Could one redo any useful app, for that matter, that now fills the start-up cemetery?

I was reminded of this as Peter mentioned Dopplr, a useful and beautifully designed service in the years 2007-2010. The Dopplr service died because it was acquired by Nokia and left to rot. Its demise had nothing to do with the use value of the service, but everything with it being a VC funded start-up that exited to a big corporation in an identity crisis which proved unequipped to do something useful with it.

Some years ago I kept track of hundreds of examples of open data re-use in applications, websites and services. These included many that at some point stopped to exist. I had them categorised by the various phases of when they stalled. This because it was not just of interest which examples were brought to market, but also to keep track of the ideas that materialised in the many hackathons, yet never turned into an app or service, Things that stalled during any stage between idea and market. An idea that came up in France but found no traction, might however prove to be the right idea for someone in Lithuania a year later. An app that failed to get to market because it had a one-sided tech oriented team, might have succeeded with another team, meaning the original idea and application still had intrinsic use value.

Similarly Dopplr did not cease to exist because its intrinsic value as a service was lost, but because everything around it was hollowed out. Hollowed out on purpose, as a consequence of its funding model.

I bet many of such now-lost valuable services could lead a healthy live if not tied to the ‘exit-or-bust’ cycle. If they can be big enough in the words of Lee Lefever, if they can be a Zebra, not aiming to become a unicorn.

So, what are the actual impediments to bring a service like Dopplr back. IP? If you would try to replicate it, perhaps yes, or if you use technology that was originally created for the service you’re emulating. But not the ideas, which aren’t protected. In the case of Dopplr it seems there may have been an attempt at resurrection in 2018 (but it looked like a copy, not a redo of the underlying idea).

Of course you would have to rethink such a service-redo for a changed world, with new realities concerning platforms and commonly used hardware. But are there actual barriers preventing you to repeat something or create variations?

Or is it that we silently assume that if a single thing has failed at some point, there’s no point in trying something similar in new circumstances? Or that there can ever only be one of something?

Matisse

Repetitions and Variations, a beautiful Matisse exhibit we saw in 2012 in the Danish national art gallery in Copenhagen. Image by Ton Zijlstra, license CC BY-NC-SA

12 Stages, 1 Painting
12 stages, 1 painting. I’m thinking the reverse, 1 sketch, 12 paintings. Image by Ton Zijlstra, license CC BY-NC-SA

Normandy Cliff w Fish, Times 3
Normandy Cliff with fish, times 3. Matisse ‘Repetitions and Variations’ exhibit. Image by Ton Zijlstra, license CC BY-NC-SA

First in Peter’s favourites from his feedreader, then from Matt Webb’s feed directly, which both showed up right beneath eachother when I opened my feedreader this morning, I read Personal Software vs Factory Produced Software.

In that posting Matt points to Rev Dan Catt’s recent week notes, in which he describes the types of tools he makes for himself. Like Matt I love this kind of stuff. I have some small tools for myself like that, and it is the primary reason I have been running a local webserver on my laptop: it allows me to do anything I could do online right on my laptop, as home cooking. Transposing code snippets into safe HTML output for instance. Or converting bank statements into something I can import in my accounting spreadsheet. Those are however somewhat of a mechanical nature. They’re by me, but not about me. And that is the qualitative difference specifically of the letter/cards tracking tool described in Rev Dan Catt’s post.

That is more akin to what I am trying to slowly build for myself since forever. Something that closely follows my own routines and process, and guides me along. Not just as a reference, like my notes or wiki, or as a guide like my todo-lists and weekly overviews. But something that welcomes me in the morning by starting me on my morning routine “Shall I read some feeds first, or shall I start with a brief review of today’s agenda.” and nudges me kindly “it’s been 15mins, shall I continue with …?”, or “shall I review …, before it becomes urgent next week?”. A coach and PA rolled into one, that is bascially me, scripted, I suppose. I’ve always been an avid note taker and lists keeper, even way before I started using computers in 1983. Those lists weren’t always very kind I realised in 2016, it became more a musts/shoulds thing than mights/coulds. Too harsh on myself, which reduces its effectiveness (not just to 0 at times, but an active hindrance causing ineffectiveness). I wanted a kinder thing, a personal operating system of sorts. Rev Dan Scott’s correspondence tool feels like that. I reminds me of what Rick Klau described earlier about his contacts ‘management’, although that stays closer to the mechanical, the less personal I feel, and skirts closer to the point where it feels inpersonal (or rather it challenges the assumption ‘if you don’t know it yourself and keep a list it’s not authentic’ more).

