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What if you could improve your social credit score by reading this entire article? Would that be motivation? Well, you would have to know what a social credit score meant. And you would have to actually have such a score.

You don’t have such a score now, but you may one day. The Social Credit System is a proposed Chinese government initiative to develop a national reputation system. Though it is still being developed, the intent is to assign a “social credit” rating to every citizen. The score would be based on government data regarding their economic and social status.

It sounds like some science-fiction horror story of the future. When I first heard about this real plan, I thought of the 2016 episode titled “Nosedive” from season three of the British science fiction anthology series Black Mirror which is shown on Netflix.

‘Black Mirror’ – Netflix

In that episode, people can rate each other from one to five stars for every interaction they have. The scores impact their socioeconomic status. The protagonist, Lacie, is obsessed with her ratings and through a series of interactions with different people and has a rapid reduction in her ratings.

In this future-that-looks-like-today society, they use eye implants and mobile devices so that everyone shares their daily activities. You can also see someone’s current average and that has significant influence on the way they are viewed.  Lacie’s 4.2 rating prevents her from getting a luxury apartment which requires a 4.5 or better rating. Lacie tries her best to game the system.

The proposed China system is not only a mass surveillance tool that uses big data analysis technology, but is also a way to rate businesses operating in the Chinese market.

A Chinese “super app” called Alipay is already assigning users a three-digit score that works as “credit for everything in your life.” This “Zhima Credit” scale of 350-950 assesses people’s worth beyond finances and is meant to serve as a “credit system that covers the whole society.”

The Chinese government’s “Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System (2014–2020)” focused on four areas: honesty in government affairs, commercial integrity, societal integrity and judicial credibility. The rating of individual citizens is considered to be “societal integrity.” The plans are to have credit scores for all businesses operating in China.

In news story I heard, it said that you can gain or lose points for how well you separate and recycle your trash. It was unclear how this is monitored – trash collectors, your neighbors, credit police?

Eight companies were picked by the People’s Bank of China in 2016 to develop pilots to give citizens credit scores, including the giant Alibaba Ant Financial Services, which operates Sesame Credit. Ant Financial CEO Lucy Peng has said that Zhima Credit “will ensure that the bad people in society don’t have a place to go, while good people can move freely and without obstruction.”

In an example of one person who started with a 600 score and was able to rise to 722, his higher score entitled him to “favorable terms on loans and apartment rentals, as well as showcasing on several dating apps should he and his wife ever split up, and with a few dozen more points, he could get a streamlined visa to Luxembourg.”

Though scores are not visible on a person (an augmented reality vision) and you can’t currently access other people’s scores on the app, your score is nicely color coded, so a 710 sees a “calming” blue background and a 550 will be greeted by an “alarming” orange tone.

Social credit also involves looking at your friends, and if they are all high-score people, that helps you. Bad credit friends are not a good thing.  Sorry Lacie, but we can’t be friends any more. Your score is bringing me down.


credit score

An “alarming” score on Sesame credit score


When I write a post here, I expect that some people will read it. I add an image or two to engage readers, and I will later check to see if there are any comments, shares and how many clicks the post gets over time.

Does any of the post-posting activity really affect people reading what I wrote? I think it does, to a degree. People click on posts that people share and ones that appear on my “Top Posts Today” list in the blog’s sidebar. Social sharing is real.

But some people like to experiment with it. One experiment is at Even its creator calls it “the dumbest publishing platform on the web.”  You write something, hit publish, and it’s live, but there is no tracking, no ads, fonts, analytics, cookies, user accounts, logins, passwords, comments, friending, likes, follows or sharing or any of the other social media capital so valued elsewhere on the web.

This morning I posted about the Moon moving away from Earth.  But that was something I wrote on last week. The only way anyone will find the original posting is if I put a link to it elsewhere.

This antisocial publishing platform is simple static hypertext. (You can use Markdown language to add some basic formatting.)  If you write there, it is online for as long as the site remains online – though perhaps no one else will ever read what you wrote.

The site is set up so that search engines are “told” not to index the posts, so Google won’t be spreading the word about my post either.

Where will this experiment go? I have no idea.

Why was it created? I suspect that its creator Rob Beschizza – a writer, artist and editor at Boing Boing  – also was curious to see what would come of it. Perhaps something good and new. Perhaps it will all go wrong and it will need to be shut down.

To complete this little meta-circle, I also posted at about what I wrote here. And the writing goes round and round…



Paulo Coelho‘s novel The Alchemist spent an amazing eight years on The NY Times best sellers list. What attracted so many readers?

It is a tale of self-discovery. It has magic, mysticism and wisdom. It became a “modern classic.” It has sold over 150 million copies worldwide and won 115 international prizes and awards. It has been translated into 80 languages.

It is an allegorical novel. The story follows a young Andalusian shepherd named Santiago on a journey to Egypt. His journey begins with a recurring dream he has of finding treasure there. The dream, which he feels is prophetic, leads him to a fortune-teller in a nearby town who interprets the dream as a prophecy telling the boy that there is a treasure in the pyramids in Egypt.

