Tag Archives: canada

Mick Jagger & why copyright doesn't always help artists

I recently read this wonderful interview with Mick Jagger on the BBC website which had this fantastic extract about the impact of the internet on the music industry. What I love about this interview is that Mick Jagger is, of course, about as old a legend as you can find in the music industry.

…I’m talking about the internet.

But that’s just one facet of the technology of music. Music has been aligned with technology for a long time. The model of records and record selling is a very complex subject and quite boring, to be honest.

But your view is valid because you have a huge catalogue, which is worth a lot of money, and you’ve been in the business a long time, so you have perspective.

Well, it’s all changed in the last couple of years. We’ve gone through a period where everyone downloaded everything for nothing and we’ve gone into a grey period it’s much easier to pay for things – assuming you’ve got any money.

Are you quite relaxed about it?

I am quite relaxed about it. But, you know, it is a massive change and it does alter the fact that people don’t make as much money out of records.

But I have a take on that – people only made money out of records for a very, very small time. When The Rolling Stones started out, we didn’t make any money out of records because record companies wouldn’t pay you! They didn’t pay anyone!

Then, there was a small period from 1970 to 1997, where people did get paid, and they got paid very handsomely and everyone made money. But now that period has gone.

So if you look at the history of recorded music from 1900 to now, there was a 25 year period where artists did very well, but the rest of the time they didn’t.

So what does this have to do with copyright? Well, remember, the record labels and other content distributors (not creators!) keep saying how artists will starve unless there is copyright. But understand that for the entire 110-year period that Mick Jagger is referencing there was copyright… and yet artists were paid to record LPs and records for only a small fraction (less than a quarter) of that period. During the rest of the time, the way they made money was by performing. There is nothing about a stronger copyright regime that ensures artists (the creators!) will receive for more money or compensation.

So when the record labels say that without stricter copyright legislation artists will suffer, what they really mean to say is one specific business model – one that requires distributors and that they happen to do well by – will suffer. Artists, who traditionally never received much from the labels (and even during this 25 year period only a tiny few profited handsomely) have no guarantees that with stricter copyright they will see more revenue. No, rather, the distributors will simply own their content for longer and have greater control over its use.

This country is about to go into a dark, dark place with the new copyright legislation. I suspect we will end up stalled for 30 years and cultural innovation will shift to other parts of the world where creativity, remix culture and forms of artistic expression are kept more free.

Again, as Lessig says:

  • Creativity and innovation always builds on the past.
  • The past always tries to control the creativity that builds upon it.
  • Free societies enable the future by limiting this power of the past.
  • Ours is less and less a free society.

Welcome to copyright reform. A Canada where the past controls the creativity that gets built upon it.

Canada 3.0 & The Collapse of Complex Business Models

If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage everyone to go read Clay Shirky’s The Collapse of Complex Business Models. I just read it while finishing up this piece and it articulates much of what underpins it in the usual brilliant Shirky manner.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on Canada 3.0 (think SXSWi meets government and big business) since the conference’s end. I want to open by saying there were a number of positive highlights. I came away with renewed respect and confidence in the CRTC. My sense is net neutrality and other core internet issues are well understood and respected by the people I spoke with. Moreover, I was encouraged by what some public servants had to say regarding their vision for Canada’s digital economy. In many corners there were some key people who seemed to understand what policy, legal and physical infrastructure needs to be in place to ensure Canada’s future success.

But these moments aside, the more I reflect on the conference the more troubled I feel. I can’t claim to have attended every session but I did attend a number and my main conclusion is striking: Canada 3.0 was not a conference primarily about Canada’s digital future. Canada 3.0 was a conference about Canada’s digital commercial future. Worse, this meant the conference failed on two levels. Firstly, it failed because people weren’t trying to imagine a digital future that would serve Canadians as creators, citizens and contributors to the internet and what this would mean to commerce, democracy and technology. Instead, my sense was that the digital future largely being contemplated was one where Canadians consumed services over the internet. This, frankly, is the least important and interesting part of the internet. Designing a digital strategy for companies is very different than designing one for Canadians.

But, secondly, even when judged in commercial terms, the conference, in my mind, failed. This is not because the wrong people were there, or that the organizers and participants were not well-intentioned. Far from it. Many good and many necessary people were in attendance (at least as one could expect when hosting it in Stratford).

No, the conference’s main problem was that, at the core of many conversations lay an untested assumption: That we can manage the transition of broadcast media (by this I mean movies, books, newspaper & magazines, television) as well as other industries from an (a) broadcast economy to a (b) networked/digital economy. Consequently, the central business and policy challenge is how do we help these businesses survive this transitionary period and get “b” happening asap so that the new business models work.

