Archive for October, 2007

Peer producing think tank transparency

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

Hack, Mash & Peer: Crowdsourcing Government Transparency from the looks like a reasonable exhortation for the U.S. jurisdiction government to publish data in so that government activities may be more easily scrutinized. The paper’s first paragraph:

The federal government makes an overwhelming amount of data publicly available each year. Laws ranging from the Administrative Procedure Act to the Paperwork Reduction Act require these disclosures in the name of transparency and accountability. However, the data are often only nominally publicly available. First, this is the case because it is not available online or even in electronic format. Second, the data that can be found online is often not available in an easily accessible or searchable format. If government information was made public online and in standard open formats, the online masses could be leveraged to help ensure the transparency and accountability that is the reason for making information public in the first place.

That’s great. But if peer produced (a more general and less inflammatory term than crowdsourced; I recommend it) scrutiny of government is great, why not of think tanks? Let’s rewrite that paragraph:

Think tanks produce an overwhelming number of analyses and policy recommendations each year. It is in the interest of the public and the think thanks that these recommendations be of high quality. However, the the data and methodology used to produce these positions are often not publicly available. First, this is the case because the data is not available online or even in electronic format. Second, the analysis that can be found online is often not available in an easily accessible or searchable format. Third, nearly everything published by think tanks is copyrighted. If think tank data and analysis was made public online in standard open formats and under open licenses, the online masses could be leveraged to help ensure the quality and public benefit of the policy recommendations that are the think tanks’ reason for existing in the first place.

Think tanks should lead by example, and improve their product to boot. Note the third point above: unlike , the output of think tanks (and everyone else) is restricted by copyright. So think tanks need to take an to ensure openness.

(Actually think tanks only need to lead in their domain of political economy — by following the trails blazed by the movement in scientific publishing.)

This is only the beginning of leading by example for think tanks. When has a pro-market think tank ever subjected its policy recommendations to market evaluation?

Via Reason.

RIA marketing follies

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

I don’t know anything about software marketing, but if I had to give an impromptu lecture on the subject right now, I’d use the following two posts (with comments) as virtual handouts: Mozilla Labs on Prism and Mike Chambers (of Adobe) on Mozilla Prism and the disingenuous web.

: Difficult to figure out exactly what it is other than expansive and proprietary, so people assume it is an evil attempt to take over the web. Dan Brickley‘s comment on Chambers’ post is illustrative:

Hi thereFrom your post over on Mozilla’s site,

“You do realize that Adobe AIR is as much about HTML, JavaScript, CSS, etc… as it is about Flash / Flex?”

Just as a point of feedback: I had no idea of this. I’ve seen a lot of mentions of Air around the Web of course, but not dug into its official docs. Well I assumed AIR could probably handle HTML, maybe even bits of SVG if you’ve got webkit in there, but I somehow had the impression it was primarily all about Flash. Quite probably I didn’t bother to read up on it properly because, for better or worse, I somewhat expected a Flash-centric agenda, and so didn’t take the time to investigate what I unreflectively figured was “Adobe’s new Flash-based thingy”. If it is more standards-friendly, there’s a chicken and egg problem in getting this news out to developers who may tune out when they hear “Adobe toolkit” on assumption it’ll be Flash-flash-flash. I’m happy to be re-educated anyway :)

Will Air support (interactive) SVG to any level? Or the W3C widgets work ( ?

Tellingly (in terms of marketing if not reality), Brickley’s questions have gone unanswered.

: Open source and so simple that there’s almost nothing there (open a URL from a desktop icon in a browser with some web navigation features removed) that people instantly “get” it (and the bigger ideas behind it) and looooove it.

I suspect that an AIR application can accomplish the same limited functionality with just a bit more code than hello world and that AIR provides much more. But unless Adobe can effectively communicate what the heck AIR is and exactly how it works with open standards, it will be eaten for breakfast by the slow (for good reason — more fully featured web/desktop integration will raise all kinds of thorny security, synchronization and software update issues) web juggernaut. As some commenters pointed out, the obvious thing for Adobe to do is to “work with Mozilla and other players to standardize these features.”

Then there’s the obvious joke about AIR (although that link does include the appropriate reference to vapor, it concerns something surprising and somewhat — an attempt to make Java Applets — relevant).

Don’t know what any of this is about? Try Rear Guard Applications for perspective.

Wikimedia advertising (soft) drive

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Wikipedia (actually the Wikimedia Foundation) started another yesterday. I’ll just reference what I’ve said in the past:

I am convinced by comments on the above posts and conversations since that it will take a huge shift in Wikipedia community opinion for advertising to have a chance. The time for direct argument in relevant venues is distant. If you agree with me that advertising on Wikipedia will allow the foundation to greatly speed the fulfillment of its commitment, you can make your support known without rancor:

1) When you donate, leave a comment that says “I support advertising on Wikipedia.”

2) On your Wikipedia user page (mine), add the following code, with obvious meaning (|{{PAGENAME}} may not be obvious–it’s a hack to make your name sort correctly in the relevant category listings):

[[Category:Wikipedians for optional advertisements|{{PAGENAME}}]]
[[Category:Wikipedians who think that the Wikimedia Foundation should use advertising|{{PAGENAME}}]]

Fortuitously Mozilla posted their 2006 financial statements today:

Mozilla’s revenues (including both Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation) for 2006 were $66,840,850, up approximately 26% from 2005 revenue of $52,906,602. As in 2005 the vast majority of this revenue is associated with the search functionality in Mozilla Firefox, and the majority of that is from Google. The Firefox userbase and search revenue have both increased from 2005. Search revenue increased at a lesser rate than Firefox usage growth as the rate of payment declines with volume.

Congratulations to Mozilla. The Open Web‘s prospects would look far worse if Mozilla did not have the wisdom to exploit this revenue source. Now, what about the prospects for Free Knowledge?

Addendum 20071123: The Wikimedia Fundraiser Blog is running Why Wikipedia Does Not Run Ads, a post linked to in the fundraising ad now running on Wikipedia.

Knowledge migration

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

Two points riffing off Paul Graham’s Why to Move to a Startup Hub (alternate titles: Why to Move to the Startup Hub or Why to Move to Silicon Valley). Probably more obvious, but it’s a theme of this blog:

Immigration difficulties might be another reason to stay put. Dealing with immigration problems is like raising money: for some reason it seems to consume all your attention. A startup can’t afford much of that. One Canadian startup we funded spent about 6 months working on moving to the US. Eventually they just gave up, because they couldn’t afford to take so much time away from working on their software.

(If another country wanted to establish a rival to Silicon Valley, the single best thing they could do might be to create a special visa for startup founders. US immigration policy is one of Silicon Valley’s biggest weaknesses.)

I suspect a jurisdiction would have to include far more than just startup founders in such a program to have any noticeable impact. But it’s not a bad sentiment. Even on purely nationalistic grounds, any jurisdiction (and especially large ones like China, India, Brazil, and Russia) ought to allow unlimited skilled immigration, preferably permanent, including citizenship.

Graham also points out the importance of specialized knowledge, emphasis added:

Boston investors will admit they’re more conservative. Some want to believe this comes from the city’s prudent Yankee character. But Occam’s razor suggests the truth is less flattering. Boston investors are probably more conservative than Silicon Valley investors for the same reason Chicago investors are more conservative than Boston ones. They don’t understand startups as well.

West coast investors aren’t bolder because they’re irresponsible cowboys, or because the good weather makes them optimistic. They’re bolder because they know what they’re doing. They’re the skiers who ski on the diamond slopes. Boldness is the essence of venture investing. The way you get big returns is not by trying to avoid losses, but by trying to ensure you get some of the big hits. And the big hits often look risky at first.

I’ve been meaning to do a post on the below for awhile but don’t have a whole lot to say, so I’ll use this tangent: New business practices and models have a whole lot going against them, even if superior to existing practices in theory — nobody has experience making them work. I suspect this applies to peer production in spades. Building up a critical mass of knowledge about how open source works has been slow going and still has a long way to go, and I’m fond of speculating that open content/free culture is a decade or two behind free software. Prediction markets are obviously in the same boat, and futarchy is far out to sea.

And so is every useful business, social, political, or other change (but keep in mind that some things don’t work, even in theory).

By the way, a startup considering a move to Silicon Valley should make the decision with the aid of prediction markets.

Via Tim O’Reilly.

Creative Commons accounting

Monday, October 8th, 2007

As usual, I don’t speak for Creative Commons nor any other organization here, not even remotely. Follow the links if you want officialdom.

Support CC - 2007 CC recently launched its fall campaign fundraising campaign (that time of year again) and site revamp. Boing Boing picked it up and noted one of the best bits:

Creative Commons has launched a site redesign to go with its fall fundraising campaign, featuring a new emphasis on the work being done by CC teams globally, backed by sweet open source code, including OpenLayers mapping and Semantic MediaWiki. For bloggers there are new map-themed “Support CC” buttons to help spread the word.

Yes, CC is finally using what I called the most important software project (to a much greater extent on the intranet; and not mentioned, other semantic technologies I’ve blogged about here), ironically now that I’m no longer CTO. Nathan Yergler has been doing a great job in that role, and 2007 will probably as much visible progress on CC technology fronts as the previous four years.

The CC Salon in San Francisco this Wednesday evening should be excellent, featuring researcher Giorgos Cheliotis (on counting CC licensed works–actually more than that, but the description works with this post’s title) and some very positive announcements, while Jon Phillips will be giving a brief talk on CC at the EFF Bootcamp during the day in Mountain View.

It took a long time to hire a new General Counsel, in no small part because Mia Garlick, the previous GC, set the bar very high.

And CC is hiring an accountant, full time in San Francisco.