April 30, 2007

The Failure Of Blogging, Part N + 2

washingtonpost.com: Sexual Threats Stifle Some Female Bloggers, credulously regurgitates the Kathy Sierra 'death threats" story.

There are more than 100 blog echoes, which seem to be as uncritical as the base article (this is why I don't say it's bloggers vs. journalists).

There is my blog and article, which apparently are a drop in the ocean.

Why bother?

Posting is going to be light again. Life trumps blogging.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on April 30, 2007 09:29 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
April 26, 2007

Free Press: "WiFi filters raise worries of city censorship"

Free Press: "WiFi filters raise worries of city censorship"

Banned site result of glitch, Boston official says

By: David Brand

As the city advances its plans to expand wireless Internet service to all of Boston, some website operators and civil liberties advocates say the city-sponsored network is censoring some sites -- but city officials have attributed this to glitches on the network's filter.

Lots of quotes in this piece, including me (accurately):

Anti-censorship activist and server programmer Seth Finkelstein, who maintains a website that provides information about censorship cases, said the site was blocked as the result of an arbitrary "dumb computer program," adding it is likely many less popular sites also get caught in Boston's network filter.

"We only heard about this since BoingBoing is very popular," he said. "What else was banned [but] didn't have the ability to publicize it?"

That point is key - Boing Boing is one of the absolute top blogs, and they have the power to make a media fuss when they're affected. But it's like cockroaches, if you see one of these, it's virtually certain there's many more which are hidden.

There's also been some discussion about the legality of Boston Wireless censorware. I'm not sure anything will come of it all, but it does seem that there's ways to make a good argument against it.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware , press | on April 26, 2007 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (5)
April 24, 2007

David Sheets Tests Of "BostonWireless" censorware

David Sheets tested "BostonWireless" censorware. Rather than echo his laundry-list of censorware silliness (everything from breast implant procedures to many encyclopedia entries on lotteries), let me cut to the chase:


From a technical standpoint, the stupidly simplistic the artificial "intelligence" algorithms used to censor content are beyond sad. After over a decade of work on spam detection, the fact that a system like this has been implemented is beyond reproach. The engineers or systems administrators who chose and implemented this system should be fired and Mayor Menino should think long and hard about his stance on free speech.

I should note here that spam detection, though it may look similar, is actually a structurally different problem. A system which catches 95% of spam is very useful. But catching 95% of porn sites just means someone has to click a few more times. It's the difference between something you don't want to read, and something you do want to read.

But anyway, this shows that ridiculous bans are still very much a reality in practice.

Note also "Oh, and when I tested the network, BoingBoing was no longer restricted." - since evidently the post with the "banned combination phrase" has scrolled off the page now.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on April 24, 2007 08:43 AM | (Infothought permalink)
April 22, 2007

WHY Boing Boing Is Censorware'd "Banned-In-Boston" from Dan's Guardian

[Original research here!]

I ran a copy of the relevant censorware and found why Boing Boing got censorware'd by Boston Municipal Wi-Fi.

Remember: "The phrase "Banned combination phrase found" is a characteristic message of the censorware Dan's Guardian. http://www.dansguardian.org/ It seems some combination of words has triggered the "isItNaughty" flag (that's what they call it).

This is the message that appeared in the server log:

http://www.boingboing.net *DENIED* Banned combination phrase found: google, &safe=off

It looks like the "Banned combination phrase" was the following link, because of the search with SafeSearch set to "off":

Much more of Biskup on Boing Boing <a href="http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&safe=off&domains=boingboing.net&q=%22Tim+Biskup%22&btnG=Search&sitesearch=boingboing.net">Link</a>

"Arbitrary and capricious" seems the relevant characterization.

[Update: BoingBoing should be viewable again on that network when the offending post scrolls off the main page, which should happen in a day or so. But that post itself will remain censorware'd until someone changes the phrase blacklist entries]

[Welcome Slashdot/BBoing readers - feel free to read more of my past extensive censorware research]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on April 22, 2007 01:01 AM | (Infothought permalink)
April 21, 2007

Boing Boing "Censorware'd" Banned-In-Boston - Dan's Guardian

[Not a pure echo, original research here!]

Boing Boing got censorware'd by Boston Municipal Wi-Fi.

I sent them the following information:

"The phrase "Banned combination phrase found" is a characteristic message of the censorware Dan's Guardian. http://www.dansguardian.org/ It seems some combination of words has triggered the "isItNaughty" flag (that's what they call it).

It would be an interesting legal case to see if you had the right to file a Freedom Of Information Act for the settings and block logs to find out the exact reason you got censorware'd."

Note, to be clear, this looks like a words-on-the-page blacklisting, rather than a prohibited-site blacklisting.

Sigh. Why bother? I see Slashdot is spreading a rumor over it, and it's a huge joke to think I'm going to make any difference blogging about it :-(.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on April 21, 2007 11:30 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (5)
April 18, 2007

My Kathy Sierra "death threats" accusations _Guardian_ column

My "Kathy Sierra" article: http://technology.guardian.co.uk/weekly/story/0,,2059836,00.html

I talk about the firestorm where Kathy Sierra alleged receiving everything up to threats of death, making comparatively mild comments regarding the difficultly of anyone mounting a defense against an accusation of being involved:

But once the topic had been framed around the highly incendiary issues of sex and violence, any attempt to defend the reputations of those claimed to have any part in such ills risked the wrath of the mob. ...

