At first I struggled to develop a compelling or sensible narrative for the talk — as there is so much to it that I could probably give a dozen or more 45 minutes talks on the subject. With some long-distance encouragement from Brynn, I eventually arrived at the topic I wanted to cover that lead to a conclusion that has largely been implicit in my work so far.
(Filed under: sharks jumped.)
Brynn got this in the mail last week and shared it with me. Let’s just say that it struck a nerve.
I’ve worried for some time that “open” as a market differentiator is becoming diluted and washed out, just as “organic” and “green” before. Like “2.0”, companies are coming to see “open” as just the next checkbox-marketing-trend to hitch their fading brands to.
Consider my fears confirmed.
Camel doesn’t really believe in openness — let alone grok the concept — let alone give a shit about openness — but since all the cool kids are doing it, they’re happy to co-opt the label to win points. Let the backfire begin.
At the height of cynicism, we have a company whose primary business is architecting new schemes to kill people with their death products, aligning their brand with “openness”. Consider the line crossed.
Watch Mad Men for five minutes and see if you don’t think that these assholes should be strung up by the balls (since it’s predominantly white men who run these companies) and left for the vultures. Or left to be lynched by the families of the addicted and deceased.
Fuck it, I’m going to go ahead and break Godwin’s Law. In the spirit of openness.
Guess how many people are killed by tobacco-related illnesses every year?
Roughly 20% of that number. Smoking and tobacco-related diseases cause on the order of 4.2 million premature deaths per year (according to the WHO Tobacco Atlas in 2000). That means that tobacco kills in five years what it took the Nazis twelve.
|Mortality Ages 35-69/Cause||Percent From Smoking|
|All Cancer, 1985||39%|
|All Cancer, 1995||42%|
|Lung Cancer, 1985||91%|
|Lung Cancer, 1995||91%|
|Vascular Disease, 1985||31%|
|Vascular Disease, 1995||33%|
|Mouth and Throat Cancers, 1985||67%|
|Mouth and Throat Cancers, 1995||68%|
And the future? The World Health Organization projects that from 2025 to 2030, 10 million people worldwide will die from tobacco-related causes (the majority in developing countries):
So, you want to be part of the “open” revolution, Camel? Welcome!
I presume this means that you’re ready to start coming clean and owning up to the millions of deaths your industry has caused? Or is “CamelOpenCircle” just another marketing gimmick to trick people into thinking that you’re on the up and up of what’s trendy?
Newsflash muthafuckas: openness is hot not because it’s a gimmick, but because it means something to those of us who are tired of being lied to, being mislead, being cajoled and tricked by companies like you. FUCK YOU. Brands like yours could learn a thing or two from openness; too bad everything about you is the direct inverse of everything that we stand for.
…and aligning yourselves with openness will never change that.
I spent the weekend in DC at TransparencyCamp, an event modeled after BarCamp focused on government transparency and open access to sources of federal data (largely through APIs and web services). Down the street, a social-media savvy conference called PowerShift convened over 12,000 of the nation’s youth to march on Congress to have their concerns about the environment heard. They were largely brought together on social networks.
Last week, after an imbroglio about a change to their terms of service, Facebook published two plain-language documents setting the course for “governing Facebook in an Open and Transparent way“: a Statement of Rights and Responsibilities coupled with a list of ten guiding principles.
The week before last, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) released a set of recommendations for open government that, among other things, called for government data to be available in formats that promote reuse and are available via public APIs.
WTF is going on?
Clearly something has happened since I worked on the Spread Firefox project in 2004 — a time when Mozilla was an easily dismissed outpost for “modern communists” (since meritocracy and sharing equals Communism, apparently).
Seemingly, the culture of “open” has infused even the most conservative and blood-thirsty organizations with companies falling over each other to claim the mantle of being the most open of them all.
So we won, right?
I wouldn’t say that. In fact, I think it’s now when the hard work begins.
. . .
