Thoughts, links, and essays from Peter Merholz
petermescellany   petermemes


Archives before June 13, 2001

RSS Feed

Adaptive Path (my company!)

About peterme

Most of the Time
Oakland, CA

American history around the time of the Revolution, figuring out how to marry top-down task-based information architecture processes with bottom-up document-based ones, finding a good dentist in San Francisco Oakland
Designing the user experience (interaction design, information architecture, user research, etc.), cognitive science, ice cream, films and film theory, girls, commuter bicycling, coffee, travel, theoretical physics for laypeople, single malt scotch, fresh salmon nigiri, hanging out, comics formalism, applied complexity theory, Krispy Kreme donuts.

Click to see where I wander.

Wish list
Show me you love me by
buying me things.

Track updates of this page with Spyonit. Clickee here.

[Editor's note: began as a site of self-published essays, a la Stating The Obvious. This evolved (or devolved) towards link lists and shorter thoughtpieces. These essays are getting a tad old, but have some good ideas.]
Reader Favorites
Interface Design Recommended Reading List
Whose "My" Is It Anyway?
Frames: Information Vs. Application

Interface Design
Web Development
Movie Reviews

Smart Mobs mini-blog: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Posted on 11/16/2002.

A primary reason for the success of "smart mob" technologies is their abject simplicity, at least on the user's end. SMS allows for 160-character messages; file-sharing programs require little more than a search query and a submit; Amazon's various recommendations capitalize on existing behavior.

A common trap that engineers fall into is uncovering problems that don't really exist, and developing complex solutions to them. A case in point is Mojo Nation, briefly and glowingly noted in Smart Mobs. In an effort to overcome the "tragedy of the commons" in file-sharing, MojoNation, added a market mechanism, and required users to contribute as much as they took away. MojoNation had a number of glowing articles written about it, and its founder entered into a public debate with p2pundit Clay Shirky, citing MojoNation's reason for being.

A funny thing happened, though. No one cared. As Smart Mobs states, Mojo Nation ended its operations as a commercial enterprise in February 2002, and turned into an open source project called "Mnet." If you go to, you see that it's turned into something called HiveCache, a way to backup files in an enterprise.

The problem? MojoNation fixed that which was not broken. So far, Clay has been right. File-sharing doesn't need market forces and equitable uploads and downloads. Things are working just fine as they are... In case the creators of Mojo Nation hadn't noticed, software like Napster and Kazaa, with no such procedures in place, are pretty satisfying. Could they be better? Probably. Are they good enough? Definitely.

It lead me to wonder why Howard comments on Mojo Nation so favorably in his book. I have a default reaction toward engineering solutions for problems that don't exist. This might be born of my experience at Epinions, which attempted to create a marketplace for content, in part by having a rather complex set of interpersonal interactions managed explicitly through what is called the "Web of Trust." The premise is, if I trust you, and you trust others, I'm more likely to trust others, so I'm more likely to see content written by you or highly rated by you. The whole point, in the end, is that Epinions will begin to shape its content around who *I* am, providing me a wholly unique experience based on connections I made.

Thing is, apart from a few excessively active members of the community, no one really cared. (In fact, it's becoming clear that most visitors of Epinions don't even care about reviews--whereas we had them right on the product page when I was creative director, they're now a click away.) All of Epinions attempts at placing a framework around user-generated content -- paying for reviews, 4 levels of rating reviews, connecting users through the Web of trust -- have proven unnecessary. As Amazon and CitySearch show, people will write because they have something to say, and they think others will read it and benefit. It's as easy as that.

0 comments so far. Add a comment.

Previous entry: "I've been remiss."
Next entry: "Krispy Kreme's New Coffee."

Add A New Comment:


E-Mail (optional)

Homepage (optional)

Comments Now with a bigger box for text entry! Whee!

All contents of are © 1998 - 2002 Peter Merholz.