Posts about opensource

Government by Twitter

Well, how’s this for cool: I was reading 10 Downing Street’s Twitter feed and found a link to a speech by blogging MP Tom Watson establishing a task force to implement recommendations in a Power of Information report to open up government data and to involve citizens in government using the social web. Watson said:

The 19th century co-operative movements had their roots in people pooling resources to make, buy or distribute physical goods. Modern online communities are the new co-operatives.

Mrs Watson is a regular user of Netmums. It’s a great site. Parents chat, and offer, I’ve been there, advice on everything from baby whispering to school admissions. Except it’s not just a handful of mums and dads, it’s thousands of them, available in your living room, 24 hours a day.

Sounds like hell well, it’s a lifeline when your baby’s screaming at four in the morning, you have no idea why and you just need to know you’re not alone. But my point is, imagine if quarter of a million mums decided to meet at Wembley Stadium to discuss the best way to bring up their kids. Midwives would be there dispensing advice. Health visitors, nursery teachers, welfare rights advisers would be there. Even politicians would try and get in on the act. But when twice this number chooses to meet together in the same place online, we just ignore them. That’s going to have to change. . . .

We also need to look at the way Government talks to itself. Whitehall is arguably Britain’s most important knowledge factory, but we’re using out of date tools. . . .

To do this within the system I would like to see more use of techniques commonplace now in the wider world, internal blogs, wikis, discussion forums, shared workspaces, all still quite rare within the machine. . . .

Here are some of the ideas I put forward on — what should we call it? — social government, open government, Google government.

: As an aside, there’s an amusing and very British dustup in Watson’s speech over accusations that he stole the idea of open-source the Tories. But, of course, if it’s open, how can anyone own it and thus how can it be stolen? Note also that underneath this is the start of a liberal-v-conservative clash of worldviews approaching open, digital, social government and society. I think that debate is revolving around whether the center of this activity is inside or outside of government and whether the market of ideas and information is sufficient in itself. Anyway, here’s Watson:

I said that I don’t believe the post-bureaucratic age argument. It’s just old thinking, laissez faire ideas with a new badge.

The future of government is to provide tools for empowerment, not to sit back and hope that laissez-faire adhocracy will suffice.

A post bureaucratic age misunderstands the idea of an enabling state one that moderates collaborative activity for a shared social good. The collaborative state still requires leaders and enablers, doers and thinkers. It still requires public services but services with boundaries porous to external ideas.

I said that ideologies that fail to comprehend the power of sharing, where activity is motivated by non-market production or where, as Stephen Weber says the traditional notions of property rights are inverted – are doomed to extinction.

And I talked about the three rules of open source: One, nobody owns it. Two, everybody uses it. And three, anyone can improve it.

Two days later a political opponent sent out an email laying claim that in fact they are the ‘owners’ of these new ideas. I was accused of plundering policies from the Conservatives.

The irony that laying claim to the ownership of a policy on open source was lost to the poor researcher who had spent a day dissecting the speech. He’d been able to do so easily because it was freely available on my blog, a simple tool used for communicating information quickly and at nearly zero cost without the requirement to charge for access.

The point is, who cares? It doesn’t matter who has the ideas. It’s what you do with them and how you improve on them that counts.

But politics will still be politics.

: Note also from Watson’s speech the incredible uptake of epetitions.

Over 7 million electronic signatures have been sent, electronically, to the Downing Street petition website [External website]. 1 in 10 citizens have emailed the Prime Minister about an issue. The next stage is to enable e-petitioners to connect with each other around particular issues and to link up with policy debates both on and off Government webspace.

Google Ad Manager: It’s bigger than it looks

The biggest news of the week — well, besides the governor-erect (hat tip to the New York Post) — was not AOL’s purchase of Bebo or Yahoo’s embrace of the semantic web (about which I remain skeptical) or certainly Lacygate. No, the biggest, most game-changing news went by without a great deal of notice and that Google’s announcement of a free ad-serving platform.

Google Ad Manager is one critical piece in creating the open network of networks where any site can take any ad and any marketer can advertise on any site. When that day arrives, we all become atoms that can attract to one molecule or another, no longer locked into one network. We start to see a truer marketplace for online advertising. We also get to see small sites gather together in large, ad hoc networks to compete with big sites — and this, I believe, will encourage and support the creation of more small sites. God’s work. Or now Google’s.

The creation of a standard ad call — which any site can use and into which any advertiser can place an ad, which in essence is what Google is doing — is the foundation of what I envisioned when I called for an open-source ad infrastructure.

There’s just one issue: It’s not open-source. And it’s Google’s.

Google’s benefits are clear: By offering free ad-serving to sites, it has an opening to be on many more sites, and when they don’t have ads of their own to serve, Google can serve AdSense and make some more money. Google also gathers incredible data about ad performance and pricing and about the sites themselves. One big problem with its program is that it doesn’t share that data with the publishers and let them use it to more efficiently serve its ads. It also doesn’t share it with advertisers and let them take advantage of a more transparent marketplace.

No, Google’s holding onto that information itself and, once again, becoming smarter than all of us. And I say that’s our own damned fault for not building our truly open ad marketplace. It’s not too late, but it soon will be.

The closest thing we have to an infrastructure for such an open marketplace is OpenX (nee Openads, nee phpAds), a free and open-source ad platform now serving ads on 30,000 sites. What’s needed — and I told CEO James Bilefeld this when I met him sometime ago — is that all those separate sites should be tied together into an open network so advertisers can pick and choose where to place their ads. The other thing it needs is standard metrics so advertisers can decide where to buy.

Now Google promises to build that cross-internet ad network with Ad Manager. And Google has the metrics — only, again, it’s not sharing. It lets sites target ads on the most basic of criteria: geography, bandwidth, browser, browser language, operating system, and domain. Whoop-dee-do. Each site can use its own information to target. But it’s the cross-site information that is exponentially richer and it’s Google that sits in the catbird seat where that is visible.

We should be able to target on so much richer information: the cross-site behavior of users (that’s the basis of Tacoda, just bought by AOL); their influence (that’s part of the sauce cooking up at 33 Across, where — full disclosure — I am an adviser and investor); their place in the timing of a conversation (meme starters, meme spreaders); their own characteristics (what do the demographics of authors tell us apart from the demographics of audience?); their authority (too bad Technorati never found a way to exploit that for bloggers’ benefit); and so on. This is about moving beyond eyeballs to brains.

But I wonder whether entrepreneurs will be able to start building some of this structure atop Google’s Ad Manager: analytics companies finding the ultimate network of soccer moms; ad agencies or media companies putting together ad hoc networks. This will create greater efficiency and thus greater value. And it will tie together a distributed community of interest into a critical mass advertisers will pay attention to: the mass of niches. And that, again, will support the creation of a new wealth of content and communication; that’s what I want to see.

On a less momentous scale, the Google move also reduces the cost of serving ads to zero and that will have benefit for sites of any size. When I worked on sites that were DoubleClick clients (which will still charge for serving as it becomes part of Google… for now) it was too expensive to serve even our own promotional ads because we had to pay DoubleClick to do it. Now sites can use their ad inventory in new and more creative ways. That, too, is a benefit of Ad Manager.

Altogether, Google is simply doing what Google does: creating a platform. That benefits all its users and it benefits Google by putting it at the center of the market. But the more closed that market is, the more it benefits Google over the users. And the more Google becomes the sole standard, the more it can successfully make it closed. So if we’re going to create an open ad marketplace, now’s the time. If it’s not already too late.

How would Google compete with Google?

So when someone came along who actually managed to compete with and even frighten Google — namely, Facebook — how is Google competing? By going open. There’s a lesson in that for the rest of us.

