Archive for January, 2010

Cluetrain Manifesto 10th Anniversary Edition: Still the end of business as usual?

14 Jan
I read the Cluetrain Manifesto in when it was published in 1999. We had just raised capital for the startup I co-founded, and I was flying back and forth from San Francisco to Toronto to Boston, which left me with a lot of reading time. As someone who was a) ambivalent about the corporate world, b) excited about the net, and c) founding a company, I found in Cluetrain a great deal of comfort, inspiration and fire.

In 1999, Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger published the Cluetrain Manifesto, a business book that expanded upon 95 theses that they had "nailed to the Web" by posting online, prompting a great deal of furor, discussion, and fooforaw. The first of these theses was Doc Searls's now-famous aphorism that "markets are conversations," and the remaining 94 refined these theses, presenting an indictment of business as-it-was, with special regard for the clueless approach the corporate world took to the net.

Cluetrain influenced an entire generation of net-heads (as generations are reckoned in what we called "Internet time" back in the paleolithic era), for better and for worse. Better: entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, and accidental entrepreneurs who discovered that talking with people in the normal, recognizable, human voice was both possible and superior to the old third-person/passive-voice corporatespeak. Worse: the floodtide of marketing jerks who mouthed "Markets are conversations" even as they infiltrated blogs and other social spaces with badly disguised corporate communications beamed in from marcom central.

Now a decade has gone by, an eternity in Internet time, and Basic Books has brought out a "tenth anniversary edition" of the Manifesto, with new chapters by all four original authors, as well as supplementary material by Jake McKee (who manages Lego's social outreach); JP Rangaswami (the maverick Chief Scientist for British Telecom) and Dan Gillmor (net-journalism visionary and author of We the Media, late of the San Jose Mercury News).

First things first: the original, core material stands up remarkably well. Depressingly, the best-weathered stuff is that which describes all the ways that big companies get the net wrong. They're still making the same mistakes. Some of the more optimistic material dated a little faster. There's a lesson in there: it's easier to predict stupidity than cleverness.

The supplementary material is very good as well. The original authors take a very hard look at their original material and do a great job of explaining what went wrong, what went right, and where it's likely to go now. I was especially taken with Chris Locke's "Obedient Poodles for God and Country," a scathing critique of the market itself, asking big questions that the first Manifesto dared not raise -- strangely, I was least taken by Locke's original piece in the Manifesto, which says something about Locke, or me, or both. Searls's new piece has an inspiring -- if utopian -- look at how business might yet reorganize itself on humane principles using the net; and Weinberger's philosophical look at the threats facing the net and analysis of the utopian, realist and distopian views on the net's future play against one another is an instant classic.

The afterwords by the new contributors are likewise extremely engaging stuff, as you might expect. McKee is extremely blunt in recounting the mistakes Lego made with the net early on, and the story of how they turned things around is a true inspiration. Gillmor's ideas on the net and news and media are a neat and concise and compelling version of his extremely important message. Rangaswami's piece is characteristic of his deadpan, mischievous boardroom subversion, and has to be read to be believed.

As updates go, Cluetrain 2.0 is a very fine effort. If you didn't read the first edition, this is your chance. If you did read the first edition, it's time to go back to the source material again. You'll be glad you did.

The Cluetrain Manifesto: 10th Anniversary Edition

(Thanks to Basic Books for sending me a review copy of this book!)


Burning the library in slow motion: how copyright extension has banished millions of books to the scrapheap of history

11 Jan
Jamie "Public Domain" Boyle sez, "When Ray Bradbury's 1953 classic, Fahrenheit 451 was published, it was scheduled to enter the public domain this month -- January 1, 2010. But then we changed the law. And Bradbury's firemen look like pikers compared to the cultural conflagration that ensued. The works may not be physically destroyed -- although many of them are; disappearing, disintegrating, or simply getting lost in the vastly long period of copyright to which we have relegated them. But for the vast majority of works and the vast majority of citizens who do not have access to one of our great libraries, they are gone as thoroughly as if we had piled up the culture of the 20th century and simply set fire to it; and all this right at the moment when we could have used the Internet vastly to expand the scope of cultural access. Bradbury's firemen at least set fire to their own culture out of deep ideological commitment, vile though it may have been. We have set fire to our cultural record for no reason."

Remember folks, thanks to 11 copyright term extensions in the past 40-some years, more than 98% of all works in copyright are "orphaned" -- still in copyright, but no one knows to whom they belong.

But the legal changes introduced in the years after Fahrenheit 451 did more than just extend terms. Congress eliminated the benign practice of the renewal requirement (which had guaranteed that 85% of works and 93% of books entered the public domain after 28 years because the authors and publishers simply didn't want or need a second copyright term.) And copyright, which had been an opt-in system (you had to comply with some very minor formalities to get a copyright) became an opt out system (you got a copyright automatically when you "fixed" the work in material form, whether you wanted it or not.) Suddenly the entire world of informal and non commercial culture -- from home movies that provide a wonderful lens into the private life of an era, to essays, posters, locally produced teaching materials -- was swept into copyright. And kept there for the life of the author plus 70 years. The effects were culturally catastrophic. Copyright went from covering very little culture, and only covering it for a 28 year period during which it was commercially available, to covering all of culture, regardless of whether it was available -- often for over a century. Unlike Fahrenheit 451, the vast majority of the culture swept into this 20th century black hole was not commercially available and, in most cases, the authors are unknown. The works are locked up -- with no benefit to anyone -- and no one has the key that would unlock them. We have cut ourselves off from our own culture, left it to molder -- and in the case of nitrate film, literally disintegrate -- with no benefit to anyone. The works may not be physically destroyed -- although many of them are; disappearing, disintegrating, or simply getting lost in the vastly long period of copyright to which we have relegated them. But for the vast majority of works and the vast majority of citizens who do not have access to one of our great libraries, they are gone as thoroughly as if we had piled up the culture of the 20th century and simply set fire to it; and all this right at the moment when we could have used the Internet vastly to expand the scope of cultural access.
Fahrenheit 451... Book burning as done by lawyers (Thanks, Jamie!)

(Image: Burned Book a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike image from Paraflyer's photostream) (Thanks, Jamie!)


STARTING: A 20-Year Mini Ice Age? The bitter winter afflicting much of the Northern Hemisphere i…

10 Jan

STARTING: A 20-Year Mini Ice Age?

The bitter winter afflicting much of the Northern Hemisphere is only the start of a global trend towards cooler weather that is likely to last for 20 or 30 years, say some of the world’s most eminent climate scientists.

Their predictions – based on an analysis of natural cycles in water temperatures in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans – challenge some of the global warming orthodoxy’s most deeply cherished beliefs, such as the claim that the North Pole will be free of ice in summer by 2013.

According to the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado, Arctic summer sea ice has increased by 409,000 square miles, or 26 per cent, since 2007 – and even the most committed global warming activists do not dispute this.

Brr. I don’t want a mini ice age.


Big Lebowski rewritten as a work of Shakespeare

08 Jan
"The knave abideth." Sweet baby Jesus, the attention to detail in this sucker is just mindblowing! What a thing of beauty. Here's the carpet-staining scene:
shakespearepicture.jpg WOO: Rise, and speak wisely, man--but hark; I see thy rug, as woven i'the Orient, A treasure from abroad. I like it not. I'll stain it thus; ever thus to deadbeats.

[He stains the rug]

THE KNAVE: Sir, prithee nay!

BLANCHE: Now thou seest what happens, Lebowski, when the agreements of honourable business stand compromised. If thou wouldst treat money as water, flowing as the gentle rain from heaven, why, then thou knowest water begets water; it will be a watery grave your rug, drowned in the weeping brook. Pray remember, Lebowski.

THE KNAVE: Thou err'st; no man calls me Lebowski. Yet thou art man; neither spirit damned nor wandering shadow, thou art solid flesh, man of woman born. Hear rightly, man!--for thou hast got the wrong man. I am the Knave, man; Knave in nature as in name.

BLANCHE: Thy name is Lebowski.

Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, by Adam Bertocci (thanks, chris arkenberg, PLEASE PLEASE let this end up as a live stage performance for yea, verily I should like to see it)


District 9’s Neill Blomkamp Explains Why He Won’t Make Big Budget Movies [Neill Blomkamp]

01 Jan

When District 9 director Neill Blomkamp makes his next film, he won't have a $100 million budget. Instead, he'll keep making films on the (relative) cheap, because it's the only way to make science fiction movies with creative freedom.

In a recent interview with the L.A. Times, Blomkamp made it quite clear that he wants nothing to do with $100 million budgets and major studio releases. The reason for this, he explains, is that he wants to be able to tell his own stories in his own way, and that just isn't possible when such massive amounts of money are involved. He cites this overwhelming need for studios to protect their investment as the main reason why almost all science fiction films are either adaptations, sequels, or reboots.

Blomkamp's observations weren't limited to the purely financial. He also delved into how these considerations affect the creative side of science fiction movies:

I think about this a lot – a hell of a lot actually – and how it plays out within the genre of scifi and horror. This concept of "Where does that fiction [in its source material form] come from?" If you look at the most meaningful science fiction, it didn't come from watching other films. We seem to be in a place now where filmmakers make films based on other films because that's where the stimuli and influence comes from. But go back and look at something like [Joe Haldeman's 1974 novel] "The Forever War" – that is very much rooted in his experience in Vietnam, that's where the stimulation comes from. And that's my goal, really, is not to draw from other films in terms of the overall inspiration and stimuli. You can in terms of design and tone and stuff, certainly, but not in terms of the idea and the genesis of that idea.

In terms of his own future making movies, Blomkamp reflected on his process promoting District 9 as a template for what he hopes to achieve next time. Since District 9 cost relatively little to make, it didn't need to attract a particularly wide audience for it to be a financial success; the fact that it did become something of a minor mainstream hit was just a nice bonus. Blomkamp felt fairly comfortable that the film would do all right financially after it enjoyed such a positive reception at Comic Con. As long as his movies can keep finding an audience with genre fans, he feels confident he can keep making movies for the foreseeable future.

Blomkamp concluded the first part of the interview with his thoughts on what he was trying to say in District 9 and whether he feels audiences understood his messages:

For the most part, "District 9" is absolute popcorn. It's absolute fluff compared to how serious those real-life topics are. The topics in the film are on my mind all the time and they're very interesting to me. The bottom line is "District 9" touches on 1% of those topics in terms of how severe they could be portrayed, and I knew that when I made it. But people got the messages. Xenophobia, racism allegories – they got all of it. I don't think the film was misunderstood. Not everybody loved it. Nigerians weren't happy. They were pissed. And I suppose that's fair enough because I directly named them and they don't come off well in the film. But that was part of the whole satirical nature of the film. And that conflict, well, that's a South African thing.

The rest of the interview will be published on the L.A. Times blog in the near future.

[Hero Complex]