Thursday, 29 December 2005
Wednesday, 21 December 2005
In order to address the APIG questions on DRM, I need to state some principles.
Firstly, the Church-Turing thesis, one of the basic tenets of Computer Science, which states that any general purpose computing device can solve the same problems as any other. The practical consequences of this are key - it means that a computer can emulate any other computer, so a program has no way of knowing what it is really running on. This is not theory, but something we all use every day, whether it is Java virtual machines, or Pentiums emulating older processors for software compatibility.
How does this apply to DRM? It means that any protection can be removed. For a concrete example, consider MAME - the Multi Arcade Machine Emulator - which will run almost any video game from the last 30 years. It's hard to imagine a more complete DRM solution than custom hardware with a coin slot on the front, yet in MAME you just have to press the 5 key to tell it you have paid.
The second principle is the core one of jurisprudence - that due process is a requirement before punishment. I know the Prime Minister has defended devolving summary justice to police constables, but the DRM proponents want to devolve it to computers. The fine details of copyright law have been debated and redefined for centuries, yet the DRM advocates assert that the same computers you wouldn't trust to check your grammar can somehow substitute for the entire legal system in determining and enforcing copyright law.
Each computers' immanent ability to become any kind of machine and the copying of data that happens as part of this, leads the DRM advocates naturally to the point where they want to outlaw computers, or to take them over by stealth, using virus-like techniques.
The reductio ad absurdum of this is to privilege DRM implementers in law above the owners of the computers on which their software runs, without their effective consent. Sadly, this is exactly what is being demanded by the publishers' lobby.
With those principles established, I will respond to the questions asked by APIG
Whether DRM distorts traditional tradeoffs in copyright law
Yes. DRM arrogates law enforcement to a dumb mechanism. The computer program acts as judge, jury and executioner, and it is controlled by the publisher. It is an attempt to recreate through technological fiat the publishers' dominance, at the expense of both readers and authors, that the Statute of Anne, and subsequent UK copyright laws, were created to fight. Just at the time that computer-based editing, and internet publishing enables all of us to become publishers of our own creative works, the DRM lobby want to re-establish a privileged role for publishers, like the 17th century Stationers' monopoly.
Whether new types of content sharing license (such as Creative Commons or Copyleft) need legislation changes to be effective;
These are designed to work with current copyright law, and involve a fair degree of complication to make them work legally. Changes in copyright law to reinstate the registration requirement, or to revert to shorter, more defensible terms to clarify public domain status of orphaned works would be advantageous to these licenses.
How copyright deposit libraries should deal with DRM issues;
The law should require DRM to be removed, or for the creator of the DRM to fund sufficient emulation software that their publication can be accessed by future scholars. An earmarked tax on DRM may be appropriate here, just as the Statute of Anne provided penalties for not submitting publications in a useful form.
How consumers should be protected when DRM systems are discontinued;
Consumers are generally wise enough to reject DRM systems. Seeing them discontinued reinforces this wisdom. However, a requirement to provide DRM-free copies to the copyright deposit libraries will help.
A more robust requirement would be for the DRM-using publisher to be required to fund the costs of archival copying and emulation until the copyrighted work is released to the public domain, so that this does not burden the limited budgets of copyright libraries. As reliance on DRM frequently leads to bankruptcy due to consumer rejection, mandating the purchase of an annuity to fund this by DRM practitioners may be the safest course.
To what extent DRM systems should be forced to make exceptions for the partially sighted and people with other disabilities;
DRM systems should make exceptions for everyone. They should warn but not enforce. The computer cannot know if I am partially sighted, or have other requirements for transformative software.
What legal protections DRM systems should have from those who wish to circumvent them;
None. My computer is mine; it is not owned by people trying to sell me media. They should have no control over what I do with it. This is prior restraint that reverses the presumption of innocence, and makes the increasingly false assumption that individuals are passive viewers of media, not the creators they evidently are. Penalties for actual copyright infringement are severe enough, let those suffice.
Whether DRM systems can have unintended consequences on computer functionality;
They can be huge. DRM systems inevitably lead to a power grab by publishers to take control of our computers - the Sony DRM debacle illustrates this clearly. As DRM is inherently ineffective, lobbying leads to an effort to repeal by fiat the underlying mathematical laws that govern computers, and the demand for draconian powers over others' computers grows. Any interference by DRM systems with computer owners' ability to listen to, create, edit and publish media should continue to be illegal, and criminal prosecutions under the Computer Misuse Act should be initiated against Sony/BMG and First4Internet for their assault on our computers.
The role of the UK Parliament in influencing the global agenda for this type of technical issue.
The UK Parliament set the precedent for Copyright law in the Statute of Queen Anne that defended authors from rapacious publishers, and which has served as the basis for global copyright law ever since. Re-reading it for this essay, I was struck by how well it balanced authors', readers' and publishers' rights:
Whereas printers, booksellers, and other persons have of late frequently taken the liberty of printing, reprinting, and publishing, or causing to be printed, reprinted, and published, books and other writings, without the consent of the authors or proprietors of such books and writings, to their very great detriment, and too often to the ruin of them and their families: for preventing therefore such practices for the future, and for the encouragement of learned men to compose and write useful books;
We also recall Macauley's judicious balancing in 1841:
It is good that authors should be remunerated; and the least exceptionable way of remunerating them is by a monopoly. Yet monopoly is an evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil; but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good.
