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May 31, 2007

Yochai Benkler to join the Berkman Center

Yale’s Yochai Benkler , whose The Wealth of Networks is the seminal work on the new economics of collaboration, is joining Harvard and the Berkman Center.

This is fantastic news. What an addition to our community! And not just because Yochai is brilliant. He is also kind in discussion, and that matters a lot.

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May 30, 2007

Harvard-Wired podcast interview with Jimmy Wales

Wired has posted the latest in the Miscellaneous Podcast series I’ve been doing, sponsored by the Berkman Center and Wired. This one is an interview with Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia. We talk about the role of rules in building knowledge socially as oppopsed to just letting things work out. How important is consistency in the rules as opposed to making decisions that are highly sensitive to the particularities of the case?

We also talk about the effect of slicing topics up into lots of linked pieces. And how Wikipedia looks from the point of view of a Muppet. [Tags: ]

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John Edwards: Free the Internet 700!

I’m really excited about this, so pardon me if I run the press release from the Edwards campaign:


Mountain View, California – Today, Senator John Edwards sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission urging it to use the upcoming auction of the 700 megahertz slice of the broadband spectrum to make the Internet more affordable and more accessible to all Americans, regardless of where they live or how much money they have. Edwards is visiting California today to attend a town hall meeting with Google employees where he will discuss this issue among others.

“In recent years, the Internet has grown to touch everything and transform much of what it touches,” wrote Edwards. “It’s not the answer to everything, but it can powerfully accelerate the best of America. It improves our democracy by making quiet voices loud, improves our economy by making small markets big, and improves opportunity by making unlikely dreams possible.”

Edwards called on the FCC to set bidding and service rules for the upcoming auction to ensure that the public airwaves benefit everyone, not just big companies. Edwards asked the FCC to:

· Set aside as much as half of the spectrum for wholesalers who can lease access to smaller start-ups, which would improve service in rural and underserved areas.

· Require anyone who wins rights to this valuable public resource not to discriminate among data and services and to allow any device to be attached to their service.

· Make bidding anonymous to avoid collusion and retaliatory bids.

The full text of the letter is below.

Dear Chairman Martin:

The upcoming 700 megahertz spectrum auction presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape the next generation of American technology.

In recent years, the Internet has grown to touch everything and transform much of what it touches. It’s not the answer to everything, but it can powerfully accelerate the best of America. It improves our democracy by making quiet voices loud, improves our economy by making small markets big, and improves opportunity by making unlikely dreams possible.

As you know, the Federal Communications Commission is now preparing to auction the 700 megahertz slice of the spectrum. This “beachfront” band is particularly well suited to wireless broadband because it has wide coverage and can easily pass through walls.

By setting bid and service rules that unleash the potential of smaller new entrants, you can transform information opportunity for people across America — rural and urban, wealthy and not. As much as half of the spectrum should be set aside for wholesalers who can lease access to smaller start-ups, which has the potential to improve service to rural and underserved areas. Additionally, anyone winning rights to this valuable public resource should be required not to discriminate among data and services and to allow any device to be attached to their service. Finally, bidding should be anonymous to avoid collusion and retaliatory bids.

I urge you to seize this chance to transform the Internet and the future.


John Edwards

The 700 megahertz slice is coming available because analog TV is being moved off of it. The incumbent carriers would like to scarf it up. But even with a requirement that the winners of the auction build the network out to rural and poor areas, the carriers have shown they will drag their feet forever. In fact, the FCC’s use-it-or-lose-it proposal could (as far as I understand it, and I may not) delay delivery to those areas as they are stripped from the carriers and then re-auctioned. We need to get this right the first time. Our best hope, imo, is to enable local businesses to make decent profits by providing Net access to their local rural and poor areas. And to do that, we should make big hunks of 700 mH spectrum available to wholesalers who provide spectrum to hungry smaller carriers. (See the Frontline plan.)

This band is not the final answer. But it’s an opportunity to get some more of the public airwaves working for the public good.

(Disclosure: I am a volunteer advisor to the Edwards campaign. I was involved in the discussions of this issue.) [Tags: ]

Here’s Harold Feld’s take. Harold knows this stuff inside out.


Everything Is Miscellaneous at The Well

My book is the subject of a discussion at the Well, with me as the interviewee.

Here’s the RSS feed. The site is here, but only has the first nine posts up.

You can read it for free. Only subscribers can comment. [Tags: ]

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May 29, 2007

Give (some of) the public airwaves to the public, and support structural separation

Save The Internet has a new posting up, asking the FCC to make sure the chunk of the airwaves about to become available stays open for public and market innovation.

David Isenberg, meanwhile, in an important piece writes that we won’t get Net neutrality if we rely on policy to achieve it. The carriers are structurally incapable of being Net neutral. So, David argues for structurally separating those who provide Net connectivity from those who sell content and services over the Net. [Tags: ]


“If you love your information…”

Harvard Business Review has started posting its “Forethought” articles — the op-ed style columns at the beginning of the issue. That means the one of mine they published this month — If You Love Your Information, Set It Free — is available online. [Tags: ]


May 28, 2007

Truth and Categories

Tom Hopkins at Usable Interfaces deepens the discussion from categorization to truth. Isn’t truth what’s really at stake, he asks.

Certainly, traditionally the two are tied, since truth was taken to apply to propositions, and the canonical form of a proposition is X is Y. The Y, one way or another, is likely to be or imply a categorization. We’ve always been happy to say both that Socrates is a human and Socrates is hungry, without thinking there’s a contradiction between those two, because Socrates can have more than attribute (i.e., belong in more than one category). Classically, though, we’ve wanted to be able to assign one category as fundamental, or “essential”…

More at Everything Is Miscellaneous

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May 26, 2007

Open Source Radio needs you…

Open Source Radio, which has been a great resource for us all as well as a model I very much hope works, needs bucks…


May 25, 2007

Retarded metadata

My brother and I bought a used boat this winter — fifteen feet of leaky fiberglass, with a 90 horsepower motor that assumes that 15 of the horses in harness are dead and being dragged by the others — so I went downtown to register it with the authorities. If you have assembled the right set of treasure hunt collectibles, including a hand-rubbing of the vehicle identification plate, it all goes smoothly. But…

One of the checkboxes on the registration form asks if I’m “retarded.” I thought we were done lumping the various ways our intelligences fail us into that particular bucket, but I also wondered whether the state had minimum intelligence requirements for boat ownership. No, said the state employee on the other side of the counter. They also provide hunting licenses at the boat registration offices, and to get a permit that lets you carry a gun, the state does want to know if you’re “retarded.” They only have the one form, so they have collect the information for boat owners as well.

Inevitably, we read backwards from the metadata that’s asked of us. Had the form asked for prior felony convictions, known allergies or political party affiliation, we would have tried to make sense of the intentions behind the form. Requests for metadata are expressive. Which is one good reason you should bother to print up separate damn forms for boat owners and hunters.

What do the two have in common anyway, except that they both show up jutting their manly jaws forward in outdoor-wear catalogs? [Tags: ]


May 24, 2007

JSTOR and open access

Tom Matrullo’s got a helpful post about opening up JSTOR, a digitized archive of scholarlship. Tom registers “puzzlement that anyone would take all sorts of pains to firewall knowledge — knowledge mainly produced by scholars at not-for-profit institutions of higher learning devoted to bringing light into our world.”

Damn right it’s frustrating. And there’s lot’s going on trying to free the knowledge. On the one hand, we have the economic hurdles, which Tom’s post explains. On the other, we have at least a sense of how much smarter our species could become if enabled open acess to scholarship. Someday…

(Thanks to Frank Paynter for the pointer.) [Tags: ]

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