CC Talks With: Public Library of Science

Glenn Otis Brown, September 1st, 2005

The Public Library of Science is a nonprofit organization dedicated to making the world’s scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource. PLoS emerged in October 2000 through the effort of three dynamic and highly respected scientists: Nobel Laureate and former head of the National Institutes of Health Harold Varmus, molecular biologist Pat Brown of Stanford University, and biologist Michael Eisen of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and UC Berkeley. This trio’s dream, as the L.A. Times put it, is to build “a world in which the many thousands of scientific journals . . . are placed in an electronic library open to the public.”

This week, PLoS moved closer to realizing this dream with the release of its first open access publication: PLoS Biology, a world-class, peer-reviewed scientific journal.

We had the opportunity to speak with Michael Eisen recently about the launch of PLoS Biology, its publication under a Creative Commons license, and its promise to transform open access models, the scientific community, and the world.

featured Public Library of Science work
PLoS Biology, Volume 1 Number 1
Attribution 1.0
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Creative Commons: How did PLoS come into existence?

Michael Eisen: Science depends on the free flow of ideas and information. In the late ’90s most of the research journals that scientists used to communicate with each other moved online. The technological change offered scientists myriad opportunities to expand and improve the ways we use scientific literature, and made it possible to bring our treasury of scientific information available to a much wider audience.

We grew increasingly frustrated that the publishers of scientific journals were blocking these advances by applying to their online journals business models developed for print publication — thus unnecessarily and unfairly restricting access to subscribers. We formed PLoS to promote and implement a better model for scientific publishing that offers anyone free and unrestricted access to scientific literature and facilitates the creative use of the knowledge it contains.

CC: What’s the ultimate goal of the organization?

ME: Our goal is to see that every scientific and medical research publication is available free of charge for anyone to read, use, incorporate in databases, redistribute, etc. To do this we want to shift how the publishers are paid for the role they play in communicating scientific ideas and discoveries — to switch from a model in which publishers are given permanent, exclusive control over the scientific literature and allowed to charge for access to a model in which the literature is effectively placed in the public domain and publishers are paid a fair price for the service they provide in getting the literature there.

CC: Have you encountered any resistance from the scientific community?

ME: Most scientists agree strongly with the general principles we are advocating. What remains a challenge is convincing them that they should forego publishing in established journals to support our new model. Publication records play a major role in landing jobs, getting grants, and achieving tenure, and the more prestigious the journal, the better it looks on your resumé. Many scientists who support what we are doing perceive publishing in a new journal — no matter how much they agree with its principles — as a risky career move. This is why we have put a tremendous amount of energy into creating an open access journal — PLoS Biology — with the highest editorial and production standards that publishes outstanding works from all areas of biology. Once we have established PLoS Biology as a prestigious journal scientists will no longer feel they have to choose between what is right for them and what is right for science. They will get both in one place.

CC: What do you see as your role in changing the landscape of scientific journal publishing?

ME: We’ve all put a tremendous amount of time, effort, and energy into promoting the idea and importance of open access, and gathering support within the scientific community, publishing world, and public. Now we want to make it work. I publish the work from my lab only in open access journals. As a young scientist who is still not tenured, I think this serves as a role model for students and other scientists to see that you can have a successful science career without publishing your papers in Science, Nature, Cell or other prominent, fee-for-access journals.

CC: What are the benefits of open access scientific journals?

ME: First, if we succeed, everyone who has access to a computer and an Internet connection will have unlimited access to our living treasury of scientific and medical knowledge. This will be an invaluable resource for science education, will lead to more informed healthcare decisions by doctors and patients, and will level the playing field for scientists at small or less wealthy institutions and in the developing world by ensuring that no one will be unable to read an important paper just because his or her institution does not subscribe to a particular journal. Open access will also enable scientists to begin transforming scientific literature into something far more useful than the electronic equivalent of millions of individual articles in rows of journals on library shelves. The ability to search, in an instant, an entire scientific library for particular terms or concepts, for methods, data, and images — and instantly retrieve the results — is only the beginning. Freeing the information in scientific literature from the fixed sequence of pages and the arbitrary boundaries drawn by journals or publishers — the electronic vestiges of paper publication — opens up myriad new possibilities for navigating, integrating, “mining,” annotating, and mapping connections in the high-dimensional space of scientific knowledge.

We hope to do for scientific literature what freely available archives of DNA sequences did for genetics. With great foresight, it was decided in the early 1980s that published DNA sequences should be deposited in a central repository, in a common format, where they could be freely accessed and used by anyone. Simply giving scientists free and unrestricted access to the raw sequences led them to develop the powerful methods, tools, and resources that have made the whole much greater than the sum of the individual sequences. If we succeed, we expect an even bigger creative explosion to be fueled by open access to the much larger body of published scientific results.

CC: Have you encountered any resistance from traditional journal publishers?

ME: A ton. Traditional publishers have not led the open access movement in any way. With a few notable exceptions, they’ve firmly resisted it. Scientific publishing as it exists today is an extremely lucrative business, and many publishers have placed their own narrow profit motive ahead of the good of the scientific community and the public. Even some nonprofits have stubbornly clung to the old publishing model to protect journal revenues that fund other activities. A major goal of PLoS is to prove to even the most reluctant publisher that open access is a viable way of publishing scientific journals and a viable economic model. Once this happens I suspect many publishers will respond positively either on their own or in response to the market pressure of scientists supporting the open access model.

CC: How broad-based is the open access movement among the scientific community?

ME: It depends on how you measure it. In terms of people who know about and support open access it’s a broad movement. Over 30,000 people signed an open letter supporting PLoS. Although only about five percent of the papers published this year will be in journals offering something approximating open access, the numbers are rising quickly and open access is starting to take off.

CC: Do you see any parallels between access issues in scientific publishing and copyright in other areas?

ME: Authors of scientific papers assigning copyright to journals, thereby giving publishers ownership of scientific literature, is a central problem in scientific publishing today. The monopoly control enjoyed by publishers over specific publications allows them to charge exorbitant access fees to individuals and institutions that need access to this material — which they cannot get anywhere else.

Publishers often try to cast PLoS as being no different than file-sharers. While it is true that PLoS and groups like Creative Commons and the EFF are involved in trying to reform copyright, the peculiar nature of scientific publishing places PLoS largely above this fray. In the creative arts, copyright protects the rights of content producers who need to make money from their song, book, or film, and there is a fundamental tension between the producer’s interest to profit from their labor and the consumers’ desire to get it as cheaply as possible.

In scientific publishing this tension is nonexistent. First, the producers and consumers of information are largely the same people. And, second, scientists don’t make money from the sale of their work. In scientific publishing today, copyright is used almost exclusively as a means to restrict access to information. Copyright protects the interests of publishers and the works they publish, and not the rights of scientists.

In fact, the way that publishers wield copyright actually weakens authors’ protection against misuse of their works. While copyright offers some legal protection against plagiarism, there are few cases in which copyright has been used to prosecute plagiarists. The real protection against plagiarism in scientific publishing comes from a scientific culture that does not tolerate these practices — scientists’ careers are ruined when it is discovered that they have stolen someone else’s work. Therefore the best protection against plagiarism is detection, and detection is infinitely easier when the original is freely available.

It’s important to view the issues in scientific publishing in light of the other issues going on in copyright, but the issues are very different. Scientific works don’t have an isolated meaning; they exist only in reference to the broader scientific community, and the whole reason you publish them is so that other people will read and use them. If research is paid for by the public through a federal agency or public-minded institution, it’s likely the scientists doing the research are public-minded people interested in producing public knowledge. If the product of that research doesn’t belong in the public domain, then the public domain doesn’t have any meaning.

CC: Why did you decide to use Creative Commons licenses?

ME: Creative Commons and PLoS share the common goal of strengthening the science commons, and we want to take advantage of all the work Creative Commons and the growing number of Creative Commons license users are doing to create, defend, and internationalize licenses that define the commons.

We chose the attribution license because it ensures the optimal accessibility and usability while preserving the one thing that scientists value the most: attribution for their work.

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CC Talks With: Cory Doctorow

Glenn Otis Brown, August 1st, 2005

I got to feeling like I was someone special — not everyone had a chum as exotic as Keep-A-Movin’ Dan, the legendary missionary who visited the only places left that were closed to the Bitchun Society. I can’t say for sure why he hung around with me. He mentioned once or twice that he’d liked my symphonies, and he’d read my Ergonomics thesis on applying theme-park crowd-control techniques in urban settings, and liked what I had to say there. But I think it came down to us having a good time needling each other.

I’d talk to him about the vast carpet of the future unrolling before us, of the certainty that we would encounter alien intelligences some day, of the unimaginable frontiers open to each of us. He’d tell me that deadheading was a strong indicator that one’s personal reservoir of introspection and creativity was dry; and that without struggle, there is no real victory. . . .

On a fine spring day, I defended my thesis to two embodied humans and one prof whose body was out for an overhaul, whose consciousness was present via speakerphone from the computer where it was resting. They all liked it. I collected my sheepskin and went out hunting for Dan in the sweet, flower-stinking streets.

He’d gone. The Anthro major he’d been torturing with his war-stories said that they’d wrapped up that morning, and he’d headed to the walled city of Tijuana, to take his shot with the descendants of a platoon of US Marines who’d settled there and cut themselves off from the Bitchun Society.

So I went to Disney World. . . .

