January 31, 2007

Global Internet Freedom, aka Company Censorship Collaboration Squirmfest

AP: Tech Firms Seek Action on Net Censorship: "WASHINGTON (AP) - American technology giants urged the U.S. government Tuesday to do more to confront China and other countries about Internet censorship."

And how to confront? To wit:

Andrew McLaughlin, senior counsel for Google, told a State Department-sponsored conference on Internet freedom that his company is trying to use its presence in countries that are restrictive to provide communication options, such as e-mail and blogs, for people who may not have other ways to talk to each other freely.

Ah, blog-evangelism. But the obvious counter-argument is that Google's services of "e-mail and blogs" form an incredibly centralized honey-pot of monitoring and censorship for those restrictive governments to monitor and censor. And those governments won't be playing around with puny subpoenas for research over which Google can make a huge PR fuss. They'll just order Google to provide them with "dissident alerts".

McLaughlin urged the U.S. government to fight for technology and information companies' rights in the international trade arena.

"What we need is for censorship to be treated as a trade barrier and be put right up at the top of our agenda when it comes to bilateral" free trade agreements, he said.

Ha ha ha. The man is funny. Part of being a lawyer is training to make outrageous arguments with a straight face. Free trade agreements do not exactly have a distinguished record as tools for human rights enforcement. Though I appreciate the rhetorical purpose of the argument, the deflection of the issue into what would certainly be an economic-growth-solves-everything response (but it would be someone else's response, and so get Google off the hook).

Now, I'll grant this is not a simple problem, because of the obvious dilemma that any company which doesn't go along with repression loses market share to a company which will (which is in fact an argument for a legislative approach). On the other hand, I don't have too much sympathy for the companies involved trying to weasel it away.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on January 31, 2007 12:55 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
January 29, 2007

Wikipedia - Debate with me, Bureaucratic system based on China, Secret police

My screen runneth over with Wikipedia punditry.

Nick Carr extracts a debate on Wikipedia between Paul Montgomery and me:

Rough Type's users have been generating some particularly good content of late, so I thought I'd be a good Web 2.0 plantation owner and harvest it for my own (meager) gain. In the comment thread to my recent post on the black hole of Wikipedia, Paul Montgomery and Seth Finkelstein have been going at it like a couple of fairly well-mannered cats in a bag about Wikipedia, white guyism, and the quantum universe. Their exchange, which began with Montgomery's broadside against the poor, defenseless plantation owner, follows.

Chris Edwards - Bureaucracies aren't made, they just kind of appear

One thing struck me about Microsoft's wrangling with Wikipedia over the entry on its XML file formats. The procedure by which people try to change entries that involve them is surprisingly close to that used by traditional publishers, whether of newspapers or encyclopedias. That is, it would be if the publisher had a bureaucratic system based on China's. ...

[snip] ... if you want something about you or something you are directly involved with corrected on Wikipedia - which anybody can edit as long as they're not somebody - you complain on the talk page and an editor will do something about it. Or they tell you to go away. However, it's all a bit like dealing with local bureaucrats in rural China - each one does it differently, and attitudes can change dramatically in the space of days, although they will refer to the same rule book and come back with some obscure answer like: "WP:FOYC". ...

[But there's no "WP:FOYC". WP:MAO[ism]? WP:BEG? WP:PRAY? WP:@#$%!?]

Kathry Cramer explaining "Truth is not the point. The point is control."

My personal take is that the Microsoft controversey, in which Microsoft attempted to engage Jeliffe to corrrect errors in Wikipedia on their behalf, reflects more on problems with Wikipedia than with Microsoft; Wales's own attitudes promote the kind of bureaucratic paranoia and suspicion of expertise I experienced.

In Wales's utopia, all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. The elite of the WIkipedia editors, entrusted with special powers by Wales et al. act as a form of secret police -- or if that seems too harsh a metphor, anti-bodies in the midst of a raging autoimmune disease -- and, of course, the fighting is so vicious because the stakes are so low.

And for the opposite view, Philipp Lenssen interviews Wikimedia Germany board member Mathias Schindler, note:

... activist Seth Finkelstein called it "a poorly-run bureaucracy where there's not a lot of accountability" - so I wanted to get an actual & factual inside view.

[And the gist of my response is that Wikipedia insiders are not the place for it (to use Wikipedia jargon, they're non-neutral with a conflict of interest). Every organization has good people, but the problem is whether the system gives too much power to petty low-level administrators]

Note, from the standpoint of keeping Wikipedia running, power-tripping is a feature, not a bug. It's part of the draw, that YOU-YES-YOU, if you work hard enough for free, can be rewarded by the "authority" which comes from being able speak the secret spell of WP:WHAT_I_SAY_GOES, to those who would otherwise have social deference ("experts").

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on January 29, 2007 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
January 26, 2007

Defusing The Google-Bomb - And Maybe Reigniting It

SearchEngineLand reports Google defusing Google-Bombs, with a case study of "miserable failure". Google has made an algorithm change "that minimizes the impact of many Googlebombs."

Let the reverse-engineering begin!

Just as a speculation, and not tested much, here's my guess at the algorithm, *something like*:

IF the links to the page contain [BOMB] and

0) There are lot of links with anchortext [BOMB]

1) [BOMB] does not appear on the page or metadata

2) [BOMB] is the most common anchortext in links to the page

3) There are "very few" links of the form [BOMB otherwords]

THEN ignore all links with [BOMB]

This would preserve the ranking of pages talking about it, since they'll have the words on the page, even in the title.

We can test this by adding lots of links with both the expected text and [BOMB]:
George Bush: "Miserable Failure"

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on January 26, 2007 12:23 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
January 25, 2007

My _Guardian_ column against the .XXX domain

I have a column in The Guardian, opposing the .XXX domain.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in press | on January 25, 2007 10:57 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
January 24, 2007

Wikipedia Articles Can Be A Disaster Waiting To Happen

Let me tag a personal note onto today's hot Microsoft / Wikipedia controversy about editing articles where one has a stake.

Sometimes people don't seem to understand why I don't want a Wikipedia entry. How could I want to decline the honor, the recognition that I am "notable", the glory that I have been inducted into the select few deemed to be of encyclopediac merit? Anyone who does not leap with joy, or at least meekly accept, their "subject" status, must be an evil control-freak bent on image-domination, and be shown the errors of their ways by repeated recitations of Wikipedian scripture.

And there's a subset of arguers that I can never get to understand that Wikipedia can be a minefield of conflicting rules, administered by petty bureaucrats, with a collection of obscure policies that spawn the term "wikilawyer". I'd just rather opt-out of such experiences over myself. I think I can remain a good person despite having that viewpoint.

It's great if you're the God-King or powers-that-be, being given attention for advances in digital-sharecropping, and venture capital investment of million of dollars for monetizing popularity-mining. It's not so great for everyone else.

The current controversy came when Microsoft tried hiring an expert advocate for disputes over data formats. Note that - DATA FORMATS. People who sneer at the "syndication format wars" as only about "ego" are very wrong. There's big bucks at stake.

Maybe this specific argument just comes with the territory of money and power. But still, it's quite a feat to make me feel sympathy for Microsoft.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on January 24, 2007 06:25 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
January 23, 2007

Wikipedia "nofollow" aftermath

"I felt a great disturbance in the [Net], as if thousands of [high-pagerank links] cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced."

A brief roundup of some miscellaneous observation on the "black hole of Wikipedia:

The change is now stated to be "Indefinite".

Regarding Wikipedia taking and not giving back: Well, I've said it before - It's Wales' world, and we just work in it (for free). There's a big difference between autonomy and the illusion of autonomy. And that difference should be clearest whenever the top-down decisions are evident (even if they're good decisions).

Some people say this change doesn't matter much, since Wikipedia's content is echoed and scraped, and those links may remain active. However, the scraper sites tend not to have a lot of rank or trust to pass on. And more importantly, Google knows how to deal with duplicate sites in terms of not counting them repeatedly (not that it can't ever be fooled, but page-duplication is a very old issue).

I've seen conjecture that this will lower Wikipedia's search ranking, since it'll now look like a spammish site, having many inlinks and no outlinks. That's wishful thinking. Wikipedia is "trusted" enough so that it can hoard outlinks like Scrooge, it won't be a problem.

And while I'm amused by the idea of removing Wikipedia from results, or returning the favor to Wikipedia by similarly denying it any link-juice, I'm a little skeptical that anybody with enough power is listening.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on January 23, 2007 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (6)
January 21, 2007

"nofollow" attribute put on main Wikipedia pages

"nofollow" is a link attribute which tells a search engine that it should not follow the link, i.e., the link will not get PageRank or any other benefit from being on the page. It's primarily intended to stop link-spammers from taking advantage of comments or open forums. However, it has other uses, such as PageRank "hoarding", a kind of no-PageRank-for-you! statement.

There's been a longstanding debate as to whether Wikipedia should add "nofollow" to non-Wikipedia links. Pro: Wikipedia is tremendous spam-bait. Con: Good sites deserve the search benefit from one of the most popular sites on the net.

