Commons News

Investigating CC’s Welfare Impact: Quantity, Quality and Variability Measures

Tal Niv, November 1st, 2010

CC has recently started thinking more rigorously about its contribution to the world. See the first, second and third posts in this series for an introduction.

In my former post I spent quite a few words trying to explain where I believe CC should and shouldn’t venture looking for the proper metrics that will efficaciously represent its contribution to welfare. The bottom line was that what seems like the ultimate decision is to look to the direct contribution of CC to Quality, Quantity and Variability measures. I now intend to elaborate a little on this approach.

The first thing that is important to mention is that Quantity, Quality and Variability ought to be measured across the different fields in which CC operates, for example, in art, in OER, in UGC. Second, that QQ&V should be measured under the different value pillars (transactional, institutional, norm) and third, as they pertain to both productive and consumptive use. By productive use, I mean the sense by which CC complements the quality, the quantity and the variability of active, creative, collaborative endeavors and by consumptive use I refer to the sense in which CC promotes passive use of existing creative enterprises, by expanding access to them and by increasing the efficiency of consumption.

The contribution to Quantity is probably the easiest to explain. It means just one thing by way of method: counting; how many new works are being created thanks to CC’s activity? (productive), how many additional passive uses are there? (consumptive) and how many distinct new creators, collaborators and consumers are added? These can then be naturally specified by pillar of contribution (again: transactional, institutional, norm), by field of activity, across fields, by use type and by user type.

Quality has both an internal and an external meaning: By internal quality of a work we mean to refer to the works’ level of excellence in terms of its own field, which in itself is a complex measure that judges the value of the work itself. The external quality measure refers to the level of contribution of the work to the promotion of a collaborative environment and is therefore tied to both the productive process of the its creation and to its consumptive uses. In terms of purely consumptive uses, quality refers to the advantage which consumers are able to extract from the work itself.

The variability parameter is set to measure internal and external novelty as it is induced by CC. Internal variability means the creation of new types of works within a field, whereas external variability pertains to the dynamics of the creation of new fields of activity. The aspect of variability is very much related to the innovation literature that often analyzes the status and dynamics of growth in terms of the accumulation of new products.

But our job doesn’t end here, because it is not just changes that CC induces in the measure of quality, quantity and variability that ought to be calculated; in fact, crucial to the value assessment is the consideration of change rate. Since the rapidity of value accumulation is in itself a substantial aspect of the contribution level.

Now, the next immediate step ought to be defining metrics, per field, for each of these three attributes, quantity, quality and variability. But, as we’ve become accustomed to, there are still several complications that need to be dealt with:

  1. CC is operating in numerous fields. In order to be optimally effective, it must rely on cost/benefit analysis which will suggest to it how to best divide its own resources.
  2. CC is a comprehensive framework which creates value spillover effects across fields.
  3. CC’s fields of operation are not clear-cut fields in the sense that some works are hard to categorize. For example, basic science and OER are far from being distinct fields and of course, user generated content comes in all “flavors”. And since CC sets itself to promote these interdisciplinary collaborations they are essential and weighty parts of the value it creates.
  4. Often, CC’s contribution will be in creating altogether new fields of activity. It is important not to lose track of those by putting too much emphasis on inter-field benefits.

Now it seems to me that the pitfalls introduced by #2-#4 may be bridged by considering the contribution to collaboration, or to the mode of creation and consumption that is more heavily based on sharing. Or at least that’s the belief I choose to stick to. Firmly. Yet, when it comes to pitfall #1, that one really seems to require the second order estimation of the contribution to welfare of the actual field, or a predefined preference ordering which relies on other underpinnings. At any rate, it transgresses the scope of the estimation project.

So, for example, we can think of the contribution to collaboration using these attributes: When it comes to quantity, effective will be more participants in each CC’d creative enterprise, in comparison to non-CC’d enterprises, as well as more distribution of the CC’d work when it comes to the consumptive measures. From the internal quality perspective, what is judged is the level of the cooperation according to the promotion of the creative spark through the shared mode of creation. From the external quality perspective, a high-quality collaborative work would be replicated more than others, and create collaborative energy which will carry over to other enterprises. When it comes to the potential contribution to variability, what is judged is the extent to which more types of collaborative efforts are being fashioned, both within and across fields.

CC’s contribution to art can serve us as yet another example. If we think in quantity terms, we can measure the number of new CC creations, the number of new CC artists, the number of new types of artists, and the extent of distribution of CC creations, from the perspective of consumptive use. When it comes to quality, the level of the relative internal excellence of the CC’d artwork can be measured, as well as its external impact on other creative sites. Quality measures for consumption will encompass its effectiveness, in terms of the impression that it is capable of making on consumers. Variability, in art, will be set to measure the relative innovativeness of the CC artistic enterprises, both within existing genres and in the cultivation of new ones.

