Archive for January, 2011

Why a punch in the face* is the appropriate response to use of the phrase “business model”

Saturday, January 8th, 2011
fist
Seiken by Kurmis / CC BY

The utterer of “business model” has attempted to raise their status with a superfluous word and has only confused whatever the issue at hand. The utterer is probably among the confused. The listener obtains only entropy and lower relative status. A punch serves to equalize the situation.

In inappropriate conveyance of status, “business model” bears likeness to beginning a statement with “So, ”:

Starting a sentence with “so” uses the whiff of logic to relay authority.

Ugly stuff.

Vivek Wadhwa, my favorite TechCrunch writer, seeks to educate the confused (strikethrough added):

Developing the right product is hard. But what is harder is building a good business model.

However, this and other uses throughout the article only demonstrate the superfluousness of “model”.


*metaphorically
with scare quotes, or snarky tone, is ok; beware of inadvertent homage

Notability, deletionism, inclusionism, ∞³

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

For the past couple years there has been an in English Wikipedia (archived version). It is an ok article. Some that I’d include isn’t, and some of what is seems kind of tangential, e.g., talking at a NASA event, that besides a citation, netted spending the day with an unholy mix of the usual social media suspects and entirely retrograde “we gotta put man humans into space because it makes me feel proud to be an American and my daughter might do her math homework!!!” boosters (get real: go robots!) and a sketch. However, overall it is fairly evocative, even the NASA event part. It would be uncool of me to edit it directly, and I’ve been curious to see how it would be improved, translated, vandalized, or deleted, so I haven’t made suggestions. It has mostly just sat there, though it has been curious to see the content copied in various places where Wikipedia content gets copied, and that a fair proportion of the people I meet note that I “have a Wikipedia page” — that’s kind of the wrong way to think about it (Wikipedia articles have subjects, not owners), but good to know that people can use web search (and that I can tend toward the pedantic).

!#@!@^% deletionists are ruining Wikipedia. They’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes.
http://memesteading.com/2010/03/15/dialectical-inclusionism/

The one thing that I have said about the article about me on English Wikipedia, until now, has been this, on my (not precisely, but moreso “mine”) user page on English Wikipedia: “I am the subject of Mike Linksvayer, which I would strongly advocate deleting if I were a deletionist (be my guest).” I’ve thought about pulling some kind of stunt around this, for example, setting up a prediction market contract on whether the article about me would be deleted in a given timeframe, but never got around to it. Anyway, last week someone finally added an Articles for Deletion notice to the article, which sets up a process involving discussion of whether the article ought be deleted (crickets so far). When rough consensus is reached, an admin will delete the article, or the notice will be removed.

I’m not a fan of deletionism (more below), but given the current rules around notability, I am either somewhat questionable as an English Wikipedia article subject (using the general, easy to interpret charitably summary of notability: “A person is presumed to be notable if he or she has received significant coverage in reliable secondary sources that are independent of the subject.”) to unquestionably non-notable (any less charitable interpretation, which presumably any “deletionist” would use, thus my user page statement). The person who added the Articles for Deletion notice may not have done any research beyond what is already linked in the article (more on that general case below), but I must admit, his critique of the citations in the article, are fairly evocative, just as the article is:

We have three sources from Creative Commons (primary), a paragraph in a CNET news article where he does his job and encourages scientists to use CC licenses, one IHT article about veganism that mentions him for a couple of paragraphs, and a link to his Wikipedia userpage. That is not enough for notability, in my opinion.

The IHT (actually first in the NYT) article was about calorie restriction, not veganism, but that’s a nitpick. Most of the “media” items my name has appeared in are indeed about Creative Commons, i.e., me doing my job, not me as primary subject, or in a few cases, about calorie restriction, with me as a prop. Or they’re blogs — ok that one is even less notable than most blogs, but at least it’s funny, and relevant — and podcasts. The only item (apart from silly blog posts) that I’ve appeared in that I’m fond of and would be tickled if added as a reference if the current article about me squeaks by or some future article in the event I as a subject become a no-brainer (clearly I aim to, e.g., “[make] a widely recognized contribution that is part of the enduring historical record in his or her specific field”, but even more clearly I haven’t achieved this) is in Swedish (and is still about me doing my job, though perhaps going off-message): check out an English machine translation.

I’m not a fan of deletionism, largely because, as I’ve stated many times, thinking of Wikipedias as encyclopedias doesn’t do the former justice — Wikipedia has exploded the “encyclopedia” category, and that’s a wonderful thing. Wikipedias (and other Wikimedia projects, and projects elsewhere with WikiNature) need to go much further if freedom is to win — but I’m partisan in this, and can appreciate that others appreciate the idea that Wikipedias stick close to the category defined by print encyclopedias, including strong limits on what might be considered encyclopedic.

