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November 15, 2013

[2b2k] Big Data and the Commons

I’m at the Engaging Big Data 2013 conference put on by Senseable City Lab at MIT. After the morning’s opener by Noam Chomsky (!), I’m leading one of 12 concurrent sessions. I’m supposed to talk for 15-20 mins and then lead a discussion. Here’s a summary of what I’m planning on saying:

Overall point: To look at the end state of the knowledge network/Commons we want to get to

Big Data started as an Info Age concept: magnify the storage and put it on a network. But you can see how the Net is affecting it:

First, there are a set of values that are being transformed:
– From accuracy to scale
– From control to innovation
– From ownership to collaboration
– From order to meaning

Second, the Net is transforming knowledge, which is changing the role of Big Data
– From filtered to scaled
– From settled to unsettled and under discussion
– From orderly to messy
– From done in private to done in public
– From a set of stopping points to endless lilnks

If that’s roughly the case, then we can see a larger Net effect. The old Info Age hope (naive, yes, but it still shows up at times) was that we’d be able to create models that ultimate interoperate and provide an ever-increasing and ever-more detailed integrated model of the world. But in the new Commons, we recognize that not only won’t we ever derive a single model, there is tremendous strength in the diversity of models. This Commons then is enabled if:

  • All have access to all
  • There can be social engagement to further enrich our understanding
  • The conversations default to public

So, what can we do to get there? Maybe:

  • Build platforms and services
  • Support Open Access (and, as Lewis Hyde says, “beat the bounds” of the Commons regularly)
  • Support Linked Open Data

Questions if the discussion needs kickstarting:

  • What Big Data policies would help the Commons to flourish?
  • How can we improve the diversity of those who access and contribute to the Commons?
  • What are the personal and institutional hesitations that are hindering the further development of the Commons?
  • What role can and should Big Data play in knowledge-focused discussions? With participants who are not mathematically or statistically inclined?
  • Does anyone have experience with Linked Data? Tell us about it?


I just checked the agenda, which of course I should have done earlier, and discovered that of the 12 sessions today, 1211 are being led by men. Had I done that homework, I would not have accepted their invitation.


May 30, 2013

[2b2k] Can business intelligence get intelligent enough?

Greg Silverman [twitter:concentricabm], the CEO of Concentric, has a good post at CMS Wire about the democratization of market analysis. He makes what seems to me to be a true and important point: market researchers now have the tools to enable them to slice, dice, deconstruct, and otherly-construct data without having to rely upon centralized (and expensive) analytics firms. This, says Greg, changes not only the economics of research, but also the nature of the results:

The marketers’ relationships with their analytics providers are currently strained as a service-based, methodologically undisclosed and one-off delivery of insights. These providers and methods are pitted against a new generation of managers and executives who are “data natives” —professionals who rose to the top by having full control of their answering techniques, who like to be empowered and in charge of their own destinies, and who understand the world as a continuous, adaptive place that may have constantly changing answers. This new generation of leaders likes to identify tradeoffs and understand the “grayness” of insight rather than the clarity being marketed by the service providers.

He goes on to make an important point about the perils of optimization, which is what attracted the attention of Eric Bonabeau [twitter:bonabeau], whose tweet pointed me at the post.

The article’s first point, though, is interesting from the point of view of the networking of knowledge, because it’s not an example of the networking of knowledge. This new generation of market researchers are not relying on experts from the Central Authority, they are not looking for simple answers, and they’re comfortable with ambiguity, all of which are characteristics of networked knowledge. But, at least according to Greg’s post, they are not engaging with one another across company boundaries, sharing data, models, and insights. I’m going to guess that Greg would agree that there’s more of that going on than before. But not enough.

If the competitive interests of businesses are going to keep their researchers from sharing ideas and information in vigorous conversations with their peers and others, then businesses simply won’t be as smart as they could be. Openness optimizes knowledge system-wide, but by definition it doesn’t concentrate knowledge in the hands of a few. And this may form an inherent limit on how smart businesses can become.

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June 10, 2011

[hyperpublic] Final panel: Cooperation without Coercion

At the final panel of the conference. Judith Donath is moderating.

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.

Charlie Nesson asks: “When we talk about our space, who are we?” In Jeff Huang‘s presentation, it seemed like he was given the perfect hypothetical — a desert — to build a public and private place. “In cyber terms, we are people of the Net. What then is our domain? It’s the public domain. And if you are to build the public domain, then I believe the wisdom to follow from a lawyer’s point of view is the same wisdom that has more or less informed the world of real property. If you want an orderly world of real property, you build a registry. If you want an orderly world of bits, you build a registry.” This is Charlie’s new project: a registry of the public domain. They’re starting with a musical score library. It has 93,000 musical scores in the public domain., exquisitely put together.

The Net divides into two domains, says Charlie, one that is free and one that is not. Free means free of copyright and other encumbrances. Charlie wants to build our domain on a foundation solid in law. The registry he’s building identifies works as public domain, with links to the registrars attesting to this. He wants it to be populated by librarians with public domain collections. But, the problem with registries is litigation risk, i.e., the threat of lawsuit. “So the essence of this idea is to couple the registrar with a pro bono commitment of legal service from a law firm of repute to defend litigation based on infringement.”

Where do you find the institutions that want to protect privacy, asks Charlie. How about libraries, he suggests?

“I’m tough on privacy, Judith,” says Charlie, in response to a question. “I’ve never liked it.” He explains it’s so often based on fear and looks backwards.

Martin Nowak looks at cooperation evolutionary term in which a donor pays a cost and a recipient gets a benefit. He explains game theory’s Prisoner’s Dilemma. Why do people cooperate? “Natural selection chooses defection,” rather than cooperation. In a mixed population, defection becomes increasingly more popular. So, natural selection needs help to favor co-operation. Martin categorizes the factors into five mechanisms: kin selection, direct reciprocity, indirect reciprocity spatial selection and group selection.

Direct reciprocity (I help you, you help me). If you play the Prisoner’s Dilemma several times, the economics changes, as The Folk Theorem shows them. Martin quickly summarizes Axelrod and Rapaport. [Too hard to live blog. Read Ethanz. Really. Now.] Errors turn out to ruin cooperation, so you need a process that allows for forgiveness. Martin’s doctoral dissertation showed that if everyone plays randomly, the right tactic is to always defect. A tit for tat strategy corrects that, and generous tit-for-tat (I may still cooperate even if you defect) provides a math model for the evolution of forgiveness and cooperation. There are always oscillations; cooperations are never stable. We need structures that rebuild cooperation quickly after it is destroyed because it always will be destroyed.

Direct reciprocity allows allow for the evolution of cooperation if there’s a prospect of another round. Indirect reciprocity (I help you, someone helps me) leads to cooperation if reputation matters. You need natural selection to care about reputation, so to speak. “What you need for indirect reciprocity is gossip” to spread reputation. For that you need language. “You could argue this is the selection process that led to language.” “For direct reciprocity you need a face. For indirect reciprocity you need a name.” (David Haig) Our brain has both capabilities. If interactions are completely anonymous you run into problems. Also, you need gossip to be relatively honest.

Spatial selection = neighbors help each other. Martin flips through some graphs that shows that it selects for coop if you have a few close friends. Likewise, evolutionary set theory says that people wanting to join particular groups can also lead to coop.

Judith: What about strong vs. weak ties?
Martin: We assume equal ties. There’s a trade-off between wealth and vulnerability.

Nicholas Negroponte asks himself a question every morning: Is he doing something that normal market forces would do anyway? If so, he stops. He wants to do that which market forces will not do.

There are now 3M One Laptop Per Child laptops in the hands of kids. This isn’t huge since OLPC would like to get laptops into the hands of about 500M kids. Before that, people assumed computers teach by imparting content. Instead, you want to see children teaching. 20-30% of the million Peruvian kids with OLPC machines are using them to teach their parents how to read.

Nicholas goes through some points he made in a talk at the UN recently. Among the points: Measurement is overrated. You only measure when the changes are so small that you can only see them by measurement.

Judith: When we see well-off kids sitting side by side looking into screens, we think it’s a nightmare of anti-sociality, but when we see your adorable photos of third world kids in the same position, it looks desirable?
Nicholas: I don’t see the well-off kids that way. And why don’t we make OLPC’s available in the US? Because the issues are deeper than that.

A: Talk about anonymity…?
Jeff Jarvis: It’s foundational to democracy. It’s getting a bad name because of trolls. But it must be protected.

Q: This discussion is soaked in privilege. There’s much inscribed in the language that affects how people act. When you idolize the public space as a place where all can share their ideas safely, it feels really far away for me.

Q: (Charlie) Nicholas, you’ve said that Uruguay has given all 500,000 of its kids OLPCs. Given your position on measurement, what change will we see?
Nicholas: Their curiosity, the way they approach problems, the way they look at things…I think you’re going to see a nation that is far more creative than many other nations. Nicholas tells a story of kid whose homework got 100K hits.
Martin: Who teaches them how to use it?
Nicholas: It’s genetic :) We’re going to do a scientific experiment in which we drop OLPC laptops out of helicopters onto remote villages and come back in a year and see how many have learned how to read.

Q: (urs gasser) One vision says build a great tool and see what happens. The other is to study human behavior scientifically. (Nicholas vs. Martin). How difficult is the translation from findings from science about human behavior to adapting them to technology?
Martin: I’m fascinated by mathematics, but we do apply it to practical issues. In the field of cooperation, we’d like to bring the models closer to human observations. For example, many cultures like punishment, but I think it doesn’t work well to create cooperation because it creates complications. Reward seems better. So, we study that. We do the same experiment in multiple cultures. In Romania, for example, people differentiated between public and private outcomes, because they lacked faith that public engagement had positive outcomes.

Q: (zeynep) The Net has let the cooperative side of human nature be more manifest. Does your work in evolutionary biology take account of this?
A: The coop we see in the animal world must rely on direct observation. Humans can communicate. We don’t have to rely on our personal experience with another to decide whether to coop. The Net can help us to evaluate others quickly.


October 6, 2010

[2b2k] Smithsonian Commons

The deadline for my book is looming, but I spoke today with Michael Edson, Director of Web and New Media Strategy at the Smithsonian, and I’d love to include his idea for a Smithsonian Commons.

The Smithsonian Commons would make publicly available digital content and information drawn from the magnificent Smithsonian collections, allowing visitors to interact with it, repost it, add to it, and mash it up. It begins with being able to find everything about, say Theodore Roosevelt, that is currently dispersed across multiple connections and museums: photos, books, the original Teddy bear, recordings of the TR campaign song, a commemorative medal, a car named after him, contemporary paintings of his exploits, the chaps he wore on his ranch…But Michael is actually most enthusiastic about the “network effects” that can accrue to knowledge when you let lots of people add what they know, either on the Commons site itself or out across the whole linked Internet.

Smithsonian Commons goes way beyond putting online as much of our national museum as possible — which should be enough to justify its creation. It goes beyond bringing to bear everything curators, experts, and passionate visitors know to increase our understanding of what is there. By allowing us to discover connections, link in and out, and add ideas and knowledge, what used to be a “mere” collection will be an embedded part of countless webs of knowledge that in turn add value to one another. That is to say, we will be able to take up the objects of our heritage in ways that will make them more distinctly and uniquely ours than ever before.

Let’s hope Smithsonian Commons goes from idea to a national — global — center of ideas, creativity, knowledge, and learning.

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September 8, 2010

Elinor Ostrom and the Net

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

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August 29, 2010

Lewis Hyde’s plea for the commons, reviewed

The Boston Globe’s Ideas section — by far my favorite section of the paper — today reviews Lewis Hyde’s Common as Air. (Lewis is a fellow at the Berkman Center.) It’s an excellent review in both senses (until a last paragraph that assumes we all agree that gene sequences obviously ought to be patentable). (Here’s live-bloggery of a talk Lewis gave at the Berkman Center.) Last week, Robert Darnton reviewed the book in the NY Times. And Salon did a review in the form of a comic book.

There’s also an interview with Andrew Pettegree about what it took to get printed books to catch on. Apparently it wasn’t the big books but the proliferation of smaller books that created the market that sustained the printing of books.

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June 29, 2010

[berkman] Lewis Hyde on preserving commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


June 9, 2009

[berkman] Lewis Hyde on the Commons

Lewis Hyde is giving a Berkman talk about the book he’s working on. The book is about the ownership of art and ideas, and argues that they should lie in a cultual commons, rather than be treated as property.

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.

Lewis begins by talk about what a commons is. The term comes from medieval property ideas, and Lewis thinks of commons as a kind of property. He asks the group for a definition of property. Suggestions from the audience: “Exclusive rights.” “Anything I can use and have some degree of control over, not necessarily exclusively.” Lewis says that a 1900 dictionary defines property as that over which one has “rights of action.” Property is a bundle of rights of action. Lewis likes this definition because it includes human actors, Blackstone defines property rights in maximalist terms: the right to exclude the entire universe. Scalia also thinks property is the right to exclude. Lewis thinks the right to exclude is one of the bundle, not the whole thing. This is because, he says, he’s interested in commons. (He notes that in medieval times, “common” could be used as a verb. E.g., “a man may commons in the forest.)

Lewis talks about Hardin’s “The Tragedy of the Commons” essay. In fact, traditionally commons had governance rules to prevent the destruction of the commons’ asset, including the right of exclusion. “Commons were in fact not tragic. They lasted for millennia in Europe. Not tragic because they were rule-governed and stinted.” Why has the phrase “The tragedy of the commons” persisted? In part, because the phrase is catchy. In part because Hardin proposed it during the Cold War and it was taken as showing that common-ism doesn’t work.

There used to be an annual ritual of “beating the bounds,” to keep any gradual encroachment on the commons. “These were convivial affairs.” Lewis wonders if there are ways we can recover this resistance to encroachment.

Applied to the cultural realm, Lewis thinks cultural products are by nature in a commons. In the 18th century you get the idea that we could own poems, novels, etc. Until then, people thought of property as applying only to land. If something is not excludable, there’s no property in it. Many argued in the 18th century that therefore artistic works can’t be property. (Lewis recommends Terry Fisher’s article on philosophies of property. Terry points to four : Labor, moral rights, commercial utilitarianism, and civic utilitarianism.)

The first copyright law was in 1710 (Statute of Anne). By giving authors and publishers rights, it removed the “in perpetuity” of the crown’s monopolistic grants. It also created the public domain by creating a clear limit on the term of ownership: After 14 years, it enters the public domain. It’s as if the commons is the default state, says Lewis.

Jamie Boyle talks about the “second enclosure” in which everything is copyrighted by default, the term is extended. The second enclosure is an enclosure of the mind, says Boyle. Lewis now thinks there might be a third enclosure: The enclosure of wilderness of the mind. Lewis agrees that it makes sense to let the creator of a work, say a novel, get rewarded for it. “I wrote it, so it’s mine.” But, asks Lewis, what does the “I” mean? What is the self? He cites a 12th century Buddhist: “We study the self to forget the self.” To forget the self is to wake up to the world around you. Creativity comes out of self-abnegation. To get to something truly new, you have to a door open to the unknown. We usually think that the outside of owned property is the public domain. But that’s a domesticated sphere, things we are familiar with. There’s a old tradition that during the period of maturation, you have to leave the known world, go away from where instruction is given, and become familiar with your ignorance. (Lewis says he’s drawing on Thoreau.)

He takes an example from Jonathan Zittrain. When the Apple II came out, there was a spurt in sales because the first spreadsheet emerged, something that had not been expected. If you want a generative Internet, you have to be careful about what you lock down. Another example: In the 1980s, San Diego cell biologists patented a sequence of amino acids. They didn’t know its biological purpose. Ten years later, other researchers think that that sequence blocks blood to tumors. The patent owners sued the researchers. The patent gums up the system. Exploratory science goes into the unknown. “To enclose wilderness means giving property rights in areas where we as yet have no understanding what’s happening.” Lewis adds: “This makes no sense.” Lewis would like us to restore the idea that there are things that are unowned.

Emblematic of the third enclosure is silence. John Cage in 1952 came to Harvard to see/hear a completely soundproofed room. But Cage could hear a low rumbling and high whining. The low rumbling is the sound of your blood and the high whining is the sound of your nervous system. Silence for Cage meant not no sound but non-intention. He composed “4 mins and 33 seconds” which is a stretch of silence. The audience hears the ambient noise. In 2002 a rock group called the Planets put in a minute of silence. As a joke/homage, they credited it to Cage. The royalty-collecting societies started to send checks to Cage’s publisher. The publisher sued for copyright infringement on moral rights grounds (i.e., misattribution). They settled. But Cage held a Buddhist-like view of artistic creation. He tried to remove the self. A lot of copyright law assumes the work contains the imprint of the author’s personality. That’s one of the reasons we give a copyright. But those laws can get in the way of our ability to live in the wilderness, i.e., the third enclosure. How do you become a creator in a world in which scientists can patent unknown sequences and silence can be copyrighted?

Q: Maybe part of the problem in defending the commons is that we say we’re defending freedom, not as in free beer. Fighting for free beer is more compelling than fighting for free speech.
A: Beating the bounds was a fun event. So, yes, people have to want to do this.

Q: [me] How do we counter the fairness argument: If I did it, I ought to get the reward. How do we respond to that?
A: It’s hard to do this in political debate because it’s a long argument. I raise the question of the “I”: To what extent is my contribution really from me? With cultural works, you’re working in a vast sea of existing material. What you create is not entirely yours. Even if it becomes popular and useful, it’s other people who made it so. You can also point to the utilitarian consequences: The public interest is advanced by enabling things to enter the public domain.

Q: [jason] You’re making a creativity defense, i.e., that the commons is generative. But, if we take Cage or Thoreau to heart and say that true creativity consists of transcending the self, could we say that that leads to saying all works should be owned, so that you’re forced to create something new?
A: The puzzle is how much you can actually go to the wilderness. You can face it, but there’s no way to escape the world you come out of. Thoreau has The Iliad with him. There’s no way to escape the known. You always work from materials you’ve collected elsewhere.

Q: [ethanz] What’s so bad about private property? You’re hearkening back to a romantic conception that worked for a very small set of people. We’ve got an enormous amount of development vased on increasingly strong enclosure movements. Those movements have given us a great deal of what we love. Despite the first and second enclosures, creativity seems not to have been much hindered. Why should we worry about the third enclosure? Couldn’t we say that you’re attempting to protect and defend something that most of us have not experienced? How do we know that your romantic vision is superior to the world we’re interacting with?
A: I’m not against private property. The question is always where the lines should be drawn. I think we’ve extended the right to exclude too far. Yes, the world is quite creative. But we don’t know what we’re missing. With the enclosing of wilderness, we’re enclosing that which we don’t know about. Researchers are reluctant to do certain kinds of work, for fear of being sued.
Ethan: My diabetes medicine — recombinant DNA — exists because Eli Lilly worked within enclosures. How do we know we would have made the same progress if those enclosures weren’t there?
A: Let’s leave that hanging as a question. It’s a good question. You’re right that the existing dominant system has produced remarkable results.

Q: Michael Heller in The Gridlock Economy goes through the economic models that explain what we lose by locking stuff down. What’s the cultural loss?
A: Lessig and others write books about this… [Tags: ]


May 12, 2009

[berkman] David Bollier on the commons

David Bollier is giving a Berkman talk on governing the commons. David is the author of Viral Spiral: How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own. His talk: “How shall we govern the commons?”

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.

His book looks at the arc of the development of open access and commonses. [What the heck is the plural of “commons”?] The commons is a new sector, and how we govern it is an urgent issue. Benkler, Zittrain, Lessig, and Bauers have addressed this, David says.

The commons is an ancient, new, and misunderstood paradigm, David says. It dates back to the medieval grazing of cattle. It’s a social system for managing shared resources. It was also a source of collective purposes, and custom and tradition. He recommends “The Magna Carta Manifesto” that looks at the struggle for the commons, with the Magna Carta being an armistice. The public domain was the closest we had to a commons until around 2000. The public domain was viewed by copyright traditionalists as a junkyward because the only people in it were things that had no commercial value. The first law review article on the commons didn’t occur until 1981. He cites Jack Valenti, a rich quote about a public domain work as “soiled and haggard, barren of its previous virtues.” Richard Stallman showed the efficacy and virtues of free software. He showed that incompatible code leads to a tower of Babel. The problem with Stallman’s Emacs Commune was that everything had to feed back to a central source (Stallman) and there was no governance. The General Public License gave legal protections to the Commons. Then the Net took off. We got new infrastructures for building commons, technologic, legal, and social.

Garrett Hardin who wrote about the “tragedy of the commons” later acknowledged that it didn’t apply to commons that have governance. The commons is generative (to use Jonathan Zittrain‘s term). “The commons is a macro-economic and cultural force in its own right.” So, how shall we govern it? “This area is terribly under-theorized.” Elinor Ostrom set forth 8 design principles to allow a commons to be governed as a commons, e.g., clear boundaries, appropriateness to the local area, monitoring, transparency, graduated sanctions against free riders and vandals…

Ostrom once showed David a photo of a chair occupying a shoveled out space during a snow storm with a chair occupying it until the person who shoveled it comes back. Ostrom says that that’s a commons because, “It’s a shared understanding by the neighborhood about how to allocate a scarce resource.” David says a commons arises when a neighborhood decides to manage a resource in an equitable way. One thing this shows is a conflict between commons governance and government, since the mayor tried to ban this practice.

He says we need a new taxonomy of digital commons. How do you protect the integrity of the shared resource and the community itself. He points to some distinctions:

Open vs. Free raises questions of business appropriation vs. community control, digital sharecropping vs. commons governance, monetization or maintenance as an inalienable resource.

Individual choice vs. Community. Creative Commons may undermine commons building because it allows opt in or opt out. The GPL is a purer type of commons: There’s a binary choice: you’re in the commons or you’re not.

Building within the house of copyright or challenge property discourse? Niva Elkin-Koren, for example, thinks CC encourages self-interest and doesn’t build out a coherent commons vision. [Paraphrase of a paraphrase! Reader beware!] The Global South views CC as depending on Western law and as a type of derivative of private property. Fair Use activists, on the other hand, want us to grapple wit hte prevailing practices in copyright law.

Commons vs. Markets. Or at they friends? It depends. There’s a spectrum. Open platforms. Innocentive (drug queries where answerers get a bounty). Democratizing innovation, a la Eric Von Hippel. Magnatune (a “respectful interface between the commons and the market”) or the Grateful Dead allowing home-made recordings. Market-oriented non-profits.

The commons is, David says, a “new social metabolism for governance and law, with economic and cultural impact.”

Q: How about more examples? How about Huffington Post?
A: Open platform with some participation. But how about: WikiTravel is an interesting mix. DailyKos: A user-generated community of commentary. Internet Archive. Flickr. Jamendo library of CC music.

Q: (doc searls) You offer an organic metaphor, whereas we think of the Commons as a space. Will it take?
A: Who knows. But it presents it as a relationship.
Doc: I wonder if there’s a relato-sphere that isn’t metabolic. A metabolism burns energy. It creates gas.
A: A legal system is a conversation about shared power [he quotes someone I missed, and I’m paraphrasing] Q: But metabolism also implies homeostasis. A: Its organic property is why commons sometimes outperform markets. Charlie Nesson: Don’t confuse law in principle (we all live under the law, a set of shared values) and as a social environment (a mediated discourse in which people are assisted in relating by its structure).

Q: What about the international aspect of commons.
A: Cf. “Global Legal Pluralism.” There’s a case to dealing with this locally rather than doing it top-down through nation states. There are certainly tensions as you expand this trans-nationally.

Q: (wendy seltzer) The question of governance is partially a horiztonal dividing of what’s been shared and a vertical set of relationships to maintain the platform. Does this get towards how we can push for open platforms on which we can build commons?
A: Lessig once said he saw the amassing of a constituency for a commons as an important political strategy for assuring an open Internet. The commons is a verb, a commoning.

Q: The vast majority of free software projects are very hierarchical. The freedoms it lists are individualistic. Our rules on collective governance are based on highly individualistic control. How do we move forward.
A: The preponderance of SourceForge communities are small. How do you scale up governance? It is a key issue and I don’t know the answer.
Charlie: David Hoffman writes about this. It’s about creating a border that keeps out the griefers. That’s essential.
A: They have to be organically grow…

Q: [ethan zuckerman] The old idea of the commons was that we were independent homesteaders who can make our own butter. But the openness of the code doesn’t help most people. And it gets worse. A lot of the interesting communities are on closed, commercial platforms. The attempts to have a constitutional moment on Facebook are pathetic. How can you bring your thinking about governance into commercial spaces? Can that be done?
A: That’s the right direction. We have to find respectful relationships among private businesses and commons. Maybe we need new revenue models.

Q: [darius] The tragedy of the commons has devastated my country, Poland. Not because there was no governance. The structures were didn’t align public interest and private incentives. Intellectuals assumed people would contribute for free. You haven’t mentioned motivations…
A: Self-interest is far broader than traditional economists have regarded it. We need to devise structures that can be hearty and sustainable that serve the public interest.

Q: To what degree is power concentrated in different commons? Usually a small group holds veto power. E.g., most open source projects have lead developers. To what degree do you need a de facto leader?
A: You need de facto structures. And you do sometimes get concentrated monopolies where forking isn’t really an option.
Ben: Some large open source projects are governed democratically. E.g., Debian.

Q: [me]
A: I think you have a fragmented view. Trying to amass a unitary view of the commons is doomed to failure beause all of them have rootedness in the local
< me: Do we need a meta rule that says here's how we maximize local control of commons?
A: That’s the direction we need to go in. But that’s a political frontier we haven’t gotten to.

[wendy seltzer] Is there a natural limit to the size of commons?
A: Maybe, but there are all sorts of technological prostheses…
wendy: When you tie this to communities…
A: There may be a type of speciation.

Q: Something like BitTorrent — a true commons where people are sharing resources — suggests that there’s an outside of the fence direction…
A: Commons has some way of integrity of its asset.

Q: Commons can fail. What are the most common failure modes?
A: Not having adequate enforcement of boundaries, etc. Part of what’s so fascinating is watching commons proliferate, and dealing with the theory later.

Q: [charlie nesson] I think of the commons as everything you can reach for free. There are forces that want to capture the potential of the commons. What we’re looking for is the engine that makes the commons itself robust enough to resist that. I think of the law as the instrument of enclosure. The root to building that robustness is not litigation. We have to build up a force. The question comes down not to how we govern the commons, but how do given enterprises build self-sustaining business models on a gift economy?
A: Yes. We’re trying to build our space, our own republic.

[I missed a bunch. Sorry. Check the Berkman webcast site to find the webcast.] [Tags: ]

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January 28, 2009

A commons for law professors

CALI and the Berkman Center have launched the Legal Education Commons, a place for law educators to exchange info with Creative Commons licenses, of course.

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