October 30, 2006

PageRank/Link-Buying Doesn't Care About Blogger Ethics

Much discussion about "PayPerPost" (a service which pays bloggers for posting about products) has understandably focused on the social rules involved in distinguishing what's an acceptable high-class social exchange of mutual benefit, and what's a low-class tawdry selling yourself (hint: where people stand on this is very tightly correlated to where they sit, as in on conference panels vs below in the audience or worse).

However ... in terms of "Search Engine Optimization And The Commodification of Social Relationships", it doesn't matter. That is, Google PageRank does not care about "*disclosure*". I laughed about PayPerPost's latest stunt in paying bloggers to link to a page about "disclosurepolicy.org". There's something very recursively absurd about that.

I don't think PayPerPost advertisers are buying the few dozens to hundreds readers of a typical blog post. Maybe, but I just don't think it's cost-effective. Rather, they're buying more the organic-looking LINKING from the various blogs, which looks to search engines as if the page is legitimately popular. Think of it like Astroturf applied to link-campaigning rather than political campaigning.

And when a product then ranks highly on a search engine due to those paid links, the people seeing that rank are not going to have any idea whether or not the blog posts which contributed to that rank followed A-lister Approved Best Practices For Soul-Selling.

Ironically, to use a buzzword, the A-listers are being "disintermediated" for certain business purposes (and THERE IS RE-INTERMEDIATION by the advertising agency), which I suspect is part of the reason for their howls that standards are being breached. Part of the evangelism sales-pitch is that bloggers are "influencers" - so of course A-listers are the biggest influencers of all. Thus advertisers should cater to them with everything from product freebies to consulting gigs. But what happens when, through The Magic Of The Internet, advertisers bypass those "gatekeepers", and simply buy large amounts of Z-listers through blatant resellers, instead of going through the A-list as intermediaries? Well, you have A-listers obviously upset that their own business model is being undercut. But it can be misleading to see their unhappiness as the main story (though it can be an amusing sideline), rather than a reflection of the economic shifts and battles between commerce vs social, being played out in various ways.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather , google | on October 30, 2006 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)
October 27, 2006

COPA - Civil-Liberties Witnesses Say Internet Censorship Effective And Easy

[Very interesting testimony on this topic in the "Child Online Protection Act" (COPA) Internet Censorship trial. As I say about censorware, if it works on minors in America, it'll work on citizens in China. And if it doesn't work on citizens in China, it won't work on minors in America. It's irrelevant here that someone may hold the social values that it's OK regarding minors in America, and not OK regarding citizens in China. The technical issue is the same. Pick one, but you can't have it both ways.]

[Lorrie Faith Cranor, 10/24]

Q. What steps did filtering companies take to make sure that their products can't be circumvented? Can you give us a few examples?

A. Well, so they monitor the various websites where children talk about how to circumvent the products and they -- when they hear about techniques they make sure that their software is not susceptible to those techniques and they use -- they password protect all aspects of the software, such as changing the settings and removing it.

[Note that while the answer uses the term "children", it works equally well with "political dissents" - indeed, those are not mutually exclusive categories, given student protest!]

[Ed Felten testimony, 10/25]

Q. ... I want to discuss with you the ease which filters can be circumvented. Do you have an opinion regarding the ease with which minors can circumvent Internet filtering technology?

A. Yes, I do.

Q. What is your opinion?

A. My opinion is that it's quite difficult for minors to circumvent filters.


Q. You mentioned a second approach to circumvention. What was that approach?

A. Second approach is to try to somehow route the Internet traffic through some kind of intermediary on the net in the hope of obscuring what is going on so the filter would not block it.

Q. What are the difficulties of that approach?

A. Well, there are a number of -- there are a number of different ways this approach can be tried.

One method is to try to find -- is to use one of a well-known set of sites on the net that will act as an intermediary for your web traffic. And the difficulty with using that method is that the filtering companies know about these sites as well. And so if they see traffic that tries to go to one of these well-known proxy or intermediary sites, the filter can just block that traffic. The filter will notice that this looks like an attempt to circumvent the filter and it can just block that traffic.

There are some other methods in which the user could try to set up their own intermediary site on some other computer, and that turns out to be fraught with all kinds of technical difficulties. You really have to have a lot of facility with installing and configuring networking software in order to have any hope of getting that to work in practice.

[I should note I actually agree with him, but don't want the arguments it usually gets me, or accusations of defeatism or "sour grapes", with those who believe censorware circumvention is substantially workable - take it up with him, not me!]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware , copa | on October 27, 2006 07:49 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (8)
October 26, 2006

Department of Justice Says Censorware Doesn't Work

[For "amusement", I present here an excerpt of the "Child Online Protection Act" (COPA) Internet Censorship trial (10/23), where in an opening statement, as part of their strategy, government lawyer Eric Beane argues vigorously that censorware does not work. My snark in brackets]

The evidence will show that a shocking amount of pornography slips through these filters and into the hands of children. The evidence will show that the patchwork of status quo solutions is not working well enough.

[Shocking. Censorware doesn't work. Later he really gets into this:]

We provided pictures to you that got through filters tested by plaintiffs' own expert. Each of those pages had gotten through a filter. And you are also going to hear testimony from our experts, Paul Mewett and Philip Stark, describing their comprehensive study of the effectiveness of the filters.

[They can prove it. It's science.]

The results of the study confirm what the public already knows. Filters don't solve the problems.

One filter failed to block over 60 percent of the sexually explicit web pages it was tested against, over 60 percent. We refer to this problem as underblocking.

Many other filters missed more than 25 percent of those sexually explicit websites.

Even the filter that underblocked the least sexually explicit pages still allowed 8.6 percent of the sexually explicit pages through. Don't let a small percentage fool you. This percentage translates to hundreds of millions of sexually explicit pages.

[Porn pornn pornnn, it's everywhere ...]

If a water source was mixed with a sewer system, and you had a filter that screened out but 6.6 percent of it, would that be a solution to the problem? Would that cure the problem of the drinking water? I think that analogy works here with kids. It's the fact that there are still all of these images there, there were speeches that can be done directed at the source that can address that problem where filters will never be able to.

[Trying to bail the ocean with a spoon doesn't work. But, I must say, neither does commanding the waves.]

A low underblocking rate also comes at a cost. The filters that are most successful at blocking out sexually explicit pages also block out many other pages that contain no sexual content at all. 23.6 percent of the pages that were blocked had no sexual explicit content.

[You heard him! Censorware doesn't work!]

For example, one filter even blocked a website promoting a marathon to raise funds for breast cancer research. Part of the CIA's World fact Book was blocked. And a page with an ACLU calendar. In fact each of the plaintiffs websites in this case was blocked by at least one filter, and the united states has consistently taken the position that none of the plaintiffs' websites are covered by COPA.

[The "breast" issue isn't obsolete, it's still a problem!]

So in the absence of the solution offered by COPA, parents are left with a very difficult choice of allowing their children to be exposed to sexually explicit material or of cutting off their children's access to a significant portion of other materials on the worldwide web, materials that in many cases are necessary for a child to complete his homework.

[Wow - Censorware interferes with children's ability to do homework. The government wouldn't say it if it weren't true, right?]

As you might imagine the task of keeping an up-to-date black list is mammoth. It is simply impossible to catalog the entire worldwide web. So the overall effectiveness of a filter will always depend on the performance of automated classification software or dynamic filtering.

On this point you will hear from Dr. Stephen Neale who is a nationally renowned expert in linguistics. He will explain that image filtering does not work and that robot filters that operate by sorting language and text will never be able to stop pornographic images from reaching children.

[It's an impossible task - you have word of the US Department Of Justice on it]
[Of course this is posturing - but the quotes might be useful for anyone dealing with a censorware-maker]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware , copa | on October 26, 2006 09:21 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
October 25, 2006

"Child Online Protection Act" (COPA) Internet Censorship trial begins

ACLU COPA press release:

PHILADELPHIA -- The American Civil Liberties Union today presented opening arguments in federal district court in its longstanding challenge to an Internet censorship law, ACLU v. Gonzales.

Best coverage I've seen so far is at law.com. See also nerve.com COPA blog

Frankly, is there anyone reading who 1) doesn't already know what I have to say on the topic, and 2) cares?

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on October 25, 2006 08:47 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
October 24, 2006

Wikipedia, and the difficulties of criticizing digital-sharecropping

I'm going to perhaps do something stupid, and comment on a contentious exchange between Lawrence Lessig and Nick Carr, regarding criticism frameworks (getting sucked into this stuff is one reason blogging can be negative ...):

But Lessig isn't really interested in describing the world as it is. His eyes are on a further goal. He wants to redefine "Web 2.0" in order to promote a particular ideology, the ideology of digital communalism in which private property becomes common property and the individual interest is subsumed into the public interest - in which we become the web and the web becomes us.


So Nick Carr charges me with launching the Cultural Revolution, in a post dripping with references to the evils of communism, and with a triumphant close: "The Cultural Revolution is over. It ended before it even began, The victors are the counterrevolutionaries. And they have $1.65 billion to prove it."

In brief, there's two important ideas somewhat in conflict:

1) (fact) There are new businesses which can be built on data-mining or large collections of small amounts of unpaid labor

2) (belief) There is social or economic value in openness and commons

Trying to mix these two ideas is not as easy as it seems. Because in order to promote the social or economic value in openness and commons, one can end up being a cheerleader of data-mining and digital-sharecropping businesses (#1), as supposed proofs of the value (#2). And those businesses can be deceptive and exploitative, and it won't matter as long as they're profitable. Worse, in order to encourage the donation of free labor, such a business may build a cultish presentation around itself, pitching how you can achieve meaning in life and belonging to a higher purpose, by working for free (this is not a new idea!). Then if one is invested (in many senses) in boosting those sorts of businesses, any deflation of the hype becomes a threat.

The problem is that we don't have a good rhetorical shorthand for "negative effects of a communal activity", so it tends to come out as But-That's-Communism. I try to address this by drawing analogies to multi-level marketing, pyramid schemes, lotteries (which note are capitalism). But that has its own rhetorical downside for harshness.

Now, in terms of specifics here, media industry flacks regularly accuse Lessig of being a Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist-Troskyite Commie, so it's very understandable that he reacts strongly to such implications. In an ideal world, Carr might have smoothed it over via "I'm sorry Larry, I didn't mean that. I was only trying to make a criticism using some metaphoric language, but now I understand that it sounded similar to the personal attacks you receive all the time, which wasn't my intention". The key area of dispute got lost in an unfortunate miscommunication, as in the following (Lessig):

And if you don't have time to read, then ask yourself a simple question: Is Jimmy Wales a communist? (Anyone who knows him knows how absurd the question is, but even if you don?t know him, you can figure it out.) There is no better, more effective advocate for the sharing economy. The project he's helped steward - Wikipedia - is perhaps the sharing economy's prize. But when he advises companies, and others trying to use the net, how best to build upon the value of the Internet, is he just doing Chairman Mao's work?

If Wikipedia is the "sharing" economy's prize, it's a booby-prize (and I use that term advisedly). And it's not because anyone is a Communist, rather exactly because of being capitalists - even Venture Capitalists (as in, 4 million dollars here, 100 million dollars there, soon we're talking real money). Wikipedia works off an interesting confluence of factors, some having to do with having investors willing to fund it as a loss-leader, combined with the neat trick of being able to attract an editorial staff willing to work full-time for free. This has almost nothing to do with how peasants divide up agricultural production, except viewed from a long distance there's a large classless society laboring away for not much tangible in return.

But there's no way to easily talk about that, in an environment where anyone who isn't a copyright robber-baron is regularly accused of being a Communist, and on the other hand, digital-sharecropping businesses are viewed as arguments against copyright robber-barons.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on October 24, 2006 05:16 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (9)
October 20, 2006

Search Engine Optimization And The Commodification of Social Relationships

Many media A-list bloggers have been in an uproar over a service that pays bloggers for posting about products. More than just payola, Doc Searls also brought up the connection to "SEO":

Somebody said to me recently that PayPerPost and others like it are just "the latest SEO moves". SEO is "Search Engine Optimization", or the practice of doing things to raise your PageRank and get more Google advertising money, basically.

There are two approaches to SEO. One is to raise your PageRank with tricks. The other is to write useful and interesting posts about subjects you know and care about. Show me a blog with a lot of Google juice and I'll show you a blog that didn't need SEO tricks.

