Thursday, March 12, 2009

The evolution of control: Coding is power

I had lunch with some of the guys from ThirdEyeT yesterday, and apart from business (I'm pleased to say I sit on the advisory board) we talked about something I think could be as revolutionary as the peer-to-peer publishing ability of the internet.

It all stems from a notion raised by Dom Penrice, one of the big brains behind the very interesting publishing model driving

Dom suggests the new owners of the means of production/control are not all of us (as you may conclude from the fact that we are all publishers now) they are, in fact, the coders. (image courtesy)

The ownership of the means of production has always been a pretty centralised affair.

Centralizing ownership meant centralizing control.

Way back when, The church owned the books and their production so it owned information. And that gave it control.

With the arrival of the printing press those who owned the means of creating and distributing information multiplied.

The result was new ideas spread more rapidly and were put into action faster, creating value for more and more people.

Or, the Renaissance, as it's otherwise known.

As industrialisation got swinging, and mass production started matching lowest common denominator needs, we developed faster and faster printing presses and distribution processes.

Cinema, radio, tv are all examples. Faster printing presses with ever broader reach.

Ownership of the means of production was still in the hands of the few though.

With the arrival of the Internet we all became publishers. Control of information was suddenly harder to make money from. Ask any traditional media owner.

Where once the ability to publish information (and therefore control it and everything reliant upon that) was scarce (and therefore valuable) now that ability had become abundant.

Publishing is virtually ubiquitous now. And almost ubiquitously virtual.

So a new currency emerged, a new scarce means of production: code.

Programmers now decide our experience and control our opportunities. They are the new press barons.

Except there are lots of them. Not ubiquitous. But lots.

So we've reached a new stage of control where more people (those with programming skills) have control, but still not enough for the true group forming value of the Internet to fulfil its potential.

How so? Well, just as an idea benefits from evolution, so an implementation.

If I share an idea, you will take elements of it that you find useful to share among your peers. Your feedback to me may benefit my version of the idea. Your evolution of it (with your next community of purpose) may make the idea a better fit for you and/or a better fit for the larger fitness landscape (the evolutionary model).

Ideas benefit from complex adaptive systems - such as peer to peer digital networks. The Internet.

They benefit so effectively from this today because our ability to publish our ideas one to another has become ubiquitous. We (pretty much) all know how to do this peer to peer publishing of ideas thing.

But far less of us know how to implement them when it comes to the coding and design.

And when an idea reaches that stage the evolutionary processes slow right down. There are too few people available to lend their skills to adapt code to make it a better fit for their purposes in rapid iterative processes of the kind we have for ideas.

Imagine if we could make it as easy to code as it is to publish.

Look what ubiquitous publishing has done for the production and exchange of content/information/ideas/

human relationships.

More content uploaded to Youtube in the last year than broadcast by TV ever.

Ubiquitous publishing.

Imagine ubiquitous coding.

That's precisely what Dom Penrice has in mind: finding ways to allow anyone to manipulate code, parcel up the value created and pass it on to the next person with shared need. The next person can then add their value to hone or reshape for their community of purpose. And so on ad infinitum with evolutionary processes amplifying or damping as dictated by the fitness landscape.

Dom's vision is that at each iteration those that have contributed get paid, feeding back, pyramid style, to the originator.

It is a supply web, networked world approach to programming and one which could be as revolutionary as the arrival of ubiquitous publishing itself.

ThirdeyeT are starting to put the idea of ubiquitous coding to practical effect in their new publishing cms. It allows them to change the design of their site (and not just reskin it) in two days flat - without the need for any specialist skills.

I know many a editor who would be very grateful of that.

In the days of the constant relaunch giving control directly to the people with the vision has to be a good thing.

We're all publishers now. All advertisers, all marketers.

When we are all coders, then the next revolution will begin.

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The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?