Provisioning for the Next Year

by Doc Searls

As the year's end draws near, it is customary for journalists to list
Top Stories from the year past and to make predictions for the year to

But those are passive activities. They're what professional bystanders
do: play-by-play, color commentary, op-edification.

Journalists don't have to stand by any more. Their choices no longer are
limited to writing or talking about What's Going On. They can be
involved now. They can have effects.

I learned about effects early in my career with Linux
. Even though almost nobody in the Linux community knew who I was--and even
though I had never written a word of code--my involvement was welcomed.
And, I quickly learned how to be a player rather than a bystander. My
role was helping the business world understand what Linux and open
source are about. Hard to tell how much influence I've had, but there's
been more than enough both to satisfy me and keep me challenged.

In the old days--the mid-late 1990s--"world domination" was an article
of faith. Now it's a fact of life. There are still struggles, of course.
But the ones that matter most are not at the operating system level.
Linux is solid infrastructure now. For many--perhaps most--computing
purposes, it's a default first choice. That choice will only get easier
to make as Linux evolves.

The nature of Linux evolution was one of the biggest things I learned in
2005 and want to learn more about in 2006. As I reported in my November
10th SuitWatch (which also ran on the Linux Journal Web site, see
Resources), Linux isn't a product. Nor is it just a development project.
It's a species. It evolves over time in an adaptive way. Specifically:

Kernel development is not about Moore's Law. It's about natural
selection, which is reactive, not proactive. Every patch to the
kernel is adaptive, responding to changes in the environment as well
as to internal imperatives toward general improvements on what the
species is and does.

I said a lot more than that, all based on what I learned from sitting in
on talks by Andrew Morton and Ted Ts'o and especially in conversation
with Andrew.

Here's another thing I already knew but learned more deeply this
past year: the most productive journalism isn't final. It isn't the stuff
editorializers and op-edifiers harrumph from their columns and features.
Nor is it even the factual reporting done by editors doing their best to
be objective. Although that work is necessary in the extreme, it isn't
enough. If what matters most in life is progress and growth and
improvement of ourselves and our societies, we need journalism to be
speculative as well as factual, provisional as well as final. After all,
that's how conversations move forward. And that's how minds grow and
change in the process.

What I wrote about the kernel being a species was provisional. I was
floating an idea. It happened to be one I believed was true, but it also
was an unfinished one. It needed ratification by real kernel hackers,
and it needed further explanation.

I got the former when this appeared on Greg Kroah-Hartman's blog:

...Doc Searls has penned what I think is one of the most insightful
descriptions about what the Linux kernel really is, and how it is
being changed over time.

Go read it now, I can't recommend it enough (see Resources).

I got the latter when Greg wrote this on the linux-elitists list:

...for the majority of us, it isn't a "us vs. them" type thing.
Personally, if Solaris and Windows takes over the world, and
everyone stops putting Linux in the "enterprise" machine rooms, and
it goes back to being a "hobbyist" operating system, it will not
bother me (but it will probably force me to get a new job, which
will be quite sad.)

Remember, Linux is a species[1], and we aren't fighting anyone here,
we are merely evolving around everyone else, until they aren't left
standing because the whole ecosystem changed without them realizing it.

If it becomes pressing that stuff like zfs and dtrace are good and
wanted for Linux, it will happen, just give it time. I'm in no rush.

Oh, and if you want to slap some backsides, go pester that company
over in Redmond about ExpressCard support. Because of them, I can't
get any BIOS vendors to actually implement it properly so that Linux
users can use it. We already have the Linux code in the kernel and
working, and companies are shipping hardware...

The factual-reporter side of me wants to know more about what's up with
the BIOS vendors, of course. Meanwhile, the provisional journalist in me
wants to know more about how Linux evolves and how the market evolves
along with it.

Because Linux isn't the only thing evolving here. The play of influence
between species and ecosystem goes beyond symbiosis. BIOS vendors will
adapt as well--and to forces other than their long-time partners at
Microsoft. How soon and in what ways? We'll see, I suppose. And
hopefully before the end of 2006.

There are other provisional insights, ideas and observations I've come
up with in the last year. What I want to do in 2006 is pull them
together somehow, because I believe they are all related, and I'm
optimistic about progress if we can thread the pearls. Here they are:

1. Markets

I'll probably go to my grave being remembered best for "markets are
conversations", the first thesis of
The Cluetrain
, as well as
Chapter Four in the book by the same name.
That three-word clause was also provisional. It was so provisional, in
fact, that it sat still for years before Chris Locke, David Weinberger
and Rick Levine added fresh mass and torque to it, and the whole thing
snowballed. To me, however, the most important statement in
Cluetrain was one Chris Locke wrote:

we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human
beings - and our reach exceeds your grasp, deal with it.

I don't know for sure about the other guys, but this statement did more
than anything else to adrenalize me for writing
Cluetrain. And it still
charges me up, because it's still not quite true. In the book we said:

The first markets were markets. Not bulls, bears, or invisible
hands. Not battlefields, targets, or arenas. Not demographics,
eyeballs, or seats. Most of all, not consumers.

The first markets were filled with people, not abstractions or
statistical aggregates; they were the places where supply met demand
with a firm handshake. Buyers and sellers looked each other in the
eye, met, and connected. The first markets were places for exchange,
where people came to buy what others had to sell--and to talk....

Conversation is a profound act of humanity. So once were markets.

We went on to claim that this fundamental understanding of markets was
interrupted by the industrial revolution and all but forgotten in the
industrial age that followed. We asserted that the Net and the Web were
restoring real markets, natural markets, to the world. We believed that
the reach of customers would exceed the grasp of marketers and that
vast new powers would come to the demand side of markets, including the
power to supply--and not just in the form of tire-kicking information
shared worldwide.

In some categories this has come to pass in a big way. For example, to
call a digital photographer a "consumer" is absurd. Digital
photographers consume almost nothing, while producing like factories.
Where film prints were shared once or twice with friends or relatives
and then damned to storage in albums and attics, digital prints are
vetted to the world on the likes of Flickr, where they can be
reproduced, sold or whatever. (One of my own Flickr photos now graces
the sides of trucks for a company in Boston.)

In other ways, however, the differences between customers and consumers
remain an academic distinction. For example, airlines and car rental
agencies conspire to create an on-line experience that replicates the
airport experience in which travelers have been trapped for decades.
Ideally, you would like to present your credentials and preferences to a
whole market category and have vendors compete for your business.
Instead, you're forced to flit from agency to agency like a bee buzzing
between flowers, looking for the best car and the best deal.

Recently I talked to the top marketing guy at one of the car rental
agencies. When I told him my ambitions for "fully empowered customers"
that could engage several agencies at the same time, and that this would
be good for his business, he was horrified by the idea. To him,
customers were consumers, period. "We're in a tonnage business", he
said. He made it clear that his company didn't want to get any more
personal than it needed to.

So I think there is undone work here. First, we need to understand what
networked--conversational--markets really are. I think they are so
different from anything we saw in the vendor-dominated industrial age
that we have to all but zero-base our new understanding of them. I also
think there must be some original and creative work being done by
economists on the subject. In fact, I'm told there is. But I haven't
found it yet. So that's a project for this next year.

2. Identity

At the end of last year, Steve Gillmor was short of guests for his
weekly Gillmor Gang podcast. I volunteered to gather a bunch of folks
who were active in the growing user-centric identity conversation. A
large number showed up, and the result was an "Identity Gang" that is
now driving a bunch of products and standards forward. It even has a
clubhouse wiki at Harvard's Berkman Center.

The core premise for all the gang members (including Kim Cameron of
Microsoft, whose Identity Metasystem was the subject of my September
Linux For Suits feature) is that healthy markets depend on
fully empowered individuals, and those individuals cannot operate
at full power unless they control their own identities.

Independent identity is not only a huge subject on its own, but one
highly tied to the market topic. Right now, even to many free market
advocates, "free" means "your choice of silo". And nothing does more to
trap customers in silos, and relegate them to consumer status, than
identity systems that vendors rather than customers control. Today, our
wallets and purses are thick with decks of credit and membership cards,
each representing silos to which we belong--and in which we are held
captive to a large degree.

There is a connection between independent identities and healthy
markets. We need to explore and build out that connection. This is
another thing I want to work on this next year.

3. Metaphor

Nothing I wrote in the last year--or since Cluetrain--caused more buzz
than "Saving the Net: How to Keep the Carriers From Flushing the Net
Down the Tubes", which appeared November 16 on the Linux Journal Web
site. In it I detailed the carriers' plans to turn the Net into a
private transport system for favored cargo and for fencing off the Net's
wide open market spaces, much as the US fenced Native Americans into
reservations. I also detailed an optimistic alternative, which almost
nobody commented on, probably because there's a preponderance of
evidence favoring the pessimistic scenario. Then I suggested a third
scenario: fighting with words and not just deeds. I said the main reason
Larry Lessig and his colleagues lost Eldred vs. Ashcroft was that the
other side worked better metaphors. Copyright was simple property, they
argued. Against both law and evidence, the other side prevailed in the
Supreme Court, 7-2.

I suggested that we can save the Net we know by conceiving and
describing it more as a place--an environment where free markets
thrive--than as a transport system for "content".

Again, this idea was and is provisional. There is a lot of work to do
here, and it has to be done by real linguists, real economists, real
lawyers and real technologists--and not just by journalists such as
myself. This next year I want to reach out to folks in all those groups
to help substantiate a popular understanding of the Net that supports
free markets and not, once again, "your choice of silo".

There is a lot of experience and thinking in the Free Software and Open
Source communities that will come in handy here.

4. The Live Web

"The Live Web" was a term coined by my son Allen, back when he was
working on his own start-up: a service that would allow anybody to get
any question answered immediately by somebody out there on the Web.
(He's still working on that, for Wondir, which recently was purchased by
Steve Case's new company, Revolution.) When Allen first told me about
his idea, I realized instantly that the Web we knew and that we
described in real estate terms--sites with locations and addresses that
we design, develop and construct--was like the trunk of the Web's tree.
It was basic, fundamental. It also would need to support live activity
as well; activity that was different in kind from the Static Web we know
through the search engines. The Live Web would begin with the
journalistic stuff we do on the Web: write, publish, author and
syndicate. This last few months I realized that the last of
those--syndication--had in fact defined the Live Web as a branch of the
Static Web. For evidence, look no farther than the Live Web search
engines--Bloglines, Blogpulse, Feedster, Pubsub, Icerocket and
Technorati--plus the Live Web search engines at Google and Yahoo. The
latter especially testify to a branching of sorts.

The Live Web meme is just starting to gain traction. By whatever we end
up calling it, I'm still sure it's real, important and critical to
the first three topics as well--plus the countless new technologies and
standards that will build on the infrastructure that wouldn't be there
if it weren't for Linux.

So that's another understanding I'm interested in helping push forward
in the next year.

Am I missing anything? Far more than I'm getting, I'm sure. Which is why
I look forward to learning--from many of you--as much as I can.
Report 3: New Species Discovered at Sea"

Linux is a

, the September 2005 Linux For Suits Feature

"Saving the

Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal, for
which he writes the Linux for Suits column. He also presides
over Doc Searls' IT
, which is published by SSC, the publisher of
Linux Journal.

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