The Intention Economy

I recently finished reading Doc Searl’s “The Intention Economy” and have no qualms at all in suggesting that anyone, with any interest as to what the next 15 years might bring, should read it.

The book is a comprehensive overview of VRM or vendor relationship marketing. For all that that sounds like yet another scheme to empower business, which it is, it proposes to do so by balancing the playing field and empowering not the vendor, but the customer, to the betterment of all involved.

It is a much required antidote to the current marketing landscape that refuses to recognise how incomplete and inefficient current data practices are, and more acutely, how these inefficiencies are, in part, caused by the deterioration of trust between individuals and corporations.

The thrust of the argument is that free markets require free customers, and proceeds to show us exactly how current accepted norms are in fact quite counteractive to such a goal.

The magic ingredient is to give customers ownership and control of their commercial data (and non-commercial data for that matter), how it is used and whether and for how long a 3rd party (such as your electricity company) can use and store it. The quid pro quo for business is the evolution of a paradigm whereby we signal our commercial requirements, the terms we are willing to do business under and other data that may be valuable to the assessment of the transaction. They won’t need to spend untold millions to guess our intentions, if we are happy to tell them in plain language. It will be a damn sight more accurate too.

On the bare bones of a 900 word blog post that seems quite some challenge, which, of course, is the reason why you should read the book.

For me, the key revealed concept was the solution to the trust issues that permeate the current commercial relationships across almost all areas of business. I have long been of the opinion that the current trend to big data was always going to come unstuck in the marketing sphere. The line in the sand for me was the potential for data aggregation of several permissioned data sets, to deliver information to commercial entities that was clearly not within the intentions of the individual, when they signed each individual data release.

Rapleaf in the US, has already fallen foul of this trend, caught by the WSJ using personally identifiable information. Initially marketed as a reputation management system it didn’t take long for them to sell your data onwards.

Rapleaf still operate. Indeed in some circles are still considered something of a pioneering  trendsetter. For me, though, they clearly demonstrated that I could not trust them with my data (not that they ever asked permission). And they aren’t alone. Aside from the fact that in most circumstances I don’t have a choice, I am not happy giving faceless commercials ownership and control over MY data. I won’t use an app that requires data that is not essential to the service they provide. An asinine game, that insists on access to my phone number, my device ID and the numbers I am connected to, is, quite frankly, taking the piss. I know many don’t seem to care, but I do.

The VRM paradigm solves this entire problem.

Imagine having a personal data store, a personal RFP (request for proposal tool) that is linked to all commercial entities and a set of tools that easily allow you to set the rules as to how your data can be used. You will tell the market what you want, how, when, where and how much you are willing to pay. And the market will respond to you.

This will facilitate real relationships, something that just doesn’t happen today. Social is not personal (to puncture one current trend), and any relationship based on an un-negotiable contract of adhesion is one based on such ridiculously one sided power that to call it anything other than an abusive relationship must be a misunderstanding. All those TOS you accept? They are all contracts of adhesion, an aberration of civil expectation brought about by the complications of mass marketing and production. The communicative flexibility of the internet allows us to move beyond this legal lunacy.

The VRM movement, started in 2006, has been quietly laying the foundations for this massive transformation via ProjectVRM at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

There are many different providers of personal data stores lining up products (mydex, singly, personal.com).

Kynetx has built the language KRL for writing the rule permissions I mentioned earlier.

Doc Searl has written a highly accessible book to summarise the progress and the vision and there are many many other players in this space active and alive. It really isn’t just an academic projection.

Not only do we have the theory and the vision, we have the protocols (the bit without a business model) and the tools. But perhaps most surprisingly we have traction with governance.

The UK government has launched Midata. An initiative that, among other things, is encouraging commercial parties to release data back to their customers.

Scottish Power are the first to play and have recently announced that they will release back to their customers their usage data. If that doesn’t sound massive to you (it is) imagine how crazy it is that until now you didn’t have access, to this admittedly basic data, in usable form, at all.

 


“It was moyda”

Here is a wonderful story.

Uniquely of its time, yet spanning maybe 4 generations, this tale of military solidarity and comradeship facilitated by a 92 year old New Yorker illegally copying Hollywood movies for the troops in Afghanistan tells us more about today’s content consumption landscape than you might think.