The previous community decision was:

As of May 22, 2006, following this discussion, rel="nofollow" is now enabled on non-article pages (i.e. pages outside the main namespace) on the English Wikipedia, but remains disabled for links in articles. Brion has said that it is his "intention to enable nofollow everywhere in the long run (though this might end up being in more limited form, for instance allowing some whitelisting or other verification process)."

That earlier decision has now been overridden by "Jimbomancy"

Having been requested by Jimmy to do so, and having seen a fun rumor of a "search engine optimization world championship" contest targeting [Wikipedia], I've gone ahead and switched rel="nofollow" back onto URLs in en.wikipedia.org's article namespace.

Note one implication to draw from this:


Let me be clear - in many cases, I think Jimmy Wales' decisions are right, and in fact a necessarily corrective to the impulses of crowds. But they sure are top-down CEO-type actions. The propaganda of Wikipedia should be proven transparently false every time one of these events happens. Wikipedia's social organization should be familiar to anyone who has seen a bureaucracy where the low-level administrators aren't accountable much to anyone else, and the bulk of the work is done by volunteers. Getting this often-dysfunctional setup to work is an achievement, no doubt about that. But it's very limited in terms of how well it scales and how much it's a model.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on January 21, 2007 01:00 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
January 19, 2007

Martin Luther King hate-site and superficial Google search fooling people

I didn't think of the following in time. But Martin Luther King day would have been a perfect opportunity for publicizing the efforts to fix all the links people have mistakenly made to the hate-site (thinking it was a legitimate site). From Natasha Robinson: (h/t Google Blogoscoped forum):

Good to see that MTV's Rock the Vote site took my complaint to heart and removed the link. They also wrote an apology on their blog about the link: http://blog.rockthevote.com/2007/01/last-night-rock-vote-made-mistake.html

The part that disturbs me about the apology is that the webmaster simply used ranking in Google as a means to find an authoritative site.

My emphasis in the below:

Last night, Rock the Vote made a mistake. In honor of Rev. Martin Luther King's birthday, we created a tribute from the RtV front page, as we have done every year for quite some time. To identify the external link, our webmaster searched Google and chose one of the top results, a website that, at a quick glance, appears to be a tribute to Dr. King with speeches, photos and a special emphasis on the holiday (martinlutherking.org - but don't go there). But appearances (and, apparently, popular results on Google) are deceptive. The website is a racist site that disrespects Dr. King and insults all of us who cherish his advocacy for justice. On behalf of RtV, I would like to extend our deepest apologies for this mistake. The link was immediately corrected.

Remember, hate groups can do search engine optimization and marketing too!

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on January 19, 2007 07:31 PM | (Infothought permalink)
January 17, 2007

"Techmeme" creator Q-and-A, or - Serving The A-list For Fun And Profit

Echo: Q&A With Gabe Rivera, Creator Techmeme

Now, let's be clear, I like Techmeme too, and use it all the time. However ... I'm a little bothered by the completely uncritical reaction. Part of the discussion could use some deeper examination. As in:

Q. Why do sources get dropped? Do they fail to post new material? Fail to keep being cited?

Fail to keep being cited. Every day Techmeme performs a bit of a reset, usually around 3am Eastern, where it doesn't update for about an hour as it repeats the source discovery. So every day it tries to find the best few thousand sources. A blog can make the list one day but not the next.


Q. Is Techmeme too elite with its sources?

[snip] ...For better or for worse, well-read bloggers tend to have better access to interesting news, and also tend to exercise the talent that helped establish them in the first place. I'm rather unapologetic that there are lots of less established writers who will never show up on Techmeme.

OK, as a statement of fact, this is what it is - Techmeme "serves the A-list", as I think of it. It looks to the Big Heads, sees what they're talking about (or what a group of Medium Heads is talking about), and figures that what the high attention sources are devoting attention to, is a good bet to get attention. Algorithmically, I can't fault that. However ... it does have an echo-chamber effect. And if the Big Heads are disinclined, to, say, cite women, or less established writers, but instead to link-love each other - Techmeme will merrily reflect that.

Do I have a solution? No. I'll be unapologetic about that. But I suppose someone should point out that Techmeme almost explicitly, as a design goal, with good reason, reflects exactly the social hierarchy that evangelists tell us doesn't exist online. And I think those critics who feel it's part of the exclusionary process do have a very valid point.

[Disclaimer: I met Gabe once at a conference, I liked him personally. But, as he knows, the oligarchical structure of the bogosphere has long been an issue for me]

[Update - There are competitors - Megite seems to have a broader view]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on January 17, 2007 11:42 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
January 15, 2007

Martin Luther King hate-site pushed down in Google by good sites

The Martin Luther King Google anti-hate campaign seems to be working.

By the way, people should be reminded, despite right-wing attempts to claim otherwise, Martin Luther King supported affirmative action.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on January 15, 2007 11:51 PM | (Infothought permalink)
January 14, 2007

Sex And The Missing PBS Link

The PBS MediaShift blog has an article discussing the Google / Sex Blogs incident. More interesting than the main article (summary: Bug. Fixed, they say. Google has lots of power.) is the controversy that erupted because of a decision not to link to the sex blogs quoted and discussed in the story.

A number of people have asked why there aren't links to the sex blogs mentioned in this post. If Google had been blocking the blogs, then there would have been links included. But because anyone can easily find the blogs through a search on Google, PBS.org felt it was not necessary to include the links here and risk offending some readers who might not expect to find links to explicit sites on PBS.org.

I ask that you as MediaShift readers please leave comments below explaining what you think the link policy should be here and elsewhere on mainstream media sites and blogs. Should we link to explicit material and how should that be handled? Should we include a warning before the links? Which links are OK and which are not? Your thoughts would be appreciated and I hope to return to this issue in a more in-depth way on the blog. PBS editors, who are involved in this issue, tell me they are very much open to your suggestions.

Now, as a statement of fact, "search on Google" is a cop-out here. Most of the time people don't even click on links right in front of them, much less do a search. And given that the article itself discusses the power that Google has over people being able to find sites, it's very ironic to be deferring to it after a long column about the consequences of a glitch.

Moreover, in the thread, people are pointing out examples where PBS.org did link to sexually explicit sites in other cases.

Look, if you didn't want to take the flak from right-wingers, that's understandable. Maybe not laudable, but comprehensible. Otherwise, I'd say standard web practice is unequivocal on the issue, that readers should be immediately referred to the sites discussed. I don't see any reason to override that convention - for sites that are trolling for traffic and manufacturing controversy, maybe you don't want to give it to them (but any real guilty parties in this case wouldn't care about a link from PBS.org). So put a warning about content next to the link if you must (though I think context makes it very clear). But otherwise, well, I'm now left with a lot of sympathy for why the sex bloggers tended to think Google was deliberately removing them.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on January 14, 2007 08:56 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
January 10, 2007

Peter Junger obituary, Memorial Jan 11, reminiscences address below

[I'd known law professor Peter Junger for many years. He was one of my strongest supporters, wrote some of the best legal analyis I've ever read, as well as great humor. I am deeply saddened by his death and the world is lesser for it.]

[official memo from Marina P Corleto (mpc6[atsgn]case.edu) ]

Link: Peter Junger obituary

Any thoughts you would like to pass along would be appreciated.


The law school will hold a memorial service for Professor Emeritus Peter D. Junger who passed away in November. The service will be Thursday, January 11 at 7:30 p.m. in Room 159 of Gund Hall.

Professor Junger grew up in Wyoming. He received his A.B in 1955 and his LL.B. in 1958, both from Harvard. He practiced as a real estate lawyer in the New York firm, Patterson Belknap Webb, from 1961-70. He began teaching as an Associate Professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in 1970 and served until 2001. He became Professor Emeritus in 2002.

Although his field was property law, Professor Junger was deeply involved in the computer revolution. He was active in an early artificial intelligence group on the campus and worked on issues relating to computer privacy and data encryption. He filed a lawsuit challenging a federal regulation that barred the export of data encryption software. Professor Junger argued that the regulation infringed his First Amendment rights in that it prevented him from showing encryption software to foreign nationals who were in his class on computers and law. The case was dismissed by the trial court but the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision and upheld Professor Junger's claim that computer source code was expression protected by the First Amendment. Just before he died, Professor Junger completed an article arguing against the patentability of software.

All of Professor Junger's students, colleagues, and friends are invited to attend the memorial service. Those who would like to speak at the service or to submit written anecdotes or reminiscences about Professor Junger should contact Professor Wilbur Leatherberry (368-3585 or wcl[atsgn]case.edu) or Professor Jonathan Entin (368-3321 or jle[atsgn]case.edu).

In my opinion Peter was one of the best.

