Archive for December, 2010

Federated Social Web Status[Net]

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Evan Prodromou just published his Federated Social Web top 10 stories of 2010. It’s a great list, go read — readers who aren’t already familiar with Prodromou, StatusNet,, OStatus, etc. probably will have missed many of the stories — and they’re extremely important for the long-term future of the web, even if there are presently far too few zeros following the currency symbol to make them near-term major news (just like early days of the web, email, and the internet).

I suggest the following additions.

Censorship of dominant non-federated social web sites (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) occurred around the world. While totally reprehensible, and surely one of the top social web stories of 2010 by itself, one of its effects makes it a top story for the federated social web — decentralization is one of the ways of “routing around” censorship. I’d love to have mountains more evidence, but perhaps this is happening.

Perhaps Evan did not want to self-promote in his top 10, but I consider the status of his company, its services, the software they run (all called ), and the community around all three, to be extremely important data points on the status of the federated social web, and thus inherently top stories for 2010 (and they will be again in 2011, even if they completely fail, which would be a sad top story).

I hope that Evan/StatusNet post their own 2010 summary, or the community develops one on the StatusNet wiki, but very briefly: The company obtained another round of funding and from the perspective of an outsider, appears to be progressing nicely on enterprise and premium hosting products. The StatusNet cloud hosts thousands of (premium and gratis) instances, and savvy people are self-hosting, mirroring the well-established pattern. The core StatusNet software made great strides (I believe seven 0.9.x releases), obtained an add-ons directory, and early support for non-microblogging features, e.g., social bookmarking and generic social networking (latter Evan did mention as a non-top-10 story; of course any such features are federated “for free”). By the way, see my post Control Yourself, Follow Evan for the beginning story, way back in 2008.

2010 also saw what I consider disappointments in the federated social web space, each of which I have high hopes will be corrected in the next year — perhaps I’ll even do something to help:

StatusNet lacks full data portability and account migration.

Nobody has yet taken up the mantle of building a federated replacement for Flickr.

Unclear federated social web spam defenses are good enough.

Nobody is doing anything interesting with reputation on the federated social web — no, make that, on the social web. This is a major befuddlement I’ve had since (2002), at least. had an excuse as the first “social network”, (1999) innovated, then nothing. Nothing!

Far too few people are aware of the challenges and opportunities of maintaining and expanding software freedom/user autonomy in the age of networked services, a general problem of which the federated social web is an important case.

Finally, a couple not-yet-stories for the federated social web.

Facebook and Twitter (especially Facebook) seem to have consolidated their dominant positions in nearly every part of the world, having surpassed regional leads of the likes of Orkut (Brazil and India), Bebo (UK), MySpace (US), Friendster (Southeast Asia), etc. and would-be competitors such as shut down (e.g., Jaiku and Plurk) or considered disappointing (e.g., Google Buzz). However, it seems there are plenty of relatively new regionally-focused services, some of which may already be huge but under the radar of English-speaking observers. An example is ,’s microblogging service, which I would not have heard of in 2010 had I not seen it in use at Sharism Forum in Shanghai. It’s possible that some of these are advantaged by censorship of global services — see above — and cooperation with local censors. Opportunity? Probably only long-term or opportunistic.

Despite their high cultural relevance and somewhat ambiguous status, I don’t know of many © disputes around tweets, or short messages generally. Part of the reason must be that Twitter and Facebook are primarily silos, and use within those silos is agreed to via their terms of service. I’m very happy that StatusNet has from the beginning take precaution against copyright interfering with the federated case — notices on StatusNet platforms are released under the permissive Creative Commons Attribution license (all uses permitted in advance, requiring only credit), which clarifies things to the extent copyright restricts, and doesn’t interfere to the extent it doesn’t. (Also note that copyright is a major challenge for the social web in general, even its silos — see YouTube, which ought be considered part of the social web.)

All the best to Evan Prodromou and other federated social web doers in 2011!

As demonstrated above, I cannot write a short blog post, which puts a crimp on my blogging. Follow me on StatusNet’s service for lots of short updates.

Retaining the right to censor is an act of hate

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Nina Paley (I highly recommend all her animations and appreciate her free culture activism) has an idea called the copyheart:

Use it wherever you would use the ©copyright symbol. Instead of

© Copyright 2010 by Author/Artist. All Rights Reserved.

you could write

♡2010 by Author/Artist. Copying is an act of love. Please copy.

I love the sentiment. Mike Masnick thinks the copyheart is cool. Unsurprising, since he doesn’t appreciate public copyright tools. That’s a problem, since cool without the aid of rigorous public copyright tools fails to build a commons that everyone can use. We don’t need help with materials that can be used by those with a low level of legal exposure: that’s everything that isn’t held in secret.

