Posts about publicness

Social (network) pressure

By adding an organ-donation tool to Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg is setting up a dynamic of social pressure for virtue. Is that always good?

Now getting us to sign our drivers’ licenses so our vital bits can be harvested to save others’ lives is a moderately low-impact decision. But what about the occasional calls for folks to sign up to be tested for a marrow transplant — as in the drive for Super Amit? That’s no easy decision.

Imagine tomorrow, God forbid, one of your Facebook friends needs a kidney. There’s a tool staring you in the face asking you to get tested for a match. Do you join that lottery, getting tested and hoping to fail (or win)? Do you risk being shunned by your community if you don’t? Do you join in shunning others if they don’t?

I’m not proposing answers to those questions. Technology is pushing at our norms, forcing us to adapt, in so many ways, from how we communicate and converse to how we define what’s polite and what’s rude. This is a mighty poke. It will be fascinating to watch.

Gutenberg the Geek, reviewed

Some kind folks have reviewed my Kindle Single Gutenberg the Geek. Snippets:

Craig Newmark: Gutenberg was a geek (I prefer “nerd”, being one) whose work invented our current day, much like our work together on the Internet is defining the future. Jeff does a great job with the story of Gutenberg, correcting misconceptions including my own, and then show how it relates to Silicon Valley entrepreneurship and its context in evolving world history. This is a really big deal, beyond my ability to articulate.

Rex Hammock: (My only disappointment: He should have named the ebook What Would Gutenberg Do? in reference to his previous book, What Would Google Do?)…. In Jarvis’ compact and concise book, he fills it with inside-geek references to today’s era of new technology and new business models built on that technology while revealing that others have gone down this path before — hundreds of years before. I feel certain no one else has written a book of any length that finds parallels in how Gutenberg and the founders of Airbnb.com funded their startups — but it’s that kind of informative, and fun, comparison that enables this to be an informative, but quick, read.

Walter Reade: I listen to Jeff Jarvis every week on the “This Week in Google” podcast. He drives me crazy 80% of the time. But, he’s worth listening to the other 20%. Jeff is not afraid to think. He is not afraid to weave narratives and create hypotheses from observations from the modern world and from the world of history. He has a relentless habit of extracting meaning from events and trends, and expressing it is ways that make me think. Gutenberg the Geek is a wonderful example of Jeff’s style of thinking. The “Kindle Single” is worth reading simply as a summary of the life and accomplishment of Gutenberg. It is an important reminder to us how Gutenberg worked for years to achieve what he did. He didn’t wake up and invent the printing press. He perfected his craft improvement upon improvement, while at the same time wrestling with the challenges of life and business. If you’re so inclined, though, the book will also give you a major serving of food for thought. In short, can we afford to stifle the modern-day equivalent of the printing press (i.e., the internet), because it too, like the printing press, is disruptive to various powers that be? Jeff raises those questions quite eloquently.

Jeremy Aldrich: …This Kindle Single isn’t really about what made Gutenberg a geek; it’s about what made him a great start-up founder. Jarvis gives the facts (as much as we can know them) of Gutenberg’s story and writes that “In all, Gutenberg — just like a modern-day startup — depended on exploiting new efficiencies, achieving scale, reusing assets, dividing specialized labor, and setting standards.” I had always pictured Gutenberg working alone and tinkering with the design of his printing press, but the author describes the business side of the story (which is quite compelling) and makes frequent comparisons to modern-day companies and entrepreneurs. At the very end, he pivots to a frequent (for Jeff Jarvis) theme of advocating for Internet freedom, which felt a little awkwardly tacked on. And speaking of awkwardly tacked on, here are two quotes I highlighted: “This was a time of change and disruption — which is like planting season for entrepreneurs.”
“Don’t today’s entrepreneurs dream for a fraction of Gutenberg’s impact? He was the inventor of history’s greatest platform.” A good quick read, stylistically somewhere between a Wikipedia entry and an article in WIRED.

Leave our net alone*

The internet’s not broken.

So then why are there so many attempts to regulate it? Under the guises of piracy, privacy, pornography, predators, indecency, and security, not to mention censorship, tyranny, and civilization, governments from the U.S. to France to Germany to China to Iran to Canada — as well as the European Union and the United Nations — are trying to exert control over the internet.

Why? Is it not working? Is it presenting some new danger to society? Is it fundamentally operating any differently today than it was five or ten years ago? No, no, and no.

So why are governments so eager to claim authority over it? Why would legacy corporations, industries, and institutions egg them on? Because the net is working better than ever. Because they finally recognize how powerful it is and how disruptive it is to their power.

And that is precisely why we must fight against their attempts to regulate it, to change it, to throttle it, to oversee it, to insert controls into it, to grant them sovereignty over it. We also must resist the temptation to compromise, to accept the lesser of evils. Last week, Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell warned of the danger of the U.N. asserting governance over the net, but then he turned around and argued that “merely saying ‘no’ to any changes to the current structure of Internet governance is likely to be a losing proposition.”

Why? I repeat: It’s not broken. This is why I urged French President Nicolas Sarkozy to take a Hippocratic oath for the net. This is why I have come to side with Sen. Al Franken on at least this: Net neutrality is not regulation; it is protecting the net from companies trying to change it. This is why the Reddit community is writing the Free Internet Act.

This is why I argued in Public Parts that we must have a discussion of the principles of an open society and the tools of publicness that enable it. This is why I wrote Public Parts. And that is why I’m posting the last chapter of the book, which argues that governments and companies are not protectors of the net and that we must be.

It’s not broken. Don’t fix it. Leave our net alone.

*Sung to the tune of….

We don’t need no regulation.
We dont need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the network
Government: Leave our net alone
Hey! Government! Leave our net alone!
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.

Piracy v. do not track

Consider the similarities between piracy and do not track. They’re greater than you think, for both reduce value for content creators. And both are excuses for internet regulation.

In piracy, a content company sets business rules: You must pay for my product; if you take it without paying for it, you are robbing me of value.

With do not track, an advertising-supported content company sets business rules: You will get my content for free because I will serve you ads and I will increase their efficiency, performance, and value by targeting them to your interests and behavior; if you block the cookies that make that possible, you are robbing me of value.

The difference between the two is that there is a furor over piracy as theft but, quite to the contrary, there is a rush to enable the blocking of ad tracking as a virtue.

If you listen to The Wall Street Journal, Apple was a good guy for blocking by default third-party cookies (ask what Apple gets out of that). And it’s good news that technology companies just agreed to implement a do-not-track button on browsers.

There is nothing sinister about third-party ad tracking cookies. They’ve been used since very early in the history of the web when General Motors, for example, insisted in serving its own ads on content sites so it could verify what was bought and optimize its targeting. Without that ability, many large advertisers will refuse to buy ads and the value of ad-supported media could plummet — just at a time when we are concerned about how we will support news media.

Odd that a media company wouldn’t be crying foul. The Journal’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, cries bloody murder over piracy — going so far as to accuse Google of theft — but his paper crusades for blocking tracking, claiming it is a violation of privacy (though in most cases, the cookies have no personally identifiable information and so it’s hard to justify a moral panic based on their use).

Murdoch’s News Corp is, at its core, an entertainment company, thus a paid-content company. The ad-supported portion of his P&L is not only small but is causing him much agita as his journalists in the U.K. are accused of violating laws of the nation and the profession.

I’m not building a conspiracy theory. I’m just pointing to the priorities that emerge when one follows the money.

So what about the rest of the industry — the media, advertising, and technology industries, that is? Oh, they blew it. They were never transparent enough about what technology they were using, what data they were gathering, and why — not to mention the benefits that accrued to their users (i.e., free content). That opened the door for other parties — privacy scare-mongers, competitors for our media attention, and government regulators — to demonize the mysterious cookie and stir up this moral panic and paranoia. The M.A.T. industries have only themselves to blame.

In the EU, government regulators have decreed that sites must obtain opt-in permission to set cookies. In the US, the industry agreement today announced is an attempt to forestall government regulation with self-regulation.

But don’t be too quick to celebrate as if these are consumer victories. I believe the EU dictum could lead to (a) a much poorer web experience as we are bombarded with boxes to tick and (b) poorer media companies and thus (c) the possibility of less free media and more pay walls. And in the U.S., it has been shown that one can whip up an anti-net hysteria and bring even giant technology companies to expose their soft underbellies. Each leads to more threats of regulation of the net. That’s what I fear.

