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:
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.