Lots of Snow in Akron

It’s really snowing outside. They’re predicting 18-24 inches! I plan to shovel periodically and work on my weblog layout.

Last night I got perl and mysql set up on my server. I duplicated a posting I made last August about the way the city of Los Angeles is trying to use IP to influence television coverage of its police and fire departments. The style sheet isn’t working quite right but I hope to have figured it out by the end of the day.

LAPD wants to use “IP” just like Coca-Cola

Susan Stamberg interviews the LA City Attorney who is trying to use “intellectual property law” to influence the way upcoming CBS and NBC television shows portray the police and fire departments.

Although he denies wanting editorial control (influence), Rocky Delgadillo hopes his strategy will set an example of how cities can protect their image while collecting royalties for their taxpayers.

4 minute interview (.ram file format)

Additional LAPD IP Coverage

IP as “Intellectual Protectionism”#

This case is interesting because it demonstrates a distinction between creative rights
and “intellectual property”.

  • creative rights, which are a limited, government-granted monopoly designed to
    create an incentive for people to create (i.e. American copyright)
  • Intellectual Property” which give entities the right to control public discourse
    (i.e. strong trademark laws)

Sir, you have insulted my honour! I demand satisfaction. #

Some lawyers start to sound like royal knights who protect the “honour” of their corporate sovereigns.

Homer Simpson’s dueling glove entitled him to all sorts of privileges (at least for
the first half of the episode).

Homer: Oh that’s it. You insulted my honour!
I demand satisfaction. I challenge you to a duel!

Moe: A duel? Isn’t that a little extreme? Here, here, have a free beer.

Homer: Really? But you’ve never given anyone a free beer.

Moe: Yeah, ain’t never been slapped with no duelling glove either.

Intellectual Property Laws are not always bad. Trademarks can prevent consumers from being confused by misleading labels. The problem arises when those demanding “royalties”
expect to be treated like “royalty”
. #

Document negotiation through openreferences

Nov 19, 2000

Proposals

  1. I propose that documents are negotiated through references;
  2. I propose the concept of openreferences: a radical form of hypertext;
  3. I propose that the existence of openreferences will necessitate a renegotiation
    of many relationships.

Documents as Negotiation

The proposition that documents can be viewed as a negotiation may be perceived by many academics in the social sciences as unoriginal. Indeed, it is unoriginal; I first encountered the idea in John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid’s article, The Social Life of Documents1 and I suspect that this sort of concept has been explored by discourse theory. Nevertheless, I want to introduce this concept more fully because I believe that many readers will have had little exposure to it.

Negotiation in traditional documents: media mediates

I find the metaphor of documents as negotiation useful because it provides me with some insight into the relationship between author and reader. Authors are like diplomats whose job it is to convince readers to accept a set of terms. In most documents, the roles of author and reader are unequal; traditional documents give authors control over both the proposition to be negotiated and the structure of the negotiation, leaving the reader with only two choices:

  1. reject the author’s propositions, and stop reading; or
  2. continue reading, but withhold acceptance of the proposition.

At the end of the document, the author hopes that the reader has accepted his or her viewpoint, but this can not be assured; and if the reader wishes to question the author to clarify a point, expansion of the negotiation is limited by the medium.

Negotiation through hypertext

Hypertext changes the way documents can be negotiated. Much like a choose-your-own adventure novel encourages readers to take an active role in choosing the narrative’s direction, hypertext’s linking capacity encourages authors and readers to renegotiate control over the document.
This renegotiation has been met with resistance by many in the publishing business who are accustomed to a producer-consumer relationship. They see hypertext as merely a new container in which to package their product and they discourage writers from linking to outside sites because it is thought that giving readers new narrative choices will reduce sales.2
To be fair, hypertext is a relatively new medium and one can not expect authors to change over night.
It is more reasonable to expect relationships to be renegotiated slowly as people adapt to the new architecture
of hypertext.

The future of hypertext

But what if the architecture of hypertext is not predestined? What if our current actions shape hypertext’s design? Then it would seem that the negotiating positions of future authors and readers depend upon how well we understand and shape hypertext’s architecture to fit our values. This next section explores the concept of openreferences in the hope that a greater understanding of hypertext’s potentials will allow us to better shape hypertext’s future.3

openreference- a radical form of hypertext

Q: What happens when hypertext is taken to its logical conclusion?
A: Everything becomes a link for readers to negotiate.

The problem of singular references

Currently, when authors create links, they must choose one page as the target of their reference. This makes links a valuable commodity and has given rise to affiliate programs. I believe that the limitation of only one site per link is a problem because, when combined with affiliate programs, commercial interests tend to dominate all other considerations. Amazon.com’s “associates” program provides an illustration of this.

