A lot of people interested in free software, and user autonomy and network services are very worried about Facebook. Folks are worried for the same reason that so many investors are interested: the networks effects brought by hundreds of millions of folks signed up to use the service.
Network effects -- the concept that a good or service increases in value as more people use it -- are not a new problem for free software. Software developers target Microsoft Windows because that is where the large majority of users are. Users with no love for Microsoft and who are otherwise sympathetic to free software use Windows because programs they need will only run there.
Folks worried about Facebook are afraid for similar reasons. Sure, you can close down your Facebook account and move to Diaspora. But who will you talk to there? You can already hear people complaining about Facebook the same way they've been complaining about Windows or Office for years. People feel that their hands are tied and that their software, and their social network, will be determined by what everybody is doing.
I'm worried about Facebook. But I'm not too intimidated by Facebook's network effects for two reasons.
First, using Facebook doesn't preclude using anything else.
Twitter has enormous overlapping functionality with Facebook. Sure, people use the systems very differently. But they both ask you to create lists of friends and followers and are designed around sending and receiving short status messages. Millions of people do both and both systems are thriving. For the millions of people who use both Facebook and Twitter, the two services have had to negotiate their marginal utility in a world they share with the other one. People decide that Twitter is for certain types of short messages and Facebook is for others. But these arrangements shift over time.
And the relationships between services aren't always peaceful coexistence. Remember Friendster? Remember Orkut? Remember Tribe? Remember MySpace? MySpace, and all the others, are great examples of how social networks die. They very slowly fade away. MySpace users signed up for Facebook accounts and used both. They almost never just switched. Over time, as one platform became more attractive than the other, for many complicated reasons, attention and activity shifted. People logged in on MySpace less and Facebook more and, eventually, realized they were effectively no longer MySpace users. Anyone that has been on the Internet long enough to watch a few of these shifts from one platform to another knows that they're not abrupt -- even if they can be set in motion by a particular event or action. Users of social networking sites simply don't have to choose in the way that a person choosing to boot Windows and GNU/Linux does.
I'm sure the vast majority of people with Diaspora accounts use Facebook actively. This is not a problem for Diaspora. It is how Diaspora -- or whatever else eventually achieves what many of us hoped Diaspora would -- could win.
Second, Facebook is for the ephemeral.
Facebook is primarily used for information that was produced very recently. This week if not today. If not this hour. Facebook has an enormous amount of data that users have fed it that may be hard to get out and move somewhere else. But most people don't care very much about having any regular access to the large majority of this information. What people care deeply about is having access to the data that they and their friends created today. And that data can just as easily be created somewhere else tomorrow. Or, with the right tools, created just as easily in both places.
Compare this to something like Windows where moving away would require learning, converting, and perhaps even writing, new software. Perhaps even in new programming languages that most developers don't know yet. Compared to Windows, a migration away from Facebook will be easy.
Facebook's photo galleries are an example of an important place where this holds less well. Social network information -- i.e., the list of who is friends with who -- is another example of something that is persistently valuable. That said, people really enjoy the act of finding and friending. Indeed, this process was part of the initial draw of Facebook and other social networks.
None of this means that Facebook is over. It doesn't even mean that its ascendancy will be slowed. What it does mean is that Facebook is vulnerable to the next thing more than many technology firms that have benefited from network effects in the past. If users are given compelling reasons to switch to something else, they can with less trouble and they will.
That compelling reason might be a new social network with better features or an awesome distributed architecture that allows freedom for users and the ability of those users to benefit from new and fantastic things that Facebook's overseers would never let them have and without the things Facebook's users suffer through today. Or it might be a sexier proprietary box to store users' private information. It doesn't mean that I'm not worried about Facebook. I remain deeply worried. It's just not very hard for me to imagine the end.
When I set an alarm, my clock, now running on the computer in my pocket, is smart enough to tell me how much time will pass until the alarm is scheduled to sound. This has eliminated the old problem of sleeping past meetings before being surprised by an alarm precisely half a day after I had originally planned to wake.
