Joho the Blog » 2012 » May

May 30, 2012

Interop: The Book

John Palfrey and Urs Gasser are giving a book talk at Harvard about their new book, Interop. (It’s really good. Broad, thoughtful, engaging. Not at all focused on geeky tech issues.) NOTE: Posted without re-reading

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.

[The next day: Nathan Matias has posted a far better live-blog post of this event.)

JP says the topic of interop seems on the face of it like it should be "very geeky and very dull." He says the book started out fairly confined, about the effect of interop on innovation. But as they worked on it, it got broader. E.g., the Facebook IPO has been spun about the stock price's ups and downs. But from an interop perspective, the story is about why FB was worth $100B or more when its revenues don't indicate any such thing. It's because FB's interop in our lives make it hard to extract. But from this also come problems, which is why the subtitle of the book Interop talks about its peril.

Likewise, the Flame virus shows that viral outbreaks cannot be isolated easily. We need fire breaks to prevent malware from spreading.

In the book, JP and Urs look at how railroad systems became interoperable. Currency is like that, too: currencies vary but we are able to trade across borders. This has been great for the global economy, but it make problems. E.g., the Greek economic meltdown shows the interdependencies of economies.

The book gives a concise def of interop: "The ability to transfer and render userul data and other information across systems (including organizations), applications or components." But that is insufficient. The book sees interop more broadly as "The art and science of working together." The book talks about interop in terms of four levels: data, tech, humans, and institutions.

They view the book as an inquiry, some of which is expressed in a series of case studies and papers.

Urs takes the floor. He's going to talk about a few case studies.

First, how can we make our cities smarter using tech? (Urs shows an IBM video that illustrates how dependent we are on sharing information.) He draws some observations:

  • Solutions to big societal problems increasingly depend on interoperability — from health care to climate change.

  • Interop is not black or white. Many degrees. E.g., power plugs are not interoperable around the world, but there are converters. Or, international air travel requires a lot of interop among the airlines.

  • Interop is a design challenge. In fact, once you've messed up with interop, it's hard to make it right. E.g., it took a long time to fix air traffic control systems because there was a strongly embedded legacy system.

  • There are important benefits, including systems efficiency, user choice, and economic growth.

Urs points to their four-layer model. To make a smart city, the tech the firefighters and police use need to interop, as do their data. But at the human layer, the language used to vary among branches; e.g., "333" might code one thing for EMTs and another for the police. At the institutional layer, the laws for privacy might not be interoperable, making it hard for businesses to work globally.

Second example: When Facebook opened its APIs so that other apps could communicate with FB, there was a spike in innovation; 4k apps were made by non-FB devs that plug into FB. FB's decision to become more interoperable led to innovation. Likewise for Twitter. "Much of the story behind Twitter is an interop question."

Likewise for Ushahidi; after the Haitian earthquake, it made a powerful platform that enabled people to share and accumulate info, mapping it, across apps and devices. This involved all layers of the interop stack, from data to institutions such as the UN pitching in. (Urs also points to safe2pee.org :)

Observations:

  • There's a cycle of interop, competition, and innovation.

  • There are theories of innovation, including generativity (Zittrain), user-driven innovation (Von Hippel) and small-step innocations (Christensen).

  • Caveat: More interop isn't always good. A highly interop business can take over the market, creating a de facto monopoly, and suppressing innovation.

  • Interop also can help diffuse adoption. E.g., the transition to high def tv: it only took off once the tvs were were able to interoperate between analog and digital signals.

Example 3: Credit cards are highly interoperable: whatever your buying opportunity is, you can use a selection of cards that work with just about any bank. Very convenient.

Observations:

  • this level of interop comes with costs and risks: identity thefts, security problems, etc.

  • The benefits outweigh the risks

  • This is a design problem

  • More interop creates more problems because it means there are more connection points.

Example 4: Cell phone chargers. Traditionally phones had their own chargers. Why? Europe addressed this by the "Sword of Damocles" approach that said that if the phone makers didn't get their act together, the EC would regulate them into it. The micro-USB charger is now standard in Europe.

Observations:

  • It can take a long time, because of the many actors, legacy problems, and complexity.

  • It's useful to think about these issues in terms of a 2x2 of regulation/non-regulation, and collaborative-unilateral.

JP back up. He is going to talk about libraries and the preservation of knowledge as interop problems. Think about this as an issue of maintaining interop over time. E.g., try loading up one of your floppy disks. The printed version is much more useful over the long term. Libraries find themselves in a perverse situation: If you provide digital copies of books, you can provide much less than physical books. Five of the 6 major publishers won't let libraries lend e versions. It'd make sense to have new books provided on an upon standard format. So, even if libraries could lend the books, people might not have the interoperable tech required to play it. Yet libraries are spending more on e-books, and less on physical. If libraries have digital copies and not physical copies, they are are vulnerable to tech changes. How do we insure that we can continuously update? The book makes a fairly detailed suggestion. But as it stands, as we switch from one format to another over time, we're in worse shape than if we had physical books. We need to address this. "When it comes to climate change, or electronic health records, or preservation of knowledge, interop matters, both as a theory and as a practice." We need to do this by design up front, deciding what the optimal interop is in each case.

Q&A

Q: [doc searls] Are there any places where you think we should just give up?

A: [jp] I’m a cockeyed optimist. We thought that electronic health records in the US is the hardest case we came across.

Q: How does the govt conduct consultations with experts from across the US. What would it take to create a network of experts?

A: [urs] Lots of expert networks that have emerged, enabled by tech that fosters from the bottom up human interoperability.
A: [jp] It’s not clear to me that we want that level of consultation. I don’t know that we could manage direct democracy enabled in that way.

Q: What are the limits you’d like to see emerge on interop. I.e., I’m thinking of problems of hyper-coherence in bio: a single species of rice or corn that may be more efficient can turn out to be with one blight to have been a big mistake. How do you build in systems of self-limit?

[urs] We try to address this somewhat in a chapter on diversity, which begins with biodiversity. When we talk about interop, we do not suggest merging or unifying systems. To the contrary, interop is a way to preserve diversity, and prevent fragmentation within diversity. It’s extremely difficult to find the optimums, which varies from case to case, and to decide on which speed bumps to put in place.
[jp] You’ve gone to the core of what we’re thinking about.

Q: Human autonomy, efficiency, and economic growth are three of the benefits you mention, but they can be in conflict with one another. How important are decentralized systems?

[urs] We’re not arguing in favor of a single system, e.g., that we have only one type of cell phone. That’s exactly not what we’re arguing for. You want to work toward the sweet spot of interop.
[jp] They are in tension, but there are some highly complex systems where they coexist. E.g., the Web.

Q: Yes, having a single cell phone charger is convenient. But there may be a performance tradeoff, where you can’t choose the optimum voltage if you standard on 5V. And an innovation deficit: you won’t get magnetic plugs, etc.

[urs] Yes. This is one of the potential downsides of interop. It may lock you in. When you get interop by choosing a standard, you freeze the standard for the future. So one of the additional challenge is: how can we incorporate mechanisms of learning into standards-setting?
Cell phone chargers don’t have a lot of layers on top of them, so the standardization doesn’t have quite the ripples through generativity. And that’s what the discussion should be about.

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The virtue of self-restraint

Last night was the annual Berkman dinner. Lovely. It inevitably turned into a John Palfrey love fest, since he is leaving Harvard very soon, and he is much beloved.

People stood and spoke beautifully and insightfully about what John has meant to them. (Jonathan Zittrain and Ethan Zuckerman in addition were predictably hilarious.) But Terry Fisher gave us an insight that was so apt about John and so widely relevant that I’ll share it.

Terry listed some qualities of John’s. The last he talked about started out as John’s very occasional sarcasm; he can be bitingly perceptive about people, but always in private. So, said Terry, JP’s remarked-upon and remarkable niceness and kindness are not due to naivete. Rather, they arise in part from another of John’s virtues: self-restraint. And, from that, said Terry, comes much of the kindness that generally characterizes the Berkman Center.

That struck me not only as true of John, but as such an important quality for civic discourse. Self-restraint is an enabling virtue: its exercise results in a further qualities that make life on a crowded planet more fruitful and enjoyable.

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Neelie Kroes: So close on Net Neutrality

Neelie Kroes, VP of the European Commission, has issued her statement on Net Neutrality. In my view, she correctly assesses the importance of Net Neutrality, but wrongly gauges the ability of a free market to deliver it. As a result, her policy is (in my view) seriously misguided. But so close!

Neelie writes:

When it comes to the issue of “net neutrality” I want to ensure that Internet users can always choose full Internet access – that is, access to a robust, best-efforts Internet with all the applications you wish.

I would have preferred a phrase about all apps and data delivered free of discrimination by the carriers. In any case, based on a new study by BEREC (European regulators’ body), she feels that now enough of the market has a choice of carriers that regulation is not needed.

As my friend JC de Martin wrote on a mailing list [slightly edited]:

I am afraid that this is a bad decision on at least four counts:

1. it overestimates the ability of the average consumers not only to obtain the relevant information, but also
to fully understand its implications;

2. it underestimates the very substantial pain of switching ISPs;

3. in rural areas, or smaller cities, the ISP offer is quite limited;

4. ISPs are not all equal: very soon European consumers will have to face a choice between a fast ISP with “limited Internet” and a slower ISP with “full Internet”: which one will they choose?

If access to an open Net is as important as Neelie believes it is, then it ought not be left up to the vagaries of the market to deliver it, and we ought not be complacent about a situation in which some people cannot afford access to it.

So close :(

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May 29, 2012

[berkman] Dries Buytaert: Drupal and sustaining collaborative efforts

Dries Buytaert [twitter:Dries] , the founder of Drupal and co-founder of Acquia, is giving a Berkman lunch talk about building and sustaining online collaborations.

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.

Drupal is an open source content manager, Dries says. In the past twelve years, Drupal has “grown significantly”: 71 of the top 100 universities use it, 120 nations use it, the White House uses it, 2 of of the 3 top music companies use it, the King of Belgium uses it. [Dries is Belgian :) ] The NY Stock Exchange is converting from a proprietary Java solution to Drupal. Five of the 6 top media companies use it. One out of 50 wesbites run on Drupal. Drupal has 10,000+ modules, 300,000 downloads a month, 1.5M unique visitors a month at drupal. org. And it’s free as in beer.

Today he’s going to talk about: history, open source, community, the evolution of software, and how to grow and sustain it.

History

Dries began writing Drupal in his dorm room, more or less by accident. He wrote a message board for the Linux project, in part to learn PHP and MySQL. About a year later he released Drupal 1.0 as open source, as “a full-featured content management/discussion engine…suitable to setup a news-driven comunity or portal site similar to kuro5hin.org and slashdot.org” (as it said in the original annoucement). “It took me about 30 seconds to come up with the name Drupal, a terrible name.”

Three years later (v.4.1) he says it still looked “pretty crappy.” Two years laer,in 2005, 30 develoeprs showed up for the first DrupalCon, in Antwerp. There are now several year. By 2011, it was looking quite good, and 3,200+ developers showed up at DrupalCon. There are now weekly meetings around the world.

There were growing pains, he says. He tells us about The Big Server Meltdown. In 2004, the servers failed. Dries put up a blank page with a PayPal button to raise $3,000 for a server. Within 24 hours, they’d raised $10,000. One of the CTOs of Sun shipped him a $8,000 machine. Then Open Source Labs in Portland OR offered to house the servers. “That’s just one anecdote. In the history of Drupal, it feels like we’ve had hundreds of these.” (There are currently 8 staff members. They organize conferences and keep the servers up. )

But, Dries says, this shows a weakness in open source: you suddenly have to raise $3,000 and may not be able to do so. That’s a reason he started Acquia, which provides support for Drupal.

Open Source

Drupal is open source: It’s gratis, anyone can look at the source code, they can modify the code, and they can share it. The fact that it’s free sometimes let’s them win bids, but open source “is not just a software license. It’s a collaboration model.” “Open source leads to community.” And “ultimately, that leads to innovation.”

Dries shows photos of the community’s embrace of Drupal (and its logo). “Drupal is successful today because of the community.”

Q: How do we know there will be enthusiastic support a few years down the road? How do we know it won’t have a Y2K problem?

A: There isn’t an easy answer. Things can go wrong. We try to keep it relevant. We have a good track record of innovation and keeping the right trends. And a lot of it comes down to keeping the community engaged. We have a large ecosystem. They volunteer their time, but the are all making money; they have an economic interest in keeping Drupal relevant.

Community

“Drupal doesn’t win just because it’s cheaper. It wins because it’s better.” It is technically superior because it has thousands of developers.

Evolution of software

Dries points to a common pattern: From innovation to bespoke systems to products to commoditization. In each step, the reach becomes wider. Proprietary software tends to stop at the products stage; it’s hard to become a commodity because proprietary software is too expensive. This is an important opportunity for open source.

Growing large projects

Is Drupal’s growth sustainable? That’s a reason Dries founded the Drupal Association, a non-profit, in 2006. It helps maintain drupal.org, organizes events, etc. But Drupal also needs companies like Acquia to get it into new areas. It needs support. It needs people who can talk to CIOs in large companies.

Open source Joomla recently hired some developers to work on their core software, which has led some of the contributors to back off. Why should they contribute their time if Joomla is paying some folks? [Joomla's experience illustrates the truth of the Wealth of Networks: Putting money into collab can harm the collab.] Drupal is not going to do that. (Acquia develops some non-open source Drupal tools.)

IBM and RedHat are the top contributors to Linux. What companies might make that sort of strategic investment in Drupal? Instead of one or two, how about hundreds? So Dries created “Large Scale Drupal,” a membership org to jointly fund developments. It’s new. They contribute money and get a say in where it’s spent. The members are users of Drupal. E.g., Warner Music. Module developers can get funded from LSD. Two people run it, paid by Acquia. There has not been any pushback from the dev community because there’s no special backdoor by which these projects get added to the Drupal core. In fact, the money is then spent to fund developers. Dries sets the technical roadmap by listening to the community; neither the Drupal Association or LSD influences that.

Of these collaborative projects often start as small, volunteer-driven projects. But then they become institutionalized when they grow. Trade routes are like that: they were originally worn into the ground, but then become driven by commercial organizations, and finally are governed by the government. Many others exhibit the same pattern. Can open source avoid it?

Q&A

If you’re thinking of starting an open source commercial company, you could do dual licensing, but Drupal has not made that choice.

Q: How much does Drupal contribute to the PHP community?
A: A little. There are tribes: some are active in the PHP tribe, others in the Drupal tribe. It’s unfortunate that there isn’t more interaction. Dries says he’d love to grow Acquia enough so that it can put a couple of people on PHP, because if PHP isn’t successful, neither is Drupal.

Q: Governance?
A: We don’t have a lot of decision-making structure. I’ve always been opposed to formal voting. We work through discussion. We debate what should be in the core. Whoever wants to participates in the debate. Ultimately we’re structured like Linux: there are two people who are committing changes to a core version of Drupal. For every major version I pick someone to work alongside me. When we release the version, he or she becomes the maintainer of it. I move on to the next version and select someone to be my co-maintainer. The 15,000 modules are maintained by the community.

Q: Do your biggest contributors agree to programming standards?
A: We are strict about our coding and documentation standards. I make the final decisions about whether to accept a patch. Patches go through a workflow before they reaches me.

Q: What advice would you give to someone trying to attract people to a project?
A: If people can make money through your project, it will grow faster. We built a community on trust and respect; we make decisions on technical merit, not dollars. We have a darwinian model for ideas; bad ideas just die. See what rises to the top. Include it in the next version. Then put it into the core, if it’s worth it. The down side is that it’s very wasteful. I could tell people “If you do x, it will get in,” but I try to get out of the way. People have taken Drupal in sorts of directions, e.g., political campaigns, elearning platforms, etc.

Q: [me] How important are you to Drupal these days?
A: I think I’m more important as the face of Drupal than I used to be. In the governance sense I’m less important. I was the lead developer, the admin for the servers, etc., at the beginning. The “hit by a bus factor” was very risky. Nowadays, I don’t write code; I just review code. I still have a lot of work, but it’s much more focused on reviewing other people’s work and enabling them to make progress. If I were to die, most things would continue to operate. The biggest pain would be in the marketing . There are a lot of leaders in Drupal. One or two people would emerge or be elected to replace what I do.

Q: What’s hard for Drupal?
A: One of our biggest risks is to keep nimble and lean. It takes longer to make decisions. We need to continue to evolve the governance model to encourage us to accelerate decision making. Also, we have some real technical issues we need to address, and they’re huge projects. Volunteers can only accomplish so much. LSD is perfectly positioned to tackle the hardest problems. If we did it at the pace of the volunteers, it would take years.

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May 28, 2012

[2b2k] Attribution isn’t just about credit. It’s about networking knowledge.

David Kay pointed out to me a piece by Arthur Brisbane, the NY Times Public Editor. In it Arthur deals with a criticism of a NYT article that failed to acknowledge the work of prior journalists and investigators (“uncredited foundational reporting”) that led to the NYT story. For example, Hella Winston at The Jewish Week told Arthur:

The lack of credit stings. “You get so much flak — these are difficult stories,” Ms. Winston told me, “People come down on you.” The Times couldn’t have found all its sources among victims and advocates by itself, she added: “You wouldn’t have known they existed, you wouldn’t have been able to talk to them, if we hadn’t written about them for years.”

But, as David Kay points out, this is not just about giving credit. As the piece says about the Poynter Institute‘s Kelly McBride:

[McBride] struck another theme, echoed by other ethics experts: that providing such credit would have enabled readers to find other sources of information on the subject, especially through online links.

Right. It’s about making the place smarter by leaving traceable tracks of the ideas one’s post brings together. It’s about building networks of knowledge.

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May 26, 2012

[2b2k][mesh] Setting the record straight: Overall, the networking of knowledge is awesome

Christine Dobby posted at the Financial Post about my session at the Mesh conference on Thursday in Toronto. She accurately captured two ideas, but missed the bigger point I was trying to make, which — given how well she captured the portion of my comments she blogs about — was undoubtedly my fault. Worse, the post gives incredibly short shrift to two powerful and important sessions that morning by Rebecca MacKinnon and Michael Geist about the threats to Internet freedom…way more important (in my view, natch) than what the FP post leads with.

To judge for yourself, you might want to check the live blogging I did of the sessions by Rebecca and Michael. These were great sessions by leaders in their fields, people who are full-time working on keeping the Internet free and open. They are fighting for us and our Internet. (Likewise true of Andy Carvin, of course, who gave an awesome afternoon session.) What they said seems to me clearly to be so much more important than my recapitulation of a decade-old argument that I think is valid but is not even half the story.

On to moi moi moi.

Christine does a nice job summarizing my summary of the echo chamber argument, and I’m pleased that she followed that up with my use of Reddit as an example of how an echo chamber — a group that shares a set of beliefs, values, and norms — can enable a sympathetic yet critical encounter with those who hold radically different views. But, here are the first two paragraphs of Christine’s post about the morning at Mesh:

With the vast sprawl of the web — and in spite of its power to fact check information — stupidity abounds, says David Weinberger.

“One of the bad things we get from networked knowledge is it’s easier than ever to be stupid because you can find other people who can reinforce your beliefs,” the U.S. academic, Internet commentator and author of the recent Too Big to Know told a Toronto audience Thursday.

True, and I did indeed say that. But I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m going around to conferences bashing the Net as a stupidity enabler. In fact, I spent the first half hour at Mesh being interviewed by the inestimable Mathew Ingram about the rise of networked knowledge, about which I am overall quite enthusiastic. The networking of knowledge is enabling knowledge to scale far beyond the limits within which it’s operated since it was born 2,500 years ago. It’s enabling knowledge to shed some of the blinkered limitations that it had embraced as a virtue. Overall, it’s an awesomely good thing, although I did try to point out some of the risks and dangers.

So, it’s weird for me to read in the FP that the take-away is that the Net is creating echo chambers that are making us stupider. Indeed, as my remarks on Reddit were intended to indicate, the echo chamber argument can lead us to underestimate the positive importance of groups sharing views and values: conversation and understanding itself require a huge amount of agreement to be productive. As I wrote not too long ago, culture is an echo chamber.

So, put Christine’s post together with the post you’re currently reading and you’ll get a more accurate representation of what I intended to say and certainly what I believe. Sort of like how networked knowledge works, come to think of it :)

More important, go read what Rebecca, Michael, and Andy had to say. (And I also really liked Michael O’Connor Clarke’s session, but couldn’t live blog it.)

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May 25, 2012

[mesh] Michael O’Connor Clarke

Yesterday at the Mesh conference I caught the second half of Michael O’Connor Clarke‘s presentation, to a packed house, about how not to use social media for marketing. I’ve known Michael since the Cluetrain days, and it was great to warch him argue against viewing social media as a messaging vehicle.

Michael has long championed understanding the Net as, well, a conversation that needs to be respected. Keeping that conversation as open and vibrant as possible is more important than your business’s tawdry ambitions, he says. (I am not just paraphrasing here, but entirely putting words in his mouth.) If your business wants to engage with it — and not every business has to, he says — then it should be engaged with by actual people, with actual names, actual interests, and actual personalities. Completely transparently, of course.

Great teaching, great examples, plus Michael’s hilarious. [Michael on twitter]

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Marketing music: Amanda Palmer shows you how it’s done.

A few days ago I pointed to Elizabeth ‘s thread at Reddit where she engaged with the public in a way that everyone who manages customer support, PR, or marketing ought to learn from.

Today, Amanda Palmer posted about her current Kickstarter project, which has raised $855,000 with eight days yet to run. Her goal was $100,000…except in her post she responds with complete frankness (she’s AFP, after all) about what her real expectations were. The post is both an explanation and a demonstration of how musicians and theandir audiences can love and support each other.

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May 24, 2012

[2b2k][mesh] Andy Carvin

Andy Carvin (@acarvin) is being interviewed by Mathew Ingram at Mesh.

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’s cut back to hundreds of tweets now, rather than the 1,400 he did at the height of the Arab Spring. He says Twitter shut him down for a bit on Feb. 2 on the day of the Battle of the Camel in Egypt because his volume was so high that he looked like a spammer. He contacted Twitter and they turned him back on in 15 minutes.

He went to NPR at 2006 as “senior strategist,” an intentionally vague title. He says his real role is Guinea Pig in Residence. He gets to tinker with tools and methodologies. In Dec. 2010 he began to see tweets from Tunisia from people he knew, about the protest self-immolation of a street vendor. He had a loose network of bloggers he knew over the years, in part from participating in Global Voices. “When something important happens, the network comes back to life.” He had an intuition that the protests might expand into a genuine revolution. None of the mainstream media were covering it. [PS: Here's a very cool and useful interactive timeline of Arab Spring, from The Guardian.]

Mathew: The role of social media? Andy: Each country has been very different. “I don’t call this the Twitter Revolution or a Social Media Revolution, because I couldn’t then look in the eye of someone who lost a family member” engaged in the protests. Facebook was a way to get word out to lots of people. A researcher recently has said that simple information exchange at a place like Facebook was a public act, broadcasting to people, a declaration, helping to nudge the revolution forward. “Because it was not anonymous,” notes Andy.

Expats curated news and footage and spread it. “In the last couple of days of the Tunisian revolution, people were using Facebook and Twitter to identify sniper nests.” People would say don’t go to a particular intersection because of the snipers. It spread from country to country. He says that Libyans were tweeting about the day the revolution should begin. “It was literally like they were using Outlook appointments.”

How did he curate the twitterers? He kept lists in each country. It’s probably about 500 people. But a total of about 2,000 people are in a loose network of folks who will respond to his questions and requests (e.g., for translations).

Mathew: You weren’t just retweeting. Andy: Yes. I didn’t know anyone in Libya. I didn’t know who to trust. I started asking around if anyone knows Libyan expats. I picked up the phone/skype. I got leads. At the beginning I was following maybe 10 people. And then it scaled up. When the videos came out the mainstream media wouldn’t run them because they weren’t sure they were from Libya. But Andy tweeted them, noting that there’s uncertainty, and asking for help. A Libyan would tweet back that they recognize the east Libyan accent, or someone recognized a Libyan court house which Google images then confirmed.

Mathew: Were you inherently skeptical? Andy: I was inherently curious. I compiled source lists, seeing who’s following people I trusted, seeing how many followers and how long they’ve tweeted, and how they are talking to one another. Eventually I’d see that some are married, or are related. Their relationships made it more likely they were real.

Mathew: You were posting faster than news media do. They do more verification. Andy: Which is why I get uncomfortable when people prefer my twitter feed as a newswire. It’s not a newswire. It’s a newsroom. It’s where I’m trying to separate fact from fiction, interacting with people. That’s a newsroom.

Mathew: You were doing what I was talking with David W [that's me!] about: using a network of knowledge. Andy: A NYT reporter tweeted that he was trying to figure out what a piece of ordinance was. Andy tweeted it and one of his followers identified it precisely. It took 45 mins. The guy who figured it out was a 15 year old kid in Georgia who likes watching the Military channel.

Sometimes Andy gives his followers exercises. E.g., his followers picked apart a photo that was clearly photoshopped. What else did they find in it? They found all sorts of errors, including that the president of Yemen had two ears on one side. It becomes an ad hoc world wide social experiment in Internet literacy. It’s network journalism, collaborative journalism, process journalism. Andy says he doesn’t like the term “curator,” but there are times when that’s what he’s doing. There are other times when he’s focused on realtime verification. He likes the term “dj” better. He’s getting samples from all over, and his challenge is to “spin it out there in a way that makes people want to dance.”

[It opens up to audience questions]

Q: Are people more comfortable talking to you as a foreign journalist?

Yes. Early on, people vouched for me. But once I hit my stride, people knew me before their revolution began and I’d be in touch with them. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

Q: How should journalists use Twitter?

They have to carve out time to do it. It helps to be ADHD. And when you’re on Twitter, you are who you are. When I’m on Twitter, I’m the guy who has a family and works in his yard. And you have to be prepared to be accountable in real time. When I screw up, my followers tell me. E.g., in Libya there was a video of an injured girl being prepared for surgery. I wrote that and tweeted it. Within 30 seconds a number of people tweeted back to me that she was dead and was being prepared for burial. Andy retweeted what he had been told.

Q [me]: How do we scale you so that there are more of you? And tweeting 1400 times a day isn’t sustainable, so is there a way to scale in that direction as well?

Andy: Every time I felt “Poor me” I remembered that I was sitting on a nice NPR roof deck, tweeting. And when I go home, at 6pm I am offline. I fix dinner, I give the kids a bath, I read to them. If it’s a busy time, I’ll go back online for an hour.

He would tweet when he went offline for bits during Arab Spring, and would explain why, in part so people would understand that he’s not in the Middle East and not in danger.

About scaling: A lot of what I do is teachable. The divide between those in journalism who use social media and those who don’t is about how comfortable they are being transparent. Also, if you’re responsible for a beat, it’s understandable why you haven’t tried it. Editors should think about giving journalists 20% time to cultivate their sources online, building their network, etc. You get it into people’s job descriptions. You figure it out.

Q: [mathew] On the busy days, you needed someone to curate you.

That began to happen when I brought on a well-known Saudi Blogger [couldn't get his name]. He was curating user-generated content from Syria. He was curating me, but his sources were better than mine, so I began retweeting him.

Q: How do you address the potential for traumatic stress, which you can suffer from even if you’re not in the field?

Andy: In Feb. I learned the term “vicarious PTSD.” The signs were beginning. The first videos from Libya and Bahrain were very graphic. But I have a strong support network on line and with my family. I feel it’s important to talk about this on Twitter. If I see a video of a dead child, I’ll vent about, sometimes in ways that as a journalist are not appropriate, but are appropriate as a human. If I ever become like a TV detective who can look at a body on the ground and crack jokes, then I shouldn’t be in this business.

Andy: I do retweet disturbing stuff. The old media were brought into homes, families. So they had to be child-friendly. But with social media, the readers has to decide to be on Twitter and then to follow me. I’ll sometimes retweet something and say that people shouldn’t open it, but it needs to be out there. There have been some videos I haven’t shared: sexual assaults, executions, things involving kids. I draw the line.

[Loved it loved it loved it. Andy perfectly modeled a committed journalist who remains personal, situated, transparent, and himself.]

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[mesh] Michael Geist on the emergence of the Internet constituency

Michael Geist (@mgeist), a Canadian hero, is giving at talk at Mesh.

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.

When SOPA was introduced, it seemed likely to pass. Bipartistan love fest. But then the Internet fought back, from the Free Bieber campaign to online petitions. The number one source of info about SOPA was not the NYT or the Washington Post but a TechDirt blog post. (As an aside, someone launched a take down notice of this blog post, so it didn’t even appear in he Google search engine for a month.) The Reddit community was very active. E.g., when GoDaddy was listed as a supporter of SOPA, Reddit started a campaign to transfer domains from there. GoDaddy changed its mind. The big moment was when Wikipedia blacked out its English-language home page. That page was accessed 162M times that day — a striking ability to raise awareness. Other sites blacked out as well. The effect was dramatic: Within a day Congressional support swung.

For months people have been trying to figure out the “SOPA Story.” How did the number one legislative effort from the number one lobby go down in flames?

In Canada we can go back to Sam Bulte. The rise of groups lobbying for rights. The rise of social networks. The use of social media by rights-favoring politicians. So, in a sense, SOPA is nothing new here in Canada.

Blackouts aren’t new either: 1996 “computer decency act” protest. NewZealand’s protest. Italian-language Wikipedia blacked out last year.

So, in some ways the SOPA Story was nothing new. What’s new is what’s happening after SOPA…the enabling coming to people who think they now can truly affect what happens online. E.g., ACTA protests in Europe. Polish MPs donning Guy Fawkes masks. The dominoes have started to fall against ACTA. Now Neelie Kroes has said that ACTA is all but dead.

Likewise, the Research Works Act tried to scale back access to publicly-funded research. The Net fought back, withdrawing support from Elsevier, the key lobbyist for the RWA. Elsevier has withdrawn support for RWA and there is a petition now to go the other way. [SIGN THE PETITION]

In Canada, Proecting Children from Internet Predators Act — a 100-age bill that contains the word “children” only in its title. The Internet fought back. E.g., TellVic. It has been withdrawn, although temporarily.

The Net is spreading word. E.g., Kony 2012 spread around the world. There’s debate about whether it has had any effect, but the UN from people on the ground is that it has made a difference. Likewise, Trayvon Martin’s story was told through social media. Or, now, the Quebec student initiatives that started with just a few people but has grown because of social media.

LEssons: Don’t underestimate the power of social media to bring prople together to have a voice on issues. Second, SOPA happened only 18 months. We’re seeing a dramatic shift. The full consequences have not yet played out.

The third lesson is pessimistic. If this is the year that the Internet fought back, the battle may have been won but the fight continues. E.g., CETA, Trans Pacific Partnership (copyright tyranny), etc. There are reasons for optimism, but we have a long struggle ahead.
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Q: How long are we going to have to keep fighting our governments? When do we stop having to argue that social interests take priority over business interests?

A: E.g., this week public pressure worked on an act that had been given to the telcos for prior consultation. E.g., look at how the copyright bill has changed: changes to fair dealing, cap on statutory damages, consumer exceptions, etc. None of that was there originally. More politicians get it. But the content industries are powerful. The Internet is becoming an increasingly powerful voice.

Q: ICANN works on a multistakeholder model and has a limited mandate about setting policy. Some want to relegate that authority to the UN that runs it as a think tank. Which way is better?

A: The ITU has been pushing for governance space for then years. At ICANN some stakeholders count more than others. If the UN does it, repressive countries get the keys to the Net. I don’t see the ITU play happening.

Q: With SOPA there was a lot of groupthink. It lacked subtlety and nuance.

A: We’ve had 30 years of lobbying by rights holders with a total lack of nuance: “It’s theft. It’s piracy. Shut it down.” Not reflective of what’s actually happening. So, yes, some are slackivists just clicking on a Like button. But they are more informed than the general populace on these issues. I did a talk for 8th grade students, and almost all of them had heard of SOPA and Kony, and most knew more about Kony than they knew before March of this year.

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