January 31, 2005
What is Socially Irresponsible Investing?

Microsoft is the most widely held stock by socially responsible mutual funds. Jeff Reifman blogs it here. Details in the Natural Capital Institute report (PDF) here. Note: Some pages don't render at all properly in the Mac's Preview application, but are correct with Adobe Acrobat.

Posted by mitch@osafoundation.org at 01:54 PM
January 24, 2005
Role changes at OSAF

There are some changes in roles of OSAF staff that deserve mention. Chao Lam, Chandler's Product Manager, will be switching to a part-time role as an individual contributor. Mitchell Baker, who has been working on OSAF staff one day per week, will be giving that up to focus 100% on managing the Mozilla project. Mitchell will continue on as an OSAF Board member.

Chao has decided for personal reasons to move to working three days per week at OSAF as of the end of January. He says:

"I'd like to start exploring doing a small "life-style" start-up involving open source technologies, hopefully involving the PIM domain and the Chandler platform (if anyone has ideas to share, please let me know), and adds, "I want to spend more time with family and, likely, to extend the family."

I've asked Chao to focus as an individual contributor on product planning as it relates to identifying and segmenting the market for Kibble and Westwood adopters, especially but not limited to migration from Outlook and Outlook/Exchange by individuals and small organizations, respectively. Chao's work will supplement and refine Kibble's and Westwood's product focus. It will enable us to make incremental changes to the Kibble product plan for both the 1.0 and 1.1 releases which will contribute to more successful adoption.

Mitchell says:

"I have tried to convince myself that I can continue to add value to Chandler on a daily or weekly basis, but have reluctantly admitted that this is unrealistic. Ted's focus and experience with open source communities leaves me very comfortable that OSAF has the necessary resources and expertise to grow. I plan to be an active Board member, please feel free to ping me when you think I can be helpful."

As of February 1, Sheila Mooney and Mimi Yin will move into the engineering organization, with Mimi working for Sheila, and Sheila reporting to Lisa. Both will continue with their existing responsibilities, Mimi as designer and Sheila as Program Manager (helping the trains run on time as well as helping clarifying exactly where we're laying down new tracks).

Sheila has done a terrific job coming up to speed in the last six months and has taken on significant project management responsibilities. Chao says: "I'm not ashamed to say she does a lot of things better than I, and many of these are exactly the things that need to get done in the next phase of Chandler's product cycle. I have full confidence that she will excel in her expanded role."

We wouldn't be where we are without Chao's and Mitchell's efforts. We look forward to working with them in their new roles and wish them good luck with their other endeavors.

Posted by mitch@osafoundation.org at 10:36 AM
January 17, 2005
Commons-based Peer Production

It may be a mouthful, but try to get used to saying "commons-based peer production". Open source software is an instance of it in the realm of information technology. Collaborative knowledge publications like the Wikipedia are instances in the content domain, and we are sure to see many more new categories as it spreads.

It's not a matter of ideology, but of superior economics, not for all tasks certainly, but for broad classes of undertakings in which the lower coordination costs of production (via the Internet, the Web, and protocol and tools of the digital domain) based on and leveraging, but not limited to, a shared body of knowledge and information dominate the older model of entirely private ownership.

Ted Leung blogs this nicely with a personal credo here. Ted, thanks for the inspiration to write this.

Yochai Benkler's dense but ultimately informative paper Coase's Penguin spells it out in detail (and I think is the place the mouthful was coined).

Posted by mitch@osafoundation.org at 08:37 PM
Copyright Out of Balance

Cory Doctorow on the disappearance of important documentary films because filmmakers can't come up with continuing payments for rights to archival footage. Case in point: The legendary Civil Rights Era documentary "Eyes on the Prize".

Footnote: When I was the CEO of Lotus in the mid-1980's, the company provided critical funding to bring the series to air on PBS.

Posted by mitch@osafoundation.org at 08:29 PM
Griffin RadioSHARK

I don't usually plug new products. In fact, being generally pretty weary of new tech and used to big disappointments, my gizmo consumption has dropped to historically low levels. However, I was intrigued with the promise of one new device to order it and sufficiently impressed with the flawless initial performance to write it up.

What I have wanted for some time is TiVo for the radio. The Griffin RadioSHARK is it. It's a $70 USB device plays, pauses, and records live radio on a Mac or PC.

I want the convenience of being able to listen my favorite shows on my own schedule. If I get interrupted, I want to be able to pause the program. More than that, I want to be able to schedule recordings in advance, and I want to listen to them on my iPod. The RadioSHARK obliges.

I kept expecting something to go wrong, but nothing did. Setup was a snap, and reception was good. As I was going away for the weekend, I programmed it to record "Prairie Home Companion" and "This American Life", two of my favorite shows. When I came back, there they were. There is even an option to add a scheduled recording to an ITunes playlist, so as soon as I synched my iPod, I could take them with me.

One nit: You have to enter the date, time, station, and duration manually as there is no integrated program guide (though I imagine this could come as an enhancement).

Posted by mitch@osafoundation.org at 08:05 PM
January 08, 2005
Creative Commonists?

Criticizing Creative Commons for undermining an artist's ability to be paid for work puts the ignorance of the critic on display. Creative Commons, with whom we share office space, helps solve a different problem than artist compensation, namely how to enable a voluntary, more flexible regime of sharing creative work. Free culture underpins commercial culture, and if the former is eroded by all-or-nothing IP schemes, we are all the poorer. If this isn't clear, read Larry Lessig's book Free Culture.

How artists are compensated is itself a significant issue, but let's not confuse that with whether the current business models of the organizations which control the creation and distribution of music, film, and software are sacrosanct. They're not, and outrage is the proper response when business tries to wrap itself in the flag and shout "Commie" in the face of disruptive technology and cultural shifts. That's the thing about the capitalist dynamic of creative destruction. You can find yourself on the winning or losing side of a paradigm shift. Business will go on, but the new winning models are going to be very different from we're used to.

Posted by mitch@osafoundation.org at 01:52 PM
January 06, 2005
Shoe on Other Foot Dept.

Former Directors of Worldcom agreed to pay $18,000,000 of personal funds to settle claims by defrauded investors. Coverage here. Once upon a time I was the first angel investor in UUNET, which was swallowed by MFS which was swallowed by Worldcom.

Posted by mitch@osafoundation.org at 04:34 PM
Gates Plays the Red Card

Bill Gates says:

There are some new modern-day sort of communists who want to get rid of the incentive for musicians and moviemakers and software makers under various guises.

Dan Gillmor nails him:

The purity of this lie is remarkable. Even the most ardent of the free-software folks are not trying to remove the incentive to be creative. They believe in a different kind of incentive, just not the mercenary one that motivates Bill Gates.
Posted by mitch@osafoundation.org at 04:26 PM
January 04, 2005
Does the open source model apply beyond software?

Does the open source model apply beyond software? This is a question being asked more and more. For instance, is there potential for "open source biology"? If I actually knew biology, I might be able to answer that question. However, in twisting my brain to say anything meaningful, I had a Eureka moment.

I'll go out on a limb. Open source heralds a global paradigm shift in social and economic value creation of enormous proportions, the extent of which is almost completely unappreciated. If I am right, then we are in for interesting times as the irresistible force of open source meets the immoveable object of corporate entrenchment. There will be enormous economic dislocations with opportunities for new undertakings and threats to the established order. Mental categories we take so much for granted we don't even know we have them will become obsolete.

Part of me doesn't want to say this, even though I believe it, because too many times I've regretted my public stands saying that revolutionary change via technology (the PC, the Internet) was at hand. Probably there is something deep in my personality, reinforced by growing up in the 60's, which gives me a predilection towards issuing manifestos. My adult self thinks it is indeed wise to speak with some restraint. So think of this as bold speculation designed to provoke serious thought and reaction, not as prediction.

A final aside - I care about these matters because I like and appreciate the good side of business so much. After all, I have been an enormous beneficiary of the system, and there is something great about the idea of starting from nothing and crafting a business based on inspiration and hard work. (Yes, I know I am simplifying and mythologizing here. It's one thing to start from "nothing" as a well-educated child of a middle class family in the U.S. It's another to really start from nothing as a child of poverty in Africa or anywhere in the less developed world). At the same time, the standard practice of business is pretty disgusting when, as it often is, it's about greed and hurting the competition more than creating value and succeeding on one's own merits.

Business, writ large, is the archetypal form around which our world is organized. Its chief pillars are private ownership of assets and market-based competition. Despite the prevalence of self-serving mischaracterizations and misguided norms, e.g. that free markets are really free, and that the best government is the one that interferes the least, "the business system" is responsible for the prosperity and opportunities we enjoy, as well as problems and miseries it creates.

To say, then, that open source represents a fundamentally new and different way to organize economic activity which challenges the dominant paradigm, is not a modest claim.

