Archive for January, 2007

Macworld Apple rumors

Friday, January 5th, 2007

Do you eagerly await confirmation of and surprises from on high, despite abuse?

You have a problem. When it comes to controlling your computing environment (i.e., much of your communication, your work, your life), you’re stupid.

Sniff the wind in Cupertino or trust those who claim to have seen top secret documents? Or read the code, developer mailing lists, wikis, , or trust those who have? Your choice.

When conformists’ slogan is “think different” (the white collar version of ““), it’s time for revolution.

Each time Macworld rolls around I remember, too late, to organize a for the occasion. Or rather mention the idea to .

I support advertising on Wikipedia

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

Wikimedia Foundation is over halfway through a . I hope that when you give you leave the following public comment:

I support advertising on Wikipedia.

Evan Prodromou summarizes a completely unwarranted controversy regarding a matching fund (bottom of page):

All fine so far, right? But a small logo in the donations notice — seen by non-logged-in users on every page of every WMF site — was considered by many Wikipedians and other WMF editors as dangerously close to the line on advertising — or over it. There have been several prominent users who have left the project because of it.

I’m not sympathetic with these folks; in fact, I’m in solid opposition. I think that Wikipedia’s huge amount of Web traffic is a resource that the Foundation is squandering. Traffic like Wikipedia’s is worth tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars in ad revenue per year. That’s money that could go to disseminate free (libre and gratis) paperback pocket encyclopedias to millions of schools and millions of children, in their own language, around the world.

It’s irresponsible to abuse that opportunity.

I strongly agree and will repeat exactly what I said during last year’s Wikimedia fund drive:

Wikipedia chief considers taking ads (via Boing Boing) says that at current traffic levels, Wikipedia could generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year by running ads. There are strong objections to running ads from the community, but that is a staggering number for a tiny nonprofit, an annual amount that would be surpassed only by the wealthiest foundations. It could fund a staggering Wikimedia Foundation bureaucracy, or it could fund additional free knowledge projects. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has asked what will be free. Would an annual hundred million dollar budget increase the odds of those predictions? One way to find out before actually trying.

In somewhat related news, Mozilla just reported 2005 financial information, showing 800% revenue growth:

In 2005 the Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation combined had revenue from all sources of $52.9M. $29.8M of this was associated with the Foundation (both before and after the creation of the Corporation). The bulk of this revenue was related to our search engine relationships, with the remainder coming from a combination of contributions, sales from the Mozilla store, interest income, and other sources. These figures compare with 2003 and 2004 revenues of $2.4M and $5.8M respectively, and reflect the tremendous growth in the popularity of Firefox after its launch in November 2004.

The combined expenses of the Mozilla Foundation and Corporation were approximately $8.2M in 2005, of which approximately $3M was associated with the Foundation. By far the biggest portion of these expenses went to support the large and growing group of people dedicated to creating and promoting Firefox, Thunderbird, and other Mozilla open source products and technologies. The rate of expenses increased over the year as new employees came on board. The unspent revenue provides a reserve fund that allows the Mozilla Foundation flexibility and long term stability.

An advertising-fueled Wikimedia Foundation could fund dozens of much needed Mozilla Firefox sized projects. And many Creative Commons (which just successfully completed its much more modest annual funding campaign) initiatives. :)

Update: Welcome Slashdot readers. The major objection to ads on Wikipedia takes two forms:

  • Advertising is profane.
  • Advertising would compromose Wikipedia’s neutrality.

A common response to the first is that those who don’t like ads can run an ad blocker. Easier still, those who don’t like ads can log in — there’s little reason to display ads to logged in users, who probably generate a tiny fraction of pageviews. But I don’t think either of these responses will satisfy this form of the objection, as it is basically emotional. Some people object to the knowledge that ads exist, even if not experienced personally. I suppose these people don’t use search engines. It’s a wonder they can stand to use the net at all. I discount them completely.

The second is completely unrealistic. How would third party text ads, e.g., via AdSense, compromise neutrality? There’s simply no vector for an advertiser to demand changes and zero reason for Wikipedians to comply. Wikipedia is not a small town newspaper beholden to the local department store, not even close. It isn’t even Slashdot, which as far as I can tell has not been compromised by years of running ads. To people with this objection: show me a community site that has gone astray due to advertiser influence.

Sponsors, “being managed by Wikipedia staff (like in newspaper ads, i.e. no uncontrolled 3rd party feeds)”, as suggested by Kuba Ober, are far more dangerous than third party ads, because then there is a vector between advertiser and someone with power at Wikipedia.

There may be an opportunity for Wikipedia to completely rethink and remake advertising, or merely compete in some fashion with what some are calling Google’s near monopoly, but now it would make tremendous sense to use AdSense or Yahoo! or both — and I suspect Wikipedia could manage to keep a greater share of revenue than a normal web publisher. Rick Yorgason mocked up what AdSense would look like in the place of the current fundraiser’s donation banner.

Slashdot commenter jklooserman summarizes objections from Wikiproject no ads:

  1. Wikipedia’s philosophy is non-commercial
  2. Ads put at risk Wikipedia’s principle of Neutral Point of View (NPOV)
  3. The information that constitutes Wikipedia is wealth for the community

I don’t see “non-commercial” in any form on the Wikimedia Foundation home page. I do see this, in large text:

Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That’s our commitment.

The next line, all bold, asks for help in the form of donations.

Much more money, hundreds of millions, would speed the arrival of that world and fulfillment of that commitment.

As above, there is no realistic scenario for ads undermining neutrality on Wikipedia.

The third objection strikes me as a non-sequitur. In any case, the point of obtaining more resources would be to increase the wealth of the community — of all human beings.

jklooserman also pointed out that there’s a category of Wikipedians who think that the Wikimedia Foundation should use advertising. Add it to your user page if you agree.

Dangerous Optimism

Monday, January 1st, 2007

I never got around to commenting on responses to the 2006 Edge Annual Question — “What Is Your Dangerous Idea?” — as most were uninteresting, not dangerous, or simply lame.

It must’ve been the question, as this year’s responses — to “What Are You Optimistic About? Why?” — make for good reading. I’ll excerpt a few that resonate with themes I go on about.

Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence:

Even the mass murders of the twentieth century in Europe, China, and the Soviet Union probably killed a smaller proportion of the population than a typical hunter-gatherer feud or biblical conquest. The world’s population has exploded, and wars and killings are scrutinized and documented, so we are more aware of violence, even when it may be statistically less extensive.

My optimism lies in the hope that the decline of force over the centuries is a real phenomenon, that is the product of systematic forces that will continue to operate, and that we can identify those forces and perhaps concentrate and bottle them.

James O’Donnell says Scientific Discoveries Are Surprisingly Durable:

But the study of the past and its follies and failures reveals one surprising ground for optimism. In the long run, the idiots are overthrown or at least they die. On the other hand, creativity and achievement are unique, exciting, liberating—and abiding. The discoveries of scientists, the inventions of engineers, the advances in the civility of human behavior are surprisingly durable.

Clay Shirky on Evidence:

We will see a gradual spread of things like evidence-based politics and law — what is the evidence that this expenditure, or that proposed bill, will have the predicted result? The expectation that evidence can answer questions about the structure of society will discomfit every form of government that relies on sacrosanct beliefs. Theocracy and communism are different in many ways, but they share the same central bug — they are based on some set of assertions that must remain beyond question.

Jamshed Bharucha on The Globalization of Higher Education:

We are all better off when talent is realized to its fullest—even if it crosses borders.

I didn’t count, but I think the subject mentioned most often was climate change, with solar power as the thing most were optimistic about. My favorite take on climate change was Gregory Benford on Save The Arctic:

So: despair? Not at all. Certainly we should accept the possibility that anthropogenic carbon emissions could trigger a climactic tripping point, such as interruption of the gulf stream in the Atlantic. But rather than urging only an all out effort to shrink the human atmospheric-carbon footprint, my collaborators and I propose relatively low tech and low expense experiments at changing the climate on purpose instead of by mistake.

If we understand climate well enough to predict that global warming will be a problem, then we understand it well enough to address the problem by direct means.

There are also several good entries on health, life extension, and also networks-will-change-publishing — but my, isn’t the last relatively boring?

One last favorite, on human enhancement, Andy Clark on The End Of The ‘Natural’:

Second, the biological brain is itself populated by a vast number of hidden ‘zombie processes’ that underpin the skills and capacities upon which successful behavior depends. There are, for example, a plethora of such unconscious processes involved in activities from grasping an object all the way to the flashes of insight that characterize much daily skilful problem-solving. Technology and drug based enhancements add, to that standard mix, still more processes whose basic operating principles are not available for conscious inspection and control. The patient using a brain-computer interface to control a wheelchair will not typically know just how it all works, or be able to reconfigure the interface or software at will. But in this respect too, the new equipment is simply on a par with much of the old.

In sum, I am optimistic that we will soon see the end of those over-used, and mostly ad hoc, appeals to the ‘natural’. May we all have a thoroughly unnatural New Year.

A highly agreeable toast.

Many of the responses contain very rough predictions, reminding me of prediction registries, an idea Robin Hanson has said would obtain 80% of the benefits of prediction markets (I doubt the number is that high) and also promoted by David Brin. I think prediction markets and registries are almost entirely complementary.

I like Brin’s point that “One advantage of registries is that they can be involuntary.” A pundit can only avoid inclusion by effectively not making predictions (which may include being wishy-washy and imprecise). I conjecture that DiscourseDB (I mentioned previously) is a model of what a prediction registry would look like — just imagine cataloging “will” rather than “should” opinions, and add evaluation.

I’m surprised that none of the responses (I could have missed one) took the (unintended?) bait offered by combining the 2006 and 2007 questions: Is optimisim dangerous?

That depends on the subject of optimism. I think people tend to be dangerously optimisic about the outcomes of authoritarian processes, including both obvious societywide authoritarianism and conscious decisions made by individuals, but dangerously pessimistic about decentralized processes, including listening to external advice at the individual level.

Via Boing Boing, Marginal Revolution, or EconLog, all of which appeared in one batch of feed updates.


Monday, January 1st, 2007

Last October I attended BoCon, an “open source arts” conference held in . I enjoyed BoCon, probably as much as any conference since CodeCon. Good mix of talks and performance, great space, and the first-time organizers (Joseph Coffland & co.) pulled it off without a hitch as far as I could tell.

I gave the first talk, covering as much open source, arts, and business related to Creative Commons as possible, slides here.

Boise musician and jack of all trades James Stevens gave a talk on “open source for musicians” based on research done for the talk. I was pleased to see that he discovered most of the major sites and tools I know of and presented them accurately.

Alex Feldman gave a talk on the history of open source, including much pre-history I was not aware of, e.g., a source clearinghouse within NASA called COSMIC, about which I could find nothing on the web. Feldman’s talk made me hope someone is documenting this pre-history.

Caleb Chung and John Sosoka of gave talks on , , and making stuff with electronics that moves generally. Animal pets only have a few generations before they are replaced by artificial pets that perform utilitarian functions in addition to providing companionship and don’t eat or produce feces.

Chung is hyper, and the world is probably a better place for it. “Art is the experimental end of design” is perhaps the most memorable quote from his talk. On the other hand, his slogan for pitching some sort of multimedia institute to Boise State is “I[daho] is for innovation.”

On that note, I have never before encountered the level of boosterism from locals that I did in Boise. They are very convinced that Boise is a place with great promise, reflected in everything from several ethnic restaurants doing well in downtown this decade to white supremicists being sued out of northern Idaho to Californians moving in. Boise does feel like a nice place. Reno sans tawdriness was my initial impression.

Friday and Saturday evenings concluded with music, including performances from Beefy, MC Router, and MC Plus+ with DJ Lord Illingworth. They seemed to really enjoy the camaraderie of physical proximity. Whoever did the programming had a very good idea.