September 2012

I know it’s a category mistake to feel human emotions toward a corporate entity, but I can’t help feeling sympathy for Google when I see articles like this (which come out all the time — this one just happens to be today’s example):

“A new patent could position Google as the world’s dominant identity platform”

But before I start ranting, let me fact check:

Does anyone know of any instance of Google pre-emptively filing a patent infringement claim or threatening the same? That is, not as a response to an incoming patent threat, but as a first-strike move intended to monopolize a market by blocking out competitors? Responses in comments, please.

If it’s happened, I haven’t heard about it. As far as I can tell, Google collects its enormous piles of patents simply as a defensive measure: if everyone around you is armed to the teeth (and some of them, like Apple and Oracle, actually use their weapons on a regular basis), then you don’t really have a choice about whether to arm yourself. The question is just how much budget and preparedness you’re going to devote to it, as opposed to conducting your actual business.

So when I see articles like the above, saying stuff like this…

Earlier this week Google was granted a US patent that could position the company as the world’s dominant identity platform with the potential to control hundreds of millions of personal identities. The implications – both beneficial and threatening – are significant.

Superficially, the concept behind the patent appears benign enough. The patented system has the ability to create different pseudonymous identities for users, meaning that users could decide who gets to see their real identity as opposed to a pseudonym, but with each identity secretly linked and thus carrying an equal degree of integrity. That means a person could establish a more flexible and trusted relationship with other users without disclosing a real world identity. …

…I wonder if I’m missing something, or if the author just hasn’t been watching the company’s actual behavior very closely.

Corporate culture matters. As far as I can tell, starting from the people at the top, Google is fundamentally uncomfortable with government-granted monopolies on technology and business methods. Maybe they just feel that using patents for supply manipulation is short-term thinking, or maybe they feel it’s wrong, but either way, I do not recall having seen Google use those monopolies to establish or maintain market dominance (again, corrections welcome). Their large patent portfolio seems to be held mainly for defenses against incoming patent threats… which is the case for many companies, and just demonstrates the insanity of the system.

Meanwhile, the rapacious climate encouraged by the companies that do use their patent portfolios aggressively causes everyone to be tainted with suspicion, leading to articles like the above.

Disclaimer: I worked at Google briefly in 2006, then left amicably to pursue other ambitions. I’m still on good terms with colleagues from that time, but I have no financial interest in the company.

Shared Learning Collaborative logo

Calling all Chicago (and midwest regional) education hackers:

The Shared Learning Collaborative is holding a two-day tutorial / tagathon / code-a-thon event in Chicago this coming weekend, September 8th and 9th. There will be introductory sessions explaining the SLC architecture and ecosystem, API intros, coding sprints starting from the sample code and working toward real applications, etc. If you haven’t heard of SLC, think of it as doing for K-12 education data what the nascent health IT movement is doing for health care data.

Illinois is one of the states in the pilot phase of the project, with integration starting in Bloomington in September and proceeding through the state over the next year or so. So if you have or know kids in public schools in Illinois, they’ll be using SLC software soon. SLC is opening sourcing their stuff, of course, and is explicitly aiming for a multi-developer, multi-vendor open source community (the education world needs more opportunities for technical creativity, not more lock-in). This code camp is the first of several they’ll be holding.

Attendance is free; just register on Eventbrite (or you can do it through the Facebook page). First 200 attendees get the free tee-shirt.

   Saturday, September 8:  9am  —        (Day 1 schedule)
   Sunday,   September 9:       — 6pm    (Day 2 schedule)
   (see session descriptions)

The location is exactly where you’d expect it to be — at the increasingly inescapable 1871 tech startup space:

   222 Merchandise Mart Plaza
   12th Floor
   Chicago, IL 60654

For teachers and parents:

  • Common Core State Standards
  • The Learning Registry
  • Meta-Tagging Educational Content

For coders:

  • Configuring a development environment for working with SLC
  • Internals of SLC Sample Code and APIs
  • Work sprints to get your Hello World completed
  • Getting started on your first application

See the full event description for more.

Disclaimer: I’ve done some consulting work for SLC. This blog post is not part of that work, however; I just wanted to get the word out. If I weren’t traveling on the dates of the code-a-thon, I’d be attending it myself.