Master's Paper

Stephen Wolfram, and more ranting about Access v. Openness

So today, Stephen Wolfram put his book A New Kind of Science online, accessible to whomever.


It is in an atrocious format (terrible “one page image at a time” thing). It’s horribly difficult to read in this format, and can’t be taken with you on a device (downloaded to a laptop, thrown on a PDA) with any ease. In addition, the Online Terms of Use would choke a horse. Here are some outtakes:

“The terms, conditions and notices below (“Terms of Use”) govern your use of this Site. Your use of this Site constitutes your agreement to these Terms of Use. If you do not agree with these Terms of Use, please do not use this site. Wolfram reserves the right to change, modify, add, or remove portions of these Terms of Use at any time. It is recommended that you refer to these Terms of Use on a regular basis.”

Gee, thanks Stephen…you’re allowed to change the rules in the middle of the game, if you wish.

“Visitors are encouraged to peruse this Site, but must recognize that its content is protected by international copyright, trademark and other intellectual property laws and may not be mirrored, redistributed, printed, publicly performed or displayed, reproduced in bulk, or archived without advance written permission.”

Then later in the page, you find this:

“Personal use is not restricted. Restrictions apply only to material you wish to present publicly or use commercially.”

Umm….one of these things is not like the other…can I mirror the site for personal use? Can I print it for myself?

I suppose in one sense, it’s nice that this is available electronically at all. But how much nicer is Cory Doctorow’s newest book “Eastern Standard Tribe.” It’s available in no fewer than 15 different formats, downloadable, changeable, and licensed under the Creative Commons License.

This, to me, is the difference between “Open Access” and what I’m calling “Open Information.” One gives you what they want, the others gives you the ability to make what you want. There’s a huge difference in the two.

For a particularly bizarre example, check out Cut’n’Paste”n”Rock’n’Roll a site which takes the text of Cory’s two books (Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom and Eastern Standard Tribe), Alice in Wonderland, and the BBC new feed, and allows you to “mix” them as you might mix music. Very, very cool, and not possible with overtly restrictive IP controls.

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