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I first heard about the “World Live Web” when my son Allen dropped the phrase casually in conversation, back in 2003. His case was simple: the Web we had then was underdeveloped and inadequate. dnaSpecifically, it was static. Yes, it changed over time, but not in a real-time way. For example, we could search in real time, but search engine indexes were essentially archives, no matter how often they were updated. So it was common for Google’s indexes, even of blogs, to be a day or more old. , PubSub and other live RSS-fed search engines came along to address that issue, as did  as well. But they mostly covered blogs and sites with RSS feeds. (Which made sense, since blogs were the most live part of the Web back then. And RSS is still a Live Web thing.)

At the time Allen had a company that made live connections between people with questions and people with answers — an ancestor of  and @Replyz, basically. The Web wasn’t ready for his idea then, even if the Net was.

The difference between the Web and the Net is still an important one — not only because the Web isn’t fully built out (and never will be), but because our concept of the Web remains locked inside the conceptual framework of static things called sites, each with its own servers and services.

We do have live workarounds , for example with APIs, which are good for knitting together sites, services and data. But we’re still stuck inside the client-server world of requests and responses, where we — the users — play submissive roles. The dominant roles are played by the sites and site owners. To clarify this, consider your position in a relationship with a site when you click on one of these:

Your position is, literally, submissive. You know, like this:

But rather than dwell on client-server design issues, I’d rather look at ways we can break out of the submissive-dominant mold, which I believe we have to do in order for the Live Web to get built out for real. That means not inside anybody’s silo or walled garden.

I’ve written about the Live Web a number of times over the years. This Linux Journal piece in 2005 still does the best job, I think, of positioning the Live Web:

There’s a split in the Web. It’s been there from the beginning, like an elm grown from a seed that carried the promise of a trunk that forks twenty feet up toward the sky.

The main trunk is the static Web. We understand and describe the static Web in terms of real estate. It has “sites” with “addresses” and “locations” in “domains” we “develop” with the help of “architects”, “designers” and “builders”. Like homes and office buildings, our sites have “visitors” unless, of course, they are “under construction”.

One layer down, we describe the Net in terms of shipping. “Transport” protocols govern the “routing” of “packets” between end points where unpacked data resides in “storage”. Back when we still spoke of the Net as an “information highway”, we used “information” to label the goods we stored on our hard drives and Web sites. Today “information” has become passé. Instead we call it “content”.

Publishers, broadcasters and educators are now all in the business of “delivering content”. Many Web sites are now organized by “content management systems”.

The word content connotes substance. It’s a material that can be made, shaped, bought, sold, shipped, stored and combined with other material. “Content” is less human than “information” and less technical than “data”, and more handy than either. Like “solution” or the blank tiles in Scrabble, you can use it anywhere, though it adds no other value.

I’ve often written about the problems that arise when we reduce human expression to cargo, but that’s not where I’m going this time. Instead I’m making the simple point that large portions of the Web are either static or conveniently understood in static terms that reduce everything within it to a form that is easily managed, easily searched, easily understood: sites, transport, content.

The static Web hasn’t changed much since the first browsers and search engines showed up. Yes, the “content” we make and ship is far more varied and complex than the “pages” we “authored” in 1996, when we were still guided by Tim Berners-Lee’s original vision of the Web: a world of documents connected by hyperlinks. But the way we value hyperlinks hasn’t changed much at all. In fact, it was Sergey Brin’s and Larry Page’s insights about the meaning of links that led them to build Google: a search engine that finds what we want by giving maximal weighting to sites with the most inbound links from other sites that have the most inbound links. Although Google’s PageRank algorithm now includes many dozens of variables, its founding insight has proven extremely valid and durable. Links have value. More than anything else, this accounts for the success of Google and the search engines modeled on it.

Among the unchanging characteristics of the static Web is its nature as a haystack. The Web does have a rudimentary directory with the Domain Name Service (DNS), but beyond that, everything to the right of the first single slash is a big “whatever”. UNIX paths (/whatever/whatever/whatever/) make order a local option of each domain. Of all the ways there are to organize things—chronologically, alphabetically, categorically, spatially, geographically, numerically—none prevails in the static Web. Organization is left entirely up to whoever manages the content inside a domain. Outside those domains, the sum is a chaotic mass beyond human (and perhaps even machine) comprehension.

Although the Web isn’t organized, it can be searched as it is in the countless conditional hierarchies implied by links. These hierarchies, most of them small, are what allow search engines to find needles in the World Wide Haystack. In fact, search engines do this so well that we hardly pause to contemplate the casually miraculous nature of what they do. I assume that when I look up linux journal diy-it (no boolean operators, no quotes, no tricks, just those three words), any of the big search engines will lead me to the columns I wrote on that subject for the January and February 2004 issues of Linux Journal. In fact, they probably do a better job of finding old editorial than our own internal searchware. “You can look it up on Google” is the most common excuse for not providing a search facility for a domain’s own haystack.

I bring this up because one effect of the search engines’ success has been to concretize our understanding of the Web as a static kind of place, not unlike a public library. The fact that the static Web’s library lacks anything resembling a card catalog doesn’t matter a bit. The search engines are virtual librarians who take your order and retrieve documents from the stacks in less time than it takes your browser to load the next page.

In the midst of that library, however, there are forms of activity that are too new, too volatile, too unpredictable for conventional Web search to understand fully. These compose the live Web that’s now branching off the static one.

The live Web is defined by standards and practices that were nowhere in sight when Tim Berners-Lee was thinking up the Web, when the “browser war” broke out between Netscape and Microsoft, or even when Google began its march toward Web search domination. The standards include XML, RSS, OPML and a growing pile of others, most of which are coming from small and independent developers, rather than from big companies. The practices are blogging and syndication. Lately podcasting (with OPML-organized directories) has come into the mix as well.

These standards and practices are about time and people, rather than about sites and content. Of course blogs still look like sites and content to the static Web search engines, but to see blogs in static terms is to miss something fundamentally different about them: they are alive. Their live nature, and their humanity, defines the liveWeb.

This was before  not only made the Web live, but did it in part by tying it to SMS on mobile phones. After all, phones work in the real live world.

Since then we’ve come to expect real-time performance out of websites and services. Search not only needs to be up-to-date, but up-to-now. APIs need to perform in real time. And many do. But that’s not enough. And people get that.

For example, has a piece titled Life in 2020: Your smartphone will do your laundry. It’s a good future-oriented piece, but it has two problems that go back to a Static Web view of the world. The first problem is that it sees the future being built by big companies: Ericsson, IBM, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft and Qualcomm. The second problem is that it sees the Web, ideally, as a private thing. There’s no other way to interpret this:

“What we’re doing is creating the Facebook of devices,” said IBM Director of Consumer Electronics Scott Burnett. “Everything wants to be its friend, and then it’s connected to the network of your other device. For instance, your electric car will want to ‘friend’ your electric meter, which will ‘friend’ the electric company.”

Gag me with one of these:

This social shit is going way too far. We don’t need the “Facebook” of anything besides Facebook. In fact, not all of us need it, and that’s how the world should be.

gagged on this too. In A Completely Connected World Depends on Loosely Coupled Architectures, he writes,

This is how these articles always are: “everything will have a network connection” and then they stop. News flash: giving something a network connection isn’t sufficient to make this network of things useful. I’ll admit the “Facebook of things” comment points to a strategy. IBM, or Qualcomm, or ATT, or someone else would love to build a big site that all our things connect to. Imagine being at the center of that. While it might be some IBM product manager’s idea of heaven, it sounds like distopian dyspepsia to me.

Ths reminds me of a May 2001 Scientific American article on the Semantic Web where Tim Berners-Lee, James Hendler, and Ora Lassila give the following scenario:

“The entertainment system was belting out the Beatles’ ‘We Can Work It Out’ when the phone rang. When Pete answered, his phone turned the sound down by sending a message to all the other local devices that had a volume control. His sister, Lucy, was on the line from the doctor’s office: …”

Sound familiar? How does the phone know what devices have volume controls? How does the phone know you want the volume to turn down? Why would you program your phone to turn down the volume on your stereo? Isn’t the more natural place to do that on the stereo? While I love the vision, the implementation and user experience is a nightmare.

The problem with the idea of a big Facebook of Things kind of site is the tight coupling that it implies. I have to take charge of my devices. I have to “friend” them. And remember, these are devices, so I’m going to be doing the work of managing them. I’m going to have to tell my stereo about my phone. I’m going to have to make sure I buy a stereo system that understands the “mute the sound” command that my phone sends. I’m going to have to tell my phone that it should send “mute the sound” commands to the phone and “pause the movie” commands to my DVR and “turn up the lights” to my home lighting system. No thanks.

The reason these visions fall short and end up sounding like nightmares instead of Disneyland is that we have a tough time breaking out of the request-response pattern of distributed devices that we’re all too familiar and comfortable with.

tried to get us uncomfortable early in the last decade, with his book Small Pieces Loosely Joined. One of its points: “The Web is doing more than just speeding up our interactions and communications. It’s threading and weaving our time, and giving us more control over it.” Says Phil,

…the only way these visions will come to pass is with a new model that supports more loosely coupled modes of interaction between the thousands of things I’m likely to have connected.

Consider the preceding scenario from Sir Tim modified slightly.

“The entertainment system was belting out the Beatles’ ‘We Can Work It Out’ when the phone rang. When Pete answered, his phone broadcasts a message to all local devices indicating it has received a call. His stereo responded by turning down the volume. His DVR responded by pausing the program he was watching. His sister, Lucy, …”

In the second scenario, the phone doesn’t have to know anything about other local devices. The phone need only indicate that it has received a call. Each device can interpret that message however it sees fit or ignore it altogether. This significantly reduces the complexity of the overall system because individual devices are loosely coupled. The phone software is much simpler and the infrastructure to pass messages between devices is much less complex than an infrastructure that supports semantic discovery of capabilities and commands.

Events, the messages about things that have happened are the key to this simple, loosely coupled scenario. If we can build an open, ubiquitous eventing protocol similar to the open, ubiquitous request protocol we have in HTTP, the vision of a network of things can come to pass in a way that doesn’t require constant tweaking of connections and doesn’t give any one silo (company) control it. We’ve done this before with the Web. It’s time to do it again with the network of things. We don’t need a Facebook of Things. We need an Internet of Things.

I call this vision “The Live Web.” The term was first coined by Doc Searls’ son Allen to describe a Web where timeliness and context matter as much as relevance. I’m in the middle (literally half done) with a book I’m calling The Live Web: Putting Cloud Computing to Work for People . The book describes how events and event-based systems can more easily create the Internet of Things than the traditional request-response-style of building Web sites. Im excited for it to be done. Look for a summer ublishing date. In the meantime, if you’re interested I’d be happy to get your feedback on what I’ve got so far.

Again, Phil’s whole post is here.

I compiled a list of other posts that deal with various VRM issues, including Live Web ones, at the ProjectVRM blog.

If you know about other Live Web developments, list them below. Here’s the key: They can’t depend on any one company’s server or services. That is, the user — you — have to be the driver, and to be independent. This is not to say there can’t be dependencies. It is to say that we need to build out the Web that David Weinberger describes in Small Pieces. As Dave Winer says in The Internet is for Revolution, don’t just think decentralized. (Or re-decentralized, though that’s a fine thing. As is rebooting.) Think distributed. As I explained last year here,

… the Net is not centralized. It is distributed: a heterarchy rather than a hierarchy. At the most basic level, the Net’s existence relies on protocols rather than on how any .com, .org, .edu or .gov puts those protocols to use.

The Net’s protocols are not servers, clouds, wires, routers or code bases. They are agreements about how data flows to and from any one end point and any other. This makes the Internet a world of endsrather than a world of governments, companies and .whatevers. It cannot be reduced to any of those things, any more than time can be reduced to a clock. The Net is as oblivious to usage as are language and mathematics — and just as supportive of every use to which it is put. And, because of this oblivity, The Net supports all without favor to any.

Paul Baran contrasted centralized systems (such as governments), decentralized ones (such as Twitter+Facebook+Google, etc.) and distributed ones, using this drawing in 1964:

Design C became the Internet. Except the Internet is actually more like D in this version here:

Because on the Internet you don’t have to be connected all the time. And any one node can connect to any other node. Or to many nodes at once. Optionality verges on the absolute.

Time to start living. Not just submitting.

When I was walking to school in the second grade, I found myself behind a group of older kids, arguing about what subjects they hated most. The consensus was geography. At the time I didn’t know what geography was, but I became determined to find out. When I did, two things happened. First, I realized that I loved geography (and along with it, geology). Second, I learned that popularity of anything often meant nothing. And I’ve been passionate about geography ever since.

But not just for myself. Instead I’m interested in feeding scholarship wihin subjects that interest me. For both geography and geology I do that mostly through photography. Toward that end, here are a few recent sets I’ve posted, or updated:

Meanwhile, close to 200 of my shots are now in Wikimedia Commons. Big thanks to the Wikipedians who have put them there. I can’t begin to count how many Wikipedia articles many of these illustrate. currently accompanies eighteen different articles in fourteen different languages.

While we’re on the subject of , I’ll commend to you the new book Good Faith Collaboration by , a fellow at this year. His first chapter is online.

You may notice that most of my links to subjects, both in my online writings and in my photo captions, go to Wikipedia entries. Sometimes people ask me why. One reason is that Wikipedia is the closest we have come, so far, to a source that is both canonical and durable, even if each entry changes constantly, and some are subject to extreme disagreement. Wikipedia is, like the , a set of . Another reason is that Wikipedia is guided by the ideal of a neutral point of view (NPOV). This, Joseph says, “ensures that we can join the scattered pieces of what we think we know and good faith facilitates the actual practice of fitting them together.”

The nature of the Net is to encourage scatterings such as mine, as well as good faith about what might be done with them.

I’m looking for two things here.

First is the percentage of advertising devoted to “branding.” I’ve read 90% somewhere, but I need more than hearsay or partial recall. In fact, I’m in the market for any hard numbers on the subject of advertising. This is for a book I’m writing, and my sources need to be worthy of bibliographic citation.

