Bruce Schneier is, according to the quote from the Register on the inside sleeve notes, "The closest thing the security industry has to a Rock Star."...moreBruce Schneier is, according to the quote from the Register on the inside sleeve notes, "The closest thing the security industry has to a Rock Star." And, like the actor Chuck Norris, Schneier is the only other person I'm aware of who has his own 'facts' website. Listing page after page of dubious, but sometimes amusing, facts about Bruce's encryption super-powers. Although jokes about encryption probably have a fairly narrow audience Bruce Schneier Facts gives us my personal favourite: "Bruce Schneier's mail server only sends him the emails' hashes, just to make things a little more interesting for him."
Initially the book appears to be quite a weighty tome, but the tone is light and conversational and the type is certainly not small. As soon as you get started you realise that the last third of the book is just notes and references. I would have preferred to see the notes spread more throughout the book. If the text is so unimportant that it was removed from the original manuscript, why did it need to be in the book at all. If it was important, or interesting, better to have it at the bottom of the page as a footnote. Having to flip back and forwards is annoying – and requires two bookmarks (which luckily I had).
The book is broken down into four parts, across which Schneier breaks down his theory of trust. Each part digs a little deeper than the one before. In the first, he explains what he means by trust and defines his terms. The second expands on this and Schneier explains how his trust works and doesn't within society. The third is the largest and uses uses examples to see how the trust models he's already given us behave. The last is where Schneier places his conclusions and predictions.
The premise is that society consists of people who comply with society's rules, and people who don't – hardly ground-breaking stuff so far. Societies survive by having more people who comply than not. That people comply for a number of reasons (which Schneier explains in part two); however, many of these reasons are becoming less effective as the size and technological levels of our societies change. As our communities increase in size we know the community less well, therefore we are less able to trust individuals and our ability to pressure them to comply decreases as well. As our use of technology increases, many non-complying behaviours become easier or more beneficial at the same time as our ability to secure those systems decreases.
While I did really like the book, and Schneier makes his case persuasively, the book can get a little repetitive at times. There are probably a few too many examples worked through, and too many repetition of Schneier's clarification that not all defectors are necessarily always doing the wrong thing – sometimes people can defect against society's rules because they are bad rules. That said, I was particularly intrigued by the example of professional cyclist Alex Zulle (the eternal second placer). He has since admitted doping, but the quotes in the book describe how he believed that he had to dope just to keep up with the other riders. Schneier gives us a high-level description of the arms-race between the dopers and the testers. All particularly interesting in light of the more recent charges against Lance Armstrong. He does touch upon the interesting point that in sport where the rules are don't have drugs in your system rather than don't take the drugs deliberately, athletes can end up serving bans either as a result of accidents or even deliberate attempts to 'nobble' an athlete.
Ultimately, while fascinating, the book felt like it lacked an ending. It may be more that Schneier had already laid out his conclusions during the book anyway, but it didn't feel like it really offered any solutions or real predictions for where the problems with trust either are now, or are going next.
I did pay for this book with my own good money, but it's only fair to point out that I did receive a very generous discount from the author in exchange for my fairly vague promise to write a review of it somewhere. It would seem perverse to cheat the author of a book on how trust works in society out of that promise. So, some months later, this is that review.(less)
Euan Semple was the guest speaker at our (not exactly) annual work conference, earlier this year, where he gave an excellent talk about his experience...moreEuan Semple was the guest speaker at our (not exactly) annual work conference, earlier this year, where he gave an excellent talk about his experiences with social computing at the BBC. Semple was the guy who introduced social computing to the BBC – initially mostly under the radar – consequently he's one of the best placed people to talk about the potential benefits to both companies and employees of embracing social computing (and more open knowledge management practices in general). At the end of his talk he, quite sensibly, had a little plug for his book: Organisations Don't Tweet, People Do.
The book is a series of 44 'thought essays' rather than a single work as such. Each essay is a variation on a number of themes. That companies, managers and employees shouldn't be scared of social computing; shouldn't fear the loss of control. That blogging, tweeting, just the act of writing down your thoughts provides both valuable business benefits and valuable personal benefits – as a form of self-expression, increasing your worth in both your current role and the next, forcing you to think about your actions and helping you to understand, and even shape, the world around you. That openness and honesty in your writing are the key to both success in social computing and not making (or recovering from) mistakes. That conversations between real people are more important than marketing and 'knowledge management'. That you can't easily have a strategy for something like social computing as it's still developing and changing too fast. And, that sometimes the inanity of the online can help cement the relationships. There is a subtext running through the book as well – many of these essays hint that they are also talking about changing the way you run the business in a social computing world rather than just how your current business should 'do' social computing.
Each essay is short, generally less than half-a-dozen pages each, engaging and well written; easily read during a visit to the executive bathroom (he says 'restroom' in the introduction, but I refuse). Unfortunately, while they are short, 44 is a lot of essays for a book on such a narrow topic. Many of the essays feel like different riffs on the same themes as previous ones. In part, maybe that's not such a bad thing: if we haven't grasped Euan's message yet, maybe he needs to repeat himself. But, as a reasonably seasoned Internetphile, I didn't feel I was getting as much out of the repetition as I had hoped. For somebody who is less experienced, or less convinced, about the benefits of social computing in a work context, it's probably a much more useful collection of writings and, hopefully, might change some hearts and minds.(less)
Part instructional essay, part political treatise, but ultimately I've got no idea who it's aimed at. It's Neal Stephenson's explanation as to why he...morePart instructional essay, part political treatise, but ultimately I've got no idea who it's aimed at. It's Neal Stephenson's explanation as to why he believes the command line interface is the 'best' way to interact with a computer. That the GUI is only a metaphor for controlling the computer, a mediated experience that removes too much of both the control and the power that the command line interface allows. Stephenson doesn't go so far (as some reviews have suggested) as pushing for the removal of the GUI and a complete return to the command line. He believes that the GUI is a useful metaphor for some people and some applications. However, for a power user, the GUI is a broken and mixed metaphor that hasn't lived up to it's promise.
The two major problems though, are firstly, complaining about a metaphor using another metaphor to do so, while ignoring the fact that the command line interface is also a metaphor (just an older one that is potentially less mixed and broken, but no less a metaphor) is just too many metaphors too many. And secondly, that the essay has no real audience. Either readers are 'trapped' in their GUI mediated experience but are unlikely to read this, understand it, or care. Or readers are already convinced that the command line can be a more elegant solution to many problems but still aren't quite sure what the point of the essay actually is.
That said, and I fall quite definitely in the second camp of readers, I did enjoy reading it. It's dated and flawed, but for a certain group of readers worth reading. Just don't really expect to learn anything. I think if this appeals to you it'll be because you've pretty much thought it all through yourself already though...(less)