–from Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, the first novel by blogger, cultural critic, and Electronic Frontier Foundation wonk Cory Doctorow, entered the world January 9, 2003. Wired‘s Mark Frauenfelder calls Down and Out “the most entertaining and exciting science fiction story I’ve read in the last few years,” and Bruce Sterling declares, “Science fiction needs Cory Doctorow!”

Doctorow has published Down and Out under a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons: Your novel revolves around a power struggle over a Disney World of the distant future, and your promo materials describe you as a Disneyphile. What led you to set the story on Walt’s turf?

Cory Doctorow: I grew up with grandparents who lived in a gated retirement community in Fort Lauderdale. My folks — both teachers — and I stayed with them most Christmas breaks, and we’d always make a pilgrimage to Walt Disney World. Those WDW experiences permanently embedded the Disney Parks — their design, their cultural significance — in my psyche.

Disney’s a sterling example, moreover, of the value of the public domain. People who are naive about the idea of the commons frequently ask whether it’s too much to ask that artists make their own, original works. But Disney showed how plumbing the public domain for familiar stories (Alice, Snow White, Mu-lan, etc.) and reimagining them vividly can create new and culturally significant art.

Walt himself was full of grandiose, hubristic, science-fictional notions. The original plan for Walt Disney World called for a domed city (based loosely on the Progressland Walt built for General Electric at the 1964 World’s Fair) — the original EPCOT (Experiment Prototype City of Tomorrow), in which tens of thousands of employees would live under corporate law whose premises would follow Walt’s nutty and sometimes saccharine ideals for social Utopia.

He was part of a tradition of crypto-fascist Utopian American squillionaires that includes Henry Ford, who required the captive laborers of his doomed “Fordlandia” rubber-plantations-cum-communes to drink Tom Collinses (Ford’s favorite tipple) in favor of the traditional local hooch.

CC: Did legal concerns — say, over referring to Disney by name in the story — ever give you pause while writing or shopping the book?

CD: This is one of the most F of the FAQ about the book. The existence of the rides at Walt Disney World is a public fact — like the existence of the Empire State Building, the Grand Canyon, or the Starbucks on my corner. Copyright and trademark don’t exist to enjoin the public from discussing and speculating on the existence of actual, no-foolin’ things, so no, I wasn’t worried. The legal department at Tor Books (my publisher) put a disclaimer on the printed book that explained that all the places mentioned in the book are either fictional or used in a fictional context. Imagine someone dumb enough not to figure that out for himself. Duh.

CC: Down and Out‘s protagonist, Julius, has a soft spot for old-fashioned technology, like Disneyland’s various steel-and-concrete attractions and rides — “rube goldbergs,” as he memorably calls them. A central struggle in the book, in fact, involves Julius’s efforts to save the Park’s 20th-century “monuments” from being replaced by newfangled technological attractions. It’s a highly dramatic, even violent, struggle. Is there a little Luddite battling the technophile in you?

CD: There are at least two reasons that the fight to keep the highly individuated, hard-to-replicate rides is central to the book.

1. I genuinely dislike the articulated simulators (Star Tours, Body Wars) that Disney’s built. They strike me as really crummy art as compared to all the ride-tech that proceeded them. The problem with that kind of sim-ride is that they all have the same plot: we are going somewhere, we run into trouble, we turn around, we come home. The problem is that if we actually made it to our nominal destination, Disney’d have to build, e.g., a scale-model Forest Moon of Endor at the other end.

2. It’s a kind of parable about the inevitibility of crappy-but-more-democratic media (i.e., Gutenberg Bibles) over really excellent, but harder-to-reproduce artifacts (illuminated Bibles).

CC: Why did you choose to publish Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom under a Creative Commons license?

CD: That’s the most F of all the FAQs I get about this project. I’ve got a response that I agonized over for some while, and it’s as good as I’m going to get.

Why am I doing this thing? Well, it’s a long story, but to shorten it up: first-time novelists have a tough row to hoe. Our publishers don’t have a lot of promotional budget to throw at unknown factors like us. Mostly, we rise and fall based on word-of-mouth. I’m not bad at word-of-mouth. I have a blog, Boing Boing, where I do a lot of word-of-mouthing. I compulsively tell friends and strangers about things that I like.

And telling people about stuff I like is way, way easier if I can just send it to ’em. Way easier.

What’s more, P2P nets kick all kinds of ass. Most of the books, music and movies ever released are not available for sale anywhere in the world. In the brief time that P2P nets have flourished, the ad-hoc masses of the Internet have managed to put just about *everything* online. What’s more, they’ve done it for cheaper than any other archiving/revival effort ever. I’m a stone infovore and this kinda Internet mishegas gives me a serious frisson of futurosity.

Yeah, there are legal problems. Yeah, it’s hard to figure out how people are gonna make money doing it. Yeah, there is a lot of social upheaval and a serious threat to innovation, freedom, business, and whatnot. It’s your basic end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario, and as a science fiction writer, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenaria are my stock-in-trade.

I’m especially grateful to my publisher, Tor Books and my editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden for being hep enough to let me try out this experiment.

All that said, here’s the deal: I’m releasing this book under a license developed by the Creative Commons project. This is a project that lets people like me roll our own license agreements for the distribution of our creative work under terms similar to those employed by the Free/Open Source Software movement. It’s a great project, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

CC: How did Tor Books respond to your decision to use one of our licenses?

CD: Tor is the largest English-language science fiction publisher in the world, and they’ve led the field in innovative practices, especially in ebooks. So I’m privileged to have a very forward-looking, progressive publisher behind me. What’s more, I have a fantastic editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Patrick is an old Usenet hand (search on groups.google.com to get an idea of how much of Patrick’s life has been spent on Usenet!), a Linux hobbyist, a blogger, and a hell of an all-round technophile. When I pitched the idea of posting the book online to him, we had a surprisingly brief and excited conversation of how goddamned cool it would be. I’m guessing that Patrick had to do some internal selling at Tor to convince the publisher, Tom Dougherty, that this would be a good idea, but I wasn’t privy to that negotiation.

CC: Your job is to think about the future. Where do you think copyright law is headed? What do you think the law as regards to information will look like 100 years from now? What is copyright’s place in the Magic Kingdom and the Bitchun Society — a world that seems to revolve around pop culture and technology?

CD: Well, in some ways, this novel is a parable about Napster, and about the reputation economies that projects like Ringo, Firefly, Epinions and Amazon hint at. In a world where information is nonscarce, the problem isn’t finding generic information — it’s finding useful information. There’s an old chestnut in online science fiction fandom that the Internet “makes us all into slushreaders.” (“Slush” is the unsolicited prose that arrives at publishers’ offices — a “slushreader” wades through thousands of these paste-gems looking for the genuine article). This has always struck me as a pretty reactionary position.

Nearly every piece of information online has a human progenitor — a person who thought it was useful or important or interesting enough to post. Those people have friends whom they trust, and those friends have trusted friends, and so on. Theoretically, if you use your social network to explore the Web, you can make educated guesses about the relative interestingness of every bit of info online to you. In practice, this kind of social exploration is very labor-intensive and even computationally intensive, but there’s a lot of technology on the horizon that hints at this.

The Bitchun Society of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is a world where all goods are as nonscarce as information is on the net. (It’s imaginable that nanofabrication could make such a world possible — “goods” and “information” would be different states of the same thing, as “source code” and “applications” are today.) In that world, managing the glut of everything — especially people — is a matter of exploring social networks to guess at the degree to which you should treat some resource with respect and attention. [In the story,] I call this measure “Whuffie.”

Scarcity is, objectively, worse than plenty. When you’ve got lots of some useful object, you’re richer than when you have less of it. When there’s more than enough to go around, the economic value tends to plummet, but the utility is just as high. Think of oxygen: on the Earth’s surface, we’re well-supplied with breathable atmosphere. Aside from a few egregiously West-coast “oxygen bars,” it’s hard to imagine paying money for O2. But in Heinlein’s sf novels set on the moon, there’s a thriving trade in oxygen. In both situations, air is highly useful, but dirtsiders are richer in air than their loonie cousins.

It’s a quirk of our economy — and a failure of our collective imagination — that we view the de-scarce-ification of information as a disaster. Our technological history — literacy, the press, telegraphy, radio, TV, xerography, computers — is a steady march towards making information more liquid and less scarce. Towards richness.

At each turn, the mounting plenty has made the information industries larger and larger, employing more people, feeding more artists, bringing more ideas to more people.

I’ve got a large, personal stake in earning a living from my writing, but as I look around at a field in which the word-rates for fiction have stalled at their 1935 levels (not adjusted for inflation), I find it hard to imagine that the old economics of publishing will sustain me in the manner to which I’d like to become accustomed. There’s a new world a-borning, a world of information in infinite plenty, and I know that there are new opportunities out there. I don’t know what they are, but I’m certain that diving in with both feet first is a better way of discovering them than screaming imprecations at the rising tide and chicken-littling about the “thieves” and “pirates” of the Internet. I prefer to think of them as “readers.”

CC: Who and what — writers, artists, trends — have been particularly strong influences on your writing?

CD: Well, anyone familiar with science fiction who reads this book will discover that I’ve blatantly ripped off the best ideas of Heinlein and Varley. (Varley ripped off a lot of his ideas from Heinlein, of course — “amateurs plagiarize, artists steal.”)

