Anniversaries and New Roles

This morning I woke to a few “remember the day” emails that I thought were worth marking here on the blog for future reference. The first was that it was almost exactly 2 years ago that I officially left my position at UT-Chattanooga, walked away from an associate professorship and tenure, and went out on my own to try to start an independent business. So far, I’ve been very lucky and able to continue in this self-employed mode, although the downside is that it means I’m always looking for a job. 🙂 If you have a consulting need, workshop or training need, or are organizing a conference and want a great keynote….feel free to contact me. I’d love to work with you.

The second is that one year ago I became a Fellow at the Berkman Center, and spent the academic year 2015-2016 mostly living in Cambridge and enjoying the intellectual fruits of Harvard and MIT. I cannot speak highly enough of the amazing group that I was a part of…I learned so much from everyone there, and they are the most caring, careful, and thoughtful group of academics and scholars that I’ve ever been affiliated with.

And now, today, I can say that I am overwhelmingly pleased to be included in the 2016-2017 Berkman Klein community as an Affiliate. This means I get to continue my association with this amazing, wonderful community of learning…although from a distance, as I’ll not be in residence in Cambridge. I am going to be visiting as much as I can manage, though, because I have to get my 23 Everett Street fix occasionally. I’m also really pleased to be in the “transitional” class, the last to be Berkman Fellows and the first to be Berkman Klein, and to see how the Center evolves under the new nom de guerre .

To those in the incoming class at Berkman Klein: buckle up, you’re in for an amazing trip. I hope to meet all of you in September at the opening of the Center for the year.

And to everyone in the library community: I’ve got big things brewing this year. This Fall will see (finally) the launch of Measure the Future, and while I still can’t share all of my news about the project….it’s gonna be big. I’ll be doing some announcements about that over the next couple of months, including information about how your library can get involved. Soon!


How to Implement Things When People Hate Change

Here’s the slides from the panel I put together for the American Library Association Annual conference 2016 that featured Rebekkah Smith Aldrich, Ranti Junus, and Emily Clasper. Huge fun, really great response. Below the slides are a Storify of the tweets from the presentation…it’s a good representation of the discussion during our hour.

Thanks to the Knight Foundation for helping put this together!


Sitting in the Internet Archive Great Room (see photo above for reference…yes, it’s in an old church….) I’m reminded that I never pushed out the link to the amazing new app that was created in part by my friend Nathan, available now for Android and coming soon for iOS that allows you to use the Internet Archive like your own personal Instagram:

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 12.03.22 PMOpenArchive

and because Nathan and his group are awesome, the app is also open source:

Github repo for OpenArchive

and finally, direct link to the Google Play store for the app.

I’ve not seen an easier way to add photos to the Internet Archive directly than this app, and it’s got some really fantastic side benefits..the primary one being that it works transparently over Orbot if you’d like, so that uploads and connections can be driven over the Tor network without any extra effort on the user’s part.


The Guardian Project just posted their own announcement for the app. Their take on it is also timely since I’m spending this week at the Decentralized Web Summit:

We see this as a first step towards a more distributed, decentralized way of managing and sharing your personal media, and publishing it and synchronizing it to different places and people, in different ways.

A Special Obligation to the Future

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, writing, and editing in the last few months that all revolved around libraries and the future of the Internet. It seems more and more obvious to me that there’s an opportunity for libraries as participants in the growing number of decentralized services on the Internet. These services are multiplying, and it seems to me that the future of communication is likely to be a better one if distributed services were more normalized on the Internet.

I’ve decided to share two essays about this topic. The first is
How Libraries Can Save the Internet of Things from the Web’s Centralized Fate over at BoingBoing, which is the highly edited and polished version of the much longer A Special Obligation to the Future over on Medium. Normally I wouldn’t share two similar pieces, but I feel like the shorter BoingBoing essay is the compressed and focused “official” version and there were things that I liked about the longer, more emotive original. So I’m sharing both here, and you can comment on, share, and critique either or both as you’d like.

I’m hoping these serve as conversation starters, and possibly as inflection points for thinking about the future of libraries in terms of their role as pillars of democracy and freedom. I’m going to be doing more work on this topic, speaking and writing and organizing over the next several months. If you’re interested in helping out and lending a hand, let me know.

And if you’re interested in decentralization in general, I highly recommend checking out Yochai Benkler’s work, especially Degrees of Freedom, Dimensions of Power. Also recommended is Phil Windley’s Decentralization is Hard, Maybe Too Hard.

They are both right, decentralization is amazingly difficult to pull off. This is why it needs help in the form of library infrastructure, political capital, and skills.

Thanks especially to David Weinberger, who was instrumental in both the conception and the editing of this piece. Also thanks to everyone who read and commented on the piece as it developed, you are all awesome.

SXSW 2016

I attended my first SXSW conference this past week, and have been struggling about how to describe it. On one hand, I was able to find interesting things and have a great time. On the other, the conference felt so very desperate, like a marketing team and a brogrammer had a kid. It was a non-stop barrage of things that were really-well-known being well-known (Game of Thrones, Mr. Robot) and things that weren’t well-known trying desperately to be so.

Libraries and librarians were, as always, the saving grace in the midst of the chaos. I spent time with the Library IdeaDrop house this year, and all I can say is that they run a tight ship, full of interesting people and awesome events. I would be a part of it again in a heartbeat.

I wrote up my experiences for American Libraries, here’s the three-part story:

And here are all the interviews that I did with IdeaDrop this year:

SESSION 6 from Idea Drop & ER&L on Vimeo.

Jason Griffey @ #IdeaDrop from Idea Drop & ER&L on Vimeo.

Knight News Challenge from Idea Drop & ER&L on Vimeo.

SESSION 8 from Idea Drop & ER&L on Vimeo.

Copyright and Creators: 2026 @ #IdeaDrop from Idea Drop & ER&L on Vimeo.

Digital Content and the Legality of Web Scraping from Idea Drop & ER&L on Vimeo.

LibraryBox & Google Summer of Code

I am thrilled to be able to announce that The LibraryBox Project has been invited to be one of the projects included in the Berkman Center for Internet & Society’s Google Summer of Code.

If you aren’t familiar with the Google Summer of Code, it is a program that gets undergraduates connected to open source projects via mentor organizations. The goal is to give the students experience working on useful open code, while projects benefit from their skills to set and meet development goals. Google pays the students a stipend, and the whole open source community wins.

The LibraryBox Project has a few different goals in mind for the summer, and is looking for awesome students who want to make a difference in the world. If you’re a student that is interested in working on an international open source project that is being used in more than 40 countries and on all 7 continents, one that makes a difference in education in developing nations and acts as a tool for activism and social change in repressive countries, come join us.

Applications open March 14th, and close March 25th.

If you know anyone that’s applying, send them our way.

Apple, the FBI, and Libraries

I’m sure most people who might read this blog are at least familiar that there is currently a battle occurring between Apple and the FBI over access to information on a phone that had been used by the San Bernardino terrorist. The details of that case are fascinating and nuanced, and can be summarized very roughly as:

The FBI has obtained a court order that compels Apple to create a new version of iOS that is different from the existing version that lives on the phone in question in three ways: one, that the new version will bypass the time-delay between password attempts that is standard for iOS; two, that the new version will be able to enter password attempts in a programmatic fashion instead of through finger presses on the screen; and three, that the new version of iOS will disable the security setting that may be active that erases the phone unrecoverably if 10 password attempts are incorrect. The reason that the FBI needs this to access the information that is stored on the phone is that iOS uses encryption to secure the information on the phone when it is, in the parlance of computer security types, “at rest.” The FBI could make a bit-for-bit copy of the software that is on the phone, and examine it until the heat death of the universe, and not be able to decrypt the information into a readable form.

While the court order and the responses on both sides are not directly about encryption, the reason that this is a question at all is encryption…if the FBI could dump the contents and read them, there would be no need for them to access the phone at all. Indeed, the information from the phone that they do have, given to them by Apple, is from a 6-week-old iCloud backup of the device that isn’t encrypted (currently, iCloud backups are NOT encrypted, or rather, they are encrypted but with a key that Apple has).

Why is this relevant to libraries? I think it’s past time that we start paying very close attention to the details of our data in ways that we have, at best, hand-waved as a vendor responsibility in the past. There have been amazing strides lately in libraryland in regards to the security of our data connections via SSL (LetsEncrypt) as well as a resurgence in anonymization and privacy tools for our patrons (Tor and the like, thank you very much Library Freedom Project).

Data about our patrons and their interactions that isn’t encrypted at rest in either the local database or the vendor database hosted on their servers (and our electronic resource access, and our proxy logins, and, and, and…) is data that is subject to subpoena and could be accessed in ways that we would not want. It is the job of the librarian to protect the data about the information seeking process of their patrons. And while it’s been talked about before in library circles (Peter Murray’s 2011 article is a good example of past discussions) this court case brings into focus the lengths that some aspects of the law enforcement community will go to in order to have the power to collect data about individuals.

For a great article on the insanity associated with the government’s position on this, please take a moment and read James Allworth’s The US has gone F&*%ing Mad. Also take a look at the wonderful article by Barbara Fister from Inside Higher Ed, wherein she boils the case down and does some deft analysis of the situation (sidenote: I’m a massive fan of Barbara’s writing, if you do not regularly read her stuff, fix that).

It’s fairly clear, I think, that the FBI is using this case to seek to set a precedent that would allow for future access to information on iOS devices. The case was chosen specifically to have the right public relations spin for them, it’s a thing that is technically possible (unlike a request to “break the encryption” which may actually not be technically possible), and they have asked for a tool to be created that is easy generalizable to other iOS devices. I back Apple on this, and believe that strong security measures (including but not limited to strong encryption) make us safer.

And I would feel lots, lots better about the state of data in libraries if I knew we were using strong encryption that protects our data. I would love to see an architecture for a truly secure (from a data standpoint) ILS, because I’m pretty certain that none of the ones in use right now are even close. In the same way that I’m certain that Apple is working on producing a version of iOS that they cannot access at all….we need to architect and insist on the implementation of data storage that even we can’t get directly into. If patrons want us to keep their lending history (and we have some evidence that opting in to such a system is something that patrons do want), then let’s insist that our ILS treat that data like toxic waste: behind closed and locked vaults that neither we nor the vendor can access.

Presentations from ALA Midwinter 2016

Back in January, I did a few presentations at the ALA Midwinter conference. Two of them were recorded and I’ve finally tracked down the recordings and got them ready to post here. I only have slides for one, but hopefully someone finds the recordings useful.

ALA Master Series
Jason Griffey & Measuring the Future

LITA Top Technology Trends – ALA Midwinter 2016

The two trends that I talk about are the Blockchain and it’s potential for decentralization of the web, and the confluence of AI/Machine Learning and autonomous agents as interface for data.

The video below is a great presentation about Blockchain and its potential, by one of my compatriots at the Berkman Center, Primavera De Filippi.

OLA SuperConference 2016

I was thrilled to spend the last few days at the Ontario Library Association SuperConference 2016, the largest library conference in Canada. I was invited to be the Spotlight Speaker for the Ontario Public Library Association, and gave a talk I ambitiously titled “Incubating Ourselves: Internal Iteration and the Quest for Better Libraries.”

The presentation itself was design as a series of stories, with an introduction dealing with innovation itself, and how libraries might consider what and how to approach innovation in their own operations and activities. The core of the talk was two stories about me, the first illustrating why libraries offering innovative technology to their patrons can help change their patron’s lives, and the second about how the same technology can also help to improve libraries themselves. I closed with a look at near-future tech that I think will impact society, as a suggestion about what libraries and librarians should be looking at as next-stage technology for themselves and their patrons. Throw in a bit about LibraryBox and Measure the Future, and that’s a lot to get into an hour, but I think it came together really well.

While the presentation doesn’t hold up remarkably well without the audio bits, if you’d like to take a look, here are the slides from the talk:

Two things stood out to me as a result of this talk. The first is that it was the first of my talks to have a Graphic Recorder/Graphic Facilitator assigned to it, and I’m over the moon with how amazingly cool the resulting poster turned out. If you aren’t familiar with the idea of Graphic Facilitation, here’s a video on the process:

So here’s my talk in graphic form, with details of different parts pulled out:







The other thing that I was really thankful for was that people seemed to appreciate the effort I make in trying to not only present good ideas, but to do so with some style:

Canadians really ARE the most polite and friendliest people around. 🙂

Thanks again for having me, OLA! It was fantastic, and I hope to be back someday keynoting for you.

State of the Union 2016 Tag Cloud

Every year since 2007, I’ve done a weighted word cloud as a visualization of the State of the Union address by the President of the United States. Here’s the 2016 version, with all of the previous versions linked for comparison. Hard to believe I’ve been doing this for a decade at this point!

State of the Union 2016
State of the Union 2016