What is the RSS of calendars?

A conversation with some folks here at the Open Education Conference (#ocwc2009global) just connected in a wonderful way with another conversation on Twitter about what Douglas Hofstadter calls Ob-Platte puzzles, like this one:

Q: What is the Atlantic City of France?

A:Monaco. (Not a city in France. But borders France, is coastal and casino-oriented).

These come from my favorite of Hofstader’s books, Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies.1 The thesis is that recognizing and extrapolating from patterns is a core aspect of — maybe the core of — intelligence.

Here’s the connection. To the exent that technologists fetishize innovation and newness, we risk overwhelming people with churn. “Forget what you thought you knew,” we tend to say. “This new thing changes everything.” Except, of course, it usually doesn’t.

For example, we’ve done a terrible job of explaining to the world that Twitter is, among other things, a recapitulation of the pub/sub pattern that most people first encountered in the blogosphere. The packets are smaller, the activation threshold is lower, but the same principles apply. You can extend what you know from the blog domain into the Twitter domain. And the two are complementary.

We aren’t getting that message across. Yesterday’s NY Times — featuring Maureen Dowd’s encounter with Twitter founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone — makes that painfully clear.

Analogies are crucial. The elmcity project boils down to this Ob-Platte puzzle:

Q: What is the RSS feed of calendars?

A: The iCalendar (ICS) feed.

We need to help people focus much less on fast-changing applications, protocols, and formats, and a lot more on constant underlying patterns and principles that they can learn and then extend by analogy.


1My review of the book, for BYTE, is now gone too, I see, along with my InfoWorld archive. More proof, if proof were needed, that we need to take control of our lifebits.

14 thoughts on “What is the RSS of calendars?

  1. Jon Udell Post author

    > There exists xCal (iCalendar in XML
    > Format) which can be used with RSS

    And this perfectly illustrates the point about analogies.

    Just as Monaco can be the Atlantic City of France without being in France, ICS can be the RSS of calender feeds without being XML.

    Fluid concepts. Creative analogies.

    Reply
  2. Drew Burton

    That is still too geeky.
    Maybe better:
    How do you get milk from a herd into a truck?
    or
    How do you get maple syrup from a bunch of trees into a vat?

    Reply
  3. Pingback: Arjan`s World » LINKBLOG for April 24, 2009

  4. Jon Udell Post author

    > How do you get milk from a herd into a truck?
    > or
    > How do you get maple syrup from a bunch of
    > trees into a vat?

    Except (channeling the Oracle from Matrix):

    There is no truck.

    There is no vat.

    Reply
  5. Philipp Schmidt

    Jon:

    Not to disagree with the bigger point you are making, but the Atlantic City of France is Juan Les Pins. Monaco is the Vegas of France.

    It was a pleasure to meet you in Monterrey and chat about “opening” stuff.

    Reply
  6. Jon Udell Post author

    > the Atlantic City of France is Juan Les
    > Pins. Monaco is the Vegas of France.

    Yep, that seems to be true. I wonder if it was true back in 1995 when Hofstadter first made the Atlantic City Monaco analogy.

    BTW, would you say that Monterrey is the Los Angeles of Mexico? (No ocean, no Hollywood, but vast sprawling car-choked mountain-ringed basin.)

    Reply
  7. Philipp Schmidt

    > BTW, would you say that Monterrey is the Los
    > Angeles of Mexico? (No ocean, no Hollywood,
    > but vast sprawling car-choked mountain-
    > ringed basin.)

    I can’t say much about Monterrey. After 5 days in the air-conditioned hotel, I will always remember Mexico in April as pretty chilly. I imagine LA more exciting.

    Reply
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  9. Pingback: Heds, deks, and ledes - O'Reilly Radar

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