Search is big business, and search functionality increasingly shapes the information society. Yet how the law treats search is still up for grabs, and with it, the power to dominate the next generation of the online world. How will this potential to wield control affect search engine companies, their advertisers, their users, or the information they index? What will search engines look like in the future, and what is the role of regulators in this emerging market? This symposium will map out the terrain of search engine law & policy.
It's another Sign - if not Bubbleness, definitely much Hot Air. Which is not to say I'd be averse to having a share of any inflated values.
Fourth, rank matters more than content. Recently Danny Ayers started a conversation about what other options do we see for a semantic web. He got several responses - not an avalanche, but respectable. However, Danny's post and the cross-blog discussion didn't show on tech.memeorandum.com. What did show was a post by David Weinberger saying how he hadn't posted in four days.
Conclusion: if this site represents the new Web 2.0 technologies that filter content to eliminate noise, then thee and me are nothing but static, baby.
This inspired me to articulate what I shall call (with apologies to the "Central Limit Theorem") the "Central Pundit Theorem":
All programs which do popularity data-mining of a topic, tend to converge to a small pundit subset.
I'm thinking this might actually be able to be made somewhat rigorous. Roughly, if one has a tiny number of gatekeepers on a topic, then reconstructing the set from "bottom-up" references will give the same result as "top-down" specification.
All roads lead to Rome, all links lead to the A-list ...
"As part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), Congress instructed the U.S. Copyright Office to consider every three years whether we need exemptions to the DMCA's blanket ban on circumventing "technological protection measures" (aka Digital Rights Management or DRM) used to lock up copyrighted works. So if you want to make a legitimate use of a piece of media, but have been turned back by DRM and the DMCA, now is your chance to take your case to the Copyright Office and try to make the world a happier and safer place for the next three years. As two-time-successful-exemption-requester Seth Finkelstein says: "The lawsuit you prevent may be your own."
[Echoed for an obvious reason :-)]
"Red Herring" magazine has an item on Iran censorware:
Iran Tightens Web Filters
An Iranian tech company claims it can stop censorship circumvention tools.
October 24, 2005
Civil liberties advocates voiced concern Monday over Iran?s plans to tighten its grip on Internet use with new technology that allegedly can get around counter-censorship tools.
The country has contracted an Iranian company, Delta Global, to set up a new online censorship system, according to a report by Reporters Without Borders. Delta Global head Rahim Moazemi told the Iranian press that he wanted to end "the anarchy of the Internet Service Providers." ...
The rest of the piece quotes some Usual Suspects saying roughly either this can, or can't, be done. Though what caught my eye was see the claim again:
"We don't sell any software to any entity in Iran. The ISPs are using it illegally," Mr. Burt said, adding that Secure Computing is now blocking downloads from ISPs in Iran.
Value added observation: There's such opportunities for investigation here. I wish someone would probe this more strongly. I don't have the backing or support to do it ("citizen journalism", ha! :-( ). But a person with a voice, with a platform, might be able to find something very interesting in going beyond face value.
Admittedly, this doesn't look a whole lot like the analysis [of thumbnail images]. That is primarily because, as I've tried to make clear, this case isn't [about thumbnail images]. It is not being heard in the Ninth Circuit, which (along with the Eleventh Circuit) has the least-stringent view of fair use; it is not based on materials merely gathered, but for which substantial and conscious copying must occur for any of the three "uses"; it is not based upon reuse of materials in exactly the same form, medium, and purpose/function as provided by the copyright holder; and does not concern a well-delineated final use and presentation.
It's good to get out of the echo chamber.
What both parties really mean is that Google has got stuff, if not for free, then at a bargain price. Libraries had to pay for licenses or physical material: Google only pays for the scanning - which is an extremely good deal for Google.
As Seth Finkelstein reminds us:
"Consider that this is not Google contributing to culture. It's Google trying to supplant the publishers as the middleman business between authors and readers," he wrote.
So what at first looks like a copyright issue on closer examination is really a compensation issue. ...
A copyright issue is virtually always a compensation issue (the exceptions, "moral rights", are very rare). Copyright functions as a RESTRICTION ON TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION to impose compensation issues. And I don't mean that's new. When the printing press was being developed, it was extensive technological innovation. And surely, at the time, it must have seemed as cool and "geeky" and rich with unbounded promise, as search engines do now.
Now, printing itself, is becoming even more of a commodity, and in some cases (E-books), being eliminated entirely. A publisher's role as a middleman in terms of arranging for the physical printing of a book is much diminished. Whatever printing is required can be contracted, and perhaps even done on-demand. Physical distribution is still required for the chunk of paper, but that is being shifted to mail-order from warehouses.
So what's left, of the publisher middleman function? Promotion. Marketing. Advertising. All of which are becoming more important from the shifts above.
Which is exactly what Google does, in terms of ads for search terms, and "snippets", and trying to match readers with products, err, search results.
That's why Google wants this business. It's not culture. It's the intermediation role between writers and readers.
I think this is worth echoing, from an "On The Media" segment on Google Print: (my emphasis below)
BOB GARFIELD: If not Google now, then who? And when? Who should be in charge of deciding which books get scanned?
SIVA VAIDHYANATHAN: Well, I actually think that this is the job of libraries. I think libraries should be doing this first and foremost. The Library of Congress should have identified this as a major public need and goal and pursued this sort of project years ago. Instead, they've outsourced it to a private corporation, and this corporation, as good as they like to make us think they are, is still operating by keeping us blind. Their technology is proprietary. Their algorithms for search are completely secret. We don't actually know what's going to generate a certain list of search results. They don't work for us.
Again - "They don't work for us". Whatever their cool geek-dream origin (and I share the fantasy!), Google is a now a very large corporation, accountable only the shareholders. It may seem overly critical to emphasize it, but that's reality.
FYI, if you are looking for a quick and easy way to bypass blocking software on a machine somewhere, we have set up a free site at
Obviously, since we are publicizing this URL and linking it from our site, it's likely to end up on the block lists of all the major blocking programs. However, we've found that a high proportion of computers where these programs are installed, do not have their blocked-site lists updated very often, either because the program came with a limited subscription for list updates and that ran out, or the admins who are supposed to do the updating just rarely get around to it. So there is a good chance this URL will work even from a censored computer.
That page also has a form where you can enter your email address to be notified of the locations where we set up any future blocking-software-bypass sites. So even if blocking software companies start responding faster to block new bypass sites when they're announced, by getting on that updates list you can get one step ahead of them whenever we create and announce a new bypass site, since they're cheap and easy to set up. ...
Given the politics and situational conflicts of interest, I'll just say this will be intriguing to watch.
[Disclaimer: I think I'm still technically listed as a member of Peacefire, but any active connection was years ago, and there's no material connection now.]
Cites & Insights 5:12, November 2005, Walt Crawford's publication, was just released (and I'm remiss in that I haven't even managed yet to write about the previous issue). Besides e.g. good statistical skepticism of certain surveys, the meatiest part of the overall mix is:
* Net Media Perspective: Analogies, Gatekeepers and Blogging - some notes about net media and analogies, more comments on Civilities' "New Gatekeepers" series (and a related essay on citizen journalism), notes on seven other blogging essays and papers, and a few notes on Meredith Farkas' first-rate demographic survey of the biblioblogosphere.
This actually gives me an opportunity to write a little more deeply than my standard unheard messages about being unheard, and connect to some issues of search algorithms. The key passage:
[Jon] Garfunkel calls aggregatable declarations "crucial for markets and democracies" and says it's unfortunate that "so much of the communications essential to both democracy and markets escapes aggregation." He then goes on to note "practical deployments"--e.g. Google PageRank and Technorati rank. And here I see why I may be having so much trouble with Garfunkel's series--why I keep recommending it and talking about it, but disagree with so much of it. Garfunkel's looking for ways to establish significance. I'm more interested in discussion and complexity. I believe Garfunkel's looking for the kind of simple "good/bad" rating that aggregatable declarations lead to.
Well, one problem is precisely that "discussion and complexity" is often gatekept by "good/bad" rating, for the simple reason of time constraints: "Do I read this or not?". What informs the discussion? Hence the rise of gatekeepers. I'm not being extremely original there, but I suppose it's worth emphasizing that connection in this context. There's a whole structure underlying any system of discussion in the first place. It's more like whether you want to study the process of cooking, or review the quality of the meal itself. Note these are not completely disjoint, as in "This tastes bad (quality) because it's been burned (process).". So:
There may be structural problems that keep giving those who already have voices even more listeners, ... (Seth Finkelstein reacted to the "more flat society" possibility with some pessimism, mostly because it's such a difficult problem. "Nobody knows how to do good technology for non-hierarchical organizations...")
Right ("Nobody knows ..."). Here's where I connect to a simple worked example. Recently, Yahoo search started pointing to some blogs for "News". Now, I am arguably the world's expert on censorware - and if not, certainly up there. What I write is likely orders of magnitude more accurate than popular pundits. But my material won't appear in those search results (a yes/no decision). For the simple reasons that I don't have the voice that A-listers do (and, no, personal tone isn't the reason, that doesn't exclude the big blogfish). Which means the hierarchical organization just got a little stronger. No technology in widespread use measures my knowledge of censorware. I wish there was something that did, and someday in the far future, that may happen. But every time I have to go around pitching gatekeepers to be heard, the gap between what people would like, and what exists, is manifest to me.
It turns out my work has been helpful in terms of a submission to the Australian "Committee to inquire into and report on technological protection measures (TPM) exceptions". That is, the government of Australia is going through a process similar to the US Library of Congress, considering exceptions to "a liability scheme for certain activities relating to the circumvention of `effective technological measures'."
I wish to request an exemption for
Compilations consisting of lists of websites blocked by censorware ("filtering software" applications.
As background to understanding this exemption, I recommend the submission to the Library of Congress inquiry by Seth Finkelstein, available at
With the permission of the author, I append an excerpt from that submission.
I'm happy to see my efforts help make a difference.
As is being reasonably reported:
Following ACLU Action, Rhode Island Public Libraries Agree to Give Patrons Increased Access to Internet
October 7, 2005
PROVIDENCE, RI -- Responding to a report released earlier this year by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, the state's library network has revised its Internet blocking procedure to increase access to information for public library patrons, addressing ACLU fears that libraries were "inappropriately discouraging or barring patrons' access to constitutionally protected material."
"We are pleased that the state's public libraries have taken a positive step toward ensuring that library patrons have the freest possible access to the Internet," said Steven Brown, Executive Director of the ACLU.
Now, not-an-echo - none of the articles seem
to be linking to the actual report, which is at:
This report was written by Amy Myrick, Program and Development Coordinator at the RI ACLU. And on general principle, I believe that deserves a mention for credit.
The gist of the report (mentioned earlier) - and the press release now - is that far more had been (and to some extent, still is) blacklisted than legally problematic material, and contrary to the blithe assurances, libraries had "failed to facilitate "unblocking," or temporary disarming, of the software during Internet use by adult library patrons, despite the fact that this option is required by both the law and a U.S. Supreme Court decision interpreting the law."
Sigh. I'm preaching to the choir - or to the other side's deacons.
Let's see ... 2.3 million dollars worth of being-written-into-existence (the wages of rants). And elsewhere, 25 million dollars for the hot-new-media. Let's not forget the earlier 9 million for your-voice. Or the hoped for 100 million!!! of change-the-world.
By contrast Jean Véronis cranks some recent numbers, and the power-law lives ("... a tiny minority of blogs get nearly all the references, while the immense majority of blogs are not quoted (or perhaps even read) by anyone, or certainly by very few people").
Related, I wanted to link to a Z-lister and her account of being smeared for a post ("Strangely, being laughed at and squashed like a beetle by a Mega Top Academic in a Top Newspaper only seems to have garnered this blog an extra five or six hits yesterday. ...").
I suppose I should try to avoid being too judgemental. People have developed deep and abiding beliefs of their pet ideas being the hope of democracy, for far less than multimillion dollar purchases (but I can't shake the feeling that it sure alters the perspective - heck, if someone offered me a piece of a big-money deal, I wonder if I'd suddenly convert to a profound faith in "the conversation" - fortunately(?), I guess, I'll probably never be subjected to that temptation).
Maybe I should try to sign up with Weblogs Inc. to get an audience for Google research.
Apply now for DMCA exceptions - Yhe Digital Millennium Copyright Act includes a provision allowing the Library of Congress to exempt certain activities from the anti-circumvention clause ... See also Seth Finkelstein's guide on writing DMCA exemption requests.
Not directly connected, but on the same topic, it turns out that Australia had a somewhat similar exemption requests for comments
On 19 July 2005 the Attorney-General, The Hon Philip Ruddock MP, asked the Committee to inquire into and report on technological protection measures (TPM) exceptions.
The Committee invites interested persons and organisations to make submissions addressing the terms of reference by 7 October 2005 if possible.
Per "export" of the DMCA from the US to Australia:
Chapter 17 of the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement deals with intellectual property rights. Article 17.4 stipulates the parties' obligations in relation to copyright.
Article 17.4.7 requires the Parties to create a liability scheme for certain activities relating to the circumvention of 'effective technological measures'. The Parties may introduce exceptions in the liability scheme as specified in Article 17.4.7(e)(i) to (vii) or pursuant to Article 17.4.7(e)(viii).
Deja Vu. In a bad way.
I've updated my DMCA exemptions guide:
"How To Win (DMCA) Exemptions And Influence Policy"
It was originally written for the 2003 proceedings. The relevant references are now revised for the 2006 proceedings.
Thanks to someone I'll just refer to as "The Big Boinger" for a bit of encouragement, and better yet, publicity.
Note, regarding issues of unsustainable activism, this updating was extremely high on the curve of reward per unit risk. Nobody was going to sue me for a little rewriting. Objectively, I did have far more to gain than I had to lose (and even so, it was difficult in a sense). It doesn't compare to censorware decryption research.
Let me pre-emptively note, for well-meaning critics, that it would be an unreasonable inference to think that just because this outcome was an overall good result, a large amount of risk would yield a better result. That fallacy has been what's gotten me into deep trouble all along.By Seth Finkelstein | posted in dmca | on October 04, 2005 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink)
[Almost a scoop! But not a news echo! You heard it here first!]
Here "we" go again ...
The purpose of this proceeding is to determine whether there are particular classes of works as to which users are, or are likely to be, adversely affected in their ability to make noninfringing uses due to the prohibition on circumvention of access controls. This page contains links to published documents in this proceeding.
The Notice of Inquiry in this third anticircumvention rulemaking requests written comments from all interested parties, including representatives of copyright owners, educational institutions, libraries and archives, scholars, researchers and members of the public, in order to elicit evidence on whether noninfringing uses of certain classes of works are, or are likely to be, adversely affected by this prohibition on the circumvention of measures that control access to copyrighted works.
My DMCA testimony, and almost single-handedly actually winning one of the few exemptions in the last round (which note, still must be re-argued this round!) was one the high points of my net activism. But sadly, personally it was a pyrrhic victory.