The case against Aaron Swartz

Max Kennerly has posted the best legal overview I’ve seen of the Aaron Swartz indictment. He analyzes whether there’s actually a case to be made, and finds many weaknesses in the indictment, concluding that “the whole case looks like the iPhone prototype saga again: a civil claim that some overly aggressive prosecutor is trying to dress up as a federal crime. JSTOR has more than adequate civil remedies for whatever transpired here.” The worse problem: “This prosecution will give every “hacker” — and I use that term in a complimentary fashion, like the UNIX hackers of old, the people who built the Internet and its tools through creativity and determination — pause before they do anything outside of a bona fide API. The chilling effects will make us all worse off.” So this relates to the ongoing question whether we can sustain the free and open character of the Internet as monied interests come increasingly into play.

More on bandwidth: light and darkness

My friend Robert Steele emailed me in response to my last post, saying there’s more to consider, and I agree. He mentions Open Spectrum.

I’m feeling cynical. Here’s how I responded:

I’m aware of open spectrum… I’m in other conversations with various wonks & engineers who’re discussing bandwidth, spectrum, etc. Of course we could have a much different scene if we weren’t constrained by markets and politics. People how can see one sense of the obvious often miss another, which is that the world we’re in is not an ideal world, and the ideals we can conceive are not necessarily easy or even possible to implement. I pay less attention to the “next net” list we’re both on because so much of it is fantasy and masturbation.

I own a nice home in rural Texas but I can’t live there because I can’t even get 500kbps. I thought it was amusing that Vint is arguing for gigabit bandwidth when most of the U.S. is dark and there’s too little monetary incentive to bring light to the darkness. Of course I think we need a public initiative to make it happen, but in this era “public” is a dirty word. I halfway expect to see all roads become toll roads; a world where only the elite can travel, and only the elite will have broadband access. Though aging, I’m struggling to remain part of the elite… *8^)

Abundance, the ‘net, and the open mind

I recently attended (and blogged and tweeted) Fiber Fete in Lafayette, Louisiana. One highlight of the Fete was David Weinberger’s talk, which closed out a day of presentations and panels about the evolution and implications of high-bandwidth networks. David had been asked to talk about “what we could do if we had ubiquitous, high speed, open, symmetric (i.e., roughly the same speed for uploading and downloading) connectivity.” As we sat together at lunch, he was telling me that he doesn’t really know how to answer that question.

What he did talk about was stimulating and, I think, important to consider: “an assumption of abundance…an abundance of information, links, people, etc.”

The abundance means we will fill up every space we can think of. We are creating plenums (plena?) of sociality, knowledge and ideas, and things (via online sensors). These plenums fill up our social, intellectual and creative spaces. The only thing I can compare them to in terms of what they allow is language itself.

What do they allow? Whatever we will invent. And the range of what we can invent within these plenums is enormous, at least so long as the Net isn’t for anything in particular. As soon as someone decides for us what the Net is “really” for, the range of what we can do with it becomes narrowed. That’s why we need the Net to stay open and undecided.

Read more at David’s site, “JOHO the Blog!” Ignore Richard Bennett’s comments. Think about what David is saying, and feel free to comment here, because I’d love to discuss it.

Happy Birthday to the WELL

The seminal online community, Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, better known as the WELL, is celebrating its 25th birthday. Here’s the birthday message I posted there:

Happy Birthday, WELL.

I can’t imagine what my life would have been had I not found my way here. The WELL connected me as a writer, thinker, and doer, brought be to the Internet as a far earlier adopter than I might have been, broadened my horizons toward infinity.

I often use the WELL as the example of virtual community – everything I learned about meeting, coordinating, and collaborating online I learned here, and principles I learned here still hold true. People who think the social Internet started with Facebook and Twitter are astonished when they hear what we were doing here from the late eighties onward. And that we’re still here, still jamming, after two decades.

Reworking meetings?

I downloaded a sample of the new Jason Fried/David Heinemeier Hansson book, Rework, which will doubtless find its way onto my reading pile – seems like good pithy bits of advice we can all use. However I zeroed in on the “meetings are toxic” section, and tweeted something about how that view suggests someone who doesn’t know how to have meetings. But it really suggests the frustration of someone who’s been victimized by others who don’t know how to have meetings. And even people who know how will sometimes screw up – I’ve subverted a few of my own meetings, for instance.

It’s useless to rail against meetings as toxic, just try to have better meetings. In fact, the authors acknowledge that point, but only after venting. Examples:

“They’re usually about words and abstract concepts, not real things.” But life is like that, no? When we’re not doing zazen, we stumble into conceptual states of mind, samsara, and everybody’s weaving a bit of that web, and you don’t cut through it by pretending it isn’t there. The meeting should be the knife that slices through the fog and finds reality and clarity. If you don’t know how to do that, your meetings might be unproductive, if not toxic, but that’s a problem of organization, not a problem with meetings per se.

“They usually convey an abysmally small amount of information per minute.” Yes indeed – this frustrates me, too… meetings where the people in the room are saying the same thing over and over. Department of Redundancy Department. But I had a flash of insight while sitting in one of these – there were people in the room who needed that redundancy for knowledge they were acquiring to sink in. Meetings can be slow because some participants need them to be slow. Quick thinkers may be frustrated, but there’s where a commitment to group process takes priority.

“They drift off- subject easier than a Chicago cab in a snowstorm.” That’s true, if the meeting doesn’t have an effective leader to keep things on track. The solution for this problem is implicit.

“They require thorough preparation that most people don’t have time for.” So you shouldn’t have meetings because they require preparation? That seems out of kilter to me. If nobody needs the meeting, then the preparation is a waste of time. But if people need the meeting in order to synchronize their efforts or get clarity about something, do you really want to blow if off because preparation’s a hassle?

“They frequently have agendas so vague that nobody is really sure of the goal.” So write a clear agenda, no?

There’s a couple more, but you get the point. It’s easy to complain about meetings, because they do have failings, but the better move is to say how to make them effective and productive.

In fact, Fried and Hansson do have some recommendations – set a timer and end meetings whether everyone’s done or not is one. So if the people in the room haven’t quite worked it out, and the timer goes off, they’re SOL.

Invite as few people as possible is another, and I totally agree. Why invite anybody who doesn’t need to be there? Have a clear agenda, start with a specific problem, both good. Meeting at the site of the problem is a recommendation that might not be practical. End with a solution and assigned responsibility, also good. Action items.

One that’s surprisingly missing, that I learned many years ago: don’t call the meeting unless there’s a reason. (Standing meetings for checkins can be an exception, and monthly organizational meetings where there’s always something to address).

My bottom line is that meetings are not inherently toxic. And you gotta have ’em. I think I would’ve reworked that section of Rework. (Bet the rest of the book is great!)

Shabbir on Healthcare Reform

My friend Shabbir Safdar has posted an articulate response to some of the myths about healthcare reform here.

…the rising cost of healthcare is driving people to lose their coverage because costs of employer funded healthcare are rising faster than we can keep up. When I co-founded my web agency in 1997, we offered healthcare and paid the entire cost. Today that isn’t possible anymore and employees share part of the cost, and many business don’t even offer coverage, or offer “sham” coverage.

The reality is that the current approach to health insurance has resulted in a loss of coverage for millions of people. From 1998 to 2008, the percentage of large employers who offered health coverage shrank from 66% to 31%, and the trend continues downward today . Rising costs will mean that many employees who are offered coverage won’t be able to afford to accept it.