The tale, in short, is this. Hyman Strachman, a 92 year old WW2 veteran has been sending DVD copies of the latest Hollywood movies to troops on active duty. He has been doing this since 2004 and estimates that he has sent perhaps 300,000 illegal copies, usually to chaplains…..

“Chaplains don’t sell them, and they fan out,” Mr. Strachman said. “The distribution is great.”

……and at a personal cost of maybe $30,000. He makes no profit, and has not been challenged by the MPAA, largely, it is assumed, because the connection to the military and the inherent charitable nature of his actions would make it a PR nightmare.

His actions are clearly illegal as far as the law is written. This is unambiguously the copying of digital files, and in the eyes of the legislation is every bit as illegal as file sharing through P2P networks.

The comments, as ever, are as revealing as the article itself. Here you can find those that are as unwilling to ratify Mr Strachman, for the same reasons that they are offended by torrents and file sharing online. There are also those willing to make an exception for him, because of the context of his actions, although they still view torrents as illegal and improper, and then there are those that wish all copying were made legal. Somehow this story seems to have something for everyone.

For me what is most significant is what it reveals about the consumption behaviour of modern movie viewers.

Here’s the kicker. The movie industry already provide these films to the army for transmission to the troops, they don’t seem to have any problem with the troops seeing these movies for free, and good for them too.

And while Mr. Strachman’s movies were given to soldiers as a form of charity, studios do send military bases reel-to-reel films, which are much harder to copy, and projectors for the troops overseas

But this whole thing happened because Mr Strachman, while spending time on a website where soldiers requested care packages, noticed that there were many requests for DVD’s.

So, while the studio’s continued to provide, for all the best of reasons, movies delivered via the mechanics of the old business model, the audience said clearly and unambiguously….thanks but no thanks could you send them to us in a more convenient form please….

And there are practical reasons why.

Jenna Gordon, a specialist in the Army Reserve, said she had handed out even more of Mr. Strachman’s DVDs last year as a medic with the 883rd Medical Company east of Kandahar City, where soldiers would gather for movie nights around personal computers, with mortar blasting in the background

….seven three-ring binders overflow with letters and pictures, most addressed to “Big Hy,” from appreciative soldiers.

“Our downtime is spent watching movies as we clean our weapons,” one handwritten note said.

It’s a practical model of consumption made more poignant by the circumstances of war. For sure it is less noble that the civilian population want the same flexibility, well greater flexibility actually, in the consumption of their media. After all, the complications in their lives are fundamentally different to the complications of soldiers under mortar fire. But if this is a model they are willing to pay for then it is certainly not ignoble.

It is in fact a market demand, and one that currently has a scarce landscape with few suppliers.

Perhaps it takes a 92 year old hero, doing something so selfless that he can only be admired, even though it is illegal, to demonstrate this truth, this market demand, without having the commentary soured by accusations of theft and piracy.

I’m not saying anything here that you wouldn’t find in a dozen blog posts on the future of business models for content production and dissemination.

I do, however, think that Mr Strachman’s marvellous example makes it easier to see the value of a more convenient distribution and consumption paradigm and indicates areas where we should explore the potential for monetisation in more depth.


Anonymity is a tool. Use it wisely.

A creative tool, no less. To use just one example of why, I call on the messageboard model of anonymity on the web, which fosters creative latitude by removing the potential for stigma. In other words, if all the childish mocking of your nascent creativity is reason to not submit your work for consumption, then anonymous messageboards enable you to resubmit new, or amended work, without being identified with the previous unpopular effort.

In a world where the ‘fail, and fail quickly’ model of iterative discovery has some commercial merit it is likely that this model of anonymous contribution should also have some valuable intellectual merit. it should not be a surprise.

However, there is a distinct downside to such a model, for some individuals at least, which is that no ownership can be claimed for successful and popular creativity that lives anonymously.

The flip argument, is that we should always identify strongly and personably with our creations. Grab a slice of the internet, say this is ME. This is my creativity, do you like it?

At first sight a commercially Darwinian position, one which allows for oddities and silliness, peculiarities, trends and mob behaviours influenced by factors other than the inherent ‘value’ of the work, factors such as an artist’s popularity, for example.

I introduce the inherent quality of the work as an idea, because that is the exact counterpoint between 4chan’s or reddit’s anonymity, and that of an established artist. In these forums you can only judge content on its merits because you are otherwise unaware of the provenance of that content.

It is incidentally the exact same argument that lies behind the new BBC talent show the Voice. With the judges listening only to the singer, their chairs turned so that they cannot see the artists, we must believe that they have selected the participants based on pure vocal talent alone. It is a seductive method of selection, meritorious, judicial, fair and decent.

It is also fairly brutal. For every unfair caustic Cowell barb on the x-factor, there is an artist, ejected from the Voice, stripped of illusions as to their talents. Cowell’s reputation allows a maligned individual to reject his opinion, to dismiss him as cruel. In such a process as followed by the Voice one can only blame the raw goods. The knife cuts both ways and whereas there is nothing wrong with that, we should still recognise the vice alongside the virtue. To be proven inferior can be as, if not more, damaging than simply being told such.

Nonetheless, the Voice does demonstrate something important about the making money side of things creative, too. Which is this.

  • To get paid, people have to know who you are.
  • To maximise the impact of your talent, people have to know who you are.
  • To build a reputation, to generate loyalty (and as a result a more stable personal financial model), people have to know who you are.

Because, of course, on the Voice the anonymity ends at the point of selection, followed by battles and live shows and the actual competition itself.

All of this is to make a simple point. Debates on web anonymity tend to be somewhat binary, either full on for or against, whereas instead we should recognise the value of anonymity as a tool and use it appropriately whilst also understanding that most of life is not anonymous and that human interactions, are not generally anonymous, and that most interactions are enhanced by some level of identification.

The web will not long remain a playground where interaction takes place on an anonymous basis. The simple fact of facebook’s existence and success, shows us that the human need for real identity is present in the digital realm as well as the so called ‘real world’. Actual identity is more common in the real world than in the digital, but you can still find anonymity, or manufacture it if you want to. There are losses if you do, but it is possible.

Similarly, whereas many of our digital experiences are increasingly more identifiable we should understand that we must not kill the opportunity for faceless contribution, it has values that are peculiarly well aligned to the fast paced nature of digital communications and we would be poorer for its loss.

Identity is the long standing human default in this debate, anonymity the digital newcomer. But I’d bet a pound to a penny that the long term evolutionary compulsion to identity wins out, and becomes the new digital default. Let’s just hope that we recognise and allow for the value of anonymous contributions also.

2 thoughts for later posts.

  1. What is non-digital anonymity? Is it buying a car with cash in a city you don’t live in?
  2. What is the effect of changing the radius of our identity? Digital communications now extend beyond simple geographic limits. This significantly changes obligations of trust within communities.

4 or 5 things

Wind Map.  A visually stunning representation of wind patterns across the US built from nearly real-time data from across the country, mesmerising.

Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenburg.

We come to visualization from separate paths: Fernanda via design, Martin via mathematics. After admiring each other’s style from afar, we joined forces in 2003—and discovered the thrill of thinking and creating as a team. Together, we set off to explore the possibilities of visualization as a medium; it has become our tool for asking scientific, social, and artistic questions. Today the two of us lead Google’s “Big Picture” visualization research group in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And in our artistic work, visualization is used to excite and provoke.

From wind to waves. From the digital to the physical.

David Bowen, tele-present water

This installation draws information from the intensity and movement of the water in a remote location. Wave data is being collected in real-time from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data buoy Station 46246 (49°59’7″ N 145°5’20″ W) on the Pacific Ocean

Kevin Kelly, incisive and insightful. It’s an old article, 2008, but still the best summary of what to focus on in a market made obsolete by abundant copying technology. The 8 generatives listed should be on the wall of every new business trying to make its way in this world.

When copies are super abundant, they become worthless.
When copies are super abundant, stuff which can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable

And finally.

The fully licensed world. Doc Searls raises some important issues about current ownership (or more exactly non-ownership) models for digital products, and the proliferation / expansion of walled garden business models, and app culture. He specifically examines the negative aspects here, sounding cautionary notes but acknowledges that there is value also, asking for balance, not abolition.

 


Its a real place (part 2 of 5)

The internet is not the first global networked structure built by humans. There is nothing surprising in that statement, although you might be forgiven for thinking so. What is surprising, is that even though we do have relevant experience which we can study, to help us understand how to best proceed with some of the challenges and conflicts arising today, it appears that few people seem to do so. There really are analogue lessons that are relevant to digital situations.

Malcolm Mclean is a man we would all be wise to have a good look at. Known as the father of containerisation, the massive changes he brought to global industry and the way he delivered those changes  make him one of the very few people whose experiences and contributions can be considered relevant to  the particular conundrum of copyright legislation and modern business models.

Mclean was the man who pioneered the modern shipping container industry, and killed the job prospects of 1000’s of dockers on a global basis.

He started in transport as a trucker, originally a driver with his own truck, then slowly building a fleet of trucks, the Mclean Trucking Company. He was a successful man building the company into a comfortable concern. Nonetheless like everyone else he felt the pressures of the 1930’s and returned to driving work himself during this period.

In 1937, waiting dockside for the best part of a day to get his cargo unloaded he had the idea that would eventually lead to the shipping containers we are all so familiar with today. A simple idea really. A container that could be lifted from a truck, into a ship. As strange as it seems, for something now so common, it would still take 19 years before it came to pass.

Mclean went back to building his trucking company until eventually, in the early 1950’s, he had become the largest trucking group in the south and the 5th largest in America. He owned 1776 trucks and had built 37 terminal facilities along the eastern seaboard.

Driven every kind of rig that’s ever been made

Driven the back roads so I wouldn’t get weighed

Willin’ ,  Lowell  George

As the song reminds us, a matter of great concern for the trucking industry in the 50’s was the imposition of weight limits and newly levied fees, posing particularly grave problems for any trucking business crossing multiple state lines. This was the problem that spurred Mclean into dusting off his thoughts about container boxes. He figured that if he could make the process of exchanging cargo between his trucks and some big ships, easy, then he could simply cut out all the weight restrictions and charges being forced on him by each individual state. He would simply go around them, sailing his cargo from Newark to Texas. The enormous time savings delivered dockside, loading and unloading, coupled with the significantly larger loads, enabled great value. It didn’t matter that the relevant industries weren’t all in say Texas, for example, it was still cheaper to send it down by ship and then move it by truck (over many fewer state lines) from there.

It wasn’t the concept of the containers alone that set Mclean apart. He wasn’t even the first with that, the rail industry had been transporting truck trailers, and the shipping industries had played with shipping some railroad boxes. That idea itself wasn’t new. Building a standardised, patented intermodal system that allowed shipping to be 100% dedicated to transporting containers, that was new. And worth a lot of money.

Mclean bought and equipped a ship and the neccersary dockside facilities and got to it. He had no trouble finding customers as he was quite comfortably offering savings of 25% against the alternatives. His main trouble came from his competitors in the transportation game who weren’t satisfied with his legal business arrangements, it being illegal to operate across 2 or more carriers without ICC approval. Mclean, in response sold his trucking concerns and launched the shipping company that would come to be known as SeaLand.

We have the benefit of hindsight, so we know how successful his concepts turned out to be, but all Mclean had to go on was the conviction of his own thinking. Today 90% of all global freight will have spent time inside one of Mclean’s containers, and there are roughly 18 million of them quite literally scattered all across the globe, all small parts of one standardised global intermodal freight transportation system.

And that there is one of the magic keys to all this – standardisation. The business efficiencies were enabled by the adoption of standardised equipment, the containers themselves and the dockside equipment needed to load and unload them. Mclean had to spend significant time persuading port authorities to redesign facilities to accommodate the new system. Slowly the ports adopting containers started to show a distinct health and resurgence. The industry took notice, and adoption grew.

Perversely, even though containers clearly were the death of the docker as an industrial force, many ports were under greater pressure from land based trucking companies. The port authorities began to see containerisation as a lifeline, not a threat.

Mclean had released his patents, and made them available to use under a royalty free lease given to the International Organisation for Standardisation. I’ll say that again. ROYALTY FREE. Furthermore he was vigilant about standardisation, recognising that the growth of his business and his business sector could only be helped, not hurt, by actively managing and aiding standardisation as a business principle.

These were momentous changes and wrought significant upheaval and change in society. The docking industry was dealt a fatal blow and never recovered. There was considerable human cost. Old traditional ports that resisted the change were over taken by new facilities opened in newly feasible locations. Time savings made it possible to relocate ports, decentralising delivery and devaluing incumbency. The savings were too large, the old model was doomed.

Standardisation wasn’t the only magic ingredient. As well as the time savings the containers increased the security of goods in transit. Previously a certain percentage of spoil and theft was a line in the business plan, Mclean’s sealed containers stopped this problem. Which also lead to cheaper insurance premiums.

However, the most significant value in this concept came over time. Mclean’s containers delivered a sealed unit from one commercial entity to another unmolested by the shipping company. As a result the shipper was not responsible for the contents of the container.

“What was new about McLean’s innovation was the idea of using large containers that were never opened in transit between shipper and consignee and that were transferable on an intermodal basis, among trucks, ships and railcars”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malcom_McLean

Individual governments could, and did, and still do, search containers – but on finding items of an illegal nature the shipping company was not / is not a liable party (unless it’s their container of course).

The alternative would involve the shipper taking on board a very significant business risk. Or, rather they wouldn’t take on the risk, they would police the cargo before carriage.

If business had had to carry these costs then the world would not have been transformed by globalisation. The current global trading landscape is as it is as a consequence (among other things, of course) of the way the laws have  been set, in regard to international shipping, and how liabilities are apportioned for the transit of illegal material has been a surprisingly important part of what happened.

Mclean’s world was an industrial society where global technology flourished in the fields of engineering and the transportation of goods.

Our world today is an information society where global technology flourishes in the fields of communication and information and the availability of therein.

I take 3 big lessons from this.

Firstly, effective standardisation is good for the growth of the ecosystem. It seems harder to consider this a duty between people in the digital realm for some reason. Maybe it is the inherently personal nature of a piece of genius coding, compared to the more generic delivery of a standardised philips screw, but we have to sensibly recognise where innovation needs to be protected as an effective standard. Companies such as Google and Apple are building today’s essential industrial structure. As William Gibson has noted,

Now cyberspace has everted. Turned itself inside out. Colonized the physical. Making Google a central and evolving structural unit not only of the architecture of cyberspace, but of the world. This is the sort of thing that empires and nation-states did, before

In my opinion the new builders of the world should take as much responsibility for what they do and where they take humanity, as the leaders and founders of society are expected to take (I note the differential between expectation and delivery, but will counter that no such obligation whatsoever simply cannot be deemed the safer option just because its business not government) .

Secondly, we shouldn’t demonise all innovative business practices. Mclean looked to break a legal monopoly (the state levies) by slightly glossing over a few irregularities in his business holdings. He eventually got called on it and had to divest. But by then he had received the advantage he needed. I can’t see how containerisation could have been delivered by an outsider.

Thirdly, it’s clear that essential carrier infrastructure shouldn’t have to bear the costs of 3rd party legal breaches, where the carriage in question is a service provided legally and essentially, but abused by 3rd party users.

We don’t lock up ship’s captains for transporting a container full of stolen cars.

Similarly we shouldn’t lock up ISP’s, search providers and content hosts, simply because they make their service available to 3rd parties who may or may not post links to illegal content.

In both situations we should put up with a certain loss (some goods are smuggled, some links point to copyrighted material) to maintain a healthy functioning infrastructure for the rest of us.


Tin foil

Let’s posit a view of the world where there is indeed an active and driven power elite that colludes and competes within itself, and makes decisions that define societies and influences or controls populations en masse. It’s not so far-fetched, actually, because quite frankly there is little in that description that does not apply to the communist party that currently runs China.

So, in this posit imagine that there is a power elite that looks to control the western world, with much the same spheres of influence as the Chinese communists have today. With slow time frames for reference, years not months, decades not years, imagine that this pre-internet western society was controlled by several power elites, that competed and colluded, through movement of capital, political influence, resource ownership and militarised populations.

In this posit, control is not something that only exists under authoritarian regimes, but nonetheless in this western society it is somewhat subtle, certainly not overt. Large swathes of the population would not just be unaware but would deny the truth even if confronted by evidence. So, please consider this posited western society as it discovers and embraces and develops the internet. It’s much harder to imagine the same level of control being exercised, when citizens can use the internet to commune and educate in new more powerful ways, undiminished by proximity, empowered by unrivalled access.

