How about for these reasons?
- In Georgia, most library management systems are available in English or Russian… any student of eastern European politics will understand why Georgians don’t want to use a Russian-language tool. Open software can be translated and adapted into different languages.
In Bhutan, there’s a great desire to preserve the local language - Dzonghka - against the encroachment of Mandarin Chinese. Local authorities wanted a Dzonghka version of Windows, and raised some money to demonstrate a market for the software, but weren’t able to persuade Microsoft to create the product. But it wasn’t difficult to localize Linux, and there’s now Dzongkha Linux, with support for Open Office, GAIM, Mozilla and other key pieces of software.
- There’s a strong desire in developing world libraries to put digital collections online… which suprises many library professionals in the developed world, as they’re just moving towards digital collections now. Sadler quotes a Ghanaian librarian: “Students in Ghana can view artifacts from Britain more easily tha they can artifacts from their own heritage.” Open source software systems like Greenstone are allowing libraries to scan and preseve documents and share them online. There’s a hope in the future for a pan-African digital library which will allow libraries across the continent to share their resources.
31 January 2008
How about for these reasons?
Much of the power and popularity of Firefox and, to a lesser extent, Thunderbird, come from their addons. This shows just how powerful and popular:
Earlier this week, [addons.mozilla.org] served its 600 millionth add-on download. That’s original downloads, not including updates. We currently have over 4000 add-ons hosted on the site and between 800,000 and 1 million downloads every day. The site has around 4.5 million pageviews per day, not including services hosted on AMO such as update checks and blocklisting.
AMO now receives around 100 million add-on update pings every day, which means that of those 600 million downloads, about 100 million add-ons are still installed.
Amazing Mozilla. (Via Mozilla Links.)
One of the many arguments against patenting software is that it's as stupid as copyrighting language: if you did that, nobody could talk without getting sued. Similarly, thanks to the essential nature of software algorithms, nobody can program without infringing on something.
It seems that we may need to revise that example of ridiculousness:
Last year, in an attempt to wrestle a few pennies of the GST from the tight-fisted grip of the federal government, the City of Toronto launched a snazzy public relations campaign under the banner “one cent now.”
Unfortunately, before they could enjoy the fruits of their labour, they were slapped with a cease-and-desist order by the Royal Canadian Mint.
The dispute was over the phrase “one cent.” It turns out it is not in the public domain. For the privilege of using it, the City of Toronto needed to pay the mint more than $47,000 in licensing fees, something it neglected to do.
It was an honest oversight. After all, who would have thought a corporation, private or public, could own a phrase so common to everyday language?
Despite frequent speculation that corporate financing is dangerous to the ethos of the open source software (OSS) community, most Australian open source developers don't see payment as a primary influence on their contributions, a straw poll of attendees at Linux.conf.au in Melbourne suggests.
During her conference keynote presentation, Stormy Peters, the director of community and partner programs for OpenLogic, asked how many audience members were currently working in a paid position to develop OSS projects. Around one-third raised their hands. Almost exactly the same number said they would continue to work on OSS even if they lost their current position.
No surprise there. (Via A Chaotic Flow of Open Source Ideas.)
30 January 2008
When I was at Volvo IT (my former employee until 2000) for a meeting today, it became sadly clear that Volvo IT have entered further down the path of radical ignorance. I’ve heard about their strange firewall filters before stopping people from visiting web pages containing the phrases “IP telephony”, “sex” and “”games”. Apparently the filters have broadened and now they seems to have added phrases like “social software” as well.
I couldn’t resist asking if I could do a quick test for a number of web-sites I read or write. Here are 4 examples of sites that was blocked.
* http://brintam.blogspot.com/ (my personal photo blog in Swedish - maybe not that strange that it is blocked)
* http://www.weconverse.com (Richard Gatarskis web/blog where he discusses e g social media in companies and society)
* http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/ (Thinker and author John Robbs blog)
* http://opendotdotdot.blogspot.com/ (Glyn Moody’s blog where he writes about and explores e g open source)
Subversive stuff, this blogging.
29 January 2008
I'm a big fan of all things Turkic, so I was interested in this post exploring the scale of Turkish online activity, especially in the world of social networking:
when you take a look at Alexa's ranking of Ning's biggest networks, you see that they are either adult-oriented or Turkish. So Ning is being nourished by Turkish traffic as well.
Last but not least, Turkey's high potential in social networking comes from its very young demographics. The number of young people in Turkey exceeds even the most populated countries in Europe. Moreover, the Internet penetration is quite high, and similar to Brazilians, Turkish people have very social characteristics; Turkey was the 2nd biggest market for Live Messenger, after all.
Just one question: what about the Uighurs?
Definitions matter. If you want to see why, compare the worlds of open source and open access. The very specific definition of what is open source - having an OSI-approved licence - means that it is relatively easy to police. Open access, by contrast, does not have anything like a tight, "official" definition, with the result that less scrupulous publishers try to pass off their wares as open access if it's vaguely open or vaguely accessible. (That, BTW, seems to me a very strong argument for something to be set up along the lines of the OSI, to give its stamp of approval to open access resources. Are you listening, Peter?)
For this reason, trying to define open media is an excellent move:
With the change in the media climate and distribution experiments such as Radiohead’s In Rainbows (in music), and Four Eyed Monsters (in film) which have open qualities (temporarily available to watch or listen/download for free, for example) but are not truly open content, it is getting harder to tell what you can and cannot officially do with your media.
These are three proposed states for open media, each building on the next:
The baseline, concerned with freely consuming and sharing the content (1-3)
Open source (O):
Being able to view and remix the source files (1-5).
Open Plus (O+):
The ability to participate in a transparent, documented process (1-8).
* 1. Freely accessible
Available to stream, or download without a fee. Should be available via direct download and P2P media, so it is not behind a gateway.
* 2. Freely available.
Permanently available without DRM, or release windows. The end user able to share the work without restriction.
* 3. Freely viewable
Available in multiple formats, and to be converted freely (in the case of video works, for example, as dvd, xvid/divx, mp4, and HD formats).
The above qualities are essential for open content. Open source content adds to the cultural commons by making creation of new content from the work.
* 4. Giving source files
Source media, such as rushes and raw graphics files should be archived and available for other creators to work with.
* 5. Allowing remixing
Materials should be licensed explicitly to allow derivative work (eg. other works based on the script, or video mashups, and remix edits) for at least non-commercial/artistic purposes. Creative Commons and other licenses are available for flexible copyrighting.
Open Plus adds more opportunities for participation and involvement in the work whether as a creator, or as part of what used to be called ‘the audience’.
* 6. Reveal the process
Allowing access to not only the final source media, but work-in-progress material and software files, adding another layer of transparency and documentation.
* 7. Open contribution
Adding ways to influence and participate in the creation of the original work through various types of community/audience involvement (opportunities such as open crewing, direct feedback or contribution mechanisms).
I think this is really important work: let's hope it can be built on. Open Media Initiative, anyone? (Via P2P Foundation.)
This is one of the most despicable documents from the UK Government it has been my misfortune to read. Ostensibly, it is an objective "options analysis" for the introduction of the ID cards. But in its cynical, cold-blooded laying out of methods to ram the things down the population's throat, it reads more like a fascist manifesto. Take the following, for example:
Various forms of coercion, such as designation of the application process for identity documents issued by UK Ministers (e.g. passports), are an option to stimulate applications in a manageable way.
How much clearer do you need it, people?
Once more, Brucie tells it as it is:
Security and privacy are not opposite ends of a seesaw; you don't have to accept less of one to get more of the other. Think of a door lock, a burglar alarm and a tall fence. Think of guns, anti-counterfeiting measures on currency and that dumb liquid ban at airports. Security affects privacy only when it's based on identity, and there are limitations to that sort of approach.
