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Hello World Intellectual Freedom Organization

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

Today I’m soft launching an initiative that I’ve been thinking about for 20 years, obtained a domain name for in 1998, blogged about once in 2004, and the last few years have been exploring on this blog without naming it. See the first items in my annual thematic doubt posts for 2013 and 2014: “protecting and promoting intellectual freedom, in particular through the mechanisms of free/open/knowledge commons movements, and in reframing information and innovation policy with freedom and equality outcomes as top.”

I call it the World Intellectual Freedom Organization (WIFO).

Read about its theory, why a new organization, proposed activities, and how you can help/get involved.

Why today? Because April 26 is World Intellectual Freedom Day, occupying and displacing World Intellectual Property Day, just as intellectual freedom must occupy and displace intellectual property for a good future. Consider this 0th World Intellectual Freedom Day another small step forward, following last year’s Without Intellectual Property Day.

Why a soft launch? Because I’m eager to be public about WIFO, but there’s tons of work to do before it can properly be considered launched. I’ve been getting feedback from a handful of people on a quasi-open fellowship proposal for WIFO (that’s where the activities link above points to) and apologize to the many other people I should’ve reached out to. Well, now I’m doing that. I want your help in this project of world liberation!

Video version of my proposal at the Internet Archive or YouTube. My eyes do not lie, I am reading in an attempt to fit too much material in 5 minutes.

I’ll probably blog much less here about “IP” and commons/free/libre/open issues here from now on, especially after opening a WIFO blog (for now there’s a Discourse forum; most of the links above point there). Not to worry, I am overflowing with idiosyncratic takes on everything else, and will continue to post accordingly here, as much as time permits. ☻

Be sure to celebrate the 0th World Intellectual Freedom Day, even if only momentarily and with your lizard brain.

Annual thematic doubt 2

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

My second annual thematic doubt post, expressing doubts I have about themes I blogged about during 2014.

commons ⇄ freedom, equality ⇄ good future

Same as last year, my main topic has been “protecting and promoting intellectual freedom, in particular through the mechanisms of free/open/knowledge commons movements, and in reframing information and innovation policy with freedom and equality outcomes as top.”

Rather than repeating the three doubts I expressed last year under the heading “intellectual freedom” (my evaluation of these has not much changed), I will take the subject from a different angle: the “theory of change” I have been espousing. This theory is not new to me. Essentially it is what attracted me to following the free software movement circa 1990 — its potential of extensive, pro-freedom socio-economic reform from the bottom up. That and wanting to run a unix-like on my computer — a want satisfied without respect to freedom as soon as I could use a Sun workstation at work, and for many years now would have been satisfied by OS X. I never cared very much about being able to read, modify, and share all of the software on my computer — the socio-economic implications of those capabilities make them interesting, to me. The claimed ends of the theory are in the ‘for a good future’ slogan I’ve occasionally used at least since 1998. I occasionally included the theory in blog posts (2006) and presentations (2008). Much of my ‘critical cheering’ last year (doubt) and before has largely been about my perhaps unreasonable wish that ‘free/open’ organizations and movements would take the theory I do and act as I think follows. I could easily be wrong on the theory or best actions it implies. Accordingly, I ratcheted down critical cheering in 2014; hopefully most but not all of what remained was relatively fun or novel. Instead I focused more sharply on the theory, e.g., in Sleepwalking past Freedom’s Commons, or how peer production could increase democracy, equality, freedom, and innovation, all of them!

The theory could be attacked from a number of angles — I’d love to see that done and learn of new vulnerabilities. For example, commons might not significantly affect freedom and equality, these may not be the right values, and one might consider a ‘good future’ to be one with maximum hierarchy, spectacle, even war (I repeatedly argue that future tech and culture will be marvels in most plausible futures, and that is a reason to reject ones that do not have freedom and equality as top values, but also something that makes it hard to see how a future — or present — could be different or better with more knowledge economy/policy-driven freedom and equality). But this isn’t a cheap refutation post (see below) and I don’t have very practical doubts about those values and what they imply constitutes a good future.

But I do have practical doubts about the first leg of the theory. Summary of that leg before getting to doubts: Commons-based knowledge production simultaneously destroys rents dependent on freedom infringing regimes, diminishing the constituency for those regimes, grows the constituency and policy imagination for freedom respecting regimes, and not least, directly increases freedom and equality.

Doubts:

  • Effects could be too small to matter, or properly attributed to generational or other competition among firms, not commons-based production. Consider Wikipedia, a success of commons-based production if there is one. Such success may not be possible in other sectors, especially ones that command top policy attention (drugs and movies) — policy imagination has not been increased. The traditional encyclopedia industry was already mostly destroyed by Microsoft Encarta when Wikipedia came along. The encyclopedia industry was not a significant constituency for freedom infringing regimes, so its destruction matters not for future policy. Encyclopedias were readily accessible at libraries, vastly more useful info of the sort found in encyclopedias is accessible online now, excluding Wikipedia, and ‘freedoms’ to modify and distribute are just not relevant nearly all humans.
  • I claim that the best knowledge policy reform is that which favors commons and that the reforms traditionally proposed by copyright and patent reformers are relatively futile because such proposals if implemented would not significantly change the knowledge economy to produce freedom and equality nor grow the constituencies for such changes — rather they are just about who, how, and for how much the outputs of production under freedom infringing regimes may be used — so-called balance, not the tilt I demand. But perhaps the usual set of reform proposals is the best that can be hoped for, especially given decades of discourse and organization-building around those proposals, and almost none about commons-favoring reform. Further, perhaps the usual set of reform proposals is best without qualification — commons-based production is a culturally marginal (in software; wholly irrelevant in most other sectors) arrangement that ought be totally ignored by policy.
  • Various (sometimes semi-) free/open movements within various sectors (e.g., software, education, research publication) are having some policy successes, without (as far as I know) usually considering themselves to be as or more central to shaping knowledge policy as usual things fitting under ‘copyright reform’ and ‘patent reform’ but this could be just what needs to happen. The important thing is that commons-based knowledge production entities act to further their interests with minimal distance from current policy discourse, not that they have any distracting and possibly discrediting theory about doing so relative to overall knowledge policy.

Only the first of these gives me serious pause, though my discounting the last two might be a matter of (dis)taste — my feeling is that most of the people involved thoroughly identify with the trivia of copyright, patent, and similar law, even if they think those laws need serious reform, and act as if commons-based production is something to be protected from reform in the bad direction, but not at all central. Sadly if my feeling is accurate, the second and third doubts probably ought give me more pause than they do.

Despite these doubts, the potential huge win-win (freedom and equality, without conflict) of reorienting the knowledge economy and policy around commons-based production makes robust discourse (at the least) on this possibility urgent, even if tilt probability is low. One of the things that makes me favor this approach is that reform can be very incremental — indeed, it is by far the most feasible reform of any proposed — we just need a lot more of it. Push-roll towards tilt!

The most damning observation is perhaps that I’m only talking, and mostly on this very blog. I should change my ways, but again, this is not a cheap refutation post.

Software Freedom/Futurism/Science Fantasy

I recently wrote that “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.”

How important are computers to human arrangements, and how large is the range of plausible computer-involved arrangements, and how much can those realized be changed? Should anyone besides programmers and enthusiasts care about software specifically, any more or less than they care about the conditions under which any tool is created and distributed? (Contrast with other tools would be good here, but I’ll leave for another time.)

The vast majority of people seem to treat software as any other tool — they want it to work as well as possible, and to be as cheap as possible, the only difference being that their intuitions about quality and cost of software may be worse than their intuitions for the quality and cost of, for example, bridges. Arguably nearly everyone has been and perhaps still is correct.

But one doesn’t need to be much of a futurist to see software getting much more important — organizations good at using software ‘eating’ the lunches of those less good at using software, software embedded in everything or designing everything (and anything else being obsolete), regulating and mediating every sort of arrangement — with lots of plausible variation as to how this happens.

Now the doubt: does future-motivated interest in software freedom share more with interest in science fiction (i.e., moralistic fantasy) or with interest in future studies and the many parts of various social sciences that aim to improve systems going forward in addition to understanding current and past ones? If the latter, why is software freedom ignored by all of these fields? Possibly most people who do think software is becoming very important are not convinced that software freedom is an important dimension to consider. If so (I would love to see some kind of a review on the matter) it would be most reasonable to follow the academic consensus (even if it is one of omission; that consensus being of software freedom not interesting or important enough to investigate) and if one cares about the ethical dimensions of software, focus instead on the ones the consensus says are important.

Two additional posts last year in which I claim software freedom is of outsized and underappreciated importance (of course I don’t usually restrict myself to only software, but consider software a large and growing part of knowledge embodying cumulative innovation, and of the knowledge economy leading to more such accumulation) and some of many from years past (2006, 2006, 2007, 2007). The first from 2006 highlights the most obvious problem with the future. I had forgotten about that post when mentioning displacement of movies by some other form as the height of culture in 2013 — one has to squint to see such displacement even beginning yet. The second isn’t about the future but is closely related: alternative history.

Uncritical Cheering

I feared that many of my posts last year were uncritical cheering (see critical cheering above and last year). Looking back at posts where I’m promoting something, I have usually included or at least hinted at some amount of criticism (e.g., 1 2). I don’t feel too bad. But know that most of the things I promote on my blog are very likely to fail or otherwise be inconsequential — if they were sufficiently mainstream and established they’d be sufficiently covered elsewhere, and I likely wouldn’t bother blogging about them.

One followup: I cheered the publication of the first formally peer-reviewed and edited Wikipedia article in Open Medicine — a journal which has since ceased publishing.

Freeway 980

I continue to blog about removing freeway 980, which cuts through the oldest parts of Oakland. Doubt: I don’t know whether full removal would be better (at least when considering feasibility) than capping the portion of 980 which is below grade. I intended to read about freeway capping, come to some informed opinion, and blog about it. I have not, but supposedly Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf has mentioned removing 980. Hopefully that will spur much more qualified people to publish analyses of various options for my reading pleasure. ConnectOakland is a website dedicated to one removal/fill scenario.

Politics

I’m satisfied enough with the doubt in my two posts about Mozilla’s leadership debacle, but I’ll note apparent tension between fostering ideological diversity and shunning people who would deny some people basic freedoms. I don’t think this one was fairly clear cut, but there are doubtless far more difficult cases in the world.

Instead of doubt, I’d like to clarify my intention with two other posts: thought experiment/provocation, serious demand.

Refutation

I fell further behind, producing no new dedicated collections of refutations of my 8+ year old posts. My very next post will be one, but as with previous such posts, the refutations will be cheap — flippant rather than drilling down on doubts I may have gained over the years. Again these observations (late, cheap) are what led me last year to initiate a thematic doubt post covering the immediately previous year. How was this one?

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).

Snowdrift.coop’s one-time crowdfunding campaign (my recent blog endorsement and others) is wrapping up very successfully. Looking forward to seeing Snowdrift.coop 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 hpp-feedback@gnu.org, 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.

Annual thematic doubt

Friday, January 10th, 2014

As promised, my first annual thematic doubt post, expressing doubts I have about themes I blogged about during 2013.

Intellectual Freedom

If this blog were to have a main purpose other than serving as a despository for my tangents, it’d be protecting and promoting intellectual freedom, in particular through the mechanisms of free/open/knowledge commons movements, and in reframing information and innovation policy with freedom and equality outcomes as top. Some representative posts: Economics and the Commons Conference [knowledge stream] report, Flow ∨ incentive 2013 anthology winner, z3R01P. I’m also fond of pointing out where these issues surface in unusual places and surfacing them where they are latent.

I’m fairly convinced on this theme: regimes infringing on intellectual freedom are individual and collective mind-rot, and “merely” accentuate the tendencies toward inequality and control of whatever systems they are embedded in. Mitigating, militating against, outcompeting, and abolishing such regimes are trivially for the good, low risk, and non-revolutionary. But sure, I have doubts:

  • Though I see their accentuation of inequality and control as increasingly important, and high leverage for determining future outcomes, copyright and patent could instead be froth. The cause of intellectual freedom might be better helped by fighting for traditional free speech issues, for tolerance, against mass incarceration, against the drug war, against war, against corruption, for whatever one’s favored economic system is…
  • The voluntarily constructed commons that I emphasize (e.g., free software, open access) could be a trap: everything seems to grow fast as population (and faster, internet population) grows, but this could cloud these commons being systematically outcompeted. Rather than being undersold, product competition from the commons will never outgrow their dwarfish forms, will never shift nor take the commanding heights (e.g., premium video, pharma) and hence are a burden to both policy and beating-of-the-bounds competition. Plus, copyright and the like are mind-rot: generations of commons activists minds have been rotted and co-opted by learning to work within protectionist regimes rather than fighting and ignoring them.
  • An intellectual freedom infringing regime which produced faster technical innovation than an intellectual freedom respecting regime could render the latter irrelevant, like industrial societies rendered agricultural societies irrelevant, and agricultural societies rendered hunter-gatherer societies irrelevant, whatever the effects of those transitions on freedom and other values were. I don’t believe the current regime is anywhere close to being such a thing, nor are the usual “IP maximalism” reforms taking it in that direction. But it is possible that innovation policy is all that matters. Neither freedom and equality nor the rents of incumbents matter, except as obstacles and diversions from discovering and implementing innovation policy optimized to produce the most technical innovation.

I’m not, but can easily imagine being won over by these doubts. Each merits engagement, which could result in much stronger arguments for intellectual freedom, especially knowledge commons.

Critical Cheering

Unplanned, unnoticed by me until late in the year, my most pervasive subtheme was criticism-embedded-in-praise of free/open/commons entities and actions. Representative posts, title replaced with main target: Creative Commons, crowdfunding, Defensive Patent License, Document Freedom Day, DRM-in-HTML5 outrage, EFF, federated social web, Internet Archive, Open Knowledge Foundation, SOPA/ACTA online protests, surveillance outrage, and the Wikimedia movement.

This is an old theme: examples from 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, and 2012. 2009 and 2010 are absent, but the reason for my light blogging here bears some relation to the theme: those are the years I was, in theory, most intensely trying to “walk my talk” at Creative Commons (and mostly failed, side-tracked by trying to get the organization to follow much more basic best practices, and by vast amounts of silliness).

Doubts about the cheering part are implied in the previous section. I’ll focus on the criticism here, but cheering is the larger component, and real: of entities criticized in the above links, in 2013 I donated money to at least EFF, FSF, and Internet Archive, and uncritically promoted all of them at various points. The criticism part amounts to:

  • Gains could be had from better coordination among entities and across domains, ranging from collaboration toward a short term goal (e.g., free format adoption) to diffuse mutual reinforcement that comes from shared knowledge, appreciation, and adoption of free/open/commons tools and materials across domains (e.g., open education people use open source software as inherent part of their practice of openness, and vice versa).
  • The commons are politically potent, in at least two ways: minimally, as existence proof for creativity and innovation in an intellectual freedom respecting regime (carved out); and vastly underappreciated, as destroyer of rents dependent on the intellectual freedom infringing regime, and of resources available for defending those rents and the regime. Commons are not merely to be protected from further bad policy, but are actors in creating a good policy environment, and should be promoted at every turn.

To be clear, my criticism is not usually a call for more “radical” or “extreme” steps or messages, rather more fulsome and coordinated ones. Admittedly, sometimes it may be hard to tell the difference — and this leads to my doubts:

  • Given that coordination is hard, gaining knowledge is expensive, and optimization path dependent, the entities and movements I criticize may not have room to improve, at least not in the direction I want them to improve in. The cost of making “more fulsome and coordinated” true might be greater than mutual reinforcement and other gains.
  • See the second doubt in the previous section — competition from the commons might be futile. Rather than promoting them at every turn, they should sometimes be held up as victims of bad policy, to be protected, and sometimes hidden from policy discourse.

The first doubt is surely merited, at least for many entities on many issues. For any criticism I have in this space, it makes sense to give the criticized the benefit of the doubt; they know their constraints pretty well, while I’m just making abstract speculations. Still, I think it’s worthwhile to call for more fulsome and coordinated strategy in the interstices of these movements, e.g., conversation and even this blog, in the hope of long-term learning, played out over years in existing entities and movements, and new ones. I will try henceforth to do so more often in a “big picture” way, or through example, and less often through criticism of specific choices made by specific entities — in retrospect the stream of the latter on this blog over the last year has been tedious.

International Apartheid

For example: Abolish Foreignness, Do we have any scrap of evidence that [the Chinese Exclusion Act] made us better off?, and Opposing “illegal” immigration is xenophobic, or more bluntly, advocating for apartheid “because it’s the law”. I hinted at a subtheme about the role of cities, to be filled out later.

The system is grossly unjust and ought be abolished, about that I have no doubt. Existing institutions and arrangements must adapt. But, two doubts about my approach:

  • Too little expression of empathy with those who assume the goodness of current policy. Fear of change, competition, “other” are all deep. Too little about how current unjust system can be unwound in a way the mitigates any reality behind these fears. Too little about how benefits attributed to current unjust system can be maintained under a freedom respecting regime. (This doubt also applies to the intellectual freedom theme.)
  • Figuring out development might be more feasible, and certainly would have more impact on human welfare, individual autonomy, than smashing the international apartheid system. Local improvements to education, business, governance, are what all ought focus on — though development economics has a dismal record, it at least has the right target. Migration is a sideshow.

As with the intellectual freedom theme, these doubts merit engagement, and such will strengthen the case for freedom. But even moreso than in the case of intellectual freedom infringing regimes, the unconscionable and murderous injustice of the international apartheid regime must be condemned from the rooftops. It is sickening and unproductive to allow discourse on this topic to proceed as if the regime is anything but an abomination, however unfeasible its destruction may seem in the short term.

Politics

Although much of what I write here can be deemed political, one political theme not subsumed by others is inadequate self-regulation of the government “market”, e.g., What to do about democratically elected terrorist regimes, Suppose they gave a war on terror and a few exposed it as terror, and Why does the U.S. federal government permit negative sum competition among U.S. states and localities?

The main problem with this theme is omission rather than doubt — no solutions proposed. Had I done so, I’d have plenty to doubt.

Refutation

I fell behind, doing refuting only posts from first and second quarters of 2005. My doubt about this enjoyable exercise is that it is too contrived. Many of the refutations are flippant and don’t reflect any real doubts or knowledge gained in the last 8 years. That doubt is what led me to the exercise of this post. How did I do?

Blog indie radio static

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

If you still blog on your own site, read Jeffery Zeldman’s encomium and leave a comment.

As mentioned previously, the IndieWeb movement is bringing blog culture and technology forward. Watch Kevin Marks’ talk (slides).

Tantek Çelik is the person to follow, e.g., a recent post with essential history.

The IndieWeb movement is tiny. I’m merely a fan. WordPress (I use the software for this blog, but the wordpress.com service is at least as important) has done far more than any other entity/project to keep recognizable blogging relatively popular. For better or worse though, WordPress-based innovation seems to largely be in the direction of tackling various Content Management System problems, and following various trends in blog-like/competitor software/services, e.g., media sharing. Viewed in a really uncharitable light, wordpress.com is competing largely by bringing the features of a silo to blogging, rather than improving the technology and culture for independent website publishing/blogging. On the flipside, the ubiquity of WordPress probably makes it the most important software for further development of the IndieWeb.

On net the dominance of WordPress is probably good, but I also want to see more crazy blog/IndieWeb software, crazy meaning taking a very different approach rather than copying WordPress without its ecosystem. For example, remember the “bliki” concept? (Of course many implementations exist, ikiwiki being fairly popular, at least viewed through the lens of Planet Debian.) A few months ago there was a thread that touched on blogging within MediaWiki. Some of the posts (which I haven’t bothered to look up) said that MediaWiki makes commenting difficult. My reaction is that needs to be fixed anyway!

Another blog technology (and a bit of culture) development of note is use of a revision control system (usually git, usually public; wikis provide a facsimile of this; WordPress stores revisions, but those are never public and I find hard to use for anything other than a first tier backup/recovery) to write/manage/publish posts, usually associated with publishing a static site/blog. I find this compelling, but as far as I know IndieWeb/blog technology beyond feeds is underdeveloped for any static site generator (e.g., a popular one).

Jason Kottke recently wrote The blog is dead, long live the blog, which includes some bits I wasn’t fully aware of…about “social media”:

Twitter is coming to resemble radio news as media outlets repost the same stories throughout the day, ICYMI (in case you missed it).

The only mega-tweeter I follow (actually on pump.io) is Glyn Moody. I noticed Moody recently started reposting the same stories multiple times. I find this pretty annoying. Note I highly recommend following Moody; one of the few people I know of who follows closely and comments intelligently on all varieties of knowledge commoning (and beyond), something I find sorely lacking in the world. Fortunately Moody publishes his tweets for each day on a blog. So now I’m following him with a blog feed reader.

I have to imagine self-reposting and general “optimization” of tweeting will lead Twitter down the path Facebook has taken, ordering posts by “importance” rather than recency. Maybe that’d be good for readers, but grants the silos more power. IndieWebber Ben Werdmuller writes “in the future we can each have our own algorithms.” Hopefully.

I occasionally blog about blogging in my blogs category. As far as I know my would-be contribution to blog culture, self-refutation, has not been copied. I intend to add a variation, perhaps annual thematic doubt, which would be far less daunting than individual post refutation.

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.

NFL IP

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

How the NFL Fleeces Taxpayers by Gregg Easterbrook is a fine article, adding to the not nearly large enough pile of articles criticizing the U.S. professional sports civic extortion racket. With a bonus explicit connection with copy regulation. I’ll quote just the directly relevant paragraphs:

Too often, NFL owners can, in fact, get away with anything. In financial terms, the most important way they do so is by creating game images in publicly funded stadiums, broadcasting the images over public airwaves, and then keeping all the money they receive as a result. Football fans know the warning intoned during each NFL contest: that use of the game’s images “without the NFL’s consent” is prohibited. Under copyright law, entertainment created in publicly funded stadiums is private property.

When, for example, Fox broadcasts a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game from Raymond James Stadium, built entirely at the public’s expense, it has purchased the right to do so from the NFL. In a typical arrangement, taxpayers provide most or all of the funds to build an NFL stadium. The team pays the local stadium authority a modest rent, retaining the exclusive right to license images on game days. The team then sells the right to air the games. Finally, the NFL asserts a copyright over what is broadcast. No federal or state law prevents images generated in facilities built at public expense from being privatized in this manner.

Baseball, basketball, ice hockey, and other sports also benefit from this same process. But the fact that others take advantage of the public too is no justification. The NFL’s sweetheart deal is by far the most valuable: This year, CBS, DirecTV, ESPN, Fox, NBC, and Verizon will pay the NFL about $4 billion for the rights to broadcast its games. Next year, that figure will rise to more than $6 billion. Because football is so popular, its broadcast fees would be high no matter how the financial details were structured. The fact that game images created in places built and operated at public expense can be privatized by the NFL inflates the amounts kept by NFL owners, executives, coaches, and players, while driving up the cable fees paid by people who may not even care to watch the games.

Easterbrook’s idea for reform also involves copy regulation (emphasis added):

The NFL’s nonprofit status should be revoked. And lawmakers—ideally in Congress, to level the national playing field, as it were—should require that television images created in publicly funded sports facilities cannot be privatized. The devil would be in the details of any such action. But Congress regulates health care, airspace, and other far-more-complex aspects of contemporary life; it can crack the whip on the NFL.

If football images created in places funded by taxpayers became public domain, the league would respond by paying the true cost of future stadiums—while negotiating to repay construction subsidies already received. To do otherwise would mean the loss of billions in television-rights fees. Pro football would remain just as exciting and popular, but would no longer take advantage of average people.

This idea would have many loopholes (team owners are excellent at extracting public subsidies even for “privately financed” stadiums), but would be a step forward. It is good to see the principle of public funding means public domain applied in new domains (it is as yet a mostly unrealized, but accepted by many activists, goal for domains such as public sector information, cultural heritage, and academic publication).

While on the topic, another mostly good recent article is Death of a sports town: What does a city lose when its pro teams leave? Oakland just might find out. Two caveats. A questionable story about a kid who sees a football player turned police officer as a role model. Any reliance on such a coincidence for role models shows just how badly Oakland and many other cities are policed — residents should be demanding performance and compliance from police such that most officers are obvious role models for youth. The article also repeats the specious claim that “pro sports are the city’s plumb line, cutting across class and race and elevation.”

While on that claim, Doug Whitfield republished my article, (original) with commentary on top:

I’m going to try something new today. Over at his blog, Mike Linksvayer dedicates his posts to the public domain. That means I don’t have to give attribution to his work, but obviously I’m doing so. I think he’s wrong that art brings all classes and cultures together. How many “red necks” or “thugs” do you see at the opera? How many women wearing Prada do you see enjoying the finer arts of graffiti or break-dancing? I also think he’s wrong about groceries. There are plenty of people that can’t afford to shop at Whole Foods (or choose not to because of their anti-union policies).

But that’s not the point. The point is that we as sports-enthusiasts need to highlight amateur athletics and player-owned and supporter-owned clubs to combat these stereotypes about athletics. Not all athletics are bad.

It is worth thinking about how sports can destroy communities and relationships though, even if you don’t think it’s happening in your life or even if the positives outweigh the negatives. Either way, please enjoy what is probably a different view than your own.

Whitfield is wrong about art and groceries. Yes, various forms and genres have fans concentrated with various demographics. But there are also huge and increasing crossovers, especially when it comes to popular art. It’s acceptable and unsurpriing for anyone to be a fan of anything. With regard to groceries, I know plenty of wealthy people who shop at Wal-Mart (or locally, Grocery Outlet) and plenty of poor people who shop at Whole Foods (or Berkeley Bowl), and even more who shop at all. Note the trend in both culture and shopping is exactly the opposite of stadium attendance — increased mixing vs increased stratification.

Whitfield is right about the point. Athletics is good. How can arrangements which do not destroy communities and increase inequality compete with the extortion racket?

Whitfield also republished a shorter article on pro sports civic extortion (original) of mine, and on another of his blogs, on post on the federated social web (original). I appreciate the experiment, which the latter is tiny bit relevant to, mentioning that blog technology (and culture) failed to compete with “social” silos, or failed to form the basis of the “social web”, depending on whether your glass is 90% empty or 10% full. One of the things blogs generally failed to compete on is “sharing” links, sometimes with brief commentary. One can do that with a blog of course, and people do, but it isn’t central to blogging.

Copy LQDN and Ada Initiative fundraising features

Friday, August 30th, 2013

A couple months ago La Quadrature du Net opened a fundraising campaign. I appreciated that they placed a very easy to understand and very revealing version of their annual budget right on their main fundraising page.

lqdn budget

This should be feasible for arbitrarily large organizations, but to maintain the revealing feature, a drill-down page may be necessary. Sure, one can criticize the choice of chart, or that this is presented as a bitmap, but those are minor details. The information is useful and revealing, and I suspect being capable (operationally and politically) to provide useful and revealing info directly is a positive indicator of organizational health. Donors to organizations that claim to stand for anything like transparency should accept nothing less.

The Ada Initiative has one day remaining in its fundraising drive (donate page). I’ve never seen a better executed blog-why-you-support-us effort. Examples below; even if they don’t convince you that blogging is relevant again, they might convince you to donate to Ada Initiative:

“Executed” is perhaps the wrong word: such strong and personal calls speak to the organization and its constituency being very clear about what the organization is trying to do and how it is doing it. Without this clarity, it is basically impossible to achieve anything but muddled and weak messages, from the organization itself, nevermind its constituency.

I don’t know how effectively LQDN’s constituency is helping it fundraise (I would not expect to, as it’d be mostly in French) nor do I know if Ada Initiative publishes any budget info (I didn’t look hard), but my point is to highlight how well each does on a particular aspect of fundraising, not to evaluate other aspects — though to repeat, I think getting either of these particular aspects right probably indicates a lot of other things are right. Copy rightness.

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.

Life in the possibly bright future of the federated social indieweb

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

After about five years (2.5 year update) it’s hard not to be disappointed in the state of the federated social web. Legacy silos have only increased their dominance, abetting mass spying, and interop among federated social web experiments looks bleak (link on different topic, but analogous).

In hindsight it was disappointing 5 years ago that blogs and related (semweb 1.0?) technologies hadn’t formed the basis of the federated social web (my pet theory is that the failure is in part due to the separation of blog post/comment writing and feed reading).

Another way of looking at it is that despite negligible resources focused on the problem, much progress has been made in figuring out how to do the federated social web over the past five years. Essentially nothing recognizable as a social web application federated five years ago. There are now lots of experiments, and two of the pioneers have learned enough to determine a rewrite was necessary — Friendica→Red and the occasion for this post, StatusNet→pump.io.

Right now is a good time to try out a federated social web service (hosted elsewhere, or run your own instance) again, or for the first time:

My opinion, at the moment: pump.io has the brightest future, Diaspora appears the most featureful (inclusive of looking nice) to users, and Friendica is the best at federating with other systems. Also see a comparison of software and protocols for distributed social networking and the Federated Social Web W3C community group.

The Indie Web movement is complementary, and in small part might be seen as taking blog technologies and culture forward. When I eventually rebuild a personal site, or a new site for an organization, indieweb tools and practices will be my first point of reference. Their Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere and Publish Elsewhere, Syndicate (to your) Own Site concepts are powerful and practical, and I think what a lot of people want to start with from federated social web software.

*Running StatusNet as I write, to be converted to pump.io over the next hours. The future of StatusNet is to be at GNU social.