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May 11, 2010

[berkman] Elliot Maxwell on Openness

Elliot Maxwell is giving a Berkman lunchtime talk called “Openness: How increasing accessibility and responsiveness can transform processes and systems.” H3e says he came to the question by observing the spread and importance of the Net and its effect on institutions. He sees openness as a lens for understanding processes and systems.

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.

Openness is a continuum, Elliot says. For example, open source software benefits from openness, but because decisions are made by assigned individuals, it is not itself fully open. Things are open if they’re accessible and can be modified, repurposed, and redistributed. Openness is in part an attitude, he says. E.g., a doctor is more open if s/he is more willing to listen to the patient and to take her/his time. “Openness is not necessarily a product of IT.”

Also, openness isn’t always the right answer. E.g., an electronic health record should be open enough that doctors can see it and so it can be immediately updated as lab results come in. But, it shouldn’t necessarily be open to other people, insurance companies, or the gov’t. Also, openness can make more haystacks, hiding the needles we need to find.

Elliot began thinking about this when Napster was at its high point. Traditional IP sees control as essential to creating an environment that encourages creation. But, we also want to encourage follow-on creators. There’s not a lot of research about how much incentive first creators need. (And, of course, first creators are themselves follow on creators.) Control is expensive and imperfect. (Think DRM). Open source, on the other hand, thinks value comes by distributing and sharing. But, it can be hard to evaluate all the contributions that come in.

Elliot lists some examples of increased openness, and spends some time talking about the attenmpts to open up clinical trials. (ClinicalTrials.gov and the Journal of Failed Clinical Trials.)

Elliot is also especially interested in higher education, which has been relatively unaffected by openness, although he expects that to change. (It’s easier for Harvard and other research institutions to support open access, he says, than, say, community colleges that have different goals and constraints. ) Elliot sees a rise in open educational resources, which will affect teaching institutions. OER will be increasingly driven by customers, rather than being course materials put up on the Web by a teacher. We will know more about how OERs are being used, they will become more interoperable, and there will be incentives for participation and use.

At CMU and other places, there’s work on harvesting what happens to and around digital educational materials. We need better data on student progress, educational outcomes, and the factors that affect student success. He says we also need research on the cmparative effectiveness of digital edu materials, and best practices. Also, it’d be great to extend fab labs digitally.

Elliot sees progress in opening up research. The Human Genome Project was the seminal event that changed the basic model of research, at least in the bio sciences. Open access journals are growing. But, too many institutions still only count publication in closed journals as a scholarly achievement. We don’t yet have good models for how to reward research that is immediately published.

Intellectual property rules need to be recalibrated to recognize the importance of follow-on innovators, and to enable more use by educators. Bayh-Dole should be modified to enable more open licensing. He would also like to see some “orphan work” legislation.

We should change the default of campus events so that they’re open, unless they’re specifically closed. “We should take advantage of greater openness to improve support services.” The government should fund open access to financial aid materials. NIH-funded research should be open to the public within 12 months should be extended to all non-classified research funded by the 11 fed agencies that spende over $100M in research. And the embargo time should be reudced to 6 months. The government ought to include funds for open access publishing when making grants, Elliot says.

Then there’s openness and transparency about academic degrees. We don’t know what it means to get a degree in something. We need more compatibility, comparability and portability of degrees. The government should encourage accrediting agencies to increase their focus on learning outcomes. (Currently only 19% of accrediting bodies say anything more than that a school is accredited or not.)

Q: [ethanz] You’re conflating openness and judging inputs and outputs. Evaluating schools by outcomes is one thing, but that’s different from openness.
A: Openness has to do with the access to the information.
Q: US News and World Report makes a closed evaluation based on open info. When you go more open, you can get unintended consequences. E.g., no one has done an open search engine, because it’s too game-able. What are the unintended consequences of opening up campus events, for example? E.g., Facebook opening up more and more private data. I was hoping you’d tell us more about where openness is inappropriate.
A: Yes. I’ve been talking about openness because that’s where it’s going.
Q: I agree with your framing of first and follow on innovators and with your general direction. But, the limits are important.
Q: As a historian, your directional arrow seems too one-dimensional. Historically, open and closed have worked hand in glove. E.g., the patent system closes paths but forces innovators to reveal what they have. E.g., the closedness of some medical processes.
A: Changing the default for university events would only be for events that were public anyway. And if I sound like I’m giving a litany of open

Q: [me] Is data more open if it’s been cleaned up and put into standardized formats. It’s more reusable, but it may also mean decisions have been made about it that anticipate some uses and not others?
A: It’s situational. In the long run it’s probably likely that all the slicing and dicing would evolve to a smaller way of using this info, because people would be able to build on that info — that’s just a guess. But, when people are unlikely to agree, getting it out quickly would be more usefl. Standardization has some benefits, but if it’s rigid it’s probably wrong.

Elliot concludes about talking about new means of certification. We’re going to find new ways of certifying people in a global environment. There aren’t educational institutions everywhere, and we have a new generation of self-directed learners. That will allow many more people to be certified.

Q: [wendy] What’s the most effective lever for openness? Is it giving credit for being open?
A: We need to recognize that the closed path is not the only way to build value.

Q: Transparency, openness, and open source are each different.
A: OS is a way of building code. Transparency lets us see, but not by itself affect…
Q: At the level of international relations, we can maybe get transparency, but openness will only come from individual administrations…
A: Transparency would let us see what’s happening. But I want us to be able to act on the info we see.

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June 13, 2008

Open up Google Docs?

I’ve found myself using Google Docs more and more. It’s about a Bronze Age word processor at this point, but it makes collaborating easy, I like being able to get at my work from anywhere (even when offline), and the continuous backup and versioning is comforting.

But, not only is Docs way under-featured and butt ugly, Google is fixing it up really slowly.

What would Google have to do to enable The Community to enhance it?

We presumably (i.e., I don’t know what I’m talking about) could write an enhanced system that uses Google Docs for storage, but that slaps a new UI on it and adds features. In fact, maybe this is something that Adobe’s beautiful Air-based word processor, Buzzword, should be (or is?) looking at.

Even better: Google could make Google Docs as amenable to add-ons as Firefox is. Of course, I have no idea how hard that would be, and what the possibilities of terminally screwing up your docs might be.

At the very least, while Google Docs is getting better at allowing us to redefine existing HTML elements, to create new classes, and even to create new elements (albeit without giving us a UI to use these classes or elements, other than entering into HTML editing mode), letting us attach CSS style sheets seems like an obvious and non-destructive improvement.

But, IDKWITA (I don’t know what I’m talking about … and why isn’t that a standard Web acronym?), so there may be obvious technical issues mooting all of the above. But I’m sure that won’t mute you from telling me what I’m missing.

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Marco Barulli at Clipperz (a password manager) blogs about what it would take to get more freedom and privacy from the providers of Web apps. He has a three-part solution…

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