31 May 2006

Hats Off for Ofcom

Ofcom (Office for Communications), the regulator for UK communications industries, is a grey and rather amorphous body. So it comes as something of a surprise to find that Ofcom is getting positively right-on when it comes to open spectrum - the unlicensed part of the electromagnetic spectrum that has given us things like WiFi, and which potentially could see a tremendous blossoming of ideas, given half the chance.

One step in the right direction is the latest report looking into whether it might be possible to increase the maximum permissible power used in parts of the unregulated spectrum - which would also permit new uses. (Via OpenSpectrum.info.)

The Hive Mind Buzzes - and Stings

The Bubble Generation Strategy Lab (there, and you thought it was just a blog) was recommended to me by Chinesepod's Ken Carroll. It's interesting stuff, but I must confess a certain ambivalence.

Clearly this Umair is a bright chap, it's just that occasionally I cannot understand a word he is saying - and this is not a problem I normally have with, well, much.

On the other hand, some of his postings are right on the button. To wit: this one, on the "New Bourgeoisie". Or is it just because he has the guts to criticise the otherwise untouchable la Dyson?

Shock! Horror! Macro Viruses for OSS

This explains why macros are generally a bad thing to use in word processors or spreadsheets (yes, I know they can be useful, too). It is also a warning to OSS activists not to hit the "OSS is immune to viruses" button: it may be true now, but it sure won't be in the future as OSS enters the mainstream. (Via LWN.net).

Open Nanotech

Normally I wouldn't pay much attention to this story about producing mechanical components with industrial printers:

the company builds components by piling thin, patterned layers of ceramics, metals and other materials on top of each other and curing the individual layers as the structure takes shape.

These printed components, which consist of hundreds of layers, can also contain fully integrated moving parts, hinges or sealed air chambers.

What leant this otherwise routine piece of nanotech fluff some interest was a comment made last night by Alan Cox, for a long time de facto number 2 of the Linux kernel, and still very much a big cheese in the open source world (and a nice bloke too).

He was speaking at a question and answer session arranged by the British Computer Society's Open Source Specialist Group. Also present was Mark Taylor, founder and President of the Open Source Consortium, very plugged-in and switched-on, and a coder-turned-lawyer called Andrew Katz, whom I'd not met before.

Alan mentioned the idea of printing arbitrary objects one day, in exactly the manner described by the C|net piece above. I asked him whether he'd been talking with Michael Hart, the founder of Project Gutenberg, who espouses similar ideas rather more fervently - indeed, he says that Project Gutenberg's open content is only the start of the the next industrial revolution, when everything - as in every kind of analogue object - will be downloadable and printable.

When two such different individuals have a blue-sky vision so similar, it makes you stop and think.

It's worth noting that open nanotech will have a huge advantage over proprietary versions, since the whole benefit from the technology will be putting together microscopic elements to build something useful. If each sub-part is proprietary and/or patented, it will be a legal minefield. If the elements are open and patent-free, the only limit is your imagination.

Half-Open, Half-Closed

This isn't really open source, but it seems to me that the underlying idea has much in common with the open source development process - call it half-open (or half-closed). Here's TechCrunch's explanation:

Utah-based Logoworks, which just relaunched a major new user interface, has an innovative and inexpensive way of creating corporate and other logos for customers. They outsource the project to interested and pre-approved designers who come up with design concepts. You then pick the concept you like best and iterate from there. Designers are paid bonuses based on having their designs chosen, and so a very efficient and competitive market is created around each logo creation project.

Although TechCrunch frames this in terms of the "competitive market", I prefer to think of it as a Darwinian selection process that is akin to what happens with the larger open source projects. In any case, it's an interesting application of that idea in a general commercial context.

30 May 2006

We're All Content Creators, Now (Well, Almost)

The Pew Reports are invaluable for their independent, irreproachable findings. So when the latest one says that 35% of US Internet users have posted content, you'd better believe it. One third down, two thirds to go.

Clueless or What?

You might think this is a typical non-sequitur laden piece of cluelessness about open source. But one of the ever-watchful readers of LWN.net points out the interesting tidbit that the author "previously worked as policy researcher for Microsoft’s Geopolitical Policy and Strategy Group". Now there's a coincidence.

The Future of Free Information

I've written a couple of times about the emerging Digital Universe - an attempt to do Wikipedia "properly", with grown-up editing. Now the man partly behind both Wikipedia and Digital Universe has written a fascinating essay considering the Future of Free Information.

One thing I'd take exception to is his belief that there will never be public information about every single living (and dead) human: since it's possible - indeed only too easy as technology advances - it's almost bound to happen, probably automatically. The other is the idea that

It seems unlikely that all of the world’s information will be open content in the future; as long as authors, artists, and coders perceive no other viable model but traditional intellectual property to support their work, many of them will be opposed to simply “giving away” their work.

We shall see. (Via Open Access News.)

Blogging with Style

Well, more blogging in the style of the Telegraph: this is their blogging guide, which they've kindly made available. And well worth reading too: you can't have too many of these, since they represent a kind of group wisdom as help and hints get passed around. (via Open (finds, minds conversations).)

Vote, Vote, Vote for the EU Parliament

After voting out software patents, the EU Parliament has proved its worth again. It asked the European Court of Justice to block an agreement between the European Commission, EU governments and the US whereby European airline passenger data is meekly handed over to the US authorities, and the wise old court has agreed.

This could get very interesting.

28 May 2006

The Decline and Fall of Microsoft

This sounds like a trivial story: morale among workers at Microsoft is low. So what? you may ask.

But this is how the company will be defeated.

Not by the continuing rise of open source rising, not because local and national governments refuse to buy its over-priced, under-performing products. Simply because, like all empires, it will sink down under the weight of its own corporate infrastructure into a kind of vast, irresistible lethargy, unable to summon up the power to fight these and other threats, unable to motivate its workers to produce anything of any real value.

Microsoft will never be destroyed; it will just fade away.

GPL'ed Java

I see that Jonathan is still trying to impress me with tantalising hints that he may take Java open source using the GPL.

Wiki + Google Maps = WikiMapia

As I've said before, every good mashup needs a mesh, and you can't beat a map as a mesh. So here we have the obvious next step: a wiki based on the mesh of Google Maps - WikiMapia, which describes itself modestly as "a project to describe the whole planet Earth". Not much there at the moment, so you know what you have to do.... (Via C|net).

27 May 2006

The Bloggable is Political

An interesting story in the New York Times that hints at how gobbets of the blogosphere may be starting to emerge blinking into the strange world of meatspace, with potentially important political ramifications.

BloodSpell - For Openness' Sake

Another film released under a Creative Commons licence - but this one with a twist. It's made using the Machinima framework - a kind of virtual world production. It's dead clunky now (think old videogames), but it's not hard to see where this is going: completely realistic virtual worlds that unfold according to scripts with actors capable of independent action, all filmed with free camerawork. Hollywood won't know what hits it.

All it needs now is a fully open-source platform. Unless one already exists - my ignorance of this fascinating world is such that it might well do, but I couldn't find one. (Via OpenBusiness.)

Now It's Larry's Turn

I'm not a great fan of market research companies, but these studies certainly sound eminently sensible to me. No wonder Larry's desperately trying to crash the open source party.

Microsoft's War on Two Fronts

Not content with making itself look ridiculous trying to find ways in which GNU/Linux is worse than Windows, Microsoft has now decided it wants to look doubly silly by calling the OpenDocument Format "slow" compared to its own office format. Read the article for why this is an extremely desperate thing to do.

SuperOyster, Cybertout, Queue-Trolls

Well, perhaps it was inevitable, given the online Klondike rush to devise "monetizations" of god knows what: someone has come up with a way for people to buy and sell positions in a queue.

