Posts about Internet

Learning the true value of content from Aaron Swartz

I must confess that at first I did not understand what the pioneers of rethinking content’s value—Lawrence Lessig, Joi Ito, Cory Doctorow, Aaron Swartz—had to teach me. When Lessig took to the courts—playing the net’s Quixote to battle Hollywood’s imperialistic expansion of copyright—I wondered whether his side was overreaching by implying that all creation is born of what came before.

I was in the content business. I believed in the value of content and authorship and ownership. So I posted a mock copyright notice under the content on my young blog:

It’s mine, I tell you, mine! All mine! You can’t have it because it’s mine! You can read it (please); you can quote it (thanks); but I still own it because it’s mine! I own it and you don’t. Nya-nya-nya. So there. COPYRIGHT 2001… by Jeff Jarvis.

But I soon learned. I placed a Creative Commons license on my blog. I came inevitably to see the wisdom in Lessig’s mission and the value in the tools he and Swartz and their allies created.

But I still thought I was in the content business. Well, I don’t anymore.

That lesson came in good measure from Aaron Swartz’s actions, particularly his freeing the whale from JSTOR’s tank. Even Lessig in his eloquent and powerful lament over the grave of his friend, can’t endorse what Swartz did when he downloaded countless academic articles. Alex Stamos, the expert witness who would have testified at Swartz’ trial, still calls it “inconsiderate.”

I took Swartz’ action not as a protest but instead as an object lesson in the true value of content. We from the content business think our value is encased in our content. That is why we sell it, build walls around it, protect it (and, yes, I will still happily sell you mine). Inside the Gutenberg Parenthesis, that is the only model we have known.

But the net has taught me that content gains value as it travels from person to person, just as it used to, before Gutenberg, when it wasn’t content but was just information.

Google and Facebook have taught me that content’s worth may not be intrinsic but instead may lie in its ability to generate signals about people, build relationships with them, and deliver relevance and value to them. In that, I think, is a new business model for news, one focused on value delivered over value protected, on service over content. For content is merely that which fills something—a page or a minute—while service is that which accomplishes something for someone.

Lessig and company have taught me that content’s value can lie in what it spawns and inspires. Locked away, unseen, unused, not discussed, not linked, it might as well not exist.

David Weinberger has taught me that knowledge confined in a book at a single address on a shelf is limited.

And Aaron Swartz has taught me that content must not be the end game for knowledge. Why does knowledge become an article in a journal—or that which fills a book or a publication—except for people to use it? And only when they use it does content become the tool it should be. Not using knowledge is an offense to it. If it cannot fly free beyond the confines of content, knowledge cannot reach its full value through collaboration, correction, inspiration, and use.

I’m not saying that content wants to be free. I am asking whether knowledge wants to be content.

We get the net—and society—we build

The next time you see someone on Twitter point to an argument and gleefully announce, “Fight! Fight!” and you retweet that, think about the net you are encouraging and creating. You’re breeding only more of the same.

Oh, we’ve all done it. At least I’ll confess that I’ve done it. I’ve been in fights online I’m ashamed of. Like kids left alone by the substitute teacher, we — many of us — exercised our sudden freedom by shooting spitballs around the room. Have we gotten that out of our systems yet? Isn’t it time to stop and ask what kind of net and society we’re creating here?

I’ve been the object of potshots from a cadre of young curmudgeons who attack me instead of my ideas. We give it a haughty name — the ad hominem attack — but it’s just a kind of would-be assassination, sniping at the person to shut off the idea. I’ve watched these attacks be retweeted as reward, over and over again. Some might say that’s what I get for being public. Hell, I wrote a book about being public. But I hope personal attack isn’t the price one has to pay for sharing thoughts. What chill does that put on public discussion?

I was waiting for another example of a “Fight! Fight!” tweet to write about this choice we have. But then today I read about something far, far worse in singer Amanda Palmer’s blog. She, too, was getting ready to write about being the object of hate online — something we briefly talked about in a conversation regarding social media a few weeks ago. But then Amanda searched and found the tragic, wasteful story of a girl who couldn’t take the abuse she’d received online and off and finally killed herself. That’s only partly a story about the internet. But it’s very much a story about damaged humanity. Go read Amanda’s post now and watch the video there if you can bear to. Especially read the comments: heartfelt stories from more victims of attacks who, thank God, are here to tell their tales and share their lessons.

In the U.K., people are being arrested for posting hate online — “malicious telecommunications,” it’s called, as if the “tele” makes it worse. In France, a government minister is demanding that Twitter help censor, outlaw, and arrest the creators of hate online. I side with Glenn Greenwald on this: Nothing could be more dangerous. “Criminalizing ideas doesn’t make them go away any more than sticking your head in the sand makes unpleasant things disappear,” says Greenwald.

Yes, this is not a trend that can be delegated to government and wished away with legislation or prosecution. Or to put it another way: This is not government’s problem.

This is our problem. Your problem. My problem. Every time we link to, laugh at, and retweet — and retweet and retweet and retweet — personal attacks on people, we only invite more of the same. And every time we do *not* call out someone and scold them for their uncivil behavior, we condone that behavior and invite more of it. Thus we build the net — and the society — we deserve.

Again, I’ll not claim purity myself. I’ve ridiculed people rather than ideas and I’m ashamed for my part in that.

And mind you, I won’t suggest for a moment that we should not attack ideas and argue about them and fight over them with passion and concern. We must argue strenuously about difficult topics like guns and taxes and war. That is deliberative democracy. That process and freedom we must protect.

But when argument over an idea turns to attack against a person, then it crosses the line. When disliking a person becomes public ridicule of that person, it is hate. Dealing with that isn’t the responsibility of government. It is our responsibility.

The next time you see a tweet ridiculing a person or linking to someone who does, please respond with a challenge: “Is this the world you want to encourage? What does this accomplish? What does this create?” A week or so ago, I finally did that myself — “Really?” I asked a Twitter fight announcer. “Is this what you want to encourage? Aren’t you ashamed?” — and I was only sorry I had not done it before.

It would be self-serving and trivial to point to personal examples of attacks that spread. Indeed, it is self-serving — and ultimately only food to the trolls — to respond yourself to attacks on you; that gives the attackers just what they want. But that should not stop me from giving support to others who are attacked by those who think that scoring snark shots will only get them attention (because to date, it does). The next time I see an attack on a person, I need to call it out. I’d ask you to do the same.

We are building the norms of our new net society. It can go either way; there’s nothing, absolutely nothing to say that technology will lead to a better or worse world. It only provides us choices and the opportunity to show our own nature in what we choose. Will you support the fights, the attacks, the hate? Or will you stand up for the victims and against the bullies and trolls and their cheering mobs who gleefully tweet, “Fight! Fight!”?

Please read Amanda’s post and the comments from her supporters — Gaga would call them her little monsters — and take their stories to heart. Whose side are you on? Which net and society will you build?

It’s not a mobile phone. So what is it?

“Mobile phone” is a misnomer that is leading industries — especially media — astray as they try to develop services and business for the next wave of connectivity. So what would a better name be? I’ll have a nominee in a second. On this, the fifth anniversary of the iPhone, it is appropriate and long overdue that we rename this disruptive wonder. But first, let’s dispose of these old descriptors.

“Phone” doesn’t work anymore, of course, because we — especially the younger among us — are using these devices to call people less and less. Note these stats in the UK from O2 via Shane Richmond in the Telegraph:

“Mobile” doesn’t work because that makes us envision a user on the road or on the sidewalk when, in fact, most of the use of tablets — which often fall into the mobile-device category — is at home. I use my “mobile” phone all the time in my office and even at home and certainly in boring meetings, when I’m quite sedentary.