Second is the truth behind a story I have heard more than once regarding James Buchanan Duke, a baron of the tobacco industry. According to the story, Duke was asked at a board meeting why he advertised his cigarette brands so annoyingly. In reply, Duke spit on the table and said, “You may not like that, but you’ll never forget it.” I suspect this is apocryphal, but I don’t know. So I’m hoping one of you can point me to an authoritative source on the matter.

My great uncle Jack Dwyer worked in the shipping and steamship business through the first half of the last century. He also took a lot of pictures, including my favorite family photo of all time. (I’m the kid with the beer.) I was going through a bunch of these on Flickr yesterday, when I noticed the name of a ship launched in Biloxi, in 1919. It was the Elizabeth Ruth. Look closely and you can see the ship is wooden. In fact it was one of the last of the masted schooners on which Biloxi specialized.

Thanks to Google Books and the Library of the University of Michigan, we have an account of the Elizabeth Ruth’s launch, in March 1917, in Volume 35 of The Rudder, edited by Thomas Fleming Day (in a day when using full names was still as current as sails on ships). Writes Day, “The Mississippi Shipping Corporation, at Biloxi, put out Elizabeth Ruth, of the Schooner type, one of the prettiest little vessels ever built in the United States, of 1400 tons cargo capacity.”

So I wondered whatever happened to the Elizabeth Ruth. And I quickly found out. From Papers Past, we have this account:

Sez the About page:

Papers Past contains more than one million pages of digitised New Zealand newspapers and periodicals. The collection covers the years 1839 to 1945 and includes 61 publications from all regions of New Zealand.

New Zealand. I just love that. Here I am, wanting to know what may have happened to a minor ship, built and launched from a minor port on one continent ninety-two years ago — that I have just learned about from a book scanned in Michigan and probably not cracked open in the library stacks there except to get scanned — and I get the answer from a scanned strip of equally old print, kindly curated by  archivists half a world away.

That just rocks. Hats off to librarians, archivists and their technical facilitators everywhere, doing the good work of opening up history and letting the world have at it.

Bonus link. Another.

Sitting in the Harvard Law Library, where John Palfrey is about to give what I sense will be a landmark lecture, on the occasion of his chair appointment as Henry N. Ess III Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. So I’m taking notes here. [Later… John’s own notes — the abstract for his talk — are here. Also here. I also shot pictures, which are here. One of those follows.]

John is arguing for a new clearly connected system for sharing legal information. Presenting data in open, distributable and interoperable way.

One reason for doing this is cost. HLS spends $4 million on legal materials. HLS stives to have the world’s greatest collection of these at any given time. In theory at least, HLS bought everything in the law. There was no policy other than to buy it all. For a long time. Oliver Wendell Holmes surrounded himself in this. (His round desk is in the back of the room, and from it drinks will be served later.) Thomson Eest, Reed Elsevier (Lexis-Nexis), Wolters Kluwer, et.al. are the big sources.

Props to Henry N. Ess III, namesake of John’s new chair, and collector of many books that surround us now.

John reviews nine hundred years of history, from roots in manuscripts behind English common law, works by Littleton and Coke in the mid-teen centuries, then Blackstone in the eighteenth century, then Langdell and West in the nineteenth.

Now we are in the 21st century, and it’s digital. This is our new era, and we are just getting started.

Thanks to Google Books, more is available in digital form, but there are “scary bits” in it. Having this amazing digial library of Alexandria managed by a private entity without public interest at its core is troubling.

An intent: When we have committed for a journal article, we will have it in the public domain. This is a way of systematizing the ideal here.

The notion of putting all the legal information in the world in cyberspace is wacky yet not enough. We need to design it and do it deliberately in a way that is useful and makes sense.

Our students now are born digital. Teachers need to recognize this change.

We now presume that media will be in a digital format. iTunes is the top seller of music. YouTube is the top source of video.

But there is one anomaly in this story. Notice that students in the library outside this room use both laptops and paper casebooks — because the latter work with the three Bs: bed, bath and beach. So paper is still with us. But the presumption remains digital.

Changes in the computing system. One is cloud computing. Computing power and storage has moved to a large degree to places other than our own devices.

There are also changes in publishing. Books may will go toward digital. Sales of Kindle books at Amazon now exceed sales of print books.

We can now print books when we want them. We can now write, publish in print and online in close to real time.

The Digital Lab Team (featured at the Berkman Lunch today) is on screen now. And now we see many resources that are available through Google’s scholar portal. But one bad story that might happen here is that libraries turn into warehouses for print books. Students here today start with Google Scholar, then go to HOLLIS (the Harvard online library resource), and then to the physical library itself — or elsewhere.

So the effort perhaps should go not to completing collections, but to the interface to scholarship in general.

The current slide is a Stack View of books. “We can’t re-create the must” (in stacks). (I love the smell of library stacks. One of my favorite smells in the world.)