I keep saying that media companies should ask WWGD – what would Google do — in formulating their digital strategies. Well, in Google’s Open Social, we see that the best competition against a growing monopoly is openness.

So how should we compete with Google or at least challenge its monopoly? Openness. I’ve argued for sometime that we need an open-source ad infrastructure. If the rest of the world other than Google — that is, those who have the other half of advertising Google doesn’t yet have — can gather together and create standards, then Google would be faced with the same decision Facebook is now faced with: whether to use those standards. What organized Facebook’s foes? Ironically, it was Google. Who could organize the nonGoogle ad universe? I see no one on the horizon. That’s why Google keeps growing. We’re letting them.

OpenAds: A step in the right direction

I may be reading too much into this, but I take hope in a $5 million investment VCs made today in the company behind Openads, a free, open-source ad server. They already serve more than 20,000 publishers, 100,000 sites in 20-plus languages over 30-plus networks. If this becomes a platform for ad serving across the web, then I believe neat new things can happen — perhaps even the first steps toward the open-source ad network I’ve been pushing. I think this could become the basis of open competition with Google — not replacing Google but allowing publishers and advertisers to put together higher value ad hoc networks. Or maybe I’m just projecting.

I spoke last night with a founder and with one of the VCs, Index’s Saul Klein (disclosure: also an investor in Daylife, where I’m a founder). I don’t think the company man was willing to go quite as far as I was pushing — he’s quite wisely making it clear that he is working with existing networks and with Google, all of which can be served through Openads — but Saul did say that they reason they’re investing, along with Mangrove and O’Reilly Alphatech, is that they see big potential. Says their press release:

Openads allows publishers to have complete control of their advertising campaigns, offering sophisticated targeting, inventory optimization, rich media and inventory forecasting from a simple yet powerful interface.

I believe that if they create interoperable and open standards for ad measurement and serving in a broadly distributed platform and if various networks can plug in to a larger open network, then we have the beginnings of a transparent marketplace that will improve value for everyone. That’s why it’s important that Openads is free. Why not use it? And if everyone uses it, then imagine what can be built on top of that. Down the line, I see not only flexible networks but also new analytics.

So how will Openads make money if it’s free? Like other open-source companies, it will offer consulting on top of the service and software to help publishers and advertisers get more value. I see this as the WordPress model: The platform is open and that enables many companies to be built on top of it.

And if I’m not projecting too much onto Openads, then I think we see more building blocks in the new infrastructure of the web. Google is the infrastructure of search and information — and, for now, advertising. YouTube wants to be the platform for video and video ads. Facebook wants to be the social infrastructure. Openads could be the ad infrastructure. It’s all still loose — the Jell-O is yet warm — but we can start to see a structure forming.

Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.

: A note on the current landscape: A reporter asked me what I thought about why big players are buying ad companies and I was working on this post, so I was halfway through looking at that myself. Here’s what I said:

An ever-growing proportion of advertising in all media will be sold and served via an electronic marketplaces and the question is, who will own it? Google owns the marketplace but not the serving of others’ ads; Doubleclick gives them that. Rightmedia expands Yahoo’s marketplace with other sites’ remnant inventory and Yahoo already has display sales. Microsoft needs to get into the game and aQuantive is a fit because, via Razorfish, it provides marketing enterprise services. Ad agencies are quaking as their roles — in both media and creative — can be usurped by new and both smaller and larger players, technology, and even consumers themselves, so WPP is hedging with 24/7. It is good that we have potential competition to the growing hegemony of Google.

But I told the reporter that I hope none of them owns the marketplace. That would be dangerous and expensive for both publishers and advertisers. Instead, I want to see an open-source and transparent marketplace with open and standard metrics, standard ad calls that can hook up with any network and any agency, and the easy means to set and negotiate prices (for all kinds of new values — not just pageviews), with or without auction functionality. Could Openads become that? I don’t know yet.

Open-source polling

The Times today reports on YouGov, the online polling company that has grown big in the UK (big enough for its founder, Stephan Shakespeare, to fund conservative online talk network 18DoughtySt to the tune of $2 million). It’s a sensible model: rather than polling the way pollsters have since the 1940s, online panels are used. The proof is in the predictions; if the data is good, why not gather it a new way?

But I think this should get opened up further. Two years ago, I wrote a post begging for someone to start an open-source polling operation: the wikipedia of polls. It would have controls against manipulation that enforce reliability — again, the proof is in the predictions. But it’s god’s work, for polling is too expensive and too limited to the powerful who want to ask their questions and too inaccurate about what we really care about. I say that if we could easily poll people about, say, indecency, we could counter the assertions of pressure groups that there’s an outcry — sufficient to threaten the First Amendment — when, in fact, there is no such outcry, only media spin and hype. Imagine if any of us could truly take the pulse of the nation or a community. That would have a positive impact on civil discourse and democracy — and commerce — and would be a counterweight to PR, political, and pressure-group spin.

Here, again, is my prescription for how I think it should be done. And here‘s an article by far-more-knowledgeable Mystery Pollster Mark Blumenthal with his prescription for open-source polling.

WWGD: The news API

A throwaway line I used in a post the other day keeps repeating on me like pepperoni pizza: If you want to be big in media in the future, make yourself into an API.

I’ve been wondering what it would mean for a news organization to turn itself into an API — that is, a programming interface that lets the public use and remix and also contribute information. Or put the question another way: What would Google do (WWGD) if it ran a news organization? And I don’t mean GoogleNew but any of the reporting organizations it could afford to buy (though I’m not sure why it would): The New York Times, the LA Times, CBS News, CNN. Or, for that matter, what would YouTube do? Or Firefox? What would it mean to open up the news? I’ll start with a few answers of my own. Please add yours:

* Let people — no, encourage — people to distribute your stuff for you. You can no longer spend a huge marketing budget to get people to come to you. So go to where the people are, with the people’s help. That’s what got YouTube seen: letting people put players in their own space, which in turn drove people to discover and dive into YouTube.

* Think distributed in your business, too. That is how Google makes much of its fortune: by taking its ads to where the people are and sharing just a bit of that wealth.

* Let people — no, encourage — people to remix your stuff. They’re doing it anyway. They’re taking a paragraph from here and a quote from there — or video from here and audio from there — to tell the story from their perspective. Stop thinking of that as theft and start thinking of it as a compliment. If you’re not being remixed, you’re not part of the conversation. And the conversation is the platform of the today. So feel free to set some rules — it’s only polite to attribute and link — but then open the doors and let people create more great stuff on not only your finished product but also your raw material (your quotes, your data, your cutting-room floor). Look at the great things people have built on top of Google, YouTube, and Firefox. You want to be part of that construction project. The BBC has started down this path. So should others.

* So be a platform for news. Enable people to use you to make connections to people and information. Provide the means for them to record those school-board meetings and share the fruits. Give people tools and training to accomplish what they want to accomplish. Create networked reporting tools that let the people join together in acts of journalism (see: NewAssignment.net).

* Experiment. Start labs for news and let the people in to create and criticize alongside you. Don’t be afraid of betas and don’t be afraid of failure. You can’t be perfect. You never could.

Looking through the wrong end of the wire

There’s a fascinating — and entertainingly pissy, if sometimes obtuse — argument going on over Metcalfe’s Law (which states that the value of a communications network grows exponentially as its number of users grows). On one side are three authors of an article in IEEE Spectrum, who insist that the law was wrong and even dangerous, for it justified the first internet bubble, and they fear it is being used now to inflate a second social bubble. On the other side is Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe himself, arguing at VC partner Mike Hirshland’s blog that his law is not only still valid but, when you tie it with Moore’s Law, it leads to the Law of the Long Tail.

And I will argue with them all — not against Metcalfe’s Law but against the way they value networks. The IEEE authors try to tote up the value of a network in terms of who owns it: the market capitalization of companies controlling networks. In other words, they — like telecoms of old — try to value the network at the center. But that is no longer how networks are valued at all. No, now they are valued at the edge. You and I value the networks we choose to connnect to in ways only we can measure. Metcalfe starts down the right path when, as Hirshland summarizes, he argues that with social networks “we need to consider not just the number of users but also the affinity between the members of the network.” Yes, and each network connection we make carries an intangible, personal quality that has direct impact on how much we value those networks and thus how much they are worth as a whole. We tote up our own value in terms like trust, engagement, joy, relevance, excitement, reputation, need, sex, and money. Human networks must be measured on human terms.

Network providers used to try to measure the value we put on networks negatively, in terms of switching costs. That was what AOL counted on for too damned long as they thought it would cost us too much hassle to switch off our AOL email addresses. Ha! But we each value a network positively on what it brings us. That is different for each of us and each of our connections. For example, I see no value, personally, in LinkedIn; it has never done a thing for me but attract a new form of spam, inconvenience, and embarrassment when I don’t link to someone. But for others I know, LinkedIn provides jobs, business, income, reputation; it is damned near invaluable. Similarly, I see little value in MySpace; for middle-aged me, it is merely a curiosity. For others, of course, it gets them songs or gets them laid. Put a price tag on that, if you dare. I see value in my Treo phone because it keeps me connected to anything, anywhere, anytime. I see great value in having a blog in the ‘sphere, for it brings me learning, ego gratification (I admit it), jobs, and money (but no sex).

An important factor in this is openness. The more open the network, the more valuable it is — but the harder it is to own, and thus the harder it is to value in old terms of ownership and market cap. That’s what really argues against the IEEE authors. They are trying to put a corporate value on networks. You can’t. That’s like trying to value air… or the internet. They defy ownership.

Can a network be too open? Of course. Email, one could argue, is too open because it permits spam. It remains valuable only if I gain control over that spam thanks to enabling tools. Usenet was too open and there was no such control, so its value sank to nil. Some wonder whether MySpace will be too open or at least too big: When everyone is your friend, you have no friends. So here we see the value of niches and of communities: the right people in the right relationships. Small is the new big.

Does this argue against Metcalfe? Does it show, as the IEEE guys want to, that the exponential growth in the value of a network does not continue and, indeed, topples? No, the problem is that all these calculations leave out the most important X factor to which Metcalfe alludes: affinity. And affinity is fed by many of those human intangibles I listed above: relevance, emotional connections, convenience, reputation, and on and on. So, I will argue, the value of a network should be calculated with a multiplier, which is the value a network’s members put on it:

Network value = the sum of the value each member of the network places in it.

But, of course, that is incalculable (what, again, is the dollar value of love?).

Does this further argue against Metcalfe that small networks can have more value than big networks? No, because one should value a network as the sum of its networks. We see the internet that way. We also should see the blogosphere that way. This is why I continue to think it is absurd and wrongheaded to analyze the blogosphere on its supposed A-list. The vast majority of people who read blogs never read any of the blogs on that A-for-alleged list. They read and interact with the ones that are meaningful to them. The blogosphere is not the value of the few on top or even of the total but instead of the unlimited connections enabled within. This is also why I see such power in networked journalism: the network is additive.

This is also about the mass of niches. When television as a medium stopped having to serve everyone at once — when cable, VCRs, and now the internet allowed it to serve smaller interests, tastes, and audiences — television as a whole grew; this explosion is far from over. Fewer people watch HBO than NBC but those who do clearly value it more because they pay for it.

And this is about the value of being the right size: I value the Continental President’s Club because everyone in the airport does not belong; if everyone did, its value would fall to nil. This isn’t about snottiness. It is about control.

So all of this leads to my law — everybody has to have a law — which I think I first stated here and have restated ad nauseam.

Jarvis’ Law: Give the people control, and we will use it. The corollary: Don’t give us control, and you will lose us.

The more we control the network at the edge, the more valuable it is to us, and the more valuable it is as a whole, but the harder it is to own and control. Yet that doesn’t stop you from making money. See: Google. It grew by making connections — establishing unlimited networks of information and now advertising — with content and connectivity it did not own or control. See Skype, which didn’t so much grow its own value as deflate the value of its competitors down to their true worth as communications networks stripped of their monopolistic advantages. If you want to talk a bubble, there was none ever bigger than the artificial bubble of the telecommunications companies and their closed networks; open networks have certainly popped that. (See Isenberg’s Law: “Just deliver the bits, stupid.” See also Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks.)

I think the next valuable network will rise out of helping us find the good stuff in video anywhere — not just on networks and not just on YouTube, anywhere.

But the truly valuable network, the network of networks, the unbreakable bubble of bubbles, will be the one that manages to bring people together wherever we are, not just on MySpace (read: RupertsSpace), not just in Flickr or Del.icio.us, and not even just in the blogosphere, but everywhere. The internet doesn’t need more social networks. The internet is the social network. We have our identities, interests, reputations, relationships, information, and lives here, and we’re adding more every day. The network enabler that manages to help us tie these together to find not just connections or email addresses or information or songs but people — friends, colleagues, teachers, students, partners, lovers — across this open world, that will be the owner of the biggest network of them all: The Google of people.

I’m no mathematician or scientist, so I have to express this in words, but here’s the way I calculate the value of networks:

The Law of Open Networks: The more open a network is, the more control there is at the edges, the more the edges value the network, the more the network is worth.

The business lessons from this: Any choke point of control, via ownership, decreases the value of the network. Enablers increase the value of the network. The network will abhor and find ways around choke points. The network will value enablers and that is the point at which value may be extracted from the network. The value in networks in the open future is not in ownership and control but in enabling others to control.

: And as if all that’s not enough, see also Tom Evslin and Fred Wilson on Reed’s Law — which holds, in Fred’s words, that “if each node of the network was itself a network (a GFN) then the value of the network scales with the exponential of the number of nodes in the network” — and my clumsy efforts to get my head around it here and here. Fred Wilson begs Metcalfe to also tackle Reed. See as well Umair Haque on Google and Reed and on Metcalfe and the edge.

: Here’s Om Malik on Metcalfe.

: Proving that one Hugh cartoon is worth 1,200 of my words:

Networked journalism: Lensemen for hire

Another example of networked journalism: Spy Media has set up a system to allow you to ask someone to shoot and then pay for photos. You are the assignment desk and the world is your freelance pool. [via Springwise]

I will count to 10 to give someone time to fret that this will turn all your friends and neighbors into seething, stop-at-nothing paparazzi, giving more people more cause to stalk Tom Cruise to get a picture of that darned baby. But I’ll argue that the market for such photos is clearly already there; this won’t change that.

But this is a method that not only Spy but any media company could use. Why have staff photographers to go out and shoot a McDonald’s for the 100th time when you want to illustrate a story about fast food? Why not ask your community, now armed with lenses, to do it for you? And pay for the best one. It makes perfect sense.

Some of the requested photos at Spy so far include:
* $200 for a streaker at the Techcrunch party (has Web 2.0 gotten that wild and that retro at the same time?)
* $75 for hot girls on MySpace (you’d think Playboy could pay more)
* $100 for a Starbucks contest: “Most Creative Photo with a Starbucks Cup in It” (I have no idea whether that’s official… but that shows this is a pretty damned good idea for marketers, too)
* $100 Red Bull Contest: “The Photo with the Prettiest Girl and a Red Bull” (ditto)
* $250 for “Hezbollah Rocket Launchers in Civilian Area of Lebanon” (now that’s journalism; I know of a recently unemployed photographer over there)