February 24, 2004

Blogging slowdown again

I need to slow down on blogging again. It takes an incredible amount of effort to work one's way up the power-law curve. Blogs are for talkers. I appreciated the recent mention from Lessig. But despite all the blog-punditry I've done recently, despite that mention, I'm still way down at the level of 100 readers or so. Maybe it's 150 now. It's a long way from the A-list (or Slashdot).

Once more, I'm not abandoning this completely. Especially for posting relevant notices and such. But the punditry is very draining and distracting.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in website | on February 24, 2004 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4) | Followups
February 23, 2004

321 Studios v MGM, DMCA, fair use, and the _Eldred_ pony-hunt

Last year, there was a DMCA / fair use "pony hunt" to find a way to argue that a sentence in the Eldred decision would undo the legal hack where the DMCA hacks-away fair use. Unfortunately, we are still left with a pile of manure: (my emphasis below)

http://www.eff.org/IP/DMCA/MGM_v_321Studios/20040219_Order.pdf

"This Court concludes that the challenged portions of the DCMA do not unconstitutionally burden the fair use rights of users of the copyrighted material. In reaching this result, the Court rejects as too sweeping plaintiff's claim that such users have a First Amendment right to make fair use of copyrighted works based on Eldred v. Ashcroft, 123 S. Ct. 769 (2003). The Eldred case stated that "in addition to spurring the creation and publication of new expression, copyright law contains built-in First Amendment accommodations . . . the `fair use' defense allows the public to use not only facts and ideas contained in a copyrighted work, but also the expression itself in certain circumstances." Eldred, 123 S. Ct. at 788-89. However, the Court went on to state: "[t]he First Amendment securely protects the freedom to make or decline to make one's own speech; it bears less heavily when speakers assert the right to make other people's speeches. To the extent such assertions raise First Amendment concerns, copyright's built-in free speech safeguards are generally adequate to address them." Id. at 789. While the Court further declared that copyrights are not immune from challenges under the First Amendment, it is a stretch to claim that Eldred mandated absolute First Amendment protection for fair use of copyrighted works. As the First Amendment bears "less heavily" in situations such as this, this Court determines that the burdens concededly imposed by the DMCA do not unconstitutionally impinge fair use rights. Although not all content on DVDs may be available in other forms, plaintiffs have conceded that it is possible to copy the content in other ways than in an exact DVD copy. This Court agrees with this analysis in Corley: We know of no authority for the proposition that fair use, as protected by the Copyright Act, much less the Constitution, guarantees copying by the optimum method or in the identical format of the original. . ."

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight , dmca , legal | on February 23, 2004 04:45 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1) | Followups

321 Studios (DVD-X COPY) loses (badly!) DMCA legal ruling

321 Studios, the makers of DVD backup program DVD-X COPY, have lost (and lost big) in a legal decision.

http:/ /www.eff.org/IP/DMCA/MGM_v_321Studios/20040220_eff_pr.php

Court Endorses Ban on DVD Copy Technology

Electronic Frontier Foundation Urges Digital Copyright Law Reform

San Francisco - Consumers suffered a setback to their digital rights today when a California federal court sided with the major motion picture studios in ruling that a company creating tools people can use to make backup copies of their DVDs is liable under copyright law. Citing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the court ordered 321 Studios, creator of DVD backup tools, to stop selling its DVD Copy Plus and DVD-X COPY products within seven days. 321 Studios is likely to appeal the ruling.

[Source material at:
http://www.eff.org/IP/DMC A/MGM_v_321Studios/
http:// www.eff.org/IP/DMCA/MGM_v_321Studios/20040219_Order.pdf

Read it and weep, folks. In the Order, every single geek argument is slammed, and slammed hard. In particular:

"This Court finds, as did both the Corley and Elcom courts, that legal downstream use of the copyrighted material by customers is not a defense to the software manufacturer's violation of the provisions of - 1201 (b)(1)."

Fair Use is no defense to the DMCA tools provision, sayeth this Court.]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight , dmca , legal | on February 23, 2004 04:15 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
February 22, 2004

Ralph Nader Arguments

Ralph Nader is running for US president, as an Independent candidate. I've found the reaction to be degenerating quickly into an endless repetition of a few key arguments (I'll describe them with my stance being evident).

1) Just One Straw

A large part of the discussion is people repeating the One Straw On The Camel's Back argument in various forms. Either directly ("How could Ralph Nader cause such problems?"), or in a kind of contrapositive form ("If Ralph Nader made the difference, Gore was too weak to win anyway") or in terms of deflections ("What about this? And that? And the other thing? Gore's home state? Internet! Mistaken denial of voters as felons?" etc etc.)

2) I'm Being Censored!

Ralph Nader claimed censorship by his critics. Allegedly, those opposed to his candidacy are violating the liberal virtues of debate, pluralism, open-mindedness, and general freedom. Let a thousand flowers bloom, and a dozen vote-splitters run.

This also comes in the ever-popular Tolerating-Intolerance variation, where anyone who criticizes (what they argue to be) stupidity is thus being intolerant. Supposedly, liberals are somehow obligated to be so open-minded that their brains fall out (this may explain some of the problems in winning elections ...).

3) Fix The Bug (Ignore The Crash)!

The mathematics of voting systems teaches us that in a simple plurality system, it is very easy for opposition forces to split the vote in terms of reformist and radical candidates, leading to the triumph of a status-quo candidate opposed by both camps.

Some people consider this a bug, while others consider it a feature. In either case, though, it is a fact. The question is then what to do in the face of this fact. Repeated saying It's Broken, It's Wrong, It's Not The Right Way, may be true, but don't let Ralph Nader off the hook.

Re-engineering the voting system is a laudable goal. However, it won't happen by the 2004 election. We can't say "Buggy system! We won't use it now!". It's like a legacy choice imposed by management.

The options within this framework may not be pretty. But ignoring how Ralph Nader is likely splitting the vote simply denies what will happen in terms of probable effect.

90% of the punditry seems to be these three items, pro or con. As usual, nobody's mind is changed.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in politics | on February 22, 2004 10:08 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2) | Followups

Ralph Nader "Meet The Press" candidacy announcement escapes via Google News?

Folks, do the following search on Google News:

source:alternet Nader "Meet The Press"
http://news.google.com/news?hl=en&ie=ISO-8859-1&edition=us&q=source%3Aalternet+Nader+%22Meet+The+Press%22

At 2:32 am EST Sunday, I get:

A Risk-Free 'Nader' in 2004
AlterNet - 57 minutes ago
... And Ralph Nader's candidacy as an Independent, announced on Meet The Press Sunday, only lessens the chances of success in November. ...

Trying to click through to the story, I get:

The story you have selected is only available to AlterNet Syndication Clients. If you are already a client, please sign in below.

Hmm ... it wasn't much of secret before, but it sure isn't now!

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google , politics | on February 22, 2004 02:38 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
February 21, 2004

"Cites & Insights" March 2004, on hijacking of censorware.org domain

Walt Crawford's library 'zine (not blog) "Cites & Insights" in the March 2004 issue, has follow-up coverage regarding the hijacking of the Censorware Project domain renewed by Michael Sims. It's on page 15, "The Censorware Project Hijacking".

He recounts the various protests against Slashdot "editor" Michael Sims' hijack of censorware.org, and then writes:

You may know how I feel about slashdot: It's not the first place I'd go for sensible discussion and thoughtful disagreement. But the editors there have a louder voice (as much as 1,000 times louder) in the online community than people like Seth Finkelstein. He says he cannot continue to do unpaid Censorware and DMCA work that might get him sued, when that's combined with existing and potential damage from well-publicized attacks by a slashdot editor. That's a shame.

Thank you, Walt.

I've made a page annotating and collecting the statements, in case people are searching for the full text:

http://sethf.com/freespeech/censorware/project/

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism , censorware | on February 21, 2004 05:11 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
February 20, 2004

Echo Chamber vs. Choir

Some of the recent discussion I've seen about "echo chambers" seems to be blurring that concept with what I'd call a "choir".

As a simple technical statement, cheaper communication makes it easier to form "choirs", groups of like-minded people. There are two opposite ways in which one can go wild with this, in terms of filling column-space:

1) Utopian - The happy little blogging bears will "self-organize" into an, err, Regurgitant Pundocracy, where The People will defeat The Special Interests, as writing about one's cat will make George Bush vulnerable (and Howard Dean president).

2) Dystopian - The dregs of society will be able to form gangs as never before, and other groups will become isolated and polarized, leading to the wholesale breakdown of commonality necessary for a functioning democratic civilization (The book Republic.com is perhaps the most well-known example of this genre).

Again, these "choirs", groups of people coming together for a common purpose, can be positive or negative. Crucially, everyone involved is assumed to understand the purpose, and in theory is passionately committed to it (though the practice often falls short).

In contrast, an "Echo chamber" is more the illusion of many voices, but in actuality, each voice is just the same thing, a reflection of the initial statement. Most blogs and most reporters simple do echoing of authority.

Important result: People echoing each other can sound like they are forming a choir, though these are conceptually distinct.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on February 20, 2004 04:41 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
February 18, 2004

Google and stupid journalism tricks ("Lies, Damned Lies, and Google")

There's an interesting taking-to-task of lazy journalism in:

"Lies, Damned Lies, and Google"
http://www.mediabistro.com/articles/cache/a1217.asp
with, sadly, a few error itself. First, some goofs:

What's more, as you might remember from December news reports, the phrase "miserable failure" for a while directed searchers to the White House home page, and "French military victories" brought up zero pages.

The "miserable failure" Google-bomb went primarily to the "Biography of President George W. Bush" page, not the White House home page. But a howler, the "french military victories" Google-bomb never returned zero pages.. The top page was a joke which claimed there were zero pages, and the punchline was the suggestion
"Did you mean: french military defeats"?

A deeper flaw which caught my eye, is that all throughout this article, many reporters don't seem to realize that a search for words without quotes, is significantly different from searching for words as a phrase, i.e. with quotes. Given several words, Google will rank highly the results with the words next to each other, returning them at the top of the list. This seem to have misled many people at to what they're doing. That is, searching hot dog is not the same as "hot dog". The former is roughly any page with the words "hot" and "dog" related to it, while the latter is the phrase "hot dog" (this is an approximate description).

So many of the number reported are utterly and completely meaningless. They don't even do the silly measure of the phrase the journalist thinks they measure. That is, the journalist might believe they are doing something tangentially related to frankfurters by searching for the phrase "hot dog" (neglecting use as e.g. a surfing term or different product). But in fact, they're searching for everything up to "It was a hot day, my dog was unhappy".

The Spokesman Review, in Spokane, Washington, confirms that the phrase "build backyard ice rink" yields 5,400 Google hits. ... If you're Canadian and stuck on the wrong side of the border without proper ID, don't worry, Google will save you, reports the Canada's Times Colonist; the phrase "permanent resident cards CA" will bring you to a "staggering" 92,200 sites on the subject.

NO. The phrases return zero or a few hits. The words return that many hits, but having lot of pages with the four words "permanent" "resident" "cards" "CA" somewhere on them, is not "staggering".

Sigh. Flash - journalists write nonsense. Not news at 11.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google , journo | on February 18, 2004 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1) | Followups
February 17, 2004

Dean-ial: "Trippi McMahon Squier" Is Not "A Movement"

One more Dean-ial post: Folks, what does Trippi McMahon Squier do? That is, what is Joe Trippi's profession? Here's a hint:

http://www.tmsnewmedia.com/about.html

At Trippi, McMahon & Squier, our specialty is communications strategy and persuasive advertising that delivers a targeted message. For political campaigns. For issue advocacy groups. For trade associations. For corporate clients in both the U.S. and the international arena. ...

What's missing here?

Do you see anything like "Our specialty is enabling people to work in coalitions and collective actions. For labor organizing. For civil rights. For anti-corporate protests in both the U.S. and the international arena."? No?

Then why do you think you're going to get anything other than advertising?

