Wikimania 2007

I’m in Taipei this week whole week for Wikimania 2007. I’m here for two days for a retreat of the Wikimedia Foundation board of directors and advisory board. I’m also going to be giving two and a half talks in the conference itself, attending a Debian birthday party, and perhaps giving a talk on Ubuntu at ITRI.

Here are the overviews of my talks at Wikimania:

  • Freedom’s Standard Advanced (2007/08/03 10:30): Mostly a reprise of a couple talks I’ve given recently that make the case for a definition of freedom and for the Free Cultural Works Definition in particular.
  • Supporting Collaboration in Branched Articles (2007/08/05 13:15): I’ll be unveiling my thesis work: a wiki that allows for branching and merging. It is built on distributed revision control concepts and tools (i.e., Bazaar) and includes a text-specific merge/conflict resolution system designed for writers. The tool has important potential for offline wiki work, stable versions, and collaboration among forked articles within and between wikis. Think ikiwiki but with distributed revision control and all the branching and merging that goes along with it. I’ll be posting lots more information and source here in the coming month.
  • Election Committee (2007/08/04 14:30): I’ll be joining the rest of the Wikimedia Election Committee and talking a bit about the last board elections and about how we might handle things like election methods in the next election.

Details on Debian’s birthday party are online too which will have talks, food, beer, and more.

As always, get in contact if you want to meet up or just find me at the conference.

DRM-FREE

Just a couple years ago, music and technology companies would advertise their DRM schemes. While these technologies only served to prevent users of computers and consumer electronics devices from doing things, the media and technologies companies tried to spin it positively. Think of all the wonderful media that the music, film, and publishing industries will be willing to distribute to you at the click of a button, they said. All they asked for in return is the keys to your computer and the legal right to attack and sue you if you try to take control.

As everyone who purchased iTunes music and made the mistake of buying a non-Apple DAP incapable of reading Apple DRMed music knows, DRM is a bad deal for consumers. Users are always better off with an unencumbered media file. In all the excitement over major label content, some consumers didn’t see this immediately.

With time though, the inconvenience of a computer that does the Apple and the RIAA wants over what you want hit home. This, combined with activist projects like the FSF’s Defective By Design, have turned the tide. The DRM label that used to be a badge of honor is now a stigma that smart companies are going out of their way to avoid.

This past weekend, I saw this flier from Calabash Music in the crepe store across the street:

/copyrighteous/images/calabash_drm_table.jpg /copyrighteous/images/calabash_music_flyer.jpg

The store served a general, non-technical audience. DRM-FREE, it turns out, is a good way to sell music. Not just to geeks but to any consumer who has been stymied unfairly by DRM or knows someone who has. That, it turns out, is a whole lot people. Consumers know what DRM is and they know don’t like it.

As consumers learn more about DRM, they want to avoid it. Seeing this, the companies that produce DRM are looking for ways to escape. The Apple/EMI deal seems to be an attempt to protect market share that the use of DRM is threatening. Others, like HBO’s Bob Zitter, are disingenuously attempting to escape the stigma of DRM by simply rebranding the technology.

Of course, DRM suffers from a much more fundemental problem than bad branding. The problem with DRM is that consumers don’t like what it does and are only sometimes willing to suffer through it when not given the choice. Increasingly often, as with in the example of the flier I found, consumers have a choice. Things don’t look good for DRM. For DRM opponents, the self-defeating nature of the technology is our greatest ally.

Visions of Free Culture

At the Free Culture National Conference a few weeks ago, Kevin Driscoll initiated a project that I feel is hugely important: he’s prompted the free culture community to state and share their vision.

While I’ve talked a lot about definitions in the past, I probably should have been talking about goals or vision. Kevin has created an important opportunity for all free culture stakeholders to step back and imagine what the world will look like when we win. By doing so, we end up defining a set of implicit goals for our social movement and can then set to work on the hard part: figuring out how we get there.

With thanks to Eben Moglen for much of the inspiration, here’s mine:

People remembered that there is no scarcity in information goods except where they have created it. As evidence grew of the positive effects of free culture and the toll of information ownership, our communities decided that we were not well served by limits on the flow and development of knowledge.

Accordingly, the gatekeepers and tax collectors for culture have withered away and were dismantled. We — the consumers, creators, and re-creators — have offered new, more ethical business models, have engaged in new methods of distribution, and have produced creative goods.

Today, access to information is a simple matter of connecting someone to a network and a community: a technical problem that we know how to solve. Nobody pays for the "right" to hear music, read a book, watch a movie, or use a piece of software. Nobody is forced to choose between being a bad neighbor or friend and breaking copyright law. No artist, musician, or author sells a million copies of anything and no artist, musician, or author has a day job.

Now it’s your turn. Eben Moglen tell us to not stop until we’re free. Let’s paint a picture of what that free world looks like. Most importantly, let’s challenge ourselves to find ways to make it possible.

Victory!

Last November, I used a Venn diagram to complain about (and explain) the fact that there while there were several RFID blocking wallets for sale, they were all made of leather. Many people, who like me prefered to eschew leather wallets, left comments, blogged, and emailed me in strong agreement.

Mike Aiello, the proprietor of DFIRWEAR, found my blog. He emailed me not longer after my post to tell me that he had started looking into vegan materials to make a wallet that would fit my needs! Today, a vegan RFID-blocking wallet made it onto his site and is now available to be ordered!

It’s very exciting to see that what started out as a mild and humorous expression of dissatisfaction could quickly culminate in the creation of a new product.

Mika and I each just ordered one. If you care about your privacy, you should too!

Wikimedia Foundation Advisory Board

A few days ago, the Wikimedia Foundation announced the creation of an advisory board of which I am thrilled to be a member. I’m honored to be on a board among many folks whose work has provided and example and inspiration for me and helped bring me, and my own work and activism, to where it is today.

But most of all, I’m thrilled to be able to help Wikimedia Foundation. I’ve been reasonably convinced that WMF’s projects, Wikipedia being most notable among them, are the single most important and exciting project in the world that I was not already involved in in some official capacity.