Saturday, May 1, 2010

Trying to understand open specfications and patent licensing, an oblique homage to the web of people

Last night, in responding to a Buzz by Kevin Gamble decrying Apple's purported over assertion of IP rights with respect to the Ogg video format, I noted that the issue wasn't just limited to Apple. Every web specification and piece of open source software seemed subject to this kind of assault from every angle and by every player. I had gleaned this perspective from DeWitt Clinton's not infrequent postings on the topic of open specification and patent licensing, particularly as they relate to Google products (he's an employee there).

I could remember the general topic of the postings and the context (often debates with notables Jesse Stay and Dave Winer about facebook, twitter, or buzz) but not the specific details of the posts or exactly how all of this was supposed to work in an open context.

Lazily, I informed Kevin that I would buzz DeWitt on the topic and proceeded to do so. DeWitt informed me that he was headed out to dinner but would get back to me later that evening. As a joking aside, he noted that a known drawback to the kind of "social search" I was engaging in (i.e., just asking someone else for the answer) was "long response latencies". I proceeded to fall asleep watching the West Coast repeat of Star Gate Universe on the SyFy channel.

Upon awaking this morning, I realized I could jump start the process for DeWitt by doing buzz queries on the context I remembered and then narrowing it down. My initial strategy was to search by personalities and noted flash points. By reading those posts, I was then able to get down to "semantic" searches for the specific topics I didn't know about.

Follow the specific buzz queries I tried and the insightful nuggets I found for each one. I'm sure this could be written more coherently and thematically. Think of it much as a search for things past that I never actually knew all that much about. I think you'll find the links and the finding process informative.

Buzz Query: dclinton jesse.stay facebook api

Indeed, remembering that DeWitt and Jesse Stay had some pretty intense debates around why Google just didn't re-implement the facebook api instead of rolling their own when creating buzz was critical for getting the first mention of the Open Web Foundation. The conversation continued around announcements by Twitter at the CHIRP conference, at least as unearthed by this query.

Buzz Query: dclinton open web foundation

You might think at this stage that I'm a bit obsessed with DeWitt in researching this topic because I use his user name in it explicitly again. Not really, there's a few reasons for keeping him in the query. First, he's a lightning rod. He writes on these topics, and other people glom onto him and debate. He's then forced to respond with additional links and logic. In other words, focusing on DeWitt allows for a coherent exploration of the information entropy space around this topic (in layman's terms, there's surprising plot twists, but they are generally resolved coherently in DeWitt's posts and the commenters' back and forth).

The key finding in these links is the list of all of the open protocols in buzz. DeWitt also goes into the specifics of Google's open licensing stance, which to my (a layman's) eyes seems quite open. At the time of these posts, much was being made over whether Google was attempting to control the web by co-opting various protocols into buzz. The short answer seems to be no.

Buzz Query: open specification licensing

This was a specific term DeWitt used while discussing licensing terms. I thought others might use it to. In other words, I thought the term might be a general key into people discussing this sort of topic on Buzz. It's not. However, it did turn up a rather well-articulated rebuttal of Dave Winer's fears about Google attempting to push out patent or other IP encumbered protocols.

Buzz Query: "open web foundation"

This is really the mother load query for tracking the different platforms and their advocates debating back and forth about how open they are and what it means. They all seem to agree that having your specification be placed in the Open Web Foundation is critical to it being open and easily adoptable. If you want to understand this topic, this seems to be the buzz search to dive into first.

Post-Logue: Social Search Is Really Web Ethnography

Note that I did not start out this whole search saga with a well-defined thesis that might work well in a traditional Google search. I knew there was an important topic of what an open standard really means. I also knew that there were some actors in a drama that was playing out around Google, Facebook, and Twitter on Google Buzz where the notion of open standards played an important role. Therefore, my first step to finding anything was to dive into the "web of people" and drama. There, I developed a coherent enough view of the situation, that I was able to construct queries that were more topically focused. This unearthed additional, informative threads of conversation. I've not become an expert on the topic by any means, but I now have an idea of where to start.

Actually doing all of this took about an hour, but I had to think a little before how to start came to me. What struck me was that I was in a learning situation much like I had faced in the multiple foreign cultures in my early twenties. I needed to discover who the tribes were and what was important to them. To do this, I used a cultural informant, DeWitt Clinton, except I didn't really use him. I used his buzz trail. It worked reasonably well.

In conclusion, I'll point out that Rick Klau was right in his response to one of my previous screeds, there is a role for the web of people in trying to discover information objects that are of importance.