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June 30, 2010

SpokenWord lookng for curators

SpokenWord.org aggregates podcasts, almost all of which are free, and makes it easy for users to export them to, say, iTunes. It’s a non-profit site and is all about the openness. (Disclosure: I’m on its board.) Now SpokenWord is looking for volunteers to curate podcast feeds and episodes in topics that interest them. Their curated collections will be the main feature at the SpokenWord site, because nothing knows what’s interesting to humans better than other humans do. Details here.

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June 29, 2010

[berkman] Lewis Hyde on preserving commons

Lewis Hyde is giving a Berkman talk on his new book, Common as Air (Aug 17). He says a commons is a social regime for managing some collectively held resource. The idea comes from the idea of shared property. They worked because they were stinted: ruled for limited use, e.g., you can take wood from trees but only up to a certain height, you could pasture only a limited number of cattle and only if you’re a land owner. So, if you were thinking about cultural commons today, how would you stint them? And, there were limits on people’s ability to take land out of the commons. commoners had the right to take down encroachments, which they would do in the yearly “beating the bounds”; it was a social affair. As early as 1217, there were laws granting the right to tear down encroachments.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

He says the book is about how our founding fathers thought about the commons and whether their way of thinking could be usefully applied now. They wanted to create a commons of knowledge. They looked on patent and copyright generally unfavorably. Lewis got to thinking about this when Congress extended copyright yet again, a form of “parliamentary enclosure.”


He distinguishes the public domain from the cultural commons. The latter would be durable because it’s governed by rules. What would it take? He’ll talk about three ways…


He starts with a distinction Michael Sandel makes between choices and duties. Sandel says in the US we start with a myth of the freely choosing self. But we’re encumbered — bodies, families, cultures. Conscience encumbers us, Sandel says. The aim, says Lewis, is to preserve things larger than ourselves, that encumber us, but that also give us more ability. Lewis thinks about this as “the encumbered and comic self.” So, how do individuals respond to the duties of the commons.


Lewis cites a Pete Seegar story about the origins of “We Shall Overcome.” A number of known songs had elements of the lyrics. It moves from voice to voice, occasionally changing rhythms and lyrics. Around 1960, it becomes The Movement’s song. Friends urged Seegar to copyright it to keep others from copyrighting it for commercial purposes. So, Seegar and four friends copyrighted it, but they signed a “songwriter’s contract,” putting all the money into fund. It’s a good example, Lewis says, of someone recognizing obligations to something bigger than himself, trying to keep it in the community. This is like the GPL.


So, if an individual wants to protect a commons, then what’s needed? A norm that then gets turn into a legal protocol that claims and releases. (This is the “copyleft” alternative, a term Lewis hates, because the correlate of a right is a duty, so we ought to call it “copyduty.”)

He refers to Michael Walzer’s Spheres of Justice which says that justice varies within the different social spheres we’re in. Tyranny is what happens when one sphere dominates another. E.g., when the entertainment industry dominates Congress’ view of copyright, which further gets exported to colleges that are asked to turn in their students for violating copyright. MIT, to take one example, “beat the bounds” by refusing to do the entertainment industry’s bidding.

The third piece looks at the spaces between the spheres of social life. How can we have conversations across those spheres. He’s thinking of common carriers as interstitial fora that allow for conversation. How can we make the these durable? Ben Franklin built a public platform where anyone could speak. It was about freedom of listening, because you as a member of the audience in such a hall got to hear conflicting voices. What interests Lewis about these sort of “carrier commons” is the idea of divided sovereignty. When the Founders were designing the country, sovereignty was always unified. But, fearful of power, the Founders decided to divide it. (The balance of power idea came via Adams who had read about balanced forces in Newton.) In the book, Lewis shows that as the Founders think about the circulation of knowledge, their history taught them that copyright and patent were forms of monopoly privilege that resulted from an abuse of royal power. The Founders did not believe that you had a natural right to what you’ve created; these are state-given privileges and monopolies. They felt the monopoly was a form of unwarranted sovereignty. Stephen Breyer has said that the word “limited” is in the Constitution applied to “monopolies” as a reference to the idea of limits on unified sovereignty. Copyright should not be used to suppress voice and ideas.

He gives two examples. One is Harry Lewis’ Blown to Bits that wanted to reproduce Larry Summers infamous memo, but it would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to litigate the copyright claim. [THE NEXT DAY: In the comments below, Harry elaborates and corrects this example. Thanks, Harry!]

So, suppose you have a public domain that is poorly guarded and you want to create a well-regulated, sustainable cultural commons. You could do “claim and release” like Pete Seegar. Set up a cultural commons. But what do you do if you want to mash up things with different licenses? Right now, the most restrictive license will trump. But norms can stint the commons. E.g., the Bermuda Principles for sharing human genome info: labs release decodings quickly, which turns out to enable very useful annotations (“this gene is correlated with lactose intolerance”) that are updated globally every morning. This is done through norms, not laws.

Q: The Founders increased ownership rights, e.g., corporations…
A: They couldn’t foresee what would happen in the 1880s. Property rights are rights of action and rights of exclusion. If you only focus on exclusion, you lose the communitarian action side. The Founders viewed property as simple right to exclude, but they also thought there were properties held in commonality.

Q: Franklin refused to patent inventions. He was clear that he was enabled by those who came before him.
A: Yes. I have two chapters on him. The Founders operated under a civic republican ethic. Once you have ownership, you should serve the public. Once he got rich enough, that’s what he did.

[me] Is there a duty to preserve the commons, or is it just a norm? What might the duty be grounded in?
Q: The Commons was founded on a need. Where are the needs defined in other areas?
A: A commons has to nominate the ends to which it’s dedicated. The agricultural commons was designed to provide enough food. Some commons and rights in commons were designed to support the poor. In the book, I ask why the Founders wanted free circulation of knowledge. First, for self-governanceCitizens need to be informed. (see Adams) Second, for scientific knowledge. (See Franklin.) Third, social selves or public beings: Goethe said that his work has come from many many sources. “My work belongs to a collective being whose name is Goethe.” Franklin’s genius was of a host: someone who could absorb from a community of knowledge. The duty to the commons comes from a sense of collective being. “Individual” is a relatively new word; people viewed themselves as members of families and communities. “Dividuality” is an older word. Even norms don’t work unless they make sense to how you see yourself as a human being.

Q: When did copyright switch in case law from a limited right to a sense of ownership?
A: Middle of the 19th century, when Fair Use appeared because copyright was becoming a commercial, abstract right. Originally, derivative works weren’t covered; you could abridge and translate without violating copyright. Then a judge decided that because it might cost the author some sales, it was covered.

Q: Is there a political solution?
A: That there’s been legal pushback is hopeful. So is the academic open access process.


Q: Can you build a cultural commons for small communities, e.g., 140 people living in a small, isolated area of Mississippi.
A: I write books. But you also need organizers. So, we’re back into American politics.

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June 28, 2010

Why we don’t remember how science works

I was listening this morning to an NPR Morning Edition story by Allison Aubrey about a study that found that if mice drink lots o’ joe, they’re less likely to suffer from little tiny cases of Alzheimers. It was a fine piece, but to a large degree because it spent most of its time undoing the very reason that the story was on the air. The story’s pitch was: Coffee prevents Alzheimers! The bulk of the story was: In mice! Maybe! Other studies on humans are provocative but inconclusive! There are other factors! We don’t know! Maybe! Mouse study isn’t really all that significant!

On the one hand, it’s admirable that NPR spent so much of its time getting us past the headline. On the other hand, isn’t it a little bit depressing that we need to be told over and over again that scientific studies rarely are conclusive about big points and biological correlations? Are we still that unschooled in the scientific method that 450 years after the birth of Francis Bacon (and a thousand years after Abu Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham, if you want to get technical about it) we need a refresher course in science’s nervous stepwise progress every time the media report on a scientific study? Apparently, yes.

Then, as if NPR were thinking exactly the same thoughts, the very next piece (by Alix Spiegel) was about how a tiny study got turned into a cultural meme:

In the spring of 1993 a psychologist named Francis Rauscher played 10 minutes of a Mozart Piano Sonata to 36 college students, and after the excerpt, gave the students a test of spatial reasoning. Rauscher also asked the students to take a spatial reasoning test after listening to 10 minutes of silence, and, after listening to 10 minutes of a person with a monotone speaking voice.

And Rauscher says, the results of this experiment seemed pretty clear. “What we found was that the students who had listened to the Mozart Sonata scored significantly higher on the spatial temporal task.”

The story tracks how this modest research among a tiny, non-random group led to a small industry of Mozart for Babies CD’s, the state of Georgia distributing free Mozart CD’s to every newborn, and even death threats against Rauscher for having the temerity to report that she did not observe the same beneficial results from listening to rock and roll.

Why did this basically insignificant study generate so much interest?

It’s probably a couple of things, Rauscher says. Americans believe in self-improvement, but also are fond of quick fixes. And as Rauscher points out, parents care desperately about their children.

Sure. But that’s missing the primary cause in the sequence of events:

The first call came from Associated Press before Rauscher had even realized that her paper was due to be published. Once the Associated Press printed its story the Mozart Effect was everywhere.

“I mean we were on the nightly news with Tom Brokaw. We had people coming to our house for live television,” Rauscher says. “I had to hire someone to manage all the calls I had coming in.”

The headlines in the papers were less subtle than her findings: “Mozart makes you smart” was the general idea.

Americans may have embraced the Mozart-makes-babies-smart meme because we love our poor dumb babies so much, but we got the idea from the AP and the rest of the media that followed AP’s lead. The media played on American’s love of babies, self-improvement, and quick fixes to serve up exactly what we wanted to hear.

So, I’m willing to acknowledge that we have a stupidity gene that causes strong conclusions to wipe out the reasoning that led to them. But the media are supposed to be helping us to get past our natural tendency toward blunt-edged thinking. Instead, over and over it dangles juicy conclusions in front of us, appealing to our fear of disease and our urgent desire to give our babies the competitive edge they need to crush lesser babies whose parents do not love them as much. The good science reports — like this morning’s on caffeinated mice — dangle exciting conclusions in front of us but then explain why we shouldn’t have gotten so excited by them. The bad ones — most of them — play upon the fact that for some reason, we seem unable to remember how science actually works…and then reinforce that forgetting, over and over.


By the way, I wonder if one other reason we forget how science works is that we are taught about the scientific method by performing experiments in school that establish known results. When the lima beans kept in the dark don’t grow, we’re told that the experiment worked because it proves that lima bean sprouts need light. The teacher doesn’t mention that maybe it was because that side of the jar happened to be in the path of hostile bacteria or that the distribution of the beans was not sufficiently randomized. Only many years later is it broken to us that the scientific method is more about eliminating false hypotheses than proving positive causation.

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June 27, 2010

Two bands better than us

I was listening to BradSucks yet again, and yet again wondering why he isn’t famouser on the Net. I love his music from top to bottom — tune, lyrics, arrangement, performance — and he is totally living the Internet lifestyle. It’s frustrating to me. Lord knows how Brad feels about it.

So, how about this. See, we all get together and make our favorite big time bands feature on their Web sites at least two Bands That Are Better Than We Areâ„¢. Let them reach at least partway down the long tail to feature some great, lesser-known musicians. It’d be like having an opening act for their Web site. Wouldn’t that be a generous, Internetty thing for them to do?

Anybody know a famous band they can ask to do this? The only one I know is BradSucks, and, well…

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June 26, 2010

Youth, risky behavior, and the Net

The Risky Behaviors and Online Safety track of the Youth and Media Policy Working Group at Berkman omg, with a nested title like that the Center seems so big! has released four essays. From an email from danah boyd:

These four essays provide crucial background information for understanding the challenges of implementing education and public health interventions in the area of online safety. I hope you will read them because they are truly mind-expanding pieces. Please feel free to share these with anyone you see fit!

“Moving Beyond One Size Fits All With Digital Citizenship” by Matt Levinson and Deb Socia link This essay addresses some of the challenges that educators face when trying to address online safety and digital citizenship in the classroom.

“Evaluating Online Safety Programs” by Tobit Emmens and Andy Phippen link This essay talks about the importance of evaluating interventions that are implemented so as to not face dangerous unintended consequences, using work in suicide prevention as a backdrop.

“The Future of Internet Safety Education: Critical Lessons from Four Decades of Youth Drug Abuse Prevention” by Lisa M. Jones link This essay contextualizes contemporary internet safety programs in light of work done in the drug abuse prevention domain to highlight best practices to implementing interventions.

“Online Safety: Why Research is Important” by David Finkelhor, Janis Wolak, and Kimberly J. Mitchell link This essay examines the role that research can and should play in shaping policy.

The next day, two more reports came out from an email from Seth Young:

The first addresses “sexting,” including its legal implications, and was prepared by our Cyberlaw Clinic assistant director Dena Sacco, with a crack team of clinical students: link.

The second is a draft literature review on online safety that builds on the one danah and Andrew Schrock previously prepared for the Internet Safety Technical Task Force: link

So, there goes your weekend.

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June 25, 2010

Google vs. Apple control freakism

Rich Cannings, Android security lead, blogged about remotely removing an app from people’s Android phones [excerpted]:

Recently, we became aware of two free applications built by a security researcher for research purposes. These applications intentionally misrepresented their purpose in order to encourage user downloads, but they were not designed to be used maliciously, and did not have permission to access private data — or system resources beyond permission. As the applications were practically useless, most users uninstalled the applications shortly after downloading them.

After the researcher voluntarily removed these applications from Android Market, we decided, per the Android Market Terms of Service, to exercise our remote application removal feature on the remaining installed copies to complete the cleanup.

I’m not sure what terms of service the app maker violated, although I’d guess there’s something in there about not purposefully misrepresenting your app. But John Gruber at Daring Fireball concludes that this is:

…proof that while Android Market is significantly less regulated than Apple’s App Store, it’s not a Wild West free-for-all.

Well, sure. But there seems to me to be a difference in kind, and not just degree, between Google removing an app that’s purposefully misleading and Apple removing apps because it doesn’t meet some vague standard for inoffensive content.

Does this matter? Well, it sure does to Dan Gillmor, who’s switching from Mac to Linux because he doesn’t like Apple’s control over his computer. Dan has been a leading indicator before. I’m not willing to leave my Mac yet, mainly because Apple hasn’t AppStored it yet. (Also, I’m still finding Linux — Ubuntu 10.04 — to be high maintenance, at least for my desktop activities.) But the competition between Apple and Google, and the continued progress made by desktop Linux, makes me very happy.

See, the system works!

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Berkman Buzz

Here’s this week’s Berkman Buzz:

  • Ethan Zuckerman blogs Nancy Baym’s talk on social exchange and music:
    link

  • danah boyd highlights a new paper that addresses “sexting”:
    link

  • Harry Lewis comments on “Cyberspace as a National Asset”:
    link

  • OpenNet Initiative on Lebanese activists delaying parliamentary voting:
    link

  • Dan Gillmor begins migrating from Mac to Linux:
    link

  • Doc Searls meta-blogs from a street in France:
    link

  • CMLP considers “crowdsourced retaliation”:
    link

  • Weekly Global Voices: “Taiwan: ‘When the Excavators Came to the Rice Fields’”
    link

[Tags: ]

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June 23, 2010

[2b2k] Four-chapter re-write

I’ve been holding off writing about what’s up with the book I’m writing because it’s been oscillating and I didn’t want to choose a state yet. But I think I’m getting close.

This book feels like it’s been struggling to become something that I’ve been trying to keep it from being. Sorry for the anthropomorphicizing, but that’s how it feels. I’ve been trying to keep the topic small enough to be manageable, but it’s hard to write about the subset of topics I’ve been working on without going large. But, going large — at its largest: What is the Net doing to knowledge? — is not a writable book. At least, not by me.

But, after the past couple of weeks, after finishing a draft of the troublesome Chapter 4 (which argues that we need much less diversity of opinion in a conversation than we generally think, and that a radical diversity of opinions not only is not ideal, it makes conversation impossible … and then I spend the next two-thirds of the chapter trying to find a way through the “echo chamber” arguments), a thematic way of finding a path through the huge question of knowledge occurred to me. It means a significant reorg, and possibly some serious rewriting of those first four chapters, but I think it might be workable. It would enable me to cover some particular topics without feeling like I had to say everything there is to be said about knowledge on the Net.

So, that’s encouraging. On the other hand, by last December, I had written four chapters, and then started over. It’s taken me until June to write these four chapters, and here I am again. Except this time I think I can mainly just reframe the chapters I’ve written. I hope.

Ok, back to rewriting the preface from the ground up. At least the old preface (which I actually sort of liked) may find a home as the opening of Chapter 2 (which used to be Chapter 3).

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June 22, 2010

More on internal posting

Seth Finkelstein has challenged yesterday’s post on Blogging and public thinking about whether being a blogger has caused us (some of us? most of us? a few of us?) to refashion our experiences in terms of posts we might make. He points to a post by Mark Dery that focuses on what I think is a misguided critique of Jeff Jarvis’ blogging of the “indecent” details of his medical treatment. [Disclosure: Jeff is a friend.] But, Seth’s point has less to do with the particularities of Mark’s critique than with some broader points Mark makes.

I suggest you read Seth’s comments (which are in the comments section of yesterday’s post), but I’m here going to post part of my reply, because it makes a follow-on point to what I was trying to say yesterday, so please pardon the self-quotage:

The idea that public media alter our inner narratives is hardly new. (Stephen Goldblatt’s book on Renaissance self-fashioning is a great work on this topic.) It seems to me to be a coherent history (resorting to coherence in the absence of evidence) to say we are moving from a time in which media structurally gave rise to celebrity (because the media were mass and one-way) to a new medium that gives rise to some Hegelian synthesis of celebrity and actual sociality. That is, in the age of broadcast, we fashioned experience so that we were stars of an imaginary broadcast; in the age of the Web, we fashion experience so that we are bloggers with a non-massive, semi-social, potentially interactive readership. Under this fact-free analysis, the Web’s fashioning of our experience should be understand in _contrast_ to the celebrity-based stories we made of our lives during the Age of Broadcast.

Note that since I don’t have access to the inner thoughts of all bloggers, I don’t have any actual evidence — thus the reference to coherence and fact-free analysis.

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June 21, 2010

Blogging and public thinking

Euan Semple takes a moment to reflect on how blogging has affected how he thinks:

Once you have a blog you notice more, you start to think “I might write about this on my blog” What do I want to say” “What will people’s reaction be”. Over time you get better at noticing and the better at noticing you get the more noticed you get!…

I do find the possibility that I might blog an experience transforms that experience. I begin to compose the post in my head, even if I know I’m not actually going to write about it. I did this to some extent before the seventh day of creation (G-d rested, looked at what He had created, and then we started blogging complaints about i), but I now find myself shaping experience according to how I might present that experience in public: finding the words, deciding what might be interesting in the experience to someone other than me. Blogging has given the public yet more of a grip on the shape of my private experience.

Blogging is not unique in this. I assume we all think about how we might tell others about something that just happened to us, imagining the anecdote told at dinner to one’s family, to one’s co-workers, or to other confidantes. If you kept a traditional diary, you might find that you are drafting your experiences with its blank pages in mind. But, for those of us who write personal blogs, the anticipated reading of your blog by people you don’t know creates drafts of experience — which ultimately become the experience — that are more written than told, more public than social, more composed than expressed.

Is that good? I dunno. I don’t even know if it’s generally true. I’ve worried before that the little homunculus in my brain that is always scribbling away is a personal mental disorder. (Shut up, homunculus! I don’t care what you say, I’m posting this anyway!)

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