Monthly Archives: January 2007

SXSW notes: Consumer Is the Producer – DIY Media

This panel at SXSW Interactive on 14th March 2006 could equally have been called DIY Machines, and there was a fair share of crafting on the menu too.

The session blurb went some way to encompassing this broad canvas: ‘New technology allows consumers to play an active role in producing media and objects. How does this not-so-subtle change impact the final product?’

To give you an idea of the sheer range of the conference, in the same time slot the following other sessions were also happening, three of which I also wanted to go to: ‘RSS: Not Just For Blogs Anymore’, ‘Secret Sex Lives Of Video Games’, ‘Open Source Management: Walking The Walk’, ‘Dogma Free Design’, ‘The Orthley Children and Their Computer’, and ‘Democratization Of The Moving Image’

Cameron Shaw – Product Manager, AOL
Limor Fried – and iBeam Fellowship in Open Source Electronics
Nathalie and Craft Editor for Make magazine
Phillip Torrone – Editor, Make magazine
Christian Crumlish – and author of ‘The Power Of Many’
Chair: John Lepowsky – Digital Convergence Initiative

We’re now living in a remix culture, John Lepowsky stated in his opening remarks, where production and access to production is now a much easier process. Instead of the powers that be and corporations broadcasting to us, the internet and other many-to-many networks are changing that.

A caveat to this is that there’s always going to be a relatively small percentage producing with 1-10% participating in creating content.

[I think this oft quoted forecast, which I’ve heard before from Yahoo’s Bradley Horowitz among others is always predicated on the PC/Web paradigm and ignores the role of mobile in accelerating and mainstreaming production and sharing of content. In a few years the mobile will be the dominant tool for this, and unlike PC usage, is ubiquitous].

Accessible technology frees the impulse to create

The rest are lurkers, Lepowsky continued, but the possibility of creation is there for those who want to do it, technology now frees the impulse [exactly – to the power of ten on mobile!]

Limor Freid explained how she and her associates came up with the idea of making their own keyboards on an open source platform. They built 100 and sold them all – calling them the xoxbox. What’s more, 50% of people who bought one built their keyboard out of more than 500 components, plus they fed back!

She introduced the concept of circuit bending whereby people through experimenting created a clone of the Roland TB303 which isn’t made anymore.

Mod culture and the community network effect

One of the strengths of this process is that if you break it, it doesn’t matter because they already broke it in order to make it in the first place. Modifications and personalisation allow you to commune with the machine. Someone even documented the whole project on a wiki.

Some people started to make really cool music with the keyboards ( Such activity was like someone doing your own press release for you.

As for why people contribute, Freid reasoned that the value lies in the fact that I hacked something up because it was missing. It’s also about ego – I wanted to show off my skills and get positive feedback; it’s fun, like playing with a toy, allowing experimentation and creativity; finally, it incites contribution. Make it possible, she exhorted other open source community managers and facilitators, be humble to your community, be respectful, be thankful, be supportive and mingle with the natives.

AOL’s paradigm shift

Cameron Shaw acknowledged that AOL has been synonymous with the walled garden, and they had a lot of success with that with their premium users, but it’s not the right place to be anymore.

Now they’re actively encouraging mashups and remixing of user-generated content. They’re opening up the AIM platform though the AIM API. There are 63 million active AIM users who can now avail of file-sharing, voice, buddy lists and RSS so that people can create their own content and environments.

They’re introducing an open API for MapQuest and are also building a page publisher, ie. page layout and profiles that you can plug in modules and feeds to, for example the Flickr widget, eBay rating, Amazon wishlist. All in all it’s a pretty scary thing to do, Shaw observed, especially in terms of premium-level content, from mashups of The Sopranos through to remixing the Superbowl.

Risks of the open web

It’s also risky in terms of safety, especially with the current MySpace panic over predators, Shaw added. Moreover, how much responsibility should they take for copyright violation of content hosted on their servers?

The same goes for quality testing – it’s not guaranteed. While developers are used to things being broken, how do ordinary folks cope with the new, extended “hinternet”? [note: this link is to a PDF file].

There’s a new microformat called module T, Shaw explained and recommended we check

Upsides of open source product development

Throughout the session a little robot had been trundling about the isle floor, sometimes making its way underneath the seats and nudging people’s legs and luggage on the floor. Philip Torrone introduced it as the Rumba robot, which had come fresh from the Rumba cockfighting session operated via Bluetooth at eTech (O’Reilly Emerging Technology conference) in San Diego the previous week.

It’s an example of what happens if you can turn your customers into your product team. Sony do the opposite, Torrone noted, and they’ve just announced they’re getting rid of their robot division. Likewise with the PSP – it crashes when you try to do new stuff and you have to pay to download more firmware.

Make magazine focuses on what ordinary people are doing, for example they covered a guy who wanted an alarm clock that makes bacon, so he built it himself. Make *is* a crafts magazine, he stressed, as crafts are activities that involve making things by hand.

The grassroots crafts renaissance

Nathalie Zee, Make’s crafts editor, said there has been a renaissance in crafting – knitting, needlework, etcetera. She got into it during the dotcom crash because it was nice to do something with your hands.

Top craft blogs she namechecked were WhipUp, Not Martha, and Thrift Craft. In terms of internet pastimes and topics, blogging and modifying your clothing are both big, and the impulse is to remix it, rip it up and express your creativity. You can even sell it, like on and where you can find knitted robots, knitted cellphone holders, toys, laptop bags, and even Pacman cross-stitch accessories.

The Yarn Harlot knitting blog decided to launch the Knitting Olympics 2006 – they got 4,701 entries. Everyone who participated got a gold medal to put on their blogs.

Artistry and increasing the use-value of objects

Pink of Perception is the Martha Stewart of the indie generation, claimed Zee. She also flagged up Diana Ang, the person behind Project Runway, who created a vacuum dress that got on the cover of ID magazine. Making mathematical knits is another sub-set of this trend.

It’s all about creating community and merging technology, crafts and sciences, said Zee. With ThingLinks, and Zengstrom, she observed, the common factor is that their work revolves around the Long Tail of fashion and craft.

There’s a sense of going back to handicraft work and the artistry of our generation is in modifying stuff, Zee reckoned. For people to be able continue buying stuff, they want to be able to do more stuff with the things they purchase.

Open source portals and business models

The question was raised as to whether AOL are putting people in place to respond to the feedback they get on the open AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) and Mapquest SDI’s. Cameron Shaw explained that internally all their developers have exposed all their work and their blogs. They are trying to embrace the open source community and feedback will be considered and incorporated.

Someone else asked if you can build a business out of this? Limor Fried stressed that people were willing to pay for stuff, eve if it’s open source. It made more sense to her to cerate open source hardware than open source software.

From open source hardware to social hardware…

What about social hardware, someone else piped up. Torrone was first to respond, citing their creation of the Make Pet. Based on how many people are talking to you on MySpace or about you on Technorati, the pet gets more active and even reproduces. Nintendo DS with wifi is another case in point, as you can play other people near you.

The toy industry is good for social hardware. In Second Life a lot of people make money out of things created just for the virtual world – one woman made $150,000 from her Second Life products. Finally, Torrone announced that Make are also making Pacman carpets!

Fried stressed that she’s not the first to clone in the keyboard sector. Moog was the first to clone in this domain. It’s mostly legal to reverse-engineer hardware as there is usually no copyright. With the session out of time the last namecheck of the DIY media phenomenon went to eyespot, an online video remixing community.

[Note: I checked out the WhipUp blog and discovered one of the best ever straplines – “handicraft in a hectic world” – superb!]


My other SXSW Interactive 2006 session reports:

What’s In A Title?

Beyond Folksonomies – Knitting Tag Clouds For Grandma

Book Digitisation & The Revenge Of The Librarians

James Surowiecki on The Wisdom Of Crowds

Running Your New Media Business

SXSW notes: The Perfect Pitch

What People Are Really Doing On The Web

Commons Based Business Models

Danah Boyd – Current TV interview

See all SXSW Interactive 2006 daytime panels here:

See the SXSW Interactive 2007 website


SXSW notes: Danah Boyd Current TV interview

I’d spotted Ms Boyd whilst flitting about the various night-time happenings in the city of Austin over my five-day sojourn at SXSW Interactive 2006…

It was equally by chance that I caught her interview at the Current TV booth while wandering around the busy expo hall on the last day of the conference, Tues 14th March.

Posing the questions was Daniel Terdiman, affable to a tee, though Danah hardly needed much prompting. Currently a PhD candidate at the School of Information (SIMS) at the University of California, Berkeley and a Fellow at the University of Southern California Annenberg Center for Communications, Danah also blogs at Zephoria and posts lots of longer, insightful essays and copies of her conference talks at – a must-read for social media investigators 😉

MySpace and the history of moral panics

Asked about MySpace, Danah explained that it started 3 years ago and now [March 2006 that is] has 58 million users. Parents are afraid to even go there with the messy pages and bouncing animated graphics. Half of the users are “youth” ie. 12-24 years old.

The panic now about kids on MySpace, she observed, is like the Victorian panic about girls reading books, and the panic about sewing machines which feared what would happen to their minds and morality if girls spent all day rubbing their legs together.

From her extensive interviews, she said, teens *know* when they get messages from predators – and they just delete them.

Digital social networks – the new public space?

Teens have always used public spaces to express and assert their identity, Danah explained. In the eighties they had malls and parks etcetera, but now teens are becoming restricted from or tightly controlled in these spaces.

Now MySpace is their space and it seems natural to hang out and see what’s happening with their friends. They’re connecting to everyone and anyone because it’s the contemporary way to be seen and see others. They’re patently *not* becoming friends with all these people. They have a culture that makes sense to them so let them take what they want from it, she argued.

Culturejamming and the total SXSW experience

Danah explained that 2006 was her third year at SXSW, and she said there was a similarity and affinity between SXSW and the Burning Man Festival. The context is what brings people together and what they’re all passionate about, but the social side is equally important.

Culturejamming was the attraction for her to events. Flashmobs were her favourites: SMS driven gatherings, costume flashmobs, pillow fights in San Francisco. They disrupt our culture and have a positive energy, she enthused.

In closing Daniel invited Danah to sign-off after inhaling some helium, which she duly partook of and made her high-pitched farewells.

[Oddly, I can’t find the interview via search on the Current TV site itself, but I found another TV interview she did on O’Reilly Factor that’s been YouTubed…]

All SXSW Interactive 2006 panels:

My other SXSW Interactive 2006 session write ups:

What’s In A Title?

Beyond Folksonomies – Knitting Tag Clouds For Grandma

Book Digitisation & The Revenge Of The Librarians

James Surowiecki on The Wisdom Of Crowds

Running Your New Media Business

The Perfect Pitch

What People Are Really Doing On The Web

Commons Based Business Models

Want more? Check out the SXSW 2007 website…

SXSW notes: Commons Based Business Models

Speculation and hand-wringing about business models seem to go hand in hand these days.

Going on the premise that business models will “just emerge” isn’t sufficient motive for many start-ups, nor comfort to their potential investors. But neither is the solution simply always about scale (ie. traction plus “eyeballs”).

One interesting result of recent technology developments is the growing niche of commons-based initiatives, and SXSW Interactive scented a trend worth investigating in 2006 when they programmed a session on commons-based business models on Tuesday 14th March.

As teasers go, the programme blurb was quite enticing. ‘How will peer production models prove out in the content space? Learn how pioneering commons-based business models are creating what Business 2.0 calls the next multi-billion dollar industry.’ I was so there already 😉

Jimmy Wales – Wikipedia
Joi Ito – VC & Entrepreneur
Theresa Malango – Magnatune
Ian Clarke – Freenet

Outlining the company ethos, Theresa Malango explained that Magnatune still have a small staff as they want to hold onto their values as the business grows. They also want to sustain their artists and their artists do get paid.

Ian Clarke explained that Freenet’s A-round investors were the same team that first funded Skype. The internet is now fast enough to support video at a rate that people are willing to watch, and Google Video and YouTube are also in the market. Freenet attach unobtrusive marketing to their pages, he explained. All their videos are raised under a Creative Commons licence that doesn’t permit alteration of the video (which won’t allow people want to strip out advertising) but all artists retain copyright.

Investors & the commons space – oxymoron or bandwagonesque?

Jimmy Wales joked that to build a site that’s number 20 in the world they had beat off VCs with a stick. More soberly, he explained that Wikipedia have investors that understand how to grow a business in a commons based culture, people who are sensitive to the situation.

Aren’t commons-based business models VC incompatible, someone asked, as there’s no lock-in that guarantees a VC payout at the end? Also you can get in for very little money – that’s okay for angel investors, but for VCs?

Joi Ito explained that he has stopped investing completely, prompting an audience member to speculate on whether there’s a Web 2.0 bandwagon, with microformats, etcetera, whereby now, people with ideas and no business models are getting funding? Having a Creative Commons licence is not a religion, Joi observed. It should be about choice.

Automatic for the (Web 2.0) people

Theresa Malango interjected that the whole deal is about making the overhead manageable. They have a lot of flexibility that can suit artists and managers. It’s not an either/or situation – you don’t have to give up one thing (CC licence) or the other (making money).

Queried about DRM, Clarke reckoned that it’s the opposite of what technology should be about – it disables people and content, rather than enabling them. Joi Ito added that there’s a nuance to add to that – certain types of channels have DRM built in and the artists has no choice – and the new GPL code cannot be used without DRM (?)

Clarke observed that you have to be pragmatic: you can hate the game while still playing it, and you can criticise the game while playing it. In Malango’s view, CC is becoming flexible enough that they can give flexibility within commercial models.

Transcending the DRM model & mindset

What about emerging payment models, eg micropayments, or are they advancing that this [Creative Commons commercial licences, I presume] is the only feasible model at this time? Wales replied that iTunes is a new model that works, dubbing it “digital annoyance management”. He buys, burns and rips because his MP3 player won’t play iPod or iTunes files. What you’re paying for with iTunes is the service, he stressed – always there, reliable, and the IRS aren’t going to come knocking on your door.

Clarke said that advertising has the nice quality that you can just do it and you don’t have to create DRM or rely on inbuilt flaws to guarantee revenue. It will end up like cable TV where you have direct payment models and advertising will cover the rest. It’s the easiest way, he figured.

Mining the Long Tail and cultural differences

The traditional operating systems (OS) model is to have the stuff downloadable for free and all the support, etc, is what you charge for, an audience member remarked. Malango replied that they dealt with all this head on because they only did downloads; then they realised that there was still a demand for CDs, so they introduced that, but now it’s dropping off with the pervasive uptake of downloads plus broadband.

Ito explained that he has been taking it to people who do anime. They are changing their model in order to sell ultra-deep content to the few thousand hardcore fans. It’s about the relationship, he stressed, as you can cut out the middlemen and give more (as per the Long Tail) to less people and charge more for it. Endorsements and events are another way to supplement revenue. This approach is taking off in China where the worst thing for a musician is not to be copied.

Creative Commons culture spreads

Creative Commons has intrinsic values but is also a means to an end, as the founders of Threadless (solicits and runs competitions for t-shirt designs) discovered. They have no CC inbuilt. The same goes for Kathy Sierra’s ‘Creating Passionate Users’.

How does Create Commons engender these communities? Joi stressed we need to differentiate CC from OS (operating system) licences. CC are trying to create metadata so that Google etc have a systematic way of searching the licences and so that they’re machine-readable, he continued. Lawrence Lessig is trying to get together clumps of other commons-based licences that are not CC. A lot of OS licences are very poorly framed legally.

Joi flagged the recent Adam Curry case, whereby someone used the licence without attribution. Curry took them to court and won. Many, many people are using Creative Commons with different goals, and CC allows that, they are trying to provide choice for everyone.

Remixing culture & content let loose

Malango explained that Magnatune use the non-commercial licence for the podcast service they have started. They also use the attribution licence to buy. While Wikipedia don’t use CC, Malango continued, Magnatune believe that the more people hear a track, the more likely they will be to come back and buy it. In turn, it encourages the remixing trend and they want to be part of it – it’s their lifeblood.

Jimmy Wales reflected that Wikipedia pre-dates the CC licence. They use a free documentation licence. There’s also the branding element to consider – if I’m thinking of working with Magnatune, the licence tells me a lot about them. It also gives further reason to participate, creating the “network externality effect”.

Clarke said all their videos are release under a “no derivatives” CC licence. The problem encountered in getting people to create short-form video content is that people tend to think of using others’ music. Why not do a test, Wales suggested, where you leave the advertising in? People probably won’t remove it as it’s at the end, he surmised, because it’s so unobtrusive. If they were remixing it they would strip out the ads, Clarke countered.

Patronage, peer investment & the Revver model…

Mike Linksvayer, who is the Creative Commons CTO, asked the panel what they saw to be the role of patronage in future commons-based business models.

Clarke replied that they developed the idea a couple of years ago to create a marketplace where people could invest in video production of others content, and if others invested later the earlier investors would make money (Google fair share was also namechecked in this context). But the idea wasn’t picked up, he said. Revver, was another concept in this vein.

Tantek Celick (CTO of Technorati) commented that there are tools in the content distribution chain that force DRM in. But the challenge is education rather than tools. Are there alternatives?

Format silos and the multi-channel approach

Joi responded that people should try to come up with and document alternatives. It’s different with software where many different types of content are stuck in a format, for example, if you’re a film-maker you have to use DVDs as one of the distribution channels because it makes sense (while using BitTorrent as well). Thus it becomes a tactical decision and it’s the choice of the artist if you need to hit people with your content next week.

But Tantek countered that DVDs can be made “Region Zero”, and you can make them without bad CSS (?).

Branding, trademarks and the community dilemma

Tara Hunt raised the notion of a commons-based education model, and a marketing model where all the communities participate. Chris Messina added that one of the things that shut down the ‘Spread CC’ and ‘Spread Firefox’ movements was the brand, as if it’s licensed under a trade mark that’s a lot harder to do. Most lawyers of course would argue that not controlling it deteriorates your ability to manage it. Is there a commons-based way to treat trademarks, he wondered.

Jimmy Wales responded that you want fans of Wikipedia to promote it; and then there’s bad people who would misuse the brand. Joi said, with his iCann hat explicitly on, even though we want everything to be distributed, trademarks are one way to find and distinguish communities. As the session wound-up, fittingly, final comment came from an audience member who reckoned we should get rid of top-level domains as they’re not good for anything.

[NB. This was a very fast-paced and high level discussion and I can’t stand by the complete accuracy of everything I noted down in its duration. But, a podcast of this session is available from this page:]

All SXSW Interactive 2006 panels:

My other SXSW Interactive 2006 session write ups:

What’s In A Title?

Beyond Folksonomies – Knitting Tag Clouds For Grandma

Book Digitisation & The Revenge Of The Librarians

James Surowiecki on The Wisdom Of Crowds

Running Your New Media Business

The Perfect Pitch

What People Are Really Doing On The Web

And there’s still time to check out and book for SXSW 2007!

Seven tickets left for Chinwag Live!

Seems there’s just seven tickets left, if you want to join the first Chinwag Live debate on 6th February…

Wobble 2.0‘ is shaping up to be a great night, and not just because of the speakers from Zopa, Skinkers, Carson Systems and Vecosys.

The delegate list is most interesting. Sort of a mashup of Beers & Innovation and Chinwag audiences (and communities), which equals a very broad and interesting selection of people!

Don’t be caught napping – nip in and get your ticket now: