The future of publishing may be not publishing at all

Drawing of a man flying with a flock of books
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, courtesy of Ars Electronica

One of the main characteristics of the industrial age is the concentration of activity under a same roof. In order to realize the full potential of resources that are scarce and to minimize transaction costs, organizations tended to perform as many roles and tasks as possible. That is, a factory would non only weave, but spin, dye, weave, design, cut, sew and distribute.

We got used to this. And for the sake of efficiency and efficacy it did make sense.

A publisher, for instance, would also concentrate several roles and tasks under the generic concept of publishing. Not being exhaustive, these could be:

  1. Identifying talent. Who is good at writing.
  2. Investing in talent. Providing resources to the one that is good writing so that they write instead of doing some other thing.
  3. Improving originals, that is, editing. In two ways. Firstly, improving the quality of writing by providing an external dispassionate look at the work. Secondly, making it more marketable according to the tastes of the potential readers.
  4. Prepare the work for a support. If it is going to be printed, prepare a layout for printing.
  5. Printing the work (or creating the actual product).
  6. Prescribing good works. That is, building a reputation so that your opinion counts and then you’ll recommend the talent you found.
  7. Finding or creating a demand. Who will by the book? Where are they? What are their tastes?
  8. Distributing the book to the seller near the demand you found.

The digital revolution has implied that resources (knowledge intensive resources, like data, information and most kinds of intangible goods) are no more scarce, at least in technical terms (some legal restrictions may apply, but this is a layer put upon the technical one); with the end of scarcity, information costs drop dramatically. And the digital revolution has implied too that communications are almost costless and, thus, transaction costs also drop dramatically.

This has led to an increasing process of decentralization — subrogation, outsourcing, off-shoring… there are many names and ways to it — since the late XXth century and whose possibilities are but expanding with new software for creation and social media.

If we break up the roles and tasks that publishers usually perform, we can easily find alternate ways to do them in a mostly distributed way. We have changed some names to bring them closely to the actual names of such roles in the market:

Roles Alternatives
Finding talent Social media for content sharing, recommendation sites, virtual communities.
Producing Crowdfunding, microlending — besides several ways to drastically reducing the need for investment or enable self-production.
Editing Collaboration tools, comments on social media, ranking and recommendation sites, streaming and content sharing sites (with their analytics), tremendous exposure to others’ works, availability of professional or expert analysis to these others’ works, open courses and MOOCs, open educational resources.
Layout Crowsourcing platforms, free layouts, self-editing and self-publishing websites, layout and format conversion software.
Printing (provided there still is a need for printing) print on demand websites or services
Prescribing Social networking sites (word of mouth), self-publishing websites, experts’ blogs or videoblogs, reputed authors’ personal websites or blogs or social media users.
Marketing Most of what has been written above counts here, because markets are conversations, right?
Distributing Personal websites, social networking sites, file sharing services, online retailers, online marketplaces.

That there are alternatives does not necessarily mean that publishing, or publishers, are over. The alternatives may not even catch, the alternatives may live together with traditional publishers, or publishers themselves may abandon traditional ways of working and adopt the alternatives themselves, thus changing the ways without a change in the actors. The idea here is neither to kill anyone nor get rid of them, but just showing some of the many ways that intermediation is being challenged by the numerous possibilities to break up of centralization, the distribution of decision-making and task-execution.

Publishers — as many other institutions like schools and universities, newspapers, the recording industry or political parties themselves will have to reflect on what are the tasks that they are now performing, what are the alternatives to the centralization of these tasks, what is the task or set of tasks where the institution can add more value — especially in relationship of the alternatives — and whether it makes sense to stick to centralization or move towards specialization.

For most of these institutions, especially publishers, guidance on the design is probably the task where more value is added: how to become a better learner (instead of imparting courses), how to understand a piece of news (instead of producing yet more information), how to record a better song (instead of printing more CDs), how to make better decisions (instead of making them for the citizen) — or how to write a better book, despite who will pay for it, raise awareness on it, print it or distribute it.

Detaching the core task from the rest is difficult: firstly, because it is not easy to know what the core task is, given than for decades or centuries all of them have been mixed and sometimes indistinguishable between them; secondly, because the temptation to control everything is strong. But it is very likely that control is no more an option, and that others will identify your core business and make it their own.

PS: my gratitude to Borja Adsuara for “forcing” me to write this reflection. He has posted the original Twitter conversation on the role of publishers in his website.

Are assembly-based parties network parties?

It is difficult to put out a definition of the network party. Maybe — or mainly — because it is much a theoretical construct that does not exist purely in the real world. Any kind of human organization can be characterized, but it will rarely fit the theoretical model: the world is a world of grays.

New politics, technopolitics and political parties

The Spanish 15M Indignados Movement — and everything that came before it — brought new ways of organization which, later on, some of them, entered the political institutions. 2015 saw witnessed three important elections in Spain — municipalities, the Catalan Parliament, and the Spanish Parliament — to which some new and not-so-new parties concurred. A recurrent debate between new and traditional parties was whether these parties, respectively, were doing “new politics” or “old politics”.

One way to define “new politics” was that “new parties” were putting in the political agenda the quality of democracy, sometimes labelled as the “regeneration axe” (in addition to the social or right-left ideological axe). Little to be mentioned here. I personally believe that defending this new axe is a necessary but not sufficient condition or characteristic of new politics.

Another way to define “new politics” was that some political parties were assembly-based. That is, decisions are made at the grassroots level, in the party’s general assembly, and the representatives of the part translate them in the institutions.

In my opinion, this is not only not new politics, but totally misleading to what technopolitics is bringing to the political arena.

First of all, while unheard in most Western democracies, assemblies are anything but new. To say the least, they date from the late XIXth century. This is neither bad nor good: it is just not new.

Second, assemblies might by a part of new politics — or, better put, network parties — but the tool does not make the thing. Following, we will try to describe how three different organizations work: hierarchical parties, assembly-based parties and (despite the difficulty to come up with a proper definition) what a theoretical approach to network parties would look like. Please bear in mind what was said above: theoretical models of organizations do not aim at describing how specific organizations should be or work like, but to understand why the are or work the way they do. In a world full of greys.

Hierarchies

Let us propose a very simplified model where only three things occur: electing representatives, making decisions and executing them.

In a hierarchical party, most things happen in the upper layer of the organization: the lower layer elects their representatives (a secretary general, a secretariat, an executive committee, etc.) and, most of the times, remains outside of the general dynamics of the party.

The elected representatives, though, make all decisions and directly or indirectly execute them. Most of the times too — sad as it may sound — these elected representatives do not even inform the members and sympathisers of the party of the decisions made, and of course very rarely consult them on any issues at all.

At the end of the political cycle, the representatives are accountable for their successes and failures and can be replaced depending on their performance — usually measured in votes or seats, and not in the programme they put out and the actions they took (tough, of course, both of them had an impact that translated in votes, seats, laws passed, etc.).

Assembly-based parties

Assembly-based parties work almost opposite than hierarchical parties: the assembly meets, deliberates and makes a decision. Then, once the decision is made, the assembly elects some people that will carry on with the decision and put it into practice.

Oftentimes, these parties have to engage in conversations with other parties, translate the decision into an institution, or simply speak to the media. It is then usual that the same elected representatives emerging from the assembly also play the role of representing the assembly before third parties.

Note how the pair electing-deciding is inverted: if hierarchies elected people to decide what to do it and do it, assemblies decide what to do and elect the ones that will do it.

As we have already said, things in the real world are much more messy and much less clean. But, in simple lines, this is more or less how it theoretically works.

Network parties

Network parties also invert a pair of steps, but it is not electing of deciding, but executing: in network parties, executing comes first. How is that possible?

