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helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

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They’ve [music industry] had these ten years to develop new business models. And they failed. Instead, the new business models have been developed outside of the legacy industry — and they’re working. Let them be. Don’t give this tool to the legacy players, who failed to innovate. Let them go out of business, and let a new, and much more creative “creative business” industry take over.

You’re being played for as a fool by a legacy industry that wants to squeeze every bit of money it can from a dying business model. Putting up three strikes isn’t giving them space to develop a new business model. It gives them time to squeeze more out of a corpse.

- Michael Masnick on Techdirt in Peter Mandelson Defends His Sudden Conversion To Kicking People Off The Internet

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Every time I write about the impossibility of effectively protecting digital files on a general-purpose computer, I get responses from people decrying the death of copyright. “How will authors and artists get paid for their work?” they ask me. Truth be told, I don’t know. I feel rather like the physicist who just explained relativity to a group of would-be interstellar travelers, only to be asked: “How do you expect us to get to the stars, then?” I’m sorry, but I don’t know that, either.
- Bruce Schneier in Protecting Copyright in the Digital World

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When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.
- Gordy Thompson, manager of internet services at the New York Times in 1993 quoted by Clay Shirky in Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable

Self-service only half right

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Many supermarket have self-service checkouts these day. Jeff Atwood has an interesting perspective:

What fascinates me about self-service checkout devices is that the store is making you do work they would normally pay their employees to do. Think about this for a minute. You’re playing the role of the paying customer and the cashier employee.

He also makes a point that I am the most motivated person to complete the process as fast as possible, so it is a win-win to ‘outsource’ that function to me. All well and good. It is when we come to the user-interface, user-friendliness of the self-service checkout machines things start looking a bit hairy.

And this, dear reader, touches on the essence of my distinction between user-centric and user-driven:

There are certain rituals to using the self-service checkout machines. And we know that. We programmers fundamentally grok the hoops that the self-service checkout machines make customers jump through. They are, after all, devices designed by our fellow programmers. Every item has to be scanned, then carefully and individually placed in the bagging area which doubles as a scale to verify the item was moved there. One at time. In strict sequence. Repeated exactly the same every time. We live this system every day; it’s completely natural for a programmer. But it isn’t natural for average people. I’ve seen plenty of customers in front of me struggle with self-service checkout machines, puzzled by the workings of this mysterious device that seems so painfully obvious to a programmer. I get frustrated to the point that I almost want to rush over and help them myself. Which would defeat the purpose of a.. self-service device.

So often self-service may be performed by myself but it sure as hell ain’t a service.

For completeness, Jeff’s post is not actually about supermarkets, his final point is yet more interesting. It is about open source and I’d argue that it applies to any voluntary collaborative effort.

Indeed, once you destroy the twin intrinsic motivators of self-determination and autonomy on an open source project, I’d argue you’re no better off than you were with traditional closed source software. You’ve created a self-service checkout machine so painful to use, so awkward to operate, that it gives the self-service concept a bad name.

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- Open source is the altrusitic synchronisation of self interests.
Simon Phipps replying on Twitter

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Copyright law has abandoned its reason for being: to encourage learning and the creation of new works. Instead, its principal functions now are to preserve existing failed business models, to suppress new business models and technologies, and to obtain, if possible, enormous windfall profits from activity that not only causes no harm, but which is beneficial to copyright owners. Like Humpty Dumpty, the copyright law we used to know can never be put back together again.
- William Patry, Google’s senior copyright counsel in End of the Blog

Open source pr0n

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Fantastic! A feast for geek eyes.

code_swarm – Apache from Michael Ogawa on Vimeo.

