Archive for December, 2007

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A Story Where Writers Are More Powerful Than Producers

Typewriter

In the movie business, the cost of production placed power in the hands of the producers and “money men.” While essential, writers are at the bottom of the totem pole. The strike has proven how essential they are. Apparently actors don’t make up the words they say.

Writers are starting to understand how the cost of production has changed, and most importantly how distribution models have changed. After all, that’s what this strike is all about. Shows redistributed through the Internet require some payment to the writer. It would be very interesting if the point of contention became the method by which writers suddenly owned the production process.

The Open and the Closed: Closed is the new Open

Open Door

A closed system can be a portal to openness through the network. This is a fundamental change in where the opportunities for software application development will be located in the future.

In the era of the desktop computer, an executable program needed to reside on the local computer hard drive and take advantage of the tools offered by the operating system. Access to APIs and documentation defined how open a system was. Ability to alter, or improve the system, to better support an application was a further sign of openness.

This same paradigm has been used to think about the coming age of the teleputer. Pundits and hackers cry out for access that is analogous to the desktop OS development environment. They don’t seriously attend to the possibility of a radical shift away from the hard drive to the cloud. This idea is a riff off of Steve Gillmor’s recent post.

A Short Interlude:

Upgrading software and maintaining compatibility through multiple versions on a desktop computer is one of the top usability problems of the desktop environment. The installed executable application model creates infinite complexity at the point of least understanding and ability to cope. Think about what happens when you move that complexity back into the cloud and give responsibility for managing it to the application developers. A “computer” becomes simple for the user, and as complex as the business model and developers of the application can support.

Tim O’Reilly, in his NY Times Op Ed piece, asks Verizon to open their platform in the same way that the computer is open— either on the desktop or the server. Although he coined the term “Web 2.0” for his conference, he doesn’t seem to really understand the implications. The new path to openness is laid down by Steve Gillmor when he writes about the “hard drive” vs. “the cache.” With HTML/Ajax, Flash and Silverlight, small runtimes can be present anywhere and everywhere. The future of application development is against these small runtimes in the browser and single purpose network connected applications that make use of a subset of browser capability.

It’s an avenue to much greater user acceptance and uptake; and it removes an element of complexity from the local machine. This is how you dramatically reduce the hours of work required to maintain a computer / handheld device. Those who demand access to your computer and teleputer so they can load it up with the code they’ve written are not necessarily doing you a favor. They are probably just setting you up for a future moment when your phone will crash beyond your ability to repair it.

Resist the forces of complexity that wear the guise of “openness.” Closed systems can support both simplicity and openness via the network. Open systems support potential complexity at the device level and openness via the network. Open systems like Linux will enable closed system CloudBooks that will achieve simplicity, reliability and openness through the network.

Doris Lessing and the 7 Deadly Sins of the Network

Bosch’s vision of gluttony

The digerati scoff at Doris Lessing’s Nobel speech for the sections that refer to the Internet and ‘computers.’ The Internet and computers haven’t made them dumb, therefore they haven’t made anyone dumb. While it’s certainly possible to do interesting work with the tools that computers and the network provide, Sturgeon’s law always applies. Why would it surprise anyone that a medium with so many inputs would contain a lot of crap. If the network didn’t contain a lot of crap, why would we need so many tools to filter it?

People Magazine is only published once a week, but on the Internet it’s possible to immerse oneself in celebrity gossip 24 hours per day. It’s possible to focus on one’s obsessions to the exclusion of the rest of the world. We sometimes call it the echo chamber. The network doesn’t require that we challenge ourselves, it’s happy to endlessly feed our gluttony. Do we even view it as gluttony? Do we think of it as one of the seven deadly sins? It’s a vision out of Dante, a machine that feeds itself, a hunger never sated. Is the Internet post-moral?

We laugh off an old lady’s comments about the Internet without really thinking through the deep rivers that run underneath. It’s as though we really believed that time started on January 1, 1970 at 12:00 GMT. (and that the Apocalypse is scheduled for January 19, 2038)

Do Digital Artifacts Stand Outside the Stream of Time?

Greek and Roman Rooms at the Metropolitan Museum

 The Metropolitan Museum’s new Greek and Roman section is a revelation. When looking at the work you are deeply impressed with the power of the classical forms. But the other thing you learn is the sculpture, that today is simple white marble, was painted to simulate human appearance. The effects of time have uncovered the classic form in the work.

I wonder how the digital artifacts are our time will be viewed in 2,000 years. Presuming the file formats can be properly decoded, time will have had no effect on them. Color won’t fade, text will be just as readable, layouts will be intact. No noses lost, no missing arms, no papyrus scrolls with faded writing.  The digital will appear dated by language, hairstyles, turns of phrase and clothing. But the viewable artifact will appear exactly the same in 2,000 years, or for that matter in 1,000,000 years.

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