Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Deja Vu dot Zero

I couldn't decide whether Andrew Keen is the modern equivalent of King Canute or akin to the wandering minstrel of old who lamented the invention of sheet music or the great digital hypocrite promoting himself by the same means which he lambasts or some great visionary?

So I attended his lecture at the RSA, to try and get a clearer picture. He received a luke warm but polite reception and by all appearances has somewhat mellowed his viewpoints.

He puts forward a case that what we need is acceptance and understanding of expertise through education, that trained gatekeepers are needed for the internet, that real artists need to be paid and that content given away freely will never make any money and may undermine the whole system.

If you take his arguments at face value - then on one side you have a litany of self selecting experts, creating "high" quality output, demanding payment and authority Vs a mob of amateurs, creating "poor" quality output and providing their work for free.

This sounds somewhat familiar?

Oh my word, it's not just the meme of "open" that has traversed from one boundary (software) to another (content) but also the entire same debate - lock, stock and barrel - has followed it as well.

Jenny Ambrozek asked me some incredibly insightful questions about open source communities which I completely missed the point of. This really is just closed source vs open source all over again, which would suggest common underlying processes. Jenny, you're star!

It's all interconnected with the ideas of commoditisation. It's worth re-reading David Stutz work and re-applying these concepts to content.

"Open source is about consumer demand, political process, and community involvement, rather than about software or hardware innovation. To stay relevant during a shift to commodity software, open source communities will need to claim part of the power that has historically accompanied the definition and regulation of commodity networks. Open source constituents will need to actively participate in the creation of standards and legal frameworks in order to avoid marginalization. Without participation, the dynamic interaction of commodification, global capital markets, and political interests will likely result in the subjugation of open source and standards to corporate and national interests. In fact, judging by the history of other commodities, this outcome is actually most likely."

At least I can finally make up my mind. King Canute - but only if we make it so.


Anonymous said...

When I was a kid, they were still telling the full version of the story about King Canute, which made him look wise and not stupid. The story was that some flattering courtiers told him that he was so powerful that he could command the tide to retreat, if he wished. "Really?", says he, and organises a demonstration to put this to the test. Some versions of the story have him killing the courtiers for their foolishness.

This seems to have been shortened in much the same way that "couldn't care less" has become "could care less".

swardley said...

The beauty of languages and myths is that they change over time, including their meaning.

Hence, whilst the version of the Canute story you describe may have more relevance at one time, it is not the currently known form. Ask a hundred people about King Canute and you are unlikely to be told he was a wise man.

What is important here is the common experience or belief in such a myth and what the common meaning of it is.

Other than the trivially defined, absolute truths are not known to exist - meaning is found through common experience.

Unfortunately time is short, so we cannot experience everything. Hence, we all rely on experts.

However the argument at hand is whether those experts are self chosen or whether the identification of expertise is a function of the crowd.

You can argue one story for King Canute and I can argue another - they are just viewpoints. The crowd decides who they choose to believe, not you or I.

To say otherwise, is to tell the sea to stay back. There is a wave of free expression, free participation and free enquiry occurring on the internet - Keen's argument is simply a modern day King Canute against that wave.

While the debate of how to build trust relationships and reputation in this noisy world (the shouting crowd or stentorocracy as I nicknamed it) has been ongoing for some time, Keen's approach is less about embracing and adapting to this change but instead holding on to the instruments of the past.

It's scholastic vs scientific enquiry all over again just on a grander scale, you may as well call it renaissance 2.0.

You can make your own opinion as to whether Keen is wise or stupid, the crowd will in the end make its judgement.

As for "could care less" - I think 250 million Americans might argue that this is the right way of saying it, and to them it is.

Patricia Mata said...

Would like to talk more on open source 'political Canuteness' with thee, prior to a virtual launch supporting open source features.

(Hopefully 'attended' by Minister of State - Dept for Innovation Universities and Skills ).. Interested?


swardley said...

Hi Tish,

More than happy to talk about such ideas - ping via email / facebook / AIM.