Category Archives: trust

conversation, revision, trust…

A thought-provoking “meta-post” from Noah Wardrip-Fruin on Grand Text Auto reflecting on the blog-based review of his new book manuscript four chapters (and weeks) into the process. Really interesting stuff, so I’m quoting at length:

This week, when I was talking with Jessica Bell about her story for the Daily Pennsylvanian, I realized one of the most important things, for me, about the blog-based peer review form. In most cases, when I get back the traditional, blind peer review comments on my papers and book proposals and conference submissions, I don’t know who to believe. Most issues are only raised by one reviewer. I find myself wondering, “Is this a general issue that I need to fix, or just something that rubbed one particular person the wrong way?” I try to look back at the piece with fresh eyes, using myself as a check on the review, or sometimes seek the advice of someone else involved in the process (e.g., the papers chair of the conference).
But with this blog-based review it’s been a quite different experience. This is most clear to me around the discussion of “process intensity” in section 1.2. If I recall correctly, this began with Nick’s comment on paragraph 14. Nick would be a perfect candidate for traditional peer review of my manuscript -? well-versed in the subject, articulate, and active in many of the same communities I hope will enjoy the book. But faced with just his comment, in anonymous form, I might have made only a small change. The same is true of Barry’s comment on the same paragraph, left later the same day. However, once they started the conversation rolling, others agreed with their points and expanded beyond a focus on The Sims -? and people also engaged me as I started thinking aloud about how to fix things -? and the results made it clear that the larger discussion of process intensity was problematic, not just my treatment of one example. In other words, the blog-based review form not only brings in more voices (which may identify more potential issues), and not only provides some “review of the reviews” (with reviewers weighing in on the issues raised by others), but is also, crucially, a conversation (my proposals for a quick fix to the discussion of one example helped unearth the breadth and seriousness of the larger issues with the section).
On some level, all this might be seen as implied with the initial proposal of bringing together manuscript review and blog commenting (or already clear in the discussions, by Kathleen Fitzpatrick and others, of “peer to peer review”). But, personally, I didn’t foresee it. I expected to compare the recommendation of commenters on the blog and the anonymous, press-solicited reviewers -? treating the two basically the same way. But it turns out that the blog commentaries will have been through a social process that, in some ways, will probably make me trust them more.


A few good readings to inject into recent conversation here about a post-copyright world (1, 2, 3), and in light of the death of Times Select and the ripple effect that is likely to have across the Web. First, a two-year-old post by Jeff Jarvis, “Who Wants to Own Content?”, ruminating on the supreme value of trust and conversation in a post-scarcity publishing ecology:

But in this new age, you don’t want to own the content or the pipe that delivers it. You want to participate in what people want to do on their own. You don’t want to extract value. You want to add value. You don’t want to build walls or fences or gardens to keep people from doing what they want to do without you. You want to enable them to do it. You want to join in.
And once you get your head around that, you will see that you can grow so much bigger so much faster with so much less cost and risk.
So don’t own the content. Help people make and find and remake and recommend and save the content they want. Don’t own the distribution. Gain the trust of the people to help them use whatever distribution and medium they like to find what they want.
In these new economics, you want to stand back and interfere and restrict as little as possible. You want to reduce costs to the minimum. You want to join in wherever you are welcome.
So in the content world, it is better help enable and be part of fluid networks of content than it is to create and own content…It is better to find new efficiencies than new blockbusters…It is better to gather than create…It is better to share trust than to horde it.

Whatever the media business models of tomorrow may be, they will almost certainly not revolve around owning content. It will be about, as Jay Rosen says in his Times Select obit, “weaving yourself into the Web”:

…that’s the decision in Web court the New York Times is accepting. Consent decree with the open web. Dismisses all courses of action against Google. Times agrees to drop Times Select, which was a barrier to Google – ?and the blogosphere – ?working the right way.
The decision says you can try to charge, and some people will pay, but there is more money and a brighter future in the open flow of Web traffic, a lot of which is coming sideways into your content stack because Google sends tons of users in that way, not through your pearly gates of news, also called a home page. RSS sends stuff from the middle of the stack out.
When every barrier you create to their participation with your product weakens your revenue stream, which is tied to openness, you’re in the world of the consent decree. Advertising tied to search means open gates for all users. It means link rot cut to zero, playing for the long haul in Web memory and more blogs because they are Web-sticky.

