June 30, 2008

Violet Blue "unpersoned" from Boing Boing ?

The Violet Blue / BoingBoing incident, where many posts mentioning popular sex writer Violet Blue were suddenly deleted from one of the biggest blogs around, has been garnering more and more notice in the relevant fan-bases. The strangest aspect is that it seemed to have happened out of the, err, blue.

"I've been racking my brain thinking of what issues I might've come down on the wrong side of," Blue told [the latimes.com writer] on the phone. "There's been no argument, there's been no disagreement, no flame war, none of the usual things."

Which makes it all very, very, odd. Generally when something like this happens, the parties involved know the general reason (... even if they don't agree on the specifics). And none of the obvious speculations fit (sex-related material? There's still plenty of that on Boing Boing. Copyright? No, doesn't seem to be an issue). The Boingers aren't talking, not even to newspaper inquiries per above. Which is another weird part of the story. That sort of behavior generally indicates a legal problem, but nobody can figure out what would apply here.

I dug around earlier, and the post removals definitely seem to be real and deliberate. That is, not only have the HTML article files disappeared, but someone seems to have gone into the article database and deleted the entries there, and then rebuilt the associated HTML article files (so that the previous-post and next-post links didn't show the now-deleted post). It's not clear when this happened - I couldn't find cached versions that narrowed down the timeframe enough.

I kept thinking this has got to be a bug, that somehow Violet Blue's website ended up on a spam blacklist by accident. But the stonewalling seen over the last few days makes that theory less and less likely.

People are now trying to sneak comments about the event into various Boing Boing threads, and obviously having those comments removed. You can just imagine what sort of post you'd find about all this on Boing Boing if it were someone not favored, instead of themselves ("Megasite erases hip sexy blogger, readers use The Internet to protest!"). Plus the supercilious apologism from certain quarters, is a sight to behold.

I have a saying: It's Always Different When It's You :-(

Update: Boing Boing speaks. WOW! Say it isn't so :-(. They really did wilfully and deliberately unperson her. It's all true: "Violet behaved in a way that made us reconsider whether we wanted to lend her any credibility or associate with her.". I wish I could convey vocal tone, to underscore the sincerity of saying I am so disappointed.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in bogosphere | on June 30, 2008 11:55 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (12)
June 28, 2008

New Frontiers in Top-Level-Domain Business Models!

[Commenting on ICANN approving new TLD process, I wrote this for a mailing list, responding to a post about The Money is What Matters!]

A _Guardian_ column I wrote about this last year is relevant:


"The domain name system is full of rent-seekers, speculators, squatters and various scammers."

I've seen some of the shenanigans that go on. We've about to be inundated with clever schemes based on exploiting top-level domains.

Stuff like "dot-greed" is too obvious. Personally, I want ".cmo", for typo-squatting, I mean, Chief Medical Officers. And also ".cim", for more typo-squatting, I mean, the Common Information Model.

If we don't get dot-ex-ex-ex, to sell to defensive registrations to trademark owners, I mean, for sex sites, how about ".hate", for a similar idea? That is, the new TLD ".hate" would be said to be for self-described hate-sites to self-label. But you, Mr/Ms Trademark Owner, can buy a pre-emptive registration for a special rate.

I'm sure there's a wide ranger of ingenuity that will be applied, given the lucrative mix of speculation, typo traffic, certification fees, and trademark issues. ICANN has just bought itself years and years of litigation headaches.

[End message]

I've also been mentioned (thanks) in Charles Arthur's Guardian article I've got a .bridge I'd like to sell you :

It's weird. As our regular columnist Seth Finkelstein has repeatedly pointed out, the arguments against the ".xxx" suffix (regularly touted as a red-light district for the web) are simple: it wouldn't restrict porn to that area, and it would simply be a bonanza for domain name registrars and con artists or cybersquatters looking to make a quick buck.

