The Roots of My Thinking on Tech Policy

This personal background might clarify where I am coming from in this space -- especially the proposal to unbundle filtering of content for users. 

These ideas have been brewing throughout my five-decade career (bio), with a burst of activity very early on, then around 2003 -- when I first detailed ideas for an open market in filters for what we now call social media -- and then increasingly in the past decade. This intertwingles with my better-known work on FairPay and several of my patented inventions. 

I was first enthused by the potential of what we now call "social media" around 1970, when I had seen early hypertext systems (pre-cursors of the Web) by Ted Nelson and Doug Engelbart, and then studied systems for collaborative “social” decision support by Murray Turoff and others, rolling into an graduate school independent study course on collaborative systems. All of this oriented me to the spirit of using computers for augmenting human intelligence (including social intelligence) -- as opposed to the more widespread notion of replacing it with artificial intelligence.

My first proposals for an open market in media filtering were inspired by the financial industry parallels. An open market in filters for news and market data analytics was emerging when I worked for Standard & Poor's and Dow Jones around 1990. Filters and analytics would monitor raw news feeds and market data (price ticker) feeds, select, and analyze that raw information using algorithms and parameters chosen by the user, and work within any of a variety of trading platforms. 

Much of my early career was as an IT strategist and systems architect, which exposed me to complex systems design and tech industry dynamics, including the antitrust actions against the Bell System (where I had worked), IBM, and Microsoft.

I drew on all of that when designing a social decision support system for large-scale open innovation and collaborative development of early-stage ideas around 2001-3. That design featured an open market for reputation-based ranking algorithms, with varying options for user-specific controls. Exposure to Google PageRank -- which distilled human judgment and reputation for ranking Web search results -- inspired me to broaden Google's design to distill the wisdom of the crowd as reflected in social media interactions, using a nuanced multi-level reputation system.

By 2012 it was becoming apparent that the Internet was seriously disrupting the marketplace of ideas, and Cass Sunstein’s observations about surprising validators inspired me to explain how my methods could enhance social media. I became active in groups that were addressing those concerns and more fully recast my earlier designs to focus on social media, and to address architectural and regulatory strategies (here and then here). 

My complementary work on FairPay, a framework for innovative business models for digital services, also gave me a unique perspective on better alternatives to the perverse incentives of the ad model.

The Fukuyama article late in 2020 was gratifying validation on the need for an open, competitive market for feed filtering services driven by users, and inspired me to refocus on that as the most direct point of leverage for structural remediation, as expanded on my recent articles and the Tech Policy Press mini-symposium, Reconciling Social Media and Democracy that I helped organize.

For the work itself and a full bio, see the Selected Items and Bio tabs, above (and on the FairPay blog).


My thanks to the many researchers and activists in this field I have had the privilege of interacting with, who have provided invaluable stimulation, feedback, suggestions, and support. Special thanks to Justin Hendrix and David Kirkpatrick for their very helpful editing of some of my articles, and to others who reviewed and encouraged my work in this space, including John Borthwick, Renee DiResta, Cory Doctorow, Yael Eisenstat, Gene Kimmelman, Ellen Goodman, Saul Hansell, Daphne Keller, Karen Kornbluh, Molly Land, Sam Lessin, Roger McNamee, Jonathan Rauch, Barak Richman, Douglas Rushkoff, and Jimmy Wales.

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