Illustration showing the face of public domain advocate Carl Malamud, with the word DATA under his face. Recently I searched for the name of my current project, “Data for Radicals,” and through that magic we know as Serendipity on the Internet, up popped:

Ten Rules for Radicals

by none other than Carl Malamud.  To be honest, before I read “Ten Rules for Radicals,” all I knew about Carl was that my friends who were investigative journalists — particularly those who did the deep data and document dives through FOIA and other means — talked about him in hushed tones of awe.

Reading the title, I could not help but think that the essay, originally an address to the WWW2010 conference, represented one of those strange messages that happen between people of ideas, even if those people are separated by centuries, or thousands of miles, or other barriers, and even if they have never met.  Haven’t you ever had that feeling of picking up a book and feeling that the author is, in an uncanny and spooky way speaking to you — directly to you?  I felt that way about this essay.  You can find it in full here, but interspersed within it are his “Ten Rules for Radicals,” which in the essay he illustrates with stories from his career.  You should do yourself the favor of reading the whole thing, but for my own edification, I am reprinting the ten rules below.

Just as I do when I am learning new code, I did not copy and paste these.  As I sit here, I am typing them word by word with my own ten fingers on my Macbook Air, sitting at my dining room table at 2:21 AM on Saturday, May 18 (What can I say?  A dream woke me up and I couldn’t get back to sleep).

Rule 1:  Call everything an experiment.
Rule 2: When the starting gun goes off, run really fast.  As a small player, the elephant can step on you, but you can outrun the elephant.
Rule 3: Eyeballs rule.  If a million people use your service, and on the Internet you can do that, you’ve got a lot more credibility than if you’re just issuing position papers and flaming The Man.
Rule 4: When the time comes, be nice.
Rule 5: Keep asking until they say yes.  Gordon Bell, the inventor of the VAX, once said that you should keep your vision, but modify your plan.
Rule 6: When you get the microphone, get to the point. Be clear about what you want.
Rule 7: Get standing.  Have some skin in the game, some reason you’re at the table.
Rule 8: Get them to threaten you.
Rule 9:  Look for overreaching, things that are just blatantly, obviously wrong or silly.
Rule 10: Don’t be afraid to fail.  It took Thomas Edison 10,000 times before he got the lightbulb right, and when he was asked about those failures, he said, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Fail. Fail often. And don’t forget, you can question authority.

If I could put these on stone tablets, or better yet for our era, put them on plastic tablets extruded by a 3D printer, I’d do it.  They’re a little long for a tattoo, though 🙂

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