Musing gently about the impact of change and the time it takes

We’re all very connected now, and news travels fast. There was a time when what constituted “news” used to be corroborated before it was sent on its way. There was a time when news had to be new to be news. There was a time when news had to be true to be news.

Those were the days.

Some of you may remember reading Bombardiers, a book by Po Bronson, which came out over 20 years ago. Here’s a review that might intrigue you enough to read it.

The principal reason for mentioning that book is that Bronson’s satire was instrumental in getting me to understand something I’ve written about before, over 10 years ago.

That something is this, paraphrasing Bronson:

In the Stone Age, Might was Right. And you could figure out who was Mighty quite easily. In the Industrial Age, Money Ruled. And you could figure out Who had the Money quite easily. In the Information Age, figuring out Who has The Information isn’t easy. In fact it is Very Hard. Because the time taken to verify the information can exceed the speed at which information changes.

So it doesn’t matter if the UK doesn’t spend £350m per week on the EU, it doesn’t matter if the NHS never receives that theoretical weekly sum. It doesn’t matter if Mexico never pays for the wall, or even if that wall never gets built.

Things move on. Turning back the clock is hard. Very hard.

There is something that is a little easier. Studying the impact of change, looking objectively at the data. Not easy, but easier.

It means knowing the right data to collect, the right way to collect it. It means preserving that data and making it accessible. It means protecting that data from change and from misuse.

It also means looking at the data over a long enough period. That’s what we didn’t do with cigarettes; but at least that battle’s over. That’s what we didn’t do about sugar; and that battle isn’t over yet. That’s what we’ve been trying to do with climate change, and that battle’s barely begun. That’s what we’re probably at the nascent stages on with fracking: the issue is not about hydraulic fracturing per se, not even about horizontal drilling,  but about safe ways of disposing of the waste water, in particular learning from the seismologists who’ve been studying this aspect.

These battles get won and lost by people who are in positions of authority for far shorter periods than the time it takes for their decisions to have an effect.

And for us to learn about that effect, understand it and respond to it. Adapt as needed.

Things move on. Turning back the clock is hard. Very hard.

We need to get better at studying the impact of change over time. Proper, longitudinal study, collecting and preserving the right data sets, with the relevant discipline and safeguards in place. That’s why I have been fascinated by and supportive of Web Science.

This need for good longitudinal data is also the reason why I have been so taken with Amara’s Law, about our tendency to overestimate the effects of a technology in the short run and to underestimate it in the long run.

Take cricket for example. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth when limited-overs cricket was introduced, more of the same when T20 was introduced. The death of test cricket was foretold and prophesied, and later announced. Apparently it’s been dying ever since.

Not according to the data, especially when you look at longitudinal data. This was something I wrote about recently.

Taken over nearly a century and a half, comprising well over two thousand Tests, the data indicated that since the introduction of the changes, Tests were more prone to ending in win/loss results rather than draws, that more runs were being scored and more quickly, and that perhaps counterintuitively, the number of long individual innings (as exemplified by triple centuries scored) was also on the increase.

Events earlier this week have allowed me to look into another data set, suitably longitudinal, which reinforces all this.

I started with the hypothesis that one reason why Tests may be ending in win-loss results more often is that batsmen have learnt to truly accelerate run-scoring in bursts, using skills acquired in the short game. I surmised that we may be seeing more such bursty behaviour in the 3rd innings, thereby setting up for grandstand finishes, sometimes with “sporting declarations”. I also surmised that this bursty behaviour would be able to act as a potential insurance policy against any time lost due to inclement weather. But it was all hypothesis. I needed the facts. At the very least I needed a suitable data set collected over a sensible time period. The recent Australia-Pakistan Test gave me the catalyst I needed. The Australians scored 241 for 2 in their second innings before declaring.  By itself that wasn’t unusual. But they scored the runs at a rate of 7.53 RPO, something I would associate readily with T20, something I would expect in a small percentage of 50-over games, but something I would consider a complete outlier in the five-day game.

So I went and had a look.

In the history of Test cricket, covering somewhere between 15000 and 18000 innings, there have been just 10 instances where a run rate (RPO) of 6 or more per over has been sustained in an innings lasting 20 or more overs.

  • England 237/6d, RPO 6.12, 3rd innings, Mar 2009
  • Pakistan 128/2, RPO 6.19, 4th innings, Oct 1978
  • West Indies 154/1, RPO 6.20, 4th innings, Mar 1977
  • Australia 251/6d, RPO 6.27, 3rd innings, Jan 2015
  • Australia 264/4d, RPO 6.28, 3rd innings, Nov 2015
  • South Africa 189/3d, RPO 6.37, 3rd innings, Mar 2012
  • Pakistan 164/2, RPO 6.60, 4th innings, Nov 1978
  • South Africa 340/3d, RPO 6.80, 2nd innings, Mar 2005
  • West Indies 173/6, RPO 6.82, 4th innings, Feb 1983
  • Australia 241/2d, RPO 7.53, 3rd innings, Jan 2017

The first limited-overs international was played in 1971. All ten instances took place after that date. The first T20 international was played in 2005. 6 out of the 10 instances took place after that date. In all ten cases, the team putting their foot on the accelerator didn’t lose; in half the cases they won.

 As it is with cricket, so it is with many other things. When you change things, it takes time to figure out the real effects. Longitudinal studies are important. This is as true for technology change as for any other change. With all change, there is an Amara’s Law in operation. We tend to overestimate the short term effects and underestimate the longer term impact. 

Tracking the impact of change requires good baseline data and a consistent way of collecting and preserving the data over long periods. That’s not a trivial task. It is made more complex with the need to protect the data from corruption and misuse.

While I love cricket, I only use it as an example  here, to illustrate how longitudinal studies can help assess the impact of change, objectively and reliably.

Sea of Joy

….waiting in our boats to set sail/ Sea of Joy

Steve Winwood, Sea of Joy. Blind Faith, Blind Faith, August 1969

Steve Winwood. One of my all-time favourite musicians. Someone whom I heard for the first time in the early Seventies, someone whom I’ve been an ardent fan of ever since. Even went to a pub in Gloucestershire decades ago because I was told he drank there, just to see him in the flesh. He wasn’t touring then. He has, since, resumed touring, and I’ve been fortunate enough to see him maybe half a dozen times since. I was able to see him “live” twice this year, and I shall be doing so again next May. In fact, I took the photograph above while watching him play with Eric Clapton at Wembley Arena earlier this year. But that’s not what this post is about. [Even if I did enjoy being able to link to the concert using; what a lovely service!].

Sea of Joy. One of my all-time favourite songs, taken from one of my all-time favourite albums, Blind Faith by Blind Faith. A song dating back to times when working out the meanings of song lyrics was a hard thing to do…..”Once the door swings open into space, and I’m already waiting in disguise”……There was a time when I used to try, until I heard what might have been an apocryphal tale about the Doors and Mr Mojo Risin’. Erudite people had written erudite essays about what Jim Morrison may have meant in his repeated use of the phrase “Mr Mojo Risin” in a number of Doors songs. Extremely erudite essays about the meaning and role of mojo at the time, in terms of hoodoo and voodoo symbolism and representations of power and sex-appeal. And it is possible that Jim Morrison may have been influenced by all that when he chose to use the phrase as a motet. But. But then I heard the story of a little old lady who wrote in to some magazine some years after Morrison’s death, wondering what all the fuss was about. She said that the Morrisons used to live next door to them when little Jim was growing up. And Jim used to come and play in their yard. And her husband made up the phrase Mr Mojo Risin’ to describe the young James Douglas Morrison, who would have been 67 last week if he hadn’t died so tragically in 1971. Her husband liked crosswords and suchlike. And Mr Mojo Risin’ is a perfect anagram of … Jim Morrison. As I said, the tale is apocryphal. I don’t have a shred of evidence to back the story. And yet I believe it.

But that’s not what this post is about either.

This post is about a sea of joy. Maybe even an ocean of joy. Oceans of joy.

The internet.

I know, I know, comparisons can often be odious. And while pictures paint thousands of words, they come with frames. And anchors. Which can constrain imagination.


I’ve always imagined the internet to be a whole heap of rivers, feeding many seas, feeding one large ocean. Living, breathing, moving. A giant organism which is more than just a space. Containing water, that wondrous substance that helps keep us alive. A place where people swim and frolic, laugh and play. An environment of magic, of depth, of beauty we’re still discovering. A place full of life in all its brilliance. A repository of rich resource we can mine and use, sensibly and sustainably. And yet a place where danger lurks, where death too can be found. With pirates. And with pollution.

Despite all that, a sea of joy.

Which is partly why I’ve found recent discussions about Wikileaks intriguing to say the least. For some time now I’ve been talking about having to “design for loss of control”, referred to here and here, here and at the TED Salon here.

Humour me for a moment or two.

Imagine it’s raining outside. [For some strange reason I find this very easy to do. Perhaps it’s because of where I choose to live.] Imagine you go for a walk around your house, with a beaker in your hand, collecting rainwater, getting absolutely drenched in the process. [For an even stranger reason I’ve done this, as part of a school Physics question set by Resnick and Halliday, in 1974….I remember the question as “Drops are falling steadily in a perpendicular rain. You need to get from A to B in this rain. In order to encounter the least number of raindrops in your journey, would you (a) travel at your fastest speed (b) travel at your slowest speed or (c) travel at some intermediate speed you determine? Explain your answer.“]

Anyway, where was I? More importantly, where were you? Oh yes, I had you out collecting rainwater. Imagine you have a beaker full of rainwater. Imagine you take that beaker of rainwater and pour it into a nearby brook, which feeds a river, which empties out into a sea and forms part of the oceans.

For the sake of argument, let’s leave aside the philosophical question of whether you “own” the rainwater you collected. Imagine just trying to find that rainwater in the ocean, something you’re going to have to do if, for some reason, you’re keen on staking a claim to your rainwater.


The sea is designed to be plentiful, abundant. Quite different from lakes and ponds, which are contained and isolated, controllable. And often stagnant. [No, I’m not going to enter into angels-dancing-on-pins arguments about the Caspian Sea or for that matter the Dead Sea here].

Making things that are abundant by design somehow appear scarce is not an easy task. As I’ve said before, and said many times before, every artificial scarcity will be met by an equal and opposite artificial abundance; over time, the artificial abundance will win. Region coding of DVDs and music DRM are simple examples of the principle.

So it is with the internet. When you make something digital, you have something that is cheap to copy. When you connect that digital something to the internet, you have something that is cheap to distribute far and wide. That is why Kevin Kelly called the internet a “copy machine” in his seminal essay, Better Than Free, from which the illustration below is taken. If you haven’t read it yet, stop here and follow the link. It’s a must-read.

So now the internet exists, does it mean no one can keep a secret any more? No. It’s just like in the good old days before the internet: if you want to keep something secret, try not telling anyone.

The internet is designed to share.

There are many things that people don’t want to share, for a variety of good reasons: personally identifiable information; commercially sensitive information; and information demonstrably pertaining to national or international security. Sometimes it’s because the information is held asymmetrically and misused; in polite society we would call this “blackmail”, and in the civilised world this is illegal. Sometimes it’s because the information is considered “private”, and a right to privacy is seen to exist, a right not to be embarrassed because something you said in private somehow makes its way into the public domain. Which is why the recent spate of leaks has caused such consternation. Contrast this with Eliot Spitzer and the Wall Street firms he went after, the whistleblower/leak aspect of all that happened, and the difference in reaction then. Contrast this with Talking-To-Journalists 101, which says Nothing Is Ever Off The Record. In England, thirty years ago, when I was given rudimentary media training, I was told “always imagine that anything you say, everything you say, could be on the first page of the Mail tomorrow”.

Bruce Schneier, an erstwhile colleague and someone whose writings and sayings I pay attention to, wrote a wonderful little piece on the subject, making five simple points:

  • Encryption is not the issue
  • Secrets are only as secure as the least trusted person who knows them
  • Access control is hard
  • This has little to do with Wikileaks
  • Governments will have to learn what the music and film industries have been forced to learn already, that it’s easy to copy and publish digital files

You should read the whole essay, which I’ve linked to here. Bruce is brilliant, terse and trenchant as ever.

Clay Shirky, another writer I have a lot of time for, writes a very balanced piece here, about the importance of the legal process in all this. Any medium of communication, any method of publishing and propagating, needs to have its principles and guidelines, and over time, its laws and its regulations. Of particular importance is the following paragraph from his post:

The key, though, is that democracies have a process for creating such restrictions, and as a citizen it sickens me to see the U.S. trying to take shortcuts. The leaders of Myanmar and Belarus, or Thailand and Russia, can now rightly say to us, “You went after WikiLeaks’ domain name, their hosting provider, and even denied your citizens the ability to register protest through donations, all without a warrant and all targeting overseas entities, simply because you decided you don’t like the site. If that’s the way governments get to behave, we can live with that.”

Due democratic process is always important; it is doubly important when we’re dealing with an emergent, valuable phenomenon. Such as the internet and all things digital.  Which is why I was so concerned with the apparently trivial all-downloaders-are-thieves approach that Mandelson et al sought to steamroller through via the Digital Economy Act. Which is why I remain concerned now. [Incidentally, I’m delighted that BT was part of the lobby that fought for, and won, a judicial review into the DE Act].

Not that I have anything against secrets per se.

Secrets are important, and there is a place for secrets. There are ways of keeping secrets secret.

Sharing is also important. And there is a place for sharing. It’s called the internet.

And it is really important that there continue to be ways of keeping shared things shared.

Which is why I appreciate the tireless work of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society in all this; John Palfrey, and, more recently, Urs Gasser, do a great job there. Which is why I look up to people like Charlie Nesson and Jonathan Zittrain and Larry Lessig as they strive to make sure that the law cannot be confused with genus Equus subgenus Asinus, and that due democratic process is followed when new laws are constructed. Which is why I appreciate the time that people like Doc Searls and Cory Doctorow spend on this. Which is why I appreciate the work of the Electronic Frontier Foundation; of the Open Rights Group; of Creative Commons; of the Web Science Trust, particularly for their work on open data. People in all these places have somehow found the time and the motivation to devote to this cause. I am privileged to count many of them amongst my friends, too many to list here. You know who you are. Thank you.

You see, it’s not really about Wikileaks. Artificial scarcities will continue to be met by artificial abundances. There will be many more Wikileaks. In many places. At the same time. And some of them will be very damaging. Which is not a good thing. But. There is a right way to stop it. It’s called the democratic process.

The internet is about sharing. It’s about making it easier to copy things and to move them around, to publish at scale. It’s about making it easier for Linus’s Law: Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow. It’s about the power of democratised access. Access to publishing. Access to editing, to changing. Access to reading. Access to community skills and talent.

The internet makes it possible for us to do things we could never do before, like the World Wide Web itself. Like Wikipedia. Like Craigslist. Like being able to listen to “A symposium on Wikileaks and Internet Freedom” live yesterday at the Personal Democracy Forum, as thousands of us were able to do yesterday.

The internet is capable of transforming lives at the edge, making radical impacts on education, on healthcare, even on government. Of course the internet is dependent on all of us having ubiquitous affordable connectivity, something I continue to be optimistic about. It will happen. Perhaps not in the way we thought it would. But it will happen. And there won’t be a digital divide. Because that too would be an artificial scarcity….

Steve Winwood, when he penned Sea of Joy, also had these words to say in the song:

Having trouble coming through,
Through this concrete, blocks my view
And it’s all because of you.

All because of you. The “you” in that phrase is us. We have a responsibility to future generations that the internet is governed the right way, that the right laws are formulated and promulgated, that the right process is followed.

Because there are generations to come….

Waiting in their boats to set sail, Sea of Joy.

The Digital Economy Bill: Fred Figglehorn, won’t you please come home?

Do you know who Fred Figglehorn is?

He’s is a fictional 6-year old with his own TV channel. Not any old TV channel. It’s modern, it’s 21st century. And yes, it’s on YouTube. I quote from Wikipedia:

Fred Figglehorn is a fictional character created and portrayed by American actor Lucas Cruikshank (born August 29, 1993). Cruikshank, a teenager from Columbus, Nebraska, created the character for his channel on the video-sharing website YouTube.[1] The videos are centered around Fred Figglehorn, a fictional 6-year-old who has a dysfunctional home life and “anger management issues”.[2]

Cruikshank introduced the Fred Figglehorn character in videos on the JKL Productions channel he started on YouTube with his cousins, Jon and Katie Smet. He set up the Fred channel in October 2005. By April 2009, the channel had over 1,000,000 subscribers, making it the first YouTube channel to hit one million subscribers and the most subscribed channel at the time.

Over a million subscribers. And creator Lucas Cruikshank is 16 years old. He calls his channel “programming for kids by kids”. By kids. Let’s remember that.

Now fast forward to IMDb, let’s find out a little more about this Lucas Cruikshank. Here’s an excerpt:

Lucas Cruikshank is a teenage director and actor who got his start by making videos with his cousins John and Katie, and posting them on YouTube. Together, the trio is known as JKL Productions. Recently, Lucas decided to make videos by himself and came up with the character Fred, who is an annoying 6-year-old with an uncaring mother and is most noted for his sped-up voice. Lucas said that he created the first Fred video to poke fun at video bloggers who talk about every single thing that they’re doing in the video. The first video received tons of positive feedback, and Lucas continued to post videos in the Fred series, which he edits, directs, and acts in by himself. When not making videos, Lucas auditions for movie and TV roles, and also pitches ideas to television channels. He is also a dancer and takes jazz, tap, and hip-hop classes. Lucas resides in Columbus, Nebraska, with his two brothers and five sisters. He is the middle child.

  • Uses a Zip It instant messaging and e-mailing device in the Fred videos as part of a deal with its manufacturers.
  • His Fred videos receive between 1 and 9 million views per video.
  • JKL Productions, the video-making trio of his two cousins and him, made a grand total of US$14,000 from their videos and merchandising during one year.
  • Is very appreciative of his fans.

IMDb Mini Biography By: Secretherapy

…receive between 1 and 9 million views per video. Let’s remember that.

Is very appreciative of his fans. Let’s remember that.

Now let’s move on to another Lucas. George Lucas. Here’s an abstract from his wikipedia entry:

Lucas was born in Modesto, California, the son of Dorothy Lucas (née Bomberger) and George Lucas Sr. (1913–1991), who owned a stationery store.[2]

Lucas’ experiences growing up in the sleepy Central Valley town of Modesto and his early passion for cars and motor racing would eventually serve as inspiration for his Oscar-nominated low-budget phenomenon, American Graffiti. Long before Lucas became obsessed with film making, he wanted to be a race-car driver, and he spent most of his high school years racing on the underground circuit at fairgrounds and hanging out at garages. However, a near-fatal accident in his souped-up Autobianchi Bianchina on June 12, 1962, just days before his high school graduation, quickly changed his mind. Instead of racing, he attended community college and later got accepted into a junior college to study anthropology. While taking liberal arts courses, he developed a passion for cinematography and camera tricks.

During this time, an experimental filmmaker named Bruce Baillie tacked up a bedsheet in his backyard in 1960 to screen the work of underground, avant-garde 16 mm filmmakers like Jordan Belson, Stan Brakhage and Bruce Conner. For the next few years, Baillie’s series, dubbed Canyon Cinema, toured local coffeehouses. These events became a magnet for the teenage Lucas and his boyhood friend John Plummer. The 19-year-olds began slipping away to San Francisco to hang out in jazz clubs and find news of Canyon Cinema screenings in flyers at the City Lights bookstore. Already a promising photographer, Lucas became infatuated with these abstract films.

[Incidentally, I just want to say thank you, publicly, to Jimmy Wales and all the people at Wikipedia. It is such a privilege to be able to annotate my posts using Wikipedia. Thank you.]

Souped-up cars. Bedsheets in backyards. You see a trend here? Fast forward to 2006. On August 2, 2006, the following post was made on Star Wars Blogs:

We would like the fan film community to know that this was not done at our request. Let’s remember that.

Fast forward to a week ago. Take a look at this story from techdirt:

Official channel blocked due to a copyright infringement issue. Let’s remember that.

Many of you will be aware of the Lenz v Universal case, where Universal Music Publishing Group asked Youtube to remove a 29-second clip of a child bopping up and down to a Prince song:

Mere allegations. Let’s remember that. These are the sort of abuses that happen when the law is so badly crafted that “mere allegations” have this kind of effect. Note that the music company involved in the 29-second fiasco is none other than Universal, whose Group CEO Lucian Grainge is a “known associate” of the Dark Lord.

Where is all this leading?


