorry, guys :-( But aside from a slight demand-supply mismatch on the grilling front, it was a great place to meet folks, chat about startups, and enjoy the awesome weather and great back yard of our friendly incubators, NetService Ventures.

All the pictures are here.

Zvents powers Palo Alto Daily News

My startup, Zvents, has some cool media partnership news. Check it out!