Category english (sort of)

Internet as commons. Comments about the end of “the tragedy of the commons” in Edge

In a very interesting set of twitts, Sharper shows some doubts about the notion of the internet as commons. The discussion started from a post that I wronte on Edge suggesting the retirement of “the tragedy of the commons”. In that post I wrote about the internet as a commons. And Sharper doesn’t agree.

Sharper: “Read w/interest your piece re: Tragedy of the Commons. However, the Internet isn’t a Commons, every piece/connection is owned.”
Me: “But the internet protocol is commons, isn’t it?”
Sharper: “I think I see what you’re getting at, but internet border links also use QOS and route based on business rules.”

Difficult to talk about these things on Twitter? Maybe. But it is much more difficult for me to write in English…

Me: “my point – internet protocol and standards are commons; companies and states expoit it; sometimes overexploit; that’s not inevitable as the “tragedy” theory implies…”
Sharper: “Standards aren’t a scarce resource/commons. Everyone can use a protocol standard without affecting others use. Can you define what you mean by a commons? Internet standards don’t seem to fit any definition I’m aware of”

Sharper has a point in writing that a language in not a commons (while I think it can be thought that way, but I’m not sure).

Anyway Sharper went ahead criticizing the very idea that there can be a knowledge commons.

Sharper: “In terms of software and ideas. Those are non-exclusive goods. They can be shared freely, but aren’t a “commons””

I think that knowledge commons do exist; they are different from traditional commons; that they can be overexploited; but that is not inevitable.

There is an interesting contribution by Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom published by Mitpress in which the authors write about the internet as commons. I’m pretty sure that Ostrom and Hess understand the notion of commons. And they write the growing new space of the knowledge commons: “Whether labeled the “digital,” “electronic,” “information,” “virtual,” “communication,” “intellectual,” “Internet,” or “technological” commons, all these concepts address the new shared territory of global distributed information.”

See: Understanding Knowledge as a Commons, edited by Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom
and
A Framework for Analyzing the Knowledge Commons : a chapter from Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: from Theory to Practice.

Grande su Medium

(A new article has been published two days ago on Medium, about Italy.)

Grande!
In Italy’s political scene, comedy and tragedy blur. And today, an historical moment became a show

History always comes some other day, in Italy. Today, Italians expected history to be written. Enrico Letta, the prime minister, was due to explain his policy at the Senate. And a vote was to be casted that would have decided if the government was going to stay or go. Europe was waiting in stress. Stock exchanges where betting. Citizens were worried. (continue reading)

RKF Training Institute – Activists teach us to love our democracy

At the Training Institute set up by the Robert Kennedy Foundation in Florence, activists for human rights from all over the world come and learn how to smartly use the internet as a tool to get their job done. It takes courage to work for spreading the ideas that are needed to help people in some countries in growing a society that respects human rights. But it also takes an intelligent ability in using the network: how to campanign, how to communicate in a secure way, how to be conscious about the tactics that authoritarian governments can use against those that fight for human rights: that’s what activists learn at the Empowerment Lab in Florence with the help of organizations such as Electronic Frontier Foundation, Global Partners & Associates, Global Voices Online, Human Rights Watch, OneWorld Digital Security Exchange, Open Society Foundations, Tactical Technology Collective, and Witness. Furthermore, the financial support by the Ford Foundation has been essential for the organization of the First Group that has been in Florence until yesterday. Here is the blog.

But as activists learn what can help them in their non-violent fight, we the people living in the “democratic West” are going to learn as much from them. Democracy is not a given, it is a process: and we need to maintain it, we need to care about it. Activists from all over the world help their people. But they also help us.

Publishing is a sort of dating platform

The old ways of book publishing are fading away, maybe. But the new ones are still to be found, unless you are Amazon. And one of the problems is finding out an identity for publishers.

The idea that publishing is a sort of dating platform may seem banal. Of course, publishers have always been there so that authors and readers would find each other to establish a successful relationship. At least for the time that is needed for reading a book.

But it used to be that in those relationships, publishers had a lot of power. Controlling the analog technologies, they also controlled the copyright that they bought from authors to resell. Digital technologies have opened that protected environment and ask for a different distribution of power. The best thing that publishers can do is not anymore in choosing the authors and bring them to the readers. They need to serve not to impose. Thus, they could think of themselves as dating platforms designers and managers.

The complexity of matching authors and readers the right way makes publishing a very big job. With, potentially, a lot of money involved. Readers control the strategic resources: they control the time that they spend reading, they control the attention that they give to what they are reading, they control the judgment about how relevant is what they read. Authors need to conquer all that. And they are often too much focused on what they have to write to be able to find the time needed to court their readers, at least before they become their readers.

This is why there is an incredible industry to build for creating the conditions that will match the right authors to the right readers. I have the feeling that a dating platform for authors and readers, a good platform that enables the unexpected and not only the obvious will find its value.

A good platform will be designed in a way that different applications can be developed. Not only some matching software. A real human sensibility is needed: to create the right atmosphere, to create the right moments, to educate both parties. Pygmalions and architects, flower experts and poets, mentors and testimonials… There is a great job to do. (Medium)

Vedi anche:
If Book Then
Bibliotecari non bibliofili
Formule editoriali
Bibliosfera

The fascinating history of Olivetti

Many have seen the short movie about the history of the Programma 101, the first personal computer in history. It was released in 1965 and became a huge success, especially in the U.S: 44,000 units were sold. The group of engineers led by Pier Giorgio Perotto at Olivetti entered the history of computing.

The beauty of the documentary is in its cheerful and light-hearted tone. Devoid of that tragic affliction typical of Italians who look to the past regretting old glories and successes. Rather it is an educational documentary that shows how the invention came out of a precise mix of preconditions: a great goal, a clear familiarity with technological innovation, a very Italian sensitivity to the industrial design, a basically happy working environment.

Sure, one can get on asking questions about the decline: why Olivetti had managed to come out first with a desktop computer fully functional and appreciated by the market but was not able to stay ahead then? And why Olivetti abandoned the way they had helped to draw? Why Olivetti could not catch up to the times that were changing?

The pioneers are a different kind from the empire builders. Happy working environments must be cultivated at all levels. Technological leadership is never safe from the competition. The vision needed to make great thinks must be and remain great. Some of these conditions have gone over time, to the detriment of Olivetti.

But all this does not mean that Italy is doomed. Italian electronics has recently created great products: Stm’s accelerometer and Massimo Banzi’s Arduino. Italians can certainly do more in order to grow and contaminate their industrial system with innovation.

The fascinating history of Olivetti will stay in Italian history. But there is no point in regretting the past: Italians should look at history to find inspiration in order to get new important things done. It is quite possible.

Imagination and innovation. Edge and Economist

The Economist has published an important feature about the possible slowing down of innovation: Has the ideas machine broken down?

The article puts up a set of questions about productivity growth and technology innovation. But the title is very meaningful: there is such a thing as a machine for the production of ideas? Well, in a sense, yes. There is a system – science, technology remixing practices, venture capital, media relations, market – that is meant to create ideas and innovations. But it makes ideas that are sort of expected. Which is why, in a way, that kind of innovation can possibly seem to be slowing down.

Human imagination creates a different kind of innovations. The Apollo project, which the Economist quotes, was an imagination masterpiece, with money and organization to make it come true. And imagination doesn’t come as a feature of any known machine or system. It goes beyond expectations. And creates visions and experiments that are concentrated on entirely new possibilities. With a touch of poetry.

This kind of human imagination is on stage today and Edge is the place to go. Reading the great thinkers answering the Annual Question 2013 is a sort of renewable energy source for ideas.