The people within Facebook not only believe in what they’re doing but are on the leading edge of Generation Open. It’s not merely an age thing; it’s a mindset thing. It’s about having all your references come from the land of the internet rather than TV and becoming accustomed to — and taking for granted — bilateral communications in place of unidirectional broadcast forms. Where authority figures used to be able to get away with telling you not to talk back, Generation Open just turns to Twitter and lets the whole world know what they think.
But it’s not just that the means of publishing have been democratized and the new medium is being mastered; change is flowing from the events that have shaped my generation’s understanding of economics, identity, and freedom.
Maybe it started with Pearl Jam (it did for me!). Or perhaps witnessing AOL incinerate Netscape, only to see a vast network emerge to champion the rise of Firefox from its ashes. Maybe being bombarded by stinking piles of Flash and Real Player one too many times lead to a realization that, “yeah, those advertisers ain’t so cool. They’re fuckin’ up my web!” Of course watching Google become a residue on the web itself, imbuing its colorful primaries on HTTP, as a lichen seduces a redwood, becoming inseparable from the host, also suggests a more organic approach to business as usual.
Talking to people who hack on Drupal or Mozilla, I’m not surprised when they presume openness as matter of course. They thrive on the work of those who have come before and in turn, pay it forward. Why wouldn’t their work be open?
Talking to people at Facebook (in light of the arc of their brief history) you might not expect openness to come culturally. Similarly, talking to Microsoft you could presume the same. In the latter case, you’d be right; in the former, I’m not so sure.
See, the people who populate Facebook are largely from Generation Open. They grew up in an era where open source wasn’t just a bygone conclusion, but it was central to how many of them learned to code. It wasn’t in computer science classes at top universities — those folks ended up at Arthur Anderson, Accenture or Oracle (and probably became equally boring). Instead, the hobbyist kids cut their teeth writing WordPress plugins, Firefox extensions, or Greasemonkey scripts. They found success because of openness.
That Zuckerberg et al talk about making the web a more “open and social place” where it’s easy to “share and connect” is no surprise: it’s the open, social nature of the web that has brought them such success, and will be the domain in which they achieve their magnum opus. They are the original progeny of the open web, and its natural heirs.
. . .
Obama is running smack against the legacy of the baby boomers — the generation whose parents defeated the Nazis. More relevant is that the boomers fought the Nazis. Their children, in turn, inherited a visceral fear of machinery, in large part thanks to IBM’s contributions to the near-extermination of an entire race of people. If you want to know why privacy is important — look to the power of aggregate knowledge in the hands of xenophobes 70 years ago.
But who was alive 70 years ago? Better: who was six years old and terribly impressionable fifty years ago? Our parents, that’s who.
And it’s no wonder why the Facebook newsfeed (now stream) and Twitter make these folks uneasy. The potential for abuse is so great and our generation — our open, open generation — is so beautifully naive.
. . .
We are the generation that will meet Al Qaeda not “head on”, but by the length of each of its tentacles. Unlike our parents’ enemies, ours are not centralized supernations anymore. Our enemies act like malware, infecting people’s brains, and thus behave like a decentralized zombie-bot horde that cannot be stopped unless you shift the environment or shut off the grid.
We are also the generation that watched our government fail to protect the victims of Katrina — before, during and after the event. The emperor’s safety net — sworn nemesis of fiscal conservatives — turned out not to exist despite all their persistent whining. Stranded, hundreds took to their roofs while helicopters hovered over head, broadcasting FEMA’s failure on the nightly news. While Old Media gawked, the open source community solved problems, delivering the Katrina PeopleFinder database, meticulously culled from public records and disparate resources that, at the time, lacked usable APIs.
But that wasn’t the first time “privacy” worked against us. On September 11, 2001 we flooded the cell networks, just wanting to know whether our friends and family were safe. The network, controlled by a few megacorporations, failed under the weight of our anxiety and calls; those supposed consumer protections designed to keep us safe… didn’t, turning technology and secrecy against us.
. . .
Back to this weekend in DC.
You put TransparencyCamp in context — and think about all the abuses that have been perpetrated by humans against humans — throughout time… you have to stop and wonder: “Geez, what on earth will make this generation any different than the ones that have come before? What’s to say that Zuckerberg — once he assembles a mass of personally identifying information on his peers on an order of magnitude never achieved since humans started counting time — won’t he do what everyone in his position has done before?”
Oddly enough, the answer is probably not. The reason is the web. Even weirder is that Facebook, as I write this, seems to be taking steps to embrace the web, seeking to become a part of it — rather than competing against it. It seems, at least in my interactions with folks at Facebook, that a good portion of them genuinely want to work with the web as it today, as they recognize the power that they themselves have derived from it. As they benefitted from it, they shall benefit it in turn.
Seems counterproductive to all those MBAs who study Microsoft as the masterstroke of the 21st century, but to the citizens of the web — we get it.
What Facebook is attempting — like the Obama administration in parallel — is nothing short of a revolution; you simply can’t evolve out of a culture of fear and paranoia that was passed down to us. You have to disrupt the ecosystem, and create a new equilibrium.
If we are Generation Open, then we are the optimistic generation. Ours only comes around every several generations with the resurgence of pure human spirit coupled with the resplendent realization of intent.
There are, however, still plenty who reject this attitude and approach, suffering from the combined malaise of “proprietariness”, “materialism”, and “consumerism”.
But — I shit you not — as the world turns, things are changing. Sharing and giving away all that you can are the best defenses against fear, obsolescence, growing old, and, even, wrinkles. It isn’t always easy, but it’s how we outlive the shackles of biology and transcend the physicality of gravity.
To transcend is to become transparent, clear, open.
I was in Miami last week to meet with my fellow screeners from the Knight News Challenge and Jay Dedman and Ryanne Hodson, two vlogger friends whom I met through coworking, started talking about content licensing, specifically as related to President-Elect Barack Obama’s weekly address, which, if things go according to plan, will continue to be broadcast on YouTube.
The question came up: what license should Barack Obama use for his content? This, in turn, revealed a more fundamental question: why doesn’t YouTube let you pick a license for the work that you upload (and must, given the terms of the site, own the rights to in the first place)? And if this omission isn’t intentional (that is, no one decided against such a feature, it just hasn’t bubbled up in the priority queue yet), then what can be done to facilitate the adoption of Creative Commons on the site?
To date, few video sharing sites, save Blip.tv and Flickr (even if they only deal with long photos), have actually embraced Creative Commons to any appreciable degree. Ironically, of all sites, YouTube seems the most likely candidate to adopt Creative Commons, given its rampant remix and republish culture (a culture which continues to vex major movie studies and other fastidious copyright owners).
One might make the argument that, considering the history of illegally shared copyrighted material on YouTube, enabling Creative Commons would simply lead to people mislicensing work that they don’t own… but I think that’s a strawman argument that falls down in practice for a number of reasons:
- First of all, all sites that enable the use of CC licenses offer the scheme as opt-in, defaulting to the traditional all rights reserved use of copyright. Enabling the choice of Creative Commons wouldn’t necessarily affect this default.
- Second, unauthorized sharing of content or digital media under any license is still illegal, whether the relicensed work is licensed under Creative Commons or copyright.
- Third, YouTube, and any other media sharing site, bears some responsibility for the content published on their site, and, regardless of license, reserves the right to remove any material that fails to comply completely with its Terms of Service.
- Fourth, the choice of a Creative Commons license is usually a deliberate act (going back to my first point) intended to convey an intention. The value of this intention — specifically, to enable the lawful reuse and republishing of content or media by others without prior per-instance consent — is a net positive to the health of a social ecosystem insomuch as this choice enables a specific form of freedom: that is, the freedom to give away one’s work under certain, less-restrictive stipulations than the law allows, to aid in establishing a positive culture of sharing and creativity (as we’ve seen on Flickr, SoundCloud and CC Mixter).
Preventing people from choosing a more liberal license conceivably restricts expression, insomuch as it restricts an “efficient, content-enriching value chain” from forming within a legal framework. Or, because all material is currently licensed under the most restrictive regime on YouTube, every re-use of a portion of media must therefore be licensed on a per-instance basis, considerably impeding the legal reuse of other people’s work.
. . .
Now, I want to point out something interesting here… as specifically related to both this moment in time and about government ownership of media. A recently released report from the GAO on Energy Efficiency carried with it the following statement on copyright:
This is a work of the U.S. government and is not subject to copyright protection in the United States. The published product may be reproduced and distributed in its entirety without further permission from GAO. However, because this work may contain copyrighted images or other material, permission from the copyright holder may be necessary if you wish to reproduce this material separately.
Though it can’t simply put this work into the public domain because of the potential copyrighted materials embedded therein, this statement is about as close as you can get for an assembled work produced by the government.
Now consider that Obama’s weekly “radio address” is self-contained media, not contingent upon the use or reuse of any other copyrighted work. It bears considering what license (if any) should apply (keeping in mind that the government is funded by tax-payer dollars). If not the public domain, under what license should Obama’s weekly addresses be shared? Certainly not all rights reserved! — unfortunately, YouTube offers no other option and thus, regardless of what Obama or the Change.gov folks would prefer, they’re stuck with a single, monolithic licensing scheme.
Interestingly, Google, YouTube’s owner, has supported Creative Commons in the past, notably with their collaboration with Radiohead on the House of Cards open source initiative and with the licensing of the Summer of Code documentation (Yahoo has a similar project with Flickr’s hosting of the Library of Congress’ photo archive under a liberal license).
I think that it’s critical for YouTube to adopt the Creative Commons licensing scheme now, as Barack Obama begins to use the site for his weekly address, because of the powerful signal it would send, in the context of what I imagine will be a steady increase and importance of the use of social media and web video by government agencies.
Don Norman recently wrote an essay on the importance of social signifiers, and I think it underscores my point as to why this issue is pressing now. In contrast to the popular concept of “affordances” in design and design thinking, Norman writes:
A “signifier” is some sort of indicator, some signal in the physical or social world that can be interpreted meaningfully. Signifiers signify critical information, even if the signifier itself is an accidental byproduct of the world. Social signifiers are those that are relevant to social usages. Some social indicators simply are the unintended but informative result of the behavior of others.
. . .
I call any physically perceivable cue a signifier, whether it is incidental or deliberate. A social signifier is one that is either created or interpreted by people or society, signifying social activity or appropriate social behavior.
The “appropriate social behavior”, or behavior that I think Obama should model in his weekly podcasts is that of open and free licensing, introducing the world of YouTube viewers to an alternative form of licensing, that would enable them to better understand and signal to others their intent and desire to share, and to have their creative works reused, without the need to ask for permission first.
For Obama media to be offered under a CC license (with the licensed embedded in the media itself) would signal his seriousness about embracing openness, transparency and the nature of discourse on the web. It would also signify a shift towards the type of collaboration typified by Web 2.0 social sites, enabling a modern dialectic relationship between the citizenry and its government.
I believe that now is the time for this change to happen, and for YouTube to prioritize the choice of Creative Commons licensing for the entire YouTube community.
Monday last week marked the first ever OpenID UX Summit at Yahoo! in Sunnyvale with over 40 in attendance. Representatives came from MySpace, Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, Vidoop, Janrain, Six Apart, AOL, Chimp, Magnolia, Microsoft, Plaxo, Netmesh, Internet 2 and Liberty Alliance to debate and discuss how best to make implementations of the protocol easier to use and more familiar.
While the summit was a long-overdue step towards addressing the clear usability issues directly inhibiting the spread of OpenID, there are four additional areas that I think need more attention. I’ll address each separately. Continue reading “OpenID usability is not an oxymoron”
This is critical.
There’s nothing more important, or more influential, than friends encouraging friends to vote, and when it comes to getting informed on the issues and what’s at stake, nothing is more effective than getting an impassioned plea from a personal contact or relative.
Providing a tool that allows people to get in touch with people who they personally know is so much better than cold-calling phone banking (the importance of that tactic notwithstanding given the need to reach out beyond the friends of iPhone owners).
You can get the app in the iTunes App Store.
The Obama ’08 app development was spearheaded by personal friends of mine — co-organizers of the popular iPhoneDevCamps that we held the past two years at Adobe’s offices in San Francisco (which are now spreading, like all good *camp events should!). Specifically, props go to Dom Sagolla and Raven Zachary, without whom this application might never have happened. But credit is also due to the entire top-tier team that spent countless hours over the past month putting this app together (*iPhoneDevCamp alumni):
- Raven Zachary (Project Director) *
- Jason Grigsby (Project Manager)
- John Keith (Server Development)
- Lyza Gardner (Server Development, Design)
- Aileen Jeffries (Design)
- Jonathan Wight (Lead iPhone Development) *
- Dom Sagolla (QA, Community Development) *
- Mike Lee (iPhone Development, UI) *
- Louie Mantia (Design) *
- Tristan O’Tierney (iPhone Development) *
What’s significant is not only the application, but what this move represents for those of us who live and breathe the web and open source: this app is born of both, reusing a number of open source components and, from the outset, leverages the web with presence on social networks like Facebook. This is the Obama campaign reaching out to the open source and iPhone development communities and working with us to do what we know how to do best, and giving us a space in which we can make a difference for the campaign.
We’re nearly a month a way from the election, and that means that if you want to participate, you’re going to need be registered to vote beforehand. It also means that if you’ve been waiting, or holding out, and looking for an opening to get involved, now’s your chance. As Raven says, making a few simple calls with this app enables even ‘The Two Minute Volunteer’ to make a substantial difference by personally involving friends and family in the election.
Seeing this work inspires and gives me hope; if we can keep up this kind of innovative thinking for the next 30 days, I think it’s clear that the best candidate is going to come out on top and get the country back on its proper footing.
Imagine a browser of the web, by the web, and for the web. Not simply a thick client application that simply opens documents with the
http:// protocol instead of
file://, but one that runs web applications (efficiently!), that plays the web, that connects people across the boundaries of the silos and gives them local-like access to remote data.
Take a step back. You can see the relics of desktop computing in our applications’ file menus… and we can intuit the assumptions that the original designer must have made about the user, her context and the interaction expectations she brought with her:
Indeed, the browser is a funny thing, because it’s really just a wrapper for someone else’s content or someone’s else’s application. That’s why it’s not about “features“. It’s all about which features, especially for developers.
It’s a hugely powerful place to insert oneself: between a person and the vast expanse that is the Open Web. Better yet: to be the conduit through which anyone projects herself on to the web, or reaches into the digital void to do something.
So if you were going to design a new browser, how would you handle the enormity of that responsibility? How would you seize the monument of that opportunity and create something great?
Well, for starters, you’d probably want to think about that first run experience — what it’s like to get behind the wheel for the very time with a newly minted driver’s permit — with the daunting realization that you can now go anywhere you please…! Which is of course awesome, until you realize that you have no idea where to go first!
Historically, the solution has been to flip-flop between portals and search boxes, and if we’ve learned anything from Google’s shockingly austere homepage, it comes down to recognizing that the first step of getting somewhere is expressing some notion of where you want to go:
The problem is that the location field has, up until recently, been fairly inert and useless. With Spotlight-influenced interfaces creeping into the browser (like David Watanabe’s recently acquired Inquisitor Safari plugin — now powered by Yahoo! Search BOSS — or the flyout in Flock that was inspired by it) it’s clear that browsers can and should provide more direction and assistance to get people going. Not everyone’s got a penchant for remembering URLs (or RFCs) like Tantek’s.
This kind of predictive interface, however, has only slowly made its way into the location bar, like fish being washed ashore and gradually sprouting legs. Eventually they’ll learn to walk and breath normally, but until then, things might look a little awkward. But yes, dear reader, things do change.
So you can imagine, having recognized this trend, Google went ahead and combined the search box and the location field in Chrome and is now pushing the location bar as the starting place, as well as where to do your searching:
This change to such a fundamental piece of real estate in the browser has profound consequences on both the typical use of the browser as well as security models that treat the visibility of the URL bar as sacrosanct (read: phishing):
The URL bar is dead! Long live the URL bar!
While cats like us know intuitively how to use the location bar in combination with URLs to gets us to where to we want to go, that practice is now outmoded. Instead we type anything into the “box” and have some likely chance that we’re going to end up close to something interesting. Feeling lucky?
But there’s something else behind all this that I think is super important to realize… and that’s that our fundamental notions and expectations of privacy on the web have to change or will be changed for us. Either we do without tools that augment our cognitive faculties or we embrace them, and in so doing, shim open a window on our behaviors and our habits so that computers, computing environments and web service agents can become more predictive and responsive to them, and in so doing, serve us better. So it goes.
5. Use of the Services by you
5.1 In order to access certain Services, you may be required to provide information about yourself (such as identification or contact details) as part of the registration process for the Service, or as part of your continued use of the Services. You agree that any registration information you give to Google will always be accurate, correct and up to date.
. . .
12. Software updates
12.1 The Software which you use may automatically download and install updates from time to time from Google. These updates are designed to improve, enhance and further develop the Services and may take the form of bug fixes, enhanced functions, new software modules and completely new versions. You agree to receive such updates (and permit Google to deliver these to you) as part of your use of the Services.
It’s not that any of this is unexpected or Draconian: it is what it is, if it weren’t like this already.
Each of us will eventually need to choose a data brokers or two in the future and agree to similar terms and conditions, just like we’ve done with banks and credit card providers; and if we haven’t already, just as we have as we’ve done in embracing webmail.
Hopefully visibility into Chrome’s source code will help keep things honest, and also provide the means to excise those features, or to redirect them to brokers or service providers of our choosing, but it’s inevitable that effective cloud computing will increasingly require more data from and about us than we’ve previously felt comfortable giving. And the crazy thing is that a great number of us (yes, including me!) will give it. Willingly. And eagerly.
But think one more second about the ramifications (see Matt Cutts) of Section 12 up there about Software Updates: by using Chrome, you agree to allow Google to update the browser. That’s it: end of story. You want to turn it off? Disconnect from the web… in the process, rendering Chrome nothing more than, well, chrome (pun intended).
Welcome to cloud computing. The future has arrived and is arriving.
Bernice Yeung’s character piece (“So Open it Hurts“) about my relationship with Tara is now available online (feels somewhat awkward using her full name, as she used mine in her post on the story, so I’ll take liberties and presume some familiarity on the part of you, my dear reader).
On the one hand, I feel a bit embarrassed and reluctant having had the entrails of our relationship splayed out over 15 digital pages or 13 print pages starting on page 57 of this month’s San Francisco Magazine (which I recommend, given modern reading habits).
On the other, it’s quite an honor that someone as talented as Bernice would take an interest in us and our work and spend over eight months gathering information, anecdotes and ideas through the tumult of our two-plus-year relationship. It is worth noting that the story began modestly about the germination of the coworking movement, but after several other media outlets beat her to the scoop, Bernice decided to bring the backstory of our relationship to the forefront. In other words, when Bernice started talking to us, our conversations were about coworking, not our relationship. I can’t even imagine how many times Bernice had to rewrite the piece, especially since, months into her research, as you know, Tara and I broke up. But in the end, that’s what Bernice decided to focus on and write about.
In trying to piece together what to make of this story and how to feel about it, in some ways I’ve been more interested in other people’s varied reactions to it — not quite in the same way that Tara described as “vulnerability” leading to defensiveness (though I recognize that effect in myself occasionally), but more from the perspective of a bystander witnessing other people thinking out loud about other people leading more public lives.
Some people seem to really support the choice (or ability) to live openly. Others question it, or even lambast the choice, calling it “egocentric” or “juvenile” or “self-important navel-gazing“. That’s cool. Some people are apparently able to devote more of their cognitive surplus ogling and critiquing the lives of others. Whatevs.
That our relationship was something of a spectacle is not beyond my grasp. I do see it — even if throughout the relationship I kind of held that idea in the abstract, like, “well, people know this internet concoction that is ‘The Tara & Chris Show’, but I’m still the same regular dude I’ve always been…” I don’t think it was ever the intention — or at least something that I put any conscious effort in to — to become known for being a publicish couple. It just kind of happened. I mean, hell, Tara says as much when she points out that it took her pushing me out a window to get me to show some gumption on the projects that I stoked and then ran away from leading! I guess to put this in perspective, the story is interesting, and it’s interesting to me, because as it is for most people who end up featured in articles, a lot of it is about being in the right place at the right time, surrounded by the right people. No amount of self-aggrandizement can do this for you. It happens to you. Oftentimes in spite of what you might have otherwise preferred.
I also think that we were something of an anomaly, especially in our pathetically male-dominated industry. Ayn Rand talks about it the Fountainhead. And in our case, you had it two-fold: two passionate and dedicated individuals coming together romantically, professionally and productively — even if only for a relatively short amount of time — able to produce results… And that we did it using new and unknown social tools, well, that’s kind of interesting. And says something about the period we’re living in. I mean, it is interesting to think that the design of Flickr and Twitter actually shaped the contours of our relationship: by facilitating openness as the default, our relationship was simply more open and exposed. And long after lonelygirl15 was proven to be a farce, the result was that we ended up with this amazing network of friends and contacts, made up of people who got to know us as individuals and as a couple, and to know that we are just your regular folks, and that we use the same internet as everyone else, and that we stumble humiliatingly and earnestly along just as everyone else, seeking the approval and attention of our peers, while giving away the source code to our ideas and our experiences all along the way.
Really, so what?
Really: so what?
. . .
Tara said to me that we’re at the end of an era. And that, in some ways, this story, now published, serves as a transition point. I was reluctant at first, but now I agree. I told Bernice that I felt like I’d aged six years in six months when she last interviewed me this spring, and that’s true; even though I’m still pretty naive and more ignorant than I care to admit, I’m older now than I was in my relationship with Tara. Tara forced me to grow up a lot and to take a lot more responsibility for my feelings, for my actions and for my thoughts. And so, as we (I) transition from the awkward adolescence of the social web, I take with me lessons about . . . the natural and effective constant exercise of free will.
. . .
. . .
Y’know, I didn’t say very much at all during the months following our breakup. Oftentimes I thought to myself, “you should write something about what’s going on… in case someone else is ever in this situation. Or to defend yourself.” But I always stopped myself.
Sometimes things are too personal to share, and sometimes experiences cannot, or should not, be generalized. Sometimes what’s there to be learned is in the going through, not in the seeing it done. I also think that it’s perfectly valid that each person make up their own mind about how open they want to be about their life, for better or for worse, to whatever extent fits their needs. I typically try to be as open as I’m comfortable with, and then a little more, but it doesn’t always work out that way. While I hope that I can provide one kind of example that might be useful in some cases, I certainly don’t imagine that my example is one that would work for everyone, or even necessarily anyone else.
Yes, we were open about our relationship to an extent that many people would probably prefer not to be; that was a choice we made, and that I think made sense at the time. I’m now in a new relationship, and a very different relationship, and I will treat it according to its own unique nature and internal logic. How “open” we will be, I can’t say. But that I am more open, in a much transformed, deeper, way, is unarguable. That much I know to be true.
During this morning’s keynote at OSCON, David Recordon announced the formation of the Open Web Foundation (his slides), an initiative with which I am involved, aimed at becoming something akin to a “Creative Commons for patents”, with the intention of lowering the costs and barriers to the development and adoption of open and free specifications like OpenID and OAuth.
As I expected, there’s been some healthy skepticism that usually starts with “Another foundation? Really?” or “Wait, doesn’t [insert other organization name] do this?”
I’ll let John McCrae explain:
…every grass roots effort, whether OpenID, OAuth, or something yet to be dreamt up, needs to work through a whole lot of issues to go from great idea to finalized spec that companies large and small feel comfortable implementing. In particular, large companies want to make sure that they can adopt these building blocks without fear of being sued for infringing on somebody’s intellectual property rights. Absent the creation of this new organization, we were likely to see each new effort potentially creating yet-another-foundation to tackle what is essentially a common set of requirements.
And this is essentially where we were in the OAuth process, following in the footsteps of the OpenID Foundation before us, trying to figure out for ourselves the legal and intellectual property issues that stood in the way of [a few] larger companies being able to adopt the protocol.
Now, I should point out that OAuth and OpenID are the result of somewhat unique and recent phenomena, where, due to the low cost of networked collaboration and the high value of commoditizing common protocols between web services, the OAuth protocol came together in just under a year, written by a small number of highly motivated individuals. The problem is that it’s taken nearly the same amount of time trying to developer our approach to intellectual property, despite the collective desire of the authors to let anyone freely use it! This system is clearly broken, and not just for us, but for every group that wants to provide untethered building blocks for use on the open web — especially those groups who don’t have qualified legal counsel at their disposal.
That other groups exist to remedy this issue is something that we realized and considered very seriously before embarking on our own effort. After all, we really don’t want to have to do this kind of work — indeed it often feels more like a distraction than something that actually adds value to the technology — but the reality is that clarity and understanding is actually critical once you get outside the small circle of original creators, and in that space is where our opportunity lies.
In particular, for small, independent groups to work on open specifications (n.b. not standards!) that may eventually be adopted industry-wide, there needs to be a lightweight and well-articulated path for doing the right thing™ when it comes to intellectual property that does not burden the creative process with defining scope prematurely (a process that is costly and usually takes months, greatly inhibiting community momentum!) and that also doesn’t impose high monetary fees on participation, especially when outcomes may be initially uncertain.
At the same time, the final output of these kinds of efforts should ultimately be free to be implemented by all the participants and the community at large. And rather than forcing the assignment of all related patents owned by all participants to a central foundation (as in the case of the XMPP Foundation) or getting every participant to license their patents to others (something most companies seem loathe to do without some fiscal upside), we’ve seen a trend over the past several years towards patent non-assert agreements which allow companies to maintain their IP, to not have to disclose it, and yet to allow for the free, unencumbered use of the specification.
If this sounds complicated, it’s because it is, and is a significant stumbling block for many community-driven open source and open specification projects that aim for, or have the potential for, widespread adoption. And this is where we hope the Open Web Foundation can provide specific value in creating templates for these kinds of situations and guiding folks through effective use of them, ultimately in support of a more robust, more interoperable and open web.
We do have much work ahead of us, but hopefully, if we are successful, we will reduce the overall cost to the industry of repeating this kind of work, again, in much the same way Creative Commons has done in providing license alternatives to copyright and making salient the notion that the way things are aren’t the only way they have to be.
I am honored to be a recipient of this year’s Google O’Reilly Open Source Award for being the “best community amplifier” for my work with the microformats, Spread Firefox and BarCamp communities! (See the original call for nominations).
Inexplicably I was absent when they handed out the award, hanging out with folks at a Python/Django/jQuery drinkup down the street, but I’m humbled all the same… especially since I work on a day to day basis with such high caliber and incredible people without whom none of these projects would exist, would not have found success, and most importantly, would never have ever mattered in the first place.
And our work continues. So lucky we are, to have such good work, and such good people to work with.