But aside from giving the rich even more ways to push ahead of the little people, the inevitable result of this approach will be thousands of cybertouts joining queues purely with a view to selling their positions to those with more money than morals.

If you want to see a practical example of the commons destruction this wanton "monetization" causes, just take a peep at the domain name system. This used to be about people buying domains to use; now it's mostly about guessing which names others will want, buying them first, then trying to flog them for exorbitant prices - thereby adding precisely nothing to the ecosystem.

A bit like patent trolls, really. Now, there's a coincidence. (Via TechCrunch.)patent trolls, queuing,

How to Save the Commons: Compute

There aren't many commons bigger than the atmosphere, nor one whose existence in something near its present state is so critical to our own survival. But in the face of the indisputable scientific consensus that global warming is taking place, it is hard to know what to do.

Well, short of rugby-tackling your elected representatives to the ground and refusing to let go until they do something about the climate crisis, you might at least join this project. It's pretty standard distributed computing stuff: your PC (Windows only, alas) does calculations in the background during idle time, and contributes its bit(s) to the greater whole - in this case making more accurate predictions about climate change.

It hardly requires much commitment from you, just a quick download, plus some electricity (pity that the latter will make the global warming worse). In fact, it's worth taking part just to get the ultra-cool screen-saver, which shows your model - your earth - and its climate, evolving before your very eyes.

Are O'Reilly Still Really the Good Guys?

Apparently not.

Update 1: See Jack Schofield's wise words on the matter.

Update 2: And this is Tim O'Reilly's response. Dunno: seems a bit hectoring, to me.

Welcome to the 20th Century

Region coding on DVDs is an old throwback to when the world was disconnected, and different parts of it could go their merry ways. But since the arrival of that curious thing called the Internet, we all live in the same county, which makes country codes pointless.

Alas, somebody forgot to tell the DVD Forum, who look likely to push through the same stupid approach for HD DVDs. Good job nobody is buying them. (Via the Reg.)

Google Does Picasa for GNU/Linux...Almost

In the light of an earlier post wondering whose side Google was really on, the news that it has come out with a GNU/Linux version of its Picasa image management tool is interesting - particularly because of the way it has chosen to do it.

Rather than release a completely re-written version for the GNU/Linux platform, it has chosen to "cheat" by using WINE, which lets it employ the Windows code that is then mediated by WINE. So while it's good to have Picasa for GNU/Linux, it would have been nicer to see Google going all the way, rather than cobbling together this makeshift version.

However, to be fair, Google's decision has resulted in some patches for WINE, which may well help other porting projects. Apparently, a GNU/Linux version of Google Earth is also coming, but this won't be using WINE. (via Ars Technica.)

25 May 2006

A Quantum Mechanic Writes

How could anyone fail to love a project called Dirac? It's named after one of the most modest of quantum mechanics' pioneers. He once said that he was fortunate enough to have found himself amidst the Golden Age of quantum mechanics, when even second-rate minds could make first-rate discoveries.

If you're uncertain what this all means in practice, try this:
Dirac is a video codec that provides general-purpose video compression and decompression tools comparable with state-of-the-art systems.

All distributed under an open source licence by those kind people at the BBC.

24 May 2006

A Tiny Victory?

This is all deeply abstruse stuff, but the bottom line is that there seems to be a glimmer sanity in the European Commission's attitude to the European patent system, in the clash between the competencies of the European Union and the European Patent Office (which have little to do with each other), and even with regard to the patentability of software. Or are we being too optimistic?

Open Filmmaking

After collaborative books, here comes collaborative filmmaking. A film in 28 parts, made by 28 different groups, the whole released under a CC licence. (Via eHub)

Creators' Rights in the Digital World

As something of a "IP minimalist", I obviously need to think about how creators are rewarded for their work in a world with little or no copyright. This post offers some possible answers, and links to an interesting document (available as both an HTML or PDF file).

The latter is by no means perfect - some of its facts are wrong - but it provides an excellent recent history of interwined worlds of open content and copyright, as well as plenty of links to important further materials. (Via LXer.com).

23 May 2006

The Future of the Book?

The site Institute for the Future of the Book is certainly pushing the concept of the book hard in an effort to explore the idea and related issues. For example there are blog posts about a vaguely open content book, real collaborative fiction, even some thoughts on Linux kernel development. But the really interesting stuff is to be found in the site's projects.

There's Sophie, an open source, multimedia, interactive authoring tool (not out yet), and there's The Gates, which attempts something I've also fantasised about: gathering together and somehow amalgamating thousands of images of a particular place and event to create a kind of vast, multi-dimensional tapestry of people's memories.

It's based on Flickr (of course), but clearly requires something more: a new kind of tool for building such a open, collaborative work. The ideas for this are sketched out here. Fascinating.

Pin the eTail on the eDonkey

I thought that the Germans were tech-savvy, and then they go and do this. Still, people must be relieved that there is so little crime in Germany that their police have nothing better to do than acting as the heavy mob of the "entertainment" industry.

Strange, though, that eMusic is doing so well despite that fact that its music is completely defenceless in the face of cutlass-wielding piratical types, while the German recording industry, which spends most of its time trying to protect its monetized corporate intellectual property assets - sorry, music - fares so badly. Now, why could that be? (Via TechDirt.)

Eee by Gum: Now That's What I Call (e)Music

This Ars Technica article makes a good point: that Apple's refusal to license its DRM system means that only non-DRM'd music can be sold by anyone other than Apple to iPod users, now the largest slice of the digital music sector. And that's just what eMusic has done with great success: it claims to be the world's number retailer of downloadable music.

What particularly interested me is that among its million tracks are many from the Naxos catalogue. Naxos is the biggest-selling classical label, and by no means just cheap and cheerful, even if it started out that way. It now has an enviably-wide collection that includes many rare and obscure masterpieces, with more being added all the time.

No DRM, reasonable prices (25 US cents or under per track) and an increasingly good classical catalogue: bravo, eMusic.

More "Piracy" Poppycock

The Business Software Alliance has published another of its misleading propaganda efforts directed against the threat of so-called "piracy". It claims that a quarter of the software used in the UK is pirated. Now, I'd be willing to bet that this "research" doesn't take into account the growing use of free software, which can't be pirated, by definition. There are two ways in which this would affect the the 25% figure.

One, is that including free software reduces proportionately the share of closed software, which therefore makes the level of "piracy" go down too. Similarly, if any open source software is included in the overall total, so-called "pirate" copies may well include copies of free software that have not been bought - which are therefore perfectly legal, and should not be included in the "piracy" figure.

Aside from these methodological issues, there is an even bigger problem with the BSA document. From the BBC report on the story:

The impact of pirated software was felt very widely, she said, as it took cash out of the UK's technology culture and stunted money available for innovation.

"This is a serious issue. It's not affecting just businesses but everyone down the line," she said.

She added that reducing piracy significantly would mean a boost for the UK economy.

This is of course, complete poppycock and balderdash. Any extra money obtained would go straight into Bill Gates' pockets, and would do very little for the local economy. Indeed, cynics might argue that "piracy" is actually good for the UK's economy, since it reduce imports and hence outflows of cash. Personally, though, I'd just like more people to use free software so that the entire pseudo-issue of "piracy" disappeared.

22 May 2006

Microsoft is Virtually into Virtualisation

This story about Microsoft moving deeper into virtualisation is interesting for a number of reasons. First, because it reveals one of the worst names for a product that I've heard in a long time:

Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager

If you think about all these grey terms too long, your brain begins to deliquesce.

