My role on the Net is going through a large swing: from explaining why the Internet is different, important, and (overall) good, to reminding us—especially college-age kids—how different and difficult so many things were before the Net existed.
For example, I gave an informal talk at Tufts last week and a few weeks ago at Emerson College. In both of them, and in the discussions afterwards, I did the Old Man thing of talking about how things were in the pre-Net days. For instance, it used to be that you’d read a newspaper article, have questions and want to know more, and there was no place you could go. You got whatever was in that rectangle of information and that’s all. Shocking! Outrageous!
The two roles are not unrelated: explaining what’s different about the Net and why we should overall be grateful and optimistic about the opportunities it has opened up. But what’s surprising to me is summed up by the comment by one of the Emerson students after the event was officially over: He thanked me for saying positive things about the Net since “All we ever hear is how dangerous it is.”
So, there’s still work to do. Hope over fear. Hope over fear.
Atlantic.com has just posted an article of mine that re-examines the “Argument from Architecture” that has been at the bottom of much of what I’ve written over the past twenty years. That argument says, roughly, that the Internet’s architecture embodies particular values that are inevitably transmitted to its users. (Yes, the article discusses what “inevitably” means in this context.) But has the Net been so paved by Facebook, apps, commercialism, etc., that we don’t experience that architecture any more?
The superb novelist and teacher Meredith Sue Willis, who is also my sister-in-law, is teaching a course at a local Veterans Administration hospital on literature and medicine. It’s taught to hospital staff after work in the hospital.
Here’s the syllabus, which Sue has put under a Creative Commons license (which is where all syllabi belong, amirite?). It looks like a great set of readings organized around important topics. Isn’t it awesome that we can get curated collections like these from which we can learn and explore?
In fact, it prompted me to start reading The Young Lions, which so far I’m glad I’m doing. Thanks, Sue!
(Ack. I forgot that Sue told me about this because she’s using in the course something I wrote. So I am inadvertently logrolling. But sincerely!)
When Doc Searls and I published our New Clues, we put it into the public domain. Even two months later, it feels good. In fact, seeing it reprinted in its entirety on someone else’s site fills me with an irrational exuberance.
Normally we would have put it under a Creative Commons BY license that entitles anyone to reuse it in whole or in part so long as they attribute it to us. CC BY is great. It takes the “#1. Ask permission” step out of the process by which what you write can be absorbed by your culture. Or anyone’s culture.
The public domain is different. A CC-BY license keeps a work copyrighted, but permits use without first asking permission. Works in the public domain are not copyrighted. Ok, so it’s more complex than that, but that’s basically it. A work in the public domain is like a folk song: you can sing it, you can change the words, you can record it and charge for the recording, you can print the lyrics on the front of your ice cream containers. You can even claim that you wrote it, although that would be wrong of you.
In practical terms, putting New Clues into the public domain [here’s how] really doesn’t do much that CC BY doesn’t do. Yes, someone could reprint our public domain document without crediting Doc and me, but they could do that with CC BY also — we’d have the right to insist that they provide attribution, but Doc and I are likely to use moral suasion in either case, by which I mean that we’d write a polite email to the evil doer. So, pragmatically, there isn’t much difference.
So why does putting it into the public domain make me happier? I get as close to smiling as my stony visage permits when I see a site that’s copied and pasted the whole thing. It makes it feel that what Doc and I wrote was really about what it says and less about what the writing says about Doc and me. The focus is where it should be.
And it feels deeply good to know that we have created something that can spread as far and deeply into the culture — and thus into people’s lives — as our culture wants. The only barriers are those of interest. And we’re not going to try to tease you with a snippet, with a taste. Not interested? Fine. It’s still there for anyone who is.
I expressed this to Peter Suber, who is dedicated full time to expanding the sphere and influence of Open Access works. Peter pointed out that my reaction rests in part on the privileged position I occupy: I can do some writing for free, and because Doc and I are known a bit within the domain of people who blab about the Internet, there’s a disincentive for people who might want to pass off our words as our own. If we were, say, unknown high school students it’d be easier for someone to get away with crudely plagiarizing our work. True enough.
Even so, putting work into the public domain feels good. I recommend you try it.
Peter Hirtle points out that Creative Commons 0 isn’t exactly the same as public domain, although functionally it’s identical. The whole question of trying to eliminate all copyright interests in a work is vexed. Peter points here for details and evidence of the complexity of the issue. Thanks, Peter!
Dave Winer loves outlines. I do, too, but Dave loves them More. We know this because Dave’s created the Fargo outliner, and, in the way of software that makes us freer, he’s made it available to us to use for free, without ads or spyware, and supporting the standards and protocols that make our ideas interoperable.