Bonus link - Rich Kulawiec explains (at length)

We don't need any more gTLDs: if any are created, they will quickly be overrun by abusers and rendered as much a wasteland as .info is today. In the process, registrars will profit, abusers will profit, and everyone else will be forced into pointless expenditures (to proactively or reactively defend themselves from the ensuing abuse).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in domains | on June 28, 2008 11:54 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
June 25, 2008

Jimmy Wales now making BIG BIG speakers fees, "Harry Walker Agency"

Some images are unfortunate:

Jimmy Wales advertised above Karl Rove

The Harry Walker Agency, "The World's Leading Exclusive Speaker's Agency", announced exclusive representation of Jimmy Wales for speaking engagements. In an amusing juxtaposition, the front page of their website now has him right above Karl Rove. And that gives you a sense - both intentionally and unintentionally - of the sort of level he's now inhabiting.

This type of agency charges megabucks for its clients. The exact number for Wales isn't given, but from other material I've seen, I'd estimate $50,000 a shot is a ballpark figure.

And what can you get for all that money? (which could probably buy a whole starving village in Africa). I like this:

# Democracy and the Internet

Freedom of speech and the distribution of knowledge is the foundation of Wikipedia. Mr. Wales predicts that the internet will democratize developing countries by making the world 'flat,' opening markets, promoting cultural understanding, and giving developing nations the resources they need to compete in the 21st century. With current total Internet usage by one billion people set to double in the next five to 10 years (with the majority of new users arising from developing nations), Mr. Wales asserts that internet will combat stereotypes, censorship, media control, and monopolies while simultaneously allowing citizens of developing nations to have a more prominent voice. As Mr. Wales states: "It does not take a lot of technology to foster open dialog and debate. Even the simplest technologies like mailing lists, wikis, blogs can help a lot. What is needed mostly, I think, is more content in local languages, and support from people around the world to help others join in the global conversation."

As the saying goes: The thing speaks for itself.

So, though Wikipedia is more like a sweatshop than Santa's workshop and has a poorly-run bureaucracy with the group dynamics of a cult fueled by peddling a type of spiritual transcendence through selfless service to an ideal - someone is definitely benefiting.

[Update: Verified asking price: above $75,000]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on June 25, 2008 07:25 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
June 23, 2008

What's In Jimmy Wales's Repudiated _Observer_ Article?

The Observer has a For the record correction:

Last week, we ran an article - 'It's the next billion online who will change the way we think' - under the byline of Jimmy Wales, explaining at the end that it was an edited version of a conversation with the Wikipedia founder. Mr Wales agreed to the piece on the condition that he have final editorial approval but unfortunately this proved impossible before publication. Mr Wales wishes to make clear that he repudiates the piece, and that it misrepresents his views. He has written an alternative version, which can be found at observer.co.uk/commentisfree. We apologise to Mr Wales.

This made me very curious as to what they'd written for him. Was it such extreme hype that even Wales himself couldn't abide it.? Maybe the bubble-blowing was utterly over-the-top, especially if you know the standard Wikipedia PR about the (knowledge-)starving children of Africa, if even he found it too much. Did it propose that the power of Wikipedia would end poverty, sickness, and war? (note - this paragraph is humor, or at least intended as such)

I've seen a short blog quote "'If you think the internet has transformed the way we live, the way we work and - crucially - the way we learn about the world, imagine what happens ... when the next billion people come online, as will happen in the next five or 10 years ... What an extraordinary wealth of local knowledge they will bring."

There's also a paraphrase: "it's likely there'll soon be digital revolutions in far-flung places we don't tend to consider very much, such as Kazakhstan. With internet connections and the Web 2.0 tools that have become available over recent years, [someone writing for] Wales says, it's likely that they'll be able to propel themselves very quickly through twenty years of technological progress and produce the next crop of internet tycoons."

But the article itself apparently never made it online. Has anyone else seen it? Note this would be the June 15 edition of the Observer, not the "alternative version" dated June 22.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on June 23, 2008 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
June 19, 2008

Media Bloggers Association / AP / Bogosphere links

I don't have much to say about the Media Bloggers Association / AP controversy, except that the surrounding circus was an incredibly demagogic and corrupt affair that drove home again - if yet another proof were needed - how much pandering to the mob is the key to blog success (and hence how much I've wasted my time).

Read Shelley Powers:

What's particularly sad about this recent variation of the AP fooflah, isn't so much that the MBA is representing "all" bloggers so much, but that people like [A-listers], seem to be offended that Robert Cox is getting attention, which we assume, should be directed at [those A-listers]. This following digging up an old AP form, set up for businesses who want to incorporate AP content into their material, and making a breathless and astonishing leap of judgment that this is what the AP's answer to webloggers is going to be. Talk about manufacturing facts out of whole cloth - this, this is our newest form of journalism?

Liza Sabater

It just mystifies me how most bloggers are reacting to the AP spin and then attacking Robert Cox when it should be the opposite.

Robert Cox

NOTE: Amazingly there are now stories out there conflating two entirely false stories, linking them to the Drudge Retort story and then going way beyond the edges of reality. The latest story is that AP's icopyright service shows that the Drudge Retort case is all part of a sinister plot by the AP to charge bloggers several dollars per word to quote an AP story.

Rogers Cadenhead

Why is the Media Bloggers Association getting its ass kicked all over the Internet for attempting to have a dialogue with AP about the Drudge Retort's DMCA takedown dispute?

Because the name of the game is GET ATTENTION!, truth be damned. And this post is an exercise in futility.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in mba | on June 19, 2008 11:53 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (6)
June 18, 2008

My _Guardian_ column on Internet Privacy Norms Argument

"Judge fell through the web's open doors"

New technologies bring new ways for people to embarrass themselves - just ask the prominent and colourful judge Alex Kozinski

[I didn't pick the title, but it's OK]

I put the issue in the context of competing concepts of "everything not explicitly prohibited is permitted", versus "everything not explicitly permitted is prohibited".

By the way, I did some statistics regarding the readership on my investigation post:

Total IP's - about 1,500. Referers:

patterico.com - 411
unknown - 312
google web searches - 224
other sethf.com posts - 188
lessig.org comments - 117
groklaw.net comment - 114
thelede.blogs.nytimes.com comment - 35
feministlawprofs.law.sc.edu comment - 19
google blog searches - 16
abovethelaw.com comment - 14
uslaw.com comment - 13

Granted, it had a somewhat greater impact than the raw numbers would indicate. But it's still rather pitiful compared to the daily reach of an A-lister's blog. Yet another proof that being right is no substitute for being popular, and blogging is a wasteful bad habit for me :-(.

[For all columns, see the page Seth Finkelstein | guardian.co.uk.]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in press , statistics | on June 18, 2008 07:54 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (5)
June 15, 2008

Yahoo Search Engine Spiders Directories From File Paths

I just did an experiment and confirmed that the Yahoo spider will try to search a directory from a file. That is, if it sees a URL like http://example.com/stuff/jump.avi , in addition to retrieving that file, it'll try the URL http://example.com/stuff/ . Though Google won't do that (nor will Microsoft). It's easy to test this yourself if you have a website where you can see server logs. This practice has some significant implications for people who claim that trying truncated URLs is improper behavior and even possibly unauthorized access.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in infothought | on June 15, 2008 03:50 PM | (Infothought permalink)
June 13, 2008

How "alex.kozinski.com" worked (Judge Alex Kozinski "Porn Site" Follow-up)

[Original research! Not an echo!!!]

Following up the "Porn Site" of Judge Alex Kozinski kerfuffle, and all the discussion of private vs. public norms, I've been trying to figure out exactly how the web site was configured. We know the controversial material was in a directory called "stuff", hence it was http://alex.kozinski.com/stuff/

I've found a key piece of evidence. In June 2004, Alex Kozinski sent a public letter in HTML, humorous nominating himself as part of a "Judicial Hottie contest":

Courthouse Forum: The Hot. Alex Kozinski

This letter contains various links, and one sentence in particular is:

* I bungee jump. [Ed. note: Click on the link to play this very fun little video clip--and make sure your sound is turned on!]

There, "bungee jump" is linked to: http://alex.kozinski.com/stuff/jump.avi

Again, that's the key directory.

This shows that Judge Kozinski knew the general public could retrieve specific material from that directory, and in at least one case, invited the public to do so.

I speculate that he did not know that his server was configured with a feature which lists all files in that directory when the directory name was given. That is, he may have thought that the only way to know what files were there, was if one was given filenames.

Moral: Security By Obscurity - Isn't.

