A publicly supported internet

I just learned via the Media Guardian podcast, while “running” this morning, that my friend Tom Loosemore, who helped guide the BBC into the future and who on the side helped create the constituent-empowering They Work for You, has left Auntie to go to OFCOM, the British media regulator, where he’ll work on the idea of public-serving publishing (PSP) — that is, a publicly supported internet.

If a country were to take taxes to support work on the internet — and I’m not saying it should — I don’t think it should follow the old broadcasting model of creating content and a closed network to distribute it. I don’t pretend to understand the thinking that has gone into PSP. And American that I am, I would be leery of creating taxes to support internet activities, which in turn gives government and political control over internet activities (see: meddling in public broadcasting and broadcasting as well). I also think the market is doing a magnificent job exploring and exploiting the internet’s potential.

But having issued those caveats, this got me thinking: If there were to be a publicly supported effort such as this, what is missing? If you’re going to do this, then I’d say it would be God’s work to help create infrastructure and open platforms to help sustain the people’s creativity, which is already blooming. So what could that be?

* An open advertising infrastructure. Yes, I know that sounds antithetical to public-serving and -supported publishing. But the goal is to create the means to make anyone’s creativity sustainable, on merit. Creating an infrastructure, a platform, also scales far better and lasts much longer than revenue from a tax. If more creation can be supported independently, that benefits both the creators and society.

* An open government infrastructure. Make all government information and actions open to public scrutiny. Turn us loose and we call become reporters. Old powers would despise this. That’s just the point. Rather than waiting for us to file freedom-of-information requests, just free the information.

* An open education infrastructure. I’ll write more about this soon, but I keep coming back to the idea that the next institution to explode — after media, advertising, consumer companies, politics, and government — is the academe. This will have profoundly disruptive implications for both education and research. But why shouldn’t educational institutions — especially publicly funded ones — follow the lead of MIT and other universities and put their curricula online? And wouldn’t it be ducky if there were a good, standard infrastructure for doing so and even for joining in with other online students? And, of course, why shouldn’t we all be able to create courses to share?

* An identity system? No, ID cards are already controversial enough. Scratch that.

* Authoring tools? The market is doing a damned good job with that.

What else?

In any case, I’ll watch with great interest what Loosemore does at his new gig and I wish him luck.

  • http://robertdfeinman.com/society robertdfeinman

    The idea of decoupled advertising is an interesting one. There is now always some question about stories on PBS and NPR since they accept corporate funds.

    If the advertising were hands off (like Google adsense) then one could keep editorial independence.

    As for the use of public funds for public media, why not? I realize libertarians don’t believe in this for philosophical reasons, but we have lots of areas that are publicly funded. The trick is to keep the funding at a distance (like the highway trust fund).

    The BBC works pretty well with the TV tax, but it is flawed because the government gets to pick the head. Governance remains a sticky issue, but how much governance control does the public have over CBS or NBC?

  • Pete

    An “open education infrastructure” explosion is certainly in progress. Both enormous state universties and small liberal arts colleges are jumping on the online learning bandwagon to complete for education dollars with private vendors.

    More importantly, look at what corporatization has done to politics, journalism, religion and popular culture in this country, and extend that to education and you’ll get an idea of what has been happening to the biggest employer in the United States in terms of people employed.

    The revolution will not be accredited, however, and that is where the analogy tends to break down a bit. A “good, standard infrastructure” for granting online credits probably already exists at least in nascent form, and university students are already joining in with other online students in ways that are not sanctioned or supervised by education authorities.

    There is nothing stopping anyone from developing their own course and posting it online to share with whomever would take an interest and pay. Administrators and accrediting bodies who issue the professoriate’s marching orders want 15 “contact” hours a week for 15 weeks, or the equivalent of that with learning goals that transfer readily from one institution to another and that aren’t redundant, redactive, or ridiculous. Telling personal stories is not going to take up that much time, I don’t care how traveled and self-absorbed the Internet instructor might be. Eventually, the lay instructor is going to have to find good, thought-provoking content by relying on other authors and deliver the material in a way that does hopefully a bit more for the students than make class fun to be in an open, virtual classroom.

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  • http://www.learn9.net Will Pollard

    An article in the Guardian is relevant

    http://education.guardian.co.uk/elearning/story/0,,2116835,00.html

    I think it shows a bit of a blur between blogs and journals

    ——————————————————————-

    Dr Timo Hannay, director of web publishing at Nature Publishing Group, which runs Nature Network, says no one could mistake the site for a peer-reviewed journal; it is more “cafe chat”. “If a user made outlandish scientific claims that were potentially misleading, we would take them off,” he says.

    He predicts that scientists who post comments, blogs and data from experiments on sites like Nature Network will eventually be allowed to count these as part of their research output. “We are increasingly seeing the online world with its informal rapid communications complement the slower, more formal communications of academic journals,” he says. “There should be a way of measuring the impact of a scientist who posts comments on a site like Nature Network. These could be added to their publishing record for the research assessment exercise [in which every active researcher in every university in the UK is assessed by panels of other academics]. I think the funding bodies will see that these contributions add to the scientific knowledge base.”

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  • http://diary.woo.com.tw/index.php/harmonyklemme794 ktvu

    The idea of decoupled advertising is an interesting one. There is now always some question about stories on PBS and NPR since they accept corporate funds.

    If the advertising were hands off (like Google adsense) then one could keep editorial independence.

    As for the use of public funds for public media, why not? I realize libertarians don’t believe in this for philosophical reasons, but we have lots of areas that are publicly funded. The trick is to keep the funding at a distance (like the highway trust fund).

    The BBC works pretty well with the TV tax, but it is flawed because the government gets to pick the head. Governance remains a sticky issue, but how much governance control does the public have over CBS or NBC?