Friday, 29 May 2009

Google Wave and peer-to-peer publishing

This is fascinating. An example of how the hierarchy of peer-to-peer publishing can disintegrate almost entirely and yet serve a far wider purpose than is currently the case.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Googlenomics in times of economic distress

Some people make money even when everyone around them is losing their shirt. More here from Wired this week.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The plague of ISPs that is almost upon us

The ISPs - the powerful distributors of latterday intellectual property - are already hogging far too much of the available cake, as I've pointed out on these pages before. Future legislation would give them untold powers; the power to lord over the entire landscape of Internet practice, in fact. From censorship of free speech to the rationing of bandwidth, they would have the right to do and undo whole communication communities. A plague of almost biblical proportions.

More here from Cory Doctorow writing in the Guardian today on a subject which should strike fear into the heart of any decent and upstanding creator-consumer.

The plague of plagiarism

Maureen Dowd, one of my favourite writers during the Iraq War, falls foul of the failure to attribute well-turned - even if unremarkable - phrases. More here from Regret the Error (compare here). Meanwhile, the Guardian on the same subject wrongly attributes a quote from a different blogger to the blogger in question. And then when it backtracks, offers no explanation.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

"That's capitalism for you ..."

John Naughton writing in the Observer today:
It's difficult to keep one's head when all about one people are losing theirs, but let us have a go. First of all, some historical perspective might help. When broadcast radio arrived in the US in the 1920s, nobody could figure out a business model for it. How could one generate revenue from something that could be listened to by anyone for free? Dozens of companies were founded to exploit the new medium, and most of them folded. The problem was solved by a detergent manufacturer named Procter & Gamble, which came up with the idea of sponsoring dramatic serials: the soap opera – and the mass market – was born.

The moral is simple: eventually someone will figure out a business model that works for online news. But it may take some time, and lots of outfits will fall by the wayside in the meantime. That's capitalism for you.
More here.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Blocking undesirables on Zebra Red's Twitter feed

Publishing is always political; literary is never dull. Curiously, I've just had to block a BNP supporter on Zebra Red's Twitter feed. Our even-handed approach to life isn't quite that even-handed.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

On charging for content

I'm against subscription services as a matter of course. From my point of view, an industry-organised tax on Internet access which is then paid out to content providers on a per-click basis seems much easier to manage and structure.

Much cleaner and fairer from the point of view of the consumers too, who would also benefit if they were content providers themselves.

Much fairer.

More in the original spirit of the Internet.

Topologically, it puts blogging and Internet posting of all kinds and types of media back in the realm of voice communication, where we pay for the phoneline and blocks of minutes - but not for the words, pictures or videos themselves.

The problem we have, of course, is that too many of the content providers are also in the business of supplying Internet connections. Rupert Murdoch's media empire is one of the biggest culprits with a multitude of newspaper outfits and then ISPs such as Sky. However, even homely ISPs have tried to do the reverse by hooking you into their portals whenever you allow them to automatically install a new connection.

A definite conflict of interests which surely needs to be sorted out if future distribution models are to be equitable, fair and sustainable.

And in the current political climate, do we really want anything else?

On engineering behaviours systemically

This is LabourList.org's latest comments policy. Useful stuff, I think. What we need to generate progressive debate amongst those of us who wish to disagree productively:
Comment Moderation Policy: We believe that all comments should seek to add value to the original post. So in order to encourage discussion in an evironment that is welcoming and inclusive for the Labour-minded, we will remove consistently off-topic remarks and personal or routinely negative attacks on the Party or other readers. We will immediately remove comments that are deemed to be racist, sexist, homophobic, gratuitous or threatening.
The comments policy itself can currently be found here. More thoughts from my other blog here. I still believe, however, that far more can be done to create robust online constitutions through the development of code. Surely better that a system engineer the behaviours than that such engineering be in the hands of any one individual.

How to promote freedom of creation, not freedom of destruction

A good post from Sunny Hundal on Liberal Conspiracy from April this year, on the subject of blogging and promoting civility:

The British left, I think, has to take heed from the American leftwing blogosphere. They didn’t set up their own smear sites and spend all their times ranting like the rightwingers (Michelle Malkin, Little Green Footballs, Townhall, Faux News etc) - because they knew that it would lead to an even more degradation of politics. Instead they organised, spent their time building websites and blogs that were news resources (Huff Po), did proper investigative journalism (TalkingPointsMemo), were meeting points for activists (Daily Kos), focused on electoral strategy (FiveThirtyEight, SwingStateProject), did rapid-response policy proposals (ThinkProgress) and published news video (Crooks and Liars).

If you’re pissed off by this whole episode - and everyone involved - then it’s obvious what the task ahead is. There’s no point complaining about it. If we want the left to succeed and not be killed off by the libertarians, conservatives or New Labour, then we have to do it ourselves. Otherwise the likes of Derek Draper and Guido Fawkes will end up dominating the conversations.

This issue goes to the heart of all that democracy holds dear. How to engineer freedom systemically so it engenders a sense of corresponding responsibility.

Fairness should play its part, clearly absent in the current scandals over MPs' expenses, but education - where this is not an awful Chinese water torture of political brainwashing - must also figure somewhere. And as a society, we must agree on what education we wish for, what social engineering we wish to carry out, if we would wish to create a sustainable society which outlasts successive political administrations.

Are we asking to change the essential functioning of human nature here or do we believe that humans, when left to their own devices, will tend to goodness rather than petty evil? I only know that when I talk to my political opponents at grassroots level, I find myself in the company of people I can easily communicate with and comprehend. It is only those who reach the stratosphere of media notoriety I cannot understand.

There is a lesson in all of this.

The lesson is that we need not a devolved government - because that implies we sit back and wait. Rather, we must grasp our opportunities and demand that such a government be given back to the people; and where this is not forthcoming, steal it back without shame or intellectual embarrassment.

Alex Hilton's suggestion that we legislate for proportional representation in order to make deselection of sitting MPs easier is a brilliant idea - and should be given more traction.

In the meantime, those of us who would wish to expand the reach of progressive publishing and distribution must seriously consider what we can add to the existing landscape instead of focussing on how we may most aggressively detract from our opponents.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

On the utility of even more geekiness

More on the utility of geekiness and publishing here as Cory Doctorow gets his teeth into spinning off ideas, being coherent with one's principles and making money - all at the same time. A clear example of how the world that geeks created is becoming the world of us all.

Via John Naughton's Memex.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

A definition of what a publisher does in the Web2Web world

This is quite useful:
I talked about the process of what a publisher does. A publisher pays attention to a community, whether it's a community of authors or a community of news makers. And they then curate it. They decide what's important. And then they share that with their community of readers. And then they presumably have feedback groups. And so I look at what I do with Twitter and I say, "Wow, I'm sharing the news that I'm finding interesting." I also have the ability to, in some sense, increase the status of members of my community.
More here.

So as tweeters, we are publishers. This is in fact quite revolutionary. In a way, perhaps even incontrovertibly, a good tweeter must be comparable to the great soap-box orators of the past. Or the great pamphleteers. Thus the new is the old, rewritten and reboxed.

The power that Web2Web publishing is exerting is turning everything upside down - business models, communication channels, human relationships in general ...; this is, in fact, the virtualisation of humanity as technology and the real world begin to intertwine in ways we would never have imagined. Now free time becomes work time, as those of us who wouldn't have dreamed of it a short while ago suddenly find ourselves working for ourselves on a multitude of different projects. Most will never see the popular light of day, that is true - but all have a direct lineage to that inventor's shed at the bottom of the garden.

And out of that inventor's shed come wonderfully brave new worlds.

And this is work that is generally unpaid - but work nevertheless.

Looking for activists to support your political programmes? Look no further than the geek world of free software. The interesting thing, however, is that the geek world and the rest of the world are shockingly becoming one.

Geeks are not at the edge of the new society but bang in the centre.

Web2Web was their world.

Now it's becoming ours.

And if we want to keep up, we have to become like them.

Hackers - not hacks - now required to save journalism

An interesting piece on new journalism and its needs:
It's not news that journalism is in crisis. CNN turned newspapers into first-day fishwrap and Craigslist killed the business model. Solutions are scarce, and our democracy is at risk. I don't have a chart to guide our way through the darkness to Citizenry 2.0, but there are some who can navigate the singularity.

