Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

Last week, Google NewsBlog announced:

Starting this week, we’ll be displaying reader comments on stories in Google News, but with a bit of a twist… We’ll be trying out a mechanism for publishing comments from a special subset of readers: those people or organizations who were actual participants in the story in question. Our long-term vision is that any participant will be able to send in their comments, and we’ll show them next to the articles about the story. Comments will be published in full, without any edits, but marked as “comments” so readers know it’s the individual’s perspective, rather than part of a journalist’s report.

I don’t really see how this is a radical departure from anything being done, uh, anywhere else? It’s not as if Google’s allowing interested parties to go in and change the news stories, just add comments after the story. You can already do that on blogs. You can already do that on WaPo.

But a blogger at IP Democracy is in a tizzy over Google’s new feature. In a post titled “Google Loses Mind; Now Accepts News Comments,” Cynthia Brumfield hems and haws over the fact that Google will not exercise editorial jurisprudence over the comments:

Doesn’t Google have some responsibility for the comments its publishes aside from merely ensuring the identity of the commenter? There are a lot of crazy, mean people out there who hold down responsible jobs and get quoted in news articles and blog items. So, can these people just say what they want after only having met the low threshold of 1. being cited in the article and 2. proving they are who they say they are?

Um, yes? Yes they can? They’ve been doing it for years? What?

(More on journalistic reaction to this here)

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I’ve decided that I’m taking a hiatus from libertarian posts. How often can I post that I’m against banning things and for individual rights? Don’t answer that. I’ll probably post something that irks me the wrong way soon.

So, anyway I like new techie things. Here’s a fun link to play with via my old friend from high school Jeff.

The link, Built With, has you identify a web site and it will tell you what it’s built with (ie CSS, HTML, AJAX, the list goes on).

Fun times had by all, really no joke.

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Ugh. In the grand scheme of intense angry blog fights that seem omnipresent in certain circles and make it damn hard to forget that it’s only about .000005 percent of the US population who has any indication that this is going on, — we’ve got quite a doozy on our hands.

Here is the summary, from what I can gather: A woman named Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff, age 55, (who also goes by the name “Heart”) started a blog and forum called Women’s Space. Heart does seem a bit, uh, odd – she’s running for presidency on the “Free Soil” ticket, for one thing. And she’s that kind of old-school-hippie-feminist who kind of makes you cringe a bit because dear-god-no-wonder-people-get-such-misconceptions-about-feminism-when-you-have-people-like-her-running-around. Still, off-kilter or not, she seems intelligent, as well as harmless and well intentioned, and her Women’s Space community obviously fills a need for like-minded souls, and that’s fine. Great. Good for them.

Except ….

A woman named Biting Beaver – the kind of person that also makes me cringe because she refers to women as “womyn” and such — wrote a post on one of Heart’s forums about how she was very upset to find her teenage son looking at porn on the Internet, and sometimes she wishes she would have aborted him. What we can see here is a woman who is clearly (if not a parody) somewhat mentally and emotionally disturbed. A few commenters make some disturbing comments as well.

And that’s that, right?

Well … no. I don’t know where the attacks began, but somewhere in the dark nether-regions of those-people-who-give-Internet-geeks-a-bad-name, someone coordinated an “attack” on Heart’s Web site, presumably to teach her a lesson for having positions they don’t agree with and allowing other people to post in her forums with positions they don’t agree with (the horror!). They sent enough traffic to her site to shut it down, and they filled the comments section with frightening remarks such as this:

Heart, this is horrible. I’m sorry that this is happening to you. These people want nothing to do but to hurt you and your cause. I feel for you. In fact, I want to feel you now. I’d like to tie you down, take a knife, and slit your throat. I’d penetrate you over and over in all orifices, and create some of my own to stick myself in.

Begging the question of Um, really? Really? Who is more nuts in this situation????? One emotionally disturbed woman makes a post on a site run and frequented by a group of slightly kooky individuals, and they are met with a coordinated Internet attack and hundreds and hundreds of threats containing truly disturbing and graphic descriptions of violence? Who is more nuts, a woman who says she wishes she’d had an abortion or a person who says they’d like to slit someone’s throats and penetrate all their orifices?

Of course, people are chiming in now and trying to say that the words of Biting Beaver and a few of her supporters at that site constitute proof that ALL FEMINIST BLOGGERS ARE MURDEROUS MAN-HATING HARPIES. For instance, the comments at Riehl World View read mostly like this:

At any rate, the batshit behavior exhibited by Biting Beaver is considered nowadays to be normal and protected by the feminist groups who share similar conditions. Meanwhile, legions of young men held in the crossfire of these womyn’s rage and anger will grow to be mentally and emotionally dysfunctional creatures who will either self-terminate themselves or be removed from society after fulfilling the very prophecies embedded into them by the very womyn who raised them.

And God help us all if they stumble upon Islam as a way to reclaim the manhood stripped of them by these womyn. If there is ever a growing trend for disaffected males to turn to the Religion of Peace in lieu of a patriarchal figure, the feminists will be responsible for condemning their fellow womynfolk to a religion which views them in the same regard that the womyn viewed the “evil rapist” men. Just notice how Islamic cultures don’t have the “rabid feminist” problem. And there is a very good reason for that.