It also contains a good summary of the current state of play in virtualisation:

Virtualization, which today generally refers to the ability to run multiple operating systems simultaneously to make a computer more efficient, is a hot area and one in which Microsoft lags rivals. Even as Intel and Advanced Micro Devices add virtualization hardware support to make the technology mainstream, market leader VMware is exerting price pressure on Microsoft while the Xen project is giving rival Linux a major lead over Windows.

But one thing it doesn't explore - and which will be interesting to follow - is that fact that there are some very interesting licensing issues here. With open source, there's no problem: you want to bung 83 virtual copies of GNU/Linux on a box, you go ahead. But if you do that with Windows, do you have to pay for one copy, or 83...?

SOA, Web 2.0, SaaS, and...?

There's a fine flurry of activity in the blogosphere at the moment, dissecting the relationship - and occasional antagonism - between two great buzzphrases: Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) and Web 2.0.

Both draw on the older SaaS idea - that software is provided as a service across the network, with the twist that the software services are now merely components of a larger, composite application - a mashup of sorts.

But what seems to be overlooked by many is that all these ideas were first explored by free software. Or rather open source, since it was Linus who really refined them: Stallman may have come up with the idea of free software, but the defining development methodology evolved in Linus' Helsinki bedroom.

Indeed, it was the isolation of that bedroom, where the Internet was the only connection to the growing band of hackers that rallied around the Linux kernel, that helped drive that evolution.

Linus had to make it as easy as possible for others to join in: this led to a highly modular structure, which allows coders to work on just those areas that interested them. It also makes the code better, because the modules are simplified, and the interfaces between them are well defined.

It allows people to work in parallel, both in terms of different modules, and even on the same module. In the latter case, a kind of Darwinian selection is employed to choose among the various solutions. Moreover, the Net-based open source development structure is flat, almost without hierarchies - archetypal social software à la Web 2.0.

21 May 2006

Blogs as...Information

Now here's a novel thought: blogs, not so much as inchoate, self-indulgent, solipsistic witterings of the socially disenfranchised, but rather, as sources of information.... (Via Open Access News.)

Hardly A Load of Old Rubbish

Not something I'm into, personally, but perhaps a variant of this Gmap mashup could be a way of oiling the process of passing on stuff you don't want, as well as that which you happen upon. (Via BoingBoing.)

20 May 2006

Hard Cheese, Wallace

Talking of legal waste of times, it seems that an anti-GPL suit has been dismissed - for the second time. Hardly A Grand Day Out, eh, Gromit?

Good News Patently Comes in Threes

I've written often enough about patent absurdities, so it's been a real pleasure to observe this last week not one, but three promising decisions that might start to undo past idiocies.

First, the US Supreme Court ruled that patent owners do not have an automatic right to an injunction that could take out another business accused of infringement. This is fantastic news, because it delivers an extremely long-overdue kick in the corporate goolies to patent trolls, whose entire business method is to use the threat of such injunctions as a way of extorting money from companies who would really rather just get on with their business.

Next, the US Patent and Trademark Office agreed to a re-examination of Amazon.com's 1-Click patent. This is an example of an obvious idea that should never have been graced with a patent, but now it seems that there is even prior art that would argue against it. A plucky Kiwi, Peter Calveley, not only dug up the prior art, but also raised some dosh to apply for a re-examination.

Finally, one of the most idiotic patents given in recent years - for pretty much the entire idea of e-commerce, would you believe it - has finally been declared invalid. There's bound to be an appeal, but at least sense is starting to seep into the septic tank that is US patents.

More Moore

There's an interesting discussion going on about the cost of film-making - and whether we are likely to see huge falls from the exorbitant $200 million level for typical blockbusters.

This is particularly relevant in the context of copyright, since one of the principal arguments for copyright - especially in its more Draconian forms - is that huge sums are at stake. Once the production costs are not so huge - as is the case with texts, and increasingly music - then it is possible to contemplate other ways of generating revenue without needing to sell the right to read/view materials as in the past.

As the example cited - the Star Wreck films - shows, the key to reducing costs is to do as much as possible using virtual sets, and ultimately virtual actors. Once the analogue film-making becomes digital, Moore's Law kicks in, and things just get cheaper and cheaper.

This is already evident in children's cartoons, many of which are computer generated. Similarly, many major films depend heavily on computer-generated special effects. Both of these just get better all the time - presumably for the same up-front costs.

19 May 2006

Sweet News for Sweden - But Not Only

A programme to promote open access in Sweden might seem of interest only to Swedes (or those who like to read Swedish academic papers), but it's actually good for everyone. Because, like open source, the more open access there is in the world, the greater the momentum behind the idea, and the more open acess there is.

As I've pointed out before, the opens are truly additive. Whereas traditional competition is just winner takes all, and losers get nothing, open endeavours are both winner takes all and everyone's a winner.

The Meaning of Jahshaka

I'm no expert on video editing, but the new version of Jahshaka looks pretty cool to me. Apparently, it's

[t]he worlds first OpenSource Realtime Editing and Effects System. Jahshaka takes advantage of the power of OpenGL and OpenML to give its users exceptional levels of performance. We currently support Linux, OsX, Irix and Windows, and Solaris is on the way! Jahshaka is licenced to the public under the GNU GPL agreement.

For those better qualified than me, there are features, screenshots and a gallery available.

What interests me most about Jahshaka is that fact that open source is moving into yet another area that has traditionally been a bastion of closed, proprietary programs.

Also worthy of note is that Jahshaka is yet another free program that runs on plenty of platforms, as the above quotation indicates. One of Windows' dirty little secrets is that it runs on one and only one platform.

Opening up the Middle Kingdom


The China Open-Source Software Promotion Union (COPU), a government-backed industry group, has established a think tank comprised of 19 prominent open-source executives from overseas to develop a framework for better international cooperation.

Linus Speaks

Linus rarely gives interviews (I hit very lucky some ten years ago). So this one, on CNN, is something of a rarity. Nothing new, but it's not bad as an intro to the man and his methods. (Via LXer.)

More Ineffable Microsoft FUD

It's always fun to track Microsoft's latest contortions when it comes to open source. I've described its past efforts elsewhere, and here's the latest:

Some people want to use community-based software, and they get value out of sharing with other people in the community. Other people want the reliability and the dependability that comes from a commercial software model.

Rather below par, I'd say: Microsoft reliable, dependable? As in reliably bug-ridden and dependably vulnerable to viruses?

They Call It Life, We Call It Lies

There's an interesting trend in the naming of institutes these days.

We have things like the Institute for Software Choice, "a global initiative promoting neutral government procurement, standards and public R&D policies for software!" Strange that this organisation didn't exist and push for choice when Microsoft utterly dominated government procurement, and really strange that the Institute's pronouncements all implicitly seem to be calling for more Microsoft products, and less of that horrible open stuff.

Because, you know, when something is truly open, you have no choice, because you could choose anything, which is clearly impossible, since you must choose something, so the whole thing's a contradiction anyway. Whereas with Microsoft's closed software, you are guaranteed to have just one, easy choice: Microsoft. So that's much better.

And then we have the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), "advancing liberty - from the economy to ecology". Well, you can probably guess how they are going to advance ecological liberty: that's right, by promoting the wonders of carbon dioxide.

You see, as this charming, down-to-earth video from the CEI indicates, all this global warming stuff is pure alarmism. The video proves this by showing two reports that global warming is threatening our planet, and then negating them with two others that report ice in the Antarctic and Greenland is thickening, not thinning. So this proves this idea that greenhouse gas is causing global warming is just nonsense.

Except for the tiresome, inconvenient fact that

the consensus of scientific opinion is that Earth's climate is being affected by human activities: "Human activities ... are modifying the concentration of atmospheric constituents ... that absorb or scatter radiant energy. ... [M]ost of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas" concentrations.