(I thank a lot John Brockman for having accepted a piece that I have been writing: it is a great honour and an immense pleasure)

Twitter and the Italian political élite

Twitter is booming in the Italian élite milieu. Politicians, journalists, men of the church, writers, are joining the conversation. And newspapers are busy covering what the all lot says online, in a way that starts to seem quite awsome. In the meantime, Facebook stays very much more popular.

Facebook has been the evolution of the Internet ability to actively involve everybody in the mediasphere, in a time in which the passive relationship with television had stopped to be sustainable for those “formerly known as the audience”. But Facebook is not much about “pages”, it still is much more about “friends”. The maximum number of friends that one can have on Facebook – 5000 – maintains an horizontal approach to the mediasphere. Thus, Facebook is absolutely huge for everybody normal, but it is not exactly perfect for those who are accustomed to being protagonist in the old media context.

Twitter, which is much more flexible, is understood by the élite as a new broadcasting medium, with a flavour of – non mandatory – interactivity. Some Italian politicians participate in the conversation. Some let users ask questions, deciding to whom they will answer. Some use Twitter as a personal news agency. Some say “wow” and other words on Twitter that they would never use while speaking. Some just don’t get the tool and use it anyway.

But the thing is that – via Twitter – they entered the newsmaking industry and they did it by letting down the media middle man altogether. And journalists react by being on Twitter as well. Curation becomes a much more fashionable journalistic genre.

So as it happens, politicians are starting to intervene a lot on Twitter. But how do they cope with the 140 characters limit? They are hardly concise speakers. And many between them tend to grab any microphone they can find and go ahead speaking as long as they can?

The big intellectual attraction in the 140 characters of Twitter can be found in a special domain of the media industry: the production of headlines. Headlines are a subset of the news that lives in a sort of parallel universe. You can seldom find people that have been interviewed by a newspaper and have not complained about the headlines. To this kind of people, Twitter can be a revenge: it can be a medium to broadcast the kind of headlines that they would like to see in newspapers. As a matter of fact, they are succeeding.

Cosmopolitan professionals looking for opportunities

There is a kind of workers who live in a cosmopolitan international dimension. There used to be a cosmopolitan élite, mostly European or American, maybe linked to a colonial past or to a multinational company present. But it seems to me that there is something new in this space.

This is not about people that need to go away from home to look for a job. The great migrations have not stopped, of course. And they are more and more important: that’s an epic set of stories, with the painful lives of those who leave the place where they are born to try to rebuild something somewhere else. They stay linked to their roots, for some time; many send home some money to alleviate the poverty of those who remained. Sometimes they succeed having their families to join them in the new town where they arrived. That’s what happens and has always happened.

dubaiBut the fast and low cost transportation system that has been lately developed has grown also another dimension to the international job movement. There are opportunities for professionals who move around the planet looking for jobs that need special skills and no stable contract. They work for – let’s say – three months in Dubai, advising a local company for a special project, then they go back home and search for something new, in another place. They need to be known in their field. They are called in a word of mouth sort of medium by companies that need their abilities. Or they actively offer projects to any company that wants to finance them.

Of course, they are architects, engineers, software writers, interface design specialist, and other skilled professionals. I think there is more to find in this space.

It must be added that the internet has made all this much more possible and attractive. Its a sort of international job market that doesn’t need people to migrate, just to move from place to place, and keep a base, maybe at home.

I would like to know more about this kind of jobs. And if somebody wants to share information, comments are very welcomed.

Regret and move on. Italian strategy to cope

There is a lot to say about Italy, these days. It is not a country that seems to count very much in terms of what’s happening to the world. But we have found out that even a place like Italy can be far more problematic at a global scale than we thought: everything is linked, even an Italian crisis can be a global crisis.

Well, it is not exactly flattering to be a country that matters only because it can be a source of trouble.

And Italians seem to be having some new thinking about this. Usually we are good at complaining about our faults, but we are quite scarce at working united on a long term project. We are very critical about ourselves, even cynical. But we have a hard time when we need to rebuild our trust in ourselves as a whole.

Italy is a laboratory. The world can learn by looking at what happens here. We have invented fascism and we have perfected an authoritarian version of videocracy. We have also been good at fast industrializing and at fast post-industrializing. We are trying now a new experiment: regret and move on.

It is not complain and be stressed. It starts with remembering what we were. It allows us to be emotional about what we lost, which we should know very well. But it opens the door to studying our history in an effort that goes over our present passions. There can be an emotion about our future, too, which can also be better than decline: there is source of cultural energy in our deep rooted history which can be synchronized with our long term future.

Who knows Twheel?

The presentation is interesting and it makes you feel like to give Twheel a try.

Twheel is a new interface to manage more efficiently the tweets produced by Fluid Interaction. When you follow many accounts on Twitter you can lose some important messages: but Twheel reorganizes the tweets in a circle (which vaguely resembles the old iPod interface) that allows you to better handle the complexity of the information on the phone. Thus, you download the app and start it… at least that’s what you do if you don’t pay attention to the legal details.

To use a free app you must give some information. In this case, the app declares it all in a very transparent manner. It explains immediately that the application records the time that each user employs to read the contents of a tweet and of what is linked from that tweet. This clearly means that the data is fed into a server that observes everything that everyone does. Twheel adds that the data will be provided to customers, and of course it promises not to give away any personal data, except in cases where the law requires. The law which mainly refers Fluid is Finnish. But it would be of not little importance to know which law Fluid refers to in Iran, China, Syria, Russia, the United States, and so on.

Moreover, when asked to access your Twitter account, Twheel declares that they will use the account to even read direct messages on Twitter, and to write in the name of that account, and to add new followers. I was wonderng why they do so. And so I turn the question to those who pass by this blog:

1. Is your experience with Twheel’s interface nice?
2. What did Twheel write on your Twitter account?
3. Which new followers did it add to your account?

update: @twheelapp answered: “There’s an option in twheel that allows following and unfollowing users. But nothing happens without user interaction”

Roadmap needed, please

Urging European leaders to take action against the euro crisis feels like to be in front of a set of poker players who, at the end of the game, refuse to say what they have in their hands: “you show first”, “no, you show first…”. They need to agree about what to do first, second and third…

It should be their job. They should get their job done. Soon.

Why are they so slow? Politicians are elected inside their national boundaries. But they work for a supranational reality. And their job is split in two: they need to decide for international cooperation to cope with international problems, and at the same time they need to speak to their electorate in terms that seem to save their national interests. But it is time to choose.

Germany wants a political union, in which Europe decides whether or not national budget are right or wrong. Spain wants a banking union, to save its financial system and the one of anybody else in its same conditions. Italy wants a fiscal union to share some of the risk that having a huge public debt generates to public finances in times of financial turmoil. France needs to say something about who is in charge inside the country: Europe or France. The United Kingdom needs to say when it is going to get in or get out the process. All the other states need to get together and speak their voice for more integration or less integration.

If Europe is to be built, then there is no choice about what to do, but only about when to do what is needed for the integration and in which order it must be done: political first and then fiscal? banking and then political? fiscal and then…

There is only a word to define this kind of decision making: roadmap writing and implementing. One step at a time, but what the big picture clear in mind for everybody.

The roadmap is the new political metaphore. And it is a beautiful metaphore. Young people will understand it. But even old people can like it. Only politicians will be less free to do what they want when the roadmap is decided. And that is precisely what they don’t like. And that is precisely what people don’t like in politicians.

Robert Kennedy Foundation: social media and human rights. Smart dissidents

A two days workshop, in Florence, is organized by the Robert Kennedy Foundation Europe, to discuss about social media, human rights and the notion of smart dissidents.

Before the event, a chat with Daudi Kahmadi Were, from Ushahidi, has been a joy. He was talking about what it means to improve the notion of “civic society” and he was very interested in the MediaLab‘s (and Ahref‘s) notion of “civic media”.

It can be a conceptual framework for improving the cultural environment for smart dissidents that fight for human rights and live in danger because of the authoritarian regimes in which they live: it is not only a matter of technology, it is much more a matter of meaning, methodology and public understanding of their contribution. It is about non-violent and civic-aware actions.

The Robert Kennedy Foundation idea, with the help of the mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, it working to make Le Murate, in Flocence, a sort of service hub for a network designed to help dissidents all over the world in a hopefully non-naive way. It is going to be a tough and delicate job. It is absolutely not only a technological matter. It is much more a cultural matter. And, since quite some time, Evgeny Morozov teaches how it can be difficult to design this kind of service in a sensible way.

Personal democracy is an oxymoron

While in Rome, the Aspen Institute in Rome is organizing a conference about democracy and the internet, in New York it is held the Personal Democracy Forum 2012. It is a bizarre notion, sort of an oxymoron. A democracy, by definition, is about being together, which is hardly a personal thing to do. But the reality is much more interesting. It is focused on the idea that digital technologies can improve the way we decide democratically. Stefano Rodotà has said some very wise things about the matter.

At the Summer School: Freedom and Pluralism of Traditional and New Media

At the European University Institute, the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom is organizing a Summer School for Journalist and Media Practitioners.

The very rich program will allow for some sharing of experiences also about “New trends in data journalism” and “Paying for news (new ways of getting revenues for media outlets and journalists)”.

1. “New trends in data journalism”

FUN – The hero of the genre is Hans Rosling. He is a master in explaining the civic, scientific, cultural and social value of statistics and stresses out the importance of being able to communicate them in plain language. He has been followed by statisticians, graphic specialists, and journalists. He has made good statistics fun. And this had opened some minds.

This video is a good way to spend an hour.

DIGITAL – Data journalism has always been there since there have been data. But digital technologies have made it easier and cheaper. With all new sorts of designing solutions. And a lot of different ways to interact with the results

Information is beautiful is just one of a lot of sites that could be interersting to visit to find out inspiration and examples. Here are, for example, some of the most famous “mountains of fear

E se interessa il debito seguito alla crisi, visto dall’America, ecco un video molto suggestivo.

INFORMATION OVERLOAD – If there is such a thing as an information overload, there must be some research about new filters. But there also must be some research about new synthetic ways to understand so many data. This is a job for news outlets that are based on teams composed by journalists, designers and programmers. If La Vita Nòva has been awarded quite a few prices it must be because it has always been made that way.

OPEN DATA – Public money is spent in acquiring data. So that data must be public. That’s the way the European Commission looks at the matter. And we can trust public opinions to enforce that view.

But public administrations don’t have a standard way to keep their data. To put them together in an useful way will be a very big job for lot’s of people. See OpenPolis.

WORKFLOW – A quite good Wikipedia entry shows how can be described the process of creating a story by data crunching.

The process is about:
1. Find: Searching for data on the web
2. Clean: Process to filter and transform data, preparation for visualization
3. Visualize: Displaying the pattern, either as a static or animated visual
4. Publish: Integrating the visuals, attaching data to stories
5. Distribute: Enabling access on a variety of devices, such as the web, tablets and mobile
6. Measure: Tracking usage of data stories over time and across the spectrum of uses.

EXAMPLES – To take a look at the best recent data driven journalism stories, one can take a look at the very recent Data Journalism Awards.

BENCHMARK – The Guardian DataBlog. Ahref DataBlog.

2. “Paying for news (new ways of getting revenues for media outlets and journalists)”

Where is the new scarcity? (More time and less pages)
How advertising is paying what? (Paper ads fall, digital grow but not enough; and that growth is declining, Reuters)
What is it that people are willing to pay? (Profit, non profit)

Requiem for the media, Jean Baudrillard, 1972

The dead media manifesto, Bruce Sterling, 1998

Who killed the newspaper, the Economist. And: Not dead yet


Newspaper extintion timeline

New sources of revenue for the industry of information
Advertising: 100 on paper, 10 on the web, 1 on mobile
Apps: at the Guardian, an app has made more revenue than cost

A data rich blog, il Giornalaio

Vedi anche:
Giornali equilibrati
Background, giornalismo
L’alba di un nuovo giornalismo

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And then one day I was in a room full of products with Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive…

It was September in Paris. And it was time of Apple Expo. I can’t find a document to prove if it was 2002 or 2003. But I have the feeling it was 2003. Anyway, there had been Steve Jobs’ keynote. And there had also been the usual Q&A session for journalists, after the keynote.

As usual I had been asking a lot of questions about what we could see by looking ahead. Jobs was not bored, he even seemed interested in answering. I don’t think he remembered me, but we had had quite a few interviews and Q&As before. Anyway I asked him: «But the iPod could be a phone?».

He answered after sort of thinking about it. «There is too little bandwith to download songs on the mobile network…». That’s what he said, but he seemed considering something else at the same time. If he actually was he didn’t tell.

Don’t take me wrong. During previous interviews I had also suggested some changes that Apple was already considering. Such as to do the iMac in different colours. Or such as introducing an Apple browser. In that case, I had been saying that the Explorer for Mac was not as good as the one for Windows: while I was speaking he was gesturing like someone that agrees, but then he said: «The Explorer is a very good browser». After three months, Safari was launched. It was fun to see that I sort of thought the same way as them. And it was interesting to see Steve Jobs in a thinking mode: when questions were similar to the questions that he had solved or at least considered he was really friendly.

The company seemed less friendly when you had to cope with those Apple’s international public relations guys. They even tryed once to make me fill in a “non disclosure agreement” before letting me in a press conference with some anticipations: I refused. But that was before Jobs’ coming back to the company.

After the Q and A, in 2003, one of the soviet-looking-and-acting public relations persons that Apple was using to deal with journalists and keep them away from any unintended move during the event came to me and asked me to follow him.

I followed him. He led me to another room. He opened the door and in the room I found Steve Jobs, Jonathan Ive and Phil Schiller. Nobody else. The room was full of products, mainly iPod accessories. The three of them seemed a bunch of friends chatting about the thinks they liked most, they didn’t react in surprise when I entered; it was like I was a usual presence, in any case nobody introduced me to the three of them and we didn’t feel the need for such an introduction. I had no words. There was a noise in my mind and a confusion in my stomac. Suddendly I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t even wonder if I was supposed to say anything. They asked me if I liked the new iPod. They showed me products they liked, such as a Bose system for hearing music with an iPod. Jobs was very fond of it, he wanted to show it to me and let me hear how it sounded. We spent some time and then it was finished. I went away in joy.

I forgot the episode until I’ve been reading some pages about the iPod in Walter Isaacson’s book. Why did I forget about that fact? Because nothing special happened. And because I never connected that episode to the fact that some time later the iPhone would come out. I knew that mobile operators and phone companies were not getting the internet opportunity they had: to create a device that was able to get the internet really mobile. It was to happen in 2007. I had probably been honored for my questions. And I had been inside the cultural evolution that was going to change a lot in the web world. But it was the present, and I thought that I was just living it: history is such a richer way to look at things that happen…

But there is more to think about that episode. Steve Jobs’ story has been transformed in an iconic piece of history, or criticized a lot. His public figure is a role model that it is difficult not to admire. Because it is the inspiration that we need. But when you are in the middle of living a story it is very hard to look at it in perspective. When you don’t know the future, and you are building it, anything just seems normal.

It seems to me that we should think at our present life in a way that helps us to seeing how important it is in perspective: any future comes from our present. Perspective connects past and future, action and thinking. Perspective is the discipline for building a new “science of consequences” that we deeply need.