And again, I ask you, what is loonier? Some old-school-hippie-feminists still using the term “womyn” (which is something they harp on in a good majority of the comments there), or someone who believes that “rabid feminists” are going to lead to Islamic jihad committed by America’s own children?

[I love this, though. Riehl asks in the post’s title, “Are some radical feminists child abusers?” to which Jill replies “Uh, yeah, probably. Lots of different kinds of people are child abusers — being an asshole certainly crosses ideological lines.”]

A Web site called Encyclopedia Dramatica has a round-up of the whole thing, although I warn you, this place is like the dark unkempt labyrinth of hatred, hysteria and lameness. It seems to be an entire wiki documenting Internet memes and flame wars while simultaneously spewing insults at women, gays and liberals, with links upon links that take you to more and more weird wiki entries, like the 7th Circle of Wingnut Internet Hell.

Update: According to Shakespeare’s Sister, a lot of the original “quotes” from Biting Beaver that provoked such outrage and such weren’t even real quotes, but from a parody site. (Edit 2 — which, as someone in the comments points out, may or may not be true).

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According to Mother Jones open-source politics issue, the median political blog reader is a 43-year-old man with a household income of $80,000 and 75 percent of political blog readers are male.

Seventy-five percent of the total political blogosphere audience is male? Because a good portion of the blogs I frequent are feminist blogs written by women and full of women readers and commenters, I guess I was just sort of surprised by these statistics (do you think they are counting feminist blogs as “political blogs?” or what about “mom blogs” that are partially about parenting but also about social issues and politics?).

I was also sort of surprised by the median age … most blog readers and writers I know are in their 20s. Interesting but not exactly suprising? 98 percent of Daily Kos readers and 87 percent of YouTube users are white.

Blogads has its own stats, which are roughly similar on the gender and age thing. Their stats are also broken down by political blog readers of various partisan persuasions. Of the Democrats who read political blogs, 66 percent were male; of Republicans, 81 percent were male; of Libertarians, 88 percent.

So ….

1. Why aren’t women reading political blogs?

2. OR, are women reading political blogs, but just not the sort that are being lumped into this “political blog” category? (I noticed that in the categories Blogads uses to lump blogs together into “hives” for ad sales, Feministing and Pandagon are both listed under “women’s issues” or something like that, although Pandagon is also listed under “liberal blogs”).

3. Why are libertarian blogs in particular so predominantly male?

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This has already been everywhere, but oh well. There are just so many interesting things about danah boyd’s social-neworking/class analysis I don’t know where to start. A few weeks ago I mused that “Myspace will remain as the go-to site for musicians, aspiring porn stars and people looking to hook-up with strangers; Facebook for college kids, hipsters, tech geeks, activists and academics.”

Turns out I’m mostly right, according to danah. She has been interviewing young people across the nation about their relationship with social networking and other technological phenomenon, and writes a series of academic and non-acedmic articles about her observations. One of her latest discussions is on class divisions evident in the Facebook/MySpace divide.

Until recently, American teenagers were flocking to MySpace. The picture is now being blurred. Some teens are flocking to MySpace. And some teens are flocking to Facebook. Who goes where gets kinda sticky… probably because it seems to primarily have to do with socio-economic class.

After hashing out the obvious origins of this divide (facebook’s original .edu account only membership policy), danah attempts to briefly deal with just what “class” actually means in U.S. society, which I thought was one of the most interesting parts of the essay. She cites sociologist Nalini Kotamraju, who argued that lifestyle and “social stratification” are more indicative of class in the U.S. than income.

In other words,” danah writes, “all of my anti-capitalist college friends who work in cafes and read Engels are not working class just because they make $14K a year and have no benefits. Class divisions in the United States have more to do with social networks (the real ones, not FB/MS), social capital, cultural capital, and attitudes than income.

Ezra picks up this thread and adds

I’m not making very much right now, but … there’s an issue of potential here. I’m choosing a low-income field, but it would be easy enough for me to take the LSAT, dart off to law school, and quintuple my salary. Not choosing that option doesn’t mean it’s not there. Should class actually be tired to the most-renumerative reality you could feasibly inhabit?

Similarly, I’ve been in grad school this year, and making practically nothing, like most of my fellow students. But no one would look at us, our lives, our possessions, and call us “working class.” We have ikea furniture and laptops and iPods and embarrassingly high weekly bar tabs, though combinations of previous incarnations in the working world, help from parents, student loans, meager part-time incomes, school stipends, etc. (for the record, my parents are not paying for anything for me, lest you think I’m one of those subsidized academic brats). And we have post-grad prospects that, while dismally not as bright-and-shiny as we’d like, at least mean that we’ll be able to make our way in the world and keep drinking expensive beer and maybe even open a savings account some day soon. Commenters at Ezra’s point out that, really, education is what we’re talking about here. And upward mobility. But education is the clearest predictor of upward mobility, so … class can be boiled down to education.

