Memex construction nearing completion?

Google + Blogger = Stimergy. Matt Webb: Imagine, searching at Google, and then:

  • this trail is highly followed
  • do you only want to see what people suggest, or where people went?
  • here’s a worn track in the interweb. Follow the Google Pixie!
  • this trail is uncommon, but made by someone we see (by your weblog) that you value

Or, more succinctly, stimergy. [Sam Ruby]

Lots and lots of reaction to Google buying Pyra. This post plus another from Cory at Boing, Boing hit on the most provocative interpretation I’ve seen; that Google is building the Memex. Here’s Matt’s key observation:


They’ve got one-to-one connections. Links. Now they’ve realised – like Ted Nelson – that the fundamental unit of the web isn’t the link, but the trail. And the only place that’s online is… weblogs.

There are two levels to the trail:

1 – what you see
2 – what you do
(“And what you feel on another track” — what song is that?)

And the trail is, in its simplest form, organised chronologically. Later it gets more complex. Look to see Google introduce categories based on DMOZ as a next step.

What Vannevar Bush, Ted Nelson, weblogs, and now Google are all demonstrating is that the boundaries between organizations and disciplines are arbitrary. It’s the connections and the trails that matter. It’s just taken a lot longer to build it than we would have liked. With a bit of luck we’ll find out that we’ve managed to build it in time.

Clear thinking on intellectual property

More wise words from David Reed.

The Intellectual Property Meme [SATN]

It won’t be long before it is accepted that everything you learn from
experience on the job is the “property” of your employer, just as they
claim ownership of your notebooks, and every creative thought you have, the
contents of every phone call you make (from your office), and every
keystroke you type on your computer. When they can download your brain,
and wipe it clean, you’ll be required to when you change jobs.

You can help stop this. Don’t ever use the words “intellectual
property”. You can say patents, copyrights, trademarks – those are more
well-defined terms, and if Congress doesn’t pull another Boner (er, Bono),
they are limited and narrowly targeted at a balanced social purpose. The
authors of the Constitution were wary of royal monopolies like patents and
copyrights, but they compromised because there was a reasonable social good
served by *limited* monopolies on things that would pass into the public

Lovely rant on Jack Valenti

What he said. A lovely rant from the head lemur on Jack Valenti. I’ve excerpted it a bit, so go read the whole thing.

Jack Valenti is confused.

Jack Valenti, the CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America is confused. In a statement released yesterday he said;

‘It s a bit strange that the IT community launches a million-dollar campaign against the movie industry, and their spokesman at a press conference charges us as the enemy. It s strange because the copyright industry has been in good faith negotiations with computer companies and consumer electronics companies for a long time. The MPAA is trying to reach a mutually agreeable conclusion whose aim it is to stop the thievery of films so that a legitimate digital marketplace can thrive.”

“Consumers will be the beneficiaries of a digitally honest world. Consumer satisfaction is our number one objective. We are not the enemy. We are not at war with the IT community. We are hoping that these meetings will produce amiable results. Which is why I am shaking my head in wonderment at this million-dollar campaign to deride us.”

You are the enemy of the consumer and everyone using a computer with an internet connection or a cd or cd-dvd player. From your first notable speech before Congress attempting to get VCR’s off the market, to your continuing support of every restrictive technology from the CSS encryption, Broadcast Flag, the DCMA, the Hollings legislation, and what will come up to restrict consumer choice tomorrow, you have demonstrated that you are anti-consumer. Your members call us thieves and pirates. You continual lobbying efforts to restrict what people can do with their property in their own homes on equipment that allows people to enjoy entertainment in different formats at their leisure on their schedule makes a mockery of anything you have said about freedom.

Solving your problem is easy. Stop offering movies anywhere but in theaters. No VCR tapes. No DVD’s. No Television broadcasting. This will do more to cut down on piracy and unauthorised duplication of your member products than anything else you have tried. It will also render moot such things as encryption chips, broadcast flags, copyright extentions, and other technologies to enable consumers to have a choice in their preferences of using your products. I would beef up the security in movie theaters if I were you. We wouldn’t want another Spiderman episode. You should be able to equip theaters with metal detectors real cheap now as they are the newest thing in public accomodation devices.

The second and far more critical to your members is the loss of revenue by not offering customers movies in a form they are willing to PAY for. See if your members are willing to lose this revenue.

I love movies. …I have over 600 movies in my personal collection. …. I have purchased each and every one of them. Not a single one is a copy that is not in a factory wrapper. …

Make no mistake about this, they are mine. If I want to let my children, friends, or neighbors borrow them, I will. They are Mine. I bought them. I paid for them I own them.

