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Happy UTC+0 New Year

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014
With apologies for the projection.

Smattering of followups on mostly-recent posts, posted at 2015-01-01 00:00:00 UTC. Does anyone celebrate UTC+0 New Year except by coincidence of being in UTC+0 time zone? Yes.

Software Freedom Conservancy released a video with me endorsing them (my recent blog endorsement). I self-recorded the footage and acknowledge total videography incompetence, need of a haircut, and need to be still.

PLOS Biology published a perspective by Daniel Mietchen on The Transformative Nature of Transparency in Research Funding. Riffing on his tweet, that’s early theory; practice is the Wikidata for Research proposal that he is leading creation of in the open (my recent blog endorsement).’s one-time crowdfunding campaign (my recent blog endorsement and others) is wrapping up very successfully. Looking forward to seeing launch in early 2015.

Free Software Foundation’s call for input on updating its high priority projects list (my blog post) has resulted in over 100 emails to, most of them very thoughtful and containing numerous suggestions. Some are mirrored in public posts: Antoine Amarilli, Christopher Allan Webber, d3vid seaward, Denver Gingerich, Ingegnue. Please send your feedback! I especially enjoy seeing public posts and explanations of how suggestions are on critical path toward achieving goal of software freedom for everyone.

Speaking of the FSF, they recently released a new video making the case that software freedom is important for everyone. I agree with Christopher Allan Webber’s asseessment of good progress. The video also ties into a free software futurist dinner that Webber said raised money for Software Freedom Conservancy, and some statements I make in the video above: I suspect it’s much easier to take software freedom as a serious issue of top importance if one has a “futurist” bent. This will also figure in a forthcoming post from me casting doubt on everything in this post and the rest from 2014 (last year’s version).

There’s some overlap between the above and OpenHatch’s year-end newsletter (my year-ago blog endorsement).

Finally, check out Don Marti’s below the fold announcement about Aloodo, a project to (if I understand correctly) help sites protect themselves from the long-term damage of being associated with pervasive tracking and door-to-door-like incentives (everything to make immediate conversion, nothing to build trust). I still have not gotten around to blogging other ideas for “fixing” online advertising, but very much look forward to seeing how Marti’s project plays out. original articles now BY-SA after a week

Thursday, May 1st, 2014 started in 1998 as Linux Weekly News. Its coverage is broader now — Free/Open Source Software, and sometimes immediate neighbors, with in-depth coverage of Linux kernel and related system software development — and expert. It’s one of the few publications that I can read an article about a topic that I have in depth knowledge of and not then question whether all reporting on topics I don’t have in depth knowledge of is also that bad. Because’s reporting is good (other readers I know seem to agree).’s logo says “Linux info from the source”; I suspect the method implied (reading source, commits, mailing lists, talking to developers) explains the goodness.

I’ve poked fun at paywalls, but for a paywall,’s is simple and well done: most new articles are subscriber-only for one week, and subscribers can generate a link to share a paywalled article with non-subscribers. The site does have ads, though disappointingly mostly Google AdSense. It is too bad such an in-depth industry publication doesn’t attract highly specific ads, like trade publications or even well done user group newsletters used to.

It seems that starting recently releases its original articles under the CC-BY-SA-4.0 license after one week. As of this writing a week old article, a current article, another of more general interest, archive of author guidelines timestamped February 10 mentioning “possibly under a free license”, and today mentioning CC-BY-SA-4.0. I imagine that given’s in-depth reporting, especially on the Linux kernel, some articles might actually be usefully incorporated into educational material, documentation, Wikipedia articles.

Subscribe, or occasionally read articles older than one week. Either would probably be good for your information diet.

Update 20140507: The ‘current’ articles above are now a week old, and CC-BY-SA-4.0 licensed.

Sum of all questions

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

I thoroughly enjoyed memesteader Gordon Mohr’s Quora & Wikipedia: Might one ever bail out the other? Futures of ‘Qworum’ or ‘WiQipedia’ which posits two futures in which the sites respectively decline mostly due to internal failure — essentially not adequately dealing with spam and unscrupulous behavior in both cases, though the spam and behavior is different for each.

Both futures seem plausible to me, inclusive of the decline and bail out in each. I also take the medium term absolute decline and death of Quora and steep relative decline of Wikimedia as likely. This relative assessment isn’t a knock on Quora — it and many others waiting in the wings can get big or fail — commons-based projects don’t have much experience in trying to do that (but need to, or find some other way to maintain long-term competitiveness).

Of course “waiting in the wings” is an understatement: I suspect the decline of both Quora and Wikimedia will be less due to internal failure than to being outcompeted by new entrants. Mohr has long been rumored to be working on one, but I imagine there must be many entrepreneurs dreaming of taking a chunk of Wikipedia traffic. I enjoy the Kill Hollywood request for startups, but Kill Wikipedia seems like a more plausible target for VC-term investment. (My preference is to target proprietary monopolies for destruction through competition, replacing them with commons; long ago I even imagined a financially leveraged/risk-seeking approach, but more feasible ones badly needed still.)

Go read and enjoy Mohr’s post, take it at least semi-seriously, and reflect on the future. Doing so makes me pine for something which does not yet exist: combinatorial prediction markets for everything.

I hadn’t looked at Quora in some time. I note that it still requires logging in to read, but has added Google — previously Facebook login (or not) was the only choice. There have been at least semi-serious explorations of a Wikimedia general Q&A sister project, but I’m not sure if any of them are listed in project proposals.

Counter-donate in support of marriage equality and other Mozilla-related notes

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

I’m a huge fan of Mozilla and think their work translates directly into more human rights and equality. So like many other people, I find it pretty disturbing that their new CEO, Brendan Eich, donated US$1000 in support of banning same sex marriage. True, this is scrutiny beyond which most organizations’ leaders would receive, and Mozilla in deed seems to have excellent support for LGBT employees, endorsed by Eich, and works to make all welcome in the Mozilla community. But I think Evan Prodromou put it well:

If you lead an organization dedicated to human rights, you need to be a defender of human rights.

Maybe Eich will change his mind. Perhaps he believes an ancient text attributed to an ultra powerful being commands him to oppose same sex marriage. Believers have come around to support all kinds of liberal values and practices in spite of such texts. Perhaps he considers marriage an illegitimate institution and would prefer equality arrive through resetting marriage to civil unions for all, or something more radical. I can comprehend this position, but it isn’t happening this generation, and is no excuse for delaying what equality can be gained now.

Freedom to Marry logoIn the meantime one thing that Mozilla supporters might do to counter Eich’s support for banning same sex marriage, short of demanding he step down (my suspicion is that apart from this he’s the best person for the job; given what the mobile industry is, someone from there would likely be a threat to the Mozilla mission) is to “match” it in kind, with counter-donations to organizations supporting equal rights for LGBT people.

Freedom to Marry seems to be the most directly counter to Eich’s donation, so that’s what I donated to. The Human Rights Campaign is probably the largest organization. There are many more in the U.S. and around the world. Perhaps Eich could counter his own donation with one to an organization working on more basic rights where homosexuality is criminalized (of course once that is taken care of, they’ll demand the right to marry too).

Other Mozilla-related notes that I may otherwise never get around to blogging:

  • Ads in new tabs (“directory tiles”) have the potential to be very good. More resources for Mozilla would be good, “diversification” or not. Mozilla’s pro-user stance ought make their design and sales push advertisers in the direction of signaling trustworthiness, and away from the premature optimization of door-to-door sales. They should hire Don Marti, or at least read his blog. But the announcement of ads in new tabs was needlessly unclear.
  • Persona/BrowserID is brilliant, and with wide adoption would make the web a better place and further the open web. I’m disappointed Mozilla never built it into Firefox, and has stopped paying for development, handing it over to the community. But I still hold out some hope. Mozilla will continue to provide infrastructure indefinitely. Thunderbird seems to have done OK as a community development/Mozilla infrastructure project. And the problem still needs to be solved!
  • Contrary to just about everyone’s opinions it seems, I don’t think Mozilla’s revenue being overwhelmingly from Google is a threat, a paradox, or ironic. The default search setting would be valuable without Google. Just not nearly as valuable, because Google is much better at search and search ads than its nearest competitors. Mozilla has demonstrated with FirefoxOS that they’re willing to compete directly with Google in a hugely valuable market (mobile operating systems, against Android). I have zero inside knowledge, but I’d bet that Mozilla would jump at the chance to compete with Google on search or ads, if they came upon an approach which could reasonably be expected to be superior to Google’s offerings in some significant ways (to repeat, unlike Google’s nearest search and ads competitors today). Of course Mozilla is working on an ads product (first item), leveraging Firefox real estate rather than starting two more enormous projects (search and search ads; FirefoxOS must be enough for now).
  • The world needs a safe systems programming language. There have been and are many efforts, but Mozilla-developed Rust seems to have by far the most promise. Go Rust!
  • Li Gong of Mozilla Taiwan and Mozilla China was announced as Mozilla’s new COO at the same time Eich was made CEO. I don’t think this has been widely noted. My friend Jon Phillips has been telling me for years that Li Gong is the up and coming power. I guess that’s right.

