April 30, 2004

Google IPO reading round-up

Goo-goo-g-g-g-g-l-e. Everyone has something to say, so why should I duplicate what's being done elsewhere? Here's pure aggregation from what I've been reading.

The Source: Google's SEC filing

Best business coverage: Gordon Smith / Venturpreneur (I recommend reading through it all)

Best coverage not repeated in a dozen ways elsewhere (and source of the above): Aaron Swartz / google.blogspace.com

Best text summary: John Battelle's Searchblog

While my summary of the letter may sound negative, it's my honest and initial response: to me, the letter comes off pretty strong, and likely will anger many on Wall Street. But I have to commend the founders for sticking to their beliefs, and using the IPO as something of a megaphone/soapbox. It is brave, unique, and rather commendable to very publicly state that the founders are controlling the company, and the founders will decide what is best for Google, not Wall Street. They've set themselves a very high long-term bar, claiming they will best the system, in essence. I think it will be very interesting to see how Wall Street responds. There is a chance, in the end, that the Street will feel slighted, and turn its back on the company.

Best bells-and-whistles summary: Danny Sullivan / searchenginewatch.com

Google Worries

Google's filing is full of many standard things that investors might be warned about. The company even addresses the issue of privacy concerns about its Gmail system or the controversy over anti-Semitic site ranking at the top of its results for the word "jew" might hurt its brand.

Funniest coverage: Andrew Orlowski: Google files Coca Cola jingle with SEC

"We'd like to build the world a home," write co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. "And furnish it with love. Grow apple trees and honey bees, and snow-white turtle doves." The unconventional sentiments will puzzle Wall Street analysts, but delight Google's teenage fans - and children of all ages who make up its most ardent users.

"We'd like to teach the world to sing," they plead. "In perfect harmony."

We made that up, of course. But the real "Letter from the Founders" that introduces today's 26-page filing borrows as much from The New Seekers as it does from Warren Buffet.

Update: Best reverse-engineering of Google from the documents: Tristan Louis / TNL.net

Just for the sake of argument, let's go with 1 Gigaflop per processor. This means that the Google supercomputer has about 189 teraflops of power on the low end of my estimates, 253 teraflops on the middle end, and 316 teraflops on the high end. This would easily put it on top of the list of fastest computers in the world.

Any way you slice it, that's a lot of power.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on April 30, 2004 10:17 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
April 29, 2004

Google IPO Auction as Ebay

Google IPO is here! Is there anything else in the tech world to discuss today?

One thing I've been wondering about in terms of the auction process, is that its effect may just be a way of differently allocating the inevitable irrationality. There's this gem in Google's SEC filing:

The auction process for our initial public offering may result in a phenomenon known as the "winner's curse." At the conclusion of the auction, bidders that receive allocations of shares in this offering (successful bidders) may infer that there is little incremental demand for our shares above or equal to the initial public offering price. As a result, successful bidders may conclude that they paid too much for our shares and could seek to immediately sell their shares to limit their losses should our stock price decline. In this situation, other investors that did not submit successful bids may wait for this selling to be completed, resulting in reduced demand for our Class A common stock in the public market and a significant decline in our stock price. Therefore, we caution investors that submitting successful bids and receiving allocations may be followed by a significant decline in the value of their investment in our Class A common stock shortly after our offering.

Remember what happens to items which get bid-up on Ebay during auction fever ...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on April 29, 2004 09:40 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1) | Followups
April 28, 2004

Hate-Site: "Proposal to place Jew Watch back to #1 on Google"

Anti-Semites are calling for a Google-bombing campaign to re-raise the Google-ranking of the "Jew Watch" hate-site. The discussion can be found at the following URL ("Stormfront White Nationalist Community")


(Not a link, for obvious reasons)

I would like to make a proposal to fellow Stormfront members in an honorable eActivism effort. ...

Please, this is an honorable thing to do, it takes a little effort, but with all the support of [Stormfront] and it's friends, we can do this to help spread the truth ! The Jews have the power of the media, so we need to take it back from them and defeat them. Out of 3.7 million pages that come up from typing the word "Jew" into Google, Jew Watch *used* to be #1 !! Let's take it back !

And another poster, in part:

They've used Blogs against us, if you know any friends that participate in "blogging" simply advocate them to our cause. This ball will get rolling.

Whenever anyone talks of Google representing the opinion of the web, it's important to keep in mind that such an opinion may represent only the activities of special-interest groups.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on April 28, 2004 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1) | Followups
April 27, 2004

World Censorship Research

[As with the EFF technical director position, I'll make this a blog entry. because I suspect people will suggest it to me. Please don't tell me about it. I know. Anything that happens, or inversely, doesn't happen, will not be because I never heard of them, or they never heard of me. OK?]

"Researchers Join Forces to Expose Net Censorship"

April 26, 2004 -- For Immediate Release

An international team of academics from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Toronto has begun monitoring worldwide Internet censorship and surveillance.

"The Open Net Initiative represents a new approach to university-based research," says Cambridge University's Rafal Rohozinski. "We fuse cutting-edge intelligence-derived techniques with a networked model of analysis that includes some of the brightest minds in this field - we are striving to become the eyes and ears on digital censorship worldwide."