When are they going to make this man President of the USA?
28 January 2008
In a surprising (to this Kat at least) turn of events, the Honourable Mr Justice Kitchin has ruled today that the current UK Patent Office practice of flatly rejecting patent claims to computer program products is wrong.
This is obviously bad news, if true, but looking at the very interesting comments to the above post, there seems to be a lot of doubt about whether the ruling does, in fact, mean precisely that, or something else.
Clear as mud, then. But certainly worrying....
Update: Some clarity provided in this useful post; bad news, though....
What's interesting about this piece in the Guardian describing how the music industry is finally waking up to the virtues of free is that it brings together most of the arguments that I and others (notably Mike Masnick on Techdirt) have been banging on about for years. Looks like the industry has (almost) got it. We shall see.
PLIO, the volunteer association behind the Italian version of OpenOffice.org, underlines the incredible and funny coincidence between the number of Italians that have downloaded Microsoft Office 2007 Trial Version - just ove one million, according to a Microsoft Italia press release - and the number of new downloads of OpenOffice.org in 2007.
In the two years since legislation for a UK national identity card scheme gained royal assent, the case against the multi-billion pound programme has become overwhelming. The government’s arguments in favour have crumpled. Now, if leaked official documents are to be believed, its roll-out is to be delayed until 2012. Some investors, concerned that it is not worth the wait, are already walking away. Gordon Brown inherited this deeply flawed plan from his predecessor as prime minister. He should follow his instincts and abandon it altogether.
Not only would ID cards be an unwelcome infringement of personal freedom – they were scrapped in Britain after the second world war because people resented being asked to prove who they were – there is no evidence their introduction would deliver tangible benefits.
No, not another of my rants, but the editorial in a little publication called the Financial Times.... (Via Open Rights Group.)
Monroe was the victim of a "money mule" scam, in which criminals make use of third parties (often unsuspecting victims like Monroe) to launder stolen funds. Mule recruitment is an integral part of many cyber crime operations because money transferred directly from a victim to an account controlled by criminals is easily traced by banks and law enforcement. The mules, therefore, serve as a vital buffer, making it easier for criminals to hide their tracks.
The bottom line:
The old adage, "If an offer or deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is," is just as appropriate in the online world than it is in the physical world, said eBay's Pires.
- Unless, of course, it's free software.... (Via Slashdot.)
As someone with a Welsh first name, I have always taken an interest in the Welsh language and efforts to promote it and keep it in the land of the living. Alas, this ain't one of them:
Scores of writers are refusing to let their works be scanned for an online archive at the National Library of Wales because they are not being paid.
A year after a near-£1m project was awarded to digitise modern Welsh writing, a dispute between authors and the library has not been resolved.
The library is putting some 3.5m words from 20th Century English and Welsh periodicals and magazines on the web.
But literature promotion agency Academi wants writers to be paid a share.
Academi chief executive Peter Finch said: "It's an extremely exciting programme: what's wrong with it is there is no small sliver in there for paying the writers.
Hello??? The "small sliver" is that your words live on and people can read the bleddy things. Refusing to allow works written in Welsh to be digitised (which costs money) is a sure way to ensure that the language languishes and becomes even more marginal in the digital age. (Via paidContent UK.)
27 January 2008
I know by now you've seen the notice by the guy claiming to "revoke" the GPL license on his code, because I'm getting email about it.
Here's the answer to your question:
No. One can't retroactively revoke licenses previously granted, unless the license terms allow you to do so. The most you can do is stop granting new licenses.
26 January 2008
Welcome to Open Students, a new blog for students about open access to research.
Open Students is proudly sponsored by SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, as part of its student outreach activities.
This is a shrewd move: get 'em while they're young....
the UK band known as the Charlatans are joining Saul Williams and Radiohead with their next album release with a ‘name your own price’ mechanism for distribution.
What's also interesting is that the meme is spreading in part via an emerging community:
It is also worthy of note that a camaraderie of sorts seems to be forming in this new ‘underground’ distribution technique. The record producer that mixed You Cross My Path and The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust, Alan Moulder, is best known as the producer for Nine Inch Nails, The Smashing Pumpkins and The Jesus and Mary Chain. Now, he’s making a new name for himself as producer to the free crowd.
25 January 2008
Although free software has a reputation for patchy documentation and non-existent support, that's not really true at all: there's buckets of stuff out there, usually written by extremely knowledgeable people, and lots of enthusiasts ready to advise. What *is* true, is that everyday consumer devices haven't had anything like that deep, community-generated online support.
FixYa asks: why not?
FixYa was founded by a frustrated consumer who noticed that most manufacturers of gadgets, electronics and consumer products were not providing adequate technical support through their web sites, despite these products becoming more and more technologically advanced. Whether it was a digital camera, printer, or laptop - manufacturers were not allocating the necessary resources to meet customers' increased demand for technical support, troubleshooting, and easy access to product manuals. It was from this lack of easy-to-access technical information and product support that the FixYa online technical support community was formed.
FixYa is now the largest online source for free technical advice on gadgets, electronic equipment and consumer products. FixYa users can quickly and easily post technical questions for Experts in the FixYa troubleshooting forums - seeking solutions for problems or advice/instructions on proper usage of a product. Users can also upgrade to Premium Assistance to get fast, guaranteed technical assistance from Top Experts - via posting or Live Chat.
The power of FixYa stems from the unique, community-generated content found in the FixYa troubleshooting forums. Technical problems and solutions posted on FixYa are based on users' real life experiences, rather than the hypothetical scenarios presented in product manufacturers' FAQs. And through FixYa's unique rating system, problem solutions are continually refined, with the goal of offering users the most helpful and accurate technical support information possible for any consumer product.
Sounds like a classic open source/open content/user-generated business model. But the cynic in me said that it was doubtless deeply flawed by wickedly appropriating all that content for itself. Nope:
All content, either text, pictures, or graphics, on the site that has been contributed by users is designated as Open Content. All such content may be copied, reproduced, distributed, republished, downloaded, displayed, posted or transmitted as long as (1) it is not displayed on a commercial site (except on message boards) or used for commercial purposes, (2) prominent attribution is given to FixYa, and (3) attribution is given to the original author(s) as listed on FixYa.com. If the original author is listed as "Anonymous" on FixYa.com, attribution to the author is not required.
FixYa maintains a compilation copyright on its user-submitted content. This user-submitted content may by reproduced in part for non-commercial purposes as described in the paragraph above, but may not be reproduced as a whole through any medium without the express permission of FixYa.com.
My only criticism would be that "Open Content" is rather vague here. Maybe it would be better to use the cc-by-nc licence, which seems to fit the bill.
The European Commission wants your help:
On 03/01/2008, the Commission adopted a Communication on Creative Content Online which launches further actions to support the development of innovative business models and the deployment of cross-border delivery of diverse online creative content services.
The transfer of creative content services to the online environment is an example of major systemic change. Building on the results of the 2006 consultation process, while complementing the initiatives already undertaken in the context of the i2010 strategy, the Commission intends to launch further actions to support the development of innovative business models and the deployment of cross-border delivery of diverse online creative content services.
That's good; less good is that among the four challenges are two where the Commission has got it all wrong:
Interoperability and transparency of Digital Rights Management systems (DRMs) - Technologies allowing management of rights in the online environment can be a key enabler for the content sector's digital shift and for the development of innovative business models - especially with regard to high value content. As lengthy discussions among stakeholders did not yet lead to the deployment of interoperable DRM solutions, there is a need to set a framework for transparency of DRMs regarding interoperability, by ensuring proper consumer information with regards to usage restrictions and interoperability.