But the key assumption is that the institutions – private and public – that were relevant in the broadcast economy can transition. Or that the future will allow for a media industry that we could even recognize. While I’m open to the possibility that some entities may make it, I’m more convinced that most will not. Indeed, it isn’t even clear that a single traditional business model, even radically adapted, can adjust to a network world.

What no one wants to suggest is that we may not be managing a transition. We may be managing death.

The result: a conference that doesn’t let those who have let go of the past roam freely. Instead they must lug around all the old modes like a ball and chain.

Indeed, one case in point was listening to managers of the Government of Canada’s multimedia fund share how, to get funding, a creator would need to partner with a traditional broadcaster. To be clear, if you want to kill content, give it to a broadcaster, they’ll play it once or twice, then put it in a vault and one will ever see it again. Furthermore, a broadcaster has all the infrastructure, processes and overhead that make them unworkable and unprofitable in the online era. Why saddle someone new with all this? Ultimately this is a program designed to create failures and worse, pollute the minds of emerging multimedia artists with all sorts of broadcast baggage. All in the belief that it will help bridge the transition. It won’t.

The ugly truth is that just like the big horse buggy makers didn’t survive the transition to the automobile, or that many of the creators of large complex mainframe computers didn’t survive the arrival of the personal computer, our traditional media environment is loaded with the walking dead. Letting them control the conversation, influence policy and shape the agenda is akin to asking horse drawn carriage makers write the rules for the automobile era. But this is exactly what we are doing. The copyright law, the pillar of this next economy, is being written not by the PMO, but by the losers of the last economy. Expect it to slow our development down dramatically.

And that’s why Canada 3.0 isn’t about planning for 3.0 at all. More like trying to save 1.0.

Digital Economy Strategy: Why we risk asking the wrong question

Far better an approximate answer to the right question, than the exact answer to the wrong question, which can always be made precise….

John Tukey

I’ve always admired Paul Erdos, the wandering mathematician who I first learned about by reading his obituary in the Economist back in 1996 (and later learned was a friend and frequent house guest of my grandfather’s). What I remember best about that economist obituary was how one of his students talking about his genius not lying in his capacity to produce mathematical proofs, but in his ability to ask the right question, which set events in motion so that the proof could be found at all.

It is with that idea in mind that I turn to the Canada 3.0 conference here in Stratford Ontario where I’ve been invited to take part in a meeting with industry types and policy leaders to talk about what Canada must do to become a leading digital nation by 2017. The intent is to build on last year’s Stratford Declaration and develop an action plan.

So what do I think we need to do? First, I think we need to ask the right question.

I think we need to stop talking about a digital as the future.

This whole conversation isn’t about being a digital country. It isn’t about a future where everything is going to be digitized. That isn’t the challenge. It is already happening. It’s done. It’s over. Canada is already well on its way to becoming digital. Anyone who uses MS Word to write a document is digital. I’ve been submitting papers using a word processor since high school (this comes from a place of privilege, something I’ll loop back to). Worse, talking about digital means talking about technology like servers or standards or business models like Bell, or Google or Music Producers and all the other things that don’t matter.

The dirty truth is that Canada’s digital future isn’t about digital. What is special isn’t that everything is being digitized. It’s that everything is being connected. The web isn’t interesting because you can read it on a computer screen. It is special because of hyperlinks – that information is connected to other information (again, something the newspaper have yet to figure out). So this is a conversation about connectivity. It is about the policy and legal structure needed when me, you, information, and places, when everything, everywhere is connected to everything else, everywhere persistently. That’s the big change.

So if a digital economy strategy is really about a networked economy strategy, and what makes a networked economy work better is stronger and more effective connectivity, then the challenge isn’t about what happens when something shifts from physical to digital. It is about how we promote the connectivity of everything to everything in a fair manner. How do we make ourselves the most networked country, in the physical, legally and policy terms. This is the challenge.

Viewed in this frame. We do indeed have some serious challenges and are already far behind many others when it comes to connectivity if we want to be a global leader by 2017. So what are the key issues limiting or preventing connectivity and what are the consequences of a networked economy we need to be worried about? How about:

  • Expensive and poor broadband and mobile access in (in both remote and urban communities)
  • Throttling and threats to Net Neutrality
  • Using copyright as a vehicle to limit the connectivity of information (ACTA) or threaten peoples right to connect
  • Using copyright as a vehicle to protect business models built on limiting peoples capacity to connect to innovations and ideas
  • Government’s that don’t connect their employees to one another and the public
  • It’s also about connective rights. Individual rights to limit connectivity to privacy, and right to freely associate and disassociate

So what are the three things we need to start thinking about immediately?

If connectivity is the source of innovation, wealth and prosperity then how do we ensure that Canadians are the most connected citizens in the world?

1)    a net neutral broadband and mobile market place where the costs of access are the lowest in the world.

That is would be a source of enormous competitive advantage and a critical stepping stone to ensuring access to education and an innovation fueled economy. Sadly, we have work to do. Take for example, the fact that we have the worst cell phone penetration rates in the developed world. This at a time when cellphone internet access is overtaking desktop internet access.

But more importantly, I was lucky to be able to use a word processor 20 years ago. Today, not having access to the internet is tantamount to preventing a child from being able to go to the library, or worse, preventing them from learning to read. Affordable access is not a rural or urban issue. It’s a rights and basic education issue.

Equally important is that the network remain a neutral platform upon which anyone can innovate. The country that allows its networks to grant (or sell) certain companies or individuals special privileges is one that one that will quickly fall behind the innovation curve. New companies and business models inevitable displace established players. If those established players are allowed to snuff out new ideas before they mature, then there will be no new players. No innovation. No new jobs. No competitive advantage.

2)    A copyright regime that enables the distribution of ideas and the creation of new culture.

Here I am in Stratford, Ontario, home of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, one of the biggest open source festivals in the country. Every year the city celebrates plays that, because they are in the public domain, can be remixed, re-interpreted, and used without anyone’s permission to create new derivative cultural works (as well as bring joy and economic prosperity to untold people). A copyright regime that overly impedes the connectivity of works to one another (no fair use!) or the connectivity of people to ideas is one that will limit innovation in Canada.

A networked economy is not just one that connects people to a network. That is a broadcast economy. A networked economy is one that allows people to connect works together to create new works. Copyright should protect creators of content, but it should do so to benefit the creators, not support vast industries that market, sell, and repackage these works long after the original creator is dead. As Lawrence Lessig so eloquently put it:

  • Creativity and innovation always builds on the past.
  • The past always tries to control the creativity that builds upon it.
  • Free societies enable the future by limiting this power of the past.
  • Ours is less and less a free society.

A networked economy limits the past to enable the future.

3)    A government that uses a networked approach to creating a strategy for a connected economy.

An agrarian economy was managed using papyrus, an industrial economy was managed via printing press, typewriters and carbon copy paper. A digital economy strategy and managing policies were created on Microsoft Word and with email. A Network Economy can and only will be successfully managed and regulated when those trying to regulate it stop using siloed, industrial modes of production, and instead start thinking and organizing like a network. Not to ring an old bell, but today, that means drafting the policy, from beginning to end, on GCPEDIA, the only platform where federal public servants can actually organize in a network.

Managing an industrial economy would have been impossible using hand written papyrus, not just because the tools could not have handled the volume and complexity of the work but because the underlying forms of thinking and organizing that are shaped by that tool are so different from how an industrial economy works.

I’m going to predict it right now. Until a digital economy strategy is drafted using online but internally-connected tools like wikis, it will fail. I say this not because the people working on it will not be intelligent, but because they won’t be thinking in a connected way. It will be like horse and buggy users trying to devise what a policy framework for cars should look like. It will suck and terrible, terrible decisions will be made.

In summary, these are the three things I think the federal government needs to be focused on if we are going to create a digital economy strategy that positions us to be leaders by 2017. This is the infrastructure that needs to be in place to ensure that we maximize our capacity to connect each other and our work and reap the benefits of that network.

The PM’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service: The Good, The Bad, The Hopeful

On February 25th Paul Tellier and David Emerson – two men whose understanding of Ottawa I have a tremendous amount of respect for – released The Fourth Report of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service. It is a document that is worth diving into as these reports will likely serve as reference points for (re)thinking on renewing government for the foreseeable future.

The Bad:

On the rough side, I have a single high-level comment: These reports are likely to be as close as we are going to get in Canada to Australia’s Government 2.0 Taskforce (on which I served as part of the international reference group) or Britain’s Cabinet Office Power of Information Taskforce Report (which would have been tremendous to have been involved in).

To be clear, this is not the fault of the committee. Its terms of reference appear to be much broader. This has to predictable consequences. First, relatively little time is dedicated to the general reorganizing of society being prompted by the now 40 year old internet revolution is only carving out a small role. The committee is thus not able to dive into any detail on how the changing role of information in society, on open data, on the power of self-organization, or the rising power and influence of social media could and should re-shape the public service.