The Open Net Initiative (ONI) was formed in 2004 with support from the Soros Foundation's Open Society Institute and represents a partnership among groups at three leading global universities: Cambridge, Harvard, and Toronto. As Harvard's Jonathan Zittrain explains, "The aim of the ONI is to excavate, analyze, and report censorship and surveillance practices in a rigorous, ongoing fashion. In order to fully understand the Internet's evolution, we must be able to map it empirically."

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on April 27, 2004 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1) | Followups
April 26, 2004

JewWatch.com homepage back, for now

As I write this, the home page for jewwatch.com is back as the top page for a Google search for the words: Jew Watch. The homepage is also back in a search for the word Jew, but only at result #38.

But the homepage doesn't have a fresh date on it. And I can't find the new mirror at http://www.nazi-lauck-nsdapao.com/jew-watch/index.htm

Hmmm .. hard to say with this means. Older datacenter? But there's recent results. Older basic data plus a few fresh result?

Sometimes, it's very difficult to figure out what's going on. When I used the terms "an interesting combination of malice and stupidity" to describe Google's answers about policy, some people took offense. But again, it's very much a case of often they really don't know themselves (because a good answer requires a deep understanding of the ranking algorithm and system details), but they can't admit that, and even if they did know, they wouldn't say.

Public Relations isn't technical support.

[Technorati-bait: Anti-Semitic site drops off Google]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on April 26, 2004 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2) | Followups
April 25, 2004

JewWatch.com updates - Nazi mirror site

Gary Price, who runs The ResourceShelf tipped me that the first result for the words Jew Watch is now a JewWatch.com mirror. (easy come, easy go, for that top slot ...).

This is actually extremely interesting from a Google-analysis aspect, as though the page is on an existing Neo-Nazi site, it's a new page. The site, http://www.nazi-lauck-nsdapao.com/, currently proclaims

"The educational web-site http://www.jewwatch.com is under attack by the enemies of free speech. Free speech activist Gerhard Lauck is trying to help them. An (at least partial) mirror web-site has been established at http://www.jewwatch.info and at http://www.nazi-lauck-nsdapao.com/jew-watch/index.htm

[note: Neo-Nazis apparently have an inferior webmaster-race, since making a full mirror is not difficult these days.]

So, we have the following critical point: The first-place rank of that mirror page for a seach for the words Jew Watch, cannot be caused at the moment by any links. It exists solely because of search engine optimization factors (which do include the freshness of a page).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on April 25, 2004 12:40 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3) | Followups
April 24, 2004

"Jew Watch" Update: FRONT PAGE of site on blacklist (or not?)

I've updated my report with a new development, breaking news:

"Jew Watch", Google, and Search Engine Optimization

Google has now added the front page of the JewWatch.com site, that is, the url http://www.jewwatch.com/, to their internal blacklist. blacklist. The site itself has not been removed from Google's index. However, now the front page of the site will never appear in any Google search. So that front page will be gone when searching for the word "Jew"

This effect can be verified by doing a search for the words: Jew Watch. Ordinarily, the front page of the JewWatch.com site would appear in the top spot. But currently, other site pages appear further down in the search results. And in a wonderful twist of fate, since the site front page has been suppressed, [my] writing is in the top spot for that search! ("subtleties of language" can lead to unintended consequences ...).

[See also the coverage at searchenginewatch.com]

UPDATE 4/24 3:25pm: According to Google, the homepage is empty now, not because of blacklisting, but because the site was down for a time while changing servers.

As relayed by tripias.com: "Director of Corporate Communications David Krane replied to my initial email within a matter of hours (actually in the middle of the night on a Friday night, surprisingly), and had this to say:"

"No, Google did not blacklist or make any other manual change to intentionally remove the jewwatch.com website from our index. It does not currently appear in Google's search results because the website was offline for a number of days last week. In our most recent crawl of the web, we were unable to reach the jewwatch.com website, therefore it was not included in our index. Now that the site is back up again, it's likely that at some point soon, jewwatch.com will re-appear in Google."

Danny Sullivan at searchenginewatch.com has a similar update.

[Update 4/24 6pm: Tripias has the scoop that Jew Watch's New ISP to Stay ]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on April 24, 2004 01:15 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
April 22, 2004

"Jew Watch", Google, and Search Engine Optimization

[The "Jew Watch" site is back, as I predicted - I've written up the issues in a new report]

"Jew Watch", Google, and Search Engine Optimization

Abstract: This report examines issues surrounding the high ranking of an anti-semitic website, "JewWatch.com" for searches on the word "Jew". The search results present complex issues of unintended consequences and social dilemmas.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on April 22, 2004 06:16 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
April 21, 2004

Google Gmail Bill Now In CA Senate

[Scoop? I don't see this anywhere I've searched.]

The Google Gmail legislation proposed by California State Senator Liz Figueroa has now been formally introduced and released.

Link to Liz Figueroa press release:


SACRAMENTO - Responding to a world-wide outcry from privacy advocates, Senator Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont) today introduced a bill that would forbid Google from secretly scanning the actual content of e-mails for the purpose of placing targeted direct marketing ads. Instead, the Internet giant would be required to obtain the informed consent of every individual whose e-mails would be "oogled."

