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O'Reilly on Morozov (io9.com)
81 points by saidajigumi on Apr 3, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 22 comments

> Also, what Morozov fears is quite reasonable, if you look at the history of government regimes that have murdered and forcibly relocated their citizens in the name of productivity and (yes) openness.

Really? What regimes have murdered in the name of openness? And let's not mistake what regimes claim to do with what they actually do. China's Great Leap Forward waved equality as a banner, yet I don't see the resulting horrific famine as being a reason to roll back civic rights in America


I read this passage a couple but cannot figure out what it means -- the OP is describing how open source arose from the free software movement:

> The problem was that companies could sell free software, but they weren't always happy about the public mucking around in their code and changing it. So O'Reilly helped a group of entrepreneurs come up with the alternative term "open source" software, which described a bunch of different licenses that people could use to release software in ways that free software would not allow. You might say that open source allowed companies to release code that was partly open, but partly closed.

O'Reilly already weighed in pretty effectively...but the OP must be referring to something that happened in reality...right? Was there a company that got into open-source because it was tired of how the public could just go "mucking" about in their code base without reservation? What does that even mean?

> Was there a company that got into open-source because it was tired of how the public could just go "mucking" about in their code base without reservation? What does that even mean?

Well, there's Red Hat w/ their Enterprise Linux distributions, and Apple w/ the FreeBSD-derived iOS and OSX. You can't fork and distribute either of those products without incurring the wrath of their respective owners' very diligent lawyers.

Really? I have seen plenty of RHEL "forks", CentOS, Scientific Linux to name a few.

Apple's OSX isn't open source in any sense, sure it has components based on liberally licensed open source code, but so does almost every other proprietary software product.

Why can't you distribute them? Apple's Darwin is mostly under the APSL, which you can edit and distribute, just not under a different license. Likewise, RHEL is open--the trademark is not.

And let's not mistake what regimes claim to do with what they actually do.

This seems like a very hard criteria to meet - separating claimed intentions from "actual" causes (which are never objective).

Besides, the original quote is "in the name of".

I would love to know what licenses are those. Almost all Open Source licenses are also Free Software, and MIT/BSD - which allow partially open code - existed a decade before Open Source was coined.

Morozov is tapping into a current of thought that is becoming increasingly popular. It's the same sentiment that has triggered a backlash against TED talks - a backlash against attractively packaged memes that are being sold using slick conference talks or other forms of effective marketing. This sentiment is partly driven by a skepticism about what is really being marketed. Is it the idea or is it really personal influence, consulting careers and book sales?

It's easy to apply this type of skepticism to O'Reilly media which promotes endless ideas such as 'Big Data' rebranding old technology and approaches as new, invalidating any previous concerns with data privacy and the like. I think we as an industry take the memes too seriously and with too little critical thought.

I agree TED is a bit of a nexus for it. In my circles I see a sort of backlash (or maybe, better, buyer's remorse) directed at TED being fairly broad, hitting many people who wouldn't read more than a few sentences of Morozov. But then Morozov thrusts a dagger into that wound for a subset of people. For people who never liked any of that stuff and just think society is going downhill with all this technological nonsense, Morozov has less appeal, because you've already got Nicholas Carr and many other people for that angle.

You mention ideas vs. packaging/motives, but I think I've gotten more skeptical about the style of idea as well. Skepticism of the marketing/book/speaking-tour angle probably plays a role in that, but the ideas increasingly seem sort of fluffy. I like to think TED was better back when I was more positive on it, but I've re-watched a few older talks I recall liking, and they seem to have aged poorly, at least for me. I don't have anything against popularizing science, but I can't find much in the TED archives anymore that reminds me of what I think of as good popularized science, up to the gold standard of a Carl Sagan. It more often reminds me of motivational speakers and self-help gurus, the kinds of ideas you see on a CNN segment or something: new science says [amazing revelation that will change your life]. The Onion parody floating around [1] caricatures some of the rhetorical style pretty well. The style somehow seemed fresh at the time, but looking back on older TED talks now, they seem not all that different from stuff I was already familiar with earlier, a certain genre of lightly science-flavored "idea" stuff that's existed since at least the '70s. Maybe with better production values— some of the '70s stuff seems a lot more embarrassing even now.

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tom6_ceTu9s

That's a really interesting point, I hadn't considered that before now. There are a couple that I still really like, but I also think many of them legitimately were more interesting than they would be now - not because their information is dated, but maybe just because people have more connected knowledge bases now...?

Funnily enough, Morozov himself did a TED talk four years ago.