Amazon.com would like all narratives about books to lead to book sales at their site. To encourage this, they offer authors who link to amazon.com book pages a commission of about five percent. They sweeten the deal by providing readers with useful resources such as book reviews, related books and links to publishers’ and authors’ sites.
Faced with an all-or-nothing choice, the decision is obvious: authors who create links to books will overwhelmingly link to sites like amazon.com.

But there is more to books and more to the internet than e-commerce. One alternative to the bookstore is the library. Imagine an internet where all links to books lead to both bookstores and libraries. Imagine an internet where the list of link options can be negotiated by authors and readers. To take the concept of reader empowerment to its logical conclusion, imagine that readers are able to turn any object into a link, regardless of the author’s referencing intentions.

Merriam-Webster has already implemented one component of this sort of openreferencing system by creating a browser plug-in that allows readers to look up the definition of any word they select.4
Imagine what would happen if every application provider created a browser plug-in that allowed readers to:

  • email articles to a friend (many sites already have a
    button for this on their pages);
  • search for chat acronyms and computer terminology;
  • perform searches for entries in encyclopedias like
    brittanica;
  • locate places on maps using mapquest
  • perform searches of search engines like google
  • read and write epinions; and
  • send money through sites like paypal
    and fairtunes.

Object-based Hypertext

As individuals and institutions get increasingly sophisticated in their referencing, it becomes apparent that words are becoming objects and that the concept of object-oriented design could provide hypertext with a great deal of added functionality and organization.5

Object oriented design treats everything as an object with a set of associated methods. Thus, the earlier amazon.com singular link problem could be solved by assigning all book objects multiple methods. Books could have a buy method, a borrow method, a related method, a review method, and cite method. The interface for object-oriented hypertext could look like a simple Windows menu.6


screenshot of a sample book object menu

3 forms of referencing

Before I get carried away with parallels between hypertext and technical concepts like objects and APIs, allow me to take a quick detour into the realm of linguistic association by asking the following question:

What do you think of when I say the word “reference”?

Perhaps you think about:

  1. the type of citation done in academic papers with footnotes and endnotes,
  2. the sort of references written for job applications that attest to an applicant’s reputation, or
  3. a symbol that points (refers) to an action

Of the three associations, I think the first two conceptions of references are the most common, and a subset of the third. It is this third category that gets implemented in a hypertext referencing system.
Each reference becomes a symbol for an action or set of actions, whether it be a means of citation, a way of evaluating trust, or to use the metaphor of cyber “space”, a “place” where one can go to perform new actions.

openreferences as an API

In the technical sense, references become an Application Programming Interface (API). Each reference object has a set of methods (or programs) that can be performed upon it. Objects are usually divided into classes with a system of inheritance.

To use vehicles as an example, imagine a vehicle class with car, truck, and three-wheeler subclasses. All of these subclasses inherit “wheel” objects, but in different numbers and of different types. Truck tires could be different than car tires; and three-wheelers could be prevented from having more than three wheels. Trucks could possess “bed” objects in which other objects could be placed. All of these vehicle objects could have the “drive” method performed upon them.

Negotiating the architecture of openreference

objectification

As a technical concept, object oriented design is very useful, but when applied to people, it can become dehumanizing. What are the classes of people and what are the methods that can be performed upon them?
This is the question that object-oriented hypertext asks.

Some readers may still not fully recognize the problem of objectification. To illustrate it further, I will enlist the help of the AmIhotOrNot.com website, a website which exemplifies objectification. AmIhotOrNot.com allows anyone to submit any picture that is on the internet to the AmIhotOrNot.com web site. The picture is then displayed to the site’s visitors, who rate the person in the picture on a scale of 1 to 10, according to how “hot” they judge the submitee to be.
As visitors rate each picture, they are displayed another person’s picture to rate, and the average rating that the AmIhotOrNot.com collective has assigned to the previous person’s picture.

The genius of this site is its ability to efficiently exploit humans’ desire to judge each other and know how others are judged. AmIhotOrNot.com does not store any pictures on its web server. It merely allows readers to direct other readers to servers throughout the internet. These servers send their pictures to AmIhotOrNot.com viewers for display within the AmIhotOrNot.com frame of judgment. The people being judged may have voluntarily submitted their pictures to the AmIhotOrNot.com website or the pictures may have been submitted without their knowledge or permission. Either way, the server on which their picture is stored will send a digital image of them to AmIhotOrNot.com viewers.

To help those readers who are visual learners, I have devised a menu similar to the one used in the amazon.com book example. Imagine what would happen if people could classify and program references to each other in any way that they wished. The AmIhotOrNot.com method is one obvious candidate for inclusion in the following menu:


screenshot of a sample person object menu

What methods should the reference to Jim Summerset contain?
Should the architecture of a referencing system permit some methods and forbid others?

When confronted by the social problems inherent in object-oriented design, I propose that we ask ourselves the following question:

“Can we use an object-oriented design without suffering the problem of objectification, and if so, how?”

privacy and identity

One attempt at solving the problem of objectification is to give individuals private control over references to them. Architects of a referencing system could design the software to require that all methods and classifications be approved by the person to whom they refer. This might reduce the potential for abuse, but sometimes there may be legitimate times when people would wish to use methods that others have not approved.

free speech

Most modern westerners believe that free speech is a right, independent of whether the audience or subjects of the speech approve of the ideas being expressed. Imagine then, a method in which consumer products could be critically reviewed– a “Consumer Reports” for the information age.7

Suppose that customers shopping in a future store could use a referencing system that allowed them to review companies’ labor and environmental practices. This referencing system could also display evaluations of products’ design and construction and a section of customer reviews. Should reviewers be required to obtain the permission of the companies whose products they wish to review? Most westerners would answer
in the negative, citing this as a case where free speech rights or public interests overrule private interests.8

writers and readers

What rights do authors have? Or perhaps better put, what should be the relationship between authors and readers? It is possible to design a system that puts either in a relatively stronger negotiating position. If the system is designed by authors, it would likely enforce a degree of authorial control over copying, criticism, and other referencing  methods. In short, it would retain a large degree of publishers’ author-ity.9  If readers designed the system, it would probably allow a much larger number of derivative works to be produced, including stronger forms of criticism and a greater range of other referencing methods.10

equality and access

All of this talk about negotiation assumes that participants are to some degree equal enough to make negotiation possible, for if either of the participants were in a totally superior position, the one could coerce the other. The question I find myself asking next is: “How equal do participants have to be?”

One method of evaluating a negotiation could allow for a great degree of inequality. Suppose for example that I have a stone and you have a stone, and that each of us can throw our stone at the other. Now suppose that I have ten stones and you have one. Or suppose that I have ten stones and nine friends who have ten stones. You could argue that despite our inequality, we still have to negotiate because if you wanted to play the odds of 1 stone against 100 stones, you still might be able to hurt me.

All of this talk about negotiation brings to mind images of “truels” and other game theory examples. It seems to me that game theory could be useful in evaluating possibilities, but it will not provide us with answers to questions of values. What we need to do, in assessing the design of a referencing system, is evaluate the positions of the individuals, groups, and institutions involved and articulate a shared set of values. Then using these values, construct a “game” that all feel they can participate in fairly.

trust

One further concept that I feel needs to be present in a referencing system is trust. In my detour into linguistic association earlier, I noted that the concepts of reputation and trust are built into the English world “reference.” Perhaps this is just a coincidence, but I don’t think so. I propose that as referencing systems evolve, they will introduce a greater degree of trust (or reputation) architecture.

One method of evaluating trust being experimented with is the idea of a “trust metric.” Trust metrics use graph theory to calculate the reputation of nodes in a network.11 Not having studied graph theory, my understanding of it is rather shallow, but I usually explain it this way:

Imagine that I trust you and you trust Sue.
Can I extrapolate my trust of you to Sue?

My answer to this is “Yes, sometimes, maybe I can.” The problem lies in the number of degrees of separation, the similarity of domains being considered, and the accountability of Sue to you, me, and the rest of the world. If I trust your cooking and you trust Sue’s computer programming expertise, I likely can’t determine anything about Sue’s cooking. Likewise, you may find that you and I have similar tastes in movies, but that doesn’t mean that you would trust me to baby-sit your children or manage your stock portfolio.

I believe that our ability to build methods of trust

[Photo of the George and Laura Bush blocked by pornsweeper filtering software]

into a referencing network is critical to the network’s success. Parents and politicians are currently demanding that computer software filter the internet. This is wildly unreliable. The computer software uses algorithms that search for words, pixels, or word and pixel combinations that the user has forbidden. Thus, the computer must distinguish between the pornographic use of the word “breast” and “breast cancer” and between skin tone colored pixels comprising a backdrop for Governor Bush and his wife, and pixels composing a pornographic photo.12 Getting humans to agree with each other on values is difficult enough; getting humans to agree with computers seems nearly impossible. Thus, I conclude that computer methods of trust evaluation are woefully primitive and that a successful method of allowing humans to share evaluative responsibility is needed.

negotiation overload

By this time I suspect that at least a few readers have concluded that all this negotiating requires too much work. The cynical will say that the majority of the population would be content to let others make decisions for them as long as they remain comfortable and entertained.13
I agree, in part, but in my optimistic youth, I believe that a large number of well-educated members of the younger generation,14 who are growing up in the hypertext environment of the internet, are beginning to expect more negotiable media.

Conclusion

The metaphor of documents as negotiations provides a useful framework for thinking about media. When applied to a system of radically expanded hypertext, which I call “openreferences”, this framework allows for the prediction of a growing tension between the roles of authors and readers. How this tension gets resolved is up to us.

