October 23, 2006  ·  Lessig

There’s a great line in Gore’s movie about how he thinks about the process of making presentations. Each time, he says, he goes through the presentation “removing blocks” — trying to understand where people aren’t understanding what he’s saying, and changing it so there is understanding. Sometimes it’s not possible, of course — sometimes there’s just disagreement. But sometime disagreement is just misunderstanding.

As I read some of the responses to my post about Web 2.0, I’m beginning to have a Gore moment. I used the word “ethics”; that word is creating a block. Many read that word (reasonably, of course) to suggest I’m trying to impose a moral code on the the Web; distinguish good from bad, right from wrong; a kind of PCism for PCs.

That’s a totally reasonably way to read what I wrote. It’s not, however, the point of the post. I don’t have a moral code to impose on the Web. I was instead describing the elements, as I see them, of a successful Web 2.0 business. My argument is not “do X because it is good”; my post was “do X to keep and spread the success you’ve had.” My claim is not that walled gardens never prosper (see, e.g., AOL). It is that walled gardens wither (see, e.g., AOL), at least in the environment of Web 2.0.

It was clumsy to try to frame that point as a point about ethics. I realize in reading the responses, I hang the normative within “morals”; ethics, in my (private?) language, is about how we (differing depending upon the group) behave. So in that sense, it was how Web 2.0 companies behave, not because god told them to (remember: amoral), but because they believe this is how best to behave.

But there’s another set of responses I don’t think there’s a simple way to answer. There’s a certain mindset out there that thinks the way the world was cut up in college is the way the world is. So whatever set of texts you read as a sophomore, somehow they define the nature of world forever. Seared in your brain is the excitement of figuring out the difference between Capitalism and Marxism, or communitarianism vs. libertarianism. And so significant was this moment of education that everything else in life must be ordered according to these sophomore frames.

I don’t know the best way to respond to this sort of soul. Obama apparently addresses it in the context of politics, when he comments that the last 3 presidential elections have all been framed in terms of the debates of the 1960s (Vietnam, the sexual revolution, etc.), and the best response to this framing is just to move on.

That’s what I wish would happen here. Put your college philosophy books away, and start reading research about what’s happening now. Understand it first, then craft the label. Because when you understand what, say, von Hippel is writing about, it has absolutely nothing to do with communism/communalism/communitarianism/commuwhatever-you-want. It’s all about how business prosper in a new technological environment. There’s a good argument (indeed, great books) skeptical about whether there is a new technological environment. Fair enough. But there are also businesses “democratizing innovation” (free PDF here) not because they’re a bunch of communapinkos, and not because they miss the Cultural Revolution.

  • three blind mice

    enormously thoughtful post professor.

    ethos is perhaps a more appropriate term than ethics, or morality.

    Seared in your brain is the excitement of figuring out the difference between Capitalism and Marxism, or communitarianism vs. libertarianism. And so significant was this moment of education that everything else in life must be ordered according to these sophomore frames.

    that’s a bit condescending though. these frames of reference, however sophomore-ic they may be, provide the basis for further understanding. isn’t that what a university education is supposed to be?

    as engineers, we three blind mice don’t hold the near mystic appreciation non-technical people such as yourself seem to have for the internet. to us the internet is a tool, a machine, a simple construction of electrical circuits.

    computers do what they are told to do by man. nothing more and nothing less. there is no such thing as cyber-space; it doesn’t exist. there are no new ethics, no new morals, no new ethos. there is only plain old-fashioned humanity1.0 with all its faults and frailities using a new machine.

    but perhaps this is our own sophomoric view. it seems entirely appropriate to project onto “cyberspace” the tired, old, but nevertheless descriptive labels of meat-space, than to imagine that somehow the rules are now different.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    But, concerning, “My claim is not that walled gardens never prosper (see, e.g., AOL). It is that walled gardens wither (see, e.g., AOL), at least in the environment of Web 2.0.” – is that true? Is even arguable??

    As in, if a walled garden prospers (craigslist, Skype, YouTube?), you can point to “My claim is not that walled gardens never prosper”, and if a walled garden withers (AOL), you can say it’s due to “the environment of Web 2.0″. And define true-Web-2.0 to be not-walled-garden.

    I think the discussion got badly derailed from the Communist metaphors. The real point is about “I was instead describing the elements, as I see them, of a successful Web 2.0 business.”, and whether that’s actually true, or simply a personal preference in definition.

    That is, if the statement (“describing the elements, as I see them, of a successful Web 2.0 business”) is:

    “If a Web 2.0 business does these good, moral, sharing things, it will (likely?) be a success” – that’s HIGHLY debatable, of course.

    Versus:

    “If a business (which is a success?) has done these good, moral sharing things, then it is certified genuine Web 2.0″ – well, okay, that’s your definition, but arguing over it, like arguing over the definitions of “blog”, or “science fiction”, is probably not going to be all that useful.

    The “Commie” stuff gets in the way of dissecting this difference, between PREscriptive (implies a certain moralism) and DESscriptive (the province of guru-lecture circuit, and sometimes more pandering fantasy to executive types than connected to reality).

  • Janet Hawtin

    Hi

    Ethics is an interesting word at the moment.
    http://localfoss.org/node/276
    I feel that group is using the concept to establish yet another
    brokered channel or broadcast model for IT to function through.
    They are using ethics as a concept through which to sell people
    fear of the distributed model and to attract funding for a broadcast or industrial distribution model.

    In a meeting on identical themes from another project the presenter had 5 options for his proposed broker model for IT.
    One was the peer to peer model ‘may a thousand flowers bloom’ Mao which he scoffed at.

    All the others were centrally controlled structures which he gave examples for.

    They use similar ideas to the broadcasters which have been
    making noises about trusted broadcasters in comparison to
    the risks of distributed information sources.

    And yet it is interesting that in many ways the free software community is an open process in ethical dialogue about what licences can be legally used with which implications for freedom and for future clarity about whether the derivative softwares are really free.

    I think that the reason we are getting red under the bed responses to distributed systems is because for companies which have become accustomed to a brokered system it is difficult for them to perceive their own financial role in a distributed network.
    There isnt an easy to recognise central brokering position for a large investment entity publisher/broadcaster/controlling group.
    This is seen as a threat to the businesses which currently work from this model.

    User/innovators are a different kind of entity and are not likely to
    emerge from a broadcast model because those models like to have the thinking happen close to the top, and for users and practitioners near the bottom to respond reliably to given inputs.
    (Which is exactly what the ethics tests do, they test that all the accredited people respond in a known way to ethics issues.)

    Distributed creation requires people to be flexible in their responses, to be users and innovators, to think about ethics as a system of being responsible for ones self, for ones impact on others and to do useful things, it does not have a need for a known response, and actually benefits in terms of innovation and detection of flaws, from people having diverse responses to inputs.

    Firefox /Ice Weasel is a disconnect between a central control structure (Trademark Law) and a community distribution (FOSS).
    We need a kind of attribution mark rather than a trademark for distributed use which does not reduce the power of the trademark of a company which could still then be used in the brokered/controlled way which suits the traditional role of these marks.

    And to reply to the multiple mouse, I do think that we are able to express our humanity differently with different media.
    We are different people from those who could not write because writing and counting enabled different kinds of understanding and expression. I feel the same is true of the digital medium and in particular of the networked distributed digital medium.

    I think currently the rules from a context which are based on broadcast distribution do not map effectively to distributed communities and we need some new ones.

  • http://www.roughtype.com Nick Carr

    I’m still not sure I get it. First you say that when you said the “ethics of web 2.0″ you were just referring to the “elements of business success.” But then you say that when you said the “ethics of web 2.0″ you meant “how companies behave.” In your mind, are those two things one and the same? Do you define good behavior as the behavior that leads to business success? In which case, if it turned out that “fake sharing” did in fact lead to greater business success then “true sharing,” would you then be willing to say that “fake sharing” actually constitutes better behavior – and is, in your (private) language, more ethical – than “true sharing”? Or do you actually believe (as I kind of think you do) that “true sharing” represents preferable or superior behavior to “fake sharing” regardless of their influence over business success?

    Now, I know that I’m probably lost in some sophomore philosophy class, but it seems to me that you still haven’t come clean here about what precisely you’re talking about, that rather than retreating into clarity, you’ve retreated into obfuscation.

  • http://www.roughtype.com Nick Carr

    I just read Seth’s comment and realized that I repeated a lot of what he said (I think). Sorry about that, though the fact that he’s confused makes me feel better about my confusion.

  • http://twlog.net/flexigility Danny Kim

    Hi, Prof. Lessig. Thanks for the post.

    I think most of the “attacks” to your post on web 2.0 principles are coming from those who haven’t thoroughly followed your argument over the years. If someone is coming from a Web 2.0 skeptic side, you’re more likely to be labled a communist. How sad.

    I think most of them just simply misunderstand the fact that in the digital world, sharing is one of the best things not only for the society collectively, but also often for individual businesses as well. It’s not just idealism, but rather the new rules of economics and business.

    I think your wording might’ve had some people confused about your argument. However, from a business perspective, your argument makes perfect sense.

    (by the way, I’m one of the Creative Commons Korea members who talked with you when you came to visit Korea back in May. :) )

  • Lessig

    Nick: Whatever you might have read as a sophomore, in this is your mistake: “Or do you actually believe (as I kind of think you do) that “true sharing” represents preferable or superior behavior to “fake sharing” regardless of their influence over business success?”

    No, I do not believe that at all. Of course I believe it would be better if stuff were shareable — just as I believe it would be better if a 4 bedroom home cost $10 — but I really believe the business of business is to make money. If “fake sharing” turned out to be the way of the future, then that would mean Web 2.0 is a less interesting category that it otherwise seems to be. But I’m not in the business of telling business that they should make less money. (Of course, I am in the business of telling them where they should give at least some of it, but that’s another matter).

    That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be moralistic about some forms of sharing. E.g., I think scholars who tie their work up in unshareable form when they could make it shareable are violating an ethical (in the normal sense of that term) obligation of scholars. But businesses are not scholars.

    TBM: Of course categories that are useful should be used. But my point is that we should be asking, constantly, whether the categories are helping or obscuring. And re your argument that there are no emergent properties: take everything you say about the Internet and make the same statement about the chemicals that make a human: nothing more than chemicals?

    Seth: My claim is that there’s a balance here. That claim may be right or wrong, but it is not negated by pointing to examples where the balances are struck differently (and btw: Skype is not a hybrid company: My argument is not that all Internet businesses are hybrids (see, e.g., iTunes — not an hybrid); my claim is about the successful behavior of a hybrid.) And so the simplest (obvious?) claim, descriptively, is that hybrids that don’t respect the community they’re trying to exploit (in the best sense of that word) will do worse than hybrids that do respect the community they’re trying to exploit.

    And Janet: I agree with the point about perspective, but sometimes it’s not just perspective. It is also that their particular business hasn’t a role anymore in the new economy. Here, Craigslist is a good example. This is, in my view, a hybrid. It really depends upon the community (meaning the mix of) of people it gathers around the site. It does that by giving most of its services away for free. So practicing the good manners — maybe that’s the word here? — of generosity. Craig’s generosity, of course, has eliminated most of about a $100m business. And those who used to thrive on that less efficient business are no doubt not happy with Craig. But from a social perspective (and please, this doesn’t make me a socialist!), a world with Craigslist and without classifieds is better than the world without Craigslist and with classifieds.

  • three blind mice

    Of course categories that are useful should be used. But my point is that we should be asking, constantly, whether the categories are helping or obscuring.

    and that was the thoughtful part of your post.

    take everything you say about the Internet and make the same statement about the chemicals that make a human: nothing more than chemicals?

    the internet has no soul, it cannot think for itself, it cannot apply reason and logic apart from how it is programmed. here again is the problem of pespective: to imagine that, formed from the rib of man, the internet has created a new ethic or morality is to our way of thinking a bit too new age hocus-pocus.

    I do think that we are able to express our humanity differently with different media.

    Janet Hawtin starts well, but then stumbles.

    We are different people from those who could not write because writing and counting enabled different kinds of understanding and expression.

    we are smarter people, but in our souls, morals, and ethics no different: there is no humanity2.0. the internet serves us, we do not – and should not – serve it.

    Seth Finkelstein framed it well (as he always does): Web2.0 is desctiptive not perscriptive.

    But there are also businesses “democratizing innovation” not because they’re a bunch of communapinkos, and not because they miss the Cultural Revolution.

    communapinkos. heh. certainly the term Cultural R is inaccurate, but it seems to us that your views of web2.0 indeed call for a cultural revolution.

    thinking about it, Nick Carr was in a way quite right to coin the term communalist (we have used the term commons-ist). there does seem to be a call from certain ivory quarters for a new cultural revolution, a perscriptive behaviour, deviations from which that need to be struggled against.

    where he erred was to draw too close a parallel between this new cultural revolution and the one perpetrated by Mao. yes, there are some parallels, but use of such a loaded term (and upon reflection our use of the term commons-ist) obscures the debate rather than provides clarity.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    This sums it up – “If “fake sharing” turned out to be the way of the future, then that would mean Web 2.0 is a less interesting category that it otherwise seems to be. – Exactly!

    To take an overview level of the argument for a moment (instead of the details), I believe you’re reading something into “Web 2.0″ (taken here to mean “true sharing”), an implication you’d very much like to be true, for laudable good-hearted reasons, but which is in fact *not* true. It may SEEM to be true, because there’s a lot of hype around data-mining and digital-sharecropping presenting it as a wonderful politically progressive quasi-religious experience. But that’s just marketing.

    Thus: And so the simplest (obvious?) claim, descriptively, is that hybrids that don’t respect the community they’re trying to exploit (in the best sense of that word) will do worse than hybrids that do respect the community they’re trying to exploit.

    How can we determine if this is correct, in a meaningful way? (i.e., without making “respect the community” a tautology with “success” – if the business does well, it’ll have lots of PR, then say it respects the community, if it fails, find an error, say it didn’t respect the community – note almost by definition, a successful business will have a lot of people using it).

    The original point, the bit of light lost among lots of heat, was that it DOESN’T seem to be correct. That if one looks at the big successes, YouTube, etc., they seem to be much more “fake sharing” than “true sharing” sites.

    Now take this, for example:

    Craigslist is a good example. This is, in my view, a hybrid. It really depends upon the community (meaning the mix of) of people it gathers around the site. It does that by giving most of its services away for free. So practicing the good manners – maybe that’s the word here? – of generosity. Craig’s generosity, of course, has eliminated most of about a $100m business. And those who used to thrive on that less efficient business are no doubt not happy with Craig.”

    Look at the language you’re using (“generosity”), the story you’re telling (the generous Internet sharer who has upset the presumably bad old misers). It’s very clearly something you want to see in these shifts.

    But, for example, loss-leaders, giving away something at or below cost, are standard sales techniques. I don’t think you’d say “A megastore depends on having a large number of shoppers. It attracts them in part by giving some products away for at or below cost (to get shoppers into the store). So practicing the good manners – maybe that’s the word here? – of generosity. Wal-Mart’s generosity has eliminated most of an inefficient featherbedding system in local stores, which are no doubt not happy with Wal-Mart.”

    Is Wal-Mart a paragon of generosity, in its use of loss-leaders? From a BUSINESS point of view, why should Craisglist get such morally positive terminology, and Wal-Mart not?

    See how easy it is to ascribe moral meaning to businesses methods, said meaning which isn’t really there?

  • Janet Hawtin

    My perspective is that IP franchises are the revolutionary state.

    The act of creation, dialogue and sharing and exchange is the normal state for a person and for a group of people. I feel it
    is healthy interaction within a family or community of practice to share ideas. It is a function of the way that we improve our own skills and also a function of how we understand each other was practitioners. It is also the means that we adapt and come to new ideas.

    The act of having a sole right over an idea or information is a kind of ‘revolution’ or ‘resistance’ or strategy to control the market for that idea. That has been an effective tool for a business model based on situations where our communication has depended on brokered structures.

    Now that those structures are not best practice, the special privileges which have accrued around those structures make less sense. We have better ways to do things and our natural habit of
    sharing and creating based on the physical and conceptual things we have at hand is re-emerging.

    Individuals and groups which understand how to invest in a brokered model see user innovators as a short circuit.

    If distributed user creation is bad for their business model then given that our economic culture really only understands capital v communism then we must be communistic from their perspective. ie if it doesnt belong to them, and belongs to all of us then it must be communistic.

    I think the fact that this assumption is made is a good indication that broker folk have also forgotten that democracy is about dialogue and shared responsibility and access.

    Or perhaps these people understand that this is a new kind of economic democracy but that making the scarey red statements is more likely to provide support for the brokered models than any real dialogue about kinds of transactions businesses and ideas can be made with innovator user distributed networks.

    3bmice: we are smarter people, but in our souls, morals, and ethics no different: there is no humanity2.0. the internet serves us, we do not – and should not – serve it.

    I am responsible for myself, for my impact on others, i do useful things. These are simple to say and hard to do. For me this is an ethic which makes sense in the normative state where I can make things and share things. This kind of ethic comes from a sense of personal agency and responsibility.

    I feel that in a brokered social and business context many of the ethics are about responding in a prescribed way because the choices and innovations occur at the core of the brokered system and so the responsibilities and ethics are largely abdicated by folks who subscribe but may not re-engineer.

    So perhaps what I am saying is there is no humanity 2.0 inherent in distributed systems. I think humanity 1.0 is best expressed in distributed systems. Brokered structures including feudalism and broadcast media enable our communities to scale at the expense of generating humanity-server and humanity-thin-client.

    I do think we are able to make different expressions with media including writing and collaborative space and this creates different challenges for implementing humanity1.0. For example in a context where technology enables control of information in our homes and between individuals, makes it impossible to reread or review or discuss or build from the information around us, then the media is implementing humanity server/client in such an effective way that it is breaking humanity1.0 at both ends of the brokered model. Neither end is operating in a way which I feel maps to the ethics at the top.

  • http://www.roughtype.com Nick Carr

    Nick: Whatever you might have read as a sophomore, in this is your mistake: “Or do you actually believe (as I kind of think you do) that “true sharing” represents preferable or superior behavior to “fake sharing” regardless of their influence over business success?” No, I do not believe that at all … I really believe the business of business is to make money.

    I apologize for putting the wrong words in your mouth and am happy to be proven wrong. (Though I would make clear, so as to avoid being pigeon-holed as a craven materialist who can’t see beyond property rights, that I personally do not see anything ethical – however you want to define the word – about business success. A failed business is no less ethical than a successful business. Profit is not an ethical standard.)

    But if business success is the ultimate determinant of Web 2.0 values, then I think that, at this point, it’s hard to see any validity in your contention that “true sharing” is a superior value to “fake sharing” and that YouTube, in being a fake sharer, is not “respect[ing] the ethics of the web.” Although, granted, there is the occasional free-sharer that has had some success, like Flickr – though even there it should be noted that the ability to download images is a default setting on the web – most of the biggest successes so far are, by your definition, fake-sharers: among them, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Craigslist, and the big kahuna, Google’s search service.

    From Google’s terms: “You may not take the results from a Google search and reformat and display them, or mirror the Google home page or results pages on your Web site. You may not “meta-search” Google.” (Coop gives users a greater ability to customize Google SERPs but you can’t take them and do what you want with them – eg, mash them up with SERPs from other search engines or otherwise reformat them – which is what would constitute “true sharing,” I think)

    From Craigslist’s terms: “You agree not to … use automated means, including spiders, robots, crawlers, data mining tools, or the like to download data from the Service – unless expressly permitted by craigslist”

    Now at some point, the public may suddenly decide that it gives a hoot about the difference between true and fake sharing, but until that happens I would say that all indications point to fake sharing being a greater, or at least no less than equal, Web 2.0 value than true sharing.

  • three blind mice

    first of all, let us say that the professor’s post has generated one of the best threads we’ve read here in while (in spite of the fact that we dumbed it down by comparison to what others have contributed.)

    If distributed user creation is bad for their business model then given that our economic culture really only understands capital v communism then we must be communistic from their perspective. ie if it doesnt belong to them, and belongs to all of us then it must be communistic.

    Janet Hawtin echoes the professor’s basic complaint: if you only have two labels, the debate dissolves into a discussion around them – whether they be appropriate or not.

    by introducing the term “communal-ist” Nick Carr tried to introduce a third definition – so he was on the right track, but by smearing his commual-ist bread with communist butter he ruined any nutritional value this new term might have provided.

    what Janet Hawtin refered to as “distributed user creation” is unquestionably a way of producing business value. no one disputes this. but to imagine that this is a replacement for, or even an improvement over, traditional forms of business value and culture creation seems näively optimistic.

    it would seem obvious at this point that some business models benefit from sharing knowledge, whilst others benefit from controlling it. it is hard for us to accept an argument about “respect[ing] the ethics” of web2.0 when web2.0 (or more accurately its users and promoters) does not respect the ethics of the rest of the world.

    surely there is a compromise somewhere so that both sharing and non-sharing can be considered “ethical.”

  • http://lemi4.wordpress.com Lemi4 aka. fERDI:)

    A speculative random thought: can “true” sharing finally manifest when the age of the Semantic Web arrives?

    Or the other way around: will the Semantic Web be forever held back until “true” sharing finally becomes commonplace?

    I dream of a day when if I ask the web, “What do you mean, 42?!?,” it answers back, “well haven’t you heard of HG2G?!?” Regardless of such humor, one must appreciate what Sir TimBL is trying to achieve in artificial intelligence.

  • Janet Hawtin

    3BM: surely there is a compromise somewhere so that both sharing and non-sharing can be considered “ethical.”

    - how can non-sharing of aids medicine know how be ethical.
    - how can patents on tax strategies which is a finite spectrum of legal options be anything but a reduction in legal compliance space for everyone else. why is it not legal for us to be inventive because someone else once was.
    - the choice is between the right to participate for the world and the right to own for one entity at a time. i think that the exclusive model does not scale, or its value does not scale with its implementation. the more global and effective the implementation of the IP franchise the less justifiable is the overall outcome.

  • three blind mice

    how can non-sharing of aids medicine know how be ethical.

    why limit yourself to aids? why not all drugs to treat disease? does not cardiovascular disease harvest many times more lives than HIV? doesn’t lung cancer kill many more women than aids? what about the drugs developed to treat those diseases? shouldn’t these too be “shared?”

    the fact of the matter is that because patents provided the financial incentives to develop drugs in the first place, people like you have the luxury to complain that they are too expensive.

    how can patents on tax strategies which is a finite spectrum of legal options be anything but a reduction in legal compliance space for everyone else. why is it not legal for us to be inventive because someone else once was.

    a finite spectum is the product of a finite imagination.

    patents don’t prevent people from being inventive. by hindering those who would copy the inventiveness of others instead of coming up with new inventions of their own and by providing financial incentives for investments in R&D, patents promote inventiveness.

    consider, as but one example, that it is a fact of history that microsoft’s copyrights provided the incentive for others to develop GNU/Linux. if windows was free to copy and modify, GNU/Linux would not exist. GNU/linux is proof that copyrights (and patents) encourage innovation even with people who are not themselves interested in money!

    any more softballs you want to throw at us?

  • http://verabass.blogspot.com Vera Bass

    What an excellent discussion.

    My belief for quite some time has been that we definitely need new words for a new definition, one of the reasons my own musings on this topic are frequently less clear than I’d like. Neither of the traditional models, capitalistic or communistic, work for the hybrid that is increasingly dominating our North American economy, even if it is a ‘tail wagging the dog’. I’ve referred to this hybrid in a description of what I call ‘magic profit’, where the original 2 plus 2 equals 4 basis of capitalism is changed through the alchemy of media into a sum of 5 or even 7. This is not a new phenomenon, but expanded widely beginning with the golden age of television. It is television that originally disseminated the expectation of getting something free.

    Nothing is really free, of course, but the average consumer does not comprehend the convoluted economics of media. The emerging familiarity with the concept of eyeballs as a commodity with a dollar value is nowhere close to a full common understanding of the economic model, just as the average person has no idea why a stock is valued at a multiple of earnings or how those multiples are determined.

    I’ve been contemplating the fake vs real sharing (web 2.0) post for a while, and whichever way I turn it, the ethical and moral properties refuse to connect to the economic ones for me. It appears to be 2 separate topics, although I suppose they can be connected on a basic level (survival) and on a derivative level (value).

    Morality and financial profit are not directly related. Both moral and immoral human behavior can result in either monetary profit or loss. It seems essential to me, that if we are to contribute to a ‘better’ world (because we wish to inhabit it), that we untangle these definitions in order to link them. Morality cannot be understood via ownership, nor economics via ethics, yet values we enshrine as ideals can indeed be understood through every single human transaction. To me, the individuation enabled by the internet is an opportunity to learn to do just that, and, possibly, develop more connections between the two through awareness and understanding.

    Vera

  • three blind mice

    *watches with dumbstruck amazement as Vera Bass’ ball sails over the outfield fence.*

    wow, this good thread just got better!

    and damn if this isn’t the best forum on the net.

    we are humbled by the thoughfulness, intelligence, and eloquence of all of you.

    thank you all.

  • http://www.sussex.ac.uk/mediastudies/profile125219.html David Berry

    What on earth is this ridiculous concept of ‘sophomore frames’ but an attempt to avoid the debate by placing theories-of-the-world within the context of the college-level debate of students. I am sorry, much as I subscribe to your often interesting work, I find this argument extremely weak and essentially theoretically empty. If not wholly anti-academic.

    Firstly, I think it is reasonable to accept that there are a multiplicity of theoretical ways of thinking about the world. Thank god that this is the case and we can all imagine counter-factuals to *think* about how the world is ordered (and possibly suggest or act politically to achieve change). Indeed, how could we think critically if we did not?

    Secondly, we need only look at the reality of the different ways in which societies choose to regulate and govern themselves to realise that practically (i.e. empirically) this is also the case. The US has a particular set of norms and values which guide both the structure and implementation of law and the discourses which circulate to legitimate it. But they are not Universal, they are American-centric, and they may or may not be useful for other societies to copy, mix or burn ;-)

    So whilst I would agree that when people tag you as communist they are being at worst polemical and at best misrepresenting your position. But that does not mean to say that you can somehow assume a particular position (i.e. your privileged, American liberal viewpoint) is somehow universal. It is not. Neither is the *reality* of the Web 2.0 world. It is a conversation, an argument perhaps, about how the world *should* or *could* be arranged. And it implicitly contains your own political orientation and, yes, your theoretical framing about how things should be done.

    So you *are* arguing about an ethics here. You cannot claim to be objective without falling into the trap of assuming that you have a somehow privileged position from where to view the world (i.e. a God’s eye view of society). Reflexivity is an important aspect to acting in the world, and I think evenmoreso when concerned with advocating a new world order, historical era or theoretical model. Maybe we just need to be a bit more humble about these changes?

    So I would argue, crack open those philosophy books and lots of other books too and think about some of the questions that are being raised within them. Theory is not a panacea, but it teaches us that there are other ways to understand and interpret what is happening around us, and that we should remain alert to this fact when someone (yes even Benkler!) announces yet another Dawn of a New Age.

  • http://webmail.robmyers.org/ Rob Myers

    Heya, mice.

    the fact of the matter is that because patents provided the financial incentives to develop drugs in the first place, people like you have the luxury to complain that they are too expensive.

    You’ve copied that argument from somewhere. That’s IP infringement. ;-)

    surely there is a compromise somewhere so that both sharing and non-sharing can be considered “ethical.”

    Non-sharing is ethical for infectious diseases. ;-)

    And both the GPL and Crosbie Fitch have interesting positions on how privacy interacts with Freedom.

    But this isn’t about sharing/non-sharing or commercial/noncommercial. These are distractions from what even Prof. Lessig’s language reveals to be a matter of ethics. “Make a reputation then cash it in” or “share until Sony come calling” are great, but entirely trivial. And you don’t need CC to help you do those things.

    I agree that confusing ethics and economics is not helpful. I do not draw the separate magisteria conclusion from this that means that ethics must live in the reputation/sharing/gift/hippy economy and economics must serve as an American Idol-style aspiration for those stuck working for nothing on Wikipedia.

  • Janet Hawtin

    Economics is an ethic.
    That it is percieved to have no connect to the real world and our social and environmental futures is the problem.

  • three blind mice

    Economics is an ethic.

    shazam. Janet Hawtin you’ve redeemed yourself!

    the subject is motivation: what gets people up out of bed in the morning to go to work and produce something useful.

    for some the motivation is financial; this is economics. for others the motivation is moral; this is ethics. communism is an ethical incentive, capitalism is an economic one. communal-ism might seen as a hybrid of the two.

    roughly speaking.

    “the web” provides a platform for economic and ethical incentives and an amalgamation of both: shaken, not stirred.

    one is not better than the others, or more efficient in producing value (although economic incentives have a pretty impressive track record.) the goal of society is to maximize the result using all the available incentives. in our view, anything short of peaceful and cooperative co-existence is sub-optimal.

    couching the subject of incentives using only the language of economics, ethics, or communal-ism, is where we all stumble and fall.

  • Janet Hawtin

    Its not ethic v economic balance.
    There is an ethic in every choice.
    USA has a freedom democracy ethic.
    It also has an individual capital ethic.
    It has been built around documents advocating freedom and civil liberty. The individual capital ethic is lobbying hard for rights at the expense of the freedom ethic.
    eg, Every time a court case creates a new binary line around control of information ideas or activities making those actions lawful for one but unlawful for the community without subscription it retracts incrementally the earlier ethic. A community which uses law as a means for people with enough money to effect right of way instead of negotiating outcomes which keep the underlying freedom ethic in mind is a choice.
    The capital ethic (I am responsible for my self I have the right to profit) is so loud in our current economics that it is possible to have these conversations where all other dialogue is seen as other. All economics and ethics are systems for valuing environmental and social resources and practice.
    We do currently design and implement economic practice with very little reference to impact on social and environmental impact. This does have an impressive track record in erosion of both. This is broken. Our world is damaged, our international relations and communities, civil rights and freedoms are played like casino credits. They arent. They have real cost. Frequently costs which are hard to quantify. This keeps them off the balance sheet and safely out of mind for people who negotiate economic policy. This does not make them less real. This just means that people design more broken systems with no foundation in real costs. IP franchise is a broken unsustainable component of a capital only ethic.
    Perhaps it is reality ethic v capital ethic.

  • http://webmail.robmyers.org/ Rob Myers

    its not ethic v economic balance.
    There is an ethic in every choice.
    USA has a freedom democracy ethic.
    It also has an individual capital ethic.
    It has been built around documents advocating freedom and civil liberty. The individual capital ethic is lobbying hard for rights at the expense of the freedom ethic.

    I agree with this. And such “rights” actually become disincentives to creativity. Look at the death of sampling or compare the Beatles to a DRM-encumbered Natahsa Beningfield CD that installs a rootkit on your computer.

    An ethic of freedom has economic benefits. Ask Soros. Ask Google. But we should not confuse “rights” with “incentives” the way the media lobby does. Incentivization is an impoverished way of looking at the world, a gross over-simplification of society.

    If it is OK for YouTube to make money from Fair Use, why is it wrong for me to wish to use and to allow this freedom myself?

    Reputation, gifts, economic benefit, these are downstream products of freedom. Of ethics. To treat these products as novel phenomena requiring other ideological causes is, to use a word I didn’t know as an art student, reification.

  • http://verabass.blogspot.com Vera Bass

    Would a blended single malt scotch qualify, mice?

    Economics *should* be unseperable from ethics and I agree with your point, Janet, on the volume of the strident capitalist voice. My own life experience is that a great majority of people haven’t any overview of such unifying concepts, except as they may be presented and preached by a political or religious authority they follow. Communist oriented dogma of such authorities is, to me, more dangerous to the unquestioning follower than capitalist, if only because it tends to result in more power in fewer hands.

    Here I go again splitting definitions …money can represent and wield power but power does not originate specifically from the possession of money. The tenet that communist ideology is about individual sharing of power has not translated effectively into practice, whereas such power distribution is still hypothetically possible in a free market economy/society. In practice, of course, power has naturally accrued to a small authoritarian group in the latter. In either, an individual’s only possibility of sharing in the power structure has been to become a star pupil, a disciple if you will, of those who ‘reign’.

    I’ve had an odd and unusual life, in that I’ve spent roughly equal time observing and assimilating a wide range of points of view. That range includes both different cultures and widely differing levels of education and life experience. I feel at home (yet usually a stranger) in most sound segments of this online cacophony. From this derives my belief in beginning from the admittedly fractured viewpoints and understanding of a ‘middle’ citizen (neither the priveleged elite nor the totally disenfranchised) as the best starting point for community effort toward real, rather than idealistic, individual empowerment for many. We achieve personal power through accumulating knowledge and understanding, regardless of the political and economic landscapes (and value systems) we inhabit. Those who have the most power over the direction and development of the wired world and its structures, I believe, do have a third choice beyond what has existed before.

    The polarized options of serving the barons of industry vs the masses (ie. fake vs real sharing) are, in my view, not opposites at all but completely unequal. For one thing, the former have a sophisticated and informed world view, even if frequently skewed.

    If I define the ‘middle’ citizen as the majority of us (reasonably self sufficient and typically with some education and life experience), then I venture that their personal viewpoints tend to be quite pragmatic on the concept of value vs cost and reward vs investment. They’re also increasingly blurry on personal responsibility (integral to the topic, but I’ve too many words here already).

    I’m not conviced that improving the value of spaces and their content can be fully effected solely by an elite few, whether for money, power, or altruism. The goal, for me, is to develop and participate in a multitude of new virtual ecosystems that offer specialization and therefore advancement to an endless number of core communities and that both naturally overlap and are deliberately linked. One way in which I picture this is as a color chart with thousands of identified hues.

    Reality ethic vs capital ethic sounds very much pointed in the same direction to me. I still believe that getting there, though, involves a journey toward understanding, and that to fully comprehend the whole one must also identify the parts. One of the steps, I think, in that process is to disentangle the concept of money from the concept of personal identity, in order to see where the entanglements create barriers instead of links. Taking things apart can be an effective way of learning how they are connected, as well as a way of discovering why something is ‘broken’ and how to fix it. Major advances in human knowledge rarely come about from piling more new and refined thought on top of an accumulated mountain. Communal contribution to adding links to a basically sound chain, though, can be a swift and effective path forward. I think this can be applied equally to the most complicated realms of science and to more mundane arenas of daily life. We can also do unintended harm by not ensuring the soundness of the chain first, by not identifying ‘fatal errors’ in the foundation.

    Vera

  • Chris_B

    3BM & Seth, I want you guys on my team for dodgeball at recess

    Prof and most others,

    Was there a blue light special on Golden Shovels this week? So much said here which shows a complete lack of real world experience in business. Its a crying shame.

  • Janet Hawtin

    CB: Standard shovel =). Like yours =).
    We each have a perspective based on our experiences and on the communities of practice and thought that we are a part of. It is true that I probably have a different set of experiences than those which would often be common to people talking about economics.
    For me that is the point. I have experience in participating in business, education, government, foss. Just usually closer to the tangible outcomes of economic policy than to the hub.

    Vera: Those who have the most power over the direction and development of the wired world and its structures, I believe, do have a third choice beyond what has existed before.

    Yes and ‘those who have the most power’ is a changing demographic too. Hopefully as you say broadening so that
    there is more of a connect through the different factors or ethics which create healthy and innovative communities.
    I don’t know how this will play out but I do understand that both capitalism and communism have been practised as brokered systems in the past. The medium of interactive dialogue on this scale is a tool we have not explored fully yet but people are seeing FOSS and projects like wikipedia as indications that we can organise differently.

  • http://www.khichdee.com Donald

    I visited a very interesting site, they have a vast collection of books which have been categories and are presented to viewers in an easy-to-search format. You should check it out.

    http://www.khichdee.com/category.asp?catid=11&paraid=0

  • http://webmail.robmyers.org/ Rob Myers

    So much said here which shows a complete lack of real world experience in business.

    Of the people on these comments pages that I know by reputation or have met personally, all have practical real world experience of business. You may not agree with what they are saying, but I can assure you that they are not saying it from a position of ignorance.

    What would be interesting would be to know why from your experience you believe that what they are (I am?) saying is wrong. Holders of different viewpoints can learn a lot from each other through debate. Even if they still don’t agree. ;-)

  • http://verabass.blogspot.com VeraBass

    I read Lawrence’s original sharing post as reaching for an early ‘a posteriori’ based synthesis applied to the Web 2.0 proposition. I don’t see either as anywhere close to meeting up with proven practice yet, but the ways in which they are ‘de-bunked’ continue to bother me.

    A number of commenters, whether here or on their own blogs, refer to some established a posteriori bases for dismissing the subject propositions, whether in part or out of hand. Such bases run the gamut from flaws in communist dogma to the futility of scoring Walmart on ethics. Taken together, though, they are almost entirely focused on unrealistic human ideals vs the ‘soulless’ and inevitable dominance of financial entities. This simply reinforces, to me, the fact that morality is a human construct (whether you choose to see it as innate or imposed) whereas money is amoral.

    I’ve yet, in the spread of theoretical 2.0 conversation, to see much detailed focus on participants in these new social web applications. This surprises me, since one of the healthiest non-commercial entities so far is blogging, which is also where much of the online conversation is taking place. The open source vs proprietary tools issue is also a determining factor in whether a rennaissance of broad individual opportunity becomes a reality, and is discussed in the 2.0 context as infrequently as blogging.

    As long as all the focus is on ideologies vs capitalist forces, on free vs profitable, there is no real attention being paid to morality, nor much to creative development of real alternatives.

    I don’t believe that the most important factor in analyzing sharing sites has anything to do with sharing. The sharing ability/software itself is just another tool, and its configuration is to date determined by the agendas of a very few. Free sharing could turn out to be a diabolically Sun Tzu’ian campaign spreading its tentacles. The founders of sharing sites, those who espouse the open information ethic, may be either ‘useful idiots’ (as per Lenin) or Machiavellian strategists aiming from the very beginning to cash in on eyballs for billions of dollars. In either scenario, the users are pawns.

    The essential factor in analyzing sharing is determining value, how it is captured, and by whom.

    Real sharing (or free content) presently has mostly transitory value to the individual. Community and group development of higher quality content could evolve that toward sustainable individual benefit. As things now stand though, it is in the direct interests of the big media players to deliberately promote volume vs quality of content, since they are the only players currently realizing substantial value, and their application of this value, so far, recognizes only a consumable and disposable human product. Should participation/production start to fall, they’ll simply shift their investment dollars in whatever direction the consumers’ attention shifts.

    The ability for the individual, via integrated communities, to capture and realize sustainable value is what I keep referring to as the third option. The concept of healthy and viable communities necessarily includes commerce as well as sharing and altruism. There also have to be some walls in human relationships, just as ethical behavior requires value systems and rules. No walls is a bit like free anonymous sex. Sounds great in theory but has real limits and consequences. In the same vein, anyone cruising and participating in everything free online learns to exercise caution.

    I’d very much like to read a post mapping sustainable and increasing value “user to user” via application of Web 2.0. The idea that content improves with growth and use raises more questions than answers for me (as separate from the concept of artificial intelligence). Wouldn’t an ‘organic’ behavior platform for humans be, by definition, multi-dimensional as well as interactive?

    Vera

  • three blind mice

    Would a blended single malt scotch qualify, mice?

    make it a double.

    ….

    and keep it coming.