Saturday, September 30, 2006

TPRC: Return of the commentators, and Q&A

Faulhaber: The tone of these remarks is different from the book. The book says the whole world is changing, it’s all new. (Note: Though I believe in multiple readings, I think I read the book that Benkler thought he wrote, which is perfectly consistent with his remarks.) Faulhaber agrees with Benkler’s criticisms of copyright, so he plans to tear out the front page of the book and republish it under his own name.

Sohn: Of course that’s not what Benkler said. Rather, he argues that the history of large companies using copyright has resulted in less production, not more. He said nothing about stealing.

There are plenty of places where accreditation and relevant information is found. The difference is whether it’s user-driven. YouTube kicked up the net neutrality debate by widely distributing the Stevens “the internet is a series of tubes” speech (and remixes); it has possibly affected George Allen’s political future by popularizing his “macaca” remarks. Even if there are plenty of trivial videos there, it’s already making a difference.

Benkler understates the extent to which entrenched industries use regulation to stifle competition out of desperation.

Noam: (1) Benkler sounded much more reasonable in the presentation. User-generated content is important, but it’s only one of many ways, whereas the book seems to say it’s taking over the world. (Here I started to wonder about the shift to “user-generated content” from “peer production.” Isn’t CNN a “user” of information? What ideologies are assumed in this terminology? Benkler also made the point later that “user-generated content” is a subset of peer production, though I’d probably say rather that there’s a Venn diagram overlap between them.)

(2) We should discuss the negatives of networks. Diebold is a great story of unsuppressability, but there are other examples. (Like unsuppressable dissemination of major label music, maybe.) The effects of populism on politics may not be good.

Cohen: One important question is about the interplay between mass commercial culture and what people do with it. Lots of smart people at AOL, Disney et al. realize that mass culture depends on pop culture. They are not so much interested in stomping out participation as in conditioning it on staying within certain channels (venue, good taste, etc., as with the new Warner deal with YouTube that lets Warner remove fan videos instead of sharing revenue from them). Current stakeholders hope to use the internet to intensify and exploit our fascination with television – that’s one vision of interdependence, in which popular desires are coopted and channeled.

But lipsynching on YouTube is the kind of thing 12-year-old girls have always done. Cohen’s aim: The terms of your interaction with pop culture will not be completely framed for you by someone else. We need to research those terms and how they’re changing.

Weiser: Benkler challenges us to take peer production seriously on its own terms rather than assuming that it has to stack up against television (which it can, in some cases).

David Waterman, Indiana: Established media dominate through marketing and distribution, allowing them to raise funds and produce quality materials. Can we see peer production as a talent selection mechanism? It encourages more people to experiment, producing job interviews for the mainstream media, improving the established players.

Benkler: He tries to emphasize that selection is a discrete information problem and peer production is applied to it no less than to the initial flow of information. Agenda-setting can be unbundled from selection and from the ability to generate, store, and distribute information. The comment assumes that the public sphere continues to rely on the same actors’ judgment, but peer production improves the quality of that judgment. Benkler argues that agenda-setting and selection itself is also affected by peer production.

When you’re looking at a relatively limited number of channels, 3 or 500, you still need a relatively broad audience. With millions of people, the selection is inverted: you look for information that’s intensely interesting to engaged people rather than moderately interesting to many.

David Post: Is it coincidental that the internet is itself a consequence of peer production? [Hmm. I seem to remember a debate about this on cyberprof.]

Benkler: Hasn’t thought about that. Because current trends come from bootstrapping on initial capability, it’s worth thinking about.

Mike Nelson, IBM: Nelson is very worried about efforts to inhibit the next generation through standard-setting. ITU is developing the next-gen network, including bottlenecks allowing companies to shut down Skype, YouTube, or other “noncompliants” at the network layer.

Sohn: We aren’t paying enough attention to this in policy circles. [I think that’s what she said but I may have misheard her.]

Stuart Benjamin, Duke: Are we worried about information cascades, creating like-minded neo-Nazi groups? Deliberation leaves people more polarized by reinforcing their views.

Benkler: The one study he knows indicates that right-wing blogs link to left-wing ones marginally better than vice versa. One in six links is across the divide, which is actually pretty good, given that in normal conversation we spend lots of time reinforcing each others’ perceptions. It’s all a question of baseline (Fox or InstaPundit?). Compared to the past fifty years, it’s an improvement.

There is no question that terrorists use the internet. The internet makes human action more effective, and some humans are bad. It’s a policing problem. But will strong copyright (or pay-as-you-go instead of net neutrality) make the internet less useful for terrorists? If the internet gives us a neo-Nazi congregation, have we undermined democracy or complicated policing? At least in the US, Benkler doesn’t think we’ve caused harm to the construction of the public sphere – the concentration may make the neo-Nazis more visible in good ways too.

Polarization means that people don’t talk and don’t see each other. Fringe groups cohering on the fringes, and possibly getting more dangerous, is a separate problem.

Cohen: The question presumes that we can avoid information cascades and get to the right decision. She doesn’t think that is correct. The nice thing is that the open architecture of the internet lets you see that cascade happen. On Nelson’s question about standards: governance questions are being played out in standard-setting. Decisions will have cascade effects on lots of behaviors but we don’t see those decisions. That’s not better.

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