The independence of both MPs and Peers from the extremes of special interest lobbying that bedevil the US Congress and House give an opportunity for the principles of free expression, of jurisprudence, and of underlying scientific facts to hold sway over the fear-mongering fictions of professional fantasists.
also posted here
Tuesday, 20 December 2005
Some time in 2005, we quietly passed a dramatic milestone in Internet history: the one-billionth user went online. Because we have no central register of Internet users, we don't know who that user was, or when he or she first logged on. Statistically, we're likely talking about a 24-year-old woman in Shanghai.
By using this plonkingly inaccurate metaphor, Cheever helps us clearly differentate theft from copyright infringement. Lets rewrite it to more accurately reflect what is going on:
It's late at night, and you are in the bedroom cruising auction sites for furniture on the Internet. You should go to sleep, but you don't. Then you see them, the pair of chairs from your own living room. They are for sale by someone in New Jersey, but they are your chairs. You can even see the stains on the blue one where your son spilled some orange juice and the stitching on the slipcover you repaired. What are they doing out there in cyberspace?
You go into the living room and, sure enough, they are gone, leaving gaping spaces on the floor where they once stood. A table is gone, too, the one your father built for you when you got your own place. The bowl you had as a centerpiece is shattered on the floor. It's a strange experience to see your own property in someone else's possession when they haven't asked your permission for it or paid for it. It's disorienting and infuriating. You've been robbed. That's how it feels when something of yours suddenly appears in cyberspace, whether it's a chair or a book excerpt, a table or a newspaper column.
It's a while since I linked to Orwell's Politics and the English Language, but it always bears re-reading when trying to write to convince.
It's late at night, and you are in the bedroom cruising auction sites for furniture on the Internet. You should go to sleep, but you don't. Then you see them, the pair of chairs from your own living room. They are for sale by someone in New Jersey, but they are your chairs. You can even see the stains on the blue one where your son spilled some orange juice and the stitching on the slipcover you repaired. What are they doing out there in cyberspace?
You go into the living room and they are still there. Evidently someone loved your table and chairs enough to make a perfect copy of them and share them with the world. It's a strange experience to see your own property so appreciated. It's disorienting and beguiling. You've been quoted. That's how it feels when something of yours suddenly appears in cyberspace, whether it's a chair or a book excerpt, a table or a newspaper column.
Update: Bill Herman details the many other fallacies and legal misinterpretations Cheever makes in one short article.
Tuesday, 13 December 2005
Wednesday, 7 December 2005
The one that I look for, which I derived from reading Michael Lewis's Liar's Poker, and from my experiences in the CD-ROM publishing business in the mid 90's is this simple rule:
When expensively educated, fashionable young graduates start showing up in your field, you're in a bubble.
Lewis describes this in the investment banking business, when his entire Yale graduating class applied to become investment bankers.
The trouble with this indicator is that if you aren't looking for it it seem like the natural order of things - of course having personable young things hanging on your every word is to be expected - finally you're getting the recognition you deserve!
In practice, however, the finely-tuned herd instincts that get selected for in the Ivy League or the posher UK universities make them flock to the latest bubble.
Sunday, 4 December 2005
There has been a raging debate in academia over truth and the construction of knowledge for decades. and for most of us it has indeed been an academic discussion (intereresting that 'academic' can be used as a put down just as 'amateur' can be).
What the Seigenthaler incident and the Wikipedia stuff I have been involved in show is that these arguments now have a large public experimental laboratory, as we can now all publish our thoughts on them.
As ever, Douglas Adams nailed it 6 years ago:
Because the Internet is so new we still don’t really understand what it is. We mistake it for a type of publishing or broadcasting, because that’s what we’re used to. So people complain that there’s a lot of rubbish online, or that it’s dominated by Americans, or that you can’t necessarily trust what you read on the web. Imagine trying to apply any of those criticisms to what you hear on the telephone. Of course you can’t ‘trust’ what people tell you on the web anymore than you can ‘trust’ what people tell you on megaphones, postcards or in restaurants. Working out the social politics of who you can trust and why is, quite literally, what a very large part of our brain has evolved to do. For some batty reason we turn off this natural scepticism when we see things in any medium which require a lot of work or resources to work in, or in which we can’t easily answer back – like newspapers, television or granite. Hence ‘carved in stone.’ What should concern us is not that we can’t take what we read on the internet on trust – of course you can’t, it’s just people talking – but that we ever got into the dangerous habit of believing what we read in the newspapers or saw on the TV – a mistake that no one who has met an actual journalist would ever make. One of the most important things you learn from the internet is that there is no ‘them’ out there. It’s just an awful lot of ‘us’.
I think the right approach is to write out your own version of things online, so that people can read your point of view, to allow it to be cited in places like wikipedia that attempt to arrive at truth, and to point out in public when people publish false things about you.
Saturday, 3 December 2005
During one of the breaks, I introduced myself and mentioned that I knew he was interested in Audioblogging (as we called it then), and showed him the Python script I'd written to automatically download mp3 enclosures to iTunes. His reaction was that this was cool, and that I should show it off in the Audioblogging session the next day, which I duly did, thanks to Harold Gilchrist making time for me.