The problem is, there isn’t a stack. Most books go to the depository. But we can create a digital stack. And we can create a new way of looking for books and other sources that uses our familiar interface (the stack shelf), and also the serendipitous other advantages of digital connections and presentations.

Next slide, CALI.org and eLangdell.

There are tradtions other than our Anglo-American own. (A Chinese liberary slide is up now.)

Demerit of the system proposed: money. The courts don’t like these ideas. We don’t give enough money to our courts, and thus it is hard to make this possible. But if we gave a bit more, we would be able to overcome the klugey process we have today. We can drive costs out of the system.

Another: privacy. The redaction problem. By putting info in a single system, we might create combinations that are unhappy. Divorces and children combined with criminal law. Depositions and so on. So we need to be careful what we expose and what we don’t. Maybe depositions don’t go there. This is a possible enduring cost.

Another: authentication. Some librarians don’t like these ideas because printed-out stuff seems more reliable. We can do a better job digitally, but this will have a cost — a near-term one.

It is entirely possible that one might get information without context. There will be challenges to teaching in this way. But teachers are seeing this right now already.

Now for the merits.

First, putting things in XML format and making them downloadable (already started) can be enormously powerful

Next, scale. Much more is now being published. It takes less time to produce more, and we need to produce more, faster.

Next, we can create new code. think of the great search engines, and familiar leading code projects (yahoo, google, facebook, et. al.)… Many of these were created by students. Think about how tech can make hard-to-read stuff accessible.

Next, new connections. Visualizaitons, for example. (Points to Jeffrey Schnapp, with Visualization of Republic of Letters on the screen.) This kind of visualization will create needed curricular reforms.

Implictions: perception, practice, scholarship…

Perception: This might undercut what we see as the magesty of the law.

Practice: For judges, this could make them uneasy. Much as Charlie Nesson’s efforts to webcast court proceedings made them unconfortable. There might be a chilling in the way we practice the law. A possible side-effect might be a little of the medicine that judges’ kids are getting now around privacy. There is an extent to which it is possible that people who have lived in a protected environment might not see how digital natives live in an exposed environment. To see the world in a different way than their kids may have a distoring aeffect.

Scholarship. The slide: “For the rational study of law the black-letter man may be the man of the present, but thee man of the future is the man of statistics and the master of economics.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

We may see the rise and fall of the tradition and writing of treatises. Having individuals, without teachers in some cases, DIY-ing it…

Richard Suskind‘s The End of Lawyers? is on screen (is that Suskind is in the front row?). Everything Richard writes about will be amplified by the trends we’re talking about.

Is this the end of law libraries?, the slide asks.

On the way in we passed the stature of Joseph Story, who saved HLS, which was down to one student when he did. Here on the top floor you pass lots of students, more than ever before, studying in this space, where contemplation is possible. There is something about the physical space. (Thanks the dean for not taking away space.) Next, the portrait of Justice Taney, who wrote the Dred Scott decision. You can see the unhappiness on his face. Isaac Royall is on the wall here. Made money in the slave trade in Antiqua. Libraries help us learn from these people, these decisions, this history.

In the future no law library will do it all. We have a lot of law schools around here.

Not every regime in the world is stable. Here, more than most. For example, the pre-Soviet materials here make available what isn’t easy to find in Russia. People come here for materials not available in Turkey. We have legal information from around the world, saved for the ages.

The community of people here who provide access to knowledge is extraordinary. We have this notion that you can make a call and get what you want. The HLS team, on whom the many assets and benefits of this place rests, make it alive and accessible at key moments.

The game plan. The designers of this place — Langdell Hall — good as it is, needs to grow digitally. We have not put together information architects as good as the ones who designed the physical space. We need a design charette to make this right. We need to do right by the jailhouse lawyer, the prosaic litigant… It will be better though uncomfortable at first for the teachers and learners that we make these changes, providing access to justice through information.

Qustion from Jonathan Zittrain… We have SSRN having to implement anti gaming measures… Choice of what to think about, and what modality to think about… Is this an article, a blog?… What are your instincts about the future of legal scholarship? What are the right mix of advances that will excite the rest of the world?

JP: I want to defend the long-form argument, but first an aside: The greatest friend of this library is Charlie Donohue… What this will do is create pressure and opportunity for what will count as legal scholarship. We are looking at extension of text analysis, of (missed it)… We need these new modalities. We will see the gradual (shrinking of black letter law as a percentage of the whole).

Q: What are the implications for The Law? Is this the end of The Law? How much depends on what Holmes and others saw as a closed system, with a set of materials that constituted what The Law was and meant? In this new environment do we still have that? As more information becomes accessible for people to make arguments from, does this set new boundaries for what The Law is? What should now be in a law library rather than in a cloud? (Each question so far is a series of questions.)

JP: A great question, and not a new one. Back when printing was new, one of the debates was about this same thing. Is scholarly work in fact the law? So we already have this weird conflation. What we have now is the same problem. What is interdisciplinary work? A thoroughly connected system allows many answers to come. But we still have this problem that law itself is unfinished. If law itself is information, then what is information about the law? That’s where we get hung up. (Hope I got that right.)

Q: Access, and how is it paid for. Who controls what is available? How is it kept reliable? What is the future of what closed systems did so well?

JP: Students want more floors open more hours. In a serious way, what should be open is the platform that involves the primary and secondary law in a virtual sense. That’s the bedrock. There will be a much greater diversity than what we now get with . Many more people looking at the same core of information through different lenses. We will still have open and closed spaces, but the former will be the larger context.

[Later…] John speaks slowly and carefully enough to follow with an outliner, which is what I did here. Go here for his original abstract (which is comprehensive). And watch MediaBerkman for the audio and video.

The meaning of the term “Chinese wall” is clear. It’s a virtual partition meant to keep potentially conflicted interests apart. What’s not clear, at least to me, is where the term came from. This post at WhatIs.com quotes Wikipedia, this way:

Chinese wall is usually said to be a reference to the Great Wall of China, erected over 2000 years ago to protect inhabitants from invaders. However, other theories exist. In a Wikipedia entry, for example, the author argues that the term probably derives from a diplomatic contrivance of the Late Imperial period in China: “…if a junior mandarin saw a senior mandarin on the road he was expected to bow and present his compliments. In Beijing this tended to happen quite a lot and so traffic was frequently blocked. Instead mandarins came up with a method of pretending they did not see each other on the road by the clever placing of a retainer with an umbrella. Because they did not “see” each other, they were not obliged to stop.”

Meanwhile Wikipedia’s Chinese wall article now lacks that passage, so that’s a dead end. I recall “Chinese wall” meaning a thin one: You can hear what’s happening on the other side, but can pretend not to notice. Still, not good enough. So I’m hoping one of you can point me to a source I can cite in the book I’m writing.

And if you’re wondering why I’m posting less these days, it’s because my nose is on the book’s grindstone.

Tags: , ,

First, three posts by:

His bottom line in the last of those: “… people are saying the web dumbs us down. This is wrong. The web can dumb us down, but only if we choose to let it.” Much substance leads up to that, including many comments to the first two posts.

In the first post, JP says, “For information to have power, it needs to be held asymmetrically. Preferably very very asymmetrically. Someone who knows something that others do not know can do something potentially useful and profitable with that information.” He adds,

So when people create walled-garden paid apps, others will create unpaid apps that get to the same material. It’s only a matter of time. Because every attempt at building dams and filters on the internet is seen as pollution by the volunteers. It’s not about the money, it’s about the principle. No pollutants.

Which brings me to the reason for this post. There’s been a lot of talk about the web and the internet making us dumber.

I think it’s more serious than that. What the web does is reduce the capacity for asymmetry in education. Which in turn undermines the exalted status of the expert.

The web makes experts “dumb”. By reducing the privileged nature of their expertise.

Every artificial scarcity will be met by an equal and opposite artificial abundance. And, over time, the abundance will win. There will always be more people choosing to find ways to undo DRM than people employed in the DRM-implementing sector. Always.

Joe Andrieu responds with Asmmetry by choice.  After giving some examples, Joe adds,

These types of voluntary acceptance of asymmetry in information are the fabric of relationships. We trust people with sensitive information when we believe they will respect our privacy.

I don’t see abundance undoing that. Either the untrustworthy recipient develops a reputation for indescretion and is cut off, or the entire system would have to preclude any privacy at all. In that latter scenario, it would became impossible to share our thoughts and ideas, our dreams and passions, without divulging it to the world. We would stop sharing and shut down those thoughts altogether rather than allow ourselves to become vulnerable to passing strangers and the powers that be. Such a world would of totalitarian omniscience would be unbearable and unsustainable. Human beings need to be able to trust one another.  Friends need to be able to talk to friends without broadcasting to the world. Otherwise, we are just cogs in a vast social order over which we have almost no control.

Asymmetry-by-choice, whether formalized in an NDA, regulated by law, or just understood between close friends, is part of the weft and weave of modern society.

The power of asymmetry-by-choice is the power of relationships. When we can trust someone else with our secrets, we gain. When we can’t, we are limited to just whatever we can do with that information in isolation.

This is a core part of what we are doing with and the . Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) is about helping users get the most out of their relationships with vendors. And those relationships depend on Vendors respecting the directives of their customers, especially around asymmetric information. The Information Sharing Work Group (ISWG) is developing scenarios and legal agreements that enable individuals to share information with service providers on their own terms. The notion of a is predicated on providing privileged information to service providers, dynamically, with full assurance and the backing of the law. The receiving service providers can then provide enhanced, customized services based on the content of that data store… and individuals can rest assured that law abiding service providers will respect the terms they’ve requested.

I think the value of this asymmetry-by-choice is about artificial scarcity, in that it is constructed through voluntary agreement rather than the mechanics/electronics of the situation, but it is also about voluntary relationships, and that is why it is so powerful and essential.

I’ll let both arguments stand for now (and I think if the two of them were talking here right now they’d come to some kind of agreement… maybe they will in comments here or on their own blogs), while I lever both their points toward the issue of privacy, which will continue to heat up as more people become aware of liberties taken with personal information by Web companies, especially those in the advertising business. I hadn’t thought about this in terms of asymmetry before, but maybe it helps.

The Web has always embodied the design asymmetry of . Sites have servers. Visitors have clients (your computing device and its browser). To help keep track of visitors’ relationships, the server gives them . These are small text files that help the server recall logins, passwords, contact history and other helpful information. Cookies have been normative in the extreme since they were first used in the mid-nineties.

Today advertising on the Web is also normative to an extreme that is beginning to feel . In efforts to improve advertising, “beacons” and flash cookies have been added to the HTTP variety, and all are now also used to track users on the Web. The Wall Street Journal has been following this in its series, and you can find out more there. Improvement, in the new advertising business, is now about personalization. “It is a sea change in the way the industry works,” Omar Tawakol, CEO of BlueKai, told the Wall Street Journal. “Advertisers want to buy access to people, not Web pages.”

Talk about asymmetry. You are no longer just a client to a server. You are a target with crosshairs on your wallet.

Trying to make advertising more helpful is a good thing. Within a trusted relationship, it can be a better thing. The problem with all this tracking is that it does not involve trusted relationships. Advertisers and site owners may assume or infer some degree of conscious assent by users. But, as the Journal series makes clear, most of us have no idea how much unwelcome tracking is really going on. (Hell, they didn’t know until they started digging.)

So let’s say we can construct trusted relationships with sellers. By we I mean you and me, as individuals. How about if we have our own terms of engagement with sellers—ones that express our intentions, and not just theirs? What might we say? How about,

  • You will put nothing on my computer or browser other than what we need for our  relationship.
  • Any data you collect in the course of our relationship can be shared with me.
  • You can combine my data with other data and share it outside our relatinship, provided it is not PII (Personally Identifiable Information).
  • If we cease our relationship, you can keep my data but not associate any PII with that data.
  • You will also not follow my behavior or accumulate data about me for the purposes of promotion or advertising unless I opt into that. Nor will your affiliates or partners.

I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not saying any of the points above are either legal or in legal language. But they are the kinds of things we might like to say within a relationship that is symmetrical in nature yet includes the kind of asymmetry-by-choice that Joe talks about: the kind based on real trust and real agreement and not just passive assent.

The idea here isn’t to make buyers more powerful than sellers. It’s to frame up standard mechanisms by which understandings can be established by both parties. Joe mentioned some of the work going on there. I also mention some in Cooperation vs. Coercion, on the . Here’s a long excerpt:

What we need now is for vendors to discover that free customers are more valuable than captive ones. For that we need to equip customers with better ways to enjoy and express their freedom, including ways of engaging that work consistently for many vendors, rather than in as many different ways ways as there are vendors — which is the “system” (that isn’t) we have now.

There are lots of VRM development efforts working on both the customer and vendor sides of this challenge. In this post I want to draw attention to the symbols that represent those two sides, which we call r-buttons, two of which appear above. Yours is the left one. The vendor’s is the right one. They face each other like magnets, and are open on the facing ends.

These are designed to support what calls , which he started talking about back in 2005 or so. I paid some respect to gestures (though I didn’t yet understand what he meant) in The Intention Economy, a piece I wrote for in 2006. (That same title is also the one for book I’m writing for . The subtitle is What happens when customers get real power.) On the sell side, in a browser environment, the vendor puts some RDFa in its HTML that says “We welcome free customers.” That can mean many things, but the most important is this: Free customers bring their own means of engagement. It also means they bring their own terms of engagement.

Being open to free customers doesn’t mean that a vendor has to accept the customer’s terms. It does mean that the vendor doesn’t believe it has to provide all those terms itself, through the currently defaulted contracts of adhesion that most of us click “accept” for, almost daily. We have those because from the dawn of e-commerce sellers have assumed that they alone have full responsibility for relationships with customers. Maybe now that dawn has passed, we can get some daylight on other ways of getting along in a free and open marketplace.

The gesture shown here —

— is the vendor (in this case the public radio station , which I’m just using as an example here) expressing openness to the user, through that RDFa code in its HTML. Without that code, the right-side r-button would be gray. The red color on the left side shows that the user has his or her own code for engagement, ready to go. (I unpack some of this stuff here.)

Putting in that RDFa would be trivial for a CRM system. Or even for a CMS (content management system). Next step: (I have Craig Burton leading me on this… he’s on the phone with me right now…) RESTful APIs for customer data. Check slide 69 here. Also slides 98 and 99. And 122, 124, 133 and 153.

If I’m not mistaken, a little bit of RDFa can populate a pop-down menu on the site’s side that might look like this:

All the lower stuff is typical “here are our social links” jive. The important new one is that item at the top. It’s the new place for “legal” (the symbol is one side of a “scale of justice”) but it doesn’t say “these are our non-negotiable terms of service (or privacy policies, or other contracts of adhesion). Just by appearing there it says “We’re open to what you bring to the table. Click here to see how.” This in turn opens the door to a whole new way for buyers and sellers to relate: one that doesn’t need to start with the buyer (or the user) just “accepting” terms he or she doesn’t bother to read because they give all advantages to the seller and are not negotiable. Instead it is an open door like one in a store. Much can be implicit, casual and free of obligation. No new law is required here. Just new practice. This worked for (which neither offered nor required new copyright law), and it can work for r-commerce (a term I just made up). As with Creative Commons, what happens behind that symbol can be machine, lawyer or human-readable. You don’t have to click on it. If your policy as a buyer is that you don’t want to to be tracked by advertisers, you can specify that, and the site can hear and respond to it. The system is, as Renee Lloyd puts it, the difference between a handcuff and a handshake.

Renee is a lawyer and self-described “shark trainer” who has done much in the community to help us think about agreements in ways that are legal without being complicated. For example, when you walk into a store, you are surrounded by laws of many kinds, yet you have an understanding with that store that you will behave as a proper guest. (And many stores, such as Target, refer by policy to their customers as “guests.”) You don’t have accept “terms of service” that look like this:

You agree we are not liable for annoying interruptions caused by you; or a third party, buildings, hills, network congestion, rye whiskey falling sickness or unexpected acts of God or man, and will save harmless rotary lyrfmstrdl detections of bargas overload prevention, or if Elvis leaves the building, living or dead. Unattended overseas submissions in saved mail hazard functions will be subject to bad weather or sneeze funneling through contractor felch reform blister pack truncation, or for the duration of the remaining unintended contractual subsequent lost or expired obligations, except in the state of Arizona at night. We also save ourselves and close relatives harmless from anything we don’t control; including clear weather and oddball acts of random gods. You also agree we are not liable for missed garments, body parts, electronic communications or musical instruments, even if you have saved them. Nothing we say or mumble here is trustworthy or true, or meant for any purpose other than to sphincter the fears of our legal department, which has no other reason to live. Everything here does not hold if we become lost, damaged or sold to some other company. Whether for reasons of drugs, hormones, gas or mood, we may also terminate or change this agreement with cheerful impunity.

[   ]  Accept.

And for that you get a cookie. Yum.

gives a great talk in which he reduces History of E-Commerce to one slide. It looks like this:

1995: Invention of the Cookie.

The End.

Not content with that, Phil has moved history forward a step by writing KRL, the , which he describes in this post here. The bottom line for our purpose in this post is that you can write your own rules. Terms of engagement are not among them yet, but why not? It’s early. At last Friday, showed how easy it is to program a relationship—or just your side of one—with KRL. What blew my mind was that the show was over and it was past time to leave, on a Friday, and people hung out to see how this was done. (Here’s a gallery of photos from the workshop.)

And those are just some of the efforts going on in the VRM (and soon, we trust, the CRM) community. What we’re trusting (we’re beyond just hoping at this point) is that tools for users wishing to manage relationships with organizations of all kinds (and not just vendors) will continue to find their way into the marketplace. And the result will be voluntary relationships that employ asymmetry by choice—in which the choice is made freely by all the parties involved.

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I’ve been so heads-down working on a book, and prepping  for this this week’s workshop, that I haven’t blogged anything in a while. Normally blogging is a steam valve for my work, but tweeting does more of that now. (Which is too bad, because tweets are snow on the water. Or at least it seems that way when I go back looking for what somebody said.) So the blog(s) get neglected.

Anyway, I want to share my affection for two new books that blowing my mind, page after page. One is Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants. The other is Lewis Hyde’s Common as Air: Revolution, Art and Ownership. Both authors worked for years on these books, and it shows in the depth of their scholarship and the polish of their prose.

Both are not merely important, but essential. Kevin’s breaks new ground in all directions one must travel to understand what technology is, and its relationship with human nature and work. Lewis does a complete re-think of “intellectual property,” and in the process re-grounds our understanding in an abundance of history — too much of which has been long (and selectively) forgotten. I can’t find a review of What Technology Wants yet, so I’ll link to what Craig Burton said here a while ago. Common as Air got a huge thumbs-up from Robert Darnton this past Sunday in The New York Times’ Sunday Book Review. Go read it. I’m getting back to work.

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