More than that, I got a lot of my ideas from Walt Disney, Marc Davis, and the other original Imagineers who designed Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Walt was a weird and sometimes rather nasty old coot. (And Tolstoy ripped off his family to feed his gambling habit — being a great artist is not inconsitent with being a evil jerk.) But he (Walt) was also a magnificent entrepreneur, inventor, dreamer, and technophile. He and his crew broke a lot of rules to build Disneyland. He fired the engineers he’d hired to make Disneyland a reality and poached away his best animators from the Studios to make the Park a reality. (The engineers would only tell him what he couldn’t do, not what he could). They built some exceedingly cool art. They invented an entire genre. They bucked the bean-counters at The Disney Company who told them it wouldn’t ever work.

CC: What effects do you think communications technology — from instant messaging to weblogs to hypertext — have had and will have on the English language? On literature?

CD: As I said upstream, the trend in communications since the dawn of history has been increasing fluidity for information, increasing democratization. We’re in a giant, never-ending permanent Protestant Reformation. Whenever we — as a culture — have had a choice between some medium that makes interesting artifacts and another medium that makes less interesting artifacts that are more fluid, we’ve chosen the louche and lowbrow over the pretty and scarce. Illuminated Bibles begat Gutenberg Bibles begat cheap, mass produced Bibles begat Project Gutenberg Bibles.

You often hear people decrying reading off a screen. They say that the text isn’t sharp enough, the artifacts less sentimental than paper volumes, the infrastructure (computers and Internet connections) too complex and expensive. These detractors conveniently ignore the fact that literate people, by and large, spend six or more hours reading text off a screen. They remind me of the music-industry execs that spent the early days of the file-sharing revolution who dismissed MP3 as not being good-sounding-enough and too lacking in liner notes to be an effective replacement for CDs. They sound like Gutenberg-era priests pooh-poohing Mr. Gutenberg’s cheap and nasty Bibles: “How can the Word of God possibly be represented in one of those tetchy books? Proper Bibles are hand-painted on foetal lambskin by Trappist Monks who devote their lives to illuminating the Precious Word.”

CC: You help run Boing Boing, a leading tech-and-culture weblog. Has your experience as a blog publisher affected your writing?

CD: In truth, it’s spoiled me. With a blog, it goes like this: I get an idea, write about the idea, post it, and five minutes later, get some feedback. With fiction, it’s this: I have an idea, write about the idea, send it to a publisher, argue about the idea, rewrite the idea, argue some more, wait a couple years, argue some more, do another rewrite, wait a couple years, and then, some day, a physical dead-tree book arrives. I’m not a patient person, and the wait just kills me.

CC: How has your work at the Electronic Frontier Foundation influenced your work?

CD: I wrote Down and Out before I came to work at the EFF, along with my second novel (which Tor will publish next fall), Eastern Standard Tribe. But now I’m working on a new novel, whose (admittedly sucky) working title is “/usr/bin/god.” It’s about Singularity mysticism and nerd culture, which is full of issues from my work with the EFF. It’s a sort of expansion of “0wnz0red,” a parable about “Trusted Computing” that I wrote and which Salon published last August.

CC: In Magic Kingdom, technology has made it possible for people to live forever. Several characters “die” repeatedly, only to be re-booted from back-up memory, like machines. Did the instant-resurrection prevalent in computer and video games influence this aspect of the story? If not, what led you to it?

CD: Actually, it was more about backup-and-restore. I started out as a sysadmin, and I was just as paranoid about the data of my users as I was about my own. I’ve managed to preserve just about all my mail, all my writing, just about everything that I’ve ever created with a computer since I got my first Apple ][+ in the summer of 1979. I back up all that data to an off-site storage every day, and back up my important stuff — like fiction and financials — to a remote server 3000 miles away (just in case) in a big, encrypted blob, once a month. All this gives me a nice, warm feeling — especially when a machine is stolen, smashed, flooded, or HERFed and I do that wondrous restore and get all my data back.

CC: It sounds as if there’s almost an element of salvation in the literal saving. . . .

CD: I guess. I think it’s more about the end of infocalyptic events like the burning of Alexandria. I just finished Bruce Sterling’s brilliant new book of futurism, “Tomorrow Now,” which is mind-blowing and provocative as hell. I think the world of Sterling, but I also disagree with a number of his theses about infotech. In TN, he does this dead media schtick about all the info that’s been lost along with the platforms that supported it. As I read it, I itched to give Bruce a tutorial on the frankly amazing work that’s been done on emulators. A little-appreciated consequence of Moore’s Law is the fact that a modern computer has enough power to handily simulate several deprecated machines from bygone days — simultaneously. Practically, that means that I can trivially fire up the Logo programs I wrote when I was nine, even though — because! — I’m using a computer that makes my ][+ look like a flint arrowhead. Every computer I’ve bought since the advent of harddrives has had more storage than all the computers I owned before, put together. When I look at the incredible new archiving projects being built on commodity hardware — like archive.org — I can’t help but conclude that the days of information perishing are gone forever.

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CC Talks With: Dan Gillmor

Glenn Otis Brown, August 1st, 2005

You may have read this Featured Commoner’s technology columns in the San Jose Mercury Sun News or on Sillicon Valley.com. Dan Gillmor has been writing about technology, business, and policy for as long as such a beat has existed. His new book, We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People, tells the shift of how grassroots journalism will dethrone the Big Media monopoly on news. The book is licensed under a Creative Commons attribution, non-commercial, share-alike license. The book is now in stores and available for download.

Creative Commons: There’s a nice quote early in your book that sums up much of your argument. “The news is what we make of it, in more ways than one.” Could you expand on that?

Dan Gillmor: There are various ways to “make the news,” but they’re starting to blend. In the traditional sense it works this way: You can make news by doing something extraordinary (or ordinary, if you’re a celebrity or politician), or by doing something evil or especially good. PR and marketing people help. We in the journalism business make the news every day, every hour, by reporting what we learn; newspapers are, in part, a manufacturing business. And “consumers” of news can make their own news reports by sifting through the growing variety of information now available to them.

Now, all of those news constituencies are starting to bleed into each other. The former audience is joining the journalism process, as is the Newsmaker who talks over our heads to the audience more directly via blogs and other new tools. The journalist has to pay much closer attention to it all, and must listen as much as lecture.

featured Dan Gillmor work
We The Media
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CC: Your arguments about democratized media pivot on the role of technology, particularly the Internet and blogs. Given this, did you ever have second thoughts about making your argument in traditional book form? Are you or O’Reilly taking steps to make your book “Read-Write” as well?

DG: No second thoughts whatsoever. I love books, which have always been a crucial part of my life since I learned to read. I love the way they feel in my hands, and the places they take me. I hope this particular book will have some shelf life even though the topic is contemporary; and we’ll probably do another edition.

The read-write portion will be in the Safari part of O’Reilly’s business, where people can buy individual chapters and accompanying material. From a non-commercial point of view, moreover, I can’t wait to see the remixes that other people do online.

CC: Why did you decide to license We the Media under a Creative Commons license?

DG: It was an opportunity to live up to the things I’ve been preaching. Creative Commons is offering one of the only alternatives to the stifling and, I believe, dangerous ways of the copyright cartel that is trying to lock everything down.

CC: What was it like to get O’Reilly Media to agree to release the book under the license?

DG: There was not only no resistance, but Tim and his team were delighted to do it. You should ask them why.

CC: What do you expect will happen as a result that wouldn’t have under a traditional “all rights reserved” release?

DG: As noted, I’m looking forward to seeing things that surprise me. I do hope folks will put in the hyperlinks, something I don’t have time to do. And Niall Kennedy has posted an audio of the introduction; perhaps other folks will make audios of other chapters.

CC: Given the new publishing landscape, what advice would you give an aspiring journalist?

DG: This is a tough question, because the business is changing so quickly. I would encourage anyone who wants to be a journalist to be fluent with technology, of course. More importantly, I’d urge him or her to have an insatiable curiosity, an eagerness to listen, a powerful sense of fairness and honor, and a passion for helping people understand the world around them.

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CC Talks With: Doc Searls

Lisa Rein, July 1st, 2005

Speaker, blogger, writer, and former radio personality, Doc Searls is the Senior Editor of Linux Journal, co-founder of GeekPAC and the American Open Technology Consortium, and a leading blogger.

Widely recognized as an authority on technology and marketing, Doc is co-author of the #1 sales and marketing bestseller The Cluetrain Manifesto, which will be released under a Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication.

Creative Commons: So let’s talk licensing…

Doc Searls: Journalism has an old acronym: MEGO, for “my eyes glaze over.” A mego is any story that’s too important not to run and too dull to interest all but a few. Licensing is one of those topics for me. I glaze at the thought of it — which is an occupational problem, because licensing is a big deal in the Linux community, where I work.

I’m always amazed at how much energy gets spent by Linux weenies talking about licensing, while most people in the business world really doesn’t give a damn. Hey, that’s why they have legal departments.

CC: What do you think might help people to better understand the licensing process?

DS: I think we need to develop a new vernacular understanding of what licensing is. . . . I mean there have always been tacit agreements about what we can and can’t do with stuff — agreements we’ve understood intuitively. Now we need to be much more explicit, because the range of actions that can be taken with our public works is not only much larger, but often committed in digital form, which allows us to be much more specific about the agreements involved.

Anyway, it’s still a boring subject to me, but at least I know why it’s important.

CC: How do you think Creative Commons licenses might help?

DS: I believe there is a crying need for a public conversation about the licensing of artistic works, and for our vocabulary to have the richest and most specific possible bases. That’s why the work Creative Commons does is so important and welcome by attempting to scaffold a new set of commons-native relationships between creators and customers.

CC: And you feel these “commons-native” relationships are fundamental to cyberspace?

DS: Yes. The Net isn’t a distribution pipe; it’s a place. We conceive the Net as a place. Craig Burton calls this place “a new world, built like a sphere comprised of nothing but ends.” Think about “end to end” architecture for a moment. The best way to conceive it, Craig says, is as a hollow sphere. Across the nothingness in the middle we are all zero distance from each other. Each of us is an end. No intermediaries required.

As Monty of Ogg Vorbis put it to me in an Austin bar last spring, “There’s a reason we call it ‘cyberspace, not ‘cyberpipes’.” We go on the Net, not through it.

CC: Who do you think is treating it like a mere distribution pipe?

DS: Well, as we pointed out in Cluetrain, business is thick with the language of shipping. We have something we call “content” that we “load” into a “channel” and “address” for “delivery” to a “consumer” or an “end user.” Even a category as human-oriented as customer support talks about “delivering” services…

That said, the businesses that are most afflicted with pipe-mindedness are the ones that are quickest to call everything “content.” It’s amazing to me that I used to be a writer, and now I’m a “content provider.” Entertainment and publishing are the biggest offenders here, at least in the sense that they see the Net entirely as a plumbing system. The whole notion of a “commons” is anathema to the plumbing construct.

This was the problem with all these dot-com acronyms with a 2 in the middle — B2B, B2C and so on. “To” was the wrong preposition. As Christine Boehlke put it to me once, the correct middle letter should have been W, because in a real marketplace we do business with people not to them. Does anybody ever shake hands and say “Nice doing business to you!”? Because the Net is more fundamentally a place than a pipe, we do business with each other there, not just to each other. Critical difference.

CC: And this can bring about new kinds of relationships between creators and customers?

DS: This demands new kinds of relationships between everybody, and not just the entities we call creators and customers. The relationships don’t need to be personal; they just need to respect the immediacy of everybody involved. That immediacy is what’s native to the Net. It isn’t native to the physical world — except, perhaps, in an old-fashioned bazaar-type marketplace.

So whatever kinds of relationships we have, they’ll be more immediate and direct.

CC: Who has taken Cluetrain to heart thus far?

DS: I know some pretty big companies that have changed their relationships with suppliers and customers radically to take advantage of the Net. These were the guys we heard from right after Cluetrain came out. Companies like GE, Johnson & Johnson, Wal-Mart, Prudential and Nortel Networks. They may not be reacting perfectly, but they are far more realistic and adaptive than the entertainment and broadcast industries. They have long been vested in the industrial mass marketing model, which they have made sure also relies on political and regulatory protection.

CC: In Chapter 4 of Cluetrain, you describe how the Industrial Age served to transform customers into consumers. Is it your opinion that the Internet can be used as a tool to reverse this trend? Or at least go in a more progressive direction?

DS: Yes. The Net undermines the idea that customers are nothing more than consumers with names. Jerry Michalski calls consumers “gullets who live only to gulp products and crap cash.” They are the aphids of the industrial age. They exist only in mass form and they are specific to the conditions of the industries we call mass media, mass marketing, mass distribution, and mass retailing.

These industries don’t need to go away, but they do need to face the facts about the new conditions the Net has introduced to the world.

It’s important to note that these industries distinguish between customers and consumers in ways that are not obvious, even to them. But those distinctions are critically important to understanding why change is so hard.

CC: What are some specific examples of progressive transformation of some key industries that are starting to “get it.”

DS: In commercial broadcasting, for example, customers and consumers are totally different populations. You and I pay nothing for what we hear on our car radios. We’re just consumers. The customers of the stations we hear are the advertisers who buy time.

The same goes for commercial television. Consumers of commercial TV have no economic relationship whatsoever with their local NBC station, with the network, or with the producers of shows. All the “content” is just bait. Chum on the waters. The commercial broadcasting marketplace is a conversation that exists entirely between the media, advertisers and intermediaries such as advertising agencies.

CC: So whether customer or consumer, they’re not involved in the process?

DS: Exactly. The consumers have zero influence, basically, on commercial television because they pay nothing, and don’t have any kind of direct feedback mechanism. And if we put that mechanism in place (as the Net and TiVo threaten to do), guess what happens? The colossal inefficiencies of advertising get exposed. A $100 billion business worldwide is suddenly at risk.

There is negative demand for most TV and radio advertising. It subtracts value for listeners and viewers. That’s why TiVo viewers skip over the ads. TiVo isn’t exactly Net-native, but it could easily be. And eventually, it will be, if its backers let it survive.

CC: And you think that this has alienated broadcasters from their customer/consumer audiences?

DS: Yes. This split between consumers and customers has given broadcasters not only zero feel for its ultimate marketplace — one where its consumers become customers — but zero appetite for it as well. And there is a similar lack of appetite in the entertainment industry, which has used its vast distribution system to distance itself from its ultimate markets, which will live in the commons.

CC: You wrote about how you see free music downloads as good marketing.

DS: Markets are conversations. People will buy, and will support, the stuff they care about. The next step after “markets are conversations” is “markets are relationships.” Creative Commons helps us get to that better than any other effort I know.

CC: So you’re using a Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication for “Cluetrain Manifesto”?

DS: We basically open-sourced the book. Chris Locke hacked the HTML and put it up on his Gonzo Marketing site. Frankly, we did it without thinking specifically about licensing terms — which we might have done if Creative Commons had already been around!

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CC Talks With: Mark Watson

Derek Slater, July 1st, 2005

Mark Watson is an accomplished programmer and writer of thirteen books on various technical topics. An expert in artificial intelligence and language processing, Watson has advised the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and is currently developing KnowledgeBooks, an information management tool. Recently, Watson released two books, Practical Artificial Intelligence Programming in Java and Loving Lisp, under the Creative Commons Attribution, No Derivatives, Non-Commercial license. He is drafting a third book, on software design, under the same license.

Watson spoke with us recently about his motivations for licensing his works, what he has gained from the experience, and his thoughts on the Semantic Web.

Creative Commons: What motivated you to publish under a Creative Commons license?

Mark Watson: I liked the idea of using a standard license. I also thought that it was a way to support the good side in copyright, people like Professor Lessig. I feel that the recent extension of copyright for longer terms is not in the public interest. To be blunt, I feel like a few large corporations are buying off Congress, and I don’t like this trend.

I still do write non-free published books, but I also have a desire to give something back, and writing free web books under a Creative Commons license fills that need.

CC: What experiences have made “giving back” important to you?

MW: I receive requests from teachers in non-industrialized countries for permission to reprint part of my published books for their classes. Clearing the rights in these cases is, in general, too costly for my publishers and for people asking permission. I travel a fair amount, and I feel that our world is a small place and we should try to get along. We in the U.S. have got a free ride on many things, and we should seriously count our blessings.

I value the times people have made use of my work. About five years ago, I spoke with a computer science professor in Peru who had copied just a chapter out of one of my books for his class. A few years later, we ended up working together briefly at Intelligenesis [an artificial intelligence corporation]. Small world!

I believe in a gift economy. I believe in a take-what-you-need-and-leave-some-for-others philosophy.

CC: To fund your writing, you offer advertising space in your books and ask your readers for donations. Have your efforts been successful? Has your Creative Commons licensing of these books attracted people them?

MW: I have never sold any advertisements, but I do receive about $40 per month in donations. I like this for two reasons. First, if someone takes the time to send me a few dollars via PayPal, I take that as a compliment. Second, the donations do pay for my bandwidth.

The advertisements that you see in the web books are for a few of my favorite charities; I hope that they get some money as a result of those free advertisements.

CC: Artificial intelligence and natural language processing—in the same spirit as Creative Commons’ RDF metadata—may be helpful in fulfilling the vision of a Semantic Web. Tell us a little about how these tools will do this.

MW: The Semantic Web is a version of the Web that you can communicate with like a person. Using software that can accurately process and understand the information on Web sites, you will be able to ask search engines to retrieve specific facts, rather than pages containing some list of words.

Imagine, for example, that you want to research a company’s financial history before buying stock in it. Rather than telling a search engine to look for key words like “stock” and the company’s name, you could ask the search engine, specifically, who’s on the board of directors, how the stock has been doing, and what the SEC thinks of the company.

The Semantic Web is a bit of a dream at this point in time. There are two interesting aspects to the Semantic Web. First, we need to convince human authors of webpages to take the time to add RDF tags to help identify content, which Creative Commons encourages. Second, we need automatic artificial intelligence and language processing tools that can categorize text, and extract keywords and phrases.

My KnowledgeBooks demo is one example of how this can work. When I spider news sites—I have written permission to do this—I detect human names, place names, Reuters news categories, and key word phrases. I have also tried to build a system that searches by concept.

It is very difficult, in the general sense, to write software to pull meaningful information from arbitrary web sites. Having people help search engines out by putting RDF tags on their sites is a good start.

If and when the Semantic Web becomes more of a reality, I think that we can expect software agents that will enable us to find information that we need quickly. Google is a great tool, but it is still just a keyword search—still just a start.

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