Friday, April 20, 2012

Demo Dendrite Network

I whipped up a toy version of the Dendrite Network.  It's experimental and highly simplified but it seems to enable the basic idea to be tried out in real life.

I didn't have a lot of time (or energy really) to work on it because I was only taking a break from my day job (we had a big push and I got a bit burnt out. In order to unwind from programming a big complex web app I went and programmed a small simple web app. Yeah, I'm a bit lopsided.) But I think I've got it implemented well enough now to actually work (if you're willing to help it a little, and maybe squint a bit.)

When I distilled the system down into the simplest form I could I realized that I had wound up with a split architecture:
  • A simple "graph-growing" substratum that makes it ridiculously easy to build connection trees between voluntary participants, and
  • Completely optional plug-in reward systems that folks can run on top of the substratum however they like.
In effect the Dendrite Network becomes a platform for experimenting with different ways of rewarding word-of-mouth participation in propagation of worthy ideas and causes (some of which are purchasable products.)

There are a lot of loose ends (in fact, it is mostly loose ends at this stage.) But if you want to be an early adopter and help me out here's how:

So How Do You Play?

Okay, to start with the experimental proof-of-concept demo you need to identity yourself to the system:

Step 1. Pick an URL to represent you and get a tag for it.

Pick an URL (website) to represent yourself (like your homepage, blog, Facebook or LinkedIn public profiles, Twitter page, Google+ profile, or a custom page specifically for the experiment) and then "register" the URL and get a "tag" for it. (Right now the tags are just 32-digit hexadecimal md5 sums of the URL's text. If you don't know what that means, don't worry about it.)

Save that tag. (Open a text file or something.) That's all you need to do to "register" with the system.

Next, you need something to promote:

Step 2. Pick an URL you want to send around and get a tag for that.

The whole point of the Dendrite Network is to propagate ideas and information to each other.  If you want to try out being an idea-source then pick out a webpage that represents that idea and get a tag for it at the same link.

You register both your own "ID" site and sites you want to promote in exactly the same way. The system treats them symmetrically and you can use the same URL/tag as your self-identifier and as the site you want to promote if you want to.

Once you have a tag for yourself and a tag for something you want to spread it's time to build what I'm calling "bump URLs" and give them to your contacts.

An aside about contacts and Bump URLs

One important, even crucial, aspect of the Dendrite Network is that most of the time you are sending and receiving "memes" only from a given set of contacts.

Except at the beginning it will be relatively rare to contact someone directly and "get them into" the network.

In the normal daily operation of the network you would generally only be connecting with your usual group of contacts, and you would already know their "ID" site tags.  Adding a new person to your set of contacts would happen much less often.

This is important to keep in mind because you need three tags to connect with someone through a "Bump URL":
  1. "From" Tag (that's you.)
  2. "What?" Tag (what are you telling your contact about?)
  3. "To" Tag (the tag of the contact to whom you're sending the "Bump URL")
Once you have those three tag you can build a "Bump URL" and send it to your contacts.

Normally you would already have your contacts' tags. When you become contacts with someone the two of you exchange "ID" tags and that's how you get them. I think for this experiment I'll start some sort of mailing list or "guest book" where we can publish our personal tags. We'll see.

Spread the News

This is the heart of the Dendrite Network operation. Making connections and spreading the idea(s) is what we're all about.

In order to spread an idea and track the resulting network graph of its spread you visit the Bump URLs your contacts send you and they visit yours.  There's more to explain but first let's look at how you build a "Bump URL".

Step 3. Build Bump URLs and send them to your contacts.

A "Bump URL" is just an URL that starts with and has the three tags above in it like so:{me}/{what}/{you}/

That's it.

The resulting URL is pretty long and unwieldy but you can pass it through an URL shortening service (Twitter even includes it own URL shortening in tweets, so a Bump URL in a tweet only takes up twenty to thirty characters.)

Get that URL to your contact (the contact whose tag is third in the URL) and when they browse to it they should see a page like this (showing Tru Spa site under the Dendrite Network controls):

That horizontal white panel with the three buttons is the Dendrite Network "control panel".  Everything below it is an iframe containing the contents from the "What?" tag's URL.

When your contact loads your Bump URL it takes them to a Dendrite Network page like the one in the screenshot above that shows them the site you're propagating. It also makes a note of the "bump" in the DN system log (more about that below.)

On the control panel there are three buttons:
  1. Engage
  2. Forward
  3. Reject
and a link to the (website of) the person who created the URL (that's you in this case.)

Now, I'm still building this. (And slowly too because I have a day job.) So the functionality here is still a bit on the vapor-ware side (he said, waving his hands fiercely) or even speculative, but here's how the buttons work:

Clicking the Engage button means that you like what you see (the webpage in the iframe) and want to engage with it.

What that means is kind of up to you and the site. If it's a product or service it means you want to purchase it or at least find out more. If it's an online petition engage might mean signing it. Whatever. It's up to the site owner to make it clear what they're after from you, as the Dendrite Network does not manage the actual relationship or transaction, if any, between you and the site.

What actually happens when you click engage is this: 1.) a note is made in the DN system log indicating that your tag engages the site's tag; and 2.) the page goes directly to the site in the iframe (meaning the DN controls go away and you're just at the site itself.)

Clicking on the Forward button is the normal, default action you would take. It brings up a dialog that contains a new Bump URL with your tag in the first place.

Eventually this dialog will have various means to easily send those URLs to your contacts (via Twitter, email, SMS, IM & chat, Facebook, our own dedicated hub, whatever...) but for now all it does is generate the first part of the Bump URLs (i.e.{you}/{what}/ ) for you. You have to manually take that and add your contacts' tags to make full Bump URLs and then send each full URL to that contact.

I know, it's a lot to ask. I'll be automating it in various ways as soon as I can but for now you've got to want to play at least enough to do a little text editing.

Once you've sent these Bump URLs to your contacts and they click on them they will see the page you saw.

When they do it will be noted in the DN system log, connecting you to that contact (in the network graph for that particular website/tag) just like your "bump" was noted connecting you to the contact who originally sent you your Bump URL.

That's how the Dendrite Network tracks the growth of the network graph connecting all the people who've told each other about a given tag/website.

When you visit a Bump URL the DN log records the fact that you heard about the displayed site from the contact that sent you that Bump URL.

Then when your contacts visit the Bump URLs you forward to them the DN log records that they heard about that site from you.

Simple and elegant (once the cut-and-paste bit is automated anyway.)

Last but not least, clicking on the Reject button means that you have found something objectionable in the site and "DO NOT WANT" it.

Eventually the Reject button will bring up a dialog that lets you, if you want to, send a message to both the site and to the person who sent it to you telling them why you're rejecting it.

This is a crucial point to the system: it is not about pushing ideas and products, it is meant to foster feedback and dialog and build community. You should be encountering only good stuff in the sites your contacts send you.

The relationship is symmetrical: just as you wouldn't spam your contacts they wouldn't spam you. Otherwise why have that person as a contact in the first place?

Right now the Reject button does nothing, but that's the idea: it will let you give feedback to both the sender and the vendor (the site owner) to keep the system clean and "above board".

So what does all that get you?

Public DN System Log

So far this isn't too different from something like Stumbleupon or Twitter.  What makes visiting these Bump URLs any more compelling or valuable than reading my Twitter feed or favorite RSS feeds?

Well, in a sense, nothing, at least not by itself.

The real magic value comes from how the site owners want to reward you for letting them know how people are hearing about them.

You see, the Dendrite Network logs mentioned above, the ones that record every "bump" (connecting two people around a tag/site) and every "engage" (indicating that someone has found that tag/site valuable and wants to engage with it), are totally public.

Anyone can download the entire Bump/Engage log and grok it to their hearts' content.

That means that all the network graphs for each "What?" tag are public, showing the connections between people and how the tree of word-of-mouth is growing over time for each tag/site, for anyone who wants to download them and chart them out.

The engage events are public too, so anyone can look and see who engaged with what, when.  This implies that purchases made by hearing about something through the Dendrite Network are publicly known as well, but again that's really up to the site and you.

Reward the Folks Who Help You Reach Your Audience

And that's the final piece of the puzzle: folks with sites that are getting traffic and engagement via the Dendrite Network can easily figure out who's helping them and reward them.

Again, it's all manual right now but I'll automate it soon.

If you promote your product or service or cause or idea over the DN you'll be able to see who is passing along the word about you and who wants to engage with you, all for free.

Your decision is how to reward the folks who have helped you reach those interested engaged people.

Flipping back around to the point-of-view of the regular participant, the reasons for forwarding a given site will vary. Sometimes you'll just want to pass along interesting or compelling sites, but generally speaking the DN is designed to work with something I call "long-chain" affiliate programs.

Basically, you pass along any site (other than the ones you reject outright) because if any of the folks who hear about it from you, or who hear about it from someone who heard about it from you, and so on... —if anyone engages and buys whatever it is the site is peddling the site owner can use the DN logs to figure that out and reward you for it.

The obvious thing to do would be to give, say, the last six people in a given chain of word-of-mouth contacts that result in a sale a portion of the sale price.

That way every time you pass on a tag/website you basically earn a chance to get a percentage of any sale to a (potentially large) group of your contacts and your contacts' contacts, and their contacts, etc..., up to the fabled "Six Degrees of Separation".

Now obviously you might not be able to retire on that any time soon, but it's a better deal than your Twitter feed gives you, isn't it?

And anyway, that's not how you earn a living using the DN. You earn a living using the DN by creating and offering valuable, fun, and interesting products and services, making Bump URLs for them, and passing those along to a handful of contacts. They spread the word, you reward them, and we all stride into the abundant new future together as a community.

No comments: