Joho the Blog » collaboration

October 23, 2014

Pieceful Collaboration

I gave a talk last night at the BookBuilders of Boston collaboration awards. It’s a non-profit that since 1937 has networked publishers, book manufacturers, and other book folk…although I don’t think people would have described it as “networking” back then. The nominees each gave a 2.5 minute presentation on their collaborative publishing project, many of which were very cool. Plus it was in the Brattle Theater.

I was the filler as the judges went into a sealed room to decide on the winners. So I gave a 30 talk pitched around a pun that I sort of like: a pieceful difference.

The idea was that lots of collaborative efforts bring together multiple people to build a single object — a barn raising or a Wikipedia page. But other collaborations break something apart and allow different people to build different things.

The ability to bring strangers together around a project is a gift of the Net. But so is its making available lots of little pieces that can be made into mosaics by a mosaic of people. The Johnny Cash Project is one sort of example. But so is any set of things created from stuff retrieved through an API or mashed-up APIs.

I’m not sure why I am drawn to pieceful collaboration, other than because of the cheap pun. I guess I like the way individuality is maintained around a shared but differentiated set of materials. I’m a little surprised. I thought I was less of an individualist than that.

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January 22, 2013

Lotus Notes isn’t as hot a product as it used to be

Dylan Tweney notes that Lotus Notes, which invented a bunch of the enterprise collaboration stuff we now take for granted, has become a drag on IBM’s revenues. Dylan writes:

I used it extensively at several companies I worked with. Initially, it was mysterious and powerful. Like most end-users of Lotus Notes, I used it primarily as an email program. It had its quirks, but it worked. But there was another dimension to Notes, a powerful, programmable backend that let you create databases and workspaces for collaborative work, contact management, information sharing, and communication.

Today, we’d call it a collaboration tool or a corporate social-media tool, and it would be web-based and standards-compliant, like Yammer, Jive, and Huddle. In the absence of standards, Notes’ engineers had to invent everything themselves, making it a clever but proprietary solution.

But long before those web-based startups came along, Notes was already losing its cool. The client software became huge and bloated. It was expensive to implement and difficult to customize.


I think I’m legally not supposed to remember that in about 1995, a company I worked for — Open Text — ran a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal proclaiming “Notes is dead.” ‘Twas the Web that killed it, the ad claimed. I was Marketing VP at Open Text at the time, but the ad was conceived and placed by a different VP. I didn’t hear about it until the morning it appeared; Open Text was that sort of place. And, yes, a lawyer did call us rather promptly.

Anyway, 18 years later, it seems like that bold headline might be coming true.

To be fair, it was true enough at the time. Notes has hung on primarily as an email tool, not living up to its promise as an enterprise collaboration system. And that was indeed because the Web came along with more open solutions that ran in browsers. Eventually. It took a visionary to think that the crappy browsers of that era would someday host fullscale apps — I floated the phrase “client/surfer architecture” but it never took off — but Netscape had such visionaries, and so did Open Text in the form of its CEO, Tom Jenkins.

Lotus Notes was noble software. Brilliant idea. Immensely powerful. But once the Web happened, the jig was up. It took about a decade for enterprises to be willing to trust their mainstream collaborative processes to the Web and its browsers. But eventually Web clients scaled up in power, functionality, and robustness…enabling systems far beyond what the old proprietary backend systems could manage.

Conclusion: There is no escaping Ozymandias.

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January 14, 2013

What gods and beasts have in common

“The man who is incapable of working in common, or who in his self-sufficiency has no need of others, is no part of the community, like a beast, or a god.”


Aristotle, Politics, Book One, Chapter 2, this quotation translated by Bernard Knox in Backing into the Future.

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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 16, 2012

[2b2k] Peter Galison on The Collective Author

Harvard professor Peter Galison (he’s actually one of only 24 University Professors, a special honor) is opening a conference on author attribution in the digital age.

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 points to the vast increase in the number of physicists involved in an experiment, some of which have 3,000 people working on them. This transforms the role of experiments and how physicists relate to one another. “When CERN says in a couple of months that ‘We’ve found the Higgs particle,’ who is the we?”

He says that there has been a “pseudo-I”: A group that functions under the name of a single author. A generation or two ago this was common: The Alvarez Group,” Thorndike Group, ” etc. This is like when the works of a Rembrandt would in fact come from his studio. But there’s also “The Collective Group”: a group that functions without that name — often without even a single lead institution.” This requires “complex internal regulation, governance, collective responsibility, and novel ways of attributing credit.” So, over the past decades physicists have been asked very fundamental questions about how they want to govern. Those 3,000 people have never all met one another; they’re not even in the same country. So, do they stop the accelerator because of the results from one group? Or, when CERN scientists found data suggesting faster than light neutrinos, the team was not unanimous about publishing those results. When the results were reversed, the entire team suffered some reputational damage. “So, the stakes are very high about how these governance, decision-making, and attribution questions get decided.”

He looks back to the 1960s. There were large bubble chambers kept above their boiling point but under pressure. You’d get beautiful images of particles, and these were the iconic images of physics. But these experiments were at a new, industrial scale for physics. After an explosion in 1965, the labs were put under industrial rules and processes. In 1967 Alan Thorndike at Brookhaven responded to these changes in the ethos of being an experimenter. Rarely is the experimenter a single individual, he said. He is a composite. “He might be 3, 5 or 8, possibly as many as 10, 20, or more.” He “may be spread around geographically…He may be epehemral…He is a social phenomenon, varied in form and impossible to define precisely.” But he certainly is not (said Thorndike) a “cloistered scientist working in isolation at his laboratory bench.” The thing that is thinking is a “composite entity.” The tasks are not partitioned in simple ways, the way contractors working on a house partition their tasks. Thorndike is talking about tasks in which “the cognition itself does not occur in one skull.”

By 1983, physicists were colliding beams that moved particles out in all directions. Bigger equipment. More particles. More complexity. Now instead of a dozen or two participants, you have 150 or so. Questions arose about what an author is. In July 1988 one of the Stanford collaborators wrote an internal memo saying that all collaborators ought to be listed as authors alphabetically since “our first priority should be the coherence of the group and the de facto recognition that contributions to a piece of physics are made by all collaborators in different ways.” They decided on a rule that avoided the nightmare of trying to give primacy to some. The memo continues: “For physics papers, all physicist members of the colaboration are authors. In addition, the first published paper should also include the engineers.” [Wolowitz! :)]

In 1990s rules of authorship got more specific. He points to a particular list of seven very specific rules. “It was a big battle.”

In 1997, when you get to projects as large as ATLAS at CERN, the author count goes up to 2,500. This makes it “harder to evaluate the individual contribution when comparing with other fields in science,” according to a report at the time. With experiments of this size, says Peter, the experimenters are the best source of the review of the results.

Conundrums of Authorship: It’s a community and you’re trying to keep it coherent. “You have to keep things from falling apart” along institutional or disciplinary grounds. E.g., the weak neutral current experiment. The collaborators were divided about whether there were such things. They were mockingly accused of proposing “alternating weak neutral currents,” and this cost them reputationally. But, trying to making these experiments speak in one voice can come at a cost. E.g., suppose 1,900 collaborators want to publish, but 600 don’t. If they speak in one voice, that suppresses dissent.

Then there’s also the question of the “identity of physicists while crediting mechanical, cryogenic, electrical engineers, and how to balance with builders and analysts.” E.g., analysts have sometimes claimed credit because they were the first ones to perceive the truth in the data, while others say that the analysts were just dealing with the “icing.”

Peter ends by saying: These questions go down to our understanding of the very nature of science.

Q: What’s the answer?
A: It’s different in different sciences, each of which has its own culture. Some of these cultures are still emerging. It will not be solved once and for all. We should use those cultures to see what part of evaluations are done inside the culture, and which depend on external review. As I said, in many cases the most serious review is done inside where you have access to all the data, the backups, etc. Figuring out how to leverage those sort of reviews could help to provide credit when it’s time to promote people. The question of credit between scientists and engineers/technicians has been debated for hundreds of years. I think we’ve begun to shed some our class anxiety, i.e., the assumption that hand work is not equivalent to head work, etc. A few years ago, some physicists would say that nanotech is engineering, not science; you don’t hear that so much any more. When a Nobel prize in 1983 went to an engineer, it was a harbinger.

Q: Have other scientists learned from the high energy physicists about this?
A: Yes. There are different models. Some big science gets assimilated to a culture that is more like abig engineering process. E.g., there’s no public awareness of the lead designers of the 747 we’ve been flying for 50 years, whereas we know the directors of Hollywood films. Authorship is something we decide. That the 747 has no author but Hunger Games does was not decreed by Heaven. Big plasma physics is treated more like industry, in part because it’s conducted within a secure facility. The astronomers have done many admirable things. I was on a prize committee that give the award to a group because it was a collective activity. Astronomers have been great about distributing data. There’s Galaxy Zoo, and some “zookeepers” have been credited as authors on some papers.

Q: The credits are getting longer on movies as the specializations grow. It’s a similar problem. They tell you how did what in each category. In high energy physics, scientists see becoming too specialized as a bad thing.
A: In the movies many different roles are recognized. And there are questions of distribution of profits, which is not so analogous to physics experiments. Physicists want to think of themselves as physicists, not as sub-specialists. If you are identified as, for example, the person who wrote the Monte Carlo, people may think that you’re “just a coder” and write you off. The first Ph.D. in physics submitted at Harvard was on the Bohr model; the student was told that it was fine but he had to do an experiment because theoretical physics might be great for Europe but not for the US. It’s naive to think that physicists are Da Vinci’s who do everything; the idea of what counts as being a physicist is changing, and that’s a good thing.

[I wanted to ask if (assuming what may not be true) the Internet leads to more of the internal work being done visibly in public, might this change some of the governance since it will be clearer that there is diversity and disagrement within a healthy network of experimenters. Anyway, that was a great talk.]

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November 12, 2011

Italian Pirate Party to launch today?

While the Pirate Party already has an association in Italy, it seems likely that this afternoon it is going to register as an official party. That’s an exciting and encouraging step.

I of course don’t know what its platform will be, but if it’s similar to that of the other Pirate Parties, then I won’t agree with all of it, but will still welcome its presence as a voice not only for an open Internet — far wider than copyright reform — but for the set of values an open Internet permits: new forms of collaboration, lowering the hurdles to expression, bold experimentation and its concurrent willingness to fail, transparency, and joy in the new possibilities.

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October 18, 2011

[berkman] Yochai Benkler on his new book

Yochai Benkler is giving a talk about his new and wonderful book, The Penguin and the Leviathan. (I interviewed him about it here.)

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.


Yochai begins by pointing to Occupy Wall Street as teaching us much about cooperation and collaboration.


On Oct. 23, 2008, Alan Greenspan acknowledge to Rep. Henry Waxman that his model of the world was wrong. “I made a mistake in presuming that the self interest of organizations…was such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders.” We live in a world built around a mistaken model of human motivation, Yochai says. The basic error is not that we are sometimes self-interested, for we are. The mistake is thinking we could build our systems assuming that we are more or less uniformly self-interested. We’ve built systems that try to get incentives right, or that try to get punishment right. But now scientific selfishness has retreated, and we should model our systems on this new knowledge.


In 1968 Gary Becker said that we could model crime by thinking it of a pay-off model: the benefits of the crime vs. the cost of the penalty. So, we get Three Strikes laws. In another domain, the Jenson and Murphy paper on incentive pay for top management assumes that every level of the enterprise will try to shirk and put more in their pockets, so (the theory goes) you should increase the stock options at the top. But that hasn’t worked very well for companies in terms of return to stockholders; you get misalignment from this model. This model is like Becker’s: it’s about getting the incentives and penalties right. Yochai tells of a mother trying to get her three year old into a car by threatening to take five cents off the child’s allowance. “This model penetrates everywhere,” he says.