This is gonna get me off on a tangent here, but … I never realized how much the type of education you had predicts your future success until I moved to DC. I went to a state school in Ohio and entered the job market in Ohio and pretty much everybody else I was competing with went to school in Ohio and nobody much cared if you went to a private school or a state school or a community college. But in DC, which can afford to be much more picky, I’ve noticed that certain internships, certain types of jobs, certain networks, are nearly exclusively brimming with Ivy-leaguers or people with equally impressive academic credentials. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like because you didn’t do the right internships at 20, you’re never gonna get where you want to be. But this is neither here nor there. Back to the class thing … I think it’s about education, but also about mindset. Which is what danah was originally saying, I think. So back to danah’s essay. Danah posits that:

The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other “good” kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we’d call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities. MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, “burnouts,” “alternative kids,” “art fags,” punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn’t play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn’t go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. These are the teens who plan to go into the military immediately after schools. Teens who are really into music or in a band are also on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.

She points out that this is visually represented by the difference in Myspace and Facebook aesthetics. Personally I am horrified when someone (usually not a current friend but someone I went to high school with or something) posts a glittery blinking loony toon flash graphic on my MySpace comments section. Similarly by people whose pages have, like, sixteen slide shows of their friends or their kids, graphic memes, and blinking backgrounds. But danah points out that in certain cultures, “showy, sparkly, brash visual displays are acceptable and valued” (that explains all those moving-waterfall-florescent-wall-hangings that are so popular in my home town).

The look and feel of MySpace resonates far better with subaltern communities than it does with the upwardly mobile hegemonic teens. This is even clear in the blogosphere where people talk about how gauche MySpace is while commending Facebook on its aesthetics. I’m sure that a visual analyst would be able to explain how classed aesthetics are, but aesthetics are more than simply the “eye of the beholder” – they are culturally narrated and replicated. That “clean” or “modern” look of Facebook is akin to West Elm or Pottery Barn or any poshy Scandinavian design house (that I admit I’m drawn to) while the more flashy look of MySpace resembles the Las Vegas imagery that attracts millions every year. I suspect that lifestyles have aesthetic values and that these are being reproduced on MySpace and Facebook.

This is getting really long, but the last thing I want to share from danah’s essay is her analysis of class divisions in military use of social networking sites.

A month ago, the military banned MySpace but not Facebook. This was a very interesting move because the division in the military reflects the division in high schools. Soldiers are on MySpace; officers are on Facebook. MySpace is the primary way that young soldiers communicate with their peers. When I first started tracking soldiers’ MySpace profiles, I had to take a long deep breath. Many of them were extremely pro-war, pro-guns, anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, pro-killing, and xenophobic as hell. Over the last year, I’ve watched more and more profiles emerge from soldiers who aren’t quite sure what they are doing in Iraq.

I can’t help but wonder if part of the goal is to cut off communication between current soldiers and the group that the military hopes to recruit. Many young soldiers’ profiles aren’t public so it’s not about making a bad public impression. That said, young soldiers tend to have reasonably large networks because they tend to accept friend requests of anyone that they knew back home which means that they’re connecting to almost everyone from their high school. Many of these familiar strangers write comments supporting them. But what happens if the soldiers start to question why they’re in Iraq? And if this is witnessed by high school students from working class communities who the Army intends to recruit?”

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Mother Jones July/August issue is all about “open-source” politics. Haven’t read through much of it yet, but it looks like there’s some interesting stuff,

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Looking for even more ways to avoid interaaction with the real world? Ning is a “meta-networking” site that allows users to create their own social networks for whatever they want to. On the front page of the site right now (I’m assuming it changes daily) are networks for something called the Brooklyn Art Project, the “Sick Puppies Network,” and the “One Tree Hill VIP Lounge.” Ning’s passion, they tell us, is “putting new social networks in the hands of anyone with a good idea.”

With Ning, your social network can be anything and for anyone. You start by choosing a combination of features (videos, blogs, photos, forums, etc.) from an ever-growing list of options. Then customize how it looks, decide if it’s public or private, add your brand logo if you have one, and enable the people on your network to create their own custom personal profile pages.

I read about this today on Cultureby, and my first thought was, oh, that’s kind of cool, because I think I’m kind of conditioned to think that about every new Web platform that gets introduced. But then one of the commenters asked, “what is the value?”


What is the value added here? What do people get out of this? Why does everyone keep joining these things? At a certain point, do you really gain anything from joining a newer/bigger/more-compartmentalized/whatever network? Or do you just spend more time out of your day checking out 13.5 million sites, with absolutely nothing added for belonging to more than one? It’s kind of like blogrolls — the more blogs I read, the more other blogs I get led to, and the more blogs I, in turn, add to my RSS reader. At this point, I just look at my massive list of feeds every morning and feel daunted. I resort to skimming just about everything. I was probably better informed about life, the world and the blogosphere when I only read 5 blogs total.

(Another commenter at Cultureby pointed out that everyone keeps talking about how there needs to be one giant aggregator, something where you can combine Flickr, YouTube, blogging platforms, Facebook, LinkedIn, your RSS reader, etc., but if we got to that place, “would the security issues freak us all out?”)

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tag clouds …

the mullet of the Internet?