Levy, Himanen, Raymond or Benkler, among others, have explained with details the logics of free software and how they can be translated into other knowledge intensive projects. Like, for instance, politics.

In a gift economy, powered by meritocracy and led by do-ocracy people just can set the snowball rolling. If it catches, people will join and the idea, the project, will grow and become important. Otherwise, the idea will be tacitly abandoned and people will move onto other ideas and projects to join and contribute to.

In (pure) technopolitics, network parties emerge from people making decisions first and then executing them. If the projects grow and communities form, then comes the need for some coordination, for some “benevolent dictator” that may coordinate the efforts, make some punctual decisions. These coordinating person or body is elected by the participants on the projet, either tactitly — based on her own merit — or explicitly, if there is a need to.

Sometimes the coordinating body will, as it happened with the assembly-based organizations, play the role of representing the collective. But sometimes it will not, as the collective will also have a collective identity and thus will represent itself without the need of intermediation from a specific body.

Following we can see the three (simplified) models for better comparison. It is worth noting how both assembly-based parties and network (or technopolitics-based) parties invert the relationships of power, bringing the decision-making to the bottom — and unlike traditional or hierarchical parties, which have decision-making at the top. But a crucial difference between assembly-based parties and network parties is where execution happens: in network parties, not only decision-making but also execution is distributed and takes place at the bottom. And this is what makes politics new: not only where decision-making takes place, but also where execution does.

As it has been said, these are “elements rarely found as pure substances”, that is, theoretical (and very much simplified) models whose aim is neither saying how things should work, or how all parties can be distinctively and exhaustively categorized. On the contrary, we may find parties whose inner structure follows a different model depending on the stage, the level at which is is analysed, or even the time or specific task being developed. Thus, it is unlikely to find a party or an organization that perfectly fits the theoretical model, as it is likely to find many parties and organizations that embed in their organizational and operational design several bits of these models. Depending on which one prevails, or leads the culture of the organization, we will be able to generically label them one way or the other.

IDP2015 (IX). Multidisciplinary debate on the challenges of smart cities

Notes from the 11th Internet, Law and Politics Congress: Regulating Smart Cities, organized by the Open University of Catalonia, School of Law and Political Science, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 2-3 July 2015. More notes on this event: idp2015.

Multidisciplinary debate on the challenges of smart cities
Chairs: Marta Continente

Pilar Conesa. Founder and director of Anteverti.

Increasing concentration of people living in urban areas. Areas which are becoming totally saturated and ask for new ways or urban planning. This includes not only transportation, but also public services like education, healthcare, etc. The 19th century was a century of empires, the 20th century was a century of nation states, the 21st century will be a century of cities, Wellington E. Webb.

If we want to develop new cities, new smart cities, we need to know and share the approach behind. This is not trivial and it will determine the model of smart city that will be put into practice.

There is no smart city without a smart government.

Oriol Torruella. Director of the Legal Consultancy Department, CESICAT, Information Security Center of Catalonia

Smart city: improve the efficiency and efficacy of the management of the city, by means of an intensive usage of ICTs.

There are, though, some risks: the vulnerabilities of both software and hardware; the management of the citizen identity; treatment of personal data; affectation to the availability and security of critical infrastructures, etc.

It is crucial that citizens become smart citizens too if they are to be part of a smart city. They have to be aware of all risks of cibersecurity, what are the laws that apply to certain practices and activities, etc.

Ricard Faura. Head of Knowledge Society, Generalitat de Catalunya

The citizen in the smart city, sensor or actor? (Pisani, Datopolis o Particopolis?)

We have to foster some elements through ICTs: participation, organization and collaboration.

For the smart city to be useful for the citizens, one needs to empower the citizens themselves, so that they can be active and critical. But ICTs have to be empowering, not barriers.

Main duties of the government: diffusion, information, awareness raising, training.

The city has to be a real lab where everything is possible and everything can be analysed and improved, and especially fitting the particular needs of the different communities that one finds within the city or across cities.

Discussion

José Luis Rubiés: Is there a risk of an illustrated despotism from the one that manages all these data? Who is the curator of the big data coming from smart cities? Ricard Faura: yes, this is a huge risk. Oriol Torruella: we are just at the dawn of smart cities and, as usually Humanity has done in the past, we work on a trial and error basis: we implement things, realize the risks, try to correct them, and on and on. Little by little we will learn to design better, to avoid risks before we implement, etc.

Q: can we extrapolate initiatives from one place to the other so that we do not have to reinvent the wheel? Marta Continente: yes and no. Yes, one can adapt what worked elsewhere. But the important thing is that ICTs, or whatever initiative on smart cities, are just a toolbox. And, as such, its application or usage will strongly depend on the realities found in each specific city.

11th Internet, Law and Politics Conference (2015)

IDP2015 (VIII). Juan José Medina Ariza: Crime Mapping and the Smart City

Notes from the 11th Internet, Law and Politics Congress: Regulating Smart Cities, organized by the Open University of Catalonia, School of Law and Political Science, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 2-3 July 2015. More notes on this event: idp2015.

Smart city, smart policing
Prof. Dr. Dr. Juan José Medina Ariza. Professor of Criminology (University of Manchester)

Security has traditionally been based on a top-down visions, a centralized control room.

Many municipalities have sort of “dashboards” that map the city crime, security issues, socio-economic indicators, etc.

These dashboards aim at locating clusters where more crime takes place, identifying the determinants or correlating factors of that crime, etc. After this clustering and correlations, one can create tools that can try to predict crime, based on trends and simulations. And once crime is “predicted”, then comes “predicted policing”, that aims at stopping crime just before it takes place, going to the place where crime is most likely to happen.

Problems when opening data: What happens when we open the data? How legitimate is its collection? How fair is its analysis?

The risks of Campbell’s law: the more one uses an indicator for decision-making purposes, the less it is useful for decision-making purposes, as it use imprints a bias into the indicator itself.

We know too that in some cases, there are biases in citizens reporting crime: many of them will not be eager to report crime, because this will diminish the value of their real state, because of own security reasons, etc.

What’s next? From predicting hotspots to individual predictions. A growing awareness about the problems with algorithms. Going back to measuring what matters. Privatised criminal justice is not science fiction any longer.

On the other hand, we will maybe see a rise in transparency in what relates to police practices, like stop and search.

There is a problem with profiling with big data, as in the one hand it is built upon evidence, but on the other hand it can strengthen biases, stigmas and prejudices.

Discussion

E.J. Koops: does crime mapping represent reality or constitutes reality? Juan José Medina: this is definitely a problem with mapping that needs being addressed specifically in each and every case.

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IDP2015 (VII). E.J. Koops: Physical and Online Privacy: fundamental challenges for level frameworks to remain relevant

Notes from the 11th Internet, Law and Politics Congress: Regulating Smart Cities, organized by the Open University of Catalonia, School of Law and Political Science, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 2-3 July 2015. More notes on this event: idp2015.

Physical and Online Privacy: fundamental challenges for level frameworks to remain relevant.
Prof. Dr. E.J. Koops. Professor of Regulation & Technology (Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society)

Is it legal, or should it be allowed to:

  • Scan homes with termal equipped drones in search of hemp domestic plantations?
  • Take a snapshot of a stranger, google them, recognize their faces, peek at their social networking profiles and start a conversation with them on their preferences?
  • Track people inside shops with wifi-tracking, analyze their movements in the shop and thus place advertising on the counter?

Conceptual history of locating privacy:

  • The body (habeas corpus): physical privacy.
  • The home: physical privacy + private space.
  • The letter: physical privacy + closed ‘space’ between homes.
  • The telephone: ‘closed’ ‘space’ between homes.
  • Mobile phone: ‘closed’ ‘space’.
  • The computer: protecting data, not spaces.
  • The cloud: loss of location.

