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Reviewing the Situation · Tuesday February 09, 2010 by Crosbie Fitch

Ten years on I think it’s about time I reviewed the situation, especially progress with respect to my latest projects: The Contingency Market and 1p2U.

Digital Productions

Digital Productions is the umbrella name of my projects researching and developing non-copyright based business models.

I entered this field at the beginning of the new millennium having realised that when digital copies are free, it is the production of the original work that is valuable, and the work rather than copies of it that should be exchanged for money. It was while writing an article on cyberspace, how to engineer massive multiplayer games using p2p technology, that I realised I had eliminated the impossible and should pursue the solution (no matter how improbable).

The Digital Art Auction is the title of the essay I wrote that described such a possible exchange mechanism – between an artist and those interested in exchanging their money for the artist’s work.

Although I developed a prototype website for the Digital Art Auction (now offline), I figured I needed to keep things far simpler. I then developed QuidMusic – still semi-operational. While indeed simpler, this helped me realise that for exchanges to occur there needs to be a sizeable marketplace of buyers and sellers, and it’s more important to build up the market with small, even trivial transactions than it is to focus on enabling lucrative transactions. QuidMusic satisfied me that the idea was worth pursuing, but also persuaded me that I needed an application that required a far lower priced transaction.

I therefore concluded I needed a general purpose back-end to support this third project (that would also support the previous two as well as umpteen others I or anyone else might think up). So, I have the Contingency Market as a robust and application independent back-end, and 1p2U as a demonstration of how it can be used to enable readers to exchange their pennies for the words of the bloggers they would thus encourage to write.

In parallel with these software engineering projects, I’ve also researched the law that underlies the traditional business model concerning intellectual work, i.e. copyright. In the process I’ve discovered that it is the law that is an unethical, 18th century privilege, and that far from being incorrigibly immoral the file-sharers who infringe it are simply enjoying their natural liberty (qv natural rights ). In other words, the prospect is not that infringers can be ‘reformed’ to abide by an immoral law, but that the law is an inhumane and ineffective anachronism destined for abolition, and the business of intellectual work must migrate to a non-monopoly based model, i.e. a free market.

So, not only is there a need for business models that do not rely on a inherently unviable monopoly, there is also a need for such business models to demonstrate that there is no need to resort to ever more draconian measures to persuade the public to respect the publishers’ anachronistic privilege of copyright. It would also counter claims that a compulsory license fee (aka Internet/ISP tax) is the only alternative in the event that the publishers’ monopoly of copyright is recognised to be unviable. A tax may well keep publishers going, but if publishers are made redundant by the Internet, then state support via taxation simply funds a dead weight. The need is for artists and their customers to exchange their work and money, not to preserve archaic agencies that promote, manufacture, distribute, and retail copies of the artists’ work.

Alongside the process of producing websites, and researching law applying to intellectual work, I’ve also been blogging about it (since 2006). Indeed, Digital Productions the website is primarily a blogging platform (TextPattern).

The unfunded and non-trading UK limited company ‘Digital Productions’ was registered in March 2001, and the domain digitalproductions.co.uk in November 2003.

But, that’s Digital Productions, what about me, the person behind it?

Crosbie Fitch

I have always been into computers (from mechanical reckoners and programmable calculators onwards). My earliest explorations began with with 2D graphics on the Commodore Pet, BBC Micro, and Archimedes (music score editing), and then graphs and diagramming software on the PC. Between 1995 and 2003 I have been a R&D software engineer in the field of 3D modelling (computer games, film special effects, animation, networking). Since that time, in which C/C++ was my tool of choice for over a dozen years, I’ve been more focussed on C#, PHP and data driven web based systems (on MSSQL and MySQL).

I’m far more oriented toward the solution of problems that intrigue and fascinate me, researching and developing any knowledge or skills necessary, than simply seeking well paid work that matches my experience and skill set.

Problems I have been fascinated by, and feel I have an insight into the solutions thereof, include: artificial intelligence, distributed large scale virtual environments, and non-copyright based business models. I’m currently focussed on the latter, but would love to return to either of the former two interests of mine.

Like any self-employed entrepreneur I have to balance the need to pay the bills (doing occasional freelance work), further eroding savings, and the need to continue unpaid development of the Contingency Market and 1p2U.

Where have I got so far on the Contingency Market?

The Contingency Market

What it is

The Contingency Market is an online exchange that enables deals to be made between pairs of agents who agree amounts of funds to be transferred between them depending upon the outcome of future public events (encouraged by the deals contingent upon them).

Thus a thousand users of a software package can make a thousand deals with the developer that they’ll pay them a dollar in the event a particular feature is implemented and published.

The Contingency Market is thus far more appropriate for the sale of digital work than conventional online payment mechanisms intended for the sale of material goods. This is because it exchanges money for the publication of the work rather than a discrete, material good or copy (protected from further copying by copyright). If the copy is worthless (copyright being ineffective) then you have to sell the work instead.

How it works

The Contingency Market is not expected to be used by people directly, but is a web service to be used by websites such as 1p2U or QuidMusic that use it on their behalf.

An agent (user, artist, fan, website) is registered with the site and has an account that keeps track of payments: money deposited and withdrawn, and that paid to, or received from, other agents via deals.

A deal is a match between two agents’ compatible offers that both agents agree to – a ‘microcontract’ if you like.

Each agent’s offer specifies a contingency and funds to be transferred depending upon its outcome.

A contingency typically specifies a single public event. However, it could specify a complex combination of events that must occur or not, possibly in a particular order.

An event specifies something that may be publicly observed in the world, e.g. the publication of a blog article. Events can either be observed by agents, administrators, or by the Contingency Market’s automatic monitoring system, e.g. as used to monitor RSS feeds for the publication of articles.

So, if you’re producing a website that needs to enable an arbitrary number of people to deal with one or more others, such that money is exchanged in the event of a publication (or other public act), you ensure the people are registered (and are informed as to how to pay their dues, or collect their receipts) as agents, specify the event of publication, and register the appropriate offers and deals on everyone’s behalf. When the event is observed, the contingency market will execute the necessary transactions.

Stage of Development

The core code of the Contingency Market currently comprises about 100 C# source files in 600Kb interacting with an MSSQL database (of 22 tables and a similar number of stored procedures). There are two continuously running modules (monitoring of the web and updating the contingency market), and a web based administration facility. There’s also a separate system for handling online payments, which has its own database and updating service.

There is a PHP API to the contingency market for PHP based web apps. This is used by 1p2U.

At the moment the Contingency Market is largely operational except for the handling of deposits and withdrawals, and the fulfilment of any due payments from deposits. Dues are already raised upon the completion of deals, but those dues are as yet unfulfilled by movement of funds.

The general purpose payment system, to handle online/automated deposits from money handlers (PayPal, etc.), also needs some further testing.

Further work

Once the Contingency Market is properly tested in all respects apart from handling actual money, then I will consider it ready to proceed to start handling it (testing with sandbox/private funds prior to launch). I will write the code necessary to fulfil due payments from each agent’s available funds.

There are some enhancements I’ve already planned to make, but these can wait until such time as applications need them.

1p2U

What it is

1p2U is a website that enables a blogger’s readers to encourage the blogger to write, by letting them subscribe to the blogger (via RSS feed) at the rate of a penny (1p sterling) per article published thereafter. 1p2U is also a demonstration application of the Contingency Market.

1p2U is a MediaWiki website (PHP+MySQL) with an extension that provides a Contingency Market API and a second extension that uses it to create deals on the Contingency Market between readers of a blog who want to be subscribers and the author of that blog (who invites readers to become subscribers).

The Contingency Market API is 36 PHP files totalling 180Kb (plus MediaWiki glue in 20 files in 100Kb). The 1p2U extension is about 40 PHP files in 250Kb.

How it works

The blogger registers themselves and their blog, and places a ‘subscribe’ button on their blog site. Some of their readers click this button to register as subscribers. When a new article is published in the blog’s RSS feed this is recognised by the web monitoring service of the Contingency Market, and the contingent deals made by 1p2U on behalf of each subscriber (specifying the payment of a penny in such an event) are then processed.

Ultimately, the subscribers end up with accumulated dues that being significant are then economically paid with a single deposit of funds as and when each subscriber finds convenient. As those deposits are paid, the recipients are able to make withdrawals.

A blogger who published 10 articles a week who had 1,000 1p2U subscribers would thus earn £100 per week from each subscriber paying 10p per week. Obviously, it’s not every blogger whose output is so good they can attract the demand of a thousand subscribers, but 1p2U at least enables that demand however large it is to be monetarily expressed and exchanged with the blogger’s supply. And let’s not forget, readers who aren’t particularly interested in encouraging the blogger to write can read or copy the articles they publish without paying anything (and without breaking the law as a consequence).

The blogger is paid to write by those who want them to write. The blogger doesn’t charge their readers to read.

Stage of Development

1p2U certainly isn’t complete, but it is just about able to demonstrate the process of registering a blog, providing HTML for a button to put on the blog, the button enabling readers to subcribe, keeping track of who’s subscribing to what, what articles have been published, and who owes who what amount of money.

Settlement of ones dues, and withdrawal of ones earnings would be achieved via the Contingency Market (transparently linked to by 1p2U), so the remaining work in enabling that isn’t incurred in the development of 1p2U.

1p2U had started off with the objective of being extremely simple. Unfortunately, that objective isn’t so easy to achieve if performance is also to be maintained. 1p2U has undergone considerable upheaval in terms of cacheing and computing all statistics and details for web pages as a background process, i.e. not part of the production of a web page. This is not only necessary to reduce processing delays, but also to avoid the latency involved in communications with the Contingency Market via the SOAP channel.

Further work

There is still a small amount of further work in streamlining the background processes, and ensuring dependencies are fully traced.

There is also much work on the user interface and ergonomics of the 1p2U website, providing far more controls, as well as further explanation.

Next Steps

I feel my skills are best suited to developing the Contingency Market, possibly demonstrating it further by developing other sites such as QuidMusic and The Digital Art Auction. It would also be great to help other people use it in their own projects.

Therefore I would be interested in 1p2U.com ending up in more capable and dedicated hands. So if you or any one you know fancies developing 1p2U further, so I can focus on the Contingency Market, then don’t hesitate to get in touch.

I appreciate 1p2U will be more attractive the more it is used, and the finer a polish it has in terms of usability. I will thus continue developing 1p2U to that end in the interim.

I have also been considering the idea of splitting this Digital Productions website into two. A spin-off site to focus on Natural IP, leaving the main site only to document the project work.

Remaining Questions

If there is anything you feel I’ve omitted or wish I’d covered in more detail in this review please let me know (by e-mail or comment) and I will append further detail in response.

Scott Carpenter said 1774 days ago :

Thanks for the recap, Crosbie.

I’m surprised to learn you’re using MSSQL (and to a lesser extent, C#).

Crosbie Fitch said 1774 days ago :

I’m not fussy about databases (yet). MSSQL integrates well with C#/.NET.

Funnily enough I’ve just been working on catering for your redirection of your RSS feed as registered with 1p2U. Not quite there yet. :-)

Maniquí said 1771 days ago :

It was really interesting and inspiring to read about your background, your projects, your future plans and you.

I’m learning a lot here (although when I try to explain to people what I’ve learnt about copyright and the future of publishing industry, and the new opportunities and new business models for artists, I find myself that I cannot explain it clearly, and at the same time, people is already indoctrinated to the “copyright way of thinking”).

I’ll stay tunned, as I would like to get involved someday into the Contingency Market.

Best wishes for the upcoming future!



 

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