Fargo is simple and straightfoward. You enter text. You indent lines to create structure. You can reorganize and rearrange as you would like. Type CMD-? or CTL-? for help.
Fargo is generative. It supports open standards, and it’s designed to make it easy to let what you’ve written become part of the open Web. It’s written in HTML5 and runs in all modern browsers. Your outlines have URLs so other pages can link to them. Fargo files are saved in the OPML standard so other apps can open them. The files are stored in your Dropbox folder , which puts them in the Cloud but also on your personal device; look in Dropbox/Apps/smallpicture/. You can choose to encrypt your files to protect them from spies. The Concord engine that powers Fargo is Open Source.
Out of the box, Fargo is a heads-down outliner for people who think about what they write in terms of its structure. (I do.) It thus is light on the presentation side: You can’t easily muck about with the styles it uses to present various levels, and there isn’t an embedded way to display graphics, although you can include files that are displayed when the outline is rendered. But because it is a simple product with great depth, you can always go further with it.
And now matter how far you go, you’ll never be locked in.
Dave Winer has a couple of related posts up, one addressed to Doc Searls and me, and the other broadening the point: we need to be doing more to support software that makes us, and the Internet, freer.
Dave’s first post addressed Doc and me because Dave not only likes Doc Searls‘ and my New Clues (and the Gillmor Gang podcast we did on Friday), he wrote a cool app — a “listicle” version of the Clues — and before we posted gave us some crucial advice. Dave’s point is that there’s software that increases our freedom and there’s software that “siphons off and monetizes freedom.” People like Dave write software that increases our freedom. People like Doc and me and you ought to be informing one another and the entire ecosystem about the freedom-increasing software we use.
No argument there. I don’t blog a lot about specific pieces of software, except for the library software I’d been working with for the past five years — It’s free-making software — and to whine. I can do more, but, frankly, if you’re reading this blog, you’re in a very elite club (and by “elite” I mean “tiny”) so the practical effect will be negligible. Still, I’ll try.
I’m more distressed by how difficult it is to find freedom-making software. At the major download sites (note: do not use download.com until you read this) you can restrict your results to “free” but not in Dave’s sense…and even then many of the apps are only pretending to be monetarily free. It would help a lot if freedom-making software were a category you could search for. Or if there were download sites devoted to aggregating such software. (What am I forgetting or don’t know about? (Source code sites are too geeky for most people.))
It would be good to come up with a better name than “freedom-making” apps so that it is easier for people to talk about it and understand the concept.
Obviously we’d also want to have some criteria. As I understand it, this is software that doesn’t lock you in, doesn’t lock out other apps, and enables what you do with it to become part of the larger Web.
Heck, we might even want a badge. It works for non-GMO food and Fair Trade goods.
I agree with Dave that we all ought to be talking more audibly about the software we use that makes the Web a better place in the ways that matter: by making it richer with openly linkable and re-usable pieces. And I’ll try to do so, starting soon with a review of Dave’s Fargo outliner. It’d be even better to fill in the pieces missing from our infrastructure for supporting the makers who give us more liberty.
The clues are designed as an open source publishing project: The text is in the public domain, and we’re making the clues available at Github in various computer-friendly formats, including JSON, OPML and XML.
We launched this morning and a happy hell has broken loose. So I’m just going to posts some links for now. In fact, I’m copying and pasting from an email by Doc:
Dave Winer recalls a post of his from 2007 about an API that he’s now revived:
“Because Twitter has a public API that allows anyone to add a feature, and because the NY Times offers its content as a set of feeds, I was able to whip up a connection between the two in a few hours. That’s the power of open APIs.”
Ah, the power of APIs! They’re a deep magic that draws upon five skills of the Web as Mage:
First, an API matters typically because some organization has decided to flip the default: it assumes data should be public unless there’s a reason to keep it private.
Second, an API works because it provides a standard, or at least well-documented, way for an application to request that data.
I went to see To Be Takei last night, and George himself was there for an interview afterwards. It occurred to me that I’d like him to autograph his book Oh Myyy, but I only have a copy on my Kindle.
So, here’s a proposal for the Kindle, the Nook, and for any other DRM-ed ebook reader: Allow us to embed one and only one photo into our copy of an ebook. That photo can never be replaced. It can be deleted, but then the slot is gone forever. This could be implemented as a special one-time-only annotation, and it would be managed by your fearsome machinery of control.
That way, I could take a selfie with George, post it into my Kindle copy of his book, and have the digital equivalent of an autographed copy.
I don’t see a way of doing this for open access e-books. Stupid open access e-books what with their “Oooh look everyone can read me!” smirks and their “Now everyone can learn and participate in culture” attitudes.
PS: To Be Takei was really enjoyable. Totally worth seeing, especially with an appreciative crowd.