Link to text of Google Gmail legislation: http://democrats.sen.ca.gov/servlet/gov.ca.senate.democrats.pub.members.memDisplayBillDetail?district=sd10&bill_number=sb_1822&sess=CUR&house=B&site=

[Update 4/22 5:25pm Note there's some sort of legislative maneuver being used here, by modifying an older bill. Make sure to follow the "Amended" link above.]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on April 21, 2004 10:53 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3) | Followups
April 20, 2004

J-e-w-w-a-t-c-h.com, Act II coming up

I've been following the issue about the anti-semitic site and the high ranking it has on Google. Fox News ran a story on it today: Google in Middle of Anti-Semitic Flap (amusingly, my site traffic spiked through the roof the moment it hit the air, guess why :-). For a while, I was trying to figure out what was going on, but no harm done).

So far, a lobbying effort has gotten the site taken off its hosting company. I predict this is a sure prelude to "Act 2" of any censorship-style drama, where the site comes back with a new host and causes yet another wave of articles on the issue. You heard it here first.

As stated in one recent message dated April 19:

According to reports we've received, frustrated by their failure to shut us down through cyber-attacks, the censors began putting pressure on "Everyone's Internet" -- threatening to do severe damage to the economic interests of the firm and its clients if the 'offending' sites were not removed. So, we're moving to a new server -- and concurrently making plans to make our sites more nearly impregnable to both cyber-attacks -- and censorship -- in the future.

The efforts to shut down jewwatch.com are a matter of public record -- even Google has apologized (on its main search page[!], if you enter the word 'Jew') -- under this pressure, and the censors' efforts expanded when they discovered that nationalvanguard.org was truthfully covering the Jew Watch saga in its pages -- and was located at the same server facility.

Stay tuned ...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on April 20, 2004 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1) | Followups
April 19, 2004

Revenge Of The A-List(er/ers)

Sigh ...


Seth Finkelstein: The A-List Cites The A-List. Yet when I look down through the list of links at my blog, though (like the post below), or at Dave's, or Scoble's, or ... just about anybody's... there are plenty of off-A links.

I've met Doc. He's a charming, genial, fellow. But if he said 2 + 2 = 5, that wouldn't make it accurate. The above is a classic strawman fallacy. Did I mean "No A-lister will ever have a non-A-lister on their blogroll, or ever, ever, link or mention to a non-A-lister."? No. That would be silly. Transparently so, easy to rebut, ludicrous. But how many people are going to see that absurd rendering, compared to the actual point?

I look at this stuff, and think, "Why bother?" (writing what I did). I can lose far more than I can win.

One note about the end of the piece above:

The world of blogs is flat as a floor, with a sharp rises around various edges, which come and go. There's your power curve. Or curves. Focus on those and you lose track of the fact that the whole thing is one big floor.

Let's just look at some Technorati statistics:

Infothought has 81 Links from 68 Sources

The Doc Searls Weblog : Monday, April 19, 2004 has 3055 Links from 2481 Sources

(Interesting, 3055/81 = 37.7 and 2481/68 = 36.5, so the two metrics track well here)

Feel the floor, I mean being flat on the floor (don't have more than a tiny audience), while a very few have the floor (have a substantial audience).

But I am sure this is all due to my intrinsic lack of merit. How could it be otherwise, in this glorious revolutionary classless society?

[Update: It's an A-list slam party:

Scoble: Finkelstein notes that he isn't in the A list

Seth Finkelstein says that the A-list isn't linking to him. Or something. [snip...] Here's a question for you Seth: have you ever linked to an A lister? Here you do and you get linked to by two of us.

This is almost funny. Yes, I'm getting linked, but ...

a) It's for talking about the A-list
b) It's attacking a ridiculous strawman, knocking me as supposedly saying something super-silly

What I am saying is that bloggerdom is as gatekeeper-constricted as other Big Media. It's a gatekeeper of audience, not a gatekeeper of production, but this makes no different in the final result. To be charitable, people keep responding to that observation by saying anyone can pitch a story to the editors, I mean the gatekeepers, and that they are unmoved by insularity and clubbiness. Which, by the way, is exactly what Big Media claims too, and I think is about as true (note the implication there - people can think conections count for more than they in truth do, but denying they mean anything at all seems over-idealistic)]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on April 19, 2004 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (11) | Followups
April 18, 2004

BloggerCon II obligatory post

I went to BloggerConII It Was OK. Friday dinner was good. Live music is fun. Saturday was warm. I ate lunch. I talked to people. People talked to me. I ate dinner.

Sigh ... I'm not good at this, sorry.

[But I really did enjoy meeting the people]


"The future of Weblogging"

"The rise of Weblogging has been a cold shower for the complacent mass communication industries. Although the Weblogging pioneers are due much praise, their own rhetoric deserves examination, and they could also raise their sights higher. Nico Macdonald reports, and concludes with a radical proposal for the future of Weblogging."

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on April 18, 2004 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
April 17, 2004

A-List Example

Executive summary: The A-List Cites The A-List

Given the (funny 'cause it's true) " elitist bad-ass-A-list-bloggers" reference, and some of the recent discussions about journalism and power laws, I was struck by an almost picture-perfect example of night and day in discussion linking. Ideological disclaimer: It's everyone's free-speech right to cite their friends. But it's my free-speech right to write about it.

