Me and Microsoft, Part II

Executive summary: Had dinner the other night with Jim Allchin and some other wonderful folks. We talked broadly about open source, Internet Explorer and Windows, Window Media Center, identity management and passport and widely about DRM and how effed the whole system is. And though there were certainly MSFT-friendlies around the table, it was refreshingly not a total MSFT lovefest. Details follow. Part 2 in a series of a couple.

Me and MicrosoftOkay, so you wanna know what I think? I don’t think MSFT is a bad company. Maybe I’m basing that only on my interactions with Scoble and Jim, Linda, Neil and James and others from MSFT that I’ve historically interacted with, but really I think that there’s some decency in there. Thomas told me that of the AGYM companies, MSFT employees seem to be the most open and willing to engage in honest conversations about the failings of their employer. Are there bad apples in the mix (maybe the wrong analogy to use, ehmm)? Of course. Has MSFT been arrogant, closed, anti-standards, proprietary and at times evil? Yeah, probably (though that last part is often in the eye of the beholder). Achieving the ol’ American dream doesn’t come without crushing some toes.

So here’s my beef (and Tara was totally right to push this issue with Jim): when it comes to certain, shall we say, “politically-charged” (and economically-impactful) issues, why doesn’t MSFT shore up on the side of democracy and freedom of information and expression and rally its allies against the intellectual police state? Ok, fine… scrap the hyperbole, here’s what I want: just let us use our media however we damn well please! Eff this DRM bullshit. You know it’s not good for your customers and it’s ultimately not good for your bottom line, either.

O o o wait. Ok. Call my bluff, go ahead. Well, see, I’m not that naive and Tara isn’t either. We know it all comes down to business (as usual).

We know that quote-unquote consumers are only part of your audience — that Hollywood is also one of your most well-endowed customers (I’m talking big feet, here); that they rely on you to lock down and handicap the technology and tools that you build so that they can maintain their stranglehold on eff-you-ectual property.

I git it, I git it. Duh.

But how about this? Who said I ever cared about bidness (as usual)? Now, I’m not down with making threats much (I mean, this is a personal blog, big friggin’ whoop what I have to say here), but it is obvious, at least to me and everyone I know, that you’re fighting a losing battle. I don’t even have to back it up. Time will tell. What the system can’t break down, it will route around. And DRM schemes are being broken so fast that the money you’re spending researching new ones is almost certainly costing you future allies in the Doomsday fight against Hollywood. So you’re losing in both respects: you’re certainly not getting points with your Media Center enthusiasts who just want to be able to play their legally purchased media anywhere and by not making a stand against the DRM that-turns-our-computers-against-us, it’s you that looks bad, even though you’re only pushing Hollywood’s agenda.

Oh, and about blaming it all on Apple and the iPod…. for a minute there you had me going… It did seem to make sense that geez, Apple’s the real offender here, keeping iTunes and the iPod all locked up and proprietary. But then hey, I realized that if your players were decent and you’d won the player war, you’d be doing the exact same thing that you accuse Apple of, which, by the way, is perpetuating their winning streak going and keeping you outta that business (hmm, didn’t you do this with the desktop? what comes around, goes around maybe?).

You can’t just say “well, they’ve found success with the iPod, they’re making boatloads of cash, they’re the ones that should fix the DRM problem and take on Hollywood.” That’s bullshit and now that I’ve thought about it, a bit insulting that you would suggest that MSFT has nothing to do with the problem.

But I’m jess sayin’, yoo kno?

Anyway, I’ve got nothing against you guys personally. That’s the beauty of working for a monolith: your individual actions have much less bite when it comes right down to it. So let’s call this an academic exercise: you all get F’s in my book for sticking up for the little guy and hell, I would’ve suspended Hollywood by now and sent it off for a remedial education in the importance of sharing ones trucks in the sandbox of life… but truly, I’m a peon in the scheme of things; you guys are the ones building your “open” DRM into our tools, into our media and into our computers. You do have the power to make a difference. So, uhm, sorry if I don’t buy your logic that Apple’s all to blame or that the problem is out of your hands. Personally, I can only choose not to buy your DRM’d crap and instead spend my money supporting causes that are working to dismantle the intellectual police state that you’re creating.

Ok, I’m done. Remember that this totally isn’t personal — hey, I like you guys — it’s just your and Hollywood’s big picture I ain’t too fond of! Kbai.

Me and Microsoft, Part I

Executive summary: Had dinner the other night with Jim Allchin and some other wonderful folks. We talked broadly about open source, Internet Explorer and Windows, Window Media Center, identity management and passport and widely about DRM and how effed the whole system is. And though there were certainly MSFT-friendlies around the table, it was refreshingly not a total MSFT lovefest. Details follow. Part 1 in a series of a couple.

Me and MicrosoftSo I don’t think I had expected to really ever sit down for dinner with the guy who’s responsible for Windows Vista (his official title is Co-President, Platforms Products & Services Division). I mean, who am I in the grand scheme of things? Yet that’s the situation that I found myself in on Thursday, along with Make maker Phillip Torrone and his long-distance ex-MSFT wife Beth Goza, Tony Gentile of Healthline.com, Tara my co-conspirator (she finagled me an invite), Linda the organizer from Waggener Edstrom, Neil Charney of the underarm plasma 40″, Thomas Hawk ( and #655 on ‘rati), Jason Garms who curiously could have fit in on the set of Newsies (owing to his houndstooth jacket), Mena Trott, who I first encountered in Paris ($#!@% — I keed, I keed!) and John Tokash with two Passports.

As introductions were made around the table, I prepared for what I knew would be my outing — I didn’t know whether to expect gasps or sidelong glances… or perhaps even sympathetic eyes (“Poor chap, doesn’t he know that IE has 90% of desktops covered? What’s there to do with yet another browser?”). I began:

Uh, I’m Chris Messina. I work on an open-source browser called Flock and I, uhm, am interested in bringing things like usability, design, fashion to open source to make it more palatable for wider audiences… and I help co-organize and evangelize this event called Bar Camp and something else called Mash Pit.

Cat was out of the bag and no slings nor arrows had been flung. In fact, I felt quite welcome and in good company after all. Huh. All fizzled up for nothing. Ok.

So then Linda explained the dinner — apologized for Robert not being able to make it (no worries, mate) — and for arriving a little late themselves. (Ah, to work for one of the most powerful organizations in the world and to apologize for being late; yes, civilization has advanced some!)

Wine all around and the food started to arrive as conversations got underway. I can’t remember all that was said, but there are a few notable points that stuck with me.

First, there are some very interesting and weird presumptions about “open source people” which are probably as unfair as the generalizations many people make about MSFT folks. For example, Jim acknowledged that they had learned a few things from the open source community that had changed their approach to the Windows VISTA beta program — opting to be more open, transparent and agile, attempting for once to release earlier and more often. Of course this is a great thing for Microsoft and all the folks who run Windows since ideally this could mean that the product they ship will be of higher quality and more accurately reflect the needs or desires of the user community. We’ll see, but what was interesting after revealing this, was what he said directly to me, “…even though that might not be as open as you might like, we are learning.”

I was floored. I mean, wow, ok… I’m obviously an open source enthusiast and proponent, but I wouldn’t want MSFT to go in this direction to appease anyone or score points (of course it’s not that simple, but still). That’s not really the point of being open source, anyway. I’m really not an open source/free software zealot. Cripes, I’m from New Hampshire where our motto is Live free or die! Far be it for me to tell you what to do!

I mean, as anyone who’s tried to go from proprietary to open source can tell you, it’s not about just opening up your code and voila! a million worker bees will swarm to help you with your code! Far from it. I mean, first of all, you’ve got to want to be open source, in everything you do — and to take the good with the bad, the ugly with the magnificent. You can’t do it for anyone but yourself, and you’ve really got to believe in its superiority as a development and tool-building philosophy.

Still, it’s still promising to see that they’re observing what’s going on around them — and seemingly learning what the F/LOSS communities have for so long espoused and practiced.

To be continued . . .

. . .

Pry, To

privacy is dream

personal privacy is an oxymoron. you know less about yourself than the mass of services and companies out there that collect, individually or collectively, information about you and your activities, for their own selective proprietary uses or for selling to other organizations, institutions and/or governments.

you think you have privacy left to protect?

privacy today in general is a fallacy: it’s an impossible dream that we should’ve woken up from some time ago.

a “publicity policy” isn’t enough, but it’s a cute idea. naw, it’s time for a whole mind shift in how we, as individual persons, address and engage the question of what it means to have little to no power to control who sees, studies, sells information about, the things that we do.

repeat after me: “PRIVACY … IS … A … DREAM.”

not for you. not for me. only for the government, big corporations, disappearing persons.

but hey hey, don’t fret. it’s not that bad. and maybe, maybe we can do something about it that won’t cost us all that much, if anything. so long as we follow the superstition that we have any privacy at all, we’ll continue to try to “hide” (in order to “control”) whatever information we can. but that’s just what keeps us in this situation, this is the very thing that keeps us weak.

get it? they already have all the juicy bits about us. it’s all out there in the ether already. and you spend this effort keeping these bits to yourself, bits that really could do you and your friends and your social cohorts some good if you just put it out there.

jamming, yeah, that’s what i’m talking about. flood the network with information of, by and for ourselves… so much so that only our friends and those we care about and are close to can make sense of the data.

yeh, come looking, come stalk me, come steal my identity. yeah, there’s nothing i can do to stop you whether i’m jamming the network anyway. so i might as well take the other approach, do what i can to subsume what’s subsuming me.

personal filters (maybe like Onlife) leveraged put our attention stream into service for ourselves… to improve our day-to-day experience by giving us the information to learn about what we really spend our time, attention and energies doing… so that we can improve, make better, more informed decisions… just like the credit card mongers and insurance brokers do about us.

this data is extremely valuable. there’s a multi-billion dollar market out there for this kind of information. but what they don’t want you to realize, is that this data is also available to you, cher amie, even though we haven’t built good tools for harvesting and using it yet… too afraid that these microscopic pixie dust embers of personal data will be scooped up by Evil, Inc., they’ve done an end-run around us, ignoring those teensy morsels that you protect to focus on grabbing up the good stuff (credit card records, travel behavior, cell phone calls, etc). they’ve got you p0wned. get over it.

besides, who are you kidding besides yourself?

get over it. flood the network.

listen, if it’s about you, it’s yours (yes, I believe that). and yes, you ought have a right to see it, to know about it, to correct it, to use it. you also should have the right to take it back, to conceal it, to lock it away forever.

but good luck, once it’s out there, it ain’t comin’ back. you step out that door, and forget it, you’re already on camera; say cheese.

repeat after me: “PRIVACY … IS … A … DREAM.”

what you don’t know about you, someone else by now already does and has sold off to a mailing label company, a magazine subscription company, a freeipods dot com rip off pyramid scheme. so look, if you don’t think of yourself as an aggregate statistic in your own life, for eff’s sake, stop treating yourself like one. flood it. c’mon, flood it. make it impossible for anyone to ever treat you as just another statistic again.

teh end.

sources, references and influences that partially lead to this flamebait:

Podcast from Bar Camp NYC

Greg Heller interviewing Chris Messina

Greg Heller interviewed me Sunday morning at the tremendously successful Bar Camp NYC. There wasn’t a whole lot of wine involved this time but I nevertheless ramble on about taking over the world or other dumb stuff. Fortunately Greg did a great job of being provocative and keeping me on my toes! The sound is a little rough, but hey, Greg shoots from the hip and encodes at a low bit rate.

Take a listen and lemme know what you think.

The war on consumers keeps on rollin’

People don’t kill people. Robots kill people.As if insurgent consumers weren’t already under the gun, Microsoft is apparently developing technology to make it easier for The Advertiser’s Army to target human beings:

The AdCenter Incubation Lab, or AdLab, has opened in Beijing and is responsible for developing technologies that would provide advertisers with better tools for targeting online consumers…

Yeah, I’m making a semantic joke, but hey, Robots Kill People and apparently advertisers want to too.

And hell, I’m really sick of being “targeted” all the time. If all you want from me is my money, fine, here, take it. Here’s a big EFF you too. I’ll throw that in for free, y’know, since it’s quite clear that you give a shyte about me.

But that’s all right too, no hard feelings. When it all comes down to it, we won’t need dollars where we’re going. Hey hey, chew on that one for a minute and see if your head doesn’t explode.

The Case for Community Marks

Executive summary: In recommending the establishment of Community Marks, I propose that an alternative to trademarks is needed for community-based projects like Bar Camp and Microformats. The need for Community Marks stems from the non-commercial focus of these projects and the way these projects spread virally on the web. While we need to protect the integrity of a brand like Bar Camp, licensing and legal enforcement is too costly in terms of time and money to make sense for loosely joined communities. Therefore, if we can leave enforcement up to the community via the Community Marks denotation, we will be able to serve the vital function of identifying a community’s work and projects without burdening that community with undue legal process and enforcement costs.

Community Mark You can’t imagine how excited I am to write this post… not only is it an important one, but I’ve just gotten my busted laptop back and wow (is this bad?) I feel like I have my life back again. Never really thought I’d say such a thing, but eet’s true I teenk.

So I’ve been discussing the idea of Community Marks with a wide number of folks for some time (starting back when I was working on Spread Firefox and preemptively released the hi-res versions of the Firefox logo before I had full authority (that post has since been taken down)). I believe that this idea is an important tool which has grown out of the emergent philosophy that I see in the camps and in community-directed, “unowned” projects like Microformats.

Let’s get into it: I’m not a lawyer and I will never pretend to be, but that doesn’t really matter as far as I’m concerned and I’ll tell you why.

When it comes down to it, law is totally made up by humans. It’s just a system of conventions that codify certain beliefs about morality and righteousness within the context of a given civilization, society or group.

Laws weren’t and aren’t always penned in Congress, either. In fact, unbeknownst to most school children, that timeless classic that tells of the “life of a bill” is simply a story that you can choose to agree or disagree with. For the purpose of this discussion, I disagree with its fundamental premise that all laws (and rules governing trade and so on) must go through that process to become “real” or as enforceable as any other law.

Sure, this could be an academic or artistic inquiry on my part, whatev, that’s fine. Today, I’m interested in a little armchair-legislation, the kind that has no teeth or legal basis in our current legal system, but nevertheless solves an important need with which existing law currently doesn’t deal: the need for community owned and enforced marks (as in an open alternative to trademarks).

I won’t belabor where this all came from, but suffice it to say that the SpreadSpread campaigns (Spread Firefox, et al) have repeatedly encountered problems when commercially valuable trademarks need to be put in the hands of a community and the public domain is not an option.

The view heretofore has been that this is necessary, with dubious restrictions that protect the ability of the trademark owner to enforce their brand and indeed ensure the perceived quality that their logo, wordmark or servicemark represents.

In the case of Firefox or Flock, even though they are the result of countless hours of volunteer effort, you still need to be able to prevent some nefarious hacker in the remote expanses of cyberspace from releasing a spyware-laden version of either browser and calling it by the name of the official binary. Allowing such behavior could conceivably cause confusion in the mind of the consumer and potentially lead to an economic impact on the brand’s reputation. Therefore, it would be legitimate (and legal) for either Flock or Firefox to go after the offender and stop them from continuing such behavior. Just check out the on the lengths one can go to protect their IP in such a situation. Seriously.

And that’s why trademark was created: to make sure the people who own a brand can enforce their dominion over it to keep making money off it unfettered.

Um..

I mean.. uh… “to guarantee the integrity of a brand’s goods or services in order to prevent confusion in the marketplace.” (Stupid Freudian slips!)

So anyway, that’s all good and well, but it’s not enough. And it doesn’t address the issue I’m trying to resolve: the need for a mark that is owned, operated and enforced by a community that isn’t driven by purely economic interest. Instead, the motivation derives from the desire to uniformly represent their work product as the output of a specific community. Period.

So the case for community marks is primarily necessitated by projects like Bar Camp, which collectively is the product of scattered cadres of individuals the world over who take ownership of the brand on behalf of the larger community. None own the name or mark outright, instead they agree to hold an event based on Bar Camp, espousing its primary principles; in that way, they are extending the reach of the mark and therefore have earned a de facto license to use the Bar Camp logo and moniker. Now, should another separate event be created with primarily commercial gain in mind that uses the Bar Camp brand and co-opts the integrity of the name, it would be up to the community to go after and enforce the brand, either through blogging, boycotting or other subversive means. We simply don’t have the financial or temporal resources to go after such an offender, but we do have a small army whose response could be economically devastating to that effort.

I mean, let’s look at two precedents here: Creative Commons and Microformats.

With Creative Commons, you’ve got this idea that maybe not everything needs to be owned exclusively by default… Maybe you can allow for some distributed ownership of intellectual work in order to grease subsequent derivative creative expression. And maybe both the community and the original author will see benefits.

With Microformats, they’re leveraging community behavior to standardize the way we mark up our documents for the benefit of everyone. No one owns Microformats, though Tantek et al do a pretty good job shepherding the community. Nevertheless, the result of their work is something that the community takes pride in, identifies with, would be willing to expend individual effort to defend the integrity of.

And we learn two more things from them: to solve human problems as a primary objective and second to pave the paths of existing behavior. Don’t reinvent everything all the time. Just do what’s simple; just codify what’s already being done.

And gee, we’ve come full circle haven’t we?

Microformats are basically mini-laws for marking up your documents. Hell, go ahead and break them, do your own thing, there’s no punishment because the community doesn’t see punishment as being in line with its sense of justice. But joining up and following the rules, in this case, will actually bring you some benefits and not to mention, make your life (if you’re a user of the web, anyway) a little bit better.

So let’s codify this need to represent community works in a common mark. I want to be able to put a stamp on the work that I do within a community that identifies it to the world — that says: Me and a buncha folks made this and we’re proud of it. We did it not to make money but out of passion and love and because it’s in our nature to create without secondary purposes in mind.

And then let’s call it a Community Mark to make it clear what’s driving our purpose. It’s not tradeit’s the community, stupid! And from now on, if you want to create your own Community Mark, just slap a CM on your mark and hope for the best. Hell, we can’t enforce these things unless we hand them over to a broader community anyway — and since it’s really the community that owns the mark anyway, who better to look out for their wellbeing?

A Eulogy for the EULA

Use of this product requires that you have read and agree to abide by the terms of use specificed in the end user licensing agreement

Walking home tonight something occurred to me that is strangely disarming and significant, primarily in its simplicity and “oh yeah…” quotient.

I’m no lawyer, but I’d be damned if any software EULA would actually hold up in court anymore. Any EULA for that matter. I mean, think about it. If you install any amount of software, every time you open up a DMG or run an install.exe, you will inevitably click through some lengthy piece of legalese that invariably concludes with you pressing a button that reads “I agree”.

And we all know how blissfully ignorant you are of whatever it is you just agreed to.

Or how about that shrinkwrap EULA? Now there’s a classic.

I mean, look at the Sony Root Kit fiasco. No doubt somewhere on the packaging or some embedded app that launched on CD insertion warned you: “Hey read this, coz we’re telling you explicitly that we’re taking over your system and spying on you. If you agree to these terms by [clicking a button | inserting this CD], hey, well, don’t say later that we didn’t warn you. We disclaim all liability.

“And we’ve got lawyers.

“Lots of ’em.

“And they write this shit all day long. So don’t even think of questioning whether this is legit or not. We say it is. So of course, it is.”

So anyway, this thing, it sprung on me: Holy crap, EULAs are totally against humanity! Yeah, I mean, I have like a million ideas a second so it’s not like I went looking for yet another salvo for my new war against intellectual property, copyright and anti-human laws — no, this idea just came to me clear out of the evening sky (or the three doses of caffeine I consumed today… damnit).

Alright alright, back to this realization. So I want to do something that will have absolutely no effect on anything, but at least shares the warmth of the flame burnin’ under my kettle. I want to call for a moratorium on EULAs. Yeah, you heard me. Uh huh, that’s right. It’s time we pulled the plug on irresponsiblity-perpetuators. It’s about time that I was able to use a tool, play with a toy, implement an idea without the originator of said thing having to shove off all ownership or responsibility for their contribution to the world for fear that I’ll turn around and sue them over something absurd, like becoming depressed because my car is the wrong shade of lemon-chiffon. Or something else. Whatever.

And hey, you litigious folks who won’t take responsibility for yourselves, who think the world owes you something because you woke up this morning…! Sorry, the world doesn’t owe you shit either. Just because it used to be easier for the big corporations to get away with publicly doing bad stuff and hence had to invent EULAs to protect their asses doesn’t mean that we’re off the gold standard. …You get taken advantage of, get disappointed, lose a limb because of your own actions, because of choices you made (or keep making!). If we’re going dump the producer’s ability to disclaim all responsibility for the things they put out into the wild then we as the receivers of their output must make up the difference with self-reliance and self-policing and taking care of ourselves. Hey hey, no one else is going to do it. Even if that chainsaw manufacturer did screw up, you’re still down 50% in appendages are you not? So yeah, don’t lop off your arm in the first place, they include the manuals for a reason!

Whatever whatever, point being, disclaiming responsibility is insulting, it’s cold and it’s not inline with what our parents taught us. Yeah, that vazz? I broke it. Twice!

So here’s a proposal (I’m full of ’em). Just like how there’s fair use in copyright, there ought be reasonable use in products so that I can put out a piece of software or hardware or some inflamatory idea and be generally protected against the possible ineptitude of eventual receivers. At the same time, as a receiver of other people’s output myself, I need those producers to first feel pride and ownership of their work and a commitment to me as a person to vouch for their work; and hey, if they eff up big time, to be culpable for any malicious or otherwise avoidable offenses that they commit. That’s just fair, right?

Banning EULAs as meaningless and unenforceable is one way to raise this issue. Is it a pratical, realistic solution? Who knows! But now you’re thinking about it, right?

EFF the RIAA

Worldwide Advisory: Fuck the RIAATalked to my buddy Jason Schultz from the EFF about what they’re doing about the RIAA and MPAA. He came back with a bunch of useful links:

Action items

Supporting materials

And if you’re looking for a decent source of non-DRM MP3s, AllofMP3 looks fairly promising, operating in accordance with license # LS-3M-05-03 of the Russian Multimedia and Internet Society. No, globalization isn’t all bad!

Intellectual Property Perpetuates the Intellectual Police State

Intellectual Police State
First you flood the P2P networks then you try to buy them out. You arrest, spy on and insult your own customers and are creating a hostile environment for creative expression.

You want a war? Fine.

You’ve got everything to lose. The artists are against you. Musicians are against you. The people who listen to music are against you. And most importantly, the kids are against you.

You want a war? Bring it on.