ZOE – revisted

Let’s look at email. Email plays quite different roles than it did five
years ago. Email has started to seriously change hierarchy. It keeps you
more aware of the edge of what’s happening in your company. You can
sense the heartbeat of the organization when you skim the messages. It’s
like reading body language: The velocity of [email] messages, the
rhythms tell you something. You’re beginning to read the context of
email technology rather than merely the technology. You become “attuned
to” rather than “attend to.” Almost all our technology has been designed
around the theme that you have to attend to it. How do you survive an
information overload? You’re attuning to all sorts of things that you
may then choose to attend to.
John Seely Brown, March 25 2002


An interesting thing happened last week, continuing the saga of this perplexing ZOE client. It may also be the beginning of some new research in privacy and technology, but i haven’t decided yet.

It happened at work, after one of my typical email tirades, bitching about this or that. When, to my surprise, the subject of the weekly flame responded to me directly, quoting my email! Stunned, I replied demanding to know how this person had caught wind of my ‘private’ email. The eavesdropper returned with the rather a surprised reply that he had simply read my ‘post’ from our groups “ZOE” website.

As I had not looked at or continued with any research on ZOE for awhile, I immediately began scrambling to figure out what the hell I had done. Nothing less than what the application provides it apparently. I can’t get into all the technical rigmarole, mostly cause i don’t quite get it all, but essentially I have been broadcasting my email on the LAN all year. doh!

It seems as of OSX.2 all MAC browsers come with this “rendezvous” service built in, which essentially goes out to locate “peers” on the LAN and provide you one click access to them. If anyone has been running this service locally, (like all of the mac-heads with up to date technology) they can access my email via their browser here. (as long as they are in the building… i think )

My initial reaction was to locate the source of the leak and turn it OFF. There was no way I wanted to have this data, this ‘private’ and ‘personal’ data, accessible to my colleagues. For how many other off-the-cuff emails have I blasted out there, intended for a tightly designed audience to maximize my own political agenda? But as i thought it over, and delayed, and stalled, and delayed, I began to change my mind. Technically, as I work for a public institution, my email is a public documentanyway, and subject to the FOIPOP regulations anyway. Meaning, that anyone off the street can walk in and make a request to be given full access and read all my email. Granted there is enough bureaucracy in place to make this process somewhat bothersome, but theoretically it could happen. So why not just make it easy and put it right out there? One aspect that has piqued my interest in keeping this going, and possibly even turning it up a notch (forthcoming post) is how others will have to react. If everyone knows that all my email is publicly (and easily) accessible, it will really make them think before sending me anything. A big question here (among many) would also be regarding all the listserves i belong too and how people post to them knowing the audience has expanded beyond the list itself. How much trouble can I get in for this? Time will tell.

When we talk about distributed Web services, we ought not lose sight of the ones that run on our own machines, and have access to our private data. ZOE reminds us how powerful these personal services can be. It also invites us to imagine even richer uses for them.
from the Jon Udell review on O’Reilly