A low-audience blogger simply cannot effectively defend himself against an attack from a high-audience blogger. To assert otherwise is cruel nonsense. A few voices trumpet from on high, while most barely squeak from below.

Elsewhere, note: Doc Searls has an epiphany:

... The teacher projected a browser tuned to Technorati on a screen, clicked on a Top Searches link, and there, at the top of the page, was a blog post that associated my name with death threats.

Since then perhaps hundreds of thousands of blog postings have dealt with the controversy; yet the ratio of opinion to fact in the case verges on the infinite. At a certain point I realized that it was impossible to shed light on a subject that had become a black hole. ...

It really is a shame, in multiple senses of the word. This isn't poetic justice, but more like poetic injustice.

Hoping to make a convert (but I'm almost certainly ill-suited for the task), I commented: What do you think that blog-evangelism critics have been saying to you for so long? The bogosphere is not flat - it's full of spikes. Several of which now (metaphorically) have heads on them.

Doc gracefully asked "Now what?". Unfortunately, I don't think I have a good answer for him.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on April 18, 2007 08:34 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (8)
April 17, 2007

Citizen Toilet Bowl Cleaners For Wikipedia-Model Search Engine

FastCompany has a long article on the Wikipedia-Model Search Engine. Which, as far as I know, is still vaporware. "Wikia"'s CEO (the startup commercializing Wikipedia's influence, though technically not Wikipedia itself), said the following not me:

The community has responded quite enthusiastically so far, catching even Wales by surprise. "I just thought we'll put a couple of developers on it and kind of play with it on the side and see what comes up," he says. "But now there's a huge developer community that's really interested." As Gil Penchina, Wales's handpicked CEO to lead Wikia, says, "Since the news leaked out, people have been lining up, saying, 'I'll clean the toilet bowl, let me in here.'"

As I've said, there's programmers who would pay to get a shot at being part of a Google-killer, so there's going to be no problem in finding free labor. Even fairly skilled programmer labor. In fact, tongue-in-cheek, I'm starting to wonder if they could even finance the company that way.

Given the way Wales and Wikia can arrange the risk factors (i.e, the programmers work for free, Wikia gets the money of any success), they don't have to revolutionize search in order to ultimately get a nice payday for themselves.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia-search | on April 17, 2007 07:02 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
April 16, 2007

The Failure Of Blogging, Part N+1

I wasted entirely too much time arguing with Tim O'Reilly over his Blogging Code of Conduct. I suppose it was nice that he was willing to go back-and-forth with me. But in retrospect, I think I let my frustration get the better of me, from seeing an ill-conceived idea being given much publicity due to coming from a tech celebrity and pushing a hot-button.

Ronni Bennett said some nice things about my efforts, so at least one other person read them :-).

But it was predictable that nothing was ever going to happen, since there's no way to hold the A-listers to account, and too many of them think being mean is a feature, not a bug.

And it is absurd to think I'm going to make much difference against the mob. I should know that.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on April 16, 2007 11:46 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (30)
April 10, 2007

Blogging Code-Of-Conduct - comments, disproof, other sides, etc.

The bogosphere is not the "Wild West". Rather, it is a collection of petty medieval fiefdoms. Whose Lords are engaged in constant squabbling with each other to control the realm's natural resource ("attention"). And the peasants are told to eat cake.

Underlinked: Jon Garfunkel, Comment Management Responsibility (CommResp)

Making the rounds: Tristan Louis, Blogger's Code of Conduct: a Dissection

Proof of the silliness of Code-Of-Conduct: An A-lister - "And I have definitely been pushed around in the blogosphere, and as I mentioned earlier, the biggest bully on my blog block is Tim O['Reilly]. So I find it pretty ironic that he's the one calling for civility."
(quote for illustrative purposes *only*, not endorsement)

"Joey", one of the supposed death-threateners, gives his side of the story ... and basically nobody cares (via McD)

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on April 10, 2007 07:03 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (8)
April 09, 2007

"Blogging Code of Conduct" - WHO ENFORCES IT?

Sigh. Who enforces:
blog conduct image

Just amazing. A "Draft Blogger's Code of Conduct"? An article in the New York Times?

This has gone beyond navel-gazing and into [redacted due to conduct violation]

Funny quote from Shelley Powers: "Yes, they actually created badges"

I am simply shouting to the wind here out of frustration with the failure of blogging to provide any defense whatsoever: WHO ENFORCES THE CODE-OF-CONDUCT?

Any hand-waving about "the community" means "The A-listers will freely bully and abuse anyone below them, because nobody else has the power to call an A-lister to account". Look at the incentives for all the pilot-fish and hangers-on around someone with influence to join in an attack. And the disincentives for anyone else to risk retaliation by standing up for the target (unless the target has a comparable power, where it's a case of choosing up sides).

