Crossing the Chasm

…Was a wildly popular biz book for the tech biz a few years ago, for good reason. It described the dilemma of tech companies trying to convert early success into lasting success. It’s all your fault. And my fault. And the fault of most people who know what “blog” means.

We’re early adopters and if a new product or service gets our attention, the company can experience an immediate flash that doesn’t pan out. Their hopes are dashed when the growth stops and they wonder where the market is. The market heights they seek are on a tall mountain across a deep chasm which they must cross in order to climb higher. It turns out that lots of companies can win early sales and 15 minutes of fame, but few have the will and resources to cross the valley of the shadow of death that yawns before them.

Certainly if I’d foreseen the chasm dilemma in 1987, I’d not have been the angel investor behind Dynamac, but what fun would that have been?

Our nation has a cultural chasm to cross, the rift between those who applaud our get tough stance with the world, vs. those who aren’t sure that we’re tough enough to beat everybody we’re now pissing off with our bluster.

Books of a Feather

Jock Gill pointed me to an amazing depiction of connections among books. As you’ve noticed, Amazon and Barnes & Noble relates books to each other by noticing what other books are bought by the buyers of any given book. One curious reader, Valdes Krebs, wondered back in 1999 whether there might be any useful insights by charting those associations. His latest look at books, Divided We Stand???, generated an interesting insight illustrating the echo chamber phenomenon:

If only because he thought to lock down the domain orgnet.com, you’ve got to admire Valdes Krebs, but his is a masterful connection of meaningful dots. All the little squares represent books purchased at the same time as the other books they’re linked to. There are two echo chambers depicted here:

In the diagram above, two books are linked if they were bought together at a major retailer on the web. I call these ‘buddy books’. A link was drawn if either book of a pair listed the other as a buddy. The data made public by the retailer shows just the ‘best buddies’ — the strongest ties. Other patterns may emerge with investigation of weaker ties. The data was gathered January 2003.

Using snowball sampling — following the connections between books — two distinct clusters emerge. There is only one book that spans both clusters. Lightly-connected books, with two links or less, were removed. None of the removed books played a key role in the network — they were satellites, on the periphery of one of the clusters.

The actual political affiliation of each book buyer is not known, not even by the web retailer. Yet, after thousands of data points, this emergent pattern is curious. Although the data was collected uniformly across all shown books, the cluster on the right contains less books. These readers kept selecting the same few books — their clique of books is dense — 39%. Most books have highly overlapping buddy lists. Slander, Bias, and Let Freedom Ring are the most popular buddies in this cluster.

So Valdes Krebs discerns a disconnect between the people who buy books described as liberal and those who buy books described as conservative. The only book these two echo chambers have in common is Bernard Lewis’ excellent What Went Wrong? Lewis is considered our leading Islamist scholar, making him acceptable to “intellectuals.” In What Went Wrong?, he dissects the failing of Islam, which makes him appealing to whoever yearns to feel superior to the presumed enemy of our new perpetual perpetuated war.

Crossing the Classism

It’s class warfare. But to me it looks like a war that started in the classroom, where the compliant, eager-to-please, more curious kids ran circles around the guys in the back row and never got over their feeling of mental superiority. Since school, many of those kids in the back row have done much better than the former brainiacs, for whom they feel nothing but contempt, knowing that clear purpose, not introspection, is the key to success. Success in business requires a kind of drive and bonhomie mastered on the playing fields, not in the classroom.

Intellectuals rarely master the American version of the good life, which rewards the kind of unwavering, unquestioning confidence that intellectuals seldom possess. Nor is it clear that those who are outwardly most successful have the will or perspective to avoid the narrowmindedness of any petit bourgeoisie.

If you don’t think there’s a civil war going on, here’s Newt Gingrich rallying the troops in 1988:

“The left at its core understands in a way Grant understood after Shiloh that this is a civil war, that only one side will prevail, and that the other side will be relegated to history. This war has to be fought with the scale and duration and savagery that is only true of civil wars. While we are lucky in this country that our civil wars are fought at the ballot box, not on the battlefields, nonetheless it is a civil war.”

15 years later, it’s the Republicans who are taking no prisoners. We must cross this uncivil chasm, and this would be a good year to start.

8:13:50 PM    

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