User-Added Value

It is a popular misconception that technological progress happens in a user-driven way, by “finding a need and then finding a way to fill it” as the inventor in the animated movie “Robots” says. My interpretation of Kuhn is that true paradigm shifts come from a radical concept that comes first and then gets matched to a following, often in the form of solving a problem, but sometimes through what is essentially fashion.

You’d be amazed at how many technologies are developed without actual users at all. Most of these technologies fail, of course. One needs users, but shouldn’t be entirely need-driven. The best chance of success comes with an idea that is validated and refined by actual users.

I’m still trying to figure out what we’ve learned from our users, but initial thoughts are:

Continue reading

Intellectual Property Is Not An Enforceable “Right”

Internal problems in Brie. Some nasty, some trivial, all annoying. We’ll work ’em out, but time to think of something else for a while. How about huge cultural paradigm shifts?

Clearly, something’s going on in the area of intellectual property. The old models are not serving. Everybody’s got something to say. (Here and there are some current MIT community examples.) On the one hand, Apple tries to sue companies for using a Windows-Icons-Menus-Pointer (WIMP) look-and-feel that they themselves didn’t invent, and they won’t let me rip the songs I legally bought from them. On the other hand, they want to use the name “Apple” despite clearly being in competition with Apple Records in the music business, and they produce a variety of devices in the new-cultural rip-mix-and-burn chain. Are they schizo, or is it just opportunistic business? I think it’s another data point towards the conclusion that we’re waiting for Thomas Kuhn (in a broad sense) to point the new way.

How can we understand intellectual property rights in a digital age? I propose that we try to get at what we really mean in terms of some established axioms.

Continue reading

our computer is gross

Our home desktop Windows machine is used only by my wife and two pre-teen girls. We’ve been infected by some crapware lately and I tried to clean it up. In addition to the stuff visible on the hard disk, there’s this thing called the Windows registry. This is is used for all sorts of nefarious purposes, such as boot-time start-up of programs that you never heard of and don’t want running on your machine. I couldn’t believe what I found in there.

I did this:


(and then type)


(In the regedit menus do:)


(and type)


(or erotic, or anything else you’d be surprised to find on your computer).

I feel so violated.