Joho the BlogSeptember 2010 - Page 2 of 3 - Joho the Blog

September 16, 2010

Tibetan taggers

This is a couple of years old, but it’s interesting. (Thanks to Norm Jacknis for the tip.)

Tibetans living in Switzerland and non-Tibetan Swiss were asked to provide tags for an exhibit of traditional Tibetan work. Then those tags were analyzed, wondering what cultural differences might show up. Some were fairly obvious:

Taggers disagreed in their perceptions of the esoteric deity Chakrasamvara. Tibetans tagged it frequently with “buddha”, accurately identifying its wisdom aspect; however, Swiss Germans found it böse or “angry-looking” and associated it with death. This exemplifies how tags can help uncover cultural misunderstandings: rather than anger, Chakrasamvara actually embodies the union of bliss and emptiness.

It also revealed (or suggests) some differences in how people approach tagging itself:

When Tibetans were asked which images were easiest to tag and why, their responses were contradictory. One person said artworks she knew were easy to tag because she already has something to say about them. Another found unfamiliar works easier to tag because they seemed “freer” The rating indicates that symbolic and familiar works do elicit less diverse responses from Tibetan taggers. And although some people may find them easier to tag because their meanings are culturally pre-defined, the way in which viewers react to them is likely to be less personal and even “less free.”


September 14, 2010

[berkman] Erich von Hippel

Erich von Hippel is giving a Berkman lunchtime talk titled “‘Household Innoovation’ and Other Sectors.” Erich studies innovation, and is a pioneer in the study of open innovation.

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.

We have assumed, says Erich, that manufacturers must dominate the space of innovation. But at the beginning of the curve, there aren’t many users, which means that it’s not a good market for innovation. So, lead users are often the innovators. E.g., John Heysham Gibbon invented the first heart-lung machine. He first asked manufacturers to invent one, but they wanted to make sure it was possible, so he went off and created the first. [This is what Doc Searls refers to as: “Invention is the mother of necessity.”] In the case of medical instruments, users have been the innovators historically about 80% of the time.

The manufacturers don’t understand this, says Erich, because users hack things together that don’t look like products. E.g., the central-pivot irrigation system was invented by a farmer. The current manufacturer denies that anyone else invented it, even though they know about the original version. But, to them, the original looks like “a pile of crap.” That is, they focus on what they’re good at.

Where do single users, collaborating users, or manufacturers dominae design? Erich plots design costs vs. communication costs. As design costs drop and designg gets modularized, you can move toward more collaborative innovations, e.g., open open software rojects.

Erich presents the results of a study concluded yesterday. Is what’s true in scientific instruments also true more generally? So he an co-researchers did a survey of the UK population. “Have you created or modified a consumer product to make it better for you? ” 2.9M UK consumers innovate. (Results were qualified: Were you the first? Could you have bought it on the market? Did you do it for home or work?) Examples: Someone put a switch into driers to affect the cycles, created a tree-top trimmer, came up with a color system for managing children’s activites. These tended to be cheap and fast changes — typically 5 pounds and 2 days.

It’s a “cake with raisins” model: They did a survey through the cake. Raisins are special interest user communities. Within those communities, they 100% collaborate on innovations. Their innovations interconnect and communicate. Within these communities (e.g., kayakers), innovations jumps to 20-30%. E.g., among white water kayakers, 73% of the hardware innovations, and 100% of the infrastructure (e.g., mapping rivers) and 100% of the techniques came from users.

Why can user collaboratives out-innovative manufacturers? Because there are more users. Also, because it’s open innovation. When someone patents something, they can be ridiculed by their fellow users. So, it tends towards openness. Companies patent much more when it comes to product innovations as opposed to process innovations.

Christina Raasch is working with Eric, studying the social welfare impacts of coffee. (raasch AAT tu-harburg DDOT de).

Q: To what extent does this kill Coase?
A: We’re talking about the economics of design. The economies of manufacture and distribution are still there.

Q: From a policy perspective, how do you incorporate all of this? GDP is inadequate.
A: We have applications into Portugal. Finland, and the US, to develop metrics that can be regularly implemented. Until policy makers see that there is a lot of user innovation, they won’t want to change policies.
Q: Even with 3 million inventors spending 5 pounds each, that has little impact on GDP. The value of their creations is different.

Q: 90% of the value comes from 10% of the innovations.
Q: This makes Erich’s point. Users are closer to the problems and create solutions from which manufacturers choose which to productize.

Q: How are innovations transferred to manufacturers?
A: Often the manufacturers are forced. E.g., hotels resisted letting guests plug in for Net connection, screwing in obstacles, etc.

Q: How will this affect big mass culture?
A: At some point we’ll be amazed that we ever thought innovation comes from manufacturers. They’re good at producing stuff.

Q: What is innovation and how do you quantify it?
A: In the UK study, it’s self-reporting. And there is no lower limit for triviality.

Q: If the key to our nation’s future is in innovation. What policies would help turn this innovation into value?
A: The patent/copyright system gets in the way. Before you can release an innovation, you have to check to see if you’re violating anyone’s rights.
Q: [terry fisher] I have a hypothesis: Manufacturer responsiveness to the community of users is mediated by user pressure. E.g., lots of innovation in the wood workers community. There’s a lot of evaluation and criticism of professional products. Hypothesis: Rate of innovation among the producers correlates positively with this. Further, users aren’t inhibited by patents and copyrights, but we should enhance the requirement for manufacturers to give credit to user-creators.

Q: In some of these groups, user innovations are at odds with what the manufacturers are doing. Is there a correlation with acceptance of user ideas?
A: Great topic for research. Also: Sometimes employees come to a company with ideas as users of their products, and frequently they’re rejected.

Q:[wendy] A counter hypothesis to Terry’s idea that IP reform isn’t needed. Just when users are getting together and deciding to productize, they come to the attention of the owner of the IP. It can be a barrier to the aggregation of user innovation.

Q: So, what is the problem here? Users innovate, manufacturers take up some ideas and manufacture them. The system works!
A: The playing field is not level. Who you give research money to, how aggressively to roll out the Net infrastructure…

Q: What’s the evidence that manufacturers don’t innovate? How about IDEO?
A: Manufacturers tend to do dimension of merit innovation. IDEO is a design firm that often surfaces innovations from users.
Q: You’re assuming that what the manufacturers do isn’t valuable.

Q: If user innovators feel that they aren’t being recompensed…
A: There are many barriers at the policy level, which people take for granted and don’t complain about. E.g., we don’t widely disseminate ideas because we have to worry about violating an unknown patent.

Q: The problem is that there is an untapped potential in the market.

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September 13, 2010

Brough Turner’s end run to free Net access

Brough Turner has started a new business,, to provide free, Net neutral Internet access to small businesses, initially in Boston. Those who use it get a node that beams connectivity to the next office down the street. There’s a free service, and a premium for-pay version.

I’ve known Brough casually for a few years. he’s a good guy — an ideals-driven pragmatist.


September 12, 2010

Sascha Meinrath on why the FCC hasn’t acted

Sascha Meinrath [twitter:saschnameinrath] is director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative. He was also part of candidate Obama’s technology working group. I asked him why the FCC isn’t acting on Net Neutrality given that the President is so firmly committed to it.

Here’s an excellent article by Sam Gustin about Google, Verizon and the FCC with quite a bit of Sascha in it.

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September 11, 2010

Berkman Buzz

This week’s Berkman Buzz, as compiled by Seth Young.

  • Ethan Zuckerman [twitter:ethanz] is quantifying his media interactions link

  • Media Cloud analyzes coverage of the Cordoba Initiative link

  • Stuart Shieber [twitter:pmphlt] knocks out several OA birds with one PMC stone link

  • Jake Shapiro [twitter:jakeshapiro] shares some exciting PRX news link

  • Radio Berkman 162: “Lessig & Zittrain Take On…Competition” link

  • Jonathan Zittrain [twitter:zittrain] , reflecting on The Future of the Internet link

  • Weekly Global Voices [twitter:globalvoices] : “Colombia: Hiperbarrio Bloggers on Violence in Medellín” link

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September 10, 2010

Rick Whitt on Googizon

Rick Whitt, a Google lawyer and lobbyist, helped negotiate the highly controversial Google-Verizon framework proposal for Net neutrality. I got a chance to interview him and asked him about it:

Two notes: 1. I apologize for the awful camera work; I couldn’t see the screen of the device I was using, plus I suck at this. 2. I’ve known Rick for a few years and count him as a friend who I enjoy spending time with when I run into him.


[2b2k] Science chapter

I’ve been over and over the draft of the chapter on science. I believe I’ve gotten the organization better, but it’s still 14,000 words, which is twice as long as it should be. I can see how to cut out about 1,000 words, but that’s not enough.

Here’s a rough outline of the chapter. Note that I’m paraphrasing myself as briefly as possible, so much of this will sound more over-stated than it is. That is, I’m over-stating my over-statements. Also, I proceed mainly through examples and interviews, which I’m not mentioning in this summary.

Intro: The traditional processes of science are turning out not to scale. We have so much more data, so many more connections. The Net does scale, however. The organizing hypothesis of the chapter is that science is starting to take on properties of the Net. Each of the six sub-sections looks at one such property.

1. Hugeness. The famous 1963 letter to Science, “Toiling in the Brickyard,” worried that science was being overwhelmed by facts. Yet, we now have exponentially more facts and data, and can scientifically address some phenomena that were too complex for prior techniques. In some instances, we get understanding without theories. This is a big change given our traditional Western idea of knowledge.

2. Flat, or at least flatter. Science has a long tradition of honoring amateurs. (The professionalization of science is relatively new.) This is a great time for amateur science. But, most of the contributions of amateurs are crowd-sourced and don’t require much scientific training; you still generally have to be a specialist/professional to make a big contribution. Even so, the fact that the work of professionals is available to anyone with a browser is changing the ecology of science. So, the distinction between amateurs and professionals will remain, but the Net is vining the gap.

3. Open and continuous. Rather than science following the publishing cycle of work being done in private before it is launched into the public as done, projects like “open notebook science” are making the process of science more continuous.

4. Open filters. Peer review continues, but is changing. E.g., PLoS. Publish-then-filter is becoming far more common.

5. Difference. The Net lets us see disagreements. Some important sorts of differences among scientists now are often (not always) left unresolved through mapping of schema rather than trying to come up with a single, right, true order of nature. (Many things are miscellaneous, I hear.) Differences among non-scientists are becoming of increasing concern to scientists because there isn’t a single set of authorities who can dole out the truth, and to whom the public listens.

6. Hyperlinked. Science had been governed and shaped by the requirements of paper-based publishing. Ownership and authority were established via getting published. But, science’s idea of knowledge itself at some level was also modeled on the publishing system: You work on an idea until it is ready, it passes through expert filters, and then it exists in the world in an almost thing-like way. Now that we can hyperlink all the way back to the source data, and now that what we make public (at any stage) gets linked to by those who discuss it, science is much more like a network than like a system for publishing results.

Finally, I talk about how this is not only a great time for science, it is also a great time to be stupid. If you want to ignore the inconvenient truths of science, you can surround yourself with a web of ignoramuses who provide a sham system of misconstructions that make falsehoods seem as profound as truths. But, the new stupidity in the Age of the Net is also due in part to the old stupid idea of science we got in the Age of Broadcast. Seeing networked science may — may — teach us more about how science works than did the announcements by the broadcast media of the latest, poorly-contextualized scientific study about Alzheimer’s and coffee, chocolate and heart attacks, and wifi and brain cancer. And it may lead us to view knowledge not as a set of self-standing truths, established and independent of us, so much as the constant processing of ideas through well-established, methods, by a complex network of humans — which long has been science’s view of truth anyway.


September 9, 2010

A short message to FCC Chair Genachowski

Dear Chairman Genachowski,

The FCC is one vote short of preserving the Internet as an open space for innovation. Your President and mine has been very clear about how he would like you to vote.

Cast your vote for an open Internet and you’ll be our hero.


David Weinberger
Internet user


September 8, 2010

Elinor Ostrom and the Net

Herman Wagter blogs about Elinor Ostrom on the commons and what this means about the Internet.

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Government APIs rock

The FCC has launched a site for developers that provides APIsso that anyone can create apps that draw on FCC data. Heres the first one they list: “Over 1 million user speed tests were generated from FCC Consumer Broadband Test. This API delivers data on the number of tests, average user download/upload speeds, and more.”

The White House also launched, an Innocentive-like site where government agencies can pose challenges, offering prizes for the best solutions. There are almost 50 challenges posted so far.

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