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January 2006

Dave Winer on P2P … and the Google API … and BitTorrent

From Dave Winer's post, 'Yahoo game-changers for 2006':

P2P webcasting. I wrote about this vaguely the other day, and no one apparently understood what I meant by Skype for webcasting. Come on guys, it’s pretty simple. Suppose we’re having a conversation, and I decide “Wow, this would be great for Scripting News, let’s do a webcast of this right now.” So I whip out my laptop, get onto the net (there’s wifi everywhere of course, heh) and launch my Yahoo Webcaster desktop app for the Mac. I choose New Webcast from the File menu. A window opens. There’s a button that says “Copy URL to clipboard.” I click it. Go over to my outliner, paste it into a post on Scripting News. “Tune into this webcast I’m about to do with Bull Mancuso about intellectual property and organized crime.” I highlight the word webcast and click on Add Link. Save. Then I go back to the Yahoo app and click Start. We talk for ten minutes, all the while people tune into the stream, which is managed via a realtime BitTorrent-like P2P connection. And of course when it’s all done it’s automatically archived to an MP3 and included in my RSS 2.0 feed for people who subscribe. If you’ve ever done a webcast, you know how much better this would be. And it’s ready to go, we know how to do all the bits.

And Kevin Marks adds in his comment to Dave's post:

Dave, have a look at GarageBand 3 and iChat. You set up your n-way conversation in iChat, you hit record in GarageBand, and it creates a multitrack recording of it for you with the speakers labelled. You can trim it, adjust levels ad effect, or just dump it out to mp3 straight away.

We should get right down to exploring and using these methods: homegrown webcasting has huge potential for schools and education.

There's much else in Dave's post. I've blogged before about his Clone the Google API proposal. What he told Yahoo! about BitTorrent is surely smack on target, too — and I love this bit of advice:

I said wherever you’re doing something to make another industry happy at the expense of users, switch polarity, immediately, and get on the side of the users. That in itself is the biggest game-change possible.

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Dan Gillmor: lessons from Bayosphere on Citizen Journalism

Dan Gillmor has a fine piece here about the Bayoshpere venture into citizen journalism. There's much to thank him for in the posting: for one thing, his clear outline of the business options they considered before settling on publishing is a useful list for anyone considering doing something similar.

Bayosphere didn't get airborne, and the best of Dan Gillmor's posting lies in the lessons he's drawn from the experience:

Bayosphere attracted quite a bit of traffic, and some heartening effort on the part of some citizen journalists. I'm grateful to them for trying. But as is obvious to anyone who's paid attention, the site didn't take off -- in large part, no question about it, because of my own miscues and shortcomings. My friend Esther Dyson says, wisely, "Always make new mistakes." Did I ever. But I learned from them, and from what did work. Here are some of the lessons:

  • Citizen journalism is, in a significant way, about owning your own words. That implies responsibilities as well as freedom. We asked people to read and agree to a "pledge" that briefly explained what we believed it meant to be a citizen journalist -- including principles such as thoroughness, fairness, accuracy and transparency. Although some cynics hooted that this was at best naive, we're convinced it was at least useful.
  • Limiting participation is not necessarily a bad idea. By asking for a valid e-mail address simply in order to post comments, you reduce the pool of commenters considerably, but you increase the quality of the postings. And by asking for real names and contact information, as we did with the citizen journalists, you reduce the pool by several orders of magnitude. Again, however, there appears to be a correlation between willingness to stand behind one's own words and the overall quality of what's said.
  • Citizen journalists need and deserve active collaboration and assistance. They want some direction and a framework, including a clear understanding of what the site's purpose is and what tasks are required. (I didn't do nearly a good enough job in this area.)
  • A framework doesn't mean a rigid structure, where the citizen journalist is only doing rote work such as filling in boxes.
  • The tools available today are interesting and surprisingly robust. But they remain largely aimed at people with serious technical skills -- which means too ornate and frequently incomprehensible to almost everyone else. Our tech expert, Jay Campbell, did a heroic job of trying to wrestle the software into submission to our goals. We still felt frustrated by the missing links.
  • Tools matter, but they're no substitute for community building. (This is a special skill that I'm only beginning to understand even now.)
  • Though not so much a lesson -- we were very clear on this going in -- it bears repeating that a business model can't say, "You do all the work and we'll take all the money, thank you very much." There must be clear incentives for participation, and genuine incentives require resources.
  • On several occasions, PR people offered to brief me on upcoming products or events that they hoped I'd cover in my capacity as a tech journalist, but were happy to give the slot to our citizen journalists. This testifies to a growing recognition among more clued-in PR folks that citizen journalism is here to stay.
  • Although the participants -- citizen journalists and commenters -- are essential, it's even more important to remember that publishing is about the audience in the end. Most people who come to the site are not participants. They're looking for the proverbial "clean, well-lighted place" where they can learn or be entertained, or both.
  • If you don't already have a thick skin, grow one.

Marc (Canter) has some comments about this here (and see, too, Lloyd Shepherd's posting). As Marc says, 'How many failed CEOs would blog it - and explain what went wrong, their own shortcomings and deliver an honest apology?'.

No surprise, then, that I also take away from Dan Gillmor's posting respect for his honest self-appraisal: 'As an entrepreneur, let's just say I wasn't in my element. The relentless focus on a single, limited project for long periods of time, combined with the inevitable compromises inherent in for-profit decision-making, turned out not to be my best skills'. (A friend of his said, "Well, you've always struck me as more of a dot-org kind of guy than the dot-com kind".)

The experience hasn't shaken Dan Gillmor's faith in citizen journalism: 'As the Bayosphere project was playing out last fall, I concluded that I could do more for the citizen journalism movement by forming a nonprofit enterprise, a "Center for Citizen Media" where I could put my skills and passion for the genre to better use'. His concluding comments are full of hope:

The shift in how we communicate and collaborate, how we learn what's going on in our world, has barely begun. Predicting the future is for other people, but I'm optimistic that we'll collectively figure this out.

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The Tom ap Rhys Pryce Memorial Trust

The killing of Tom on 12 January has affected many people, as Alex said in his comment to my post of 14 January.

The absence of hatred and anger in Tom's parents, as reported today in The Times, and their determination that out of this immense loss will come good, alike deserve all our respect and support:

THE parents of the murdered lawyer Tom ap Rhys Pryce said yesterday that they pitied and forgave his killers.

John and Estella ap Rhys Pryce, who are devout Christians, said that they believed their son’s murderers were “not intrinsically evil”.

The couple have set up a trust as a memorial to their son, a high-flying lawyer with the City firm Linklaters. It is hoped that the charity, which has already received £350,000, will raise more than £1 million to help to educate impoverished children.

Details about The Tom ap Rhys Pryce Memorial Trust can be found here. Linklaters has a page about Tom here.


The next revolution in interactions

Dion Hinchcliffe on the recent McKinsey & Company article, 'The next revolution in interactions' (free registration required):

McKinsey sites "phenomonal growth" in jobs requiring complex transactions, almost 3 times higher than for transactional jobs and the general economy as a whole.  They also cite numerous other recent statistics to back up the point, and which are worth further study.  The most salient point for us to take away is that the biggest productivity gains remaining in the economy will come from removing transactional burdens from employees so they can engage in higher-value interaction activites.  I would observe that many of these interactions are the most widely enabled by Web 2.0 style techniques like harnessing collective intelligence, customer self-service, The Long Tail, and many of the others.

The actions recommended by McKinsey are a fascinating study in Web 2.0 style concepts for collaboration, participation, content exploitation, loosely-coupled connections between diverse IT systems across the board (a critically important topic which I wrote about recently in the SOA Web Services Journal), etc.

Posted via Performancing 1.1 (now with added TrackBack support, del.icio.us integration — and much more!)

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OD'ing on A makes Jack … dull

The Telegraph reports that Dr Geoff Parks, Cambridge University's Director of Admissions,

… cast doubt on the rigour of the "gold standard" by claiming that five or six A grades proved only that students were "pretty good" at a range of subjects. To impress admission tutors at the elite institution, students must show they are "exceptionally good" at the subject they hoped to study by attaining deeper understanding and critical thinking. Time would be better spend (sic) sitting the more demanding Advanced Extension Award papers, reading outside the curriculum, debating and working part-time, said Mr Parks.

"The truth is there is no advantage to having a string of A-levels; in fact, a student with three As can be a much better applicant than one with six As."

Libby Purves, in The Times:

… we have, in the past two decades of educational upheaval, been brainwashed into believing that the only way to ensure the effect of education on the individual mind is to keep on measuring it with formulaic tests. We have been persuaded that a certificate or diploma is the ultimate product of the process — the more certificates the student can show, the better educated he or she is deemed to be. …

All this — though he may not have intended as much — is beautifully called into question by Dr Parks with his observations on the A-level overdose. He would like to see clever 17 and 18-year-olds reading outside the curriculum, debating, thinking, even working part-time. He would like them intellectually free, excited by their subject, curious, amused, anxious to explore. English literature and foreign language students should be reading voluntarily way beyond their set books (university tutors report that they rarely do).

Mathematicians and scientists should be devouring journals, noting discoveries, debating ethics; historians should be thinking about periods and people which will never turn up in their narrow, bitter little A-level papers. As for diversity, all these people should be peering interestedly into one another’s subjects, attending lectures or classes not because they are going to be examined on them but because they are interested.

But we don’t trust them, do we? We assume that every minute we do not hold their poor noses to the grindstone of set texts and compulsory exercises they will be out clubbing, watching reality TV or falling over drunk. Only when they present us with A-grade A levels do we believe them to be scholars. Which is rubbish. The best sixth-form heads know this, and organise debates and community work and theatre trips and outside lecturers and rich exciting libraries with time to use them.

But many sad schools are so focused on exams … that they do no such thing. And it makes Jack a dull boy.

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"Gmail US", "Gmail UK"

Hmm …  I know I read somewhere (a day or so ago) that Gmail's new Delete button only appears if your display language settings are set to 'English (US)', but I hadn't appreciated how other features available in Gmail depend upon this setting: if it's not set to US, these features won't show.

Choosing 'English (US)' in Settings (I've been running on English UK, as shown)

means you get a Delete button, the Web Clip (as above) and

a choice of language for the spell-checker. (Latin!) But it doesn't seem to be working (properly, yet) for 'English (UK)', though I'm not absolutely sure what this error message means:

Has Google said when it will make these features universal? And are there other features I haven't yet discovered that depend upon the display language being English US?

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Little boxes

John Naughton's column in today's Observer has an entertaining couple of final paragraphs about Apple's new TV ad and Intel's gobsmacked reaction:

'The Intel chip', it burbles. 'For years, it's been trapped inside PCs, inside dull little boxes …'

These preceding paragraphs are the meat, though:

The move to Intel processors takes Apple into uncharted territory. For the first time it will be possible - with a little bit of tweaking - to run Windows natively (without going through a software emulator) on a Mac. The prospect of so-called 'dual-boot' Apple computers - ones that can run both Microsoft and Apple operating systems - now seems real. This could be good news for people who run PCs, not because they love them but because an application essential for their business only runs under Windows.

It's more difficult to see what the upside of this would be for Apple. It might mean that it sells more computers and finally penetrates the corporate marketplace - hitherto a Windows-only zone. But the impact on Microsoft would be negligible, because people will still need Windows licences if they wish to run a dual-boot machine.

More troubling for Apple is the prospect that its operating system and applications software can now run natively on (much cheaper) PC hardware. The company is set against this, but already programmers have hacked it and it is difficult to see how Apple could stop the practice. If it catches on, Apple might see sales of its computers decline as those who admire Apple software but dislike its hardware prices get the best of both worlds.

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Information

A couple of good postings about information overload have come my way via Alex's blog. Anne 2.0:

… you keep seeing the same blogs with different posts about the same topic or the same posts but linked by different bloggers or different posts by different bloggers that contain almost exactly the same information. … you need some sort of summary that ensures that you see the important stuff at least once and only once. We're a long way from something like that but it's not too much to expect that in 2006 we'll take a step beyond simplistic aggregators.

And see, too, Connecting the Dots. River of news aggregators, social smart aggregation …

Then I came across Elizabeth Daniel (Professor of Information Management, Open University Business School):

It is estimated that the average knowledge worker spends around 10% of their working time trying to find the information within their organization that they need to do their job.

These difficulties are caused by:

  • too much information, much of which is often out of date;
  • too little information about what is really important to the organization;
  • conflicting information.

The key to success, she argues, is to ensure 'that the organization is collecting and maintaining the right information in the first place'. And how should an organisation manage all this information?

The 5 principles of information management are:

  1. Ownership. All information within the organization should be assigned an owner and that owner’s name should be displayed with the information. Effective stewardship of that information should form part of the individual’s annual appraisal.
  2. Identification. The owner should also be responsible for labelling or tagging the information so that it can be classified and most importantly easily retrieved by anyone seeking that information.
  3. Lifecycle. As with other assets, information has a finite life. All information should therefore be reviewed at pre-agreed intervals and archived when no longer current.
  4. Storage. Considerations for information storage should include ease of access by relevant staff – ‘store once, use many’ being the maxim of many organizations – as well as issues of security and business continuity.
  5. Audit. Finally, organizations should regularly review their use of information including cost and value.

As these principles illustrate, information management is as much about people and processes as about technology.

Wow!  These principles would stir things up in every school I know.

On enterprise portals ('one strand of my own research over the last few years'), she says:

Enterprise portals seek to do what consumer portals and search engines such as Google do on the internet, that is provide easy access to a multitude of information, but within a single organization. Enterprise portals can tailor the information presented to staff according to their interests and responsibilities. The relative ease with which other programs or applications can be integrated into enterprise portals ensures that it is not only static information that can be presented to staff. Information from applications such as customer databases, accounting systems and purchasing systems can all be presented through the portal. This feature allows staff who are unfamiliar with the underlying applications to easily access the information they need.

I hadn't appreciated how Google is moving in on the enterprise area: Daniel links to this IT Week article.

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A gazillion bloggers, small audiences, reading … Shakespeare

I do like David Weinberger, here being interviewed at Rebecca's Pocket:

How much traffic do you get?
I genuinely do not track it. I don't have the slightest idea. I don't have any meters in place and I never ever check my Technorati ranking or any of the others. I couldn't give you a guess reliable within several orders of magnitude.

Why don't you track it?
In small part on principle. In main part for pragmatic reasons. I would be affected by the numbers either way, and neither effect would be helpful. If I were a bigger person, I wouldn't care. But I do. So I don't check.

What principle?
That we shouldn't be writing blogs in order to gain a mass market. And we shouldn't be evaluating blogs and bloggers by how many people read them.

Why shouldn't we?
Because I'd like to see the broadcast strategy get a real alternative not just in who the stars are but in the star system entirely.

What alternative do you envision?
What we have: a gazillion bloggers, almost all of whom are writing for a small group of readers. …

How does your offline input contribute to your blogging?
A lot of our culture is in books that are either not online or too hard to read online. … Offline works often provide the impetus for a post — for example, it's hard for me to get through an issue of The Boston Globe without a mental list of things I really ought to blog about. But, by the time I get to my computer — a 15 second walk — I've usually forgotten all of them, which is a good thing. We get to take long walks through offline books. I find that that's good for maintaining and expanding the ol' context.

Whose writing do you particularly admire?
… I will say that that Shakespeare guy has a way with a phrase.

Why do you blog?
I blog because I tried it out and liked it. I like it because it gets me into conversations and it builds friendships. I like it because I like writing. I like it because it stimulates me so much that I jump out of bed in the morning to get started. Also, I have some obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

How has your weblog changed your life?
Blogging has made me fat. I used to exercise in the morning. Now I blog. It's connected me to people I care about. I'm over-stimulated intellectually. There's too much to read, think about, and write about.

The star system challenged — word-smithery as acts of honesty where we're so used to the emperor's clothes and other lies.

And much more besides: eg, 'For me, a community is a group of people who care about one another more than they have to'.

As for that Shakespeare guy, these lines have been much in my head this week:

How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?

Sonnet 65

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Intellectual Property: a Digital Rights Campaign

I'm grateful to James Governor for digging a bit further than me, visiting the National Consumer Council's website (as opposed to stopping with the BBC's report — see below). The NCC is dedicating time and energy to digital rights:

There is a new section to the website which summarises the NCC's work on innovation and intellectual property (IP). We argue that the view of consumers — as being at the end of the value chain, choosing from the products and services offered by providers — is outdated, and that this is reflected in IP law...

More information about the NCC's work on IP here:

Traditionally, businesses and policy-makers have tended to think of consumers as being at the end of the value chain, choosing from the range of products and services offered by providers. This does not describe how value is created in a modern economy and the role consumers can, and do, play in innovation and the co-creation of products and services.

This outdated view of the role of consumers is reflected in intellectual property (IP) law which gives rights to owners to control the use of innovations and ideas, and describes public and consumer fair access and use rights as exclusions and exceptions.

In addition, powerful business lobbies have been able to exert considerable influence on the development of IP law. This has increased the level of protection of IP rights and reduced public and consumer access and use rights.

This is not just bad for consumers, it is bad for society, as it constrains the ability of everyone to access important resources, and stifles the sorts of consumer creativity that can enhance economic growth.

The NCC has a page about the Digital Rights Campaign of the Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs:

On 10 November 2005, BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation, launched a campaign for consumer rights in the digital environments calling for the following rights to be enshrined in EU law:

  • the right to choice, knowledge and cultural diversity
  • the right to the principle of 'technical neutrality' — defend and maintain consumer rights to the digital environment
  • the right to benefit from technological innovations without abusive restrictions
  • the right to interoperability of content and devices
  • the right to the protection of privacy
  • the right not to be criminalised

In addition, the declaration calls for:

  • industry to desist from legal action against P2P downloaders to allow the market to find solutions for the on-line development of audio/visual distribution
  • action to ensure that DRM users respect consumer privacy and fair use rights

The set of six bulleted points constitutes the BEUC's proposed Consumers' Digital Rights.

James quotes the BEUC's position statement:

BEUC believes that the European publishing sector is crucial to the building of a knowledge-based economy. However, blindly ‘enhancing’, ‘supporting’ and ‘extending’ the copyright protection regime may confer unjustified monopoly privileges, impede competition, potentially impose unfair costs on consumers and risk to inhibit creativity. Do we want a society in which the free exchange of ideas - on which our society thrives - remains possible or do we want access to content curtailed by excessive copyright regulation and abusive use of DRMs? The report correctly states about copyright and DRMs that “widespread acceptance by consumers is still lacking”. The reason for this is (at least) twofold: Firstly, DRMs are restricting consumers legitimate use of copyrighted (and non-copyrighted) material. According to the Commission, publishers also regard DRM as a technology with increased control over content and more precise definitions of the rights associated to the assets they commercialise. These “rights” go beyond what is asserted by intellectual property law and we deplore the lack of discussion on potential adverse effects on consumers, and the eventual need to guarantee consumers rights in relation to the works they legally purchase.

He also found their online petition. To echo James: please go sign it.

As the BEUC puts it elsewhere (1/ here and 2/ here) on their website:

1/
Under the heading of Digital Rights Management (DRM) new technologies are being used to limit or prohibit perfectly legitimate practices. “Exemplary" legal cases are being prosecuted and users threatened with huge penalties for downloading music or films on the Internet. The industry hides behind the artists that it claims to defend, alienating their fans and supporters. We know that there is a serious global problem of piracy. Consumers should not buy counterfeit copies of CDs and DVDs; too often these products are made in large numbers by organised criminal, and probably also terrorist, gangs. On the other hand, private consumers are not criminals or terrorists and the industry must stop portraying them as such. The time has come to guarantee consumers certain basic rights in the digital world, and to tell them what they can do with their digital hardware/content. This is our message in this campaign.

2/
We urge policy makers to endorse the 6 Consumers Digital Rights, and demand:

  • A legal framework that will encourage new means of exposure and distribution of digital content, while guaranteeing remuneration to artists, creators and performers and providing consumers and the public with new means of access, discovery and new uses;
  • A new balance between exclusive rights in the exploitation of digital content and public interest objectives in using and sharing such content, taking into account the new possibilities of content usage enabled by technical progress;
  • That industry desist from legal action against P2P downloaders to allow the market to find solutions for the on-line development of audio/visual distribution that takes due account of the public interest and the interest of artists, creators and performers;
  • Action to find solutions on how consumers can effectively exercise their private use rights and to guarantee that users of DRMs respect the legitimate interest of consumers in their personal autonomy and private sphere;
  • Mechanisms to ensure that TPMs or DRMs, which restrict uses legally exempted from copyright or not falling under copyright, do not benefit from legal protection;
  • A review of the EU legal framework on consumer protection and intellectual property in view of the 6 consumers rights demands expressed in this Declaration.

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