Four Pillars: EAI and DRM continued

Kris Tuttle makes a very interesting point in his comment on my last post.

I have watched with awe as my children share their buying rationales with me, for devices as well as “content”. What they see value in, what they abhor. The polyphonic ringtones example is a classic.

Even if we got conned downstream, many of us were attracted by adjectives like “green” and “organic”.

Generation M will look for different kitemarks. Shareable. Copiable. Mashable.

Note that they don’t look for Free as in Gratis. It has always been Free as In Freedom for them.

While we mope around trying to look for just Playable.

I look forward to seeing things marked SCM for Shareable Copiable Mashable. Or maybe the Creative Commons CC already does this…

Thanks, Kris.

Four Pillars: EAI and DRM

Imagine this. Imagine you are part of a household of three people, living in the same house. Make it simpler, assume you are related by blood and marriage (or its civil equivalent). You have a bunch of 33rpm vinyl albums, some cassette tapes, some videotapes and quite a few CDs and DVDs. Maybe some lacquer 78s as well, and a host of 45rpm singles.

Imagine you have paid the new market price for all those things. In effect, you have done your bit to meet the business expectations of all those people involved in writing, publishing, recording, manufacturing, marketing and distrubuting all those things. You have never allowed anyone else to make a copy of those things; you may have burned the odd CD for parties or for the car, but that’s all.

Everyone’s happy.

Now to play all this you have all the necessary gadgets as well. Which you have also paid the ruling market price for. You have a Victrola, a turntable, a cassette tape player, a videotape player, a CD player, a DVD player and a gazillion iPods. And maybe some MP3 players, half a gazillion computers and something that aspires to be Sky+ or Tivo.

With the advance of technology, you can now digitise all this and make it available to yourself to watch or listen to wherever you like. Any room at home, and even while on the road.

And someone stops you. Stops you from watching or listening to the things you’ve already paid full market price for, using the devices you’ve already paid full market price for, stops you spending your own time and money converting all these different formats into one elegant whole. Stops you despite your having ponied up at every stage already. Stops you despite the investment you made in getting broadband and ethernet and broadband wireless and Airport and whatever else you may have acquired.

And calls it customer choice, somehow insinuates at the same time that you’re stealing money from the artists you already paid by doing anything with the stuff you paid for.

I guess you’d get slightly irritated. And rail at Apple or Microsoft or Sony or Hollywood or everyone else involved in this mess. And then meekly put up with it.

Is that harsh? Calling us meek? I don’t think so.

Why ever not? Today, that’s how it feels to me when I look at information in any organisation. First we pay for creating it or acquiring it, but it stays with the “devices” that are lock-stepped with the “content”. Our devices. Our content. Then we pay for a whole pile of EAI and “middleware”, to try and release from lock-in what we have paid for at least once already, probably much more than that. Then we pay for making this humongous beast “secure”, and in the process ensure that we spend even more money trying to extricate from our own dungeons what is ours in the first place. And, just in case we feel we haven’t spend enough money on this, we start introducing more and more DRM, which makes a fine art of data/device lock-in.

We do this meekly today. And the enterprise IT equivalent of napster and downloads and kazaa and everything else is called opensource. Commoditised future-proof bug-free scaleable attractively-priced infrastructure. Infrastructure which has created an ecosystem that allows us to move our information around without EAI and “data mining” and “business intelligence suites” and whatnot.

[An aside. Think about who pays to bury in six foot of concrete that which you later “mine”. Think about who gets the gold that you mine.]

The truth is, it has taken time for us to be able to work on a common infrastructure with market-driven standards and the possibility of operating without device or other lock-in, and EAI was an opportunity for people to make money while we got there.

But surely not now. Not now when we don’t have to. Not now we have the technology.

Yet we put up with it in every enterprise.

Generation M is round the corner. They perceive value differently, they perceive time differently, they perceive many things differently.

And they’re not going to put up with it. EAI or DRM. They’re not going to put up with paying premium money to do things that are fundamentally closer to deckchairs and Titanics and arrangements than anything else. That’s why Napster and Gnutella and Kazaa and Skype and BitTorrent. That’s why Linux. [Another aside. With all the supergazillions spent on R&D in the technology and telecoms space, just how many of these things came from incumbents? Why? I wonder. Clayton Christenson come back all is forgiven.]
We don’t have to do anything. But if we believe that people are our most important asset, if we believe that the social cost of implementing systems is a magnitude greater than the physical cost, if we believe that we have gained anything at all from Moore and Metcalfe and Gilder, if we believe there is a war for talent, and if we believe that the best business strategies begin with “First Get Good People”, then we may have to do something.

Because competition for Generation M is just one layer of DRMlessness away. One layer of EAIlessness away.