In the below, I've added emphasis to all the names. Note who cites whom.

Doc Searls wrote:

Jay [Rosen] has been doing an outstanding job ... His latest is Brain Food for BloggerCon: Journalism and Weblogging in Their Corrected Fullness. ... (Nice background in his No One Owns Journalism essay from a couple weeks back.) ... Dave [Winer] correctly points out ["route around" blather elided]. That was my recent experience with a long interview for CBS, 22 seconds of which served as an intro to a story that was mostly about what Joe Trippi was up to. (Guess I was lucky, sort of. Dan Gillmor and Tim O'Reilly ended up on the cutting room floor.)

And the above points out links start off with Dave Winer saying "Jay [Rosen], I didn't ask if blogging is journalism.". And that links to:

Kevin Drum, formerly CalPundit, now at Political Animal, and one the bloggers said to be most like a journalist, told me in an email: "I don't think much of the blogging as journalism meme." Kaye Trammell says bloggers may perform "random acts of journalism," ...

Then there's this, from Dean Landsman, in comments at the mother ship: ...

And this, from Rebecca Blood: ...

Now ... let's compare how the discussion was summarized by Jay McCarthy. It's very extensive. See the difference.

Jay Rosen is moderating ... Dave Winer commented ... Bryant refers to ... Micheal Boyle lists ... Terry Heaton asks, ... Jay Rosen interprets the above ... soundbite of this issue from Academy Girl... Seth Finkelstein identifies that ... b!X wants to know ... Julia G. thinks that ... Mary Hodder points out ... Amy Wohl refers to ... Michael ask if ... Academy Girl points out ... Jay Rosen does a great job ... Phil Wolff both asks if ... Tom Matrullo refers to ... Michael says ... Academy Girl points out ... Jeneane mentioned. ... Jeff Sharlet continues ... b!X seems to suggest ... Rebecca MacKinnon ... Seth Finkelstein says ... Matt Stoller ponders ... Weldon Berger writes ... Jeneane refers to ... Debra Galant explains ...

As the saying goes: "There is an A-List. And you're not on it."

[Update: via John Palfrey, quoting an article on the law journal A-list: "Friends are usually more than happy to cite you, especially if you offer to cite them in return."]

[Update: Jay Rosen raises an objection that the comparison above is not fair: "Jay McCarthy was not summarizing the post Doc was talking about or Dave was talking about. That was "Brain Food for BloggerCon."

McCarthy was summarzing the comments thread to an earlier post, "BloggerCon: Discussion Notes for, "What is Journalism? And What Can Weblogs Do About It?" What kind of comparison is that? ]

[What I was attempting to compare was, roughly, "Look what the topic generates from the upper-class, and from the lower-class." Perhaps I was unsuccessful]

[Update2: Jay Rosen added more material to his post, as an "Aftermath" section to the initial version. It should be noted it now has much more diversity]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on April 17, 2004 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (23) | Followups
April 16, 2004

"elitist bad-ass-A-list-bloggers"

It's funny because it's true: "elitist bad-ass-A-list-bloggers exclusive event"

Of course, it's humor. Hyperbole. Exaggeration. It's very amusing.

But ...

There's something deep there, as to why it's funny.

Dave Winer replied:

Having even one elitist meetup spoils the whole thing, imho. It makes people who aren't invited feel bad. I know because I feel that way about it (even though I was invited).

There is a A-List. Then what?

Acknowledge its exclusivity, but self-deprecatingly?

Try not to flaunt it, aw-shucks, etc?

That's the underlying tension, of which the joke and reaction is a reflection.

That is, "superrich vast-right-wing-conspiracy cabal" versus "every person is a unique and special snowflake".
By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on April 16, 2004 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (5) | Followups
April 15, 2004

Wall Street Journal on Google and JewWatch.com

[Update 4/22: New report:

"Jew Watch", Google, and Search Engine Optimization

Abstract: This report examines issues surrounding the high ranking of an anti-semitic website, "JewWatch.com" for searches on the word "Jew". The search results present complex issues of unintended consequences and social dilemmas.


The "Jew Watch" and Google controversy was in the Wall Street Journal section OpinionJournal - Best of the Web Today, and I received a link (thanks) - though for my earlier report, on "Chester":

Again, we were initially inclined to accept Google's explanation, but then we noted the New York Times' report that at the request of officials from Chester, England, Google had removed a page called "Chester's guide to molesting young girls" from its search results. Several readers faulted us for not noting part of Google's explanation for that change: that Google had "removed sites from its rankings that promote pedophilia, which is illegal."

This explanation, however, looks to us rather disingenuous. For one thing, although sexual relations with children obviously are illegal, "promoting pedophilia" probably is not. It's also not clear that the offending page--actually titled "Chester's guide to picking up little girls"--really was promoting pedophilia. According to "Chester's Guide to Molesting Google," which now is the first hit on a Google search for "Chester Guide," it was a satire. Having looked at the page, we tend to agree--though the satire is so unspeakably vile, we refuse to link to it.

It turns out, further, that Google has not removed the "Chester's guide" from its search engine altogether; it comes up at the top of a search for the phrase "picking up little girls."

Ah, that last point is notable. When there's a censorship blacklisting, Google doesn't remove material, it removes references (URL's). If the same material appears at a different location, Google will take no action until it receives a specific censorship directive. This is in contrast to search engine spam, which Google tries to remove as much as possible and even pre-emptively.

One thing I've found, is that Google's answers about policy have to be read very carefully and skeptically. It's an interesting combination of malice and stupidity. That is, someone might be trying to deflect you about something they don't really understand in the first place!

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on April 15, 2004 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2) | Followups
April 14, 2004

"Insanely Destructive Devices" (IDD) and threat/response

[I wrote this in reply to the posting of the "Insanely Destructive Devices" article to Dave Farber's list. But it apparently didn't make the cut]

> Joy worried that key technologies of the future - in particular,
> genetic engineering, nanotech, and robotics (or GNR) because they are
> self-replicating and increasingly easier to craft - would be radically more
> dangerous than technologies of the past. It is impossibly hard to build an
> atomic bomb; when you build one, you've built just one.

When the A-bomb was first built, physicists were making bets on its destructive power. The Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi proposed a bet as to its causing a chain reaction which would ignite the atmosphere and destroy all life on Earth (the reporting of this doesn't make clear that he was obvious making a joke by exaggeration there, since if that were the winner, nobody would collect on it!) [ http://www.ninfinger.org/~sven/trinity/trin_brochure.html ]

From that auspicious beginning, there is definitely enough bomb-power in existence now to destroy civilization as we know it. That's just a fact. Maybe not all life on earth. But considering the worldwide disruption caused by a few hijacked airplanes (basically, well-targeted conventional guided missiles), hijacking a few H-bombs would be utterly devastating. You don't have to build it yourself. Just steal it. Or even buy it.

This is far less speculative than "gray goo" nanotech berserkers or gene-engineered super-viruses. Because it already exists. It's been "debugged". The engineering is there. We don't talk about it much these days, perhaps from issue-fatigue and familiarly. But that doesn't change the reality of it.

And if one wants to worry about diseases, antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis is a good one. And which is spreading now because of poor public health care.

I'm not disagreeing with the basic ideas put forth. But I think the argument would be more solid if it remained grounded in existing threats rather than speculative ones. Precisely because a speculative threat, supposedly unlike any we've seen before, could be argued to be so dangerous that it requires reactions unlike any we've taken before. I understand the whole point is to rebut this. I'm saying that bringing in the unknown is self-defeating in that regard, since by its very nature, "never before seen" can apply both to the threat and the response.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in security | on April 14, 2004 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (0) | Followups
April 13, 2004

Slashdot Interject, and Thomas Jefferson Muzzle Awards nominations?

Many types of events can serve to remind me just how marginalized I am in terms of ability to be heard. I just found I received more than 200 hits from one comment (albeit highly rated) made by someone else in a Slashdot discussion today. That's a sum which is more than my average daily blog item readership. At least it was a helpful comment.

Anyway, the discussion was about a censorship award, the "Thomas Jefferson Muzzles". These are given by The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. In the discussion about this year's awards, one poster joked that "Slashdot Editors" should be nominated. Playing off that joke, Ian Clarke (Freenet creator, net activist), commented (Thanks, Ian!):

Sadly there is truth to this (Score:5, Interesting)
by Sanity (1431) on Tuesday April 13, @11:31AM (#8848574)
(http://locut.us/ | Last Journal: Monday February 02, @02:45PM)

Since you have raised the issue, and thus few can argue that it is offtopic, perhaps this is a good time to remind people that /. editor Michael Sims has been squatting on censorware.org, a domain previously used by successful anti-censorship group Censorware, who were forced to move to censorware.net. You can find the full story here [sethf.com], but basically he was their webmaster but took the site down after a nasty argument with one of the other participants. Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of that argument, it hardly justifies denying the public such a valuable anti-censorship resource.

Of course, what is particularly interesting is that /. editors (possibly including Sims himself) routinely use their unlimited moderation points to moderate any discussion of this as offtopic.

It will be interesting to see whether they will do this on this thread since it is pretty relevant to its parent which was moderated quite highly. Hell, I am even happy to risk getting bitchslapped [idge.net] to find out.

[Small history note - though for many reasons, I've made a public issue of it, Michael Sims' abusiveness was NOT only of me, by far. In fact, before the final censorware.org website take-down, I'd already been told explicitly that Censorware Project had decided I would be sacrificed versus Michael Sims' attack-spree, because that's what was deemed best for the censorware cause (it wasn't presented as an easy decision, or a happy decision - it was a realpolitik, unfortunate, regrettable, so sorry, sad, recognizing it would hurt me deeply, decision - but it was done all the same, and I've never forgotten it when people preach to me about what will happen in a censorware lawsuit against me). But the final censorware.org website take-down was in fact from Michael Sims retaliating against attorney member Jonathan Wallace ("His response was to take the site offline permanently."). I WAS NOT a factor by that point, I'd been "taken down" myself, metaphorically, by then.]

Y'know, a Muzzle Award nomination is actually a good idea. Contrary to accusations, I've never tried to get Michael Sims fired from his job as a Slashdot "editor", for the thoroughly pragmatic reason that Slashdot de facto supports him. It's no secret. The attitude, paraphrased, is that he might be a bastard, but he is their bastard. So he will be given reputation and pay no matter how much he uses that power to be destructive, up to and including the overall protection which enabled domain-hijacking Censorware Project - it's no skin off their nose.

But nominating Michael Sims for a real award recognizing the hijacking, destruction, and sheer censorship-aiding abusiveness ... I like it.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on April 13, 2004 06:23 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
April 12, 2004

"US Declares War On Porn", versus journalism thoughts

The report of "US declares war on porn" has been generating much blog chatter. This post isn't about that article. Instead, it's a meta-post about "unpaid", I mean, "citizen", journalism connected to that "war" (inspired by recent blogs and journalism discussions). As I mentioned in my item Bruce Taylor, Declan McCullagh, and "rotten little kids", I recently attended the debate " New Media Forums and the First Amendment", where I had the opportunity to ask questions and discuss issues with one of the key figures in that "war on porn" (the aforementioned Bruce Taylor).

Now, in terms of ordinary people doing journalism, this is a fine case study. A Senior Counsel of the United States Department of Justice was quite willing to talk with me, even "on the record". He didn't ask me for my press credentials or name, rank, and serial number. He was in fact very nice and personable. I didn't need any special access or status. What I needed was time. Time to spend the day attending the Harvard symposium (which was free and open), then going to the reception. Then of course, there's the time spent if I wanted to write it up. I only wrote about one small part, rebutting where Declan McCullagh did another hatchet-job, as only a few people were going to read what I wrote. There was much more. But I'm supposed to volunteer all the journalistic effort, likely to go to waste, just for the joy and happiness of it? I'll pass. Because: Nobody is reading (comparatively).

Of course, I could have put in the time, and then put in even more time trying to get it accepted by an editor for a large audience publication, I mean, linked by an A-lister with a large readership. From this perspective, I'm a freelance journalist doing the same grind as every other freelance journalist. With the additional disadvantage that I won't even get paid peanuts if my article is accepted. Whoopie. Am I routing around Big Media yet?

This all takes effort. Flaming is easy: "The US government has declared war on porn, the fascists, isn't this just like those Religious Right fanatics in power to fear that someone, somewhere, is having fun. But they can't win, because The Internet will defeat them through its magic anti-censorship powers ..." (with a little polishing, that would even pass as some net-pundit's commentary).

Moreover, that mass of flaming forms a barrier - who is ever going to find my diamond of journalism amid the dross of all the sounding-off? A million vanity presses do not add up to a single well-researched report. But they sure can make that report hard to find.

Before someone tries to play 'gotcha!', and says I could have written the report instead of this very message, no, this message is much simpler. I don't have to fact-check it. I don't have to take extensive notes on another person's statements. I don't have to do any research.

I dislike a temptation I see by certain interests, to dispense with all the costly, difficult, expensive work - and replace it with the cheap stuff, your opinion, your comments, rant, rant, rant. Because that's very easy and far more popular. It's similar to talk radio. National Public Radio style issues discussion is boring, so get some shock-jocks instead. The voice of the people can be a euphemism for lowest common denominator.

Anyway, as I'm demonstrating, the question isn't if nonprofessionals can do journalism, in terms of ability. It's whether they can afford to do journalism, in terms of all the costs.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather , journo | on April 12, 2004 08:21 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1) | Followups
April 10, 2004

"Mesothelioma", lawyer games, and Google

"Mesothelioma", a form of lung cancer induced by asbestos exposure, is apparently a top selling ad keyword. It seems there's an eBay-like effect where prices are bid up, at least according to a recent article making the rounds, on search engine ads and Mesothelioma lawyers. And this leads inevitably to "interesting" search engine optimization:

The high price of mesothelioma ads has had some unintended consequences as firms try other means to land mesothelioma patients. In particular, some firms are attempting to boost their Web sites' spot on search engines' so-called algorithmic, or nonpaid, listings by tweaking the content and links to get a higher ranking. These efforts can include using the desired keywords (like "mesothelioma") frequently near the top of their home page, and including them in the Web address.

Due to these efforts, eight of the top 10 nonpaid listings in a recent Google search of "mesothelioma" were for sites sponsored by law firms, pushing down nonlawyer sites such as the National Cancer Institute. By comparison, a search for "cancer" a tamer ad category produces the American Cancer Society as the top nonpaid result.

Yup. The National Cancer Institute's Mesothelioma: Questions and Answers page is around #12 for a Google search.

I've said this before, but I should make the following into a catch-phrase:

Google ranks popularity, not authority

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on April 10, 2004 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (7) | Followups
April 09, 2004

Lawfully Surfing the Net - Mary Minow Library Censorware Paper

Major censorware / CIPA buzz today:

Lawfully Surfing the Net: Disabling Public Library Internet Filters to Avoid More Lawsuits in the United States

(thanks Gary Price / Resourceshelf):

Great summaries of various points in the decision, nice charts, excellent coverage. Highly recommended in general for background. I love the quote from Lori Ayre about censorware: "To say filters "overblock" makes it sound like filters simply make mistakes here and there, when in fact it is a design issue."