Note regarding the search engine restriction file "robots.txt":

Yahoo had a cached copy of that directory (seems uncached now) with an entry at least as late as:

25.minutes.to.go.wmv 28-May-2008 12:18 6.3M movie

This strongly indicates there was no search engines prohibition for that directory. Further evidence is at the Internet archive, which shows many versions e.g.:


having only entries:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /jurist-l/

[Disclaimer: Do read the letter. Alex Kozinski is impressive and a very cool guy, and those who are trying to have him removed from his position because of this tempest-in-a-teapot should avail themselves of some of the acts portrayed in the files in that directory]

[Update - see my column "Don't blame the judge for falling through the web's open doors" ]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in infothought | on June 13, 2008 07:18 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
June 12, 2008

Judge Alex Kozinski "Porn Site" links

Some resources on the Judge Alex Kozinski "Porn Site" story:

A closely watched obscenity trial in Los Angeles federal court was suspended Wednesday after the judge acknowledged maintaining his own publicly accessible website featuring sexually explicit photos and videos.

Quick overview: "Judges Gone Wild"

In one of the wonders of the Internet, much of the material itself has been collected elsewhere:

What "Stuff" was on Judge Kozinski's Personal Website?

USLaw.com has been able to partially recreate the content which was described by Judge Kozinski as "funny... odd and interesting... part of life" (and we agree). The hundred plus files constitute the type of "viral" videos and images that are commonly circulated among men of a certain humor by email.

Apparently this was done by someone who wanted to settle a score against Kozinski:

The L.A. Times's Tipster on Kozinski's Porn: Cyrus Sanai

Small world: I had, err, something to do with the specific anti-censorware effort years ago mentioned in many of the articles describing his opposition to having censorware imposed on the courts.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on June 12, 2008 05:37 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
June 11, 2008

Obligatory ISP blocking deal agreement post

I feel morally obligated to write about the ISP blocking deal agreement. However, I can't see what I'd write on my blog will do any good in the world, especially given the inflammatory nature of the topic. I'll leave it other people - people who have far bigger platforms and more social protection - to do at length the civil-libertarian counter-point that child pornography is a horrible horrible thing and anyone involved in it deserves the worst possible punishment, but we should not have vague and broad blocking due to a small number of evildoers ...

Value-add: Link for Official Press Release

Value-add2: Repost from a while back

Irene Graham - ISP "Voluntary" / Mandatory Filtering

"This page contains information about ISP-level filtering systems implemented, by various ISPs in various countries, to prevent accidental access to child sexual abuse material on web pages/sites. It has been researched and produced in the context of the Australian Federal Labor Government's 2008 "plan" to mandate that Australian ISPs block access to a vastly larger type and quantity of web pages."

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on June 11, 2008 02:28 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
June 09, 2008

Nick Carr: "Is Google Making Us Stupid?", and Man vs. Machine

Nick Carr has an essay "Is Google Making Us Stupid?", where he applies a certain effects-of-tech-on-humans framework to Google. I know Nick is a very smart and learned man, so I read his thoughts carefully. I suspect there will be a certain amount of noise in reaction to what he wrote, as some with less regard for him will take away a superficial impression and go into standard techno-utopian rants against that ("Luddite!" is a tip-off you're reading one of these).

However, I'll try to outline what I found unsatisfying, by talking a bit about some of the meta-issues (I have to spell out I'm deliberately doing this, otherwise the widely-varying contexts tend to make it look like I'm *only* talking about myself).

When I read articles such as the above, I'm very aware that there is indeed a science/humanities "Two Cultures" divide. And I'm on one side of it (science) while many pundits are on the other (humanities). One basic way to tell the difference is essentially when science types can extend "themselves" through technology, they think "This is cool! Wonderful! Great! More!", while humanities types angst about "How has the basic nature of our essential souls been corrupted?". Note this angst-ing effect generally applies only to technology they haven't grown up with - for example, you don't see a lot of articles bemoaning how the telephone disembodies us into ghostly vocal presences. Of course, the more intelligent humanities types, like Nick, know this history, and it's clear especially towards the end of his piece. But they write the angst-filled articles all the same.

