There will hopefully be a few big posts after Labor Day as I clear
out some material, but the next week looks like an excellent time to
to take some blog-vacation. In fact, while I'm not shutting down
entirely quite yet, the recent
blogging-as-fraud discussion had an unintended consequence of making my
blog continuation even more precarious. That is, given that it raised
my profile among A-listers, the obvious defense of oligarchy would be
to trash whatever I wrote. Since someone like me never, ever, wins against an
A-lister, almost by definition,
I'm not inclined to write my fingers to the bone on posts which are:
1) doomed to not be read, and 2) then to be used as justification as to why I'm not worthy of being read (having gone through the trashing process quite a few times, I know it well - as the old joke goes, if I walked on water, the slam would be I couldn't swim). I'd rather just not play the game at all, and save my time and energy.
Blog not quite dead yet, but I think there's been another turning-point.
I must share this:
"Blogging : We're Going To Need More Monkeys"
[Update - never mind - found]
The search traffic to my site skyrocketed this evening (Aug 21), for reasons I'm curious about. Did an A-lister mention my name somewhere, but misspell it? (FinkELstein, not FinkLEstein).
If anyone knows the reason, please let me know, I'm extremely interested (sethf at-sign sethf.com, or you can post a comment below).
I've been attempting to keep my head down, trying to make myself a relatively small target in the aftermath discussion, since I'm an ant among elephants. Additionally, one of the problems with blog evangelism is that since A-list status is proof of God's grace on Earth, I mean, merit, non-A-list status is therefore proof of unworthiness. So whatever I wrote next had better be damn good, otherwise it would just go to show I could not meet the high standards of posting about the hot conference/UnParty, and who was there. Fortunately, in response to one gatekeeper's protest, Dave Rogers provided some evidence:
If you use Google to search for the term "censorship" on Doc Searls weblog, you get about 109 hits. [...] Now, if you search for the term "Finkelstein" on Doc's weblog, it appears only twice on February 12th and 18th 2006, rebutting the charges of "gatekeeping."
Not all of those links where Doc mentioned censorship dealt with "net censorship" per se. But one gets the impression that censorship is an issue Doc is concerned about, and opposed to, yet he never happened to stumble across a blog post by Seth Finkelstein he felt worth pointing to. [...]
It's not that Doc is actively conspiring to keep Seth Finkelstein in obscurity, he's not and nobody is making that claim. It's just that Seth's relative obscurity, in relation to his authority on what is perhaps a niche, although important, topic is due to the fact that high attention-earners have not had occasion to use their attention-directing authority to point to Seth's efforts.
Now, I suppose someone can blame Seth for that, but that's not the point. The point is that it is a myth that if you write well about a topic that people care about, you will receive attention, you will have the opportunity to be influential by virtue of your authority on the topic. That's simply not the case. While I won't go so far as to say it's a patronage system, it's not far removed from that when people advocate that lesser attention-earners link to high attention-earners in order to receive reciprocal linkage.
Or as, in a different post, Kent Newsome put it:
I'm not so much interested in having the blogosphere operate differently as I am in calling bullshit when people try to say it operates differently than it actually does.
From another angle, as Shelley Powers noted the irony:
So, here's a brain teaser: what sentences can you derive from the following words: Shel Israel, blog evangelist, naked conversationist, tells Nick Carr to sit down shut up.
I should back up for a moment and note that in my original comment, I was assuming an oligarchy, and talking about why one might continue banging your head against the wall. The answer wasn't necessarily the shiny happy "to connect with people", but perhaps the reverse, more like why people stay in a bad relationship.
So I wasn't on a grand quest for links. Rather, I was being a part of examining the driving frauds behind blog evangelism. I could enumerate fallacies, but that doesn't seem to do any good.
Anyway, Doc Searls wanted to know:
What more can I do going forward than what I've always done, which is try to link to as many people as I can who have interesting things to say?
Frankly, I don't know how to reform society, even the bogosphere, to make it more egalitarian. And my own activism efforts have ended pretty badly overall for me. But (not singling out any individual person here, but making a general statement) the standard A-list reactions of denying the mathematics and attacking the critics, are not a solution.
Update: Read all of Dave Rogers follow-up
People like Seth write with authority about important issues and they thought the blogosphere would help them find their voice and reach an audience that would allow them to be influential. Well, it doesn't work that way and it never did.
A blog-peasant, one of the Great Unread, comes to the wall of the castle to offer a tribute to a royal, and the royal drops a couple of coins of attention into the peasant's little purse. The peasant is happy, and the royal's hold over his position in the castle is a little bit stronger.
A handful of people responded to Newsome's post, among them the long-time blogger Seth Finkelstein. Finkelstein's tone was much darker. You sensed not only the resignation but also the bitterness that is always left behind when a fraud is revealed:
To be more personal here, I wrote because:
1) I was suckered into the idea that blogs were a way to "route around" media power, and to be HEARD.
2) I had delusions of influence.
3) The random-payoff of attention makes it seem far more effective than it actually is.
4) It's painful to admit that you've wasted so much time and effort and pretty much nobody is listening.
Blog evangelism is very cruel, as it preys on people's frustrated hopes and dreams.
My blog is read by a few dozen fans ... I've come close to shutting it down at times, and will finally reach the breaking-point eventually.
[And I meant every word of that!]
In Carr's comments, I mentioned a few other people's writing in a similar vein which I recommend:
I've made this point many times now, perhaps too often. But the hucksterism of blog evangelism still bothers me. While I treasure being complimented for my writing, it sadly just doesn't matter compared to the huge effect of the very tiny concentration of power which determines who gets past the gatekeepers.
Human Rights Watch has released a new report "Race to the Bottom" - Corporate Complicity in Chinese Internet Censorship
It's a thorough examination of the topic. I won't attempt to extensively summarize, since that'll be done by many others.
I'm mentioned (with regard to Google censorship) at the bottom of page 61, in very good company:
For more on this issue see Bill Thompson, "The billblog: Google censoring web content," BBC News, October 25, 2002 [online], http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/2360351.stm; Jonathan Zittrain and Benjamin Edelman, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, "Localized Google search result exclusions," October 26, 2002 [online], http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/filtering/google/; Seth Finkelstein, "Google Censorship - How It Works," Sethf.com, March 10, 2003, http://sethf.com/anticensorware/general/google-censorship.php; and Philipp Lenssen, "Sites Google Censors," Google Blogscoped, January 25, 2005, http://blog.outercourt.com/archive/2005-01-15-n50.html (all retrieved July 12, 2006).
[Hat tip: Philipp Lenssen
"A Face Is Exposed for AOL Searcher No. 4417749" is the New York Times' proof of concept of privacy invasion from search data:
Ms. Arnold, who agreed to discuss her searches with a reporter, said she was shocked to hear that AOL had saved and published three months' worth of them. "My goodness, it's my whole personal life," she said. "I had no idea somebody was looking over my shoulder."
You can just see the upper levels of the policy and punditry elite digesting this concept, as it becomes valid for them. There's a teachable moment happening right before our eyes, where conventional wisdom is being changed. Concerns about the implications of data retention, search logs, privacy invasion, etc, are suddenly moving from the outer reaches (ie. civil-libertarians) of polite society, to be respectable issues-of-the-day.
For unique material which is not being said dozens of times over by other people, I'll point out that Daniel Brandt at GoogleWatch has been making this case for years now, and even running "Scroogle", an anonymizing search proxy. This supports my points about activism - without media support, without a certain level of insiderness, you will talk forever about an issue, and not make any (or very little) progress.
This collection consists of ~20M web queries collected from ~650k users over three months. The data is sorted by anonymous user ID and sequentially arranged.
While it'll be well-discussed, I'll observee: AOL has just given us the world's biggest real-world experiment as to whether privacy invasion can be done from search-engine data. Previously, when discussing the Google Search subpoena, all people could do was speculate - the data might have this, it could include that, maybe possibly someone could do this from it. Now we have both a huge amount of data, and many interested geeks playing with it and mining it.
I joked we'll now see a huge distributed reverse-engineering collaborative effort to track down as many anonymous user ID's as possible. At least, I hope that was joke. Maybe it wasn't.
Note this data is being far, far, more widely released than the subpoena data, which would have been under confidentiality agreements and protective orders. Worrying about Big Government can be a distraction over far worse Big Corporations.
According to a story making the rounds of the bogosphere, "Circuit City Flouts The DMCA For A Tenner"
Well, well, well! Look who's violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act! For only a couple of fins, Circuit City will take your DVD and an iPod and flagrantly breach copyright at your behest.
When I read that story, it struck me as unbelievable. I could not imagine a large chain store setting up a DVD duplication service, without authorization. These people aren't going to fight the MPAA just for fun.
So I called Circuit City for some fact-checking.
According to Bill Cimino, Circuit City Director of Corporate Communications:
"The sign is incorrect and not authorized and we are in the process of making sure the sign is removed"
"We offer two services. In a small number of stores, we will transfer your commercial CD's to a DVD, and in other stores, we will transfer your home VHS to a DVD. We do not transfer pre-recorded VHS or DVD, to DVD"
Folks, apply common sense. It's a lot more believable that someone got service details wrong, or even did some under-the-table moonlighting, than that a large corporation has an official DVD-copying service.
Bloggers Blast Lawmakers Over Various Tech Bills
Another pending measure, one the House passed last week, also sparked blog criticism. The bill would require schools and libraries to block student access to online social networks. Seth Finkelstein at Infothought argued that the measure "[legislates] against interactivity."
That's an accurate quote, as far as it goes. Though the excerpt didn't fully convey that I playing off the expression "legislating morality". The full sentence was: "But "DOPA" is dramatically beyond legislating morality - it's legislating against interactivity."
Not that I'm complaining, merely elaborating. All (positive) mentions gratefully accepted. Though I received perhaps two referer hits from National Journal, so my tech pundit status remains down in the Z-list.
(J) COMMERCIAL SOCIAL NETWORKING WEBSITES; CHAT ROOMS- Within 120 days after the date of enactment of the Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006, the Commission shall by rule define the terms `social networking website' and `chat room' for purposes of this subsection. In determining the definition of a social networking website, the Commission shall take into consideration the extent to which a website--
(i) is offered by a commercial entity;
(ii) permits registered users to create an on-line profile that includes detailed personal information;
(iii) permits registered users to create an on-line journal and share such a journal with other users;
(iv) elicits highly-personalized information from users; and
(v) enables communication among users.'.
My contribution: While people can have fun coming up with the most twisted interpretation possible, as a kind of party-game ("it bans all ISP's, because ISP's collect personal info, generally have free webpages, and enable communication among users"), I'm virtually certain that the eventual answer is going to be pretty simple:
A "Commercial Social Networking Website" will be whatever the censorware company puts on the blacklist for "commercial social networking websites". End of story.
Why is this true? Simple. Because that's what happened the last time regarding FCC censorware compliance regulations. They basically amounted to saying that the censorware companies could do whatever they wanted. There's no reason to think it'll be any different this time.