Archive for May, 2014|Monthly archive page

Special issue of Publius on the Ostroms

From “Tokyo Tom” of The Collaborative Center Community Facebook page,, notice of this special issue. Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in Economics shortly before her death last year. The Ostroms’ work addressed the problems of community and collaboration. She is famous for many things but among them is her redemption of the commons from its supposed tragic demise.

How useful is her work for us in community development and management, especially for productive, open source communities? The answer depends on what one wants. To justify certain sorts of efforts (eg, those that relate to getting funding for some projects from constitutionally doubtful agencies) she is as useful as any authority would be. But she is also useful, or at least her work is, when backing up arguments in favor of collaboration.

But for most who would actually set up collaborative groups, they won’t (and don’t) care about the theory, good or bad. They care about the history and, even better, programmatic “case studies” that spell out (or at least strongly suggest) what to do and how. Proof–validity of action and praxis–counts infinitely over theory.

Put another way, you won’t be able to persuade anyone about how to set up a commons-based peer network only by using Ostrom, or I doubt it. You will persuade by using instances from Martin Fowler, say, or Benkler; or from practitioners. And at a guess, the practitioner is more interested in what he or she knows than in a theory supporting what she doesn’t; and if she is interested in theorizing, she will likely stay within the obvious authorities and case studies, as these are what others in her field know and can accept as such, even though they may disagree with them.

Were she to refer to Ostrom, she’d likely not lose credibility. It just wouldn’t go very far. (In contrast, I suspect she’d lose credibility in her business-oriented field if she referred to Jean-Luc Nancy, though Girard might be okay, as Peter Thiel, I believe–though it could be Musk–is a big fan.)

But I find it a little sad that one of the most interesting thinkers on the problems (and how to solve them) of community and collaboration is just not attended to in ways that could be useful, if not prescriptively, then at least descriptively.


Mariana Mazzucato: Startup myths and obsessions | The Economist

By invitation: Mariana Mazzucato: Startup myths and obsessions | The Economist.


Possibly paywall protected.

But Mazzucato’s thesis is fairly well known, by now–she has been tireless in promoting it–but for all that, it’s not seemingly altered the perception of how tech startups work, or rather, get to working. But maybe I’m just missing changes in the rhetoric of tech entrepreneurialism, on either side of the Atlantic.

Or perhaps not. Though Mazzucato counsels the UK gov’t. and its opposition, still, this is how she finishes her article:

What we need if we are to avoid the much-feared “secular stagnation” is not many small startups—or an obsession with financing “SMEs”–but an innovation ecosystem in which these new firms are made relevant through a dynamic interaction of public and private investments. This requires a public sector able and willing to spend large sums on education, research and those emerging areas that the private sector keeps out of (because of high capital intensity and high technological/market risk); large firms which reinvest their profits not in share-buybacks but in human capital and R&D; a financial system that lends to the real economy and not mainly to itself; tax policy that rewards long run investments over short run capital gains; immigration policy that attracts the best and the brightest from around the world; and rigorous competition policy that challenges lazy incumbents rather than letting them get away with high prices and parasitic  subsidies.

Unfortunately the current situation is a very lonely one for the startups.  More revolution, less celebration is needed.


We can’t stop copyright pirates until we understand why they do it

We can’t stop copyright pirates until we understand why they do it.

Transform any text into a patent application – Sam Lavigne

Transform any text into a patent application – Sam Lavigne.

Patent the open source community now!

We all are cursed (or blessed) with patentable ideas. In my case, for each stupendous idea that comes to me–I’m being ironic–there are the less great but more practical ones. But then these, along with the stupendous ones, confront the patenting barrier. It costs a lot of money, yes, but just drafting the idea and putting it into the right form is hardly trivial. (Though that does not mean that trivial ideas are not patented; far from it.)


Canada’s Destination 2020 – Clerk of the Privy Council

Destination 2020 – Clerk of the Privy Council.

