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All Postings, Benjamin Mako Hill:  (195 posts)

Source blog: Copyrighteous

Mon, 22 Oct 2018 22:55:40 UTC

Why organizational culture matters for online groups

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Leaders and scholars of online communities tend of think of community growth as the aggregate effect of inexperienced individuals arriving one-by-one. However, there is increasing evidence that growth in many online communities today involves newcomers arriving in groups with previous experience together in other communities. This difference has deep implications for how we think about … Continue reading "Why organizational culture matters for online groups"

Tue, 09 Oct 2018 17:02:56 UTC

What we lose when we move from social to market exchange

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Couchsurfing and Airbnb are websites that connect people with an extra guest room or couch with random strangers on the Internet who are looking for a place to stay. Although Couchsurfing predates Airbnb by about five years, the two sites are designed to help people do the same basic thing and they work in extremely … Continue reading "What we lose when we move from social to market exchange"

Wed, 26 Sep 2018 02:34:19 UTC

Shannon?s Ghost

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I’m spending the 2018-2019 academic year as a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford. Every CASBS study is labeled with a list of  ?ghosts? who previously occupied the study. This year, I’m spending the year in Study 50 where I’m happily haunted by an incredible cast that … Continue reading "Shannon’s Ghost"

Sun, 16 Sep 2018 18:18:50 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Was my festive shirt the model for the men’s room signs at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu? Did I see the sign on arrival and subconsciously decide to dress similarly when I returned to the airport to depart Hawaii?

Wed, 12 Sep 2018 16:53:22 UTC

Disappointment on the new commute

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that signs on Stanford’s campus pointing to their “Enchanted Broccoli Forest” and “Naria”?both of which that I have been passing daily on my new commute?merely indicate the location of student living groups with whimsical names.

Fri, 24 Aug 2018 02:39:34 UTC

Heading to the Bay Area

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

On September 4th, I’ll be starting a fellowship at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS), a wonderful social science research institute at Stanford that’s perched on a hill overlooking Palo Alto and the San Francisco Bay. The fellowship is a one-year gig and I’ll be back in Seattle next June. A … Continue reading "Heading to the Bay Area"

Tue, 07 Aug 2018 21:00:51 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Am I leading a double life as an actor in several critically acclaimed television series? I ask because I was recently accused of being Paul Sparks?the actor who played gangster Mickey Doyle on Boardwalk Empire and writer Thomas Yates in the Netflix version of House of Cards. My accuser reacted to my protestations with incredulity. … Continue reading "Lookalikes"

Thu, 02 Aug 2018 02:20:01 UTC

I have no friends or colleagues

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Although it’s never fun to have the most important professional association in your field tell you that “you have no friends or colleagues,” being able to make one’s very first submission to screenshots of despair softens the blow a little.

Tue, 26 Jun 2018 02:21:40 UTC

Forming, storming, norming, performing, and ?chloroforming?

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

In 1965, Bruce Tuckman proposed a “developmental sequence in small groups.” According to his influential theory, most successful groups go through four stages with rhyming names: Forming: Group members get to know each other and define their task. Storming: Through argument and disagreement, power dynamics emerge and are negotiated. Norming: After conflict, groups seek to … Continue reading "Forming, storming, norming, performing, and …chloroforming?"

Fri, 22 Jun 2018 23:34:41 UTC

I?m a maker, baby

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

  What does the “maker movement” think of the song “Maker” by Fink? Is it an accidental anthem or just unfortunate evidence of the semantic ambiguity around an overloaded term?

Tue, 19 Jun 2018 18:03:29 UTC

How markets coopted free software?s most powerful weapon (LibrePlanet 2018 Keynote)

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Several months ago, I gave the closing keynote address at LibrePlanet 2018. The talk was about the thing that scares me most about the future of free culture, free software, and peer production. A video of the talk is online on Youtube and available as WebM video file (both links should skip the first 3m 19s … Continue reading "How markets coopted free software’s most powerful weapon (LibrePlanet 2018 Keynote)"

Mon, 18 Jun 2018 22:40:54 UTC

Honey Buckets

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

When I was growing up in Washington state, a company called Honey Bucket held a dominant position in the local portable toilet market. Their toilets are still a common sight in the American West. They were so widespread when I was a child that I didn’t know that “Honey Bucket” was the name of a … Continue reading "Honey Buckets"

Wed, 23 May 2018 16:17:44 UTC

Natural experiment showing how ?wide walls? can support engagement and learning

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Seymour Papert is credited as saying that tools to support learning should have ?high ceilings? and ?low floors.? The phrase is meant to suggest that tools should allow learners to do complex and intellectually sophisticated things but should also be easy to begin using quickly. Mitchel Resnick extended the metaphor to argue that learning toolkits … Continue reading "Natural experiment showing how “wide walls” can support engagement and learning"

Thu, 03 May 2018 22:38:04 UTC

Climbing Mount Rainier

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Mount Rainier is an enormous glaciated volcano in Washington state. It’s  4,392 meters tall (14,410 ft) and extraordinary prominent. The mountain is 87 km (54m) away from Seattle. On clear days, it dominates the skyline. Rainier’s presence has shaped the layout and structure of Seattle. Important roads are built to line up with it. The … Continue reading "Climbing Mount Rainier"

Mon, 23 Apr 2018 21:20:06 UTC

Is English Wikipedia?s ?rise and decline? typical?

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

This graph shows the number of people contributing to Wikipedia over time: The number of active Wikipedia contributors exploded, suddenly stalled, and then began gradually declining. (Figure taken from Halfaker et al. 2013) The figure comes from “The Rise and Decline of an Open Collaboration System,” a well-known 2013 paper that argued that Wikipedia’s transition … Continue reading "Is English Wikipedia’s ‘rise and decline’ typical?"

Sat, 21 Apr 2018 21:31:04 UTC

Mako Hate

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I recently discovered a prolific and sustained community of meme-makers on Tumblr dedicated to expressing their strong dislike for “Mako.” Two tags with examples are #mako hate and #anti mako but there are many others. I’ve also discovered Tumblrs entirely dedicated to the topic! For example, Let’s Roast Mako describes itself “A place to beat … Continue reading "Mako Hate"

Fri, 20 Apr 2018 22:26:58 UTC

Hyak on Hyak

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I recently fulfilled a yearslong dream of launching a job on Hyak* on Hyak?.   * Hyak is the University of Washington’s supercomputer which my research group uses for most of our computation-intensive research. ? M/V Hyak is a Super-class ferry operated by the Washington State Ferry System.

Wed, 04 Apr 2018 18:53:10 UTC

UW Stationery in LaTeX

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

The University of Washington’s brand page recently started publishing letterhead templates that departments and faculty can use for official communication. Unfortunately, they only provide them in Microsoft Word DOCX format. Because my research group works in TeX for everything, Sayamindu Dasgupta and I worked together to create a LaTeX version of the ?Matrix Department Signature … Continue reading "UW Stationery in LaTeX"

Sun, 01 Apr 2018 21:55:32 UTC

Workshop on Casual Inference

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

My research collective, the Community Data Science Collective,  just announced that we’ll be hosting a event on casual inference in online community research! We believe this will be the first event on casual inference in any field. We look forward to relaxing our assumptions, and so much more!

Tue, 27 Feb 2018 19:41:02 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

XORcise (??.z??.siz) verb 1. To remove observations from a dataset if they satisfy one of two criteria, but not both. [e.g., After XORcising adults and citizens, only foreign children and adult citizens were left.]

Fri, 23 Feb 2018 19:45:37 UTC

?Stop Mang Fun of Me?

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Somebody recently asked me if I am the star of quote #75514 (a snippet of online chat from a large collaboratively built collection): <mako> my letter "eye" stopped worng <luca> k, too? <mako> yeah <luca> sounds like a mountain dew spill <mako> and comma <mako> those three <mako> ths s horrble <luca> tme for … Continue reading "“Stop Mang Fun of Me”"

Tue, 20 Feb 2018 19:45:53 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Did I forget a period of my life when I grew a horseshoe mustache and dreadlocks, walked around topless, and illustrated this 2009 article in the Economist on the economic boon that hippy festivals represent to rural American communities? Previous lookalikes are here.

Sat, 17 Feb 2018 03:23:56 UTC

My Kuro5hin Diary Entries

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Kuro5hin (pronounced “corrosion” and abbreviated K5) was a website created in 1999 that was popular in the early 2000s. K5 users could post stories to be voted upon as well as entries to their personal diaries. I posted a couple dozen diary entries between 2002 and 2003 during my final year of college and the … Continue reading "My Kuro5hin Diary Entries"

Sun, 02 Aug 2015 02:45:05 UTC

Understanding Hydroplane Races for the New Seattleite

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

It’s Seafair weekend in Seattle. As always, the centerpiece is the H1 Unlimited hydroplane races on Lake Washington. In my social circle, I’m nearly the only person I know who grew up in area. None of the newcomers I know had heard of hydroplane racing before moving to Seattle. Even after I explain it to … Continue reading Understanding Hydroplane Races for the New Seattleite

Thu, 07 May 2015 04:11:19 UTC

Books Room

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Is the locked “books room” at McMahon Hall at UW a metaphor for DRM in the academy? Could it be, like so many things in Seattle, sponsored by Amazon? Mika noticed the room several weeks ago but felt that today’s International Day Against DRM was a opportune time to raise the questions in front of … Continue reading Books Room

Thu, 07 May 2015 03:43:11 UTC

DRM on Streaming Services

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

For the 2015 International Day Against DRM, I wrote a short essay on DRM for streaming services posted on the Defective by Design website. I’m republishing it here. Between 2003 and 2009, most music purchased through Apple’s iTunes store was locked using Apple’s FairPlay digital restrictions management (DRM) software, which is designed to prevent users … Continue reading DRM on Streaming Services

Wed, 01 Apr 2015 17:18:57 UTC

RomancR: The Future of the Sharing-Your-Bed Economy

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Today, Aaron Shaw and I are pleased to announce a new startup. The startup is based around an app we are building called RomancR that will bring the sharing economy directly into your bedrooms and romantic lives. When launched, RomancR will bring the kind of market-driven convenience and efficiency that Uber has brought to ride … Continue reading RomancR: The Future of the Sharing-Your-Bed Economy

Wed, 01 Apr 2015 17:18:57 UTC

RomancR: The Future of the Sharing-Your-Bed Economy

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Today, Aaron Shaw and I are pleased to announce a new startup. The startup is based around an app we are building called RomancR that will bring the sharing economy directly into your bedrooms and romantic lives. When launched, RomancR will bring the kind of market-driven convenience and efficiency that Uber has brought to ride … Continue reading RomancR: The Future of the Sharing-Your-Bed Economy

Wed, 01 Apr 2015 02:41:06 UTC

More Community Data Science Workshops

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

After two successful rounds in 2014, I’m helping put on another round of the Community Data Science Workshops. Last year, our 40+ volunteer mentorss taught more than 150 absolute beginners the basics of programming in Python, data collection from web APIs, and tools for data analysis and visualization and we’re still in the process of … Continue reading More Community Data Science Workshops

Tue, 10 Feb 2015 07:09:22 UTC

Kuchisake-onna Decision Tree

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Mika recently brought up the Japanese modern legend of Kuchisake-onna (ãÂQs). For background, I turned to the English Wikipedia article on Kuchisake-onna which had the following to say about the figure (the description matches Mika’s memory): According to the legend, children walking alone at night may encounter a woman wearing a surgical mask, which is … Continue reading Kuchisake-onna Decision Tree

Tue, 30 Dec 2014 03:05:38 UTC

Consider the Redirect

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

In wikis, redirects are special pages that silently take readers from the page they are visiting to another page. Although their presence is noted in tiny gray text (see the image below) most people use them all the time and never know they exist. Redirects exist to make linking between pages easier, they populate Wikipedia’s … Continue reading Consider the Redirect

Sat, 27 Dec 2014 23:01:56 UTC

My Government Portrait

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

A friend recently commented on my rather unusual portrait on my (out of date) page on the Berkman website.  Here’s the story. I joined Berkman as a fellow with a fantastic class of fellows that included, among many other incredibly accomplished people, Vivek Kundra: first Chief Information Officer of the United States. At Berkman, all … Continue reading My Government Portrait

Wed, 24 Dec 2014 01:05:35 UTC

Images of Japan

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Going through some photos, I was able to revisit some of the more memorable moments of my trip to Japan earlier this year. For example, the time I visited Genkai Quasi National Park a beautiful spot in Fukuoka that had a strong resemblance to, but may not actually have been, a national park. There was … Continue reading Images of Japan

Sun, 19 Oct 2014 01:19:52 UTC

Another Round of Community Data Science Workshops in Seattle

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I am helping coordinate three and a half day-long workshops in November for anyone interested in learning how to use programming and data science tools to ask and answer questions about online communities like Wikipedia, free and open source software, Twitter, civic media, etc. This will be a new and improved version of the workshops […]

Sun, 28 Sep 2014 05:02:19 UTC

Community Data Science Workshops

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Earlier this year, I helped plan and run the Community Data Science Workshops: a series of three (and a half) day-long workshops designed to help people learn basic programming and tools for data science tools in order to ask and answer questions about online communities like Wikipedia and Twitter. You can read our initial announcement […]

Sun, 18 May 2014 22:58:16 UTC

Installing GNU/Linux on an 2014 Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I recently bought a new Lenovo X1 Carbon. It is the new second-generation, type “20A7″ laptop, based on Intel’s Haswell microarchiteture with the adaptive keyboard. It is the version released in 2014. I also ordered the Thinkpad OneLink Dock which I have returned for the OneLink Pro Dock which I have not yet received. The […]

Mon, 12 May 2014 02:11:02 UTC

Google Has Most of My Email Because It Has All of Yours

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

For almost 15 years, I have run my own email server which I use for all of my non-work correspondence. I do so to keep autonomy, control, and privacy over my email and so that no big company has copies of all of my personal email. A few years ago, I was surprised to find […]

Sun, 16 Mar 2014 18:41:20 UTC

Community Data Science Workshops in Seattle

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

On three Saturdays in April and May, I will be helping run three day-long project-based workshops at the University of Washington in Seattle. The workshops are for anyone interested in learning how to use programming and data science tools to ask and answer questions about online communities like Wikipedia, Twitter, free  and open source software, […]

Sat, 08 Mar 2014 00:50:02 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

My friend Noah mentioned the game VVVVVV. I was confused because I thought he was talking about the visual programming language vvvv. I went to Wikipedia to clear up my confusion but ended up on the article on VVVVV which is about the Latin phrase “vi veri universum vivus vici” meaning, “by the power of […]

Mon, 03 Feb 2014 23:45:43 UTC

Admiral Ackbar on Persian Governors

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Q: The title for a governor in ancient Persia? A: It’s satrap!

Wed, 29 Jan 2014 23:45:53 UTC

Aaron Swartz  A Year Later

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

My friend Aaron Swartz died a little more than a year ago. This time last year, I was spending much of my time speaking with journalists and reading what they were writing about Aaron. Since the anniversary of his death, I have tried to take time to remember Aaron. I’ve returned to the things I […]

Mon, 27 Jan 2014 03:27:13 UTC

My Geekhouse Bike Frame

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

In 2011, Mika and I bought in big at the Boston Red Bones party’s charity raffle  supporting MassBike and NEMBA  and came out huge. I won $500 off a custom frame at Geekouse Bikes. For years, Mika and I have been planning to do the Tour d’Afrique route (Capetown to Cairo), unsupported, on […]

Tue, 31 Dec 2013 06:33:10 UTC

When Free Software Isnt Better Talk

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

In late October, the FSF posted this video of a talk called When Free Software Isn’t (Practically) Better that I gave at LibrePlanet earlier in the year. I noticed it was public when, out of the blue, I started getting both a bunch of positive feedback about the talk as well as many people pointing […]

Tue, 05 Nov 2013 04:38:44 UTC

Settling in Seattle

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I defended my dissertation three months ago. Since then, it feels like everything has changed. I’ve moved from Somerville to Seattle, moved from MIT to the University of Washington, and gone from being a graduate student to a professor. Mika and I have moved out of a multi-apartment cooperative into into a small apartment we’re […]

Sat, 03 Aug 2013 01:28:15 UTC

Doctor of Philosophy

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

On Wednesday, I successfully defended my PhD dissertation in front of a ridiculously packed house at the MIT Media Lab. I am humbled by the support shown by the MIT Sloan, Media Lab, and Harvard communities. Earlier today, I finished up paperwork and submitted my archival copies. I’m done. Although I’ve often heard PhDs described […]

Sun, 21 Jul 2013 22:27:40 UTC

The Wikipedia Gender Gap Revisited

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

In a new paper, recently published in the open access journal PLOSONE, Aaron Shaw and I build on new research in survey methodology to describe a method for estimating bias in opt-in surveys of contributors to online communities. We use the technique to reevaluate the most widely cited estimate of the gender gap in Wikipedia. [...]

Wed, 26 Jun 2013 17:00:47 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Is Franz Sacher, the Inventor of the famous sachertorte, still alive and and working at the at the Electronic Frontier Foundation? Might this help explain why EFF Technology Project Director Peter Eckersley is so concerned about protecting privacy and pseudonymity?

Sat, 22 Jun 2013 17:00:29 UTC

Iceowls Awesome New Icon

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

If you’re a Debian user, you are probably already familiar with some of the awesome icons for IceWeasel (rebranded Mozilla Firefox), IceDove (rebranded Mozilla Thunderbird) and IceApe (rebranded Mozilla SeaMonkey).     I was pretty ambivalent about the decision to rebrand Firefox until I saw some of proposed the IceWeasel icons which  in my humble [...]

Wed, 19 Jun 2013 17:00:02 UTC

Job Market Materials

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Last year, I applied for academic, tenure track, jobs at several communication departments, information schools, and in HCI-focused computer science programs with a tradition of hiring social scientists. Being on the market  as it is called  is both scary and time consuming. Like me, many candidates have never been on the market before. [...]

Sat, 15 Jun 2013 17:00:27 UTC

Indian Veg

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Recently, I ate at the somewhat famous London vegetarian restaurant Indian Veg Bhelpoori House in Islington (often referred to simply as Indian Veg). I couldn’t help but imagine that the restaurant had hired Emanuel Bronner as their interior decorator.

Wed, 12 Jun 2013 17:00:44 UTC

Resurrecting Debian Seattle

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

      When I last lived in Seattle, nearly a decade ago, I hosted the Debian Seattle Social email list. When I left the city, the mailing list eventually fell victim to bitrot. When Allison Randall asked me about the list a couple months ago, I decided that moving back to Seattle was a good excuse [...]

Sat, 08 Jun 2013 20:22:09 UTC

London and Michigan

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I’ll be spending the week after next (June 17-23) in London for the annual meeting of the International Communication Association where I’ll be presenting a paper. This will be my first ICA and I’m looking forward to connecting with many new colleagues in the discipline. If you’re one of them, reading this, and would like [...]

Sun, 19 May 2013 16:00:05 UTC

The Cost of Inaccessibility at the Margins of Relevance

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I use RSS feeds to keep up with academic journals. Because of an undocumented and unexpected feature (bug?) in my (otherwise wonderful) free software newsreader NewBlur, many articles published over the last year were marked as having been read before I saw them. Over the last week, I caught up. I spent hours going through [...]

Wed, 15 May 2013 15:15:48 UTC

Sounds Like a Map

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I love maps  something that became clear to me when I was looking at the tag cloud of my bookmarks a few years back. One of my favorite blogs (now a book) is Frank Jabobs’ Strange Maps. So it’s no coincidence that a number of my favorite MIT Mystery Hunt puzzles are map based. [...]

Thu, 09 May 2013 23:29:50 UTC

The Remixing Dilemma: The Trade-off Between Generativity and Originality

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

This post was written with Andrés Monroy-Hernández. It is a summary of a paper just published in American Behavioral Scientist. You can also read the full paper: The remixing dilemma: The trade-off between generativity and originality. It is part of a series of papers I have written with Monroy-Hernández using data from Scratch. You can [...]

Fri, 05 Apr 2013 15:13:36 UTC

Students for Free Culture Conference FCX2013

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

On the weekend of April 20-21, Students for Free Culture is going to be holding its annual conference, FCX2013, at New York Law School in New York City. As a long-time SFC supporter and member, I am enormously proud to be giving the opening keynote address. Although the program for Sunday is still shaping up, [...]

Mon, 01 Apr 2013 17:00:46 UTC

Mystery Hunt 2013

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

A few months late, perhaps, but I wanted to mention that my team (Codex) competed, once again, in the MIT Mystery Hunt. The prize for winning is the responsibility of writing the hunt next year. After being on the 2012 writing team I have mixed feelings about the fact that we did not win again. [...]

Wed, 27 Mar 2013 14:53:53 UTC

The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy and Wikipedia

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

A month ago, Mark Donfried from the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (ICD)  an organization dedicated to promoting open dialogue  sent me this letter threatening me with legal action because of contributions I’ve made to Wikipedia. Yesterday, he sent me this followup threat. According to the letters, Donfried has threatened me with legal action [...]

Mon, 25 Mar 2013 17:00:44 UTC

MIT LaTeX Stationery

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

The MIT graphic identity website provides downloadable stationery templates for letterhead and envelopes. They provide both Microsoft Word and LaTeX templates. But although they provide both black and white and color templates for Word, they only provide the monochrome templates for LaTeX. When writing cover letters for the job market this year, I was not [...]

Thu, 21 Mar 2013 17:00:07 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Is Croatian kiberkomunist (i.e., cyber-communist) artist and hacker Marcell Mars living a secret life as a Nantucket Reds -wearing preppie from the American northeast?

Mon, 18 Mar 2013 10:01:40 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I Although I don’t mean to brag… I have an really great scarf-hood-combination garment. I was wearing said awesome scarf in a rather cold apartment during my remote participation in the Learning Creative Learning class. I would like to think that I said some interesting and insightful things. But if I didn’t, I’m glad to [...]

Sun, 17 Mar 2013 10:01:50 UTC

Conversation on Freedom and Openness in Learning

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

On Monday, I was a visitor and guest speaker in a session on Open Learning in a class on Learning Creative Learning which aims to offer a course for designers, technologists, and educators. The class is being offered publicly by the combination  surprising but very close to my heart  of Peer 2 Peer [...]

Fri, 15 Mar 2013 08:57:25 UTC

Aaron Swartz MIT Memorial

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

On Tuesday, there was a memorial for Aaron Swartz held at the MIT Media Lab. Unfortunately, I am traveling this week and was unable to attend. As I wrote recently, I was close to Aaron. I am also, more obviously, close to MIT and the lab. It was important to me to participate in the [...]

Thu, 24 Jan 2013 23:44:19 UTC

Aaron Swartz

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I moved to Boston in 2005 at the same time that Aaron Swartz did and we were introduced by a mutual friend. Aaron was one of my first friends in Boston and we became close. When Aaron moved to San Francisco, I moved into his apartment in Somerville where he kept a room for a [...]

Thu, 17 Jan 2013 04:54:02 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I just returned home from Aaron Swartz’s funeral in Chicago. Aaron was a good friend. The home I’ve returned to is an apartment that was Aaron’s before it was mine, that I have lived in with Aaron during several stints, and that I still share with many of his old books and posters. Although, I’ve [...]

Fri, 11 Jan 2013 18:50:15 UTC

Goodbye PyBlosxom, Hello WordPress

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Since 2004, I’ve used the blogging software PyBlosxom. Over that time, the software has served me well and I have even written a series of patches and plugins. PyBloxsom is blog software designed for hackers. It assumes you already have a text editor you love and relies on features of a POSIX filesystem instead of [...]

Mon, 31 Dec 2012 17:53:00 UTC

Freedom for Users, Not for Software

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I finally published a short essay I wrote about a year ago: Freedom for Users, Not for Software. Anybody who has hung around the free software community for a while will be familiar with the confusion created by the ambiguity between "free as in price" versus "free as freedom." In the essay I argue that there is a less appreciated semantic ambiguity that arises when we begin to think that what matters is that software is free. Software doesn't need freedom, of course; Users of software need freedom. My essay looks at how the focus on free software, as opposed to on free users, has created challenges and divisions in the free software movement.

Sat, 22 Dec 2012 14:58:00 UTC

The Cost of Collaboration for Code and Art

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

This post was written with Andrés Monroy-Hernández for the Follow the Crowd Research Blog. The post is a summary of a paper forthcoming in Computer-Supported Cooperative Work 2013. You read also read the full paper: The Cost of Collaboration for Code and Art: Evidence from Remixing. It is part of a series of papers I have written with Monroy-Hernández using data from Scratch. You can find the others on my academic website. Does collaboration result in higher quality creative works than individuals working alone? Is working in groups better for functional works like code than for creative works like art? Although these questions lie at the heart of conversations about collaborative production on the Internet and peer production, it can be hard to find research settings where you can compare across both individual and group work and across both code and art.

Fri, 14 Dec 2012 20:01:00 UTC

Heading West

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

This week, I accepted a job on the faculty of at the University of Washington Department of Communication. I've arranged for a post-doc during the 2013-2014 academic year which I will spend at UW as an Acting Assistant Professor. I'll start the tenure-track Assistant Professor position in September 2014. The hire is part of a "big data" push across UW. I will be setting up a lab and research projects, as well as easing into a teaching program, over the next couple years. I'm not going to try to list all the great people in the department, but UW Communication has an incredible faculty with a strong background in studying the effect of communication technology on society, looking at political communication, enagement, and collective action, and tracing out the implications of new communication technologies  in addition to very strong work in other areas.

Mon, 10 Dec 2012 02:44:00 UTC

Asocial Science

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Random people on the Internet want to know: Why is economics asocial science?

Fri, 23 Nov 2012 17:51:00 UTC

Cultivated Disinterest in Professional Sports

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Like many of my friends, I have treated professional sports with cultivated indifference. But a year and a half ago, I decided to become a football fan. Several years ago, I was at a talk by Michael Albert at MIT where he chastised American intellectuals for what he claimed was cultivated disdain of professional sports. Albert suggested that sports reflect the go-to topic for small talk and building rapport across class and context. But he suggested that almost everybody who used the term "working class struggle" was incapable of making small talk with members of the working class because  unlike most working class people (and most people in general)  educated people systematically cultivate ignorance in sports.

Wed, 31 Oct 2012 16:49:00 UTC

Time to Boot

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Last weekend, my friend Andrés Monroy-Hernández pointed out something that I've been noticing as well. Although the last decade has seen a huge decrease in the time of it takes to boot, the same can not be said for the increasing powerful computer in my pocket that is my phone. As the graph indicates, I think my cross-over was around 2010 when I acquired an SSD for my laptop.

Mon, 22 Oct 2012 09:16:00 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

The seal of the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center declares "Protection is Our Trademark." But, is the same seal violating Nintendo's trademark for the Pokémon Zapdos? I'll let you decide. Thanks to Tomas Reimers for catching this one. Previous lookalikes here and here.

Thu, 27 Sep 2012 14:08:00 UTC

Pregnant with Suspense

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

A couple days ago, I woke up to this exciting series of text messages from a unfamiliar phone number. Because I've not received a reply in the last couple days, because it was a Seattle phone number but I haven't lived in Seattle for years, and because I don't know of anyone in Seattle who was about to give birth, I'm pretty confident that this was indeed a case of misdirected text messages! But whoever you are: Congratulations! I know it was a mistake, but that really made my day!

Sun, 02 Sep 2012 20:44:00 UTC

Open Brands

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

In late July, the Awesome Foundations invited me to participate in an interesting conversation about open brands at their conference. Awesome is a young collection of organizations struggling with the idea of if, and how, they want to try to control who gets call themselves Awesome. I was asked to talk about how the free software community approaches the issue. Guidance from free software is surprisingly unclear. I have watched and participated in struggles over issues of branding in every successful free software project I've worked in. Many years ago, Greg Pomerantz and I wrote a draft trademark policy for the Debian distribution over a couple beers.

Sat, 25 Aug 2012 20:17:00 UTC

Visions of the Future

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

This vision of the future at Sam's No. 3 in Denver suggests that we will have ample blackboards after the apocalypse. And that the contrast will be greatly improved in direct sunlight.

Fri, 10 Aug 2012 01:08:00 UTC

A Model of Free Software Success

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Last week I helped organize the Open and User Innovation Conference at Harvard Business School. One of many interesting papers presented there was an essay on Institutional Change and Information Production by Fabio Landini from the University of Siena. At the core of the paper is an economic model of the relationship between rights protection and technologies that affects the way that cognitive labor can be divided and aggregated. Although that may sound very abstract (and it is in the paper), it is basically a theory that tries to explain the growth of free software. The old story about free software and free culture (at least among economists and many other academics) is that the movements surged to prominence over the last decade because improvements in communication technology made new forms of mass-collaboration -- like GNU/Linux and Wikipedia -- possible.

Thu, 26 Jul 2012 16:45:00 UTC

User Innovation on NPR Radio

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I was invited onto NPR in Boston this week for a segment on user innovation alongside Eric von Hippel (my advisor at MIT) and Carliss Baldwin from Harvard Business School. I talked about innovation that has happened on the CHDK platform -- a cool firmware hack for Canon cameras example I use in some of my teaching -- plus a little bit about free software, the democratization of development and design tools, and a little bit about user communities that LEGO has cultivated. I would have liked the conversation and terminology to do more to emphasize user freedom and free software, but I'm otherwise pretty happy with the result.

Mon, 09 Jul 2012 09:49:00 UTC

The Global Iron Blogger Network

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Since last November, I've been participating in and coordinating Iron Blogger: a drinking club where you pay $5 to a "beer" pool if you fail to blog weekly. The revival of Iron Blogger in Boston has been a big success. Even more exciting, however, is that Iron Blogger concept has spread. There are now two other Iron Blogger instances: in San Francisco coordinated by Parker Higgens, and in Berlin run by Nicole Ebber and Michelle Thorne. Yesterday, we convened a virtual meeting of the Global Iron Blogger Council (i.e., an email thread) and we all agreed a new on iron blogger rule that might sweeten the deal for jet-setting prospective Iron Bloggers: any paid-up member of any Iron Blogger club can attend meet-ups in any other Iron Blogger cities if they happen to be in town for one.

Mon, 02 Jul 2012 01:48:00 UTC

Wiki Conferencing

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I am in Berlin for the Wikipedia Academy, a very cool hybrid free culture community plus refereed academic conference organized, in part, by Wikimedia Deutschland. On Friday, I was very excited to have been invited to give the conference's opening keynote based on my own hybrid take on learning from failures in peer production and incorporating a bunch of my own research. Today, I was on a panel at the conference about free culture and sharing practices. I'll post talks materials and videos when the conference puts them online. I will be in Berlin for the next week or so before I head to directly to Washington, DC for Wikimania between the 11th and 15th.

Sun, 01 Jul 2012 05:49:00 UTC

Wiki Conferencing

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I am in Berlin for the Wikipedia Academy, a very cool hybrid free culture community plus refereed academic conference organized, in part, by Wikimedia Deutschland. On Friday, I was very excited to have been invited to give the conference's opening keynote based on my own hybrid take on learning from failures in peer production and incorporating a bunch of my own research. Today, I was on a panel at the conference about free culture and sharing practices. I'll post talks materials and videos when the conference puts them online. I will be in Berlin for the next week or so before I head to directly to Washington, DC for Wikimania between the 11th and 15th.

Mon, 04 Jun 2012 01:44:00 UTC

Why Facebook's Network Effects are Overrated

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

A lot of people interested in free software, and user autonomy and network services are very worried about Facebook. Folks are worried for the same reason that so many investors are interested: the networks effects brought by hundreds of millions of folks signed up to use the service. Network effects -- the concept that a good or service increases in value as more people use it -- are not a new problem for free software. Software developers target Microsoft Windows because that is where the large majority of users are. Users with no love for Microsoft and who are otherwise sympathetic to free software use Windows because programs they need will only run there.

Mon, 14 May 2012 01:18:00 UTC

Date Arithmetic

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

When I set an alarm, my clock, now running on the computer in my pocket, is smart enough to tell me how much time will pass until the alarm is scheduled to sound. This has eliminated the old problem of sleeping past meetings before being surprised by an alarm precisely half a day after I had originally planned to wake. The price has been having to know exactly how little I will sleep: a usually depressing fact that had previously been obscured by my difficulty doing time arithmetic in my most somnolent moments.

Mon, 14 May 2012 00:57:00 UTC

Diamond Clarity

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I3’I2’I1’SI2’SI1’VS2’VS1’VVS2’VVS1’IF’FL The GIA diamond clarity scale, shown above, is rather opaque.

Thu, 12 Apr 2012 15:33:00 UTC

My Setup

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

The Setup is an awesome blog that posts of interviews with nerdy people that ask the same four questions: Who are you, and what do you do? What hardware are you using? And what software? What would be your dream setup? I really care about my setup so I am excited, and honored, that they just posted an interview with me! I answer questions about my setup often so I tried to be comprehensive with the hope that I will be able to point people to it in the future.

Thu, 05 Apr 2012 23:36:00 UTC

OH Man!

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Since installing a whiteboard in our kitchen, conversations at the Acetarium have been moving in new and interesting directions. For example, Mika and I recently noticed that, when rotated correctly, the skeletal formula for 2,3-dimethyl-2-butanol looks pretty friendly!

Mon, 19 Mar 2012 17:14:00 UTC

A Manhattan Project for Cliché Collection

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

This weekend, I launched an extremely ambitious effort to collect evidence of extremely ambitious efforts.

Tue, 06 Mar 2012 18:26:00 UTC

Half the Battle Against DRM

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

As the free software and free culture movements have sat quietly by, DRM is now well on its way to becoming the norm in the electronic book publishing industry. The free culture movement has failed to communicate the reality of DRM and, as a result, millions of people are buying books that they won't be able to read when they switch to a different model of ebook reader in the future. They are buying books that will become inaccessible when the DRM system that supports them is shut down -- as we've already seen with music from companies including Wal*Mart, Yahoo, and Microsoft.

Mon, 05 Mar 2012 01:11:00 UTC

Unhappy Birthday Hall of Shame

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I roll my eyes a little when I think that Unhappy Birthday is the document I have written that has been read by the most people. The page -- basically a website encouraging people to rat on their friends for copyright violation for singing Happy Birthday in public -- has received millions of page views and has generated tons of its own media (including a rather memorable interview of CBC's WireTap). At the bottom of the page I am listed, by name and email, as the "copyrighteous spokesman" for the initiative. And since the page has been online, I have received hate mail about it.

Sat, 18 Feb 2012 01:18:00 UTC

Advice for Prospective Doctoral Students

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

There is tons of advice on the Internet (e.g., on the academic blogs I read) for prospective doctoral students. I am very happy with my own graduate school choices but I feel that I basically got lucky. Few people are saying the two things I really wish someone had told me before I made the decision to get a PhD: Most people getting doctorates would probably be better off doing something else. Evaluating potentially programs can basically done by looking at and talking with a program's recent graduates. Most People Getting Doctorates Probably Shouldn't In most fields, the only thing you need a PhD for is to become a professor -- and even this requirement can be flexible.

Mon, 13 Feb 2012 10:41:00 UTC

Quasi-Private Resources

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Public Resource republishes many court documents. Although these documents are all part of the public record and PR will not take them down because someone finds their publication uncomfortable, PR will evaluate and honor some requests to remove documents from search engine results. Public Resources does so using a robots.txt file or "robot exclusion protocol" which websites use to, among other things, tell search engine's web crawling "robots" which pages they do not want to be indexed and included in search results. Originally, the files were mostly used to keep robots from abusing server resources by walking through infinite lists of automatically generated pages or to block search engines from including user-contributed content that might include spam.

Fri, 20 Jan 2012 16:31:00 UTC

Internet Immortality

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Kim Jong-Il is gone. That said, he continues to live on, looking at things, on the popular blog Kim Jong-Il Looking At Things which continues to be updated with new content from the archives. It is now joined by Kim Jong-Un Looking At Things. I think I agree with João Rocha, creator of the original, that the younger Kim seems to be missing some hard-to-pin-down quality that made the original work well.

Mon, 16 Jan 2012 02:27:00 UTC

Mystery Hunt

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I've mentioned before that I compete every year in the MIT Mystery Hunt -- an enormous, multi-day, round-the-clock puzzle competition held in January at MIT each year. Last year, my team Codex won the hunt. The reward (punishment?) for winning is the responsibility to write the 100+ puzzles, (and meta-puzzles, and meta-meta-puzzles, and theme, and events) and to put on the whole event the following year. So over the last year, I've worked with a huge group of folks to put together this year's hunt which had a theme loosely based on The Producers. My own role was small compared to many of my teammates: I contributed to some puzzle writing and to a bunch of "test-solving" of candidate puzzles to make sure they were solvable, not too easy, fun, and well constructed.

Mon, 19 Dec 2011 02:30:00 UTC

The Influence of the Ecstasy of Influence

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Back in 2007, Harpers Magazine published The Ecstasy of Influence: a beautiful article by Jonathan Lethem on reuse in art and literature. Like Lewis Hyde in The Gift (quite like Hyde, as readers discover) Lethem blurs the line between plagiarism, remix, and influence and points to his subject at the center of artistic production. Lethem's gimmick, which most readers only discover at the end, is that the article is constructed entirely out of "reused" (i.e., plagiarized) quotations and paraphrases. A couple months ago, I suggested to my friend Andrés Monroy-Hernández a very similar project: a literature review on academic work on remixing and remixing communities constructed entirely of text lifted from existing research.

Wed, 07 Dec 2011 22:40:00 UTC

Wide Scream

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill It seems that nearly all computer monitors have now switched from a 4:3 aspect ratio popular several years ago to a "wide screen" 16:10 and now mostly to an even wider 16:9. But screen sizes are usually measured by their diagonal length and those sizes have not changed. For example, before I had my Thinkpad X201, I had a X60 and a X35. They are similar laptops in the same product line with 12.1" screens. But 12.1" describes the size along the diagonal and the aspect ratio switched from 4:3 to 16:10 between the X60 and the X201. As the screen stretched out but maintained the same diagonal length, the area shrunk: from 453 square centimeters to 425.

Mon, 05 Dec 2011 22:00:00 UTC

Winter Travels in Seattle and Japan

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Mika and I will be traveling this winter in the Seattle area and in Japan. The current plan is to be in Seattle December 19 through 28 and then in Japan from December 28 through January 12. After that, we will fly back to Boston for the MIT Mystery Hunt where, as punishment for winning last year, our team is running this year's hunt. We will be in Tokyo for New Years and then traveling around Japan for much of the rest of the time. We hope to visit Hokkaido and Aomori and to travel there from Tokyo along Japan's Western coast through Kanazawa and Niigata.

Wed, 30 Nov 2011 00:28:00 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

AndroidZoom, along with just about every other third-party interface to the Android Market out there, provides 2D barcodes which aim to make it easy to install Android applications that you find online on a phone. Maybe this would be a nice feature for F-Droid? Unfortunately, I found this feature when I was trying to help a friend install the (free software) ZXing Barcode Scanner because they wanted to read a 2D barcode.

Mon, 28 Nov 2011 02:33:00 UTC

Voice Message of Peace

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

The Community Wellness team at MIT has a program on stress reduction, mindfulness, and relaxation. Among their services is a guided three-minute relaxation exercise recording (available at extension 3-2256 or 617-253-CALM). It's a very relaxing message. At the end of the recording, there's a revealing error where a standard voicemail robo-voice say "no messages are waiting" before you system hangs up on you. Turns out, the MIT wellness folks implemented this using the normal MIT voicemail system. This gave me a thought: What if my voicemail greeting included a guided relaxation message as part of its greeting so that anyone who left a message had the chance to relax a little bit first?

Mon, 21 Nov 2011 04:12:00 UTC

Iron Blogger

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I want to blog frequently but usually don't seem to find the time for it. I'm not above tying myself to the mast if it means blogging more. Iron Blogger is a blogging and drinking club based on this premise. The rules are pretty simple: Blog at least once a week. If you fail to do so, pay $5 into a common pool. When the pool is big enough, the group uses it to pay for drinks and snacks at a meet-up for all the participants. Nelson Elhage ran the original Iron Blogger for about a year before the effort ran out of steam.

Sun, 13 Nov 2011 23:34:00 UTC

Famous in Scratch

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

A few years ago, I ran into my friend Jay in the MIT Infinite Corridor. He was looking for volunteers to have their pictures taken and then added to the library of freely licensed and remixable media that would ship with every version of Scratch -- the graphical programming language built by Mitch Resnick's Lifelong Kindergarten group that is designed to let kids create animations and interactive games. Jay suggested I make some emotive faces and I posed for three images that made the final cut: But although I've spent quite a bit of time studying the Scratch community in the last few years as it is grown to include millions of participants and projects, I forgot about about Jay's photo shoot.

Wed, 02 Nov 2011 22:28:00 UTC

Slouching Toward Autonomy

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I care a lot about free network services. Recently, I have been given lots of reasons to be happy with the progress the free software community has made in developing services that live up to my standards. I have personally switched from a few proprietary network services to alternative systems that respect my autonomy and have been very happy both with the freedom I have gained and with the no-longer-rudimentary feature sets that the free tools offer. Although there is plenty left to do, here are four tools I'm using now instead of the proprietary tools that many people use, or that I used to use myself: StatusNet/ for microblogging (instead of Twitter): I have had my account since the almost the very beginning and am very happy with the improvements in the recent 1.0 rollout.

Mon, 26 Sep 2011 19:20:00 UTC

Science as Dance

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

The following selected bibliography showcases only a small portion of the academics who have demonstrated that while it may take two to tango, it only takes one to give a scholarly paper a silly cliche title: Briganti, G. 2006. It Takes Two to Tango-The CH-53K is arguably the first serious US attempt to open the defense cooperation NATO has been seeking. Rotor and Wing 40(7):6063. Coehran, J. 2006. It Takes Two to Tango: Problems with Community Property Ownership of Copyrights and Patents in Texas. Baylor L. Rev. 58:407. Diamond, M.J. 1984. It takes two to tango: Some thoughts on the neglected importance of the hypnotist in an interactive hypnotherapeutic relationship. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 27(1):313.

Sat, 17 Sep 2011 02:09:00 UTC

Software Freedom Day Boston 2011

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

This year, Software Freedom Day in Boston is being organized by Asheesh and Deb and OpenHatch which means a focus on increasing involvement in free software communities. If you are all interested in getting involved in the free software community in any way and at any level -- or interested in hearing about how that might happen someday -- this is a great event to attend. For my part, I'll be giving a short talk on getting involved in Debian.

Thu, 15 Sep 2011 05:21:00 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

  by  nffcnnr I am haunted by the nagging fear that I have mailboxes, tucked into a dark corner of an office somewhere, and perhaps even full of checks and important documents, that I don't know exist.

Sat, 03 Sep 2011 16:49:00 UTC

In Defense of Negativity

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I often hear criticism of "negative campaigning" in the free software movement. For example, in reply to a blog post I once wrote about an FSF campaign, several people argued against, "negative campaigning of any sort, in any realm." Drawing an analogy to political smear campaigns, some members of the free software community have taken the position that negative campaigning in general is not useful and that negativity has no place in our advocacy. First, it is important to be clear on what we mean by a negative campaigns. I believe that there is a fundamental difference between speaking out against policies or actions and smear campaigns that employ untrue claims, ad hominem attacks, and that attempt to avoid a real conversation about issues.

Mon, 29 Aug 2011 16:55:00 UTC

Donner Pass

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

In the Peabody Essex Museum a couple weeks ago, I a beautiful landscape by Albert Bierstadt of Donner Pass whose label referenced the famous Donner Party of 1846 and their, "sensational story of privation, cannibalism, and death." I would reorder that sentence.

Sun, 28 Aug 2011 21:22:00 UTC

An App For That

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

SeeClickFix makes a mobile application you can use to report Boston drivers using their smartphones while driving, while driving.

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 14:29:00 UTC

Care and Trust

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

When you care for somebody, it is difficult to tell them "no." When you trust somebody, you will tell them.

Sun, 31 Jul 2011 21:41:00 UTC

Cost of Computing in Coal

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

  by  jonasclemens Much of my academic research involves statistics and crunching through big datasets. To do this, I use computer clusters like Amazon's EC2 and a cluster at the Harvard MIT Data Center. I will frequently kick of a job to run overnight on the full HMDC cluster of ~100 computers. Some of my friends do so nearly every night on similar clusters. Like many researchers and engineers, it costs me nothing to kick off a big job. That said, computers consume a lot of energy so I did a little back-of-the-envelope calculation to figure out what the cost in terms of resources might add up to.

Tue, 26 Jul 2011 18:53:00 UTC

Dates and Memory

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Recently, I was working with Daf and Rob on a little offline wiki project -- more on that soon -- and we realized that we needed to parse some dates in ISO 8601 format. One of us wondered out loud if there was a Python module that could help us. I offered to take a look. Turns out, less than two months before, someone had uploaded just such a module into Debian. The maintainer? Me.

Tue, 26 Jul 2011 01:31:00 UTC

Lawn Scrabble

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

The Acetarium, where I live, runs what we like to think of as the world's smallest artistic residency program by hosting artists, social scientists, hackers, and free software and free culture folks for periods of 1-3 months. Our most recently graduated resident, Noah, built a lawn scrabble set on the Media Lab ShopBot and held a Scrabble picnic this weekend with some former Acetarium residents and others. I don't really like playing Scrabble, so you can see me working on an essay (and verifying words) in the background.

Mon, 18 Jul 2011 17:14:00 UTC

Quiet Room

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

At the Copenhagen airport, Mika and I found the quiet room. It was a soft, well lit, room designed for prayer and reflection. During the hour I was in it, the only other visitor was a child cracking open the doorway to peer in. The room had a guest book with hundreds of messages left by other travelers over the last couple years. People praised the airport administrators for providing the room, made suggestions, and complained about the room, the airport, and the country's shortcomings. They talked about themselves, their travels, their happiness and unhappiness with departing or returning home, and their thoughts about the world.

Mon, 18 Jul 2011 01:00:00 UTC

Die Technikmafia

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Marcus Rohwetter has recently published a very detailed article about Antifeatures in the German monthly magazine Zeit Wissen. Although I've only read the article through automatic translation -- unfortunately, I don't read German -- I'm hugely honored that Rohwetter has taken the time to engage with the idea so deeply and to help translate the argument for a much broader community than the free software community I come from and am best able to speak to. A lot of what I've been trying to do in the last year or so is to figure out how to speak more effectively about the politics of technology control to audiences of non-technologists.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 16:48:00 UTC

Berkman Fellowship

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Last week, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society announced it's 2011-2012 list of fellows. I'm honored and excited that they elected to include me in a pretty incredible list of fellows, faculty associates, and other affiliates. It seems I'll be at Harvard next year. In my first year as an undergraduate -- when fights over Napster were raging -- I took a class taught by a Berkman Fellow on the political and social implications of Internet technology. The next year, I worked part-time as a teaching assistant for Harvard Law professor (and Berkman director) Jonathan Zittrain. These experiences had a enormous influence on my life and work.

Wed, 29 Jun 2011 16:41:00 UTC

Another Summer European Tour

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I've been in Europe for the last couple weeks but pretty occupied with things like attending my brother wedding and a series of outdoor excursions in Spain. Today Mika and I arrived in Berlin where I am going to attending and giving a talk at the Open Knowledge Conference on When Free Software Isn't Better. I'll also participate in a session on Wikipedia research facilitated by Mayo Fuster Morrell. On July 2nd, I'll be taking an overnight train to Vienna where I'll be attending the Open and User Innovation Workshop -- an academic conference where I'll presenting some of my research.

Sat, 19 Feb 2011 18:42:00 UTC

Ask Me Anything in an Igloo

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

When Reddit sold to Condé Nast and the founders all moved to California, their old place in Davis Square was empty for a few months and they let Mika I move in and take it over. It's an awesome place and we're still there along with some Web 2.0 graffiti they left on the roof. And so it is with pleasure that I've agreed to be interviewed by redditor Danny Piccirillo in a giant igloo he helped build -- if the unseasonably warm weather streak of weather doesn't manage to melt it before next week.

Sun, 06 Feb 2011 11:48:00 UTC

Editor-to-Reader Ratios on Wikipedia

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

It's been reported for some time now that the number of active editors on Wikipedia (usually defined as people who have edited at least 5 times in a given month) peaked in 2007 and has been mostly stable since then. A graph of the total number of active editors in every month since Wikipedia's founding is shown below. The graph shows the aggregate numbers for all language Wikipedias. English Wikipedia is the largest component of this and is generally more variable. That said, very similar patterns exist for most larger languages. Felipe Ortega, who has provided many of these statistics, has warned against fatalist claims.

Sat, 05 Feb 2011 03:23:00 UTC

Antifeatures at the Free Technology Academy

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

In addition to lecturing for two courses at MIT this term, I recently had the pleasure of giving a lecture on antifeatures at the Free Technology Academy -- a program which offers Masters courses over the Internet. Quite a few of the FTA courses are about free software, free knowledge, and related topics! It was my first time giving a lecture to microphone and an empty room. Although I found it a little tricky to adapt to the lack of any audience, the FTA folks put together a great video. I'm psyched that the course material will be available as open education resources for anyone who might want to incorporate it into another course.

Tue, 25 Jan 2011 01:22:00 UTC

Annual Free Software Foundation Fundraiser

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

var fsf_widget_text = "Help protect your freedom!" ; var fsf_widget_d_btn = "Donate"; var fsf_widget_share = "Share this widget." ; var fsf_widget_size = "normal"; var fsf_associate_id = "3427"; The Free Software Foundation is in the last week of its annual fundraiser and has still has a bit of ground to make up. The FSF needs members and donations to merely sustain its basic activity protecting free software and engaging in minimal outreach. So as I've done in the last couple years, I've written a fundraising appeal for the organization. That why today my face is plastered, Jimmy Wales style, all over the FSF website.

Wed, 19 Jan 2011 03:41:00 UTC

An Only Slightly Fictionalized Story

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Before heading back to graduate school, my brother worked full-time as a personal fitness and strength trainer. Like many trainers, he started out in an established gym and then struck out on his own once he had established an clientele base. Working on his own, he got almost all of his new business from referrals. Although one might think that a trainer's trusted long-term clients would be the source of most new business, it was mostly the newer, less established clients who referred new trainees. The established clients had already referred everyone in their social network that might be interested.

Sun, 12 Dec 2010 14:56:00 UTC

When Free Software Isn't Better

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I have an essay in the latest Free Software Foundation's bulletin which FSF members should be receiving this week. I've also republished the article on my website as When Free Software Isn't Better. The article confronts the fact that free software is sometimes not as high quality or featureful as proprietary alternatives and that most free software projects aren't particularly collaborative. It reflects on what these facts mean for free software and for open source. The Bulletin goes out to all FSF associate members.

Sun, 28 Nov 2010 23:15:00 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

It's funny, I don't remember donning a cape and making an apperance on the food network.

Mon, 15 Nov 2010 02:41:00 UTC

Between the Bars

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Almost a year ago, I blogged about Between the Bars -- a project that offers a blogging platform to the 1% of the United States population that is currently incarcerated. The way it works is pretty simple: prisoners send letters through the postal mail. We scan them and put them up on the web. Visitors can transcribe letters or leave comments which are mailed back to the authors. About a month ago, my collaborator Charlie DeTar and I finally finished planning and paperwork and opened the site to bloggers. Over the last few weeks, we've had a bunch of authors sign up.

Sun, 07 Nov 2010 22:38:00 UTC

Monopedal Sumo

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

At LCA in Wellington -- immediately after a trip to Japan where I saw sumo for the first time -- a number of us created a game we called "monopedal sumo." Basically, the rules are those of sumo wrestling. Push your opponent either down or out of a ring before they do so to you. Unlike normal sumo, in our game you do so standing only one one leg. If your second leg touches the ground. That also counts as a loss. It's surprisingly entertaining. Try it!

Sun, 24 Oct 2010 06:45:00 UTC

Sharing an Email Address

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I used to think that couples who share a single email address were just too cute. Then I saw this article which imported this whole "keeping each other honest" logic into the practice. Mika and I have never even had accounts on each other's servers.

Sun, 17 Oct 2010 23:56:00 UTC

Redefining "Realistic"

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

When talking about free culture or free software, many people suggest that they would love to support free models, but that they don't see how to make it all work. Until they have an alternate model in front of them, they cannot bring themselves to argue for a more ethical alternative. I disagree with this approach. Instead, I say, "this is the world I want to live in and, even though I don't know exactly how to get to there from here, I'm going to refuse to settle for anything short of this ideal." Most people dismiss such thinking as "impractical" and "unrealistic." I think most people are being unimaginative.

Mon, 11 Oct 2010 07:21:00 UTC

Piracy and Free Software

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

This essay is a summary of my presentation at the workshop Inlaws and Outlaws, held on August 19-20, 2010 in Split, Croatia. The workshop brought together advocates of piracy with participants in the free culture and free software movements. In Why Software Should Not Have Owners, Richard Stallman explains that, if a friend asks you for a piece of software and the license of the software bars you from sharing, you will have to choose between being a bad friend or violating the license of the software. Stallman suggests that users will have to choose between the lesser of two evils and will choose to violate the license.

Sun, 03 Oct 2010 01:05:00 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

As I mentioned recently, I've been writing summaries of academic articles I read over on AcaWiki. You should join me and write summaries of academic articles you read or help improve the summaries other folks have shared! Of course, you can also just read AcaWiki summaries. But while reading summaries takes less time that reading the full articles and books, a 500-1000 word summary is still too much for some very busy people. That's why I created a new microblog on Identica where I post summaries of the summaries I post to AcaWiki.

Fri, 01 Oct 2010 15:47:00 UTC

On Feminism and Microcontrollers

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

A month or so ago, I published a paper with Leah Buechley that is mostly an analysis of how the LilyPad Arduino has been used. I read an earlier draft last year and loved it so, when the opportunity arose, I was honored to help out as the paper evolved. LilyPad is a microcontroller platform that Leah created a few years back and that is specifically designed to be more useful than other microcontroller platforms (like normal Arduino) in the context of crafting practices like textiles or painting. Leah's design goal with LilyPad was to create a sewable microcontroller that could be useful for making things that were qualitatively different from what most people made with microcontrollers and that, she hoped, would be of interest to women and girls.

Sun, 19 Sep 2010 23:18:00 UTC

Contribute to AcaWiki

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

In the process of studying for my PhD general examinations this year, I ended up writing summaries about 200 academic books and articles. AcaWiki is a wiki designed to host summaries of academic articles so it seemed like a great place to host these things. Over the last few months, I've uploaded all these summaries. Since I've finished, I've continued to add summaries of other articles as I read them. My summaries tend to be rough. I write them, run them through a spellchecker, and then post them. I don't even reread them before publishing. I hope to improve them as I reread them over time.

Tue, 07 Sep 2010 14:39:00 UTC

Selectricity Source

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

After a semi-recent thread on debian-devel, I poked around and realized that I'd never actually gotten around to formally announcing the release of source code for Selectricity, a piece of web-based election software designed to allow for preferential decision-making and to provide "election machinery for the masses." Selectricity is useful for a range of decisions but it targets all those quick little decisions that we might want to decide preferentially but where running a vote would be overkill. Things were delayed through a drawn out set of negotiations with the MIT Technology Licensing Office over how to release the code under a free software license of my choosing.

Sun, 05 Sep 2010 15:55:00 UTC

Free Software Needs Free Tools

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I finally finished an article I've had in one form or another for years about on the use of proprietary tools in the creation of free software. From BitKeeper to SourceForge to Google Code to GitHub, non-free tools and services have played an important role in free software development over the past decade and, I argue, continue to create a number of important, if sometimes subtle, problems for our community. The article was published in the Spring 2010 FSF Bulletin which was mailed to all FSF associate members.

Thu, 26 Aug 2010 12:42:00 UTC

Italian Travel Update

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Due to a variety of people and places we want to see, Mika and I have regrouped around a more ambitious travel schedule in Italy for the next week or so. Our new plan is: August 23-27: Florence August 27-29: Verona August 29-31: Bologna August 31-September 1: Siena September 1-3: Rome I know we'll have an organized LUG meeting in Siena. The rest of the period is a little more open. As always, if other free software, wikimedian, or like-minded folks are around and would like to meet up in any of those places, don't hesitate to get in contact.

Thu, 05 Aug 2010 01:17:00 UTC

My August

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I've got a pretty packed August. I just wrapped the Open and User Innovation Conference at MIT -- the academic conference on user and open innovation connected to my research. I organized the program and was MC for the 120+(!) talks and research updates on the program so it's a huge relief to see it come off successfully. On Thursday, August 5th (at 14:30 UTC) I'll be giving a talk on antifeatures at DebConf (the Annual Debian conference). It was accidentally listed as "Revealing Errors" until a few minutes ago -- sorry about that! It will be streamed live (details on the DC site) for those outside of New York City who might want to follow it.

Fri, 30 Jul 2010 23:43:00 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Over the last couple years, I have begun teaching. At first just a reading group or seminar with a handful of attendees. Last term I helped teach two large lecture classes. I know that, compared to some of my colleagues, I spend an enormous amount of time assessing and evaluating students' assignments. I try very hard to give detailed, substantive, feedback on each piece of student work. At the end of the day, however -- at my school at least -- there's always a grade. For someone who went well out of his way to go to a college with no grades, there's a tragic irony to the whole situation: I think grades mean little and are often worth much less.

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 23:34:00 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Today I started to tell a friend about something from dinner the night before. Except that she was at the dinner. And sitting at the same table! Even when prompted, I couldn't really remember! This does not warrant a blog post. Anybody who knows me well knows that my memory for these kinds of more mundane details is pretty porous. This kind of thing happens all the time. I'm writing this so that when I'm much older, and still forgetting things all the time, folks can use this as a reference point before concluding that senility is setting in.

Mon, 28 Jun 2010 01:34:00 UTC

Wikimedia Scholarship 2009-2010

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Folks at last year's Wikimania may remember the presentation I gave there. It was essentially a literature review of Wikipedia and Wikimedia scholarship from the previous year. The idea was to give a bird's-eye-view as well a series of highlights -- all aimed at Wikimedians. Apparently somebody found it useful because I've been asked to do it again! I'm going to be paired up in a longer session with Felipe Ortega -- whose excellent dissertation I summarized as part of my talk last year -- and Mayo Fuster Morell has also agreed to help out. Felipe is program chair for WikiSym this year and will be focusing on providing folks with a summary of the papers published at that conference.

Fri, 25 Jun 2010 18:09:00 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

On probably a dozen occasions, I've had people in cars taunt me by yelling some version of "Lance!", "Hey Lance!" or "Go Lance!" at me while I am riding my bike. It seems to be particularly likely if I'm wearing spandex. Indeed, the "verb" to Lance has an Urban Dictionary entry and there is a Facebook group for Yelling "Hey Lance!" when you see someone riding their bike. My friend Seth pointed out -- after we were (collectively?)

Tue, 23 Mar 2010 16:13:00 UTC

Antifeatures Talk

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

The recordings for Linux Conf Australia 2010, held this year in Wellington, are finally online. The recordings include a video of my keynote on Antifeatures. I was deeply honored to be invited to give a keynote at LCA and, as a result, felt more pressure than usual to put together something that was novel, relevant and entertaining and that spoke to core issues and problems facing free software. Although it's always hard for me to watch myself speaking, I've made it through the video and am reasonably happy with the result. Although perhaps it's a minor distinction, I think this lecture is probably the best talk I've given given to date!

Thu, 21 Jan 2010 00:47:00 UTC

Annual Free Software Foundation Membership Drive Appeal

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I wrote this for the FSF's annual membership drive where it was originally published. I am reposting it here. At its core, I think of free software as about the ability of computer users to take control of their technology. Insofar as our software defines our experience of the world and each other, software freedom is an important part of what allows us to determine the way we live, work, and communicate. Free software is not really about software in this fundamental sense; it's about bringing freedom to users through software. In free software's incredible success over the last two decades, many people have lost sight of this simple fact.

Wed, 23 Dec 2009 08:17:00 UTC

What's in a name?

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Over the summer, there was a bit of a tussle at the highest level of Ubuntu governance over whether or not Canonical Ltd., the company that funds the majority of work done directly in Ubuntu, should name its file syncing and backup service Ubuntu One. Canonical's service involved a freely licensed client included in the Ubuntu distribution but, as a network service running on Canonical servers, it was not clearly a part of Ubuntu (the GNU/Linux distribution) or Ubuntu (the community) in the way the term was usually used within the community. Although the network service itself was not Franklin Street Statement free, this was not the most important issue for everyone who objected to the name.

Tue, 22 Dec 2009 19:44:00 UTC

Center For Future Irony

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

My sister just got a lower back tattoo that says "No Regrets." She does not seem to appreciate the potential for irony. That's too bad. In my book, that potential is the best reason to get such a tattoo.

Mon, 21 Dec 2009 20:33:00 UTC

Center for Future Names of Media Lab Centers

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

A few years ago, the MIT Media Lab, working with the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT, created the Center for Future Civic Media. It's a great project and one I've been involved in since the beginning. Not too long after, the lab announced the Center for Future Banking through a partnership with Bank of America. One couldn't help but notice the similarity between the names. The meme became further entrenched when, not too long after, the lab announced the Center for Future Storytelling in collaboration with Plymouth Rock Studios. But perhaps the very first in the pattern is the the Okawa Center for Future Children announced in 1998 as a way of bringing together and supporting the labs work with kids.

Sun, 13 Dec 2009 20:51:00 UTC

Upcoming Travel

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

As is becoming my custom, I'm planning to spend much of December and January on the road. This time I'll be in Seattle, Japan and Wellington, New Zealand. Here's the rough schedule: December 18-28: Seattle December 28-January 2: Tokyo January 2-14: Traveling in Japan January 15-17: Boston to compete in the MIT Mystery Hunt January 19-24: Wellington, New Zealand to give a talk at LCA Mika will also be around for everything but the NZ leg and SJ seems likely to make an appearance in Japan during the first week of January. Feel free to get in contact if you'd like to meet up in any of the places above for a coffee or beer.

Sat, 12 Dec 2009 22:00:00 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Very often, folks want to refer to both the free and open source software communities in a way that is inclusive of and respectful of groups who identify with either term. Saying "free and open source software" is a mouthful. That said, there was no been consensus on what we should do instead. The Wikipedia article on alternative terms for free software suggests that FOSS, F/OSS, FLOSS, and "software libre" are contenders. I've heard all. Of course, the choice of 4+ competing alternative terms is probably worse than the problem we were seeking to solve. In academic circles, the big debate seems to be between FOSS and FLOSS.

Wed, 02 Dec 2009 00:26:00 UTC

Introducing Between the Bars

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I've been working with Charlie DeTar and the Center for Future Civic Media on a project called Between the Bars which is a blogging platform for prisoners. The current platform is essentially a snail-mail to web gateway: prisoners send letters which semi-automatically scanned and posted to the site; comments are printed and mailed back. As we plan the launch of the project, we are trying to talk to as many stakeholders as possible -- this includes ex-prisoners, families and friends of people who are or have been in prison, non-profits working with prisoners, victims of people in prison, people who work in prisons or in corrections, probation officers, or almost anyone else with a perspective or set of experience that might help us understand the difficult space our project is trying to negotiate and who might be able to help influence the design.

Fri, 27 Nov 2009 21:43:00 UTC

Principles, Social Science, and Free Software

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Earlier this summer, I wrote a blog post on taking a principled position on software freedom where I argued that advocates of free/libre and open source software (FLOSS) should take a principled position because the pragmatic benefits associated with open source --- "better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility [and] lower cost" in OSI's words --- are simply not always present. More often than not, FLOSS projects fail. When they survive, they are often not as good as their proprietary competitors. Over the last year, I've been back at MIT taking classes, reading extensively, and otherwise learning how to act like a social scientist.

Wed, 25 Nov 2009 16:15:00 UTC

Zimmermanhosen Confessions

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Between second and seventh grade, I went to a school that required that I wear grey corduroys. Every day. I loathed them. When I left that school, at twelve years old, I swore to myself that I would never wear a pair of corduroys again. And I kept that vow until earlier this year when, in Germany, I came across a couple carpenters in Germany on their one-year traveling post-apprenticeship waltz. As it turns out, journeyman German carpenters wear some pretty wild bellbottom corduroys --- zimmermanhosen. Although I tried, I couldn't resist acquiring a pair at a local work clothing store.

Tue, 24 Nov 2009 17:04:00 UTC

A. Dehqan, man of inquiry

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Due entirely to the efforts of one inquisitive and indefatigable A. Dehqan, a web search for the phrase "In The Name Of God The compassionate merciful" now almost exclusively turns up hits to a wide variety of free software mailing lists, forums, and IRC channels with questions on everything from what is a kernel (in a minimum of half a line, no less), to how to send a FAX, to the intersection between Islam and copyright and much more! I've now run across in five distinct projects. Maybe you have too!

Mon, 23 Nov 2009 15:44:00 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

My friend Sean from OpenMoko recently gave me one of OM's new WikiReaders. It's essentially a touchscreen-based device dedicated to displaying Wikipedia articles offline. And while I'll never forgive the thing for not having an Edit button, I've got to admit the device is pretty cool. Not only does it make it possible to bring WP to a bunch of places that are otherwise impossible or impractical, the thing is built entirely with free software. One of my colleagues at the Center for Future Civic Media suggested we should put one in every bar to help settle drunken arguments. Think of the lives we might save!

Mon, 23 Nov 2009 01:24:00 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I know it's old news but I couldn't resist pointing out this item from the "all the things my software freedom advocacy and activism has been based around recently" department: Apparently, Apple filed for an software patent on an antifeature that uses a DRM-like system and a proprietary network services to lock down people's mobile phones. If someone can figure out how to work in a revealing error, I think I can make it a sweep.

Mon, 23 Nov 2009 01:01:00 UTC

The Computer (Still) in My Pocket

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

The Computer in My Pocket -- which I intended mostly as a one-off blog-post -- ended up having some legs. First, Carolina Flores Hine translated the essay into Spanish. More recently the FSF published a slightly patched-up version in the Fall 2009 bulletin, sent to all members, along with a bunch of more interesting writing by other free software folks. Certainly, there is growing recognition in our communities that phones are a critical battleground in the fight for software freedom. More exciting for me though, my post elicited a bunch of comments from folks pointing to promising projects (Replicant was just one often cited example) making real progress toward freedom for all the computers in our pockets.

Wed, 18 Nov 2009 15:31:00 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

In preparation for LCA, I'm going to be giving my new Antifeatures talk a few times to smaller local audiences. The first is going to be today in Boston (apologies for the late notice!) at Northeastern University at 11:45 and it's being hosted by the ACM chapter there. The second one will be at my alma mater Hampshire College in Amherst this Friday. A draft flier (ignore the unpluralized "antifeatue") is below.

Sat, 07 Nov 2009 21:00:00 UTC

Mr. Postman

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

The mailbox in my building is broken. Nobody can remember it being any other way. The lock is busted so anyone in the building can get access to every apartment's individual boxes in the same way that the mailman does. It's not a huge problem since there are only four apartments in the building and the box is behind a locked door to the street. I saw the mailman come one day to deliver mail. He used a key to unlock a box on the outside of the building from which he retrieved a key to first unlock the outside door and then another to "unlock" the mailbox.

Tue, 03 Nov 2009 14:15:00 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

So I don't tweet because I'm not ready to hand my data and autonomy over to Twitter. Luckily -- or unluckily perhaps -- that hasn't kept me off the microblogging wagon. I "dent" semi-regularly over at freedom-friendly I've found that microblogging is a great public outlet where one can talk about all those otherwise little meaningless things that we all do in our daily lives. High on my list of meaningless little actions, however, is microblogging itself! But can you microblog about your microblogging -- i.e. can you "metamicroblog" (or "metadent", or "metatweet")?

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 15:51:00 UTC

Updating the Ubuntu Code of Conduct

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

The Ubuntu Code of Conduct is one of the most surprisingly successful projects I've ever had the privilege of working on. On my first day working for the company that would become Canonical, I talked with Mark Shuttleworth about some ideas for community governance. Partially in reaction to some harsh behavior in other free software projects we'd worked on, Mark and I agreed that some sort of explicit standard for behavior in Ubuntu would be a good thing. Over lunch of what was my literally first day working on Ubuntu, I wrote a draft of code of conduct that was essentially the version that Ubuntu has used until today.

Sun, 18 Oct 2009 22:19:00 UTC

Interview by Joe Barker

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Joe Barker has been publishing a series interviews with folks from the Ubuntu Forums and the larger Ubuntu community. I'm thrilled to have joined the ranks of his interviewees. You can read the interview on his blog.

Sat, 17 Oct 2009 23:15:00 UTC

The Computer in My Pocket

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

If we've kept up with projections, by the end of this year, the world will be home to 3 billion mobile phones. That's nearly one phone for every other living human being. Although these phones open up a world of important new opportunities in communication, creativity, and cooperation --- and it's important not to understate this fact --- they also represent a step toward a sort of technological dystopia not unlike Stallman's Right To Read. Phones represent one of the most locked-down, proprietary, and generally unfree technologies in wide distribution. The implications for software freedom and technological empowerment are dire. But despite the fact that mobile phones represent what may be the greatest threat to software freedom today, the free software community has --- with a number of notable exceptions that I want to both thank and draw increased attention to --- been mostly silent on the issue.

Mon, 17 Aug 2009 16:51:00 UTC

Order Without Law

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Order Without Law is a fantastic book by Robert Ellickson published in 1991. In a way, the book is an in-depth case study of the irrelevance of law. Subtitled, "how neighbors settle disputes," Ellickson shows how people solve complicated problems in an archetypal area of liability law without knowledge of the law. Ellickson shows that even when people know exactly what the law says, they often ignore it in favor of community norms and, in his examples, models of "neighborliness." Specifically, the book is about how neighbors in northern California settle disputes related to damage caused by roaming cattle, how neighbors construct and share costs of fences, and how, although the law is frequently debated in relation to classifying land as either open or closed to free grazing, the law tends to take a back seat to unwritten norms in the way that problems are actually solved.

Wed, 12 Aug 2009 15:27:00 UTC

Long Bike Rides

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

On recent weekends, I've been going on long bike rides. I like to keep going until the people I meet no longer know exactly where the place I left from is. The fact that one place is outside another place's inhabitant's mental map seems like a good sign that two places are far enough away from each other.

Tue, 11 Aug 2009 06:06:00 UTC

Ubuntu Books

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

As I am attempting to focus on writing projects that are more scholarly and academic on the one hand (i.e., work for my day job at MIT) and more geared toward communicating free software principles toward wider audiences on the other (e.g., Revealing Errors), I have little choice but to back away from technical writing. However, this last month has seen the culmination of a bunch of work that I've done previously: two book projects that have been ongoing for the last couple years or more have finally hit the shelves! The first is the fourth edition (!) of the bestselling Official Ubuntu Book.

Wed, 05 Aug 2009 21:18:00 UTC

Election Season

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Two organizations I care deeply about are having elections this month. The first is the Wikimedia Foundation who is electing three community representatives to their board of directors. The second is Ubuntu who will soon be electing a new Community Council. The Wikimedia Foundation is perhaps the most important organization working on issues related to free culture. Wikimedia elections are currently ongoing and will close on August 10th. Editors who have more than 600 edits to their name across all Wikimedia wikis and 50 edits in 2009 made before July 1st are eligible to vote. The vast majority of eligible contributors to Wikimedia projects have not voted in previous elections.

Sat, 25 Jul 2009 09:39:00 UTC

San Francisco

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

This last week, I gave a couple talks at OSCON including a fun talk on Antifeatures I hope to give a few in some form a more times in the next year. After a weekend bike tour, the plan is to stick around San Francisco for another week. If you are around and want to get together to talk wikis, free software, or free culture, to have a keysigning, or to share a drink, please don't hesitate to get in contact.

Fri, 17 Jul 2009 02:45:00 UTC

Chrome OS and Autonomy

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

On Luis Villa's urging, I wrote up a short response to this article on "why Google Chrome OS will turn GNU/Linux into a desktop winner." I've posted my article over at where it seemed most important.

Tue, 14 Jul 2009 16:49:00 UTC

Taking a Principled Position on Software Freedom

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Those of us in the free/libre and open source software (FLOSS) community know the routine by now. Despite the fact that "free software" and "open source" refer to the same software and the same communities, supporters of "free software" like the FSF would have us advocate for FLOSS by talking about users' rights to use, modify, share, and cooperate; open source supporters like the Open Source Initiative would have us advocate for software by talking about how securing these rights produces software with "better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility [and] lower cost." One reason I tend to stay away from "open source" claims in my own advocacy is that I'm worried by the way that these arguments rely on a set of often dubious empirical claims of superiority.

Sun, 12 Jul 2009 03:08:00 UTC

Leaving Things Better Than You Found Them

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Perhaps my favorite thing about library books --- and used books if I'm lucky --- is finding that a previous reader has fixed a printed error in pen or pencil.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 16:45:00 UTC

FLOSS and Grants

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

A couple weeks ago, I gave a talk to all of the folks who received grants from the Knight Foundation as part of the Knight News Challenge. I gave a pretty basic "this is what free software and source are all about" with an emphasis on history, licenses, and community management. Knight asked me to give the talk because they require their grantees to release any software produced as part of the grant under a free/libre open source software (FLOSS) license but many of the grantees don't know much about FLOSS. Knight makes FLOSS a requirement because, as a charity committed to the promotion of the public good, they feel that they can better live up their own mission by ensuring that grant-funded code is released freely.

Thu, 09 Jul 2009 23:34:00 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I saw Lewis Lapham give a talk a couple months ago at the Boston Athenaeum on new media, the Internet, and civic discourse. My one sentence summary: The problem with giving everyone the ability to raise their voices online is that it makes people less likely to raise their voices, or their fists, in the streets.

Wed, 08 Jul 2009 19:54:00 UTC

el D.F.

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Mika is at the Mexican Secretaría de Salud doing research on H1N1 this whole summer. I got into Mexico City yesterday to visit. I'll be here for the next 10 days or so before I'm off to San Francisco for OSCON and related festivities. Since I'm just here to visit, I've got very little else planned. If folks in or around Mexico City are interested in meeting up for dinner, drinks, a key signing, or to talk about free software, free culture, Debian, Ubuntu, Wikimedia, or whatever, don't hesitate to get in contact.

Sun, 05 Jul 2009 16:47:00 UTC

The Flessenlikker of Search Engines

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Given it's single letter name --- and a common letter both in general and in statistics where it often represents correlation --- searching for documentation on R on the web is difficult enough that folks have put together a custom search engine, RSeek. I've been doing quite a bit of R in the last year and can testify that RSeek is indispensable. That said, using a custom search engine seems like a funny way of solving an problem that could be easily avoided. RSeek is sort of like the flessenlikker of search engines.

Sun, 05 Jul 2009 00:51:00 UTC

Second Degree Famous

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I got an email from my friend Mary Lou Jepson of OLPC and Pixel Qi. Turns out, she was in line for the red carpet at the Time 100 awards and was chatting to my friend moot of 4chan. Both were singled out as among the world's 100 most influential people this year. As they chatted, they realized that they both knew me. They chatted about me as Whoopi Goldberg, Cornell West, Kate Hudson, Barbara Walters and others walked by. I feel like in in a weird, very indirect way, I've made it.

Wed, 24 Jun 2009 18:12:00 UTC

Send Me Your Antifeatures, Win a Flessenlikker

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

At OSCON this year, I'm going to be giving a talk about "antifeatures." Antifeatures are a way to describe a particular practice made possible by locked down technologies. Antifeatures, as I describe them, are functionality (i.e., "features) that a technology developer will charge users not to include. You can read my short article on the topic published in the FSF bulletin in 2007 for a series of examples and a more in-depth description. One thing I want to do is put together as large a collection of these antifeatures as possible before the talk. Please read the article if you haven't already and send me examples of other antifeatures either as a comment or in email to

Tue, 09 Jun 2009 11:35:00 UTC

GitHub, Firewalls, and Freedom

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Dafydd Harries pointed me to this announcement of a "Firewall Install" version of GitHub. Basically, it's a locally installed version of GitHub designed to serve those that, “wish to enjoy the benefits of GitHub, but are unable to do so because of corporate restrictions or laws that prevent you from hosting your code with a third-party service.” Daf and I put a little time in writing up a short reflection which I've posed over on Our key points are that this represents an important compromise in the rough direction of autonomy by an important cloud player and that, unexpectedly perhaps, it has been motivated by organizations under strong institutional pressures – groups like large firms and governments.

Sun, 07 Jun 2009 09:18:00 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

After a week at the International Open and User Innovation Workshop 2009 in Hamburg, I'm in Berlin again this week. I've got nothing concrete planned other than spending most of my days hacking on a few projects. Let me know if you're around and would like to meet up. I'll post more about my travel and talks schedule this summer as things firm up in the next couple weeks.

Tue, 19 May 2009 21:30:00 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

When he was my adviser at the MIT Media Lab, I used to feel bad that I had trouble spelling Chris Csikszentmihályi's name. As this screenshot from Chris' Dopplr page shows, I am apparently in good company.

Sun, 12 Apr 2009 22:53:00 UTC

AttachCheck Revved

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I finally got around to pushing out a new version of AttachCheck --- a trivial little program I wrote several years ago that tries to prevent people from having to send followup emails with subjects that include phrases like, "REALLY attached this time," by asking you for confirmation when you send an email that says you've attached something when it looks like you haven't. The release fixes a single bug that affected a few users --- thanks to Iain Murray who sent the patch in and apologies to him and others for taking a while to push it out. There's very little to AttachCheck and, if I remember correctly, it was the very first program I wrote in Python.

Sat, 11 Apr 2009 23:28:00 UTC

American Gothic and the Free Culture Imperative

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

About a year ago, I read American Gothic by Steven Biel and the book has left a surprising lasting impression on me. The book describes the background, history, and life of "American Gothic: America's most famous painting" by Grant Wood. Even if you don't recognize the name "American Gothic", you are likely to recognize the picture or the scene. The book is a serious and -- as far as I can tell -- reasonably comprehensive treatment of the subject that is interesting, insightful at points, and a breeze to read. Of course, the book is not actually about the painting that hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago -- although it will certainly teach you more than you probably ever wanted to know about that painting, its subjects, its settings, etc.

Wed, 25 Feb 2009 21:45:00 UTC

External Pain

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I had an existential experience in my local drug store last night while pondering this sign. What does it mean for pain to be truly external to the person feeling it? Have I ever felt external pain? Is external pain merely another term for empathy? What might products to help with empathy entail? Would my local drug store stock them?

Fri, 20 Feb 2009 06:39:00 UTC

LibrePlanet 2009

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

If you're interested in free software --- and free network services in particular --- and should try to join me in Boston for the weekend of March 21st and 22nd. The FSF is organizing its annual members meeting again. This year the model is very different. For a start, the audience isn't limited to FSF members and the conference is not just about FSF projects and work. Instead, the meeting has been rebranded LibrePlanet and has been broken up into a two-day event that is going to talk about and then try to tackle some of the biggest problems facing the world of free and open source software.

Mon, 02 Feb 2009 00:01:00 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I recently ate a bag of potato chips made by FoodShouldTasteGood, Inc.. Their motto (as printed on that bag under their name) was, "It's our name. It's our brand. It's our motto." Now, either the antecedents for those three it's are different -- which seems implausible -- or their motto is lying in its final sentence. It's all very complicated. Seth Schoen reminded me of a somewhat similar issue with the United States' national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. The final stanza includes the line, "And this be our motto–'In God is our trust.' " This is not and has never been the U.S.

Thu, 22 Jan 2009 17:49:00 UTC

Annual Free Software Foundation Fundraiser

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

var fsf_widget_text = "Help protect your freedom!" ; var fsf_widget_d_btn = "Donate"; var fsf_widget_share = "Share this widget." ; var fsf_widget_size = "normal"; var fsf_associate_id = "3427"; When I explain the importance of free software, I often use some variation of the following example: Suppose I see a beautiful sunset and I want to describe it to a loved one on the other side of the world. Today's communication technology makes this possible. In the process, however, the technology in question puts constraints on message communicated. For example, if I pick up my cellphone, my description of the sunset will be limited to words and sounds that can be transmitted by phone.

Fri, 09 Jan 2009 20:13:00 UTC

BadVista Declares Victory

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Over two years ago, the FSF started its BadVista campaign with the goal of educating the public on problems related to software freedom, DRM, and more, with Microsoft's latest operating system. Today, the FSF is declaring victory; the name "Vista" is synonymous in the public eye with failure. The real credit, I suppose, should go to Microsoft. Vista's design put the desires of big media companies, software companies, and Microsoft itself ahead of the desires of users. Vista defeated itself. But the FSF's campaign drew a huge amount attention to the problems with Vista --- especially early on --- and provided a central location aggregating and amplifying criticism of Vista.

Wed, 07 Jan 2009 00:06:00 UTC

Change of Plans

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

One change and one addition to my current European tour. First, it looks like we'll be skipping Amsterdam this time and heading straight to London from Zagreb on the evening of January 10th. We'll still plan to arrive in Cambridge before the 13th. Second, I'll be giving a redux of my Revealing Errors talk at Mama in Zagreb on January 10th at 14:00 as part of the normal skill sharing meeting. It's the longer version of my OSCON keynote with many more examples. Folks who have seen earlier versions of the talk seem to think it's a lot of fun.

Tue, 06 Jan 2009 12:22:00 UTC

Debian Bug Squashing at MIT

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I was thrilled to be part of a successful Debian bug squashing party organized by MIT's Student Information Processing Board on December 13th. Greg Price, who helped organize the event, did a wonderful write up which he sent to the debian-devel email list. I though it was worth mentioning the BSP now because I think it's a wonderful model that I'd love to see replicated in Debian and beyond. The event was initiated, organized, run, and executed by people with little or no direct experience with the project. While the organizers went out of their way to recruit several Debian developers and other experts to the party, these experts' role was more in answering questions and helping others.

Mon, 05 Jan 2009 23:27:00 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Is Richard Stallman leading a secret life as Serbian Nationalist "Chetnik" Zoran Radovanovic?

Wed, 24 Dec 2008 15:08:00 UTC

European Tour

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

Mika and I are going to be in Europe for the next few weeks. The tentative plan seems to include these stops: Berlin (December 24-31) - Attending the CCC Stuttgart (December 31-January 3) - At/around Akademie Schloss Solitude Undetermined location in Slovenia (January 3) Belgrade (January 3-8) Zagreb (January 9-11) Amsterdam (January 11-13) Cambridge (and|or) London (13-15) I've got very little planned in the ways of talks or meetings with free software folks and would, as always, be open to arranging these. If you are in or near any of these places and want to plan a dinner, drinks, keysigning, talk, etc., don't hesitate to get in contact with me.

Sun, 30 Nov 2008 22:08:00 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

This bottle was found in Mika's biosafety level 2 laboratory. To address any confusion, isoamyl alcohol is not drinking alcohol and this bottle was bought for use in a scientific lab from a scientific lab supply company. Explanations are welcome.

Sat, 29 Nov 2008 02:29:00 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

At Kinokuyina in New York, I noticed that Playboy was sorted into the "Men's Fashion" section of the magazine rack. Funny. I wasn't under the impression that Playboy's primary selling points included either either men or clothing.

Mon, 10 Nov 2008 19:49:00 UTC

Wikimedia and GFDL 1.3

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I spent more time than I would like to admit massaging the process that ultimately led to the release of the the GNU Free Documentation License 1.3 (GFDL) by the Free Software Foundation (FSF). Hours counted, it was probably one of my biggest personal projects this year. The effect is to allow wikis under the GFDL to migrate to the Creative Commons BY-SA license or, as Wikimedia's Erik Möller has proposed, to some sort of dual-license arrangement. There are many reasons for this change but the most important is that the move reduces very real barriers to collaboration between wikis and free culture projects due to license compatibility.

Wed, 29 Oct 2008 17:32:00 UTC

An Invisible Handful of Stretched Metaphors

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

The following list is merely a small selection of scholarly articles listed in the ISI Web of Knowledge with "invisible hand" in their title: Beyond the Reach of the Invisible Hand The Real Invisible Hand: Presidential Appointees in the Administration of George W. Bush The Invisible Hand of God, Visible in the History of Chemotherapy Does the Latex Glove Fit the Invisible Hand? Application of Market Ideology to the Doctor/Patient Relationship. One-Armed Economists and the Invisible Hand. Subjective Image of Invisible Hand Coded By Monkey Intraparietal Neurons Exploitation - The Invisible Hand Guided By a Blind Eye: Confronting a Flaw in Economic Theory The Invisible Hand: Supernatural Agency in Political Economy and the Gothic Novel The 'Invisible Man' and the Invisible Hand - H.G.

Sun, 26 Oct 2008 21:36:00 UTC

Eric von Hippel

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

For those that are curious as to I've been up to recently, you might be interested to read this portrait of Eric von Hippel on The article mentions that I'm currently studying with von Hippel in my own effort to try to help build a more evidence-based understanding of how free software works and explore some of the ways I might help it work better.

Sat, 25 Oct 2008 22:53:00 UTC

Recent and Upcoming Talks

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

I've been a bit remiss about keeping this space up to date with my upcoming talks over the last month or so. Here's me playing catchup. On Monday October 20th, I gave a talk on Selectricity for the IEEE Boston Section's Society on Social Implications of Technology. It covered more or less the same ground I coverd in my OSCON talk on the same subject. Then next day, Tuesday October 21st, I gave a short talk on Revealing Errors as part of the MIT-Harvard-Yale Cyberscholars meeting. There was nothing new or ground-breaking in either but it was good to spread the word on the projects -- work continues on both.

Fri, 24 Oct 2008 05:38:00 UTC


Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

On the morning after the final US presidential debate that happened a week ago, I was invited onto the excellent new WNYC morning show The Takeaway -- syndicated by Public Radio International. One of the hosts, John Hockenberry, was in Boston to tape that edition of the show. I was on to talk about Selectricity and some of other ways that we might use election technologies. I was on and off (mostly off) air for the whole second hour (7:00-8:00 AM) of taping and had a bit of a segment just into the second half of the hour. You can check out the website or download the podcast.

Sat, 20 Sep 2008 12:53:00 UTC

Software Freedom Day Boston

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

It's late notice but Boston area folks should drop by the local Software Freedom Day events today. It goes from 10:00-16:00 and is located in a great space in Chinatown. More information in on the wiki. I'm teaming up with John Sullivan of the FSF to talk about free software on in your pocket on unexecpted platforms. We'll show off CHDK (for cameras), the FreeRunner (a phone), and probably also talk about RockBox, iPodLinux, and more. It should be laid back and fun! The whole point of SFD (and this SFD event in particular) is create a space that's appropriate to folks that don't already know about free and open source software and that aren't necessary technical.

Fri, 12 Sep 2008 19:51:00 UTC

What I'm Up To

Posted By Benjamin Mako Hill

It's been a year or so since I last reported what I was up to in my "day job." The last year has been a productive, if sometimes schizophrenic, period. I've had a good time working with Eric von Hippel (innovation and free and open source software research guru) and have decided I'd like to do a bit more of that. So I'm taking classes again -- mostly sociological methods courses -- to try to learn a bit about becoming a social scientist. To do so, I've enrolled in the Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship PhD program at the MIT Sloan School of Management and am working on putting together an interdisciplinary -- probably even interdepartmental -- research program.