February 28, 2006

BoingBoing Censorware'd, Blacklisted As Nudity, and "Secure Computing" Note

The top-1 blog BoingBoing got blacklisted by SmartFilter as "Nudity", leading to the most publicity about censorware seen in a while.

As an unpaid freelancer, err, I mean, a "citizen journalist", I called up the censorware company ("Secure Computing") to ask if they had any official statement on the matter. I was told someone would get back to me, though they never did, which I suppose is just as well. On the off chance they'll come by and read me (as I gave my role as a blogger and the name of my blog), I'll have to refrain writing a few things I would otherwise do.

In the course of the conversation, I got a bit of censorware news confirmed publicly (I'd previously known it privately, but unsure whether it was off-the-record or not). This may not mean much to many readers, but long-time censorware critics will be interested to know that David Burt, censorware-advocate from way back, has left his position as a PR flack at censorware company Secure Computing for a position as a PR flack at Microsoft. All indications are that this was a jump and not a push, and that's all I'll say on that.

[Update: No action the following day either. Where's the glamour of being a blogger when you need it?]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on February 28, 2006 11:52 PM | (Infothought permalink)
February 27, 2006

Technorati Top 100 blogs analysis methodology problem - different data sets!

Theron Parlin pointed out a severe problem in the data comparison of Technorati 100 Here Today Gone Tomorrow, which discusses shifts in the Technorati list of top 100 bloggers. It turns out that it compares data generated by two different algorithms! He's right (and I shouldn't have let the sociology distract me from investigating it, since I knew of the algorithm change). The Top-100 algorithm was changed in September 2005, per


"Technorati now displays the total number of links from blogs over the last 6 months. Up until now, we displayed a count of all links from blog homepages, which tended to weight more highly blogs that have been around for a long time, even if they have not been posting recently."

The two sets of data being compared (from different time periods) are apples vs. oranges. They use two different means of making the list.

Sigh. This is a sad illustration of what's wrong with blog evangelism. First, the initial analysis was echoed, because it was viewed as saying something blog evangelists wanted to hear (one quote: "Unlike the old world, in this new world, quality is for all to see. Mr. Louis proves that." - which wasn't proved at all, except in a trivial sense). Then the politics distracted from an underlying technical flaw. Finally, 100% like "old media", the correction is never going to be heard to a comparable audience, since it's just not as good a story, even though it's right. Popular wins over accuracy.

And the irony is that further, it'll likely be said that the bogosphere is better, because of an obscure comment pointing out the problem, and a page somewhere that might potentially conceivably imaginably be found by a search engine. Don't you just feel the thrilling power of the new media?

Moreover, Tristan Louis does good work, and anyone can make a mistake. So I'm not motivated to run around to the echoings and make a futile attempt at once again battling A-lister's snake-oil. Again, why bother? Contrary to the promise of "having a voice", nobody much will hear. :-(.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on February 27, 2006 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
February 25, 2006

Higher Jumpers Is Not The Same As Lower Barriers, or A-list Change != Rebuttal

[Tristan Louis did an analysis of shift in top blog slots, I posted the following to rebut the idea some people seemed to be drawing from it, that since there's movement in top slots, the gatekeeper analysis is somehow invalidated. I think it's the reverse and worse, the results show we're getting more professional media types as gatekeepers, sort of a reversion to and from the mean (pun intended)]

What provoked this line of thinking was a recent comment by Doc Searls in which he says that "being an alpha blogger was like being an alpha paramecium."

The more familiar phrase is "Big fish in a small pond". The argument then typically proceeds that since there are many ponds, each with their own big and small fish, it doesn't matter. But the problem is, what if it's your pond?

"This provided me with two points in time: One in May 2005 and one in February 2006, 9 months later. If the theory of gatekeepers held true, the lists should have been pretty consistent."

No. Not at all. I don't know what theory of gatekeepers has ever said "The Top 100 should be consistent over all time.". I certainly haven't said that. The formulations I use frequently are "On any given topic, a very few "gatekeepers" wield enormous power over who is widely heard", or "On any given topic, attention is dominated by a handful of gatekeepers". This does NOT say that the top 100 most popular bloggers in the world never change.

Indeed, given the growth (even exaggerated), I would *not* expect the top 100 to be static. In any expanding system, it's common for bigger players to come in from outside and take territory from existing players. This does not mean anything to Z-lister gnats, it's all about elephants displacing gorillas.

One variant of this, I call the "Fame Is Fickle" argument. Evangelists say "Fame is fickle - look, look, many superstars of yesterday are forgotten today, and there's many new superstars". For some very strange reason, they then seem to imply that because there is turnover on the list of superstars, then there are no superstars. I think this is connected to the mythology that anyone can be a big star. Therefore, the implicit argument is that since the list is not static, the implication is that there is a reasonable chance to become a big star, neglecting that the chances are always very slim, and not examining the star-making system itself.

When one looks at the changes at the top 100 list, it's evident that the space is being colonized by professional pundits (Malkin) and professional media (Gawker, Defamer, Gothamist), knocking down the original specialist types (Scripting, Searls). This hardly means there are no gatekeepers - it means the techie gatekeepers are being pushed down/out by more professional pundits! And what's so great about that?

Consider "Huffington Post", case in point, as "More Voice For The Voiceful". Rich media person, many celebrities, gets much audience. That doesn't prove that the gatekeeper hypothesis is false - it's saying that very wealthy and well-known new players can get a position. This should not exactly be thrilling to Z-listers.

It is absolutely true that there are possibilities for start-ups and professional pundits. However, that is a miniscule number of people. Nearly everyone else is going to be slogging away in obscurity and powerlessness even if lions and tigers are battling for who will be King Of The Jungle, err, Top 100.

Or: Having more competitors who can jump over higher barriers is not the same as barriers being low for everyone.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on February 25, 2006 06:24 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (5)
February 24, 2006

"The Chris Pirillo Show" appearance

Last Thursday, the "The Chris Pirillo Show" graciously had me as a guest for a half hour segment, discussing China and the Internet:

To get a better handle on the situation, we talked with Danny O'Brien of Electronic Frontier Foundation about their proposed Code of Conduct for Internet Companies in Authoritarian Regimes. We also talked with censorware expert Seth Finkelstein about censorship online, how it works, how it doesn't work and why blogs are a lousy tool for online activism.

Hear EFF and Seth Finkelstein in MP3 Format

Hear EFF and Seth Finkelstein in Windows Media Format

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in press | on February 24, 2006 09:56 AM | (Infothought permalink)
February 23, 2006

Perfect10 vs Google, and copyright aspects of nude women pictures

I'm surprised there hasn't been much mention of some amusing aspects to be found within the Perfect10 vs Google ruling, since plaintiff "P10 publishes the adult magazine "PERFECT 10" and operates the subscription website, "perfect10.com," both of which feature high-quality, nude photographs of "natural" models".

Accept a substitute?

Merely because Google's thumbnails are not cropped does not necessarily make them exact copies of P10's images, but the record currently before the Court does suggest that the thumbnails here closely approximate a key function of P10's full-size originals, at least to the extent that viewers of P10's photos of nude women pay little attention to fine details.

It's creative, not objectification:

Google argues that P10's works are not creative because P10 "emphasizes the objects of the photographs (nude women) and [P10] assumes that persons seeking Perfect 10's photos are searching for the models and for sexual gratification." Google contends that this "implies a factual nature of the photographs." The Court rejects this argument. The P10 photographs consistently reflect professional, skillful, and sometimes tasteful artistry. That they are of scantily-clothed or nude women is of no consequence; such images have been popular subjects for artists since before the time of "Venus de Milo."

And, from a legal standpoint, it's not true that if you've seen one, you've seen them all:

The Court finds that Google's use of the infringing copies of P10's images also is no greater than necessary to achieve the objective of providing effective image search capabilities. In doing so, the Court rejects P10's contention that Google could have provided such assistance through the use of text, claiming that P10's images are more readily describable in words than Kelly's images. First, contrary to P10's contention, photographs of nude women can, like photographs of the American West, vary greatly.

It's always intriguing to see how this material is treated in legal cases.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in legal | on February 23, 2006 10:53 AM | (Infothought permalink)
February 21, 2006

Perfect 10 v Google - Google Image Search Can Be Copyright Infringement

In Perfect 10 v Google, a judge has ruled (news report), in a preliminary injunction:

The Court now concludes that Google's creation and public display of "thumbnails" likely do directly infringe P10's copyrights. The Court also concludes, however, that P10 is not likely to succeed on its vicarious and contributory liability theories.

This is a quite unfavorable outcome for the dispute over Google Print: Copyright vs. Innovation vs. commercial value.

Some key elements:

i. Commercial Versus Noncommercial Use

In assessing whether a use is commercial, the focus here is not on the individuals who use Google Image Search to locate P10's adult images. Nor is it on whether their subsequent use of the images is noncommercial (e.g., titillation) or commercial (e.g., to print and sell). Rather, it is Google's use that the Court is to consider. That use, P10 contends, is commercial in nature. The Court agrees.

Courts have defined "commercial uses" extremely broadly. [...] Google unquestionably derives significant commercial benefit from Google Image Search in the form of increased user traffic--and, in turn, increased advertising revenue. The more people who view its pages and rely on its search capabilities, the more influence Google wields in the search engine market and (more broadly) in the web portal market. In turn, Google can attract more advertisers to its AdSense and AdWords programs.

Note this is very unfavorable for the Google Book fair-use argument. Because there, Google's use is also commercial in nature, under similar reasoning.

A distinguishing factor from an earlier, more favorable, decision (Kelly v. Arriba Soft):

But unlike Arriba, Google offers and derives commercial benefit from its AdSense program. AdSense allows third party websites "to carry Google-sponsored advertising and share revenue that flows from the advertising displays and click-throughs."

And regarding the factor of effect on potential markets:

On the other hand, Google's use of thumbnails likely does harm the potential market for the downloading of P10's reduced-size images onto cell phones. Google argues that because "P10 admits [that] this market is growing," its "delivery of thumbnail search results" must not be having a negative impact. Apart from being more relevant to the quantification of damages, this weak argument overlooks the fact that the cell phone image-download market may have grown even faster but for the fact that mobile users of Google Image Search can download the Google thumbnails at no cost. Commonsense dictates that such users will be less likely to purchase the downloadable P10 content licensed to Fonestarz.

That's a strong legal rebuff to a commonly-seen argument on these issues.

And more:

D. Public Interest

Google argues that the "value of facilitating and improving access to information on the Internet . . . counsels against an injunction here." This point has some merit. However, the public interest is also served when the rights of copyright holders are protected against acts likely constituting infringement. Furthermore, in this case a preliminary injunction can be carefully tailored to balance the competing interests described in the first paragraph of this Order: those of intellectual property rights on the one hand and those promoting access to information on the other.

Though this is just a preliminary injunction, it's a stark reminder that courts do not necessarily agree with arguments we echo.

[Update - clarified this is only a preliminary injunction]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google , legal | on February 21, 2006 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
February 19, 2006

The RSS Circus Is In Town, or, Specification As A Money-Ball

This is the circus of Dr. Lao.
We show you things that you don't know.
Oh, we spare no pains and we spare no dough.
Oh, we want to give you one hell of a show!
And youth may come and age may go,
But no more circuses like this show.


Syndication politics are every bit as twisted as any soap opera you'll see on daytime television. Only without the sex. And with a bunch of bearded fat guys in place of the pretty models.

Quick intro for non-tech readers: RSS, in various flavors, is the predominant format for distributing information for frequently updated websites, often but not exclusively, blogs. There is a lesser-known, though better-defined, competitor format called "Atom" (think VHS vs. BetaMax or IBM PC vs. Apple Macintosh). I will not attempt to recap the whole RSS history:

The development of the RSS standard may very well be a good case study of how not to go about developing a software standard. But ... it's bigger than that. The whole story has a rather Biblical arc to it. As in Genesis, there are two creation stories. A later generation of the standard wrestles with its Creator and triumphs, and is given a new name, Atom. Throughout the story, on archived mailing lists over the web-- jealousy! deceit! one-upmanship! oneman-shipup! Divine retribution! (Somebody must have wished for that somewhere). And that's just within the RSS standard.

Rather, I'm watching the latest episode, involving an RSS "Advisory Board" that is said not to exist, of similarly mythic chronicle:

A community, which now it seems, must absorb the Nine Champions of RSS 2.0, because they have been banished from the round table that was the RSS Advisory Board. A Board that is no more, created by a man who resigned from it, and who gave up any intellectual ownership of the specification, but still retains ownership of the specification, to wit, making decisions about who is or is not on a board that no longer exists for a technical specification given intellectual property rights by a University that had little or no involvement with the specification, ...

What I've seen commentators missing - and what makes it more a nighttime soap opera than daytime soap opera - is considering the $100 million (goal) venture capital fund around now. Which adds to the drama. That's a lot of money (it's not clear if it's actually $100 million, but that was the target). And such an amount of money has its own imperatives. And those are different from the things that bearded guys worry over.

The RSS specification has become a money-ball. That is, given that Harvard owns the specification, and some of the same players involved there are also involved in a venture capital fund based on, drumroll, RSS - we're not in Kansas, err, geekland anymore. We're in Oz, err, business. There's disclosure, of course, but that doesn't change anything.

Now, my own disclosure, some of the following analysis is undoubtedly affected by my negative Harvard experiences, so that may unduly sour me. Or give me greater insight. We'll see. But my assessment is: The Money Rules. It's clear that The Money is nervous. There's activity by Microsoft, and other big corporations. Any hint that there might be anything which casts doubt on the stability, primacy, readiness, usability, etc, of the great big asset they are trying to leverage, frightens The Money. It Will Not Be Allowed. Advisory Board? Never heard of it. Some obscure matter of years ago.

If you are able to somehow convey that you will sooth The Money, you serve The Money, you wish nothing more in life than to help The Money make even more money ... then maybe that'll work. Otherwise, the answer will remain that the specification license allows it to be used as a basis by other efforts, which is a very polite way of saying get lost. Enjoy being "Advisory-Board-In-Exile". Or worse.

This, by the way, is a reason why I am extremely leery of Harvard nowadays. I want to avoid being involved in any disagreement where it's moral rightness or technical merit versus powerful lawyers. That's bringing the proverbial knife to a (hired-)gun fight. Any decisions will be made on the basis of the relative power of the parties. And that's a bad place to be for someone like me.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on February 19, 2006 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
February 18, 2006

The Cold Statistics Of Recent Discussion

Time to do the number, to reality-check the hype and marketing

"Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best he is a tolerable sub-human who has learned to wear shoes, bathe, and not make messes in the house." -- Robert Heinlein

This is a quick check of unique visitors overall from the previous gatekeepers discussion:

doc.weblogs.com : approximately 150
gapingvoid.com : approximately 75
weblog.burningbird.net: approximately 50
tech.memeorandum.com: approximately 36

Last week: Technorati Rank: 28,942 (151 links from 66 sites)

This week, after being first gatekeepered by Doc: Technorati Rank: 23,579 (170 links from 78 sites)

[Flame-retardant: Rank isn't everything. But it's an objective measurement, of some rough utility.]

Maybe 20 new subscribers, most of whom will subsequently be bored away :-).

No, I will not be vaulted to the A-list by a single gatekeeper link. However, the silly reaction I'll parody as "Who me? What's a gatekeeper anyway? We're all gatekeepers, comrade, all animals are equal here down on the blog farm", is belied by the simple fact that far more people heard me this week on the topic, than have in the past.

Bonus link, via "Squash": "Our sad blog decision":

February 15, 2006
Our sad blog decision

This morning we've had to take a difficult decision. Most of you will be aware that for eight or nine months, we've been writing a blog called Razor, for The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. Unfortunately, we've found it consuming an increasing amount of our time - three to four hours a day - in research and writing and managing comments.

We've worked out that we've been earning less than 30c a word, compared to the 60c per word average that most IT writers earn. Writing for magazines, we generally earn around $1 per word. We haven't seen much of that $1 per word stuff, however, because blogging leaves us with very little time to do freelance writing. The effects on the Bleeding Edge balance sheet have been pretty drastic.

Additional memesterbaiting:

The dismal traffic numbers also point to another little trade secret of the blogosphere, and one missed by Judge Posner and all the other blog-evangelists when they extol the idea that blogging allows thousands of Tom Paines to bloom. As Ana Marie Cox says: "When people talk about the liberation of the armchair pajamas media, they tend to turn a blind eye to the fact that the voices with the loudest volume in the blogosphere definitely belong to people who have experience writing. They don't have to be experienced journalists necessarily, but they write - part of their professional life is to communicate clearly in written words."

[Note professional life maps to income!]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather , statistics | on February 18, 2006 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
February 16, 2006

Global Internet Freedom Task Force, China Net Censorship, etc.

Censorware's in the news every day now it seems, from NYT on China Censorship hearings to the announcement of a "Global Internet Freedom Task Force":

Washington --An informed citizenry is one of the greatest forces for global peace and stability, said Josette Shiner, under secretary of state for economic, business and agricultural affairs, at a State Department briefing February 14 announcing the formation of the Global Internet Freedom Task Force.

"It's a top priority for the State Department and the U.S. government to do all we can to ensure maximum access to information over the Internet and to assure minimum success by censors," Shiner said.

The task force will make recommendations to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on policy and diplomatic initiatives, Shiner said.

As a segue from recent gatekeeper discussion, note how blogging is utterly and completely useless for anti-censorship activism. If the goal is to reach people, squeaking from the tail doesn't work. In fact, one often overlooked point is that for activism, blogging can be counter-productive, since energy might be wasted preaching to the choir, inside an echo chamber.

Another evangelism argument is that you never know who is reading, tempting z-listers with the delusion that someone like the President or the Pope might be secret fans. Well, I'm reasonably sure the government of China is not reading my blog (or, if someone there is in fact doing so it's for "opposition research", which is something that is not often mentioned in blog evangelism).

That leaves reaching specialists. But there are plenty of ways to communicate with such people, that don't constitute the grind and downsides of a blog. Sure, somebody who has a lot of power already can make it work. But the (attention-)rich are different from you and me (they have more links).

So, back to Net censorship, What Is To Be Done?. I keep reminding myself that there's much consciousness-raising going on, which is good. And that my perspective, as a bitter pioneer with many arrows in his back, is not typical.

I agree with much of EFF's proposals, notably:

Free governments benefit from sponsoring anti-censorship and anonymizing software, such as those supported by the United States' International Broadcasting Bureau. But companies, too, stand to gain from investing in development that might lead to an opening of previously closed societies. If U.S. companies find that oppressive governments block or impede their Internet services, they should not simply give in to the threat. By working together on ways to surmount Internet control they will not only be providing wanted new products to 1.3 billion new customers, they will help open trade and communications between all countries, and all citizens.

Shorter version: Money (i.e. for "sponsoring anti-censorship and anonymizing software"). If none if it appears, there's nothing beyond posturing.

I keep wondering when there'll be an announcement from Harvard that they've got a grant of a million or two to produce a (say this in a singsong voice) study and recommendation for a policy paper on Internet governance and the challenges of censorship in the cyberspace age. If that happens, you heard it here first :-)

By the way, please don't suggest I chase after a piece of the so-far-nonexistent funding pie. Given all the better-connected organizations, and existing projects, it's not for me. Though if someone wants to put me on their "advisory board" in return for stock options, I'm available! :-)

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on February 16, 2006 08:42 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2) | Followups
February 14, 2006

Coda - "The Haves and Have-Nots of the Blogging Boom"

[Excuse me while I memesterbait sad face] What a perfect coda to the previous discussion: New York: Blogs to Riches, "The Haves and Have-Nots of the Blogging Boom":

It's as if there were an A-list of a few extremely lucky, well-trafficked blogs--then hordes of people stuck on the B-list or C-list, also-rans who can't figure out why their audiences stay so comparatively puny no matter how hard they work. "It just seems like it's a big in-party," one blogger complained to me. ...

That's a lot of inequality for a supposedly democratic medium. ...

... In the blogosphere, the biggest audiences--and the advertising revenue they bring--go to a small, elite few. Most bloggers toil in total obscurity. ...

"It's not about moral failings or any sort of psychological thing. People aren't lazy--they just base their decisions on what other people are doing," Shirky says. "It's just social physics. It's like gravity, one of those forces."

In one of life's supreme ironies, there's a new feature being rolled out for Technorati and authority:

What's Authority?

Technorati calculates a blog's authority by how many people link to it. Filtering by authority is a good way to refine your search results. There are four settings (left to right):

1. Any authority. This will show all results.
2. A little authority. This will show results from blogs with at least one link.
3. Some authority. This will show results from blogs with a handful of links.
4. A lot of authority. This will show results from blogs with hundreds of links.

Synonyms for Z-list: Singing in the shower, talking to the crickets, ranting on a streetcorner, exercising one's jaw muscles ...

Why bother?

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on February 14, 2006 03:45 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (10)
February 13, 2006

Gatekeeper argument, part N+1

Having had the gatekeeper argument many times, I know it follows certain patterns. Sometimes evangelist types make a kind of "best of all possible worlds" assertion. Regrettably, I've yet to be able to figure out what evidence they'd accept to the contrary - it's on par with: If There Is A God, Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People? To me, the "power law" structure objectively refutes any such Panglossian view.

Once more, the flip side of that, is the argument "I Am Not Worthy". To be immodest for a moment, I am worthy. Note I'm not out to become an A-lister myself. Rather, I'd like to be able to get heard, which is different (though related) and I want a means of *effective* defense against attacks. Both of which are a struggle with gatekeepers and hierarchy, and do not afford me the luxury of confusing pleasant sentiments with unpleasant realities.

Of course, raw audience numbers aren't everything, nor does any one A-lister rule the world (even the tech world). But, per-topic, often a small group of people does have a very large influence over the topic's discussion. Extensive examination of gatekeeping would be complex and nuanced. There's all sorts of involved effects. However, the orders of magnitude disparity in readership is the simplest, clearest way to illustrate that there are gatekeepers, and it matters (it's not the only factor - but it is a factor). It's hard to discuss advanced aspects when the most elementary observation is so problematic.

What is to be done? I don't have a solution. There's a long history of ways these issues have been addressed, from the social compact of Noblesse Oblige to the old legal system of the TV/radio "Fairness Doctrine" (and, in a sad commentary on the state of debate, I'll have to pause for a windy disclaimer because even the mere historical mention of that government regulation tends to cause a certain mindset to jump up and down in hyperventilation that it means a proposal to impose it on blog writing). But I certainly don't have the answer. The only part I believe I do know, is that any solution must come out of engagement with reality as opposed to mythology (and we see how influential I am in achieving that ...).

Let's just consider Shelley Powers' request, for a small example:

If I want anything from the A Listers, it's honesty. It's following through on their glowing beliefs in this environment. It's a cessation of the games, and a reduction of the small minded petty meanness that characterizes too many of the A listers (and which makes one realize that perhaps this environment is not so utopian after all).

But the problem is, what mechanism is there to reduce that "small minded petty meanness"? All the incentives which make kiss-up-kick-down a viable strategy, apply as well in blogging as elsewhere. I suspect any real progress will not be easy.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on February 13, 2006 03:13 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (0)
February 11, 2006

New Gatekeepers Are Still GATEKEEPERS

A soft answer turneth away wrath. -- Proverbs

Doc Searls, one of the nicest A-listers, writes a reply to one of my comments, in part:

... it pains me to think I'm being cruel without knowing it to a blogger who's trying just as hard as I am - or maybe harder - to make sense of things. So, if that's what I did with that post, my apologies to Tristan, Scott, Seth and anybody else who took offense.

Thank you. That's very generous.

Here's the problem:

I have this idea that the blogosphere is the one place in the world - or perhaps an entirely new world, or a part of a new world, created on the Net - where there is no need for class, for caste, for gates or keepers of anything.

Regrets. It's not. Let's stop right there. This is an idea that goes way back in a certain type of mythologizing - whether it's called the Classless Society, The New Socialist Man, The Wild West, The Wide-Open Frontier, etc. - of a New Era where rank and privilege have been abolished, and all is based on individual merit. I wish it were true too. But sadly, wishing won't make it so (and mistakenly believing it can get people deeply hurt in various ways).

There's then some particularly pernicious implications which flow from the above myth. If there is in reality a vast inequality of status, yet the theory is that the new world is merit-based, that provides a lot of disturbing tension, cognitive dissonance. There's some obvious ways to resolve it. One immediate method is to say those lower down the hierarchy must be un-meritorious in some way - whiners, as a cognate A-lister has expounded elsewhere. Another method is simply to deny that inequality exists. And these are where the cruelty manifests.

This world is exactly the same as *every* *other* *media* *world*, in that there's a few participants who have enormous reach, while most have little to none ("Power Law"). That's just a mathematical fact. One obvious corollary is that if an A-lister (very high audience) writes a personal attack on a Z-lister (very low audience), the Z-lister has no *effective* means of responding, to any comparable extent. This is hardly life-threatening, but it's not pleasant. When, on top of this, there's some sort of concept that the Z-lister really does have a means of reply, because they can do the equivalent of standing on a streetcorner and the entire city *could*, *in theory*, be the audience - well, it's frustrating. It's a kind of insult to injury. If this implies the death of the dream of the New Home Of Mind, it's dead whether or not we acknowledge that.

The critique of gatekeepers often has an underlying message, that reformers need to face these problems of differences in power and grapple with them directly. Technology will not make it all go away. And that's a very hard message indeed.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on February 11, 2006 10:39 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (5)
February 09, 2006

FON-ey business, or The A-list profit algorithm?

Wall Street Journal: Blog Buzz on High-Tech Start-Ups Causes Some Static (via Infectious Greed):

But the tiny company [FON] also got publicity from another source: influential commentators on the Internet who write blogs -- including some who may be compensated in the future for advising FON about its business.


The avalanche of blogging about FON, much of it from people now tied to the four-month-old company, highlights the rising influence of blogs in shaping opinions about tech start-ups, particularly in Silicon Valley. It also reveals the possible conflicts of interest such complicated relationships can dredge up.

Earlier, I had posted a comment about this on one A-lister's blog (slightly expanded):

Regarding: "I joined the advisory board without asking whether there would be any financial reward. (The answer, it later turned out, was that there might be, depending on how the company did in the marketplace.)"

Thanks for sharing that, I found it the most interesting part of the message (otherwise, another WiFi mesh-net, ho-hum).

I'm getting fascinated by how the whole A-list/start-up ecosystem functions. As far as I can make out, it goes like this:

The A-listers travel the conference circuit, accumulating attention. They may have a small foundation grant to live on, like a salesman's base salary. But if so, it's not a huge amount, essentially covering the core expenses of being an A-lister (basic living, airfare, transport, hotels).

The start-up gives the A-lister options, and a small measure of status. In return, the A-lister gives the company a measure of credibility, and some of the accumulated attention.

If the company crashes and burns, as most do, well, the attention and status exchanged was mutually beneficial.

If the company hits big, as happens, but rarely, then it's payday all around.

Have I got it right?

No criticism *at all* implied in this - purely my trying to analyze the mechanics of how it all works, and figure out how dangerous it is for me to be around that game.

Per the WSJ article validating this issue now, it seems to work like a personal version of a venture capital fund. The A-lister has a portfolio of "advisory board memberships", most of which aren't profitable. The few which are profitable, though, make the money for the whole endeavor.

Note this is an expensive game to play, since you basically have to spend all your time pitching and attention-cultivating. And be "connected", to get in on the hot deals (one of my big problems in this game is that I'm just barely "connected" enough to sometimes hear about the hot deals after the fact, but so much baggage that I'll never, ever, get one).

Once again though: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on February 09, 2006 10:29 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)
February 07, 2006

BMW.de, Google results, and punditry

BMW.de got "banned" from Google (temporarily) for search results manipulation, and this set-off an amazing amount of punditry. To sum it up briefly, the German website of the car-maker BMW hired a website firm that used fake pages ("doorway pages") to mislead search engines as to the content of the site. In my view, this is a very bad thing, basically corrupting search engine results, a kind of spam.

Google penalizes such actions by removal. This, again in my view, is a good thing. It is a use of power, but necessary and proper against spammer-like actions.

I originally thought there wasn't much to say - after the basic descriptions of what happened, what more is there? But, this just goes to show that I don't have what it takes to be a pundit. One must make controversy - e.g. accuse Google of enforcing "orthodoxy", of being "Orwellian" (the journomind has no good way to deal with thinking about private power - so it comes out in very strange ways, usually involving a few keywords). And that rhetoric brings in the all-important links.

So I am hereby going to stake out my punditry-point:

Death to spammers!

No, on second thought, Google-death is too good for them. A fate worse than death. No, a fate worse than a fate worse than death. ... Well, you get the idea.

How many Technorati-points is this worth?

[Update: Resurrected!. That was a short death. And they've probably got lots of links out of the publicity - SEO by infamy.]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather , google | on February 07, 2006 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (5)
February 05, 2006

More stats-blogging and proof of gatekeeping

I hate to bore away what few readers I have, but, sadly, mathematics keeps showing I'm not going to ever get that many in the first place (which again, is the major discouragement to me from launching into a lot of unpaid Google research). Let's do the numbers ...

There was an amusing reference to me in a comment at The Blogging of the President:

Stirling, you are beginning to sound like Seth Finkelstein, also smart and usually ignored.

I like that. So true :-(. Anyway, it was worth 15 referers for readers.

Wonderful compliment at Liza Sabater / Culturekitchen : "Google's new motto : Do no evil (unless there's a profit)"

Seth Finkelstein is the man I read daily for all things truthy about Google.

There might have been a single hit from there (interesting data point, given the Technorati Rank: 3,329).

Some nice mentions in Jon Garfunkel / Civilities: Negotiating for your Social Data:

Google does not clearly indicate which of its results are censored, which have made Seth's research on the company (as well as his pioneering work in censorware description) more unique and valuable.

But just one referred hit.

All of them handily *still* beat from the _The Register_ offhand link two weeks ago old, at 98 referers.

Bonus link: Lis Riba discussing Net Neutrality:

What's truly ironic was this "foresight" was totally based upon studies of past communication technologies in my Social Informatics class. Each was initially heralded as a way of increasing communication and education for the unserved and/or isolated populations. And in the end, they became just another mass media entertaining the lowest common denominator. No matter how open each new medium appears at its introduction, eventually, inevitably, gatekeepers emerge.

For example, when radio first appeared, transmitting equipment was relatively cheap. Radio was seen as a way to connect rural farms to one another and to the larger world. There was plenty of bandwidth for lots of small mom&pop community radio stations. And nowadays, it's mostly Clear Channel. Outside college radio stations it's nearly impossible for upcoming musicians to get on the air without pay-for-play.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in statistics | on February 05, 2006 01:55 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
February 02, 2006

Anti-Censorship Talk Is Cheap, Anti-Censorship Money Is Scarce

You say you got a real solution
Well you know
We'd all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well you know
We're doing what we can

-- Beatles, "Revolution"

In the wake of ChinaCenGoo, I was looking at the website of Tor: An anonymous Internet communication system.

Activism is hard, as in, unprofitable. It seems they don't have money these days, so they're asking for donations:

As of October 2005, EFF no longer has any money for supporting the Tor project. Your donation will help Roger and Nick focus on Tor development and usability rather than looking for new sponsors and getting distracted by day jobs. Help us keep Tor under active development!

It's no psychic trick at all to predict that there will be a new outpouring of blathering about fighting China's censorship with The Internet! and Blogs!!! [links omitted out of self-preservation]. When you read that stuff, please take note of how much serves merely to attract attention for the bibblers, as opposed to helping anyone actually do anything.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on February 02, 2006 10:07 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)