This is the reasoning flaw underlying much failure to implement political change: People are suckers for someone selling them the style of something, rather than the substance.

As the Howard Dean campaign destructs, there's a lot of disillusioned net-souls looking for a new guru. Burst bubbles hurt people, which is one reason that blowing bubbles is bad. But it is not an issue of finding the right guru, rather it's a matter of all false prophets.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in politics | on February 17, 2004 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
February 16, 2004

Howard Dean Domains

Inspired by Joe Trippi's blog domain, I went digging though the domain database to see if there was anything "interesting" to be found there. No scandal, but some amusing material associated with the Dean campaign. Most of the list was just DeanForInsertstatehere.com or BlahForDean.com. But amusingly, the domains:

DEANFLIPFLOPS.COM
HOWARDFLIPFLOPS.COM
WATCHDEANFLIPFLOP.COM

were all registered by "Dean For America" on "31-Oct-03".

And on "16-SEP-03", the Dean webmaster had registered

FLIPFLOPFORAMERICA.COM and FLIP-FLOPFORAMERICA.COM

I wonder what the story is there, just for the humor value.

Other funny domains:

DEANDEANDEANDEAN.COM
DEANDEANDEANDEANDEAN.COM
DEANDEPRESSION.COM
DEANISWRONG.COM

And interestingly:

DONTRALPH.COM
OPENSOURCEPOLICY.COM
POLICYFORAMERICA.COM

None of these seem to be in use.

If anyone wants it, I've made the list available (not meant to be exhaustive) at:

http://sethf.com/domains/dean/

Again, not exactly hot material, but it has its moments.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in infothought , politics | on February 16, 2004 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
February 14, 2004

Royal Caribbean, Oceana, and Google Ads

"Royal Caribbean" is a cruise company, which is being criticized by the environmental group Oceana. Apparently, Google pulled advertising of the criticism. Quoth Oceana's press release:

Last week, Oceana placed two advertisements with Google, the first describing Oceana's mission and linking to the organization's website, www.oceana.org, the second focusing on Oceana's well-known campaign to stop cruise pollution. Google removed the ads after two days, citing the cruise pollution ad for "language that advocates against Royal Caribbean," and the general ad for using "language advocating against the cruise line industry and cruisers." Google's public editorial guidelines, however, make no mention of any such specific prohibition, stating only that the company reserves the right to exercise editorial discretion when it comes to the advertising it accepts.

"To exercise editorial discretion is one thing, but to stifle a message that the public needs and deserves to hear based on some secret criterion is quite another," said Sharpless. " ...

Now, Google doesn't really have a secret criterion. Just a policy which leaves a lot of room for "interpretation". Frankly, I'm a bit taken back that this story has attracted so much coverage and interest - the Oceana PR seemed to have worked well. This is by far not the first time Google has pulled an ad. There's cases such as:

Blather.Net and George W. Bush

Who would Jesus bomb?

Anita Roddick and the "vomitous worm" story

And LittleCubeNews.com on McDonald's , Quatloos.com , SeeYaGeorge.com , etc.

Anyway, Oceana's now getting more exposure than they ever would from the ad. And there's other ways to make the point (I wonder how high this post will rank on a search for: Royal Caribbean)

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on February 14, 2004 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4) | Followups
February 13, 2004

Joe Trippi, Net Politics, and The Money

I don't want to turn my blog into "bash Joe Trippi" one-notes. But the more I read, the more I distrust what he's doing for net politics. Yes, there are some interesting technical innovations. But there's interesting technical innovations in creating weapons of mass destruction too. The advances here are in new forms of bubble-blowing.

Note in particular the following section of the Joe Trippi Etech talk (my emphasis):

There's a reason George Bush is vulnerable today and it's because of the blogs. It's because of Howard Dean. It's because tools were out there that let hundreds of thousands of Americans get involved and let a debate happen in this country again that wasn't happening.

Once more - RUN AWAY! Just run away. Anyone who can make that statement with a straight face, is either remorselessly manipulative, or so deluded as to be outright dangerous, in the sense of a cult-leader. It's like someone who says "I'm Jesus Christ returned to Earth, so follow me to save your soul, err, democracy.". We can have a debate over whether they're a heartless con-man who preys on the vulnerable, or are "merely" sincerely completely disconnected from reality. But either way, or any mixture, the end result is the same: It is a bad idea to follow them.

Let's consider the money. In some ways, the exaggeration of the amounts Joe Trippi supposedly made, has deflected attention from the deeper problem, the set-up of "heads I win, tails you lose". No, he did not collect $7 million dollars in campaign cash himself. The $7 million is the total ad buy, of which his firm gets a commission (said to be in fact 7%, not 15%), of which he gets a 1/3 split:

http://changeforamerica.com/blog/archives/000015.html

2. I recently inquired about the contract and my compensation. It turns out it was a 7% contract. Meaning that if $7 million in TV was bought 93% went to TV stations to buy the time and 7% or $490,000 was paid to the firm in which I was a partner. My firm has 3 partners so my third or share comes to approximately $165,000. I will let the grassroots and donors of the campaign decide if that was too much compensation. $165,000 is a lot of money, but it is not the $7 million the media and those leveling the attacks want you to believe either.

Indeed, $165,000 is not a king's ransom. But it's not bad either. Heck, for the work involved, I'll say it's not even undeserved! But now things get interesting (emphasis mine):

So why are they trying to make $165,000 sound like $7 million?

Because how do you stop a movement? How do you stop people from contributing to change their country? Its easy -- make them think the whole damn thing was a ponzi scheme to enrich a consultant.

3. My partner Steve McMahon had handled Governor Dean's media for over 12 years. And Trippi McMahon & Squier were hired as the media firm long before I volunteered to run the campaign when not many would. This is important -- because this fact means that as a 1/3 partner in my firm -- I would have made the $165,000 in 2003 if I had gone golfing in Fiji for the entire year instead of going sleepless in Burlington.

NO. That $165,000 is the final yield on the $41 million fundraising which he did, from the grassroots. He wouldn't have gotten it if someone hadn't raised it - it's his contribution as a member of the firm in the first place! He's not a partner just to look pretty. And the numbers are exactly the same thing, in terms of inflated figures, as when the media reports "XYZ was involved with $7 million of illegal drugs seized in a raid!". That $7 million is an inflated overall value. It certainly doesn't mean $7 million for any one drug-dealer. The overall sums have to be split with partners, middlemen, low-level dealers, and so on. And someone as familiar with bubbles as Joe Trippi certainly knows this media-hype convention.

What's far more important here, is how the the risks are arranged. No matter what happens, he comes out well. Look at it this way:

1) If he wins, in the best case, he comes out with tremendous power, as well as maybe *$800,000* for the ride (he wanted to raise $200 million, and $41 million = > $165,000, so I assume (200/41)*165 => ~ 800).

2) If he loses, in the worst case, he comes out with fame (or notoriety), has a shot at being a national pundit, can go on the lecture circuit, and gets a low six-figure consolation prize (which ended up at around $165,000).

Not a bad deal at all. And it's made possible by YOU, yes, you, citizen-blogger, taking back democracy from your computer, revolution 2.0 in America! Just send a check, err, a PayPal transfer to this address ...

It's not wrong for a salesman to get a commission. And yes, we have to deal with the money involved in the whole process. But that doesn't make this salesman right, nor this product a good one. In fact, the end results have been downright shoddy, and the number of people taken-in is only a measure of how much of a dream existed to be fleeced.

[Personal note: I've put in a lot of net-freedom work myself. I finally was driven-out because, far from a golden-parachute, I was spending hundred of dollars in expenses out of my own pocket while unemployed, and not a big-time pundit, but being attacked every single day. This does affect my perspective in the above!]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather , politics | on February 13, 2004 09:54 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4) | Followups
February 11, 2004

Joe Trippi Quotes Me (almost) At ETech Q&A!

People say that I have more readers and influence than I know. Perhaps that's true. But be careful what you wish for, because you might get it. I just found out that Joe Trippi used some blog comments focused on me, as part of a story he told at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, during the "Digital Democracy Teach-In". I'm not mentioned by name there, and it's not harmful to me. So thankfully, this is not a case of my being flamed from on-high, with no way to reply. But I was very surprised to see how some months-ago remarks I wrote, had made their way into his Etech discuasion, and how they were presented.

[Update note 2/15: I initially transcribed this myself from the audio, so it differs slightly from the now-released official transcript]

At around 19:42 minutes (of the audio) into the Q&A session, discussing blogs and ideas, Joe Trippi says:

[There were so many different ideas ... such as] Larry Lessig letting the governor blog on his blog. The governor just wanted to learn, he literally wanted to get the living daylights kicked out of him, learning what blogging was really like, in the real world.

One of the coolest things that happened in that one was everybody wanted to know - his [Dean's] blog comments were thought to be so - how do I put this - inane, that they couldn't possibly be really him, that they might have been sort of autobots. And I came on the blog, on Lessig's blog, and immediately said, like

"I know you guys think this, but if you thought that these were being ghost-written, don't you think we'd do, I'd do, a better job of it?"

[audience laughter]

And I can't remember who, I think it was David Weinberger or somebody, basically wrote this all up on the JOHO blog, and said

"This is one of the most authentic moments in American politics on the web"

Because when you look at that exchange on the Lessig blog, it's *clear* that this is really Howard dean, and it really is his campaign manager, who else - who would manufacture this sort of blow-by-blow?

Now, Joe Trippi is not the first politician, or even the first person, to tell a story where he makes himself sound more heroic than circumstances warranted (Who would manufacture this sort of blow-by-blow? What a straight-line! :-)). But since his comment on the Lessig blog specifically addressed me by name, and that exchange was much in reference to me, I recall what really happened - and in fact was able to locate the actual blow-by-blow. It's entry #1363 on Lessig's blog:

http://www.lessig.org/blog/archives/001363.shtml

Short version - what I really said was:

Earlier, I wondered if a staffer would be ghost-writing the entries.

Now I'm wondering if the entries are auto-posted by a script.

posted by Seth Finkelstein on Jul 15 03 at 8:48 PM

AND IT WAS A JOKE!. I was saying exactly what Joe Trippi gives as his zinger - that a ghost-writer would have done a better job with writing articles. And moreover, while some people didn't get the joke, other commenters did get it:

Jonathan: Seth is (quite humerously IMHO), saying that Dean's arguments have, thus far, been so elementary that they could have been posted by an artificially intelligent script.

I don't think (now) that anyone doubts that it is truly Dr. Dean who is posting.

posted by jt on Jul 15 03 at 9:13 PM [jt != Joe Trippi, it's someone else]

THEN, afterwards, around forty minutes later, is when Joe Trippi chimes in:

Seth ? can I ask you something ? don't you think that if we were ghostwriting this stuff we would have come up with something better than that? I mean seriously if that post doesn't prove Howard Dean himself is posting ? I don't know what will cut through your doubts.

[rest of comment snipped]

posted by Joe Trippi on Jul 15 03 at 10:01 PM

Now, I don't fault him for wanting to make an "official" statement, given the comments. But turning this into a story where he sets everybody straight with humor - that's complete fiction. Again, NOBODY, NOBODY, was truly thinking the posts "might have been sort of autobots". That's a kind of slang for what, in pundit-ese, might be termed "a scripted performance" (i.e. whether script as in theater, or script as in computer program, the result is the same).

And this is what David Weinberger wrote at the time on the JOHO blog

http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/mtarchive/001799.html

In response to a comment questioning, in an unnecessarily nasty tone, whether Gov. Dean was the actual author of the posts at the Lessig blog, Joe Trippi, Dean's campaign manager, wrote:

Seth - can I ask you something - don't you think that if we were ghostwriting this stuff we would have come up with something better than that?

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen: the entire Wed summed up in one line. Take it in the micro sense and you have the Web's Theory of Authenticity with its corollary that Imperfection Is a Virtue. Take it to the macro and you get the Messy Network Axiom with its corollary that Efficiency is the Enemy of Truth.

Umm ... What? No, don't explain, it's possible, but it's not worth it. Much more important is that this latter comment proceeds from a false premise, from Joe Trippi's supposed zing. I wasn't questioning, at that point, whether Gov. Dean was the actual author of the posts. Rather, then, I was humorously saying they were vacuous, playing off earlier authorship doubts for the joke (whether in an unnecessarily nasty tone, I won't comment).

Oh, the irony, of thinking
"This is one of the most authentic moments in American politics on the web"!

First my point is misconstrued. Then it's pundit-fodder. Then the whole story is spun to make the campaign a hero, against the confused and ignorant public. And almost nobody will ever hear differently, because of power-laws and marginalization.

IT'S POLITICS AS USUAL!

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather , journo , politics | on February 11, 2004 09:23 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)
February 10, 2004

Dean-ial: Debunking "The Unmaking Of A President-2004 By Carl Jensen"

I wrote the message below for a mailing list, to partially debunk an article on the Howard Dean campaign meltdown, "The Unmaking Of A President-2004 By Carl Jensen". While I have much sympathy for Howard Dean for his suffering a post-Iowa attack of negative pack-journalism (as opposed to his previous months of positive pack-journalism), I can't see this as any sort of willful reaction by Big Media against The Reformer. That's persecution fantasy. It's much more romantic to imagine being hunted down as an Enemy Of The Status Quo, than ignominiously stampeded by a herd of journalist-cattle all MOO-ing after the gotcha. But death by stupid stampede is just as fatal as death by malevolent hunt.


Carl Jensen's article is extremely selective in quoting. To start with one howling example:

> The research Center does not cite any major donors for Dean.

Ahem? http://www.bop2004.org/bop2004/candidate.aspx?cid=8&act=cp

The number-1 donor for Dean is ... drumroll ... Time Warner!

Time Warner $65,225

That does compare favorably to Kerry, where Time Warner is number 3
http://www.bop2004.org/bop2004/candidate.aspx?cid=4&act=cp

Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo $230,796
FleetBoston Financial Corp. $182,387
Time Warner $140,710

But note those are career numbers, and Kerry has been in Washington politics for many, many, years.

> As we know, the majority of his contributors are ordinary citizens
> who donate an average of $77 dollars. Dean's "special interest group"
> is the American people.

Bleh. The "majority" of almost any group of contributions will be by ordinary citizens, simply as a function of numbers. But $65,225 in contributions is worth quite a few $77 contributions.

Howard Dean is not exactly without sin, from the same Center:
http://www.bop2004.org/bop2004/report.aspx?aid=132

"While governor, Howard Dean pushed for utility contract provisions that aided the power companies, but cost Vermont families millions of dollars in skyrocketing rates. Vermont has the sixth highest utility rates in the country, due in part to a series of long-term contracts between its major power companies. After years of pushing for Central Vermont Public Service Corp. and the smaller utilities it held to absorb the excess costs of their expensive contracts, Dean's Department of Public Service agreed to let ratepayers be billed for more than 90 percent of the excess costs -- which could soar into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Central Vermont Public Service Corp. donated more than $10,000 to Dean's Fund for a Healthy America PAC -- a hefty contribution in a state that limits campaign contributions for statewide offices to $400."

Regarding media coverage:

> The results of the CMPA study, released January 15, 2004, revealed that
> Gov. Dean received significantly more negative criticism on the
> network broadcasts while his Democratic presidential competitors
> received significantly more positive comments. The research examined
> 187 stories broadcast on the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news in 2003.

Well, he was the front-runner during much of that time, and hence should be expected to receive more criticism. Note the timing problem here: (my emphasis)

> Also on November 19, the Associated Press reported, "Dean, the > former Vermont governor, said Tuesday that if elected president, he
> would move to re-regulate business sectors such as utilities and media
> companies to restore faith after corporate scandals such as Enron and
> WorldCom."
>
> Dean's idea of re-regulating two out-of-control business sectors
> produced criticism from some of his competitors and surely struck a
> raw nerve within monopolistic utilities and mega-media companies.
>
> I believe Dean's progressive attack on monopolies helps explain why
> the corporate media started piling on Dean, portraying him with the
> pejorative term of the "angry candidate."

But the CMPA says (my emphasis):

http://www.cmpa.com/pressrel/EW200401.htm

"The Gore Effect--Dean's coverage improved dramatically in December, when nearly one-third of his 2003 coverage occurred. Twenty-eight percent of all on-air descriptions of Dean were positive through the first eleven months of the year, while his coverage spiked to 59 percent positive in December, the month he received the endorsement of former Vice President Al Gore."

While I'll agree the media coverage of Dean has been unfair at times, especially post-Iowa, there's too much of an attempt to force that into a directed attack because of his alleged threat as a supposed supporter of re-regulation/The Internet/People Power/Blog Triumphalism/etc.

I suggest reading an analysis by Clay Shirky: "Exiting Deanspace"
http://www.corante.com/many/archives/2004/02/03/exiting_deanspace.php

"You can ring doorbells and carry signs and donate and stay up til 4 in the morning talking with fellow believers about the sorry state of politics today, and you still only get one vote. If you want more votes than that, you have to do the hardest, most humbling thing in the world. You have to change someone else's mind."

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in politics | on February 10, 2004 09:46 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
February 09, 2004

The Dean Scream vs. The Net Dream

The Howard Dean collapse has given me a new stock answer to reply to people who argue that the Internet is a power equalizer:

"Howard Dean had a website. Look how much good it did him, in fighting a media slam. YEARRGH!"

[And I can have my scream above as a multilayered reference, encompassing both the famous image driven into our collective consciousness by media saturation, as well as my own desire to scream whenever someone preaches the website-is-equality argument!]

In some ways, it's fascinating to watch the Who-Lost-Dean debate. PressThink has a great summary article on various explanations. One interesting underarticulated thread, is that here, we've actually run a large-scale real-world experiment in being heard versus power-laws in audience numbers. Again, Howard Dean had a web platform, an extremely well-known site as such things go, where people could go to get his side of the story! Remember the net utopian idea? Just have a site on The Internet, and the media can't smear you, because people can (gasp, choke, get a load of this) find it out themselves!.

But, overall, they don't. People don't painstakingly research an issue. Either they don't care, or they take the media report as definitive, or they just don't want to be bothered.

In general, the blogosphere just talks to itself. So the A-list posters, who have tens of thousands of readers, get a vastly inflated sense of their own influence. They're big fish (A-list) in a small pond (policy blogs). But when it comes to the general political mediamass, the blog-writers who aren't members of that punditocracy, don't even register. And even those who are media pundits, are low on the scale.

Just as the blog A-list is around 1000 times more powerful than the average blogger, the mass media A-list is around 1000 times more powerful still. Welcome to my world, folks. This is how it feels to be a minnow instead of a shark. When you get slammed, you get to hear dark mutterings from your friends about how threatening you were to the powers that be, or how we must redouble our efforts against The Man, or that your sacrifice was worth it because of the change it wrought.

But in terms of the cliche about a beautiful theory being slain by an ugly fact, well:

"Remember, no matter how hard you work, no matter how right you are - sometimes the dragon wins."

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism , cyberblather , politics | on February 09, 2004 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1) | Followups
February 07, 2004

Moral Equivalence and Censorware Project's hijacked domain

[I did not write the message below. The message was written by Censorware Project attorney Jonathan Wallace, protesting an attitude of moral equivalence regarding Michael Sims' domain-hijack of the Censorware Project website. That is, moral equivalence is to treat the hijacker as morally equivalent to the people affected by the hijacking. The context in what follows, was a request (denied) to remove Michael Sims from an organizational mailing-list, due to his actions. This message has not been released before. Posted with permission of Jonathan Wallace.

Note the Censorware Project domain hijacking is not ancient history. It is ongoing. I post this in my blog now, because just two weeks ago (23-Jan-2004), Michael Sims renewed it again. However, the extremely popular website Slashdot has steadily maintained de facto support of Michael Sims as a Slashdot "editor" . This has all been a major factor derailing and destroying much of my anti-censorware work, it's not an inconsequential flame-war.]

[ Archived at http://sethf.com/freespeech/censorware/project/jw-moral.php ]

Date: Fri, 3 Aug 2001 12:49:03 -0400 (EDT)
From: [Jonathan Wallace]
To: [listmanager - a distinguished civil-liberties policy advocate/lawyer]
Subject: [about removing Michael Sims from an organization mailing list]

[Redacted], I wanted to make a couple of observations, off-list, about the following mail and about the question of whether Mike should remain on the IFEA list.

You mentioned that the former colleagues of the Censorware Project perceive things differently and that its not your job to sort things out. However, the facts couldn't be starker. Mike volunteered to act as the webmaster for our group. In a fit of anger, he unilaterally shut down our website, posted a notice that the group had closed (which was not true), and refused to send a copy of the content to the rest of us, or to transfer the domain. We pieced together the content from other sources, bought censorware.net and went on with our activities. Mike has in the meantime renewed the censorware.org domain, and continued to maintain a page implying that the group has ceased activities. He has not, as far as I am aware, been involved in any further free speech activism. Nor should someone who performed a private act of censorship by shutting down a site and withholding its content be welcomed in free speech circles.

Add to that the fact that Mike's only recent posts have been to flame other people. He is a disruptive influence, greatly increasing the noise-to-signal ratio. In fact, right now, he is the noise.

If the [redacted] webmaster had performed the exact same acts--destroying your web site and forcing you to reconstruct it from caches and mirrors--would you want him on the list?

As a member of the list, I find Mike's continuing involvement odd, unpleasant, and yes, somewhat deterrent. As a founding member of the Censorware Project, I also find that the continued presence of the guy who maliciously destroyed the site and almost shut down the group to indicate a certain lack of respect for the remaining members. This is not a case of people politely (or vocally) parting company after a policy disagreement. Again, Mike pulled the plug on a healthy, functioning site, wouldn't turn over the content, and bounced mail from journalists and individuals trying to contact us. The damage was very severe, though we have recovered.

Finally, there is an apparent breach of list policy (however informal). When Seth Finkelstein, a former Censorware Project member who left on good terms, asked to join IFEA, he says was told that he couldn't belong because he was not a current member of a group belonging to IFEA. Denying Seth, while allowing Michael to remain, seems unfair and inconsistent.

A word on my credibility: I am 47 years old, an attorney and former industry executive, author of Sex, Laws and Cyberspace, and (I hope you know) far from being a flame warrior. You might also want to check with Jim Tyre, who will verify what I've told you.

[Jonathan Wallace]


[Note from Seth - after that message, I was informed I could join the list if I wished, but Michael Sims would not be removed. The net effect would then be to set up a situation where Michael Sims wouldn't lose by attacking me, but I would lose by defending myself. That is, the moral equivalence outcome would mean that if he told a lie, and I told the truth, these would be accounted as equal parts of a dispute. I felt, similar to the above, I couldn't participate under those circumstances.]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on February 07, 2004 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
February 06, 2004

Google, Orkut, Personal Data Sharing, and Privacy Policy

There's an interesting _Register_ article by Andrew Orlowski "Google revives discredited Microsoft privacy policy for Friendster clone" which discuss the privacy policy of the social site Orkut. Jeremy Zawodny started the issue, asking Why Google needs Orkut. He (Zawodny) speculates:

Let's assume that Google internationalizes Orkut and lets it run to the point that it has millions of users registered and active. That's not an unreasonable thing to expect. Then, one day down the road, they quietly decide to "better integrate" Orkut with Google and start redirecting all Orkut requests to orkut.google.com.

Bingo!

Suddenly they're able to set a *.google.com cookie that contains a bit of identifying data (such as your Orkut id) and that would greatly enhance their ability to mine useful and profitable data from the combination of your profile and daily searches.

Why the conjecture?

Has anyone pointed out yet that Orkut outright says that it "may" share information with Google?

Orkut's privacy policy states: (emphasis mine)

We may share both personally identifiable information about you and aggregate usage information that we collect with Google Inc. and agents of orkut in accordance to the terms and conditions of this Privacy Policy. We will never rent, sell, or share your personal information with any third party for marketing purposes without your express permission.

Part of the "in affiliation with Google" obviously means that Google is not considered a third party. In fact, later on (emphasis mine):

Personal information collected on this site may be stored and processed in the United States or any other country in which orkut.com or Google Inc. or agents maintain facilities, and by using this site, you consent to any such transfer of information outside of your country.

Whatever the eventual result, the data-sharing connection sure isn't unclear.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on February 06, 2004 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
February 05, 2004

Ralph Nader, "Censorship", and 2000 Election

I've been posting the following comments in today's blog mini-debate, so here's my emergent blatherocracy citizen-commentary contribution, about whether Ralph Nader should run in the 2004 election, and if the reaction against it, per his NPR Interview is "censorship".

Note interesting analysis: Nader did it

Many straws go into breaking a camel's back. And each individual straw can say:

"Who me? Wasn't me. I'm just one straw! What sort of a big strong camel is this, if he can't deal with one more straw on his back? The solution is to get a better camel!"

Media smears such as the Al Gore "invented the Internet" fabrication were one straw. ChoicePoint was another straw. And Ralph Nader was yet another straw.

In collective action, how do you allocate responsibility for the end result?

It's certainly true that *some* Nader voters wouldn't be Gore voters. But I think it strains credibility to argue that overall, Nader voters would prefer Bush over Gore!

[later]

We really need a good framework for someone to make the argument, and have it evaluated *on the merits* of:

"If I advocate this position, I am afraid I will subjected to torrents of *undeserved abuse*, which I will be *unable* to counter to defend myself, and thus will personally suffer to such an extent that fear of this process has chilled and intimidated me from speaking out."

The above outcome may be 100.0% legal, First Amendment protected - but it's still worth examination.

There's some times this argument is reasonable, and some times it's not, and we need some way to be able to deal with it to separate the two.

The problem is this idea gets bogged down in "censorship" vs "only *government*" and "it's *my right* to criticize" and implicit accusations that the above is being falsely claimed for sympathy, and the discussion becomes a whirlpool of people flaming past each other :-(.

Note, I believe Ralph Nader's use of this argument here is *not* reasonable, and is a case of it being used for sympathy.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in politics | on February 05, 2004 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3) | Followups
February 04, 2004

Google, Joe Trippi, and me - or, I Want To Start A Google-Bomb!

Rather than continuing the political punditry, let me segue into an intriguing Google result my recent posts have generated.

It turns out that, right now, my post Howard Dean, Joe Trippi, and Bubble Valuation has the #9 position for a Google search for the phrase "Joe Trippi" .

I'm not worthy!

Or am I? :-)

This intrigues me. FastCompany.com, MSNBC.com, CNN.com, SethF.com ...
Which one of these is out of place? (Granted, there's a joke here about it not being difficult to be better than the media in terms of reporting, but still ...). I assume it won't last, but I wonder how long I'll be on the top ten page there.

I'm NOT A-List. I'm at the 100-150 readers level (I also get more readers sometimes from Google searches than I do directly!). Hmm ...

Set Us Up The Bomb.

No, not linking "Joe Trippi" to my post Howard Dean, Joe Trippi, and Bubble Valuation. That's mean. Rather, I'm wondering just how much Google can be gamed (apologies, it's in the name of science).

Proposal: Link the term "bubble" to "www.deanforamerica.com". As in, the bubble which is/was the Dean campaign. This is a bit different than ordinary, as "bubble" is not an obscure term. It also seems to be a term on Google's dictionary for its Bayesian spam filter, so that's a confounding factor. On the other hand, people might actually do it, a key ingredient in a successful Google-bomb.

The power, the power ...

[I was going to put a screenshot of the search results here, since someone said I needed pictures, but it's a very boring picture, especially to devote a whole screen. Maybe I need to get a cat for my blog.]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on February 04, 2004 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (0) | Followups
February 03, 2004

Dean-ial

Forgive him, for he believes that the customs of his tribe are the laws of nature!

George Bernard Shaw

Clay Shirky has an excellent lengthy post-mortem on what I've taken to call "Dean-ial", the bubble which was the Dean campaign:

Exiting Deanspace
http://www.corante.com/many/archives/2004/02/03/exiting_deanspace.php

Quote, my emphasis (he said it, I didn't)

"... the hard thing to explain is not how the Dean campaign blew such a huge lead, but rather why we ever thought that lead actually existed. Dean's campaign didn't just fail, it dissolved on contact with reality.

I actually don't think it's too hard to explain. It's basically plain old Groupthink. It's not particularly net-specific. The Howard Dean campaign had a good run for a few months, capitalizing on anti-war sentiments and press fascination with "The Internet" (e.g. social software, blogs) and his admittedly successful fundraising. But if you treated him like a standard candidate (rookie, anti-war against incumbent, noisy factional support), you got a reasonable scenario about how this would play out.

This leads me to one of my few disagreements with an article full of sound analysis, the part where it's said:

A number of people, disputing the idea that the use of the internet had anything to do with the gap between Dean's predicted and actual support, have advanced the "internet minority" thesis, as in "The internet is used by a minority of citizens", or, in its more regionally biased version, "Who in Iowa has computers anyway?"

With national internet penetration at roughly two-thirds of households, it's long since time to retire this canard. More people use the internet than read a daily newspaper. More people use the internet than vote in general elections, much less primaries. Iowa and New Hampshire both have better than 50% penetration (as does most of the country except the antebellum south.) Furthermore, one of the commonest uses of the internet is getting daily news. The internet is now, and from now on, a political media channel.

I think this misses the critique of the Internet triumphant. Many people may "use the Internet", in terms of email, eBay, or chat. But that doesn't mean they're at all interested in the tiny bubble of blog blather, or going to MeetUp with people as anything other than a dating opportunity. Indeed, "a political media channel" might very well be the website of CNN/ABC/CBS/NBC/etc.

As I've mentioned, there's too often a conflation of writing an online diary for oneself and a few friends, with having an effect on the political process. It's a bit like the old jokes about how logical fallacies can imply anything, "IF 1+1 = 1, THEN I am the Pope". Except here the reasoning is more like "IF many teenage girls e-write about their crushes, and their parents use eBay as a garage sale, THEN Howard Dean is President". Not quite the same thing, but about as useful.

It's all part of a fantasy that, Come The (Net) Revolution, we're all supposed to be happy little blogging bears, "citizen-journalists" reading and writing to one another, merrily pouring in hours and hours of time each week, for free, in order to take back Democracy from Big Media via People Power, I mean The Blogosphere.

That's an appealing fantasy, and for a while, it got attached to the Dean campaign. But one doesn't get popularity-points for saying its utter nonsense. That view isn't amplified, echoed, promoted.

David Weinberger commented:

So, I find myself agreeing with Clay's warnings about how a candidate's Internet campaign can create an unfounded perception of electoral strength, yet also worried that readers will come away with an exaggerated view of the Internet's role in that perception. It wasn't just the Internet that led us into false optimism.

It's not "The Internet". It's us. It's that desire to want to believe in things which make us feel good, and not to consider that which makes us feel bad. In short, Dean-ial.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather , politics | on February 03, 2004 11:22 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (9) | Followups
February 02, 2004

Walt Crawford - Starting a Bicycle Club: Weblogs Revisited

Walt Crawford recently had an excellent article in American Libraries Online:

Starting a Bicycle Club: Weblogs Revisited
http://www.ala.org/al_onlineTemplate.cfm?Section=crawford2004&Template=/ContentM anagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=52691

I should have noted it earlier. But it's well worth rereading, especially in light of some people being in Dean-ial of the fact that blogs didn't revolutionize politics. Of course, I'm biased, since it quotes me :-)

A person attending a weblogging conference compared the "blog bubble"-the tendency to treat weblogs as more important than they are-to the "web bubble." Seth Finkelstein (sethf.com), an experienced freelance filtering/censorware investigator, commented on this issue in his Infothought weblog:

"The problem [with blogs-as-revolution] is that if the optimist says, `This post will reach a million people,' and the pessimist says, `This post will reach 10 people,' and it ends up reaching 100 people, the truth isn't in the middle. The pessimist was basically right, the optimist very wrong.

"It's not bad to reach 100 people. But it's not anywhere near a million people.

The optimist says the equivalent of `Give everyone a bicycle and cars are dead, no more oil, all Middle-East geopolitics will change.' And the pessimist points out, `No, it doesn't work like that; only a very small part of the population wants to ride bikes or will deal with them.' Then the reply is, `But isn't our biking club great fun? I love biking. You love biking. Let's all go ride around on our bikes and enjoy ourselves.'"

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on February 02, 2004 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1) | Followups
February 01, 2004

Readership Analysis, or my numbers for "punditry is not democracy"

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again

"Won't Get Fooled Again", *The Who*

In honor of "The God That Failed" (whether Howard Dean or blogs), I've done some more readership analysis, for two of my popular posts on those topics.

My item "Howard Dean Is (Was) a Bubble IPO" had reader statistics:

Total specific readers (unique IP's): 91

No referer : 33
wonkette.com : 30
corante.com : 15
and misc sources

The corante.com reference is from posting to the highly-read discussion in "Is Social Software Bad for the Dean Campaign?" and I think that led to the wonkette.com mention on the page "Cliche Alert: HowardDean-dot-bomb"

For Howard Dean, Joe Trippi, and Bubble Valuation, it has:

Total specific readers (unique IP's): 212

No referer: 69
scripting.com: 101
corante.com: 23
and misc sources

Note the bulk of the readership here is basically due to being mentioned by two A-listers, Dave Winer - Jan 30 (not something which "just happened", I took a risk and asked, in reply to a call for comments, thanks Dave), and a (thanks) David Weinberger post.

Thrills. My career as a blog-pundit is obviously being launched.

A few days ago, I was struck by the following JOHO blog / David Weinberger post:

Although many of the guests and Chris himself said that blogs are a grassroots tool open to anyone, the quite reasonable focus on high-traffic bloggers may have led people to think that the blogosphere is a new daily, opinion-based newspaper in which we can read columns by journalists and columnists who have important views that have, on occasion, shaped real world politics. Now, I love the A-List, at least the portion of it I read. And it's thrilling that these are people that we have made popular, whatever the network dynamics are that form A-Lists in the first place. But put 'em together, and the A-List is another daily paper.

Blogging strikes me as more significant than the creation of a competitor to USA Today, albeit one that's fresher, livelier, more personable. Blogs constitute conversations, social networks, and our proxy selves all at once. That's a trio no other "medium" has ever put together and, as Jay Rosen said on Chris' show last night, it's challenging our very model of authority.

Sigh. From down here in the tail end of the power-law curve, it looks like a lot like the same old grind. If you don't get noticed by a gatekeeper, you don't get an audience, except if you're one of the very small number of people who has risen up that power-law curve.

There's similar sentiments in a Leonard Witt / Public Journalism Network Weblog post Are We Developing a Blogger Elite?:

When I tuned into Chris Lydon's Blogging of the President on public radio Sunday night, it was a little like listening to the Sunday Morning Pundits. But instead of the Cokie Roberts, David Brooks, William Safire, Robert Novak, the same old, same olds, we had a new and emerging set of blogger pundits: Jeff Jarvis, Ed Cone, Joshua Micah Marshall, Andrew Sullivan, Atrios . They might have added Joi Ito, Jay Rosen, Doc Searles and the other A-listers, who are now showing up on every conference agenda and on every talk show.

And one proposed solution (heart's in the right place, this is my paraphrase) was that the A-list should, for noblesse oblige reasons, spread around some of the punditry placement to their proteges, in order to diversify the oligarchy a little.

Oh, FEEL THE REVOLUTION! Revel in the challenge to authority, the democracy of "we", the emergent ... pundocracy.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in statistics | on February 01, 2004 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (7) | Followups