Expanding on the problem: unfortunately one automatically obtains copyright the moment one produces an original expression in a fixed form (e.g., this blog post). Copyright is a poor name, for it isn’t the right to copy; rather it is the exclusive right to restrict others from making copies (including altered copies, performances, and an ever-growing list of nearby uses, essentially forever). Copyrestriction would be better. However, others aren’t restricted automagically (and when attempts are made to do so, restrictions are usually massively over-applied); the copyright holder must take action, must play the role of the censor. Censorright would be even more apt. Not granting rights to the public in advance means one is retaining the right to censor.

Why would Paley want something that grants the public no rights in advance, while complaining loudly about some Creative Commons licenses for not granting enough rights in advance? Probably because she’s skeptical of public licenses, period, claiming they legitimize copyright. I almost completely disagree: copyright exists, is automatic, and is ever-increasing in scope and restrictiveness; public copyright tools are just a reality-based response that allow opting out of some or all of one’s right to censor, can offer limited protection (in the case of copyleft) from downstream censors, and also signal that some or all of a censor’s right is not desired, and most importantly help build substantial projects and bodies of work that do not rely on censorship (eventually evidence has to matter).

Now Paley is well aware of these arguments, and addresses some of them in the Copyheart Manifesto (which is more like a FAQ) and elsewhere. She says that free licenses “aren’t solving the problems of copyright restrictions.” That’s something that needs debate. I’d argue they’re one of the few rays of light against censorship, and they are creating space for “solutions” to be developed (see “most importantly” previous paragraph). She even almost directly addresses the problem that copyheart-like mechanisms (Kopimi is very similar; “all rights reversed” is more opaque simple statement that has been used occasionally for decades that Paley notes):

Q.Is the ♡Copyheart legally binding?

A. Probably not, although you could test it:

Mark your work with the ♡Copyheart message.
Sue someone for copying it.
See what the judge says.

We really don’t think laws and “imaginary property” have any place in peoples’ love or cultural relations. Creating more legally binding licenses and contracts just perpetuates the problem of law – a.k.a. state force – intruding where it doesn’t belong. That ♡copyheart isn’t a legally binding license is not a bug – it’s a feature!

Sadly, when the right to censor is the automatic default, it is not using a legally binding license that perpetuates the problem, but I repeat myself. I appreciate offering the test above, but it is far too easy a test (though I don’t know how it would turn out). Takedown notices, other chilling effects, and just plain avoidance, are far more common than actual suits. A better test would be this:

  1. Mark your work with the ♡Copyheart message.
  2. Have someone else upload the work to Wikimedia Commons, not mentioning that you asked them to.
  3. See if the Wikimedia Commons community is willing to rely on your copyheart message to make and keep available your work.

One reason the work probably won’t remain on Wikimedia Commons (note I’d be very happy to be proved wrong) is that copyheart doesn’t clearly say that altering the copyhearted work is ok with the copyhearter. Permitting adaptation is a requirement for free culture; Paley agrees.

The situation may not be totally hopeless for copyheart. Kopimi started as an equally simple exhortation to copy. There are some works on Wikimedia Commons labeled as Kopimi (though I’m not sure how many if any are only relying on Kopimi; many works on Wikimedia Commons are multi-licensed), though the template used for Kopimi uploads on Wikimedia Commons goes beyond simple exhortation to copy:

This work is labeled as Kopimi, meaning that the copyright holder of this work does not only release it, but specifically requests that this work be used and copied for any purpose, including unlimited commercial use and redistribution. It is believed in good faith that a work classified as Kopimi is free to use in any way, including modification and the creation of derivative works.

Now it would be possible to take copyheart in this direction, say:

♡2010 by Author/Artist. Copying and adaptation are acts of love. Please copy and adapt for any purposes.

One may as well finish the job and back this sentiment with a rigorous legal tool that takes every step possible to rid oneself of the right to censor, worldwide:

♡2010 by Author/Artist. Copying and adaptation are acts of love. Please copy and adapt for any purposes without any restrictions whatsoever.

The link is to the backing legally rigorous tool, CC0.

Speaking of censorship, the EFF has been doing a fantastic job in fighting many of its forms. Please join them in saying no to censorship.

Not only does EFF fight censorship, they also retain almost no right to censor works they produce. They use a Creative Commons Attribution license, which only requires giving credit to make any use (well, any use that doesn’t imply endorsement). You should also join them is saying no to censorship in this way — no to your own ability to be a censor.

You should also make annual donations of $ to both CC and EFF, and send ♡.