By Stephen Downes
April 3, 2003

A New Look
I've had to field a number of complaints about my beautiful brown background. OK, fine. Today I present a new look. Is it better or worse? Let me know. By Stephen Downes, Stephen's Web, April 3, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The High Price of Piracy
Released by the Business Software Alliance, an industry-fronted lobby group, this report has won wide circulation. It argues that strong copy protection and legislation improves economies and lowers unemployment. According to the BSA, "Strong intellectual property protections spur creativity, which opens new opportunities for businesses, governments and workers." But if this were true, then there would be no creativity in the open source community, which eschews copy protection. Moreover, the argument, reprinted by a mostly uncritical press, requires that readers abandon the principles of causal reasoning, since strong copy protection usually follows the development of a stronger economy. For more on this report, see also News.Com (Software group: Antipiracy helps economies), the Mercury News (Piracy falling, survey reports), and PC World (Is Software Piracy Stealing Jobs?), none of which offer even a pretense of a neutral vocabulary or an alternative point of view. By Unknown, BBC News, April 3, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

DVD Jailbait
According to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), circumventing the file protection on, say, a DVD is against the law. OK, fine. But what happens when you play a DVD? In a certain sense, all DVD players circumvent file protection - otherwise purchasers could never view the product, which would make them a lot less popular. OK, fine. So you have a DVD player, and it is playing a DVD the way it is supposed to. Suppose, now, that while the DVD is playing, you also record a back-up copy. You have not circumvented the file protection - the DVD player did that. All you did is redirect the legally available DVD stream to a different (and far more useful) output device. Well, the MPAA calls it a "burglar's tool." But the company that manufactures the product, 321 Studios, argues that it is nothing more than fair use, particularly since the system won't allow you to make copies of copies. But it just goes to show that copy protection of any sort has a fatal flaw: at some point, you have to expose the content, or else the content is usefuless, and at that point, the system is vulnerable. Note: this article hasn't been posted to the web yet, so I've provided a link to an index page where it will appear in a few days. By Rafe Needleman, Business 2.0, April 3, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Making An RSS Feed
With all the recent fuss over RSS you may be wondering how to create an RSS feed for your own content. This article is a straightforward introduction to the topic, taking you from beginning to end with clear instructions and examples. Once you create your feed, send me a note, and I'll add it to my EduRSS Page and your work will then attract a much wider audience. Which is, in the end, the whole purpose of RSS feeds. By Danny Sullivan, Search Engine Watch, April 2, 3003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

RSS Feeds
I guess it's official. RSS has become almost mainstream. Yesterday, I posted a note about Microsoft's new RSS feeds. It turns out that IBM has had feeds on various topics for a few weeks, and Cisco, Apple and Fast Company have also launched new feeds. By Dave Winer, Scripting News, April 3, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

University of Alberta: eLearning: From Grass Roots to Mission-Critical
This article purports to be a history of e-learning at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. I say 'purports' because it is hard for me to understand how you could understake such a project without mentioning the Faculty of Extension, Academic Technologies for Learning, or any of the leaders in the field who worked there, people such as Terry Anderson and Norm Friesen. Indeed, this article seems to be more about WebCT than it is about the University of Alberta. Why, it's almost entirely about WebCT. There is no author listed for this article. Perhaps this is because Syllabus ran a press release in its April issue instead of a news article. By Unknown, Syllabus, April, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Phoenix Rises from Mozilla's Ashes
This is the right approach. AOL-Time Warner, which purchased Netscape a few years ago and continued the process of creating a free, open source browser engine (called Mozilla), has decided to drop the one-size-fits-all model and to instead concentrate on creating a slim web viewing tool into which additional functionality may be added as needed. The new browser engine will be called Phoenix. "We recognize that different users need many different features; such demand is legitimate on its face. Attempting to 'hardwire' all these features to the integrated application suite is not legitimate; it's neither technically nor socially scaleable." By Paul Festa, News.Com, April 2, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Free content: Why not?
If you produce educational content and hope to get paid for it, read this article closely. The author is describing exactly the distribution model for music that I am predicting for educational content. He begins, "The best way to stem this tidal wave of thievery is to give the music away." How so? He draws the comparison with coal. When vendors marketed to individual consumers, the mechanics of delivery were so complicated that losses were inevitable. But when coal - repurposed as 'central heating' - was bundled with another service, such as rent, the complexities of distribution disappeared, the theft rate vanished, people got what they wanted - free heat - and yet the coal distributors were still paid. It's the same thing for music. "Buy a new Kia? Get 1,000 albums with every car. Purchase a lifetime subscription to the Boston Symphony Orchestra? Receive an MP3 player with a library of the world's 2,000 most important classical music selections. Sign up for a new cellular contract? Get unlimited access to music from over 30,000 indie bands." And it's the same thing for educational content. But a globe? Get an interactive atlas. Buy a piano? get piano lessons. In slogan form (clip and save): Content isn't the product. Content is what makes the product better. By Greg Blonder, News.Com, April 3, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2003 Stephen Downes
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