Common Knowledge

Tech4Society, Day 3

I’ll start my final post on the Tech4Society conference by giving thanks to the Ashoka folks for getting me here to be a part of this conference. Most of the time, even in the developing world, I’m surrounded by digital natives, or people who emigrated to the digital nation. It’s an enveloping culture, one that can skew the perception of the world to one where everyone worries about things like copyrights and licenses, and whether or not data should be licensed or in the public domain.

There’s a big world of entrepreneurs out there just hacking in the real world. First life, if you will. High touch, not high tech.

Being enveloped in their world for a few days gave me a lot of new perspectives on the open access and open educational resources movements. As always with this blog, my intention to write may exceed my delivery of text, but I’m going to try to chew through the perspectives. Getting off the road in a few weeks is going to help.

But I now get at a deep level the way that obsessive cultures of information control in the scholarly and educational literature represent a high tax, inbound and outbound, on the entrepreneur, whether social or regular. If you don’t know the canon, you’re doomed to repeat it. And we don’t have the time, the money, or the carbon to repeat experiments we know won’t work. We can’t afford to let good ideas go un-amplified, because we need tens of thousands of good ideas.

At my panel today on scale, we focused mainly on why scale is hard, the problems of scale. The CC experience – going from 2 people in a basement at Stanford to 50 countries in 6 years – is an example of what I called “catastrophic success”. It’s a nice way to think of what I also like to call the Jaws moment, after the scene in the 1970s action film where, having hoped to find a shark to catch, they find one muuuuuch bigger than they expected. The relevant quote is “we’re gonna need a bigger boat” – and that is what happens sometimes at internet scale. Entrepreneurs need to know why they want to scale, what scale means to them, and how to measure success, especially social entrepreneurs. Because if cash isn’t the only metric, the metrics you choose will wind up defining your success at scale.

There was a great question about scaling passion. I am going to try and address that in another post. I’m not quite in a mental state to get that post out yet, though.

It wasn’t just the social entrepreneurs, but also CC community experiences. Gautam John challenged me, eloquently and at length, about the way that Creative Commons engages with its community. I went into the argument convinced of my position, and left much less so. That’s as good as arguments get for me.

Ashoka and Lemelson foundations are doing great work, supporting inventors around the world (though I would have liked to have seen some Eastern bloc inventors – a curious lack of Slavic accents – wonder why). It was an honor to crash their party.


  1. #1 Gautam John
    February 14, 2010

    Thanks for the shout out John. It’s always nice to meet someone who is passionate about the Commons and to engage in productive arguments. I’m looking forward to building on it…

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