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July 2005

Layered, furcating stories in time and space

Kim posting Stories in Urban Spaces and my happening to be re-reading Borges (in the Andrew Hurley translation), made me go back to 'The Garden of Forking Paths' (1941).

Borges' narrator, Yu Tsun, is the great-grandson of Ts'ui Pen, a 'governor of Yunan province … who renounced all temporal power in order to write a novel containing more characters than the Hung Lu Meng and construct a labyrinth in which all men would lose their way'. Ts'ui Pen is murdered after 13 years of work on these labours, and what survived was a 'novel (that) made no sense' — and 'no one ever found the labyrinth'. Early in the story, Yu Tsun, on the run, reflects that 'all things happen to oneself, and happen precisely, precisely now. Century follows century, yet events occur only in the present; countless men in the air, on the land and sea, yet everything that truly happens, happens to me.' Choosing a name from a phone book (the reason for which choice only becomes fully clear at the end of the story), he finds himself at the house of the famous Sinologist, Stephen Albert. Improbability is heaped on improbability (after all, this is anti-literature, no matter that it is also literature of exquisite skill, intelligence and inventiveness), and Stephen Albert is not only intimate with the life and work of Ts'ui Pen but has, he believes, cracked the secret of both novel and labyrinth: they are one and the same. Ts'ui Pen had left a fragment of a letter: 'I leave to several futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths'. Stephen Albert explains to Yu Tsun:

'I leave to several futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths.' Almost instantly, I saw it — the garden of forking paths was the chaotic novel; the phrase 'several futures (not all)' suggest to me the image of a forking in time, rather than in space. A full rereading of the book confirmed my theory. In all fictions, each time a man meets diverse alternatives, he chooses one and eliminates the others; in the work of the virtually impossible-to-disentangle Ts'ui Pen, the character chooses — simultaneously — all of them. He creates, thereby, 'several futures', several times, which themselves proliferate and fork. That is the explanation for the novel's contradictions. Fang, let us say, has a secret; a stranger knocks at the door; Fang decides to kill him. Naturally, there are various possible outcomes — Fang can kill the intruder, the intruder can kill Fang, they can both live, they can both be killed, and so on. In Ts'ui Pen's novel, all the outcomes in fact occur; each is the starting point for further bifurcations. Once in a while, the paths of that labyrinth converge: for example, you come to this house, but in one of the possible pasts you are my enemy, in another my friend.

… 'The Garden of Forking Paths' is an incomplete, but not false, image of the universe as conceived by Ts'ui Pen. Unlike Newton and Schopenhauer, your ancestor did not believe in a uniform and absolute time; he believed in an infinite series of times, a growing, dizzying web of divergent, convergent and parallel times. That fabric of times that approach one another, fork, are snipped off, or are simply unknown for centuries, contains all possibilities. In most of those times, we do not exist; in some, you exist but I do not; in others, I do and you do not; in others still, we both do. In this one, which the favouring hand of chance has dealt me, you have come to my home; in another, when you come through my garden you find me dead; in another, I say these same words, but I am an error, a ghost.

Life as layered narrative, diachronically and synchronically; shared and individual, typical/general and unique — knowledge fundamental to our sense of being human. The advent of technologies which could allow us to interact with place and time raises questions that are profoundly old. (Kim's questions towards the end of her post made me think of urban plays, from medieval pageants to contemporary community projects — The Dillen, for example.) The extension of all this, in and through new technology, into new "theatres" of play, entertainment and education … The possibilities for grass-roots up development, for social and communal initiatives which bypass official or authorised pictures of the polis … 'infinite stories, infinitely branching' (Borges, 'A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain', 1941).

But in Borges, 'infinite stories, infinitely branching' suggests a weariness and meaninglessness. (Ecclesiastes, 12.12: 'Of making many books there is no end and much study is a weariness of the flesh'.) This melancholy may even embrace the world. 'The Library of Babel', 1941, conceives of a universe, the Library, as 'unlimited but periodic': 'If an eternal traveller should journey in any direction, he would find after untold centuries that the same volumes are repeated in the same disorder — which, repeated, becomes order: the Order'. In this story, the librarian finds this an 'elegant hope'; this reader finds the thought dispiriting.

Will a glut of gorgeous visualisations and interactive, highly social "games" deepen our melancholy — too much meaning to be finally meaningful? Or, instead, will the glamour of technology encourage us to forget and to take again the picture for the world? I doubt there will be anything new in the range of answers we come up with to either of these questions.

In 1984, Harold Fisch published A Remembered Future and wrote of how art can give us 'the unappeased memory of a future still to be fulfilled'. More recently, Heaney has written of how 'We go to poetry, we go to literature in general, to be forwarded within ourselves. The best it can do is to give us an experience that is like foreknowledge of certain things which we already seem to be remembering. What is at work … is the mind's capacity to conceive a new plane of regard for itself, a new scope for its own activity' ('Joy or Night', 1990, in The Redress of Poetry, 1995). New ways of presenting layered narratives, as yet but 'tiny glimmers' (Kim's phrase), will acquire their maturity as art when they allow us to conceive a new plane of regard for ourselves as both unique and typical, simultaneously liberating us from the lonely egotism of Yu Tsun, where 'everything that truly happens, happens to me', and the merely 'unlimited but periodic'.


Civil liberties and Terror

Cherie Blair:

Nothing I say here could possibly be construed as making light of those horrible acts of violence, or of the responsibility imposed on the UK and other governments to keep the public safe, or of the difficult and dangerous task performed by the police and intelligence services. … at the same time it is all too easy for us to respond to such terror in a way which undermines commitment to our most deeply held values and convictions and which cheapens our right to call ourselves a civilised nation.

The QC, addressing an audience of 1,000 lawyers, civil servants and diplomats in Malaysia, said judges made rulings in a way that taught citizens and government about the "ethical responsibilities" of participating in a true democracy committed to "universal human rights standards". She said courts should be "guardians of the weakest, poorest and most marginalised members of society against the hurly-burly of majoritarian politics".

A good example of this working was the decision by the UK's highest court, the House of Lords law lords, that the UK's policy of holding foreign terrorist suspects indefinitely without charge broke human rights laws. "What the case makes clear is that the government, even in times when there is a threat to national security, must act strictly in accordance with the law," she said.

BBC News


The BBC, Backstage … and what then?

Ben Metcalfe launched Backstage at Open Tech. His presentation can be downloaded here (PowerPoint) and an audio file can be downloaded via the Open Tech 05 site (the talk was one of those given in the Main Theatre). There's a very useful posting on Backstage about the raft of BBC News RSS feeds, including theme-led feeds.

What's happened to the conservative Auntie we grew up with? Earlier this year, Wired News carried a story entitled, 'The Beeb Shall Inherit the Earth' — by Cory: 'America's entertainment industry is committing slow, spectacular suicide, while one of Europe's biggest broadcasters -- the BBC -- is rushing headlong to the future, embracing innovation rather than fighting it. … With Backstage, BBC's online department takes all the goop in its content-management system -- breaking news, editorials and conferences -- and exposes it as a set of standard programming interfaces. Anyone who can hack a little Perl or Python can mix these into any kind of service they can imagine'. (Cory also sums up the BBC's developing relationship with amateur content providers, 'The BBC's news website is the first mainstream news-gathering organization in the Western world to solicit and give prominence to photographs and reporting provided by its visitors', and the Creative Archive — 'an attempt to digitize all the programming the BBC has commissioned, clear the copyrights and post it online with a Creative Commons-like license. This will allow Britons to download the BBC's content, distribute it and noncommercially remix it into their own films, music, gags, projects and school reports'.)

At Open Tech, I found myself sitting just across the aisle from Stef Magdalinski, author of Wikiproxy — the cause-of-origin of which was explained here (4 October, 2004):

News Online doesn’t engage with its users, it doesn’t provide tools that allow me, the licence payer, to slice and dice their stories, and by refusing to link from its body text, it fails to understand how hypertext works. Also, with its conservative link policy … that only connects the BBC to established brands, it snubs the wider web, the great teeming mass of creativity. Patrician is not authoritative. Aloof is not respected. Conservative and fearful is not engaging. The gap between the BBC’s utterly laudable self image and ambitions and delivery could not be any clearer than at News Online. Finally, by not really allowing user interaction or commenting, News Online forces that debate and activity away from its site, and out onto the wild wild web. I’ve known many people at the organisation since its very earliest days. There’s some incredible talent and ideas, and from what I hear, an equal amount of frustration at how difficult it is to get these ideas to fruition.

Wikiproxy is described by Stef Magdalinski as 'a proxy for the site, that does the following things: retrieves a page from News Online, and regexes out “Capitalised Phrases” and acronyms. It then tests these against a database of wikipedia topic titles. If the phrase is a topic in wikipedia, then it’s turned into a hyperlink; uses the technorati API to add a sidebar of links to blogs referencing the story. Now you can see who’s talking about the story from the story itself …'. And instead of suing him, the BBC went away and came back with Backstage.

Two of three Backstage-unleashed projects that Ben whipped through caught my attention (many more here):

I had to leave before the session in the late afternoon when Lee spoke about Headshift's work for the BBC 'that looked at how social tagging might work on BBC News to drive both social bookmarking and user-driven related stories'. This project (which Lee spoke about at Reboot, last month) strikes me as really interesting; there's more on it here and here.

So there's Backstage, BBC Open Source, the Creative Archive Licence Group ('The BBC, the bfi, Channel 4 and the Open University set up the Creative Archive Licence Group to make their archive content available for download under the terms of the Creative Archive Licence - a single, shared user licence scheme for the downloading of moving images, audio and stills') and also Action Network: 'The BBC runs Action Network as an open forum for people to influence issues they care about. Most of the content is written by the public and reflects their views. Content provided by the BBC is clearly marked'. Other signs of movement and change at the Beeb keep popping up: Mildly Diverting posted last week that the BBC had authorised the opportunity 'to watch 'The Mighty Boosh' on broadband. A WEEK BEFORE IT GOES OUT ON THE TELLY', and Paul Mason (Newsnight) blogged Gleneagles and G8 from outside the BBC.

What does all this amount to? To stick with Backstage for a moment, it is clearly a GOOD THING:

This is such a good idea and will, I hope, cement the BBC's leading role in innovating for public good within the mainstream media. It is the latest in a long line of developments that illustrate how the BBC has become a safe harbour for some clever people who are committed to building public value through online media. It also proves, I think, how the internet has revitalised the BBC's public service remit, which was previously becoming a bit lost amidst the management debates, multi-skilling and the growing obsession with competing with lower forms of commercial media. (Lee)

But before we all get too excited, both Lee and Lloyd Shepherd, Head of Development at Guardian Unlimited, have some cautionary words. The BBC is moving boldly, but hasn't declared itself a liberty hall. Under Backstage's terms of service,

You can’t redistribute BBC content; only the BBC can do that. And Backstage is an ideal way to encourage distribution of BBC content around the world (a fundamental tenet of the BBC’s public service charter) but click on a link and you’re back on a BBC page to look at the full content. The simple fact is that the BBC is not distributing full-text content by RSS; only headlines and snippets (this is even true of Backstage’s own RSS feeds). As the BBC itself has said, it expects 10 per cent of its website traffic to be coming from RSS by the end of this year. In other words, RSS is just another effective way of building audience and traffic, and Backstage is a very good way of getting BBC RSS feeds out into wider communities. (Lloyd Shepherd)

Nevertheless, and in the spirit of that well-worn line from Robert Frost's 'Mending Wall', Something there is that doesn't love a wall, something stirs. Stef Magdalinski said how he was 'inspired by meeting Jimmy Wales of wikipedia.org', a venture and a vision that 'precisely illustrates how the collaborative, great unwashed web can create more value than ‘authoritative’ institutions', and it's great to see the BBC responding creatively, interpreting its remit in new ways for this new age. Definitely time not just to watch Auntie, then, but to join in.


Conference retrospect: Reboot 7.0 & Open Tech '05

A pretty good range of podcasts from Reboot 7.0 is now up: see here and here. (I missed the Doug Englebart film and linkup, but Ross blogged about it here and the film is available on the web. There are useful comments on the presentations here.)

Reboot was far and away the best conference experience I have known and has so far resisted my attempts to write it up: too much to say, with each line of thought multiplying into several new ones as idea leads on to idea. So I'll just have to let Reboot and Open Tech do their work and come into what I blog, as I go and bit by bit — which shouldn't be hard as so much in both is continually under discussion on the web right now.

The sight of the main hall at Reboot is still worth gawping at. It was a busy two days+ that let me meet a range of exciting, stimulating people and left me in no doubt that a new way of doing (so many apparently different) things is upon us. Like Nicole (Cruel to be Kind), I don't want the Reboot spirit to slip through my fingers. I can't think of anything I've come across that approaches the inter-disciplinary, collaborative excitement of the best of Reboot and Open Tech.


Morning call

My son, at home after a gap year, working again pre-university and burning the candle at both ends, isn't the earliest of risers. This morning, just up and with 15 minutes to go before his shift at work, he told me:

I dreamt you came into my room and said, 'Right — I've pulled a few strings and you're off to Iraq'. … I woke up.

I should think he did. (And totally bizarre: I have no military connections that could get him to Iraq … and — what a surprise — no desire to see him go there, either.)


QI

This is a bookshop designed for browsing. The shelves don't follow the usual classifications. Instead they collect books together thematically, so a novel or biography might end up next to a work of popular science, or a reference book. The selection criteria are simple: they are either the best books on a subject or a book one of us feels strongly about recommending. The selection and the categories are designed to stimulate thought and discussion. …

'Besides the libraries of Radcliffe and Bodley and the Colleges, there have been of late years many libraries founded in our coffee houses … in these instruction and pleasure go hand in hand; and we may pronounce, in a literal sense, that learning no longer remains a dry pursuit.' Thomas Warton (1728–1790)

So runs the card that you can pick up at the QI bookshop (16 Turl Street, Oxford OX1 3DH). A number of friends have asked me about QI and I said I'd post a few notes, beginning with the bookshop. Last time I was there I took a few photos and the one I'd intended to serve as illustration of the unusual classification system only gives a suggestion of what it's like to browse shelves where books are grouped by themes: Informed Rants, Obsession, Revenge, Desire, Betrayal, Addiction, Experience, Innocence, First Love, Last Love … It's a great bookshop, with personality, run by Claudia FitzHerbert and her small team of enthusiastic, informed and intellectually alive assistants. Support it! Oxford has many bookshops already — but this one is different. We have thousands of books at home and yet this is a place where I am always discovering new authors, new books … new ideas to follow up — not least through chatting with Claudia and her team.

There's also a QI bar behind the bookshop. It's a cosy place for a drink with friends, relaxed and very sociable. It serves food and coffee, too, throughout opening hours. Upstairs is the club: this is private — members only. But it's the only club I've come across that I feel I'd like to join: two elegant Georgian rooms to relax in with drinks, light food and coffee always available, and a dining room and library where lunch and dinner is served every day. Taken with the bookshop and bar, it offers 'an eclectic mix of people, a place to meet, talk, shop, eat and drink in the centre of Oxford. It's a new version of the salon or the coffee house: a place you pop into regularly to buy books, read the paper, eat lunch, celebrate, argue, escape the office and listen to, or start conversations with, other quite interesting people.'

QI. Quite interesting. (Common code: 01865. Bookshop: 261507. Bar: 261508. Club: 261500.)

*****

Updates

(1) this from Claudia FitzHerbert's column in the Daily Telegraph, 9 August:

Dons don't come into my shop, much. Michael Gearin-Tosh, who died last week, was an exception. A distinguished English tutor at St Catherine's, who acquired a wider audience with Living Proof (2002) - an account of his long (and, for a long time, startlingly successful) battle against myeloma and conventional medicine - he was an irregular regular. On his first visit, I tried to pick his brains over which editions of Chekhov to stock, and where to put them. Chekhov, a doctor as well as a dramatist, saw a "dull-wittedness and tyranny" in medicine which he compared to Tsarist police. His genius hovers over Living Proof.

Gearin-Tosh seemed to get the shop categories at once. "He would," said my Fellow fellow, when I put it to him that a scholar had been in the shop and not fainted in disgust. "Contradiction and creative disorder are at the heart of Gearin-Tosh's talent. Your shop is just the retail version of his room in college." He said he'd think about the Chekhov before responding with feline courtesy to the placing of Living Proof. I don't think he was overly pleased to find it in Informed Rants, wedged in between Francis Wheen on mumbo-jumbo and Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication. He would, I think, have preferred to be in The Big Picture, along with War and Peace and The Selfish Gene.

(2) jinty (livejournal):

Harry Potter is filed under Revenge, and the assistant, Thomasz, spoke interestingly of how one particular book had been placed by him under one category -- let's say Desire -- but then consistently moved by someone else to another category -- let's assume Ha Ha. In the end Thomasz moved it to Turbulence.


London and Terror

My journey to Open Tech was largely uneventful, except most of the underground was closed and I got from Paddington to Barons Court by a very long route (Paddington to Embankment, Embankment to Barons Court — about 40 minutes in total) and a few times I noticed a marked level of nervousness amongst fellow passengers when someone arrived with a parcel, small backpack or bag.

On and of 7 July, Momus posted: 'The delights of the high density city are displaced by the stresses and (still largely imagined) dangers of the high density city. The high density city is always poised delicately between heaven and hell; this tips things over to the hell side. And yet I still believe in the utopian potential of big cities'. And he concluded the same post with, 'The precarious delights of the city tip over into some kind of Hieronymus Bosch hell scene, and suspicion attaches with tedious inevitability to otherness.' Today, he has an interesting mini-essay on "Israelization":

Israelization is a theme that's been hanging in the air for a while now. Last March I did a Click Opera entry called Anger in Angrael. Angrael is the name I give to the strategic alliance between the US, UK and Israel following the second Gulf War. Angrael is a cultural bloc and a military bloc. … The countries of the alliance will inevitably become "security states" and will be forced to adopt the extreme security measures seen in Israel: road blocks, constant states of alert, security perimeter fences, the sequestration in camps of "the Other", an internal Other increasingly seen, in the wake of suicide bombs and other terrorist incidents, as an enemy. … The main result of Israelization is a militarization of civilian space, or rather the dissolution of boundaries between the military and the civilian. A woman on the BBC News the other day described how the police had taken over her flat in Brixton, forcing her to camp in a back bedroom. They told her it was because bombs were being made in a neighbour's flat. Witnesses of the shooting of a man at Stockwell station yesterday spoke of their horror at seeing plain-clothed policemen with guns running onto a train and slaying a suspect with five shots. The sight of policemen armed with submachineguns has now become commonplace in London. The extraordinary has become ordinary. … In my essay Double Density I spoke about the refreshing sense of tranquility and trust that reigns in Tokyo, despite the fact that it's the world's largest city with some of the world's highest urban density levels.

He concludes this post saying that Israelization 'is how the world must not become. Today, it's looking more and more like an inevitable future, at least for the residents of "Angrael". The question is, how can we avoid Israelization, when both to live in fear and to carry on regardless take us straight to Israel?'


Travelling in London

I'm intending to be at Open Tech 2005 tomorrow. Fellow-travellers heading London-wards may want to keep an eye on the developing security situation. The BBC has a 'London alerts: at-a-glance' page.

The London Transport Tube page is best viewed (according to UKUUG) in conjunction with LT's Javascript Real Time Disruption Map (disrupted lines appear in their normal colour, working lines are shown in grey; disrupted stations appear in red). There's also a page of realtime travel news for the tube.


Tagging: filing, annotating … and rhetoric

Tom Coates' interesting 4 June posting, Two cultures of fauxonomies collide …, suggests that tagging-with-del.icio.us, 'with an individual the only person who could tag their stuff', is like filing and treats tags as folders, whilst tagging-with-Flickr, 'you can tag other people's photos for a start', is like annotating and treats tags as keywords.

So two radically different forms of tagging that really share very little in common with one another - which leads to the question, is there room for two different paradigms here (at least) or will there be some refactoring and adaptation that moves us towards one or other model? … It is my conjecture that the folder metaphor is losing ground and the keyword one is currently assuming dominance.

I'm not persuaded that the two worlds, del.icio.us and Flickr, do use tagging in such radically different ways (certainly, I've been using tags-as-folders and tags-as-keywords on both), but it would be interesting to see how usage is changing and such a study might 'allow us to design better interfaces to support these innovations'.

The comments to Tom's post are interesting. I particularly liked this from Matthew Morgan, 'The beauty of tagging is that folder tags and keyword tags can coexist in the same system. I think that's a big improvement over having folders in one place (the GUI) and keywords in another (the search box)', and this from Thomas Vander Wal, invoking his distinction between broad (eg, del.icio.us) and narrow (eg, Flickr) folksonomies:

Measuring Flickr's use of a tag is problematic unless the photos are of the exact same object. Flickr's narrow folksonomy ties the tags directly to the object so there is no way of interpreting meaning and popularity, nor change of tag usage over time for the same object.

Now, over at Many 2 Many: 'I think that keywords & tags need a context (folder) to make sense, e.g. del.icio.us tags live in the "/us/icio/del/" universe, while Flickr tags live in the "/com/flickr/" universe. Mixing them rarely makes sense.' (Michal Migurski); 'the stuff that Joshua has tried to do with del.icio.us is basically post-folder, but not quite keyword - it's a view of tags as a way in which something can belong to multiple folders without there being any cognitive dissonance. I think my point was that people were pulling that more towards a keyword style use though. One consequence of this might be that his interfaces aren't built for lots of tags, unlike the Flickr interface which conceals the less popular ones and lets recurrence form emergent patterns.' (Tom Coates).

It doesn't deal directly with Tom Coates' original questions about tagging, but David Gilbert's comments at Many 2 Many appealed to me, perhaps because I teach about literature and language and like Wittgenstein:

I would argue that, more or less, what we are now calling "folksonomies" are what the Greeks called "rhetoric." And if we begin to try to categorize or systematize all these usages, these manifold relations, tropes, figures, then we run into the same problem as Aristotle and later Cicero and the Romans, who never exhausted all of the categories needed to explain the various uses of language. Which leads me to conclude with a bad paraphrase of Wittgenstein: "The meaning of a tag is in its use." … You say, "rhetoric will never entirely be absent." I think you've got it the wrong way around. I'd say rather that the act of tagging is fundamentally rhetorical, and that "logic will never be entirely absent." Let's begin with a non-controversial function of tagging: It's a mnemonic device; I tag something in such a way so that I can recall it later, so that I can find it again. It may be that logical relations are useful in this regard, but mnemonics was historically a canon of rhetoric. … As to the social aspect of tagging (especially prominent in Flickr), the moment we begin to talk about how someone tags something for someone else, we are in the middle of issues of "audience." In other words, right in the middle of what has historically been the province of rhetoric. Logic, on the other hand, has always been indifferent to issues of audience, if not downright hostile towards them. … In his work titled The Rhetoric, Aristotle explains that what makes a rhetorical argument different from a logical one (in his terms, what makes an enthymeme different from a syllogism), is that the premises used in rhetorical arguments are drawn from phronesis--that is, from practical wisdom or common knowledge about the world that has been accumulated, not by the logician on his mountaintop or in his cave, but by the rabble in the assembly and in the agora; if you like, in the bazaar. David Gilbert


'This vast, free and open system'

This caught my eye last week — Julian Bond posting about two stories:

Wayback Machine sued: DMCA
IFPI vs Heise vs Allofmp3

The first is about a law suit being brought in the USA where an old copy of a company's web site appears in the Wayback Machine. They are claiming copyright abuse using the much discredited DMCA. Crucially, they claim that old snapshots are available even though more recent snapshots have been prohibited via a robots.txt file that is being honoured. This is a problem that I've hit on Ecademy with Google where somebody has chosen to hide their profile from Google, but Google still maintains an entry in the index and a cached copy of the page from before they made the change.

The second is about a new law in Germany, where promoting a service which is illegal in Germany is also illegal. A German magazine website that specialises in copyright issues has a link in an article to Allofmp3, the Russian paid for music download site. They are being sued in Germany by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). And this despite the fact that they have not yet brought a case *in Germany* proving that the Allofmp3 site is illegal under German law and within the German jurisdiction.

I looked into Allofmp3 in March of 2004, going so far as to ring The New Statesman to discuss their reporter's judgement that the site is legal. As Tom Armitage reported back then: 'All the music on the site is licensed by ROMS, the Russian Organisation for Multimedia and Digital Systems, and the assistant to the lawyer of ROMS assured music portal Museekster.com that: “the sites you mentioned conduct their business legally and are licensed by ROMS, in full accordance with Russian and international law“. … The site demonstrates a clear understanding of the internet and how best to exploit it, applying local copyright law to a global marketplace. Whether the record industry will be as impressed with it as the public remains to be seen.' Indeed.

I can't say Colin Greenwood was wowed when I told him about Allofmp3, either, but since then (November of last year) I think things have moved on and many musicians are reconsidering how to distribute their music, how the punter should pay for it and what rights the buyer should then have over his/her purchase. One of the reasons why Allofmp3 has attracted praise is because, as Tom Armitage pointed out, 'The files it provides have no digital rights management information attached to them. This means that there are no restrictions on how many times you copy or distribute the files once they’ve been downloaded. The files can be copied between an unlimited number of computers and electronic devices. It is still illegal to give the files to people who have not paid for them, but Allofmp3.com clearly feel they can trust their customers to keep the law, rather than potentially crippling the files they have paid for.'

And as for this nonsense about the Wayback Machine … I've long been a fan and user of it, but since the advent of Firefox and the wonderful extension from Kristof Polleunis that adds a right-click menu which 'allows you to check the page you are browsing or any link in the waybackmachine archive' — well, I use it many times a day and it's an indispensable tool. (There's another great extension there for Google cache, Gcache: 'It will add an entry called "Gcache This Page" to your contextmenu'.)

Julian winds up his post with a great comment and a terrific quotation from Doc Searls:

Like Doc Searls, I'm scared that this vast, free and open system will get tied down, monetized and ruined as more and more commercial and governmental interests try to control it.

This is what we are fighting, folks. The open and free marketplace the Internet provides is shortly going to look like the best darn mess of few-to-many distribution systems for "content" the world has ever known. It will not be the free and open marketplace it was in the first place, and should remain. The end-state will (be) a vast matrix of national and private silos and walled gardens, each a contained or filtered distribution environment. And most of us won't know what we missed, because it never quite happened.