Second, much more time is dedicated to thinking about problems around HR and pay. These are important issues. However, since the vision of the public service remains broadly unchanged, my sense is the reforms, while sometimes large, are ultimately tweaks designed to ensure the continuation of the current model – not prompting a rethink (or the laying of groundwork) for a 21st century public service which will ultimately have to look different to stay relevant.

The best example of the implications of this limited scope can be found under the section “Staying Relevant and Connected.” Here the report has two recommendations, including:

The Public Service must take full advantage of collaborative technologies to facilitate interaction with citizens, partners and stakeholders.

The Public Service should adopt a structured approach to tapping into broad-based external expertise. This includes collaboration and exchanges with universities, social policy organizations, think tanks, other levels of government and jurisdictions, private sector organizations and citizens.

These are good! They are also pretty vague and tame. This isn’t so much renewal as it is a baseline for a functioning 20th century public service. More importantly, given some of the other pieces in the report these appear to be recommendations about how the government can engage in pretty traditional manners (exchanges). Moreover, they are externally focused. The main problem with the public service is that its members aren’t even allowed to use collaborative technologies to interact among themselves so how can they possible be ask to collaborate externally? As I say in my OCAD lecture and my chapter in Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in Practice – a digital citizenry isn’t interested in talking to an analogue government. The change required is first and foremost internal. But advocating for such a change is a major effort – one that will require significant culture and process change – which I haven’t found so far in the report and which is probably beyond its scope.

The Good:

That said, when the report does talk about technology and/or collaboration – it broadly says the right things. For example, in the section Creating A Modern, Enabled Workplace the report says:

creating a workplace that will attract, retain and empower public servants to innovate, collaborate and be responsive to the public. Among other things, this must include the adoption of collaborative technologies that are increasingly widespread in other sectors.

And, perhaps more importantly, under the section Strengthening Policy Capacity: A Relevant and Connected Public Service the report states:

A public service operating in isolation runs the risk of becoming irrelevant. We believe that the quality of policy thinking must be enhanced by additional perspectives from citizens, stakeholders and experts from other jurisdictions and other sectors (e.g. business, academia, non-governmental organizations). We believe sound government policy should be shaped by a full range of perspectives, and policy makers must consistently reach beyond the National Capital Region for input and advice.

Furthermore, the Public Service now has an opportunity to engage Canadians, especially younger ones, through the use of Web 2.0 collaborative technologies such as wikis, blogs and social networking. These offer an excellent way for the Public Service to reach out and connect.

Again, great stuff. Although, my concerns from above should also be reiterated. A networked public service is one that will need new norms as it will function very differently. The task force has little to say about this (again because of their expansive purview and not through their own fault). But this issue must be addressed in full. I frequently argue that one reason public servants are so stressed is that they live double lives. They already live in a networked workplace and play by network rules in order to get their job done, however, they are perpetually told they live in a hierarchy and have to pretend they abide by that more traditional rule set. Double lives are always stressful…

The Hope:

As the committee moves forward it says it will:

…consider and advise on new business models for the Public Service with a view to creating an innovative and productive workforce that continues to deliver increasing value for money by taking advantage of new tools and technology;

I hope that open data, open systems and some of the ideas around a network government I’ve been advocating and talking about along with numerous others, get in front of the committee – these all represent building blocks for a significantly more flexible, innovative and product public service.

Canadian Foreign Policy: The War on Independent Thought

Two stories this week highlight Canada’s rapidly decaying capacity to think, engage and act on foreign policy issues. The first was the Globe’s story Canadian Aid Groups Told to Keep Quiet on Policy Issues, the second is Paul Well’s detailed and devastating account of the implosion of Rights and Democracy, an NGO run by the Federal Government which has seen its entire staff revolt in the face of the political efforts by government to reset its policies.

Both stories hint at a common pattern – that through bullying, funding decisions, appointments and any other means at its disposal – the conservative government is seeking to ensure that any voice in Canada that engages international issues aligns itself with the government’s opinion. In short, this Conservative government is seeking to recentralize Canadian foreign policy. It is an effort that cannot succeed, but in which the attempt will devastate Canada’s influence in the world and negatively impact our capacity to act on the global stage.

Why is this?

Because in the 21st century a country’s foreign policy capacity – especially a small country like Canada – does not spring solely from the size of one’s military and the influence of one’s diplomats. Rather, influence springs from the capacity to tackle and address – increasingly complex – problems. Military might and diplomats can be deeply important but they are increasingly a smaller piece of the puzzle. The real question is, how does a state marshal all the resources and talents at its disposal and focus them on a problem.

In the 19th century the answer was easier. Military might and diplomats were the only tools and so control over these tools – the capacity of a single person (the PM) or group (cabinet) to focus the energy of the state on a problem – was the essence of international influence. But today this is no longer the case. Many of the critical relationships, expertise for addressing problems, volunteering capacity and even funding, lie beyond the control of the state. More importantly, public opinion has become an essential part of any effort. In this world, where the state is only one of many actors, and is one that is frequently looked upon with skepticism, how does one marshal this network or foreign policy ecosystem and attempt to focus it on a problem?

This is the great challenge facing government’s everywhere (especially those of smaller countries where resources outside of government are essential).

The conservative response – outlined above by the Globe and Paul Wells – describes an effort to assert control over these non-state actors and opinion shapers. To bully them into line and force them to not only cooperate with but mimic the government’s priorities.

This strategy will not work.

Over the short term the talent in Canada’s foreign policy network will simply balk. The best will leave for other countries which will seek to engage them on policy, not declare war on independent thought. Today we risk the great “hallowing out” of our foreign policy capacity (and thus international influence) not because the quality of our diplomats or military will decline, but because the quality of our NGO sector will decline.

Moreover, this sector’s international influence depends on independence. Other states and public opinion more generally will not respect Canadian organizations that are seen as merely puppets of the Canadian government. Indeed, expect these types of organizations to see their influence wain to a point where they become insignificant on the international stage. In short, there will be fewer Canadian voices and they will all carry less weight.

Finally however, the ecosystem will adjust. Already many Canadian organizations that work and engage in international issues find it cumbersome to work with Government. People I speak with often eschew CIDA grants since the reporting mechanisms they come with are often more expensive to implement than the value of the grant. Now that Government money is linked with political interference and meddling, an increasing number of organizations will avoid engaging the Canadian government altogether. The result? A NGO sector that is actively hostile – or at best indifferent – to the government and a diminished capacity to coordinate action, research and policy across the Canadian foreign policy ecosystem.  In short, the Canadian government will have no more control over internationally focused resources, but it will have shrunk the country’s collective influence.

In a networked world you can’t control the network, you can only seek to influence it. This government’s actions are a case study in how to lose credibility and sacrifice capacity. If, however, they don’t want a Canada that engages in the world, perhaps, in their mind, it is all worth it.

The Most Dangerous Website in Ottawa

What is the more dangerous website in Ottawa? Here’s a secret. It isn’t a x-rated site, or loaded with tips and tricks on how to make weapons or break the law. It isn’t – contrary to what some politician might feel – even a newswebsite.

No, the most dangerous website in Ottawa is much, much, more boring than that.

The most dangerous website is actually a small site run by the Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform or FAIR (see you are yawning already).

But one simple page on the site, entitled Some Canadian Whistleblowers, is potentially the most damaging website in Ottawa. In one swoop the site is a devastating critique of a Conservative Government (and Liberal Government before it) that ran on accountability but that crushes those who seek to advocate for it, it is damning appraisal of a public service that is willing to turn on its own and even wreck the careers of public servants and citizens who try to prevent the defrauding of Canadian taxpayers or ensure the integrity of our government, and it is a cautionary tale to public servants who may be tempted – by their ethics and good judgment – to speak out when they see something is deeply wrong about how the country is being run.

Consider this, of the 29 Whistleblowers highlighted on the website:

  • one public works employee and a group of five RCMP employees who spoke out together have the appearances of a happy ending. (The RCMP employees were publicly commended by a parliamentary committee and the public works official ran for office).
  • 7 were attacked by the public service but ultimately have managed to keep their jobs but their careers have been negatively impacted.
  • 15 more found themselves turfed out of their jobs, often by the very authorities that should have protected them.
  • The final person – Richard Colvin – still has his job, but the Conservative Government has effectively muzzled him by refusing to pay his legal fees (as he is entitled).

One might suspect that these stories have political angles to them, like that of Dr. John O’Connor, an Alberta doctor, who work uncovered unusually high rates of cancers among the residents of Fort Chipewyan, in the Athabasca oil patch. As the site details:

His findings contributed to concerns that oil extraction operations may be contaminating the environment with carcinogenic chemicals.

In what was perceived as an attempt to muzzle him, Health Canada doctors lodged four complaints against O’Connor with his professional body – charges which could have resulted in the loss of his licence. Doctors were alarmed by this incident, since such reports from doctors in the field have been vital to the detection of new diseases such as AIDS. Consequently, in 2007 the Canadian Medical Association passed a resolution (#103) calling for whistleblower protection for doctors – apparently to protect them from Health Canada.

But these are actually more isolated incidents. The real lesson from the website is that your story doesn’t need to be political in nature at all – all you really need to do ruin your career is speak out. Indeed, from the stories on the FAIR website, it is easy to see that if you are a public servant and you note illegal or unethical activities to your supervisors you may seriously damage your career. Should those supervisors ignore you and you opt to go public with those allegations – your career will be literally or effectively over (regardless of whether or not those accusations end up being true).

This is why this is the most dangerous website in Ottawa. Politicians (particularly Conservative politicians) don’t want you to see it, the Public Service doesn’t want to have to explain it, and Canadian citizens and public servants don’t want to end up on it.

Is this the future of accountability in Ottawa?

Some Thoughts on the Walrus Response

Here is a response to Jeremy Keehn (Senior Editor at the Walrus) thoughtful response to my post The Walrus, Fair Dealing, and the Culture of Journalism this morning.

A few leading points.

1) I’d like to echo Jeremy’s request, if there is a literary-loving Web 2.0 billionaire out there interested in endowing the Walrus, please click here.

2) While my original post refers to The Walrus, I definitely want to be clear – the challenge of not participating in the online link economy is endemic among main stream media publishers generally. Most main stream media never link away from their site (except, oddly, on their “blogs” which are somehow treated differently…)

At the risk of misrepresenting Jeremy (not my intention) I’m going to edit his piece down so as to respond to some specific arguments as to why the Walrus doesn’t link or cite in print. Worse still, I may make a suggestion or two.

First, in print:

It was more a question of how including that information would affect the flow of the narrative, and what readers needed to know for the quotation to have its intended effect. Insofar as I was making a conscious decision as an editor, I would have been asking myself whether mentioning eaves.ca bolstered the authority of the quotation or added narrative value. Ultimately, I concluded that David’s credentials were all readers needed to know. In hindsight, I might have chosen otherwise, in part because the quotation wasn’t a spoken one, and in part because this is a rare instance where the source actually ended up caring.

This I completely get. It is important that the piece read easily. Reading this I see how much the web has changed how I read – I look for “links” now even when reading a print edition of something. (Wow it is hard to have this discussion without sounding ungrateful for the quote – hoping that is still coming through – this is a discussion about the culture of journalism as it plays at out that Walrus, not about the quality or intentions of the Walrus)

Online linking:

David also asks in his post why The Walrus hasn’t linked to his blog in the online version of the story. “When The Walrus doesn’t link to others, it is a policy decision,” he writes. “They believe in the myth that they need to keep people on their website — which means they also believe in keeping their readers away from the very material that makes their stories interesting.”

I (guiltily) jumped to a conclusion there – should have led with more inquiry. Jeremy explains that this is because:

We don’t go in and insert links into our magazine pieces because we don’t have the resources, and because the decisions about what and where to link would be difficult and time-consuming to navigate, especially given that we rely on freelance writers, who might have opinions about what should be linked to or not. It’s certainly not policy.

However, this is where things become a little harder for me to decipher.

On the one hand the no-linking at the Walrus seems to be due to limited resources (this I understand and respect). However, tracking down and inserting the links into my blog for the webpages the Walrus piece references took me 45 minutes – and that was without the benefit of having the author on hand who mostly likely has them in their notes. An intern could find and insert the links into a piece in 30 minutes. This may still be too onerous but the benefit to readers feels significant. But this calculus becomes even easier if the Walrus simply asked authors to supply the links (the task would then drop to mere minutes). Moreover, the costs of consistency feel pretty low. People are unlikely to be upset of The Walrus over linking… they’ll just not click on them. Plus, The Walrus’s authors probably have the best sense of what is interesting and should be linked to… why not simply trust them?

On the other hand, the above sentence hints that the no-linking is also due to the fact that getting a clear consistent policy would be difficult – especially with so many freelance writers in play. I read this as saying that The Walrus is claiming it is better off not linking than having potentially inconsistent linking. Why not start simple with bare bones policy: Every time The Walrus quotes someone, and that quotation is available from an original source online, the author should endeavor to link to it. The great thing about being online is different than print. Omissions are easy and quick to fix. If the author misses some link, an intrepid reader may email The Walrus the link (especially if you ask them to) at which point an intern could add it.

There are advantages to this. Over time, by looking at The Walrus’s web stats the editorial staff will see what their readers click on, and so what they find useful and be sure to include more of those types of links in the future. The value add for readers might become significant, At the moment, the Walrus has no idea what its readers find interesting in the pieces they read other than what they say in comments (and far, far fewer people comment than click on links they like).

Finally, this should be applauded but is not a defense:

We do plenty of linking on our blogs, and the magazine’s Twitter feed (not to mention my own) is generally abuzz with links to and from other media.

Two thoughts: First what is the policy around linking on The Walrus blogs? And providing links in Twitter is great (I do like how The Walrus twitter account points to interesting pieces everywhere). The point here is that (online) readers have a world to explore in every article The Walrus publishes – if they are given a chance to explore it through hyperlinks – hyperlinks that are embedded in the text where their mice and eyes are at the moment of reading.

The Walrus, "Fair Dealing" & the Culture of Journalism

Last month, in its November/December issue, The Walrus magazine had an excellent piece by Gil Shochat on government, transparency and access to information entitled The Dark Country. (notice the hyperlink…) If you haven’t read the piece, go read it now. It is devastating in its analysis and absolutely dead on. We need radical reform around how we access government information – something we have been trying to begin to pioneer here in Vancouver – and this piece taps into the roots of that need. (The part on Abousfian Abdelrazikwhom Canadian public servants openly talked about as at risk of being assassinated by Sudanese Intelligence operatives – is particularly dark.)

I first heard about the piece when friends emailed and called me to say they enjoyed my quote. It was (and is!) great news to get. Great, because from the sounds of the quote it seemed like something I might write, was in context, and it is nice to be noticed by others for one’s thinking and advocacy.

It turns out that the quote is from a relatively long and quite popular blog post I wrote a few months back titled Open Data – USA vs. Canada in which I outline some theories regarding why open data and government transparency has gained more traction in the US than Canada. Specifically, about halfway through the piece I wrote:

The [Canadian] government’s data isn’t your, mine, or “our” data. It’s hers [the Queen’s]. Which means it is at her discretion, or more specifically, the discretion of her government servants, to decide when and if it should be shared.

Which brings me back to The Walrus. I’m thrilled that they included the above quote in their piece. I’ve been working hard to advocate for government transparency and open data, and so a quotation is both a nice acknowledgment of that work and a great way to reach a wider audience. However, why not link to my piece in the online edition? Or mention that it was published on eaves.ca in the print edition like Andrew Potter did in his Macleans column? (although no online link…)

There could be an argument – under copyright law – that to quote my piece under Fair Dealing (Fair Use for Americans), The Walrus should attribute the source (in this case, my blog). But even without a reference to Fair Dealing, there is something deeper, something about the culture of journalism, that would lead you to believe they would want to link.

One of the hallmarks of journalism has been its collaborative nature. Frequently, stories build on previous works. Discovering a scandal is often not the work of a single reporter, but the culmination of many peoples’ work. This is why I’ve always admired journalists’ willingness to attribute. Long before the Internet, there existed a “link economy” in the press, where reporters cited the work of those who came before them who had helped them break or uncover a story. Sometimes this was done grudgingly, but it was done irregardless.

The internet, and especially the blogosphere, has a similar phenomenon, often referred to as the aforementioned “link economy.” Bloggers and writers link to what others sites, knowing that may mean people click away from our website – but secure in the knowledge that if we send them somewhere interesting, they’ll be back for more. Remember the most viewed website in the world is dedicated to sending people to other sites; it’s called Google.

So let’s be clear, when The Walrus doesn’t link to others, it is a policy decision. They believe in the myth that they need to keep people on their website – which means they also believe in keeping their readers away from the very material that makes their stories interesting. This makes their website less interesting (and is why I don’t visit it – I visit websites with external links, ’cause I like to explore ideas — in both the literal and internet surfing sense).

So what richness did readers miss out on in this case? Well of course, none of The Walrus‘s readers even know that I wrote a piece that they could read with the click of a mouse. But beyond my own self-interest, there’s much more that could have been included:

  • The Globe piece containing a quote about detainees can be found here.
  • The Access to Information Act is referenced (and is central to the piece); it might be interesting to link to it.
  • James Travers, whose Hill Times piece entitled Conservative Prime Minister Harper’s highly-touted federal Accountability Act a recipe for more broken rules (phew!) also goes unmentioned and unlinked.
  • Reporter Stephen Maher does have his piece mentioned (“Ottawa Is Sending Me into a Black Rage”), along with its publication (Halifax’s Chronicle-Herald). However, one can’t fault The Walrus for not linking to them since… It doesn’t appear that the Chronicle-Herald keeps anything online after 2 weeks, and their library, which offers to help you find articles, has this for a webpage.
  • Also of interest is the report by the Canadian Association of Journalists and the Canadian Newspaper Association that shows we are behind Mexico, Pakistan and India in access to government information – no link again, although it can be found here. (And this was hard to find in Google/Internet terms.)
  • There’s more, but you get the point…

The point being, that if you don’t link to others, you are making it harder for your readers to delve deeper, and therefore to care more deeply about the subjects you’re writing about. In an online world, you are effectively acting as though all knowledge about the issue resides on your page. This is absurd. As a result, not linking to others feels not only like a violation of good journalism standards, and of the most basic codes of conduct on the internet, it’s a poor business decision.

This is because when you don’t link, others won’t link to you either. Consequently, you sit outside the conversation. As Taylor Owen and I wrote in Missing The Link (which we offered to The Walrus as the basis for a piece – though they declined):

The staff writers of The New York Times, while certainly talented, are not the beginning and end of news. Pretending that they are is laughable, and their customers know it. Consequently, simply recreating newspapers online won’t work. Americans may be interested in living in gated communities, but they don’t want to surf within them. Web pages that interlink with others are more likely to be visited because readers will know that in addition to the base content or analysis, they will also be pointed to interesting material, both within the site and outside. Isolated news pages will invariably remain just that—cut off.

And that sums up The Walrus‘s site – cut off. Which is sad, because Gil Shochat’s piece is completely brilliant.

Update 11:31am: Jeremy Keehn – senior editor at The Walrus (as well as very smart man, and someone I consider a friend) responds in this thoughtful post. Going to reflect on his comments – hope to have some intelligent to add in a bit.

New Policy Journal: The Public Policy and Governance Review

Last week saw the launch of a new biannual online journal called The Public Policy and Governance Review. Started by students and faculty from universities across Canada the journal seeks to inject some new ideas and thoughts into the public policy sphere.

I would argue that it already has.

Check out this paragraph from its “About Us” page.

The Public Policy and Governance Review is in the business of promoting ideas and is not interested in proprietary rights. We believe that authors deserve credit for their work and that using any intellectual material warrants referencing, but other than that, we hope that the ideas published in the PPGR disseminate well beyond the confines of this website. As such and as a matter of principle, the Public Policy and Governance Review uses a less-restrictive licensing agreement for publication than traditional copyright. We publish as much of the PPGR as possible under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivative Works license. This is a licensing agreement that relaxes some of the restrictions associated with traditional copyright and allows our readers to distribute material more easily. It allows authors’ works to be freely reproduced for non-commercial purposes as long as the work is not modified and attribution is maintained.

Take note – these are Masters of Public Policy and Governance students and they have chosen to use a Creative Commons license – not copyright – for their journal. Note that they WANT others to re-post and comment on the material on blogs and other sites. This is a journal interested in using the most modern technology and legal tools to do what all journals start off wanting to do: initiating interesting conversation and spreading ideas.

This alone should make senior public servants take notice. If you are a senior public servant and you think debates over copyright don’t matter to you… your next hire (and ultimately, your successor) thinks differently.

Two additional asides:

First, for real copyright geeks that are wondering, yes I actually think they should have allowed attributed derivative works… since, well, all works are derivative works of something – nothing is completely original – but, well, one step at a time I suppose.

Second, before the launch of the first edition of the Public Policy and Governance Review the editors sat down and interviewed me on the future of the public service. You can read the interview here (pdf).

Foreign Policy Camp – Vancouver Nov 30th

Our friends over at Canada’s World are starting to organize a Foreign Policy Camp for November 30th, 2009 at SFU’s downtown campus in Vancouver. Those who are interested can register here and there is a wiki here for proposing sessions.

Some excerpts from the mail out:

We’ve assembled an amazing team of experienced collaborators including Daniel Savas at IPSOS Reid, Mark Leahy with Mergenta Consulting, the Canadian International Council, Liam O’Doherty with TakingITGlobal, the SFU School for International Relations, artist Vanessa Richards, and Hannah Cho with the Asia Pacific Foundation. From satellite camps in Quebec to flash mobs in cities across the country, and from foreign policy discussions on Twitter to tutorials on new interactive technologies, ForeignPolicyCamp is already connecting us as a nation.

ForeignPolicyCamp will shine a spotlight on new thinkers and doers in the Canadian foreign policy scene while creating a space for students, artists, techies and diplomats young and old to come together and share ideas as equals. We are confident that ForeignPolicyCamp’s innovative hybrid format will provide something for everyone.

Some of this camp’s interactive sessions include a forum on climate change, a session on the role of Canadian artists overseas, case studies on Afghanistan, Africa, the Arctic, Asia and US-Canada relations, a workshop on how to rethink foreign aid, a talk on the role of Canadian artists abroad, a session about how to engage Diaspora communities in foreign policy, and open sessions on international urban issues and Net-based interactions. A key component of ForeignPolicyCamp is its open-space section, so if you are interested in presenting a contemporary topic to a receptive audience, please share your ideas on our site’s session-planning Wiki.

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