To demonstrate, here's a paragraph shot through with those themes (my interpolations are in the brackets):

Still, their easy assumption that we'd all "be better off" if our brains were supplemented, or even replaced, by an artificial intelligence is unsettling [tech: "Neat!", lib-arts: "Scary!"]. It suggests a belief that intelligence is the output of a mechanical process, a series of discrete steps that can be isolated, measured, and optimized. [tech: "Yeah!", lib-arts: "My soul!"]. In Google's world, the world we enter when we go online, there's little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed. [tech: "Math rules!", lib-arts: "Poetry rules!"]. The human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive. [tech: "Humans are machines!". lib-arts: "Humans are divine!"]

So I've often wished there was more support for what I call "technology-positive social criticism". By which I mean that criticism of techo-hype and marketing hucksters often seems to end up couched in a certain type of fogeyism (which alienates tech types) because there's no other power-center supporting that criticism. I sometimes don't want to alienate those who write in this fogeyist idiom. But it's a struggle.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on June 09, 2008 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (7)
June 05, 2008

Economist: "The free-knowledge fundamentalist"

Very interesting article here about Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia, Wikia Search, and some Google-politics:
Economist: "The free-knowledge fundamentalist".
Yes, I've said this before, but bear with me. I get much flak for my views. Even if this is a tale told by an idiot, here's another case of where, in the business press, there's interesting nuggets and not just chump-fodder:

By the late 1990s, Mr Wales was investing in a website called Bomis, a sort of search engine or web directory where "99% of the searches had to do with naked babes," as Mr Foote, who was Bomis's advertising director, puts it.

Hee hee. Remember, they said it, not me! And money, money, money:

As Mr Wales struggles with such intellectual controversies, he now does so as a minor celebrity. Neither Bomis nor Wikipedia has made him rich -- if he is comfortable, it is mainly the result of earning money from speaking engagements, say friends. ...

All this has gone to his head, say former friends. Mr Wales "has created something of a mythology about himself," says one. "The image he created is that he is this benevolent millionaire who donates his time for this charitable project; that is not true." Instead, this acquaintance argues, Mr Wales is merely basking in the glow of Wikipedia's success. ...

Again, they said it, not me! And remember what fuels the value of those speaking engagements. That's you-Yes-YOU! Now, don't you want to buy him a jet too? As in:

So far Wikia's search results are embarrassingly poor, as reviewers have noted. And there are more fundamental doubts. Wikipedia succeeded because, in 2001, there was no free online encyclopedia. Today web search, by contrast, is a hyper-competitive industry. Mr Wales does not see it that way. Search has become a window to knowledge, and Google and its rivals have become its arbiters. "For me it's a political statement," he says. "We don't need secrecy. ...

See, you're supposed to work for free to build a search engine for Wikia to monetize, as a political statement. Against the arbiters, which are cast in a role of the new Evil Empire (which now means Google and its rivals, not Microsoft). And it's a bad rebel who wonders how much he or she gets paid for doing this (and further ponders how the grand rebellion will benefit the glorious leader's bank account).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia-search | on June 05, 2008 11:54 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (9)
June 03, 2008

Wikia Search and "When you have a Wikipedia, everything looks like an edit"

I'm late to the party in blathering about the latest updates to "Wikia Search" (the attempt to Wikipedia-ize search with free labor). And it's not like my blog post is going to be much read anyway. So I'll just refer to my column last month which discussed the topic extensively:

"When you have a Wikipedia, everything looks like an edit"

"But the idea that these simple systems can be applied to deep value-laden social problems, of politics, or even relevant search results, is like trying to use a hammer to turn screws on the basis that it works so well to hit nails."

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia-search | on June 03, 2008 09:01 PM | (Infothought permalink)
June 01, 2008

Wikipedia biography attacks Australian Federal Police chief for several days

"Cyber bandit sabotages top cop"

Wikipedia has been forced to lock its profile page on Australian Federal Police chief Mick Keelty after a cyber vandal portrayed him as a deranged conspiracy theorist.

Some of this is impressive (in a negative way) stuff:

"In fact, the last time he went to church was at his own christening and the priest attempted to drown him. "

"And one day there will a man with a black outfit and a really fast black car. And he will be called Batman. Excuse me while I take my medication. My head doctor calls them my happy pills. I'm a little teapot....."

And what's even more impressive (in a negative way), is that those attacks seem to have sat there for nine days

Tell me again how Wikipedia is almost as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on June 01, 2008 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink)