Tragedy of the NotCommons

A blog tag to an article I did not read set me to thinking today. Read on if you think that the Net today is fraught with societal risk.

I have been using the WWW, Internet, since a couple of years after its start as ARPANET and MilNet for email and data transmission. Following it through the years I saw the slow exploration then the exuberant exploitation through the 80’s and 90’s even the 0ughts.

One of the things I had a hard time understanding was the effervescent froth about how this was freedom and that governments could never control it. When governments where the entity that installed it and ran it in many places. There are arguments in support of a weakish case for net freedom but for the masses it is not and will never be a truly open commons.

A big part of this is because of the way most people interface with the Net. They use it like they use a car, get in and drive, many times not knowing a thing about internal combustion engines, transmissions, etc. They are not technically savvy people, but then even people like me, an engineer, thirty plus year user of the Net, do not understand the ‘stacks’ on ‘stacks’ that are the interwoven hardware, firmware, protocols and software that makes the Net hum.

In the early days the Net was about Protocols, eMail and Hyperlink were two critical protocols that enabled communication and the creation of documents (Still, though they are called, Blogs, or Sites) that could be read out of sequence and include incredible depths of information that were simply impossible with a book or the like.

This early Net was dynamic and boisterous but largely a land of technical folks, academics, geeks and nerds. It was a natural environment for them in a way only the still evolving desktop computer had been until then.

After a while businesses started to move in and the media started to look at this as a way of distributing their content without the cost and logistic drag of newsprint, TV stations or even radio. Of course what most did not see coming was that the net would make their old advertiser supported business model very difficult to support over the long term while giving new Platforms (AOL and their ilk, now TWITTER, FACEBOOK etc) a leg up as essentially the new middle man between the consumer and ‘the content.’

But even at the start with AOL et al, some philosopher technical types pointed out that these Platforms ,while they gave Joe User an easy path to the internet, put a barrier between the user and the broader Net. Some like me never went down the platform path because we wanted the depth of the Net in the raw as it were but we pay the penalty of having to work harder to get things that Platform users get for free.

Twenty years on Facebook and Twitter have paved over the Net to a very significant degree. They started as just social networks with different focuses. But they have become the principle distributor of news and opinion. They have sucked up adjacent Net onramps in their fight to gain share and suppress competition. Now they lust after your data so they can sell it to the highest bidder, while using it, somewhat unintentionally to wrap the users in ever thicker cocoons of confirmation bias. They have also strangled the legacy media in its bed by stripping away the advertiser revenue.


I see 3 main reasons, ease of use, addictive content and the network affect. Ease of Use: You might argue that some of them are not that easy today but in the beginning essentially each of them was drop dead simple, so simple a tweener cheerleader could use it in ten seconds or less. Addictive Content: Most of these tools make something you want to do easy and provide reinforcing feedback, if your tweet goes viral to a 1000 people, woohooo! If your facebook post gets a like from a dozen friends, charge UP! This is addiction. Network affect: Simply stated, a network of 10 people has 100 interconnects, 100 people have 10,000 interconnects, the more people on a platform the more valuable it is to the user as well as the owner. Since you have limited time in your life, you cannot copy identical on multiple platforms going along. Then the platforms will make it hard for you to migrate from them with your list of friends, follows, photos, blogs, whatever.


The title of the article I mentioned at the start said something about Protocols vs Platforms and this was one of those epiphany things you hear about. AHA!

Platforms are largely just Net hubs and they hate open protocols because it will reduce them to pipes and strip away their ability to siphon off value from the users, both consumer and creator.

Facebook or Twitter are just Protocols of Protocols with a software wrapper. Their core are proprietary protocols & software, not open protocols so that competition is impossible. The network affect and the users addiction to the particular flavor of Platform makes changing essentially impossible.

But if the Platforms are required to open their protocols and enable users to migrate their core identity the monopoly would be broken without destroying the user side value. One could even see an anti monopoly order that required some kind of Baby Twitter / Baby Facebook disaggregation that requires the ‘Babies’ interlink and compete.

This seems relatively clear cut process . It would provide the users with competition for their core value that is simply not there today. And while it will hurt the stockholders (who are earning monopolist profits today) it does not strip their assets while providing the opportunity to earn significant returns going forward.

The NonCommons of today, the Platforms, are a tragedy for the users in that their value is stripped without much recompense beyond ease of use. If we go back to the roots of the Net, open protocols, and user value, we have a chance to build back better….and make the Net great again.

