Monthly Archive for July, 2006

Off the Grid

I am in the Portland Airport, and this is my final blog post before heading off for the next 7 days. I will be spending the next week (July 28 – Aug 3) offline in rural Ohio visiting my family. This is the land of dial-up Internet, no television, and newspapers as the only link to the outside world. It is too remote for DSL or Cable, and the closest high-speed access is the Starbucks at a truck stop about 20 miles away.

I’ll be spending the week on low-tech pursuits like hanging with my family, playing with my nephew who turns 8 on July 30, playing Scrabble, and drinking wine with my Mom.

I will have my CrackBerry … just in case :-)

Open Source, Vegans, and Tomatoes (AKA Thursday at OSCON)

R0ml’s presentation was the highlight of the keynotes today. I will try to capture the gist of it; however, for those of you who have seen him present, his presentation style is so dynamic that it can be difficult to really capture the essence in just a short paragraph. I will give it try. “Open source is like a tomato”, but how much is healthy? According to Stallman, everything should be open source, which R0ml compared to vegans in the world of food (just for full disclosure, I am a vegan). He believes that both the Stallman and vegan approaches are a little extreme and that fanaticism is not good on either side. We should be striving for a balanced approach with open source; some open source is great, but both can coexist. I agree with R0ml on this one; open source is great, but we do not need to exclude proprietary software from the mix.

Danese Cooper led a panel with Mitchell Baker, Tim O’Reilly, Geir Magnusson. David Recordon, and Susan Wu talking about what happens when money enters the picture in an open source project. OSS projects have a free agent model where the project contributors / leader positions are not held by the company. When Mitchell left AOL, AOL did not seem to grok that she would continue to lead the Mozilla projects and that they could not just usurp her title / responsibilities. Open source projects make it more difficult for management to make decisions that are not in the best interest of the project because of the transparency inherent in the open source model. They also discussed how the lack of money is not necessarily a nirvana. Lack of funds reduces monetary corruption, but it also prevents scale. Tim worried that the worse thing he ever did for open source was to hire Larry Wall to work full-time on Perl. Some people thought that Perl 6 was a piece of performance art. Perl was originally rooted in Larry’s ability to resolve real world problems; however money may have removed Larry too far from the real problems and into more theoretical and academic concerns. Too much money can have as big an impact as too little. When developers are sponsored by a corporation do you lose the grassroots feel and the people coding for the joy of it rather than because they are being paid (Apache is seeing this now, especially since most of the incubator projects are being submitted by people being paid to do it). My key takeaway from this session is that money changes the dynamics of an open source community both to an advantage and disadvantage.

We also held our Art of Community Session today at OSCON. I thought that it went very well. The speakers were interesting, the session moved at a rapid pace, and we had a fairly large audience of engaged listeners. The notes from my portion of this session are posted on my Trends in Web 2.0 blog.

Wednesday at OSCON (a little late in posting)

The most interesting session (from a comedic standpoint) was Measuring Open Source Popularity by Luke Wellington from Hitwise. He started with the quote: “Hi, my name is Luke and I am a data addict”; however, it was quickly apparent that he was not able to effectively present his data. Michael Tiemann even suggested that he read some books by presentation guru Edward Tufte … Ouch.

My favorite moment of the day was when Matt Asay referred to himself as a naive little waif (accompanied by an interesting waif-like little dance across the stage) to describe his early sales experiences thinking that if he set a fair price that big customers would not want big discounts. Matt had 9 lessons learned from doing business in open source. A few of my favorites included 2) Friends (downloads) are nice. Cash (customers) is critical. Make Both. 4) Think “user community,” not “developer community” and 9) Be permeable (open and acknowledge mistakes).

I always like to keep track of what is on Tim O’Reilly’s Radar. This year, a few of these include Firefox as a platform, Voip / Asterisk, Ubunto, and O’Reilly Labs.

Scott Yara from Greenplum had an interesting open source and rock & roll comparison encouraging people to not to jump in because open source is popular, but to start a project to make something great (do you want to be as popular as The Backstreet Boys or as good as Jimi Hendrix?)

Anil Dash from Six apart talked about how the key to web 2.0 is connecting to people that you care about through blogs and about how people can find niche communities to connect with co-workers, peers to help anybody get connected.

R0ml gave Part III of his Semasiology of Open Source (semasiology = study of the change in the meaning of words over time). It was highly entertaining, which made it impossible to take notes on it!