Legal offers and piracy - Piracy and unauthorised up- and downloading of copyrighted content remains a central concern. It would seem appropriate to instigate co-operation procedures ("code of conduct") between access/service providers, right holders and consumers in order to ensure a wide online offer of attractive content, consumer-friendly online services, adequate protection of copyrighted works, awareness raising/education on the importance of copyright for the availability of content and close cooperation fight piracy/unauthorised file-sharing.
DRM is a dying model; the idea of trying to make such a dinosaur technology compatible across the EU is bonkers. Even worse is the thought that ISPs should be policing content, or that we should be brainwashing children to chant the multifaceted marvellousness of intellectual monopolies. Time to get those word-processors sharpened....
In one gesture
One drop that contains one song which can be used only one time to emphasize the value of the product and the meaning of giving.
As in: introduce an artifical scarcity where there is none? And add to the heap of poisonous high-tech detritus we dump in the environment while you're at it? Nein, danke. (Via The Next Web blog.)
I am constantly struck by the fact that the more you ponder certain things, the more complex they get. One area where that's particularly true is sustainability: trying to balance the pros and cons or actions can lead to serious headaches.
Take the issue of organic food, for example. This is clearly good, since it uses less pesticides, does less damage blah-blah-blah. Ah, but now we find that much of that organic food is being produced in Africa, and then air-freighted to the West. So clearly that is bad, since the damage caused by carbon emissions must outweigh the good derived from the organic nature of the farming. Or maybe not:
Global warming is a universal concern (with a strong African dimension too), and carbon emissions merit growing vigilance. But a global problem demands global solutions. Trade policy can be used to set the right incentives for sustainable development. But focusing too narrowly on long-distance transportation of organic produce is false economy: bad for the environment and bad for development.
One thing is for sure: more information may make things harder to parse, but it is also the only hope we have for arriving at the right decision. Keep on pondering.
We all know about open network architecture, but what about the Open Architecture Network?
The Open Architecture Network is an online, open source community dedicated to improving living conditions through innovative and sustainable design. Here designers of all persuasions can:
• Share their ideas, designs and plans
• View and review designs posted by others
• Collaborate with each other, people in other professions and community leaders to address specific design challenges
• Manage design projects from concept to implementation
• Communicate easily amongst team members
• Protect their intellectual property rights using the Creative Commons "some rights reserved" licensing system and be shielded from unwarranted liability
• Build a more sustainable future
Open source is about sharing code patterns, Open Architecture is about sharing building patterns. Obvious, when you think about it. (Via C|net.)
One of Larry Lessig's favourite tropes is that we live in a read-write world these days, where creation is just as important as consumption. Well, hitherto, genomics has been pretty much read only: you could sequence the DNA of an organism, but creating entire genomes of complex organisms (such as bacteria) has been too tricky. Now that nice Dr Venter says he's gone and done it:
A team of 17 researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) has created the largest man-made DNA structure by synthesizing and assembling the 582,970 base pair genome of a bacterium, Mycoplasma genitalium JCVI-1.0. This work, published online today in the journal Science by Dan Gibson, Ph.D., et al, is the second of three key steps toward the team’s goal of creating a fully synthetic organism. In the next step, which is ongoing at the JCVI, the team will attempt to create a living bacterial cell based entirely on the synthetically made genome.
The team achieved this technical feat by chemically making DNA fragments in the lab and developing new methods for the assembly and reproduction of the DNA segments. After several years of work perfecting chemical assembly, the team found they could use homologous recombination (a process that cells use to repair damage to their chromosomes) in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to rapidly build the entire bacterial chromosome from large subassemblies.
He even gives some details (don't try this at home):
The process to synthesize and assemble the synthetic version of the M. genitalium chromosome began first by resequencing the native M. genitalium genome to ensure that the team was starting with an error free sequence. After obtaining this correct version of the native genome, the team specially designed fragments of chemically synthesized DNA to build 101 “cassettes” of 5,000 to 7,000 base pairs of genetic code. As a measure to differentiate the synthetic genome versus the native genome, the team created “watermarks” in the synthetic genome. These are short inserted or substituted sequences that encode information not typically found in nature. Other changes the team made to the synthetic genome included disrupting a gene to block infectivity. To obtain the cassettes the JCVI team worked primarily with the DNA synthesis company Blue Heron Technology, as well as DNA 2.0 and GENEART.
From here, the team devised a five stage assembly process where the cassettes were joined together in subassemblies to make larger and larger pieces that would eventually be combined to build the whole synthetic M. genitalium genome. In the first step, sets of four cassettes were joined to create 25 subassemblies, each about 24,000 base pairs (24kb). These 24kb fragments were cloned into the bacterium Escherichia coli to produce sufficient DNA for the next steps, and for DNA sequence validation.
The next step involved combining three 24kb fragments together to create 8 assembled blocks, each about 72,000 base pairs. These 1/8th fragments of the whole genome were again cloned into E. coli for DNA production and DNA sequencing. Step three involved combining two 1/8th fragments together to produce large fragments approximately 144,000 base pairs or 1/4th of the whole genome.
At this stage the team could not obtain half genome clones in E. coli, so the team experimented with yeast and found that it tolerated the large foreign DNA molecules well, and that they were able to assemble the fragments together by homologous recombination. This process was used to assemble the last cassettes, from 1/4 genome fragments to the final genome of more than 580,000 base pairs. The final chromosome was again sequenced in order to validate the complete accurate chemical structure.
But the real kicker was this comment:
“This is an exciting advance for our team and the field. However, we continue to work toward the ultimate goal of inserting the synthetic chromosome into a cell and booting it up to create the first synthetic organism,” said Dan Gibson, lead author.
Yup, you read that correctly: we're talking about porting and then *booting-up* an artificial genome, aka digital code of life.
One of the key themes of this blog is the idea of a commons, be it one constructed out of free software, open content or DNA. But as the very word suggests, there is a very specific history behind the concept, which raises an interesting question: how relevant is it in other cultures? Is it even meaningful if there is no corresponding equivalent?
Here are some interesting thoughts on the situation in China:
Lawrence Liang, a lawyer of Chinese descent from Bangalore, gave a brilliant talk (I'm told all his talks are brilliant - this was the first time I've heard him speak) titled "How Does An Asian Commons Mean." No, that's not a typo. He points out that "the metaphor of the commons as it is used in debates on information emerges from a specific history of the enclosures movement in Europe." The task of articulating an Asian Commons requires more than merely translating existing initiatives such as Creative Commons, but rather "to answer larger questions of what it means to provide an epistemological account of the commons in Asia." This is especially challenging because the idea that one can consider oneself "Asian" and that such a label has real cultural or social meaning "is a "diplomatic fiction... neither Asia nor commons has any substantive content."
Researchers at Purdue University are working with the state of Indiana to develop a system that would use a network of cell phones to detect and track radiation to help prevent terrorist attacks with radiological "dirty bombs" and nuclear weapons.
Such a system could blanket the nation with millions of cell phones equipped with radiation sensors able to detect even light residues of radioactive material. Because cell phones already contain global positioning locators, the network of phones would serve as a tracking system, said physics professor Ephraim Fischbach.
That's the way to do it: you co-opt people by making them part of society's tracking system, rather than regarding everyone as a potential terrorist who needs to be tracked. (Via Slashdot.)
Amongst many other things, one matter that they order better in France is the production of government reports with a grand sweep. One was published a couple of days ago, with the self-explanatory title Rapport de la Commission pour la libération de la croissance française.
