Response for The Wealth of Networks

6 08 2008

This is in response to Sarah’s review of Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks.

I’m glad you share my disdain for Benkler’s writing style! It was a little painful at times.

I agree with you that his view of how networked societies will make radical changes in the world is bold, but I disagree that the view leans toward some utopian goal. I don’t recall reading an extensive section about how societies will settle in perfect harmony one day exist because of networks and the Internet, but, hey, I fell asleep reading the text a couple times myself. Ha!

Benkler’s observations of current events seem to ring true. It’s easy to see that radical changes are taking place. The way people interacted 10 years ago compared to today using digital and mobile communications has changed drastically. Access to technology in third-world countries is growing rapidly. The first computers some people use in remote parts of the world are smartphones. I think Benkler’s point is more that these changes in communication and technology are happening, but not necessarily how they’re being used.

You say that Benkler’s “fatal flaw” was “the idea that the networked information economy will make the world a better place and those in it more connected and aware of one another.” Can we determine if this is a flaw yet? Are we too early to determine if Benkler is foolish or prophetic? Considering he’s talking about major societal changes that we’re hardly a decade into, we are probably too early in the game to declare a winner. I also noticed that he and Chris Anderson used many of the same examples of networked societies – probably because there are too few successful examples at this point worth noting.

You’re right to say that Benkler’s observations of these changes aren’t revolutionary.  Overall, I thought Benkler made very few statements that took strong enough positions that were worth considering arguing, which was my “fatal flaw” with the book. He didn’t offer any cutting-edge statements. To your point, he talked a lot about “opportunities” for society, but never went so far as recommending a course of action that societies should take to improve the world.

I think negative reviews are difficult to write because I often veer into tangents that do not support my central arguments, but you achieved listing a consistent flow of reasons why you advise against reading Benkler. Kudos.

Response to Cheverie

27 07 2008

This is in response to Raquel’s post.

Cheverie bases her article on the notion that “Information is, simultaneously, both an economic commodity and a societal resource.” She expresses concern that as “digital fences” are raised to protect the copyrights of digital goods, the transactional costs will be raised resulting in limited access, distribution and societal benefit. She also recognizes the incentive copyrights produce for content creators. The article is well-rounded in these points.

However, Cheverie’s prediction that libraries will be undermined by increased digital access is shaky. She provides little evidence beyond speculation. With piracy of copyrighted materials so rampant, people do have more access, but use of that information in business or education requires legal validity. For this reason, copyrights and libraries are still useful. Further, while competition with libraries for accessing information has increased, there’s no evidence that the use of libraries has decreased, or recognition that library systems have adopted their own online databases to compete.

Response to “DRM: Desirable, inevitable, and almost irrelevant article”

22 07 2008

This is in response to Brian’s post.

Brian identifies Odlyzko’s statement that creators should “maximize the value of intellectual property.” I think the direction for attaining this maximum is guided by the interpretation of “value.” Is it money? If so, perhaps today’s DRM model is suitable. Is it accessibility? If so, today’s DRM model is disruptive.

Levels of protection for intellectual content hinge on what creators think are valuable. Because their interpretations are relative, they cannot be universal. I believe this is why DRM today is so controversial. Odlyzko’s are valid, but seem narrow in scope to considering he assumes maximum value should be accessibility, which may not be the case for all creators of digital intellectual properties.

Response to “A Bite Out of Apple? iTunes, Interoperability and France’s Dadvsi Law”

10 07 2008

This is in response to Christy’s post about the same article.

I think Apple and its competitors’ implementation of DRM technologies is interesting because it demonstrates their need for an artificial standard to control their digital goods – much the same way they set artificial prices for goods that cost next to nothing to create. The digital marketplace has its advantages and barriers like any other market, I suppose.

Upon first reading the article, I didn’t find a close connection to The Long Tail but realized that the consumer battle against DRM, and Apple in this instance, is a byproduct of The Long Tail economy. That is, digital music companies are faced with a nearly endless demand for niche products, increasing competition and unprecedented piracy and are therefore exploring securities that may stagger the growth of the greater market to defend their digital goods.

Sobel’s article really picks up on the burden of states to intervene when DRM and other digital rights technologies prohibit interoperability for consumers. In more simple terms, Apple’s FairPlay DRM limits my ability to play a song I purchase on iTunes on competing MP3 players.  I should be able to play a song I purchase on any device that is compatible with its file format, regardless of the DRM protection. Dadvsi’s Law is France’s attempt to reconcile this conflict. Sobel says Dadvsi’s Law is imperfect, favoring DRM holders, but also says “… the role of governments in limiting the reach of TPMs [technical protection measures] is inchoate.

You ask in your discussion outline, “Can a model similar to The Long Tail be applied to online music sharing services?” I think the model already exists. For iTunes, its competitors and even illegal file sharing services, a few new, popular songs (and for illegal sites, those yet to be released) will draw the largest number of downloads, and all the other songs available will individually draw a few downloads – but these songs will add up to significant number of total downloads. DRM plays into how companies can monetize these downloads and retain and expand their shares of the market. Companies implementing DRM believe they are protecting their digital goods and increasing patronage of their services, but if their DRMs are limiting interoperability consumers will find alternative means of obtaining the same goods, legally or illegally. Even Steve Jobs recognizes this flaw. Sobel points to him saying that on average only 3 percent of songs on iPods have DRM, and he even shifted the blame for DRM to the music labels when facing legal opposition in Europe.

You also ask, “Do you think such digital rights management practices support or hinder growth/development?” I think DRM practices support growth and development of, in this case, music to a point. Artists do want to know they will compensated for their work, but if they think the resulting interoperability becomes so restrictive that it’s turning off their fans, they’d probably be better off without it. At the rate of hacking DRM technologies, (nearly every DRM created has been hacked) I don’t think it’s a very effective means of protection, and consumers are showing the true values of the digital goods their obtaining – paying for the artists they respect (think Radiohead’s In Rainbows) and taking everything else.