tecznotes

Michal Migurski's notebook, listening post, and soapbox. Subscribe to this blog. Check out the rest of my site as well.

Dec 30, 2007 8:36pm

jaron lanier

What's wrong with Jaron Lanier?

Last month, he wrote a NYTimes opinion piece, Pay Me For My Content, arguing that it's up to "us" (geeks) to figure out how to make the Internet less free so that writers can get paid:

To help writers and artists earn a living online, software engineers and Internet evangelists need to exercise the power they hold as designers. Information is free on the Internet because we created the system to be that way. ... We owe it to ourselves and to our creative friends to acknowledge the negative results of our old idealism. We need to grow up.

Now, he has a piece in Discover, Long Live Closed-Source Software!, arguing that open source software unsuitable for "innovation":

Open wisdom-of-crowds software movements have become influential, but they haven't promoted the kind of radical creativity I love most in computer science. If anything, they've been hindrances. ... Linux is a superbly polished copy of an antique, shinier than the original, perhaps, but still defined by it.
Why did the adored iPhone come out of what many regard as the most closed, tyrannically managed software-development shop on Earth? An honest empiricist must conclude that while the open approach has been able to create lovely, polished copies, it hasn't been so good at creating notable originals.

This goes on until Lanier mires himself in a loopy biological metaphor about cellular membranes and finally falls back on the twin Old Faithfuls, "I get so much heat for my dangerous, minority opinion" and "I know Richard Stallman".

While I have my agreements and disagreements with both pieces, I'm trying to figure out what Jaron Lanier is trying to do by publishing these views as he wears his Linden Labs hat. I can see how both lines of argument support Linden's business model: reinventing scarcity so their users' creations can command monetary value (horrifying example: unicorn babies via interspecies sex). What else is going on here? Can anyone familiar with Lanier's history clue me in on where his arguments come from, and where they're going?

Sepcifically, where ever did the NYTimes opinion originate? There have been plenty of examples of closed networks in the past, e.g. AOL, MSN, Prodigy, Compuserv, all of which have been crushed by the internet. In that sense, Free has already trumped Closed, and there's nothing us geeks "need" to do but enjoy it. In another sense, there are plenty of excellent examples of thriving markets, stores, and closed communities built on the internet and the web that implement the gettin'-paid features Lanier wants to see. What does Lanier want to see done differently? Credit card authorization built into TCP/IP?

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