Your problem is control. You want it. You can’t have it on the internet. You can continue to try to legislate around it. You can continue to propose Digital Restriction Monopoly Schemes. Your best bet is to restrict your products to formats that are incompatable with computers. But then you would have to help the theater owners make their venues much more attractive to take up the slack in lost sales, as well as spending more money advertising on the internet to get folks off their computers and into theaters.

[the head lemur’s Radio Weblog]

Do you ever wonder whether folks like Valenti ever actually use any of the technology they decry? If you are an advocate for one position do you make an effort to understand the other side or dig in your heels? I want to believe in a world that operates with reasoned debate to find answers that work now and work in the future as the world and technology evolves. I realize that I don’t live in such a world, but I still want to believe in it.

Learning about Open Spectrum

Open Spectrum FAQ, 2. Getting good reaction to the FAQ on Open Spectrum I wrote with content from Dewayne Hendricks, David Reed and Jock Gill. So far, it’s been blogged by Cory Doctorow, Dan Gillmor, Eric Norlin, and Dave Winer. And I haven’t checked this morning’s blogiverse yet. Open Spectrum is important and not on enough radar screens yet. Spread the meme!… [Joho the Blog]

Dave’s done a fabulous job here summarizing the thinking about Open Spectrum. I had spent some time with David Reed trying to get a handle on it. Definitely something that should be on your radar screen. One key excerpts for me:

Interference is a metaphor. It cannot be precisely defined technically without fully specifying a particular technology frozen in time, and in any case has nothing to do with the legal definition given by the FCC.

Like so much else in the collision between policy and technology we run into problems because policy-making has such a poor grasp on technology (I’m sure the converse is also true, I’m just not qualified to talk about that direction). One particular failing in policy setting is the issue of the dynamics of technology. Outside of the U.S. Constitution, policy setting seems to be particularly prone to trying to freeze designs too soon. Let’s hope that the work of folks like Dave and Ed Felten helps increase the level of technological literacy to a more acceptable level.

More fine print on RIAA, CSPP, BSA agreement

Demand be damned.

Eleven initials RIAA, CSPP and BSA have conspired to produce a “groundbreaking agreement on an approach to digital content issues” that this press release by the RIAA says “promotes cross-industry coordination to elevate consumer awareness of piracy issues, a unified consensus on how content creators should be able to use technology to protect their property, and an agreement between the industries that government technical mandates are not the best way to serve the long term interests of consumers, record companies and the technology industry.” It mumbles on…

Specifically, the BSA, CSPP and RIAA have agreed on seven principles to govern their activities for the 108th Congress. The associations call for the private sector to be able to continue driving digital distribution. In addition to focusing on areas of agreement rather than divisive matters relating to government-dictated technology mandates, the associations stated that, how companies satisfy consumer expectations is a business decision that should be driven by the dynamics of the marketplace, and should not be legislated or regulated.

To combat piracy, the industries will promote privately funded public awareness efforts, as well as approach Congress regarding any federal role. Both industries stated their support for private and federal enforcement against copyright infringers as well as unilateral technical protection measures and they agreed that legislation should not limit the effectiveness of such measures. The industries also expressed support for actions by rights holders that could limit the illegal distribution of copyrighted works in ways that are not destructive to networks or products, or that violate consumers privacy. [emphaisis added]

The industries said they would continue to work together on technical measures that protect content, in addition to pursuing common ground in policy debates.

The associations will begin implementing the shared principles immediately.

That’s eleven initials versus millions of customers, which is what those “consumers” really are, dudes.

Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em, huh? So why listen to ’em, hm?

As Dan Sickles says, The RIAAs pro-consumer spin is transparent. They found technology partners that are as scared of customers as they are.

Thanks to Dan for the link, too.

[The Doc Searls Weblog]

I’ve highlighted the part of the announcement that worries me. Seems as though this agreement was motivated out of concern that legislation might actually attempt to balance the concerns of customers and vendors. Wouldn’t want that to get in the way of the status quo.

Supreme Court decides copyright case

Challenge to Bono Act Rejected 7-2 – “Here’s the decision (via Copyfight via Lessig). Copyfight and Law Meme will be burning up the blogosphere on this one.” [via The Trademark Blog].

First of all, I want to say that Larry Lessig is to be commended for his heroic efforts. I haven’t read the opinion but I am sure that it will reveal that larger forces dictated the ruling. I don’t think that there is any way that Lessig could have won the case. I hope one day to have the opportunity to shake his hand and thank him for trying.

[Ernie the Attorney]

Ernie pretty well sums up my thoughts at this point.

Technology vs. Magic

Like many, I’m fond of quoting Clarke’s 3rd Law that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, ” and, more recently, Benford’s corrollary, “any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.” But I’ve also been troubled by the willingness of most people to accept the magic as magic. I understand the attraction to a marketer to claim magical properties for their wares. It’s the willingness to settle for that explanation that bothers and confuses me.

I’m in the midst of reading The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress by Joel Mokyr. Mokyr is an economic historian at Northwestern who has written extensively on the connections between knowledge, technology, and economics. In a chapter on “Understanding Technological Progress,” he makes the following observation about the differences between technological and magical thinking that offers some insight into my dilemma:

It will not do to dismiss magic as irrational, because rationality is conditional on the information available, and without modern science it was impossible for people to know what worked and what did not. The important difference between technology and magic is not that technology works and magic does not. The difference that matters here is that magic does not control nature, it begs favors from it. Rather than exploiting regularities and natural laws, it seeks exceptions to them by taking advantage of an imaginary capriciousness of the universe. Moreover, technology, if it worked, worked for everyone, whereas magic was confined to qualified practitioners. The sorcerer’s apprentice had no access to his master’s powers. [Mokyr, p. 178]

There is a two-cultures divide here between those who accept magical explanations and those who want to take the black box apart. I run into it in three settings that offer somewhat differing perspectives.

First are the tool users in my immediate cicle of friends and family. They don’t really believe in magic; all they want to do is get on with their own work. Their curiosity is directed elsewhere. The incantations that make email go where it should or get the words from the screen onto the laser printer or the weblog are enough. Understanding how it works might, in some abstract way, be interesting but the practical value of such understanding is a mystery. The practical value lies not in making what I am doing now easier. It lies in making it easy for me to take my existing knowledge into new territory. If the universe is capricious, it is reasonable to expect that my incantations will be different on different days or different machines. If the universe is orderly (at least in some technological parts), I don’t need to learn special incantations. I can rely on orderliness to make educated guesses about what ought to work in the current circumstances.

Second, I run into situations in consulting where either I am the expert or I am working with someone who is there as the expert. One strategy, which I have been guilty of from time to time, is that of “consultant as wizard.” It’s a tempting strategy, especially in new and emerging areas. It’s also a strategy that many clients consciously or unconsciously encourage. Mokyr’s distinctions help me understand how to approach expertise in a more fruitful way. It is not about the content of what you do, it is about the attitude underlying the interaction. Do you believe that the material labeled “expertise” is, in principal, learnable and understandable. If so, then you are doing technology. If not, you are doing magic.

In a consulting project, I suspect that only one of the parties needs to adopt a technological perspective for things to work out. As long as either client or consultant approaches the work as potentially understandable, then it is. This still allows for the existence and value of expertise. There are many reasons why we can’t or shouldn’t be expert in all the things we need to be. But it does matter if we approach expertise as potentially acquirable (as “technology”) or whether we approach it as magic.

This leads to the final area I want to think about; technology vs. magic at a policy level. In this realm, magical thinking is more dangerous because it is harder to overcome from a single side. You cannot hope to untangle the issues around file-sharing networks or DMCA, for example, unless everyone deals with technology as technology and not magic. Ed Felten’s Freedom to Tinker weblog is the best counter-example I can think of. Felten starts with technology as technology and works to explain what is and is not possible from a technology perspective. But that only works for those who are willing to listen and to invest some time in learning. For those who choose to view technology as magic in these debates, pushback from those who view technology as technology (or engineering, I suppose) probably come across as petulant. When we say “I can’t”, they hear “I won’t.” While that might be a reasonable inference when dealing with adolescent children, it isn’t very helpful in a policy debate.

“Impossible” is a slippery word in policy debates or in debates at all for that matter. It’s actually a rhetorical attempt to stop the debate. Debaters generally ignore it or, better yet, look for the weakness in the underlying argument that the use of the word “impossible” is trying to conceal. This gets confusing because in certain technical settings, “impossible” means precisely that. Even the US Patent Office is smart enough to reject applications for perpetual motion devices without review because they violate the second law of thermodynamics. In these collisions between the rhetorical and technological uses of the word “impossible” you end up with lots of wishful thinking but little else. Again, Ed Felten has some excellent thoughts on this, in particular his comments about the “impossibility” of an almost general purpose computer.

Is there a solution to the problem of magical thinking? The current popularity of Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings suggests it will be hard. Science fiction author, David Brin offers an excellent essay in Salon on this peculiar relationship we want to have with technology. For me, the day-to-day answer is twofold. One is to look for opportunities to reveal the more interesting reality behind the magic when I’m helping others use the technology. The other is to always try to connect the magic to the makers of magic by making sure that the people who create the tools get credit.