Category Archives: internet

The Age of Excessions

Part One: The question and the answer.

While this essay represents bits of 18 years of thinking and observing human institutions responding to the various forces I’ve encountered (primary in technology and medicine) I was prompted to write it in response to a question a man asked me last summer at a conference on the future. His question, roughly put, was this: How do you tell what institutions are about to get disrupted? My answer, equally paraphrased was this: any part of an institution that was there to facilitate information is going to go away in favor of the internet. This answer was both too general in that I never really explained what facilitating information meant or how the internet would destroy it, and too specific, because I only talked about the internet, as if it were the only technological force looming over these institutions.

What follows is a longer reply to the question about the fates of institutions, past, present, and future. I believe we are entering an age where these disruptions come at a speed we’ve never dealt with before. It’s bountiful in destruction and utopianism. It’s a stochastic time, with too much of everything. These changes so severe they break social institutions before new institutions can evolve. These changes are so many, it’s the defining characteristic of the age: an age of excessions.

An excession is something that exceeds the current frame of reference, and therefore wrecks it. I’ve stolen the word from the illimitable writer and thinker Iaim M. Banks, but it’s not my intention to attribute my definition to him. For my purposes an excession doesn’t have to just come from outside the frame of reference, like the WWII troops that landed on Micronesian islands bearing Cargo. They can also arise internally, like puberty. As a matter of fact, laying aside the occasional meteorite, hurricane, or well armed British explorer, almost all do arise from colliding forces inside humanity. But they all feel like the weather, an unpredictable thing outside our comprehension or control that tends to smack us around without warning. Many excessions arise from colliding forces of social power structures and technological progress. One of the reasons that so many excessions are so surprising is that politicians and technologists usually think they are where the really important stuff is, their worlds providing the invisible climate to each other. There are other spheres that provide more invisible climate, but even trying to talk about these two is confusing enough to start with. Technology and politics are incredibly compelling, and looking closely at either will convince anyone that they’ve found the cornerstone to history, stories of progress that really explain what’s going on, and what they can’t explain was random chance or the hidden variables- more weather. If a political thinker looks at the history of New York in the mid-century they uncover Robert Moses as an explanation of everything. A technologist looks at the same story and sees the inevitable result of advances in building materials and automobile engineering. Arguing who really has history figured out between the two is like arguing nature and nurture in children- turns out to be incoherent and not as interesting as you think. I will try very hard not to do that.

The greatest institutions meet one of history’s poltergeists

In the 1980s the nascent social force of the internet entered a world of unprecedented consolidations. Nation-states, corporations, and even religions were larger and more coherent than at any other time in history. Partly that was the first order effect of rising population levels, but it was came from the need for cohesion in scaled up societies. We were not merely millions of Americans together, we were part of the capitalist faction of humanity, employees of megacorporations, and citizens of a government so sprawling it couldn’t be held in the mind. One of the benefits of the project that both consolidated and segmented the world is that we could substitute categories for people, something the modern mind needed desperately.

The 19th and 20th centuries had done something disturbing to humanity; it had made us aware of there being so many more people than we could ever know or form opinions of. Even if you managed to spend your life in in the village of your birth and not know more than 150 people (and fewer of us could manage that) you now had more and more a sense of the oppressive other. There were millions of people out there, then billions, a crush of humanity that the social human mind couldn’t take in. Being able to make simple statements like ‘capitalists are like me, communists are evil’ was a way of managing the terrible weight of the unknowable other. Capitalism itself was an attempt to scale social institutions to keep up with populations, as was socialism. They were the organizational systems humans desperately latched onto to deal with the sudden logistical problems of there being so damn many of us.

We often think of this process of happening slowly, but if you were to extend the history of humanity back to the founding of civilization at 12,000 years, or reasonably even to the beginning of our speciation around 200,000 years ago, the last 200-300 years suddenly looks like what it is- the adaptation of human institutions at a breakneck pace. For the first time changes routinely lapped generations. The elders couldn’t even recognize the world they’d always been meant to comment on. Their roles of wisdom were stunted: the world they knew so much about was gone.

The internet (and here I include the greater telephony it’s part of) was about accelerate and rearrange everything it touched, creating and collapsing scaling problems in institutions like a mad poltergeist of history. Not necessarily via the usually discussed channels, like blogging, but by rendering obsolete the mass infrastructure of information wherever the net arrived. The middle layer of communication and cultural cohesion that had once been the largest, richest, most articulate part of the economy and culture was rendered obsolete without even the courtesy of being dismantled. Overnight, the conduits not only ceased to be conduits, they became barriers, without ever changing their behavior. Tt was as if the world had spun 180 degrees around them. People don’t handle this sort of thing well. In fact, they kind of go crazy.

Next: The first time you ever heard of the RIAA

What Gov 2.0 is making me think

I think we are getting enough examples of what the internet does to things back in the real world to start extracting some possibly slightly predictive behavioral patterns.

The one I think is really important for .gov is that the internet eventually destroys institutions whose main purpose was physical mediation of otherwise interested but unconnected parties. Over time, those middle layers will simply go away. They have to, because they are transformed (through no fault of their own) from conduit to barrier. The transformer is environmental- the internet is kind of ice-9 that way. But this is not a binary, smooth, fast, or simple transition, and the people in the middle of it are understandably confused and angry.

This is why record companies and newspapers are pissed off and pissing other people off that can’t figure out why they won’t just cease to exist. This is painful and hard. This is so painful and so hard that we have an aversion to seeing which institutions are next. Physical mediation is a good starting point to think about it: so what parts of governments exist to physically deliver something that can be described as information? Those parts will eventually go away. They can go away gracefully, or they can not go away gracefully. Government has a possibly unique ability to make that transition as non graceful as possible, but I doubt even it has the power to stop the process altogether.

When I first consulted with all sorts of companies in 1995 about their very first web pages, every one of them did a variation of the same thing: put their catalog or brochures on the web! How cool is that! Not actually that cool, I tried to humbly suggest. “The net,” I said repeatedly until my coworkers were ready to hurl, “is a conversation.” Many of these companies and organizations had never really conversed with anyone connected to them. It never had come up. Learning what that meant is each case has made the last 13 years completely fascinating.

I feel a little like the database fetishism I am seeing is a version of the catalog idea. There is nothing wrong with putting your catalog online, but it’s a serious misunderstanding of the net to think that the net is going to let you do the same thing as printing out all your data and sending it to everyone in the world, only without paying for postage. To explain how it’s different I’m going to dodge the question by hiding behind Tolstoy- pre-internet institutions are all alike, post-internet institutions are structurally disrupted in their own ways.

Like stages of grief, we need to figure out the stages of internet integration for institutions. I suspect grief is in there.

More as my head breaks.

Newspapers vs Journalism: legislation and special pleading

The Brothers Marburger want to rewrite copyright law to save newspapers, and thereby, journalism. They want “aggregators” to pay “newspapers” for linking to/summarizing their pieces, and they want to bar “aggregators” from “profiting” from the articles “belonging” to a “newspaper” for 24 hours after posting. Quotes here are mine, to convey that none of these words mean anything particularly precise. There’s so much to take apart here, I’m stymied as to where to begin.

One thing I should admit upfront is that I have never in my life subscribed to a newspaper. My mother did for a while. I was in one, the Evening Outlook in Santa Monica as a kid, and I liked that. But not only did I rarely read them, when I did it was mostly the comics and the stock prices1. There’s a simple physical reason- I hate the way the paper and ink feel on my skin. Cheap newsprint on my fingers acts on my nervous system like finger nails on a chalk board. I hate hate hate slightly slightly greasy, slightly crumbly texture, and the way it comes off on my hands, making them feel dirty, dried out, and oily all at once. Just talking about it makes me want to wash my hands.

But boy did I always love the idea of journalism. I knew I wanted to be a writer and journalist when I grew up pretty much from the 3rd grade. Knew. (Why I didn’t start until I was in my 30s is another long and at times troublesome story) For both dermatological and career/personal reasons, the coming of the web opened the door to my first desire. I left what was shaping up to be a lucrative career in interface design to become a freelance writer.

Some friends expressed their confusion; I was jumping off the Queen Mary onto a barge that was not only skanky, but as far as anyone could tell, already actually on fire. 2005/6 was a hell of a time to declare oneself for journalism. I’ve never worked in a newsroom, though I interviewed once at the Chron. I was told ‘morale is very low’ during the interview, for which I had no pithy reply. A few moments later I admitted that I read my news off Google News. I didn’t get the job. When I was asked later by a Reuters guy why the hell I’d gone for that interview, I told him I kind of wanted to work in a newspaper’s newsroom before they all went away, and I figured that was one of my last chances. He laughed the hard laugh of the bitter and damned, and asked if he could quote me.

