Patents for Standardization?


Quote from Scripting News: 6/30/2005:
“I’ve been having a back-channel conversation with Larry Lessig about software patents, and why they may be worth the trouble (my position, not his). Here’s another reason. If we had a patent on podcasting, one of the terms of the license would be using the same export format we did.”

Wow. Really, really can’t agree.

My first concern is simply about this sort of use of the patent system: patents, software or otherwise, are not tools to enforce standardization of ideas or technologies. If we want to get old-school about it, patents are tools intended “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to the respective Writings and Discoveries; […]”

The second is simply practical: what would a “patent on podcasting” be? What exactly would it cover, and how broad would it have to be to encompass “podcasting” as a whole? Would you file suit against any companies that were doing something that looked like podcasting but didn’t follow your standards, and cash drain them out of existence? What if their approach were actually interesting and useful?

This sort of issue is why standards bodies exist, not why the USPTO exists.


Nick Bradbury on Microsoft, RSS and Attention


Nick “creator of FeedDemon, the best RSS Reader ever”* Bradbury wrote an excellent post entitled Microsoft, RSS and Attention yesterday.

It actually meshes really nicely with my post yesterday, but Nick’s focus is specifically on “attention” data, that being a subset of user generated data that service providers are really, really interested in having. Says Nick:

Your attention data is very valuable to the services that collect it, so there’s not a lot of incentive for them to give it back to you. But even though you’re paying those services by giving them your attention data, that shouldn’t mean that they own it. It’s your data, and you should be able to share it with other services so that they can use it to make recommendations for you.

Read Nick’s entire post, please, and follow the links he’s got in there. These issues surrounding ownership of network-defined identity are only now gelling into something that we can understand and start to work with, and so now is the time that we should start working with them.

* Note that I’m thinking of changing the nickname to “author of FeedDemon, the best RSS reader ever, which should totally be ported to OSX because I’m currently torn between my love of FeedDemon and my love of everything else about my powerbook”, but that seems a little unwieldy.

Song Number Two *Is* a Fuck You Song


Update: I’m really impressed — as of late yesterday, Nike has issued an apology and is attempting to dispose of all of the flyers.

Original Post:
Okay, I don’t normally think of myself as anti-commercial, but this is just a little too fucking raw for my taste.

Not content with naming their east coast skateboarding tour the “Major Threat” tour, Nike has appropriated imagery from the band Minor Threat to promote that tour. Compare and contrast:

Minor Threat’s Album Cover Nike’s Tour Poster

According to Pitchfork Media, Nike never mentioned this lookalike ad campaign to Dischord (the label that released the 1984 album):

“No, they stole it and we’re not happy about it. Nike is a giant corporation which is attempting to manipulate the alternative skate culture to create an even wider demand for their already ubiquitous brand. Nike represents just about the antithesis of what Dischord stands for and it makes me sick to my stomach to think they are using this explicit imagery to fool kids into thinking that the general ethos of this label, and Minor Threat in particular, can somehow be linked to Nike’s mission. It’s disgusting.”

It’s actually hard to pick what’s most disgusting about this. Is it Nike’s curious about face regarding appropriation of imagery? Maybe — the company did, after all, sue Sega back in 2002, when Sega started running a commercial that copied the “look and feel” of a successful 1996 Nike tv ad.

Is it the ongoing appropriation of consciously anti-commercial imagery for commercial purposes? That’s a good possibility, too. Perhaps the feeling that I have right now is what others felt when they heard Janis Joplin singing over a Mercedes ad. Incredibly, the most appropriate word I can come up with for this is disrespectful, though in straight edge terms that’s a pretty powerful condemnation, so I guess it fits.

Did Nike not realize that people who wrote the lyrics…

When we have nothing left to give
There will be no reason for us to live
But when we have nothing left to lose
You’ll have nothing left to use

We owe you nothing so
You have no control

Merchandise keeps us in line
Common sense says it’s by design
What could the business men ever want more
Than to have us sucking in their stores?

We owe you nothing
You have no control

You are not what you own

…might not want their history stripmined in an effort to build an edgy brand image and thereby sell more sneakers? And yes, I know that’s Fugazi rather than Minor Threat. It was also Fugazi that wrote “Song Number One” (which was not a fuck you song). I’m not a big fan of after-the-fact band reunions, but right now I’d totally support a Fugazi reunion that lasted long enough to write Song Number Two, which should absolutely be a big old fuck you song.

As Dischord notes, anyone who is so inclined can email Nike here. And just a side note: if I can keep myself from using the word “fuckers” in my email to Nike, then so can you.

Explicitly Social Software: We Have Met the Network and It Is Us


The Infectious Greed post Data Should be the Intel Outside has been getting a bit of play in the last few days. In it, Paul Kedrosky proposes that the spectre of proprietary data is hovering over the green fields of Web2.0. [Go read the post now if you haven’t already.] And, for a number of reasons, I agree with him.

Seems to me that we’re now seeing some real movement towards the age of Explicitly Social Software; when people say that “the network is the computer” these days, they’re not talking about Sun, nor even about the power that comes from using that network to share and develop open technologies. Rather, people are talking about how their data — their data, I emphasize — lives on the network now, not a single computer. That network is made up of data of the people, by the people, and for the people, if you will.

That’s a complicated thing, though. If you’re providing one of those services out on the network and need to make enough money to keep the lights on, it’s a scary thing to remove “data lock in” from your day-to-day toolkit. If you’re using those services, how much information do you actually want shared? How do you manage all of that data now that the network is your computer, and then damn thing never shuts down?

At this point I doubt that we’ll ever hit the point where all data is open, and believe that there’s going to be a fair amount of resistance and bizarre “sorta shared” experiments before we even get to “most data is open.” But this is something that matters to us — the people who make up the network — and will matter a lot more five years from now; as Paul says, the time to start working on this is now. And unfortunately, we are the network, so there really isn’t anybody else to do it for us…

More on Moreover


Every time that I think that Moreover couldn’t suck any more, they come up with a way to surprise me. I keep saying that I’m going to kill off my remaining Moreover feeds, but they’re such a great source of examples of the wrong way to do pretty much everything related to RSS that I just can’t give them up. This week’s installment? Further examples of high-quality Moreover ad placement in a technology-focused feed…

The Long Tail: What the Long Tail isn’t


A couple of months ago I was part of a discussion where I ended up feeling like some sort of luddite, mouth-breathing heretic for proposing the idea that the term “the long tail” was suffering from overexposure, and that there were — perhaps — cases where it might be inappropriate or irrelevant to apply it. As with “bayesian” in the months following “A Plan for Spam,” the fact that many of us were suddenly introduced to a term and concept with broad implications and a dangerously good pop-science accessibility score meant that we all wanted to find a way to use it. A lot.

Happily, though, the correction has started to set in…you should go read Chris Anderson’s What the Long Tail isn’t post in its entirely, but I’ll give you a couple of quotes that made me smile, just to whet your appetite:

“It’s time to draw the line. Long Tails are found everywhere, but not, you know, actually everywhere.”

“The fact that something isn’t popular doesn’t mean that it’s just a matter of time before it will benefit from all sorts of powerful demand-creation Long Tail effects. More likely, it’s just not good enough to be commercially interesting, and probably never will be.”

It’s All About the Singing Bass


Moving is frequently a difficult and stressful process; you’re in between, having made an irrevokable step out of your familiar and comfortable space, but not yet really settled in to your new space. There are boxes everywhere you look, you can’t find anything when you need it, the environment is still anonymous white walls…it’s unsettling, in every sense.

In my experience, moving a business is kind of like that, but with a measure of naked terror tossed in to the mix. The last time I was involved with moving a company it was (thankfully) as a monkey: rack the switch, patch everything in, connect the monitor to the PC, insert tab A into slot B…that kind of thing. During that move I had the joy of sitting around at midnight, listening to arguments about who was supposed to have printed out the new network architecture docs, whether it was the network guy or the server guy who should deal with a machine that no one could ping, and who should open up and rummage through the twenty unlabled boxes to find the switches that we needed. I was paid by the hour. That was pretty cool.

So anyway, not to have too subtle a transition, but we — Return Path — moved one of our offices yesterday. At 2PM we shut down the old office network, at 4:30 everything was loaded on to a truck, and at 5:30 our stuff started coming up the freight elevator at the new space.

At 7:00 the arguments started.

We argued about whether we should redo the patch cables so that they were color-coded by user function rather than port number. We argued about who should go out on a beer run. We argued about whose fault it was that the godawful singing bass from the old office had accidentally gotten moved to the new office. Important technological questions, all.

Now, there will probably be some small fires to fight Monday morning, and there are still a couple of items on the “it should really be done this way rather than how we did it” list, but…well, it’s the same thing that I write every time that anything big happens with the company: I work with really good people.

I’ll also take a moment to emphasize my own critically important role as “guy who worries about things and ends up going on the beer and/or coffee runs,” since I know that people who are responsible for my continued employment read this. This is a blog, after all — when push comes to shove, it’s all about me.

Thank you, and good night.