I’m going to continue to use Firefox as my main browser, I’ll probably get a FirefoxOS phone soon, and I hope Mozilla makes billions with ads in new tabs. As I wrote this post Mozilla announced it supports marriage equality as an organization (even if the CEO doesn’t). Still, make your counter-donation.

Most email newsletters are spam, file accordingly

Friday, March 21st, 2014

Bare URLs are useful, for example:

  • they give users some idea of where a click will take them,
  • allow the browser to indicate to the user whether they’ve already gone there and otherwise act as agent in user’s interest,
  • allow the user to bookmark for later use without visiting first (and have the bookmark be intelligible, due to first item), and
  • help the user to copy and share link without looking like an inconsiderate fool or spammer, passing along above benefits.

When all of the links in a newsletter are opaque redirects, such as…–FFFFFFFFFFFFFF-FFFFFFFFFFFF==

…we know that the sending organization…

  • cares more about tracking the reader than providing useful information to the reader, and
  • probably [wants to] waste the reader’s money, assuming the reader is a [potential] customer or donor, expending staff and stakeholder time on presenting and reviewing facile and misleading click metrics rather than doing a better job.

…you might not want to unsubscribe, because you might want information from the partially stupid organization sending such inconsiderate email newsletters. But do tell them to be considerate, and in the meantime, file accordingly.

Keep Fighting Forward

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Today is the day to mass call for regulation of mass surveillance. I did, please do it too.

I’m still underwhelmed by the rearguard nature of such actions, wonder how long they continue to be effective (e.g., when co-opted, or when policymakers realize mass calls don’t translate into votes, or forever…since at least 1996), and am even enraged by their focus on symptoms. But my feelings are probably wrong. Part of me applauds those who enjoy fighting the shortest term and broadest appeal possible battles. Such probably helps prevent things from getting worse, at least for a time, and that’s really valuable. Anyone who believes things must get worse before they get better is dangerous, because that’s when real trolls take over, damn your revolution.

I enjoyed Don Marti’s imperfect but perfectly provocative analogy, which I guess implies (he doesn’t say) the correct response to mass surveillance is to spend on end-to-end crypto, rejection of private tracking, decentralization, and other countermeasures, sealing net communications from security state poison. I’m all for that, and wish advocacy for same were a big part of mass calls to action like today’s. But I see the two as mostly complementary, as much as I’d like to scream “you’re doing it entirely wrong!”

Also QuestionCopyright’s assertion that Copyright + Internet = Surveillance. Or another version: Internet, Privacy, Copyright; Choose Two. I could quibble that these are too weak (freedom was infringed by copyright before the net) and too strong (not binary), but helpfully provocative.

Addendum: Also, Renata Avila:

For me is . Otherwise, we will be in serious trouble. Donate to resistance tools like or

Social mobilization for the Internet post-epochals grew up with

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Puneet Kishor has organized a book talk tomorrow (2013-11-15) evening in San Francisco by Edward Lee, author of The Fight for the Future: How People Defeated Hollywood and Saved the Internet–For Now (pdf).

I can’t attend, so I watched a recording of a recent talk by Lee and skimmed the book.

The book gives a narrative of the SOPA/PIPA and ACTA protests, nicely complementing Social Mobilization and the Networked Public Sphere: Mapping the SOPA-PIPA Debate, which does what the title says by analyzing relevant posts and links among them.