Rosanna B. Masley, Acquisitions Coordinator
Judge Ben C. Green Law Library
Case Western Reserve University

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in legal | on January 10, 2007 01:35 PM | (Infothought permalink)
January 09, 2007

Wikipedia and Search Experts "Notability" Kerfuffle

In the last few days, there's been a little bit of flaming over one Wikipedia editor calling into question the "notability" of some very prominent search experts. The editor was eventually convinced of the mistake in his position. But I'm going to rescue a comment from the above SearchEngineLand.com thread, by Danny Sullivan, since it encapsulates several aspects of Wikipedia which intrigue me:

I did see [the editors] comment that he was disappointed I didn't just add the material myself. Why would I do that? I'm not going to waste my time adding to a page that someone else might decide the next day to rip apart according to rules and a culture that frankly is anything but transparent.

I mean, it's difficult to know how the article was "nominated" in the first place. Then who exactly inspired the debate to kill it. And now that the vote has gone as it should, who made that vote? I mean, we were told it's not a voting thing but that there's a discussion, then I gather editors all make it happen. Where?

Wikipedia makes a lot about how open it is, but as an outsider, all I can say is that it feels very closed and difficult to know. It's riddled with acronyms and insider talk. I actually felt the comment about the ODP was pretty close to the mark.

I really do like Wikipedia as a resource. I use it all the time and find it remarkable at how helpful it is. But as I said, then you get something like this, and you just lose faith in it.

Let's count off the themes:

1) The fascinating way Wikipedia puts critics on the defensive - you should fix their errors, and WHY DIDN'T YOU DO THAT?

2) For a hive-mind, it sure has byzantine politics.

3) It's amazing how it has a popular image of an innovative anarchy, while in fact being simply a poorly-run bureaucracy where there's not a lot of accountability (these are not equivalent).

4) It's a lot less dazzling when you see the sausage being made.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on January 09, 2007 01:25 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)
January 07, 2007

"The Geopolitics of Asian Cyberspace" - Ronald Deibert

[Underechoed (h/t: XarxAsia)]

The Geopolitics of Asian Cyberspace
Far Eastern Economic Review, December 2006, by Ronald Deibert

"Conventional wisdom had it that the Internet was an unstoppable force for liberalization, with nondemocratic states powerless to control this sprawling, seamless network of networks. But this vast international "underbelly" of the Internet -- almost completely invisible to most Internet users -- has become an object of geopolitical contestation among states, and a site where political power is being asserted." ...

"The increased sophistication of Internet content filtering practices can be attributed, in part, to the services provided by Western (mostly U.S.-based) software and Internet service firms. Whereas once the best and brightest of Silicon Valley were associated with wiring the world, and opening up access to vast stores of information, today they are just as likely to be known for doing the opposite. Although Microsoft, Cisco, Yahoo!, Skype, and Google have all come under scrutiny for colluding with China's Internet censorship practices, perhaps the most significant, serious, and yet overlooked contribution to Internet censorship by Western corporations comes from the manufacturers of the filtering software used to block content."

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on January 07, 2007 09:37 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)
January 06, 2007

Compensations Of Having a Blog - Currently Google Result #4 for ...


By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on January 06, 2007 10:13 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
January 04, 2007

Amazon *10 Million* Funding For Wikia (Wikipedia-related company)

I get the feeling I should have said something recently about Google's revised job interview process or some other buzzy topic. But everyone else was (it seemed). In contrast, the following item struck me as more concretely meaningful, and arguably of potential indirect implication for the Wiki-like search project:

Wikia Raises 10 Million from Amazon

Amazon.com has invested $10 million into Wikia Inc., the for-profit wiki site founded by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. News of the deal was first reported last month, but the actual dollar amount had been kept confidential. Wikia previously had raised $4 million in Series A funding ...

Now, note it's previously been made very clear that Amazon is not a partner in the Wiki-like search project. But I wonder if that project is in part a way to attract more venture capital investment for Wikia. Search is such a hot area with so much venture capital money floating around that I keep thinking there's a missing piece somewhere. Recall, Wikia is a for-profit company founded by some of the same people who run Wikipedia.

But remember folks, venture capitalists want money back. And that money has to come from somewhere. Ultimately, that's going to be _Time's_ 2006 Person Of The Year - YOU!

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on January 04, 2007 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
January 02, 2007

New Year's Resolutions 2007

Some public personal goals as 2007 begins ...

0) Looking back at e.g., 2005 or 2006, be aware that I tend to repeat myself in frustration, and try to address the reasons for that.

1) Stop arguing with marketers about "conversation". It wastes my time, and it annoys the flack. It's not going to do any good.

2) Stop being delusional about ever having more influence. That ship has sailed.

3) Fish or cut bait on whether to try to push out my moldering Google and Wikipedia reports, or just write them off like the censorware research, since it's likely more effort to beg attention than it's worth for me.

4) "Life Trumps Blogging"

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on January 02, 2007 11:47 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (5)