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What’s an Open Business?

31 07 2008

The hot question of the day at the i’Summit iSummit in Sapporo Japan is what is an “open” business?

Thus far the participants in this current think tank session have constructed a list of elements:

Open license
Two-way feedback (reciprocal)

Is this list helpful in defining the concept? Do the elements cohere? What, for instance, is the difference between an “open” business and a socially responsible business? Does Adobe’s Open Screen Project count? To me, an open business is one that is interoperable in its design and doesn’t make money only through restricting access to goods.

There’s significant debate about whether defining this concept is a useful endeavor. Some say that the iCommons community should write a “how to” document for entrepreneurs that would help them set up open business. Others think CC should go far as to create a certification system and let business apply to be open business “certified.” (Much like the GPL certification) Half the group has dissented completely and thinks we’re too late. They are arguing that the concept of “open business” is already being exploited and used for marketing purposes. It has no meaning. (Think of the phrase “green business” or even the word “organic.”)

I haven’t developed my own view on this yet, but I thought I’d write this up as a work in progress to see if others have any thoughts. To me, this discussion is about more than just defining buzz words. It’s key because it suggests that people within the creative commons and free culture community are no longer scorning all things commercial and insisting on non-profit distribution models. Instead they are trying to bring the innovations in open licensing to the realm of business to create new standards there as well.

British Music Industry misses (another) historic chance

25 07 2008

By Wolf

British record labels seem to miss yet another chance to regain leadership in shaping music distribution on the Internet: Instead of announcing the launch of an innovative, convenient, legal file-sharing platform, today the national news broke that the music industry, represented by their lobby organisation BPI, had agreed with 6 ISPs serving the UK on a process of distributing “warning” letters for illegal file sharing to their customers. Although the controversial termination of the Internet connection as a final threat, as discussed in previous proposals and planned to become effective in France later this year, has been replaced by the threat of “slowing” the connection, the measures focus on deterring customers from using their Internet connection to use for file sharing.

A recent survey by the publishers and artists association British Music Rights and the University of Hertfordshire has shown how much students value their music, but also how rampant file sharing is in these age groups. Instead of exploring models to capture the social value of file sharing, the music industry continues to believe that they will be able to bring the Genie back into the bottle. These alternatives already exist and do not necessarily require government involvement. Companies like in the UK or Noank Media in the US have developed the models and technology required to collect content fees, measure the amount of file-sharing traffic, and distribute the fees to the copyright holders. Instead of preventing file sharing, they allow ISPs and copyright owners to participate and benefit from the distribution of digital content by consumers over the Internet.

BPI has claimed for a long time that the rampant use of illegal file sharing networks prevented the creation of legal alternatives. Their approach to solve this hen-and-egg problem seems to focus on using the stick first and rely on the magic of the market to bring about the alternatives. If their logic was right, consumers should expect to see legal alternatives emerging soon as the stick is out now. Until then, I will feel inclined to believe that the industry underestimates the social significance of file sharing and will continue to develop models which fail to meet the demands of their (potential) customers.

Knol: Wikipediaing for Money?

24 07 2008

Yesterday Google launched Knol, a new collaborative encyclopedia project. At Knol, small teams of authors write articles together. They can monetize the work through AdSense rev-sharing and retain full control to pre-approve any changes submitted by other users. Knol is being presented as Google’s Wikipedia competitor , a show of Google’s continued entry into the content provider space.

But there’s something else I find fascinating about this project…

Knol gives us an opportunity to conduct a fabulous experiment. It pits Wikipedia, an open, voluntary encyclopedia project against one where contributors are paid and retain full control over their entries. It’s the market model vs. open, peer production.

Which model of knowledge production will be most successful? For years, we’ve marveled at the amount of time and participation that Wikipedia generates. But we’ve never had the opportunity to examine how a similar project might fare if all contributors were paid. Knol might give us a glimpse into this alternative world.

We’ll get a chance to see who participates, why they participate, and what’s ultimately produced.

If the homo economicus model accurately describes human behavior, Knol should be poised to generate more and better content

But I have my doubts. Lets see…

Wikia search at NYC CC Salon

24 07 2008

I was briefly able to drop in on last night’s Creative Commons Salon in the West Village – featuring “free as in beer beer.” Got to see the guys from Wikia Search talk about what they’re up to. Jimmy Wales was there too. A couple of interesting notes about the Wikia project:

They hope users will install their crawler — much like the SETI at home project, they’re hoping users will donate CPU cycles during machine downtime. Sounds plausible.

They’re deeply committed to explicit human feedback as an input to search rankings — much like the new Google search interface that’s been showing up over the last couple of weeks.

And privacy is their big competitive advantage. They’re committed to keeping users’ search history totally private. If Wikia was, say, 20% less useful than Google, I’d switch anyway, just for privacy reasons.

The first question asked after their presentation was the obvious one, about gaming. The answer *sounds* nice: it’s basically the Wikipedia philosophy, which is: there’s no point in engineering to solve a problem until it appears. So when gaming becomes a problem, they’ll engineer their way out of it. Not really an answer to the problem, but a meta-answer, or something.

That got me thinking about how gaming is currently managed by the big search engines. To a large degree, they count on “accuracy through obscurity” — we just don’t know exactly how Google’s page rank algorithm works, and they change it with some frequency, and that makes gaming much harder. Given the essentially open source nature of Wikia’s algorithm, that weapon against gamers is unavailable. So what’s left?


Anyway, more power to the Wikia guys. I love the idea, particularly for the privacy.

A little late to the party

24 07 2008

Since all the kids are so excited about the google these days, I thought maybe I should change with the times. Is this thing on?