Four Pillars: Taking the Empire out of Foundation and Empire

To me this particular Empire is all to do with proprietary behaviour, be it about Lock-in Layers or Digital Wrongs or Intellectual Property Wrongs.

So let me tell some stories.
I found the picture below in Tantek Celik’s Flickr, getting there via Matt: ComicPress via my own WordPress dashboard. Thank you Tantek. Thank you Matt.

Tantek wondered about the number of soap dispensers visible and the failure scenarios in terms of vendors, refills and service that could have led to the nonsense in the picture. You can read his Flickr “blog” here. My not-really-cynical interpretation of Dispenser Row is that there were cyclical changes in staffing in the Procurement Department, and every change meant a new vendor for things like soap and loo paper and towels and driers. And it was probably cheaper to leave the old ones there than to remove and repair the unsightly holes in the mirror.
Then I saw this story in the Financial Times, about a Chinese DVD producer who was damaging the piracy segments there by selling legal DVDs. The story included the immortal phrases below:

Some international companies have already begun to respond. Warner Home Video’s Chinese joint venture CAV Warner this month began trail sales of a modestly packaged DVD edition of The Aviator priced at just Rmb12, and already issues some DVDs in China a month earlier than in the US .

So let me get this right. If I’ve understood the story correctly, Zoke is a Chinese DVD manufacturer who made the news by launching “retail sales of The Promise just 15 days after it hit local cinemas. And the Promise DVD sold for just Rmb10 (US$1.25) — a price that contrasts with the US$20-30 typically charged for a recent-release Hollywood picture.” Those quotes are from the FT story. You can read more Zoke stories here.
What’s wrong with this picture, I keep wondering. Chinese audiences now get legal DVDs earlier than in the US, for about a twentieth of the US price. Yup, that would do it. That would kill “piracy”.

Makes you think a bit about what causes “piracy” in the first place. I think I would like DVDs at a twentieth of the price and released two weeks after the film hits the big screen. I look forward to the next unsightly mess, as there are attempts made to stop the grey exports.

Random Walk Three is around my own kitchen. Our dishwasher broke down; it was cheaper to buy new than to repair. And then I had to do this very frustrating thing. Pay twice as much to “integrate” the device into my kitchen as to have it stand-alone. I don’t know what the US market does for this, but in the UK, if I pay X for a free-standing household appliance, I tend to have to pay 2X for the easily-integrable-cover-off version. So I have the choice of paying 2X or spoiling the consistency of kitchen cabinet facades.

And this made me think of the more proprietary software vendors and how they act. They seem to think it’s okay to say to us “If you want the luxury of our stuff working with your stuff and being coherent and consistent, then you’re going to have to pay. A lot”. In any other world I would be suing someone. But try and find out what rights you have as a software consumer. Diddly squat. Or maybe that’s unfair. You have the right to inadvertent trespass on the vendor’s rights, and the privilege, no, right, of being sued if this happens.

The final random walk is a reverse reverse chronological one, looking at Tim Berners-Lee’s first blog post. I reproduce it in its entirety here:

  • So I have a blog

    Submitted by timbl on Mon, 2005-12-12 14:52. ::
    In 1989 one of the main objectives of the WWW was to be a space for sharing information. It seemed evident that it should be a space in which anyone could be creative, to which anyone could contribute. The first browser was actually a browser/editor, which allowed one to edit any page, and save it back to the web if one had access rights.Strangely enough, the web took off very much as a publishing medium, in which people edited offline. Bizarrely, they were prepared to edit the funny angle brackets of HTML source, and didn’t demand a what you see is what you get editor. WWW was soon full of lots of interesting stuff, but not a space for communal design, for discourse through communal authorship.Now in 2005, we have blogs and wikis, and the fact that they are so popular makes me feel I wasn’t crazy to think people needed a creative space. In the mean time, I have had the luxury of having a web site which I have write access, and I’ve used tools like Amaya and Nvu which allow direct editing of web pages. With these, I haven’t felt the urge to blog with blogging tools. Effectively my blog has been the Design Issues series of technical articles.

    That said, it is nice to have a machine to the administrative work of handling the navigation bars and comment buttons and so on, and it is nice to edit in a mode in which you can to limited damage to the site. So I am going to try this blog thing using blog tools. So this is for all the people who have been saying I ought to have a blog.

Thank you, Sir Tim. [Yes I did change the spelling of discourse and bizarre, please forgive my editorial foibles].

Intriguing to think that, as averred by Tim, we were willing to do the funny-angled-bracket thing and not insist on WYSIWIG.

Not any more. The consumerisation and Generation M movements have made sure of that. When we scaled out our wiki implementation, the first “customer” (i.e. non-IT) screams were for WYSIWIG. And not as a nice-to-have. But on a “what the hell are you playing at? ” basis.

Random walks over. Let’s summarise.

  • Some of the problems we have today are caused by our own buying behaviour; we think we procure well, but in software and hardware terms we’re aeons away from where we should be. And we don’t know much about decommissioning. When we get taken out to lunch, we don’t realise just how often we are lunch. Tantek’s soap dispensers are an example.
  • Some problems are caused by sheer greed on the part of some vendors. Prices that are not set by cost or by “what the market will bear”, but instead based on “what we can get away with”. The Zoke story is an example of how we can change this.
  • Yet other problems are caused by real misconceptions as to who the customer is and what rights the customer has. Whose data it is. Whose systems. Whose flows. Whose processes. And at what price. The kitchen appliance example tries to show this.
  • And yet more problems are caused by our own willingness to continue with a “holy of holies” approach to IT. Following the footsteps of doctors, lawyers, priests. You won’t understand it, it’s too complex. We know best. We have our jargon, our rituals, our secret conclave. And you can’t come in. The Berners-Lee inertia story tries to capture this.

Making software platform-independent and device-agnostic. Minimising the costs of enterprise application integration by becoming smarter at what we do, not just blindly driven by yesterday (usually vendor-defined and matured to perfection) process. Using the opensource community as our Zoke and getting things at a twentieth of the price and months early. Avoiding stupidity in DRM and IPR. Bringing a bit of Ralph Nader consumerism into our community.

And guys, it probably begins with the internet. So once again, do whatever you can to support what’s happening at Pulver.

Save the internet.

Let me know what you think

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