It also strikes me that if Wikimedia movement priorities include increasing readership and participation that inclusionism is the way to go — greatly increase the scope of material people can find and participate in building. However, I’m not saying anything remotely new — see Deletionism and inclusionism in Wikipedia.

Although I’m “not a fan” I don’t really know how big of a problem deletionism is. In my limited experience, dealing with an Articles for Deletion notice on an article I’ve contributed to is a pain, sometimes motivates substantially improving the article in question, and is generally a bummer when a useful, factual article is deleted — but it isn’t a huge part of the English Wikipedia editing experience.

Furthermore, reading guidelines on notability closely again, they’re more reasonable than I recall — that is, very reasonable, just not the radical inclusionism I prefer. To the extent that deletionism is a problem, my guess now is that it could be mitigated by following the guidelines more closely, not loosening them — start with adding a {{notability}} tag, not an Articles for Deletion notice, ask for advice on finding good sources, and make a good faith effort to find good sources — especially for contemporary subjects, it’s really simple with news/web/scholar/book/video search from Google and near peers. I’m sure this is done in the vast majority of cases — still, in the occasional case when it isn’t done, and initial attempts to find sources and improve an article are being made during an Articles for Deletion discussion, is kind of annoying.

I also wrote some time ago when thinking about notability the not-to-be-taken-very-seriously Article of the Unknown Notable, which I should probably move elsewhere.

The delicious “dialectical inclusionism” quote above is from Gordon Mohr. Coincidentally, today he announced ∞³, a project “to create an avowedly inclusionist complement to Wikipedia”. There’s much smartness in his post, and this one is already long, so I’m going to quote the entire thing:

Introducing Infinithree (“∞³”)

Wikipedia deletionism is like the weather: people complain, but nobody is doing anything about it. 

I’d like to change that, working with others to create an avowedly inclusionist complement to Wikipedia, launching in 2011. My code name for this project is ‘Infinithree’ (‘∞³’), and this blog exists to collaborate on its creation.

Why, you may ask?

I’ll explain more in future posts – but in a nutshell, I believe deletionism erases true & useful reference knowledge, drives away contributors, and surrenders key topics to cynical spammy web content mills.

If you can already appreciate the value and urgency of this sort of project, I’m looking for you. Here are the broad outlines of my working assumptions:

Infinithree will use the same open license and a similar anyone-can-edit wiki model as Wikipedia, but will discard ‘notability’ and other ‘encyclopedic’ standards in favor of ‘true and useful’.

Infinithree is not a fork and won’t simply redeploy MediaWiki software with inclusionist groundrules. That’s been tried a few times, and has been moribund each time. Negative allelopathy from Wikipedia itself dooms any almost-but-not-quite-Wikipedia; a new effort must set down its roots farther afield.

Infinithree will use participatory designs from the social web, rather than wikibureacracy, to accrete reliable knowledge. Think StackOverflow or Quora, but creating declarative reference content, rather than interrogative transcripts.

Sound interesting? Can you help? Please let me know what you think, retweet liberally, and refer others who may be interested.

For updates, follow @_infinithree on Twitter (note the leading underscore) or @infinithree on Identi.ca.

Infinithree is already very interesting as a concept, and I’m confident in Gordon’s ability to make it non-vapor and extremely interesting (I was one of his co-founders at the early open content/data/mass collaboration service Bitzi — 10 years ago, hard to believe). There is ample opportunity to try different mass collaboration arrangements to create free knowledge. Many have thought about how to tweak Wikipedia culture or software to produce different outcomes, or merely to experiment (I admit that too much of my plodding pondering on the matter involves the public domain↔strong copyleft dimension). I’m glad that Gordon intends ∞³ to be different enough from Wikipedia such that more of the vast unexplored terrain gets mapped, and hopefully exploited. As far as I know is probably the most relevant attempt so far. May there be many more.

Dear Jean Quan,

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

Congratulations on your election and tomorrow’s inauguration as Oakland mayor.

I ranked ahead of you, but in truth my expressive rationale for doing so could just as well have favored you: a progressive Asian American woman represents a defining characteristic of what makes Oakland special and its future just as much as does a green lesbian (who is also an American and a woman, but such is identity politics).

Expressiveness aside, expectations for positive outcomes from your term as mayor are pretty low (note emphasis on outcomes; everyone knows you’ll put in more hours than recent Oakland mayors). Oakland still has a terrible crime problem, and city finances are beyond terrible. I suspect if there were betting markets on outcomes related to these problems, current prices would predict that under your leadership crime will get worse (relative to comparable cities; of course national trends may determine absolute direction of change), chief police will quit, the city will teeter on bankruptcy, your response will be to ‘social program us to death’, and you will be a one term mayor, succeeded by Kaplan, Joe Tauman, or .

Low expectations can be a blessing, if you’re willing to take steps to smash them and secure your re-election and legacy as Oakland’s most successful mayor in decades.

First, crime. Blaming the problem on poverty, racism, poor schools, unemployment, etc., isn’t going to cut it, neither as discourse nor as the stereotypical actions resulting, loosely characterized as “building youth centers”. Most voters aren’t that stupid (well, they are, but in other directions when it comes to crime). Fortunately, one can be a good progressive, acknowledge that crime is a major problem, especially for the disadvantaged, and take smart, progressive-compatible steps to smash crime. Check out Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Aaron Swartz’s essay on crime:

Such things are a frustration for white suburbanites, but for poor people stuck in the ghetto, they’re a nightmare. Crime is yet another disadvantage and a particularly noxious one at that. Even aside from all the other indignities suffered by the poor, just imagining life in a crime-ridden neighborhood is enough to make your skin crawl.

So there’s the question: How can we have less crime with less punishment?

Here are the no-brainer steps you can take on crime:

  • Do not get caught saying anything that could be construed as “blaming society” for the problem or that the solution consists of “building youth centers”.
  • Work with Batts to actually fight crime; defer to his expertise at every opportunity.
  • Provide high-minded leadership on protecting civil liberties; on this defer to nobody. However, limit riot-bait to national and global issues. For example, city proclamations calling for bringing George W. Bush to justice and the like will only cause rioting on right-wing talk radio, leaving Oakland neighborhoods and businesses unscathed.

Next, finances. Similarly no-brainer suggestions:

  • Repeat early, loudly, and clearly that Oakland has an unsustainable spending problem, and everyone, especially your loyal allies in and funded by city government, are going to feel immediate pain.
  • Immediately push through cuts, primarily to areas you favor politically, sparing police and maintenance as much as possible.
  • Immediately push through revenue increases, e.g., tackle mis- and under-priced parking.

Beyond the above mandatory issues, a few less pressing but visionary actions for you to consider adding to your mayoral legacy:

  • Do everything you can to signal (and perhaps do a little of substance too) that you believe Oakland is the eco-city of the future, urban permaculture doers are heroes, and Oakland should be the world leader in marijuana business and education. Each of these increases Oakland’s specialness, and eliminates any future challenge from Kaplan. (If you’re moderately successful on the two major issues above, you also eliminate any traction Tauman or Russo might otherwise gain during your first term.)
  • Make Oakland the leader in “open” policy. There are obvious opportunities around city data, software procurement, and open licensing of city publications. The last would even help improve the article about you on Wikipedia. ☺ I and many other technology professionals and advocates of openness who live in Oakland would love to help. Some of us work for Creative Commons and other organizations with deep expertise in this area.
  • In another decade, autonomous vehicles will reshape cities. Establish some kind of an unpaid citizens committee to investigate how Oakland can prepare.

Here’s to great outcomes for Oakland, and your incredible success as mayor!

Mike Linksvayer
Golden Gate District, Oakland

Your public domain day

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

January 1 is public domain day, where in many parts of the world, some old works become free of copyright restrictions. In the U.S. no works will become so free due to the passing of time until 2019 — assuming the duration of copyright restriction is not again retroactively extended before then.

Fortunately you can add your contemporary works to the public domain right now, using the CC0 Public Domain Dedication. I try to put all of my “creations” into the public domain. See the footer of this post’s original location for a deployment example.

For software, using the Unlicense may be more familiar: copy the unlicense text into a file called COPYING, LICENSE, or UNLICENSE in your source tree — see the site.

One nice thing about well-crafted public domain dedications is that there ought be no interoperability problems among them, so there can be innovation (branding, legal language, community, supporting infrastructure) that would be harmful among more restrictive instruments. That’s not to say public domain instrument proliferation ought be encouraged willy-nilly — the instruments have to be well-crafted and users shouldn’t have to evaluate an infinite variety of them.

None of this is to deny that every single day ought see massive growth of the public domain — it should be the default — nor that copyleft licenses are useful tools for getting there in the long term and mitigating some damage in the short term. Eventually I will speculate on the tradeoffs between using public domain dedications and copyleft licenses for contemporary works, but for now, today is public domain day!

This post is an expansion of two conversations on identi.ca.

Addendum: I further recommend Lucas Gonze’s recent post Why I put my work into the public domain.

Another: See Arto Bendiken’s The Unlicense: The First Year in Review.