  1. The kids of today are adept at making stuff out of digital raw material. People like me are of an older generation, less adept at these things. We know this. We were adept at making stuff with physical tools working on physical things.
  2. When it comes to digital culture, the barriers to entry have been sharply reduced, so much so that 16 year olds can make home videos regularly enough to run a channel that has a million subscribers and gets nine million views. The world of “content creation” is learning to adapt to this, with people like George Lucas leading the way.
  3. What George Lucas and these kids have in common is also simple: they know how to treat their fans.
  4. Many of the organisations that are being made irrelevant by the digital youth of today, in contrast, don’t know how to treat their fans. Instead, they go to court to attack 29 second videos of very active children.
  5. Attempts to mutate the laws of yesteryear to cope with the challenges of tomorrow are riddled with failure.

Human beings like to make things. They also like to unmake things, to take things apart. They like to get under the hood of things, dismantle stuff, unscrew stuff, put them back together in ways that no one had dreamed of before. Recently I had the opportunity to ask Alex Deschamps-Sonsino and team at to come and work with the leadership group at BT Innovate and Design. A splendid time was guaranteed for all. And a splendid time was had by all. Smiles everywhere, as people built stuff and unbuilt stuff. Serious play.

This maker instinct is in all of us, and has been captured brilliantly by Cory Doctorow in Makers and by Larry Lessig in Remix, something I’ve written about before.

As the maker instinct begins to manifest itself in the digital generation, strange things are beginning to happen. Things I cannot conceive of, but things I hear and see. Things that fill me with glee and with sadness, things that teach me, things that I can learn from.

Things like Line Rider. Things like stop-motion video of Monkeys and Engineers, which I wrote about here. Things like this Hips Don’t Lie Parody. Things like the Team Hoyt “My Redeemer Lives” video.

Stray off the beaten track a bit. Watch RIP: A Remix Manifesto.

This is an extract from a blog called Copyright in the Digital Age, in a post headlined Brazilian Dance Party: In it, a journalist called Barry Hertz is quoted as saying:

“After marvelling at the artistry occurring within the shantytowns, the director stupefyingly proposes that the future of art and commerce lies not with the over-branded environs of New York or L.A., but within the copyright-free slums of Rio, oblivious to the fact that he is standing hip-deep in abject poverty.”

The copyright-free slums. Incidentally, thanks to a comment by Martin Budden, I’ve had the opportunity to read James Boyle’s The Public Domain, and then order the hardback. Excellent book. Well worth a read.

Copyright is in a mess. Takedown notices that shouldn’t have been sent. takedown notices that were claimed not to be takedown notices, takedown notices that hadn’t been asked for. Official channels shut down, official material no longer available.

  • Folks, there is a new generation out there. They do things we couldn’t. They make magic in ways we don’t begin to understand.
  • We cannot allow them to be criminalised via the Digital Economy Bill.
  • We cannot constrain their maker culture just because we don’t understand them.
  • We cannot allow others to constrain their maker cultures just because they feel threatened.

There’s enough bad law out there already, particularly in this space. Even as I write, I think it’s still illegal to copy songs from a CD purchased by me on to an iPod purchased by me via iTunes on a computer purchased by me.

Every time the maker culture meets the digital generation, wondrous things happen.

We have to make sure they continue to happen. So contact your MP, push back against this Bill, make sure your voice is heard.

Rambling about creativity and capital and content and frames

In this context of creativity and web, Jonathan Zittrain, or JZ as he gets called, made a number of critical points in his excellent book The Future of the Internet And How to Stop It cover.jpg One of those key points is to do with the “generative” web, the phrase he uses to describe the open and innovative and creative aspects of the web; JZ spends time articulating the rise of locked-down devices, services and whole environments as a direct response to the ostensibly anarchic nature of the generative web, with its inherent vulnerabilities and weaknesses. … ] The implied tension between “generative” and “secure” that is to be found in JZ’s book, resonated, in a strange kind of way, with some of the ideas in Carlota Perez’s Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital: 184376331101lzzzzzzz.jpg The book remains one of my all-time favourites, I’ve probably read it a dozen times since it was published.

The tragic death of Michael Jackson has dominated much of the news this past week, even overshadowing the Iran situation in some quarters. Strange but true. Jackson’s death has had some unusual consequences, as people try and deal with their own reactions in different and creative ways. While the original story broke, I believe, on TMZ, Twitter was the river that carried the news to the world.