Well, anything that talks about "libération" obviously makes my one-track mind think of free software, and I wasn't disappointed, since one of the report's proposals is about precisely that:
Promouvoir la concurrence entre logiciels propriétaires et logiciels « libres ».
Le patrimoine d’applications dites « libres » ou « open source », créées par une communauté active, représente l’équivalent de 131 000 années/hommes, dont pratiquement la moitié provient de programmeurs européens. Si le coût virtuel en est de 12 Md €, le coût réel est de 1,2 Md € et les communautés de logiciels libres s’engagent gracieusement à proposer en continu des améliorations et des applications. Le logiciel libre induit une économie moyenne de 36 % en recherche et développement pour les entreprises utilisatrices. Il permet de créer une concurrence pour les logiciels propriétaires, dont les avantages sont différents. Leur part de marché n’est aujourd’hui que de 2 % (avec une croissance annuelle de 40 %) contre 98 % pour les logiciels dits « propriétaires ». Pour développer la concurrence, une série d’actions est nécessaire :
• Promouvoir la concurrence entre les logiciels propriétaires et les logiciels libres dans les appels d’offres, notamment publics. Un objectif de 20 % des applications nouvellement développées ou installées au profit du secteur public en open source pourrait être fixé à l’horizon 2012.
• Considérer fiscalement, comme aux États-Unis, les aides aux communautés des logiciels libres comme du mécénat de compétence.
• Exiger, à un niveau européen dans le cadre de la politique de la concurrence entre solutions logicielles, la fixation de normes internationales garantissant l’interopérabilité entre logiciels libres et les logiciels propriétaires, en priorité.
There are some important points here.
First, that out of 316 recommendations, one should be explicitly about free software. Secondly, that the virtue of promoting the increased use of free software over proprietary software is recognised. Thirdly, there is an ambitious target that 20% of new installations of software by the French government should be open source by 2012.
Finally, and in some ways most importantly, there is a call for interoperability between free software and proprietary code to be mandated at a European level. In the context of Microsoft's recent setback at the hands of the European Commission on precisely this point, I think we can see which way the wind is blowing.
What do you get when one of the sharpest journalists interviews one of the sharpest writers? This:
You made your name as a science-fiction writer, but in your last two novels you've moved squarely into the present. Have you lost interest in the future?
It has to do with the nature of the present. If one had gone to talk to a publisher in 1977 with a scenario for a science-fiction novel that was in effect the scenario for the year 2007, nobody would buy anything like it. It's too complex, with too many huge sci-fi tropes: global warming; the lethal, sexually transmitted immune-system disease; the United States, attacked by crazy terrorists, invading the wrong country. Any one of these would have been more than adequate for a science-fiction novel. But if you suggested doing them all and presenting that as an imaginary future, they'd not only show you the door, they'd probably call security.
Unmissable. (Via Scott Rosenberg's Wordyard.)
24 January 2008
One of the key properties of open endeavours is winnowing down and sharing of essential information so that others can build on it. Here's a site that seems to be a distant cousin:
A hundred years ago, people used rules of thumb to make up for a lack of facts. Modern day rule of thumbing is rooted in an overabundance of facts. The average person, confronted with the Internet’s oceans of data and multiple overlapping Ph.D. dissertations, often is as perplexed as a pioneer chemist trying to whip up a little gunpowder without a formula. A pilot in a tight spot doesn't ask questions about aeronautical engineering; a pilot in a tight spot asks "now what?" There are times when you don't need to know the best way to do something. These are times for ballpark figures, for knowing what you probably can get away with.
Surprisingly addictive. (Via Joho the Blog.)
Google's Android platform remains something of an unknown quantity: until real-life applications of it start to come through, it is hard to know whether it will be fab or a flop. But in one respect it is clearly a breakthrough, in that its openness allows people to try out new ideas that were difficult or even impossible with closed systems:
Nikita Ivanov and his 14 employees are working on an application that would harness the processing power within millions of cell phones to create one big supercomputer. The idea is to enable companies and government agencies to exploit all the idle computing power in their employees' mobile phones and perhaps even handsets belonging to non-employees who have agreed to lease that spare capacity.
To create this "grid" computing application, Ivanov's startup firm has chosen a mobile software platform that doesn't yet run on a single commercially available phone. Rather than Windows Mobile or the Symbian operating system, GridGain is using Android, a platform spearheaded by Google that has drawn scores of software developers with its promise of flexibility to create unusual applications.
GridGain is one of thousands of Android-based projects in the works. Another would enable users to record and share audio tours of museums or galleries. One is a music player that can connect a cell-phone user with people who have similar musical tastes and happen to be nearby. All underscore the ways that developers hope to use Android to take phones in new directions with greater ease than today's prominent wireless platforms.
The world is poorer today:
Marie Smith Jones, who worked to preserve her heritage as the last full-blooded member of Alaska's Eyak Indians and the last fluent speaker of their native language, has died. She was 89.
(Via Language Log.)
23 January 2008
Out of this world:
Virgin Galactic on Wednesday unveiled designs for SpaceShipTwo and the WhiteKnightTwo, two vehicles that are designed to usher in private spaceflight. The technology behind the system will have an open architecture “like Linux,” said officials.
Well, if nothing else, it shows how the meme is taking off...
Here's a post well worth reading:
Yesterday, we saw the most extraordinary failure of economic leadership in recent years, when the US Federal Reserve pressed the “emergency morphine” button and cut Federal Reserve rates by 0.75%. It will not help.
These are extremely testing times, and thus far, the US Fed under Bernanke has been found wanting. Historians may well lay the real blame for current distress at the door of Alan Greenspan, who pioneered the use of morphine to dull economic pain, but they will probably also credit him with a certain level of discretion in its prescription. During Greenspan’s tenure at the Fed, economic leaders became convinced that the solution to market distress was to ensure that the financial system had access to easy money.
Pretty standard Economist-type analysis you might think; but what's interesting about this lengthy piece is that it's written by Mark Shuttleworth, head of Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu. What struck was not just that it's extremely well written, but that he took the time and trouble to pen it. I don't think there are many CEOs who would be both willing and able to do so.
I think we can deduce from from this is that Canonical - and hence a key player working towards GNU/Linux on the desktop - is in good hands.
What's interesting about the site "I Wouldn't Steal" is not so much the message - that downloading files is not the same as stealing handbags - but that a political party, albeit the Greens, has created it, along with a neat little YouTube video to get the message across. In other words, it marks a move from a purely passive resistance to the media conglomerates' continuing efforts to re-write the law to suit themselves, to a more militant one that strives to get alternative viewpoints across.
I think this is important, because at the moment the general public is very confused about copyright (and intellectual monopolies in general). That suits the content companies, and shows that the way forward is by educating people so that they can understand what the deeper issues are.
22 January 2008
It was sad news that Cory Ondrejka was parting company with Second Life, but it looks like there's a silver lining:
I think it would be fun to make a semi-regular part of this site different moments from my memories of the first 7 years of Second Life.
Once upon a time,
Around August of 2001, back when Second Life was called Linden World, there was no scripting language in SL. Primitar was about to replace the spaceships and floating eyeballs that were the original avatars and James was doing the first major UI revamp so that we could add to the world without shooting. The entire team had been debating how to add behavior into the system for months, with Philip arguing that we should just use physics. Philip had some really good points, because if we were able to use Havok for all of our behaviors, residents would be able to gauge the complexity of an object by just looking at it -- like mechanical systems in the real world -- and we wouldn't have to divert scarce resources into a project that could take significant time and effort. Mitch was also an advocate of visual complexity representing behavioral complexity, and I think there was something to that idea.
Now read on...
Here's an old but wonderful essay drawing out the many connections between the Magna Carta and the commons. Its sweep is broad:
While the Magna Carta is singular, an English peculiarity, its story is one of oppression, rebellion, and betrayal. It has become a story with global significance. We are commoners looking in at it from the outside. We have seen its history from the robber barons who became chivalric knights who became law lords who became “founding fathers.” Having studied their doings in the forest, in Palestine, in the law court, on the frontier, and now in Iraq, we have learned to be suspicious.
Who needs television, when you've got WikipediaVision?
WikipediaVision is a visualization of edits to the English (and the German, French, Spanish) Wikipedia, almost the same time as they happen.
Be warned, this is totally addictive. (Via if:book.)
21 January 2008
A novel approach to localisation:
They are picking and choosing markets (Spanish was opened first, two weeks ago; today German and French were launched) and asking just a few users to test out their collaborative translation tool. Once the tool is perfected and enough content has been translated, Facebook will offer users the ability to quickly switch the language on the site, per their preference.
Not hard to see this becoming more common.
Great post by Ed Felten about the complete mess the Dutch authorities have made of their new $2 billion transit card system, which, it seems, is wide open to cracking:
Kerckhoffs’s Principle, one of the bedrock maxims of cryptography, says that security should never rely on keeping an algorithm secret. It’s okay to have a secret key, if the key is randomly chosen and can be changed when needed, but you should never bank on an algorithm remaining secret.
Unfortunately the designers of Mifare Classic did not follow this principle. Instead, they chose to combine a secret algorithm with a relatively short 48-bit key. This is a problem because once you know the algorithm it’s possible for an attacker to search the entire 48-bit key space, and therefore to forge cards, in a matter or days or weeks.
Now the Dutch authorities have a mess on their hands. About $2 billion have been invested in this project, but serious fraud seems likely if it is deployed as designed. This kind of disaster would have been more likely had the design process been more open. Secrecy was not only an engineering mistake (violating Kerckhoffs’s Principle) but also a policy mistake, as it allowed the project to get so far along before independent analysts had a chance to critique it. A more open process, like the one the U.S. government used in choosing the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) would have been safer. Governments seem to have a hard time understanding that openness can make you more secure.
Let's hope other governments are listening...
Here, take this spoon:
In spite of their public opposition to Microsoft’s attempt to get the ISO standardization nod for its Office Open XML (OOXML) document format, IBM and Google quietly are supporting OOXML.
That’s according to two blog postings from the end of last week by Microsoft execs involved in the OOXML vs. Open Document Format (ODF) standards battle.
Update: Rob Weir offers the customary razor-sharp analysis to sort out what's really going on.
One of the best and most important books on the rise of virtual worlds - albeit a text-based one in this case - and the deep issues they raise is now freely available:
I am pleased to announce that my first book, the widely cited but long out-of-print MY TINY LIFE: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World (Being a True Account of the Case of the Infamous Mr. Bungle and the Author's Journey, in Consequence Thereof, to the Heart of a Half-Real World Called LambdaMOO), can now be downloaded in its entirety in a handsomely formatted PDF edition, completely free of charge. Or, if you prefer, the fine folks at Lulu will package up a perfect-bound paperback version for you at the shockingly reasonable price of only $17.48 ($5 of which goes straight to me). Either way, you get what for the last eight years or so could not be had for love or money: A brand new and fully authorized copy of MY TINY LIFE, yours to read, lend, dog-ear, shelve, and otherwise make use of in whatever way your heart desires and copyright permits.
And don't miss the author's fascinating explanation of how hard it proved to give something away thanks to the byzantine world of global copyright.
20 January 2008
Thankfully we seem to be moving beyond the simplistic idea that code written and given away for nothing is worth nothing. But not everyone has gasped the corollary: that the you get better code if you *don't* pay for it. Why? Because passion is a better motivator than pounds and pence.
If you're sceptical, trying this post that reviews the growing evidence that external rewards demage intrinsic motivations:
As many of you know, I'm really interested in the question of "Would you do it again for free?" If you take developers that are working on open source software for free and you pay them, if you stop paying them, will they still work on open source software? This was the topic of my keynote at GUADEC and will be the topic of my keynotes at LinuxConf Australia and SCALE - the story continues to evolve as I learn more. One of the things I started with was a search to see if there was any relevant data out there. I found the following five studies that explore how external rewards affect internal or intrinsic rewards
Those studies tend to suggest that rewarding people for doing something produces less good results than relying on their personal passion or altruism. Creating something and giving it away is not only better for those who receive, it's also better for those who give.
19 January 2008
Once upon a time, there were a bunch of wicked trolls. And then one day, they became good. That, in a nutshell, is the free software story of Trolltech, which produces the Qt toolkit underlying KDE.
Here's a fuller version:
When the K Desktop Environment was first announced in October 1996, it was not greeted with the universal approval that its creator, Matthias Ettrich, had hoped for. Alongside traditionalists who thought that any kind of graphical user interface was “too Windows-like” or just downright “sissy”, there was a deeper concern over the licensing of the underlying toolkit, Trolltech's Qt, which was free as in beer to hackers, but not free as in freedom. As Ettrich told me in 2000:
Everybody joining looked at alternatives [to Qt], and we had a long discussion: Shall we go with Qt? And the result was [we decided] it's the best technical solution if we want to reach the goal that we have.
Since Trolltech refused to adopt the GNU GPL for Qt (at that point: it did later), and since the KDE project refused to drop Qt, many hackers decided that they had to start a rival desktop project that would be truly free. One of the people thinking along these lines was Miguel de Icaza, who ended up leading a global team to create a desktop environment – although that was hardly his original intention:
Initially we were hoping that the existence of the project would make [Trolltech] change their minds, but they didn't. So we just kept working and working until we actually had something to use.
That “something to use” grew into GNOME, a rich, full-featured desktop environment, just as KDE had done, until the free software world found itself with the luxury – some would say liability – of two approaches.
Now it seems that the trolls have really done good:
Trolltech ASA is licensing its Qt cross-platform development framework under the GNU General Public License version 3 (GPL v3), with immediate effect.
Qt is already available under the GPL v2 and will continue to be so in addition to the GPL v3.
The GPL v3 license will make it easy and safe for free software developers to use Trolltech’s Qt with the most recent license framework from the Free Software Foundation. Trolltech hopes that its move will inspire free software projects to use GPL v3 when programming with Qt.
The move to GPL v3 licensing reinforces Trolltech’s strong tradition of giving developers the liberty to create and share software in accordance with the “four freedoms” defined by the Free Software Foundation.
"We decided to add GPL v3 licensing after consulting with both KDE e.V. and the Free Software Foundation," explained Eirik Chambe-Eng, co-founder of Trolltech. "I first read the GNU Manifesto from the Free Software Foundation back in 1987 and it forever shaped the way I viewed software. We at Trolltech are proud to continue serving the free software community by allowing software developers to choose which GPL version they want to use."
"I am very pleased that Trolltech has decided to make Qt available under GPL v3," commented Richard Stallman, author of the GPL and president of The Free Software Foundation. "This will allow parts of KDE to adopt GPL v3, too. Even better, Trolltech has made provisions for a smooth migration to future GPL versions if it approves of them."
What a turnaround. (Via Elkosmas.gr.)
Here's a further sign of the rise of open data and of huge stores that hold them:
Sources at Google have disclosed that the humble domain, http://research.google.com, will soon provide a home for terabytes of open-source scientific datasets. The storage will be free to scientists and access to the data will be free for all. The project, known as Palimpsest and first previewed to the scientific community at the Science Foo camp at the Googleplex last August, missed its original launch date this week, but will debut soon.
Building on the company's acquisition of the data visualization technology, Trendalyzer, from the oft-lauded, TED presenting Gapminder team, Google will also be offering algorithms for the examination and probing of the information. The new site will have YouTube-style annotating and commenting features.
18 January 2008
Heise online reports on a very bad idea:
If things go the way the Conservative British MEP Christopher Heaton-Harris wants them to, internet providers will be much more closely involved in the battle against copyright infringements. He has introduced a proposal in the European Parliament under which access providers would not only have to install filters on the network side, in order to prevent misuse of their networks for the theft of intellectual property, but would also be obliged to close down Internet access to clients who "repeatedly or substantially" infringe copyright. Content that infringes others' rights would moreover have to be blocked by providers.
As to why it's a bad idea, here's what I've just sent to all my MEPs using the indispensable WriteToThem site:
First, it won't work. Users will simply encrypt their files before sending them, making them completely opaque to content filters. The power of computers is such that this is an easy operation to carry out, and it will become the norm if the above proposal is enacted. Breaking that encryption, by contrast, is very hard, and access providers will be unable to do this in order to inspect the contents.
Secondly, the proposal requires access providers to examine the full traffic flows of everyone. The scope for abuse is enormous. Most people do not encrypt sensitive information that they include in emails, for example. Sometimes Web transmissions are not properly encrypted, allowing sensitive information such as credit card details or health information to be read. If this proposal were enacted, and access providers were required to monitor all traffic, it would be tempting – and easy – for criminals to infiltrate such companies and extract sensitive data.
Finally, there is a deeper discussion needed about whether sharing copyright material is actually bad for the owners of that material. There is growing evidence that people who download such material go on to make more content purchases than those who do not. This is not really surprising: the downloaded materials are effectively free publicity, and a way to discover new content of interest. When people have the chance to sample and explore new content, they end up buying things that they would never have thought of purchasing, bringing more money to the content owners. It might be that the content industries should really be encouraging this kind of free marketing: more research is needed at the very least.
If you feel strongly about this - and you should - perhaps you'd like to write a quick note to your MEPs.
This interesting report from the British Libary and JISC says that the "Google generation" - those born after 1993 - aren't so hot when it comes to Googling. But what really caught my eye was the following:
Findings from Ofcom surveys reveal that both adults and children (aged 12-15) have very high levels of awareness and understanding of the basic principles of intellectual property. However, young people feel that copyright regimes are unfair and unjust and a big age gap is opening up. The implications for libraries and for the information industry of a collapse of respect for copyright is potentially very serious.
Oh yes, indeedy.
Here's a good example of how crowdsourcing can enhance a commons:
The key goals of this pilot project are to firstly give you a taste of the hidden treasures in the huge Library of Congress collection, and secondly to show how your input of a tag or two can make the collection even richer.
It's an obvious approach to take, and one that could be widened to any public resource.
I'd heard of this project to equip Russian schools with GNU/Linux-based systems, but I'd no idea it was quite on this scale:
The project to implement the open source software in Russian schools might become the largest worldwide: this year the open source software packages will be installed in 1200 schools in pilot regions, i.e. Perm Territory, Tomsk Region, and Tatarstan. Although abroad Linux is widely used in state institutions and at schools (in the Spanish province of Estremadura it is installed on all school computers), such a large-scale migration to the open source software has not been carried out before. After testing in three pilot regions over 2008 and making adjustments, Linux is planned to be installed in more than 61 thousand Russian schools.
Strange but interesting:
This is a site for large data sets and the people who love them: the scrapers and crawlers who collect them, the academics and geeks who process them, the designers and artists who visualize them. It's a place where they can exchange tips and tricks, develop and share tools together, and begin to integrate their particular projects.
Facebook has been getting a lot of stick recently over its Beacon system, so I thought I'd be contrarian by pointing out what a good open source citizen the company is:
Facebook has been developed from the ground up using open source software, and we are proud to give back to the open source community through various open source projects.
It's generally taken for granted that Web 2.0 companies will be based on free software, but we hear far less about who does and who doesn't contribute back, which is a pity. (Via RedWriteWeb.)
17 January 2008
Here's a fascinating article about how China's $1.4 trillion - yes, that's a trillion - holdings of dollars are subsidizing the American way of life, keeping its own people poorer than they might be, and what it all means for the US, China and the rest of us. I was particularly struck by the following the following:
The fair reason for concern is, again, the transparency problem. Twice in the past year, China has in nonfinancial ways demonstrated the ripples that a nontransparent policy creates. Last January, its military intentionally shot down one of its own satellites, filling orbital paths with debris. The exercise greatly alarmed the U.S. military, because of what seemed to be an implied threat to America’s crucial space sensors. For several days, the Chinese government said nothing at all about the test, and nearly a year later, foreign analysts still debate whether it was a deliberate provocation, the result of a misunderstanding, or a freelance effort by the military. In November, China denied a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the Kitty Hawk, routine permission to dock in Hong Kong for Thanksgiving, even though many Navy families had gone there for a reunion. In each case, the most ominous aspect is that outsiders could not really be sure what the Chinese leadership had in mind. Were these deliberate taunts or shows of strength? The results of factional feuding within the leadership? Simple miscalculations? In the absence of clear official explanations no one really knew, and many assumed the worst.
Openness: the solution to everything (well, almost)....
South Korea is one of Linux's biggest converts. Since discovering the free operating system in 2003, officials have unveiled plans to switch all government-run offices to Linux. Now under the terms of the agreement signed between the two states, South Korea will set up Linux training centres in North Korea.
Under the banner of "Hana Linux" - literally "One" Linux - the two countries have agreed to work on a groundbreaking IT development project that might shatter the final Cold War boundary.
Update: But Gen Kanai points out that there are problems with this rosy picture.
16 January 2008
More reinforcements are arriving all the time:
The Free Knowledge Institute (www.freeknowledge.eu) is an initiative from three Amsterdam-based professionals who currently work for Internet Society Netherlands. In the past years ISOC.nl coordinated a large-scale EU-project SELF which embraced the same objectives. The need to share knowledge freely has become so important that the institute now turns into an independent organisation.
"More and more governments realise the benefits of free knowledge and free information technology", says Wouter Tebbens, the president of the new institute. The Free Knowledge Institute intends to be a knowledge partner helping to show the way in available free knowledge and technology. "That way, we can elaborate on the existing pool of free knowledge and free software, which is growing enormously. Look at projects such as Wikipedia, Linux, and the internet itself", Tebbens states. "Why reinvent the wheel yet again?"
Its main lines of activity are Free Knowledge in technology, education, culture and science. Free Knowledge in education focuses on the production and dissemination of free educational materials; Free Knowledge in IT mainly refers to free software, open standards and open hardware; Free Knowledge in culture includes open content; and Free Knowledge in science includes open access and anti-privatisation of scientific knowledge.
The actionplan 'Netherlands Open in Connection', initiated by the Dutch ministries of Economic Affairs and Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK), reflects the momentum of sharing knowledge. State secretary Bijleveld from BZK emphasized in December 2007 that sharing of knowledge is essential for further progress and development of society. The statesecretary committed to pay more attention to the valuable use of free software and open standards in education, government and business.
It's happening, people, it's happening.
I'm a not a Apple fanboy - no, really. So the announcement of the Macbook Air left me, well, underwhelmed. But I was having difficulty putting my finger on what exactly the problem was. And then I read this:
Thinness is an aesthetic criterion, not a utilitarian one. Art triumphs over usefulness yet again, driven by Steve “One Button” Jobs.
The UK is apparently not the only country where there is a fight going on for open access to government information:
The Institute for Information Freedom Development (IIFD) fighting for the state standards to be available in the internet has managed to persuade the Russian government in its rightness. On the eve of the New Year’s holidays the decree of the RF cabinet of ministers setting the procedure to publish the national standards on the site of the Federal Agency for Metrology and Technical Regulation (Rostehregulirovanie) has been enforced. The document foresees the standards to be open and available free of charge. However, the officials do not intend to give up.
The institute hopes if will be hard for the officials to question the official document. ‘The public servants, who are used to selling the state standards, have no loopholes this time, as the document highlights the access should be free of charge. The term ‘open access’ left some room for manoeuvre. However, now many will have to accept the fact that their profitable business exists no longer’, - Ivan Pavlov says.
In fact, it sounds as if things are rather better in Russia than in the UK....
With all the excitement last year over the GNU GPLv3, the Cinderella of the FSF licences, the GNU Free Documentation Licence (GFDL) has been rather overshadowed. And yet, as this post reminds us, the GFDL is being revised too:
Although quiet, the consultation for drafting the next version of the GNU Free Documentation Licence, plus the new GNU Simpler Free Documentation License, are still ongoing:
The online draft of GFDLv2 still has Invariant Sections. The proposed GSFDL is a documentation licence without Invariant Sections.
I don't have information about the timeline for the GFDL and GSFDL, so all I can recommend is that comments be made as soon as possible.
Larry Lessig's The Future of Ideas is one of the key books of the open content world, so it's particularly appropriate that it should now be freely available as a download.
Read it. Now.
One sphere where openness is generally acknowledged as indispensable is politics: true democracy can never be opaque. In the past, providing that transparency has been hard, but with the advent of Web access and powerful search technologies, it has become markedly easier. Despite that, there are still very limited resources for searching through the raw stuff of politics.
A new pilot project, called Hansard Prototype, may help to change that:
This site is generated from a sample of information from Hansard, the Official Report of Parliament. It is not a complete nor an official record. Material from this site should not be used as a reference to or cited as Hansard. The material on this site cannot be held to be authoritative. Material on this site falls under Crown and Parliamentary Copyright. Within these copyright constraints, you are encouraged to use and to explore the information provided here. We would be especially interested in requests for functionality you have.
Even though it's still limited in its reach, playing with it is instructive. For example this search for "genome" not only throws up various hits, but also shows graphically when they occurred, and ranks the names of speakers.
It's also got the right approach to code:
What technology has been used to build and run this site? Code: Visible Red, Moving Flow. Hosting: Joyent Accelerators. Server OS: OpenSolaris. Database: MySQL. Web server: Apache. Application server: Mongrel. Code framework: Ruby on Rails. Source code control: Subversion. Search engine: Lucene, Solr. Backup: Joyent Bingodisk. Development and deployment platforms: Mac OS X, Ubuntu.
The source code for this site will be made available under an open licence.
More please. (Via James Governor's Monkchips.)
15 January 2008
A dissertation on copyright in 19th-century America may not sound exactly like beach reading, but the fact is that US law in this area affects the rest of the world - not least because of the US's heavy-handed attempts to extend its application around the globe:
With the rise of digital reproduction and the expansion of the Internet, copyright issues have assumed tremendous prominence in contemporary society. Domestically, the United States is awash in copyright-related lawsuits. Internationally, fears of copyright violation strongly influence U.S. foreign policy, especially with China. Hardly a week goes by without some new copyright-related headline in the news. In a globalized world with cheap digital reproduction, copyright matters.
That law has been shaped by the 19th-century experience. And what a century:
The bill in substance provides that […] copyright patents shall be granted to foreigners; they may hold these monopolies for forty-two years; the assigns of foreigners may also obtain copyrights; all postmasters and customs officers throughout the United States are constituted pimps and ferrets for these foreigners; it is made the duty of postmasters to spy out and seize all books going though the mails that infringe the copyrights of foreigners; if an American citizen coming home brings with him a purchased book, it is to be seized on landing unless he can produce the written consent of the man who owns the copyright, signed by two witnesses. Who the said owner may be, in what part of the world he lives, the innocent citizen must find out as best he can, or be despoiled of his property.
The source of this heated prose of pimps and ferrets? The May 19, 1888 issue of Scientific American.
Well, not quite, but here's a Linux-powered picture frame:
Sagem Communications and Freescale Semiconductor today announced the deployment of the new AgfaPhoto AF5080W digital photoframe, the latest product from their broad collaboration based on Freescale’s i.MX multimedia processors and Linux multimedia applications.
(Via Linux and Open Source blog.)
14 January 2008
An eloquent statement by John Wilbanks about the commons, sharing and solving complex problems:
One of the reasons I believe so deeply in the commons approach (by which i mean: contractually constructed regimes that tilt the field towards sharing and reuse, technological enablements that make public knowledge easy to find and use, and default policy rules that create incentives to share and reuse) is that I think it is one of the only non-miraculous ways to defeat complexity. If we can get more people working on individual issues – which are each alone not so complex – and the outputs of research snap together, and smart people can work on the compiled output as well – then it stands to reason that the odds of meaningful discoveries increase in spite of overall systemic complexity.
It is not easy. But it is, in a way, a very simple change. It just requires the flipping of a switch, from a default rule of “sharing doesn’t matter” to one of “sharing matters enormously”.
That's what it's all about, people.
Confused? You will be:
in today’s world, the crush of branded meanings has become overwhelming. The cultural space is too cluttered with signifiers, and words are losing their credibility. And marketing itself is so ubiquitous that it is difficult for a super-elite establishment to convey that it is “above it all” -- grandly indifferent to the market. Clearly the next step is to de-commodify the product or service that was sold in the market, and previously belonged to the commons, and make it a proprietary gift! Ah, now that’s really luxury!
The European Commission opened a new antitrust probe against Microsoft
But the good news is:
"This initiation of proceedings does not imply that the Commission has proof of an infringement. It only signifies that the Commission will further investigate the case as a matter of priority," the Commission said.
Oh, that's alright, then.
Focus is one of the two main German-language weekly news magazines (the other being Der Spiegel), so the announcement that it is opening up its full 15-year archive for free access is most welcome. Let's hope that Der Spiegel, err, mirrors the move.
Mozilla is a disaster in China:
With more than 160 million Internet users, China is the world's second-largest Net market and is likely to overtake the U.S. as No. 1 by the end of the decade. More than four-fifths of China's Internet users use IE to go online, mostly because it's bundled with the Windows operating system. Homegrown companies Maxthon—a private company based in Hong Kong—and Tencent —the Shenzhen-based operator of China's most popular instant messaging service—both have browsers based on IE kernels that are the second and third most commonly used in China.
Mozilla estimates there are 3.5 million regular Firefox users in China, giving it just 2% of the market. (According to June, 2007, figures by Onestat, Mozilla has a 19.65% market share in the U.S.) Mozilla has set a goal of grabbing a 5% market share in China "as quickly as possible," says Gong.
In the West, Mozilla has been able to eat away at IE's market share by promoting Firefox as a free open-source software project. In China, the open-source movement is having a harder time gaining traction because of widespread software piracy. With pirated copies of Windows XP or Vista selling on the street for less than $2, there is little economic incentive for Chinese Internet users to download Firefox.
Bill Xu, founder of the ZEUUX Free Software Community, a Beijing group that promotes open source, points out that for Firefox to succeed in China, it shouldn't compete on cost but by stressing its security features. "IE isn't very secure. It's plagued with a lot of add-ons, malware, and viruses. Firefox is more secure, and that's the main reason a lot of users choose it," he says.