Coelho wrote The Alchemist in only two weeks in 1987. He explained he was able to write at this pace because the story was “already written in my soul.”

A friend loaned me her copy in 1988. I was skeptical. It sounded more “New Age” than literature, but she was a reader I respected, so I read it.

Paulo Coelho was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1947. He worked as a director, theater actor, songwriter and journalist.

In 1986, he made the pilgrimage to Saint James Compostela (in Spain). The Way of St. James was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during the Middle Ages, together with those to Rome and Jerusalem. The pilgrimage was a turning point in his existence.

A year later, he wrote The Pilgrimage, an autobiographical novel that is considered the beginning of his career.

The following year, he published The Alchemist. The initial sales were not good. His original publisher dropped the novel. Big mistake. It went on to be one of the best-selling Brazilian books (originally written in Portuguese) of all time, and then a global best seller.

I read it. It didn’t change my life. I enjoyed it and I identified with its theme of finding one’s destiny. I wanted it to change my life.

The New York Times reviewer said it is “more self-help than literature.” I think that was meant as a putdown, but plenty of us are seeking help.

The novel reminds me of The Prophet, a book of prose poetry fables written in English by the Lebanese-American artist, philosopher and writer Kahlil Gibran.

It was originally published in 1923 but continued to sell and had a resurgence during the 1960s. It has been translated into over 40 languages and has never been out of print.

Parallels have been made to William Blake’s work, Walt Whitman, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. The ideas of those writers, such as reincarnation and the Over-soul and more modern symbolism and surrealism, seem to run through The Prophet. I knew people who loved the book, and I knew people who made fun of it.

In The Alchemist, an old king tells Santiago that, “when you really want something to happen, the whole universe will conspire so that your wish comes true.” That is the kind of philosophy that fills the novel. You might find it inspiring. You might dismiss it as greeting card philosophy.

I read Coelho’s latest novel, The Spy, which is very different. It is the story of one of history’s most enigmatic women: Mata Hari. She arrived in Paris penniless and became a dancer, a courtesan, and in 1917, she was arrested in her hotel room on the Champs Elysees, and accused of espionage.

Coelho is not a guru. He is a prolific writer. He loves writing. He likes Kyudo (a meditative archery), reading, walking, football and computers.

He is very active on social media.  He was the second most influential celebrity on Twitter in 2010 according to Forbes and he is the writer with the highest number of followers in the social media.

He blogs. He is on Facebook and Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Flickr.

It sure seems like the universe has conspired so that his wish has comes true. maybe I should reread The Alchemist.

I try to post at least once a week to each of my seven current blogs. It takes a good chunk of time and usually happens between other tasks. On this weekend blog, I try for a Friday, Saturday and Sunday post most weeks with the occasional midweek post for topical events on Earth (holidays and such) or in the heavens (Full Moons, comets etc.).

Many bloggers write as a job or at least do it to make some income, so getting more traffic to your blog posts and catch the attention of more readers is important. I certainly like having more people read my writing, but I have never made money at it and don’t imagine I ever will, but I still look at blog “marketing” articles.

I’m very skeptical of titles like “How To Promote Your Blog And Make It Viral.”

If anyone knew how to make a blog post or video go viral, then all posts would go viral and there would be no viral left.

So, do I just write it and let Google do the rest? I looked at that post which lists strategies and it is quick to say that “going viral” is not necessarily an “accountable strategic outcome,” but I thought I might get a few tips.

Here’s what that linked infographic suggests to get a blog noticed. I was surprised how many I actually do even though I don’t have a real marketing strategy for my personal writing the way I would create one for a client.

Send your content by email.  Most blog platforms, like WordPress, allow readers to subscribe and receive an email when a new post is available.

Share content via social media. Again, it is fairly simple to set up your blog to automatically send a post to Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Tumblr and other social sites. I use that option. It’s easy. Perhaps, too easy. These automated widgets often just grab a post title or as much of the first line that fits into the 140 characters or word count. Customized posts are always better. If someone follows you on several networks, it’s not good for them to see the name information repeated.

Mention an influencer. Hmmm. Name dropping and gust blogger posts. Not my thing.

Submit posts to a content community. A kind of repost and cross-post strategy. I have experimented with reposting in other networks like LinkedIn, Tumblr or Medium which does open up other audiences. I also occasionally cross-post on another one of my own blogs. This post will appear here and on my LLC blog.

Similarly, you can connect with peer groups (like Triberr).

sharethisYou certainly should make it easy to share your content. These one-click buttons allow readers to share your content in their own networks. They may not have a big network of followers (though they might have more than you!) but their tweet is an endorsement and that probably carries more trust than your tweet.

If you were a client, I would advise you about using use paid ads and remarketing but or personal content I don’t see any point.

However, I would strongly advise following one of the tips: focus on places that get the best response. That requires some work using Google analytics, monitoring the keywords people use to find your content and tracking the source of your traffic. Currently, Facebook sends more people to this blog than other networks.

But, the real final tip is my own: write good posts about topics people are interested in. Easier said than done. Good writing is always tough, but figuring out what people are interested in reading is harder. Today’s two top search terms that brought people here are “Winnie Cooper” and “deja vu.” Why? And what do I do with that? Write about having a deja vu experience with a character from The Wonder Years?

Facebook invented a “holiday” called “Friends Day.” If you use Facebook, you probably have seen some auto-generated slideshows in the news feed of random photos a person has uploaded the past year.

It’s also interesting that Facebook’s data crunching found that we are all much closer than the “six degrees of separation” that you have probably heard before. Facebook claims  that each person in the world is separated from every other by “an average of three and a half other people.”

In the old version of  “six degrees,” six refers to the number of links you would have to find in your friends and acquaintances that link you to a stranger.  You would need at most five intermediaries to complete that chain.

Facebook picked today because it is an anniversary for the company, but there is a nice synchronicity that today is also the birthday of the playwright John Guare whose best-known work is Six Degrees of Separation. In that 1991 play, the character Ouisa says: “I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation. Between us and everybody else on this planet. The president of the United States. A gondolier in Venice. Fill in the names. I find that a) extremely comforting that we’re so close and b) like Chinese water torture that we’re so close.”

(I’ll mention here that there is a very good film version of Six Degrees of Separation with a young Will Smith, Stockard Channing, Donald Sutherland, Ian McKellen, and Mary Beth Hurt.)

Guare did not invent the theory and the “somewhere” or someone that the character read is usually credited to the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy. He wrote a short story in 1929 concerning the shrinking of the planet. Characters in the story play a game of picking a famous stranger and then plot  the line between themselves and those strangers. In the story, no one needed more than five links complete the chain to the stranger.

This is not a scientific study or theory, though since then researchers have tried  to test the results and find some validity to it.

Facebook “friends” are often people you have never met or rarely ever see. By their calculations (and the explanation on their announcement is confusing about the math on those intermediary links) we can interpret this shortening of the degrees of separation in several ways.

Does it show how connected we are via social media to people we really don’t know? Is the world (or the online social one at least) shrinking? Does it mean anything about the real world offline and relationships?

LinkedIn does this same sort of connecting game and it likes to show me that someone is a “1st” level connection or a “3rd” level one. It shows me who and what I have in common with strangers. It tries to predict “people I may know” and might want to connect with online.

But LinkedIn and Facebook make these predictive analyses only using the network’s users. Yes, in Facebook that is 1.59 billion users, but there are about 5.7 billion other people without accounts that it can’t connect me to.

If you have a Facebook account, log in and go to this Facebook blog post. It will automatically do the calculation for your average degree of separation “from everyone.” It tells me that “Ken Ronkowitz’s average degrees of separation from everyone is 3.22.  The average for U.S. users is 3.46. Mark Zuckerberg beat me a bit at 3.17 degrees of separation, but Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO) beat both of us at 2.92 degrees of separation.

You may remember when the six degrees game was popularized online with “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.”  The Oracle of Bacon website let’s you connect Kevin to any other actor.

I haven’t look at that site for a few years, so I tried a connection search yesterday. I thought this would be a tough one: connect Kevin Bacon to Charlie Chaplin. Turns out that Chaplin was in A Countess in Hong Kong with Tippi Hedren and Bacon was in Jayne Mansfield’s Car with Tippi. Wow, only 2 degrees of separation.

I may be connected to everyone by only a small number of “degrees” but those connections seem very weak.

“Words are like flies: you notice them when they’re buzzing; when they’re not, it’s as if they don’t exist at all, ” says in The New Yorker. She came upon a billboard with a single word – parbunkells – in black Apple Garamond typeface on a white background. An advertisement for a new product?

Some investigating led her to Julia Weist, an artist.  She came across the word (which means two ropes bound together with nooses [loops] on all four ends and merged in the middle) and thought it was “a nice metaphor for things coming together.” It is a real word with hundreds of year of usage. Just not on the Internet.

She had been looking for a word that did not appear in the results of a search engine. Not an easy task, though Weist also has a degree in library science.  I had my students one semester try to find a relevant course topic that was not in Wikipedia. Also a tough assignment.

Next, Weist went beyond normal curiosity. She decided to put the word somewhere easily visible in public, just to see what would happen. Weist got billboard space via 14X48, a group that fills empty billboards with work by young artists. It would stay up until someone placed a paid ad in that spot

When her billboard version appeared (June 12) in Queens, New York, if you did a web search on “parbunkells” you would only find a website she created. That didn’t last long.

Her experiment in attention and reach began to appear all over the web on social media sites. Someone created a Twitter handle for the word. Someone bought the domain name and then offered it on eBay with a starting bid of $8000 and “Buy It Now” price of $20,000.

I did a Google search on the word today and came up with about 4200 search results for “parbunkells.” Given time, this post will be included in those results.

The experiment turned out to be an interesting way to study viewership and the way social media spreads memes. There is something to be studied in the eventual engagement with the word that occurred and also the engagement with Weist that emerged.  A “microcosm of the Web’s life cycle.”

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