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Nat Torkington
Pottymouth polymath
Pottymouth polymath


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Google is to close Knol, and not before time. Knol was an ill-conceived play of pure evil, a ghastly blight on Google's history. I was appalled when it was announced, for it was a shamefaced attempt to move Wikipedia activity into proprietary Google borders. If you searched for information, Google could not just show you ads on the search result but also, when you clicked through, on that page as well. It was as though Google decided to recreate itself as a Calacanisian empire of ad-agglomerating lowest-common-value websites.

Google often, rightly, says that it benefits as the open web grows. It is in a symbiotic relationship with the rest of the web. Knol sought to muscle into a big niche in the ecosystem, going directly against one of the other most popular sites on the web. And, unlike entering auctions or book sales or email, Google was competing against a public-good public-built site. They were trying to deny sustenance (visits) to a public good, in order to build a private good. Knol wouldn't be usable by Google competitors, unlike that pesky Wikipedia, and it could be ours! Ours! OURS! BWAHA!

The good news is that Knol didn't succeed. The bad news is that Google Maps has built a Knol-equivalent (users contribute roads, corrections, and other map-related data) and it is just as closed. Unlike OpenStreetMap, which existed before Google Maps and which, like Wikipedia, built a large community of contributors, Google MapMaker doesn't release the information under any kind of open license.

I'm sure it's pure coincidence, but the announcement of Knol's execution comes in the same week as news of a half-million dollar donation to the Wikimedia Foundation in the name of Sergei Brin's foundation: Bravo to this!

Google acts wisest when it works with its customers, not against them. I hope this is a lesson that's taken away from Knol, and one that finds its way back to shape future company plans.
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Domain name fail. Right up there with Pen Island's domain.
URL Registrants Who Should Be Fired
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ZOMG, this is so crooked. Members of Congress have exempted themselves from insider trading laws. The stories of crooked dealings in this article are appalling.
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This is why I love Tim. Check out the golden line at the bottom about profit vs purpose.
Steve Jobs on his major mistake during Apple's troubled years: "Letting profitability outweigh passion" #ditto (a tweet by @stevecase) struck home for me, because in the aftermath of Jobs' death I've been thinking a lot about O'Reilly, wanting to make sure that we streamline and focus on the stuff that matters most.

Here's the money quote from the article:

"My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products," Jobs told Isaacson. "[T]he products, not the profits, were the motivation. Sculley flipped these priorities to where the goal was to make money. It's a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything."

Jobs went on to describe the legacy he hoped he would leave behind, "a company that will still stand for something a generation or two from now."

"That's what Walt Disney did," said Jobs, "and Hewlett and Packard, and the people who built Intel. They created a company to last, not just to make money. That's what I want Apple to be."
All of our greatest work at O'Reilly has been driven by passion and idealism. That includes our early forays into publishing, when we were a documentation consulting company to pay the bills but wrote documentation on the side for programs we used that didn't have any good manuals. It was those manuals, on topics that no existing tech publisher thought were important, that turned us into a tech publisher "who came out of nowhere."

In the early days of the web, we were so excited about it that +Dale Dougherty wanted to create an online magazine to celebrate the people behind it. That morphed into GNN, the Global Network Navigator, the web's first portal and first commercial ad-supported site.

In the mid-90s, realizing that no one was talking about the programs that were behind all our most successful books, I brought together a collection of free software leaders (many of whom had never met each other) to brainstorm a common story. That story redefined free software as open source, and the world hasn't been the same since. It also led to a new business for O'Reilly, as we launched our conference business to help bring visibility to these projects, which had no company marketing behind them.

Thinking deeply about open source and the internet got me thinking big ideas about the internet as operating system, and the shift of influence from software to network effects in data as the key to future applications. I was following people who at the time seemed "crazy" - but they were just living in a future that hadn't arrived for the rest of the world yet. It was around this time that I formulated our company mission of "changing the world by spreading the knowledge of innovators."

In 2003, in the dark days after the dot com bust, our company goal for the year was to reignite enthusiasm in the computer business. Two outcomes of that effort did just that: +Sara Winge 's creation of Foo Camp spawned a worldwide, grassroots movement of self-organizing "unconferences," and our Web 2.0 Conference told a big story about where the net was going and what distinguished the companies that survived the dotcom bust from those that preceded it.

