, revision control, and Creative Commons

There's been alot of buzz about over the past few weeks (I can't believe it's only been that long).  Lawrence Lessig is excited about the use of the Creative Commons license (which we also use) and Tim O'Reilly really wants them to use a version control system.  I like Tim O'Reilly, and he's made great contributions to the technology community and society at large.  However, Larry Lessig is much more measured in his responses - rightly so. 

Using the CC license is definitely the right way to go on the site - it makes it clear to people that the content on the site is public and that there is no hidden value to the information there - that one day a user couldn't be sued.  It also allows for instant and automatic use of the content (i.e. full redistribution by bots of the content to users behind government firewalls). 

In addition to issues of applicability, the use of the CC license is also a signal that Obama wants the entire government to move towards an open by default stance.  This movement was started by Carter and others with the Freedom of Information Act - these are great contributions to a free and open society. 

Version control is a separate issue - no less important.  Unfortunately, I think O'Reilly goes too far.  I don't disagree with anything he says, but his focus is not tight enough.  Just as Lessig acknowledges that the CC license won't apply to otherwise copyrighted information coming from other departments (yet), the same measured approach needs to be taken with versioning. 

O'Reilly wants everything to be shown as a versioned document, specifically legislation.  While that is great in theory, it doesn't even meet basic tests.  Most legislative disputes are discussed either by informal discussion or in private committee.  The deliberative process needs to be kept secret in order for legislators to horsetrade, bluff, bandwagon, and balance against and with eachother.  This may sound Machiavellian, but it's important. 

Really, there are two applications for revision control.  The first is to document why and how a document changed.  This is what I refer to above and I think is not realistic to implement it - regardless, it confuses the issue.  The second application is to track official and approved changes to a standing document.  This is very much how a proper blog is maintained - or in an old fashioned sense, how newspapers display retractions.  O'Reilly and others need to push for version control on standing documents - where the need is great and the drawbacks are few. 

Having solid version control on these standing documents makes changes more transparent and provides accountability to the people.