As all students of Search Engine Optimization know, link buying and selling is a big issue. In theory, PageRank is supposed to be developed from social relationship ("organic links"), representing the true value of human interaction. It is not supposed to be a commercial relationship, to the highest bidder.

But this is interacting really badly with commercializing social relationships. There's deep problems, especially when new variations arise in commoditizing connections between people.

Are you allowed to hire people to write useful and interesting posts? That's got to be permitted, right? I haven't seen the blogs which are basically commercial magazines online, being kicked out of the warm-'n-fuzzy backscratching A-list club for having paid staff.

Are you allowed to parcel out the hiring in little bits of cheap labor on other people's sites? Why not? You know what the blog evangelists would say if they were in favor of this, hailing it as a marvelous disintermediation of the old monolithic priesthood of the high barrier to entry media payoffs, compared to the hip new democratized PEOPLE-POWERED PAYOLA.

There's an old joke which runs:

Billionaire to woman: "Would you have sex with me for a million dollars?"
Woman: "Well ... yes"
Billionaire to woman: "Would you have sex with me for ten dollars?"
Woman: "What kind of a girl do you think I am?"
Billionaire: "We've already determined that. Now we're just arguing over the price."

There's two aspects here: Commercial, and amount. The obvious aspect of the joke is that there's two categories of interactions, commercial and social, and there's never supposed to be any overlap between them, whatever the amount. A less often remarked aspect is that there is indeed a "class" division between high-priced commercial and low-priced commercial.

I think we're seeing a real life version of that joke, roughly:

Company to blogger: "Would you write about me for advisory board membership?
Blogger: "Well ... yes"
Company to blogger: "Would you write about me for ten dollars?"
Blogger: "What kind of a flack do you think I am?"
Company: "We've already determined that. Now we're just arguing over the price."

Is a few bucks just the same as an advisory board membership? No - there's a class division, in that an advisory board membership is high-class and expensive, while a few bucks is tawdry and cheap. But there's something a bit methinks-the-lady-doth-protest-too-much when we have the equivalent of executive "escorts" venomously criticizing street prostitutes for being so crude as to be selling it.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather , google | on October 20, 2006 04:29 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (8)
October 18, 2006

Spamhaus v. E360Insight, ICANN, and There Is No Domain Crisis In The Making

I'm going to spit into the wind, and anti-hype the story about "Spamhaus appeals possible shutdown ruling". Background: A spam-enabler in the US sued an anti-spam organization, SpamHaus, based in the UK. The UK organization deliberately didn't show in US court, so the US court awarded awared the case to the US spam-enabler by default. Now, the US spam-enabler filed a proposal with the court that the UK anti-spam organization be forced to give the US spam-enabler their domain name. This bit of nasty legal posturing is being treated as if it were earth-shattering, or at least cybernetintertarweb-shattering.

Here's a good analysis from a mailing list:

From: Jonathan Zittrain <zittrain[at-sign]law.harvard.edu>
Date: October 8, 2006 5:05:04 PM EDT
Subject: more on ICANN NOT ordered by Illinois court to suspend spamhaus.org

Dave and IP,

I don't see cause for panic on the Spamhaus lawsuit.

1/ The subject line of this thread is puzzling, since the document at <http://www.spamhaus.org/archive/legal/e360/kocoras_order_6_10.pdf> is merely a proposed order, no doubt put forward by the plaintiff. The plaintiff is welcome to file proposed paperwork with the judge, but that doesn't make it an order until the judge signs it.

2/ An alert judge would not sign this document. There are specific state practices (and often statutes) about how default judgments are handled, and about how any sort of judgment translates into anything that binds a party outside of the case. For example, banks can sometimes be ministerially ordered to attach wages or seize accounts of people who owe money in lawsuits, or land can be auctioned. But something like a domain name is a far cry from a bank account or a house, and the registrar would have plenty to say about what to do with what is more a contractual relationship than a sum of money or a piece of real property.

3/ If the judge isn't alert and just signs, the registrar would have plenty of interventions to make if it chose -- and indeed it may not even be under the jurisdiction of the court.

There's some chance this could turn out to be more than mildly interesting, but I don't see any reason to think it's some grave event for cyberspace. ...JZ

[Update Friday 10/20 6pm: And per AP report, the court turned down the proposal]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in spam | on October 18, 2006 03:08 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
October 16, 2006

"Wal-Marting Across America" - Did Googlewashing Work?

The "Wal-Marting Across America" story, where a Wal-Mart PR firm sponsored a "fake" blog ("walmartingacrossamerica.com") about a couple's trip involving various Walmart stores, contains this interesting Google aspect:

It was a great way to redefine the term Wal-Marting, which is mostly used pejoratively to mean, among other things, how big box retailers mow down small businesses.

I was interested if the Googlewashing, i.e. crowding out search results, worked here. So far, all it seems to have generated is very poor results (#2 hit now). And at the cost of much negative reaction .

The idea above seemed to be, in part, to use the blog and the link behavior of bloggers to get prominent placement. But - again, so far - the blog ranks very poorly on a search for "Wal-Marting", or "WalMarting". I think what's happened is that the PR people drank the blog-evangelism Kool-Aid, and were misled by hype about blogs. Blogs can in fact be obscure in Google, especially if they are new and have few links, which was the case for this "flog" (PR blog). A-lister's blogs, established and popular, tend to rank well. But that doesn't mean any blog is going to do well, which is the sales-pitch.

Amusingly, there's the inevitable trumpeting that the failure of this stunt proves how blogs are so authentic and sincere (Scott Karp: "And because blogging is not a control-based medium, Edelman couldn't make Wal-Mart appear to be something it's not. It rang false, and they got caught."). In fact, I'd say the stunt didn't work because blogging is a very control-based medium, and you usually won't get heard unless a gatekeeper high up the hierarchy directs attention to you (I know, I say this a lot, I'm proposing it as an alternative explanation for the stunt's failure - it's not that bloggers can't be fooled, but that to fool them, e.g. you have to suck up to A-listers, not just exist).

There's a certain unfalsifiability in the reaction. Exploitations which conveniently blow-up are going to be greeted with a chorus of Transparency!, Conversation!, bloggers are just so gosh darn smart and clever and real that they can't be taken. But successful exploitations which do not fit this storyline will of course not be fodder for more delusion.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather , google | on October 16, 2006 09:54 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
October 15, 2006

Welcome, SurfControl.com reader! Please introduce yourself.

I see I have acquired an interested reader from the censorware company SurfControl.com. Welcome! Please introduce yourself. As I asked the "Smith & Metalitz LLP" reader - who are you? Where do I rank in terms of "threat level"? Do I rate a Vice President reader? Marketing researcher? Intern?. Frankly, I don't think I'm much of threat at all these days, so maybe you're just a random company person who has stumbled upon my obscure thread of the web. Inquiring minds want to know.

I've always wondered what people assigned to do long-term surveillance of their ideological opposites think about it all. As in, if you get stuck wiretapping a mob conspiracy, it's going to be a pretty dull job. You're never going to wonder if the mob guys have a point after all, or admire something they've done except in grotesque way. But if its, e.g. the FBI and John Lennon, did any of the agents ever have a positive thought about the music, or even, maybe the war wasn't such a good idea after all?

So far, no assigned "opposition researcher" of me has ever been both willing to discuss it with me, and also thoughtful about the topic. So the mystery remains.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on October 15, 2006 01:33 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (5)
October 13, 2006

Censorware Blacklisting Roundup

A bunch of censorware-related items have crossed my screen recently, so I decided to collect them for a spit into the wind, err, democratic aggregatory gesture. Interestingly, none of these have to do with porn, but more like the difference between broad category labels versus the practical effects.

"Emergent Chaos" (a group blog on security, privacy, liberty, and economics) recently ran afoul of SmartFilter.

The vdare.com (see self-description) site has post on its experiencing various blacklisting issues.

Doc Searls: "Oddly, I can listen to Howard Stern at my hotel, but I can't visit his website. I can't do (AIM-based) instant messaging or send email either. " Later: "... it turns out that what looked like censorship the other day was an installation glitch. The service company had installed a severe (corporate? school? I dunno) firewall in the hotel, when a much more open one had been called for."

[N.b.: I have a few thoughts on this as it relates to earlier discussion of What Can't Be Fixed, but this example is really extremely minor. I mean, I could have asked for some attention patronage, and he probably would have granted it, but the point is that I am a peasant begging alms, and it's not worth it. I only wish I wouldn't get personally attacked when the topic makes the rounds. ]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on October 13, 2006 10:29 AM | (Infothought permalink)
October 10, 2006

Google Buys YouTube - the structure of Bubble 2.0

Did you hear? Google buys YouTube. After thinking about it, I actually have something to write about it that's a good update on the state of Bubble 2.0, and an explanation to anyone who cares as to why it won't be my fortune (or, to the handful of people reading this, why it probably won't be your fortune either).

We'll never see the likes of Bubble 1.0 again, for decades (the next one similar to that will probably be commodity-level biotechnology, but that could be 20 years away or more). But there are smaller bubbles at more frequent intervals, and Bubble 2.0 is one of those. Unfortunately, I'm close enough to see it, but the economics of it isn't favorable for me.

As a quick check, I looked at the status of the Harvard RSS investment fund, which I'm using as a bellwether. They wanted to raise 100 million dollars, but when I counted what was known about their investments, I came up with only around 6 million dollars. Seems like the party isn't in full swing yet.

Anyway, Bubble 1.0 was about people paying very high prices for assumed productively gains from the Internet. Take "Pets.com" - look, you can order pet food over the Internet! Cool - but how much would you pay for that company? The key was that it didn't cost a lot to play that game. Find some niche, make a little improvement, profit.

Bubble 2.0 is all about data-mining and getting suckers to work for free (this last is called "user-generated content" or "citizen journalism"). But that's a fairly expensive game to play (maybe not expensive from a venture capital fund standpoint, but it's not a garage operation). It also requires a huge amount of marketing. It's necessary to either somehow convince all those suckers that they should work for free, or find out what it is that they'll do that you can exploit (this is why there's a bunch of pilot-fish around the sharks, saying something like "Ecosystems are conversations. When the shark eats you, you are a *participant* in the circle of life - you are the nourishment formerly known as prey, think of yourself as a citizen-lunchmeat"). Both are tough sells, either to the little people that they really want to enrich you by doing grunt labor, or to the big people that they really don't want to pauperize you by suing about copyright infringement from all that "sharing".

There's definitely businesses here. But it's all built on becoming some sort of enormous silo filled with tiny grains, which requires a substantial capital expenditure, as well as winner-take-all contests with other silos who want to be the central place to store grains. To succeed, that requires a certain combination of rare circumstances that are unusual, though somebody wins the lottery.

Basically, Bubble 2.0 does have a model, but it's a very much a multi-level-marketing scheme model. As opposed to the Bubble 1.0 model, which was inflated expectations. The key difference is that mostly everyone can play at inflated expectations until it all crashes, while playing multi-level-marketing doesn't work if you're not already good at marketing.

Tangentially related, I was very amused to read about a online news conference kerfuffle, where a business focused bubble-blower apparently gave a typical blog-triumphalism rabble-rousing presentation, and got thoroughly chastised by other blog bubble-blowers - some of whom just happened to be in various partnerships and consulting arrangements with the "Old Media" companies which were targets of the rabble-rousing presentation. Links omitted out of self-preservation, but the reaction was hilarious in a cynical way: No, no, that's the speech for the chumps, what we feed to the rubes - don't give it in the faces of the moneybags who are hiring us, it'll just offend them.

Some of the evangelism rhetoric, when examined closely, has always been very weird. Paraphrased, "We will storm the ramparts, lay siege to the castle ... in order to be chambermaids and valets, for free!"

Nick Carr was prophetic:

One day, a blog-peasant boy found buried in the dust beside his shack a sphere of flawless crystal. When he looked into the ball he was astounded see a moving picture. It was an image of a fleet of merchant ships sailing into the harbor of the island of Blogosphere. The ships bore names that had long been hated throughout the island, names like Time-Warner and News Corp and Pearson and New York Times and Wall Street Journal and Conde Nast and McGraw-Hill. The blog-peasants gathered along the shore, jeering at the ships and telling the invaders that they would soon be vanquished by the brave royals in the great castle. But when the captains of the merchant ships made their way to the gates of the castle, bearing crates of gold, they were not repelled by the royals with cannons but rather welcomed with fanfares. And all through the night the blog-peasants could hear the sounds of a great feast inside the castle walls.

That feast is starting now, and the main dish is YOU.

[Update: Tristan Louis sends an examination of prices: "No Bubble 2.0 yet"]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on October 10, 2006 10:59 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (20)
October 06, 2006

"Most blogs have precisely one reader - the blogger themself."

He said it, not me!:

But [Google chief executive Eric Schmidt ] won his biggest reaction from the audience when he made a joke about blogging: "Most blogs have precisely one reader - the blogger themself."

Update - Bonus links, casting "Pearls Before Swine":

Why A Z-lister Is Like A Baseball Player In A Slump

Why Z-list Blogs Should Be Careful Of Readership Statistics

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in quotes | on October 06, 2006 08:44 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (7)
October 05, 2006

DailyKos Now UnBlacklisted by SmartFilter from "Profanity", "Mature"

Following-up, the DailyKos censorware blacklisting is now minimal:

DailyKos UnBlacklisted Profanity,Mature By SmartFilter

There's various ways this incident can be viewed - e.g. whether you consider it a big problem that a site can be prevented from being read in many places (including certain public libraries) via being added to a secret blacklist, or whether you want to say that the censorware maker didn't want to push this cause-celebre so that proves censorware is responsive, or maybe even that nobody in the real world cares about a ranty political forum site so it doesn't matter.

Last week was the American Library Association's "Banned Book Week". Sadly, my idea of "Banned Websites Week" is now just futile blog-posts of what could have been.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on October 05, 2006 10:29 PM | (Infothought permalink)
October 03, 2006

DailyKos Gets Censorware Blacklisted by SmartFilter as "Profanity", "Mature"

Yup, as being discussed, it's censorware blacklisted:

DailyKos Censorware Blacklisted By SmartFilter

Update: In a comment Kos himself says:

I'm working behind the scenes to see if I can resolve this quietly. Computer Associates apparently uses this filter, which is why I was seeking someone from that company earlier. But if Secure Computing is the source, then even better.

I have reached out to their PR department to see if they can facilitate a reversal of action. If they don't respond favorably within the next 48 hours, then I bring out the big guns.

lol, this is definitely an example of how I've changed in the last four years. Even a year ago, I would've burst out with guns blazing. But it's amazing how much you can accomplish with a little sugar.

I think I'm mellowing with age...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on October 03, 2006 07:54 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)

Martin Luther King and The Unpleasant Search Algorithm Result

I'm a bit late in punditing about the CNET article noting:

Using the keywords "Martin Luther King," the first result on Google and AOL--whose search is powered by Google--and the second result on Microsoft Windows Live search is a Web site created by a white supremacists group that purports to provide "a true historical examination" of the civil rights leader.

Microsoft says:

The results on Microsoft's search engine are "not an endorsement, in any way, of the viewpoints held by the owners of that content," said Justin Osmer, senior product manager for Windows Live Search. "The ranking of our results is done in an automated manner through our algorithm which can sometimes lead to unexpected results," he said. "We always work to maintain the integrity of our results to ensure that they are not editorialized."

And Nick Carr:

By "editorialized" he seems to mean "subjected to the exercise of human judgment." And human judgment, it seems, is an unfit substitute for the mindless, automated calculations of an algorithm. We are not worthy to question the machine we have made. It is so pure that even its corruption is a sign of its integrity.

This is a good jumping-off point to note why I don't have a "home", for what I think of as technology-positive social criticism. Because my instinct here is not to bemoan the corruption of the machine, but to say, "That's what you asked it [the machine] to do". That is, if you ask the machine to tell you, very roughly, "What's the most popular site for this phrase", and it tells you something you don't like, well, that's the exact opposite of corruption. Sure, it's possible to ignore it - but that opens up a whole range of problems. Such as, which results are now going to be deemed so offensive to public sensibility that they'll be suppressed?

More importantly, if you start playing favorites, people are going to wonder if every oddity is the result of pressure groups - or should be subjected to manual adjustment. And search engines have enough problems with people falsely believing their personal sites been censored.

Think of it as "Government of laws, not of men".

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on October 03, 2006 09:30 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (7)