This is the view of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, created in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Programme.

But maybe this is just part of the two for, two against situation that the video showed us: perhaps there are other equally impressive reports that say the opposite. Well, no: all the papers on climate change that could be found in refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003 were analysed for their views on the role of greenhouse gases on global warming. The result was clear:

The 928 papers were divided into six categories: explicit endorsement of the consensus position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals, methods, paleoclimate analysis, and rejection of the consensus position. Of all the papers, 75% fell into the first three categories, either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view; 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change. Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.

But the video urges us to ignore all this complicated scientific stuff anyway, and just to go with our hearts; as it puts it, so poetically:

As for carbon dioxide, it isn't smog or smoke, it's what we breathe out, and plants breathe in. Carbon dioxide: they call it pollution, we call it life.

What a pity, then, that logging companies are cutting down so many of the trees and rooting up the plants: but I suppose that's all part of the economic liberty that the CEI espouses.

Update 1: A little clarifying background on the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Update 2: Larry Lessig on something related that looks pretty important.

18 May 2006

What Do You Have to Hide?

Trust one of my digital heroes - Bruce Schneier - to provide a definitive rebuttal to the tired cliché trotted out by all those who would put us under surveillance: "If you aren't doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide?" Basically, it comes down to the fact that

Privacy is ... a requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect.

Read the piece for Schneier's paean to the "eternal value of privacy", as he puts it.

Open Source Management

Yes, really. Here's an excerpt:

It is open source software and its social media descendants such as wikis and blogs that are making some businesses ready to consider openness. These tools are a great start, but it's the way you use them that matters. If employers want to encourage a culture of honesty and caring in their work environment, the most important thing for employers to do is to begin with themselves.

Reasonable, no?

Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest: Doing Down the Net

I've not read the article (which is hidden behind a paywall), but judging by this choice quotation

video will become the dominant way people experience the Internet over the next five years

we seem to have a prime example of either (a) somebody who really doesn't get it or (b) somebody with a vested interest who hopes that this dangerous new-fangled Net thing that risks making people do rash things like thinking and deciding for themselves will just settle down to the nice, safe, dumb TV whose effects we have come to know and love.

Openness vs. Privacy

There's an interesting tension between openness and privacy: openness is good except when it might infringe on justifiable privacy. This makes matters of privacy, and hence encryption, a kind of obverse to openness. So legislation like the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act is something that I've followed even before it was introduced in 2000.

I hadn't realised that part of that Act - that deals with disclosure of encryption keys - was not yet in force. As this news item explains, the UK Government is threatening to make this happen, but, as usual, without really thinking it through.

The justification - of course - is the tired old one of terrorism (anybody notice how this has become a kind of continuous justification for everything these days? - You don't think people have been reading 1984 for ideas or anything?). The "argument" is that the new powers are needed to "force" those evil terrorists to hand over the keys so that PC Plod can read all that incriminating evidence, and they can do their well-deserved porridge.

So, let's consider the various possibilities.

Either these terrorists, who tend to show scant regard for human life, let alone human laws, are suddenly going to become law-abiding, and say: "it's a fair cop, but society is to blame. Here are my encryption keys," and get sent down for the 10, 20, or 30 years they would cop for conspiring to carry out acts of terrorism blah-blah-blah. Or might they possibly just say "I've lost the keys", and get sent down for a couple of years instead?

Which do you think they'll choose?

Now tell me again why we need this legislation, since the only people it can possibly affect are law-abiding citizens like you and me, not law-defying terrorists?

Update 1: Slightly off-topic, but quite.

Update 2: More stupid UK legislation that will weaken, not strengthen people's security.

And the First Shall Be Last

It is done: the last unsequenced human chromosome - which happens to be the first in terms of size and hence numbering - has finally been "completed" (to 99.4%). Even more impressive, you can actually read the full Nature report on the subject. The digital code of the human genome, of course, has always been freely available (well, since 1996).

OK, so we've got the source code of us: all we have to do is understand it. Indications are, there will be quite a few surprises.

Digital Hoplites

I'm a great believer in the idea that one day everything - but everything - will be available online in a digital form. For content that is being created now, the main obstacles are legal, not logistical. But what about all that, you know, analogue stuff out there?

This fascinating Business Week article provides the answer, granting us a glimpse of the content grunts who are doing the digital dirty work, which most us - myself included - too easily take for granted as we wheel around the wonderful Web. (Via TechDirt.)

17 May 2006

Gutenberg on Your Mobile

Here are 5000 free Gutenberg texts converted into a format suitable for reading on your a mobile. (Via The Project Gutenberg Weekly Newsletter.)

The Once and Future Lock-In

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is not going to win any prizes for excitement, but it's important: it's a matter of how companies keep all their organisational stuff these days. So this piece warning about Microsoft's attempt to lock users into its standards at the content repository level makes a good point.

And as it also points out, there's now plenty of open source ECM software out there: Alfresco, eZ Publish, Joomla, Mambo, Midgard, Plone - so there's really no reason to take the one-way road to Redmond.

Boingo Goes Open Source


Here's Boingo, which

provides software technology and roaming services that help bring the wireless Internet to the masses. The company has assembled a large and rapidly growing roaming system with tens of thousands of hot spot locations under contract around the world. Boingo also invented the world's most powerful software for discovering and connecting to hot spots and 3G wireless networks.

And here's Boingo going open source:

Boingo Wireless today announced the Boingo Embedded Wi-Fi Toolkit, an open source software package that enables developers to integrate Wi-Fi connection management to any Wi-Fi hot spot – including the more than 45,000 public hot spots that are part of the Boingo Roaming System – into small form factor devices such as dual-mode phones, VoIP handsets, mobile gaming consoles and other portable devices.

There's a great analysis at Wi-Fi Networking News on what this all means:

This open-source effort for detection and connection coupled with Devicescape’s similarly focused open-source release of its Wi-Fi authentication and encryption package could produce enormously better hotspot support in completely open projects with no connection to for-fee hotspots and in commercial projects that currently lack the finesse, exhaustiveness, or ease of either Boingo or Devicescape’s packages.

What's happening is that all the pieces are starting to fall into place for true, open wireless connectivity, as the open mantra takes over yet another conceptual domain. But more of that anon....

For now, let's just say "wow".

Micropayments? - Just Ask Millicent

Here's an interesting idea for academic publishing: micropayments as an alternative to standard subscriptions or open access. There's just one problem: micropayments have persistently failed to take off. Just look at what the W3C page on the subject says:

W3C has closed its Ecommerce and Micropayment Activity

and I don't think it was because of overwork.

Or take Digital's Millicent. I wrote about this in April 1997, when it looked highly promising. Afterwards, nothing happened, despite its evident cleverness. Today, the Millicent site is still listed on the W3C micropayments page, but so far has steadfastly refused to answer my insistent calls....

Burnished Sun Kisses Pullulating Earth

There are currently two main GNU/Linux distributions for business: Red Hat and SuSE. So it is perhaps no surprise that Sun, which badly needs to start pushing the free operating system if it wants to play in world of open source enterprise stacks, should choose something else entirely - Ubuntu, to be precise.

This makes a lot of sense: in doing so, it guarantees that it will be the senior partner in any enterprise developments, and ensures that it is not drawn into the orbits of IBM (with Red Hat) or Novell (with SuSE).

It also has bags of potential in terms of branding. Ubuntu is famous for its "I am what I am because of who we all are", as well as its tasteful mud-brown colour scheme. Now, imagine an enormous, burnished sun rising majestically over the rich, dark pullulating earth....

Update 1: Interesting interview with Mark Shuttleworth on the enterprise-level Ubuntu.