Now back to Jarvis, who in a new post predicts among other things that the Times’ decision will likely be the first domino in a chain of paywall demolitions: Wall Street Journal, Economist, Financial Times. He picks up the thread from his older piece:

It’s the relationship that is valuable. It’s the relationship that is profitable, not the control of the content or the distribution. That is the essential media moral of the internet story. It has taken 13 years of internet history for media companies to learn that, to give up the idea that they control something scarce they can charge consumers for, but they’ve finally learned it. That is the lesson of the death of TimesSelect.

open source DRM?

A couple of weeks ago, Sun Microsystems released specifications and source code for DReaM, an open-source, “royalty-free digital rights management standard” designed to operate on any certified device, licensing rights to the user rather than to any particular piece of hardware. DReaM (Digital Rights Management — everywhere availble) is the centerpiece of Sun’s Open Media Commons initiative, announced late last summer as an alternative to Microsoft, Apple and other content protection systems. Yesterday, it was the subject of Eliot Van Buskirk’s column in Wired:

Sun is talking about a sea change on the scale of the switch from the barter system to paper money. Like money, this standardized DRM system would have to be acknowledged universally, and its rules would have to be easily converted to other systems (the way U.S. dollars are officially used only in America but can be easily converted into other currency). Consumers would no longer have to negotiate separate deals with each provider in order to access the same catalog (more or less). Instead, you — the person, not your device — would have the right to listen to songs, and those rights would follow you around, as long as you’re using an approved device.

The OMC promises to “promote both intellectual property protection and user privacy,” and certainly DReaM, with its focus on interoperability, does seem less draconian than today’s prevailing systems. Even Larry Lessig has endorsed it, pointing with satisfaction to a “fair use” mechanism that is built into the architecture, ensuring that certain uses like quotation, parody, or copying for the classroom are not circumvented. Van Buskirk points out, however, that the fair use protection is optional and left to the discretion of the publisher (not a promising sign). Interestingly, the debate over DReaM has caused a rift among copyright progressives. Van Buskirk points to an August statement from the Electronic Frontier Foundation criticizing DReaM for not going far enough to safeguard fair use, and for falsely donning the mantle of openness:

Using “commons” in the name is unfortunate, because it suggests an online community committed to sharing creative works. DRM systems are about restricting access and use of creative works.

True. As terms like “commons” and “open source” seep into the popular discourse, we should be increasingly on guard against their co-option. Yet I applaud Sun for trying to tackle the interoperability problem, shifting control from the manufacturers to an independent standards body. But shouldn’t mandatory fair use provisions be a baseline standard for any progressive rights scheme? DReaM certainly looks like less of a nightmare than plain old DRM but does it go far enough?

digital universe and expert review

The notion of expert review has been tossed around in the open-content community for a long time. Philosophically, those who lean towards openness tend to sneer at the idea of formalized expert review, trusting in the multiplied consciousness of the community to maintain high standards through less formal processes. Wikipedia is obviously the most successful project in this mode.The informal process has the benefit of speed, and avoids bureaucracy—something which raises the barrier to entry, and keeps out people who just don’t have the time to deal with ‘process.’
The other side of that coin is the belief that experts and editors encourage civil discourse at a high level; without them you’ll end up with mob rule and lowest common denominator content. Editors encourage higher quality writing and thinking. Thinking and writing better than others is, in a way, the definition of expert. In addition, editors and experts tend to have a professional interest in the subject matter, as well as access to better resources. These are exactly the kind of people who are not discouraged by higher barriers to entry, and they are, by extension, the people that you want to create content on your site.
Larry Sanger thinks that, anyway. A Wikipedia co-founder, he gave an interview on about a project that plans to create a better Wikipedia, using a combination of open content development and editorial review: The Digital Universe.

You can think of the Digital Universe as a set of portals, each defined by a topic, such as the planet Mars. And from each portal, there will be links to the best resources on the Web, including a lot of resources of different kinds that are prepared by experts and the general public under the management of experts. This will include an encyclopedia, as well as public domain books, participatory journalism, forums of various kinds and so forth. We’ll build a community of experts and an online collaborative network of independent organizations, each of which has authority over its own discipline to select material and to build resources that are together displayed through a single free-information platform.

I have experience with the editor model from my time at The model is based on ‘guides’—nominal (and sometimes actual) experts on a chosen topic (say NASCAR, or anesthesiology)—who scour the internet, find good resources, and write articles and newsletters to facilitate understanding and keep communities up to date. The guides were overseen by a bevy of editors, who tended mostly to enforce the quotas for newsletters and set the line on quality. has its problems, but it was novel and successful during its time.
The Digital Universe model is an improvement on the single guide model; it encourages a multitude of people to contribute to a reservoir of content. Measured by available resources, the Digital Universe model wins, hands down. As with all large, open systems, emergent behaviors will add even more to the system in ways than we cannot predict. The Digitial Universe will have it’s own identity and quality, which, according to the blueprint, will be further enhanced by expert editors, shaping the development of a topic and polishing it to a high gloss.
Full disclosure: I find the idea of experts “managing the public” somehow distasteful, but I am compelled by the argument that this will bring about a better product. Sanger’s essay on eliminating anti-elitism from Wikipedia clearly demonstrates his belief in the ‘expert’ methodology. I am willing to go along, mindful that we should be creating material that not only leads people to the best resources, but also allows them to engage more critically with the content. This is what experts do best. However, I’m pessimistic about experts mixing it up with the public. There are strong, and as I see it, opposing forces in play: an expert’s reputation vs. public participation, industry cant vs. plain speech, and one expert opinion vs. another.
The difference between Wikipedia and the Digital Universe comes down, fundamentally, to the importance placed on authority. We’ll see what shape the Digital Universe takes as the stresses of maintaining an authoritative process clashes with the anarchy of the online public. I think we’ll see that adopting authority as your rallying cry is a volatile position in a world of empowered authorship and a universe of alternative viewpoints.

trackback, adieu

We’ve officially and permanently shut off the trackback function on if:book. We’re sad to do it. The idea of trackback is such a good one — a way to send signals (pings) to other blogs alerting them that one of their posts is being discussed on your site. It ties the blogosphere together, fosters conversations across the web. It was a beautiful dream, but spammers killed it.
Tom Coates pronounced trackback dead back in April, but if:book was only a few months old at the time, still green and optimistic. We were also less known, so spam was only coming in a light sprinkle. Now it’s been a month since our last legitimate ping, and the daily dose of spam has grown so large (and so filthy) that it hardly seems worth it to keep the door open. Fewer bloggers are tracking back now anyway since most have accepted that it is a dying practice, or perhaps haven’t even heard of it at all.
So trackback is done. I just want to say a few goodbyes…
Goodbye, diet pills.
Goodbye, discount sneakers.
Goodbye, ringtones.
Goodbye, hentai comics.
Goodbye, cheap loans (spelled lones).
Goodbye, online pharmacy.
Goodbye, online casino.
Goodbye, texas holdem.
Goodbye, arbitrage sports betting.
Goodbye, free nude black jack.
Goodbye, rape fantasies.
Goodbye, incest stories.
Goodbye, shemale porn.
Goodbye, animal sex.
Goodbye, gay erotica.
Goodbye, tranny surprise.
Goodbye, sex grannies.
A big middle finger to all of you.

yahoo! hires finance writers

Following Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone, Yahoo! takes another step in its transformation into original content provider (see Wall Street Journal – free). Though they say they have no intention of becoming a full-fledged news service.
Yahoo’s move suggests increased specialization and atomization of news media on the web, as full-fledged news services find it increasingly hard to stay afloat (as the recent wave of staff cuts at major papers suggests). As newspapers agonize over how to make more money from their websites (e.g. Times Select), companies with diverse revenue bases (like the big search portals) will find it a lot easier to deliver the news. But it will be a stripped down service, heavy on features. Can the news media as public trust survive this process of atomization? Or was the idea of a public trust always a fairy tale?