We recently wrote about some concerns by Vint Cerf and others that the FCC was considering a proposal to move some of their network diagnostics efforts -- which are a really good thing -- from the open M-Labs solution to proprietary servers run by the telcos. As we noted, the telcos denied that this was happening -- and Henning Schulzrinne, the CTO of the FCC, showed up in our comments to strongly deny that such a proposal existed.
Yesterday, Vint Cerf distributed an open letter regarding concerns about the Measuring Broadband America measurement infrastructure. We share the objectives of the letter writers that “Open data and an independent, transparent measurement framework must be the cornerstones of any scientifically credible broadband Internet access measurement program.” Unfortunately, the letter claims: “Specifically, that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering a proposal to replace the Measurement Lab server infrastructure with closed infrastructure, run by the participating Internet service providers (ISPs) whose own speeds are being measured.” This is false.
The FCC is not considering replacing the Measurement Labs infrastructure. As part of a consensus-based discussion in the Measurement Collaborative, a group of public interest, research and ISP representatives, we have discussed how to enhance the existing measurement infrastructure to ensure the validity of the measurement data. Any such enhancements would be implemented solely to provide additional resiliency for the measurement infrastructure, not to replace existing infrastructure. Any data gathered would be subject to the same standards of data access and openness.
It turns out his claim that "this is false" is... well... false. Attached below, we have the proposal that supposedly doesn't exist.
To be fair, this is just a proposal, and the FCC need not accept it. But to claim that there is no proposal to replace M-Labs infrastructure seems to be false. Also, the proposal certainly doesn't wipe out M-Labs servers, but it does clearly allow for the substitution of "ANOther server" in place of the M-Labs offering, as well as increasing the role for the telcos own servers. Given how the telcos have generally acted towards open information and data sharing concerning network data, you can see why supporters of M-Labs would be quite reasonably concerned. In fact, the relationship between everyone involved in these kinds of measurements appears to have gone through some rocky periods over the last few years, such that supporters of M-Lab are reasonably worried that there's a concerted effort to gradually move them out of the process.
Recently, the FCC measurement program has backed sharply away from
their commitment to transparency, apparently at the bidding of the
telcos in the program. The program is now proposing to replace the
M-Lab platform with only ISP-managed servers. This effectively
replaces transparency with a closed platform in which the ISPs --
whose performance this program purports to measure -- are in control
of the measurements. This closed platform would provide the official
US statistics on broadband performance. I view this as scientifically
For the health of the Internet, and for the future of credible
data-based policy, the research community must push back against this
The FCC keeps insisting that it's committed to openness -- but all too frequently seems to give in to telco demands. So this warning is concerning.
For what it's worth, the telcos are claiming that Cerf is overreacting. In a response to his call for action, Verizon's David Young responded that there's nothing to see here, and that M-Lab and the telco efforts have co-existed and can continue to co-exist going forward.
Vint breathlessly suggests that the FCC is now backing away from this openness "at the bidding of the telcos" and claims the program is proposing to replace the M-Lab platform with only ISP-managed servers. THIS IS FALSE. ISPs have made no such request of the FCC nor has the FCC proposed to eliminate use of M-Lab’s servers.
What has been proposed is that, in addition to continuing to use the data collected via the M-Lab servers, the FCC and SamKnows may also rely on the ISP provided servers that have been in use since the beginning of the project. These ISP-provided servers meet the specifications required by SamKnows as do the M-Labs servers. In fact, it was only because of the presence of these non-M-Lab, ISP-donated servers, that SamKnows was able to identify problems with an M-Lab server that was affecting the results of the tests being conducted. M-Labs did not identify this server problem on their own. It was only fixed when SamKnows brought the issue to their attention. By the way, this problem forced the FCC to abandon a month's worth of test data, extend the formal test period and delay production of their report. Later, another M-Lab server location had transit problems that again affected results. This was the second M-Labs-related server problem in two months and once again, it was SamKnows, using the ISP-provided servers as a reference who identified the problem and brought it to M-Labs attention.