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    Private Investigator

I know our collective conceptions about what lawyers do has been seriously warped by TV shows (try watching Law & Order or Boston Legal with a real lawyer; about the 87th time they point out, “That couldn’t really happen..” you may want to beat them while screaming “Shut up, shut up,, you are ruining the perfection that is Detectives Benson and Stabler, dammit!”). I’m a horrible legal-TV-show junkie myself, so my perceptions may be particularly warped, but I always thought that, you know, lawyers defended and prosecuted. They did not go undercover and investigate. That’s for cops, detectives, and Philip Marlowe types. Like I said, I may be wrong, but I didn’t think lawyers — especially lawyers at private law firms — went undercover to investigate crimes.

Apparently, they do.

Via Madisonian.net, a Law.com article (with a fabulous opening line) about a Covington and Burling lawyer who impersonated “a flirtatious 27-year old female programmer” online in order to catch software pirates.

On the Internet, no one knows if you’re a dog. Or a well-tailored lawyer in the London office of Covington & Burling. That fact has guided Peter Anaman’s entire career over the last seven years. The 33-year-old British-trained attorney is the head of Covington’s Internet monitoring and investigation unit, and he uses multiple online personas to nail bad guys: sellers of counterfeit goods and pirated software, hackers, phishers, you name it. … Anaman regularly eavesdrops on chat rooms and message boards where software hackers and coders go, as a way of keeping his pulse on the community. There he finds out if, say, an ambitious teenager is attempting to decode the encryption of a software program or plans to release a counterfeit product before the bona fide version has been launched.

Evan Cox, the partner in charge of the group, says that the firm originally created the department to assist business software clients in online piracy investigations. It has since expanded to include monitoring and investigating other cybercrimes, such as phishing and virus attacks. Its clients include financial institutions, pharmaceutical companies and online security companies.

This story comes in the wake of a May opinion by the New York County Lawyer’s Association on lawyers’ use of PIs (or “non-government lawyer use of investigator who employs dissemblance,” as they call it). Their official position? It’s, eh, you know, frowned upon, but they’re not gonna give a hard no.

In New York, while it is generally unethical for a non-government lawyer to knowingly utilize and/or supervise an investigator who will employ dissemblance in an investigation, we conclude that it is ethically permissible in a small number of exceptional circumstances where the dissemblance by investigators is limited to identity and purpose and involves otherwise lawful activity undertaken solely for the purpose of gathering evidence.

According to another Law.com article, the NYCLA opinion is one of the first in the nation to address the use of undercover investigators by private lawyers. The opinion did not, however, say anything about lawyers as PIs themselves. Alfred at Madisonian notes:

I’ll be curious, however, to see what happens if dissembling by lawyers ever gets squarely considered.  It seems that the fig leaf is pretty thin if we allow lawyers to hire people to dissemble for them. However, given the language in the opinion frowning on dissembling as a general rule, it seems IP lawyers must tread with care when adopting various identities during online investigations.

I suppose it really shouldn’t make any difference whether a private investigator or a cop or a lawyer or your mom is the one doing the so-called dissembling … yet the whole covington & burling business still vaguely freaks me out. Thoughts?

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Do you think this young man realizes how truly creepy this quote sounds?

A lot of people spend hours browsing sites to stalk friends, ex-girlfriends and love interests online “but there isn’t a streamlined process that’s, like, one shot, boom,” said the now 19-year-old freshman at University of California, Berkeley.

Or, hell, maybe it doesn’t sound creepy at all. I guess we’re all Internet stalkers of sorts these days …

The 19-year old freshman is Jared Kim, p.s., creator of Stalkerati.com, a site that can search “all the social networking sites at once” to find someone you’re looking for.

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My best friend is a crazy cat lady. She also refuses to join facebook, despite my best prodding. I was joking the other day that maybe if I created a profile for my cat, she would at least join up to create one for hers. Ha! Turns out, this is now entirely feasible, with new facebook application Catbook.

Catbook allows you to create a profile for your cat, tag your cat in photos, find cats in your area, and much more!

But this is not really a post about cat profiles (although I cannot assure you with 100 percent certainty that my two kitties will not become social networkers the next time I get drunk), but about facebook in general. And why I think the people there are brilliant. And why it’s becoming the digital platform du jour.

That’s right, I said “platform.” Not “social networking site.” I was listening to Facebook’s Chris Kelley speak a few weeks back at the IS2K7 conference, and this is one of the first distinctions he made: with the introduction of all the new facebook apps a few weeks back, the company really wants to position itself as an Internet “platform.”

If you’re not on facebook, or haven’t checked out the apps yet, there’s a run-down of just about each and every new facebook application in detail (weighing the pros and cons, the creepiness and usability factors, etc.) over at All Facebook, a bizarre but strangely compelling blog devoted entirely to social networking news.

Girl from the South analyzes some of the new facebook apps here:

While they still need to get rid of the passive away message [interlude from me — I hate that!], Facebook went above and beyond that last week when they opened up the platform. Most of the applications are fluffy (dogstar and netflix queues?), but the possibilities are really amazing here. The Causes application is particularly exciting. A few months ago, nonprofit job was asked to sign on, so I got to play with Project Agape and set up our profile. While I’m not a fan of the name, it’s a great concept. It’ll be interesting to see how it takes off. I particuarly like the RSSbook. Facebook is quickly becoming the one-stop-shop for all web purposes.

