… what’s surprising is that so many companies are still betting against the net, trying to solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions. The past few years have taught us that business models based on controlling consumers or content don’t work. Betting against the net is foolish because you’re betting against human ingenuity and creativity. …
In 2007 we’ll witness the increasing dominance of open internet standards. As web access via mobile phones grows, these standards will sweep aside the proprietary protocols promoted by individual companies striving for technical monopoly. Today’s desktop software will be overtaken by internet-based services that enable users to choose the document formats, search tools and editing capability that best suit their needs.
Driving this change is a profound technological shift in computer science. For the past 20 years a client-server computing architecture has dominated digital infrastructures. Expensive PCs ran complex software programs and relied primarily on proprietary protocols to connect to bigger—and even more expensive—mainframe servers. The data and the power lived in these computers and their operating systems.
Today we live in the clouds. We’re moving into the era of “cloud” computing, with information and applications hosted in the diffuse atmosphere of cyberspace rather than on specific processors and silicon racks. The network will truly be the computer. … Cloud computing is hardly perfect: internet-based services aren’t always reliable and there is often no way to use them offline. But the direction is clear. Simplicity is triumphing over complexity. Accessibility is beating exclusivity. Power is increasingly in the hands of the user.
… put simple, intuitive technology in the hands of users and they will create content and share it. The fastest-growing parts of the internet all involve direct human interaction. … online communities are thriving and growing. The internet is helping to satisfy our most fundamental human needs—our desire for knowledge, communication and a sense of belonging. …
We’re betting on the internet because we believe that there’s a bull market in imagination online.
Although we see the term "hyperlocal" more as describing a fundamental paradigm shift rather than just narrowing it down to a definition of Citizen Journalism, the media sector still remains an important part of the global picture in this context.
One of the most influential publications in that area was the research report We Media: How audiences are shaping the future of news and information, commissioned by The Media Center and The American Press Institute in 2003.
Since then Participatory Media gained huge traction with emerging tools and establishing platforms. Consequently the authors Chris Willis and Shayne Bowman decided, it´s time for an update on the state of the news industry in 2006. The article "The future is here, but do News Media companies see it?" has a good overview on that topic.
Additionally the authors announced an updated version of the report We Media 2.0 to be published in January.
Openness is at the heart of truly worldchanging systems. Transparency of process, connections and results make open systems more reliable, more accessible, and better able to be connected to other systems; it also encourages collaboration and the input of interested stakeholders. This is perhaps most tangible in the world of technology, particularly information and communication technology (ICT); open ICT systems are increasingly engines of innovation, and are clear catalysts for leapfrogging across the developing world, via reduced costs, potential for customization, and likely interoperability with both legacy and emerging technologies.
Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society has just published something they call the "Roadmap for Open ICT Ecosystems" (PDF), a guidebook for policymakers, business strategists and technical specialists looking to implement open information and communication technologies around the world. The Roadmap doesn't focus on any single type of open ICT, but on the greater value of the open approach, and the ways in which open systems encourage collaboration and innovation using "a potent combination of connectivity, collaboration and transparency."
One aspect of the Roadmap that I find particularly compelling is that, although it speaks only to information and communication technology needs, the majority of the principles and ideas considered could apply more broadly -- to other kinds of technologies (such as biotech and nanotech), and even to political and social systems (such as voting methods and urban planning).
It's this broad approach that allows the concepts to apply to more than ICT. Consider, for example, the Roadmap's list of Guiding Principles of Open ICT Ecosystems:
An open ICT ecosystem should be:
Interoperable – allowing, through open standards, the exchange, reuse, interchangeability and interpretation of data across diverse architectures.
User-Centric – prioritizing services fulfilling user requirements over perceived hardware or software constraints.
Collaborative – permitting governments, industry, and other stakeholders to create, grow and reform communities of interested parties that can leverage strengths, solve common problems, innovate and build upon existing efforts.
Sustainable – maintaining balance and resiliency while addressing organizational, technical, financial and legal issues in a manner that allows an ecosystem to thrive and evolve.
Flexible – adapting seamlessly and quickly to new information, technologies, protocols and relationships while integrating them as warranted into market-making and government processes.
With a few slight adjustments to the phrasing, the same list would apply well as guidelines for a distributed energy network, or as guidelines for a transportation system, or even as guidelines for cooperative biomedical research. This isn't because the guidelines are vague or overly-broad, but because many infrastructure and service systems ultimately have similar needs for sustainable success.
That said, the Roadmap does give ample detail about the particular value of open information and communication technologies. Most useful, perhaps, is the section on how open ICT ecosystems can evolve. The Roadmap authors pointedly do not expect governments and organizations to shift to an open approach in one great leap; rather, the move to openness requires a great deal of rapid prototyping and incremental adjustments, to allow the particulars of the implementation to match the organization's context. That's the corollary to the low-level similarity of needs across disciplines: the specific circumstances of each case will be highly variable. The guidelines and the Roadmap don't tell you the answer, they help you find the answer.
This is one of those documents where the short length -- it's well under 50 pages -- belies the richness of the material. Open ICT systems have a definite value for development efforts, in terms of both leapfrogging and local/regional economic regeneration (it would be useful, for example, for the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast to keep the principles of open systems in mind). Even more useful, at least for me, is the degree to which the Roadmap triggers further consideration of how the open system concept applies outside of the realm of information and communication technology. The core principles of "connectivity, collaboration and transparency" have far broader application than just ICT; they are at the heart of a robust, flexible and sustainable model of society.
The original premise behind the initiative is that SMBs are at a great disadvantage when it comes to online search engines and directories because they don't have the expertise to ensure that the best information is provided to the search and directory services organizations (Google, Yahoo, etc.). In turn this means that potential customers are frustrated in attempts to locate businesses when they're in need of services. Trying to find, for example, the closest dry cleaner that does on-site leather cleaning can be a frustrating experience with today's Web search and directory tools.
But in reality, it can be just as time-consuming and frustrating to find big businesses also - especially bricks-and-mortar locations that are close to where you live or work. Here's just one example. Suppose you're away from home (at a trade show, for example) and you'd like to pick up a copy of a newspaper that provides daily IT news in its business section (for example, the "San Jose Mercury News" or the "Austin American-Statesman") - where would you go to find one? Neither the Merc nor the AAS Web sites will tell you where to buy the paper in Chicago or New York. The concierge at your hotel might know of someplace that sells papers but if only there were a listing you could find of retail businesses within a mile or so of your hotel that carried out-of-town newspapers. You could then quickly find out (by calling) which ones had the papers you were interested in and pay them a visit.
Here's another example. Same situation, you're out of town at a trade show. You want to pick up a quick lunch so you'd like to find a fast food place within a block or two of the show venue. You could visit mcdonalds.com, wendys.com, jackinthebox.com, and burgerking.com and enter the show venue's address to find the closest shop, write them all down and determine which is the shortest walk. Or you could go to an SMBmeta-enabled online directory and find all the fast-food places within two blocks of your current location - and probably see them all on a map.
Interview with Yale law professor Yochai Benkler
Q: How did you conceive the notion of peer production from such seemingly disparate activities?
A: I had been looking at commons-based behaviors in unlicensed radio spectrum and in intellectual property, and their important role in innovation. I was uncomfortable with the notion that this was purely a phenomenon of software or musicians. That doesn't explain Wikipedia. That doesn't really explain Slashdot [the peer-written and -reviewed tech news site]. That doesn't explain why Google was so phenomenally successful.
Q: What qualities do those things have in common?
A: [They show that] the economic role of social behavior is increasing. It used to be that if you said, "Here, this is interesting, why don't you read this?" it was primarily social. When you take the exact same behavior and plug it into Google's Page Rank algorithm, you actually get a discrete economic output that increases welfare in the economy overall -- even though you continue to have a certain social interaction there as well.
Q: Why is peer production happening now, and what technologies are enabling it?
A: With the steam engine, the archetype of the Industrial Revolution, we moved to industries where the physical capital was relatively concentrated. You had to have financial capital in order to enable effective collaboration between individuals.
What we're seeing now is cheap processors, which put computation on our desktops and in our laps, cheap storage, and ubiquitous communications. It's this combination of a low-cost personal computer and the Internet...that allows this aggregation of behavior. Things that would normally just dissipate in the air as social gestures come to have some persistence as economic products. This departs radically from everything we've seen since the Industrial Revolution.