You Are Not the Hero of This Story

I’m a huge fan of peer-to-peer sharing systems. The whole idea of federated content takes much of its inspiration from platforms like BitTorrent, and I’ve repeatedly argued here that the future belongs to platforms that look more like IPFS than Dropbox. (In fact, if you read this blog, this was probably where you first heard about IPFS). Federated wiki was, of course, the ultimate peer-to-peer OER machine, and I even went so far last year to argue that torrented OER might be breaking into the mainstream.

I believe in the torrent model (over the URL model) so deeply that I’ve said that rediscovering name-based networking is key to the personal web, and that servers and URLs as the model are holding us back.

So I’m actually delighted that LBRY is trying a new torrent-like model for a YouTube replacement that balances out issues of creator control, payment, and distributed delivery of content. And even the fact that there is some BitCoin hand-waving in their materials doesn’t bother me — Ted Nelson himself envisioned a web with a system of micropayments and credits to creators, and people should still be trying to get that done. Artists and writers need to eat too, and the current dissolution of our society is partially attributable to the advertising/platform-based revenue model which rewards distributors over creators and clickbait over depth. Putting money in the pockets of creators is good.

What I dislike is headlines like this:


Headline: 20,000 Worldclass Lectures Made Illegal, So We Irrevocably Mirrored Them

LIBRYIO took a bunch of OER and hosted it, the way people do every single day. That’s great. I like that.

But “made illegal?” The videos were never made illegal. Berkeley was told that they could no longer host the videos. As the press release that follows that headline notes, multiple archiving teams have been working on this effort, with Berkeley’s blessing: it’s OER.

The headline is phrased in classic Hacker News style, and I get it. Hustlers gotta hustle. The post slug is even worse — the lectures have been “rescued”. UC Berkeley spent years of effort and millions of dollars producing and sharing these lectures, and somehow LBRY is the hero of the story.

If the company really loves creators as much as it says it does, maybe they could spend some time talking about the wonderful work that UC Berkeley has been doing in this area instead of portraying them as simply a point of failure in the story. Maybe they could talk about the quality of the content they are seeding to the network. And if they really want to help out the OER community, maybe instead of seeing people with disabilities as the villain of the story they could caption those videos and feed forward the love, like a good open citizen.

This stuff seems petty, I suppose, but how you talk about creators matters, and how you talk about open matters. The hero of this story is UC Berkeley, which not only produced and shared their knowledge at the cost of millions of dollars over many years, but actually fought for their right to continue to do so in court. LBRY is either a distribution platform that is going to allow those OER heroes to shine brighter, or the latest in a series of platforms looking to make a quick fortune of the free work of others without advancing the value of their work. Press releases like this make me worry it’s likely to be more of what’s behind door number two.

8 thoughts on “You Are Not the Hero of This Story

  1. Mmmm, maybe Berkeley *was* the hero of the story, when they were supporting the creation and publication of these lectures. They aren’t now, since they removed them, helping neither the visually impaired who wanted accessible access nor anyone else.

    Question: has anyone other than LBRY made such a copy-and-republication move?

  2. Mike,

    I’m both sorry and not that I baited you. Sorry cause I feel guilty for depending on you to do so much of the intellectual lifting, but not because you do it so well. I totally agree that LBRY may be playing the role of start-up parasite upon OERs. And your issue with them presenting themselves as heroes is right on. But beyond LBRY, the fact that so many folks have downloaded the videos and are offering them up to folks like Jason Scott at the Internet Archive does strike me as a strength of the web. And while not a revolution, for sure, it is a good reminder that openness can and should be valued well beyond the institutions (and licenses) that attempt to define it. Now your other point, namely that the real work is making them accessible for everyone can and should still be pursued. Whether that hard work—which is not nearly as easy or sexy as LBRY’s claim of rescuing them from the institutional bowel of HE—can get done will remain to be seen, but seems like taking them off the web was not a solution to a much more pervasive issue on the web.

    • Keep baiting me, Jim! Seriously. I hope I didn’t come off upset in those tweets, I wasn’t at all. It’s exactly the kind of story I should be responding to.

      I do think it’s weird that I’ve become the defacto defender of institutional approaches — it’s not really what I wanted to be. My larger point has always been that people power without working institutions tends to fizzle. Protests may have helped to lead to the legal challenge to the Muslim Ban for example, but without a working judiciary that challenge would be meaningless. “People make things possible, institutions make them last” is the line I think Stephen really disliked, but I still believe its true.

      So it’s best — in my mind — to see the grass-roots and institutions as synergistic. Even Wikipedia is a foundation. is another great example of an effort that has been set up as a hundred-year effort, bigger than anyone in it, even Brewster. And in that way, the ephemeral and flexible archive team working to to get those materials up on is the perfect example of people make things possible, institutions make them last — I do think both pieces play important roles.

      Techno-pirate-libertarianism isn’t engaging in grass-roots activity, or decentralized efforts. It’s not about action, it’s about ideology. It’s believing that those decentralized efforts will eventually replace the need for most forms of coordinated effort. Why have the National Endowment for the Arts when we’ve got the Internet? Why have libraries when we’ve got LBRY? Why have OER policy or funding when we can just get faculty to adopt? Why have the press when we have Facebook? Why have food stamps when we can have church soup kitchens? Etc

      OK, not all those things are techno-pirate-libertarianism, but you get my point.

      Love ya, Jim, as always. Big fan. 😉

  3. Hey Mike, are you the hero of this story? 😛 Just calling attention to the attention-grabbing headline technique. 😉

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