Sunday, July 30, 2006

Open Source & Making a New World

I've made a small habit out providing something thought-provoking for folks Sunday reflections.

The object-to-puzzle-over today is Doc Searls' latest bit on "Making a New World." It's a ramble, and if you're not familiar with the conversation its pretty hard to follow. It certainly doesn't make much in the way of concessions to eye candy--it's all text and links.

There are nifty parts; nuggets in them thar hills. For example:
  1. Nobody owns,
  2. Everybody can use, and
  3. Anybody can improve.
These are the principles behind the new network infrastructure. 1 & 2 are the principles behind all infrastructure. But #3 is something new under the sun; and it bears thinking about.

Another Example:

The case of Internet radio is instructive. The DMCA defined broadcasting on the Net as "performance", and digital copies as "perfect", regardless of their fidelity. It required "webcasters" to negotiate royalties with the recording industry, through a Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel administered by the U.S. Copyright Office. Led by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the CARP instituted royalty requirements so labyrinthine, difficult and costly to webcasters that it effectively prevented the industry it purported to regulate. Had it been imposed on over-the-air broadcasting at the dawn of that industry, it would have strangled that baby in the cradle too.

One unintended consequence is podcasting. ...
Ok. Wow. Hadn't thought that through but he's probably right. Or at least podcasting has had a special day in the sun because of the absence of the equivalent of standard radio on the internet medium.

The nuggets are there. As a reader, you'll have to mine them. Working that vein is more effort than most writting; that I'll cheerfully admit.

But Searls is one of the grand old men of the internet and he's well worth being patient with. --He's currently the senior editor of the Linux Journal, was an author of the Cluetrain Manifesto, and is a major figure in the open source movement. If that doesn't mean much to you, don't worry--let's just say he's a "seminal thinker" whose influenced a lot of influential people and let it go at that.

He's pulling together a buncha strands in a not very explicit way. But at least one thing that is bubbling up in the stew is that there's a new world making out there and we're having a hard time making sense of that fact. He wants to help us out a bit in understanding what's going on but, since he mostly lives in that other world, he has a hard time communicating.

For his money Linux, open source, new business models...and more...are really symptoms and harbingers of that change. They share a particular way of understanding the world that might be called a "network logic" that recognizes how the building blocks of new has be open and in the public domain in order to become ubiquitous enough to really become a new infrastructure. Once that infrastructure is in place we can make value on top of it, because of it. But it won't work to profit off it directly by closing it up and making it proprietary.

The essay repays some slow reading and patient thought. When your grandkids want to know if it's really true that at one time people had to personally own(!) things like operating systems, digital storage, and applications in order to use them you'll want to be able to talk to them about how that once seemed sane, sensible, and indeed the only way to do things. This essay is a good start on understanding how and why that familiar, commonsensical model is falling apart and why much that is proprietary today has begun to shift solidly toward an open, free, infrastructure model.

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