The home evaporates. There is a lot of information that now one can access without entering a home. And, usually, looking inside without entry is allowed. Same happens now with technology and digital data. The public space is increasingly becoming privacy-sensible: increased traceability, increased identifiability (face recognition, augmented reality)…

And with the trend to improve body functions through implants and prosthesis, the body itself sort of becomes a “public space” as its data (including brain stimuli) can be exported out of the body.

It is increasingly difficult to draw the technical distinction between traffic data and content of communications, particularly on an Internet context. The distinction, indeed, is becoming less relevant, as traffic data are also increasingly privacy-sensitive (location, profiling).

Problems/fallacies:

  • Data protection law cannot give individuals control over their data.
  • Too much confidence in the controller/regulator: the law is becoming too complex.
  • Regulating everything in one statutory law: impossibility for comprehensiveness.

What is privacy?

  • The right to be let alone.
  • Controlling information about oneself.
  • Freedom from judgement of others.
  • Freedom from unreasonable constraints.
  • Depends on the context.

More information

11th Internet, Law and Politics Conference (2015)

IDP2015 (VI). Smart cities II

Notes from the 11th Internet, Law and Politics Congress: Regulating Smart Cities, organized by the Open University of Catalonia, School of Law and Political Science, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 2-3 July 2015. More notes on this event: idp2015.

Smart cities II
Chairs: Ismael Peña-López

DCCPP = PRIVACY BY DESIGN Direct Current Communications & Privacy Protocol (DCCPP) proposed for a privacy protective DC Smart Grid
E.M. Wesselingh, P. van Willigenburg, H. Stokman

A new system to manage appliances where privacy is built in by design.

This is a two layer DC smart-grid. The first layer is the home environment with many appliances that use DC electrical energy such as laptops and tablets, smartphones, TVs, LED lights. The second part of the proposed design covers the street-side of the electrical distribution grid. Separating these grids, a higher degree of safety and privacy is enabled.

De-mediation processes and their impact on legal ordering –Lessons l. earned from Uber conflict
Mariona Rosell-Llorens

Some norms regarding ICTs have proven to be ineffective (e.g. intellectual property rights), though some efficacy depends on acceptance. What makes a city smart is to profit from its community’s input. Seems like the grounds of law are disconnected fro current practices. The theory of the legal system is not receptive enough. Better laws need better legal theory.

De-mediation processes and Uber: de-mediation is related with autonomy. ICTs and appservices provide individuals a capacity ofr acting without interference of traditional intermediaries. Autonomy understood in the sense of empowerment, user participation, community building.

But then participants experience law. What happens when participants by-pass the formally enacted law? How participants experience legality thanks to ICTs?

We maybe need a better informed legal theory, based on social grounds. It is not a matter of legitimacy, but a better informed norm. We need more reasonable and sensible laws, “new” conceptual tools.

Barrio Digital [digital neighbourhood]: the way towards the digital city
Manuel Dávila Sguerra

The idea of the project was the creation of a smart city within the Minuto de Dios neighbourhood in Engativá (Bogotá). 1,200 students geolocated data from the neighbourhood. This enabled a next step consisting in adding the “social layer” to the map.

1,075 shoppers where characterized. The shoppers were trained by the students so that they learnt how to use certain devices and access to information.

Augmented reality was used to put services on the map, including cultural venues, so that the citizen could know what was around him, just by using their smartphone on the street.

Courses on digital literacy, especially for disabled people.

Bottom-up vision: the smartest cities are the ones that embrace openness, randomness and serendipity.

Discussion

Ismael Peña-López: how do we tell the difference between adapting the law to fair practices and legalizing unfair behaviours? Mariona Rosell-Llorens: while we should keep safe some important principles, it is also true that society is increasingly complex and, thus, the traditional way of approving a law — mostly with a dominant top-down approach — is outdated and should be complemented with a higher observation (even concurrence) of what happens on the street, a more bottom-up approach.

11th Internet, Law and Politics Conference (2015)