Free our culture

Books by lawyers are usually very boring. I must admit, I am not objective because I am not a big fan of lawyers. It is not that I think they are not useful, but … well you got the point.
But to my surprise I am reading one that is very interesting and well written at the same time. The book is called Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity from Lawrence Lessig.Central theme of the book is the fact that, due to copyright laws, our culture is becoming more and more blocked. Advancement in many fields like science and arts is based upon the works of others. Quantum mechanics could not have been created without Einstein, even while he objected it (Gott würfelt nicht). People like van Gogh used many of the new techniques and settings that he saw popping up around him. This is the reason why, during periods of transition, people flock together. Te learn by sharing and by taking from each other.
Many of the, now large, organisations like Disney used the culture around them freely to make their art. Disney would have been nowhere without the works of the brothers Grimm. And yet organisations like Disney are the driving force behind laws that stretch Intellectual property rights to 70 years after the death of the author. Of course, every person creating works of art has the right to get paid when it is used by others. People invest time and money into the creation process and due payment is fair. The free in “Free culture” is free like in free speech, not like in free beer or free ride.
An interesting analogy is between this kind of property rights and patents. A patent is valid for 20 years. A pharmaceutical company, once it establishes a patent, is usually still developing and testing for 10 years before they enter the market. Their payback time is therefore 10 years. After that it is a free market and prices go towards the variable production costs. That is 10 years of payback for R&D investments instead of 100 years for copyrights on creative works. Works that sometimes have been created in an afternoon (sometimes with a stroke of genius …). Recently somebody gave me an example where an amateur choir had to pay license fee’s to sing popular songs. In the book an example is given about a TV show set in a radio station that can not be shown anymore because it is impossible to clear all the music rights.
The law should always balance the private and public interests. To me it feels logical that authors do not have an eternal right to their work. Maybe you can even see it as the “coming of age” of the work. Parents have no authority over children that have come of age (normally 18). Maybe the authors should not have any rights once their work has reached the age of 18. After all this time, part of the success of the work is not just the doing of the author but also of all kinds of accidental processes in society. Our processes in our society.
Intellectual property rights should be in the interest of the commons. For this the rights of the creator must be protected to make it worthwhile to create. Not to put a ban on the further development of culture.

Skeeler 2.0

Delegation of work and responsibility should be done to the people with the greatest stake in the result and who are best equipped to handle the task. This is true in organisation theory as well in the cooperation between companies and their customers.
In interesting development in this area is TomTom Map Share. Here it is possible to add changes to the card and share these improvements with others (and TomTom). It is a logical division of labor: I can change the map when something is wrong and it bothers me and TomTom can use it to improve the map. There are of course some dangers like somebody who changes the map because they do not like the traffic through their street. But if enough people use this service it will be possible to use the wisdom of crowds.
In the past I used an application called Wayfinder which used real time map data on the mobile phone over a GPRS link. Here I could suggest changes and some days later my phone used the improved map data. In a world where “content is king” these methods to improve the data by using the large groups of user is promising. 
Another example is “skeeler 2.0” at Telematica Insituut. In this research project we focus on Skeelers. For Skeelers it is important to have a general idea on the quality of the road, the amount of traffic, the view on the scenery and others. And who is better equipped to collect and tag the data needed to improve the normal maps for Skeeler use than the Skeelers themselves. One of the focal points in this project is how best to collect the data: is it possible to ask questions afterwards, is it possible to measure the quality of the road by using a sensor? Maybe it is even important to take the profile of users in consideration. A route that A likes very much may be boring or not challenging enough for another.
Finding ways to incorporate implicit and explicit reactions from users will be an important factor in improving quality. We have the means to collect. Now we must learn how to make good use of all that data.

Is your past coming to get you?

Just after my last post I read this article about the way digital traces from a young and sometimes foolish past can catch up to you. In the article I mentioned above from danah boyd a hypothetical case is written where somebody gets confronted during a job interview with the fact that she has protested against the WTO and Chinese policies (full case from the Harvard Business Review can be found here). In the guidance committee for Rathenau I talked about in the last post we also talked about a similar issue: what about all the pictures, video’s and other digital traces that show that we did some pretty silly things (well, I did… of course way past …).
Some of these things we would like not to be brought up during a job interview (or during a sales call, or …). Privacy seems to be terminally ill if she would not already have been deceased during my last post. Or is the context changing?
I think that the context is changing rapidly. Not just my silly actions from the past are online, yours are too, with the rest of the world. If people do not put the information online themselves, your ex-partner will (I will not post the link to this site due to bad taste, of the site that is :-)). It is a bit like in the movie “Crocodile Dundee”

Crocodile Dundee is explaining how they handle it when somebody has a problem in the Bush: If you have a problem, you tell Wally. Wally tells everyone … No problem.

When all our escapades are online than we will not be surprised to find all kinds of information that in the past we would have found not suitable. But now all is online. Just look in the digital mirror once in a while…
You put it on Internet, Internet tells everyone, No problem!

Dumb and Dumber

Evolution is driven by selection and attrition. The adapted ones flourish and the others wither away into oblivion. That also means that new and improved versions (of our genetically previous us for example) are build upon the DNA of the already improved version. And that is a Good Thing. As well as being the main reason we evolved in creatures that created Internet, Blogging and Youtube.
One of the nice aspects of the days before the Internet was that a lot of mechanism were available to filter talent so we will not be pestered by people incapable of the content they are pestering us with. In order to make a movie you had to go to a academy and before somebody gave you a budget you had to prove you have the talent by showing previous work, e.g. work done as an assistant to somebody else.
Also, quality costs money. Well, in most cases anyhow. You can not imagine a movie like Schindlers list, Moulin Rouge or Forrest Gump made on a shoestring budget. Talent costs money. High level camera’s costs money. There are of course the proverbial exceptions: El Mariachi from Robert Rodriquez (7000 dollar budget) and maybe The Blair witch project (or was this the first example of Internet hype?). But normally big budgets show through the quality of the movie and increases the chance of a good evening.
At the moment all filters have been removed for producing content. A camera can be bought for a few hundred euro’s, everybody wants to be a star and once uploaded to Youtube, you and me can watch it (or have to plough through it in order to find interesting work). According to Andrew Keens and this book “The Cult of the Amateurs” this will kill our culture. Everything will gravitate to mediocrity because we do not have filters to prevent the amateurs from publishing.
As you can imagine lots of comments are heard from the blogosphere. People like Jeff Jarvis, Dave Winer and others are scolding him for placing doubts on the Great New Future that we are entering (though Clay Shirky has a much more balanced opinion). Where all people have numerous ways to express themselves and democracy will set us free. Problem is that with all those people expressing themselves, who will listen? Who will risk the time and money to produce quality content and will we find it? If you look at Wikipedia it is obvious that much information is in there because people first found it in serious media like encyclopedia’s and copied it or wrote it from recollection. When Wikipedia has starved the encyclopedia’s: who will do the research needed to separate fact from fiction? We might end up as the monkey behind the typewriter (or the “improved” version behind Microsoft Word).
One of the things we have to realize is that our filters from production side are gone. We now have to create the filters on the consumer side. Youtube is a million times crap and a few diamonds (and everything in between). And my kind of diamond may not be yours…. Research into the mechanisms to filter content are only just beginning. Number of views is a very basic mechanism. We need much more advanced mechanism based on who did the tagging, how does his profile look like me, did he stop looking after 3, 15 or 300 seconds. And much, much more. The amount of noise we have to filter is not ten times as loud but a million or more times as loud. This I think is one of the most important directions for research.
An important one I think is that our current structures to create quality are under pressure. When there are numerous producers most will all barely make a living. As consumers we get our niche content on the long tail but won’t we miss the high quality content? Music selling three times a month may be a business model for Rhapsody but it is no viable business model for the artist. Who is going to support the journalist that has to do deep and extensive research (who would uncover Watergate)?
I love the Internet, I (to my surprise) love blogging, I love Youtube and fact that many can express themselves. I love the freedom that “zero cost” distribution means for the availability of niche content. But beware of the Evangelists who only look at the positive side of this.
As a colleague of mine, Rogier Brussee, always says: people remain people, in real life and on the Internet. Same goals, same dreams, same motives. Good and Bad. The difference is some limits are removed that we have in normal life are not there on the Internet, for the good as well as the bad guys. For this we have to create new modes of organization. Like the reputation mechanism on E-bay, Karma on Slashdot and others.
Evolution as a society means adapting ourselves to a new reality, the good and the bad sides. Turning a blind eye to all the negative aspect means that (human) nature takes care of the attrition of all the wonderful possibilities that there are because many people will stop using them. Only the fittest survive. And that is a Good Thing!