In China, TODAY, when faced with this exact challenge they have simply censored the internet. There is information that is not available on any of the key portals / platforms / sites / search engines. It’s not a perfect filter of course, but it is pretty good. The masses by and large do not see things the government doesn’t want them to see.

They are partly able to do this, that is to manage the propaganda transition to the internet, because their population has never been under a deep illusion as to the nature of their leadership, there is a deficit of expectation for the rights that we, in the west, take for granted. Moreover, partly, they can do this (that is they have been able to maintain a society, even though basic freedoms are missing) because they had even more effective control of the pre-internet media, than the western world ever had. This aggregation of power is not challenged by emerging capitalist and/or technology industries, because in China, today, the new startups and the established players that want to win big, have learnt that playing along with the government is a more effective route than challenging it. If you like it has become a business decision. The alternative is digital oblivion.

As a contrast, in the USA today there are conflicts between industries, where the government can be seen more as a weather vane, an enabler, a vessel of effect, the tool that must be controlled, rather than the controlling authority. These relationships have blurred though, as the lines between government and business have moved, with the lobby system legitimising corporate access to law making.

Right now, for example, there is a conflict between the Hollywood / entertainment industry and the tech industry represented by Silicon Valley over the copyright and IP protection legislation currently passing through the American legislature, SOPA and PIPA.

It seems that the role of government, in this case, is to choose between the two lobbies. A choice that has been made, on a bipartisan basis it should be noted, already and in favour of the entertainment industry.

Clay Shirky told us that “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution”. Applying the logic of that assertion to the problem faced by the recording, movie and publishing industries, we can start to see their support of SOPA as a last stand to preserve value from the problems to  which they have been the solution. Broadly these problems are talent, production, distribution and promotion.

With regard to the music industry specifically, modern computing has decentralised production, so it is no longer necessary to have access to million pound studio facilities to produce commercial grade recordings.

The internet totally solves the problem that is currently serviced by legions of trucking networks, warehouses and retailers, which is distribution.

Because production and distribution can be done by almost anyone with the skills (which are actually quite widespread) and for ever more attractive costs, talent no longer needs to be as reliant on the industry infrastructure as it has been. Nonetheless there is still a decent amount of affiliation between established talent and the music industry. Lots of infrastructure is still being used, it’s just becoming harder to maintain margin.

Promotion, of course, is similarly challenged by the enhanced communications offered by the internet, particularly in the realms of one to many communication platforms such as those proliferating under the banner of social networking. Potentially one of the big casualties of SOPA.

In short it’s all going to hell in a hand-basket and quite frankly I can’t see how the existing players can win. It becomes a transition of power via the transition of essential infrastructure. It used to be retailers and publishers and warehouses and haulage. It will become SEARCH and SOCIAL NETWORKING and SOCIAL DISTRIBUTION and legions of individually owned transactional portals and/or aggregated portal facilities. Getting product to large audiences will still need industrial levels of investment, infrastructure and influence. It is a transition of capital. Power to the people will be how it feels, at least for a while, but eventually these new leaders will be challenged and the cycle will begin again.

IP protection, copyright enforcement, piracy and the subsequent monetisation models (or rather, lack of monetisation models) are the battleground because copyright is the legal heart of the old monetisation model, and it enables the owners of said copyrights to keep making money from old copyable assets today, and new assets long into the future.

Computers and the internet have made it very easy to copy and distribute these assets. The pillars of the business (Talent, production, distribution and promotion) are all decentralising at different rates and nothing has been done to recognise the one essential incorrigible fact of the modern problem with IP law – with an almost zero cost of duplication you will not be able to stop it happening. Nothing has been done about that problem, because the solutions to that problem are solved by very different bits of infrastructure. Or, more accurately, there is no solution to that problem, but there are solutions to the monetisation model problem. That is the problem solved by different infrastructure.

There really is a lot at stake, not just the money, but the role of gatekeeper is up for grabs.

Confused in Calcutta presents a nicely optimistic view of what’s going to happen next, juxtaposing the quite ludicrous nature of the legislation with a faith that humanity simply won’t be that stupid. I tend to think he is right with regards to SOPA and PIPA and the various lookalikes popping up all around the world (often at the behest of the US government no less).

However, a talk Cory Doctorow gave last December gives me pause for thought. Doctorow’s position is that the current scrap over copyright is just one round in a bigger fight against the threat to today’s businesses, generated by general purpose computing.

Your laptop and desktop are general purpose computers. You can use them to do anything, providing you have the correct code to run. This is part of their DNA, modern computing is somewhat reliant on this set-up. From the link.

“We don’t know how to build a general-purpose computer that is capable of running any program except for some program that we don’t like, is prohibited by law, or which loses us money. The closest approximation that we have to this is a computer with spyware: a computer on which remote parties set policies without the computer user’s knowledge, or over the objection of the computer’s owner. Digital rights management always converges on malware.”

His hypothesis suggests, quite plausibly, that as computing becomes ever more endemic, more and more industries will become threatened. If you consider that 3D printing will take computing into the production process as well as the information process you can start to see the scope of the challenge. Doctorow goes into more detail, of course, but he makes a simple point, the powers that be will have ever more reasons to want to control our access to general purpose computing and copyright is one of the battles in that war.

If you look at the various business interests that have declared financial support for the SOPA bill though the lobbying process you see some interesting things. There are a large number of businesses that are not in the entertainment sector, or seem overly reliant on copyright for their revenues that are backing SOPA.

Tobacco & Tobacco products, Animal feed & health products, Optical services (glasses & contact lenses), Pharmaceutical manufacturing, Health care products, Personal health care products, Truck/Automotive parts & accessories, Auto repair and the IBEW (Intl Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) amongst others.

Opencongress.org provides the data. It’s quite eye opening, both the who and the how much, particularly when you look at the very short list of interests that are opposed to SOPA.

Communications & Electronics, Computer manufacture & services, Data processing & computer services, Venture capital, Democratic/Liberal, Human Rights, Non-Profits, Non-profit foundations and Education.

And that’s it.

Why is there such wide ranging, bipartisan support for such a poorly structured bill? I can think of 3 possible explanations, but all are speculation.

  1. Doctorow is right and this is one skirmish in a wider battle affecting many more industries than simply the entertainment sector
  2. These businesses have a lot invested in the current infrastructure, both the know how (promotional, executional, financial) and the equipment itself and wish to maintain the status quo
  3. There is a view that the industrial influence of the media on a global scale has been able to generate value for ‘America’ simply through the widespread distribution of innocuous ‘American’ content. To be clear. I am not alleging a conspiracy to push brand America through entertainment content, merely a recognition that America’s leadership in this area has benefited more businesses than just those that make said content.

SOPA really is bad legislation but not because of its goals. On the face of it protecting existing rights granted under licence of law is not actually a choice but an obligation. It’s what we have government for. To create and police the rule of law. So its about the how,not the what. SOPA fails for 2 big reasons.

  1. It won’t defeat piracy
  2. It will break the internet

What is required is that we move to the new infrastructures and business models as soon as possible.

This is difficult because it does need business to become less reliant on copyright as a commercial protection. If you can make good money as a live musician, and the best can make a lot of money, then low cost of copy and distribution actually start to work in your favour as advertising for your revenue lines (let alone social pass on with accompanying recommendation),which is live performance. It is a big change, though something like this is needed.

If we can generate a new monetisation model, that enables effective commercial reward to effort / talent ratios, then we can start to de-construct the problems we face when trying to understand why support for SOPA is so strong.

  1. If Doctorow is right: it’s going to be bloody whichever way you cut it. This is a transition of power and no two ways about it. Effective monetisation will hasten the move to more stable times by hastening the success of new infrastructure industries
  2. Lazy businesses? They will re-invest if they can see an effective model. Those that don’t will die. This should satisfy those that believe in free markets.
  3. American hegemony. This is changing. America will never have as much influence in the world as it has now. This is a mirage. Once you show money how to make money it will switch its allegiance. In a heartbeat.

Ho hum.


Ownership and possession

Compulsive ownership is a philosophy of acquisition, come what may, as insurance against … well … come what may

This is the buy it to eat it mentality, on a just in case basis. With CD’s, DVD’s and books an aspect of ownership is the solidity of it. It’s a thing, a something I can touch. MINE. NOT YOURS.

Now we have the cloud

Now we have the access mentality, as well as the philosophy of acquisition

Do we still need to acquire? Can we take always on, to taking on just about the right amount?