Archive for the '1. Journal/Essays' Category

Kublaikan: l’origine del nome Kublai

Un amico mi ha ricordato che oggi è l’anniversario della nascita di Italo Calvino.

Flashback. Roma, interno giorno, tre anni e mezzo fa. Seduti intorno a un tavolo: Alberto Cottica, Giuseppe Granieri, Antonella NapolitanoAlfredo Scalzo e me.

Dovevamo scegliere un nome per il primo progetto 2.0 dell’amministrazione centrale italiana che avremmo lanciato di lì a poco. Si trattava di un “social network dei creativi per lo sviluppo locale”, come recitava il suo working title.

Alberto chiese se qualcuno aveva idee. Io proposi “Kublaikan”, che poi abbraviammo in “Kublai”. L’ispirazione che aveva portato a quel nome l’abbiamo riportata nella pagina di presentazione del progetto per un paio d’anni, poi è stata tolta. La riporto qui per chi avesse curiosità di conoscerla, e perché quello de Le città invisibili è uno dei miei finali preferiti nella letteratura italiana.

…ah, perché avete scelto il nome Kublai?

Kublai è il nome dell’imperatore Kublai Kan, al quale Marco Polo racconta – ne Il Milione, e poi ne Le città invisibili di Calvino – delle sue terre, un impero talmente vasto che mai è riuscito a conoscerlo approfonditamente.
Nella nostra metafora Kublai è il Ministero (in particolare il Laboratorio per le politiche di sviluppo), mentre Marco Polo siamo noi che cerchiamo di raccontare delle province lontane e dei soggetti innovativi e “invisibili”. Marco Polo siete anche voi, i creativi che per la prima volta possono parlare di sè direttamente al Kublai Kan, utilizzando i nuovi strumenti partecipativi e di comunicazione messi a disposizione da internet.
Questa è la citazione che ha ispirato il nome del progetto.

Rispose Marco Polo a Kublai:

“L’inferno dei viventi non è qualcosa che sarà; se ce n’è uno, è quello che è già qui, l’inferno che abitiamo tutti i giorni, che formiamo stando insieme. Due modi ci sono per non soffrirne. Il primo riesce facile a molti: accettare l’inferno e diventarne parte fino al punto di non vederlo più. Il secondo è rischioso ed esige attenzione e apprendimento continui: cercare e saper riconoscere chi e cosa, in mezzo all’inferno, non è inferno, e farlo durare, e dargli spazio.”

(Italo Calvino, finale di “Le città invisibili”)


October 15 2011 | 1. Journal/Essays and it | No Comments »

Dispatches from Austin

I arrived in Austin a few days ago.

It’s my second time here, after SXSW in 2010.

The signs at the airport still read “Welcome to Austin, the Live Music Capital of the World”, but the city is constantly changing: while the music soul remains, technology is the new driving force in the economy of this fast growing town.

Cities in perpetual beta, as we are.

Memories of Erasmus students in Gothenburg and Berlin.

Dispatches from Bristol was one of the first blogs I read. It was an exchange student diary written by Antonio Cavedoni, who attended my alma mater. I liked the title of his blog, and I have always loved to read tales of adventures and travels. I hope this will be a good one.






August 31 2011 | 1. Journal/Essays and en | No Comments »

Steve Jobs resigned

The tech industry was shocked yesterday by the announcement of Steve Jobs’ resignation as CEO of Apple. He will remain as Chairman of the Board of the company he co-founded 35 years ago, therefore it is not time for goodbyes; nevertheless everyone feel this is an historic moment for the entire industry.

The news has been covered by all kind of media (some of my favorite bloggers included: John Gruber, Seth Godin, Jason Fried, Marco Arment, Matt Mullenweg, Robert Scoble, Dave Winer), so I’m only going to add a personal note here.

I am just a newbie in the macworld, I finally convinced myself to buy my first Macintosh computer at the beginning of 2008. However the moment I became a Mac and Apple user I discovered a new world literally made of passion for products, software, the industry at large, its culture and history, that I had never experienced using Windows machines.

Therefore here is my personal ‘thank you’ to Steve.
We wish you all the best, and we will continue to be inspired by your story.

August 26 2011 | 1. Journal/Essays and en | No Comments »

Interview with Matt Mullenweg on the organization of the WordPress community and Automattic


On Saturday the 10th of May 2008, I was attending the first Italian Wordcamp, listening to Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress and Automattic, the company that runs*

From that day on, through reading and studying about the WordPress community and Automattic, I gathered a lot of ideas that we later discussed and implemented into Kublai, when we introduced the Kublai Community Staff (in September 2008, inspired by WordPress angels) and the idea of a dual organization (community~coaching staff) with balance of power issues between the community and the related public project.

Therefore in May 2009, while we were waiting for the start of the second year of Kublai, I decided to fly to San Francisco for the SFWordcamp, the following Developer Day at the Automattic Lounge, and a short trip to Silicon Valley which included a visit to Ning, the company that provides the infrastructure for the Kublai social network.

During those days, I had the opportunity to talk with Matt a couple of times and to ask him some questions on the topics I was more interested in. Later on, I always referred to that conversation but never wrote it down; I decided to do it now because Kublai is reflecting again on its future. So here it is my short interview with Matt on WordPress and Automattic, I hope that it might be useful for the Kublai discussion and for people involved in similar kind of issues and projects.

Interview with Matt (recorded on the 31st of May 2009 @ Automattic Headquarter in San Francisco, California)

Marco: I work for this project in Italy called Kublai which is a social network for creative people that want to discuss and develop projects with experts from the public administration and the whole network of creative participants. The network is promoted by the Italian Ministry of Economic Development, who finances a related project with a staff which is hired half from the community and half among the public administration professionals. At this stage, the social network is evolving into a community, so we were interested in the WordPress organizational model, where there is a separation between the WordPress community on one side and the business project (Automattic) on the other. You have been able to do this in a way where these two different forces operate in the same direction, could you explain a little bit better how this idea came up and what have been the consequences for WordPress?

Matt: Sure. WordPress was purely, a nonprofit, for the first 2 years; then, I started a company but I kept it completely separated, so Automattic doesn’t own and doesn’t have any control over it. The only real communality is me. Automattic also doesn’t make any IP claim (intellectual property claim) over WordPress code. The reason for this was to create what in the US is called “checks & balances”, as there are checks and balances between the executive, the judicial, and the legislative branches; the congress; the president; and the supreme court; they balance each other out, so no single one has to much power and have control. The same has happened between the open source project and our company: the company cannot have too much power because it doesn’t own or control the open source platform-community, so by definition they balance each other out. That was the idea.

Marco: So the for-profit company came up later?

Matt: Yes, a couple of years later, which I think is best, ’cause the nonprofit was already strong enough; it had it’s own independent identity. It was able to develop user base, ideas and ways to do things without any profit motive at all. It was a sort of a sheltered way to build it.

Marco: And the people that work for the nonprofit are not the same who work for Automattic?

Matt: The nonprofit has no employees; it’s just the website, the code, and anything like that. The Automattic people contribute to just like anyone else in the world: they file tickets, they create patches, put scripts in the forums, participate in the mailing lists, and so on. Just like anyone else, they don’t have any special access or privileges, which I think is important to maintain that balance of power.

Marco: What is the structure of the nonprofit? I think you are the president…

Matt: Essentially no structure, it’s just me. Everyone involved is just volunteer. Certain people have more responsibilities; for example, there are five core committers, who approve all changes that go into the core. Two of them are now Automattic full-time employees.

Marco: So no one is getting money from the nonprofit?

Matt: No, the only real costs that have are for the infrastructure (servers, etc.), and that is just donated by Automattic. It was the easiest thing to do, and also it is a bit difficult in the US to become a formal nonprofit, our application is still pending, so donations are still not tax deductible. I think when there will be a formal nonprofit we might solicit more donations to cover our server costs. (Interview recorded on the 31st of May 2009**)

Marco: Do you think the community appreciate this kind of separation?

Matt: I think that people generally don’t understand very well the difference between Automattic and; there’s a lot of confusion, but among the people that are more close and involved, they understand and they see the difference, and I think it is important.

Marco: Are there any communication problems? Things that are discussed on one side than on the other…

Matt: No, because everything happens in the open; the work all happens in the open.

Marco: You mean in both sides?

Matt: There are not two sides, there is only one side, all development and all code are in, so 100% of the development and everything happens there.

Marco: What about a decision like the one in the newspapers these days not to pander to the China Government (details here)?

Matt: That was for, which is separate, under Automattic, so it’s just a decision I made.

Marco: Let’s talk a bit about community building, you attend a lot of wordcamps around the world, which takes a lot of energy and time I guess…

Matt: Yeah, I think that as a leader of the community for me it is important to meet as many people in the community as possible and listen to as many, so going to wordcamps it’s just one of the best way to do that.

Marco: Do you believe that going to wordcamps is important to build the community?

Matt: Yes, it’s important for people to meet physically, once a year, twice a year. So the wordcamp here in San Francisco is once a year, but there are wordcamps all around the world almost every week. They are all self-organized by the local communities, we don’t control anything about them, we just help to promote them if we can.

Marco: Ok… any suggestion about other similar stories in the open source world?