Personal note: I was disappointed to see none of my ideas about privacy, anonymity or Google, image searching, and censorware circumvention, rated a mention. Not that it's expected. But I was still disappointed. Tell me again how far my voice reaches.

As to the conclusions of the paper, well, I'm not a lawyer, I've quit, so weigh that in what follows. The key element I see is in this passage:

The language "or other lawful purpose" gives libraries that choose liberal disabling policies latitude even without the Court’s reliance on the Solicitor General’s representation that CIPA requires rather than allows libraries to disable filters upon request, without explaining why.

The statement "I feel like lawfully surfing the Net" expresses a lawful purpose. Even as written, the statute permits a library to disable a filter for the patron who states a lawful purpose.

I just don't get it. Years ago, during the ill-advised campaign of touting censorware, I kept saying the reasoning made no logical sense (and got thoroughly smeared by Mike Godwin over it all, sigh). It's not quite history repeating itself nowadays - then I felt possibility, whereas now I just feel futility. Anyway, I cannot grasp that justices such as Rehnquist and Scalia and Thomas meant something which so readily reduces the law to meaninglessness for adults. IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE.

Right after the above, Minow goes on to explain that "Viewing ... Child Pornography is an Unlawful Purpose". Despite the temptation to take that as belaboring the obvious, there's a very good reason to note it, as "research" is no defense to child pornography possession. But the problem seems so evident. Who is ever going to say "I feel like unlawfully surfing the Net. I'm looking for child pornography, the younger the better."?

*Shrug*. Not My Problem ...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on April 09, 2004 09:57 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2) | Followups
April 08, 2004

Google Gmail TOS vs. The Bloggerdom A-List

I've been trying to figure out why, basically, John Gilmore's screed on the Gmail terms-of-service, is getting such extensive notice from the bloggerdom A-list. So far I've seen it echoed by Dan Gillmor and Dave Winer, and from Boing Boing. Part of it is of course that the A-list echoes the A-list. But I don't think that's the complete answer. Now, John Gilmore does not care what I think, but his analysis is, well, weird. It's not so much that it's wrong, exactly, but that it reads if he's trying to hype-up a tone of THIS IS AN OUTRAGE, against terms-of-service clauses that have been around for many years. It may in fact be an outrage, but he - and the A-list - just discovered it all? It's as if, my god, are you sitting down, are you ready to hear this: Software-makers say they license their products, not sell them! And they claim shrink-wrap is a binding contract. Tell the world, let the protests begin.

Let's see what we could do in a similar vein with the plain old (not Gmail) Google Terms Of Service

We may modify or terminate our services from time to time, for any reason, and without notice,

[Parody] How arrogant! They say they can do what they want, when they want, however they want! Isn't this EVIL?

including the right to terminate with or without notice, without liability to you, any other user or any third party.

[Parody] And they can cut you off even if they don't like your face, too!

We reserve the right to modify these Terms of Service from time to time without notice. Please review these Terms of Service from time to time so that you will be apprised of any changes.

[Parody] Hey, get a load of this, they then expect YOU to keep up with their arbitrary and capricious changes!

And so on.

Now, why? This is the kicker.

I think what's happening is that Google's image is changing among (some) A-lister's. It's a way of dealing with the fact that Google may not be God after all.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on April 08, 2004 08:32 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (5) | Followups
April 07, 2004

"Big Brother nominated for Google Award"

The Register has a funny/serious article by Andrew Orlowski: "Big Brother nominated for Google Award"

I'll say no more, since I'm quoted (thanks!):

"What seems to be missed is that the sheer scale of centralization of Google's service is frightening," writes Seth Finkelstein, who dubs it 'Total Information Awareness', after the DARPA data collection project led by convicted Iran Contra felon John Poindexter. "Every message you send, every message you receive, in ONE PLACE, tagged and sorted and indexed, with a history of who sent it to you and who you sent it to (traffic analysis!). And correlate it all with your web-searching, and your social network (Orkut) and your shopping (ads).

I was thinking of how to explain the problem of Gmail to people who conceive of it as simply another web-mail reading service. I came up with this:

Imagine Google-ing your mail. Great! Now imagine John Ashcroft Google-ing your mail. See the problem?

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on April 07, 2004 01:35 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (5) | Followups
April 05, 2004

Stephen Manes vs Lawrence Lessig

Just as there are focused blogs for reporting on everything from gadgets to sex, at times I think there should be a blog which reports seriously on flame-wars. Not snarking, but akin to war reporting. That is, treating it as a serious topic, examining the reasons the parties took it to that level, the strategies involved, violations of unwritten laws, and so on. Note in war reporting, there's often NOT an assumption of moral equivalence, but that one party is right and the other wrong (which one is right or wrong is of course the whole debate, but it's possible to at least grasp that there's a moral difference between assault/battery and self-defense, even if both involve acts of violence.)

