June 30, 2007

Mother Jones, Politics 2.0: "... conned by a bunch of smooth-talking geeks?"

Link-love: Mother Jones - Politics 2.0

Are we entering a new era of digital democracy--or just being conned by a bunch of smooth-talking geeks?

That's easy - Just being conned by a bunch of smooth-talking marketers (not really geeks, with a few almost accidental exceptions, or only using the term in a very expansive sense). Next question?

It's been depressing to watch the classic bogospheric scenario play out over this. Somebody writes an article with some debunking overall. A-list reaction follows predictable themes and personal attack: Old Media, Doesn't Get It, accusations of various and sundry sins, lots of potkettleblack. The targets go around in comments trying to get people to think about what they actually wrote, rather than what was ranted against. But it's ultimately a fool's errand. Because for all the hype of the power of links and original sources, the ability of a tiny oligarchy of gatekeepers to direct attention insures that their statements dominate the discussion. I can't think of a more recursive disproof of blog-evangelism :-(.

In the actual stories (and 27 interviews with various bloggers, politicos, and digerati) we/they say there's a lot to be excited about in terms of the political applications of 2.0 technology, and the larger philosophical promise: that old school political hacks might be forced to give up on top-down messaging. However, we also say that some in the netroots have gotten a little drunk with power, and that some of the technological applications have yet to prove that they can have a real impact on electoral politics, fun as they might be.

Putting aside the big issue of "electoral politics" for the moment, try even having a real impact on so-called discussions. And no, I don't consider it thrilling to connect-with-people in comment threads or Z-list blogs that almost nobody reads, and will be ignored if doing so serves someone's interest.

Bonus link: Kent Newsome - From Creation to Abandonment: the 5 Stages of Blogging

Stage 4 Alienation

After the blogger's capacity for frustration is exceeded, he does an about face and, instead of seeking inclusion in the conversations, he rejects the entire process completely. At this point, the tailspin towards abandonment has begun. ... Some blogs exist in a near perpetual state of alienation. Eventually, the alienation gives way to abandonment.

[Any similarity to this post is completely intentional]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on June 30, 2007 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (17)
June 28, 2007

Google Privacy Fluff

Philipp Lenssen asked Google about data restrictions, and received a statement concerning "We restrict access internally in a number of ways. [details]".

I left a comment in part:

There's never going to be an official answer which says "Security? What security? We believe in open sourcing our business records. We don't take any precautions, anyone whatsoever can traipse through them at will".

It's important to understand that there's a difference between privacy, and business confidential data. Google's logs fall under both regimes. In many instances, the same incentives apply. But what happens when there's a difference? This is the argument I keep having with some of Google defender's - the Google Search Subpoena case was NOT a privacy case. Google's objections were mainly about business confidential data, which they then "spun" as privacy. Posturing about the extensive procedures Google takes to protect its business records is not wrong, but it's not about privacy either.

We don't know about what happens in serious privacy challenges. There's no way to independently check on Google's statements.

To understand the difference, consider the AT&T wiretapping case

"The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a class-action lawsuit against AT&T on January 31, 2006, accusing the telecom giant of violating the law and the privacy of its customers by collaborating with the National Security Agency (NSA) in its massive, illegal program to wiretap and data-mine Americans' communications."

AT&T surely could have a spokesflacker say all sorts of things about how seriously they protect customer privacy. Without some independent checks, taking such statements on faith is not warranted (pun unintended but still relevant)

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on June 28, 2007 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
June 26, 2007

"People Ready"

"People Ready" means to me that bloggers with Google-juice might have a small opportunity to deflect a "markets are conversations" hype. So if you ever wondered, prompted by Microsoft "When Did You Know Your Business Was People Ready?", the answer is that you were probably being manipulated by a "spokesblogger". If I thought it would have done any good, I'd have earlier echoed Dave Rogers' post on Vendor Relationship Management:

Doc wondered if I might be willing to help or contribute somehow to the conversation about vendor relationship management. I told him I was skeptical. I think anything that facilitates commercial interactions, does so at the expense of social ones. It's not that I regard all companies as "evil," though most of them are far from "virtuous." As I explained to him, even if all companies were "good," they still must compete with one another for our time and attention. And the universe of competing commercial entities seems to grow without limit; and they are all learning organisms, so they adapt to changes in their environment, and exploit anything that can give them a commercial advantage.

In classical abuse of the terms Conversation, Community, and Credibility (Ethan Johnson:)

Unfortunately, what is hailed as "conversation" really boils down to "chum".
I think some of what passes for credibility online ties in with the old wheeze about prostitutes, buildings, and politicians becoming more respectable with age.

Bonus Link: Kent Newsome - Arm Farting in the Blogosphere

Scoble could write a post about arm farting and 30 or 40 people would immediately link to it, hoping he might link back.
In other words, all those people linking wildly to Scoble aren't doing so because they think he is the world's greatest authority on arm farting. They are simply holding out their hands eagerly and hoping Scoble will shake it (via a link) as he walks by.

Disclaimer: This post is (obviously!) not sponsored by Microsoft, or anyone else. Nobody gave me anything of value for it. In fact, it's dubious if this is anything other than a waste of time (as opposed to a source of income ...).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on June 26, 2007 11:57 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
June 24, 2007

Readership Statistics on Goring Gorman's Google Grump

The Michael Gorman / Google post I wrote a few days ago was significant effort to do original work, and, I thought, something worth flacking around to various gatekeepers. So, I tried one high-volume place (which didn't accept it), and a few librarian-oriented sites, and left some comments. Here's the readership results, from referer logs (unique IPs).

unknown - 139
LISnews.org - 189
crookedtimber.org - 59
librarian.net - 61
blogs.britannica.com - 16

All in all, adding in the 100 or so people that seem to actually read the article from feeds or site in general, it looks like that post got around a total of 600 readers. I hate to say it, but it's another example of, given the effort involved in research, writing, *and* flacking, it's not worth it.

An earlier Britannica post did get noticed by some other interesting blogs, e.g. Link Spiel. I'm also among interesting company (though sadly just seven hits richer) from Frank Paynter's link list:

Seth Finkelstein, my favorite should-be-an-A-lister, takes a close look at the Britannica blog's recent link baiting behavior.

Thanks, Frank, but it's not going to happen. :-(

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in statistics | on June 24, 2007 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (6)
June 23, 2007

The Problem Of Responding To Attack Forums - Law Or Tech? (both?)

Echo: Jon Garfunkel - CommResp and AutoAdmin(t) (about a message board being sued for personal attacks, for legal details see e.g. David Lat or Eric Goldman)

Let's consider the questions that an information architect wants to solve here:

1. What social good was provided by AutoAdmit, and was it being supplied elsewhere? ...

2. How do you govern a community? ...

3. What technology do you use to build a governable community? ...

4. How do you keep a website from the prying eyes of Internet searches? ...

Not the same incident, but conceptually related: Shelley Powers - Victim is now 'out'

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on June 23, 2007 11:49 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
June 21, 2007

My _Guardian_ column on Google and Privacy


"The task is to prise out any abuses from behind the wall of corporate secrecy. Otherwise, we could end up with an unholy alliance between corporations and governments."

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on June 21, 2007 01:05 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (6)
June 20, 2007

Google: 1, Michael Gorman: 0

[I hate to do this to Michael Gorman, but I'm not above a little link-baiting myself. smiley image]

In the Britannica Blog Link-Bait party, Gorman said:

"If you can't Google it, it doesn't exist" is a common saying of Jimmy Wales and his ilk - a remark that gives shallowness a bad name. It does, however, illustrate neatly a state of mind that has turned away from learning and scholarship and swallowed -- hook, line, and sinker -- every banal piece of digital hype. There are intellectual treasures of all kinds in libraries and archives throughout the world that are not available on Google, and, because of the defects of all search engines using free-text searching, would not be retrievable using Google even if every last word in them were digitized. Mr. Wales may place no importance on anything other than information in digital form, but we owe more than that to the young. There is a life beyond the search engine -- a life of richness and nuance undreamed of in Mr. Wales's philosophy -- and all teachers at all levels of education must insist that their students use primary sources and authoritative secondary sources in their papers and studies, regardless whether these sources are digitized. Further, they should emphasize the acquisition of research and critical thinking skills applied to the human record in all its variety.

Unfortunately, before we even get to the Googling, Michael Gorman fell down here on the critical thinking skills. While he certainly can't be expected to be a Jimmy Wales worshipper, hanging on the pronouncements of the guru of work-for-free, it's pretty easy to know that Wales doesn't believe something so strawmannish as the impression given above. If anything, his general line could be attacked as being much more slick, that this stuff is bad for you if you use it to the exclusion of everything else, but you shouldn't do that (and implicitly, if you do, it's your fault, don't go blaming the wonderful wisdom of crowds for steering you wrong, you should have checked anyway).

Anyway, Michael Gorman put a correction in the comments of the thread:

I have heard from Mr. (Jimmy) Wales himself, that he not only has not written "If you can't Google it, it doesn't exist" but also that this quotation is directly opposite to his actual views. I had read the quotation attributed to him in the New Yorker article by Stacy Schiff (July 31 2006) - "Wales, in his public speeches, cites the Google test: ``If it isn't on Google, it doesn't exist''" - and had not seen the attribution disputed. However, I was remiss in not checking further before I published this essay. I apologize to Mr. Wales unreservedly and wish, not for the first time, that the saying "A lie is half way around the world before the truth has its boots on" was not so spot on.

Which started the inevitable blog mockery

The best part of this whole stupid Gorman thing yet: in a blog post on shoddy research, he misquotes Jimmy Wales based on a printed source. And has to apologize. The irony! The laughs! The sheer idiocy of this whole exercise!

Michael Gorman rebuts

I did not "misquote" Mr. Wales. I read that he had said those words in public speeches in the New Yorker article. It's probably counter to the snide ethic of blogs, but I chose to accept his statement that, despite the unrefuted statement in the New Yorker, he had not said and did not believe those words.

Now comes the problem of who do you believe? One thread commenter:

Actually, Gorman cites the New Yorker article accurately, and the New Yorker does its homework and fact-checking and interviewed Wales extensively for the piece. Funny, Wales waits one year to complain about being misquoted? waits until he's on the hot seat and being criticized in this forum? ...but he had no problem with this quote when it merely was contained in the puff-ball New Yorker piece (that also contained the Essjay lies to boot)? Hmmm... .And this reflects badly on Gorman? How convenient for Wales to remember he never said this... .(Gorman is actually being gracious and letting Jimmy off the hook! I doubt I would if I were Gorman.)

New Yorker:

Part of the problem is provenance. The bulk of Wikipedia's content originates not in the stacks but on the Web, which offers up everything from breaking news, spin, and gossip to proof that the moon landings never took place. Glaring errors jostle quiet omissions. Wales, in his public speeches, cites the Google test: "If it isn't on Google, it doesn't exist." This position poses another difficulty: on Wikipedia, the present takes precedent over the past.

Sing: Which side are you on?

Well, it turns out this can be determined by ... THE GOOGLE. It's a little more difficult than is apparent, since it seems the reporter tightened the quote. There's no independent reference for "If it isn't on Google, it doesn't exist". What you have to search for is "it probably doesn't exist". And then one finds speech transcripts such as:

"But there are other cases where it's borderline. Where you might say, I'm not sure if this is a hoax, if this is real, is this not real, and the example here was a film called Twisted Issues, an obscure underground punk film from 1988. The funny thing is, I gave a talk just two days ago at the University of Florida, and the next day somebody wrote me and said, "Do you know I played on the soundtrack for Twisted Issues." I said, wow really, go ahead and edit the article, really, so anyway, so the first person says it's supposedly an underground punk film, but it miserably fails the Google test. So what's the Google test. You look something up in Google, and if you can't find it, then it probably doesn't exist. It's -- this is not a foolproof test, but it's pretty good. Right? There are still a few things on the planet that are not in Google. But it's pretty good. And so it fails the Google test, and it doesn't have any listing, so a couple people say, "delete, delete." And then somebody says "Hey wait wait wait wait, I found something. It's in the Film Threat Video Guide to 20 Underground Films You Must See. So maybe it has some notability. Next person down says, complete it. Next person says, it's a real movie, it's in IMDB, keep keep." So at the end of a discussion like this, this would have been kept. In fact it was kept, and the article's still there."

Verdict: From the full section above, I think Jimmy Wales is being taken out of context. He's clearly talking about a narrow circumstance of determining whether something is a hoax or not. And note in the debate Wales uses as an example, a print reference book is actually being cited as evidence.

It's all in how you use the Google, and think critically.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on June 20, 2007 12:18 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (9)
June 19, 2007

Britannica Blog Link-Baits from Google to Copyright/P2P to Kids Today

I must confess I'm fascinated by Britannica Blog's Link-Bait experiment. Now the topic's on about Google, copyright, plagiarism, and those rotten kids. It's like someone sat down with the A-list Blogger's Playbook, and asked the question "How do we make this gimmick work for us?"

Someone seems to have thought to themselves: "OK A-lister, you say that in order to prosper in this brave new media world, the thing to do is become a talk-radio type flamefest. There should be lots of ranting against The Enemy, and lots of stroking of the audience that they're the bestest ever. We can do that. You didn't invent snark, we had snottiness a long time ago. Except we won't do it in terms of the anti-pointy-headed-intellectual shtick that you favor, but apply it to a besieged-culturalist routine that appeals to our audience."

I still can't figure out if they've been corrupted even as they outbait the baiters, or whether they've shown the upstarts how it's really done.

See http://blogs.britannica.com/blog/main/2007/06/the-siren-song-of-the-internet-part-ii/

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on June 19, 2007 06:14 AM | (Infothought permalink)
June 18, 2007

Lauren Weinstein's Search Engine Dispute Notifications RFC

Echo: Search Engine Dispute Notifications: Request For Comments

Increasingly, cases are appearing of individuals and organizations being defamed or otherwise personally damaged -- lives sometimes utterly disrupted -- by purpose-built, falsified Web pages, frequently located in distant jurisdictions. ...

Question: Would it make sense for search engines, only in carefully limited, delineated, and serious situations, to provide on some search results a "Disputed Page" link to information explaining the dispute in detail, as an available middle ground between complete non-action and total page take downs?

In my view, it's a brave thought, but it won't happen. We've got to start thinking of search engines as media companies, because that's what they are (I don't claim this insight to be original - lots of people point it out in regard to their advertising business model). The search results are their content, and they do a very standard business model of selling targets ads around that content.

This then gets into the issue of speech and libel law for Internet service businesses, which is a very complicated topic. Can an algorithm output be libel, even if the human values which go into it don't contemplate the specific libel at issue? Good luck arguing that against Google's money and lawyer-buddies ...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on June 18, 2007 02:21 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
June 16, 2007

Wikipedia's Long Daniel Brandt Nightmare Might Be Over (?)

I didn't post about this immediately, and waited for the dust to settle on recent events. But it looks like peace is breaking out, or at least major breakthrough in the peace process, in Wikipedia's long-running and most contentious biography removal request. In the legendary (in certain circles) dispute between Wikipedia and Daniel Brandt, over his request to have his biography deleted (a request I should note I fully support), on the fourteenth iteration of the Wikipedian argument-fest that passes for internal process, he was finally permitted to opt-out from having a biography page.

And there should have been much rejoicing. But skirmishes rage on, over what to do with the URL for the old page (Brandt wants it to be a nothing-here notice, it's currently a redirect to his longest-existing project, NameBase). And of course, nothing gets done on Wikipedia without some faction disputing it (Wikipedia does NOT operate by "consensus", it operates by classic factional power-struggle). But this time he's got much support from Wikipedia administrators, so whatever the ultimate result, it's unlikely there'll be a reversion to the status quo ante.

I've got to give credit to the brave Wikipedia administrator who actually took it upon himself to render a decision in this mess. And rammed through a technical compromise where the internal details were one of the best real-world accommodating of bitterly opposing factions, that I've ever seen myself. He couldn't have made it "stick" without the support of a small-but-powerful administrator faction, but he apparently managed to avoid deeply offending the weaker but very loud "ideologue" faction (of which the most extreme inevitably contested the result, but they seem to be pretty isolated). Well done. Really well done.

Note to academics looking for paper-fodder: Stop writing those fluffy articles about how great it is that a cult can get people to work for free. I know that's where money is (and the attention). But there's a whole group-dynamics case study laboratory just sitting there for examination (though note some of the best material goes on in private meeting, where it's not easily documented).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on June 16, 2007 03:04 PM | (Infothought permalink)
June 14, 2007

My Long Wikipedia Nightmare Is Over

Due to recent changes in Wikipedia policy allowing some consideration of a living person's requests to opt-out of a biography page, I have now been allowed to escape from the burden of having a Wikipedia article. Kudos to Wikipedia administrator Durova for the sensitive effort on behalf of many people.

I didn't do it lightly, or without a lot of thought. But abilities of such an article to serve as an "attractive nuisance" were determinative.

Sometimes the dragon wins [sad face image]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on June 14, 2007 02:24 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
June 13, 2007

The Britannica Blog Learns to Link-Bait

I should write about Google and log retention, but as long as I haven't quit entirely yet, the following is too good to a traffic-magnet to let pass. It seems the Britannica Blog is having a link-baiting party, I mean a "Web 2.0 forum". As Karen Schneider reported, in terms of strategy:

... elevating Gorman to the level of expert pundit on anything related to the Web suggests that Britannica isn't seeking the intelligent exchange of ideas, but is looking to build its Technorati rankings through the now-tiresome back-and-forth of Gorman-says-X, now-we-disprove-it; I am sure Britannica is now busy finding people to "respond" to their manufactured controversy, like one of those episodes on afternoon TV shows I see at the gym where after the wife tells all, the dazed cuckold is brought onto stage to stammer his chagrin.

But, but, Karen, that's the blog way. The name of the game in this brave new net world is GET ATTENTION!. The louder, the more obnoxious, the most bombastic - the better.

So many paradoxes: is the Britannica Blog hypocritically disproving its own assertions, in terms of flaming for scholarliness? Or is it cleverly outhyping the hypesters, by using the knee-jerkiness of the attention-mongers for a kind of judo-maneuvering viral publicity, pushing the buttons of the blogger mindset so as to get its ideas spread much further than otherwise? Does the (Encyclopedia) Devil cite scripture for its own purpose?

One of the posts seems to be proposing a mass movement against demagoguery, a collective response for individuality.

Before anyone suggests I should try to get in on the action, note it probably wouldn't be good idea for me to make myself such a large target. It wouldn't help anything, and the inevitable attacks would be a severe personal negative.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on June 13, 2007 11:56 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
June 11, 2007

Privacy International vs Google, Privacy Report, and punditry explosion

The Privacy International "Race To The Bottom" Report touched off the expected punditry party:

Why Google?

We are aware that the decision to place Google at the bottom of the ranking is likely to be controversial, but throughout our research we have found numerous deficiencies and hostilities in Google's approach to privacy that go well beyond those of other organizations. While a number of companies share some of these negative elements, none comes close to achieving status as an endemic threat to privacy. This is in part due to the diversity and specificity of Google's product range and the ability of the company to share extracted data between these tools, and in part it is due to Google's market dominance and the sheer size of its user base.

I feel like someone should just set up some sort of system where one or two bloggers can be picked as the champion-of-battle of the inevitable reaction. As in, if you think Google is a poor misunderstood maligned gentle giant, go to Matt Cutts' Why I disagree with Privacy International. On the other hand, if you believe Google is an enormous corporation subject to all the negative aspects that come with being a huge business which has a deep interest in collecting personal data, read Shelley Powers On Privacy Redux. Danny Sullivan and Donna Bogatin can be the respective seconds.

Given that there's far more people saying things, than things to say, I'll leave it that.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on June 11, 2007 01:55 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)
June 09, 2007

"We Googled You" - Harvard Business Review Interactive Case Study

Echo: "We Googled You"

Hathaway Jones's CEO has found a promising candidate to open the company's flagship store in Shanghai. Should a revelation on the Internet disqualify her now?

In brief: Managers are asked what they would do about hiring a job candidate where a Google search discloses some problematic college activism (h/t many-2-many). It's pretty interesting to read the responses ("I routinely Google people I'm going to interview or be interviewed by.").

I know what the typical Net evangelist would say, that we should all be forgiving, and get used to living in a goldfish-bowl. While that's one common sentiment, note it won't be the evangelist who suffers if they're wrong. It's far more interesting to see some of the negative thoughts of people who actually make such decisions.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on June 09, 2007 08:20 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
June 06, 2007

Amnesty: "The Struggle for Freedom of Expression in Cyberspace"

Amnesty event: The Struggle for Freedom of Expression in Cyberspace

Event: Some People Think the Internet is a Bad Thing

6 June 2007 1:30 PM EST

Amnesty and the Observer Newspaper will use the internet to link activists from around the world to discuss the struggle against internet repression and to celebrate the irrepressible desire of people towards freedom of expression. The meeting will include participation from internet gurus, cyber dissidents as well as net activists, writers and journalists. Everyone will be able to participate to the debate online through a webcast on the day.

Event venue: Online at www.amnesty.org.uk/webcast - broadcasted from the Human Rights Action Center in London

Related: Doctorow - See no evil?

There's an inverse correlation between the regulation of speech and the freedom of a society. In the new global world of censorware, we all live on Syria's internet, China's internet, filtered by companies whose first priority is to ensure that Beijing is happy with its work.

I was originally going to title this post "Internet Censorship Conferences Are The New Black", but I decided that was churlish as well as reeking of sour grapes. I have to remind myself not to have my assessments clouded by bitterness. Anything that gets the message of censorware use by repressive governments into the public mind, is good for all censorware critics.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on June 06, 2007 12:57 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
June 04, 2007

Wikipedia-Model Search Project Gets Machine Hardware At Last

[Original! Not an echo. Even a micro-"scoop" :-).]

I can report that the "Wikipedia-model" search project (though run by "Wikia", a for-profit company which is legally entirely distinct from the nonprofit foundation which owns Wikipedia), the much-hyped potential Google-killer drawing much attention from Wikipedia's most publicized founder, now, at last, has some machines for it.

They were even willing to accept my general request for an account. (i.e. just as an interested person, no free labor promised - and note this is not a blogger-bribe, since accounts don't denote special treatment).

Now to try to figure out if there's any likely path where I wouldn't be be taken advantage of, ("citizen-lunchmeat") due to being overmatched and underpowered. Remember, "predations are conversations".

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia-search | on June 04, 2007 01:00 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
June 03, 2007

The Dr. Robert Lindeman / "Flea" anonymous blog outing - Blogging HARMS!

There's a dogpile over the Dr. Robert Lindeman / "Flea" story, where a pediatrician who was sued over a malpractice claim, settled immediately after being revealed to have written blog posts concerning the case.

I can say something slightly relevant here, from my own experiences in trying to work anonymously: Anonymity is difficult to maintain. Much more difficult in practice than the glib proclamations about it that are usually found in net policy punditry. Many people immediately leap and cite examples where it's been successful. But they don't give extensive weight and consideration to examples where it's failed.

Note we will NOT see this case being acknowledged by blog-evangelists as a serious downside of blogging. Of course, there's an obvious defensive line: Don't write about legal matters, no anonymity is absolute, it was stupid - so it's all his fault.

But to me, this goes back to my comparison of Blogging Effects As Quack Medicine. By the time the negative aspects have hurt someone, the snake-oil sellers are gone, looking for new suckers. And the injured person did something wrong anyway, they'll say.

But I've said this before, to no good [sad face image] .

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on June 03, 2007 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)