Fascinating. Scanning it now, but so far get the impression that the author(s) at the least know their buzzwords. And also how to implement some ostentatious examples of taking the little people seriously, at least as a crowd that’s been sourced, if not as a union that has any collective power. (The difference between a union and a crowd is the difference between coherent action that can be sustained and developed and a single event that may result in a commodity but need not.) I’m hardly opposed to crowdsourcing, but am far more interested in what can translate to sustained community identity and action. But am still reading through (or scanning with dry eyes) the text.

U.S. Dept. of the Navy Open Source Software Guidance

The various US defence departments support open source software use. To what extent? And to what extent do those offices using it contribute to it?

Department of Navy Chief Information Officer – Policy: DON Open Source Software Guidance.

Uber Learned the Hard Way: Transparency Rules the Sharing Economy | Design | WIRED

Instructive: On the role of transparency (and also accountability) are so vital to community, where “community” can be both a productive network or consumer association.

This is why established peer-to-peer marketplaces like Etsy and Airbnb make a point of using their design chops to celebrate information that others sweep under the rug. Go to their websites and you’ll encounter pages outlining terms of service, cancellation policies, dispute resolutions and other boring details, treated with the same elegant design and clever copywriting as taglines and banner ads. Features like searchable photos, well-written descriptions and sensible interaction flows are everywhere, not because they’re nice to have, but because they’re the foundation that allows this trust-based model work. These are what make browsing for vintage furniture more comfortable on Etsy than on eBay, and meeting people on less creepy than on Craigslist.

via Uber Learned the Hard Way: Transparency Rules the Sharing Economy | Design | WIRED.

The Worst of All Possible Universes and the Best of All Possible Earths: Three Body and Chinese Science Fiction

The Worst of All Possible Universes and the Best of All Possible Earths: Three Body and Chinese Science Fiction |


Thanks to David Brin for pointing me and others to this rather interesting essay on science fiction in China and this remarkable set of texts. (One reason I like and have always liked science fiction is because, on that rare occasion, it is both uncanny and occult, defamiliarizing and also somehow speaking to a truth of the present unto the future; a discovered text that spells the actuality which, with any luck, you might be able to inhabit. But usually, this is what happens: you don’t.)

On Uber in London

London cabbies to offer EVEN WORSE service in protest against Uber • The Register.

The protests in London and elsewhere, along with the legal posturing and actions, raise the question: what does a union do? From the union of taxicab drivers, Uber’s squad (who are not, I think, unionized?) represent scabs, opportunistic interlopers who destroy the unity of labour’s front by satisfying demand. Scabs are bad for all workers because workers only have power when en masse; singly, they are, if not victims, very close to it. But in a union, the worker can assert a degree of power that will give him and her a measure of the profit derived from his or her labour.

Or so in theory and often enough, in practice. But taxicab unions are strange; as I understand it, they seem to resemble more closely regulated guilds. That doesn’t mean that one cannot have (or that there are not) legitimate taxicab unions of drivers. Nor would Uber’s (or Lyft’s) business model be opposed to that. But a protected guild exists largely to suppress competition in a way that unions do not (unions don’t really care, I’d guess, about competition, though longstanding and tightly-coupled unions, as perhaps can be seen with auto unions, probably stretch that guess).

What it comes down to then, as I see it, is more a contestation about the nature of the personal transport market. Is it to be open to all? What guarantees of safety, insurance, liability must be met? And where does the role of innovation sit?

In the established taxicab markets, there seems to be virtually no innovation. Sure, there have been enhancements in payment systems, as we see in New York City. And, yes, in the more conscious cities there are more “green” cars, like hybrids.

But that’s it? What about shared commuter vehicles? About family or grocery rentals? Or electric vehicles? Or, even more grandly, the development of an infrastructure that would even provide for and encourage fleets of rented electric vehicles? I suppose one could answer that this is not within the remit of a taxicab, which is usually seen as the resort of the drunk or hurried or desperate. But isn’t that rather a failure of conceiving what urban transportation is? Mass transit is one aspect of it; there are others, too. And if we are in fact to be serious about managing global warming, I should think we have to consider the place of personal vehicle, rented or not.

Open source requires cultural shift of UK councils

Think tank: Open source requires cultural shift of UK councils | Joinup.