Stop Not Linking, Forever.

Frequently, blogs copy a news article, reword it, and repost it wholesale, without adding any new research. They very often lose information or veracity in the transliteration of the post. This is a useless practice that needs to stop. Marco Arment, the instapaper developer, says that you should cite your sources visibly – not only does it make you more honest, it provides more raw information for the reader.

There is a tendency among spurious hacks of the world to present someone else’s idea as ones own. As much as I hate the wrong and harmful idea of patents (the exclusive right granted by a government to an inventor to manufacture, use, or sell an invention for a certain number of years), plagiarism is a different beast – in news media especially. The crime here is some part lack of attribution, and some part loss of information.

Arment has this to say about the phenomenon:

The most ethically and professionally sound practice when you have little value to add to the source story is the linked-list approach. Give a teaser quote and a prominent link. Make it clear that you didn’t write the target article, there’s more to be read there, and here’s how to get to it.Don’t replace it. Send your readers there.If you’re truly providing value, you should have the confidence to send your audience away, knowing that they’ll come back to you. If that’s not the case, don’t bother publishing.

It’s true. If you want to pontificate, great! If you want to build on someone else’s point, fine. Cite your sources and don’t massage facts, or you aren’t a journalist. And credit the original research, or you’re a plagiarist. Easy.

Been a while since I rapped atcha

I love working at Sporcle and I love building Dargarth but even more than those things I love knowing that I’m about to have a kid! Please do forgive me for not posting much lately and in the near future. As my artistic friend Eric Hill puts it, people who spend a lot of time working really neglect their blogs. Such is life in 2012. I am a lucky, lucky person.

Who’s got the trees?

I was told this story by a friend years ago, at my first full time software gig:

New College, Oxford is of rather late foundation, hence the name. It was probably founded around the late 14th Century. It has, like other colleges, a large dining hall with big oak beams across the ceiling, yes? These might be two feet square, forty-five feet long.

Some five to ten years ago, I am told, some busy entomologist went up into the roof with a penknife and poked at the beams and found that they were filled with beetles. This was reported to the College Council, who met in some dismay, as where would they get beams of that caliber nowadays?

One of the Junior Fellows stuck his neck out and suggested that there might be on College lands some oak. These colleges are endowed with pieces of land scattered across the country. So they called in the College Forester, who of course had not been near the College itself for some years, and asked him about oaks.

And he pulled his forelock and said, “Well, sirs, we was wonderin’ when you’d be askin’.”

Upon further enquiry it was discovered that when the College was founded, a grove of oaks had been planted to replace the beams in the dining hall when they became beetley, because oak beams always become beetly in the end. This plan had been passed down from one Forester to the next for four hundred years. “You don’t cut them oaks. Them’s for the College Hall.”

A nice story. That’s the way to run a culture.

~Gregory Bateson

Like most great stories, this one is part truth and part fiction, and my favorite version (the one above) is from here.

More OSS Volunteerism

Open source software isn’t second-class volunteering. In terms of effectiveness per time spent on it, it’s astoundingly helpful.

Because code is replicable and useful, it helps a lot of people. Giving away closed source software would be one thing, but open source code is reusable by other projects, viewable by people learning how to code, and fundamentally supported by the community. Writing software is also potentially research: solving problems in new ways is one of the ways the state of software advances. There’s no limit to the number of people you’re helping: the developers of Apache webserver deserve thanks whenever a page on the internet is served. (To anyone who thinks OSS puts coders out of a job, think of all the jobs the Apache foundation has created.)

Because coding, project management, UI design, QA testing, and all the other skill that go into successful open source projects take years to learn, the volunteer hours put into those activities are a scarce and extremely valuable resource. Suppose your friend, a lawyer, was looking for a way to volunteer four hours a week. Your friend can’t decide whether it would be more helpful to bake rolls at a food kitchen or give pro bono legal advice to DV sufferers. Or maybe your teacher friend can’t decide whether to teach ESL or do laundry for a church. Sure, your friends might enjoy both gigs, and they’re all nice causes, but your friends have the opportunity to contribute skills which are much more scarce, and you’d probably recommend they do that.

That’s why if you have skills or money to contribute to an open source project, you should act without hesitation: it’s an unselfish endeavor that makes a big difference to a lot of people, and it’s a great way to volunteer. It helps a lot of people in a real way.

And it definitely, definitely counts as volunteering.


‘Hypercapitalism’ is so poorly defined that the first google search result isn’t a wikipedia page. That’s sad, so I’m going to put a solid word out there.

My new definition: The idea that the purpose of capitalism is to supply goods and services to the net benefit of society, and that business is a vehicle to apportion those goods fairly. (See also: corporate responsibility, conscious capitalism)

Dio Games, an indie software venture operating out of Romania, has a very novel game called Orbital Trader that has an excellent and intentional bent towards the hypercapitalistic. You see, in the present, one amasses great wealth by supplying goods and services. In the future, it’s really much more profitable to do that in a way that helps people. Commerce is no longer a chimera that beats people into the ground; nor does a ruling class decide how to wreck things for society. No, now the economy and all the players in it are scrambling to fill needs, invest in the greater good, and be proper stewards of the markets they’re in.

Give it a try, it’s a really cool game.

These letters are free

I think:

1. Information, because it does not exist in the same way physical objects do, cannot be owned the way physical objects are. A disk can be owned, a song cannot. A book can be owned, a sequence of words cannot.

2. The idea that we have constructed a practical system to encourage innovation by assigning property rights to data as though it were an object is poorly executed and irresponsible, and does more harm than good.

3. Allowing society to determine how to best reward the creation of culture would be more desirable than our current application of law to create a ‘market’ of ideas that is artificially propped up and enforced.

4. Someday we will collectively realize 1, 2, and 3, and abandon our attempt to assign rights to intangibles. This will not stifle the production and accumulation of culture.

The idea that culture will not be produced without patents and copyrights is preposterous. Instead, ideas will be shared, reviewed, and distributed more (not freely, but more commonly) when they are free of these contrived laws.

2009 is Fast Approaching

…as it always has been.

I haven’t read any really great predictions for 2009. What will the web see next? I have some ideas, and it’s one of those times when what I think is going to happen is also what I want to happen. That, I suppose, is the definition of optimism.

I predict that in 2009, the next economies to move to the web will be professional services like medicine, law, pharmacy, engineering, and business consultancy. While of course people in these markets already find each other on the internet, I think that our changing circumstances will begin to make it cost effective and reliable to conduct these services – legal counsel, healthcare, and other informational services that require very skilled, even licensed practitioners – online and with a maximum of automation and generalization.

One of the reasons I think this is likely to happen so soon is that it is already beginning to happen, peripherally, in the form of online health records, college classes, investing sites (especially those already offering financial planning advice), and so on. I think the main drivers for this trend will be a generation of Americans slowly coming into adulthood that is able to trust the internet, a changing healthcare system in the US, and exponential growth in developing markets in countries that have fewer skilled professionals but a growing middle class able to purchase professional services over a more ubiquitous internet.

This isn’t a very bold statement – sorry – but we hope that economic downturns inspire new levels of efficiency, and I’m thinking it could be the catalyst we need to move the remainder of our information services online.

I also think that the first real entirely online careers will be created – while many service jobs become automated, telepresence positions (eg. controlling a fruit-picking robot from a computer in another place or doing data entry) will become more commonplace as the manufacturing and installation of those systems plus remote labor costs falls below the local labor cost for those outsourceable but non-automatable jobs. I think it’s likely that 2009 and 2010 will see a taste of this, like maybe increased use of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. The constantly falling price of computers and internet access would really be a telling factor here, I think.

Here’s hoping 2009 is a good year for technology and prosperity everywhere in the world.