Matt: There are certainly better examples of purely open source projects, like the Apache Foundation has a different approach to create this independent open source nonprofit entity, which is a lot more formalized. Another one you might have a look at is Ubuntu and Canonical, that is also a sort of a hybrid model for profit~nonprofit, which I think is pretty interesting.

Marco: Where are they based?

Matt: South Africa.

Marco: Because another aspect I wanted to ask you about is San Francisco and the Silicon Valley. You are from Houston, Texas, why did you come here and what is the importance of location in your opinion?

Matt: For companies it is important, for nonprofits it doesn’t matter. Business wise it’s good for me to be here in San Francisco; it’s kind of magical for that because there are so many things in one place, but everyone else in the company can live in any place they like.

Marco: Yesterday John Lilly, CEO of Mozilla, spoke at the wordcamp; they also have both a corporation and a nonprofit foundation, right?

Matt: Their case is different; they have a corporation which is owned by the nonprofit, so technically is nonprofit as well. It’s very difficult to describe, it’s basically something they did because of laws in the US. Essentially I think they are run just like a nonprofit. They are based in Mountain View, which is nearby, 30 minutes away.

Marco: Ok, let’s come back to Automattic for a final question about the organization, if I asked you to draw the organization chart, how would you draw it?

Matt: It’s pretty flat. So everyone who works on product stuff sort of reports to me. And then there are four or five people parallel to me, the CEO and other business guys that work on different things. So it’s very flat. I’m the President, technically, but essentially I run all the product stuffs, so anything related to, Akismet, or any of our products.

Marco: I already asked Andy (Peatling, lead developer of Buddypress) about the tools you use as a virtual company (read here, here, and here for more in-depth info about it), so everyone in the team is spread around the globe, meeting format is online, and you eventually get together…

Matt: …once or twice a year in person, yeah.

Marco: That’s about all I wanted to ask you, thank you very much Matt.

Matt: My pleasure.



The pictures in this article were taken from Sean O’Shaughnessy (1&2) flickr album; Matt’s photo is from the Linux Journal article (July 2008) I found and read at the Automattic’s headquarter that day.

*Matt’s interview by Sara Rosso, recorded at that barcamp (Milan, May 2008).

**On January 2010, the nonprofit organization behind officially became WordPress Foundation.

April 18 2011 | 1. Journal/Essays and en | No Comments »

Italians at SXSW 2011

UPDATE! Bruce Sterling, and I mean the one and only Bruce Sterling, twitted about my list (see image below) … as in Fat Boy Slim greatest album cover, he is #1 so why try harder :-)

His closing keynote, a tradition at SXSW, will be on Tuesday the 15th of March at 5:00pm (11:00pm in Italy) and you can watch it live on youtube here (with Bruce talking about Italian politics)

SXSW, my favourite tech & creativity event so far, is ready to start tomorrow in Austin Texas. I couldn’t be there this year but I’ll follow the event through the reports on Twitter and on blogs.

On Twitter the official account has various interesting lists, but I decided to set up a new one with only the Italian people attending the event.

If you are interested, you can follow this Twitter list here

And here are the names of the Italian participants to SXSW interactive 2011 with a Twitter account: Luca Conti and Marco Massarotto (who will join the Italy Technology Summit), Paolo Privitera (Doochoo), Davide Casali, Enzo Silva (augmented reality for education panel), the automatticians Sara Rosso & Danilo Ercoli, the Frontiers of Interaction team with Marcello Merlo, Leandro Angrò and Gianfranco Chicco, and last but not least the Italian lady in San Francisco Veronica Rosso (Open-First and BaiaNetwork) … ciao a tutti! *

In the picture above, my 2010 pass proudly signed by Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson and Clay Shirky (plus Bruce Sterling and Gary Vaynerchuk on the back). More on this here . :-)

* Please note that the list may not be complete; just write me a comment or a DM to add someone missing.

Update2: I can consider this list a small successful experiment, not only for the memorable Sterling’s tweet, but also because it allowed me (and them!) to discover and get in contact with other Italians at SXSW: Luca Sartoni (123people), Priscilla Scala (People Browsr), Federica Cocco and Adriano Farano (SXSW Accelerator finalists with Owni).

SXSW Music festival will start on Tuesday, with at least a couple of Italian bands I know of, both there for the second year in a row: Tiger! Shit! Tiger! Tiger! (Rough Trade Records) from Foligno and A Classic Education (Lefse Records), friends and great band from Bologna (btw, check out their fantastic live performance at the Prontialpeggio/Sonoinlista show). Time to rock n’ roll for the Live Music Capital of the World!


March 10 2011 | 1. Journal/Essays and en | 1 Comment »

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