Lee in the talk and book, and the authors of the mapping report, paint a picture of a networked, distributed, and dynamic set of activists and organizations, culminating in a day of website blackouts and millions of people contacting legislators, and street protests in the case of ACTA.

The mapping report puts the protests and online activity leading up to them in the context of debate over whether the net breeds conversations that are inane and silo’d, or substantive and boundary-crossing: data point for the latter. What does this portend for social mobilization and politics in the future? Unknown: (1) state or corporate interests could figure out how to leverage social mobilization as or more effectively than public interest actors (vague categories yes), (2) the medium itself (which now, a few generations have grown up with, if we allow for “growing up” to extend beyond high school) being perceived at risk may have made these protests uniquely well positioned to mobilize via the medium, or (3) this kind of social mobilization could tilt power in a significant and long-term way.

Lots of people seem to be invested in a version of (3). They may be right, but the immediate outcome makes me sad: the perceived cutting edge of activism amounts to repeated communications optimization, i.e., spam science. Must be the civil society version of “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.” This seems eminently gameable toward (1), in addition to being ugly. We may be lucky if (2) is most true.

On the future of “internet freedoms” and social mobilization, Lee doesn’t really speculate. In the talk Q&A, lack of mass protest concerning mass surveillance is noted. The book’s closing words:

“We tried not to celebrate too much because it was just a battle. We won a battle, not the war. We’re still fighting other free trade agreements and intellectual property enforcement that affect individual rights.”

In a way, the fight for digital rights had only just begun.

Of course my standard complaint about this fight, which is decades old at least, is that it does not consist merely of a series of rearguard battles, but also altering the ecosystem.

What’s *really* wrong with the free and open internet — and how we could win it

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

A few days ago Sue Gardner, ED of the Wikimedia Foundation, posted What’s *really* wrong with nonprofits — and how we can fix it. Judging by seeing the the link sent around, it has been read to confirm various conflicting biases different people in the SF bay area/internet/nonprofit space and adjacent already had. May I? Excerpt-based-summary:

A major structural flaw of many nonprofits is that their revenue is decoupled from mission work, which pushes them to focus on providing a positive donor experience often at the expense of doing their core work.

WMF makes about 95% of its money from the many-small-donors model

I spend practically zero time fundraising. We at the WMF get to focus on our core work of supporting and developing Wikipedia, and when donors talk with us we want to hear what they say, because they are Wikipedia readers

I think the usefulness of the many-small-donors model, ultimately, will extend far beyond the small number of nonprofits currently funded by it.

[Because Internet.]

For organizations that can cover their costs with the many-small-donors model I believe there’s the potential to heal the disconnect between fundraising and core mission work, in a way that supports nonprofits being, overall, much more effective.

I agree concerning extended potential. I thought (here comes confirmation of biases) that Creative Commons should make growing its small donor base its number one fundraising effort, with the goal of having small donors provide the majority of funding as soon as possible — realistically, after several years of hard work on that model. While nowhere close to that goal, I recall that about 2006-2009 individual giving grew rapidly, in numbers and diversity (started out almost exclusively US-based), even though it was never the number one fundraising priority. I don’t think many, perhaps zero, people other than me believed individual giving could become CC’s main source of support. Wikimedia’s success in that, already very evident, and its unique circumstance, was almost taken as proof that CC couldn’t. I thought instead Wikimedia’s methods should be taken as inspiration. The “model” had already been proven by nearby organizations without Wikimedia’s eyeballs; e.g., the Free Software Foundation.

An organization that wants to rely on small donors will have to work insanely hard at it. And, if it had been lucky enough to be in a network affording it access to large foundation grants, it needs to be prepared to shrink if the foundations tire of the organization before individual giving supplants them, and it may never fully do so. (But foundations might tire of the organization anyway, resulting in collapse without individual donors.) This should not be feared. If an organization has a clear vision and operating mission, increased focus on core work by a leaner team, less distracted by fundraising, ought be more effective than a larger, distracted team.

