Monthly Archives: January 2013

The YAGNI non-license

I appreciate the punk rock implications of “POSS (Post Open Source Software).” (Back story: @monkchips, Luis Villa and my previous post). But it’s not just punk rock, it’s also an accepted engineering strategy.

“You aren’t gonna need it” (acronym: YAGNI)[3] is a principle of extreme programming (XP) that states a programmer should not add functionality until deemed necessary.[4] Ron Jeffries writes, “Always implement things when you actually need them, never when you just foresee that you need them.”[5] The phrase also appears altered as, “You aren’t going to need it”[6][7] or sometimes interpreted as, “You ain’t gonna need it”.
YAGNI is a principle behind the XP practice of “do the simplest thing that could possibly work” (DTSTTCPW).

Do you really need to attach an open license to your source? How do you know? Why can’t you just make your source available in a completely unfettered form such as a Github public repo?

Doesn’t that form of publishing demolish any future copyright claim you might make? Let’s say you put a project on Github. Somebody forks it, somebody else forks that, before you know it your code is part of somebody else’s product. Now you sue the people who make the product for copyright infringement. Do you really have a case?

You can cause trouble, but it’s hard to imagine you winning. And if this isn’t true, can you tell me of an example of contradictory case law?

The no-warrantee component of the BSD license is similar. BSD basically says “do whatever you want with this code but don’t sue me if it doesn’t work.” But has anybody ever actually tried to sue?

Let’s say you put a half baked piece of code on Github and a developer who works on medical equipment copies it into the code for a defibrillator. Time passes and then, one day, somebody in the emergency room is on the verge of dying. A doctor juices up the defibrillator to heroically save the patient. And then a bug in the original code causes the defibrillator to explode, killing the patient on the spot.

The no-warrantee component of BSD prevents the patient’s family from suing the original developer, you, for posting negligent work on Github. But are they really going to do that? If they are anguished enough to actually try is there any reason to think they’ll win? Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to sue the defibrillator maker? So what purpose does the no-warrantee clause serve?

Anti licensing zeitgeist

Luis Villa: Pushing back against licensing and the permission culture>:

Once an author has used a standard license, their immediate interests are protected – but the political content of not choosing a license is lost. Or to put it another way: if license authors get their wish, and everyone uses a license for all content, then, to the casual observer, it looks like everyone accepts the permission culture. This could make it harder to change that culture – to change the defaults – in the long run.

Are we – particularly authors and evaluators of open licenses – part of the problem of the permission culture? Are we actually responding to the people who use our licenses, if one of their desires is to push back against the need to license? Can we be more creative about expressing distaste for the permission culture, without gumming up the works of sharing too much?

Product vision and economic innovation

Do I believe in Daisy?

I’m willing to give Daisy the benefit of the doubt on growth. I think they could succeed at getting big.

But what I don’t see in their vision is an economic innovation. And the really hard problems for on-demand services are economics.

Songza, for example, is an economic innovation. Playlists have always been an on-demand product, hence one that is unaffordable to provide. Songza’s product innovation was to make playlists work under the rules for non-interactive webcasts. This allows them to pay much lower royalties, and so to have a fighting chance of making a profit.

Sites that aggregate music blogs are an economic innovation. These sites have no royalty bills at all, like a filesharing vendor, but they also have little fear of being sued to death.

YouTube, as a music vendor, is an economic innovation. It serves on-demand music and pays royalties, but pays royalties based on a share of revenue, which frees it from the crippling per-user minimums that services like Daisy must pay. It did this via the product innovation of tying the DMCA process to an opt-in advertising business.

So the question about Daisy is about the business insight behind the product vision. Iovine’s vision for the company is that there is a way to sell more subscriptions. However volume doesn’t change the economics, and if it does then more established vendors like Spotify will use it for competitive advantage.

Maybe there is an economic insight that hasn’t been shared. There’s no reason for the company to tell the world. But with the information we have, we don’t have reason to see Daisy’s chances as any better than MOG, Rdio, Deezer, Rhapsody, Spotify, Yahoo! Music Unlimited, or Napster 2.

Liberating JSTOR

Any researcher affiliated with a big institution already had access to the articles in JSTOR. It’s the independent researchers who have been locked out.

Personally I have followed a trail of searching up to the locked door at JSTOR many times. It always disgusted me.

People doing research for its own sake are doing something great and beautiful. They are not drones, not on automatic, not following the path of office politics.