This intellectual arc is everywhere. Evolutionary biology has moved from group selection to selfish gene through kin altruism and direct reciprocity. Economics also: strong assumptions of self-interest. Political theory, from Downs, to Olson, to Hardin: all assume the inability to come together on a shared set of goals. Management science and organizational sociology: From Taylor to Weber to Schumpeter through Williamson. Although there are counter narratives in each of these fields, selfishness is the dominant model.


And yet on line we see how easily we cooperate. “Things that shouldn’t have worked, have worked.” He draws a 2×2: market based and non-market based vs. decentralized and centralized. In each, there have been huge successes of social production. This is in fact a new solution space.


In each of the aforementioned disciplines, there is now a development of more complex models that take account of cooperation. E.g., evolution: indirect reciprocity; cooperation emerges much more easily in the new models. Economics: shift to experimental and modeling away from self-interest, and the development of neuroeconomics. Political: Eleanor Ostrom on the commons. Management science: Work on team production and networks; high commitment, high-performance organizations.


The core insight of all of these fields is that the model of uniform self-interest is inadequate. Then there’s debate.

Yochai compares Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976) and Martin Nowak (2006). Dawkins says we are born selfish. Nowak says: “Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of evolution is its ability to generate cooperation in a competitive world.” It’s an old debate, Yochai says, citing Kropotkin vs. Spencer vs. Boaz vs. Margaret Mead. The debate is now swinging toward Kropotkin, e.g., neural research that shows empathy via brain scans: a partner’s brain lights up in the same way when s/he sees the other person undergoing pain. He points to the effect of oxytocin on trust, and for the first time in Berkman history makes a reference to monogamous voles.


Why does this matter, Yochai asks. He refers to an experiment by Lee Ross et al. Take a standard Prisoner’s dilemma. All predictions say that everyone should defect. Take the same game and give it to American students, Israeli fighter pilots, etc., and told them either “You’re going to play the Community Game” or “The Wall Street Game.” The former 70% opened cooperatively and kept cooperating through the 7 rounds. The latter opened at 30% cooperative. The 30% in the Community Game represent a significant segment that has to be dealt with in a cooperative system. But there’s a big middle that will one or the other depending on what they understand their context to be. So, concludes Yochai, it’s important to design systems that lets the middle understand the system as cooperative.


So, we move from tough on crime to community policing. That changes all sorts of systems, including technical, organizational, institutional, and social. Community policing has been widely adopted because it’s generally successful. We see that we have success with actual practices that depend not on reward and punishment and monitoring, but on coperation. We’re finding out about this online, but it’s not happening just online.


Yochai says that he’s just at the beginning of an investigation about this. There’s a limit to how much we can get out of evolution, he says. It’s hard to design systems on the basis of evolution. Instead, we see a lot of work across many different systems.


But we still want to know: Won’t money help? The answer is what’s called “crowding out.” We care about material interests, but we also care about fairness. We have emotional needs. We have social motivations. What if these interests don’t align? The Titmuss-Arrow debate 1970/1 about the motivations for donating blood. A 2008 study (Mellstrom and Johannsesson) paid people money to give blood. When you allow them to give the money away, it increased the number of people who gave blood. Adding money can suppress an activity more than it increases it. That’s crowding out. It’s not uniform in the population. Designing systems is much harder than coming up with a material reward that appeals to people’s self-interest. We do not have full answers here


Think of cooperative human systems in three vectors. 1. Conceptual: from rationality as univeral self-interest to diversity of motivations. 2. Design: Cooperative human systems designed on behaviorally realistic, evidence-based design. Politics: We cannot separate out incentives from fairness, ethics, empathy, solidarity.

Yochai points to a number of factors, but focuses on fairness: of outcomes, of intentions, and of processes.


Outcomes: What counts as fair is different in different cultures, especially when you move outside of market economies. In market societies, 50:50 is the norm for fairness. Once it gets to 30:70, people will walk away. But you can change that if you change the framing, e.g., “You got lucky.” But there is no single theory of justice. Yochai looks at a study of the cement trucking industry. It turns out that there are large pay disparities. They also differ in what they say they pay for: performance, or equally time. They don’t always do what they say, though. But when you look at real performance measures, you have fewer accident and out of service events if the company is accurate in what it says, no matter what it says.


