I was just listening to Dave Levine’s interview of Mike Madison, which touched on his work with Strandburg and Frischmann on cultural commons. Here’s one more possible case study for the group, suggested by Michael Lewis via Felix Salmon:
[T]here are smart [high frequency trading] HFT shops, and then there’s Goldman Sachs. The smart shops execute their strategies using lightweight, open-source, flexible code. Goldman, by contrast, considers its enormous, clunky, proprietary codebase to be a source of competitive advantage — it has to, in order to justify the bonuses it gives to the people in charge of that codebase. Goldman knew that Aleynikov was its best programmer, but it never really grokked why he was good: he was an expert at replacing clunky Goldman code with much simpler and more elegant open-source solutions.
So while Aleynikov thought he was streamlining Goldman’s technology, Aleynikov’s bosses got million-dollar bonuses by claiming that he was adding to a proprietary codebase in which they placed enormous value. And when Aleynikov thought that he was simply emailing his own notes to himself, Goldman decided that he was stealing proprietary information of enormous value — and that, since it was enormously valuable, of course Aleynikov intended to use that code against Goldman in his new job.
Three cheers for open-source! Or maybe 2…or 1. Because the ultimate endeavor here–HFT–is not exactly a boon to the economy. As Wallace Turbeville has demonstrated, “HFT siphons value from the pipeline of capital intermediation, impeding the long-term investments the economy needs for sustained job growth.” I make the case against HFT here; let’s just say that it’s hard to make the case that a queueing rule keyed to thousandths or millionths of a second is any better than one that simply allocates trades that happen to come in at the same hundredth, tenth, or (horrors!) half of a second at random, or in (roughly) equal lots.
When it comes to HFT, Goldman’s hapless effort to propertize a codebase was a great example of the “upside of IP’s downside.” The enterprise itself is socially useless at best, pernicious and destabilizing at worst. Here’s to a decline in the commons in HFT code, and to the megabank bonus games that doomed it at Goldman.
Through the Rijksstudio, you can download, curate, re-use and remix high-quality digital versions of works in the recently-reopened Rijksmuseum’s collection. “We’re a public institution, and so the art and objects we have are, in a way, everyone’s property.”
Now that Disney owns the Star Wars franchise, I wonder what will become of all the fan fiction works licensed by Lucasfilm. I would suspect that Disney has an even more restrictive view of what fans should be entitled to do with the works than Lucasfilm did. Anyone have any thoughts/info about the future of existing fan fiction works or the likelihood of new Star Wars fan fiction with Disney at the helm?
Zenmanenergy. Great brand name. It evokes a person at peace with his goals and willing to answer questions such as “Is it fair to say that you are effectively ‘giving the tech away’ once it’s up and running?” with a simple “Yes.” Steve Nelson rounded and runs Zenman. He admits the ideas are not that new. But he is dedicated to reducing the cost, sharing the plans, and starting an open source movement to help the solution scale and evolve fast. All he wants is a salary. The endeavor seems to run on donations for now. I hope that Google, Microsoft, et al. take note as they did with Khan Academy and fund Mr. Nelson. Assuming his plan is somewhat viable, his humility and approach to improving the offering make him another example of the open source ethic. As he explains:
I plan to give away the construction plans, videos, pictures, calculations, software for free. On top of that, if I can collect enough donations I want to help others get started by providing grants to build small solar power plants. That’s how this will really take off. I cannot create enough solar power plants to make a difference, but could 10,000 people? How about a million?
Of course the secondary benefit to helping others get started is I expect they will improve the design. This style of “open source” is how much of the software that runs the internet works. I’m mimicking that model as best I can.
And for those wondering about the legal aspects, he seems smart enough to use the IP system to control the process a la Creative Commons. That is establish rights and then the system for open use.
Dave Hoffman and Salil Mehra’s Wikitruth Through Wikiorder is fascinating paper on how Wikipedia and one type of commons works. When I saw this article “Wikipedia is editorial warzone, says study,” I thought that perhaps the legal academic work would cross over. The full paper, Dynamics of Conflicts in Wikipedia did not mention the Hoffman and Mehra paper. Maybe the sociological inquiry did not match. Maybe the other authors read the paper and did not see a way to cite it. For me, I wonder whether other fields draw across disciplines as much as law seems to do. In any event, the methods are different. The issues are related. So I perhaps both have a place for those interested in the way wikipedia manages it vast system.