I’m starting this post on Friday, June 9, from the Dublin Airport, signed in for an hour for 5 Euros, courtesy of Eircom, a telecom certain to raise your ire. They’ve ensured that the most highly educated and prosperous work force in Europe has the worst broadband access. It’s remarkable when a company intentionally withholds product improvements from its best potential customers.

We’ve had a great time in Ireland and are headed home. We met some amazing people and had a chance to hang with Salim Ismail and Shel and Paula Israel. On Wednesday night, there was a blogger dinner at Proby’s Bistro, organized by the redoubtable Damien Mulley

Yesterday, we only had time for the American portion of the Web 2.0 Half Day Conference, the buzz machine that the Lads from Cork, Tom Raftery and Tim O’Reilly promoted into the bigtime by a round of communications with little outcome except to promote the conference. Tom said that the moment he read the Cease & Desist letter from the O’Reilly/CMP lawyers, he felt grateful to the Buzz Gods. 

Everything I assumed about Ireland was wrong. This is the richest, most entrepreneurial and debt-ridden country in the EU, a testimony to the tough times behind them and a single-minded commitment to education and low corporate taxes that they established in the 1970s.

Damien Mulley seems to be a force of nature. By email, he introduced me to Simon McGarr, who in turn introduced me to several top-level staffers at Ireland’s Parliament, which is called the Dail (pr. “Doyle”). Kathy

The WonderBra Economy

Another force of nature is Pat Phelan, a telecom entrepreneur in Cork who gave me a copy of The Pope’s Children, by David McWilliams. As the Amazon UK page implies in its other-books-like-this-links, it’s basically a Bobos in Paradise for the Emerald Isle. McWilliams’ title is inspired by the improbable coincidence that the greatest number of births in Irish history occurred precisely nine months after the Pope’s 1972 visit. McWilliams calls the Irish economic miracle WonderBra Economics because it has concentrated wealth into the middle class and pushed up every demographic’s circumstances, especially the poor and lower middle class.

Pat’s trying to open my eyes to the fact that this country is, relative to Europe, like Silicon Valley was in the ’90s: The place where the money and the most interesting ideas and progress and prosperity is happening.

It’s a fascinating country, people and time in their history. I’ll be back sooner than later.
1:29:21 PM    

Once More, into the Shitstorm

I’m leaving tonight for a peaceful vacation in Ireland, starting with a week in Dublin and then onto a car/bike meander to Cork, where I’ll enjoy a pleasant Bloggers dinner and drink in the wisdom of Shel Israel and Salim Ismail (shades of Skinny Legs and All!) at the refined Web 2.0 Half Day Conference, under the auspices of the (presumably) genteel Cork Regional Network for IT Professionals

What a delicious prospect. I’m ready to be embraced by the graces of a slower time and place, free from the frenetic grasping of our overly-keen culture, twisting every spontaneous innovation into a volation of an existing bizplan.

Oops! Scratch That! It turns out that no corner of the globe is safe from the sensitized grievances of self-important US institutions and their lawyers. Our host Tim Raftery reports and Shel echoes and Digg amplified, that lawyers for O’Reilly Publishing have copyrighted “Web 2.0” and so are supremely uninterested in this Irish attack on the O’Reilly conference franchise:

Mind you, we’re talking about an O’Reilly attacking a Raftery. Is there a deeper significance? Might there be a simmering centuries-old feud between the Raftery and O’Reilly clans? You never know in these clan-based societies that seem to befuddle our nation so. 

Lemme get this straight. O’reilly and CMP want to own the idea of giving stuff away. Can you really “own” a phrase that, according to Dave Winer, appears 79,400,000 times on the web? This is doomed to fail on so many levels. 

A Web 2.0 by any other Name is still a Hype

The one-two punch of the hype surrounding Web 2.0 and now this action prompts Brian Oberkirch to denounce the whole meme:

Web 2.0 Is Dead to Me

I was already tired of the phrase and we had been phasing out references in all the Big in Japan tools. With all the lawyer tomfoolerly yesterday, though, I’ve come to the Roberto Duran point: no mas.

It’s outlived its usefulness, and, as these things tend to go, with money involved people start acting crazy. So, we’re not using that phrase anymore. We’re totally stoked about what’s going on in the Web & in social media. All our friends are still making great stuff. We just won’t let this phrase be the signpost for the conversation.

Process Trumping Tromping People

I’ve worked with Tim O’Reilly and Sara Winge and respect and like them – Sara and I had a meeting re ORGware just last month at their offices in Sebastopol. They’re smart and serious about open source. Sara says they wish they’d talked to the folks in Cork before siccing the lawyers on them. 

This PR disaster is a great argument for my principle that companies should not keep people as busy as they do. Sara’s post tells the tale of process, not communication. Doc told me it’s “A lawyer mistake while Tim was on vacation.” 

Unfortunately, that won’t mollify the masses. Whether it’s contaminated Tylenol or Audi’s nonexistent unintended acceleration self-hypnosis, the facts are no match for the perception. I’m sure they’ll get out ahead of this with a sincere and open dialogue, starting today. Maybe they create a licensing program on their site so anyone can use the mark by acknowledging that they have no rights to the mark.

Copy Right vs. Copy Wrong

For what it’s worth, I’m in O’Reilly’s shoes myself. I’m not half the businessman or humanitarian that Tim is, but I have the luxury of a little time for reflection. Open Resource Group, LLC owns the registered trademark “Open Resource”. So naturally I and my attorney were enchanted to learn, a couple of months ago, that had a terrific blog they called “Open Resource“:

Candid, irreverent, comprehensive commentary, news, and analysis of the growing open source industry.

Check it out – it’s great. Because I’m not as busy as people in a “real” company like O’Reilly, I picked up the phone and called Jon Udell for counsel on how I could avoid being a jerk about this – I’m sure those were my exact words. He did some research, concluded that our mark is valid, talked to his people, and wondered what I was going to do about it. I started thinking about it and haven’t finished. Meanwhile, IDG has quietly changed the title of the page to “Open Sources”, although the directory is still “/openresource”. I could care less about this “infringement”. One good thing about attorneys is that you can tell them to mind their own business, but that may be clearer to a former real estate developer than to publishers.

Since we own the mark and the domain name, why should I be concerned? We’ll develop our brand one customer at a time by earning and maintaining their trust. Tim and Sara know this, but they’re stuck in a corporate environment that forces them to listen to so few lawyers rather than attend to so many friends. 

That is SO Web 1.0.

11:09:40 AM    comment [commentCounter (403)]

So Crazy it Just Might Work . . .

A Proposal for the Open Capital Corporation (“OCC”)

Our little company, Open Resource Group, LLC, is obviously based on opening up resources to an enterprise that it might otherwise not be able to tap into. By “enterprise,” I mean any project that has a vision, a mission, a plan and is ready to start executing the plan. The Open Source Software movement has taught us that a project no longer requires a formal organization, so “enterprise” does not even mean a company or a non-profit, but it helps a lot. Just as open source software commoditizes the code we combine to create value, so must organizations assemble tangible resources to create value. Blaser’s Second Law states that “There’s no such thing as a resourceless project.”

That’s why I’m not a fan of what you might call the Kumbaya school of project development, because it ignores the money side of the equation. Face it: we all like money – a lot. We like it so much that we get resentful of those who are more skilled at acquiring and spending it than we are, which drives some of us – the more disaffected – to shun projects that reward people well for creating value. Portable money is one of society’s most egalitarian inventions, but sometimes it needs a little help to keep the playing field level and to ensure free entry.

To get money we have to put up with accounting systems. Accounting systems are closed data structures designed to grab as much money as possible from a collective effort and to concentrate it in the hands of those who set up the effort’s accounting system. We may not like those folks much, which is why we don’t actually go to work for them, even though they think we do. We go to work for their accounting system.

In their defense, accounting systems are the arteries which nourish society and bathe us in the creeping abundance that is set to wash over the world. It’s the closed part that we have a problem with, unless we’re skilled at setting up those closed data structures. In that case, we see the capitalized value of a going concern as the natural order of the universe, to be defended to the death. Some people confuse that zeal with patriotism.

Open Capital Company, Unlimited

Under corporate law, the terms “Inc.” and “Limited” are interchangeable. All they mean is that the participants in the corporate legal fiction enjoy limited personal liability for the actions they take on behalf of the corporation. That’s why people with families and mortgages like to work for them and own them. Crooks like to own them too.

So what would an “Unlimited” organization look like? It would have a way of attracting enough capital via a tip jar. Above all, the OCC’s accounting system must be totally open and transparent, maintained in real time on the web, with clear mechanisms to demonstrate that the money’s being spent somewhat reasonably. This is not a big deal – public companies must also be transparent. The OCC would simply do it on the web.

Now let’s imagine the OCC plans to create something we care about. How might we put together our time and money to incentivize some of us to do the work we consider important, especially when those laborers are highly valued in the marketplace and cannot just give away their time and effort? Another way of putting it is that we want our spouses and children to think these projects are as cool as we do. Jeff Jarvis described something similar and called it Mutual of Blogosphere. 

Here’s the Twelve Step Program I propose to harness our idealism and our greed into a more useful structure than the current one, which Shoshana Zuboff has labeled “Managerial Capitalism.”

  1. The Vision

    A group of people collaborate in public to develop a product or service that others like the sound of. They may have a leader – a Linus Torvalds of the concept. 
  2. The Mission

    The group, now fortified and aided by the participation of the public they’re attracting, refine the vision into a mission that’s well defined, explained and has the essential snowball characteristics: a catchy but consequential meme that’s not saddled with the kind of tiresome “Mission Statement” that most groups come up with. I call such a mission buzzword compliant.
  3. The Plan

    The OCC snowball grows into an actionable plan that is straightforward but also detailed enough to explain the challenges and the costs of meeting those challenges. In our Open Capital Concept, the costs are mostly tangible development costs, not marketing costs. That’s because, if a significant amount of money flows into this project’s tip jar, the odds are that it’s compelling enough to do well in the market place. The OCC also saves a slug of money by not paying the lawyers and specialists who live off the arcane needs of a corporation.
  4. The Promises

    As with any form of capital concentration, the people putting up the money deserve some promises from the folks who want to manage the money. In this case, repayment isn’t part of the deal any more than it is in a political campaign, so the promises have a different character. Workers pledge to sell their services at a provable discount. They should also agree to provide all the equipment and utilities needed to do the project: This enterprise should own no tangible goods. Who wants to throw your pin money to help buy an Aeron chair? All those are guidelines, but probably a marker for the more successful OCC’s.

    The OCC must, however, hold intangible property: checking accounts, contracts with the workers, leased servers, domain names, maybe even copyrights and (shudder) patents.

    The OCC is a one-trick pony. It’s only purpose is to develop something valuable to the public, since there’s no way to pay back the tippers without getting embroiled in the securities laws. Nope, the “investors” are really cheerleaders, sending the OCC a lot of tangible attaboys.

  5. The Corporation

    Like it or not, the OCC must be a corporate entity to do this. The money has to be held someplace, which means bank accounts and the accounting system which must be maintained around those, well, accounts. There’s just no other way to focus creative energy in the presence of capital without a corporate entity, unless someone puts it in their personal account, which creates a suite of risks that no one should expose themselves to. Even our beloved Mozilla is sponsored by Netscape.
  6. The Money

    With documentation and transparency established, the tip jar is put up and the funds flow in to the extent the ideas and the co-created descriptions attract people’s interest. This is where we see that money in a tip jar or a campaign is just another form of expression. I watched with fascination as Howard Dean’s tip jar filled up with $803,000 on June 30, 2003.
  7. The Lead Investor(s)

    . . . are the founder(s). Every project requires some investment by its originator(s) before the Tip Jar goes up. There’s a real cost to creating the entity and opening accounts, etc. 
  8. Over- &a
    mp; Under-Subscription

    It’s impossible for the Tip Jar to modulate precisely to the project’s needs. If tips are slow coming in, the project will be pared back or experience a featurectomy. Like survival of the fittest, both of those are usually A Good Thing.