I second Girl from the South’s glowing praise for the apps. A few months back, I was held at gunpoint and forced by Raee (or, you know, talked to about it a lot) to join things like Twitter and iLike. I signed up; I created accounts; I never came back. Now that I can use them both from the safety and comfort of my facebook profile, however, I’ve given them both another try. It’s just nice to have a whole bundle of Web 2.0 technologies and capabilities all in one site, and I’ve already noticed myself signing into facebook more often.

I’ll be the first to admit, I was a facebook naysayer in days of yore. I just didn’t understand the point. Poking people? What is that? Why? And in order to find out anything new about anyone, you had to go around looking at their profiles all the time, and who had the time or inclination for that? The news feed thing in the fall produced a lot of controversy, I know, but looks like it turned out to be a really good move, mostly because it actually keeps people actively engaged in the site. You log on, you don’t just see your own profile (like on MySpace), you see immediately what all your “friends” are doing. You may see on your news feed so and so tagged so and so in a picture, you decide to maybe look at the whole album; you see someone added someone new as a friend, and you didn’t realize they were on facebook, so then you go look at their profile. Whatever. The news feed means there’s more to do, in an easily accessible way. The applications just compound this 10 fold.

A Newsweek article comparing Myspace and Facebook recently noted:

In terms of minutes per visit—an area where MySpace used to trounce Facebook—”Facebook has caught up,” says comScore’s Andrew Lipsman. This is interesting because Facebook is “more of a utility,” as Barker explains it, and MySpace has much more media to burn minutes.

And, as another AllFacebook article pointed out,

It is also important to recognize that the role of groups, i.e. affiliation networks, plays a much more prominent role on Facebook. Facebook users typically belong to many different groups, ranging from social causes to sororities to the zany: ‘I remember playing Legend of Zelda.’ This diversity of groups serves a double service: it serves as a source of personal identity and more importantly, serves as catalysts for exposure to new people outside one’s immediate network “Unlimited” is a major keyword because following network theory, the more networks one belongs to the more likely one is to expand their personal connections and thus enhance overall network success.

In contrast, MySpace’s use of groups is more limited to building out profiles (takes more effort) and bulletin boards (dated and non-conducive to interaction). Based on the difference in group structure and design alone, it is easy to see why Facebook’s growth should continue to skyrocket (up 152% in April) while MySpace (only up 49% in April) is likely to level–out over time. Coupled with MySpace’s overall emphasis on profile individuality and personal network interaction, the future for users exploring and expanding with more out-of-network friends seems dubious at best. Especially with Facebook’s new Applications, such as Facebook Causes, I would only look for a larger disparity to soon emerge between the two superpowers.

Although MySpace currently has more visitors per month (66 million v. 23 million), MySpace’s growth is apparently leveling, while Facebook is adding 150,000 users per day.

I was also a MySpace enthusiast in days of yore (this was a short-lived period, however), but now I hardly ever sign in to MySpace unless I’m looking up a band. MySpace obviously still provides a better networking platform for musicians, and arguably other performing arts entities, like small theater groups, festivals, etc. Perhaps with Facebook now stealing a significant portion of MySpace’s spotlight, MySpace can get back to it’s musical roots. That’s my prediction, anyway. When the last social networking battles have been fought, Myspace will remain as the go-to site for musicians, aspiring porn stars and people looking to hook-up with strangers; Facebook for college kids, hipsters, tech geeks, activists and academics. Oh, and for my cats.

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Another thing we discussed yesterday in one of the afternoon sessions of the Internet & Society conference was academic journal articles. There are some people here (including the aforementioned free culture kids) who think that academic journal articles should be made readily and openly available in digitized form, because knowledge should be free and available to all, etc. etc. It sounds good and noble and all that, but what about the business interests of the academic publishers? The publishers need to make money somehow, to pay for the costs of the editing and peer review process and actually publishing the articles, either in print or digital form. They need to make money. And how would they make money if everything was just put online for free?

I was talking to another conference participant later — someone who is a member of the business community, not the university community – about how it’s kind of the universities themselves who perpetuate the problems with academic publishing. Professors could make all their writing and research available for free. They could simply post their articles online, on their own Web sites or blogs or the universities’ Web sites. But they don’t do this. And why? Because it doesn’t carry the prestige of being published in peer-reviewed journals, especially the more important ones. And being published is one of the key components of their future academic/career success, because the universities take this sort of thing into account when hiring and promoting and granting tenure to professors. There is no need per se for the academic publishing press in this day and age, really — all researchers and scholars could easily just put their findings online themselves. But so long as publishing in peer-reviewed journals is still a matter of prestige, the clear path to gaining media attention and career success (and also considered a manner of ensuring research accuracy), then it is necessary for professors to publish in these journals. And as long as these journals exist, it is necessary for them to have some method of making money.

