The False Promise of Having Multiple Candidates

People say that we need to have more folks appear on ballots to make elections fairer and get the right person elected. That’s all fine and good, and I’m 100% behind this effort to break out of a two-party system that is so inured in our culture.

There’s only one problem: You can only pick one candidate in most of these elections. The two-party system has defined how the elections are conducted, so why would we ever need to do anything but pick our first choice on the ballot and be done with it? Easy. If you can only pick one, and multiple people are on the ballot, all of sudden people start to ask themselves if they shouldn’t vote for a candidate who may not be their first pick in order to prevent a strongly-disliked candidate from winning.

This was the very same kind of discussion I had with some friends prior to the 2010 gubernatorial race in Maine. The Green candidate had dropped out and the Democrat fell under a cloud of disgust and resentment from her own party members for the dirtiness of her campaign. This gave an enormous boost to Cutler, the independent, but it wasn’t enough to counter the combined Republican and Tea Party support for LePage. He won with 38% of the vote, but the third-, fourth- and fifth-place candidates had an aggregate of about 25% of the vote. If the folks who voted for them or Cutler had been able to mark others as their second, third or fourth choice, would LePage have won?

I sincerely believe he would not have won. Of course, it’s impossible to tell since the alternative rankings were never recorded. This is why I will never support having more than two candidates unless the race has alternative (ranked choice) voting. I think everyone would get fairer elections if they did the same.

Why Google+ (and every other centralized social network) Will Fail

Not that everyone hasn’t already predicted the demise of Google+, but I still feel the need to express why I think G+ was the wrong move. Note that I’m not predicting that “Facebook will win!” (Win what, exactly?)

Where Google went completely myopic was ripping out the share function of Reader. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: ZOMG, someone is still complaining about Reader!  Yes, I am. But even though I felt personally deprived of the ability to share all the share-worthy stuff to which I was subscribed, I understood at the time it was because Google wanted that sharing to take place on their portal instead, and what better way to draw in the masses than to get the geeks who like Reader to start using it first!

Wrong. Notice how I called G+ a portal above? That’s what it is. Google could have learned from Yahoo!, or all the bubbles that burst prior to Yahoo! that portal sites are inherently limiting in what they’ll allow you to do, and once the viewership realizes that a portal is exactly what they’re looking at, they will instantly recognize that it isn’t the promised end-all, be-all of social networking. That’s not to say they will stop using it immediately, just that they have already decided that they will move on to something better when it becomes available.

Unfortunately for Google, the geeks were already in love with how Reader implemented the publish / subscribe (PubSub) model before it was torn down. I would be very interested to know how many smart folks at Google knew it was a mistake before it happened and yet were powerless to stop the forward march of the behemoth Facebook-killer.

Sometime I might want to post something for my own reference, or something off-color that runs afoul of the AUP on the social network that I wanted to post to. This I think is one of the motivations for folks to move towards self-hosting. Theoretically, unless what you’re pushing is demonstrably illegal, you should have a safe haven for hosting your own ideas or statements.

But then how to make PubSub work? RSS / Atom got us part of the way there, but we still need a set of tools to do more, to be able to connect, in real time (chat/videoconf) or “me time” (email), and exchange arbitrary data. We need a directory so we can find each others’ hubs, and then a standard way to publish our personal data APIs so others can use them.

I’ve read a few articles recently which I believe feature new initiatives to get where we’re trying to go. More on those later.

Schneier on Security: Court Orders TSA to Answer EPIC

Schneier on Security: Court Orders TSA to Answer EPIC.

Please help the courts force the TSA to consider public comments on full body scanners.

Year ago, EPIC sued the TSA over full body scanners (I was one of the plantiffs), demanding that they follow their own rules and ask for public comment. The court agreed, and ordered the TSA to do that. In response, the TSA has done nothing. Now, a year later, the court has again ordered the TSA to answer EPIC’s position.

Please sign the petition!