We don’t have an agreed upon theory of justice, he says. This explains the 99% vs. 53% debate around the Occupy Wall Street. This is a debate over basic moral commitments without which a system cannot function. There is no way to resolve it either through neutral principles or by efficiency arguments.


Intentions also matter to fairness. When you Where bad intentions excluded (e.g., it was just a roll of the dice), then there’s much less negative reciprocity.


Processes: Tyler (2003) showed that procedural justice correlated with internalized compliance. Yochai points to the militarization of the police as they deal with the OWS. The image projected to the crowd is one of lack of regard for process. He compares this to a massive demonstration of Israel in which the police stood a good distance away, and a different relationship was fostered.


We can see a revival of the “sharing nicely” idea we teach our children. In science. In business. Science is beginning to push back against the assumption of selfishness. It turns out that we aren’t universally self-interested. Different people respond differently, and each person responds differently in different contexts.


We need a new field of cooperative human systems design that accounts for the diversity of motivation, and that takes seriously the issue of “crowding out”: adding incentives can result in worse outcomes.


And, Yochai concludes, we need a renewed view of our shared humanity.


Q: Fascinating. But: The passage from evolution to the social sciences has long been discredited. Also, it’s too simple to say that the solution to the banking problem is that we need more cooperation. The banks are supported by a set of interests bigger than that.
A: You say sociobiology has been discredited. That’s true of the early to mid 1980s but is no longer a good description. The social sciences and anthro have been moving to evolutionary models. Economics too. What was in the 1980s was resolved, now, especially in the social sciences, is unresolved. Second, sure, bankers self-select and control the system. The real answer is that it’s a lot of work. When you have a system optimized for money, and money is the social signal, it self-selects for people driven by that. We need long-term interventions to increase cooperation. E.g., the person who can work with Open Source at, say, IBM, is different than the person who can work her/his way up a hierarchy; the company therefore has to train itself to value those who cooperate.


Q: I just went through MIT’s tutorial that instructed me how my ideas would be licensed. I said that maybe there should information in your office about how to contribute more openly. How do systematize open, collaborative forms across the entire educational system?
A: Lots of people in this room are working on this problem in different ways. We fight, we argue, we persuade. Look at university open access publication. We use our power within the hierarchy of universities to raise a flag and to say we can do it a new way. That allows the next person to use us as an example. After I released Wealth of Networks for free on the Web, I got emails from all sorts of people wanting to know how to negotiate that deal for themselves. Universities should be easy.


Q: What are the burning policy implications of this shift in the way we rule the world? What would you change first?
A: I should note that I don’t address that in the book. We need an assessment of community policing and the big board [?] approach. The basic question is whether we continue to build a society based on maximizing total group, or one that trades off some growth for a more equitable distribution of outcomes. The point is much broader than open access, patent, copyright, etc. The deregulatory governance model is based on an erroneous model of interests. But all of my work is done on the micro level, not the level of organizations. But we know that the idea that musicians need the payoffs afforded by infinite copyright is false; we have empirically data about that. So there are places where the relation between the micro interests and institutional interventions is tight. But I don’t talk about that much in the book.


Q: I’ve looked at pay inequality in Japan and the US. The last thing that matters to the level of compliance with regulations is the gap between CEO and workers. The deterrents are very effective in the US, explaining [couldn’t hear it]. Compliance is much better in the US because the penalties are effective deterrents.
A: First, once you’re talking about the behavior of an organization, we don’t have the same kind of data on what happens within a corporate decision. When people see themselves as agents, there can be conflicts between the individual and the organization. For that you need external enforcement.
Q: Jail time makes a huge difference.
A: Then how do you explain the findings that amount of tax options predicts probability of tax fraud. Same baseline enforcement, but whether you had stock options predicts tax fraud. Adding money and punishment certainly has an effect on behavior. But it depends on whether that intervention has better effects than other interventions. But we only have a little bit of data.


Q: If a high school principal came to you who serves many interests and types of people, how could your ideas influence her or him?
A: My mother founded two schools and a volunteer organization. The lessons are relatively straightforward: Higher degrees of authority and trust, structure with clearly set goals, teamwork, less hierarchical distance between students and teachers, less high-stress testing.

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September 22, 2011

Two book notes

My podcast interview of Yochai Benkler about his excellent new book, The Penguin and the Leviathan has been posted. Yochai makes brilliantly (of course) a case that shouldn’t need making, but that in fact does very much need to be made: that we are collaborative, social, cooperative creatures. Your unselfish genes will thoroughly enjoy this book.

And, Joseph Reagle has promulgated the following email about his excellent, insightful book that explores the subtleties of the social structures that enable Wikipedia to accomplish its goal of being a great encyclopedia:

I’m pleased to announce that the Web/CC edition of *Good Faith Collaboration* is now available. In addition to all of the book’s complete content, hypertextual goodness, and fixed errata, there is a new preface discussing some of the particulars of this edition.

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August 28, 2011

The crowd as flipbook

500 people in Israel, 1,500 photographs:

In the race of questions this video provokes, the why beats the how. So much work for 1:50 minutes of cool. But, so cool!

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August 4, 2011

Knowledge is the network

I forked yesterday for the first time. I’m pretty thrilled. Not about the few lines of code that I posted. If anyone notices and thinks the feature is a good idea, they’ll re-write my bit from the ground up.* What’s thrilling is seeing this ecology in operation, for the software development ecology is now where the most rapid learning happens on the planet, outside the brains of infants.

Compare how ideas and know-how used to propagate in the software world. It used to be that you worked in a highly collaborative environment, so it was already a site of rapid learning. But the barriers to sharing your work beyond your cube-space were high. You could post to a mailing list or UseNet if you had permission to share your company’s work, you could publish an article, you could give a talk at a conference. Worse, think about how you would learn if you were not working at a software company or attending college: Getting answers to particular questions — the niggling points that hang you up for days — was incredibly frustrating. I remember spending much of a week trying to figure out how to write to a file in Structured BASIC [SBASIC], my first programming language , eventually cold-calling a computer science professor at Boston University who politely could not help me. I spent a lot of time that summer learning how to spell “Aaaaarrrrrggggghhhhh.”

On the other hand, this morning Antonio, who is doing some work for the Library Innovation Lab this summer, poked his head in and pointed us to a jquery-like data visualization library. D3 makes it easy for developers to display data interactively on Web pages (the examples are eye-popping), and the author, mbostock, made it available for free to everyone. So, global software productivity just notched up. A bunch of programs just got easier to use, or more capable, or both. But more than that, if you want to know how to do how mbostock did it, you can read the code. If you want to modify it, you will learn deeply from the code. And if you’re stuck on a problem — whether n00bish or ultra-geeky — Google will very likely find you an answer. If not, you’ll post at StackOverflow or some other site and get an answer that others will also learn from.

The general principles of this rapid-learning ecology are pretty clear.

First, we probably have about the same number of smart people as we did twenty years ago, so what’s making us all smarter is that we’re on a network together.

Second, the network has evolved a culture in which there’s nothing wrong with not knowing. So we ask. In public.

Third, we learn in public.

Fourth, learning need not be private act that occurs between a book and a person, or between a teacher and a student in a classroom. Learning that is done in public also adds to that public.

Fifth, show your work. Without the “show source” button on browsers, the ability to create HTML pages would have been left in the hands of HTML Professionals.

Sixth, sharing is learning is sharing. Holy crap but the increased particularity of our ownership demands about our ideas gets in the way of learning!

Knowledge once was developed among small networks of people. Now knowledge is the network.

 


*I added a couple of features I needed to an excellent open source program that lets you create popups that guide users through an app. The program is called Guiders-JS by Jeff Pickhardt at Optimizely. Thanks, Jeff!)

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