You can see me downloading a song into iTunes from the 'syncpod' feed that Adam created for testing iTunes sync after talking to me.
Download my Audioblogging speech here.
Download iPod version of my Audioblogging speech here.
It is a basic human trait to confabulate a narrative for ourselves that puts us in a good light, and it is hard to remember clearly events that happened a couple of years ago, but blogging lets us play the game of Massively Multiplayer Online Truth, as David Weinberger puts it, by preserving contemporary thoughts and notes, which should eventually lead to a more coherent neutral narrative.
Thursday, 1 December 2005
If you do a whois lookup on this address, you can see it was Adam Curry.
I did previously reinsert this reference to my Bloggercon demo with citations, and I don't want to get into an edit war. Suggestions welcomed.
Tuesday, 29 November 2005
Tim Oren wonders about the effect on production values:
Such adverts probably don't look like today's. Years of battling the remote and now the DVR have turned commercials into attention grabbing eye candy. And it works, to some extent. The Tundra smacked by a meteor and the SUV carrying singing New Guinea tribesmen are funny, a few times. But if you're searching, not leaning back on the couch during halftime, is that what you want to find? The factual nuggets in those productions are pretty much limited to the brand name and vehicle style.
Optimizing to inform and motivate a potential customer is likely to produce quite different form and content. If search via TiVo, or Google, becomes a substantial fraction of the useful exposure time to customers, we're looking at a bifurcation in video production styles.
What both of them have missed is the already-existing business that has this solved already, which is QVC. They have the programs set up to explain the products and they have the web/TV integration that Battelle dreams about. They just need to segment and add the metadata to their productions, so they can show up as feeds and get past the LIVE TV mentality they use to drive sales on TV by having fixed quantities that sell out.
TV ads as artforms, on the other hand, may have a future, as Jonathan Sanderson points out regarding the Sony bouncy balls ad.
Wednesday, 23 November 2005
- Computer Users: DRM turns your computer against you
- Computer Scientists: DRM will fail through emulation
- Corporations: DRM has to be undone to be used
- Lawyers: DRM makes machines judge, jury and executioner
- Media Companies: DRM destroys value
I got some responses that said these looked contradictory. In fact, the DRM industry seems to see the implications. The logic of point 2 — that a general purpose computer can emulate any digital, and many analog devices — for them means that outlawing general purpose computers makes sense, and that is what they are trying to do, thereby fulfilling points 1 and 4.
At the same time as they are demanding that law enforcement hand over our phone, email and web browsing histories to them, they are continuing to install hacking software on our computers.
This isn't even new behaviour - they tried to amend the USA PATRIOT act to let them hack people's computers with impunity.
Howevr, they do need to remember point 5. How much has the recall of their malevolent code-carrying CDs cost Sony so far this Christmas?
Tuesday, 15 November 2005
Download Podcasting vs Streaming here.
Download iPod version of Podcasting vs Streaming here.
PS: Tom Coates reacts
Ultimately no human brain, no planet full of human brains, can possibly catalog the dark, expanding ocean of data we spew. In a future of information auto-organized by folksonomy, we may not even have words for the kinds of sorting that will be going on; like mathematical proofs with 30,000 steps, they may be beyond comprehension. But they'll enable searches that are vast and eerily powerful. We won't be surfing with search engines any more. We'll be trawling with engines of meaning." – Bruce Sterling
How will we keep up with the "dark, expanding ocean of data we spew"? Algorithms? Social filters? Faster memex-like gadgets? Do we need open algorithms in future search, so that each person can tweak their own preferences? Will we become dependent on social networks to filter the world for us, and if so, are the current representations of social relations too coarse? Will we be spending more and more time creating explicit metadata, like tags, in order to help channel the "expanding ocean"? What does it mean to be smart, today?
Monday, 14 November 2005
Friday, 11 November 2005
At dawn the ridge emerges massed and dun
In the wild purple of the glow'ring sun,
Smouldering through spouts of drifting smoke that shroud
The menacing scarred slope; and, one by one,
Tanks creep and topple forward to the wire.
The barrage roars and lifts. Then, clumsily bowed
With bombs and guns and shovels and battle-gear,
Men jostle and climb to, meet the bristling fire.
Lines of grey, muttering faces, masked with fear,
They leave their trenches, going over the top,
While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists,
And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists,
Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop!
Thursday, 10 November 2005
We already have a word for people who create for the love of it, rather than being paid to, and it is 'amateurs'. As with many other pleasures, when we seek out opinions, we prefer those that flow from passion rather than from payment.
Now it may be argued that, given the decline in the teaching of Latin and French, the loving root of 'amateur' is no longer perceived, so those who write pour l'amour ou pour le sport may see 'amateur' as a slight. In which case lets retranslate it to english and call it 'lovingly created media'.
This brings to mind again Douglas Adams' wise words from 1999:
I don’t think anybody would argue now that the Internet isn’t becoming a major factor in our lives. However, it’s very new to us. Newsreaders still feel it is worth a special and rather worrying mention if, for instance, a crime was planned by people ‘over the Internet.’ They don’t bother to mention when criminals use the telephone or the M4, or discuss their dastardly plans ‘over a cup of tea,’ though each of these was new and controversial in their day.
Read the whole thing, annually.
Chris Anderson's list of faltering mainstream media includes under 'mixed':
DVDs: sales growth is slowing dramatically, from 29% last year to single digits this year.
Hang on a second there, that isn't a fall, it's a dip in the 2nd derivative - if it grew 29% last year and ~ 10% this year, it's still doing well. Notice also that the linked article mentions that studios have been shortening the wait between cinematic and DVD release. Think about the impact that has - it moves DVD sales earlier, thus giving an artificial short-term boost that will eventually even out.
Wednesday, 9 November 2005
Ewan told me over lunch that the UK Govt had been defeated in the Commons over an extension of detention without trial, which strikes me as encouraging for the ORG agenda (there's still time to be one of the thousand founding patrons, if you hurry).
This made me think about the difficulty of defending an existing, working organisation like the House of Lords or ICANN against a putative more democratic one. The EU argument to the WSIS that internet routing being controlled by a corporation under US Govt laws is somehow wrong and needs to be fixed is difficult to counter in theoretical terms, but it is a pragmatic fact that ICANN, like Wikipedia or eBay or microformats, works better than you might expect.
Just as the House of Lords often does a better job in revising legislation than the Commons, because of both the lifetime tenure, and varied expertise of the specialists appointed to it, ICANN, as Lessig says 'have developed an internal norm about making as light a regulatory footprint as they can'.
Not every change in the world needs to be addressed by a regulatory strategy, and there’s a very high risk that those who are comfortable with the regulatory world will use levers that are easily available to them to make life uncomfortable for their upstart competitors.
We so easily slide into the notion that the internet is “bad” and needs to be regulated. We’re cutting off the best of ourselves this way; we should be encouraging it to have a life of its own, to catalyze new ways of living and doing business, and only getting in the way when market control leads to an absence of choices and inappropriately high prices.
If only the US equivalent of the House of Lords, the Supreme Court, could get lawyers like Lessig and Crawford appointed, with their scepticism of purely legislative solutions.
Thursday, 3 November 2005
I think this week may be when the supposed middle ground of DRM vanishes. Walt Mossberg and Chris Anderson have both spoken against harsh protection, but stopped short of condemning DRM outright, unlike David Berlind.
This week we have had Sony/BMG adopting the techniques of virus writers to wrest control of your PC from you, and the MPAA proposing legislation to cripple all our video cameras and computers unless we are "professionals".
This is the first of my 5 points: DRM Turns your computer against you.
Sony will feel a backlash due to the value destruction they inflict on their customers (point 5), and their sales will fall. Microsoft should disable the CD Autorun feature used as an infection vector by Sony, as Apple did 7 years ago.
The MPAA attempt, though is serious. They managed to pass a similar law in 1998 that mandated Macrovision video signal corruption, and faulty AGC circuitry for non-professional video recorders. This is why you can't run your DVD player signal through your VCR, and why dubbing copies of your home videos is so awkward.
I worked long and hard at Apple for 5 years making the digitisation of video work easily and seamlessly, so we could all edit video, so my children could create and share with the world, and this stupid law will deliberately undo our work and break our computers and cameras on purpose.
It goes without saying that it will do nothing to prevent large scale commercial copying of movies, as this is done with professional equipment, and is already illegal and subject to huge fines. All it will do is yet again invert the legal presumption of innocence (point 4), and assume that my boys' videos, and your own recordings are copyright violations, and stop them from being digitised.
The 'Analog Holes' they want to stop up are our eyes, ears and mouths.
Tuesday, 1 November 2005
- I keep seeing things that aren't so much 'Web 2.0' as 'me 2.0'
- I had that Emma Bovary in the back of the cab once...
- If you buy a Sony CD it saves you the 15 minute wait to get rooted
- I now realise that Our Island Story was an extended set up for 1066 and All That
- Was the Master jealous of the Doctor in Dr Who because he never finished his PhD?
- That much Halloween candy is bound to bring on apocolocyntosis
Inspired by the latest 5ive, which is much funnier.
Tuesday, 25 October 2005
Technology should be amoral. Morality is difficult stuff that should be left to humans to deal with. At best, technology can help inform humans to make moral choices, but to argue, as both sides in this debate seem to be doing, that technology can be moral in itself is to take a dangerous step.
We have millennia of literature arguing against devolving moral choice to simple mechanistic reasoning, from the Solomonic compromise, through the cautionary tales of golems to the modern myths like Brazil.
Indeed, lets look at contemporary cases where we are asked to devolve moral judgements to machines. David Weinberger's Copy Protection is a Crime essay sets out this category error clearly - that DRM eliminates leeway by handing control to stupid mechanisms:
In reality, our legal system usually leaves us wiggle room. What's fair in one case won't be in another - and only human judgment can discern the difference. As we write the rules of use into software and hardware, we are also rewriting the rules we live by as a society, without anyone first bothering to ask if that's OK.
David Berlind and Walt Mossberg have picked up on this too, realising that code is not good at subtlety and judgement.
