A project I’m involved has won funding from the SIDN Fund. SIDN is the Dutch domain name authority, and they run a fund to promote, innovate, and stimulate internet use, to build a ‘stronger internet for all’.
With the Open Nederland association, the collective of makers behind the Dutch Creative Commons Chapter, of which I’m a board member, we received funding for our new project “Filter me niet!” (Don’t filter me.)

With the new EU Copyright Directive, the position of copyrights holders is in flux the coming two years. Online platforms will be responsible for ensuring copyrights on content you upload. In practice this will mean that YouTube, Facebook, and all those other platforms will filter out content where they have doubts concerning origin, license or metadata. For makers this is a direct threat, as they run the risk of seeing their uploads blocked even while they clearly hold the needed copyright. False positives are already a very common phenomenon, and this will likely get worse.

With Filtermeniet.nl (Don’t filter me) we want to aid makers that want to upload their work, by inserting a bit of advice and assistance right when they want to hit that upload button. We’ll create a tool, guide and information source for Dutch media makers, through which they can declare the license that fits them best, as well as improve metadata. In order to lower the risk of being automatically filtered out for the wrong reasons.

Hossein Derakhshan makes an important effort to find more precise language to describe misinformation (or rather mis- dis- and mal- information). In this Medium article, he takes a closer look at the different combinations of actors and targets, along the lines of state, non-state entities and the public.

Table by Hossein Derakhshan, from article DisInfo Wars

One of his conclusions is

…that from all the categories, those three where non-state organisations are targeted with dis-/malinfomation (i.e. SN, NN, and PN) are the most effective in enabling the agents to reach their malicious goals. Best example is still how US and UK state organisations duped independent and professional media outlets such as the New York Times into selling the war with Iraq to the public.
….
The model, thus, encourages to concentrate funds and efforts on non-state organisations to help them resist information warfare.

He goes on to say that public protection against public agents is too costly, or too complicated:

the public is easy to target but very hard (and expensive) to protect – mainly because of their vast numbers, their affective tendencies, and the uncertainty about the kind and degree of the impact of bad information on their minds

I feel that this is where our individual civic duty to do crap detection, and call it out when possible, or at least not spread it, comes into play as inoculation.

Ja, decentraal is vaak gewoon weer een silo, maar dan met een individu aan het stuur in plaats van een data-graaiend bedrijf. 50% van alle Mastodon gebruikers zit op 3 vrijwillig gerunde instances bijvoorbeeld. Vanuit verantwoordelijkheid en aansprakelijkheid gezien is dat alleen maar een verslechtering. Zoals het gehannes met een VPS in jouw voorbeeld, dat ik herken van mijn eigen geklooi met mijn VPS.

In die zin kun je misschien beter de stap volmaken naar een gedistribueerde dienst, tenminste als je fatsoenlijke managed hosting even overslaat. Je eigen Peertube instance draaien. Niet op een VPS, maar simpeler, bijvoorbeeld als een kastje aan je thuisrouter, a la Freedombox. Iets soortgelijks doen we massaal nu ook al met NAS schijven immers. Sterker dan, waarom niet Peertube óp je NAS? Of óp je router? Die laatste is tenslotte een volwaardige computer waarvan wat ledematen zijn lamgelegd.

Dat heeft meteen als voordeel dat ook een helder businessmodel zichtbaar is voor commerciële activiteiten, want dan kun je hardware verkopen.

Replied to Het probleem met decentrale diensten by Frank Meeuwsen

Vanochtend kreeg ik onderstaande mail binnen van Peertube.social:
Unfortunately, there was an issue on peertube.social that broke a number of accounts. Your account was broken because of this, which means I had to delete and recreate it. This means that your follows, videos and other content are gon…

The Mastodon community worries about whether the new EU copyright directive (which won’t enter into force for 2 years) will mean upload filters being necessary for the use of the ActivityPub protocol.

I can’t logically see why that would be, but only because I don’t compare Mastodon to e.g. Twitter or Facebook. Yet if you do then the worry is logical I suspect.

