Friday, May 12, 2006

Beyond Broadcast 2006 Keynote

Keynote Presentation: Reinventing the Gatekeeper

billed as: At every stage, from the intellectual property rights around content production to the technical and regulatory design of the network, vibrant participatory communications media depend on a delicate balance between the realm of property and the commons. If you wanted to upset that balance, to sap the communications revolution of much of its vitality, what should you do?

Speaker: James Boyle, William Neal Reynolds Professor of Law and Faculty Co-Director of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School

Boyle says:

We are extremely bad at predicting the future of any new technological innovation.

* cell phones were predicted to have a 400k penetration in USA and 1M world-wide
* pointcast

But what about all those predictions that folks got right? (podcasts, blogs, etc) Well, they got it right because people predicted everything so they had to get something right.

Behavioral Economics: individuals did not perform they way that rational actors would. Folks rely on rules of thumb, on heuristics, and most are wrong. These aren't random affects, but are patterned.

He sees a pattern in the world of communications: there is a blindness to the potential of commons-based production at every level of production/distribution.

In any system, should things be closed or open? This is not a decide-once and it flows throughout proposition. At every level of the system we have to make a decision that is a balance between ideas of protection/closedness and permission/openness. From network design to distribution. At every level, we have to make the decision to go open not closed.

We have a systematic cognitive bias: We tend to under-value the open approach and see (and over-value) the potential of the closed approach. We have to overcome this bias.

Favorite quips from the rest of the speech:
  • "anecdata" is proof via anecdote
  • Should we extend the copyright of dead authors so they can write again? (Some think so, especially those in Hollywood, no?)
  • Look at the intro of the VCR. The movie industry fought it tooth and nail at first, but then embraced the notion of renting tapes to folks with VCRs and turned it into a huge revenue stream. By opening things up, they got a new business model. If they'd succeeded at first and kept the distribution of movies just to the theatres, they wouldn't ever have gotten that new business model. They had to open things up.
  • Our assumptions around control and design are material, not digital. And the mindset doesn't work very well (you can't overfish an idea).
  • This net neutrality stuff is communism

How might this play out?

Imagine I've sugically removed the memory of the last 14 years from your brain. It's 1992. We're assembling a group and what we have to decide here is that we're thinking of having this internet thingy. How do we design it?

There's a wacky proposal that this thing should be open and anyone can connect to it and the network should be dumb and the intelligence at the ends. Folks don't have to ask permission to use it, they just use it.

What would we say? This would be a disaster! There'd be porn, piracy and spam! We need to control who has access so we don't have this stuff!

What would we invent?

We'd invent Minitel (the French network) and we'd give poor people extra time to use it so we'd feel better about this controlled thing.

Absurd, but it proves the point of our bias to closed v open.


Once we're aware of a particular cognitive skew, we have an ability to deal with it. When you're a pilot, you have to learn to fly by instruments only.

We have the ability to be aware of our cognitive biases and take that into account. We need to be mindful of this bias in all levels of the system.

Leave it open as possible as long as possible the system design you're working with. Provide as much room for feedback as possible.

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