[Update: mp3, stream, wav file of Yossi Vardi’s lecture available here.  Also, see Turmis’s Musings for additional color.]

“People are interested in a good story,” Yossi Vardi says, “and not in the facts.”  So take his lecture today at Harvard Law School, sponsored by the Berkman Center, on its own terms.

Yossi Vardi says the most important idea in the story of the Net is collaboration.  Things get interesting when you get past a zero-sum game.  It’s important to strive for the biggest non-zero-sum game possible.  One way to explain what’s happening is by turning to the emerging study of neuro-economics, an attempt to correlate economic activities and their effect on the brain, and collaboration v. competition.  It’s about dopamine that is released through collaborative activity. 

Google, eBay, Amazon are all taking advantage of collaboration and sharing online.  They’re all monetizing the rating of other people and products that users do for one another for free.

ICQ, of which Vardi was founding investor, is successful by “pushing dopamine over IP [Internet protocol].”

“We go from smart mobs up to swarms,” says Vardi.  What you really want are “wise mobs,” from which you can extract essential knowledge.

Like those who are paying attention to the digital music crisis, Vardi is wondering about what things we think of as “public goods” (non-rivalrous and non-excludable; see the first few pages of Prof. Terry Fisher’s chapter 6 of his forthcoming book, “Promises to Keep”).

On openness: the power is in harnessing the work and energy of smart people outside a given organization.  People are building platforms, not applications today.  ICQ was designed as a platform, onto which people can build and which outside work then returns value to the original platform.

A critical example of collaboration on the Net: dating, which is still growing.

Jim Moore: the message, leading up to this struggle for dominance between the edge and the hub, is that we should be grounded in the idea of human cooperation and build from there, scaling to new levels of productivity and power.

[Aside: Vardi on Wagner: “His music is not as bad as it sounds.”]

So, on to the struggles, as advertised

* At the Hub(s): Some of the struggles are between players who seek to control the hub.  Whose operating system will control the desktop?  How will people connect to the Net: via cable, telephony, etc.  Who will control the living room (the TV, the game platform, the PC)?  Do people really want one converged appliance, or do people, as Vardi suspects, really want a series of different appliances for different purposes, among which the bits can move.  What will be the hub?  Or are there a series of hubs even within the living room?  Will the content creators, distributors or the platforms govern?  Will Google beat Overture once and for all?  These are all struggles among players at the hub.

*The Edge v. the Hub: These struggles, Vardi tells us, are the more interesting ones.  The struggle is over the openness of the technology: on the legal fronts, the struggles are over ownership of intellectual property, spectrum, VoIP; on the technical fronts, on standards, architecture, APIs, morality of free v. paid, etc.  (The watching of advertising, like other low-paid work, is being farmed to developing countries, says Vardi, since you only get $0.40 per hour watching advertisements). 

* Why the Edge will win: The edge is highly motivated.  The edge doesn’t take lunch-breaks and doesn’t spend hours making fancy PowerPoints.  (“Power corrupts, and PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.”)  It has the advantages of no centrality — just as KaZaA survives Napster, the Edge will survive the Hub.  The power of Hub has traditionally been through big stupid money.  The Edge has much more power and can do more new things.  P2P users will always beat the RIAA.

Those who will win on the Net will recognize three things:

* Harness the goodwill of the Edge. 

* The Edge has already won.

* Microsoft will embrace Linux.  The RIAA will incorporate Napster.

Professor Charles Nesson: is the technology neutral as between left and right in politics?

Vardi: the technology is good for passionate people.  I think that more people of the left are on the Internet (but see Instapundit).  The Edge is more about idealism, youth, avant-garde; the Hub is about conservatism, money, vested interest, and — somewhat discouraging — big technology. 

Moore: it’s not about left or right, it’s about those who trust other people.  Those are the people drawn to collaboration and P2P (but see libertarians who are quite open to collaboration).

Discussion turns to Moore’s Second Superpower.  Is it too airy-fairy, or is there there there?  [No resolution on this important point, alas.]

Vardi: credit is due to Microsoft for combining the open and the closed.  The platform they’ve built enables some innovation by programmers, up to a point.  They’ve succeeded as a result — for other reasons as well, including bundling.  (Moore, by way of reply, gets things going by saying that MSFT is in fact the more open platform, as it’s more accessible to end-users than is much open-source software, which is accessible, he says, only to the super-elite of programmers.)

6 thoughts on “Collaboration

  1. I can’t tell you how great it is to be able to asynchronously “audit” this class (dopamine galore). Thanks so much!

  2. “It’s about dopamine that is released through collaborative activity.”

    In way it’s just like the dopamine released by people with existing adverse credit through borrowing using bad credit loans. The rush of having a sudden surge in income combined with raw greed will negate any effects of group collaboration.

    Such is the way of the western capitalist society.

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