Bibliography

Agre, Phil. “The Internet and Public Discourse.” FirstMonday 1998. <http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue3_3/agre/index.html>

Andersen, Trond. “Consumer Power via the Internet.” FirstMonday 1999. <http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue4_1/andresen/index.html>

Brown, John Seely and Paul Duguid. “The Social Life of DocumentsFirstMonday 1996. <http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue1/documents/>

Cameron, Robert D. “A Universal Citation Database as a Catalyst for ReformFirstMonday 1997. <http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue2_4/cameron/index.html>

Lessig, Lawrence. Code and other laws of cyberspace. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

Spinello, Richard. “Ethical reflections on the problem of spamEthics and Information Technology

<http://www.xns.org/>

<http://www.w3.org/TR/xlink/>

Socratic Dialogue: The Consummation of Knowledge

Socrates: What is x?

T: That which has the function(x).

S: What is the function of people?

T: People seem to have more than one function. Perhaps I was mistaken about x. Please restate the question and I will try again.

S: What is x?

T: That which has the methods(x) = F(x).

S: What are the methods of people?

T: buying, talking, trusting, loving, living.

S: Are these the only methods of people or are there more?

T: There are more. I should have added “etc.” to the end of my last answer.

S: When you say “etc”, are you suggesting that there are an infinite number of methods?

T: Yes, it seems that way.

S: Is there anything more to x than F(x)?

T: No. F(x) is all.

S: You say that F(x) contains an infinite number of functions. But what if F(x) does not contain y?

T: Yes, I see. It appears that some things, like people, might not contain y, making them limited x.

S: Is knowing F(x) = knowing x?

T: Yes.

S: So knowing that person x has methods a and b but not c = knowing person x.

T: That’s what I said.

S: Wow, this is really an impressive discovery. It now appears as though we can know a lot. If we can know F(p) for all people, then we can know all people. Can we know F(p)?

T: I see where you’re going with this Socrates. You’re twisting my words around to make me look like a fool. You want me to answer in the affirmative until I contradict myself. Well I’m not going to fall into your trap. No, we can’t know all F(p) but we can know almost all (or at least a lot) of F(p).

S: And if we know almost all, or a lot of F(x), we know x?

T: Not quite, we almost know x.

S: Well I suppose almost knowing x must be something. Certainly it must be better than knowing nothing about x. But I still don’t understand one thing. I now know that I am able to know something about p, but what about myself? Am I able to know myself in the same way?

T: Yes. That follows.

S: But how do I know? Is there something that I have that has the function of knowing?

T: No. There is nothing one has that enables one to know one’s self, but one may know one’s self by acquiring knowledge.

S: Really, tell me how I can acquire this knowledge because surely self-knowledge is the most prized of all knowledge.

T: All right, but it’s going to cost you.

S: Why must it cost me?

T: What silly questions you ask Socrates. If you wanted a bowl of soup, surely you wouldn’t expect it to be given to you free of charge. So it also is with knowlege.

S: So knowledge is like a bowl of soup?

T: Yes.

S: Let me clarify your analogy. When I say that I want a bowl of soup, I don’t really want the bowl but the contents of the bowl so that I can appease my appetite. Do you agree?

T: Yes.

S: Thus knowledge is not so much like a bowl of soup but like a hunger?

T: Yes, that sounds better.

S: And I appease my hunger by consuming the soup.

T: Yes.

S: This self-knowledge seems like it could be an expensive business for people like me who have big appetites. I’m just a poor philosopher.  Isn’t there some cheaper way? Can’t I just consume myself? No one would charge me for that would they?

T: Now I know you’re jesting. Of course not. You can’t appease your appetite for food by eating yourself. Likewise, self-knowledge is something you have to acquire by consuming objects external to your self.

S: I see the connection in your theory now. You’re saying that by consuming objects external to ourselves, we are able to consummate our knowledge, which previously was limited to only methods.

T: Yes. Isn’t it great! Consumption allows us to make up for our limitations.

S: There is one problem I see with the consumption of knowledge.

T: What is that?

S: It appears as though only some may have knowledge and not others, for in order to conserve people, there will need to be some people who are not consumed.

T: That’s ok, for I will be one of the wealthy.

S: Well I’m impressed. You do seemed to have solved the problem of knowledge, though my stomach is having a hard time digesting the feast you’ve given me. I can forsee that the hungry men might not care to live with the satiated, not knowing what knowledge is. But if you go to the gym every day, you might be strong enough to prevent the poor from consuming you as well. You’ve given me a lot to think about and I’ve given you nothing so let me repay you with this blessing:

May you grow in knowledge, may your knowledge satisfy your appetites, and may you never eat so much that you become fat and weak.