“The History Matters project”:http://www.historymatters.org.uk/ is encouraging the ordinary citizens of the UK to blog about their everyday lives tomorrow, October 17th 2006. On first inspection, it sounded like a fine idea. I was all ready to kick the dust from “my underused blog”:http://www.timandkathy.co.uk/journal/ and start blogging.
It’s not quite as simple as that, though. You can’t just blog anywhere; you have to use the “History Matters One Day In History site”:http://www.historymatters.org.uk/output/page97.asp. You must also agree to their “Terms and Conditions”:http://www.historymatters.org.uk/output/page66.asp and waiver copyright to your blog entry, which can be used by the British Library in published works, media etc. as pointed out in the blog form’s footnotes:
bq. Your diary will be stored in electronic form in the British Library’s Web Archiving Section which is a part of the Modern British Collection.
Members of the public will be able to consult your material.
The History Matters partners own the copyright of any materials that you submit and be free to use them in any History Matter related materials such as any media stories, published books etc.
Please see the Terms & Conditions for further details as to the use(s) of material submitted to ‘One Day in History’.
Now, I’m no “Cory Doctorow”:http://www.craphound.com/, but I care about the overuse and downright abuse of copyright law to benefit the wrong people. I’m sure that the History Matters project thinks it’s being really revolutionary by having “one of those new fangled blog things”, but is playing the same insidious All Your Posts Are Belong To Us game that I would expect of major media organisations like NewsCorp.
The second old-economy mistake that HM makes is centralisation. There is no need to force people to use the ODIH (sounds like “oh dear”; well, it is made using an ASP(Active Server Pages) CMS(Content Management System)) site; RSS and other open data standards, combined with tagging (tag=odih, for example), would have made it perfectly possible to have a decentralised blog day effort. This could have been harvested by “archive.org”:http://archive.org/ or the “British Library”:http://www.bl.uk/ after the event, in case the original blog posts went bit-rotten over time. If the bloggers used a suitable “Creative Commons license”:http://creativecommons.org/licences/, then their posts could have been repurposed as derivative works by the HM project and the British Library.
I can understand _why_ the ODIH blog operates in the way it does: centralisation lowers the barrier to entry for people who probably don’t have a blog to speak of. Raise the barrier too high, and you won’t get the participation required to make the event a success. Decentralisation would have meant that the HM project would have had to exercise a degree of trust in the data quality used by the bloggers and their content. However, as they make no guarantee of quality or suitability for the data submitted to ODIH anyway (
We may remove any postings or other material or interaction at our entire discretion.), there’s nothing to be gained in that regard by centralisation. It really does appear to be all about the snatching of copyright over the submitted work (
If you do not want to grant the Partners the rights set out above, do not submit your material to the Site. Um, OK).
These same people probably don’t exercise themselves about copyright and freedom issues, but may take exception to the handing over of their intellectual property in such an all-or-nothing way to the HM project. Unfortunately, they are unlikely to be aware of Creative Commons and the range of licenses that it offers as alternatives to full copyright.
It seems churlish to advertise this as a mass blog, yet potentially exclude those people who have made blogging so important for the project even to exist: bloggers themselves.
In conclusion, my initial enthusiasm for the project has waned and I don’t plan on blogging via the ODIH site tomorrow. I will probably blog on my own blog though, as a mini-protest against the lip-service paid to blogging by the ODIH site.
As an aside, it would be wise to consider these issues as we enter the Brave New World of community web sites. You have to trust your users, not take away their rights.