Many of the best efforts to characterize what is fundamental about open source partially miss the mark. It is decentralized, a point a June 2004 Economist article (buried in their non-free archive sadly) captures well. To say that the other central characteristic of open source is that source code is freely shared, while true, misses a central point.

Open source is a form of decentralized production in which an information commons is cooperatively built, maintained, and evolved. This commons forms the primary (but not exclusive) basis of value from which individuals and firms draw and to which they contribute.

The centrality of the commons in an open source paradigm contrasts with private ownership of assets in the existing one, and the dynamic of use and fostering of the commons stands in sharp contrast to the dynamic of market-based competition.

When information such as genomic data is put in the public domain, it may be freely used, but that by itself does nothing to foster a dynamic of further contribution, e.g., more data, refinements of the data, tools for analyzing and manipulating the data, etc. Open source projects have dynamics of active contribution and community participation over time as a distinguishing characteristic. Sometimes these are enforced by the software licenses employed by the project, the Free Software of GPL license which compels users who create derivatives to contribute them in their entirety to the commons, but this is not necessary as many projects do not rely on compulsion to support community contribution. I am ignorant of current practice, but I would look at information sharing going on in biomedical research as to whether there is an active community-based dynamic going on or not, and if not, whether there could be.

Empirically, I would say the fostering of a common results in improvements in products over time, which we ordinarily assume requires competition to achieve. An important unsettled question about open source is whether larger innovation, as opposed to incremental improvement, can also happen this way. This is a point the article makes.

However, we tend to romanticize and sometimes overestimate the centrality of big breakthroughs in the scheme of things, short-weighting the less glamorous processes of incremental innovations which actually count for a great deal in my view. Another way of framing is this issue is to ask to what extent major innovations need to be motivated by the prospect of creating vast wealth through private ownership and control.

More to comeā€¦

Posted by mitch@osafoundation.org at 08:46 AM
January 02, 2005
When Browsers Grow Up

For 25 years, I've preached the superiority of the PC as an application platform, but times change and reconsideration is in order. The web browser and the infrastructure of the World Wide Web is on the cusp of bettering its aging cousin, the desktop-based graphical user interface for common PC applications.

The advent of Google's gmail service has been a signal occasion in the evolution of web apps. At this point, the main reason I am not trying to use gmail as my principal email client has less to do with its being a web app, and more with particular features and policies Google has chosen.

FYI, I would consider myself a demanding email user. I receive well over 100 non-spam messages a day, subscribe to multiple mailing lists, and use folders on a desktop client to manage my workflow. I keep many years of email, though I only rarely need to look at a message older than six months. My working set of mail is about 500 MB.

The great search, relatively simple filtering and labeling features, and auto-complete of addresses more than meet my needs. Surprisingly, the UI, while hardly enjoying the visual elegance of Apple's mail.app is just about up to the task. Technically, there is no reason valuable, missing capabilities like drag and drop can't be put in a browser. Google just hasn't, yet. Even without drag and drop, the UI is serviceable.

If gmail offered a way to synchronize gracefully with IMAP (including associations between labels and folders), and if it let me store more than 1 GB of mail as well as retain more ownership and control of my mail, I'd be happy. I need to keep a unified archive, and in six months I've already used 500 MB.

Then, how do I get my mail OUT of gmail if I want to? Roach motels where you check in but never check out don't work for me. These are basically policy issues, not technology issues, so there could, for instance, be an gmail alternative with more liberal policies that would meet my needs.

The greater convenience of the browser has been evident for many years. Browsers work from every PC, while desktop applications do not as they have to be installed (purchased, licensed, etc.) where they are to run. I can check my mail from anywhere. I like that.

The exception to the far greater convenience of the browser is off-line usage. With no net connection, data stored in a web app is inaccessible. So, infrastructure to support local storage of data (via caching, via something fancier) as a standard affordance of web-based applications is perhaps the biggest remaining barrier to be overcome. There is no fundamental reason I am aware of it can't be overcome either on a case-by-case basis, or better, in a more general way which would work not just for a given application, but for many of them.

So far, I've been describing redoing the feature set of a conventional app for the web. When an application, like Chandler, tries to break new ground in functionality or interface, matters grow considerably more complex, a subject I may take up here in the future. But for any new application project I get involved in starting, my strong predisposition is to think in terms of a web interface as primary.

Posted by mitch@osafoundation.org at 04:11 PM