An experiment in organic software visualization, code_swarm:

This visualization, called code_swarm, shows the history of commits in a software project. A commit happens when a developer makes changes to the code or documents and transfers them into the central project repository. Both developers and files are represented as moving elements. When a developer commits a file, it lights up and flies towards that developer. Files are colored according to their purpose, such as whether they are source code or a document. If files or developers have not been active for a while, they will fade away. A histogram at the bottom keeps a reminder of what has come before.

via O’Reilly’s radar

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SOA reminds me of the engraving over the entrance to the University of Wyoming’s engineering department in Laramie: CONTROL OVER NATURE IS WON, NOT GIVEN. That fits with the command-and-control mentality. Web 2.0 would never say “CONTROL OVER USERS IS WON, NOT GIVEN”.
- Nat Torkington in Web 2.0 Is From Mars, Enterprise Is Up Uranus

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It’s not about the money, it’s about ALL the money.
- description of the entertainment business in Wired article Myka: One Set-Top Box to Rule Them All?

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[H]umans are copying machines. We learn by imitating one another. That’s how we learn to speak. That’s how we learn social norms. That’s how culture happens. Everything we do is an invitation to copy. And now, thanks to digitization and the Internet, we can express that in ways that we couldn’t before. The Internet is the ultimate copying machine, and it’s affecting many business models. There are times when piracy is a great idea and there are times when it’s not; that’s why I call it a dilemma. The point is, though, it is not a dead end. It’s in the interest of all who deal with the buying and selling and sharing of ideas to confront piracy and its implications now — that is, to reevaluate their business models so they include ways to capitalize on a freer flow of ideas and on more sharing of information and content.
- Edward Baker in We are all pirates

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The openness of the Internet is what made Google — and Yahoo! — possible. A good idea that users find useful spreads quickly. Businesses can be created around the idea. Users benefit from constant innovation. It’s what makes the Internet such an exciting place.

- Yahoo! and the future of the internet, The official Google blog. via Doc

Power to the Persons redux

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I believe that VRM starts with you being able to take charge of your data – data that you want to capture, analyse and otherwise harness, both for fun or for usefulness.

At the moment you are the last person to be able to benefit from your data on various platforms and from your ‘digital detritus’ – information that others harvest and use for their own purposes. A site with tools like wesabe may give you the ability to gather and analyse some of your financial data, but you’ll need new tools – free from platform lock-ins – to repeat that trick with data regarding anything else about which you care and need.

Obviously, to make the most of your new-found data autonomy, you will also need to be able to communicate, share and transact that data with others, individuals and vendors.

So there are two foundation stones for the VRM vision as described above:

  1. the place where you store, manage and play with your data (working name: u-spot)
  2. the methods (protocols, standards, etc) for sharing, exchanging and distributing that information, if you so wish.

Having had many discussions on this matter I wanted to share some of the ideas they generated. With Alec’s technical expertise and support we were able to articulate a vision of how people could interact with vendors in a VRM manner using existing online technology – a white paper was born, rivetingly named “Feeds-Based VRM”: A Web-Centric Approach to VRM Implementation

VRM use case in feeds approach

The goals for this paper were to:

  • invent as little as possible
  • reuse only popular technologies, techniques and user-interface metaphors in order to enable VRM, and…
  • provide maximal inclusiveness and extensibility to the VRM implementation, to permit the greatest potential for growth.

…and within these simple constraints we have proposed a simple, inexpensive, viable path for VRM u-spot implementation and information sharing, using familiar technologies such as blogs, feeds, ATOM, and RSS.

Technical outline: the feeds-based VRM concept is for you to be able to manage, manipulate and share information – e.g. hotels you have visited, flights you have taken, wines you have enjoyed – using a pluggable web-based software platform similar to Wordpress or Movable Type; however unlike those tools which deal with free-form blog posts, instead your data is be stored as objects (encoded in pertinent open-standards formats) which are then “shared” via secure, self-referential, closed and authenticated ATOM or RSS feeds that can be read, aggregated or further processed by “subscribers” whom you authorize via your “friends list”.

The effect is: your data is held in one place and is authoritative. Your subscribers can see it. When you change it, your subscribers will see the changes.

No longer will you need to tell people when you change your address. They’ll already know.

Many thanks to Ben and Kevin for helpful comments. This is a contribution to an open source project to develop a web-centric VRM infrastructure.
The title reference is to the original post Power to the Persons!

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