    If the public’s enthusiasm exceeds the project’s needs, it’s OK. In public deliberation, the originators and workers can justify a working wage or even, (gasp!), some real wealth.

    If this OCC is a really good idea, the core team may be limited in how many customers it can support, or in the features it schedules. So it makes sense for anxious customers to also be owners and also to have a way of lobbying for a desired feature.

  9. The Pay-off

    The benefit of tipping the OCC is intangible. There’s no stock owned or dividends or coupons to clip.
  10. TBD
  11. TBD
  12. TBD

*It might look a lot like what Jeff Jarvis described as the “Mutual of Blogosphere.” That’s the term he coined after Terry Heaton’s health scare last year, which resulted in a spontaneous outpouring of financial support for Terry’s medical bills. Like Howard Dean supporters or Katrina donors, many of us are willing to throw a sawbuck or five into the tip jar for someone who is facing an underfunded medical crisis. And we’ll do it without an explicit expectation that we’ll be similarly supported.

3:40:43 PM    

Week of the Doc

Doc Searls was here most of the week, hanging out at the 43rd Street Headquarters for Contrary Thinking. The weather was gnarly, so it’s a good thing he got some great photos when he was here two weeks earlier.

Free Entry

We had a great dinner Sunday night, as described by Doc and Adam Fields. Both point to my mention of a bedrock economic principle that has fallen on such hard times that they both were struck by the concept when I mentioned it. From Wikipedia:

Free entry is a term used by economists to describe a condition in which firms can freely enter the market for an economic good by establishing production and beginning to sell the product.

Free entry is implied by the perfect competition condition that there is an unlimited number of buyers and sellers in a market. In comparison to perfect competition, however, free entry is a condition often more applicable to real world conditions. To see this, suppose there is a good which not many people want, which is produced by only one firm. In this situation, there is not perfect competition. However, if there is free entry, the market is likely to be more efficient than if there is not. If the monopoly firm raises its prices too high, another firm could enter the market and take its customers. According to this reasoning, where there is free entry the economic damage caused by monopoly behavior may be mitigated.

These are smart, knowledgeable guys, so the fact that it is not their common knowledge is a Bad Thing. That’s because free entry into the market place is the First Amendment of Economics: a precondition for any legitimate economy. The absence of free entry ensures economic tyranny.

And that’s what we’ve got, folks.

11:36:11 PM    

3rd Party or 3rd Rail?

My friend and ORG board advisor, Micah Sifry, riffs on a Thomas Friedman column suggesting that the stage might be set for a 3rd political party. In fact, Friedman is partly riffing on Micah, quoting him in his NYTimes PayWall column. Dissatisfaction with the Dems and the GOP is not surprising. When you’ve been serially dating two people for years and can’t stand either one, your eye is sure to wander. Micah points out, citing Ross Perot in 1992,

Could it happen again?

Well, here are some harbingers. The latest USA Today/Gallup Poll shows that disatisfaction with the direction of the country is today at levels that echo the 1994 election that swung the House from Democratic into Republican hands. This November, that may mean big gains for the Democrats, but by 2007, if the country is experiencing more partisan gridlock, conditions might be ripe for an independent or third-party bid for president.

And, as Friedman writes, the two major parties are hardly demonstrating much leadership on the critical issues facing America, like our dependence of carbon-based fuels and the global warming crisis.

And while the tinder may be dry, new technology guarantees that a third-party fire would spread quickly. In 1991-92, remember, people sneered when maverick candidates like Jerry Brown and Ross Perot used 800-numbers to go around the mainstream media and connect directly with grass-roots volunteers. Not so today, in the Age of Connectedness.

Ah yes, that pesky Age of Connectedness. Not a surprising sentiment from one of Mrs. Sifry’s boys.

Bricks, Mortar or Bits?

If you had unlimited funds and support, you’d start with some idea about what it is that a political party does and how to go about building one. Micah and I have discussed this, and we agree on some basics. It’s unlikely you’d start by renting 50,000 feet of prime DC real estate and order up a bunch of Aeron chairs and cubicle modules. You’d recognize that the core of your party will be the web services it offers and the on- and off-line organizing that your web service supports.

A political party purports to be a vote delivery system. It blesses candidates and positions and convinces people to show up on election day and make a meaningful gesture. It operates a Geographic Information System (mostly on paper) to do that, since some geography is more important than others. Its workforce is mostly volunteers but knows nothing about the genius and passions and potential energy of those volunteers. Above all, a party is credited by its candidates for getting them elected, even when it doesn’t.

Any force that does those things is a 3rd (through nth) party. It only earns the third party label if it has an effect on the real parties.

Building a First Party

Why build a 3rd party when you could build the First Party? Why not imagine a hostile takeover of American politics? There’s only one force strong enough to hijack the American political system, and that’s the American people. The stage is set for open source governance, which is the only political dynamic interesting enough to work on. I’m far more intrigued by interesting large-scale problems than by fine-tuning around the margins of a broken system. So is the American electorate. So, what’s next?

Our tiny band continues to toil away on our warez. Micah has invited me to present ORGware at Personal Democracy Forum on May 15th. I’ll make a formal announcement of our political marketing strategy for 2006. Our grand vision is not so grand, really – it’s mostly driven by how late we are to the, well, party. We think we have some useful approaches to inspiring user thought and engagement and building aggressively viral sites from those raw materials. If that’s right – a BIG If – then our platform can host lots of conversations about lots of issues and lots of candidates.

Get Yer Democracy Samples Here!

Govern Early and Often. That’s the secret to successful campaigning in this Connected Age, so beloved by the Brothers Sifry. Why hound people for donations when it’s easier to hand out free Democracy Samples? Democracy in the Connected Age means a broad and deep conversation that leads directly to specific platforms and legislation. Yep, we’re talking laws and lawmakers representing the common sense of those who help craft the and wording of the laws, in large enough numbers that it shifts the political landscape (governing early and often is described in more detail near the bottom of this page).

While your opponent is out mouthing sound bites, spending expensive donations on consultants and their expensive message, try governing on line and partnering with whoever shows up. If your message is and participation is galvanizing, your support will grow, will migrate off line and will carry the day.

If your message and participation is not galvanizing, why bother? Since we won’t have time to sell ORGware for the fall, we’ll just set up sites for those candidates and issues that appeal to those with common sense. If nothing else, we’ll learn what needs the most improving, but with any luck, the site will do what any political party does – deliver votes – without the money part.

11:02:24 AM    


YOur Rectitude!

I was hanging out with Doc in Santa Barbara the day after the UCSB CITS Forum on Digital Transitions, when he threw away one of his many throwaway lines. “Most people go wrong because they fall in love with their own rectitude. It keeps them from being practical.” Our usual scatological riffs began, so I immediately labeled him:

Doc Searls, Practicologist

I’m not sure what kind of scope we can use to peer up each other’s rectitudes, but we sorely need one. In Sunday’s NYTimes Magazine, Peter Beinart offered The Rehabilitation of the Cold-War Liberal, suggesting that old-school cold-war liberals can provide a circumspect model to lead America out of our current long days journey into right:

In America, no less than in the Islamic world, the struggle for democracy relies on economic opportunity. To contemporary ears, the phrase “struggle for American democracy” sounds odd. In George W. Bush’s Washington, such struggles are for lesser nations. But in the liberal tradition, it is not odd at all. Almost six decades ago, Americans for Democratic Action was born, in the words of its first national director, to wage a “two-front fight for democracy, both at home and abroad,” recognizing that the two were ultimately indivisible. That remains true today. America is not a fixed model for a benighted world. It is the democratic struggle here at home, against the evil in our society, that offers a beacon to people in other nations struggling against the evil in theirs. “The fact of the matter,” Kennan declared, “is that there is a little bit of the totalitarian buried somewhere, way down deep, in each and every one of us.” America can be the greatest nation on earth, as long as Americans remember that they are inherently no better than anyone else.

In other words, we are being hoisted by our own rectitude. This is a theme that many have tried to teach us. Just the other day, Musician Neil Young offered a clue when interviewed by Showbiz Tonight’s fabulously big-haired Sibila Vargas. Forgive a moment of ad wominem carping: I swear, as David Weinberger reports, these words actually escape her collagen-blessed lips: “You’ve got one song, called ‘Let’s Impeach the President’ What is this song about?” 

A question so colossally dumb that Young hardly knows what to do with it.

She goes on to ask if he’s concerned that he’ll be considered unpatriotic, suggesting that “cynics” might say that Neil Young is capitalizing on the Bush backlash to sell more records and that he might not be justified in saying these things because he’s a Canadian (who has lived in the US longer than Sibila Vargas has been alive. If this made-for-TV hottie had a triple-digit IQ, she might have better questions.

Neil Young: “If you have a conscience, you can’t go through your day without realizing what’s going on and questioning, and saying, ‘Is this right?’ We have to be cognizant of the fact that we can make mistakes. That’s part of freedom. We don’t all have to believe in what our President believes to be patriotic. . . No one, George Bush or anyone else, owns the 9-11 mentality.”

She still didn’t get it. “Are you concerned about any backlash?” Young: “I’m not in the least bit concerned. I expect it. I respect other people’s opinions. That’s what makes the United States and Canada great is the fact that you can differ from your friends you can still sit down at the same table and break bread with your friend.”

Don’t miss the Anchor’s heated, pointed retort to the surprised Sibila: “It’s terrific hearing Neil Young speaking out on this very controversial subject, and, on the theme of what he said, anybody who feels that the themes of this album are motivated by the need for publicity, I think that‘s ridiculous.”

As Victor Frankel put it:

Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn. The boundaries between groups overlapped and we must not try to simplify matters by saying that these men were angels and those were devils. Certainly, it was a considerable achievement for a guard or foreman to be kind to the prisoners in spite of all the camps influences, and, on the other hand, the baseness of a prisoner who treated his own companions badly was exceptionally contemptible. Obviously the prisoners found the lack of character in such men especially upsetting, while they were profoundly moved by the smallest kindness received from any of the guards. I remember how one day a foreman secretly gave me a piece of bread which I knew he must have saved from his breakfast ration. It was far more than the small piece of bread which moved me to tears at that time. It was the human “something” which this man also gave to me – the word and look which accompanied the gift.

“From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two  the “race” of the decent man and the “race” of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of “pure race”  and therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the camp guards.

“Life in a concentration camp tore open the human soul and exposed its depths. Is it surprising that in those depths we again found only human qualities which in their very nature were a mixture of good and evil? The rift dividing good and evil, which goes through all human beings, reaches into the lowest depths and becomes apparent even on the bottom of the abyss which is laid open by the concentration camp.”

Al Solzhenitsyn Chimes In

Then there’s the Alexander Solzhenitsyn viewpoint, troubling to absolutists because he’s an even more famous concentration camp survivor, in his native Russia.

“The universal dividing line between good and evil runs not between countries, not between nations, not between parties, not between classes, not between good and bad men: the dividing line cuts across nations and parties, shifting constantly. . . . It divides the heart of every man.”

Old News

“The Pharisees, in an attempt to discredit Jesus, brought a woman charged with adultery before him. Then they reminded Jesus that adultery was punishable by stoning under Mosaic law and challenged him to judge the woman so that they might then accuse him of disobeying the law. Jesus thought for a moment and then replied, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.” The people crowded around him were so touched by their own consciences that they
departed. When Jesus found himself alone with the woman, he asked her who were her accusers. She replied, “No man, lord.” Jesus then said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more.”

Why Bother?

“For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best. So let us be alert – alert in a twofold sense:

Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of.
And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.”

Yep, we need to guard against our own rectitude and its codependent, Certitude.
11:02:09 PM    

This is the Spring of Our Discontent
(“Hurry!!!. . . Hurry, hurry, hurry.”)

Open Source Society design
(6.5 min Flash video)

Every aspect of governance has been designed by the people strong enough to design that aspect for their own vested interest.