These are the people who needed JSTOR to be liberated.

Knowledge not content

Jeff Jarvis is against content:

I took Swartz’ action not as a protest but instead as an object lesson in the true value of content. We from the content business think our value is encased in our content. That is why we sell it, build walls around it, protect it (and, yes, I will still happily sell you mine). Inside the Gutenberg Parenthesis, that is the only model we have known.

But the net has taught me that content gains value as it travels from person to person, just as it used to, before Gutenberg, when it wasn’t content but was just information.

Google and Facebook have taught me that content’s worth may not be intrinsic but instead may lie in its ability to generate signals about people, build relationships with them, and deliver relevance and value to them. In that, I think, is a new business model for news, one focused on value delivered over value protected, on service over content. For content is merely that which fills something—a page or a minute—while service is that which accomplishes something for someone.

Lessig and company have taught me that content’s value can lie in what it spawns and inspires. Locked away, unseen, unused, not discussed, not linked, it might as well not exist.

David Weinberger has taught me that knowledge confined in a book at a single address on a shelf is limited.

And Aaron Swartz has taught me that content must not be the end game for knowledge. Why does knowledge become an article in a journal—or that which fills a book or a publication—except for people to use it? And only when they use it does content become the tool it should be. Not using knowledge is an offense to it. If it cannot fly free beyond the confines of content, knowledge cannot reach its full value through collaboration, correction, inspiration, and use.

I’m not saying that content wants to be free. I am asking whether knowledge wants to be content.

I think this is an elegant distinction. It’s an intuitive way of drawing a line between free speech and commercial speech.

Why does Daisy exist? Here’s why.

Here’s my guess for the vision behind Ian Rogers going to MOG/Beats/Daisy: much tighter integration between the content business and subscription service. The service will have business deals to heavily promote artists. It’s similar to paying radio stations to play a single, but rather than pay them, the label will own one.

If the Daisy service can break even and attract a reasonably large number of users, it will become a marketing platform. It may even become a profit center for the label if it can avoid giving too much of the revenue to other labels.

What did the MOG acquisition cost? I would guess 20 million or so. I think I’ve seen that number around, but if I’m just making it up I bet I’m within ten million. That’s a reasonable budget for a publicity machine with so much potential.

The Daisy service itself will be marketed like a music product. Having a sub will be cultural identity just like those red headphones or the white earbuds before them. Rappers will all have subscriptions. It will be design-forward and style-forward. It will be perky, gym-toned, safely dangerous. Compare to this heinously unhip MOG ad.

Or, that’s Iovine’s vision. I can’t say for Ian or the investors.

Related: Jimmy Iovine on why he can make the on-demand streaming business work:

Why tech companies can’t succeed at music subscriptions:

I was shocked at how culturally inept most consumer electronics
companies are. And what I also learned is that you can build Facebook,
you can build YouTube, you can build Twitter — you can be a tech
company and do that. But those [sites] program themselves.
Subscription needs a programmer. It needs culture. And tech guys can’t
do that. They don’t even know who to hire. They’re utilities.

Why Beats/Daisy will be different:

[Other music subscription] companies, these services, all lack
curation. They call it curation; there’s no curation. That’s what we
did as a record label, we curated. There’s 150 white rappers in
America; we served you one.
We are heavy on curation, and we believe it’s a combination of human
and math. But it’s a give and take.

Right now, somebody’s giving you 12 million songs, and you give them
your credit card, and they tell you “good luck.” You need to have some
kind of help. I’m going to offer you a guide. You don’t have to use
it, but it’s going to be there, and it’s going to be a trusted voice,
and it’s going to be really good.

What changed?

Ian’s getting back into the on-demand streaming business. So here’s the interesting question. When he took over Yahoo music, Yahoo’s on-demand streaming business went away. Now he’s going there again. So what’s different?

  1. He might feel that Yahoo’s service was too far ahead of the market, and the market has now caught up.
  2. He might feel that costs have come under control since then, so that it’s now possible to make a healthy business.
  3. He might feel that Beats is the right parent for such a product and Yahoo was the wrong one. Maybe the company has more leverage in the market, or more plausible marketing to consumers, or the company can deliver higher quality.
  4. He and Beats might have a new, yet undisclosed product vision which changes the game. What they’ve been talking about is curation, and it’s reasonably likely that all parties really believe that.