Pamela Jones and Groklaw: An Appreciation

If you’re a regular reader of The Standards Blog, there’s an excellent chance that you already know that Pamela Jones – "PJ" to one and all – announced on Saturday that she would post her last article at Groklaw on May 16. Certain aspects of the site will remain available indefinitely.

It’s difficult to know where to begin in saying “goodbye” to Groklaw. What PJ and her many cohorts accomplished there has been unique in my experience. In many ways, Groklaw exemplifies the transformational power that the Internet has brought to law, society, technology, and the advancement of all things open. 

Consider just a few of the core attributes of Groklaw: there were never any fees to access the rich investigative data to be found there. There wasn’t even any advertising. Yet Groklaw was the “go to” source for professional journalists, initially on SCO. As PJ’s credibility grew, journalists didn’t bother to replicate the research that they knew they could find, often instantly, at PJ’s site. And everything PJ wrote was made available under a Creative Commons copyright license. In short, Groklaw has always been about sharing for the public good.

Indeed, it wasn’t only journalists that bookmarked Groklaw. Whether you worked for SCO, IBM, Novell or anyone else directly involved with the SCO litigation, Groklaw was always the place anyone went to find out the latest.   And when I say “anyone,” that included the lawyers, both on staff and outside counsel alike – especially the lawyers.
Of course, Groklaw grew to transcend just the SCO litigation. The News Picks that peppered the right hand column of Groklaw expanded into many domains, from court cases to privacy to technology-based education to just about everywhere else where the concept of “openness” might be relevant. Because openness, like sharing, was another thing PJ decided the world should be all about.
What may have been less apparent to regular readers of Groklaw is the incredibly diverse and time consuming network of contacts that PJ acquired and maintained all of these years. I first became part of that network back in 2005, when I began writing this blog. A couple of months along (and still with few regular readers), I learned PJ’s email address. So I sent her a blog entry I’d just written, hoping she’d link to it. I was well aware of her and Groklaw’s reputation, and was pleasantly surprised when I got an immediate, affirmative response from PJ.
Over the next several years, while I was covering the ODF/OOXML beat, PJ and I exchanged hundreds of emails, often several times a day. Many of those exchanges related to current events, but many also related more generally to open source, and particularly free and open source, software. I was still a relative newbie at that time when it came to understanding the “communitarian” side of FOSS, and PJ patiently walked me through community values and goals. Gradually she got me past a number of preconceptions and misconceptions, and I have been ever grateful for her time and patience in doing so. 
Usually PJ’s emails were time stamped sometime between 1 and 5 AM. You see, I was just one of hundreds of people with whom she was in regular contact. Indeed, I doubt that there is anyone who is anyone in FOSS and royalty-free open standards circles who PJ isn’t in regular contact with. 
PJ’s willingness to take on new causes often amazed me. I recall one time when I had written something on a new topic (I no longer recall what) that I thought was important. I pitched it rather apologetically to PJ as something that she should consider writing about as well, saying I knew she had far too much on her plate already. Her response was a simple: “There’s always room for one more.”
Along the way, I gained ample evidence (as if any were necessary, Florian Mueller’s churlish comments aside) that PJ is a living, breathing, committed and passionate advocate for the causes that she and Groklaw stand for. I won’t share any personal details of our (always electronic) conversations, but suffice it to say that she has ample reasons to defend her privacy, and also that she deserves a well-earned rest.
Why a rest? It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to run a site like Groklaw unless you’ve done it. Back when I used to post breaking news items about three times a week it was brutal. Although you might not expect it, each one took 4 to 6 hours to research, write, revise, post and cross link. And those weren’t scheduled hours – they were “drop everything and write” hours that began the minute I uncovered the news in my very early morning email or Google Alerts review, or any other time during the day, when I was already up to my ears with other commitments. Those News Picks take time, too – for me, about an hour a day. I know that PJ read every single blog entry I ever sent her, because there were a lot she rejected (always for a stated reason).  And PJ reviews and posts a lot more News Picks than I do.
How important has Groklaw been? Here’s one personal measure: it’s the only Website that I’ve checked every single day since I began visiting it. Not because I followed the SCO litigation intensely, but because PJ and her assistants’ eyes for News Picks were unique in the world of technology and society. While the New York Times gave me the grand sweep of the news of the day each morning, and NPR provided up to the minute synopses of breaking national and global news, only Groklaw provided that certain unique, quirky and always vital snapshot of what was going on in the world of technology and, well, people.
Will Groklaw leave a hole in a lot of peoples’ day and experience of the Web? Absolutely. I haven’t agreed with everything that Pamela has written (she would say the same about my work), but her commitment to her causes has been absolute. So also her integrity in defending them, and her insistence on detailed research. 
Those are rare traits in our new, citizen-journalist, volunteer world of bloggery. As the traditional business of journalism becomes more beleaguered and compressed, PJ will be sorely missed. Let’s hope that her example inspires many more to take her place.
Thanks, PJ.
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