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15 Oct


ATT & Cargo Cults

October 15, 2012 | By |

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia Image by One Laptop Per Child (CC by)


As BoingBoing reports, a leaked memo indicates that AT&T will introduce a creepy and stupid policy: If a user is suspected of copyright infringement (by which means is unclear – Hadopi style maybe?) repeatedly, AT&T will block access to Youtube and other sites and instead re-direct that user to an “on-line education tutorial”, and only after completing said tutorial will allow their users again to access the web as they please.

All the enforcement issues and the details of this particular instance aside, the political implications of what’s been going on in the world of copyright enforcement over the last 10-15 years are so creepy and skewed that it’s hard to believe we’re still even talking about this. And that a company would still even consider the option to screw their customers without a legal warrant or equivalent, just like that. When did that become acceptable?

I’m guessing that in 10 years or so we’ll look back at this era and laugh about it like today we laugh about Cargo Cults.

Unless, that is, we won’t be laughing about it because this is still going on, but then it’d be a world I wouldn’t want to live in.

Catch up to the 21st century some time soon & find business models where you get paid voluntarily without suing or surveilling anyone?

More on Boingboing.

27 Aug


Share your instagrams / defaults matter

August 27, 2012 | By |

by David R. Politi, licensed under Creative Commons by-nc license

I love the idea of, a tool to license your Instagram photos under a Creative Commons license. It’s a simple way to share your photos, not as in over-share your personal live but as in allow others to build on (and with) your creative works.

Defaults matter: Since most services don’t allow for easy CC-licensing (Flickr being one of the few services that implemented that a long time ago), most photos uploaded aren’t shared under licenses that allow for example bloggers to post a photo on their personal blogs to illustrate their articles. Like the wonderfully gross one you see above, courtesy of David R. Politi, who licensed it as Creative Commons by-nc via

More startups should think about the long play and the role they play in the larger ecosystem. Implementing a tool to license content under more permissive licenses than the get out of my backyard model that is “all rights reserved” (which the law defaults to, if the author doesn’t state a different intent) might bring some extra work with it, but it also allows for easy, massive contributions to the shared commons that we all on the web profit from.

Until then, I’m glad that simple tools like help us with a workaround. My personal workaround so far is, by the way, via the fantastic IFTTT: IFTTT checks for new uploads in my Instagram stream, then uploads them to my Flickr account. There, as mentioned above, my default license is Creative Commons (by-nc-sa), so you can use my photos for non-commercial uses like your personal blog. Plus, unlike at Instagram that is built primarily to make instantaneous sharing easy, it’s easier to search Flickr streams and embed photos. Admittedly, it takes some effort to pipe your photos across the web like that.

So I’m quite happy about tools that make sharing easier, and that hopefully get more companies to build sharing into their products, in responsible, user-controlled, non-creepy ways.

07 Dec


Readmill launches, rocks, makes Kindle Highlights useful

December 7, 2011 | By |

I love my Kindle. It’s a fantastic device for reading. For anything else, it’s ridiculously bad. The device comes with a keyboard and connects to the interwebs, yet trying to share quotes from the Kindle with the web at large is a pain.

Amazon implemented a feature called “Highlights“. Yet, it’s not entirely clear what they are for, and they’re awkward at best. Fred Wilson described how he hacks around the Kindle’s limitations. My friend Martin shared his Kindle woes. (Speaking of feature requests: As Martin pointed out, currently Amazon only lets you share highlights from books bought through Amazon; any document you transferred to your Kindle in another way won’t do. Change that, please, Amazon?) There’s many of us who would love to use Highlights, if it got just a little more love from Amazon than it currently does.

Enter Readmill, which officially launched today. (Congrats, guys – fantastic job!) And here’s a way to get the Kindle Highlights to where they belong: a reading community.

Today we take Readmill, tomorrow the world! Kidding. But once your quotes are inside Readmill, they actually become useful, both for use within Readmill and to export it from there to other places via the Readmill API and integration of other services like Tumblr. ‘s good! Go sign up.

07 Sep


Design Made In Germany Magazine

September 7, 2010 | By |

It’s rare that I post a random design piece or the like in this blog. But I do urge you to check out the Design Made In Germany magazine:

Why? Not only is it a good magazine. They also got the web part exactly right: The layout adjusts fluidly and smoothly to all screen sizes (including mobile). The web version is playful and gorgeous. There’s feedback buttons on every page. And it’s all shareable. In fact, it’s all made to share. There’s the standard tweet & “i like” buttons, but you can even (like I did above) embed the whole magazine in your website (embed codes).

The whole thing is one consistent experience across all platforms. Great, great, great!

07 Sep


Arduino and Makers at atoms&bits

September 7, 2009 | By |

Help! Geekend!

Today I made an LED blink by pushing a button.

You might ask youself: Err, what? Why are you blogging this?

No, I haven’t turned crazy or bored, so no worries. What happened is that I eventually got around to getting out my Arduino:

Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.

I feel like I’m somewhat late to the game, and to unpacking the little Arduino starter kit (kind of like this one) I had sitting on my desk ever since I got it at a recent Art+Arduino workshop organized by Artuino and Tinkersoup in Berlin where a bunch of folks tinkered with low and high tech ranging from little fans to bubble machines to hacked music instruments. (Thanks a lot, Arnon & Anton for putting that together, as well as Alex for pointing me that way! Plenty of photos in this Flickr pool.)

But late or not, eventually I hooked up the Arduino to my computer and wrote the first few lines of code that first made a LED blink, then blink faster, then blink when I pushed a button. Three iterations within a few minutes, that’s enough to feel good.

More importantly though, it was one of these small things that nonetheless felt somehow significant. Like the first steps into something new tend to do. So however late to the game I am, I’m psyched to eventually start my tinkering.

“For the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things.”

The quote above is Cory Doctorow’s dedicated to in his new serialized novel Makers. And my little Arduino session reminded me very much of this story (parts of which were published a few years earlier on, where I first read them). Makers is a declaration of love to tinkering, as well as a glimpse into an aspect of the near future that could very well change the world by quite a bit: How decentralized, open-sourced production of hardware – made possible by the net as well as 3d printing and related technologies – will lead to real innovation, and how the sharing economy will fuel all that.

Just like the Arduino hardware is open source and maybe produced and hacked by anyone, the novel Makers is released under Creative Commons license so that it maybe spread and remixed freely. Starting 27 October you can also buy the bound book (,

To cut a long story short: There is plenty of fun in this kind of tinkering. “Do Epic Shit” is what it says on a sticker on my laptop. It’s a quote I found in some places on the web, origin unknown to me. This is where I first noticed it. (Feel free to google the real source here.) “Do Epic Shit” is also part of what motivated me to start (along with all these nice folks) atoms&bits Festival: If you want to attend awesome events, why not start one? (Obvious though that might be, it’s one of many things that became obvious to me when I attended reboot11, one of the most inspiring conferences I’ve ever been to.) Not coincidentally, there’ll be plenty of hands-on Arduino and tinker action, too, over at atoms&bits – particularly the weekend of 26/27 September in Berlin.

Today I made an LED blink by pushing a button. Who knows what’s next.

ps. Michelle is putting together a reading of Makers at our coworking space Studio70 for atoms&bits Festival. If you happen to be in town, make sure to drop by: 22 Sept, 8pm (official event link).

15 Feb


Adopt a word: Prandicle (and why the Oxford English Dictionary is doomed)

February 15, 2009 | By |

Ever wondered what happens to old words that get out of use? Well, I guess they just disappear, usually. So far, the official way of this happening was (again, I’m guessing here) when they got edited out of the dictionary of choice. So the Oxford English Dictionary launched a lovely campaign, plus website, called Save The Words. There, you can adopt a word and pledge to “to use this word, in conversation and correspondence, as frequently as possible to the very best of my ability.” I love the idea, and adopted the word prandicle, meaning a “small meal”. So from now on I can say stuff like “Oh dear, shall we have a prandicle in the near future?” (Neat, eh?)


There’s two things that struck me as odd, though. First up, I checked if the word was on Wikipedia. Turns out, it’s not at this point. I wanted to add it, but one of the governing rules of Wikipedia is not to write an article that consists of just a sentence, or a link, or with weak references. So I tried to go the way of all initial research, i.e. I googled for “prandicle” with seriously limited success. The word hardly exists outside the context of this campaign website. Makes sense, I guess, after all that’s why the campaign to save the words was started. Still, it’s curious to see how a word could completely disappear because it was out of use before the web emerged.

So I wanted to go back to the Oxford English Dictionary ( to find out more about my linguistic adoptee, and that’s when the second problem struck me: The OED is completely hidden behind the paywall. I should have known that, after all that’s party of why Wikipedia is so incredibly successful: The traditional dictionaries aren’t accessible from the web. At the OED, you can’t even get a simple free trial unless you’re an institution. Private users are required to pay 195 British Pounds (roughly 280$ / 220€) plus VAT. Upfront. Not even a test. Is this a joke?

Of course you could come to different conclusions. Either you say “ok, premium content, I’ll happily pay more than 200 Euros per year for a good dictionary. It’s how it works”. Or you go the directly opposite direction, which was my initial reaction. That is, you close the window. It’s a single click, it’s free, and you know very well that all words that are actually used are in the Wikipedia. (I double checked for “prandicle” in an old “Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary from school days, and it wasn’t covered there either.)

Like this, the OED is simply doomed, unless it can live off institutional subscribers completely, which in the long run I doubt. They need to find a way to live off the web, and offer their basic services for free, or they’ll simple cease to play any role in the dictionary space, or even cease to exist. Maybe it’s not too late.

Still, prandicle is a nice word. Please, OED, don’t let it go to waste by hiding it behind a paywall.

(via AlienTed)

Update: The Enyclopedia Britannica seems to have a better approach. Sadly, they don’t know “prandicle” either. Anyone with references to put the word up on Wikipedia, please get in touch ;) Update: Wordia has a nice collection of words, described mostly in videos. (Thanks, Stuart Brown!)

13 Dec


A Second Layer for Commercial Use of Creative Commons Content?

December 13, 2008 | By |

Update: In her comment, Nicole pointed me to CCPlus, which seems to solve most of the problems laid out in this post. Thanks!

An open question: Would it make sense to add a layer of licensing (or rather: meta-licensing) to Creative Commons that would allow easier (speak: quicker) use of CC-licensed content for commercial use?

As this may seem kind of odd out of context (particular coming from a person who’s very much against overhead of any kind usually), please allow me to explain what I mean, and an example. What I’m talking about here is the commercial use of content licensed under the non-commercial license. (Yes, that’s right. Stay with me, I’ll explain.)

Also, please note that this is an absolutely open question, I am not sure myself which side I stand on here. If you know any pros or cons, please share.

Image by Flickr user PinkDispatcher released under CC by sa 2.0 On the right, Berlin Congress Center (BCC) where Web 2.0 Expo Europe 08 took place, and where we briefly discussed the issue after a Creative Commons presentation. Image by PinkDispatcher released under CC by sa 2.0.


The problem: Professionals can’t use CC non-commercial content

A lot of content that is licensed under CC is under the non-commercial clause, i.e. it’s allowed to use it for personal or other non-commercial uses, but not to make any money off of it.

How much content is released under CC non-commercial and how much under CC attribution (that allows for commercial use) I couldn’t find any info about, but a quick Flickr search for “Berlin” turned up these results: CC-licensed images: 2,153,590; out of those allowed for commercial use: 85,662.

(By the way, it’s not always easy to determine what’s non-commercial use, but that’s being discussed.)

So as a first step that’s good for all involved as more people can use those contents as long as they do so for personal or non-profit reasons. However, part of the charm of Creative Commons is that it allows amateurs as well as professionals to get more exposure while retaining some control over their contents and at the same time contributing to an ever-growing pool of accessible content that’s available for cultural production of all sorts. (Which is way cool, by the way.)

More exposure, to get to an example, could be having your photo printed in a newspaper.

The example: A journalist would like to use a CC-licensed photo

A journalist would like to use a photo licensed under CC. He favors free culture, but more importantly it’s much cheaper than running a photo from the wire and choice is much bigger. But the image is licensed under CC non-commercial, so the journalist needs to get the photographer’s permission to use it legally.

And here’s the problem – working under a tight deadline, it’s basically impossible to wait for the photographer’s consent.

The photographer, though, might love to see his photo in the newspaper. She wouldn’t mind making a few bucks with it, but it’s not her primary motivation to put the photo up. She just put it under the “non-commercial” license so that she’d get some control over who used it commercially. (She’d rather not have a large multi-national corporation run it on their ads.)

So what was intended to protect her photo from abuse turned against both her intentions and against the journalist.

Would another opt-in commercial layer help?

Maybe – just maybe! – another lay of meta-licensing would help. The option to say: I allow non-commercial use of my works for anyone. But I also wouldn’t mind commercial use as long as I can veto it in case the wrong folks want to use it. (“The wrong folks” here, of course, just meaning anyone the creator doesn’t want to be associated with.)

Creative Commons isn’t primarily about commercial success, but it sure helps the cause of CC to encourage commercial use. (The CC Casestudies Project collects CC success stories, also commercial ones.)

So how could this look like? Very naively, I imagine it implemented as a tickbox: Yes, in theory I allow commercial use of this photo, but only after I get notified first. As soon as someone wants to use it and clicks the corresponding button, please do send me a text message/email/whatever alert. This is a channel that I can guarantee to check with top priority, so that if I don’t veto the action within 30 minutes I agree to this photos use.

Of course there’s plenty of loose ends here and aspects not thought through to the end, and there’s plenty of arguments against this model. (Simplicity for one, and a more fundamental push for more open sharing.)

So the question is: Would this make sense for Flickr & Co to implement, and what speaks for and against it?