OurWalledGardens

An article posted on Kuro5hin, "Our Walled Gardens."

Argues for taking FreeCulture seriously, and hints at OnlineOrganizing?.

Article Text

We’re all very smart people. Some of us write operating systems, others perform beautiful ballads, some design genius web apps and others are the Shakespeares of the blogging world. Across huge distances, we co-ordinate and socialize with others just like us, and hone our craft with people we know will appreciate what we are. We’ve built brilliant and immersive walled gardens, and in them we’ll wither away in comfortable obscurity.

As diverse as it is, we all share a common culture on the internet. Experiment, open, free, extend, share … the notion behind "Linux", "Creative Commons", "deviantART" or "Usenet" is always the same: the more we put out there, the faster we’ll touch on that special genius we couldn’t reach alone. If information wants to be free, its rationale must be that it wants to better itself in the wild, rather than be chained to an arranged marriage between its creator and the almighty buck. We all feel it on some level, I think, and we are both impressed and upset when some company manages to turn that notion into a revenue stream. They “get it”, we know, but isn’t it almost a betrayal of our unspoken ethics?

Outside our walled gardens are maybe a dozen pristine roads, connecting our gardens to a factories in the valley below, where they turn out our ideas in perfect wrappings. The factories are run by companies who have learned the valuable truth to the internet: if you pair passion with process, you can be both efficient and great. We’re scratching the itch for thousands or millions of people around the world, and somehow we’re only peripherally aware that it’s happening. Maybe the walls to our gardens are too high, or maybe we’re just not comfortable devising roads of our own. But maybe it’s time we tried.

We are not a counter-culture, and we are not a hobbyist culture. We don’t believe Linux or Apache are frivolous wastes of time, so why do we think of bloggers as would-be pundits? The reason we don’t have music superstars in the league of the Beatles or JLo is not for lack of talent, it’s because we don’t take ourselves seriously enough to promote them that way. Our writing is more poetic than any printed book, our programs push the boundaries of software, and "Diggnation" is a far better tech show than anything you’ll find on satellite or cable. We have all the makings of a superculture, so why do we look for validation in the offline world?

We need to make our own roads outside the gardens. We need to define, create and implement an architecture to enhance our own culture, and to package it for ourselves first. But we need to do it in a way that stays true to our open source ethics. We always preach open standards, so let’s get our hands dirty. Let’s make an economy that only the internet could sustain. We need to define the mechanics, draft the standards, and put it in our software. It needs to be as automatic for us as copyright is for the offline world. The design of this system cannot come out of a government or a corporation, because it cannot be censorable or made for the benefit of shareholders. This is an economic model for the creators, by the creators.

We need to learn more about each other. We’re a people of limitless diversity, but we don’t exploit it. Not enough enough podcasters know where to find free/libre music; not enough writers know their mentors are so close by; not enough artists have heard of "the GIMP"; too many programmers are scratching the same itch, thinking there’s nothing else that needs to be done. Despite all our tools and all our connectivity, we can’t grasp collaboration outside our own circle. We need to create a common language so our communities can talk to each other as easily as they talk amongst themselves. What good is the bazaar if everyone sells the same thing? We need to put windows in our walled gardens.

We need to stop being starstruck by the offline world. We need to stop believing that a lucky few will graduate from our world to Hollywood, and that everything we enjoy now is just an amateur trial run. We need to create our own brands, our own stars, and we need to do it for ourselves, on our own terms. Let me build my evening news out of a series of stories pulled from "WikiNews", "Kevin Rose" and "Xeni Jardin". Show me the Regis Philbin of the internet world, a 7-minute daily soap, the Top 10 at 10. We don’t need NBC to promote us, we need to promote ourselves. We have the licenses, we have the technology, but we need the will. Pull the brightest minds together and make a network, where the timeslots are unlimited and innovation is embraced.

We need to pay attention to our MetaWeb?. There is a huge area of online culture we’ve been too scared to traverse, but it needs to be explored and defined just like anything else. It is time to lay claim to the space between the gardens, and make the factories our serfs, instead of our masters. Some will say that this is too much, too expensive, too difficult to attempt. Look at Linux, think of its history, and ask yourself which is more unlikely. We’ve made mountains from pebbles; climbing one should be easy.

About the Author

Discussion

Don’t have time to properly organize right now, but…

Would like to move prior discussion here, about the paper itself.

I’ve had some conversation with the author, which I am continuing in e-mail with him. Wish tech existed to make it “open,” I don’t think he’s the type to object. Interesting person.

Greetings. Added the article text. Feel free to adjust as required… definitely still check out the K5 thread, though, because the back-and-forth there is interesting all by itself.

I’ll try and find a pic of myself, too. Might be a few years old, but hey…

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