Articles by Cord Blomquist

Cord Blomquist spends most of his time pining for the singularity. To pass the time while waiting for this convergence, he serves as the New Media Manager at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Before landing this sweet gig, Cord hocked policy writing for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, toiled in the halls of Congress, and even worked in a crouton factory. In college, Cord spent his hours studying political philosophy and artificial intelligence, resulting in an unhealthy obsession with Lt. Commander Data. All of these activities will, of course, be viewed as laughable when he is ported from this crude meatspace into the nanobot cloud.

Ed Roberts, designer of the first commercially successful personal computer, died yesterday in Georgia at the age of 68.

Roberts founded the MITS company in 1970 and in 1975 developed the first personal computer, the Altair 8800.  Soon Bill Gates and Paul Allen came calling, and later sold their first commercial software to Roberts.  The Altair also served as the catalyst for the Homebrew Computer Club whose members included Apple Computer co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

Roberts took a risk on an untested market and launched the PC revolution.  He was a true entrepreneur and will continue to be a hero to geeks like me.

Harry McCracken at PC World has posted some very kind words about Roberts.  Bill Gates and Paul Allen have also posted a statement at

Because of some recent skepticism about the economic viability of open-source software (and because of an upcoming presentation I’m giving on the topic), I’m calling on the TLF readership to give me some examples of companies—from big-name brands to small design shops—that are making money through creating or contributing to open-source software projects.

I’m not just looking for millionaires like Matt Mullenweg of WordPress, I’m also looking for examples like design shops contributing to the development of projects like Drupal, independent developers promoting themselves through successful open-source products, or small-scale software support companies who also give back to the code base.

Please leave a comment with as many examples as you like.

Reihan Salam of National Review Online has a great piece on the US Trade Representative’s Special 301 Watchlist today.  Salam points out that this list, which is supposed to identify nations that are a threat to intellectual property, may include Brazil, India, and Indonesia not because of any piracy occurring there, but because of their use of open-source software.

That inclusion is being pushed for by the International Intellectual Property Alliance, a group which includes the MPAA and RIAA.  This is, of course, a brazen move by US corporations to force these developing nations to use their expensive proprietary software instead of the cheaper open-source alternatives.

This is exactly the kind of thing libertarians should abhor—government being co-opted by corporations so that policies can be made in order to defend their interests, instead of our rights.

Thanks to Salam for recognizing me and Tim Lee in the form of a link to a recent blog post on Tim’s site, Bottom Up.

For more on the USTR’s Special 301 watchlist, check out this post by Mike Masnick at TechDirt.

photo credit: Flickr user HarshLight

Mike Kirkwood of ReadWriteWeb recently wrote a piece asking the question “Will One Company Become the Dominant Player in Cloud Computing?” Kirkwood offered a series of arguments both for and against the idea of the market being one where a “natural monopoly” might occur and a few of his arguments are worth exploring in greater depth.

Addressing the potential for vendor lock-in (think Outlook .PST files), Kirkwood points out that cloud customers may demand data portability:

If customers demand solutions where they can move from vendor to vendor freely, it will impact the landscape. Companies with cloud solutions in the marketplace could be required by these customers to remove barriers to moving data and services between different entities.

Kirkwood should know that this is already happening.  CRM solutions like HighRise by 37Signals and cloud-based office solutions like Google Apps already have these features built in.  One of the biggest reasons that many companies are moving to cloud-based applications is because they’re weary of being locked-in to solutions that hold their data hostage.  It’s doubtful that these exit doors will disappear when things like office suites, CRMs, accounting software, and other software categories are almost exclusively offered as cloud applications or web apps.  Customers already expect and will continue to demand the freedom to move their data around—a new culture of data portability is being created as a part of the shift to the cloud and that consumer expectations may be permanently altered because of it.

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Mashable has reported that “The Internet” has made the list of Nobel Peace Prize nominees this year.  This prize has already had its fair share of controversial and sometimes even comical nominees and recipients, but this sort of nomination is disappointing in a whole different way—it ignores the fact that individual human beings actually invented the technology that created the Internet.