And I could go on and on to CC open education enterprises, to the CC’d basic science enterprises as well as to distinct cases of CC’d user generated content, but the point is probably clear by now. The basic idea is that these measurements are all the output we need, because having calculated them, we ought to be able to go on to scrutinizing CC’s contribution on any desired level. For example, once we know how art is affected by CC, through the measures of quantity, quality and variability, anybody could translate that into how art’s contribution to welfare is boasted.

Does that all make sense to you? Let us know, we’ll appreciate it.

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Governments demonstrating leadership in openness with Creative Commons

Michelle Thorne, October 29th, 2010

Qatar’s Supreme Council for Information and Communication Technology, ictQatar, is among the many governments making waves by promoting openness and Creative Commons. During the welcome address at last weekend’s Digitally Open conference in Doha, the ictQATAR’s Secretary General Dr. Hessa Al-Jaber announced that “all future ICT Qatar projects will be open source, and we aim to use these solutions throughout the government. Open Source should be the solution for every government initiative.” She listed a range of domains where openness would benefit Qatari society, including education, medicine, and the arts. “Being open can even be considered a moral obligation. I am excited about the potential this country has,” Dr. Al-Jaber explained.

Governmental bodies around the world are adopting Creative Commons licenses and signaling to their constituencies that these works can be shared in simple, interoperable ways. Just this week, the current Portuguese President Aníbal Cavaco Silva released his official photostream under CC BY, while also posting a CC BY-licensed announcement to run for re-election on SoundCloud.

New Zealand recognizes that reuse of government copyright works by individuals and organizations may have significant creative and economic benefit for the country. To harness this potential and enable greater access to public sector works, the enacted NZ Government Open Access and Licensing (NZGOAL) framework standardizes licensing of copyrighted works by State Services agencies by using Creative Commons licenses and recommends the use of ‘no-known rights’ statements for non-copyright material. The Dutch government also demonstrated a great degree of leadership when it instituted CC0 as the default copyright policy of the Dutch national government’s unified website, which contains the websites of all the ministries. All content on www.rijskoverheid.nl is available without restrictions unless noted otherwise.

Creative Commons applauds these initiatives and looks forward to working with key governmental institutions such as ictQatar and others to pioneer further efforts. To foster original Arabic content and improve education and innovation, ictQatar pledged to establish policies that encourage open source solutions in governmental IT and oversee a major national digitization effort to release Arabic-language content under Creative Commons licenses. These are just a number of initiatives agreed upon during the Digitally Open conference as part of a vision to strengthen the voice of the region.

Furthermore, thanks to the generous support of ictQatar, many CC Affiliates and community members traveled to Doha to participate in the second CC Arab World regional meeting. A summary of the meeting will be published shortly, including information about the region’s roadmap and consensus-driven translations of key CC terms into Arabic. You can contribute feedback to the roadmap when published, and importantly, please consider donating today to Creative Commons to support the licensing infrastructure that many governments and other important institutions and creators rely upon.

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We Met wikiHow’s Challenge in Just Three Days!

Allison Domicone, October 29th, 2010

We’re thrilled to announce that we’ve met wikiHow’s challenge to match the next $4000 donated to CC’s fundraising campaign in just three days! THANK YOU to all who donated and had your gift automatically doubled by wikiHow, the world’s largest and highest quality how-to manual!

By joining wikiHow in supporting CC, you’re confirming their belief that CC is a cause worth caring about. According to wikiHow founder Jack Herrick, “wikiHow is all about enabling people to share and learn: Our contributors share their knowledge with us and then we bring their expertise to the largest possible audience. This works so well because of Creative Commons. Supporting this organization ensures that the tools to share and build upon knowledge will be maintained as the electronic age continues to evolve.”

Now’s your chance to also check out these awesome new additions to the world of wikiHow instructions: How to support Creative Commons; How to support Free Culture; and how to find CC licensed images.

If you didn’t have the chance to take part in the challenge, you can still help us meet our $550k goal by donating today and showing the world how much sharing means to you.

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CC Talks With: Elspeth Revere of the MacArthur Foundation

Allison Domicone, October 29th, 2010

Elspeth Revere
Elspeth Revere,
MacArthur Foundation
/ CC BY

Elspeth Revere is the Vice President in charge of Media, Culture and Special Initiatives at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The MacArthur Foundation has generously supported CC since our founding in 2002. Join MacArthur and help keep CC going strong by making a donation today.

Can you give us some background on the MacArthur Foundation?

MacArthur is one of the nation’s largest independent foundations. The MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society.

With assets over $5 billion, MacArthur will award approximately $230 million in grants this year. Through the support it provides, the Foundation fosters the development of knowledge, nurtures individual creativity, strengthens institutions, helps improve public policy, and provides information to the public, primarily through support for public interest media.

The Foundation was established in 1978.  Last year, it made 600 grants for a total of $230 million.

What is your role there?

I am Vice President in charge of Media, Culture and Special Initiatives.  We have three ongoing areas of work. The first is in public interest media, where we support public radio, documentary films, deep and analytical news programs, and investigative reporting. The second is support to over 200 arts and culture organizations in our home city, Chicago.  The third is institutional support to help strengthen nonprofit organizations that are key to the Foundation’s grantmaking fields so that they will exist and be effective over the long term.  In addition, we conduct a changing set of special grantmaking initiatives that are intended to be short-term and responsive to a particular problem or opportunity.

The MacArthur Foundation is a private foundation (not a corporate sponsor) that supports Creative Commons – what was the motivation behind this generous giving? What is it about CC that you find important?

In about 1999, MacArthur began exploring the question of how the digital revolution would impact society and the issues that the Foundation cared about and what a Foundation like MacArthur could do to help people understand and shape this phenomenon for the overall good.  We held a series of consultations and some of the people who later became founders of Creative Commons, including Larry Lessig and Jamie Boyle, talked to us about both the promise of technology to unlock information and make it widely and easily available, and the concern that digital tools could also be used to limit the public availability of information.  They, and others, helped us to understand that copyright laws, originally intended to regulate industry, were increasingly regulating consumers and their behavior — and this was even before blogging, podcasts, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and all the other sharing tools that we now rely on.

In 2002, MacArthur began a six year funding initiative on Intellectual Property and the Long-Term Protection of the Public Domain.  Our first grant to Creative Commons was made that year.  It was an exemplary organization for us to support because we were looking for new models of thinking about intellectual property in a digital age.  All told, we have made 4 grants totaling $3.15 million to support its work.  And Creative Commons has become a successful tool for sharing information in the arts, sciences, governance, and education throughout the world.

What is the link between the MacArthur Foundation and CC? Do you use our tools in your work? Or are our tools more applicable to your grantees?

MacArthur policy calls for openness in research and freedom of access to data. We encourage our grantees to explore opportunities to use existing and emerging Internet distribution models and when appropriate open access journals, Creative Commons licenses or other mechanisms that result in broad access for the interested field and public. While we do not insist that grantees use Creative Commons licenses, we do suggest their use when appropriate and practical.

What do you see as CC’s role in the broader digital ecosystem? How does CC enable the MacArthur Foundation and its grantees to better innovate in that space?

Creative Commons has made all of us more aware of information sharing — how and why we use the information of others and when and how we will let others use what we create.  It has provided the tools to allow us to share what we make both easily and widely if we want to do so. It has enabled communities to form around the world to work on common interests ranging from music and governance. And it has demonstrated that these communities can solve legal, technical and practical problems together.

Help make sure Creative Commons can continue to develop and steward tools that are crucial to sharing information in the arts, sciences, governance, and education throughout the world. Make a donation today.

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CC Talks With: Ton Roosendaal, Sintel Producer and head of Blender Institute

Chris Webber, October 27th, 2010

Sintel poster
Sintel poster by Blender Institute / CC BY

Ton Roosendaal is head of the Blender Institute, leader of Blender development, and producer of the recently released 3d short film Sintel, which is released as Creative Commons Attribution 3.0.

Sintel is the Blender Institute’s third “open movie”. Could you describe what “open movie” means to the Blender Institute?

Oh… many things. First, I love to work with artists, which goes much easier than working with developers! And making short animation films with teams is an amazing and very rewarding activity. With this large creative community of Blender artists, the financial model enables it even; not many short film makers have this opportunity.

But the practical incentive to do this is because it’s a great development model for Blender. Putting artists together on a major challenge is the ultimate way to drive software like Blender forward. That way we can also ensure it fits ambitious targets weeding out the ‘would be cool features’ for the ‘must need’ ones. And it’s quite easier to design usability with small diverse teams, than have it done online via feedback mechanisms, which easily becomes confusing with the noise of hundreds of different opinions.

It’s also a fact that the Blender Institute was established for open movie projects, so for me (and the Blender Institute) it means our core business.

Blender Institute projects have a rare but heavily developed intersection between free and open source software (Blender the software and its developer community) and free culture (the films the Blender Institute produces). How related and similar are these worlds?

I don’t consider myself much related to “free culture” really, and certainly not in the political sense. For Blender projects it’s just a natural way to deliver it in open license like with [the licenses provided by] CC. We want our users to learn from them, to dissect our tricks and technology, or use them for other works. And not least: to allow everyone who works on a project to freely take it with them; as a portfolio, or companies who sponsor us who need demos or research material. So in that sense we are free culture!

But each time I meet people who work in this field, it’s mostly theorists, not practicists. so I’m a bit biased [...] people who talk about free culture don’t seem to make it (at least here in the Netherlands, at conferences or meetings). I get regular invitations to talk on this topic. I do it sometimes, but the blah-blah level disturbs me a bit. Free culture is about doing it.

So at the Blender Institute, you have artists working on these works, and you have programmers working on this code. How similar are those worlds?

For Blender, I think we have a great mix, with a lot of cross-overs. Several of our coders started as users, and we involve artists closely in design for tools or features.

This doesn’t always go perfectly, especially when it’s highly technical, like simulation code. But if you visit our IRC channel, or mailing list, or conferences… it’s always a great mix. Maybe this is because 3d art creation is quite technical too? I dunno… not many users will understand how to construct bsp trees, yet they use it all the time.

In general compared to other open source projects, I think we’re quite un-technical and accessible. A big reason for that is because I’m not even a trained programmer. I did art and industrial design. When coders go too deep in abstract constructions I can’t follow it either and can simply counter it with an “Okay, but what’s the benefit for using this?” And when the answer is “It makes coders’ lives easier” I usually ignore it. In my simple world, coders suffer and artists benefit! But one coder can also do some stuff — taking a few hours — that saves hundreds of thousands of people a few seconds in a day. And that’s always good.

What’s the development of a film like Sintel like as in terms of internal development vs community involvement in production? Has that dynamic changed at all from work to work? I partly ask this because some people think “Oh, open movie, they must have their SVN repository open the whole time and just get random contributions from everywhere,” but Blender Institute films don’t tend to work that way.

Right, we keep most of our content closed until release. I’m a firm believer in establishing protective creative processes. In contrast to developers — who can function well individually online — an artist really needs daily and in-person feedback and stimulation.

We’ve done this now four times (three films and one game) and it’s amazing how teams grow in due time. But during this process they’re very vulnerable too. If you followed the blog you may have seen that we had quite harsh criticism on posting our progress work. If you’re in the middle of a process, you see the improvements. Online you only see the failures.

The cool thing is that a lot of tests and progress can be followed now perfectly and it suddenly makes more sense I think. Another complex factor for opening up a creative process is that people are also quite inexperienced when they join a project. You want to give them a learning curve and not hear all the time from our audience that it sucks. Not that it was that bad! But one bad criticism can ruin a day.

One last thing on the “open svn” point: in theory it could work, if we would open up everything 100% from scratch. That then will give an audience a better picture of progress and growth. We did that for our game project and it was suited quite well for it. For film… most of our audience wants to get surprised more, not know the script, the dialogs, the twists. Film is more ‘art’ than games, in that respect.

Ton Roosendaal
Ton Roosendaal by Kennisland / CC BY-SA

You also did the sprints this time, which pulled in some more community involvement than in previous projects. Do you think that model went well? Would you do it again?

The modeling sprint was great! We needed a lot of props, and for that an online project works perfectly. The animation sprint (for animated characters) was less of a success. Character animation doesn’t lend itself well for it, I think. There’s no history for it… ehh. Like, for design and modeling, we have a vocabulary. Most people understand when you explain visual design, style, proportions. But for animation… only a few (trained) animators know how to discuss this. It’s more specialist too.

How has the choice of the Creative Commons Attribution license affected your works?

How would it affect our works? Do you mean, why not choose ND (no-derivatives) or NC (noncommercial)? Both restrictions won’t suit well for our work. And without attribution it’s not a CC license.

I did get some complaints why not choose a FSF compatible license, but the Free Software Foundation has no license for content like ours either.

What kinds of things have you seen / do you expect to see post-release of a project such as Sintel?

A lot of things happened with previous films, Elephants Dream and Big Buck Bunny, ranging from codec research in companies, showcases on tradeshows, to student composers using it to graduate. Even wallpaper!

We are working now on a 4k resolution of the film (4096 x 2160). The 4k market is small, but very active and visible in many places. They’re dying for good content. I’m also very interested in doing a stereoscopic ’3d’ version. As for people making alternative endings or shots; that hasn’t happened a lot, to my knowledge. Our quality standard is too high as well, so it’s not a simple job.

But further, the very cool thing of open content is that you’re done when you’re done! A commercial product’s work stress only starts when the product is done. That’s what I learned with our first film. Just let it go, and move on to next.

And at least one “free culture” aspect then: it’s quite amazing how our films have become some kind of cultural heritage already. People have grown fond of them, or at least to the memory of them. It’s part of our culture in a way, and without a free license that would have been a really tough job.

Might there be a Sintel game (Project Jackfruit?) using the Blender Game Engine like there was a game following Big Buck Bunny (Yo Frankie)?

Not here in the Blender Institute. But there’s already a quite promising online project for it.

You can watch Sintel online and support the project (and get all the data files used to produce the film, tutorials, and many other goodies) by purchasing a DVD set. You may also wish to consider supporting Creative Commons in our current superhero campaign.

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wikiHow wants to double your donation! Now’s your chance to support CC

Melissa Reeder, October 27th, 2010

wikiHow, the world’s largest and highest quality how-to manual wants to double your donation to Creative Commons! Starting right now, wikiHow is matching every dollar of the next $4000 given to CC. That means if you donate $10, $25, $75 to CC right now, your impact will be automatically doubled thanks to wikiHow. Hurry, you only have a limited time to meet their challenge!

Why is wikiHow challenging you to give to CC this year? Here’s what Jack Herrick, wikiHow’s Founder, has to say:

wikiHow is all about enabling people to share and learn: Our contributors share their knowledge with us and then we bring their expertise to the largest possible audience. This works so well because of Creative Commons. Supporting this organization ensures that the tools to share and build upon knowledge will be maintained as the electronic age continues to evolve.

wikiHow feels so strongly about the importance of CC and a sharing culture that they’re not just donating their cash but are also sharing with the world instructions on how to support Creative Commons, Free Culture, and how to find CC licensed images.

Join wikiHow in supporting CC, and have your donation automatically doubled. If you’ve haven’t yet given to our fundraising campaign, now is your chance. It’s easy, you’re just a few clicks away from showing the world how much sharing means to you.

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CC in Barcelona

Jane Park, October 25th, 2010


CC BY-NC-SA by Paco CT

CC is making a strong presence in Barcelona at the many open culture and education events that are taking place in the next couple weeks. Board members Catherine Casserly and Esther Wojcicki, CEO Joi Ito, CTO Nathan Yergler, International Project Manager Michelle Thorne, Open Society Foundation (OSF) Policy Fellow Timothy Vollmer, myself, and a slew of CC Affiliates from all over will be participating in the Open Ed Conference, first Mozilla Drumbeat Festival, Free Culture Forum/oXcars, and Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) Workshop. Some preview highlights and invitations to join us at specific events:

Mozilla Drumbeat Learning, Freedom and the Web Festival (3-5 Nov)
The Mozilla Drumbeat Festival “will gather teachers, learners and technologists from around the world who are at the heart of [the open] revolution.” It will consist of designated spaces, or “tents”, with specific focuses, like building peer-2-peer courses (part of the Peer Learning Lighthouse), designing badges to recognize informal learning (Badge Lab), and fusing Wikipedia with education (Wikipedia lounge). You can check out the evolving schedule here, but we’ll be hosting the following spaces, where we encourage you to join us:

Encourage Content Reuse: Educate your users! (4-5 Nov)
This session addresses the lack of education around openly licensed content and its associated freedoms–how to use, adapt, and remix content to realize the full collaborative potential that is enabled by CC licenses. We will discuss, collaborate, and create educational resources for users of open content. Specific outcomes include a reuse/remix guide for P2PU or other content and DIY license tutorials. The reuse/remix guide will lay the foundation for a “reusable” template that other initiatives can customize to educate their users. DIY license tutorials can be on the “open” subject of your choice, whether it’s a particular CC license, open educational resources (OER) in general, what is “open” anyway?, or org-specific policy (ie. why did P2PU choose CC BY-SA?) in the form of short video, pictures, or design—basically, how would you explain open licensing to your parents?

Building a School of Copyright & Creative Commons (4-5 Nov)
Building on P2PU’s Copyright 4 Educators courses, this is a planning session to discuss how to extend the current network of educators of copyright and Creative Commons. This may involve issues such as recruitment for more course facilitators, collaboration with CC affiliates around the world, and building a “School of Copyright and Creative Commons” at P2PU that would serve as the umbrella for all related courses and programs around copyright education. What other audiences besides educators should we focus on, and how do we leverage the international network of CC affiliates to reach more jurisdictions?

In addition to the above, Joi will be giving the opening keynote to the festival. The full (also evolving) list of drumbeat activities is available at https://wiki.mozilla.org/Drumbeat/events/Festival/program/activities.

Open Ed 2010 (2-4 Nov)
The annual Open Ed conference is “the world’s premiere venue for research related to open education” and this year’s theme is “OER: Impact and Sustainability”. Board member Catherine Casserly will present “Open Educational Resources and the Bull’s-Eye: Opening Access to Knowledge AND Improving Teaching and Learning,” CTO Nathan Yergler will lead a session on “Search and Discovery: OER’s Open Loop,” which focuses on DiscoverEd, a prototype for scalable search of educational resources online, and OSF Policy Fellow Timothy Vollmer will present the “iNACOL survey: An inquiry into OER projects, practices, and policy in U.S. K-12 schools.”

P2PU Workshop 2010 (27-30 Oct)
The second P2PU workshop will focus on the future of the Peer 2 Peer University, including issues of education around open licensing, accreditation, community norms and review processes, governance, sustainability, larger “schools” of courses, and general peer-produced mayhem. Active workshoppers include Neeru Paharia (former CC Executive Director) and myself, in addition to a “friends of P2PU” day where CC board member Catherine Casserly will contribute her expertise and support.

Free Culture Forum and oXcars 2010 (28-31 Oct)
The Free Culture Forum is “an international arena in which to build and coordinate action around issues related to free/libre culture and access to knowledge.” It “brings together key organizations and active voices in the spheres of free/libre culture and knowledge, and provides a meeting point where we can find answers to the pressing questions behind the current paradigm shift.” oXcars 2010 is the free culture awards ceremony that will take place at the beginning of the forum, recognizing international artists and performers, including those of Spanish culture.

Barcelona was also host to the sixth COMMUNIA workshop earlier this month, which focused on “Memory Institutions and Public Domain.”

We hope to see you at one or all of these events, and if not, stay tuned for updates in November.

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Seeking a Software Contractor

Jennifer Yip, October 21st, 2010

Creative Commons is seeking to fill a full-time contract position of approximately four months duration. The Software Engineer will help develop and improve software as part of the AgShare project. Must have excellent knowledge of Java, RDF, and software development best practices. Extensive knowledge of Linux and open source development tools (including Subversion, git, etc) is also essential. Experience with Apache Nutch and Lucene is desirable.

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Investigating CC’s welfare impact, the second step

Tal Niv, October 21st, 2010

CC has recently started thinking more rigorously about its contribution to the world. See the first and introductory posts in this series.

After I found what I believe to be a satisfactory formulation for what CC actually does, which divides the CC enterprise into three planes, transactional, institutional, and normative, as I described to you in the former post — another concern began to harass me in the shower, (and I mean this very literally).

This time the quandary had to do with the abundance of fields and activities which CC supports: CC operates to contribute to a wide variety of human endeavors. Part of its contribution can be classified under widely acknowledged topical fields, another part under budding fields, and yet another, which is slightly different than the other two, as a contribution to specific modes of creation.

In the first group I include art on all its types, basic science and open education. Among the second group I count user-generated-content enterprises, such as online commenting, blogging and contribution to knowledge bases like Wikipedia. The third group hovers the other two, since it pertains to the direct contribution to the method. In a nutshell, it refers to the welfare contribution of the improvement and suffusion of the new type of collaboration which is marked by the following attributes: (1) it involves many different individuals, usually a flexible group of people that changes dynamically with contributors leaving it and joining it (2) their product is thus highly flexible, transforming through time (3) the individual contributions are performed at different moments in time, and (4) the contribution can vary in size, from infinitesimally tiny to extremely extensive. Through the facilitation of this new type of collaboration, different interacting communities are being created, which in itself can be counted as a sphere of contribution.

So what’s the problem?

Clearly what one has to do in order to evaluate the contribution of each of these, is to scrutinize each in order to derive the proper metrics for quantification. But on closer inspection of the issue you necessarily come to realize that all of these fields of contribution have some unquantifiable quality which makes metrics-identification slightly complicated. Yes… unlucky me, CC has handpicked a set of fields that are quite resistant to measurement, each for its own reason:

Art. Nobody really wants to quantify art. Art in utilitarian terms… not very palatable, you have to admit. Thinking in pecuniary terms might imply that the contribution of art is merely its price, and would undermine the value of the very engagement in art, as well as the value of works which have not had the good fortune of being auctioned or sold.

Basic science is likewise a “tough cookie” for measurement. Not least because thinking just in terms of end products fails to account for the advantages of the learning process and some of the outputs of basic science are extremely hard to predict.

Open education… oh well, difficult to quantify in its own stead. How can one begin to account for the contribution that extended access has? That active over passive consumption of material has in terms of effectiveness of the learning and teaching process? And how does one discount the cost of degraded outputs which are invariably part of the contribution of educational material which has not undergone the same rigorous screening process that commerciality putatively mandates that it undergo?

Harder still, what’s the value of a collaborative encyclopedia? Is it that aggregation of the separate contributions, in many cases almost negligible? What is the contribution of a post that is published in the open? Of comments to these posts? Again, these are the same problems, overburdened by extrinsic costs that must be accounted for too.

All of these enterprises have a basic attribute which I considered as a separate issue and that is the contribution which ensues directly from increased collaboration. And how the (#*&(@&!# does one begin to analyze the beneficial impact that increased collaboration, cooperation and flexible creative communities has?

So, because hyperventilating in the shower is dangerous, I reminded myself that it cannot be that I am the first person who is attempting to tread this road. Except collaboration. I am pretty sure that I haven’t seen any separate consideration of the direct value of collaboration. So as an aside, let me just explain why I am resigned that it is quite necessary to think of collaboration as a separate matter: First, because there are new topical fields created by virtue of these new modes of interaction and these we will fail to consider, analyzing from a strictly topical angle. Second, collaboration itself has positive impact that goes much further than the benefits to the actual activity, creating immense positive externalities to an abundance of distinct enterprises that follow it.

To get back to what I was saying before, I did find out that I wasn’t the first one to try to find a similar path. So I’ll just describe the very first ideas I drew from other researchers.

The first one I choose to denominate as the devil’s advocate approach, which is basically: Don’t even try. Don’t try to measure; It’s all good; Its art; it’s science; it’s learning; its collaboration; these are fantastic things. And measuring will just downgrade the general awe with which everybody considers these human activities. I was tempted, but thought I’d better think of something else.

So my first real attempt to stand on the shoulders of giants was to think in terms of strict macroeconomic gauges. After all, this is the natural direction for the measurement of the contribution of any enterprise to welfare. Also, so many before us have chosen this path: The US copyright industries, for example, have come up with their report (Look, for example, for Stephen E. Siwek’s Copyright Industries in the U.S. Economy: The 2006 Report, prepared for the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), Nov 2006) after WIPO produced its Guide on Surveying the Economic Contribution of the Copyright-Based Industries, and after many different countries produced such similar reports. This has likewise been the method employed for the preparation of the US fair-use industries report, analyzing the fair-use industries contribution to the revenue, value added, employment, productivity and exports.

So why don’t I believe that this is the solution for CC? Well, I have both general and practical reasons:

As for the general incongruence –

First, most of the macroeconomic measures are nation-centric, while CC is a global enterprise which sets to advance global welfare. Pure aggregation of the macroeconomic contributions of CC to each country is not a solution because it can’t show us whether CC manages its goal to obtain global optimization.

Second, macroeconomic measures do not account for non-market transactions. In other words, activities that are not directly paid for will not contribute to these measures. And yet the promotion of non-market interactions is at the core of CC’s contribution, which means that we can’t settle for measures that are not set to estimate these contributions directly.

In truth, I am not the first to note these shortcomings of macroeconomic measures. The World Bank, for example, despite being content with measuring the total wealth as the net present value of future consumption, came up with a measure for what it deems “intangible capital”. This measure is calculated as the difference between total wealth and the sum of produced and natural capital. According to the World Bank, this number “necessarily includes human capital—the sum of knowledge, skills, and know-how possessed by the population. It also includes the institutional infrastructure of the country as well as the social capital—the level of trust among people in a society and their ability to work together toward common goals.”

I realize this sounds promising. Still, I don’t think it is the answer for CC. First, because intangible capital contribution is a primary area of its contribution, which means that it requires a gauge that measures it directly and vicariously, as a complement. The second and related reason is that CC is contributing to both monetary and non-monetary interactions and the calculation of value must consider the mutual influences. My third qualm with this measure is more fundamental than practical: even when we are coming to evaluate CC’s contribution, it seems pertinent to remember that the very foundations on which CC has been established have to do with the presumption that the consumption stream cannot fully account for human and social capital or for an optimal institutional infrastructure. This means that even these measures would fail to represent the range of contribution of the CC enterprise, because they are complementing measures that do not account for all the relevant welfare dimensions.

As for the practical incongruence –

First, Macroeconomic measures are so broad and all-encompassing that it makes one wonder how she can possibly isolate the separate contribution CC has on the sum of Consumption, Investment, Government Spending and Net Exports, (and, by the way, the former reports on other enterprise do not seem to bridge this difficulty.)

Second, the norm category of contribution (3rd pillar of contribution from the previous post in this series) seems to be almost categorically at odds with macroeconomic estimation in the sense that they stand on distinct foundations: The macroeconomic set of measures is strictly utilitarian, whereas the norm pillar has both a utilitarian aspect as well as one which creates the proper environment against which utility will later be estimated.

To repeat, CC is operating in the norm space to recalibrate the creative space in a way that will induce more value from a utilitarian perspective, but it is also acting according to a set of beliefs with respect to how the fields of its operation ought to operate from a different moral perspective; in a way that is more collaborative and free. So although it is sensible to ask whether this recalibration of norms is beneficial to the aggregate welfare, it is a question, the answer to which will fail to expose the entire picture. If that makes sense.

What to do instead?

Well… good question. Any ideas?

I can only tell you where I decided to venture, and you can tell me what you think about it: I have come to notice that more often than not, CC’s contribution is fully captured by value measures which can then be translated to the more general macroeconomic sphere (if one is so inclined). In other words, I realized it is not my job, or not part of this project to look beyond CC’s direct impact, because that will do nothing to promote the efficacy, specificity, soundness or integrity of the evaluation. If anything, it might add an unnecessary level of complication and this is one circumstance in which you simply do not want to do that.

Particularly, what I suggest is to measure the incremental contribution of CC in terms of quality, quantity and variability of collaboration enterprises. All three should be measured across the different fields, under the different value categories, (transactional, institutional and normative), and as they pertain to both productive and consumptive use. What I mean by quality, quantity and variability will be described in more length in the coming posts, but what’s relevant here is that once we have these estimates for CC’s contribution, others should be able to use them to instruct their studies of wider economic measures. At least that’s the idea.

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Featured Superhero: Robin Sloan

Allison Domicone, October 20th, 2010

This year we’re letting some of our exceptional CC Superheroes tell you in their own words why they support Creative Commons and why you should too. The first is Robin Sloan, a writer who works at the intersection of storytelling and technology. Here is his story. Join Robin in supporting Creative Commons with a donation today.


Robin Sloan

Robin Sloan

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“I’m a writer you probably haven’t heard of. But if I’m right about Creative Commons, and about the way books and culture work — and if I’m a little bit lucky — then your kids will read my stuff. And their kids too.

Let me bring you up to speed:

Just about a year ago, I used a site called Kickstarter to gather a posse of patrons and, in the span of about two months, wrote and published a short novel. It featured a character named Annabel Scheme, a sort of Sherlock Holmes for the 21st century.

After it was finished, I mailed the books off to my backers — about a thousand copies, total — and then put the PDF online, for free, with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 license.

Often, that’s where this story ends. Triumph! Success! Righteous sharing! Right?

I actually think there’s another step. So I’ll explain what I did next, and then I’ll explain why.

I had a chunk of change left over from the printing — around $2,000 — so I turned it into a Remix Fund. I polled my patrons for interesting ways to reimagine the story I’d just published, and interesting people to do the reimagining. I got a small avalanche of suggestions, each with a small budget attached, and so we all voted on it. The winners included a singer/songwriter and a 3D artist. They did their thing, and now there’s an Annabel Scheme song and a stunning set of images of her alternate San Francisco. (And, in true CC spirit, the raw 3D models can be downloaded and reused, as well.)

But why bother? Why not just wait for people to discover the book, get inspired, and remix it under their own steam? Isn’t that more legit?

Maybe. But for me, Creative Commons is a survival strategy.

I think the most important thing about a book is not actually the book. Instead, it’s the people who have assembled around it. It’s everyone who’s ever read it, and everyone who’s ever re- or misappropriated it. It’s everyone who’s ever pressed it into someone else’s hands. (That’s another thing about Creative Commons: it supports not just remixing, but sharing, too. I publish in Amazon’s Kindle store as well, and I love it — but if you buy one of my stories over there, you can’t ever give it to anyone else.)

Anyway, it’s that group of people that makes a book viable, both commercially and culturally. And without them — all alone, with only its author behind it — a book is D.O.A.

So I’m utterly intent on assembling that group, on nurturing it, making it passionate and resilient, and I’ll use every tool at my disposal to do so: Kickstarter, my site, Twitter, a Creative Commons license, and a Remix Fund to boot.

Did it work for “Annabel Scheme”? It’s too early to tell. There’s been more remixing since that first flurry — there’s this software project, and I just learned last week that there’s a comic in the works, too.

If you aspire to create culture today, in the year 2010, you cannot escape the vastness of it all — the sheer quantity of stuff that is being produced, and the sheer quantity of stuff that is being forgotten. In a world like this, Creative Commons is not just a license — not just a passive agreement with some theoretical public. Instead, I think it’s an active, urgent signal to a posse of potential allies.

It says: I want this thing to succeed, but I need your help.

And it says: join me. Make this yours, too.

So please join me in supporting Creative Commons. After all, we’ve got a lot of kids and grandkids to entertain.”

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