The merits of Manes v. Lessig are well-examined in the comments of Lessig's blog. (My view: while Manes scores a minor point or two, he's almost exclusively attacking a strawman, and Lessig wins overall on substance). Below I'm deliberately just giving a quick sketch of the flaming itself:

"The Trouble With Larry"
("Contrary to Lessig's rants" ... "Freeloader Culture: A Manifesto for Stealing Intellectual Property")

"TalkBack: Manes"
("The only thing this claim demonstrates is that this reviewer didn't bother to finish reading the book")

"Let's Have Less Of Lessig"
("... when it comes to copyright law, Lessig is Moron.", "Lessig claims I clearly didn't finish the book. I admit it took longer than I expected, given all the "idiot!" and "buffoon!" outbursts I kept penning in the margins, but I did in fact get all the way to the very last page.")

"It's Simple" says the MANes
("I hadn't realized how sensitive Mr. Manes is. For a guy who feels no hesitation in calling someone a "moron," "idiot," and "buffoon," it's a bit surprising he'd find this as "blustering and bloviating" or filled with "rage." Once again, his colorful abuse while funny, if a bit overworked, is still wrong.")

Note, in terms of journalistic levels, Lessig *does not* have to settle for being told to post his rebuttals as an obscure comment in a noise-filled forum, or on a website nobody reads. Nor is there much finger-wagging at him, saying nyah-nyah-nyah, you weren't perfectly polite, that proves you're in the wrong, the proper thing to do is: take it, take it, take it.

Expecting people to be saints is simply not dealing with reality. It only adds to the misery of the powerless.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on April 05, 2004 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2) | Followups
April 04, 2004

EFF seeks technical director

[Precisely because I suspect people will suggest this job to me, I'll make it a blog entry. Please don't tell me about this job. I know. I'm on the wrong coast, if nothing else]

From LawGeek via Boing Boing (and the links to my site below are my own additions):

EFF dream gig: technical director

How's this for a dream job? EFF is looking for a Technical Director to run special projects to enhance liberty and screw with The Man (i.e., making kick-ass, user-friendly PVRs; turning white-box PCs into software-defined-radio spectral analyzers, hacking on anonymizing onion-nets, etc).

This person will be responsible for managing four members of EFF's technical staff and their various projects. Technical staff responsibilities include keeping our internal systems running and providing expert support to our attorneys and members. It also includes actively building, and supervising the building of, technologies that advance free speech and privacy. The technical director will be responsible for creating a cogent technology strategy for EFF. The director must be a team player. This person must be a good writer, good speaker and good listener. This person may be called on to be an expert witness, conference speaker, declarant in a court case, or debater against entertainment companies or government attorneys. Comfort with advocating for a position essential.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on April 04, 2004 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
April 03, 2004

Total Google Awareness

[This was accepted to the interesting-people list, replying to a news story regarding "Google's E-Mail Strategy Criticized"]

> ...Google records the numerical Internet addresses of the computers that
> request each of the Web searches the company performs. But it hasn't had
> names or other identifying information to link those addresses to specific
> people and learn who, for example, is searching for "Janet Jackson halftime
> show."

Not on a mass scale, no. But ... Orkut.

Orkut's privacy policy

"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."

Google will now have the equivalent of a "mail cover" (tracking who is sending email to whom - and about what!), plus "friends" social data, plus web searching data ...

And they're going to scan all your mail for keywords, in order to better fight terrorism, I mean, serve ads ...

Forget about "Total Information Awareness". It would be cheaper for the Federal government to just buy into Google.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on April 03, 2004 09:13 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (5) | Followups
April 02, 2004

Google Gmail and privacy

Google's Gmail service announcement is the buzz of the day. As I read about it, I can't help thinking:

Y'know, this is really scary.

Most of the articles I've seen take the view that, well, there's already credit-card companies and cellphone call records and all sorts of data collections already, etc. etc.

But what seems to be missed is that the sheer scale of centralization of Google's service is frightening. Every message you send, every message you receive, in ONE PLACE, tagged and sorted and indexed, with a history of who sent it to you and who you sent it to (traffic analysis!) ...

And correlate it all with your web-searching, and your social network (Orkut) and your shopping (ads).

From one point of view, this is great, think of the technical tricks that can be done with the data. From another point of view, this is a tracking horror waiting to happen, think of the technical tricks that can be done with the data.

I can recite the Libertarian line by heart, so save me the stock noise - it's a private company, it's not the government, don't like it don't use it, stop thinking about it.

But if the US Post Office offered such a service - or even if Microsoft offered such a service - I suspect that people would be willing to think more about it.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on April 02, 2004 06:38 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2) | Followups
April 01, 2004

Disassociated Press: V-I Day - Internet Wins

April 1, 2004
Candle H. McCall
Disassociated Press

LALA LAND - In a surprise announcement today, all the world's government announced they were to disband in favor of Internet Emergent Democracy. United Nations (U.N.) Secretary General Nosee TheMan issued the shocking communique.

"War, famine, plague, and pestilence, have set man against man throughout human history. But it's a New Era. A few hackers with computers have changed it all. We're giving up. Bloggers, filesharers, and flame-wars trump laws, guns, and money.

We used to think we could control the world. But now, with the advent of The Internet, we all know we have no choice but to become technolibertarian cryptoanarchies."

Robber Baron Snidely Whiplash said "Curses! Foiled again! I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for those darn geeks".

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in politics | on April 01, 2004 09:03 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups