Post Prediction Markets

Conjectured impact of Wikipedia license interoperability?

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Wikipedians voted overwhelmingly against kryptonite — for using Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) as the main content license for Wikipedias and their sibling projects, permitting these to incorporate work offered under CC BY-SA, the main non-software copyleft license used outside of Wikipedia, and other CC BY-SA licensed projects to incorporate content from Wikipedia. The addition of CC BY-SA to Wikimedia sites should happen in late June and there is an outreach effort to encourage non-Wikimedia wikis under the Free Documentation License (FDL; usually chosen for Wikipedia compatibility) to also migrate to CC BY-SA by August 1.

This change clearly ought to over time increase the proportion of content licensed under free-as-in-freedom copyleft licenses. More content licensed under a single or interoperable copyleft licenses increases the reasons to cooperate with that regime — to offer new work under the dominant copyleft license (in the non-software case, now unambiguously CC BY-SA) in order to have access to content under that regime — and decreases the reasons to avoid copylefted work, one of which is the impossibility of incorporating works under multiple and incompatible copyleft licenses (when relying on the permissions of those licenses, modulo fair use). Put another way, the unified mass and thus gravitational pull of the copylefted content body is about to increase substantially.

Sounds good — but what can we expect from the actual impact of making legally interoperable the mass of Free Culture and its exemplar, Wikipedia? How can we gauge that impact, short of access to a universe where Wikipedians reject CC BY-SA? A few ideas:

(1) Wikimedia projects will be dual licensed after the addition of CC BY-SA — content will continue to be available under the FDL, until CC BY-SA content is mixed in, at which point the article or other work in question is only available under CC BY-SA. One measure of the licensing change’s direct impact on Wikimedia projects would be the number and proportion of CC BY-SA-only articles over time, assuming an effort to keep track.

I suspect it will take a long time (years?) for a non-negligible proportion of Wikipedia articles to be CC BY-SA-only, i.e., to have directly incorporated external CC BY-SA content. However, although most direct, this is probably the least significant impact of the change, and my suspicion could be upset if other impacts (below) turn out to be large, creating lots of CC BY-SA content useful for incorporating into Wikipedia articles.

(2) Content from Wikipedias and other Wikimedia projects could be incorporated in non-Wikimedia projects more. The difficulty here is measurement, but given academic interest in Wikipedia and the web generally, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the requisite data sets (historical and ongoing) and expertise brought together to analyze the use of Wikimedia project content elsewhere over time. Note that a larger than expected (there’s the rub) increase in such use could be the result of CC BY-SA being more straightforward for users than the FDL (indeed, a major reason for the change) as much or more than the result of license interoperability.

(3) New and existing projects could adopt or switch to CC BY-SA when they otherwise wouldn’t have in order to gain compatibility with Wikimedia projects. One sure indication of this would involve major projects using a CC license with a “noncommercial” term switching to CC BY-SA and giving interoperability with Wikipedia as the reason for the switch. Another indicator would simply be an increase in the use of CC BY-SA (and even more permissive instruments such as CC BY and CC0, to the extent the motivation is primarily to create content that can be used in Wikipedia rather than to use content from Wikipedia) relative to more restrictive (and non-interoperable with Wikipedia) licenses.

(4) Apart from needing to be compatible with Wikipedia because one desires to incorporate its content, one might want to be compatible with Wikipedia because it is “cool” to be so. I don’t know that this has occurred on a significant scale to this date, so if it begins to one possible factor in such a development would be the change to CC BY-SA. How could this be? As cool as Wikipedia compatibility sounds, having to adopt a hard to understand license intended for software documentation (the FDL) makes attaining this coolness seem infeasible. Consideration of the FDL just hasn’t been on the radar of many outside of the spaces of documentation, encyclopedias, and perhaps educational materials, while consideration and oftentimes use of CC licenses is active in many segments. However, in most of these more restrictive CC licenses (i.e., those prohibiting commercial use or adaptation) are most popular. So if we see an upsurge in the use of CC BY-SA for popular culture works (music, film) the beginning of which coincides with the Wikimedia licensing change, it may not be unreasonable to guess that the latter caused the former.

(5) The weight of Wikipedia and relative accessibility of CC BY-SA could further consensus that the freedoms demanded by Wikimedia projects are some combination of “good”, “correct”, “moral”, and “necessary” — if some of these can be distinguished from “cool”. In the long term, this could be indicated by the sidelining of terms for content that do not qualify as free and open, as they have been for software, where and similar obvious competitors for important free software niches are strategically irrelevant.

Obviously 3, 4, and 5 overlap somewhat.

(6) I conjecture that making more cultural production more wiki-like (or to gain WikiNature) is probably the biggest determinant of the success of Free Culture. More interplay between the Wikipedia, both the most significant free culture project and the most significant wiki, and the rest of the free culture and open content universe can only further this trend — though I have no idea how to measure the possible impact of the licensing change here, and wouldn’t want to ascribe too much weight to it.

(7) Last, the attention of the Wikipedia community ought to have a positive impact on the quality of future versions of Creative Commons licenses (there shouldn’t be another version until 2011 or so, and hopefully there won’t be another version after that for much longer). Presumably Wikipedians also would have had a positive impact on future versions of the FDL, but arguably less so given the Free Software Foundation’s (excellent) focus on software freedom.

Will any of the above play out in a significant way? How much will it be reasonable to attribute to the license change? Will researchers bother to find out? Here’s to hoping!

Prior to the Wikipedia community vote on adopting CC BY-SA it crossed my mind to set up several play money prediction market contracts concerning the above outcomes conditioned on Wikipedia adopting CC BY-SA by August 1, 2009, for which I did set up a contract. It is just as well that I didn’t — or rather if I had, I would have had to heavily promote all of the contracts in order to stimulate any play trading — the basic adoption contract at this point hasn’t budged from 56% since the vote results were announced, which means nobody is paying attention to the contract on Hubdub.

Free Software: Foundation for a Libre Planet

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Support the Free Software Foundation. It’s good for a free planet and you can attend the just announced Libre Planet Conference, March 21-22 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, an outgrowth of the FSF’s annual member meeting.

I’m really excited that the conference will have software freedom and network services as a major focus. This will be the first public conference on the topic, following last year’s meeting from which followed the Franklin Street Declaration and

If you enjoyed my rambling call to support Creative Commons a couple months ago, you might enjoy reading Benjamin Mako Hill’s somewhat less rambling call to support the FSF.

I’ve donated to the FSF off and on since at least 1998. You should get started now, if you haven’t already. My only regret (apart from not giving every year) is still not having relevant prediction markets enabling me to be a futarchist donor. I mention that here both because it is a necessary disclaimer for me to make (my philanthropy suggestions are not based on handwaving, not consensus projected impact) and because perhaps my most highly desired free network service is a prediction market exchange. I’ll explain more another day.


Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

December 16 marked six years since the release of the first Creative Commons licenses. Most of the celebrations around the world have already taken place or are going on right now, though San Francisco’s is on December 18. (For CC history before 2002-12-16, see video of a panel recorded a few days ago featuring two of CC’s founding board members and first executive director or read the book Viral Spiral, available early next year, though my favorite is this email.)

I’ve worked for CC since April, 2003, though as I say in the header of this blog, I don’t represent any organization here. However, I will use this space to ask for your support of my and others’ work at CC. We’re nearing the end of our fourth annual fall public fundraising campaign and about halfway to our goal of raising US$500,000. We really need your support — past campaigns have closed out with large corporate contributions, though one has to be less optimistic about those given the financial meltdown and widespread cutbacks. Over the longer term we need to steadily decrease reliance on large grants from visionary foundations, which still contribute the majority of our funding.

Sadly I have nothing to satisfy a futarchist donor, but take my sticking around as a small indicator that investing in Creative Commons is a highly leveraged way to create a good future. A few concrete examples follow.

became a W3C Recommendation on October 14, the culmination of a 4+ year effort to integrate the Semantic Web and the Web that everyone uses. There were several important contributors, but I’m certain that it would have taken much longer (possibly never) or produced a much less useful result without CC’s leadership (our motivation was first to describe CC-licensed works on the web, but we’re also now using RDFa as infrastructure for building decoupled web applications and as part of a strategy to make all scientific research available and queryable as a giant database). For a pop version (barely mentioning any specific technology) of why making the web semantic is significant, watch Kevin Kelly on the next 5,000 days of the web.

Wikipedia seems to be on a path to migrating to using the CC BY-SA license, clearing up a major legal interoperability problem resulting from Wikipedia starting before CC launched, when there was no really appropriate license for the project. The GNU FDL, which is now Wikipedia’s (and most other Wikimedia Foundation Projects’) primary license, and CC BY-SA are both copyleft licenses (altered works must be published under the same copyleft license, except when not restricted by copyright), and incompatible widely used copyleft licenses are kryptonite to the efficacy of copyleft. If this migration happens, it will increase the impact of Wikipedia, Creative Commons, free culture, and the larger movement for free-as-in-freedom on the world and on each other, all for the good. While this has basically been a six year effort on the part of CC, FSF, and the Wikimedia Foundation, there’s a good chance that without CC, a worse (fragmented, at least) copyleft landscape for creative works would result. Perhaps not so coincidentally, I like to point out that since CC launched, there has been negative in the creative works space, the opposite of the case in the software world.

Retroactive copyright extension cripples the public domain, but there are relatively unexplored options for increasing the effective size of the public domain — instruments to increase certainty and findability of works in the public domain, to enable works not in the public domain to be effectively as close as possible, and to keep facts in the public domain. CC is pursuing all three projects, worldwide. I don’t think any other organization is placed to tackle all of these thorny problems comprehensively. The public domain is not only tremendously important for culture and science, but the only aesthetically pleasing concept in the realm of intellectual protectionism (because it isn’t) — sorry, copyleft and other public licensing concepts are just necessary hacks. (I already said I’m giving my opinion here, right?)

CC is doing much more, but the above are a few examples where it is fairly easy to see its delta. CC’s Science Commons and ccLearn divisions provide several more.

I would see CC as a wild success if all it ever accomplished was to provide a counterexample to be used by those who fight against efforts to cripple digital technologies in the interest of protecting ice delivery jobs, because such crippling harms science and education (against these massive drivers of human improvement, it’s hard to care about marginal cultural production at all), but I think we’re on the way to accomplishing much more, which is rather amazing.

More abstractly, I think the role of creating “commons” (what CC does and free/open source software are examples) in nudging the future in a good direction (both discouraging bad outcomes and encouraging good ones) is horribly underappreciated. There are a bunch of angles to explore this from, a few of which I’ve sketched.

While CC has some pretty compelling and visible accomplishments, my guess is that most of the direct benefits of its projects (legal, technical, and otherwise) may be thought of in terms of lowering transaction costs. My guess is those benefits are huge, but almost never perceived. So it would be smart and good to engage in a visible transaction — contribute to CC’s annual fundraising campaign.

Futarchist Voter Guide

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

Four years ago I used play money contracts traded at the Foresight Exchange to provide a Futarchist Voter Guide (though I didn’t call it that). This U.S. election cycle relevant real money contracts are traded on Intrade.

The first set was instigated and subsidized by Peter McCluskey. Two have attracted a fair amount of interest and seem to be informative. They have consistently indicated that a Democrat will result in a smaller (but still approaching US$1 trillion!) increase in the US federal government debt over one year and a smaller number of US troops in Iraq. (The others, regarding the movement of oil and interest rate futures on election day, have shown no difference between expected election outcomes.)

Above: Expected increase in US Government debt between 30 Sep 2010 and 30 Sep 2011 if party wins US presidency.

Above: Number of US troops in Iraq on 30 June 2010 if party wins US presidency.

Note that briefly in early September the contracts indicate lower debt and fewer troops in Iraq with a Republican candidate. I suspect this is due to McCain’s brief surge following the GOP convention — the implied outcomes above depend on election winner contracts, and with a much lower volume, presumably take awhile to fully respond to rapid shifts in election outcome expectations.

A second set of relevant contracts instigated by Polimetrics have unfortunately attracted almost no trading and probably tell us nothing. Note however they also reflect the brief McCain surge, at which point they implied a greater than 100% chance of growth, low unemployment, and lower crime with a McCain win. They have since reverted to showing essentially no difference between Obama and McCain. Note that each series only starts when there have been trades.

Above: Percent chance that economic growth averages 2.5% or more for 2009-2011 if individual wins US presidency.

Above: Percent chance the US unemployment rate is less than 5.0% at the end of 2011 if individual wins US presidency.

Above: Percent chance the number of violent crimes committed in 2010 is lower than the number of violent crimes committed in 2007 if individual wins US presidency.

Peter McCluskey has automatically updated pages showing implied outcomes for each set of contracts given their latest trades.

(I intended to make a page with frequently updating graphs, but got lazy when Peter published the aforementioned pages, and only collected the data until now, which is available in a spreadsheet.)

Addendum 20081103: See a slightly expanded version of this post at Midas Oracle.

October and beyond

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Friday (tomorrow) I’m attending the first Seasteading conference in Burlingame. I blogged about seasteading four years ago. Although the originators of the seastead idea are politically motivated, I’d assign a very low probability to them becoming significantly more politically impactful than some of their inspirations (e.g., micronations and offshore pirate radio, i.e., very marginal). To begin with, the seasteading concept has huge engineering and business hurdles to clear before it could make any impact whatsoever. If the efforts of would be seasteaders lead to the creation of lots more wealth (or even just a new weird culture), any marginal political impact is just gravy. In other words, seasteading is another example of political desires sublimated into useful creation. That’s a very good thing, and I expect the conference to be interesting and fun.

Saturday I’ll be at the Students for Free Culture Conference in Berkeley. You don’t have to be a student to attend. Free culture is a somewhat amorphous concept, but I think an important one. I suspect debates about what free culture means and how to develop and exploit it will be evident at the conference. Some of those are in part about the extent to which political desires should be sublimated into useful creation (I should expand on that in a future post).

October 20-26 I’ll participate in three free culture related conferences back to back.

First in Amsterdam for 3rd COMMUNIA Workshop (Marking the public domain: relinquishment & certification), where I’ll be helping talk about some of Creative Commons’ (I work for, do not represent here, etc.) public domain and related initiatives.

Second in Stockholm for the Nordic Cultural Commons Conference, where I’ll give a talk free culture and the future of cultural production.

Finally in Gothenburg for FSCONS, where I’ll give an updated version of a talk on where free culture stands relative to free software.

In December at MIT, Creative Commons will hold its second technology summit. Nathan Yergler and colleagues have been making the semantic rubber hit the web road pretty hard lately, and will have lots to show. If you’re doing interesting [S|s]emantic Web or open content related development (even better, both), take a look at the CFP.

More than likely I’ll identicate rather than blog all of these.

Fooled by common interest

Friday, June 6th, 2008

Lew McCreary, writing on the Harvard Business Review Editors’ Blog, covers two of my favorite topics (prediction markets and nipping stupidity in the bud) with How to Kill Bad Projects:

Project owners creatively spun results for political reasons—mainly to prevent funding from being yanked. Consequently, there was a gaping disconnect between the project people down at ground level and the business leaders farther up the food chain when it came to understanding how projects were actually progressing. The leaders tended to think things were going much better than they actually were.

The problem of corrupted information flows stayed with Siegel and ultimately led him to found his current company, Inkling Markets, a software-as-service venture aimed at helping companies conduct successful prediction markets. What does a prediction market have to do with eliminating spin? Siegel sees an opportunity to produce higher quality decision support in businesses by tapping anonymous input “from people who aren’t normally asked their opinions, in samples large enough to filter out individual agendas.”

In the case of an internal prediction market, employees might be asked to weigh in anonymously (wagering a sum of token currency) on a statement like this: “The Voldemort Project will meet all of its defined performance targets by the end of 2008.”

Unfortunately, the post includes just a bit of its own stupidity (emphasis added):

While many are naturally captivated by the black-swan-finding potential of prediction markets, another sweet spot may be their use as a form of institutional lie detection—guaranteeing the integrity of internal reporting and keeping the progress of business initiatives transparent.

What the heck is he talking about? I have never heard of anyone claiming that a prediction market could find — to the contrary, a black swan is almost by definition something a prediction market will fail to signal — the knowledge does not exist to be aggregated. Chris Masse quoting Nassim Taleb:

If, as Niall Ferguson showed, war bonds did not forecast the great war, it was a Black Swan

Now prediction markets and black swans both have something to do with prediction and probability, but they’re otherwise ships passing not in the night, but on opposite sides of the globe — with one in the night.

DRM strikes me as another example of people fooled by common interest, in this case of cryptography and censorshipcopyright enforcement. Both have something to do with preventing someone from getting access to information. That doesn’t make one a tool for the other (in either direction). Of course that knowledge was distributed, but apparently not visibly in the right places, resulting in lots of bad projects.

Via Inkling.

Bob Barr candidacy fails market test

Monday, May 26th, 2008

I was going to post this at Midas Oracle, but there seems to be a software problem there [fixed, edited version posted there], so I’ll post here, with added vitriol and pejoratives I would not have used there.

Yesterday at about 5:30PM EDT the Libertarian Party (U.S.) nominated ex-Congressperson Bob Barr for temporary dictator. Barr’s nomination does not appear to have been certain — it took five rounds of voting, including two rounds where he tied for first and one in which in placed second.

So what do the relevant prediction markets make of this new information? Is Barr a contender, a potential spoiler, or irrelevant?

At Intrade, PRES.FIELD2008 has attracted no trades since May 22, three days before Barr’s nomination. We didn’t need a market to tell us a Libertarian Party nominee would not be a contender, nor help the chances of another non-Democrat and non-Republican.

The idea that Barr could be a spoiler is not completely ridiculous on its face (Barr and Wayne Allen Root, his running mate, are both recent ex-Republicans). However, PRES.DEM2008 has attracted no trades since May 24, the day before Barr’s nomination, while PRES.REP2008 did not trade between 18 hours before the nomination and over 3 hours after.

I think we can conclude that traders believe Barr’s nomination will have no impact on the outcome of the U.S. temporary dictator election. And, sadly, that volume on Intrade is pathetic.

It should be no surprise that traders dismiss the impact of the Libertarian Party’s choice. The last time they nominated a marginally credible candidate — in , another (then) ex-Republican ex-Congressperson, Ron Paul — they received 0.5% of the total vote.

Regarding the Libertarian Party generally, I can’t say it much better than Tim Lee:

Ultimately, I wish the LP would just go away. The structure of American elections dooms third parties to perpetual failure and obscurity, and that, in turn, creates a vicious cycle where the most talented activists and potential candidates go elsewhere, causing the party to be even more out of touch and politically tone-deaf in the next election. But given that the party is going to nominate somebody, Barr was probably the best choice. He’s a reasonably credible candidate, he’s got decent media skills, and so far, at least, I haven’t seen him take any positions that I strongly disagree with (since his road-to-damascus conversion in 2006, anyway). But I don’t plan to support his candidacy because while he may be the least-bad option on this November’s ballot, he certainly isn’t the kind of person I want associated with libertarianism. And every vote he gets will mean more visibility for the embarrassing candidate the party is likely to nominate in 2012.

Of course Obama is elitist

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

So are Clinton and McCain. They all consider themselves worthy of the temporary dictatorship.

If I took a more sanguine view of the U.S. presidency I would demand only elite candidates. The most abominable, I mean powerful, person in the world had better be the smartest and wisest possible person available.

The alternative to demanding an elite is demanding a demagogue. It never fails to stun and embarrass me to see the preponderance of discourse demanding the latter, while politicians comply by running away from any charge of elitism while reveling in demagoguery.

This weakness is one reason I try to only follow electoral races in highly digested form, though it is hard to avoid reading headlines, thus this post.

Table selection, HSA, LugRadio, Music, Photographers, New Media

Monday, April 21st, 2008

A few observations and things learned from the last eight days.

Go to a page with a table, for example this one (sorry, semi-nsfw). Hold down the control key and select cells. How could I not have known about this!? Unfortunately, copy & paste seems to produce tab separated values in a single row even when pasting from mutliple rows in the HTML table (tried with Firefox and Epiphany). Still really useful when you only want to copy one column of a table, but if you want all of the columns, don’t hold down the control key and row boundaries get newlines as they should rather than tabs. (Thanks Asheesh.)

I feel really stupid about this one. I’ve assumed that a (US) was a spend within the year or lose your contributions arrangement, but that’s what a Flexible Spending Account is (I have no predictable medical expenses, so such an account makes no sense for me). A HSA is an investment account much like an IRA, except you can spend from it without penalty upon incurring medical expenses rather than old age. You can only contribute to a HSA while enrolled in a high deductible health insurance plan, which I’ll try to switch to next year. (Thanks Ahrash.)

I saw a few presentations at LugRadio Live USA, in addition to giving one. Miguel de Icaza’s on (content roughly corresponding to this post) and Ian Murdock’s on were both in part about software packaging. Taken together, they make a good case for open source facilitating cross polination of ideas and code across operating system platforms.

Aaron Bockover and Gabriel Burt did a presentation/demo on , showing off some cool track selection/playlist features and talking about more coming. I may have to try switching back to Banshee as my main audio player (from Rhythmbox, with occasional use of Songbird for web-heavy listening or checking on how the program is coming along). Banshee runs on Mono, and both are funded by Novell, which also (though I don’t know how their overall investment compares) has an .

John Buckman gave an entertaining talk on open source and open content (including the slide at right). My talk probably was not entertaining at all, but used the question ‘how far behind [free/open source software] is free/open culture?’ to string together selected observations about the field.

Benjamin Mako Hill did a presentation on Revealing Errors (meant both ways). I found myself wanting to be skeptical of the power of technical errors to expose political/power relationships, but I imagine the concept could use a little hype — there’s definitely something there. The talk made me more sensitive to errors in any case. For example, when I transferred funds from a money market account to checking to pay taxes, an email notice included this (emphasis in original):

Your confirmation number is 0.

Zero? Really? The transaction did go through.

Tuesday I attended the Media Web Meetup V: The Gulf Between NorCal and SoCal, is it so big?, the idea being (in this context pushed by Songbird founder Rob Lord; I presented at the first Media Web Meetup and have attended a few others) that in Northern California entrepreneurs are trying to build new services around music, nearly all stymied by protectionist copyright holders in Southern California. I really did not need to listen to yet another panel asking how the heck is the music recording distribution industry going to use technology to make money, but this was a pretty good one as those go. One of the panelists kept urging technologists to “fix [music] metadata” as if doing so were the key to enabling profit from digital music. I suppressed the urge to sound a skeptical note, as investing more in metadata is one of the least harmful things the industry might do. Not that I don’t think metadata is great or anything.

Thursday evening I was on a ‘Copyright 2.0’ panel put on by the American Society of Media Photographers Northern California. I thought my photo selection for my first slide was pretty clever. No, copyright expansion is not always good for the interests of professional photographers. The other panelists and the audience were actually more open minded (both meanings) than I expected, and certainly realistic. The photographer on the panel even stated the obvious (my paraphrase from memory): new technology has allowed lots of people to explore their photographry talents who would otherwise have been unable to, and maybe some professional photographers just aren’t that good and should find other work. My main takeway from the panel is that it is very difficult for an independent photographer to successfully pursue unauthorized users in court. With the sometime exception of one, the other panelists all strongly advised photographers to avoid going to court except as a last resort, and even then, first doing a rational calculation of what the effort is likely to cost and gain. The best advice was probably to try to turn unauthorized users into clients.

Friday evening I went to San Jose to be on a panel about New Media Artists and the Law. Unlike Thursday’s panel, this one was mostly about how to use and re-use rather than how to prevent use. This (and some nostalgia) made me miss living in Silicon Valley — I lived in Sunnyvale two years (2003-2005) and San Jose (2005-2006) before moving back to San Francisco. Nothing really new came up, but I did enjoy the enthusiasm of the other panelists and the audience (as I did the previous day).

Staturday I went to Ubuntu Restaurant in Napa, which apparently does vegetable cuisine but does not market itself as vegetarian. I think that’s a good idea. The food was pretty good.

I’ve been listening to Hazard Records 59 and 60: Calida Construccio by various and Unhazardous Songs by Xmarx. Lovely Hell (mp3) from the latter is rather poppy.

Most important political news of the day

Friday, January 4th, 2008

I’m fairly satisfied with the results of last night’s Iowa caucuses, though I wish the loathsome Edwards had done poorly enough to drop out. (By the way, although I stated my preference for Richardson and effectively for Obama a few days ago, I had forgotten that I already did the same back in March).

Far more important and satisfying is the launch of real money presidential decision markets today. Hooray for Peter McCluskey! I’m sure I’ll have much more to say about this.

There were play money presidential decision markets in 2004.