Sunday, December 28, 2008

Asymmetry - the word for 2009

Almst all the dealings we have are asymmetrical, but somehow that hasn't been anything to worry about. We are, however, seeing asymmetry beginning to bite in many unpleasant ways.

The first is the power that organizations have over individuals. Random/arbitrary increases of interest rates on charge cards with little recourse. Banks making errors, taking a long time to pay what's owed and then when they pay it twice by mistake demand that the error be corrected, "Immediately or else...". The petty bureaucracies of home owners' associations - you can't park a Ford F150 in your driveway, but a Cadillac Escalade is OK (Thanks Frisco, Texas).

The second is in the everyday communcation between parties. There is the kind of power asymmetry described above, but then there is what I call "interest asymmetry". Where one party in a conversation say something - which is of no interest to the other party. We have all been involved in conversations with spouses, other family members, children, where something that is riveting to them is really dull to us. In the interests of harmony, I will not cite specific examples here....

At a wider level, we this interest asymmetry shoing up when we use social neyworking sites. We have the opportunity to converse with many people using these tools, but these conversations have inherent asymmetry too. What we choose to say is, at least, interesting to us. What we choose to "listen to" has variable degrees of utility. I am interested in family postings about the kids, but not teribly interested in the ins and outs of Cpmmercial Property Law in England (something my brother in law is an expert in). For non-family/non-friends I am typically interested in work related stuff, or special interests (food, sailing...). So when I see the jumb;ed stream of messages, I put filters on, e.g. "Oh this is Paul talking about LIBOR again, I think I will ignore it." or "This is Robin talking about the kids, Christmas trees, presents, etc." I will ignore that." The atter case because I follow Robin's inciteful postings on technology, but not on his children.

People who are followed by a large crowd (because of celebrity, interests, self-promotion) have an even more asymmetric communication approach using the media of social networking because they have so much to say, and limited opportuinty to listen if all their followers were to respond. While they will often have set themselves up with expectations of symmetric communication, the style quickly becomes asymmetric.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


We often casually describe event driven architectural patterns as being "pub/sub". This is, of course, an over simplification and misses the point.

The key is to think of this kind of architecture is subscription driven or subscription dominated. This has been brought home. big time, in the social networking frameworks (like Twitter). People who post on Twitter essentially say whatever comes into their heads. We follow individuals or groups because, on balance, we get more out of following them than not. However, we will need to filter. For example, there are Twitterers who post about the industries that I am interested in, the beer they like to drink, their cooking interests, their children, their other hobbies,.....

I typically don't want to see all of that, but the poster shouldn't be deterred and stop. The poster's responsibility is to post. The listener's responsibility is to filter the dull stuff - or the stuff that is dull to the specific listener. That is often hard because the signal to noise ratio for any specific listener will be different than the signal to noise ratio for any other.

The4 same is true in any kind of event dominated system - human or otherwise. The listener is in a position to make decisions about what it is interested in, what it may respond to. The "teller" must continue to deliver the narrative.


In the old - pre-computer days, there used to be a job performed in every office, namely that of the filing clerk. The filing clerk was usually pretty low in the organization - often a school leaver with few qualifications, and with luck and many years experience could become a filing manager. In other words not a great value creating job for the corporation, but one where messing up could add a lot of cost.

Legion were the companies that I worked at where filing clerks had messed up - the most extreme being the travel industry person who didn't know what to do with the "audit coupons" on a paper airline ticket. She filed them in a shoe box under her desk...

Fast forward to the database world and guess what we have. A super fast filing system. So feeding the database is like feeding the filing cabinets. Stuff is put away so you can find it again, but it isn't the operational life blood of the company. The operational life blood is the interactions between humans, the interactions between systems - in reality the events that cause value to be created for the organization. Our systems are event driven and data-filed - not database driven, at least not if they are to be truly valuable and truly model the way that value is created in the information systems.