In 2005, seeing the passion that was driving garage inventors to a new kind of hardware innovation, Dale once again wanted to launch a magazine to celebrate the passionate people behind the movement. This time, it was a magazine: Make: (, and a year later, we launched Maker Faire ( as a companion event. 150,000 people attended Maker Faires last year, and the next generation of startups is emerging from the ferment of the movement that Dale named.

Meanwhile, through those dark years after the dotcom bust, we also did a lot of publishing just to keep the company afloat. (With a small data science team at O'Reilly, we built a set of analytical tools that helped us understand the untapped opportunities in computer book publishing. We realized that we were playing in only about 2/5 of the market; moving into other areas that we had never been drawn to helped pay the bills, but never sparked the kind of creativity as the areas that we'd found by following our passion.)

It was at this time that I formulated an image that I've used many times since: profit in a business is like gas in a car. You don't want to run out of gas, but neither do you want to think that your road trip is a tour of gas stations.

When I think about the great persistence of Steve Jobs, there's a lesson for all of us in it.

What's so great about the Apple story is that Steve ended up making enormous amounts of money without making it a primary goal of the company. (Ditto Larry and Sergey at Google.) Contrast that with the folks who brought us the 2008 financial crisis, who were focused only on making money for themselves, while taking advantage of others in the process.

Making money through true value creation driven by the desire to make great things that last, and make the world a better place - that's the heart of what is best in capitalism. (See also the wonderful HBR blog post, Steve Jobs and the Purpose of the Corporation. I also got a lot of perspective on this topic from +Leander Kahney's book, Inside Steve's Brain )
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This is such cosmic bullshit. You can have the seed, but you can't plant it because growing a plant is creating an infringing derivative work?
#Monsanto wins lawsuit against Indiana soybean farmer - more #genepatent insanity
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The MP3-in-the-cloud decision (that it's okay for mp3 locker folks to dedup their collections) is another nail in the coffin for the idea that your music collection is a specific set of files. Your music collection is a playlist. If you're using or Pandora, your music collection isn't even that--it's this amorphous set of machine-learned preferences and similarities that will predict the kind of stuff you will like. Is that it? We're going to throw out our music collections and replace them with a matrix of weights derived from principal component analysis of streaming history data?

I think the two will continue to exist: certainty and serendipity are both good things, and there's a time and place for each. If I'm wooing, my mixtape should be a solid artifact, something where I know what I'm getting (and giving). If I'm stressed, I know the KLF's "Chill Out" will relax me. I don't want a random set of music liked by people who liked Chill Out; my associations are specific and personal. When I work, I have a playlist of Baroque instrumental music that keeps the tempo of my work up but doesn't interfere with it. But if I'm driving then surprise me, give me something I might be delighted to learn I like.

Serendipity doesn't kill certainty. I'm pretty sure of it ...
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I respect the curators and other heritage staff here: read to the end to see why.
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Now this is some good science reporting! As usual, it's happening in a blog rather than a newspaper. (via +Bryan O'Sullivan)
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(NZ politics alert)

- socially liberal (do not demonize teh gays or teh unwed mothers)
- comfortable paying taxes to get strong state-provided health and education
- fond of making money and not automatically against those who make money
- protective of our marine and land environment, and the legacy of healthy abundance that we hold in trust for our descendants
- of the opinion that some assets are too important to be trusted to the short-term returns mindset of the private sector (Kiwibank and power generation, for example)
- a user of and advocate for technology and its role in society, culture, and the economy, so having a tech-literate party is important to me

Who the hell do I vote for?

I'd love to vote for National but their track record on the environment is piss poor, I don't trust their intentions with healthcare or assets, and none of their number want to talk about digital issues beyond cliches. Labour had some of my votes in the past, but they're beholden to their union supporters, MPs in the party have revealed a self-view that doesn't include me ("oh no, we're the party of the poor"), and Clare Curran has been the lone carrier of the digital flag. ACT can't govern themselves let alone the country, even if their libertarian wingnut ramblings weren't from an entirely different planet to the one I'm on. I've never seen myself as a Green voter because I'm not a vegan and I like money, but has it come to that?

(This all prompted by )
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A second (underground) Amazon river?! Mind: blown.
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