Mastodon is a server and a client for the ActivityPub protocol. In a fully distributed instance of Mastodon you would have only a small group of users, or just one. This is the case in my Mastodon instance, which only I use. (As yet the Mastodon universe isn’t very distributed or decentralised at all, there’s no long tail.)

The ActivityPub protocol basically provides an outbox and inbox for messages. In your outbox others can come get messages you make available to them and your server can put messages in your outbox into someone else’s inbox itself.

The Mastodon server can make what you put into your outbox publicly available to all that way. Others can put messages for you in your inbox and the Mastodon client can show publicly what you receive in your inbox.

But making anything public isn’t necessary at all. In fact I don’t need my public facing profile and message timeline on my Mastodon instance at all. They are non-essential. Without such pages there’s no way to argue that the messages I receive in my inbox are uploaded by others to a platform, and falling within scope of a potential need for an upload filter.

My Mastodon instance isn’t a platform, and the messages others send to it aren’t uploads. The existence and form of other ActivityPub clients and servers demonstrates that neatly. I currently send ActivityPub messages from my weblog as well, without them being visible on my blog, and I can receive them in my Mastodon, or any other AP client without them being visible for others, just as I can read any answers to that message on the back-end of my blog without it being visible to anyone but me and the sender(s). Essentially AP is more like one-to-one messaging with the ability to do one-to-many and many-to-many as well.

The logical end game of decentralisation is full distribution into instances with only individuals or tight knit groups. Federated where useful. The way the Mastodon client is laid out (sort of like Tweetdeck) suggests we’re dealing with a platform-like thing, but that’s all it is: just lay-out. I could give my e-mail client a similar lay-out (one column with mail threads from my most contacted peers, one with mails just to me, one with all mails sent through the same mail server, one with all mails received from other mail servers by this one.) That would however not turn my mail server plus client into a platform. It would still be e-mail.

Mastodon’s lay-out is confusing matters by trying to be like Twitter and Tweetdeck instead of being its own thing, and I posit all ‘upload filter’ worries stem from this confusion.

Bryan Alexander writes a thoughtful post about media literacy, specifically in the US context, and in relation to the role of education, in response to an ongoing conversation on it:

How should we best teach digital and media literacy?  How can such teaching respond to today’s politically and technologically polarized milieu? Last week a discussion brewed across Twitter…

Towards the end of his critical discussion he makes

One more point: I’m a bit surprised to not see more calls for the open web in this conversation. If we want to get away from platforms we see as multiply dangerous (Facebook in particular, it seems), then we could posit some better sites. I’m for RSS and the blogosphere. Others may plump for Mastodon.

I think this an important aspect. To me the open web is about agency, the power to do something, to act. In this case to critically engage with information flows and contributing your own perspectives on your own website.

Every centralised platform or web silo you use means an implicit vulnerability to being kicked off by the company behind it for arbitrary and not just valid reasons. Even when using it, it means hard borders are drawn about the way you can share, interact or connect to others, to protect the business behind it. Facebook forces you to share links outside your commentary, and doesn’t allow inline hyperlinking as is actually the web’s standard. Your Facebook account can’t directly interact with my Twitter account, not because of technological limitations but because of both their wishes to be silos monopolising your online conversations.

On the open web you acknowledge the existence of various platforms, silos and whatnot, but the interaction circles around your own online space. Your own platform-of-1 that monopolises your own interaction but puts that monopoly in your own hands and that makes no assumption whatsoever about what others do, other than expecting others to use core internet standards and protocols. Your platform-of-1, is your online presence, like this website, from which you alone determine what you share, post, link-to, in what way it is presented, and who can see what.

This includes pushing things into silos. For instance I post to Twitter, and respond to others on Twitter from my own website, and reactions on Twitter come back to me on my website. (Not Facebook, you’re no longer allowed to post / peek over their fence).

This is a source of agency. For me as an individual, as much as for a group. There’s a marked difference between a protest group coordinating themselves on a Facebook group, and e.g. Edgeryders, a network of changemakers building sustainable projects for the common good, which runs their own group platform to interact using Discourse. A direct difference in agency to be able to shape the way you interact versus having to follow predefined common denominator functionality, and an indirect difference in resilience against push-back from others (does someone else control your off-switch?).

In media literacy, as much as in other, complexity-induced, aspects of our connected lives, agency of both you and yours, a networked agency is a key ingredient. Not to build your own competing platforms or media outlets to the existing ones, a common misconceived and unvoiced underlying assumption I feel (“we’ll build the perfect news platform ourselves!”), but to be in control yourself of what comes at you and what flows out from you. You still very well may end up in a bubble of uncritical bias, yet it will be one of your own making, not the making of whichever company happens to run the most popular platform du jour. The open web is your toolkit in gaining and maintaining this agency.

Replied to The powers of digital literacies: responding to danah boyd and all (Bryan Alexander)

As of today it is final: the new EU copyright directive has been adopted (ht Julia Reda). I am pleased to see my government voted against, as it has in earlier stages, and as my MEPs did. Sadly it hasn’t been enough to cut Article 11 and 13, despite the mountain of evidence and protests against both articles. It is interesting and odd to see both Spain and Germany vote in favour, given the failure of their respective laws on which Article 11 is based, and the German government coalition parties stated position of being against content filters (i.e. Article 13).

Over the next two years it is important to track the legislative efforts in Member States implementing this Directive. Countries that voted against or abstained will try to find the most meaningless implementation of both Articles 11 and 13, and will be emphasising the useful bits in other parts of the Directive I suspect, while subjected to intense lobbying efforts both for and against. The resulting differences in interpretation across MS will be of interest. Also looking forward to following the court challenges that will undoubtedly result.

In the mean time, you as an internet-citizen have two more years to build and extend your path away from the silos where Article 11 and 13 will be an obstacle to you. Run your own stuff, decentralise and federate. Walkaway from the big platforms. But most of all, interact with creators and makers directly. Both when it comes to re-using or building on their creations, as when it comes to supporting them. Article 11 and 13 will not bring any creator any new revenue, dominant entertainment industry mediators are the ones set to profit from rent seeking. Vote with your feet and wallet.

SimCity200, adapted from image by m01229 CC-BY)

Came across an interesting article, and by extension the techzine it was published in: Logic.
The article was about the problematic biases and assumptions in the model of urban development used in the popular game SimCity (one of those time sinks where my 10.000 hours brought me nothing 😉 ). And how that unintentionally (the SimCity creator just wanted a fun game) may have influenced how people look at the evolution of cityscapes in real life, in ways the original 1960’s work the game is based on never has. The article is a fine example of cyber history / archeology.

The magazine it was published in, Logic (twitter), started in the spring of 2017 and is now reaching issue 7. Each issue has a specific theme, around which contributions are centered. Intelligence, Tech against Trump, Sex, Justice, Scale, Failure, Play, and soon China, have been the topics until now.

The zine is run by Moira Weigel, Christa Hartsock, Ben Tarnoff, and Jim Fingal.

I’ve ordered the back issues, and subscribed (though technically it is cheaper to keep ordering back-issues). They pay their contributors, which is good.


Cover for the upcoming edition on tech in China. Design (like all design for Logic) by Xiaowei R. Wang.

Enige tijd geleden is een groep organisaties, zoals Waag Society, het initiatief PublicSpaces gestart. Binnen deze non-profit zoekt een groep organisaties de weg (terug) naar internet als gemeenschappelijk goed, weg van de social networking platforms die uiteindelijk alleen een commercieel doel dienen. Hoe dat zou moeten staat nog open volgens mij, al is er wel een manifest, en ik weet ook niet in hoeverre gedistribueerd denken (de onzichtbare hand van netwerken) echt een rol speelt. Het maakt in ieder geval nieuwsgierig. Het thema is zonder meer van groot belang, en er ‘broeit’ op allerlei plekken activiteit op dit vlak. Soms ‘klassiek’ geheel op technisch vlak voor een toepassing (zoals Mastodon), en soms in de breedte (zoals Next Generation Internet). PublicSpaces kiest zo te zien ook een maatschappelijke insteek, en dat is terecht. In het verleden heb ik het er met Marleen Stikker van Waag Society wel over gehad dat je een ‘nieuw maatschappelijk middenveld’ nodig hebt, dat zich heeft georganiseerd en werkt langs de lijnen van onze genetwerkte digitale wereld, en zichtbaar genoeg is voor het ‘klassieke’ middenveld en bijvoorbeeld de overheid.

Komende week is er een bijeenkomst in Arnhem, onder de titel “Het internet is stuk” waar PublicSpace centraal staat. Georganiseerd mede door Marco Derksen, zal Geert-Jan Bogaerts, hoofd digitaal van de VPRO en voorzitter van PublicSpaces de ideeën en plannen toelichten.

Het maximaal aantal plaatsen is al bereikt, en er is een wachtlijst, dus ik zal er zelf niet bij zijn. Maar Frank Meeuwsen wel, dus ik verwacht dat er wel wat impressies in zijn blog of dat van Marco Derksen (die er al onlangs over schreef) zullen verschijnen.

heat wave in bryant park
De publieke ruimte is het originele social media platform. Onze tools lijken er nog te weinig op. (photo Laura LaRose, license CC-BY)

After my initial posting on this yesterday, Greg shares a few more quotes from his students. It reminds me of the things both teachers and students said at the end of my 2008 project at Rotterdam university for applied sciences. There, a group of teachers explored how to use digital technology, blogs and the myriad of social web tools, to both support their own learning and change their teaching. The sentiments expressed are similar, if you look at the quotes in the last two sections (change yourself, change your students) of my 2009 posting about it. What jumps out most for me, is the sense of agency, the power that comes from discovering that agency.

Replied to Some quick quotes on #edu106 and the power of #IndieWeb #creativity #edtechchat #mb by Greg McVerryGreg McVerry

….fun to figure out everything I wanted to do with my website,….gained a sense of voice…,…I’m so tired of all the endless perfection I see on social media……my relationship with technology changed….

Next week it is 50 years ago that Doug Engelbart (1925-2013) and his team demonstrated all that has come to define interactive computing. Five decades on we still don’t have turned everything in that live demo into routine daily things. From the mouse, video conferencing, word processing, outlining, drag and drop, digital mind mapping, to real time collaborative editing from multiple locations. In 1968 it is all already there. In 2018 we are still catching up with several aspects of that live demonstrated vision though. Doug Engelbart and team ushered in the interactive computing era to “augment human intellect”, and on the 50th anniversary of The Demo a symposium will ask the question what augmenting the human intellect can look like in the 21st century.


A screenshot of Doug Engelbart during the 1968 demo

The 1968 demo was later named ‘the Mother of all Demos‘. I first saw it in its entirety at the 2005 Reboot conference in Copenhagen. Doug Engelbart had a video conversation with us after the demo. To me it was a great example, not merely of prototyping new tech, but most of all of proposing a coherent and expansive vision of how different technological components and human networked interaction and routines can together be used to create new agency and new possibilities. To ‘augment human intellect’ indeed. That to me is the crux, to look at the entire constellation of humans, our connections, routines, methods and processes, our technological tools and achieving our desired impact. Likely others easily think I’m a techno-optimist, but I don’t think I am. I am generally an optimist yes, but to me what is key is our humanity, and to create tools and methods that enhance and support it. Tech as tools, in context, not tech as a solution, on its own. It’s what my networked agency framework is about, and what I try to express in its manifesto.

Paul Duplantis has blogged about where the planned symposium, and more importantly us in general, may take the internet and the web as our tools.

Doug Engelbart on video from Calif.
Doug Engelbart on screen in 2005, during a video chat after watching the 1968 Demo at Reboot 7

This is a very interesting article to read. A small French adtech company Vectaury has been ordered to stop using and delete the personal data of tens of millions of Europeans, as it cannot show proper consent as required under the GDPR. Of interest here is that Vectaury tried to show consent using a branche wide template by IAB. A French judge has ruled this is not enough. This is an early sign that as Doc Searls says GDPR is able to, though at the speed of legal proceedings, put a stake through the heart of ad-tech. Provided enforcement goes forward.

A month after the verdict, Vectaury’s website still proudly claims that they’re GDPR compliant because they use the concept of a ‘consent management provider’. Yet that is exactly what has now been ruled as not enough to show actual consent.

This Twitter thread by NYT’s Robin Berjon about the case is also interesting.

Some things I thought worth reading in the past days

  • A good read on how currently machine learning (ML) merely obfuscates human bias, by moving it to the training data and coding, to arrive at peace of mind from pretend objectivity. Because of claiming that it’s ‘the algorithm deciding’ you make ML a kind of digital alchemy. Introduced some fun terms to me, like fauxtomation, and Potemkin AI: Plausible Disavowal – Why pretend that machines can be creative?
  • These new Google patents show how problematic the current smart home efforts are, including the precursor that are the Alexa and Echo microphones in your house. They are stripping you of agency, not providing it. These particular ones also nudge you to treat your children much the way surveillance capitalism treats you: as a suspect to be watched, relationships denuded of the subtle human capability to trust. Agency only comes from being in full control of your tools. Adding someone else’s tools (here not just Google but your health insurer, your landlord etc) to your home doesn’t make it smart but a self-censorship promoting escape room. A fractal of the panopticon. We need to start designing more technology that is based on distributed use, not on a centralised controller: Google’s New Patents Aim to Make Your Home a Data Mine
  • An excellent article by the NYT about Facebook’s slide to the dark side. When the student dorm room excuse “we didn’t realise, we messed up, but we’ll fix it for the future” defence fails, and you weaponise your own data driven machine against its critics. Thus proving your critics right. Weaponising your own platform isn’t surprising but very sobering and telling. Will it be a tipping point in how the public views FB? Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis
  • Some of these takeaways from the article just mentioned we should keep top of mind when interacting with or talking about Facebook: FB knew very early on about being used to influence the US 2016 election and chose not to act. FB feared backlash from specific user groups and opted to unevenly enforce their terms or service/community guidelines. Cambridge Analytica is not an isolated abuse, but a concrete example of the wider issue. FB weaponised their own platform to oppose criticism: How Facebook Wrestled With Scandal: 6 Key Takeaways From The Times’s Investigation
  • There really is no plausible deniability for FB’s execs on their “in-house fake news shop” : Facebook’s Top Brass Say They Knew Nothing About Definers. Don’t Believe Them. So when you need to admit it, you fall back on the ‘we messed up, we’ll do better going forward’ tactic.
  • As Aral Balkan says, that’s the real issue at hand because “Cambridge Analytica and Facebook have the same business model. If Cambridge Analytica can sway elections and referenda with a relatively small subset of Facebook’s data, imagine what Facebook can and does do with the full set.“: We were warned about Cambridge Analytica. Why didn’t we listen?
  • [update] Apparently all the commotion is causing Zuckerberg to think FB is ‘at war‘, with everyone it seems, which is problematic for a company that has as a mission to open up and connect the world, and which is based on a perception of trust. Also a bunker mentality probably doesn’t bode well for FB’s corporate culture and hence future: Facebook At War.

Shakingtree Award

Today I attended the presentation of this year’s Shaking Tree Award. This annual award started in 2016, and is named after my friend Niels who received the first award during his ‘last lecture‘. Niels died a year ago. The Ministry of Healthcare has pledged to keep going with the award, in the spirit of Niels’ efforts: shake up the system, fighting unneeded and kafkaesque bureaucracy, have hands-on experience with the system at ‘the receiving end’ so you know what you’re talking about, have a sense of humor to go with it, and be able to ‘dance with the system’.

The meeting was attended by a diverse range of people, from the healthcare domain, Niels’ family, and of course a smattering of Niels’ friends.

Before presenting this year’s nominees and the award, time was given to remembering Niels and the reason for this award. This was followed by two conversations between a previous winner and nominee and a representative of an institution they struggled with. First were Annette Stekelenburg and Ria Dijkstra, manager operations at a health care insurer. Annette has a son that needs tube feeding to survive. This situation will not change. Yet every year they need to apply for approval to continue receiving the materials needed. Annette and Ria had a frank conversation about what happened when Annette publicly announced she was fed up with this yearly bureaucracy that should be unneeded. Dijkstra explained how they thought that they had already changed the rules, making the renewal once every 5 years, but that the suppliers never knew, and that forms are being sent out in the insurers name that don’t actually exist anymore.

The second conversation was between Kathi Künnen, a previous nominee, and Betsie Gerrits, department head at UWV, the government agency in charge of employee insurance. Kathi is 29 and has incurable cancer. Because of that she has been determined to be 100% incapable of working, yet there are lots of phases where she actually does want to work. 25% of young professionals with cancer have an incurable form, and most want to remain active as long as possible. Yet the system tells them their ‘earning capacity is 0’ and with a stamp like that there’s no way to find paid activity. Here too, the conversation first of all made the two parties at the table see each other as individual human beings. And from it energy and potential solutions follow. Kathi said she needs reassurance that there can be administrative certainty (other than being tossed out as worthless), as her own life is fluid enough as it is and changing all the time.

I thought both conversations were impressive, and the type of thing we need much more of. Once you get past the frustration, anger and disbelief that often plays a role too, you can see the actual human being at the other side of the table. Dancing with the system is, in part, being able to have these conversations.

The award was presented by the previous winner, Tim Kroesbergen, and the secretary general of the Ministry Erik Gerritsen was host to the event, with Maarten den Braber as MC. The jury, consisting of Sanne (Niels’ wife) and the previous two winners, Annette Stekelenburg and Tim Kroesbergen, made their choice known from amongst the three nominees: Eva Westerhoff, Elianne Speksnijder and Geert-Jan den Hengst. All three nominees were presented by a video, as well as a conversation about their experiences.

Eva Westerhoff is a disability rights advocate & accessibility consultant who happens to be deaf. Next to her job at a bank, she does lots of volunteer work on diversity, inclusion & accessibility in information, communication & tech. She’s been knocking on doors in the Healthcare Ministry for over 20 years. Today she said that because of the political cycle, it seems you need to do everything again every four years or so, to keep awareness high enough.

Elianne Speksnijder is a professional fashion model, photographer and story teller. Lyme disease and epilepsy caused her to land in a wheelchair when she was 15. As she said today, an age which brings enough difficulties as it is. It took her a decade to accept that her wheels were a permanent part of her life. She’s 28 now, a woman with ambitions ‘on wheels’. When she was a teenager she sorely missed a role model (or rolling model, as the Dutch word ‘rolmodel’ can mean both). Now she is setting out to be that role model herself. She hopes for much more inclusivity in media, and challenges companies about it.

Geert-Jan den Hengst, is a 48 year old father of two adult children. He has MS and has been living the last decade or so in an environment that provides 24/7 care. His laptop is his core conduit to the rest of the world. Writing is a need for him. He blogs on his own blog, and writes for the local football team’s website, various media in his hometown and more. At the heart of his writing are everyday observations. He says he is “not a political animal, so I need to stay close to my everyday life in what I do”. Often those observations are examples of how life can be made impractical for someone in his position. He mentioned an early example that got him started: for the local football stadium all types of tickets could be bought online, except for …. tickets for wheel chair access. People with wheel chairs needed to come buy the tickets in person. The group least likely to be able to do that easily.

From all three nominees, I think the main takeaway is taking the time to share and listen to the actual stories of people. Especially when things get complicated or complex. Not news, there’s a reason I’ve been active in participatory narrative inquiry and sense making for a long time, but it bears repeating. Stories are our main way of ‘measurement’ in complex situations, to catch what’s going on for real, to spot the actual (not just the intended) consequences of our actions, structures and regulations, to see the edge cases, and to find the knobs to turn towards getting better results (and know what better actually is).

Jury chairman Tim Kroesbergen after reading the jury motivations for all three nominees, announced Eva Westerhoff as the new Shaking Tree Award winner.

'Last Lecture' Deluxe @shakingtree #fakkeldragers
The Shaking Tree Award statuette (photo by Henk-Jan Winkeldermaat, CC by-nc-sa)

Inside the Ministry a poem by Merel Morre is painted on the wall, that she wrote in honor of Niels ‘Shakingtree’.
A rough translation reads (anything unpoetic is all my doing)

outside

shake goals awake
jump past rules
dance joints wider
dream chances free

out of bounds
outside limitation
it grows
as it grows

tree high
dream high
where it lighter
but never stops

In the ministy’s central hall all the pillars show a face of someone with the words “I care”. That and the poem are promising signs of commitment to the actual stories of people. The Ministry still has 24 statuettes in stock for the Shaking Tree Award, so there’s a likelihood they will keep the annual award up as well. But as this year’s winner Eva Westhoff warned, every 4 years the politics changes, so it’s better to make sure.

20181112_173353
The faces in the Ministry with the text ‘I care’

Aaron Swartz would have turned 32 November 8th. He died five years and 10 months ago, and since then, like this weekend, the annual Aaron Swartz weekend takes place with all kinds of hackathons and events in his memory. At the time of his suicide Swartz was being prosecuted for downloading material in bulk from JSTOR, a scientific papers archive (even though he had legitimate access to it).

In 2014 the Smart New World exhibition took place in Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, which Elmine and I visited. Part of it was the installation “18.591 Articles Sold By JSTOR for $19 = $353.229” with those 18.591 articles printed out, showing what precisely is behind the paywall, and what Swartz was downloading. Articles, like those shown, from the 19th century, since long in the public domain, sold for $19 each. After Swartz’ death JSTOR started making a small percentage of their public domain content freely accessible, limited to a handful papers per month.

The Düsseldorf exhibit was impressive, as it showed the volumes of material, but the triviality of most material too. It’s a long tail of documents with extremely low demand, being treated equally as recent papers in high demand.

Smart New World

Smart New World Smart New World
Smart New World Smart New World
Smart New World

Scientific journal publishers are increasingly a burden on the scientific world, rent-seeking gatekeepers. Their original value added role, that of multiplication and distribution to increase access, has been completely eroded, if not actually fully reversed.

This is a start to more fully describe and explore a distributed version of digitisation, digitalisation and specifically digital transformation, and state why I think bringing distributed / networked thinking into them matters.

Digitising stuff, digitalising routines, the regular way

Over the past decades much more of the things around us became digitised, and in recent years much of the things we do, our daily routines and work processes, have become digitalised. Many of those digitalised processes are merely digitised replicas of their paper predecessors. Asking for a government permit for instance, or online banking. There’s nothing there that wasn’t there in the paper version. Sometimes even small steps in those processes still force you to use paper. At the start of this year I had to apply for a declaration that my company had never been involved in procurement fraud. All the forms I needed for it (30 pages in total!), were digitised and I filled them out online, but when it came to sending it in, I had to print the PDF resulting from those 30 pages, and send it through snail mail. I have no doubt that the receiving government office’s first step was to scan it all before processing it. Online banking similarly is just a digitised paper process. Why don’t all online bank accounts provide nifty visualisation, filtering and financial planning tools (like alerts for dates due, saving towards a goal, maintaining a buffer etc.), now that everything is digital? The reason we laugh at Little Britains ‘computer says no’ sketches, is because we recognise all too well the frustration of organisations blindly trusting their digitalised processes, and never acknowledging or addressing their crappy implementation, or the extra work and route-arounds their indifference inflicts.

Digital transformation, digital societies

Digital transformation is the accumulated societal impact of all those digital artefacts and digitalised processes, even if they’re incomplete or half-baked. Digital transformation is why I have access to all those books in the long tail that never reached the shelves of any of the book shops I visited in decades part, yet now come to my e-reader instantly, resulting in me reading more and across a wider spectrum than ever before. Digital transformation is also the impact on elections that almost individually targeted data-driven Facebook advertising caused by minutely profiling undecided voters.

Digital transformation is often referred to these days, in my work often also in the context of development and the sustainable development goals.
Yet, it often feels to me that for most intents and purposes this digital transformation is done to us, about us but not of us. It’s a bit like the smart city visions corporations like Siemens and Samsung push(ed), that were basically devoid of life and humanity. Quality of life reduced and equated to security only, in sterilised cities, ignoring that people are the key actors, as critiqued by Adam Greenfield in 2013.

Human digital networks: distributed digital transformation

The Internet is a marvellous thing. At least it is when we use it actively, to assist us in our routines and in our efforts to change, learn and reach out. As social animals, our human interaction has always been networked where we fluently switch between contexts, degrees of trust and disclosure, and routing around undesired connections. In that sense human interaction and the internet’s original design principle closely match up, they’re both distributed. In contrast most digitalisation and digital transformation happens from the perspective of organisations and silos. Centralised things, where some decide for the many.

To escape that ‘done to us, about us, not of us’, I think we need to approach digitisation, digitalisation and digital transformation from a distributed perspective, matching up our own inherently networked humanity with our newly (since 30 yrs) networked global digital infrastructure. We need to think in terms of distributed digital transformation. Distributed digital transformation (making our own digital societal impact), building on distributed digitisation (making our things digital), and on distributed digitalisation (making our routines digital).

Signs of distributed digitisation and digitalisation

Distributed digitisation can already be seen in things like the quantified self movement, where individuals create data around themselves to use for themselves. Or in the sensors I have in the garden. Those garden measurements are part of something you can call distributed digitalisation, where a network of similar sensors create a map of our city that informs climate adaptation efforts by local government. My evolving information strategies, with a few automated parts, and the interplay of different protocols and self-proposed standards that make up the Indieweb also are examples of distributed digitalisation. My Networked Agency framework, where small groups of relationships fix something of value with low threshold digital technology, and network/digital based methods and processes, is distributed digitisation and distributed digitalisation combined into a design aid for group action.

Distributed digital transformation needs a macroscope for the new civil society

Distributed digital transformation, distributed societal impact seems a bit more elusive though.
Civil society is increasingly distributed too, that to me is clear. New coops, p2p groups, networks of individual actors emerge all over the world. However they are largely invisible to for instance the classic interaction between government and the incumbent civil society, and usually cut-off from the scaffolding and support structures that ‘classic’ activities can build on to get started. Because they’re not organised ‘the right way’, not clearly representative of a larger whole. Bootstrapping is their only path. As a result these initiatives are only perceived as single elements, and the scale they actually (can) achieve as a network remains invisible. Often even in the eyes of those single elements themselves.

Our societies, including the nodes that make up the network of this new type of civil society, lack the perception to recognise the ‘invisible hand of networks’. A few years ago already I discussed with a few people, directors of entities in that new civil society fabric, how it is that we can’t seem to make our newly arranged collective voices heard, our collective efforts and results seen, and our collective power of agency recognised and sought out for collaboration? We’re too used, it seems, to aggregating all those things, collapsing them into a single voice of a mouthpiece that has the weight of numbers behind it, in order to be heard. We need to learn to see the cumulative impact of a multitude of efforts, while simultaneously keeping all those efforts visible on their own. There exist so many initiatives I think that are great examples of how distributed digitalisation leads to transformation, but they are largely invisible outside their own context, and also not widely networked and connected enough to reach their own full potential. They are valuable on their own, but would be even more valuable to themselves and others when federated, but the federation part is mostly missing.
We need to find a better way to see the big picture, while also seeing all pixels it consists of. A macroscope, a distributed digital transformation macroscope.