Similarly the Censorware Project and the OpenNet Initiative document the shortcomings of using computers to decide whose idea can be seen online by crude keyword filtering.
When designing software and the social architecture of the web we do need to think about these issues, but we must eschew trying to encode our own, or others, morality into the machine.
Monday, 24 October 2005
Sunday, 23 October 2005
I've talked about this before, but not written it down.
One of the criticisms of tags is that they are 'just keywords again', which is true. The key difference is that they are experienced differently by the users, in a way that imposes much less cognitive load.
iPhoto has had an image keywords feature since it was first launched, but I don't know anyone who uses it. Conversely, Flickr's tagging is used by most of its users.
Part of this is down to the effect of working in public rather than private, as discussed in another context in Cory's classic 'outboard brain' essay, where the sense of public performance changes the psychology of annotation.
With iPhoto, in order to tag something, you need to first dig around in the menubar to bring up the Keywords dialog, illustrated here.
Then you need to create a new Keyword (which is buried under the popup at the top).
Then you need to select the photos that you want to tag with that keyword in the main window, then go back to the Keywords window and click 'Assign'.
This is not just a four-stage process, it has 2 stages that impose a big cognitive load, of the kind Cory describes as
one of those get-to-it-later eat-your-vegetables best-practice housekeeping tasks like defragging your hard drive or squeegeeing your windshield that you know you should do but never get around to.
Being handed a list of keywords and asked to add your desired ones is in effect asking you to construct a personal ontology of the world; to break the world into categories you want to keep track of. To hold the entire universe in your head in one go, and chop it into meaningful chunks. That's too mentally exhausting for most people. Plus, as creating a keyword is a 2-stage process, it feels a bit like they are rationed.
Then, the implied second task is to go and find all the pictures you have taken that fit that keyword. Again, this involves scanning through possibly thousands of images looking for the right one.
Now these aren't actual constraints; you can just create one tag and apply it to one photo, but the process makes it feel like a big deal, and something that you should consider carefully before doing it. So hardly anyone does it.
Conversely, Flickr prompts you for tags for each batch of photos you upload, and shows you each individual photo with a place to type tags in next to it. You look at the picture and type in the few words it makes you think of, move on to the next, and you're done. The cognitive load is tiny, because you have the picture in front of you and you can't help but think of words to describe it.
Aperture, Apple's new application for professional photographers, seems to have come up with a better solution than iPhoto. It has a pane in the general photo view that lets you freely enter keywords (one at a time, by the look of it, but I assume they go into the list below as you do so). However, the list of tech specs includes a long list of predefined tags. This is puzzling - why do they feel the need to list tags for 'Bridesmaid' and 'Groomsman' and so on as a feature?
Friday, 21 October 2005
The Battle of Trafalgar was fought 200 years ago today, preventing Napoleon's fleet from invading England. Admiral Horatio Nelson died during it. He was commemorated by Robert Graves in the poem '1805', so I'm posting this public domain recording of Robert Graves reading 1805, courtesy of the British Library.
Thursday, 13 October 2005
Resolving a problem by re-stating the obvious is an increasingly popular conversational gambit. For example, how many times have you phoned up a monolithic corporation to complain about bad service, practically spewing tears as you relive the 15-month frustration you've just been through, only to be told: "I hear what you're saying"?
As if, though on the phone with you, they weren't hearing what you were saying but were in fact hearing what a Tweenie was saying, or even doing something entirely unconnected with hearing what someone was saying, like launching a cruise liner or putting sausage-meat inside a car battery.
Of course they are hearing what you're saying, but it's no more effective a solution to your problem than declaring: "I'm sitting on my buttocks."
Do read the whole thing.
Friday, 7 October 2005
The Open Rights Group is being set up to fight this kind of idiocy. Go and pledge your support today.
Thursday, 6 October 2005
Tuesday, 4 October 2005
What are the top five issues you think are important in the world of social media in business? What keeps you up at night? What should be taking centre stage at BlogOn 2005?
Suw's Blogon Event is designed to explain to corporations how blogs can work for them, so my questions are for those embarking on a public corporate blogging project:
- Are you ready to talk honestly in public, and avoid the ritualised language of press releases?
- Can you accept that having your words easily indexed and found is an advantage rather than a problem?
- Are you prepared to join the conversation, by linking, tagging and comments, and responding to criticism on your own blog?
- Do you realise that faking blogs is worse than ignoring them?
- Will you remember that the Web is made by people, not machines, and if you abuse their trust, they will tell everyone about it?
I'd like to pass this on to Tom Coates, danah boyd and Doc.
Monday, 3 October 2005
I see 3 big generations of file format here:
- RFC 822 style (ASCII key:value, as in Mail headers and HTTP headers)
- IFF style (keyed binary blobs with length offsets) (IFF, AIFF, TIFF, QuickTime, WAV, AVI, MPEG4)
- SGML style (ASCII <tag> </tag> model) (SGML, HTML, XML, XHTML)
In each case, these define a way for different versions of the same format to coexist by defining that it is OK to discard elements you don't understand.
This provides baseline compatibility (old parsers generally don't crash on new data, unlike more naive formats), but still requires work to define the sub elements of the format to interoperate.
It provides for graceful degradation, with older or less-featured clients able to display the subset they understand, rather than balking completely.
If you replace an element with a more general one, you may need to continue to include the old version for the previous generation of parsers.
Having worked at Apple on QuickTime for 5 years, and spent 10 years before that tracking it, I've seen that it does take some care to adapt and update in a way that will not break old clients, but the benefits for users of your format are immense (the unofficial motto there was 'no movie left behind'). Of course, if your users are happy, this helps your adoption.
HTML took this from SGML, and in many ways expanded it further due to the toleration of sloppy markup from user-agents, to the point where people writing parsers had a bit of tough time of it.
XML was an over-reaction to this - it instituted draconian parsing by design, and effectively gave the green light for everyone to make up their own format without consideration for others at all (with namespaces as a figleaf to cover this, and coerce coexistence post hoc).
Microformats build on the older model of backward compatibility through selective enhancement. This is a bit more work for the parser and format designer, but much less for those creating data using the format, who can readily pick up the latest version to enhance their existing HTML without harming their other uses.
Working within XHTML does impose constraints on how you can express things, but as Cory Doctorow put it last week:
"It's like this: engineering is all about constraint. Given a span of foo feet and materials of tensile strength of bar, build a bridge that doesn't go all fubared. Write a fun video-game for an eight-bit console that'll fit in 32K. Build the fastest airplane, or the one with the largest carrying capacity... But these days, there's not much traditional constraint. I've got the engineer's most dangerous luxury: plenty. All the computational cycles I'll ever need. Easy and rapid prototyping. Precision tools.
Working with constraints is what makes for good Art, and good Engineering, whether the constraints are cultural or structural.
Without shared meaning there can be no communication. Microformats work to converge shared meaning without disrupting other uses, and to enhance rather than replace what you are doing already.
Friday, 30 September 2005
I spoke about a key technological driver, which is storage. Classic broadcast TV had everyone watching at the same time, because there is no storage at all. The next iteration is a central archive, but these are fragile - witness the BBC's loss of large numbers of programs from the 80s due to videotape erosion. Tivo, iPod and BitTorrent are manifestations of storage moving to the edge, streams becoming files, and giving us more choice. Streaming is a throwback to the 2nd model - Rick Prelinger says 'streaming is for sissies'. Multiple copies spread to the edges are more resilient, and more remixable, and so create a larger cultural footprint.
Old school search looks at the content, and tries to derive metadata from it. With text we can find keywords, but with audio and video this is difficult. The classic attempt is to scrape closed captions, try shot detection, try phonetic transcription, but all of these don't help much.
Traditional media production goes through a broadcast funnel that strips out all the structure that was there while it was being made - shots, scenes, production notes, alternative takes. DVD production is finally preserving some of this, but it is often explicit recreation.
Then there is the afterlife of media, which is its cultural impact and the discussion, recommendations, remixing and inspiration that goes on afterwards, and which provides the richer context and description.
What is happening is that the edge culture, the long tail, is spreading a bigger footprint, while the locked-up media from the centre is shrinking it context. My cousin Robert does video restoration for the BBC, and often relies on discovered amateur recordings to reconstruct destroyed recordings.
So how do we help this? Tagging, citing and annotating are already working for text and pictures, lets do this for audio and video too.
A good step would be to converge on a way to add media metadata that is easy to create and share. We've started a microformat process by collecting media metadata examples.
Another thing I heard from multiple people is a desire for a way to pay for the media created by remix culture. My mediAgora idea comes to mind.
Thursday, 29 September 2005
Remember the iPod? Why do you think it was so prone to scratching and going all gunky after a year in your pocket? Why would Apple build a handheld technology out of materials that turned to shit if you looked at them cross-eyed? It's because the iPod was only meant to last a year! [...]
He handed her a white brick, the size of a deck of cards. It took her a moment to recognize it as an iPod. "Christ, it's huge," she said.
"Yeah, isn't it just. Remember how small and shiny this thing was when it shipped? 'A thousand songs in your pocket!'"
Tuesday, 27 September 2005
Friday, 23 September 2005
We skipped this in August due to Barcamp, but we're back.
Tuesday, 20 September 2005
Tuesday, 13 September 2005
the Long Tail model, which was born in March 2004.
[...]I met with a guy named Robbie Vann-Adibé who at the time was running a digital jukebox company called Ecast. During the course of our conversation, Robbie asked me what percentage of his top 10,000 tracks I thought sold at least once per month?
[...]The answer was 98%—that is, 98% of Ecast's top 10,000 tracks sell at least once per month. When I get something this badly wrong—when I have a data point that's just way off the line—I have to ask whether one of two things is true. Either you've got an outlier—meaning (in this case) that there's just something funky about the digital jukebox business—or there's something going on that warrants further investment.
This timeline seems a bit odd to me. Personally, I think I first articulated this in r, K or RIAA?:
[in biology] you'll see a clear distinction between r and K reproductive strategies. I'll summarize briefly - K strategies work in a stable, restricted environment that is near to carrying capacity (eg the Billboard chart and radio playlist, or record shop stock). In this case, the successful strategy is to have few offspring, and invest lots of effort on nurturing them and helping them to survive.
r strategies work in an unpredictable environment where you are not near the carrying capacity of the environment (the Internet). Here the successful strategy is to have huge numbers of offspring with a low investment of effort, let them loose and expect that enough will do well and survive to keep your species going.
If you're a K strategist that finds yourself in an less predictable and less closed environment than you thought, you need to move closer to the r model, and spread your seed more widely. It seems the Record Industry is doing the opposite.
I can understand Chris not reading obscure websites I wrote 3 years ago, but how about Gary Wolf's Wired article in October 2003 which said:
All of Amazon's important innovations - starting from the concept of a Web bookstore - have suggested a profound change in the bookselling business, a change that makes it possible to earn a profit by selling a much wider variety of books than any previous retailer, including many titles from the so-called long tail of the popularity curve. 'If I have 100,000 books that sell one copy every other year,' says Steve Kessel, an Amazon VP, 'then in 10 years I've sold more of these, together, than I have of the latest Harry Potter.'
I think Chris Anderson was editor of Wired at the time.
Monday, 12 September 2005
I have seen several discussions of Digital Rights Management again recently. Having blogged on this folly at enormous length in the past, I thought instead I'd apply my targetted frame technique. Here are some anti-DRM arguments framed for 5 different groups:
Computer Users: DRM turns your computer against you
I know sometimes it seems like your computer has its own agenda, when it refuses to print or copy or find your documents. DRM does this on purpose. It is designed to stop you copying and pasting, printing and sharing things. I don't think you want this.
Computer Scientists: DRM will fail through emulation
One of the basic precepts of Computer Science is the Church-Turing thesis, which shows that any computer can emulate any other one. This is not theory, but something we all use every day, whether it is Java virtual machines, or CPU's emulating older ones for software compatibility.
The corollary of this is that code can never really know where it is running. For a rock solid example, look at MAME, the Multi-Arcade Machine Emulator, that runs almost any video game from the last 30 years. The games think you have paid a quarter when you press the '5' key.
Corporations: DRM has to be undone to be used
Microsoft has been touting DRM features in the next version of Office that will only allow approved people to copy or forward or print documents that they can read. But if they can read them, they can describe, paraphrase, retype or photograph them. If you can't trust your employees, but think you can trust your computers more, you have deeper problems than document leakage.
Lawyers: DRM makes machines judge, jury and executioner
Law is complex and subtle, with elaborate and oft-satirised processes and procedures for making, enforcing, fighting and settling contentious issues. Due process is there for good reasons which I don't need to rehearse to you.
DRM undoes all this with the simplistic, hard-edged certainty of a machine. It will refuse to let you copy video you have shot yourself, or prevent citation by copying and pasting. It will make presumptions of guilt rather than innocence. Some tasks we can delegate to machines; law and jurisprudence should not be one.
Media Companies: DRM destroys value
By adding DRM to your products, you make them less attractive to your potential customers. This will reduce the amount they are willing to pay for them, significantly.
Companies that bet on DRM die off. Apple's iTunes store (often cited as a DRM success) will burn Audio CDs, so it preserves the customer value.
Wednesday, 7 September 2005
John reflects on it all:
Overall, writing the "Being Poor" piece and seeing the response has been one of the moving writing experiences that I've had in a very long time, and much of that I owe to the commentors who stepped forward to add notes from their own lives and experiences.
Technorati Tags: katrina
Wednesday, 31 August 2005
Tuesday, 30 August 2005
The spooky thing for me is that my old friends at Planetary Visions Limited spent a big chunk of the 90s making computer visualisations from satellite data of just this kind of thing - here's a year's worth of weather, so the real pictures are curiously familiar.
Sunday, 28 August 2005
Seeing them consecutively made me realise that they both are parables of how it is to be a geek in the world. The way Edward Scissorhands gently satirises Californian suburban life was much clearer now I've been living it for a while. At it's core, though, it is a classic 'geek versus jock' battle over a girl, but there is a lot of layered subtext about trying to make sense of unusual abilities in an world with other assumptions.
The father of Edward's adoptive family waxes lyrical on Ed going into business on his own "There's nothing like running your own business. I've never done it myself, but from what I gather it's the greatest satisfaction a working man can have. So I guess the bank's going to be your next step, huh?"
His loan is of course denied through blank incomprehension, and he is led into crime.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by contrast, has Depp as a post-dotcom bubble geek, with enough money to indulge his rococo taste in factory design and furnishings. It also has a darker subtext, with Wonka's paranoia about his secret formulae being stolen, and his mass onshoring by replacing the local workforce with imported Oompa-Loompa's who literally work for beans.
In both films a good, ordinary family is the path to redemption, but Edward ends up estranged and alone, making beautiful sculptures no-one sees; Wonka, by contrast, brings Charlie's family into his own hermetic world. I'm not sure if either of these is a moral ending, though.
Thursday, 25 August 2005
Tuesday, 23 August 2005
For example, here's the argument against copyright term extension reframed for different political views:
- Liberal collectivist
- The shared culture of society should belong to the people together, not to faceless corporations.
- Our ability to express ourselves freely should not be constrained by a state-granted monopoly.
- Liberal Economist
- As non-rivalrous goods with a vanishingly small marginal cost of reproduction, cultural goods reach maximum utility by being freely replicable.
- Creating property rights in goods that can be duplicated at will is inflationary, and undermines the value of real physical property that is the bedrock of a stable society.
Each of these is a facet of the issue, and a defensible position, but if you have a mismatch between the argument and the political frame of your audience, you will be met with incomprehension or hostility, and won't win for your cause.
Updated: Doc Searls and Larry Lessig debated this very issue right after the Eldred case. Doc's thoughts, Larry's response.
In answer to Doc's comment about 'Commons' putting off the libertarians and the right, I'd like to suggest 'Digital Commonwealth' as a more neutral political term.
Perhaps it was this idea of decentralisation that got Tim O'Reilly to put his publishing company in Sebastopol in the first place - and certainly they do a great job of publishing books by scattered authors.
However, if you're going to visit O'Reilly there, you need to make at least a day of it — from my house in San Jose I can get to Boston by air in about the same time it takes me to drive to Sebastopol — so Tim making a virtue from a necessity, and organising a camp there was a brilliant move. One of the strengths of Foo is that it brings in people from further afield than the Bay Area.
Conversely, being based here means that there are lots of events going on, and Bar was an example of what that clustering can do.
Which brings me back to Markoff's What the Dormouse Said, whose thesis is that it was the combination of the chip companies, Stanford, and the SF counterculture that built the computing world we live in now. They needed the physical proximity then, and going to PARC to hear from Doug Englebart and Larry Tesler about those days was fascinating.And yet, the collaboration tools they dreamed of then are now coming to fruition, in the way that I can contact friends in both camps, and others worldwide from my computer or sidekick.
I managed to get a live broadcast up from Bar camp so far-flung friends could watch and react via IRC, but attempts to get video out of Foo camp were stymied by their NAT and router. Global textual collaboration has been here for a while; adding video and audio is still a work in progress.
Friday, 12 August 2005
The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.microformats.org says:
microformats are not:
- a new language
- infinitely extensible and open-ended
- an attempt to get everyone to change their behavior and rewrite their tools
- a whole new approach that throws away what already works today
- a panacea for all taxonomies, ontologies, and other such abstractions
- defining the whole world, or even just boiling the ocean
- any of the above
The man whose public spirit is prompted altogether by humanity and benevolence, will respect the established powers and privileges even of individuals [...]microformats.org continues:
He will accommodate, as well as he can, his public arrangements to the confirmed habits and prejudices of the people; and will remedy as well as he can, the inconveniencies which may flow from the want of those regulations which the people are averse to submit to. When he cannot establish the right, he will not disdain to ameliorate the wrong; but like Solon, when he cannot establish the best system of laws, he will endeavour to establish the best that the people can bear.
the microformats principles
- solve a specific problem
- start as simple as possible
- design for humans first, machines second
- reuse building blocks from widely adopted standards
- modularity / embeddability
- enable and encourage decentralized development, content, services
I grant you, the microformats prose is terse in comparison, but I see the commonality between the two. Do read Lynne's post in full, and thank you Megan for pointing it out.
Sunday, 24 July 2005
I saw the Burtynsky exhibition at Stanford today. He takes haunting pictures of landscapes transformed by industry into scenes of devastation and strange beauty. Quarries that look like stacks of boxes or an auditorium, then you see a tiny vehicle and realise the scale.Shattered Ozymandian fragments of ships in Chittagong, towering over the people cutting them up for scrap.
Go look at them now.
Technorati Tags: art
Saturday, 23 July 2005
He summarized in Slate:
We tend to think that high-speed chases are a problem because of the dangers they pose during the chase. That's true enough. But the real problem is the danger they pose after the chase. I cannot tell you how many cops I talked to who spoke of how disoriented and crazed and incoherent they were after racing after someone through streets at 120 miles per hour. You finally cut off the suspect's car. You charge out of the cruiser. You yank open his door. Your pulse is 175. Your heart is in your throat. Your body is awash in adrenalin and cortisol. And everything we know about human physiology and psychology says that no one can make intelligent snap decisions under those circumstances.
Today the police said the man was unconnected to the attacks.
Updated: Blink's chapter discussed the shooting of Amidou Diallo. Jean Charles de Menezes was the man killed in Stockwell.
Wednesday, 20 July 2005
Google's lunar effort is amusing, but the panorama's shot by Apollo 11, Apollo 12 and Apollo 17 astronauts are the real thing.
Unless you believe the Google Ads chosen for the panorama site, that is.
You can hear Neil Armstrong's first unscripted words on the moon:
The surface is fine and powdery. I can kick it up loosely with my toe. It does adhere in fine layers like powdered charcoal to the sole and sides of my boots. I only go in a small fraction of an inch, maybe an eighth of an inch, but I can see the footprints of my boots and the treads in the fine sandy particles.
That echoes across 36 years clearly. I don't remember it well, being under 3 at the time, but my parents bought a TV set specially for the occasion.
Monday, 18 July 2005
'RDF was the LSD of the 90s'
Sunday, 10 July 2005
Me reporting back on the Tags Birds of a feather discussion
Last week at Where 2.0 I was chatting with Chris Pirillo about tags and microformats, when he produced a pair of microphones and started recording.