PICNIC Festival 2012 Day Two

Today was the second day of the 2012 PICNIC festival in Amsterdam. My notes about the first day are available here. Below my notes and thoughts on day 2:

Doc Searls – How the Old Bottom is the New Top

Searls spoke at at SxSW earlier this year. I caught him there already and made some notes. His talk today was very similar and still relates to the new book he has written: The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge.

Andy Hood – The Unselfish Gene

Hood is from AKQA a (marketing? branding? ad?) agency and sponsor of the festival that helps brands “improve business performance through innovation”. He talked about how in our current times it is incredibly necessary to try things and to make sure you learn from whatever it is that you try. According to Hood whenever you learn you can consider yourself to be successful. He quoted Wayne Gretzky who said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. Having learned something you have to act on it and follow it through.

His reference to The Selfish Gene was a bit thin: “evolve or die” (meaning you need to keep learning) and “the genepool needs to be diverse” (meaning you need to have an ecosystem of partners).

Finally he referenced an interesting Disney project around gesture recognition on normal surfaces (like a door knob):


Rupert Turnbull – An Inside Job: Tales from a Corporate Startup

Turnbull is the publisher of Wired UK. He talked about intrapeneurship (although I am not sure what he meant to say other than that we should cherish intrapeneurs). He beliefs we are all born with an entrepeneurial spirit, but that we don’t all use this spirit when we grow up. Turnbull is a good storyteller and shared his own forays into the world of starting businesses. He also discussed how disruption can be an opportunity: Wired UK has an incredibly diverse sets of business outlets: website, magazine (print and tablet), podcast, consulting, events, hospitality, retail, etc.

Louisa Heinrich – I am Superman

Heinrich works for Fjord and has no slides (brave!). She talked about how the extended Quantified Self movement and its thinking can make us better human beings. Our lives are made of thousands of decisions every day without us even being conscious about many of those decisions. Our brains process massive amounts of data and it is an illusion to think that computers can just take over that task.

We are inherently narrative creatures. We think of our own lives as a set of very rich stories and we cannot help but see patterns in these stories. She loves the ideas of technology helping us creating stories about ourselves on the basis of the data that is in our lives. When this happens we should all have the power to decide who gets to look at our data though.

I’ve put some thought into the quantified self and how this relates to learning myself. There is a summary of a talk I did on that topic in Dutch or in English.

Ross Ashcroft – No More Business As Usual

Ashcroft is from Motherlode and directed Four Horsemen, a film about the fundamental flaws in our economic system:


His talk was also mainly about storytelling. He showed the Hollywood formula:

The Hollywood Formula
The Hollywood Formula

On the basis of these plot elements Ashcroft told a story about a new way of doing business and “new ownership” (the theme of PICNIC). Similarly to the talks of Turnbull and Hood this seemed to be more about how you say something than what you say. I’m left with barely any content… Yes, the world is changing. Now what?

Elizabeth Stark – The Democratization of Knowledge and Innovation

Stark talked about the largest online protest in history: against SOPA. She described how the media portrayed the demonstrations as a top down approach from a set of Silicon Valley executives, whereas in reality it very much was a bottom-up, decentralized and chaotic movement. Stark sees this as a way of working and innovating in the future: harnessing the creativity of millions of people who realise that you can learn anything you want, that experts are made (rather than born) and you don’t need a PhD to innovate.

Farid Tabarki – Burdened with Radical Freedom

Tabarki (a trendwatcher with his own company Studio Zeitgeist) started his talk by looking back at the rise of Lady Gaga who rose to the position of most influential woman in media in only two to three years. She was able to do this because of three things:

  • In the past you needed MTV to become well known. Lady Gaga uses a platform where anybody can tune in anytime (2 billion views on her YouTube channel)
  • Before you could only communicate with your fans through magazines. She has around 30 million followers on Twitter.
  • In the past you had to make sure your records were in physical stores, now you have global instant delivery with things like iTunes.

We are all little Lady Gagas: we are also liberated from the constraints of the past and we live in the age of digital decentralization. The next part of his talk focused on education (the usual Coursera-like examples). These new ways of doing education are based on the fact that one size no longer fits all. Other fundamental changes are related to sharing, transparency (check out this Norwegian website showing the income of all Norwegians for an example of true radical transparency). Finally, we will also have a much more hybrid approach to things.

How will we go from the old centralized system to the new system? Will it be a revolution or a transformation? One thing is for sure: we need take some risks.

Cathal Garvey – Enter Bio-Hacking!

Garvey is a biohacker and an academic (his slides actualy have content, unique in PICNIC):

Garvey's R&D interests
Garvey’s R&D interests

His wish is for this “most fundamental technology of them all” to be democratized. Garvey showed quotes from Bill Gates and Freeman Dyson saying how important biotechnology will be in the future (“the machine language of life”). Biotechnology as the original open source technology, it is there for anyone to hack on.

He talked about open access, PLoS and the concept of Research Blogging. He showed us something I hadn’t heard about before: sciencecommons.org (an open source Material Transfer Agreement).

Why biohacking? Basically because it is about the ownership of self. 20% of the Human genome is currently patented (WTF?!). So there is a rich community of hackers (in hackspaces and dedicated biolabs) and biopunkers using things like the OpenPCR (for thermocycling) trying to democratize access to this type of technology and genetic information.

Jon Lombardo – HealthyShare: Because Friends are Good for Your Health

Lombardo leads social media for GE and talked about their new app: HealthyShare, a way to let your friends help you with your health challenges. GE sees health as a social thing. There are four things you do to or with others when it comes to health:

  • Well-wishing
  • Researching
  • Inspiring
  • Teaching

The app transfers these pre-existing things to the online domain (unfortunaty this is another app that is heavily based on Facebook). Right now the app is mainly focused on what he calls “casual health”. They want to move it to the more serious health concerns.

Tim O’Reilly – The Clothesline Paradox and the Sharing Economy

I saw O’Reilly being interviewed on the same topic at SxSW and wrote a blogpost about it. His truly excellent talk today (refreshingly full of content compared to the morning) was mainly a rehashing of what was discussed there.

Make sure to also read his first principles titled Work on Stuff that Matters and his article Trading for their own account.

O’Reilly has published a case study documenting the economic impact of open source on small business.

Finally O’Reilly talked about skateboarder Rodney Mullen talking about innovation and creativity:


Clash of Systems: A Socratic Conversation

Humberto Schwab, the “innovation philosopher for business” who used to be my philosophy teacher at the Montessori Lyceum and was called Huib then, led a Socratic conversation with a few of the speakers of the day.

Schwab started by outlining the basic rules for the Socratic method (as one way of battling the intellectual fallacy and putting the practical knowledge and practical intelligence in the center of our acting):

  • You can only get the floor when you ask for it by raising your hand, and only then when the chair gives you the floor
  • There is no discussion, you are in a process of thinking together and trying to answer a question
  • Before you can speak, you have to be capable of repeating what the person before you said and you have to be able to summarize the previous 15 minutes of dialogue
  • You are not allowed to refer to books, investigations or other smart people
  • You have to use simple and concrete language
  • The chair will be a philosopher, who will not provide any content but will make sure that all dimensions of the question are explored by creating the space for that
  • If the rules madden you then you can ask for a timeout

He then asked the four speakers to come up with one philosophic question each. The speakers asked the following questions:

  • Why do people do things for eachother without necessarily getting something in return?
  • Do we own ourselves?
  • What am I willing to share as a human being?
  • Are we losing leadership?

I focused more on the methodology than on the contents of the discussion, very interesting!


Cardboarders is “a blog about artists, engineers, architects and people with a fetish for cardboard.” They created a giant cardboard marble run in the main hall of the Eye:

The Carboarders Marble Run
The Carboarders Marble Run

Online Educa’s Platinum Sponsor Fronter is a Closed Source Proprietary Product Part 2

The 2008 Online Educa in Berlin was the first time I saw Fronter‘s appropriation of the term “open source” for their own marketing gain (they are not the only company looking for some open source street cred). At that time I wrote an irate blog post that got a bit of attention, but never a reply from Fronter itself.

It wasn’t surprising to see that Fronter did not change its ways for this year’s Online Educa. I wrote the following tweet:

Tweet about my disappointment with Fronter

My slightly provocative attitude had its effect and Fronter’s CEO Roger Larsen send me an email asking to meet with him. We had a quick chat at the Fronter stand.

OSI certified, the logo Fronter can't use
OSI certified, the logo Fronter can't use

He asked me what it was that I didn’t like. I explained that I don’t mind a proprietary business model for software (you can sell the software you create in any way you see fit), but that I have a problem with his misleading language in his marketing materials.

According to him it has never been his intention to mislead his customers. He is not sure of what he has done wrong as he has used the term “open source” for his software in his marketing materials for over ten years now. It has only been in the last three years that the open source movement has hijacked the term open source and given it a specific meaning.

I then told him that the Open Source Initiative (OSI) started in 1998 and that the first version of the GNU General Public License (GPL) came out in 1989. I pointed out the parts of their brochure that I thought were misleading and offered him my help in ensuring that the next iteration of the brochure would not make incorrect use of the term open source. He gracefully accepted that offer.

I leave it up to the reader to judge whether his innocence is genuine. I myself will judge that at next year’s Online Educa.

Online Educa’s Platinum Sponsor Fronter is a Closed Source Proprietary Product

The most Deceptive Sign in LA
The most Deceptive Sign in LA

Warning, this is a bit of a rant…

I hate false advertising. That is why I was delighted to read that Apple had to pull an iPhone ad recently (see: What the banned iPhone ad should really look like).

I am currently at the Online Educa in Berlin where Fronter is the Platinum sponsor. I found their brochure in the conference bag and was appalled by what I read.

Fronter has decided to adopt the discourse of open source software without actually delivering an open source product. Recently, this has been a strategy for many companies who produce proprietary software and are losing market share to open source products. This is the first time that I have seen it done in such a blatant way though.

Some quotes from their brochure:

The essence of Fronter’s Open Philosophy is to give learning institutions the benefit of an open source and open standard learning platform – while at the same time issuing guarantees for security, reliability and scalability, all included in a predictable fixed cost of ownership package.


Fronter’s Open Platform philosophy combines the best of two worlds; innovation based on open source, with guarantees and fixed cost of ownership issued by a corporation.


Open source: The Fronter source code is available to all licensed customers.
Open guarantee: In contrast to traditional open source products, Fronter offers tight service level agreements, quality control and a zero-bug regime.

I am sure the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) would not appreciate these untruths. So let us do some debunking.

The term open source actually has a definition. The Open Source Definition starts with the following statement: “Open source doesn’t just mean access to the source code.” It then continues by listing the ten conditions that need to be met before a software license can call itself open source. Many of these conditions are not met by Fronter (e.g. free distribution, allowing distribution of the source code or allowing derived works).

These conditions exist for a reason. Together they facilitate the community based software development model which has proven itself to be so effective (read: The Cathedral and the Bazaar if you want to know more). Just giving your licensees access to the source code, does not leverage this “many eyeballs” potential.

I really dislike how they pretend that open source products cannot have proper service level agreements or quality control.SLA’s and QA is exactly what European Moodle partners like eLeDia, CV&A Consulting, MediaTouch 2000 srl and my employer Stoas (all present at this Educa) have been delivering in the last couple of years.

What is a “zero-bug regime” anyway? Does it mean that your customers cannot know any of the bugs in your software? Or is Fronter the only commercially available software product in the world that has no bugs? I much prefer the completely transparent way of dealing with bugs that Moodle has.

Fronter people, please come and meet me at the Moodle Solutions stand (E147 and E148). I would love to hear you tell me how wrong I am.

The day that marketeers rule the world


Robijn is Dutch fabric softener brand owned by Unilever. I recently bought a bottle of their new “Robijn Crème” concentrated fabric softener. When I read the back of the bottle I could see that their marketing department had gotten free reign:

Verwen je zintuigen & kleding met Amandelolie. Robijn Crème is pure verwennerij voor jezelf en voor je kleding door de rijke crèmige samenstelling en verzachtende Amandelolie. Een echt verwenmoment! Zoals genieten van een heerlijke chocoladetruffel die smelt in je mond. Gun jezelf dat speciale moment. Ook op een gewone maandagochtend.

I will attempt a (quick and dirty) translation into English:

Give your senses and your clothes a treat with Almond oil. You are pampering yourself and your clothes with Robijn Cream because of its rich creamy composition and its softening almond oil. A true moment of pampering! Like enjoying a delicious chocolate truffle which melts in your mouth. You deserve that special moment. Also on a regular monday morning.

WTF?! I wish I could know the genesis of this brilliance. Does anybody know who is responsible?