Open-washing and the CamelOpenCircle …Jerk


(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.

It is estimated that the Nazis killed 20,946,000 people from 1933 to 1945 (R.J. Rummel, Democide: Nazi Genocide and Mass Murder, 1993.)

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.

And, according to the World Bank, smoking also contributes a disproportionate number of deaths in the United States over all:

Mortality Ages 35-69/Cause Percent From Smoking
All Cancer, 1985 39%
All Cancer, 1995 42%
Lung Cancer, 1985 91%
Lung Cancer, 1995 91%
COPD, 1985 78%
COPD, 1995 80%
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):

WHO Estimated Deaths

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.

Bottom line:

Smoking will fucking kill you

…and aligning yourselves with openness will never change that.

Future of White Boys’ Clubs Redux #fowaspeak

White Boys (+1)

In September of 2006, I wrote a piece called The Future of White Boy Clubs taking to task Ryan Carson for putting together a speaker lineup for his Future of Web Apps conference made up entirely of white men (for the record, Tantek resents being lumped in as “white”; he’s says he’s Turkish).

As a white male speaker, I wanted to make a point that not just lamented the dearth of female speakers, but also asserted a broader point about the value of diversity to tech conferences.

Two and half years later and the future of the web was yet again being presented from the perspective of a bunch of white guys — and were it not for a last minute substitution, Kristina Halvorson wouldn’t have made it on stage as the sole female voice.

Kristina Halvorson: I LOVE DUDES by Judson CollierKristina felt compelled to say something and so she did, sharing the last 10 of her 25 speaking minutes with Ryan Carson and me, confronting this perennial elephant in the room and calling for specific action.

Without context, some members of the audience felt ambushed.

But Kristina hadn’t planned to bring this up on stage; she wanted to talk about copy! Had progress been made over the last two years, she wouldn’t have had to. But she felt strongly — and after receiving encouragement from Kevin Marks, Daniel Burka and me — she decided to raise the issue because, frankly, no one else had plans to.

She didn’t merely want to complain and didn’t wish to inspire guilt in the predominantly white male audience (what’s there to feel guilty about anyway?). Her point was to frame the issue in a way that helped people recognize the symptoms of the problem, identify where responsibility lies (answer: with all of us) and provide constructive means to address them.

Let’s be real: I doubt it’s lost on anyone that the tech industry and its requisite events lack women. We know this. And we all suffer as a result (for the perspective and experiences they bring, among other things). Lately it’s getting worse: depending on the study you read, there are more females online than males, and yet enrollment by that demographic in computer science is on the wane. Events that purport to be about the “future of web” and yet fail to present speakers that represent the web’s actual diversity serve only to perpetuate this trend.

Turns out, white men also don’t have the monopoly on the best speakerseven in the tech industry — yet their ilk continue to make up a highly disproportionate number of the folks who end up on stage. And that means that good content and good ideas and important perspectives aren’t making it into the mix that should be, and as a result, audiences are getting short-changed.

The question is no longer “where are all the women?” — it’s why the hell aren’t white men making sure that women are up on stage telling their story and sharing the insights that they uniquely can provide!

Why should it only be women who raise their voices on this issue? This isn’t just “their” problem. This is all of our problem, and each of us has something to do about it, or knows someone who should be given an audience but has yet to be discovered.

As a conference organizer, Ryan pointed out that he’s not omniscient. As a fellow conference organizer, I can tell you that you aren’t going to achieve diversity just by talking about it. You have to work at it. To use a lame analogy: if you want food at your event, you’ve got to actually place the order, not just “talk about it”.

Similarly, with female speakers and attendees, you’ve got to work at it, and you’ve got to think about their needs and what will get them come to you (remember, it’s the audience that’s missing out here).

Now, to be fair, I know that Ryan and his team reached out to women. I know that some were too busy; others unavailable; some accepted only to later cancel. Yet still, only two of eight workshops were run by women (with Kristina doing double duty as the only female speaker). It wasn’t for complete lack of effort that more women weren’t on stage or in the audience; it was also the lack of visibility of — and outreach to — women operating on the cutting edges of technology, business, and the web.

This is what our on-stage discussion sought to address by soliciting recommendations from members of the audience tagged with #fowaspeak. By bringing the negative spaces in the conference agenda to the fore — calling attention to the incidental omission of women presenters — we acknowledged that that lack wasn’t necessarily the realization of intent but something more insidious.

It isn’t that women need “help” from white men; this isn’t about capability. To the contrary, the saturation of men in technology leads to women become marginalized and invisible. They are there, and they are present, but somehow we don’t miss them when they’re not up on stage standing next to us. And that’s something that absolutely must change.

Turning the spotlight to deserving women who work just as hard (if not harder) than men does not diminish them, nor should it minimize their accomplishments. An intelligent audience should be able to discern who on stage is meritorious and who is not.

That there are fewer women in the industry means first that conference organizers need work harder to find them and second that audiences need to become vigilant about their absences on conference schedules. It is something that all of us must internalize as our own struggle and then take ongoing, explicit actions to address.

As far as I’m concerned, one of the greatest opportunities to seize the future of web apps is to cement the necessity of diversity in our processes and in our thinking, not for the sake of diversity alone (deserving though it is) but because the technology that we produce is better for it, being more robust, more versatile and flexible, and ultimately, more humane.

The future of web apps — and the conferences that tell their stories — should not be gender-neutral or gender-blind — but gender-balanced. Today, as it was two years ago, we suffer from a severe imbalance. It is my hope that, in raising the specter of consequences of the lack of women in technology, we begin to make as much progress in stitching diversity into the fabric of our society as we are making in producing source code.

My argument against Proposition 8

Politics is something that I normally don’t cover on my blog, but not for any particularly reason. I typically get more [publicly] worked up about technology and the economics and politics of technological development than I do about directly human-facing issues, but that’s not because I’ve ever lost sight of the fact that ultimately all this technology is intended to serve people, or that there are more important, and more visceral, issues that could be tackled for greater, or longer lasting effect. It’s just that I haven’t really felt like I had an articulate contribution to make.

Perhaps until now.

If you’re not interested in political discourse, that’s of course your prerogative and you certainly can skip this post. Personally, however, I’ve become increasingly interested in what’s going on in this country (my country), and increasingly enamored of political dialogue (however bereft of content as it sometimes is) as well as our representative democracy — an imperfect system to be sure, but one that at least, by and large, affords its constituents a voice in matters local, state and federal. And personal.

Here in California, we have a cagey system of democracy where voters are provided the opportunity to consider multiple arguments for and against several propositions presented on a ballot to determine numerous policies at both the state and local level. I voted absentee yesterday (as I’ll be traveling to Oceania later this week) and along with the ballot for the presidential election, there were two accompanying ballots, one for the state and one for the city of San Francisco, where I am a resident.

On the state ballot is Proposition 8, effectively an amendment to the California state constitution that would ban gay marriage by defining it strictly as a union of a heterosexual couple: one man, one woman.

I voted against this proposition. And I’ll tell you why.

Voting no Proposition 8

Back in the day…

When I was a senior in high school (in conservative “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire), I supported an initiative to create a gay-straight student alliance, or GSA. At the time, I was on the staff of the newspaper and was more informed of the various controversies affecting my classmates, but I’ll admit, I was also pretty ignorant of other “lifestyles”. Still, if my parents taught me anything, tolerance and self-respect were a few of the more subtle lessons that must have stuck, which led me to support the effort.

As I had done for many of the school’s student clubs, I created a homepage with information on the GSA initiative and hosted it on my own website. I had also single-handed built my high school’s website (even though I couldn’t get any educator besides the dorky librarian to care) and inserted a banner ad into the site’s rotating pool of four or five ads promoting the other school club sites that I’d designed.

The ad for the GSA, which didn’t say much more than “Find out more” with a link off-site, was in rotation for several weeks when I was called down to the principal’s office to explain why I was announcing school policy without authorization. So it goes in the petri-dish of adolescent high school politics and unbalanced power relationships.

Rather than use this as an educational opportunity, the principal, who later became mayor of the city, decided instead to use this situation as a reeducational opportunity and externally suspended me for six days, meaning I wouldn’t be able to graduate.

I’ll cut to the chase in a moment, but in response, I took down the GSA ad — as well as the entire high school’s site (I was hosting that on my own server too — back in 1999 schools didn’t know what a “web server” was). I vowed that I wouldn’t turn over the site files until they’d written up rules governing what students were and weren’t allowed to post to the school’s site; meanwhile my mom threatened to sue the school.

My infraction was small beans (and eventually overturned) compared with the lawsuit that GLAD and the ACLU filed against the school district barring discrimination against school clubs. By the time the lawsuit was decided in favor of the students, I had graduated and moved off to Pittsburgh, but the experience, and impression that it left on me, has resonated since.

…history repeating

None of these contested issues really consume you until you’re personally affected, as I was in high school, and today I feel equally affected by this proposition, but more capable of doing something about it.

The arguments for and against are fairly straight forward, but for me it comes down to two things:

  • First, I don’t believe that laws should codify discrimination. Our history as a nation has been blighted by both gender and racial discrimination, and now we’re facing discrimination against the makeup of certain families — specifically those of same-sex couples. Good law should strive to be non-ideological; discrimination is nearly always ideologically driven.
  • Second, if marriage as an institution stems from a religious foundation, but is represented in law, by the principle of the separation of church and state and presuming the importance of tolerance to culture, we should cleft out the religious underpinnings of marriage from law and return it to the domain of the church, especially if the church mandates that the definition of marriage is strictly between a man and a woman. The state should therefore only be in the business of recognizing in law civil unions, or the lawful coming together of two people in union. Marriage itself would be a separate religious institution, having no basis in civil law.

In other words, should marriage persist in law, then it should not be discriminatory against same-sex couples. If marriage must only be for heterosexual couples, then it should be removed from the state constitution and replaced with civil unions, which would be available to any two willing citizens.

The examples that have informed my thinking on this come from real people — friends whom I’ve now known for some time, and who I could not imagine being legally separated from their partners because of religious zealotry and illogical reasoning.

Hillary and AnnaThe first is Hillary Hartley, a good friend and fellow coworker at Citizen Space, who has been with her partner for eight years, having known her for 15. They were recently (finally!) able to get married in California, but the vote on November 4 threatens to annul their marriage. Think about that: the potential of this decision could dissolve the legal recognition of a perfectly happy, stable and loving relationship. I can’t even imagine what that must feel like, and because I am a heterosexual male, I never will. And that’s completely unjust.

marnieMarnie Webb is a also good friend of mine, who has been active in the non-profit technology space for years, and who I met through Compumentor, NetSquared and TechSoup (she’s co-CEO of TechSoup). Marnie faces the same fate as Hillary, but in her case, it would mean that Marnie’s daughter, Lucy, would grow up with parents who were legally not allowed to recognize their union, nor have rights for hospital visitation among other benefits of marriage.

The low-pressure ask

So here’s what I’m asking for. I’ll give you three options.

First, THINK about this. Talk to people about it. I’m certainly not going to make up your mind for you, but if you were (or are) in a heterosexual marriage and it was threatened to be annulled by changes in law, how would you feel about it? What would you do? The problem with discrimination is that someone’s always losing out; next time it could be you.

Second, VOTE. When you see Proposition 8 on the ballot, vote your conscience, not your ideology. Belief systems are powerful and complex, but they’re not always right. And times do change. It’s counter-intuitive to me that we’ve spent seven years and untold billions fighting for “Iraqi Freedom” when in our country we’re threatening to take civil liberties away from natural-born citizens.

Third, GIVE something. Obviously the presidential campaigns have probably tapped you out, especially given the uncertainly in the market, but you can give more than just money: you can give your time, or you can give mindshare and voice to these issues by widening the conversation, retweeting this post, blogging about it, or taking a video to record your own sentiments.

If you do want to donate money, both Hillary and Marnie have set up respective donation pages. The challenge we’re facing is that proponents of Prop 8 are better-funded and are able to put more ads on TV and make more phone calls. Money in this case can be directly turned into awareness, and into action. If you’ve got $5, it can make a difference, especially now, as your contribution will be matched dollar for dollar. It’s up to you.

Ruminating on DiSo and the public domain

There’s been some great pickup of the DiSo Project since Anne blogged about it on GigaOM.

I’m not really a fan of early over-hype, but fortunately the reaction so far has been polarized, which is a good thing. It tells me that people care about this idea enough to sign up, and it also means that people are threatened enough by it to defensively write it off without giving it a shot. That’s pretty much exactly where I’d hope to be.

There are also a number of folks pointing out that this idea has been done before, or is already being worked on, which, if you’re familiar with the microformats process, understand the wisdom in paving well-worn cow paths. In fact, in most cases, as Tom Conrad from Pandora has said, it’s not about giving his listeners 100% of what they want (that’s ridiculous), it’s about moving from the number of good songs from six to seven out of a set of eight. In other words, most people really don’t need a revolution, they just want a little more of what they already have, but with slight, yet appreciable, improvements.

Anyway, that’s all neither here nor there. I have a bunch of thoughts and not much time to put them down.

. . .

I’ve been thinking about mortality a lot lately, stemming from Marc Orchant’s recent tragic death and Dave Winer’s follow up post, capped off with thinking about open data formats, permanence and general digital longevity (when I die, what happens to my digital legacy? my OpenID?, etc).

Tesla Jane MullerMeanwhile, and on a happier note, I had the fortunate occasion to partake in the arrival of new life, something that, as an uncle of ~17 various nieces and nephews, I have some experience with.

In any case, these two dichotomies have been pinging around my brain like marbles in a jar for the past couple days, perhaps bringing some things into perspective.

. . .

Meanwhile, back in the Bubble, I’ve been watching “open” become the new bastard child of industry, its meaning stripped, its bite muzzled. The old corporate allergy to all things open has found a vaccine. And it’s frustrating.

Muddled up in between these thoughts on openness, permanence, and on putting my life to some good use, I started thinking about the work that I do, and the work that we, as technologists do. And I think that term shallow now, especially in indicating my humanist tendencies. I don’t want to just be someone who is technologically literate and whose job it is to advise people about how to be more successful in applying its appropriate use. I want to create culture; I want to build civilization!

And so, to that end, I’ve been mulling over imposing a mandate on the DiSo Project that forces all contributions to be released into the public domain.

Now, there are two possible routes to this end. The first is to use a license compatible with Andrius KulikauskasEthical Public Domain project. The second is to follow the microformats approach, and use the Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication.

While I need to do more research into this topic, I’ve so far been told (by one source) that the public domain exists in murky legal territory and that perhaps using the Apache license might make more sense. But I’m not sure.

In pursuing clarity on this matter, my goals are fairly simple, and somewhat defiant.

For one thing, and speaking from experience, I think that the IPR process for both OpenID and for OAuth were wasteful efforts and demeaning to those involved. Admittedly, the IPR process is a practical reality that can’t be avoided, given the litigious way business is conducted today. Nor do I disparage those who were involved in the process, who were on the whole reasonable and quite rational; I only lament that we had to take valuable time to work out these agreements at all (I’m still waiting on Yahoo to sign the IPR agreement for OAuth, by the way). As such, by denying the creation of any potential IP that could be attached to the DiSo Project, I am effectively avoiding the need to later make promises that assert that no one will sue anyone else for actually using the technology that we co-create.

So that’s one.

Second, Facebook’s “open” platform and Google’s “open” OpenSocial systems diminish the usefulness of calling something “open”.

As far as I’m concerned, this calls for the nuclear option: from this point forward, I can’t see how anyone can call something truly open without resorting to placing the work firmly in the public domain. Otherwise, you can’t be sure and you can’t trust it to be without subsequent encumbrances.

I’m hopeful about projects like Shindig that call themselves “open source” and are able to be sponsored by stringent organizations like the Apache foundation. But these projects are few and far between, and, should they grow to any size or achieve material success, inevitably they end up having to centralize, and the “System” (yes, the one with the big es) ends up channeling them down a path of crystallization, typically leading to the establishment of archaic legal institutions or foundations, predicated on being “host” for the project’s auto-created intellectual property, like trademarks or copyrights.

In my naive view of the public domain, it seems to me that this situation can be avoided.

We did it (and continue to prove out the model) with BarCamp — even if the Community Mark designation still seems onerous to me.

And beyond the legal context of this project, I simply don’t want to have to answer to anyone questioning why I or anyone else might be involved in this project.

Certainly there’s money to be had here and there, and it’s unavoidable and not altogether a bad thing; there’s also more than enough of it to go around in the world (it’s the lack of re-circulation that should be the concern, not what people are working on or why). In terms of my interests, I never start a project with aspirations for control or domination; instead I want to work with intelligent and passionate people — and, insomuch as I am able, enable other people to pursue their passions, demonstrating, perhaps, what Craig Newmark calls nerd values. So if no one (and everyone) can own the work that we’re creating, then the only reason to be involved in this particular instance of the project is because of the experience, and because of the people involved, and because there’s something rewarding or interesting about the problems being tackled, and that their resolution holds some meaning or secondary value for the participants involved.

I can’t say that this work (or anything else that I do) will have any widespread consequences or effects. That’s hardly the point. Instead, I want to devote myself to working with good people, who care about what they do, who hold out some hope and see validity in the existence of their peers, who crave challenge, and who feel accomplished when others share in the glory of achievement.

I guess when you get older and join the “adult world” you have to justify a lot more to yourself and to others. It’s a lot harder to peel off the posture of defensiveness and disbelief that come with age than to allow yourself to respond with excitement, with hope, with incredulity and wonder. But I guess I’m not so much interested in that kind of “adult world” and I guess, too, that I’d rather give all my work away than risk getting caught up in the pettiness that pervades so much of the good that is being done, and that still needs to be done, in all the many myriad opportunities that surround us.

BarCampPortland and Pibb

Pibb - #pdxbarcamp

I’m here in Portland, OR at their BarCamp — it’s a great scene, but with a few differences.

First of all, this is the first time a BarCamp has been held specifically in a coworking space — in this case, an expansive collaborative environment called CubeSpace.

Second, Jay Fichialos, the original camphead, is here from Dallas and has transcribed the complete calendar into a great looking Google Spreadsheet.

Third, we’re using Pibb, a new online chat system built by Portland company JanRain, as the event’s channel. It seems to be performing really well for a new product and looks great. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like there are permalinks available for the transcripts, but I’ve put in a request to the developers who were on-site for such a feature.

Otherwise, Dawn and Raven did a fantastic job putting the event together, there’s been plenty of food, great conversations and an impressive turnout. Oh, and Josh Bancroft’s Wii was definitely a welcome addition (even though Dawn kicked my ass).

Lastly, I’d like to commend BarCampPortland on achieving three to five male to female ratio of organizers… and yes, I mean that there five female planners of a total of eight. Attendance overall was still skewed towards male attendees, but the session that Dawn put on about Collaboration in Communities had a full 10 female participants — and it was one of the best and most interesting sessions I’ve been to. Progress is slow, but with increased awareness, continued vigilance and proactive inclusivity, I do think that the BarCamp community can continue to improve how it promotes, invites and nurtures a wider, more diverse, and more talented, community.

We found women in tech, so why are you still not reporting about them?

A Guide to the UnconventionalThere’s a good article on unconferences by Scott Kirsner in next week’s BusinessWeek. He talks about what an unconference is, discusses the rise of the wider community and the potential threat to the traditional conference model.

All in all, he does a pretty good job capturing an accurate picture of the “unconference scene” and it was great getting to talk to Scott about his piece.

I did want to take issue with his singling me out of “two fellow Web2Open organizers”, and bring some attention to gender blindness in media stories such as this one.

As with many stories in the popular press, it’s fairly typical to rest the foundation of a story on one or two key individuals; it keeps complexity low and avoids getting bogged down in details that are only of import to the characters of the story. And I’m sure that Scott didn’t intend any malice, but that Ross and Tara, who both stood on those chairs with me went unnamed strikes me as a missed opportunity to highlight not only the hard work that lots of folks have put into building this community, but in particular undermines the credit that Tara deserves for the incredible amount of work that she did to make Web2Open happen. If anyone, she’s the one that really deserves to be called out in the article.

But there’s a second and more insidious issue that I want to raise now, while the issue is relevant… If you read over the article, with the inside knowledge that I have of the background that went into the article, it’s doubly unfortunate that Tara wasn’t given more credit as a female organizer when she did far more than I did to pull off the conference; on top of that, the mention of Web2Open attendee Sudha Jamthe (a previous BarCamp organizer, no less) and Tara Dunion, spokeswoman for the Consumer Electronics Association, seem to paint them as bit players when compared to white guys like me, Dave Winer and Doug Gold.

Now, maybe I’m just over-sensitive to this kind of stuff, building mountains out of molehills and all that, but I suppose that’s the price of vigilance. And it’s also something that I can’t ignore when BarCamp is not and has never been solely about individuals, but about what we can do together, when serving each our own’s best interests. And this is especially relevant if you read Aaron Swartz’s thoughts on mysogny in the tech community:

If you talk to any woman in the tech community, it won’t be long before they start telling you stories about disgusting, sexist things guys have said to them. It freaks them out; and rightly so. As a result, the only women you see in tech are those who are willing to put up with all the abuse.

I really noticed this when I was at foo camp once, Tim O’Reilly’s exclusive gathering for the elite of the tech community. The executive guys there, when they thought nobody else was around, talked about how they always held important business meetings at strip clubs and the deficiencies of programmers from various countries.

Meanwhile, foo camp itself had a session on discrimination in which it was explained to us that the real problem was not racism or sexism, but simply the fact that people like to hang out with others who are like themselves.

The denial about this in the tech community is so great that sometimes I despair of it ever getting fixed. And I should be clear, it’s not that there are just some bad people out there who are being prejudiced and offensive. Many of these people that I’m thinking of are some of my best friends in the community. It’s an institutional problem, not a personal one.

Promoting women when they’re doing great things in the tech community has to become a top priority. Providing and seeking out the women who are serving in backbone roles within our community and bringing the spotlight to them and supporting them must become a shared priority. Working with women’s groups to create both inviting events and interesting opportunities to draw out and inspire the reluctant or hidden female talent is something that conference and *camp organizers alike must attend to.

I think I’m extra sensitive about this particular case for two reasons. The first is that we tried really hard and went out of our way to encourage and both in and in the Web2Expo. It was certainly a challenge, but I’m proud of the progress we made. I personally had the privilege to work with three incredible women on the designer track (Kelly Goto, Jen Pahlka and Emily Chang) and I think that made all the difference. The second issue probably stems from the Schwartz interview where Philipp Lenssen (the interviewer) reports:

The last barcamp I was at, in Nuremberg, had a men/ women ratio of about 80/ 2. It was quite sad, and I was wondering what the cause of this was. Is it partly also a problem of the hacker culture, to behave anti-social, and that this puts off more social people? Many good programmers I know, for instance, aren’t too social.

To which Aaron astutely replies:

I think that’s probably part of it; many people don’t have the social skills to notice how offensive they’re being. But even the people who are quite social and competent misbehave and, furthermore, they support a culture where this misbehavior is acceptable. I don’t exclude myself from this criticism.

Now, for a BarCamp to have an 80-2 male-female ratio is unacceptable as far as I’m concerned. And I would hope and challenge the BarCamp community, in particular, to do whatever it takes to work to remedy a condition like this. There are simply no excuses, only constant improvements to be made. And if any community were up to the challenge of taking head on and reversing this long term, systemic trend of making women effectively invisible, I should hope, and moreover expect, that it would be the BarCamp community to take the first worldwide steps towards addressing this critical matter and setting some baseline priorities for how we’re going to improve this situation.

What news feels like

Bush Announces Iraq Exit Strategy

I was walking down the street today when I glanced sidelong at a newspaper box and caught the words “Bush Announces Iraq Exit Strategy”.

A fleeting moment of relief came over me and I thought to myself, “Finally.”

But sometimes we believe into existence that which we want to see. And sometimes that belief, though powerful, proves false.

Upon further investigation I suffered the let-down of all time: just like always, the Onion was not reporting real news, but merely made up fantasies that were too good to be true.

What’s interesting about this has nothing to do with The Onion, though. Instead it has to do with the medium and with the message.

For one thing, the fact that what I thought I saw was in newsprint still carried with it a certain kind of psychological weight or trustworthiness… it wasn’t like reading Tailrank about some spoofed headline… if it was in print and on the street in one of hundreds of thousands of newsstands around the world, surely there must be some truth to it. Alas, the medium betrayed me.

As for the message — it is revealing to me how sharp the sudden sense of relief was at that the thought that “the war is over”. I mean, facing fact, this is the largest war that my generation has ever seen. We’ve now seen more soldiers and coalition forces killed than went to my high school. More than ten times that have been injured or wounded. And yet the thing keeps dragging on, to no certain end.

Y’know, I’ve always liked war movies — especially ones about World War II. If there was ever such a thing, history has recorded this affair as the feel-good war of the century — where boys were turned into men, women filled the factories and smoking and Coca Cola became icons of the American psyche. The same can nary be said for the current war.

And, whatever the reality of earlier wars, this one seems even further away from reality — even more impossible — and even less certain about its ultimate goal than the previous black-and-white conflicts.

…which I suppose is why the faux-headline in the Onion caught my attention and gave me a sense of, well, hope. Because that’s what this war seems to lack — there is no real villain anymore, no hero, there is no sure outcome, there is no obvious way to end this black hole that’s been unleashed. My dad and my grandfather were both enlisted men and if either were involved in active duty today, I’m not sure that I could really understand what they were after.

Oh sure, protecting freedom; certainly, saving face after removing Saddam without a plan for winning the peace; planting democracy in the Middle East? Um, okay? Saving the world from terrorism? Making the world a better place? How does making war make things better?

Y’know — I live a very privileged life. I’m so grateful to have the things I have: to live in a fantastic city with a fantastic woman; I help run an amazing upstart business situated in a terrific space with some incredible individuals. I work on things that I love and that I’m passionate about. I’m pretty much in touch with my family and I have the most fabulous friends all over the world.

So when it comes to this four-year-old war — with all the good things that I have in my life — I guess I’m just stuck wishing for a headline that indicates something other than that it’s just got to keep going for sake of… keeping going.

Bating the mousetrap with chunky peanut butter

Flickr peanut butter
Original by starpause kid and shared under a Creative Commons License.
When it comes to mousetraps, it’s fairly common knowledge that an effective cheese alternative for trapping mice is peanut butter.

However, we already know that Yahoo isn’t too fond of peanut butter. At least the smooth kind spread thin.

So it’s interesting to note that, perhaps as part of the strategy to outlaw renegade peanut butter within the organization, the formerly independent outpost known as Flickr will be forcing users to either merge or create a new Yahoo account to login after March 15:

On March 15th, 2007 we’ll be discontinuing the old email-based Flickr sign in system. From that point on, everyone will have to use a Yahoo! ID to sign in to Flickr.

We’re making this change now to simplify the sign in process in advance of several large projects launching this year, but some Flickr features and tools already require Yahoo! IDs for sign in — like the mobile site at or the new Yahoo! Go program for mobiles, available at

If you still sign in using the email-based Flickr system (here), you can make the switch at any time in the next few months, from today till the 15th. (After that day, you’ll be required to merge before you continue using your account.) To switch, start at this page:

Complete details and answers to most common questions are available here:

If you have questions or comments about signing in with a Yahoo! ID, speak up!

You can imagine that not everyone is happy about this, especially after the reaction the first time around:
Jimbo doesn't like it

Now, I’m not interested in opening old wounds. The Flickr folks have given plenty of notice about the coming changes (figure at least a month and a half if not the full 18 months since they were acquired) and of course are available for consolation, hand-holding and so forth.

Oh, and contrary to my tendency towards conspiracy theories, I’ll let Stewart debunk them outright:

And that’s it: there’s no secret agenda here, no desire to come to your homes and steal your TV. Over time, it just gets more expensive to maintain independent means of authentication and we could “spend” those efforts on other things which make Flickr more useful, more fun, more versatile, etc. And the smaller the ratio of old skool to Y!ID-based gets, the harder it is to justify not spending that effort on improvements.

I will, however, take this opportunity to rise up on my soapbox again and point out something worth reflecting on…

Look, Google’s already done the same thing with Dodgeball; it’s a sure bet that they’re going to do the same thing with their YouTube acquisition. We know that Yahoo logins are going to show up on MyBlogLog and eventually, probably Upcoming too — and, for that matter, any other user-centered acquisition that comes down the pipe. Microsoft is no different. Let’s face it: the future of the web is in identity-based services. And this is a good thing, if you’re ready for it.

My buddies Brian Oberkirch and Aldo Castañeda talked about the potential for this new economy recently. It’s coming and it’s scary (for some) and it’s unclear what it looks like. But the more that this happens under authoritarian login regimes, the more concern I feel for the effect these consolidation efforts will have on true democratic choice in where and how you spend your attention.

Realistically, it’s not terribly surprising that Yahoo! and the rest are going this direction. Hell, from a systems perspective, you’re just two entries in a grand database in the sky whereas you could be one. From a service perspective, unifying “you” across systems allows convenience and synergies to emerge. The problem is that these actions belie the sophisticated relationships that some people have with their online accounts and how their personas are represented. Though not everyone cares a whole lot about their screennames, others absolutely do. And beyond that, for whatever reasons they have, some people simply do not want to go near Yahoo! — something they never thought would be a concern of theirs when they originally joined Flickr.

But there’s a curious reality to look at here.

While I call Flickr home (NIPSA’d and all), just as there is a vehicle to vent my individual frustrations to Flickr, those same vehicles and mechanisms are available to me to splinter off and build my own peanut-butter-rich outpost anew. The missing piece of the puzzle, however, is my identity. I can’t just pack up my digital self and move on… whichever login system Flickr uses — Yahoo’s, Google’s, their own — I can’t “take it with me”. Even with their API, which is one of the most generous in the biz, it still doesn’t give me the ability to fully reincarnate myself somewhere else.

Now, I could and would like to turn this into a pitch for OpenID, but I won’t, at least directly. The Yahoo! folks have already expressed their distaste for creating Just Another Identity Silo and I keep waiting for them to prove it. I don’t mind waiting a bit longer. The wheels of the OpenID community are already in motion and I don’t have to plead for acknowledgment from the powers that be. The truth is, there are only a few more sites that will fall. The truth is, we are only now beginning to realize the degree to which we are all exposed and what the reality of our transparent society looks like. And the truth is, we are only just beginning to wake up to the idea that we should and can have dominion over our online lives, just as we believe is our right offline.

Trademark in its final throes?

No, not really, but it does sound pretty bleak:

Limited Brands SVP and Associate General Counsel Carol Matorin, who represents Victoria’s Secret among other brands, summed up the Sisyphean challenge of policing trademark violations in the midst of what she called “a great ocean of infringing materials.”

“It’s like trying to empty the ocean with a pail,” she said on a panel discussing the topic. “Can you even identify the perpetrator or whoever you’re trying to go after? There’s always been too much to go after in its entirety.” And each day brings more infringement than the last.

I dunno, I’d really like to see that Community Mark idea given some legal scrutiny, from the standpoint of creating doctrine that reflects the current social or economic needs of a society.

We’ve got trademark, which is economically unenforceable, patents, which are the DRM of genius, and copyright which are the modern shackles of the scamp-as-artist.

Hell, why don’t we just throw out the baby with the bathwater and come up with something unpatently original?