People have wondered why I’m not more scared, and the short answer is this: I’m not an employee. I’m a well, a mine. Whatever else gets lost or shuffled, I’m necessary. I can interview, investigate, learn, and then explain. I can write and take pictures. I can give you whatever form you want for those final productions, I don’t care that much. Like the musician and the auteur, I am the natural resource that becomes the product in the hands of an industry. Wherever you put me, however much you pay me, whatever my outlet, I’m still a journalist.

Just like the RIAA isn’t actually trying to save the art form of music, and the MPAA isn’t trying to save the filmic expression, Newspaper people aren’t trying to save journalism. Sometimes the people aligned with these organizations know this, and argue instead for the value their particular infrastructures add to those fields. Those more respectable arguments I can appreciate even when I don’t completely agree.

In an interview I did years ago with Monique Wadsted of the Swedish bit of the MPA (The MPAA’s wee international bit) she argued that in the long run uncontrolled piracy could threaten the huge budget productions that we enjoy. She has a point- a flattened marketplace may not have the investment capital to pour into a yearly summer blockbuster season that costs as much as a small nation’s GDP. I am not actually being flippant here. I love summer blockbuster season. I love the enormous spectacle of the things, their ridiculous scale, comic book motifs and the jewel tone richness. I’m glad we make them, the same way I’m glad people thousands of years ago made the pyramids. But I don’t confuse the pyramids with all building, or Hollywood productions with all cinematic expression.

It seems like every time someone argues for tightening copyright to protect their industry, they conflate their industry with their field of endeavor. But it’s newspapers that are the absolute worst offenders here. Newspapers, newspaper people contend, are the only authoritative source of journalism, the only trustworthy arbiters, the only stalwart defenders democracy can trust. For the sake of our soul as a nation the laws must be changed to ensure the survival of their business model. This argument has the kind of conflict of interest and special pleading that gets journalist salivating, when it’s not about the people that sign their checks.

Some are salivating anyway, like my friend just this guy I happen to know, no friendship stuff or anything, King Kaufman at Salon. He co-writes the Future of Journalism blog, which can be ungentle, at times, with the blithering idiots.

There’s a form of the argument against amending the laws that doesn’t apply to the RIAA or MPAA, which is that newspapers were shitty at their sacred duty. Bill Wyman lays this out very nicely- that the business incentives all pointed towards not upsetting or offending anyone, which kind of runs counter to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” Newspapers did come to play it safe, and safe became more important in many cases than right. As Lore pointed out, “No one ever got fired for installing an evil Microsoft product.” Part of the problem was also biological structural: primates don’t like getting yelled at and avoid it. There are a few that by some accident aren’t too put off by this, and they do often become journalists. They don’t often become managers, even the ones that work at papers.

There’s an argument newspapers were compromised by media consolidation and therefore don’t deserve the protections they seek. These are interesting arguments, and should probably get lots and lots of blah blah blah Inside Journo Baseball. But I don’t actually care about them. Even if they did everything right I don’t want to see newspaper’s special pleading succeed. There’s no reason it has to be them doing it in the future, that journalism has to look like it did in the past.

That there is something good in an existing institution isn’t enough. It has to be better than what we gain when we lose it. For instance, there are a lot of things we might gain from perfect DRM, but creating perfect DRM would require outlawing and destroying the general purpose computer. No contest- we’ll live without.

What the brothers Marburger would ask the world to give up is the fast linking and commentary of the internet, and the diversity of talents outside of corporate newspapers becoming the watchdogs of society. They would also ask the world to give up a lot of reporting, and some of the power media has to afflict the comfortable.

Scandals would be far easier to get out in front of if news spreading is slowed by copyright restrictions. I can get my side of the story out to as many aggregators and blogs as possible, your side has to wait 24 hours. Is an aggregator still an aggregator if it does original reporting or commentary? There aren’t many that don’t. Is WaPo still a paper when it blogs, quotes, and links? Do I get to sue them if they link to and reproduce this post before a day has passed? More news stories then ever are bubbling up from on-site amateurs, will this law protect them? From what? If several people are all working on the same story, does only the first one get to publish? Does it depend on how much one’s employer looks like an aggregator vs newspaper? If so, what incentive does anyone have to take a little extra time to get it right? If I want to make sure a story never really can be written about, can I “register” somewhere as a paper and write about it every 24 hours? What about international sources, are they to be protected/embargoed? If I put my aggregator in Latvia, but live in NYC and take adverts from Google, what are you going to do? What about when the whole situation is reversed, as in the case of Global Voices2?

And all of this might not even save newspapers, even while the damage to journalism would be intolerable. And I like journalism more.

1 Mom’s requirement. I have the distinction of being the only person I know that knew how to read the financial papers, operate several kinds of firearms, hide illegal drugs on my person, relate and analyze good portions of Greek mythology, and identify and sabotage a distributor cap by around age 10. My parents were never, ever boring.

2 GV is pure and simple, simpler than most, a blog aggregator. When it studied its readership, it found that a very high number of people reading were journalists, and most of them admitted they’d gotten stories from GV and written about them in ‘legitimate’ news outlets. One of those journalists was me. Thanks, Global Voices! Please don’t sue me for the thing you kind of wanted me to do! Oh this has gotten so confusing.

Publishers perishing

It’s arcane. It’s hidebound. It’s niche, intentionally obfuscated, and elitist. It’s written almost entirely in -cue retching noises- passive voice. That’s right, it’s the world of academic publishing, boys and girls! A world not only irrelevant to most people’s lives, but anti-relavant, deriving its sense of status from exactly how far up its own ass it can crawl. (Ok, that’s a bit harsh. But… you know who you are.)

For reasons that run in the same direction as but aren’t exactly like my copyright interests I am fascinated with methods of publishing in the world of academic journals. By methods of publishing I mean Open Access and alternative models to traditional peer review. Since a 2006 article for Seed which I over researched in my unfortunate way (‘here’s 4000 words of your 1300 word article… pick the ones you like’) I have known more than is useful about the changes in both, and their complete irrelevance to one another. Well, nearly complete. OA journals can be peer reviewed in any ol’ way, even the ol’ way, but toying with peer review models doesn’t really work with the old print system, so it helps to have some OA platform to play on. But let’s ignore changes in peer review. Assume all journals use the same system of rigor, and that it produces the same result. (Ahem.)

OA means simply this: you academic journal is published online, free and available to all comers. It sounds weirdly like The Pirate Bay, or Grokkster or something, but there’s a few important differences. The people that write in academic journals do it for impact, not money. Never money. “Publish or perish” is about status, not pay, and getting paid is a breach of ethics. You pay to get published, just like the person on the other end pays to read you in the old model. The people that peer review don’t pay money to do it, but they don’t get paid, so they do pay with time. The friggin’ editorial boards usually aren’t paid. It would be as if Lars Ulrich and his producers would never dream of taking money for their work, and only hoped that Elektra was hard at work doing whatever it could to get their tracks into the hands of true metal heads as fast and easily as possible. And that’s how all of this field has worked for hundreds of years before the wah wah was even invented.

If the creative and intellectual work of journals is unpaid, who the hell (you might reasonably ask) is collecting and pocketing all that money? Basically, the printers and manager/secretary types. Elsevier is the purest of middlemen- they not only don’t add intellectual value, it’s pretty much against the rules for them to do so.

If the past 17 years have shown anything, it’s that the net is hell on middlemen. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that with all the same academics offering to do all the same work for the same price (free or negative), charging on the other end for journal subscriptions is just a way for researchers to hide the material they are trying to promote and finally achieve a zen like balance of life long expert toil and total obscurity.

The world wide web was actually invented to do the thing that turned companies like Elsevier from vital parts of intellectual infrastructure into increasingly desperate parasitic lampreys attached to the body of human progress. Science has taught us that organisms displaced from their ecologies go crazy and fight like hell to survive. Nothing, with the possible exception of giant manatees, goes gently into that good night. Expect no different from the journal publishers who archive those ecology notes.

The writing is on the wall, yeah, but that still doesn’t explain why you should care, especially if you are here because you like my desserts or something. You should care because you want a jet car, a simple pill that cures cancer, perfect schools for your children, to live on the moon, the reversal of male pattern baldness, kumquats that never go bad, or perhaps even a planet your grandchildren can safely inhabit in 100 years. Science (and all academia really) seems like it’s about braniacs pelted with apples in patent offices or something, but it’s actually about tiny pieces of the puzzle of how things work being slowly assembled by more people in more directions. It’s an accelerating accretion of understanding and power over the world as it is. It’s exponential, metaphorically speaking, in how every piece of new knowledge opens up the door to n more pieces, etc. The fuel for this growth is eyeballs. (No, actually this time, really, not like the .com bubble.) OA is the rocket fuel approach. Let everyone see it the instant it happens, add small amounts of time, and viola, you get to live in the future.

One of the only solid downsides of OA is that the horrid scholar’s passive voice is now googlable, and not restricted to other academics who are presumably in on the joke. (“We noted across archives that vicious abuse of the English language had been seen.”) It’s the price you pay for progress.

The problems is publish or perish is about status as well as impact, so big name journals get to exist for a while longer largely holding up the progress they once solely enabled.

Which brings us to government action. Moves like the NIH requiring all research they fund to be OA within a year and FRPAA do a lot to get us closer to our jet cars and full heads of hair, even when those things aren’t directly being researched. Also, it takes a government to put an industry out of its misery when the time has come. But most governments are irresponsible twerps and ignore the painful screaming, letting the beasts suffer terribly before finally expiring on their own.

Peter Suber, a philosopher that accidently became the OA guy in the 90s, points to Ireland as a good example of what to do. They simultaneously launched OA archives at their universities while requiring funded research to end up in them. Coordination like this is a great idea, both in the potential mercy killing of Elsevier’s publishing model and in boosting both Irish and non-Irish research. (Is there an Irish word for Goyim or Gaijin? There should be.)

The once and future of scientific publishing

Science as an act of public participation

The idea of open science began with The Royal Society of London, an idiosyncratic groups of talkative 17th century Gentlemen Scientists. Mostly they were the middling upper class – third sons of lords, a group that had more free time than responsibility. They met in a hall to talk about science, read letters from absent colleagues and perform experiments in front of each other. They were so taken with the idea that a theory should be judged on its merits rather than the status of the person advancing it that they started a journal in 1665- the Philosophical Transactions- whose articles were chosen by a review of expert peers rather than the eminence of the presenter. The Royal Society’s motto is “Nullius in Verba,” Latin for “On the words of no one.”

Since then science changed all of society, and the barriers to understanding and participation have steadily declined. Charles Darwin was probably the last of the Gentlemen Scientists. He published The Origin of the Species just 10 years before Nature first rolled off the press as one of the early modern scientific journals. From there the standards of rigor would solidify, and science would move into the academy. The 19th century was the death knell of the class system barrier to scientific participation. This changed how we fundamentally saw science- no longer the pursuit of Great (Smart) Men of history. Progress became the many dots of published research that made up the pointillist portrait of the natural world, conveyed largely by the journal. The next century exploded as a result.

A search on the Nature website alone turns up references to over 370,000 articles across a meager 72 journals. The largest publisher, Elsevier publishes over 2200 journals1. Elsevier’s motto, which dates back to the 17th century, is “Non solus,” Latin for “not alone.” It’s a beautiful motto for the 400 year old peer review system. Science required a community, it could only really happens when we are not alone.

The net brought this community to a new place, a place where a layer of mediation (publishers) can be safely removed. This is the Open Access movement. Open Access is about scientific publishing being quickly posted online, freely available to all comers. It’s peer reviewed in some cases, not in others.

Compared to the rich history of the Royal Society and Elsevier, the world of Open Access journals is tiny and new. But the internet is changing the space between scientists, which in time will change the shape of science entirely. According to there at 753 open archives of research, and many of those are small archives with little more than minutes of local scientific society meetings. The largest of these,, boasts 388,000 articles2, but no peer-review. started as a “preprint” area, but evolved into the place where physics and math can iterate quickly, making math and physics into a conversation, and the conversation is vibrant. Formal peer review is replaced by constant peer interest. Into this environment came Grisha Perelman’s proof of the Poincaré conjecture. The unlikely proof, along his refusal of the Fields Medal captured the media’s imagination. A portrait of a sensitive and grumpy mathematician came out, someone unwilling to submit to the social processes of science for personal reasons. It didn’t matter how valid those reasons were if it kept him out of the literature- generally, that’s the end of the story. But this time we didn’t have to do without his brilliant math. Importantly, in this story, Perelman isn’t the beneficiary of Open publishing; the rest of us are.

But Open Access publishing isn’t just the subscription model sans subscription fees. It’s a different way of doing science when anyone can potentially point an RSS reader at the latest work, from eminent to downright dodgy. They can mark it up, discuss it, blog it, cross reference it, and even integrate it into their world view- and then head off to breakfast.

It’s jarring, even shocking, to be disrupted this way, and to many it looks like a revolt against the publishers of journals. Historical context suggests something different; that perhaps wide dissemination and opening of the process is just part of the natural progression of scientific dialogue. This step, like each before it, takes advantage of the technology and social shifts of the time, and each step has accelerated the progress and widened the breadth of science. And every step has been scary for those who went to the Academy for stability, as well as the euphoric high of understanding.

For scientists in the developing world, or outside the university system, or just those hungry for speed, it’s resources like that have made them “Non solus.” This is touted as one of the triumphs of Open Access, that people outside the usual sphere of science can finally get the latest research. But in fact, it’s the community of science that benefits the most by swelling their ranks.

Taking research out of the segregating world of the of the journal invites the general public to participate in the act of science. They are no long safely outside the walls of the 19th century’s privileged classes or the 20th century’s academia. They are going to watch and comment. They are going to help, and get in the way. Science trolls will harass legitimate work, celebrity pressure will push publishing popular results on popular topics. Rituals of scientific professionalism will become archaic, the status derived from publishing itself will muddy. But it will all be worth it: every endeavor of research with be at last ‘Non solus’ – no one is alone on the internet. With tools for data analysis and statistical modeling falling into everyone’s hands, novel patterns impossible to see in the walled gardens of journals will emerge. Amateurs whose only qualification is interest will transform every discipline they touch. The public will study science and science will study the public. They will delight each other, they will horrify each other with misappropriation, they will drive each other until they are so fast and wide they are one thing. It will be hectic and unstable. Newly opened doors will require new gatekeepers. What the open form of science will bring us is as beyond our imagination as current daily life would be to Darwin. Here the culture of technology informs the culture of science: this is what open interconnectedness has already done to tech.

Perhaps the most important change will be generational. Children growing up in an environment of open science will have a fundamental scientific literacy that we who have learned to love science like a second language will never fully be able to experience like the native speakers. Not all children, but certainly those that lean that way. The natural reasoning of our grandchildren will baffle us as much as the computer literacy of our children has.

It was a radical departure for science from the appeal to authority to the idea of experimentation and collaboration- a wildly egalitarian idea for the 17th century. To “Nullius in Verba,” (On the words of no one), Open Access might add “Omnium Iudicio”, or “to the judgement of all” – the wild idea of the 21st. Summing up from my 2006 Seed piece: science in the 21st century will be vandalized and common, and better for it.

1. 2006 numbers.
2. Haven’t updated these numbers either. Suffice to say, a lot.

Undoubtedly more than you want to know about the Google Book Settlement

The basic story of the Google Books settlement (and why you should care) is this:

In 2004 Google announced plans to start scanning and putting online both out-of and in-copyright books from partnered university collections. There were a lot of other scanning efforts, like the OCA, and Project Gutenberg, but they stuck to scanning books in the public domain- works whose copyrights had expired. Google was the first scanner with the voluminous copper and zinc alloy cojones to just scan copyrighted books and post them where anyone could search them. (If not actually download them.)

In 2005, the Author’s Guild and publishing industry started suing the snot out of them. Of course, what gave Google this previously unforeseen courage was a ridiculous stock price (“Well it was this or hire someone to start shoveling money into the bay…”)(not an actual quote) and grinning phalanxes of lawyers.

In 2008, Google settled. But what the settled for was the Las Vegas buffet of publishing rights. To plagiarize Wikipedia, the terms were roughly:

In October 2008, Google signed a settlement with the Author’s Guild for $125 million. A share of the settlement, $34.4 million dollars, will go towards the funding of the [[Book Rights Registry]], a form of [[copyright collective]] that will pay copyright owners a portion of the profits made by Google Books.