But most organizations don’t have a clear vision and operating mission (I don’t mean words found in vision and mission statements; rather the shared and deep knowing-what-we’re-trying-to-do-and-how that allows all to work effectively, from governance to program delivery). This makes any coherent strategic change more difficult, including transitioning to small donor support. It also gives me pause concerning some of the bits of Gardner’s post that I didn’t excerpt above. For most organizations I’d bet that real implementation of nonprofit “best practices” regarding compliance, governance, management, reporting, etc, though boring and conservative, would be a big step up. Even trying to increase the much-maligned program/(admin+fundraising) ratio is probably still a good general rule. I’d like to hear better ones. Perhaps near realtime reporting of much more data than can be gleaned from the likes of a Form 990 will help “big data scientists” find better rules.

It also has to be said that online small donor fundraising can be just as distracting and warping (causing organization to focus on appearing appealing to donors) as other models. We (collectively) have a lot of work to do on practices, institutions, and intermediaries that will make the extended potential of small donor support possible (read Gardner’s post for the part I lazily summarized as [Because Internet.]) in order for the outcome to be good. What passes as savvy advice on such fundraising (usually centered around “social media”) has for years been appalling and unrealistic. And crowdfunding has thus far been disappointing in some ways as an method of coordinating public benefit.

About 7 months ago Gardner announced she would be stepping down as ED after finding a replacement (still in progress), because:

I’ve always aimed to make the biggest contribution I can to the general public good. Today, this is pulling me towards a new and different role, one very much aligned with Wikimedia values and informed by my experiences here, and with the purpose of amplifying the voices of people advocating for the free and open internet. I don’t know exactly what this will look like — I might write a book, or start a non-profit, or work in partnership with something that already exists.

My immediate reaction to this was exactly what Виктория wrote in reply to the announcement:

I cannot help but wonder what other position can be better for fighting consumerisation, walling-in and freedom curtailment of the Internet than the position of executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation.

I could take this as confirming another of my beliefs: that the Wikimedia movement (and other constructive free/open movements and organizations) do not realize their potential political potency — for changing the policy narrative and environment, not only taking rear guard actions against the likes of SOPA. Of course then, the Wikimedia ED wouldn’t think Wikimedia the most effective place from which to work for a free and open internet. But, my beliefs are not widely held, and likely incorrect. So I was and am mostly intrigued, and eager to see what Gardner does next.

After reading the What’s *really* wrong with nonprofits post above, I noticed that 4 months ago Gardner had posted The war for the free and open internet — and how we are losing it, which I eagerly read:

[non-profit] Wikipedia is pretty much alone. It’s NOT the general rule: it’s the exception that proves the rule.

The internet is evolving into a private-sector space that is primarily accountable to corporate shareholders rather than citizens. It’s constantly trying to sell you stuff. It does whatever it wants with your personal information. And as it begins to be regulated or to regulate itself, it often happens in a clumsy and harmful way, hurting the internet’s ability to function for the benefit of the public. That for example was the story of SOPA.

[Stories of how Wikipedia can fight censorship because it is both non-profit and very popular]

Aside from Wikipedia, there is no large, popular space being carved out for the public good. There are a billion tiny experiments, some of them great. But we should be honest: we are not gaining ground.

The internet needs serious help if it is to remain free and open, a powerful contributor to the public good.

Final exercise in confirming my biases (this post): yes, what the internet needs is more spaces carved our for the public good — more Wikipedias — categories other than encyclopedia in which a commons-based product out-competes proprietary incumbents, increasing equality and freedom powerfully in both the short and long (capitalization aligned with rent seeking demolished) term. Wikipedia is unique in being wildly successful and first and foremost a website, but not alone (free software collectively must many times more liberating by any metric, some of it very high profile, eg Firefox; Open Access is making tremendous progress, and I believe PLOS may have one of the strongest claims to operating not just to make something free, but to compete directly with and eventually displace incumbents).

A free and open internet, and society, needs intense competition from commons-based initiatives in many more categories, including those considered the commanding heights of culture and commerce, eg premium video, advertising, social networking, and many others. Competition does not mean just building stuff, but making it culturally relevant, meaning making it massively popular (which Wikipedia lucked into, being the world’s greatest keyword search goldmine). Nor does it necessarily mean recapitulating proprietary products exactly, eg some product expectations might moved to ones more favorable to mass collaboration.