And Twitter was overwhelmed. Which meant the arrival of the much-loved Fail Whale:


Which led someone to come up with this:


This concerned a small number of people, who were worried that the image may cause offence. Which in turn led someone else to this:


And so it went on, as people sought more and more creative ways of expressing their emotions and paying tribute to Michael Jackson. Wallpaper downloads. Posters. Photographs. Videos. Collages and montages. All in double-quick time. For me the most creative was this mashup:


BillieTweets. Where someone has taken a Billie Jean video and made the lyrics visual using tweets where the relevant word has been highlighted. Follow the link to see how it works. [Thanks to the Scobleizer for the heads-up. And safe travels.].

All this is part of the magic of the web, the value that is generated when people have the right access and tools and ideas. Human beings are so incredibly creative.

In this context of creativity and web, Jonathan Zittrain, or JZ as he gets called, made a number of critical points in his excellent book The Future of the Internet And How to Stop It


One of those key points is to do with the “generative” web, the phrase he uses to describe the open and innovative and creative aspects of the web; JZ spends time articulating the rise of locked-down devices, services and whole environments as a direct response to the ostensibly anarchic nature of the generative web, with its inherent vulnerabilities and weaknesses. [If you haven’t read the book, do so, it’s worth it. ]

The implied tension between “generative” and “secure” that is to be found in JZ’s book, resonated, in a strange kind of way, with some of the ideas in Carlota Perez’s Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital:


The book remains one of my all-time favourites, I’ve probably read it a dozen times since it was published. And given away many many copies, something I have done with a very small number of books, including: The Social Life of Information, The Cluetrain Manifesto and Community Building on The Web.

The resonant piece was this: One of Perez’s seminal findings was the difference between financial capital and production capital.

In Perez’s view, financial capital “represents the critera and behaviour of those agents who possess wealth in the form of money or other paper assets….. their purpose remains tied to having wealth in the form of money (liquid or quasi-liquid and making it grow. To achieve this purpose, they use …. intermediairies …. The behaviour of these intermediaries while fulfilling the function of making money from money that can be observed and analysed as the behaviour of financial capital. In essence, financial capital serves as the agent for reallocating and redistributing wealth.

Perez goes on to say that “the term production capital embodies the motives and behaviours of those agents who generate new wealth by producing goods or performing services.

Through these distinctions, she clearly delineates the differences between the “process of creating wealth and the enabling mechanisms”; these distinctions are then played out through a number of “surges” or paradigm shifts. An incredible book.

For some time now, I’ve been wrestling with the connections between Zittrain’s generative web and Perez’s production capital, and formed my own views of the progressive-versus-conservative tensions that can be drawn from such a juxtaposition.

All this came to the fore again in the context of copyright and content, as I read Diane Gurman’s excellent First Monday piece on Why Lakoff Still Matters: Framing The Debate On Copyright Law And Digital Publishing

I give the abstract of the article here:

In 2004, linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff popularized the idea of using metaphors and “frames” to promote progressive political issues. Although his theories have since been criticized, this article asserts that his framing is still relevant to the debate over copyright law as applied to digital publishing, particularly in the field of scholarly journals. Focusing on issues of copyright term extension and the public domain, open access, educational fair use, and the stewardship and preservation of digital resources, this article explores how to advocate for change more effectively — not by putting a better “spin” on proposed policies — but by using coherent narratives to frame the issues in language linked to progressive values.

Reading the article took me back to Perez and to Zittrain. Our Lakoffian frames of “strict father” and “nurturant parent” are in many ways congruent with the generative-versus-secure and production-versus-financial continua described by JZ and Carlota. As Gurman says:

Lakoff’s nurturant parent embodies values of equality, opportunity, openness and concern for the general welfare of all individuals. Under the progressive economic model, markets should serve the common good and democracy…. The strict father frame, on the other hand, centres on issues of authority and control. The moral credo expresses the belief that if people are disciplined and pursue their self-interest they will become prosperous and self-reliant. The favoured economic model is that of a free market operating without government interference.

A free market operating without government interference. Hmmm I remember those.

