Am I the only person not to finish Here Comes Everybody?

This may be somewhat controversial, but I can’t bring myself to finish Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody.

It may be this year’s bestseller, but I am struggling to find anything new or ground-breaking between the covers. Admittedly, there are a couple of anecdotes or examples I find interesting enough to dog-ear the page, but the number of dog-eared pages is low.

As I’ve read the book some ideas I can’t help but feel I’ve read before. The chapter ‘Sharing Anchors Community’ has some dog-earring but both David Weinberger and Yochai Benkler have covered off the Internet’s challenges to institutional ecology from a more social and economic perspective.

Likewise, in the chapter Publish, then Filter, Shirky explores the idea that with massively decreased production and storage costs (specifically, the cost of publishing content via blogs) the Internet changes the media model whereby barriers to creating content disappear giving everybody (from the book’s title?) a chance to compete with hitherto professional creators/publishers etc.

I admit I’m simplifying here, but the idea the Internet is re-shaping human knowledge and the ways in which we interpret the world around us based on the growing digital (dis)order is explored in much more depth in Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous. See my review for a bit more about this.

Writing about the book in response to Felix Stalder‘s review in Mute magazine, I suggested that HCE is a business book, rather than a study in digital sociology or emerging digital economics.

A colleague suggested that idea to me independently when he remarked that “like all business books, it could have pruned to about five pages.”

I have to agree. There’s a lot of homely anecdotes which frankly I just find are filler. And that’s why I’ve given up two-thirds of the way through.

 What do others think? Am I being too unforgiving?

Technorati tags: Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, business books

Quote du jour

Pure poetry:

“…companies so lobotomized that they can’t speak in a recognizably human voice build sites that smell like death.”


[Via Doc Searls]

That McCain technology policy

Further to my previous post, I appreciate this is more Weinberger (not in itself a bad thing) but it *is* relevant to the post below about copyright.

Weinberger flags Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s technology policy which, in Weinberger’s words, shows that:

  1. He’s flat against Net neutrality.
  2. He wants to see copyright extended and enforced more vigorously.
  3. He thinks the current infrastructure only needs a couple of tweaks.

So there you have it. Not only are large corporations trying to protect IP through greater enforcement and tighter controls on the Internet, but politicians are now looking to curry with corporations. That’s when we really need to start worrying!

Opening salvo on the battle for commons-based digital rights

As mentioned earlier this week I was catching up with some hard-copy reading during my holiday, including Eben Moglen’s Anarchism Triumphant.

Moglen’s essay explains why it is that “software” resists traditional forms of copyright  both legally and technically and instead embraces new legal paradigms, such as commons-based agreements.

I put software in inverted commas as Moglen extends this concept beyond the explicit programmes which our computers run; instead he suggests that “software” includes the creative ideas and content which produced, shared and adapted by individuals.

Thus, Moglen contends, traditional organisations with an interest in protecting their IP are becoming ever more aggressive and – some would say – desperate to make sure the Brave New World of commons-based digital rights never happens; or more accurately, happens in the way they dictate.

Fascinating stuff. Either way this is a preamble to flag a revelatory post by David Weinberger who blogs about an important federal judge ruling that will hopefully set a legal precedent preventing companies (Viacom in this case) from sending copyright infringement notices automatically in any instance where they pick up key words, e.g. “jon stewart” or "daily show".

Not only does this flouting the ol’ “innocent until proven guilty” line, it is also tantamount to a deliberate policy of heavy-handed copyright protection-as-future-deterrent.

As Weinberger points out, while sending infringement notes from an automatically generated list takes seconds, “the response is analog, and thus hard, time-consuming, and risky”.

I think it’s fair to say these issues affect all of us – as individuals or professionals, whose clients may just be on the receiving end of an infringement action at some point.

Either way, they are definitely not going to go away. I only hope we have a judiciary far-sighted enough in the UK to make and uphold such rulings here.

Technorati tags: Digital Rights, Copyright, Copyleft, David Weinberger, Viacom

Internet and Ideology Part 3 – Society

Following on the political and economic changes of modernity, the emergence of social mobility was also a new development based partly on individual’s new found power of self-determination.

Modernity represented:

“a move away from traditional society marked by an unchanging hierarchy … modernity involved a search for new identities to replace the traditional and religiously sanctioned ones of the previous epoch. Moreover it was made clear that these new identities were the creation of human action and agency, rather than god given and unalterable.

What this means is: people living in the modern period became individuals for the first time. The ideology of modernity helped people define their own personality and shape their own lives through their actions.

However this social emancipation was still only available within the confines of the relatively structured society at the time. Likewise it was also limited by cultural norms and shared values.

There was a long way to go until people had real personal liberty but then the process of enlightenment was just that: a process. Things didn’t change overnight but from modernity onwards individuals shaped by own actions.

Contrast this with the Internet Age – a period of relatively early post-modernity. People have (mostly) had self-determination and the concept of being limited in terms of what we want to do – socially at least – is something alien to us – or at least a lot of us.

Looking forward and extending the idea of a post-modern ideology offering individuals something more than just the opportunity to shape their own lives, the internet offers us the possibility to not only define but invent, create, design, shape, live, change, co-create a range of identities and lives.

One rather basic example of this the ability of someone to take on an alter-ego in Second Life. But the same notion applies when we think about the different personalities we all probably have. My persona on ebay is probably different from this blog; likewise my blog is probably different from my Twitter profile which in turn is probably different from my Facebook profile.

This is Modernity’s idea of a self-determined individual exploded arcoss a range of platforms and positions not bounded by geography – or indeed physical space of any kind. David Weinberger has a great illustration of what this means practically and philosophically in Small Pieces Loosely Joined.

But bear in mind that this is just me with a predominantly Modern conept of myself as a single entity simply being expanded across the internet retrospectively.

Think of what this all means to the generation below me (and the rest) who have grown up in an internet age. The type of people who cannot remember a time BG – Before Google.

Technorati tags: ideology, post-modernism, modernity, John Schwarzmantel, society 

Is the Web Different?: mini-essay by David Weinberger

Great mini-essay by David Weinberger available over at his Joho blog.

In Is The Web Different? Weinberger uses a Socratic Dialogue to explore the questions of whether the Web is differnet to any invention that has gone before, whether its mere existence is making our lives different or whether it’s all hype.

To attempt to answer this question Weinbeger gives us three divergent perspectives: the ‘Web Utopian’, ‘Web Realist’ and Web Dystopian’.

While all three views are equally valid and can lay claim to their rightful position based on history and experience of the present, Weinbeger argues that to successfully answer the question all three characters are needed to argue their corner – although ultimately the realists are "essentially wrong".

More specifically we need to

"at least acknowledge the special value [Web Utopians] brings to the conversation. Innovation
requires the realism that keeps us from wasting time on the impossible.
But some of the most radical innovation requires ignoring one’s
deep-bred confidence about what is possible … We thus need utopians to invent the impossible future. And we need lots and lots of them. There is so much to
and the new forms of association that emerge often only succeed if
there are enough people to embrace them.

Web realists perform the vital function of keeping us from
running down dead ends longer than we need to, and from getting into
feedback loops that distort the innovation process. For those
services, we should thank and encourage the realists. But we should
recognize that beyond the particulars, they are essentially wrong."

Can’t argue with that. Especially when it’s so lucidly argued. Great stuff.

Technorati tags: Internet, Hype, Utopianism, David Weinberger

Imagine a world where everybody can write the news

There’s an interesting post on the BBC Editor’s blog at the moment in which BBC News website editor, Steve Herrmann, explains the editing decisions which led to a moment in which the late Benazir Bhutto told Sir David Frost that Osama Bin Laden had been killed being edited out of footage used.

Herrmann explains:

"Under time pressure, the item producer responsible for publishing the
video on the BBC website edited out the comment, with the intention of
avoiding confusion. The claim appeared so unexpected that it seemed she
had simply mis-spoken. However, editing out her comment was clearly a
mistake, for which we apologise, and it should not have happened. There
was no intention on our part to distort the meaning of the interview,
and we will endeavour to replace the edited version
currently available via our website, with the original interview as
broadcast by Al-Jazeera, which, in the meantime, you can find on
YouTube here."

Personally, I think their explanation is insufficient but that’s not what interests me here.

What is fascinating is a suggestion by one of the commenters (someone called Kendrick Curtis if you;re interested) who suggests the BBC publish a ‘page history’ for news stories on their site.

Curtis suggests that if:

"every published version of an article was available via a
link from the page (and each revision had hardlinks for deep-linking
purposes) then it would be thoroughly obvious when a revision was made.
New revisions could even carry a tagline to indicate what had changed
between the previous version and this one."

Now that strikes me as a brilliant and hugely radical thing to do. Except it’s not that radical as it sounds to me like the edits History page on Wikipedia. Add to that a Discussion section on BBC news stories like Wikipedia’s Discussion and you have a near perfect system for improving the authority of news stories.

You do so through building the news round social knowledge. I won’t go into a deep definition of ‘social knowledge here and now but David Weinberger’s intention for the phrase is the way in which Wikipedia accepts up front that there is no definitive version of the truth in the same way there’s no definitive version of the news.

Social knowledge allows a record of the multifarious voices in any situation (news story) to be heard and mapped out, ultimately providing us a slightly messy if not better and more accurate version of reality. See pp. 140-147 in Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous.

However, I don’t know how likely the BBC – or any other ‘traditional’ media outlet would be to implement the idea. As Weinberger points out:

"A similar delaminating of authority and knowledge would have serious consequences fo traditional sources of information because their economic value rests on us believing them."

Technorati tags: BBC Editors, censorship, social knowledge, David Weinberger

*UPDATED* Goldsmiths Futures of the News Part 2

The second panel of the afternoon featured
political bloggers, Guido Fawkes and Recess Monkey, Guardian Associate Editor,
Michael White and freelance journalist, Nick Jones.

This was far and away the best panel of the
afternoon in terms of quality of debate. And admissions by bloggers that
journalists now tipped them off about
unpublishable stories shows just how far the Goldsmiths programme needs to go
with its research to catch-up with the new media.

Nick Jones’ presentation also gave the audience
a sharp wake-up call. Nick challenged Ofcom research findings delivered in one
of the morning sessions as “complacent” and warned that the regulator and media
industry in general that they risked utterly losing out in a rapidly changing
media world.

Nick’s argument ran along the lines of Ofcom
doing little to adapt its position as regulator of media silos in world where
convergence is happening at a frightening pace. Citing

18 Doughty Street

as an example, Nick
asked how Ofcom could deal with a world where TV delivered via the internet is
entirely outside of the regulator’s remit?

This was all very interesting, as I overheard
the conference chair tell Mr Ofcom that his findings were very important and
would be quoted a lot in the future! Or maybe not…

I didn’t stay for the final speaker – I went to
the pub with Guido and Recess. But what I do know is that the people leading
the Futures of News research project could certainly benefit from reading
people like Jeff Jarvis, David Weinberger and Dan Gilmor to that a lot of the
‘future’ of the news is now.

*UPDATED* My colleague, Tim Callington, has more from the event here:

Curran, Goldsmiths College – introduction

Turner, head of operations at BBC News Gathering – "The end of news as
we’ve known it."

Spackman, editor-in-chief, Times Online – "the ten most discussed topics
at Times Online"

Glover, senior programme executive, OFCOM – "Good news, bad news; new
news, future news"

 As does, the Media Standard Trust’s, Martin Moore:

Technorati tags: Goldsmiths, Futures of the News, Guido Fawkes, Recess Monkey, Ofcom

The future…


The future of media is being discussed both in London next Saturday 24 November at Goldsmiths University and online at the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.

Goldsmiths’ The Futures of News has an interesting line-up which seems to be a cross between big names (Guido Fawkes, Michael White etc) adding their tuppence-worth to the "bloggers vs traditional media" debate and some more academic papers, such as News as national soft power: the emerging global English-language channels by Annabelle Sreberny, School of Oriental and African Studies.

Meanwhile, the JCMC‘s latest issue is guest edited by Danah Boyd and Nicole Ellison. I’ve not read any of the articles but am looking forward to inwardly digesting all or some – including the following;

  • Publicly Private and Privately Public: Social Networking on YouTubePatricia Lange
    Based on a one-year ethnographic project, this article analyzes how
    YouTube participants developed and maintained social networks by
    manipulating physical and interpretive access to videos. The analysis
    identifies varying degrees of "publicness" in video sharing, depending
    on the nature of the video content and how much personal information is
  • Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network SitesEszter Hargittai
    there systematic differences between people who use social network
    sites and those who stay away? Based on data from a survey administered
    to young adults, this article identifies demographic predictors of SNS
    usage, with particular focus on Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, and
  • Social Network Profiles as Taste PerformancesHugo Liu
    A social network profile’s lists of interests can function as an
    expressive arena for taste performance. Based on a semiotic approach,
    different types of taste statements are identified and further
    investigated through a statistical analysis of 127,477 profiles
    collected from MySpace.


[Via David Weinberger]

Technorati tags: Goldsmiths University,

Could the internet ever become an ‘us vs them’ giant walled garden

David Weinberger links to a good post by Marc Andreessen giving an overview of Open Social, the new EBFB (Everyone But Facebook) API.

I have yet to read enough about OS to make a judgement, but David states:

"Thus, the walled garden approach will at least allow us to move among the walled gardens."

… which is definitely a good way of looking at OS  – especially as one of the commenters notes that the EBFB coalition is basicially made up of people who aren’t a threat to Google.

With Google’s dominence of the online space and driving force behind OS, could we ever conceive of a time when the internet is a number of walled gardens, such as Facebook, Open Social, LinkedIn etc…?

As we put more and more of our lives and personal data online will we come to a point where we want to have some security and know our presence only exists in a verifiable environment and shared with only a community we have authenticated ourselves?

Technorati tags: Open Social, Facebook, walled gardens, secure communities, Google, Everyone But Facebook