Building personalised tools, that are synchronised with the personality and routines of the person using it, not as an add-on (you can add your own filter rules to our e-mail client!), but as its core design, is mostly unexplored terrain I think. Because from a business perspective it doesn’t obviously “scale”, so no unicorn potential. That sort of generic scaling is unneeded anyway I think, and there is a very much available other path for scaling. Through the invisible hand of networks, where solutions and examples are replicated and tweaked across contexts, people and groups. That way lie the tools that are smaller than us, and therefore really provide agency.

It’s also why I think the title of Matt’s post Personal Software versus Factory Produced Software is a false dilemma. It’s not just a choice between personal and mass, between n=1 and statistics. There is a level in between, which is also where the complexity lives that makes us search for new tools in the first place: the level of you and your immediate context of relationships and things relevant to them. It’s the place where the thinking behind IndieWeb extends to all technology and methods. It’s where federation of tools live, and why I think you should run personal instances of tools that federate, not join someone else’s server, unless it is a pre-existing group launching a server and adopting it as their collective hang-out. Running personal or group tools, that can talk to others if you want it to and are potentially more valuable when connected to others, that have the network effect built in as an option.

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.

(English TL;DR: January 3rd is Public Domain Day in the Netherlands.)

Op 3 januari is het Publiek Domein Dag. Dan wordt gevierd welke teksten, muziek, films, foto’s en kunst in het publiek domein komen. In de regel gebeurt dat 70 jaar na de dood van de maker. Ofwel, van auteurs, artiesten, componisten, ontwerpers, en kunstenaars die in 1948 stierven komen de werken nu in het publiek domein.

Gedurende het programma worden de werken die in het publiek domein zijn gekomen besproken, bekeken, en beluisterd. De makers van de werken staan centraal in enkele presentaties.

Publiek Domein Dag is net als Openbaarmakingsdag (waarop nieuw archiefmateriaal openbaar wordt) een feestje. Het is de kans voor makers van nu om vergeten werken weer tot leven te brengen, te re-mixen, aan te passen, en opnieuw te interpreteren.

Kom ook naar de Koninklijke Bibliotheek op 3 januari voor Publiek Domein Dag!

Staalsmelter Zweden Heijenbrock.jpg
Zweedse electro-staalsmelter, door Herman Heijenbrock (1871-1948), die industrie en arbeiders schilderde. CC BY-SA 3.0

(In het kader van transparantie: Publiek Domein Dag wordt mede georganiseerd door Creative Commons Nederland. Ik ben bestuurslid van de Vereniging Open Nederland, die het Nederlandse Creative Commons chapter en makers ondersteunt)

In a case of synchronicity I’ve read Cory Doctorow’s novel Walkaway when I was ill recently, just as Bryan Alexander scheduled it for his near future science fiction reading group. I loved reading the book, and in contrast to some other works of Doctorow the storyline kept working for me until the end.

Bryan amazingly has managed to get Doctorow to participate in a webcast as part of the Future Trends in learning series Bryan hosts. The session is planned for May 16th, and I marked my calendar for it.

In the comments Vanessa Vaile shares two worthwile links. One is an interesting recording from May last year at the New York public library in which Doctorow and Edward Snowden discuss some of the elements and underlying topics and dynamics of the Walkaway novel.

The other is a review in TOR.com, that resonates a lot with me. The reviewer writes how, in contrast with lots of other science fiction that takes one large idea or large change and extrapolates on that, Doctorow takes a number of smaller ideas and smaller changes, and then works out how those might interplay and weave new complexities, where the impact on “manufacturing, politics, the economy, wealth disparity, diversity, privilege, partying, music, sex, beer, drugs, information security, tech bubbles, law, and law enforcement” is all presented in one go.

It seems futuristic, until you realize that all of these things exist today.
….. most of it could start right now, if it’s the world we choose to create.

By not having any one idea jump too far from reality, Walkaway demonstrates how close we are, right now, to enormous promise and imminent peril.

That is precisely the effect reading Walkaway had on me, leading me to think how I could contribute to bringing some of the described effects about. And how some of those things I was/am already trying to create as part of my own work flow and information processes.