Sunday, August 26, 2012

The "I Used This" Button

I frequent-flyered off to San Francisco this weekend to surprise my Ph. D. Advisor, Jim Harris, for his 70th Birthday. I was the first of his students to graduate, and he's up to 105. On thing I learned helping to start his group was the immense value of being thrown together with a group of smart people with a variety of experience. I met members of Jim's current group, which includes a student from Gunn High School, visiting scholars from around the world, and Ph. D. students bursting with ideas.

I manufactured some business-related meetings for the trip, some of which I'll relate in a to-be-written post, but I also lucked into a hackathon for Open-Access hosted by PLoS. I spent the day with a group of smart people with a wide range of experience, including software developers, product managers, film-makers and a librarian or three.

The group I ended up working with included Greg Grossmeier from Creative Commons, Cameron Neylon from PLoS, and Ana Nelson, the developer-entrepreneur behind dexy. We were interested in counting open-access things. Counting things can be harder than you think, because you have to define the things and identify them; you need to be able to tell whether a thing is the same thing as another thing, or perhaps it's three things. Counting bananas is one thing, but have you ever tried counting ideas?

Creative Commons (CC) is interested in knowing how much its licenses are used. When an ebook edition is released (of course under Creative Commons!), how often is it used? Does a single license apply to the entire book, or can we apply different licenses to the different resources inside the book? For example, an author may want to use a CC-BY license for the text of a book, which might contain figures that are used under CC BY-ND. And the metadata should be CC0. How should these licenses be expressed?

After some discussion, we settled down to work on some specific projects. My project turned out not to be code at all, but rather a description of a scheme for measuring Creative Commons usage, i.e. the rest of this blog post.

Creative Commons has thought about ways to measure the usage of its licenses. For example, it can track the display of its license "badges", such as the one right here. Web browsers will send a referrer header that tells the image server the web page and user IP address. But there are problems. Many web sites use their own copy of the badge. In an ebook, the badge would be embedded in the ebook file. If the page is served over a secure socket, the referrer won't be set. And do you really want to tell Creative Commons about everything you're reading?

Speaking of which, have you clicked on a Facebook "Like" button this week? Was it good for you too?

Suppose there was a button on Creative Commons licensed documents that allowed the user to express their delight at the creator's enlightened choice of license. Would you click it? I call it the "I Used This" (IUT) button, but maybe you can think of a better name.

  • The IUT button would send a signal to a Creative Commons server about usage of the resource. These signals would be compiled and reported.
  • IUT button would also send attribution url.
  • Pressing the button would display an amusing animation to the user. Perhaps every button would have a different animation to avoid button fatigue.
  • The button would be at the center of an advocacy campaign for open licenses.
  • Unlike the Facebook Like button, the IUT button would respect a user's privacy. A signal would be sent only when initiated by the user, and would be optional.
  • An IUT button packaged as a javascript would work in epub, html, etc.
  • IUT signals would be evidence of the resource's status as a CC licensed work. A licensor attempting to revoke a CC license (you can't do that!) would have to overcome a verifiable usage trail.
  • Users could create accounts at CC to provide a retrospective record of the user's Use.
  • Clicking the IUT Button would put the attribution url on clipboard to ease correct citations.
  • Usage information for each resource would be public- creators could easily track the usage signals for their works.
  • We might need anti-ballot-stuffing measures if CC usage rankings become commercially important.

If efforts like are to succeed, people who appreciate the benefits of Creative Commons licensing need to stand up and be counted. We need to make it a mass movement in the minds of every lover of books, everywhere.

Sometimes you need to do more than just consume. Sometimes you need to do some SHOUTING.

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1 comment:

  1. "IUT" is a little too close to "IUD" for comfort.

    How about a "Thanks!" button? The more you're thanked, the better. :)