The sentiment behind this nomination, popularized by Italy’s version of Wired, is understandable.  The Internet has had such an effect on the world in such a short amount of time its impossible to calculate the enormity of its effects on science, the arts, or politics.  It has generated a mountainous amount of wealth, exposed the barbarism of tyrannical regimes worldwide, and has made more knowledge accessible to more people than ever before.

But people like Tim Berners-Lee or Roberty Taylor should be considered for the prize given their tremendous contributions to Internet technology.  Both Berners-Lee or Taylor have already been recognized for their contributions to technological progress—Berners-Lee has an alphabet soup of honor-related suffixes after his name—but awarding the Nobel Prize isn’t just about accolades, it’s also about money.  The 2009 prizes were roughly $1.4 million each, which would be a nice sum for a foundation dedicated to the advancement of Internet technologies, like Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation.  When considering this, its clear that awarding the prize to an individual would do a lot more good than if the concept or idea of the Internet received the prize.

Even so, Web 2.0 evangelists, prominent intellectuals, and even 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi have backed the notion of the prize being awarded to the Internet itself—a new campaign is calling this “A Nobel for Each and Every One of Us.”  While the power of the Internet does indeed flow from its uniting “each and every one of us,” the technology that allowed this miracle to exist was invented by people like Berners-Lee and Taylor who dedicated years of their lives to the advancement of human understanding.  Even in this era of wise crowds, social networks, and “collective intelligence,” this sort of individual accomplishment should be recognized.

If you’d like to nominate any other person involved in the advancement of Internet technology for the Peace Prize, please drop a name in the comments.

Google’s policy blog just announced that Google, along with several other companies around the world, has been subjected to Chinese-sponsored cyber attacks.  As a result, Google will stop censoring the search results on and as a consequence, may close its Chinese offices.

This decision is refreshing.  Despite over two decades of easing restriction on its people, Chinese regime remains brutally oppressive and continues to commit heinous crimes against its own people.  In a world that’s all too eager to look the other way so it can cash-in on China’s economic boom, Google has decided to forgo profits and take a stand against this oppressive regime.

I hope that many other companies follow Google’s lead.  Perhaps even the US government could do so, but so long as China owns one out of every four dollars of foreign-held US debt, Google shouldn’t count on it.

Vivek Kundra, the Obama administration’s Chief Information Officer, may want to turn his attention to the The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which begins its public hearings tomorrow. Here’s a screen shot of the Commission’s website as of 11:02am EST today:

I also grabbed a copy of the PDF-only Notice of Open Meeting, as the site, located at, is scheduled to launch in its full form later today.  This is according to Ray Lehmann, Senior Editor with SNL Financial who spoke to a representative of the Commission this morning.

Launching a site for a Commission the day before it holds its first hearing is unacceptable.  The “page and a PDF” placeholder above, which cannot be found using any of the major search engines, hardly makes up for this.

A good CIO should outline clear guidelines about how and when sites go live, especially in an administration that professes to have a strong commitment to making government more transparent.  Either Kundra hasn’t established these protocols or the FCIC isn’t following them.  Either way, Kundra needs to do his job and make sure this sort of slap-shod approach to making government information available on the web is no longer accepted.

Kundra was recently named 2009 CIO of the year by Information Week for his efforts to modernize the antiquated hulk that is the federal IT infrastructure. It would seem he still has much work to do.

Thanks to Jim for providing a great analysis of Jonathan Rosenberg’s “The Meaning of Open” from Google’s Policy Blog.  I wanted to throw in my two cents without derailing the comments on Jim’s post.  I hope you’ll this new thread of discussion interesting.

While I enjoyed reading Rosenberg’s post and found myself nodding in agreement with many if not most of his points, it would have been nice if Rosenberg were a little less cheeky about this close/open symbiosis that is the real defining quality of Google.  Rather than dismissing the closed nature of Google’s search/ad business with these lines:

The search and advertising markets are already highly competitive with very low switching costs, so users and advertisers already have plenty of choice and are not locked in. Not to mention the fact that opening up these systems would allow people to “game” our algorithms to manipulate search and ads quality rankings, reducing our quality for everyone.

Both of these arguments have some merit as explanations for why Google’s search/ad business isn’t open-source or an “open system,” but neither serve as a reason to grant Google an exemption from Rosenberg’s “open systems win” credo.

Instead of prescribing that the rest of the world adopt total openness, Rosenberg could have taken a more nuanced position, leaving room for the kind of proprietary money-makers Google relies on and that we’re not likely to see disappear from the software world anytime soon, if ever.  This sort of model, one which harnesses the profit-making potential of closed systems while funding satellite projects that take advantage of the iterative, peer-reviewed process of  open-source development is fascinating and makes for a much more interesting conversation than Rosenberg’s simplistic open-only philosophy.

Still, I think Google needs some defending and their business model/philosophy deserves to be looked at for what it really is, not what it is presented it to be.

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My colleague Jerry Brito and I are attending the annual meeting of the State Policy Network in Asheville, NC.  In the process, we’ve heard a lot of things said about open-source software that we don’t agree with, and some things that are just plain wrong.

The reasons for this are obvious.  There are a lot of folks who have an interest in talking down open-source CMS solutions—namely because they sell proprietary, closed-source systems.  But, there are non-interested parties out there who have given rave reviews to open-source solutions.  For example, Drupal and WordPress have consistently won CNET’s Webware Awards. The White House now runs on Drupal, the New York Times runs its blogs on WordPress, and sites that we have built, including those for CEI, the Mercatus Center, America’s Future Foundation, Stimulus Watch, and, are built using open source tools, and they have been very successful. Bottom line, one can’t say that using open-source software is never the answer.

So how do you decide what to use? What you have to consider are the relative merits of each approach.  Some web projects may be so unique that you’ll want to have a developer build a custom solution for you. You might also find a proprietary solutions that fits your needs perfectly. However, most public policy groups have very similar needs—publishing and promoting papers and press releases, creating profiles of their experts, highlighting past and future events, etc. For these cases, it’s very likely that there is an open-source solution available at a no cost, and with a large pool of independent developers who can implement it for you. And it’s certainly the case that open-source solutions can be infinitely customized to meet unique needs.

The main difference we want to point out, however, is that when you choose a proprietary solution, you’re not just tied to that solution, but to a vendor as well. Look carefully at their contracts, it will be quite clear that they own the software that runs your website. If you need to change or add functionality to your site, you need to go to that particular vendor. With an open-source solution, there are hundreds of developers you can turn to. You can keep your site exactly as it is, and simply change your contractor. Your platform is not tied to any vendor.

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The imagination of the open source community never ceases to amaze me.  But these days the sheer number of people using open source solutions makes the previous statement akin to saying “people never to cease to amaze me,” which they don’t.  However, with thousands of a developers adapting open platforms to problem I never knew existed, I should get used to the constant stream of innovations.

WordPress has become an especially vibrant community that often throws total curve balls my way when I’m looking at lists of plugins, which I all-to-frequently do. Today, I discovered two particular gems worth sharing.

TextImage and Censortive, two plugins compatible with the most current versions of WordPress, are ingenious little bits of programming for skirting around the “Great Firewall” and any other attempts to censor the Net.  The two plugins work by turning some or all of the text of a blog post into .PNG images of those words—making them readable by humans, but not by machines set to filter out web pages featuring forbidden words like “Falun Gong” and “Dalai Lama.”

While TextImage will image-ify your whole post—the fail-safe way around the censors—Censortive allows users to create a list of likely-to-be-censored terms which will then be replaced with images of those words. This means that text is still search-able, but words considered off-limits by big brother won’t set off any flags at your local office of the cultural ministry. Simply Brilliant!

Recent history has shown us that regimes in Egypt, Iran, and Australia can’t control content for long, thanks to quick and easy workarounds like these.  It’s a shame that they keep trying.