The price has been having to know exactly how little I will sleep: a usually depressing fact that had previously been obscured by my difficulty doing time arithmetic in my most somnolent moments.
The GIA diamond clarity scale, shown above, is rather opaque.
The Setup is an awesome blog that posts of interviews with nerdy people that ask the same four questions:
- Who are you, and what do you do?
- What hardware are you using?
- And what software?
- What would be your dream setup?
I really care about my setup so I am excited, and honored, that they just posted an interview with me!
I answer questions about my setup often so I tried to be comprehensive with the hope that I will be able to point people to it in the future.
Since installing a whiteboard in our kitchen, conversations at the Acetarium have been moving in new and interesting directions.
This weekend, I launched an extremely ambitious effort to collect evidence of extremely ambitious efforts. The result was a short program that searched the web and revealed the:
- Manhattan Project for the 21st century
- Manhattan Project for Advanced Batteries
- Manhattan PRoject for AI
- Manhattan Project for AIDS
- Manhattan Project for Alzheimer's
- Manhattan Project for autism research and treatment
- Manhattan Project for Big Cats
- Manhattan Project For Bio-Defense
- Manhattan Project for Biomedicine
- Manhattan Project for Bioterrorism
- Manhattan Project for cancer
- Manhattan Project for Cellulases
- Manhattan Project for chemists
- Manhattan Project for climate change
- Manhattan Project for Cold Fusion
- Manhattan Project for computers
- Manhattan Project for creativity
- Manhattan Project for Cyber-defenses
- Manhattan project for Detroit
- Manhattan Project for the development of post-nuclear superweapons in seven fields
- Manhattan Project For Economics
- Manhattan Project for the economy
- Manhattan Project for ending the prostate cancer as a socio-economic crisis in our country and a public health disaster among African American men
- Manhattan Project for Energy
- Manhattan Project for Energy Independence
- Manhattan Project for the Environment
- Manhattan Project for Excellence in Radiochemistry
- Manhattan Project for exploiting extraterrestrial technologies and communication
- Manhattan Project for Finance
- Manhattan Project for fluoride damage
- Manhattan Project for fuel
- Manhattan Project for Fuel Cell Manufacturing
- Manhattan Project for future generations
- Manhattan Project for genetics
- Manhattan project for global hunger
- Manhattan Project for Global Peace, Prosperity and Stability
- Manhattan Project for Green Innovation
- Manhattan Project for Guitar Exercise
- Manhattan project for Hawkeyes
- Manhattan Project for a healthy nation
- Manhattan Project for Homeland Security
- Manhattan Project for Iowa
- Manhattan Project for IT
- Manhattan Project for Legal Education
- Manhattan Project for life
- Manhattan Project for Maine,
- Manhattan Project for materials that could resist corrosion by fluorine or its compounds
- Manhattan Project for medical treatment in the field of obesity
- Manhattan Project for Michael
- Manhattan Project for Miracles
- Manhattan Project for modular instruments
- Manhattan Project for National IDs
- Manhattan Project For Natural Disasters
- Manhattan Project for the NES
- Manhattan Project for Network Computing
- Manhattan Project for network security
- Manhattan Project for the Next Generation of Bionic Arms
- Manhattan Project for online identity
- Manhattan Project for Our Time
- Manhattan Project for Pb-Free Electronics
- Manhattan Project for Public Diplomacy
- Manhattan Project for Racial Achievement Gap
- Manhattan Project for real time biomedical research on human populations
- Manhattan Project for the restoration of motor function
- Manhattan Project for a revival of the Sacrament of Penance
- Manhattan Project for simulation with pseudo-random numbers
- Manhattan Project for the social and behavioral sciences
- Manhattan Project for stove testing and design
- Manhattan Project for systems engineering
- Manhattan Project for Texas Water
- Manhattan Project for transforming patient care for men and ending prostate cancer
- Manhattan Project for the war on terror
- Manhattan Project for Wildcat Service Corp
- Manhattan project for wind, electric, solar, geothermal, hydro and other renewable sources of enengy we've not even thought of yet
- Manhattan Project for XBLA
- Manhattan Project for yourself
- Manhattan Project for Zinnias
As the free software and free culture movements have sat quietly by, DRM is now well on its way to becoming the norm in the electronic book publishing industry.
The free culture movement has failed to communicate the reality of DRM and, as a result, millions of people are buying books that they won't be able to read when they switch to a different model of ebook reader in the future. They are buying books that will become inaccessible when the DRM system that supports them is shut down -- as we've already seen with music from companies including Wal*Mart, Yahoo, and Microsoft. They are buying books that require that readers use proprietary tools that lock them out from doing basic things that have always been the right of a book owner.
Some anti-DRM advocates are, indirectly, part of this problem as they buy these books and turn to shady methods of stripping the DRM. Buying DRMed books is voting with your wallet for a system that criminalizes those that insist on living in freedom and will screw us all in the long run when DRM is the only choice we are offered and removing the DRM is difficult, unsafe, and illegal.
Buying non-DRMed e-books is a more freedom-friendly alternative for those that, like me, are excited about not lugging kilograms of paper around our cities and the world. We can do this at "non-mainstream" publishers like Smashwords who explicitly reject DRM. Of course, the big ebook sellers like Amazon, and Barnes and Nobel, and Google all offer non-DRMed books. But none of the major ebook retailers explicitly reveal the DRM status of locked down books before purchase.
On Amazon, there are some cryptic signs and signals that, if you understand them, suggest the absence of DRM. Google and Barnes and Nobel currently offer no way to know if a book is DRMed without buying it first and questions in their support forums go unanswered.
It's hard to support non-DRM alternatives when we can't recognize them. It's hard to tell people to not buy DRM ebooks if we can't even tell them apart. Getting this message through to book buyers -- and perhaps even to ebook retailers -- seems like a critical first step.
I roll my eyes a little when I think that Unhappy Birthday is the document I have written that has been read by the most people. The page -- basically a website encouraging people to rat on their friends for copyright violation for singing Happy Birthday in public -- has received millions of page views and has generated tons of its own media (including a rather memorable interview of CBC's WireTap). At the bottom of the page I am listed, by name and email, as the "copyrighteous spokesman" for the initiative.
And since the page has been online, I have received hate mail about it. Constantly.
Since the email only goes to me, I thought it might be fun to share some of these publicly. All these messages are quoted verbatim but I have not included the senders' names. Be warned: the language is often salty.
This email is years old now but it is probably still my favorite:
Atrocity and strife run rampant in this world.
Babies are abandoned in dumpsters. Teachers molest students. Impoverished Indonesians make sneakers for pennies while the spoiled jackhole in the 30-second commercial makes millions for sinking a three-pointer and smirking at the camera. Forms of religion are interpreted as to compel people to strap explosives to their chest and board buses full of innocents. Boss Tweeds embezzle and get severance pay while John Q. Workingman gets put out on the street when the corporation goes belly up.
Out of all these indignities and countless others I haven't the time to mention, why do you make it your personal crusade to assist in the flagrant persecution of family restaurants for partaking in the time-honored tradition of singing "Happy Birthday"? God forbid these foul brigands bend copyright law in order to bring a smile to somebody's face.
Food for thought...without the accompanying song.
Many others strike a defiant, if less poetic, tone:
Good luck! There are millions of us who refuse to accept the ridiculous "copyright" on Happy Birthday. If Time Warner were an ethical company rather than a greedy megacorp they would do something truly special and release it into the public domain.
There are some things in this world more important than money.
Quite a few people notice that my last name is Hill and suspect that I must be related to the Hill sisters who originally penned the song. I'm not, to my knowledge, although since Time Warner bought the rights, it's not clear it would matter:
I am writing to just let you know how disappointed I am that a large corporation and others (like the HILL family) are making $2 million plus for a song that was created over 100 years ago with noone knowing who created the lyrics! None of us at our place of employment could believe this and we certainly won't encourage people to send money to ASCAP. It is a shame that ASCAP license fees aren't used to pay more to up-and-coming artists who I'm sure need this money alot more than Time Warner.
We all plan to sing Happy Birthday MORE now in public places and if anyone asks if it is copyrighted we will say "of course not". Maybe this way the song will not die out completely as more and more other "birthday" songs are being sung. It would also be nice if your website cited whose opinion is writing the piece and your obvious conflict of interest.
Is it a coincidence that your last name is the same as the last name of the authors of the song "Happy Birthday?" You seem to have a personal monetary motive for your work with the "grassroots project" you call Unhappy Birthday, and if you do not, your concern is misplaced all the same. Whom do you imagine your campaign serves? And do you realize whom it harms?
I do not question the illegality of performing the copyrighted song publicly. And you are correct that most of the public is not even aware that the song is under copyright. I think the harm done to Time Warner and its associates by such public performances is far outweighed by the joy created when the much-loved happy tune is shared.
I urge you to ask yourself why you think the immortal Hill sisters wrote the song in the first place. It was not to put more money Time Warner's pocket. It was, I would argue, for the sake of the song itself and the happiness it brings when performed (publicly or otherwise). Please consider siding with the children and the artists; let the lawsuits alone.
Some people suspect the site may be satire, but include insults and and attacks just in case it isn't:I'm trying to figure out if your Unhappy Birthday site is meant to be in jest. If so Rofl, and congrats on a hilarious site. If you're actually serious, then fuck you Nazi cunts and your corporate butt buddies. Thank you for your time.
Or these two alternatives (each were separate emails):
If this is a joke then it's rather funny. However if this website is serious then you're a fucking idiot. Get a life!!!!
if it is a form of protest, then THANK YOU! if it is not, then screw you all!
One memorable piece of mail was from someone who knew of me from my activities in the free software and free culture communities and had a hard time reconciling my work there with the high protectionist website:
I was quiet surprised to see your name and email address at the bottom of the home page of the site Unhappy Birthday. The site claims that you are their spokesman.
Is this correct? I do not understand... You have all this Open Source/ Free Software background and then this site that defends one of the most controversial copyright issues???
Do you really mean this? Do you want to help Time Warner?
I was going to buy one of your products from your Unhappy Birthday Shop at CafePress but there's a problem.
I hate emblems that uses human skulls in them.
Being a member of ASCAP I really do support your cause but I can't buy a product that I would never wear.
And many people are simply confused asking something like this one:So I saw the unhappy birthday site and I'm just a little confused. Is this a joke or a serious thing?
I usually reply and explain that I have tried to ensure that the site describes the legal situation around Happy Birthday honestly and correctly.
That said, the vast majority of messages I receive are unequivocal. Like this email that I received last week addressed to "you anti-free speech fascists":__ / \ | | | | | | __ __ | | __ / \/ \| |/ \ | \ | | | / | \ | / \ / | | | |
Half an hour later, the author followed up with a English version of the same message, set to the tune of happy birthday.
You might think that getting insulted and flipped off by confused people on the Internet might get me down. It doesn't! I made Unhappy Birthday because I thought that the fact that something as important to our culture as Happy Birthday could be owned was outrageous. Every piece of hate mail means that somebody else -- almost always somebody who isn't a "copyfighter" or a free culture geek -- is now upset about the current state of copyright too.
Sure, Unhappy Birthday makes me a tiny bit sad about people's ability to recognize satire. But it makes me really happy about people's ability to get very annoyed at what they think is the outrageous control of our culture through copyright. When more people are as mad as the the people I've quoted above, we will be able to change copyright into something less outrageous to all of us.