Google created a Google Book Settlement web site that went active on February 11, 2009. This site allows authors and other rights holders of out of print (but copyrighted) books to submit a claim by January 5, 2010.[10] In return they will receive $60 per full book, or $5 to $15 for partial works.[10] In return, Google will be able to index the books and display snippets in search results, as well as up to 20% of each book in preview mode.[10] Google will also be able to show ads on these pages and make available for sale digital versions of each book. Authors and copyright holders will receive 63 percent of all advertising and e-commerce revenues associated with their works.[10]

Yes, leaving in the citations amuses me.

2008-present and probably future, intellectual and legal drama galore.

Why? Because as with any blanket copyright deal there are upsides and downsides, but unique to this one is Google. As in: Google brings its own unique character to it, yeah, but also as in, only Google gets to be part of it, which is kind of an odd idea for a collecting society.

The upsides are instantly obvious. For anyone that cares in the slightest about the fate of the 20th century’s orphan works the Google has come in at what might be the last cultural moment with a deus ex machina that happens to scan 1000 pages per hour. It has thus far lifted 7 million mortal titles up to be ever-teaching constellations shining down from the Google server farms. From the perspective of we plebs, that means the chance to search a previously unavailable vastness of human knowledge from that text box, and maybe even buy orphan books. And certainly look at targeted ads crafted from our profiles and the work itself. We are feeling luckier than ever.

But, as they say, nothing vast enters the lives of mortals without a curse. The curses of the settlement are many and subtle. The deal applies only to Google, effectively shutting out other scanning efforts that might be more in the public interest. Google is answerable to their shareholders, not our cultural legacy. They and the associations stand to make a lot of money, but actual authors seem like they might be largely left out in the cold. It requires copyright holder registration, unlikely to reach the people that might be helped by the deal. The deal gets fuzzy on implementation. It’s US centric. It has no provisions for privacy, and nothing to guard against censorship. It’s really obviously anti-competitive. Google gets to determine a work’s ‘optimal price’, whatever that means. It’s Google, so they’re going to gather gobs of data on anyone using it. Unlike ASCAP, with which it is often compared, there’s been no government investigation and review. Libraries may see woefully incomplete access to the digital versions of their own books. It may take the wind out of the sails for real copyright reform that would do more to protect our cultural legacy. Oh, and did I mention enough times that Google, and only Google, gets to play?

Now for the more than you want to know part:

By the way, if you were looking for some over arching and final conclusion about the settlement from me, tough.

How to take advantage of #Amazonfail

I’ve been watching the story of (probably) accidental censorship on Amazon with interest, and I think there’s a valuable sociological lesson in it. In short: Amazon de-ranked books with GLBT themes as adult over Easter weekend. People were outraged by the apparent moral prescribing censorship, a Bantown prole called Weev claimed he did it with a cross site reference forgery, and then Amazon said it was a cataloging error.

What’s interesting is that all these answers are pretty much equally possible. That’s just weird though- because it suggests that there’s not so much of an entry barrier anymore to the kind of book burning mind controlling corporate/state master propaganda stuff that the ruling class can use to dictate our punch clock existences. Is technology democratizing the tools of fascism? Why not? What’s so different about them? Here comes everybody indeed, whether they like it or not. We’re all going to be shooting mind control rays at each other, obeying Markov chain commands issued by our zombie army computers, living in an anarchist/fascist quasi state of cultural strange attractors, capable of free will only in topics of obscurity and total market failure.

Good times.

Then, just when I thought I’d mentally explored/perverted the scenario to its fullest, I received this ad: #powellswin: a 20% off book sale capitalizing on Powell’s not having (accidently) censored their search results. I like Powell’s, if I wasn’t in debt to my eyeballs (hey….) I’d be tempted to buy something. In the mean time, I’ll just have to let my phished cc do my opinion expressing for me.

Interesting times

Imagine this falling through a time hole into the 90s

Imagine this falling through a time hole into the 90s

It looks like all of society as we knew it is kind of coming apart, something I hyperbolically declaimed would happen in my attention seeking drama laden way in the mid 90s, when I was trying to explain the internet to people like the California Banker’s Association.

I had no idea I was right. Or at least, if I had some idea intellectually, I had none emotionally, and certainly no idea what the implications of it were. Disruption is an intense thing to live through, and littered with casualties.

Clay on newspapers, Ethan’s cute cat theory on government destabilization,
TAL on the giant pool of money, Cory at Microsoft, The zombie armies.

Ok, it’s not all about the internet, except it is. It’s about what happens when you hook a lot of computers to a telecom infrastructure. It’s what Skynet really looks like.