Despite the credit crunch, the economic meltdowns, the rise in fraud, despite the socialisation of losses and the privatisation of gains that ensued, many things have not changed. And they must. We need to move to a generative internet production capital world. And for that maybe we need to think about what Diane Gurman is saying.

We need to frame our arguments around our values rather than just on the facts and figures; we need to weave a coherent narrative based on public benefit via empowerment and access.

We can see the implications of this divide in many of the arguments that are being had in the digital domain. For example, the recent announcement by Ofcom of its intention to enforce regulated access to premium (and hitherto exclusive) content is a case in point, where the same arguments prevail.

The response of the incumbent, while understandable, is benighted. You only have to look at the public benefit implications, particularly those to do with human progress and innovation.

The returns expected from production capital differ from those expected out of financial capital for a variety of reasons; the most important reason is that when you’re in the business of creating value and wealth, rather than redistributing it, the returns tend to be somewhat less than astronomical.

more on why retarded hippies like me use Twitter; and a defence of the Long Tail

Today I “met” someone via Twitter. Dallas W.Taylor. The Dallas Taylor, as in “Crosby Stills Nash and Young Dallas Taylor and Greg Reeves“. The Dallas Taylor who played drums on that album shown above (Deja Vu),  on the first album Crosby Stills and Nash, on the first Stephen Stills album, and on the two Manassas albums.

[And not the Dallas Taylor who was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list for a short while in 1953. Or any other Dallas Taylor.]

I’m delighted to learn that there’s a new band in the works and that there’s new music to come. For sure I will be buying it, I want to support a childhood legend. My wish to support him grew even stronger when I found out what Dallas has been doing in the decades since. Go here if you want more information on the work he’s been doing on addiction intervention.

An aside I can’t resist, germane to this discussion. I read an article in the Times today trashing the Long Tail, referring to a study I studiously avoided mentioning till now; it smelt of trolling. But now I can’t resist. The headline was, believe it or not, Long Tail Theory Contradicted As Study Reveals 10m Digital Music Tracks Unsold.

Turns out the study was done by Will Page, Chief Economist of the MCPS-PRS Alliance. Yes, as in the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society and the Performing Right Society.

Now I shall resist the temptation to say that it’s a bit like reading a report on why cigarettes don’t cause cancer written and published by Philip Morris, or maybe on why gas guzzlers have no impact on climate change written and published by General Motors. I won’t say that. Having successfully resisted that temptation, I will state that what I can glean about the study looks quite reasonable. Except for a couple of points. A couple of big points.

First, Long Tail actually requires you to make the right Long Tail things searchable, findable, sellable, buyable. Not just any old things hanging around in inventory like elephants-without-colour. The right things. Too much of past inventory management focused on what was sold, what wasn’t sold. Whereas what should be measured is intent, not sale or purchase. How many things, Long Tail things, didn’t get sold despite the intentions of buyers? Mary Modahl, in Now or Never, a worthwhile book written at the turn of the century, makes that point very well. Nowadays, understanding buying intentions is at the heart of VRM, particularly unfulfilled intentions.

The Long Tail may not always be visible in a business environment that has been Hit Culture dominated, at least partly because industries in such environments are so far away from the customer and her intentions. How else can we explain the fact that it would appear no one considered that it would be worth while to re-release the Jeff Buckley and Leonard Cohen versions of Hallelujah as physical CD singles last week?

Long Tail is about what happens when the costs of discovery and contracting drop in an environment where inventory can be managed flexibly and dynamically, making the case that there’s a lot of people wanting to buy a lot of things that they can’t buy because of unavailability, high search costs, high fulfilment costs and so on.

Second, even if the study’s conclusions were right, they will not continue to be right. Because people like me will buy the songs and albums of people like Dallas Taylor, even more so if he starts connecting up with the Greg Reeves and Chris Hillmans and Joe Lalas and Al Perkins and Paul Harris and Fuzzy Samuels.

You see, these people are part of the Long Tail. Many today have not heard of them. But enough have. Even measured in readers of this blog, there are enough. Even measured in Facebook friends, there are enough. Even measured in Twitter followers, there are enough. Enough to form a Long Tail.

So people will buy their music. And not necessarily through traditional routes either.

In the meantime, I will continue to relish the sensation of being in touch with someone whose name used to adorn my wall as a teenager.