Talent and Scarcity

Open Source, Wikipedia and others attract lots of people who spent lots of time in adding information and improvements. All for zilch, noppes, nada. At least financial terms…
Some think this is the way of the future. All new paradigms first attract the idealistic people. In the first days of the Internet commerce was simply not done. Flame wars should not be stopped by imposing rules and enforcement but by netiquette. Funny thing is that many of these idealistic first users also happen to be a bit anarchistic. This seems logical because these are the people that venture into the uncharted territories precisely because of the lack of rules there. I feel sympathetic to that. While reading the book of Yochai Bankler you get the feeling that we are on a new era of the altruistic society. I would love to believe this but I don’t buy it.
In 1982 Güth, Werner, Schmittberger, and Schwarze wrote an essay with the title: “An Experimental Analysis of Ultimatum Bargaining,” (Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 3:4 (December), page 367). In this they laid down a special version of economic game theory called the ultimatum game. The game goes like this:

There are two players, A and B. B gets 10 euro’s and can decide how to split the money. A can either accept the offer or reject the offer. If he accepts the offer he will get what he is offered and B keeps the rest of the money. If A rejects the offer both get zilch, noppes, nada.
This of course means that whatever A is offered, he will always be better of accepting the offer because when he rejects he gets nothing.

Funny thing is that when people are offered less than 2 euro (20%) they tend to refuse the offer and therefore lower their own earnings. With the help of MRI scans during this decision process it seems that we humans do this because we wish to punish the one that is unfair to us by too low an offer. This is interesting but what has this to do with open source software and altruistic people?
Talent is scarce. Very few people are capable of making a good video, few people are good at writing and even less are good at writing good on interesting topics. But a lot of people love to watch a good movie and read a good story and are willing to pay for it…. Hey, that sounds llike a business model…!
Because some are willing to pay for a good (say, reading a blog) either directly or by being exposed to advertising than there will be people that will start to write for money. But if some schmuck who can’t write can get paid than you as an excellent writer also want to be paid. Otherwise you will feel like a loser. It’s like a virus: once it starts spreading it will develop like an epidemic. And when there is a market there will always be somebody who will act as patient zero.
Now getting back to the ultimatum game. I think that when somebody is going to make money based on the work that you or I deliver, we want a fair share of the pie. And when we do not get it, we will stop contributing (and of course be miserable because we loved contributing. But that is the essence of the ultimatum game). As long as nobody was making any money it was ok. But when somebody is making money the definition of fairness changes. And like I said, when there is a market it will be serviced.
Jeff Howe from Wired recently wrote a blog about this: Digital Sharecropping: Mesh takes on Crowdsourcing. But in his view people are motivated mainly by “respect”. But I, based on the above, think that once the virus spread more and more (talented) people will ask for payment. And once they are getting paid it will be like a normal business.
A nice example of a new business model is Here users can brainstorm, develop test and recommend new electronic products. Once they are succesfull the creators get paid for the work they did.

First life in 3D

Sometime you see a piece of technology that really takes your breath away. A friend of mine, Maarten Vos, sent met this link about a lab site from Microsoft (yeah, they bought the company and technology …). Think of this in combination with Google Earth. Somehow they are capable of mapping all the flickr images in real world 3D about an area make them browsable based on location and point of view. Play a bit with it and you will be flabbergasted.
It is fascinating to see how more and more content is searchable based on location. This is after all a fairly intuitive way of finding much of the content that surrounds us. I do not know how far they can go with this technology but I think it is pretty impressive.
I wonder what is next. Being able to track a person by mapping all the Holiday pictures tourists take all over the world?


Don’t you get tired of choice? I do.
Some time ago I had to arrange a new connection for TV, Telephone and Internet for my mother who has moved from Spain to Arnhem. In the old days you just called KPN and: presto. Now there is unlimited choice with very little help. In the end I always have the nagging feeling that I probably did not make the best choice possible…
I have the same feeling when looking at sites like Youtube. There is so much choice and I have to make all those choices myself. Yesterday I was drinking a beer with Rene van Buuren and, beside other issues I will not talk about here :-), we had a conversation about choice. His statement was that unlimited choice (for example in TV channels) is a temporary thing. In the end we will have a limited number of channels that we watch. The difference with now will be that on those channels there are no fixed broadcasters but a selection will be made from the unlimited supply of content. Partly by experts and partly by “the crowd” in a “free zone”.
Though I am not sure about the fixed number channels I agree that unlimited choice is not a natural and sustainable state for us humans. We do not want to choose all the time but we wish that many choices are made for us. You can see it in the way people watch video’s on youtube: I think many people hardly ever completely watch the video but they get bored and move on to the next. Many of the top viewed movies are terribly boring but just happened to show a nice woman in the thumbnail picture (some things never change…). So watching a fixed channel may be a good solutions to be entertained.
I do not think the channels will be fixed but that we will be able to create a profile. The selection of content will be based on that profile. TV will be much more tailored to the person watching without the  burden of choice but only some feedback once in a while.
Add some random choices to it so you get surprised once in a while. Than finally we can get back to a couch potato evening.

Living Labs

The last 10 year we have created much more technology than we are using today. We have invested enormous amounts of money in mobile broadband structures and what is the most important mobile application today: texting (or txtspk), the mobile application that is the most basic in mobile technology. We are investing heavily into fiber to the home and what are people watching: low res video’s on Youtube. And they (we?) are loving it.
For many research projects the user was not a part of the equation. Technology had it’s own goal: more broadband, more mobile, more functions: more is good. And as all unix users know: more is less…
Today I had a conversation with people from CETIM (Bernhard Katzy, Benoit Dutilleul and Jean-Marc Verlinden) about Living Labs. For technology research it is more and more important to get out into the field.. Because the social aspects and user experience are the next frontier to take we need to do the research in close contact with the users. A new version of ADSL can be developed in the lab, a Wiki can only be created through a constant iteration with users. The number of possible functions are many but only a few will catch on with users. We can not use a stub for the user like we do in software development to test functions.
Living Labs is a (bit hyped) term used for large scale, in situ testing, of new developments. Tribler is an example where data is collected from the users of this bittorrent client to understand why and how people use this software. Google Mail is even an example because of the constant measurement and adaptation of the software to the way people are using it. CETIM is involved in the “Knowledge Workers Living Lab” And Telematica Instituut is involved in the “Freeband Experience Lab”.
A lot of these labs in Europe are starting to cooperate together. Many have their own expertise and infrastructures so working together leads to better possibilities for user focused research and new paths to (open)innovation. As CETIM and Telematica Instituut we are looking into he possibilities to work together these issues. Maybe you will soon be part of this great living lab we call earth …

Career moves

Maybe, given other choices, you could have been another Steven Spielberg. Maybe even better.
Steven Spielberg became Steven Spielberg because he made the choices early on that were fitting with his talent. And since in a short tailed world success breeds success he became one of the most successful directors since producers are inclined to play it safe in the choice of directors (everybody is going to look at the latest Spielberg). But no doubt there are many more people out there that have the talent of a spielberg but made different career choices and became mediocre architects.
On of the interesting aspects of the long tailed world introduced by youtube is that more people can try out their talent. With hard work, bit of luck and lots of recommendations you can get popular in the long tail and slowly but surely move up the tail to where it gets interesting for producers. A series on youtube I love is “mr. Deity”. On their websitethey explicitly state they are making this series on youtube because they wish to make a series on TV.

What is Mr. Deity?
Mr. Deity is a semi-monthly video series (every two weeks) that looks at God and the Universe with a smile (and sometimes, a wink).
What is your goal?
Our goal is to turn this into a half-hour series for television.

Below you can see one episode of the series on youtube:

This, I think, is a very interesting development. People who feel they have the talent now have a much better opportunity to show this for a worldwide audience. And of course they start out at the long end of the long tail. Their mother will watch it and than some friends. And friends of their friends and friends of their mothers and … well you understand. Before you know it I am watching it as well as a producer at a big network. If the talent is there it is now possible to move out of the long end of the tail and into mainstream where you can make a living out of the things you can do best (and love to do).
Of course there are also lots of examples of people trying to do things they do not have a talent for and there are many, many examples of this at sites like youtube. But as long as the recommendation mechanisms work and I am able to find the good ones I am happy. What do you want to become?

The future workspace of journalism

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Many will recognize this as the opening of Dickens his book “A tale of two cities”. Dickens meant the time of the french revolution with all the positive and negative turmoil. Looking how fast the landscape of work is changing I sometimes get the same idea (though luckily the “blood” is now virtual!). An interesting example of the change and turmoil is a site called AssignmentZero, a cooperation between Newassignment and Wired.
The idea of AssigmentZero is an attempt to do “open source journalism”. The idea is that an open community communicates about what would be interesting subjects, whom to interview, what are important questions and all other aspects relating to journalism. There is some leadership but there is also a lot of confusion, searching, irritation and of course some flames. It is intriguing to see how these people embark on a journey together to redefine how journalism works in a networked world. This is how they define their quest:

The investigation takes place in the open, not behind newsroom walls. Participation is voluntary; contributors are welcome from across the Web. The people getting, telling and vetting the story are a mix of professional journalists and members of the public — also known as citizen journalists. This is a model I describe as “pro-am.”

This mixing of professionals and the general public in order to make use of professional expertise and the open view of the general public can be an example for much more workspaces, like the police (where are the dangerous places) and city planning (creative ideas of the citizens combined with the expertise of city architects). There are a lot of challenges ahead in order to make this succeed. I think it will be worthwhile to follow this experiment.