Archive for January, 2010

[2b2k] Continuing the total re-org

I’m in a mixed up state. I’ve continued to re-organize the two chapters I’d written. They are now 2.5 chapters. And I’ve done a little new writing in that third chapter, since I’ve decided that if I’m going to talk about the history of facts (a big subsection that I think is on an interesting topic, but probably doesn’t fit into the book), I should also talk about the differences between facts and information.

So, I’ve cut and pasted, added new material, worked on transitions, and created an outline of the whole mess, but I’m too close to it and can’t tell if it works at all. I have to find a full day when I can sit down and read it all through. Until then, I feel like I’m cooking in the dark.

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The iPad is the future of the past of books

The iPad definitely ups the Kindle’s ante. Unfortunately, it ups the Kindle ante by making an e-book more like a television set.

Will it do well? I dunno. Probably. But is it the future of reading? Nope. It’s the high-def, full-color, animated version of the past of reading.

The future of reading is social. The future of reading blurs reading and writing. The future of reading is the networking of readers, writers, content, comments, and metadata, all in one continuous-on mash.

 


Tim Bray writes:

Compared to my laptop, the iPad lacks a keyboard, software development tools, writers’ tools, photographers’ tools, a Web server, a camera, a useful row of connectors for different sorts of wires, and the ability to run whatever software I choose. Compared to my Android phone, it lacks a phone, a camera, pocketability, and the ability to run whatever software I choose. Compared to the iPad, my phone lacks book-reading capability, performance, and screen real-estate. Compared to the iPad, my computer lacks a touch interface and suffers from excessive weight and bulk.

It’s probably a pretty sweet tool for consuming media, even given the unfortunate 4:3 aspect ratio. And consuming media is obviously a big deal for a whole lot of people.

For creative people, this device is nothing.

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[berkman] Julie Cohen on networked selves

Julie Cohen is giving a Berkman lunch on “configuring the networked self.” She’s working on a book that “explores the effects of expanding copyright, pervasive surveillance, and the increasingly opaque design of network architectures in the emerging networked information society.” She’s going to talk about a chapter that “argues that “access to knowledge” is a necessary but insufficient condition for human flourishing, and adds two additional conditions.” (Quotes are from the Berkman site.) [NOTE: Ethan Zuckerman's far superior livebloggage is here.]

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

The book is motivated by two observations of the discourse around the Net, law, and policy in the U.S.

1. We make grandiose announcements about designing infrastructures that enable free speech and free markets, but at the end of the day, many of the results are antithetical to the interests of the individuals in that space by limiting what they can do with the materials they encounter.

2. There’s a disconnect between the copyright debate and the privacy debate. The free culture debate is about openness, but that can make it hard to reconcile privacy claims. We discuss these issues within a political framework with assumptions about autonomous choice made by disembodied individuals…a worldview that doesn’t have much to do with reality, she says. It would be better to focus on the information flows among embodied, real people who experience the network as mediated by devices and interfaces. The liberal theory framework doesn’t give us good tools. E.g., it treats individuals as separate from culture.

Julie says lots of people are asking these questions. They just happen not to be in legal studies. One purpose of her book is to unpack post modern literature to see how situated, embodied users of networks experience technology, and to see how that affects information law and policy. Her normative framework is informed by Martha Nussbaum’s ideas about human flourishing: How can information law and policy help human flourishing by providing information to information and knowledge? Intellectual property laws should take this into account, she says. But, she says, this has been situated within the liberal tradition, which leads to indeterminate results. You lend it content by looking at the post modern literature that tells us important things about the relationship between self and culture, self and community, etc. By knowing how those relationships work, you can give content to human flourishing, which informs which laws and policies we need.

[I'm having trouble hearing her. She's given two "political reference points," but I couldn't hear either. :(]

[I think one of them is everyday practice.] Everyday practice is not linear, often not animated by overarching strategies.

The third political reference point is play. Play is an important concept, but the discussion of intentional play needs to be expanded to include “the play of circumstances.” Life puts random stuff in your way. That type of play is often the actual source of creativity. We should be seeking to foster play in our information policy; it is a structural condition of human flourishing.

Access to knowledge isn’t enough to supply a base for human flourishing because it doesn’t get you everything you need, e.g., right to re-use works. We also need operational transparency: We need to know how these digital architectures work. We need to know how the collected data will be used. And we also need semantic discontinuity: Formal incompleteness in legal and technical infrastructures. E.g., wrt copyright to reuse works you shouldn’t have to invoke a legal defense such as fair use; there should be space left over for play. E.g., in privacy, rigid arbitrary rules against transacting and aggregating personal data so that there is space left over for people to play with identity. E.g., in architecture, question the norm that seamless interoperability makes life better, because it means that data about you moves around without your having the ability to stop it. E.g., interoperability among social networks changes the nature of social networks. We need some discontinuity for flourishing.

Q: People need the freedom to have multiple personas. We need more open territory.
A: Yes. The common pushback is that if you restrict the flow of info in any way, we’ll slide down the slippery slope of censorship. But that’s not true and it gets in the way of the conversation we need to have.

Q: [charlie nesson] How do you create this space of playfulness when it comes to copyright?
A: In part, look at the copyright law of 1909. It’s reviled by copyright holders, but there’s lots of good in it. It set up categories that determined if you could get the rights, and the rights were much more narrowly defined. We should define rights to reproduction and adaptation that gives certain significant rights to copyright holders, but that quite clearly and unambiguously reserves lots to users, with reference to the possible market effect that is used by courts to defend the owners’ rights.
Q: [charlie] But you run up against the pocketbooks of the copyright holders…
A: Yes, there’s a limit to what a scholar can do. Getting there is no mean feat, but it begins with a discourse about the value of play and that everyone benefits from it, not just crazy youtube posters, even the content creators.

JPalfrey asks CNesson what he thinks. Charlie says that having to assert fair use, to fend off lawsuits, is wrong. Fair uyse ought to be the presumption.

Q: [csandvig] Fascinating. The literature that lawyers denigrate as pomo makes me think of a book by an anthropologist and sociologist called “The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach.” It’s about embodied, local, enculturated understanding of the Net. Their book was about Trinidad, arguing that if you’re in Trinidad, the Net is one thing, and if you’re not, it’s another thing. And, they say, we need many of these cultural understandings. But it hasn’t happened. Can you say more about the lit you referred to?
A: Within mainstream US legal and policy scholarship, there’s no recognition of this. They’re focused on overcoming the digital divide. That’s fine, but it would be better not to have a broadband policy that thinks it’s the same in all cultures. [Note: I'm paraphrasing, as I am throughout this post. Just a reminder.]

A: [I missed salil's question; sorry] We could build a system of randomized incompatibilities, but there’s value in having them emerge otherwise than by design, and there’s value to not fixing some of the ones that exist in the world. The challenge is how to design gaps.
Q: The gaps you have in mind are not ones that can be designed the way a computer scientist might…
A: Yes. Open source forks, but that’s at war with the idea that everything should be able to speak to everything else. It’d

Q: [me] I used to be a technodeterminist; I recognize the profound importance of cultural understandings/experience. So, the Internet is different in Trinidad than in Beijing or Cambridge. Nevertheless, I find myself thinking that some experiences of the Net are important and cross cultural, e.g., that Ideas are linked, there’s lots to see, people disagree, people like me can publish, etc.
A: You can say general things about the Net if you go to a high enough level of abstraction. You’re only a technodeterminist if you think there’s only way to get there, only one set of rules that get you there. Is that what you mean?
Q: Not quite. I’m asking if there’s a residue of important characteristics of the experience of the Net that cuts across all cultures. “Ideas are linked” or “I can contribute” may be abstractions, but they’re also important and can be culturally transformative, so the lessons we learn from the Net aren’t unactionably general.
A: Liberalism creeps back in. It’s acrappy descriptional tool, but a good aspirational one. The free spread of a corpus of existing knowledge…imagine a universal digital library with open access. That would be a universal good. I’m not saying I have a neutral prescription upon which any vision of human flourishing would work. I’m looking for critical subjectivity.

A: Network space changes based on what networks can do. 200 yrs ago, you wouldn’t have said PAris is closer to NY than Williamsburg VA, but today you might because lots of people go NY – Paris.

Q: [doc] You use geographic metaphors. Much of the understanding of the Net is based on plumbing metaphors.
A: The privacy issues make it clear it’s a geography, not a plumbing system. [Except for leaks :) ]

[Missed a couple of questions]

A: Any good educator will have opinions about how certain things are best reserved for closed environments, e.g., in-class discussions, what sorts of drafts to share with which other people, etc. There’s a value to questioning the assumption that everything ought to be open and shared.

Q: [wseltzer] Why is it so clear that it the Net isn’t plumbing? We make bulges in the pipe as spaces where we can be more private…
A: I suppose it depends on your POV. If you run a data aggregation biz, it will look like that. But if you ask someone who owns such a biz how s/he feels about privacy in her/his own life, that person will have opinions at odds with his/her professional existence.

Q: [jpalfrey] You’re saying that much of what we take as apple pie is in conflict, but that if we had the right toolset, we could make progress…
A: There isn’t a single unifying framework that can make it all make sense. You need the discontinuities to manage that. Dispute arise, but we have a way to muddle along. One of my favorite books: How We Became Post-Human. She writes about the Macy conferences out of which came out of cybernetics, including the idea that info is info no matter how it’s embodied. I think that’s wrong. We’re analog in important ways.

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I’ve got a Franklin Fellowship to work with the State Dept.

I’m very happy to say that I’ve been granted a Franklin Fellowship to work with the US State Department for the next year. I’ll be working with the eDiplomacy group that is working on providing Web 2.0 platforms for internal use, with the semi-secret aim of nudging State from a need-to-know to a need-to-share culture. (This is not exactly how eDiplomacy explains its charter, but it’s how I understand it.)

Franklin Fellowships were established by the State Department in 2006 in order to bring in people from the private and non-profit sectors. I’m working as a volunteer, with my travel expenses covered in part by a grant from Craig Newmark, founder of CraigsList. (Thank you, Craig!) Because I’ll be on-site in DC only a few times a month, I’ll be able to continue as a senior researcher at the Berkman Center. (I’ve also begun doing some work for Harvard Law Library’s digital lab.)

I’ve already spent time with the group. They’re, well, wonderful. They’ve already delivered tools for knowledge sharing (e.g., Diplopedia) and for connecting expertise across every boundary (e.g., The Sounding Board), and they’ve got some very interesting projects in the works. These are dedicated State Dept. employees, some with considerable experience under their belts, who are on fire about the possibilities for making State smarter, more innovative and creative, more responsive, more engaged, and more human, but always within the proper security constraints. Fascinating fascinating.

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How to use the Web to teach: An example

Want to see one way to use the Web to teach? Berkman’s Jonathan Zittrain and Stanford Law’s Elizabeth Stark are teaching a course called Difficult Problems in Cyberlaw. It looks like they have students creating wiki pages for the various topics being discussed. The one on “The Future of Wikipedia” is a terrific resource for exploring the issues Wikipedia is facing.

Among the many things I like about this approach: It implicitly makes the process of learning — which we have traditionally taken as an inward process — a social, outbound process. By learning this way. we are not only enriching ourselves, but enriching our world.

My only criticism: I wish the pages had prominent pointers to a main page that explains that the pages are part of a course.

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One world government (data portal)

The Guardian has gone meta-meta and produced a single portal for exploring the data the world’s governments are dumping into the public sphere. (Thans, Doc!)

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[2b2k] Hedgehogs and foxes

I’ve been working slowly on Chapter 2, still waiting for it to take some recognizable shape. I had a little breakthrough two days ago when I realized I could stop writing an endless exposition of how knowledge has worked — a system of stopping points for inquiry based on a system of stopping points for credentialing — and could go straight to talking about experts. So, I started a new section and have been writing about why we have taken such a sudden interest in hedgehogs vs. foxes, even though most of us don’t care about Isaiah Berlin, Archilochus, or hedgehogs and foxes, for that matter.

I also had an idea for Chapter 1. That chapter just doesn’t open in a compelling way. But I gave an impromptu-ish 15 minute talk at Lawberry Camp (an open space day for law librarians) yesterday about the origins of the data-information-knowledge-wisdom hierarchy, and why it gets knowledge so wrong. Afterwards, I thought that that might make a good opening for the Chapter. So, I’ve made a note to that effect at the beginning of the current draft, and once I have Chapter 2 under better control, I’ll take a look at the opening of Chapter 1.

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