Well, I think this may require some more creative thinking. It's not just a matter of saying "security", not least because Firefox has its own security problems, and it will be easy to defeat that tactic. Perhaps we need more Firefox plugins that serve the Chinese market, specific to the Chinese language, for example.
In any case, this is getting serious: failure to make inroads into the Chinese browser market undoes much of the good work in Europe, where Firefox is getting close to a majority share in some markets.
I've always assumed the Swedish Pirate Party were a bunch of anarchists who wanted to cock a snook at authority by disrupting one of its precious intellectual monopolies, and have some fun along the way.
I was wrong.
It turns out that there is some pretty deep thinking behind what they are doing, as evidence by this fascinating interview with Rick Falkvinge, founder and the leader of the party:
What was remarkable was that this was the point where the enemy - forces that want to lock down culture and knowledge at the cost of total surveillance - realized they were under a serious attack, and mounted every piece of defense they could muster. For the first time, we saw everything they could bring to the battle.
And it was... nothing. Not even a fizzle. All they can say is "thief, we have our rights, we want our rights, nothing must change, we want more money, thief, thief, thief". And shove some poor artists in front of them to deliver the message. Whereas we are talking about scarcity vs. abundance, monopolies, the nature of property, 500-year historical perspectives on culture and knowledge, incentive structures, economic theory, disruptive technologies, etc. The difference in intellectual levels between the sides is astounding.
So now we know what the enemy has, and that they have absolutely nothing in terms of intellectual capital to bring to the battle. They do, however, have their bedside connections with the current establishment. That's the major threat to us at this point.
Intellectual capital? Hm....
And then he goes on to make this important point:
The people who have been led to believe that file sharing can be stopped with minimal intrusion are basically smoking crack.
Early on in the debate, we dropped the economic arguments altogether and focused entirely on civil liberties and the right to privacy. This has proven to be a winning strategy, with my keynote "Copyright Regime vs. Civil Liberties" being praised as groundbreaking.
The economic arguments are strong, but debatable. There are as many reports as there are interests in copyright, and every report arrives at a new conclusion. If you just shout and throw reports over the volleyball net at the other team, it becomes a matter of credibility of the reports. When you switch to arguing civil liberties, you dropkick that entire discussion.
Obviously I need to pay more attention to these people.
I'm not the biggest fan of private equity companies, but they do have the virtue of being ruthlessly logical: they are not enslaved by history, just by greed. That means they are not frightened of radical thinking or radical solutions if it brings them more of the foldable stuff. Thinking like this:
The record business - in which 85 per cent of artists are lossmaking and EMI pays £25m a year to scrap unsold CDs - "is stuck with a model designed for a world that has changed and gone forever", he says.
His solution is to switch from pushing CDs to pulling consumers towards music in different forms. One element will be focus groups. "People say the music industry is more creative and the customer doesn't know, only the creatives do.
"When you look at which car companies are succeeding it's the ones which work with their customers. Are clothes not creative? Is fashion not creative? Is food not creative? The only real difference is these industries have learnt to work with the customer and not force-feed them," he argues.
So, he seems to get the idea of listening to customers, which is good.
Surprisingly, he says that Radiohead, the band that ditched EMI last year to launch their latest album online, made the right choice. "Radiohead had the right idea. They understand their fans. They realise some of them want the premium box set. I'm one who bought one, and paid the full price. What Radiohead showed the industry was that it isn't one answer for all artists or indeed for every customer."
Which indicates that he also realises what the record business is really about: selling scarce commodities like analogue objects and unique relationships.
13 January 2008
Here's an impressively strong commitment to open access from the European Research Council:
The ERC requires that all peer-reviewed publications from ERC-funded research projects be deposited on publication into an appropriate research repository where available, such as PubMed Central, ArXiv or an institutional repository, and subsequently made Open Access within 6 months of publication.
Notice that's into repositories immediately, and full open access within six months. But what struck me particularly were two additional aspects.
The first was support for open data that's one of the strongest I've seen so far:
The ERC considers essential that primary data - which in the life sciences for example could comprise data such as nucleotide/protein sequences, macromolecular atomic coordinates and anonymized epidemiological data - are deposited to the relevant databases as soon as possible, preferably immediately after publication and in any case not later than 6 months after the date of publication.
There was also a nice sting in the tail, too:
The ERC is keenly aware of the desirability to shorten the period between publication and open access beyond the currently accepted standard of 6 months.
Translated: you ain't seen nuffink yet.
11 January 2008
I've noted before that Microsoft and Elsevier are, well, shall we say, kindred spirits. As Peter Suber observes, they're going to be getting even chummier now that Microsoft is acquiring the search company FAST:
FAST is the search technology Elsevier uses in Scirus, Scopus, and ScienceDirect.
BECTA, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, starts to get it:
UK schools should not upgrade to Microsoft's Vista operating system and Office 2007 productivity suite, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) has said in a report on the software. It is also supporting use of the international standard ODF (Open Document Format) for storing files.
"We have not had sight of any evidence to support the argument that the costs of upgrading to Vista in educational establishments would be offset by appropriate benefit," it said.
The cost of upgrading Britain's schools to Vista would be £175m, around a third of which would go to Microsoft, the agency said. The rest would go on deployment costs, testing and hardware upgrades, it said.
Even that sum would not be enough to purchase graphics cards capable of displaying Windows Aero Graphics, although that's no great loss because "there was no significant benefit to schools and colleges in running Aero," it said.
As for Office 2007, "there remains no compelling case for deployment," the agency said in its full report, published this week.
It will be interesting to see how Microsoft reacts to this ever-so gentle kneeing in the digital groin.
Many of the UK Government's fiascos - both old ones like the loss of 25 million bank details, or future ones like ID cards - could be avoided if there were people in office who understood IT. After all, the mistakes that are being made - allowing someone to download 25 million records and then send them through the post, or creating a centralised database of everyone's most personal details - aren't exactly subtle.
Alas, these people are rare, but one such is John Pugh, the Liberal Democrat MP for Southport. I've met him a few times, and always been impressed by his grasp of technical issues, and that is demonstrated once more in this letter to Mark Thompson, the BBC's Director-General, a copy of which has been passed on to me. It deals with the thorny matter of the iPlayer, and follows a meeting with Parliament's Public Accounts Committee:
It's worth quoting at length:
I do recognise that [the iPlayer] has an attractive interface,is user friendly and addresses digital rights issues so I stop short of suggesting the BBC has bought a lemon.
The more fundamental issue is its failure to apply open standards and be sufficiently interoperable to work fully (stream and download) on more than one platform. The BBC is funded by licence players not all of whom have or chose to use a computer running Windows XP or Vista. By guaranteeing full functionality to the products of one software vendor it is as a public body handing a commercial advantage to that company- effectively illegal state aid!
The aspiration to eventually ( you said within two years) remove this advantage- does not rebut this charge. A promise of amendment is never sufficient excuse for past sins or indeed much of an explanation.
Most major web based developments of any scale these days work on the presumption that interoperablity, open standards and platform neutrality are givens. It is not clear why the BBC design brief did not specify these requirements or if it did what technical problems-given the expertise available- hinder them being implemented.
So long as the I-Player is bundled in with Windows/Internet Explorer it continues runs the risk of breaching state aid rules - as the benefits it thereby bestows on Microsoft (with their somewhat blemished reputation for fair competition) come via the deployment of the public’s licence money. What might be a pragmatic choice for a privately funded company becomes deeply problematic for a public corporation.
I recognise and welcome the assurances that the BBC and you personally have given on this subject but wonder whether the sheer novelty of the new media has blinded many to the clear commercial inequity in the delivery of it.
Now all we need to do is make sure that John becomes Prime Minister....