Mobile = local = around me now. Mobile is my personal bubble. It is enhanced convenience, putting the device and the world in my hand. But next imagine no device: Cue the war between Siri and Google Glass to eliminate the last mediator, the thing.

I see companies assuming that mobile requires maps and geography or apps and closed worlds. But I think what we now mistakenly call mobile will instead be about getting each of us to what we want with fewer barriers and less effort because the service has gathered so many signals about us: who we are, where we are, what we like, whom we know, what we know, what we want to know, what we buy…. The power of what we now call mobile, I believe, is in signal generation and the extreme targeting and convenience that enables.

What we call “mobile” is disruptive in ways we can’t yet figure out. We call it “mobile” but we should call it “what’s next.”

But what do we call it, really? I asked for a new name on Google+ and at last count got 164 responses. None satisfied me. I also asked on Twitter and there I got an answer I like:

In Germany, they call this wondrous device the “handy.” Actually, it’s “Händy,” but to paraphrase Mark Twain, “we’ll bring the vowels, let the Germans bring the umlauts.”

“Handy” is wonderful because the device fits in the hand. But even when it won’t — when Siri or Glass replace it — the word still works because it is, indeed, handy. It is the ultimate in handy: convenient, personal, nice to have.

iHändy. Sounds like iCandy. It works, ja?

Verizon thinks the net is its newspaper

Verizon makes its arguments against the FCC’s net neutrality rules — and they are fraught with danger.

Verizon sees the net as its newspaper and believes it has First Amendment rights to control what goes on the net. This is why Doc Searls has taught me that it is dangerous to see the net as a medium. No, the net is a network and Verizon only offers access to it.

But there’s the next argument: Verizon says the net is its private property and so it makes a Fifth Amendment claim that imposing restrictions on its ability to impose restrictions on the net is like confiscating property without compensation.

Danger, danger!

The First Amendment argument is absurd on its face. Does Verizon really want to be responsible for everything distributed on the net, including libel, theft, and other illegal behavior? I doubt it. Verizon is no publisher.

The Fifth Amendment argument is a corner we’ve painted ourselves into by finding ourself dependent on a public good privately owned. But just as we make restrictions on private property — I can’t build a gas station on my house; I have to give access to public utility workers — so must we here.

We need a SOPA/PIPA/ACTA-level fight for net neutrality, for not allowing Verizon et al to mess with the net. We need a principle: First, do no harm. You might want to at least start here, by signing the Declaration of Internet Freedom.

Creepy

I just reamed an ITN producer who emailed me this clip about Google seeking a patent for using background noise in audible search requests and wanted to talk to me “off the record” (why he’d offer that, I don’t know; bad reporters’ reflex) to find out what “worries” I had about privacy and security. Note well that he didn’t ask me what I thought of the technology — whether I thought it was good or bad, how I thought it could be used positively or negatively, what its potential is. No, he showed his bias clearly by asking me to tell him what was wrong with it. Is that how a journalist should operate?

He called me and I challenged him about what was wrong with this. I want Google to know where I am so when I ask for pizza, I don’t get a treatise on the history of pizza. If Google can hear the background when I search for “Raptor” and realize whether I’m in a noisy stadium or a quiet museum, I want it to guess well whether I want jocks or dinosaurs. What’s wrong with that? I ask back. Some people will think it’s “creepy.” I asked him to define creepy. The word is imprecise, emotional, and lazy, used not to elicit facts but quotable opinions. Is that how a journalist should operate?

Thus we see the sprouting of another incident of Luddite reporting on technology with a Reefer Madness touch of sensationalism, just like the Wall Street Journal’s What They Know series and last week’s Consumer Reports moral-panic survey on Facebook.

What gets me angry — besides lazy journalism — is the danger this presents to the freedom of the web. These alleged journalistic endeavors will be used to set public policy and to try to regulate and limit the freedom of the net.

I find that creepy.