Noble Intention = Elite Pretension Elites, intentions, nobility, lies

I do not know the answer to the question: What can we do to slow the the spread of an airborne disease such as COVID 19. What I do know is that approaches with some history have been massively abused. Often with ‘noble’ intentions but to the detriment of the populace.

  • Quarantine – traditionally the people who have the disease. In this case the people most obviously at risk, the elderly. Where this has been implemented it seems to help, BUT the negative impact on the individuals and their family are significant. In the end will this be shown to have been a disaster because of the isolation killing tens of thousands by suicide and drug overdose? Also abuse of this by sending infected into ‘isolation’ wards that weren’t sufficiently isolated killed thousands.
    • The ultimate abuse of quarantine is the tyrannical lock downs, has damaged the economy to the detriment of everyone and in all likelihood killed tens of thousands if not more through overdose, suicide and delay of medical attention to lethal but treatable medical problems.
  • Social Distancing – a modern form of soft quarantine (needs very specific circumstances to mean much.) Where companies implemented for critical staff it appears reasonable, its bland plastering on ever floor in every stored seems silly.
  • Masks – traditional but misunderstood: It stops you from spreading vastly more than catching. Along with social distancing it is reasonable for limiting spread if followed well enough.
  • Crowds indoors – known bad BUT: space and air handling is very important, driving many gatherings into homes was a stupidly obvious result of stopping certain types of events.
  • Crowds outdoors – People need to get out and sunlight and exercise, good feelings are seriously helpful. And the chances of spreading especially in the day is near nil. Health enhancements massively outweigh risks for most. Of course then supporting rioting at night made the rules look political and stupid.
  • Restaurants/bars – Obvious targets of concern. But crowd limitations and rules about cleaning and masking mitigate issues. The ability to get out and mingle in reasonably controlled environment along with the support of the economy outweigh risks.

At the start of all this if the elite (gov’t, medical, media) had acted with open clarity about what was known and unknown. There might have been a chance to get through the last nine months without the breakdown we are seeing.

Politics, especially ‘orange man bad’ was a starting point for the majority of the elite, spin, narcissism and gotcha were key issues especially in what was seen as an existential election year. Lies, more lies and counter lies to control of information, opinion and public activity spun out so that the general populace at this point pretty much ignores whatever is said other than as a sort of televised comedy/drama.

The following and at the link is a fairly mild analysis of the issue from the CATO institute via Instapundit

The main political conflict in recent years is between experts or elites and non‐experts. For lack of a better word, the non‐experts are called populists. Their complaints have been specific: Elites and experts are arrogant, they have different values, they condescend in annoying ways, they ignore the sometimes legitimate concerns of populists, among others. Experts say that they should be listened to because they’re more knowledgeable. We see it in debates on every issue from climate change to trade, immigration, and everything in between.

CATO Institute: Against the Noble Lie – COVID 19s Edition (March of 2020)

Noble intention = Elite pretension

Trust is the core of America’s strength, to generalize, the wider the circle of trust the richer the society

At Civil Horizon: Trust

Trust is far more important than law.

Think of it: how many times have you sued somebody, or been sued? Have you ever been arrested? Each of us interacts with many others in numerous ways every day, and recourse to the law is exceptionally rare. Our actions may be constrained by certain laws; but usually they are far more limited by the expectations of those with whom we are dealing.

Great piece! (Edited for clean up)

Health insurance, over, under or miss Regulated? HI Monograph

The Hoover Institute’s Defining Ideas often has thoughtful, rational topic pieces, like this great one: The Car Insurance Model, by Scott W. Atlas that discusses Health Insurance. All I can say is read it, it essentially lays out an argument that health insurance state regulated is miss regulated and even monopolistic in many areas and before we try the monstrous over regulation layer on top we should look to insure at the county wide level. The state regulators should be the ombudsmen for the people not the lapdog rent providers of the insurance industry they seem these days. He also advocates high deductible insurance and Health Savings Accounts.

Now he does argue against forcing insurers to insure everyone at the same rate for the same coverage. Here I am a lot less certain, maybe because I am overweight, and no longer young, once smoked, etc. I agree that age and perhaps gender should be factors but the more specific you get the less useful insurance becomes (at the extremes {which a totally unregulated totally privacy devoid world of the near future might enable} the only coverage you could get would be for random acts of god…’so sorry to hear about that lightning bolt hitting you, good thing you’re not a cowboy or golfer, we don’t cover lightning strikes on cowboys or golfers without a special rider from Lloyds.’)

But that’s a niggle, basically the argument is the system as is, is broken but fixable with rational, simple changes, let’s start there before layering in more Regulation and gov’t oversight.