As with many such disputes, the reality may be somewhere in between the two claims here. It seems like Cerf's fear is that by establishing the telcos' servers on equal footing with the M-Labs' open setup, it opens the door to replacing the M-Labs' efforts and then potentially locking up the data. Young is correct that the openness is mainly due to FCC policy at this point, but that policy is dependent on the current leadership of the FCC, which could change. At the very least, it would be nice to see a stated commitment to keeping the information open on an ongoing basis, so that there isn't any need to worry going forward.
If there is one sure way to succeed in the modern age, it is by being open, human and awesome. This is something that we are learning over and over again in the entertainment world, and it is especially true for those running successful Kickstarter campaigns. What started with the success of Double Fine's adventure game campaign has lead to the success of a number of other games. One of those games is inXile's Wasteland 2 project. This project is on track to raise over $1.5 million and as Brian Fargo has learned, this is all because the people behind the project have been open, human and awesome with their fans.
In the opening statement of the latest project update, Brian expresses his gratitude for the outpouring of support the project has received.
I continue to be overwhelmed by the positive feedback and enthusiasm from the support I have gotten from Kickstarter. The groundswell of people cheering us on and the evangelism - people spreading the word - is unlike anything I have experienced. In fact, I would say the last week was the high water mark of my career.
This is one of the best statements of gratitude I have ever read from an artist. Brian recognizes that this success is due completely to those who have shown support by donating and sharing the project with others. Without those two actions, there would be no Wasteland 2. As Brian further notes, all this came from being open and human. He shares the story of two people in particular that show the power of that philosophy.
On the next day I get a short tweet from an individual that confesses he pirated Wasteland as a kid and was donating to help make up for it. I of course forgave not knowing he had donated $10,000 dollars. An incredible gesture... now if we could get every pirate of Wasteland 1 to donate we could really beat the Kickstarter all time record.
This is the true power of openness and humanity. The power to turn a pirate into a paying customer. While not all pirates will turn around and pay $10,000, many will turn around and pay full price for later content made by an artist they love as well.
In the next story, Brian notes just how long lasting this openness and humanity lasts in the hearts and minds of fans.
And just today I got an email along with a donation from a kid who lived down the street from me when he was a teenager. His note was as follows:
"This message is intended for Brian Fargo. Brian, I was your next door neighbor when you used to live in Laguna. I was a pesky 15 or 16 year old kid that would come around and ask you about games. You would sit down and take time to talk to me about games, and the industry, and I just wanted you to know how cool it was that you didn't blow me off. It meant a lot to me. Recently, I found out about your Kickstarter movement for Wasteland 2, and I contributed to it because I believe in you and your ability to resurrect the glory of the franchise. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors, and thank you again for creating some memorable memories for me during my teenage years. Take care!"
It shows that being nice creates goodwill 20 years later.
If that kind of attitude toward his fans created a lasting effect of 20 years, just imagine how much more goodwill he has built up during that time and what he will now build up. This is not some get rich quick scheme but a way to find lasting success. Success that will last 20 years and beyond.
All of this success has led Brian to further express his humanity and gratitude. Rather than hold to this success and keep it all for himself, he has decided to help fund future Kickstarter projects. In a plan he calls "Kick It Forward", he will donate 5% of the profits made from Wasteland 2 toward other Kickstarter projects and asks that all other successful projects do the same. While the money he pledges won't come until after the completion of Wasteland 2, there are many other Kickstarter projects already making money that can really get this campaign rolling. What a wonderful way for artists to further express their humanity and awesomeness.
We recently covered the indy developer Nimblebit and their friendly-but-snarky response to Zynga copying the mechanics of one of their games. As I argued in the comments to that post, I think people sometimes fail to recognize that copiers do add something of their own—at least, the successful copiers do. Nevertheless, there is a lot of copying in the game industry, and it can lead to a great deal of ire in the community. As Nimblebit demonstrated, there are ways to approach the problem that don't involve immediately going legal.
It's nice to see more developers acknowledging this. At the Game Developers Conference, Rami Ismail and Jan Willem Nijam of Vlambeer said they are getting tired of the same old debates about copying, and want to move the discussion forward. Their suggestion is to worry less about patents and ownership rights, and more about the actual impact of copying—and then address it by being more open, not less:
The pair acknowledged that protecting game designs with patents might actually damage innovation, but argued that this sort of legal protection is separate from the issue of whether game cloning is helpful or harmful to the industry. And make no mistake, clones are hurting the industry, Nijam said, both by diverting skilled developers towards work on soulless copies and demotivating skilled developers who put a lot of effort into truly original games.
What's worse, a preponderance of low-quality clones is training consumers to expect a lack of originality in the industry, Nijam said, a loss of "gaming literacy" that drags the whole industry down. "Players will get all those bad games and stop recognizing actual good games," he said. "If you only eat bad hamburgers, you're not going to recognize a good hamburger."
The natural reaction to this kind of rampant cloning among many developers might be to hold their cards close to the vest, keeping a new idea totally secret until dropping it on an unsuspecting public. But Ismail said the solution to the cloning problem is actually the opposite—educating gamers by developing games out in the open and showing them the real work that goes into an original design. Detailed development blogs, documentaries like Indie Game: The Movie, and websites that dig deep into game design process all help improve gaming literacy among the public and build a foundation for an audience that values original games.
I can only hope other developers at the conference heed his call. The simple fact in any creative industry is that if someone can beat you by copying your work wholesale, then either they are doing something you're not, or you are failing to connect with your audience. Perhaps, as Ismail argues, this can even become a broader cultural problem that needs to be addressed by the industry as a whole—and that's a good challenge to take on. After all, what's more productive? A bunch of developers suing each other without always distinguishing between genuine bad-actors and actual innovative copying? Or a bunch of developers working together to enhance the industry as a whole, better connecting with fans and letting originality emerge organically? The answer, I hope, is easy.
In all three cases, while the "deal" is the same -- $5 paid direct off the website -- they're also are done in a very personable and human way. They weren't announced with press releases, but direct appeals to true fans. As I've been saying, that's a big part of the reason why Louis's offering was such a success. It also helps, of course, that all three of these guys are well-established comics who are known for being at the top of the game, and are widely considered some of the best comics out there.
The one thing that concerns me a little about this is the fact that the deal terms are identical. I can understand why they're doing this. It's basically "don't mess with what worked for Louis." But I worry that the message people are getting is "$5 direct offering off a website is the secret." I don't think that's it. Lots of people have offered up a product for download off their website for a variety of prices. The key to making it work is not just the pricing. It's the way the offering is presented. I think it would be even cooler if some of these comedians experimented a bit more with branching out creatively around this business model. It wouldn't be hard, for example, to build on what various musicians have done, and offer up different tiers of support. Or something else. The real opportunity here is in how it's presented -- in a way that treats fans as fans, rather than assuming they're criminals or that there needs to be a big impersonal gatekeeper in-between the fans and the artist. But, unfortunately, some are going to look at these experiments and say "the lesson" is "$5 off your website is the secret." And when that doesn't work for some content creators, they're not going to understand why.
Overall, however, I'm really excited to see more content creators going direct, cutting out gatekeepers, and recognizing that treating fans well is a good start to any smart business model.
We've been talking about the value of content creators being awesome (and human), so it's always nice to highlight a few stories of that in practice. Late last week a story made the rounds of how a terminally ill cancer patient, Nachu Bhatnagar, was disappointed that he might not find out how his favorite book series, The War That Came Early, by Harry Turtledove, would turn out. The next book in the series is expected to be released in July, but apparently Bhatnagar isn't expected to make it that far. Bhatnagar's friend, who's known as kivakid on Reddit posted about the situation, wondering if he could get an early copy of the book. Within hours, he had a galley copy being sent to him, and also arranged for a phone call between Bhatnagar and Turtledove, so that the plans for the rest of the series could be revealed.
Beyond being yet another example of Reddit's famed power to do good things, it's another example of a content creator going out of his or her way to help out a fan (in this case, under somewhat unfortunate circumstances). In general, though, it's just a heartwarming story that involves a content creator going out of his way to open up to a fan.
As we noted last month, the community at Reddit responded to the whole SOPA mess by deciding that they should collaborate to write their own piece of legislation that protects internet freedoms. The first draft of the Free Internet Act is now available as an open Google doc, where there are additional edits and comments going on as we speak.
The Free Internet Act: To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation by preventing the restriction of liberty and preventing the means of censorship. FIA will allow internet users to browse freely without any means of censorship, users have the right to free speech and to free knowledge; we govern the content of the internet, governments don't. However enforcements/laws must also be put into place to protect copyrighted content.
Huffington Post has a good background article on how the bill was developed. Of course, as we noted when this originally started, there is something a bit naive about how they're going about it... but that's kind of what makes it exciting. It was that kind of naivete that actually enabled SOPA to be stopped. Most "experts" assumed it was a done deal and nothing could stop it. But along came folks such as the Reddit community who simply didn't know that SOPA couldn't be stopped... and they were instrumental in getting it stopped. So I'm excited to see what that same sort of open optimism can do on the proactive side, even if at points it feels naive or cringe-worthy.
Of course, at the same time, it's a little disappointing to see this:
"The idea is to aim high," the thread reads. "This is the same strategy employed by SOPA/ACTA pushers. We are aiming absurdly high, so that we can back down and reach a compromise."
The power of the Reddit community was that it aimed high and achieved. The fact that it stood by its principles rather than "looking for a compromise" was what worked. If you go into a process looking for a compromise, that's what you'll get. If you go into a process looking for the absolutely best solution then you're more likely to get that. People shouldn't be approaching a bill about internet freedom as if it's a fight between multiple parties and compromise is needed. This should be about creating a solution that is really important and really good for everyone. Then no compromise is needed at all.
Either way, this is an interesting process to watch. I'm not sure it will actually go anywhere, but I love the enthusiasm and the proactive initiative...
With the massive success of Double Fine's Kickstarter campaign (which has passed quadruple what it asked), a lot of people are commenting about just what it means to be successful in today's digital climate. Among those talking are indie game developers who are taking the time to reflect on this phenomena and how they might be able to duplicate it for themselves. One of these indie developers is Robert Boyd, the creative mind behind retro JRPGs Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves The World. After a series of tweets on the topic of Double Fine's success, Robert closed with this profound statement:
If people like you and like your work, they'll buy your games. If they like your work but don't like you, they'll pirate them.
The first half of this statement is at the heart of the idea of connecting with your fans. Part of this ability to connect with your fans is to be more open and human with them. We have seen repeatedly how artists sell more of their work and scarcities associated with their work as they become more human to their fan base. As fans come to trust you and feel that they can approach you directly, even if that is through email, Twitter or Facebook, they will be far more likely to trust you enough to part with their money. This trust is one of the keys to Double Fine's success and a key to the success of any game developer. Similarly, it was seen in the way Louis CK treated his fans.
The second half of this statement is a lesson that many larger publishers, developers and others in the entertainment industry have forgotten. Because of that, they are suffering the fallout. DRM and other methods that show how little the developer or publisher trusts its fans breeds contempt within the fan community. While those consumers may still like the product, they don't like the way they are treated. This is one of the driving factors behind piracy. To top off the problem, these creators and gatekeepers set up walls between themselves and their fans. They do everything to avoid contact with fans outside carefully orchestrated scenarios. This turns fans off and decreases the amount of trust they have for these individuals and companies.
It's often said that people will just get stuff for free if they can. But, clearly, that's not true. We've seen so many cases of content creators being supported by their fans at tremendous levels (such as the two cases mentioned above) that there's clearly more to it. And it seems that a key element is whether or not fans actually like you. Some people suggest that the disconnect with piracy is that people value the work, but won't pay for it. But a more accurate realization may be that people value the work... but don't value the creator if the creator doesn't value them. When the two sides value each other, it seems people are more than willing to pay.
OpenStax College is a nonprofit organization committed to improving student access to quality learning materials. Our free textbooks are developed and peer-reviewed by educators to ensure they are readable, accurate, and meet the scope and sequence requirements of your course. Through our partnerships with companies and foundations committed to reducing costs for students, OpenStax College is working to improve access to higher education for all. OpenStax College is an initiative of Rice University and is made possible through the generous support of several philanthropic foundations.
Those foundations include the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, probably the leading philanthropic organization in the field of open education, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. But the Rice connection is just as important as the funding.
Although MIT is known as a pioneer of sharing its courses freely online through its OpenCourseWare project, arguably Rice University went even further with its highly-modular Connexions program, which offers what it calls "frictionless remixing". The use of small learning modules, together with a permissive cc-by license for everything, allows educators and publishers to create their own courses by drawing on Connexions' material.
Given that the founder of Connexions, Richard Baraniuk, is also the Director of OpenStax College, it's hardly a surprise that the same cc-by licensing applies to the latter's textbooks. Still, that's a step beyond Flat World Knowledge, which allows textbooks to be modified, but under the more restrictive cc by-nc-sa license. Even though OpenStax College is a non-profit, and Flat World Knowledge a company, both adopt the same business model: the e-textbooks are given away, while printed copies and supplementary materials require payment -- a classic example of using abundance to make money from associated scarcities.
I've been pretty busy traveling and appearing at various conferences over the last month, including Midem, where I released our latest research report, The Sky is Rising!. I did so with a quick ten-minute presentation about both the state of the industry... as well as the fact that the challenges for anyone in the entertainment industry can be met by being more open, more human and (most of all) more awesome:
It's basically a follow-up presentation to my 2009 presentation, which introduced the Connect with Fans + Reason to Buy formula. Either way, it was fun to be back on the Midem stage, and I was thrilled with the overall response to the presentation. I heard from a lot of folks at the show about how much they liked it and how it gave them a good framework for building out their efforts as artists or as labels. It's always fun to be at Midem and talk to people on the ground about what they're seeing in the industry as well. Two years ago, I had thought that perhaps the industry had reached the bargaining stage, but I may have been wrong (or the five stages of grief aren't really applicable here). There wasn't nearly as much talk about "evil piracy" at this year's Midem... but there was plenty of lashing out about "evil Google" and how it was to blame for everything. If anything, it seemed to be a slip back into the "anger" stage. As we've explained time and time again, this anger seems entirely misdirected.
So it was nice to see so many people at Midem respond positively to my "totally positive" message about where some key opportunities were, by having them focus on how being more awesome to fans and treating them as human really has amazing results.
Separately, while I was at Midem I also did a much more technical "Midem Academy" session that was designed to be a hands-on interactive discussion about specific strategies for alternative business models that don't rely on copyright. That session was 50 minutes long and didn't have the same "entertainment" value, as I was told I had to use their limited Powerpoint format, rather than do my typical style (as seen above). Still, I quite enjoyed that discussion, and ended up spending almost as much time as we spent in the session talking to people and answering questions after the session. For some reason a lot of people were shy to ask questions to the whole group, but wanted to chat afterwards.
There was also a cool "open table" session I did at "Direct2Fan Camp" at Midem, where I got to talk with a bunch of folks who were interested in new business models. That was a lot of fun.
Finally, a couple weeks before that, I was in Washington DC for the Congressional Internet Caucus' State of the Net event, where there was a panel discussion/debate over SOPA, which was recently put online as well. That panel has myself and Steve Crocker (head of ICANN) talking about problems with SOPA/PIPA... and the MPAA's Paul Brigner and the US Chamber of Commerce's Steve Tepp defending SOPA. The panel may seem out-of-date, but it actually took place the day before the mass internet blackouts that effectively killed the bills. So, when this discussion happened, the bills (even in reduced form, without DNS issues) were still very much alive. At this point, the debate might be more interesting in a historical context, rather than a present one:
Either way the discussion was also fun (and, at times, a little heated). I also found it kind of amusing that we were told that there were to be no "opening speeches," and then everyone gave an opening speech. I don't know if it's a DC thing or what, but I had to create an "opening speech" on the fly, though I tried to keep it short.
Either way, it was great to meet many Techdirt community members around the globe at these various events as well, and I hope to see more of you at future events.