It is time for technology companies especially to adopt radical transparency of how they operate so they can’t find themselves in gotcha moments when the hysterical “discover” something they’ve been doing all along. Under such openness, it is also time for them to learn that doing sneaky things will not benefit them. And it is also time for the media, advertising, and technology companies to start fighting back against accusers’ misinformation and explain the truth of what they are doing and how we benefit. That is transparency’s dividend.

LATER: By the way, this post was inspired and informed by a discussion last night on This Week in Google, in which Leo Laporte said he was grateful that I was going so far that I was making him look moderate.

One more point from that discussion: We all practice blocking ads when we fast-forward through commercials on our DVRs. And the industry adapted and still prospers (for now). That’s what may happen here. But one should still recognize the impact of one’s actions — whether skipping or blocking — on the economics of what is provided. And one difference is that we have to skip each commercial manually (especially since, as Leo pointed out, a company that provided easy 30-second skipping was hounded out of business as a result). In the case of do not track, especially government-mandated opt-in — that is wholesale devaluing of advertising in a medium.

Economist debate on sharing: Round II

Here’s the second of three rounds in the Economist debate on the benefits of sharing. This is my response to Andrew Keen’s opener.

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Being public, I shall rely on the public to respond for me:

In a discussion on Google+, Google News creator Krishna Bharat writes: “The thrust of Keen’s argument seems to be that connectedness induces peer pressure for conformity which kills diversity…. This is a specious argument because connectedness/proximity does not induce commonality. Never has and never will. Otherwise, Jerusalem would be one homogenous happy culture with Palestinians and Israelis living in proximity…. What connectedness does induce though is a heightened awareness of how other people are and think, and ultimately empathy. That is certainly not a bad thing.”

Commenter Kevin Bonham goes the next step: “I think the ability to share actually increases the ability of radicals and new thinkers to flourish. In a world where innovators are dependent on traditional power brokers to spread their ideas, many great ideas could be lost for lack of exposure….”

But in the debate here at The Economist, commenter czlee raises a challenge: “We are only ever protective of privacy when we fear that someone else will pass judgment…. In order for the proposer to hold his line, I believe that he must also advocate a less judgmental society.”

That is indeed my hope and, back at Google+, Mr. Bonham presents the best exhibition for optimism: “For hundreds of years, gay people were in the closet, isolated and alone. As soon as they started being public, other gay people realized they weren’t alone, and that they had allies, and a movement got started.” No one should be forced out of a closet, but those who had the courage to stand out and challenge bigots and bullies used their power of publicness to disarm stigmas.

At Google+ Daniel McCully responds to the question I raised about regulating technology, arguing that doing so would “just hold back progress…. The cost benefit comes once the world has changed and people have discovered new ways to work in that world. Even the radio was once seen as a bad thing and a form of piracy. You don’t stop change, you adapt to it.”

Agreed. What we’re experiencing now is an effort to negotiate new norms for our new reality. It’s hardly the first time. The first serious discussion of a legal right to privacy in the United States did not come until 1890. The reason: the invention of the Kodak camera, which led to a similar moral panic about privacy, with The New York Times decrying “fiendish kodakers,” President Teddy Roosevelt outlawing kodaking in Washington parks, and legislators ready to require opt-in permission from anyone photographed in public. We negotiated our norms and cameras don’t scare us anymore. But now a new technology does.

“We are all in uncharted territory of openness,” Brit Koehnig writes, asking us to note that where “there is no Facebook, there is no freedom.” That’s not causation, of course, but it is correlation, revealing that fear of openness is a trait of tyranny.

Economist commenter Voice of Pragmatism points out that “this paper itself recently ran an article about the effect of blogging in the field of Economics, partially crediting the recent rise of heterodox views such as the Austrian School and Chartalism to increased usage of social media…. [T]o argue that unconventional thought is stifled, when it is far easier than ever before to connect with people who share your atypical viewpoint, is absurd.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

As for the unscientific and thus quite meaningless voting here, my opponent attempted to marshal his meager Twitter forces to stuff the ballot box. I responded by asking my followers on the podcast This Week in Google and in Google+ and Facebook to vote their conscience–and my side. In minutes, a 37% vote in favor turned into 70%. There’s another benefit of being public and having a public.

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Oh, and if you’d like to vote — for my side, please — you can do it here.