Most larger universities have subscription services to the major academic journal clearinghouses, such as JSTOR and ProQuest and even LexisNexis, anyway, and they make these available to students as part of the cost of their education. So it’s not as if students don’t have access to these journals. Someone pointed out that Harvard is having to drop a lot of subscriptions because they are getting too expensive, and if Harvard is having to do this then a lot of schools are probably having to do the same, If this is the case — if the journals are getting so expensive that nobody can afford them — then the journals are going to have to lower their prices or find some other sort of business model to be relevant. It’s a market, like anything else. It’ll work itself out.

(These posts are kind of on the fly, so pardon the scatter-brained nature. I jotted down some thoughts yesterday evening in between the conference and heading to a friend’s house for beer and peanuts, and didn’t have access to Internet again ’til this morning, so I’m trying to type these up right quick while listening to what’s going on right now too.)

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I don’t know about these free culture kids.

For the afternoon session of the IS27K conference yesterday, we broke off into discussion groups based on professional sectors. I was with the students, obviously. There were 8 of us, all part of the “free culture” movement except for me. We started off discussing a software program called “Audible Magic.” The program automatically detects and filters copyrighted material (music, movies), and can be used on closed networks such as those at universities.

The company’s core copyright-sensing technology, CopySense®, accurately identifies digital or broadcast media content based on the perceptual characteristics of the content itself. Built on a patented electronic fingerprinting process, the technology is robust, efficient, and massively scalable.

The software can be set up on a university’s computer network to filter content sent between student computers (the students in the group said it had already been launched by 80+ universities, but it turns out the number is closer to, like, a handful).

There are legitimate concerns here: should a university be spending its time and resources to, essentially, safeguard some other entities’ “property?” Will the particular files being transmitted by particular ISP addresses be logged, and students identified, because that brings up privacy concerns (not to mention potential serious legal ramifications for identified students). And what incentive do universities have to implement this software in the first place? Are the RIAA or other content owners pressuring them?

But, no, the big concern in this breakout group was the “open flow of information.” A university can’t just step in and regulate what we can and can’t share with one another!

Well, yeah, it can. You’re using its networks to transmit this information; a university is well within its rights to control the use of its networks. If the university thought students were transmitting large quantities of child pornography or materials depicting violent criminal activity or something, I think most people could agree that the university could step in to prevent this illegal material from being shared on its networks. Why should it be any different with “illegal” music and movies? I mean, sure, you can make the case that this kind of sharing shouldn’t necessarily be illegal, or obviously isn’t of the same severity level. But you can still see why a university might want to at least take steps to circumvent it. I’m not saying this kind of hyper-vigilance is necessarily desirable. But it’s not completely incomprehensible either.

Some of the free culture people invoked “fair use,” and brought up the fact that some students might have legitimate reasons to share copyrighted material — maybe someone made a documentary for a class project that uses copyrighted music, and they’re trying to send the video to a friend? Maybe someone is in a pop culture class, and needs to share copyrighted TV content for a class assignment?

Righttttt … I mean, I don’t doubt that these kind of things do take place. But these are the exceptions, not the rule. You hear these kinds of arguments a lot — what about the transformative, mash-up kind of content that might get caught in a content filter? The key then, I think, is to find methods to make sure this kind of content does not get blocked, not prevent any attempts at blocking all together.

For the record, I’m not a champion of filters and other technologies that make it even easier for big companies like the RIAA to go after individual infringers. I think the whole system right now is in need of vast overhauls. But I’m saying that it makes sense why people would want to implement these kind of technologies considering the current legal climate, and making red herring arguments based on unrealistic examples isn’t helping anybody.

This is kind of a meandering post, I know. Anybody have any thoughts on this audible magic business?

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I don’t understand this kerfluffle over these ads. The ads, for online-dating-service startup Chemistry.com, feature a gaggle of attractive young people who were allegedly rejected from another online dating site, eHarmony.com. eHarmony is all riled up and asking media outlets to stop running the ads, which they feel make the site appear discriminatory and racist. Some friends of mine tried to argue the other day that this is true, because this ad features a black man:

I think that’s just ridiculous. I suppose there is a chance that racism could be inferred, but the ad does nothing to connote this in any way, and the site also runs about six other ads with white people, including this one:

In fact, the only ad that implies eHarmony is being outright discriminatory is this “still gay” ad:

.. which eHarmony hardly has any right to complain about, considering the site openly has a hetero-only policy. As noted by Pam at Pandagon, apprarently the site (which gives extensive compatability tests to mate-seekers) thinks “gay folks don’t have ’29 dimensions of compatibility’ that hets do.”

A private dating service can come up with whatever criteria it wants to decide who can join — their are all sorts of services dedicated exclusively to various things, like a certain religion or people over a certain age, etc. These measures are well within a site’s prerogative, and many probably help narrow the dating pool for members. If eHarmony wants to exclude gay people or muliple-divorcees (which it also does) or left-handed people or blonds or people with funny birthmarks, that’s fine. It’s just, well .. one can hardly be discriminatory against gays and then pissed when called out about it (I mean, one can, one just doesn’t really have a valid claim to).

Besides, for all the people eHarmony might turn off with its policies, it will attract those like this person, who believe rejecting gays and divorcees is a “quality control” issue.

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“It is simply no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse,” writes Al Gore in his forthcoming book, The Assault on Reason, excerpted in Time this week. The central tenet of the except is “Why do reason, logic and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions?”

It’s the kind of question that seems plausible and productive at first, but when you really think about it seems to have more in common with teen girl “prom baby” sex scandals and new research proving the perils of daycare than anything else: a bold and seemingly timely narrative (diminishing logic, reason and truth in America!) purporting possibly dire consequences (lack of important decision making capabilities!) that has actually been told time and time again with slightly new players. It’s one of those problems that masquerades itself as new and pressing but has really been bandied about time and time again for the better part of the past two centuries.

In The Sociology of News, Michael Shudson pointed out that people complained of ‘sensationalism’ in the nineteenth century, of ‘yellow journalism’ at the turn of the century, and of ‘tabloid news’ or ‘jazz journalism’ in the 1920s, all worrying about the consequences these forms of “low culture” would have on public discourse and thought. Early- to mid-century communication theorists like Marcuse and Horkheimer & Adorno theorized about the devastating effects the “culture industry” wrought on “the masses” ability to see outside the insular and entertaining. In the 50s and 60s, George Gerbner and his cultivation theory attempted to explain the effects television would have on public perceptions of reality. In the 90s, Funkhouser and Shaw argued that “synthetic experiences,” such as those found on TV, film and computers, represented a distortion of reality that would have serious consequences on media audiences and society as a whole; that it would lead to lowered tolerances for boredom or inactivity, heightened expectations of perfection, expectations of quick, effective, neat resolutions of problems, and limited contact with, and a superficial view of, one’s own inhabited environment. “Impaired understanding and appreciation of our own immediate milieu may leave us on balance more ignorant of reality than were citizens of pre-electronic ages,” the predicted. The past ten years or so have seen countless public outcries over the rise of “soft news” and the “tabloidization” of American media and discourse. Gore worries in this excerpt that “the well-informed citizenry is in danger of becoming the well-amused audience,” a point which Neil Postman dissected in his book “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” in 1985.

It’s not to say that some — or any — of these concerns are unfounded. “It is simply no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse,” Gore wrote, and there’s no disagreeing with him there.

At first I thought the exhaustive, nonstop coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial was just an unfortunate excess—an unwelcome departure from the normal good sense and judgment of our television news media. Now we know that it was merely an early example of a new pattern of serial obsessions that periodically take over the airwaves for weeks at a time: the Michael Jackson trial and the Robert Blake trial, the Laci Peterson tragedy and the Chandra Levy tragedy, Britney and KFed, Lindsay and Paris and Nicole. While American television watchers were collectively devoting 100 million hours of their lives each week to these and other similar stories, our nation was in the process of more quietly making what future historians will certainly describe as a series of catastrophically mistaken decisions on issues of war and peace, the global climate and human survival, freedom and barbarity, justice and fairness.

Also true, and also disturbing. I just think it’s a stretch to make the claim that this is somehow new to Right Now. Like the social conservatives who seem to think the 1950s were some sort of paragon of smiling dads in bowler hats, decidedly not-desperate housewives and universal prosperity, this school of media thought seems to imply that prior to the advent of television (or the Internet, or Fox News), American citizens were spending their nights sitting around reading the Declaration of Independence while sewing American flags and discussing the state of international affairs. (more…)

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Attorney General Alberto Gonzales today proposed a new bill which would toughen criminal sanctions for intellectual property law violations, including making “attempted” copyright infringement a crime. Right, because prosecuting actual infringement on the Internet is so easy these days, and totally not up for debate. Prosecuting attempted infringement is obviously feasible and logical.

The Intellectual Property Bill of 2007 would also:

Create a new crime of life imprisonment for using pirated software. Anyone using counterfeit products who “recklessly causes or attempts to cause death” can be imprisoned for life. During a conference call, Justice Department officials gave the example of a hospital using pirated software instead of paying for it.

And, of course, what Bush administration bill would be complete without ….. wiretapping provisions!

Wiretaps would be authorized for investigations of Americans who are “attempting” to infringe copyrights

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A while ago, when I was looking for participants for a survey on user-generated content, I had a hell of a time finding people who actually upload videos. Well, turns out I’m not just a bad survey promoter: a new study has found that “upload rates at participatory cyberstops like YouTube and Flickr were well under 1 percent — 0.16 percent for video-sharing site YouTube and 0.2 percent for photo-sharing site Flickr.”

By and large, most visitors to participatory Web sites are watchers, maintained Randall C. Bennett, former lead blogger for DV Guru and founder of Tech Check Daily, a daily video podcast about technology.

As a rule of thumb, he estimated that about 1 percent of a site’s visitors are “creatives” — enthusiastic and frequent uploaders of site content; some 20 percent are “contributors” who might do some uploading and add comments and tags to a site’s content; and the rest of the visitors are just watchers.

Other findings:

• Biggest users of Wikipedia are 18- to 24-year-olds (25.89 percent) and 35- to 44-year-olds (25.53 percent), while most of the editing is done by those over 35

• Most YouTube visitors are 18- to 24-year-olds (30.55 percent), while most video is uploaded to the site by 35- to 44-year-olds (35.65 percent).

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In order to pass the “fair use” test, a work using copyrighted material must pass muster on several different elements, one of which being whether the work is “transformative” or not. Not that I’m any sort of expert on the meaning of “transformative” — and, as I learned speaking with copyright lawyers extensively the past few days, neither are they — but a basic example would be something like this: MoveOn’s “Stop the Falsiness” video using Colbert clips = transformative; posting entire segments of the Colbert Report on YouTube = non-transformative.

Some discussion this week revolved around what to make of The Sopranos in 7 Minutes video, which is, by any stretch, not transformative. And yet Sopranos creator David Chase loved the video, and encourage HBO to let it be. But before too much talk could go into touting Chase for being some sort of artistic-merit-championing-copyright-restrction-reducing hero, someone quickly pointed out that, well, of course Chase loves it. The clip — which summarizes 7 seasons of the Sopranos in seven minutes, which snippets of all the major plot lines – is, essentially, promotion. Chase and HBO have nothing to lose from people viewing the video. As one of the more cynical in the room noted, “if there was somehow money involved in this, you can bet Chase would have a different opinion.”

The New York Observer points out that Saturday Night Live clips posted on YouTube — especially the now infamous “Dick in a Box” segment — were helping to user back in a new age of SNL appreciation. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know; but creatore Lorne Michaels seems to agree.

“I think that YouTube is great, because if you do something like ‘Dick in a Box,’ someone in Pakistan can see it,” said Mr. Michaels in a phone interview.

NBC has apparently taken action this week, however, to get all SNL clips off of YouTube.

One could make both of the Sopranos-7-minute arguments on this one. Of course Lorne Michaels doesn’t mind various SNL clips being posted on YouTube, because they’re essentially promotion. Of course NBC isn’t so happy, because if there’s money to be made, they want to make it. And here’s something that … well, is probably pretty obvious, but something I never had thought about before. Whenever I heard this sort of discussion, I always just thought it meant a big TV station didn’t want people watching clips on YouTube because then they weren’t watching them on the big TV station. What I failed to take into account was Web advertising, and how that’s also a form of making money. So a lot of times when networks complain about viewers watching shows on YouTube, they’re not upset that people are watching online instead of on the box, but that people aren’t coming to their own network sites to watch the clips, where they can see the ads put up by the network advertisers.

So, me stating the obvious that previously hadn’t occurred to me notwithstanding, NBC’s SNL-YouTube-purge would make sense if NBC planned to put the SNL clips on its own Web site in an attempt to draw viewers and their expensive eyes to the advertising dollars there. But what is NBC doing?

NBC Universal announced that they were teaming up with the News Corporation to create a new Web venture that would allow executives at the two media behemoths to distribute their own copyrighted shows across some of the Web’s most heavily trafficked sites, including AOL, Yahoo, MSN and MySpace—that is, more or less everywhere except on the Google-owned YouTube. The venture is expected to launch later this summer.

This doesn’t make much sense to me. Am I somehow missing the obvious again?

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I’ve been working with AU’s Center for Social Media on a research project about user-generated content and copyright law, which is neat because I’ve gotten to attend a conference today (and also tomorrow) with IP lawyers and general counsel and the business and communication departments of places like Microsoft and Facebook and the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Harvard Law School and Creative Commons etc. etc. etc.

What we found in our (very limited) study is that … well, nobody really knows what the hell they’re talking about when it comes to copyright and UGC, and while this might partly be due to just a lack of general education, its also because there are a lot of gray areas, and even copyright lawyers and business execs and all the rest are somewhat confused about how to best deal with all the new realms of potential copyright liability without discouraging/prohibiting creativity.

The report — “The Good, the Bad and the Confusing — User-Generated Video Creators on Copyright” — is available on CSM’s Web site. It’s short, and a quick read; you should check it out! (shameless self-promotion and whatnot).

Anyway, in conducting interviews, it came up that a lot of people I know don’t really know about Creative Commons, or about fair use (although everyone says they know about fair use, but then goes on to explain a concept that is definitely not).

This is my favorite Creative Commons video. It features lots of cute bobbled-headed cartoons telling you about what CC is and how it started.

CSM also has a lot of resources and best practices guides about fair use, as they apply to documentary filmmakers and other subgroups of creators.

More tomorrow about some of the actual issues. Too tired right now….

P.S. Fun CSM video on “Remix Culture,” featuring some old-school-in-Internet-terms throwbacks, like the fat kid singing that techno song (I know that’s a poor description, but I don’t know what the song is and don’t know how to better describe it but still think people will know what I’m talking about)

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I was looking for “Facade” when “The Restaurant” popped up on searching through Google. I’m really interested in AI technology in gaming. It’s vastly improving and any chance to really understand the communication behind making technology more real brings out the geek in me.

This project attempts to address two frustrations I experienced as a professional game developer. 1) Convincing human social behavior is difficult to model with existing hand crafted AI systems. 2) Play testing by people outside of the development team typically comes too late to have a major impact on the final product. This experiment aims to generate AI behaviors that conform to the way players actually choose to interact with other characters and the environment; behaviors that are convincingly human because they capture the nuances of real human behavior and language!

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