Perhaps Gardner’s next venture will aim to carve out a new, popular space for the public good on the internet. Perhaps it will be to incubate other projects with exactly that aim (there are many experiments, as her post notes, but not many with “take overliberate the world” vision or resources; meanwhile there is a massive ecosystem churning out and funding attempts to take over the world new proprietary products). Perhaps it will be to build something which helps non-profits leverage the extended potential of the small donor model, in a way that maximizes public good. Most likely, something not designed to confirm my biases. ☺ But, many others should do just that!

Wikipedia’s economic values

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Jonathan Band and Jonathan Gerafi have written a survey of papers estimating Wikipedia’s Economic Value (pdf), where Wikipedia is all Wikipedia language editions, about 22 million articles total. I extracted the ranges of estimates of various types in a summary.

Valuation if Wikipedia were for-profit:

  • $10b-$30b based on valuation of sites with similar visitor and in-link popularity
  • $21.1b-$340b based on revenue if visitors had to pay, akin to Britannica
  • $8.8b-$86b based on potential revenue if Wikipedia ran ads

One-time replacement cost:

  • $6.6b-$10.25b based on freelance writer rates

Ongoing maintenance cost:

  • $630m/year based on hiring writers

Annual consumer surplus

  • $16.9b-$80b based on potential revenue if visitors had to pay
  • $54b-$720b based on library estimates of value of answering reference inquiries

Conclusion: “Wikipedia demonstrates that highly valuable content can be created by non-professionals not incentivized by the copyright system.”

Though obvious and underwhelming, it’s great to see that conclusion stated. Wikipedia and similar are not merely treasures threatened by even more bad policy, but at the very least evidence for other policy, and shapers of the policy conversation and environment.

They don’t do this through just the creation of great content. To fully appreciate “highly valuable” here, consider that Wikipedia is also popular — the first, best, only example of peer produced free cultural relevance that I can think of. That is what is needed to compete with products which depend on and further bad policy, not mere creation of good content.

Much about the ranges above, the estimates they include, and their pertinence to the “economic value of Wikipedia”, is highly speculative. Even more speculative, difficult, and interesting would be estimates of the value due to Wikipedia being a commons. The winning online encyclopedia probably would’ve been a very popular site, even if it had been proprietary, rather than Wikipedia or other somewhat open contenders. Consider that Encarta, not Wikipedia, mostly killed Britannica, and that people are very willing to contribute freely to proprietary products.

A broader (than just Wikipedia) take on this harder question was at the core of a research program on the welfare impact of Creative Commons that was in very early stages, and sadly ended coincident with lots of people leaving (including me).

How do we characterize the value (take your pick of value value) of knowledge systems that promote freedom and equality relative to those that promote enclosure? I hope many pick up that challenge, and activists use the results offensively (pdf, slideshare).

Googbye Adalytics

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

I featured a 468×60 Google AdSense block in the footer of this blog since 2004-08-30, and included Google Analytics javascript since 2006-12-29. I failed to note adding either.

I’m behind on my 8 year blog refutation schedule, will probably do a six middle months post rather than Q2 and Q3 separately; see Q1. In the meantime, I’ll note removing AdSense and Analytics now.

I added AdSense as a small way of getting to know a hugely significant part of the net a little better through direct experience. My revenue expectations were met over the years — trivial, due to trivial traffic and relatively innocuous placement. Viewing my blog with a browser sans adblock and with flash for the first time in perhaps years just now prompted the removal and this post, which I had planned to do in the fullness of time — the innocuous placement was still ugly, and with flash enabled all of the ads are graphical and many animated. Clearly I have learned all I am capable of learning via this experiment, which I am glad I did. If I ever have something characterized as third party ads here again, it’ll be via some very different mechanism.

I more dimly recall adding Analytics because I never looked at log analysis generated reports, and maybe if I looked I would find something to optimize. I seldom looked at Analytics, and never discerned anything. If I really feel the urge to look again, I’ll use a log analysis program, and if I want an Analytics-like interface, use Piwik. I realize for some analysis, and especially some experiments, in-page javascript can be very helpful. If I ever really want to do that, Piwik can.

Relatedly, I’ve meant to recommend Don Marti’s blog for a long time, when I got around to saying and doing more about net advertising, but don’t wait for me.