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Book Review: “The Laws of Disruption: Harnessing the New Forces that Govern Business and Life in the Digital Age” by Larry Downes

Posted in review by filizefe on December 7, 2009

Revolution is coming, as well as the consequences of law and business in digital life. Innovative communication technologies disrupt the social, political, and legal systems. New forces, driven by these communication technologies, are replacing the government forms of the industrial age. Larry Downes, in his new book “The Laws of Disruption: Harnessing the New Forces that Govern Business and Life in the Digital Age”, explores this intersection of law and business in digital life, describes emerging principles that are shaping a new legal code, and draws a roadmap especially for policy makers and lawyers in this transformation period.

Downes is a consultant on developing business strategies in the digital age and the author of the Business Week and New York Times business best-seller, “Unleashing the Killer App: Digital Strategies for Market Dominance”, which was named by The Wall Street Journal as one of the five most important books ever published on business and technology.  (larrydownes.com, 2009) (supernovahub.com, 2009)

Moore's Law: Plot of CPU transistor counts against dates of introduction. The curve shows counts doubling every two years.

Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law, show that the communication technologies are getting faster, cheaper, smaller, and the value of the network expands exponentially with the number of connected users to the system. Law, by design, changes slowly. Downes draws the central thesis of the book around these principles which is “technology changes exponentially, but social, economic, and legal systems change incrementally.” The normal evolution of legal systems is slow and incremental. But the innovative communication technologies disrupt the current system and ultimately demand dramatic transformation.

In particular, the book brings forward nine emerging principles for a new legal foundation, built on the information economy. These nine principles, divided into three groups, reflect the major components of digital life and form the laws of disruption:

Private Life

1.            Convergence – When Worlds Collide

2.            Personal Information – From Privacy to Propriety

3.            Human Rights – Social Contracts in Digital Life

Public Life

4.            Infrastructure – Rules of the Road on the Information Highway

5.            Business – All Regulation is Local

6.            Crime – Public Wrongs, Private Remedies

Information Life

7.            Copyright – Reset the Balance

8.            Patent – Virtual Machines Need Virtual Lubricants

9.            Software – Open Always Wins … Eventually

The exploration of these critical areas is not new to the reader; Yochai Benkler in his book published in 2006, “The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom”, examines the emerging social production in the digitally networked environment and how it transformed our most fundamental understandings of our society, economy and democracy. (Benkler, 2006) While Benkler is targeting academics about the same topics framing cultural reflections, Downes aims policy makers and business lawyers with up to date case-studies, and future predictions including warning sign.

Downes in his book, not only explores these nine critical areas in a very well structured outline with solid up to date stories from business and social life, but also suggests solutions to the emerging consequences. For example, in the last part “Information Life”, “Law Seven: Copyright”, Downes explores the history of copyright from its beginning to the present, and proposes a radical but simple solution, which is resetting the balance between information producers and users: He proposes setting realistic time limits to the legal protection on the content, restoring the concept of fair use, and undoing the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 2000, which has done considerable damage to the balance between information producers and users and added no value. He emphasizes that markets do a better job than traditional forms of government in establishing rules in legal protection of digital content.

The metaphor of fast cars and speed limits to describe the state of copyright is a great one:  “It is now virtually impossible for average consumers to avoid violating copyright law on a daily basis. It’s as if every time cars were made faster, speed limits were reduced to minimize the incidence of speeding.” (Downes, 2009 pg 207). Almost everyone agrees that the copyright system is broken, “72 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 don’t care whether the music they downloaded onto their computers was copyrighted or not”. (Downes, 2009 pg 207)

Metcalfe's Law: Two telephones can make only one connection, five can make 10 connections, and twelve can make 66 connections.

As Moore’s Law makes it possible to digitize and store information much easier every day, Metcalfe’s Law helps it to explain how the information is exponentially distributed within the network. Once the information is digitized, any user can make any number of perfect duplicates. Chris Anderson in his book “Free: the Future of a Radical Price”, has already predicted that revolution is coming, even happening right now. Anderson takes a business approach to frame the topic, where Downes takes it from the legal point of view.

Anderson explains new business models where every product on the digital platform is competing with the price of “free” and it is already happening now. Because once it is digitized, the marginal cost of a product approaches zero and so its price falls toward zero. However, it is not threatening profitability of a product. (Anderson, 2009) Downes agrees with it: “The Law of Disruption always challenges the existing rules and profit allocations of industries, but in the end it creates more value than it destroys.” (Downes, 2009 pg 218)

Communication technologies are dramatically rewriting the rules of business and social life. This is disruptive and revolutionary. As real life and digital life continue to converge, the rise of consequences in private, public and information life is inevitable. I highly recommend “The Laws of Disruption” to lawmakers, entrepreneurs and anyone who is interested in witnessing and taking advantage of the revolutionary change in our economic, social and private life that digital technologies and emerging ways of communication bring about.

References

Anderson, C. (2009). Free: The future of a radical price. New York: Hyperion.

Benkler, Y. (2006). The wealth of networks: How social production transforms markets and freedom. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press.

Downes, L. (2009). The laws of disruption: Harnessing the new forces that govern life and business in the digital age. New York: Basic Books.

Law of disruption (Nov 30, 2008) In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved Dec 4, 2009 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_disruption

Supernova Hub (2009) In Speakers, Supernovahub.com. Retrieved Dec 4, 2009 from http://supernovahub.com/speakers/speaker-info/?sid=109

The Laws of Disruption (2009) In larrydownes.com. Retrieved Dec 4, 2009 from http://larrydownes.com/the-laws-of-disruption/

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Class Reflection – How to differentiate content in this “free” space?

Posted in reflection by filizefe on October 29, 2009

How to differentiate content in this “free” space?

Digital content, regardless of its’ origin, is a type of information. In this sense, content creators produce information. In order to differentiate your information from other information in free space, you need to get into the habit of viewing your content as solely “information”.

  1. Content should have a place: You need to collect your content under your domain name or at least on a blog or a SNS page. Think this is your office address on your business card, where you drive people from other locations and redirect people from it.
  2. Content should have neighbors: There is almost no marginal cost to copy and place your content on different platforms. You need to take place on different platforms (communities) and create links (connections) between your locations. As @yush said “The Internet connected our hard drives, and social media connected our minds”. We need to connect with other minds through social media.
  3. Content should be visible: In other words “searchable”. Every digital content on the internet should be tagged/keywords, linked or embedded in order to increase the potential of visibility.
  4. Content should have a value: You need to think and create different layers of information to represent your content. Chris Anderson would call creating scarcity in abundance. As @kegill mentioned in COM 548, “It is not easy to make people buy something online, if they find it somewhere else or something close (good) enough”.

Visual Storytelling For Web: Tips And Techniques

Posted in Uncategorized by filizefe on August 31, 2009

Sociology and, of and in Web 2.0

Posted in Uncategorized by filizefe on July 20, 2009