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 Whitehall is arguably Britain’s most important knowledge factory, but we’re using out of date tools.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.