Interesting conversation going on in semi-public between Dave Winer and John Robb about getting credit for your work.

My personal take on this is that ideas struggle to get out and that we all work damn hard trying to help them. The way high tech markets are means that a lot of us end up holding a dirty shovel while other folks wander off with the bag of gold. The example that John and Dave are puzzling about is common. Most of us who work hard in this field will have that experience along with it’s near neighbors; for example Mr. What Could A-Beans. They don’t tell you that in school; but as Dave used to say “Dig we Must.”

The element of this pattern that seems to get my goat isn’t not getting credit. It’s watching fine rich complex ideas get turned into naive cartoons. Watching babies I’ve cared for get pinned to a wall and desiccated. For example I know a few dozen reasons why open source works. But then some actor comes on the stage and announces with great dramatic effect: “It is all just status seeking.” For few afterward the audience knows that’s the answer and the entire movement suffers as a consequence.

The cartoon phase is what happens as the ideas are repurposed to serve the goals of actors further down the supply chain. What Paul Krugman calls the “Policy Entrepreneurs.” Here’s a typical sentence that illustrates how he finds this species distasteful ” am also unable to pretend to respect ‘policy entrepreneurs’, the intellectually dishonest self-proclaimed experts who tell politicians what they want to hear.” These actors are no different than the rest of us; they are looking of a place to get some positive feedback. If you frame an idea in certain ways you get a commercially viable product. Frame it another you get a fat book deal. Frame it another you a durable notch in the belt of your reputation. Frame it as a open source project with sufficient worse-is-better affordances for other people to play and you create a bloom of activity that is really fun to watch.

A generous nature tends to give a lot of stuff away. If you get bitter about what the other guys do picking thru what your shovel leaves behind then it’s hard to remain generous. Hoarding isn’t pretty. In some market’s hoarding is best option; it’s a good thing when things are scarce. Ideas aren’t scarce.

We have all sat in the final meeting of a conference or the tail end of a dinner and had to suffer thru the thank you speech. One of organizers gets up and launches into thanking absolutely every person who did as much as think about unfolding a chair. On an on they go. But that’s exactly right. The generous stream of contributions that make a thing work needs to be matched with a similarly generous flow of credit.

So. Thank you John and Dave for all your work to reinvigorate authoring on the web. Your absolutely right. The web is not about watching, listening, reading; but it’s also about acting, speaking, writing.

Oh, and if it’s any comfort as soon as they allow cell phones on airplanes the whole market for golly gee business books will collapse.

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