A system which runs on attention-mongering, demagoguery, and too many infamously abusive tin-pot egotists accountable to nobody but a handful of other BigHeads, is not going to be reformed because some self-promoters got the vapors and then decided to milk the publicity for all it's worth. You can proclaim peace-and-love all you want, the people who gain by advocating war-and-hate, or are personally nasty as a character trait, won't care, except to the extent that they can posture over it.

But nobody is going to hear that either :-(.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on April 09, 2007 08:11 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (17)
April 08, 2007

Anti-Google-Bomb Algorithm Proved To Use Page Words, Not To Be Hand-Editing

George W. Bush: A Failure Once Again, According To Google, by Danny Sullivan at Searchengineland.com, points out that a Google search for "failure" (not "miserable failure") currently has a George Bush page at the top result, due to the page having the word "failure" in it. That happened because the http://www.whitehouse.gov/president/ page has "Latest Headlines", which then had this part of

"President Bush Makes Remarks on the Emergency Supplemental President Bush on Tuesday said, "In a time of war, it's irresponsible for the... Democratic leadership in Congress to delay for months on end while our troops in combat are waiting for the funds. The bottom line is this: Congress's failure ..."

And so this shows the new Google defusing algorithm uses words on a page to determine in part what's a Google bomb.

Notably, in the comments, "RedCardinal" said: "Well I think we can safely dispel any theories about this being a handjob now."

While nobody who studies Google seriously thought that they hand-edited these problematic results, Google's secrecy breeds superstition, so it's worth placing extra emphasis on the evidence that the changes were not done by a simple blacklist, but were indeed an algorithmic change.

Note this should not be taken to assume that no search engine has ever hand-edited a problematic result! But the number of algorithmic quirks vastly outweighs the rare examples, due to sheer complexity.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on April 08, 2007 11:55 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
April 05, 2007

Technorati "Stat-Porn", and Why I'm Not Running A Data-Mining Startup

I thought I'd missed the boat on the "statistics porn" a few days ago about the growth of blog search engine Technorati, but a related round today seems to be a good opportunity. Their traffic is supposedly booming. No reason is given, though it's possible that the increases are from Google ranking certain of their category ("tag") pages highly in search results. That's legitimate, but also fragile, since what Google giveth, it can also taketh away in the next algorithm reshuffle. The "stat-porn" matches with a rumor of Technorati trying to find a buyer while the bubbling is good.

Speak of a buyout, and Dave Sifry (their CEO) will appear in the comments, and recite the official company line (that public relations is what's called "conversation" - no offense to Dave Sifry meant, he's a very nice guy, but that's what happening). I will save him the trouble: "I can assure you that Technorati is most definitely not for sale or looking for money, and we've got a lot of really great things going on."

Now, Technorati is reported to have at least $17 million dollars ($6.5M in 2004 + $10.5M in 2006) in venture capital investment, with venture capitalists having a majority of the company as of the last round (seems reasonable). So if you believe they aren't for sale, given all that VC money and Google's competition, well, then, I have a blog search engine to sell you.

I find it all interesting for all the associated implications. It's a case study of where in a data-mining start-up, technology is not destiny and the marketing seems to be decisive (and even then it's a struggle). Companies like PubSub and Findory, were innovative, but died (it'll be worthwhile to see how tracker Megite fares).

So when people ask why if I'm so smart I'm not rich, I mean, running my own data-mining startup, the basic answer is that I'm not good at marketing. What seems to propel Technorati ahead of the pack is what I call "serving the A-list". I get it. Send attention to them, and they send attention to you. But it's not for me.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in AOTechnorati100 | on April 05, 2007 09:09 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
April 02, 2007

Obligatory Kathy Sierra post, and Google "fragmentation grenades"

I have succumbed, since the bogosphere and Google and my own concerns have now all aligned:

Jeneane Sessum - A Few Words:

Regarding the Kathy Sierra fracas, after much consideration and silence on my part, I am beyond tired and beyond angry. I have been wrongly named and targeted, tied to death threats I didn't make and tasteless posts I didn't write. ...

I'm now up to 681 hits on google with my name and "death threats" combined, have received emails from people saying they've gotten comments condemning them for linking to or advertising with this blog she has been involved in making death threats against Kathy which is not true. As my family name is raked over the coals across the web and in mainstream press, I would ask those of you who decided to tie me to these threats to spend the time I just did sitting still, considering your own motives and assumptions. ...

That Google bit caught my eye. I see "about 9,610" results now for a search on ["Jeneane Sessum" "death threats"], but that's a very misleading number since it includes a huge number of duplicated bogosphere posts and sindication feeds and aggravator fodder. Still, it seems to me that in contrast to a "Google bomb" (targeting of one result), this is kind of a "Google fragmentation grenade" - lots of sharp little pieces blasted out all over the territory, and you never know when one of them will do damage.

I was severely tempted to go around to the various A-list blogs which are now pontificating about the need for better behavior, and ask:

WHERE'S THE "CODE OF CONDUCT"? [Against A-lister smears] WHO ENFORCES IT?!

But I know better [sad face image]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on April 02, 2007 09:10 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)