Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Innovation, Openness, and Currencies

A few days ago I watched this very insightful talk by Lawrence Lessig (thanks Matt for tweeting it!). One of the take home points of this talk is that many of the platforms that are now supporting innovation and creativity are not actually that open. In some cases they are both functionally and legally closed, as in the iPhone, and in other cases they are legally closed but functionally open, as in Youtube. Lessig points out that this is contrary to the conventional theory on openness, which states that the level of creativity and innovation is inversely proportional to the level of control over the tools / platforms that enable them. Lessig's point is well taken. We run the risk of losing ground on open values unless we find practical ways to make openness indispensable.

I believe this is true as far as it goes. Of course, the big elephant in the room is money. Both money itself and the infrastructure that enables its use are highly controlled (closed) technologies. Is it really any surprise that companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, etc haven't fully embraced open values when they have to swim in the ocean of conventional closed money? They are simply doing what the market necessitates they do, which is maximize profit through dominance and control. If they can give lip service to a new way of doing things along the way, they can improve their brand image, but the core game is still conventional money.

We have only just begun to develop robust and scalable economic tools that can support open values. Wikipedia, Creative Commons, and others have begun to pave a practical and legal path for the integration of openness into mainstream culture. I have tons of hope that this process will continue, but I am also aware that we can't expect further openness from big multinational companies until we have the economic tools that can support it. IMHO, that is our primary design challenge right now as currency enthusiasts.

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