Update 2: Further confirmation of the alliance: Ubuntu running on Sun's Niagara servers.

P2P Pence

A clever idea: using P2P networks to connect borrowers and lenders, spreading the costs and risks across a distributed, people-based banking pool. What's interesting, of course, is that if this ever took off it would reduce the power of established banks - and the financial system based on them - considerably. There are, though, clearly lots of risks and uncertainties in the approach which may stifle its growth.

Two companies are mentioned in the article: Zopa, which is British, and Prosper, which is American. (Via Slashdot.)

Distant Thunder - from Space

Well, it was bound to happen:

The recording industry sued XM Satellite Radio on Tuesday over its new iPod-like device that can store up to 50 hours of music for a monthly fee, sending to the courts a roiling dispute over how consumers can legally record songs using next-generation radio services.

Time and again, a new technology that allows users to do something novel with content gets attacked by the self-appointed guardians of the sacred copyright flame - and the users' desires and rights can take a running jump. And time and again, it turns out that the new way of transmitting, making or storing copies generates more revenue, not less: think cable television, video cassettes and - soon - digital downloads of music. I'm sure satellite radio will be the same.

If only there were somebody with half a neuron in the content industries that could learn a little from history, and help forge the future, instead of needlessly fighting it all the time. (Via IP Democracy.)

Update: It appears that those behind the new lawsuit, the RIAA, specifically promised never to do this. (Via Techdirt.)

16 May 2006

And Now - Open Telecoms

I'm not quite sure what all this means, but it sounds interesting - and has the magic "O"-word.... The details seem to suggest we're talking an open source platform for the telecoms industry - not end-users. More about OpenClovis, the company behind it all, here.

Bird 'Flu vs. Open Source, Open Data

IBM pushes all the right buttons in this announcement of an open source, open data project to predict and help stem the spread of infectious diseases - like bird 'flu.

Central to the effort will be the use of advanced software technologies, elements of which IBM intends to contribute to the open-source community, that are designed to help share information on disease outbreaks electronically and use it to predict how diseases will spread.


Ultimately, those plans could include development and distribution of more effective and timely vaccines as IBM taps into knowledge gained through a planned collaborative initiative known as "Project Checkmate," in which IBM and The Scripps Research Institute propose to conduct advanced biological research on influenza viruses. The collaboration is designed to predict the way viruses will mutate over time using advanced predictive techniques running on high performance computing systems, such as IBM's BlueGene supercomputer, allowing effective vaccines to be developed by drug-makers, drawing on the immunology and chemistry expertise at Scripps.

Blue Gene runs GNU/Linux in part, so maybe open source will really save the world. (Via Boing Boing.)

Royal Society of Twits

So, the Royal Society has spent three years putting together a study into the "best practice in communicating the results of new scientific research to the public," and come up with 24 pages of patronising, anachronistic codswallop.

At a time when the prospect of making a large chunk of all human knowledge freely available online is at least feasible (even if there are massive forces of reaction ranged against it - but then I do like a challenge), their Royal Socships can think of nothing better than fretting over whether scientific research is the kind of stuff 'you would wish your wife or servants to read'. As if there were any choice in the matter in the age of the Internet.

The result of those three years of deep cogitation boils down to deciding, well, we'll just keep all this tricky science stuff to ourselves, eh?, and maybe feed a few crumbs to those press johnnies from time to time to keep the public quiet. After all, just because the hoi polloi paid for most of it, doesn't give them any right to see the damn results, oh no. Now, do pass the port - clockwise, mind.

The Joy of Open Source

It's well known that lots of big companies are using open source; but do they really get all this communal effort, contributing back to the pool stuff? Not according to this interesting report, which finds that most of the heavy coding is still done by the passionate solo programmers.

I can't say I'm surprised: as I found when I interviewed most of the top open source hackers for Rebel Code, at the heart of what they do is joy - no other word for it. And joy is not something you bang your shin against much in mega-corporations.

Stumbling after Stumbling upon StumblingUpon

A few months ago I, ahem, stumbled upon StumbleUpon, which I learn has just joined the growing dotcom 2.0 feeding frenzy with some six-figure angel funding.

The idea behind StumbleUpon is simple: you rate pages that other "stumblers" have found and recommended. This feeds back into the pages that are fed to you, as do other pages that you've stumbled upon independently, and rated. All standard social software stuff, with a hint of Google's PageRank thrown in for good measure.

It's a great displacement activity, and when I first stumbled upon it I spent some time wandering around other people's stumbles. Some were genuinely interesting, but as time went on, despite all my approving and disapproving, there weren't proportionately more sites that interested me, just a constant succession of occasional pages that on their own would have been mildly amusing. Ultimately it seemed that there was no pattern in the carpet, just more and more stuff - a kind of drip-feed Digg.com.

Maybe the novelty of stumbling wore off, but I fear it is something deeper: that it's not a very efficient way to find matter that is really of interest - as opposed to vaguely entertaining. For that, the usual news channels - and a judicious selection of hard-working blogs (like paidContent, whose posting told me about StumbleUpon's company of angels) - seems a far more reliably productive way to gather information and sites. To say nothing of Google's PageRank, or even Digg.com - which you can at least skim-read very fast.

So who's stumbling here: me or the stumblers?

Is the GNU GPL in Thrall to Copyright?

A fascinating commentary from a lawyer on an issue I raised in passing a little while back: whether the GNU GPL, which depends on copyright law for its enforcement, is therefore in thrall to "IP"/the intellectual monopolies that copyright implies?

Perhaps these nice people could help us out on this conundrum?

Is the Tide Turning for OpenDocument Format?

Hm, what's this: an analyst starting to say downright nice things about ODF? From the article by Ingrid Marson:

There is a 70 percent probability that ISO will not approve multiple XML document formats [i.e., Microsoft's rival to ODF], according to a research note published by Gartner last week. It also predicted, with the same probability, that "by 2010, ODF (OpenDocument Format) document exchange will be required by 50 percent of government and 20 percent of commercial organizations."

Cynical old dog that I am, these probabilities look a little rosy to me. Nonetheless, what is astonishing is not the numbers themselves, but that Gartner - never one to stick its neck out on open source - made the prediction. Maybe the tide is turning?

Update 1: Hardly a surprise to learn that IBM will be supporting ODF in Lotus Notes, but nonetheless welcome news, since it can only add to the momentum building behind the new standard.

Update 2: The Gartner document can be found here.

Update 3: And now KDE has joined the ODF Alliance.

Will Java Ever Explode?

Some fifteen years ago I found myself in a café near the top of Merapi, just outside Yogyakarta in central Java. As now, this was at a time of considerable seismic activity there, with lava flows in some places. It was a very strange experience, because I had the feeling that, at any moment, the whole thing might lift into the air.

You could say the same about Java - not the island, but the language. For years it has seemed on the brink of erupting in spectacular pyrotechnics, but it always falls back, to smoulder some more.

The obvious way of adding some deep, magmatic oomph to the Java market is to release the code as open source. Once again, people are whispering about this, making Java something of a litmus test for Sun's new CEO, Jonathan Schwartz: will he, won't he? Is he, isn't he?

At least, to his credit, Schwartz has kept the blogging faith....

Update: C|Net says "Sun promises to open-source Java": me, I'd like to see the details before I throw my hat in the air....

UK Copyright Laws "Absurd"

Nope, not what I say (well, I do actually), but what the terribly grown-up and sensible National Consumer Council says. But wait, there's more:

Whether for films, literary or musical works, sound recordings or broadcasts, the length of all copyright terms should be reduced to fit more closely the time period over which most financial returns are normally made. The current campaign by the music industry to extend copyright terms for sound recordings beyond 50 years has no justification. Evidence shows that music companies generally make returns on material in a matter of years not decades. Current terms already provide excessive protection of intellectual property rights at a cost to consumers.

The full NCC submission to the Gowers Review can be found here; it's clearly written and well worth a look.

What's interesting is the pressure that is now building up on the Gowers Review to do something sensible about UK copyright. First the British music industry, and now the consumer council: who will be next? (Via paidContent.org.)

Open Access = Obvious Success

Everybody "knows" that open access is better, it's just that the proof has been, er, thin on the ground. No more. This study in the (open access) PLoS Biology offers the first rigorous examination of open access and non-open access papers in the same journal (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). The numbers indicate that open access is demonstrably better for the scientists that use it:

This comparison of the impact of OA and non-OA articles from the same journal in the first 4–16 mo after publication shows that OA articles are cited earlier and are, on average, cited more often than non-OA articles. To my knowledge, this is the first longitudinal study of a cohort of OA and non-OA articles providing direct and strong evidence for preferential or earlier citation of articles published originally as OA. It is also the first study showing an advantage of publishing an article as OA on the journal site over self-archiving (i.e., making the article otherwise online accessible).

Update: More positive news on the use of open access - caution: Microsoft Word format (via Open Access News).

15 May 2006

The Karenina Code

Never mind Da Vinci, there's clearly a deeper Karenina Code waiting to be deciphered, judging by the number of (different) spam messages I've received that use it. The latest began:

several successful shots, and in the night they drove home

Amazingly, those words are enough to identify the text, thanks to Google. Content as the ultimate index....

Magna Carta and the Commons

A spectacular riff on the Magna Carta and its relationship to the commons. Along the way it brings in "petro-violence" and the environmental ravages it entails:

woodlands are being destroyed in favor of commercial profit, petroleum products are substituted as the base commodity of human reproduction and world economic development, and commoners are expropriated.

I really must pop down to Runnymede. (Via On the Commons).

13 May 2006

The Knaves or the Fools?

Old news, but I've only just caught up with it. According to the EUobserver:

US authorities can get access to EU citizens' data on phone calls, sms' and emails, giving a recent EU data-retention law much wider-reaching consequences than first expected, reports Swedish daily Sydsvenskan.

It is hard to decide whom to despise more: the knaves for having the bare-faced cheek to ask for this information, or the fools for supinely agreeing to give it. And someone has a taste for deep irony:

EU and US representatives met in Vienna for an informal high level meeting on freedom, security and justice where the US expressed interest in the future storage of information.

Make that "lack of freedom, insecurity and injustice". Details of the sordid episode can be found at Statewatch.

A Different Perspective

As part of my random reading around the Web, I came across this site. For once, what caught my attention was not the espousal of "Open Innovation" at the bottom of the page, but the image at the top.

It's only small part of a well-known scene; I wonder why they chose it. Is there a hidden message there, perhaps - how, despite all this terribly deep and clever stuff we deep and clever chaps rattle on about, the dogs go on with their doggy life?

The Logic and Logistics of Open Source Support

It's widely accepted that one of the biggest remaining obstacles to the uptake of open source solutions within companies is the lack of support, whether real or simply perceived. So here comes OpenLogic, with its new way of tapping into the hackers who write the code to sort out the logistics of providing high-quality support: the OpenLogic Expert Community.

Sounds great. Except for one thing: LinuxCare tried more or less the same idea during dotcom 1.0. Didn't work then, and now...? (Via Enterprise Open Source Magazine.)

The Holy Grail: DHTML-based OpenLaszlo

For a long time I have been fulminating against Flash, which seems to be spreading across the Web like some latter-day Black Death. Anathemata are one thing, but alternatives are even better; and today, somewhat belatedly, I have come across the Holy Grail of rich Internet apps: a DHTML-based solution.

It's called OpenLaszlo, it's open source (as its name implies), and it's pretty cool. The DHTML stuff is still at an early stage, but there is a demo. Now, all I have to do is get a few billion Web pages to convert.

12 May 2006

The Barcode of Life

Since DNA is digital information, it is, essentially, a number. A very, very, very big number. And because nearly every cell in a living thing contains the same genome, unique to the individual (leaving aside twins etc.), in principle this means that every being is barcoded in every cell.

Of course, in practice, this isn't much help, since sequencing is still pretty costly. But we don't need all those several million/billion DNA letters to barcode life: a few hundred will do, if chosen judiciously.

That's precisely what the group with the wonderfully literal name of "The Consortium for the Barcode of Life" has come up with. This Wired report brings us up to date on the bird part of the project (there's a fishy one too) that will eventually turn every species - if not every individual - into a number. That's a later project that governments around the world will carry out as a follow-up (did anyone say ID card?).

Sign of the Times

When Microsoft adds full blogging capability to Word 2007, you know it's (a) really time to start blogging if you haven't already or (b) time to stop if you have.

Actually, this is rather a clever idea; kudos to Microsoft for thinking of it. Pity I stopped using Word after version 2 - OpenOffice.org: are we listening? (Via Ars Technica).

Facing the Music

Everybody knows the theory of right-on music labels - no DRM, let listeners try before they buy, split dosh 50/50 with the artists - but what about the practice? Find out in OpenBusiness's interview with those behind the Beatpick musical label.

Why Copyright Is Broken

When over half of those asked in a poll admit to breaching copyright law - which means the real number is likely to be much higher - there is clearly something wrong with that law. It indicates that copyright terms need to be reduced, rather increased, which is the current trend, and fair use rights made explicit and wide-ranging. Otherwise we can expect more and more to ignore the law, which is hardly good for society.

11 May 2006

Persistent Search for the Ideal? I Think Not

Baidu.com, Google's main rival in China, has launched its own version of Wikipedia (called Baidu Baike). It turns out that Baidu's name is rather poetic. According to the site:

"Baidu" was inspired by a poem written more than 800 years ago during the Song Dynasty. The poem compares the search for a retreating beauty amid chaotic glamour with the search for one's dream while confronted by life's many obstacles. "…hundreds and thousands of times, for her I searched in chaos, suddenly, I turned by chance, to where the lights were waning, and there she stood." Baidu, whose literal meaning is hundreds of times, represents persistent search for the ideal.

Alas, neither Baidu nor Baidu Baike show much evidence of that persistent search for the ideal, since they censor great swathes of knowledge. The real, warts-and-all Wikipedia has some details:

According to Baidu Baike's policies, these kinds of articles or comments would be deleted:

1. pornographic or violent articles
2. advertising
3. politically reactionary content
4. personal attacks
5. unethical content
6. malicious, meaningless content

The third point is particularly notable, as the content of the encyclopedia will have to satisfy Chinese government censors. There are no articles about the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, "六四" (literaly "six four", a common acronym for the protest), human rights ("人权"), democracy ("民主") or Falungong ("法轮功"). In fact, due to the effects of Great Firewall of China, attempts to search for these terms from some domains lead to denial of access to the Baidu search engine for several minutes, even for users outside China.

The last point is interesting. As this blog posting explains, if you cut and paste the Chinese characters for terribly naughty words like "democracy" (民主) into Baidu,

Not only will you receive no response, but you won’t be able to access the site again for a while. First-hand evidence of censorship.

Maybe we should all give it a whirl to show our unquenchable interest in concepts such as democracy: let's just call it a persistent search for the ideal.

Meta-Social Networking

Social networking sites have always seemed rather pointless to me: I mean, OK, so you've got lots of friends. And?

Maybe CollectiveX is the answer. This seems to be a social network for social networks. There's a good explanation at TechCrunch.

Not that I'd ever want to be a member of a meta-social network that would have me as a member.

OpenStreetMap Takes the Path of Stallman

There's a piece in the Guardian about OpenStreetMap's Isle of Wight effort. I was struck by this wonderful quotation:

The weekend drew around 40 people. By Monday, OpenStreetMap's founder Steve Coast estimated that more than 90% of the island's roads had been recorded. When asked if volunteers used OS [Ordnance Survey] maps, Coast says: "No. It's a taboo." Someone who did pull out an OS map was told to put it away immediately.

Which is precisely analogous to Richard Stallman's attitude when he started GNU, his project to create a benevolent Doppelgänger of the Unix operating system. This is what he told me for Rebel Code:

"I certainly never looked at the source code of Unix. Never. I once accidentally saw a file, and when I realised it was part of Unix source code, I stopped looking at it." The reason was simple: The source code "was a trade secret, and I didn't want to be accused of stealing that trade secret," he says. "I condemn trade secrecy, I think it's an immoral practice, but for the project to succeed, I had to work within the immoral laws that existed."

Google Strives for More Openness...

...says the BBC.

And about bloomin' time too: the cognitive dissonance between what the company enables externally - opening up all kinds of conversations, both human- and machine-based - and what the company enforces internally, like clamping down hard on staff who blog, is becoming downright painful.

Indeed, it will be hard to believe that Google really gets it until it starts to practice what millions of its customers already know: that the future belongs to openness.

The Digital Sum of Human Knowledge

Most of us think of open access as a great way of reading the latest research online, so there is an implicit assumption that open access is only about the cutting edge. This also flows from the fact that most open access journals are recent launches, and those that aren't usually only provide content for volumes released after a certain (recent) date, for practical reasons of digital file availability, if nothing else.

This makes the joint Wellcome Trust and National Libary of Medicine project to place 200 years of biomedical journals online by scanning them a major expansion not just to the open access programme, but to the whole concept of open access.

It also hints at what the end-goal of open access must be: the online availability of every journal, magazine, newspaper, pamphlet, book, manuscript, tablet, inscription, statue, seal and ostracon that has survived the ravages of history - the digital sum of all written human knowledge.

On the Bolivian Commons

An interesting alternative view of the recent events in Bolivia as a kind of re-creation of the commons there.

10 May 2006

Anti-ODF Stuff Turns Nasty

With his customary sharpness, Andy Updegrove skewers a particularly nasty piece of lobbyist punditry. The statement in question manages to twist the news that Massachusetts is calling for an ODF plug-in for Microsoft Office - an eminently sensible thing to do, which the open source world is keen to support - into some kind of act of desperation.

It then goes on:

the Massachusetts ODF policy ... is a biased, open source only preference policy. We believe such preference policies exclude choice, needlessly marginalize successful marketplace options, and curtail merit-based selections for state procurements. In short, they disserve citizens who demand cost-effective solutions for their hard-earned tax dollars.

This is rich. It is factually incorrect - there is no open source only preference policy; it is hyperbolic - the idea of Microsoft Office being "marginalised" is droll, to say the least, as is the idea that "successful marketplace options" deserve to have their near-monopolies preserved; and ultimately (wilfully) misses the point, which is that a truly open standard is the only way to guarantee future access to files, the only way to allow competition among software manufacturers, and so the only way to provide "choice" and the "merit-based", "cost-effective" solution the statement purports to espouse.

Digital Universe Powers Up the Earth Portal

The Digital Universe is a fascinating experiment in trying to get all the benefits of Wikipedia's distributed approach to content creation without the well-publicised hiccoughs that an open philosophy can entail.

This makes the news that the grandly-named Earth Portal, part of the Digital Universe, has acquired some high-powered UK academics for its forthcoming Encyclopedia of Earth of particular interest. Given that Encyclopedia of Earth is likely to be the first part of Digital Universe to go live, it will inevitably be regarded as a test-case for the whole project.

British Music Industry See the Light - A Bit

I've written often enough about the rapacious, egotistical, and totally unreasonable demands of the recorded music industry when it comes to copyright, so it behoves me to record when part of it seems to be doing the right thing - at least, to a certain extent.

Apparently, the guardians of the British music industry, the BPI, have actually recommended to the on-going Gowers Review of "intellectual property" that you and I be allowed to copy our own CDs and records for personal use.

Now, you might have thought you could do that anyway, but in the UK the current legislation doesn't really allow it (but that's not surprising, since it was probably drafted when music technology meant men in tights playing lutes). So, two cheers for the BPI.

Well, maybe one: its Web site is still a pretty unedifying spectacle, full of the usual veiled threats to parents over their children's use of P2P software, and plenty of fanciful avast-there-me-hearties pirate stuff. But credit where credit's due: the Gowers submission is a step in the right direction. (Via TechDirt.)

Open Knowledge Development

The Open Knowledge Foundation has some thoughts on the principles of open knowledge develoment:

Open knowledge means porting much more of the open source stack than just the idea of open licensing. It is about porting many of the processes and tools that attach to the open development process — the process enabled by the use of an open approach to knowledge production and distribution.

09 May 2006

New Life in the Bush of Ghosts

Actually, I was wrong: wikis aren't the only form of open collaborations that are thriving. Remixes are coming on strong too. As well as the mother ship at ccMixter, there's now this great offering, courtesy of two of my favourite artists: David Byrne and Brian Eno.

British "Library", National Disgrace

A stunningly good - and staggeringly depressing - article on Groklaw examines how the British Library has sold its intellectual soul for a mess of DRM'ed pottage.

Groklaw explains in appalling detail how it is now a waste of time trying to get anything digital from the BL, since it will be locked down with idiotic DRM, will require you to sign away all rights past, present and future (and those of your family, dog and local hairdresser) and probably won't work on any system not identical to the one that sits on Bill Gates' desk.

Somebody should have told the BL that you need a long spoon when you sup with the devil, but having chosen Microsoft as its "partner" (i.e. the brain surgeon carrying out the frontal lobotomy), it now cannot think straight. Worse, it wants to spread its spongiform encephalopathy to the nascent European Digital Libary.

The so-called British "Library", as we must now call it, is a total and utter disgrace to the country.

Painless Micropayments

This is nice: a system that lets you pay tiny amounts to sites as you float through them - without needing to do anything.

Nice, because it all happens in the background; nice because it builds on the fundamental assumption that people are, well, nice. (Via Bubblegeneration.)

The Elephant Has Landed

No, not that elephant, this elephant (via LXer).

Enter the Graphiki: a Wiki for Graphics

Wikis are a striking success. I don't just mean the epistemological juggernaut that is Wikipedia: there are now hundreds, perhaps thousands, of wikis springing up everywhere. And that's just on the public Web: they are also cropping on corporate intranets, though not visible to anyone outside the company concerned.

But what's striking about this rash of open collaboration is that it is all textual: there is nothing equivalent for images. Or at least until now: with the arrival of kollabor8 we have perhaps the first glimmerings of what a graphics wiki - a graphiki? - might look like.

The idea is simple: somebody uploads an image, someone else edits it and passes it on. As with wikis, the result can be an improvement, or just a mess. Occasionally, it produces something really striking. (Via eHub).

More BitTrickle than BitTorrent...

...but it's a start. Warner Bros, not always the most clueful of studios, has signed up to use the wonderful BitTorrent as a way of distributing its films and television shows. Yes, people: the peer-to-peer (P2P) file transfer protocol BitTorrent is the solution, not the problem.... (via C|net).

Update: Techdirt digs a little deeper, and points out some limitations of the deal.

08 May 2006

Now There's an Idea: Peer Review of Patents

I almost had to pinch myself for this one: the US Patent and Trademark Office has apparently

created a partnership with academia and the private sector to launch an online, peer review pilot project that seeks to ensure that patent examiners will have improved access to all available prior art during the patent examination process.

(Via Peer to Patent and Boing Boing.)

But wait: they can't possibly do this. I mean, it's so obviously sensible, and the right first step in fixing a manifestly broken system, there must be a catch. Maybe not: the full, wikified details of this potential wonder sound strangely plausible....

The EU Bottles Out

I wrote recently about the approval of ODF as an ISO standard, and how this might open the way for it to be backed by the EU. But now comes this story from Ingrid Marson: since she is usually impeccably informed, it is (sadly) likely to be true.

According to the report, for some reason the EU in the shape of the memorably-named Interoperable Delivery of European eGovernment Services to public Administrations, Businesses and Citizens (understandably known to its friends as IDABC) is bottling out of outright recommendation, and sitting on the fence instead. I just have one thing to say to the lot of them: infâmes.

How to Flaunt Your OPML

When the history of computing in the 1990s comes to be written, the name of Dave Winer will figure quite a few times. For those with long memories, he was a pioneer in the field of outliners like ThinkTank, but he is probably best known for his work on blogs, both in terms of drafting the indispensable RSS standard, and his use of pings to track blog updates.

Now he's at it again, setting up Share Your OPML.

Few will have heard of Outline Processor Markup Language (there's the ThinkTank link), but that may well change with the new site, which uses OPML to collate blog subscription lists from RSS aggregators (or similar) in order to extract higher-level information. In effect, it provides a new cut of the blogosphere, showing things like the top 100 feeds, and who the most prolific subscribers are.

In other words, it'll become another occasion for some healthy geek competition. But it does also serve a potentially more useful role by offering other feeds you might like on the basis of what you already read: think Amazon.com's suggestion service for blogs.

Interestingly, Winer describes this new idea as "A commons for sharing outlines, feeds, and taxonomy." Watch out, it's that meme again....

07 May 2006

Cluelessness in the Echo Chamber

I've already dealt with the daft idea of open source being "acquired en masse" elsewhere. I'm just surprised that it took the great echo chamber of so-called market analysis so long before chiming in on this cracked note.

06 May 2006

O Happy, Happy Digital Code

My book Digital Code of Life was partly about the battle to keep genomic and other bioinformatics information open. So it's good to see the very first public genomic database, now EMBL, spreading its wings and mutating into FELICS (Free European Life-science Information and Computational Services) with even more bioinformatics goodies freely available (thanks to a little help from the Swiss Institute for Bioinformatics, the University of Cologne, Germany, and the European Patent Office).

A Rough Cut of the Beta Book Idea

Books are lovely objects, but problematic in terms of their content - once they're published, you can't correct the errors easily. But here's an idea: publish beta versions of books, so that at least some of the bugs can be ironed out before they're published.

O'Reilly have taken the plunge, and kudos to them. One thing: given that the beta-testers are adding value, shouldn't they at least get the nascent titles free? (Via Linux-Watch.)

Get the Facts: Open Access in India

Richard Poynder offers an interesting interview with Professor Subbiah Arunachalam on open access in India, conducted with his customary thoroughness and professionalism.

What's so good about this piece is that it fleshes out all the generalities people (like me) make about how open access can be helpful for developing nations, where a huge amount of knowledge is generated, but little is let through by the traditional gatekeepers of the Western academic tradition.

This is in addition to flows in the other direction, which allow those with modest library budgets to access leading-edge research in freely-available journals like those published by the Public Library of Science.

The Law According to Wikocracy

We've had Openlaw, where anyone can contribute information to the crafting of a legal argument; now we've got Wikocracy, where anyone can edit and revise laws (via Bubblegeneration).

After Open Access

A truly fascinating piece by Clifford Lynch explores what might be possible once we have total open access to scholarly writings, and can apply computation to this mass of raw data in an unfettered way. As he points out:

The opportunities are truly stunning. They point towards entirely new ways to think about the scholarly literature (and the underlying evidence that supports scholarship) as an active, computationally enabled representation of knowledge that lives, grows and interacts with its contributors rather than as a passive archive or record. They suggest ways in which information technology can accelerate the rate of scientific discovery and the growth of scholarship. It would be a disgrace if we allowed the inertia of historic scholarly publishing practices and the intellectual property arrangements that underlie these patterns to foreclose such opportunities. Open access offers an important simplification and reduction of the barriers if its development is shaped in a way that is responsive to these opportunities, although it is certainly not a panacea in its current form.

(Via Open Access News).

Update: Don's miss this splendid interview with Lynch: I wish I were half as articulate....

05 May 2006

Curioser and Curioser

"Leaks" (yeah, right) about another new Microsoft Live service: Windows Live QnA, going, er, live soon. What's curious is that this is a version of Google Answers that is entirely open and democratic. In other words, it's a kind of cross between Wikipedia and eBay, where anybody can answer, and people rate the answers using a reputation-based scoring system. But wait: isn't Wikipedia discredited these days? Has anybody told Bill about this communistic stuff?

(And just look at all the Windows Live Betas coming through: wow, Microsoft is really moving here.)

The Meme is Spreading: Film at Eleven

Another milestone in the march of the distributed meme: a film financed by a Net-based group of 50,000 angel micro-investors: the Swarm. This takes it even beyond Elephant's Dream. Like it, the new film will be released under a CC licence that allows remixing (via Boing Boing).

Music for Grown-Ups: Open, Collaborative Pricing

Any fool can knock the music business for their short-sighted refusal to work with the Internet, rather than against it (heaven knows, I've done it myself). But coming up with constructive suggestions as to how they might make money without employing the digital ninja overkill of DRM is less easy. This makes any example of a singer/label who's not only found a way to treat the audience as adults, but is making money by doing so, a real find.

She's Jane Siberry, and old fogey that I am, I've never heard of her. But the who isn't as important as the what, which she calls self-determined pricing. Basically, you get to choose how much to pay for the music you buy. Here are the details:

Like many, I'm restless and impatient with living in a world where people are made to feel like shoplifters rather than intelligent peoples with a good sense of balance. I want to treat people the way I'd like to be treated. 'Dumbing UP' (as opposed to 'dumbing down').

NOT donations
NOT pay-what-you-can
NOT guilt-trips
NOT tests of your integrity

You decide what feels right to your gut. If you download for free, perhaps you'll buy an extra CD at an indie band's concert. Or if you don't go with your gut feeling, you might sleep poorly, wake up grumpy, put your shoes on backwards and fall over. Whatever. You'll know what to do.

FOUR choices on pop-down 'buy' button

1. free (gift from Jane)
2. self-determined (pay now)
3. self-determined (pay later so you are truly educated in your decision)
4. standard (today's going rate is about .99)

STATISTICS BAR: You can see what the paying trends are.
GIFTS: You can still send mp3 gifts to friends with any payment choice.

Aside from the wonderful maturity of this approach - and the maturity that it assumes in the buyer - the other interesting thing is that the pricing mechanism is essentially open and collaborative. By showing what others are currently paying, it sets a kind of community standard for conduct. The pressure to conform to that standard comes not from the artist - and certainly not from corporate lawyers threatening to sue you, your family and your dog into kingdom come - but from the community of your peers (peers at least in terms of the music you like).

It is this that makes Sheeba Store's experiment so important, because it can be generalised to all kinds of digital goods where there are no obvious ways to set a fair price. Open, collaborative pricing is by definition fair (at least within that particular community), it is self-generating and self-regulating.

Given the fact that the tracks are selling for non-zero sums (and that some people do pay more than the average, making up for any perceived "free riders"), the system seems to be working (at least in the short term). Now if only the established music industry were mature enough to see the sense and justice of this approach, and take it for a spin themselves....