With some strategic skimming I think I've been able to get at the point of Morozov's essay: It's a complaint about the corruption (or "pollution") of language. Given the 20th century that's a reasonable thing to worry about: in retrospect, language is often the canary in the coal mine, warning of the approach of Fascism.

The problem is that his argument doesn't really come together. He rightly makes fun of "Web 2.0" as a pointless buzzword, but that's a complaint beyond it's sell-by date. Nobody says that with a straight face anymore, except as a vague marker for a time-period of website fashion. It's not a concept anyone associates with anything of serious importance. He also makes a side-remark about '“Open,” “networks,” and “information”' that I don't really get: networks and information are mostly used in a rigorous technical sense by the tech community as far as I can tell.

His main thrust is reserved for "open", but he doesn't really make the case here either; there's a long retelling of the old free software vs. open source battle, but promoting a new, roughly descriptive term to draw a distinction between two things is hardly the stuff of Goebbels. This is apparently being extended into "Open government".

This, as far as I can tell, is the core point arrives: Morozov can put up with transparency and accountability, but extending that into "open government" that obligates government agencies to permit the public to collaborate with them is not ok. This reduces government into provider-of-services, a set of replaceable parts like the NIH or the Federal Highway Administration that either do their task or don't, and if they don't, can be changed.

This is a very sad, small box to put the government into if you've become emotionally invested in the idea of the state as the manifestation of our collective will. In this world, the "political and moral principles" of the government are of central importance and the primary goal of politics is to petition this god-state into a benevolent and not evil ruler by ensuring that it is not blind to the concerns of everyone.

This is where his point kind of falls apart, as he doesn't seem to quite distinguish the problems with the evil all-containing-god-state (Singapore, more or less) from the problems with the technocratic, apolitical, one-institution-among-many service-provider state that he claims O'Reilly is pushing for. Lumping these two opposites together makes the whole argument kind of mushy.

This is an article by Annalee Newitz with a reply by and ensuing discussion with Tim O'Reilly. I found this highly relevant to the recent HN post re: Evgeny Morozov's "The Meme Hustler"[1].

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5472759

I can't imagine this kind of reactionary thinking will go down too well here on HN...

Edit: btw have you read Moldbug's recent column on Sam Altman? [1] He uses Altman as a similar example of a fake progressive, though doesn't really touch on the whole open government side of things

[1] http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.co.nz/2013/03/sam-a...

As I read it, Morozov's essay has two main points:

1. Propaganda is now self referential. Especially that the selling point of "Government 2.0" is an analogy to "Web 2.0" and "Open," where neither "Open" nor "Web 2.0" has any kind of meaning to begin with.

2. A specific consequence of this is, that the policy debate is no longer about the goals of a policy but about manipulation of meaningless symbols.

It is then quite interesting to read O'Reilly's comments, since he actually does not refute (or even criticizes ) Morozov's points, but only asserts again that 'Open Government' is a better way to archive some policy goals.

This is of course a highly subjective and somewhat unfair compression of an interesting exchange, but functional for my main point: I completely agree both with Morozov and O'Reilly, just on different levels. Morozov does indeed raise very good questions. On the other hand, open government is an important tool to archive some policy goals, at least for some definition of open.

"It’s easy to forget this today, but there was no such idea as open source software before 1998; the concept’s seeming contemporary coherence is the result of clever manipulation and marketing."

Okay, even after reading and re-reading that, and the paragraphs around it for context, I still want to go "wat." She needs to clarify there was no such term as "Open Source", not no such idea.

Annalee Newitz comes across as very disingenuous here, to say the least. But then it is a Gawker site. Oh well.

Props to Tim O'Reilly for discussing what is basically a hit piece with good humor.

I agree - the tone of her comments is so different than that of her article that it seems like a completely different person.

Morozov is sometimes worse than Steve Yegge. I like some of his critique - but if he omitted all the personal snipes he could probably compress it ten times.

He also seems to be polarizing on purpose:

Can Twitter build a button so that users can indicate how offensive my tweets are? I'd really love that: like "Favorites" - perhaps "Hates"?

Because, at least on this end, there's some anxiety that my tweets are not offensive enough.


Evgeny Morozov, while a talented writer, is a curmudgeon. To me, he reads like the lovechild of Dvorak and Ann Coulter, with none of the finesse ;)

I have seen the word "meme" enough for a while.

It is a really useful term when used in its original context, rather than the way the term is commonly used now.

O'Reilly created and led a publishing empire that educated a generation of people who created the modern Internet.

Who are these Annalee and Morozov people, and why are we wasting our time featuring their ramblings?

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