Categories: politics

the draft… for college republicans?

Oh man, just watched this again. Check this quote out from Tom Delay (at 3:46):

If you don’t believe abortion affects you, I contend it affects you in immigration. If we had those forty million children that were killed over the last thirty years, we wouldn’t need the illegal immigrants to fill the jobs that they are doing today.

where oh where does one start with that one?

vid by: Max Blumenthal.

helping people do things


This is probably old hat for many, but it occurs to me that what LibriVox and many of the other successful web aps and projects out there are about is helping people do things, rather than helping people get things. The best web providers (say google, flickr, wikipedia) these days all help you do the things you want to do, rather than help you buy the things you want to buy (an older model of what “commercial” means). In the case of LibriVox, providing audio books to the public is almost an incidental fringe benefit to the real thing we do, which is help people record audio books. And that’s one of the reasons LibriVox has been successful, our focus is on the readers not the listeners; and if you want to measure the value of what we have done to date, measure it not by numbers of downloads, but rather by the number of hours of audiobooks that are planned, but not yet recorded. That’s the true measure of the success of our efforts: efforts other people will make in the future.

So as you are contemplating your next big business venture, try thinking about it this way.

not: how can i sell more widgets?
but instread: what kind of widget can i build to help people do X better?

(NOTE: why is there a word for “widget” but not for the X?).

I guess this is what software, and shovels, and innovation has always been about in many ways… still, the language we use if so often skewed in the direction of selling things rather than doing things. Even those “things” are different: amazon provides books. engineering schools provide the ability to build bridges. would you rather provide a widget or an ability? which do you think is more valuable?

For instance, the old saw about bad inventions is: “tried to build a better mousetrap” (suggesting that the old-fashioned ones work as well as any new ones, so you’re wasting your time). But you could also say, “tried to help people catch more mice.” OK, so it doesn’t sound as good, but the point is that increasingly with the web, we need to focus less on the tools and more on what people can do with them. The shovel does not really matter; it’s the hole that is important.

This came up in as I was applying, on behalf of LibriVox, for the Stockholm Challenge Awards … there was a section in the application for Impacts. In some email exchanges with one of the organizers, he said to me, in reference to a badly-filled out section (I hope it’s OK that I am quoting him):

Impact is more about the effects in the wider world. So downloads are good, but instead of a broad measure, I would aim to get data on what is being downloaded (top 50 list perhaps) and who is downloading (geographic distribution by domain and whether it is institutional or private) but also providing the jury with some feedback about teachers using the resource in class because they can’t afford hard copies, or students, researchers etc who can get searchable access to the content of a book for reviews etc etc.

Think of impact in terms of a new drug. The company meets its objectives if it sells millions of doses, but the impact is whether it changes the rate of cure, life extension or quality etc in the patient. That’s what we want to see.

and I kept thinking, and ended up writing, that the real impact of LibriVox is not about who downloads our books, but that we have enabled thousands of people across the globe to participate in a project together that does something important. we have provided a platform to let people read audiobooks (something, it turns out, a number of people wish to do). our most important impact is not about how many people downloaded our free books (after all if that was the criteria, bit torrents would beat us out by a landslide), but about the construction of the project itself, and how we have built a platform that helps people do things they want to do, and do them for others.

this might be a good definition for that term I promised never to use again: web 1.0 helps you get things; web 2.0 helps you do things.

Categories: librivox, openmovement

gift economies & librivox

Austin, a founder of the top-secret start-up, has a post about gift economies, which I commented on. He got me thinking and, I left a long rambly comment, which I’d like to expand on… soon ;-) … anyway, here is my comment:

one crucial point about online gift economies (and perhaps other gift economies too): the reciprocation is rarely one-to-one. this i think is why we are able to be accomplish so much in online free projects. you give your bit to a sense of collective benefit, in part in the expectation that others (but certainly not everyone) will do the same, making the whole project better.

so for wikipedia, people contribute without any expectation that any particular reader will contribute back. i don’t know what the editor/reader ratios are (for wikitravel it’s 1:50, i imagine much bigger for wikipedia). still, in a sense I receive from wikipedia, gain benefit, recognize that benefit, and *maybe* I contribute back, to wikipedia…but i don’t expect everyone to do that.

this is certainly the case for LibriVox, where there is no expectation that any particular listener will record. however that is really the key to our success: any listener *can* record, and we actively hope that they do…not because we want our efforts reciprocated, but more importantly because every new contributor/book adds to our collective achievement, each new recording reflects well on all our other efforts.

“i have listened, i have appreciated your effort, and i have appreciated so much, that i am willing to put the effort into recording as well.”

and all of us get the joy of participating in a project that is getting bigger, and better …something that reflects back on each of us as volunteers.

hmm. so for librivox, every new volunteer/recording is an explicit “validation” (not sure what that meaningless word means…) of what we are doing. not payment as such, but that the effort all of us have put in is reciprocated by efforts that others are willing to make, we can measure in some concrete way the “value” of the effort that has been made to date. that is, it is “worth” the effort that will be made in the future. interesting… which again is why we spend so much time defending/protecting the readers, and little time worrying about what the listener has to say. because for us the true measure of value associated with librivox is not at all how many people listen, but how many people record.

and that is the difference between us and a commercial company. our value is defined by participation; while a commercial approach measures value by use.

sorry, this is a ramble, just thinking thru these ideas as i write…. i’ll have to write this up in some more detail.