Probably the best session of the day was How Open Source Projects Survive Poisonous People by Ben Collins-Sussman and Brian W. Fitzpatrick. They talked about how attention and focus are your scarcest resources – you must protect them (esp when dealing with poisonous people). These poisonous people can take the form of trolls that actively disrupt the community or perfectionists and process obsessed people who unintentionally derail forward progress (talk forever & never finish anything). The had a few suggestions: understand the threat, fortify against it by building a healthy community, identify poisonous people & look for warning signs, deal with infection / maintain calm & stand your ground.

Thoughts from the OSCON Executive Briefing

Unfortunately, I was only able to attend the first half of the executive briefing; however, the portion that I attended was immensely valuable.

Favorite Quotes*:

  • Michael Tiemann (Red Hat): “You can look at cost all day, but it is really about value.”

  • Matt Asay (Alfresco): “Tim is being too nice, I’m going to be Danese.”

Matt’s quote about being Danese referred to a previous session where Danese Cooper had the honor of grilling, oops, I mean interviewing Bill Hilf from Microsoft. She asked some tough questions, including this gem: Danese asked about Microsoft’s previous disinformation campaigns, and Hilf responded by saying that Microsoft did not have disinformation campaigns, but that in the future, they will do a better job of targeting these campaigns to the right people. Interesting … they do not exist, but they will be more targeted in the future. Hmmm.

For those who regularly read my blog, you know that I have been interested in how we can use the lessons learned from open source software as web 2.0 evolves. There were several interesting points along these lines:

  • Brian Behlendorf from CollabNet talked about how the best model for open data is less about the open API and more about seeing the discussion. For example, when looking at a controversial Wikipedia page, it is good to be able to see the back and forth that happened. From my perspective this highlights the desire for more information and the desire to participate in the creation of information that users are coming to expect as web 2.0 becomes more prevalent. We are no longer content to read static web pages; we expect to be able to read and comment on the content or in some cases make corrections directly to the content in the Wiki model.

  • One of the panels talked about how the nature of software development is with a small group of people, which is why you see a small core of developers; extensions allow thousands of people to contribute in a modular manner. I think that this is part of why Firefox has been so successful. Developers can write an extension that they find useful without having to make it mainstream enough to be accepted into the main source tree, and users can customize their experience to install as many or as few extensions as they want. The extension model allows us to fill small niches way out in the long tail, while keeping the main Firefox code base lean and efficient for the masses.

  • Jim Buckmaster from Craigslist talked about how they have only 22 employees, and they rely on users to create content and to flag inappropriate content. He also said that they rely mostly on user feedback to make changes and add incremental features – new cities, etc., but they do not feel like they need to build the next big thing. This makes Craigslist is a great example of the user created content model at its finest. They make it easy for users to create their content, and they stay focused on doing one thing and doing it better than anyone else.

  • Ian Wilkes from Second Life talked about how more of our lives are moving online, how eventually everyone will have an avatar, and how real life and virtual interactions are merging. This is something that I have been noticing, but I will not rehash it here, since I blogged about this idea a few days ago.

OSCON is one of my favorite events. O’Reilly does a great job of taking a topic (open source) and expanding around it to get us thinking about new ideas. I am looking forward to what I will learn over the next couple of days.

Do not forget to check out our session on the Art of Community on Thursday at OSCON!

* Keep in mind that these quotes and the rest of the information in this post are approximate and are based on my imperfect note-taking abilities and my recollections from the day.

The Changing Face of Online Culture

I have been observing a difference in the way that people use IM and email as younger people move into the workforce. I have young friends and co-workers (mid-20s) who I communicate with frequently on IM and never / rarely via email. Even some aspects of dating seem to have moved to IM with long, intimate IM chats replacing what used to be long phone calls for many couples. I also have a few techie friends my age and older who are IM addicts, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. From my perspective, IM is great when you want to have a discussion or need a quick answer to a question, while email is handy for business where you need to keep documentation or need complex information for reference (documents usually).

I just read an interesting piece on CNET summarizing this phenomenon:

Email is so last millennium.

Young people see it as a good way to reach an elder – a parent, teacher or a boss – or to receive an attached file. But increasingly, the former darling of high-tech communication is losing favour to instant and text messaging, and to the chatter generated on blogs and social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

The shift is starting to creep into workplace communication, too.

Beyond that, email has become most associated with school and work.

“It used to be just fun,” says Danah Boyd, a doctoral candidate who studies social media at the University of California, Berkeley. “Now it’s about parents and authority.”

“Adults who learn to use IM later have major difficulty talking to more than two people at one time – whereas the teens who grew up on it have no problem talking to a bazillion people at once,” Boyd says. “They understand how to negotiate the interruptions a lot better.”

Kirah, at Microsoft, even thinks young people’s brains work differently because they have grown up with IM, making them more adept at it.

“Nine to five has been replaced with ‘Give me a deadline and I will meet your deadline’,” Kirah says of young people’s work habits. “They’re saying ‘I might work until 2 am that night. But I will do it all on my terms.”‘ (CNET)

It will be fascinating to watch the changing dynamics of the workforce over the next couple of years as employees who have been raised with IM, MySpace, Facebook, and other social networking technologies enter the workforce in larger numbers. I am looking forward to the changes that this generation could bring with them: innovative approaches, quick and nimble decision-making, a focus on the results obtained instead of an 8-5 butts in chairs mentality, a resistance to bureaucracy, and more. With these changes, we may end up with a new set of problems; however, I think that the corporate world could stand a good wake up call.

The Blogging Job Offers Continue

I recently blogged about an interesting trend of making job offers via blogs. The two highest profile examples were Calacanis offering the Unboomed Amanda a job at AOL/Netscape and Scoble speculating about how he could go about hiring Calacanis.

Yesterday, Mark Cuban put a new twist on this trend by putting out a call on his blog offering a job to anyone who can solve the problem of getting people out of the house to watch a movie in the theater without spending more money on marketing than what the movie can earn.

This is an open challenge. You come up with a solution, you get a job. Seriously.

So if you want a job, and have a great idea on how to market movies in a completely different way. If your idea works for any and all kinds of movies. If it changes the dynamics and the economics of promoting movies, email it or post it. If its new and unique, i want to hear about it. If its a different way of doing the same thing you have seen before, it probably wont get you a job, but feel free to try.

So go for it. Come up with a great idea that i want to use and I will come up with a job for you to make that idea happen.

for real. (Mark Cuban)

Merging of Online and Offline Culture

This morning, TechCrunch posted a piece about online dating 2.0 that got me thinking about how our online and offline lives have merged. This is especially true of the 20-something MySpace crowd and the early adopter techie crowd. Both of these two groups, while having slightly different approaches, have moved to the point of doing almost everything online.

And yes, I have used online dating, and it was a great experience for me. Shortly after my divorce, I realized that all of my friends (and all of their friends) work at Intel, which is not surprising, since we are one of the largest employers in the area; however, by dating people at work you run the risk of eventually managing or working for an ex … not a comfortable situation. Around this time last year, I met the current boyfriend on Yahoo! Personals. His take on online dating reflects the views in this post: “we have moved everything else online, why should dating be any different?”

Most of us get our news online, rarely picking up those stacks of paper filled with yesterday’s news (my parents refer to them as “newspapers”). I immediately recycle the phone books that appear on my doorstep knowing that I will never use one when I can get the same information online without having to find a place to store these books that are now roughly the size of my couch. I rarely pick up the phone to talk to friends in favor of email and IM.

This does not mean that I have moved all of my interactions with the world into the online space, and I do not think that doing everything online would be a healthy approach. We need the offline interactions as well; however, the online interactions can facilitate the offline. Email and IM just seem to be more convenient ways to arrange an evening out. Many of us who blog “meet” people online as a result of comments back and forth in the blogosphere, but we take the opportunity to meet these bloggers in the offline space when we get an opportunity at a conference or other venue. After recently exchanging blog comments with Josh Bancroft, we realized that we both worked at the same Intel campus, and getting together offline resulted in him joining a session at OSCON next week that Danese Cooper and I are leading. Both online and offline interactions have their place, but it is interesting to see how the two are merging to the point where we do not even consciously think about how we use them both.

The Art of Community at OSCON

Danese Cooper and I are leading a series of lightning talks focused on the Art of Community at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) in Portland next week. The session features some great speakers including Mitchell Baker, Karl Fogel, and many more. If you are attending OSCON, please stop by our session!

The Art of Community

Track: Emerging Topics
Date: Thursday, July 27
Time: 5:20pm – 6:05pm
Location: Portland 251

Online communities have been a fundamental element of open source culture for years, and they are now becoming an integral part of the daily lives of more people every day. New people are joining and participating in online communities in everything from open source projects like Firefox to social networking sites like MySpace and LinkedIn. This session will offer guidance on how to create a successful community in the form of 5 minute lightning talks from a group of experts on the following topics:

  • Introductory remarks: Danese Cooper, Intel and Open Source Initiative
  • Benefits of having a community: Zaheda Bhorat, Google
  • Corporate communities: Josh Bancroft, Intel
  • Using Collaboration tools: Karl Fogel, CollabNet
  • Leading a community and creating a community culture: Geir Magnusson, Intel and Apache
  • Concerns and challenges: Zak Greant
  • The Character of Intentional Communities: Mitchell Baker, Mozilla Corporation
  • Impact of web 2.0 on communities: Dawn Foster, Intel

Blogging Community Profile

The Washington Post had an interesting summary of the Pew Internet & American Life Project blogging survey. In short, here is the typical profile of a blogger:

  • More than half are under 30

  • Only 15% blog to make money

  • They use blogs for creative expression

  • Motivation tends to be personal (keeping up with family / friends and meeting new people)

Here are a few choice quotes from the Washington Post article:

They consider themselves digital natives.

They’re young. They’re addicted to instant messaging and social networks. And they’re more apt to dish about the drama at last night’s party than the president’s latest faux pas.

“The average blogger is a 14-year-old girl writing about her cat,” said Alexander Halavais, an assistant professor of interactive communications at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

Typical bloggers are not ranting about politics or trying to be hard-core journalists, he said. “The survey shows that blogging is really a community-based activity and a way of connecting with people.”

Apparently, the TechMeme crowd (those of us over 14, not blogging about our pets) appear to be in a minority. The beauty of the long tail is that we can blog about a variety of topics and find an audience of like-minded people who share our passion for a topic. A 14 year-old blogging about her cat will have readers who care about her or her cat, while people who are passionate about open culture would be likely to read my blog.

Open culture is a fairly specialized topic, and I will never have millions of readers on this blog, nor do I necessarily want millions of readers. I would rather have a few dozen readers who are passionate and knowledgeable about the topic. The point is that within the long tail, we can each find our niche, regardless of what the research finds about the “typical” blogger.

Four Big Ideas about Open Source Related to Web 2.0

This morning, Tim O’Reilly published four big ideas about open source that will guide his discussion at OSCON next week:

  1. The architecture of participation beyond software. Software development was the canary in the coalmine, one of the first areas to show the power of self-organizing systems leveraging the power of the internet to transform markets. But it didn’t stop there. What we’re now calling Web 2.0 is a direct outgrowth of the core principles that made open source software successful, but in my opinion, many of the projects and companies that make up the Web 2.0 movement have gone far beyond open source in their understanding of how to build systems that leverage what I call the architecture of participation.

  2. Asymmetric Competition. One of the most powerful things about open source is its potential to reset the rules of the game, to compete in a way that undercuts all of the advantages of incumbent players. Yet what we see in open source is that the leading companies have in many ways abandoned this advantage, becoming increasingly like the companies with which they compete. I have no concerns about the ultimate health of the open source development model or the vibrant creativity of the open source community, but I do question whether open source companies really grasp the implications of the new model. I think that if they did, they’d be Web 2.0 companies.

  3. How Software As a Service Changes The Points of Business Leverage. Operations and scalability lead to powerful cost advantages; increasing returns from network effects lead to new kinds of lock-in. The net effect is that even when running open source software, vendors will have lock-in opportunities just as powerful as those from the previous generation of proprietary software.

  4. Open Data. One day soon, tomorrow’s Richard Stallman will wake up and realize that all the software distributed in the world is free and open source, but that he still has no control to improve or change the computer tools that he relies on every day. They are services backed by collective databases too large (and controlled by their service providers) to be easily modified. Even data portability initiatives such as those starting today merely scratch the surface, because taking your own data out of the pool may let you move it somewhere else, but much of its value depends on its original context, now lost.

These are all important concepts for open source, but I am particularly drawn to the idea that open source has provided a foundation (technically and conceptually) for what we are now calling web 2.0. I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about this relationship recently because understanding how open source works (my background is in open source) can help us understand web 2.0. This is particularly true in discussions about what motivates people to freely contribute to communities.

Eric Raymond wrote that “Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer’s personal itch.” Within open source software communities, many projects are started to fill the developer’s need, and as the user of the software, the developer has a personal stake in the product’s quality. Linus started Linux to fulfill his personal need for a Unix-like operating system that would run on lower cost hardware. Other developers frequently contribute to open source projects to fill a need of their own to have a particular project ported to a favorite hardware platform or to add an additional feature that would make the product more closely meet their needs.

This idea can also be applied to other online communities outside of software. People join and participate in social networking communities, like the MySpace community, to fill a social need and have an online location to hang out with friends, coordinate social events, share new (or old) music, and blog about their ideas and experiences. Others join business-oriented networking sites, like LinkedIn, to make better connections with people in related industries and to network online with like-minded people. Some people join online news and information communities, like Digg and Newsvine, to share and discuss information with others.

These examples demonstrate how people can join online communities to fill a particular need, and how those needs can take many forms and motivate people in different ways. Keep in mind that motivation is incredibly complex. A single individual may be motivated to join and contribute to online communities for many different reasons, which when combined form a powerful set of motivators. The interesting thing is how the motivation is similar for open source communities and web 2.0 communities.