Four Pillars: Time for a Jailer’s Dilemma? Let the Games begin!

Wish I was a Kellogg’s Cornflake/Floating in my bowl taking movies
Relaxing a while/Living in style
Talking to a rais’n ‘cas’nally played LA
Casually glancing at his toupee

Simon and Garfunkel, Punky’s Dilemma

Love those lyrics, the meaninglessness of everything they portray. I have this image of the cornflake wearing sunglasses and a beret and a loud red shirt while floating in something that looks suspiciously like a director’s chair. And I really have no idea where the image came from, whether I’ve actually seen something reflecting this song graphically. But the image is there and real. As is the toupee on the raisin.
Good for Punky, whoever he may be.

Now. To more important (and potentially even more enjoyable) Dilemmas.

I think we’re fast approaching a time when we’re all going to have to learn about The Jailer’s Dilemma. [When I first wrote this I used “Gaoler” and then decided it was needlessly affected, would only reduce the number of people I communicated to, while “Jailer” conveyed the same meaning without the fuss and affectation. Was I wrong?]

Try and imagine a lock-in-practicising vendor. It’s not really that hard to do. Who is he locking in? You. Me. Us. So, at least for the sake of this argument, let me call such a vendor a jailer.

We have many jailers. And there are many of us jailed. The walls of the jails are made up of silo bricks, of IPR and DRM, of historical monopolies, of incompatible formats and standards and protocols. I’m sure there are more types of brick and of wall, but you get my drift.

We have many types of jail, with the type dependent on the nature of the brick. And we have the dubious distinction of being in multiple different jails at the same time. One of the unforseen consequences of digital jails is that you can be in more than one at the same time….

There are some forseen consequences as well. Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law and Gilder’s Law and globalisation and disintermediation and the internet and the Web and telephony becoming software and commoditisation and virtualisation and collaboration and democratised innovation and opensource and The World Live Web and the Writable Web, all this has meant that the walls are less threatening than they used to be. There are holes and escape tunnels aplenty.

That’s why it gets interesting. There are lots of new dilemmas around. And they are different from the classic Prisoner’s Dilemma.

First, it’s not a zero sum game any more. The total number of potential prisoners is an increasing number.

Second, both prisoners as well as jailers can choose to defect or cooperate.

Third (and this is in common with more modern approaches to PD) memory is guaranteed and a core part of the game. What is different is that this memory is open and transparent and shared. An efficient market.

Fourth, there are different dimensions to cooperation or defection. Prisoners can choose to cooperate (or defect) with each other. Jailers can choose to cooperate (or defect) with each other. And prisoners can cooperate (or defect) in conjunction with jailers. And vice versa.

Fifth, we have external influences. Lawyers and regulators and governments are also in the game, inaugurating new jails (often) and shutting down old ones (occasionally).

Sixth, there’s a lot of money involved. A lot.

So where’s the payoff? What are the rules of the game? How do we get to equilibrium? What is the optimal strategy? Does Apple win by releasing their iTunes prisoners and going all the way with FairPlay? Does Microsoft win by providing Firefox and OpenOffice pre-installed? Can Sun do a Lazarus?

I have news for the jailers. The prisoners are cooperating. They are a market and a voice, a movement and a nation.

We may not have all the rules understood, we may not even understand the game.

But one thing is clear. Our intentions are known. The prisoners are going to win. Community-grown standards in a live ecosystem where freedom of speech and movement and exercising of intellect are sacrosanct.

So jailers beware. You can choose. Cooperate or defect. Don’t land up being the only ones in your jail. It gets lonely.
Suppose they gave a jail, and nobody came?

More later.

Let me know what you think

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