Think about it. What these things represent is equivalent to your being told your ability to drive on a particular road should be tied to the age of the road and the age of the vehicle….

Just a thought.

Four Pillars: Venezuela: One way to get people to think Opensource

I’m trying to get more information, but this story got my attention this morning.

I quote from the press release:

A program to train over 400 thousand people in open source software – as part of Mission Science – will start on Monday, June 12 in Venezuela. This training program will be carried out by the National Center of Information Technologies (CNTI, Spanish acronym). CNTI’s President, Jorge Berrizbeitia, explained that the first goal is to train the population that does not know anything about this field.

The registration process will be carried out in the 330 information offices distributed all around the country.

These free courses will last 24 hours. They will be completed according to the needs of each community. They include hardware and software fundamentals, their use and utilities, and the importance of information and communication technologies for communities.

Berrizbieta pointed out that 860 people will participate as teachers in these courses.

The CNTI’s head stated that the second stage of this program will train over 300 thousand reservists on this technology-information matter. He also added that the CNTI plans to open other 230 information offices. This institution also will provide mobile information offices that will be able to reach low-income communities of difficult access.

I’ve never come across any government doing this on a scale that is comparable. Training 400,000 people in the concepts and use of opensource software. With over 800 teachers. On a national scale. Specifically targeting low-income communities with poor access.

I have not looked at the curriculum or syllabus; I am not aware of how this is being funded; and it is difficult for me to tell how effective one day’s training will be.

But I applaud the move. I will definitely be tracking how they are doing. If anyone else is interested, please let me know via a comment.

Does anyone know of any other country where this is being attempted on such a scale?

Or, for that matter, any other organisation, public or private?

Four Pillars: Scoble moves on, and more musings on access

RageBoy brought this story to my attention, so hello and thanks to Boulder from Calcutta. Or Windsor, if you prefer.

The story itself was simple: Microsoft had done a deal with a couple of major universities to scan, and make available to all, a vast collection of out-of-copyright material. Given that the universities mentioned were the University of California and the University of Toronto, this could be a major deal. So I started investigating whatever I could find out.

And, almost in passing, I saw the Scoble story, which you can find here, with his comments here. Whatever opinions you may have about Robert Scoble, one thing is not in doubt. He helped change public opinion about Microsoft. Yes there are others: Kim Cameron and Ray Ozzie come immediately to mind, but the Scobleizer was the first to break ranks. In the early days of his blog, I must confess there wasn’t a day when I didn’t say to myself “Go get ’em Floyd” as I read his posts. So thanks and good luck to him, and to, the start-up he’s joining.

Back to the library cards story. It’s a difficult one for me to work out, because we’ve got denials and arguments even before we have clarity on exactly what’s been announced. So I’m going to write on the principles.

A vendor scans a whole pile of out-of-copyright materials and makes them available to the public. Fantastic. This could not have happened unless the “beneficial owner” of those out-of-copyright materials gave permission in the first place. Also fantastic.

What happens next? If someone else does a Google Book Search or an Amazon Look Inside or whatever else they call it, this is good. It’s called competition, should improve quality and reduce cost and make everything more accessible to more people.

So the next things to look at are access and cost. And on the surface everything is copacetic. Works with any browser. No digital walls to be seen anywhere. No implied or explicit costs.

Assuming these things don’t change, and we’re not witnessing some sort of freebie-hook-with-your-life-on-the-other-end-of-the-line, what else do I worry about? Simple. I need to understand the lock-in that doesn’t affect me today, but that will definitely affect me tomorrow.

A silo high-coupling between the browser/portal and the information. I expect to see a world where I can’t get to Google Book search output except via Google, Amazon Look Inside output except via Amazon and Windows Whatever except via Windows.

Today I can use Google to give me Amazon hits.

Tomorrow I need to be able to use Google and Firefox on a linux machine to give me Microsoft-Indexed-Books-Out-Of-Copyright-from-University-of-California. I don’t care how I get to the book, whether I have to click on a Google result to go to a Microsoft site to get it, or other means.

What matters to me is:

(a) no constraint on the browser or OS initiating the search request

(b) no constraint on the search engine initiating the search

(c) no need to provide any further login or identity credentials to get to the material

I am quite willing to credit the donor (University of California, if the story is true) and the scanner/indexer (Microsoft) whenever I use the material, but I want this process simplified as well.

So I look forward to finding out more. My gut feel is less charitable than I sound, even though I’ve tried to read this url on a Mac with Firefox and everything seemed to work.

So I will mull over leopards and spots.

Four Pillars: More on trust and confidence

First of all, thanks for the comments and the e-mails after my last two posts. It’s good to see the snowballs rolling, gathering momentum.

Why am I doing this? Not because I’ve suddenly become some male-menopausal closet philosopher. But because trust and relationships and identity are integral components of any market, particularly financial markets. Software has caught up, it is now possible to embody some of these principles in software. It is also possible to get them hopelessly wrong, and to throw away the advantages and opportunities that technology, more particularly information technology, provides us.

Aside 1: One of Doc Searls‘ themes at reboot was that blogging is provisional. This is important. These are conversations and discussions, not dogma. Mind Wide Open, as Steven Johnson would say, but not in this context specifically. [And Happy Birthday one day late, Steven, if you ever get around to reading stuff like this]
I’ve been thinking more about why I feel it’s so important to distinguish between trust and confidence, why I am deeply uncomfortable with the definitions getting intertwined. Language is something that’s living, and meanings and nuances change over time. Years ago, I was fascinated to learn that “nice” used to mean “complicated”, as in “That’s a very nice two-move chess puzzle”; that “fond” meant “foolish”, and conjured up images of fresh-faced Wodehousian wonders mooning cheerily over absent first loves. More recently, we’ve had the Governors of the BBC pass judgment on the use and/or abuse of the word “gay”, to Chris Moyles’ consternation and relief.

I remember the first cricket match I ever went to. And what a match; details to be found here. Gary Sobers, Conrad Hunte, Rohan Kanhai, Lance Gibbs, Clive Lloyd, Seymour Nurse, Wes Hall and Charlie Griffiths, facing off against the one-eyed Nawab of Pataudi, Rusi Surti, Chandu Borde, ML Jaisimha, Abbas Ali Baig. Bedi playing his first Test. Chandrasekhar and Venkataraghavan playing as well. Each captain bestriding the field like a Colossus. [A confession. I first tried Colossi, didn’t like it, it didn’t work. Changed the structure of the sentence. Reminds me of the Alipore Zoo curator rumoured to have written to his counterpart at the Sydney Zoo, asking for the despatch of one mongoose. And then asking if he could send a second one at the same time :-) )

India lost. But no matter, it was a great spectacle. With a terrible start. A dispute about an umpiring call led to fans in one section of the ground pulling up the seats and setting them on fire. On New Year’s Day. Setting the backdrop for the newspaper headline “Hell at Eden” the next day.

Which brings me to the point of the story. I was nine. We had to evacuate the stadium in a hurry. There were flames surrounding us. And the only way to get out was to go up, and then jump down. My father shepherded me to the jump-off point, told me that he would jump first, then catch me when I jumped.

I had no confidence that my father could jump down 20 feet without doing himself a major injury; it would have been the most energetic thing I’d ever seen him do, other than hit a golf ball. But somehow he jumped, and landed with limbs intact, aided and abetted by the throng below. [I’m not sure he could have jumped anywhere in Calcutta without landing in a throng, but that’s a different matter.]

I had no confidence that my father would catch me. But I trusted him. And catch me he did.

Trust is binary. Yes or no. Trust is sacrificial, you have to make yourself vulnerable in order to trust. Trust is two-way; A cannot trust B unless it is also true that B trusts A. Trust is a relationship, a bond. It has something to do with emotional intelligence and faith and Pay It Forward. It is based on something holistic to do with the person and the relationship.
Confidence is graduated, it is part of a continuum of values. You associate confidence with words like ratings and levels and “degrees of”. It is one-way, if A has confidence in B then it does not follow that B has confidence in A. It is an attribute about a specific skill or ability.

Trust is Because Of. Confidence is With.

Aside 2: My grandfather was a Founder Member of the National Cricket Club at Eden Gardens, founded before my father was born. Founder Members were entitled to two pavilion tickets, and you didn’t even have to wear breakfast-coloured ties to sit there. Founder Members were entitled to these two pavilion tickets each for life. Between 1967 and 1980 I watched pretty much all five days of every match at Eden Gardens. Using Founder Member tickets. The youngest a Founder Member could have been, in 1969, was 63. I was 11 then, and not the youngest queueing up either. And nobody said a word.

This is an example of what’s happening today. One of the things the Web is challenging is the market lock-ins that prevent natural secondary trading from taking place. More and more, we will see “not-transferable” items becoming more liquid, more tradable. Entertainment and sports event tickets are the likeliest candidates to start with, but even airline tickets will go that way.

To make this happen, we will need better understanding of how identity is altered on such instruments. The answer is not to prevent the transfer, but to solve the identity transfer issue. There will also be cases where the “instrument” is transferable only after a “first refusal” hoop-to-be-climbed; this is reasonable as well. We have to solve the process by which we can portray identity accurately and allow for first-refusal clauses, rather than prevent something as natural as secondary-market trading.