Journalism needs great hackers. Not just nerds, but programmers who care -- about the values of journalism and the power of a free press to hold government accountable. Luckily, hackers are a freedom-minded bunch. The free software movement is rooted in many of the same principals that guide journalism. But news organizations aren't very sexy places to work -- especially now, as layoffs, bankruptcy and closures plague the industry. So how can we bring nerds to the news? One old-skool school is trying.
More here.

Brings me back to my rather declamatory essay, written in good faith nevertheless and at a time when I yearned for support of all kinds, which can be found here and which I quote in full below:
I spent a few years involved with the open source movement and the essay "The Cogwriter" came out of that. I'm not entirely convinced that everything is well with that movement, as I'm not entirely convinced that everything is altogether well with traditional software licences and ecosystems. Nevertheless, here's the essay itself, for what it's worth:

The Cogwriter

The more I read about the web and its possibilities, the more I realise it's not a writer's medium. At least, not yet. A scriptwriter's medium maybe, but not a writer's medium. If, as a writer on the Internet, you wish to participate in anything that stretches, you must accept your place in a machine of cogs. You become a writer of cogs.

You cannot create healthily, or predominantly. You must be prepared, as a scriptwriter must, to be subsumed to a greater good.

You cannot be an individual. You cannot be a thinker who instantly puts pen to paper and produces. Instinctive impulsive art is not machine art. Machine art is laboured and lumbering in its process, even though the result may be delicate, light, dancing. Paradoxically so. Cinema can, for example, dance. Even when built on such intrinsic process.

But most cinema does not dance.

Blogging is a writer's medium, I'll grant you that. But blogging is mainly a text medium anyway, and the tools have become transparent enough for someone who wants to spend most of their time thinking of the words, instead of fighting with the technology, to be able, quite generously, to do so.

Blogging is not really the Internet, though, except inasmuch as it uses the Internet to deliver and connect, to weave and make tapestry. But that tapestry is never more than a trickling of words and occasional pictures.

Cutting edge art on the Internet means technology. It is almost certainly impossible for an individual to be creative and at the same time comfortable with all the technologies that should be used to stretch the medium.

That is one of the purposes of art: to stretch the medium. Art which does not stretch grows flabby.

Possibly it is not really art.

Internet art cannot be art if it does not stretch. Obfuscation is not stretching. Peering through half-lidded eyes does not stretch, but, rather, simply hurts.

Wanting to cut edges with your Internet art is wanting to understand and manipulate many technologies. An Internet writer who wants to cut edges must therefore accept that his role must be a different one. Until the Internet equivalent of the typewriter is invented, we writers will be bent out of shape.

What we writers need, therefore, is to define this machine, require this machine to be invented. (If not, we would have to accept that for the next ten or fifteen years our destiny would lie in being bent out of shape.)

What must this machine do? It must manipulate a wide range of technologies. It must allow a creative individual to create, not fumble about for weeks learning how to carry out an oil change.

In the same way that the typewriter finally gave the invention of printed paper back to the creators, after 400 years of inferiority and oppression, of separation, as indeed did the word-processor in the 20th century, so this writer of cogs I am talking about, this "cogwriter" which I would so dearly love to possess, will, when invented, finally take power away from the doers and give it firmly back to the thinkers.

The "cogwriter" would do two things. It would allow a thinker, a creator, to take a cognisance and offer alternative ways of plastifying it. Then it would make all the cogs behind the ideas (which for technological reasons need to whirr and click) function in a transparent way, an invisible way.

Then the art would be in the thought, not in the act, not in the technical skills.

Before, in other centuries, the technical skills of the artist have played a key role in the art. But the technological challenges of creating on the Internet are so grand that if art is to flower, it will need to reside more in the thought behind it than the technical skills employed. At the moment, it is within everyone's reach and no one's. I cannot progress beyond HTML tables. And yet there are many things I would love to do with this medium.

If the technical skills must remain in the hands of the technician and not the artist, then there must inevitably exist a separation of responsibilities, and therefore a lumbering and dinosaur-like creative process.

I cannot accept that the latter must be the case.

There are other things the "cogwriter" would have to do. Like with the typewriter before it, the creator would not have to worry about standards or software or licences or installations, or interested parties or security breaches or trustworthinesses or politics.

A typewriter is such a clean beast. We need to get back to this level of mental hygiene. A creator cannot create effectively when faced with lawyers and the lawyerly, and those who would wish to impose or shield through the law.

The law is necessary, but essentially is an anti-creative force.

My "cogwriter" would be an enabling device, an environment, a creative meadow. A happy place to be, a safe place to be, a searching place to be, and a devising place to be. A protective and guiding place. A supportive resource, a safely dangerous place to be.

The "cogwriter" would have its own laboratory of tools and glues and idea-cutters. But it would also be capable of looking for other solutions.

The "cogwriter" would be a solution-finder for empowered and empowering artists and creators.

I am waiting.
These days, it's not enough for a writer to understand how to use a pencil and paper. We need to learn how to use blogging tools, content management systems, Photoshop or GIMP - and, even, acquire the ability to conceptualise our needs and demand other structures and technological machineries which allow us to go further than the top-down hierarchies of publisher to author and author to readership made possible in the past or indeed current web relationships permit.

We have to be aware, as news-savvy users and consumers, of all the future opportunities, both conceptual and technical, that exist on the new-ecosystem horizon.

We need to think around our content and understand the future forms that it will take.
____________________

Further reading: more ideas on the progressive left, blogging and the new media can be found here from my 21stCenturyFix.org blog a while ago

A Last.fm for progressive thought

I've had this idea tumbling around my inner landscape for a while now. The basic principle is as follows (as per my comments on Dave's post on Derek Draper's recent resignation):
Anyhow, I think it’s time to dust off my old idea from Members Net days of setting up an online academy of left-wing thought. Something which scrobbles for thought what Last.fm scrobbles for music - that expands one’s mental horizons around a structure of Web 2.0 participation and political preferences. Anyone got the technical knowhow and resources - or perhaps more importantly the inclination - to put it into practice?
And here:
I think any such academy could include two focusses - one, didactic and pro-active, the other browsing-based with a “see where the tide takes you” approach. That’s why I mention Last.fm and not Spotify. You seem to suggest a Spotify model where we choose what we already know and home in on that; I would prefer a broader brief in that stretching-of-existing-horizons sense that Last.fm exemplifies through its Neighbourhood Radio model. I would, in fact, like to set up a site with a much broader brief than that, but, if truth be told, I think sponsorship is only possible if you focus on one area of thought. No one is honestly interested in breaking down the walls. And perhaps it would not be useful, after ten years of the Third Way, to want to continue to try doing so.
And here:
Spotify.com allows you to choose your music (band, singer, composer, whatever) and listen only to that. Last.fm allows you to do that for a price or - for free - provides you with the option of Neighbourhood Radio. Neighbourhood Radio involves you keying in your favourite band and getting to listen to a couple of their songs, and then moving ever-outwards (automatically) to other music which users of the community have tagged as similar. Thus the “tide” I mention, as you slide from similar to similar to similar. It means you end up listening to stuff you’d never dream of listening to. You can then tag what you like as a favourite, and this - in turn - affects how the system serves up further content. A more controversial aspect of Last.fm is the scrobbling feature it supplies - which can be disactivated - and involves telling the world what you are listening to on your PC. Using this concept for thought - identifying readers and reading habits - is an issue, of course. But then we’ve been happily buying from Amazon without considering the privacy implications for years (well, perhaps most of us have - maybe not all).

An online academy could involve two wings - the highly scholarly aspect which could be pay-only and then a kind of “everyperson’s” version which would involve the scrobbling and Web 2.0 approach I outline above, and would, with initial ground rules, hopefully be self-generating. I went on a two-weekend seminar with the Labour Party on progressive thought some years ago and found it a most exhilarating experience; since then, I have always wanted to widen this experience and make it available online for a broader audience.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Derek Draper resigns

If you're registered on LabourList.org, you'll have just received an email from its founder explaining the reasons behind his resignation. There's also a post here. The lesson? Editors should look after the interests of authors and work invisibly behind the scenes.

And it's only authors themselves who should ever, really, garner the fame.

Amazon's Kindle DX

Not quite sure what DX stands for, but here's the story. This is clearly how newspapers will be delivered in the (not-too-distant) future.

Now how about getting progressive blog aggregators onto such technologies?