October 27, 2008

DMCA link-blogging

I was thinking of taking the DMCA off the blog description, as it's been a while since I wrote about it. But today is a veritable DMCA-fest due to the ten year anniversary. For old times sake:

EFF: Unintended Consequences: Ten Years Under the DMCA
Extensive report of chilling effects (I'm mentioned :-))

Wired Threat Level Blog: 10 Years Later, Misunderstood DMCA is the Law That Saved the Web
A dubious praise of the take-down provisions, and then discusses anti-circumvention (goes into censorware, and N2H2 censorware company, and I'm not mentioned! :-()

Freedom to Tinker DMCA Week, Part I: How the DMCA Was Born
Good history, for those interested in the policy origins and maneuvering.

Public Knowledge: 10 Years of the DMCA
Looks like it's not going to rehash what's been said, but unearth uncommon examples.

Note: I know the DMCA anti-circumvention cycle has started. Sigh ...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in dmca | on October 27, 2008 10:58 PM | (Infothought permalink)
October 22, 2008

Chasing The Wikia Layoffs Story (30%? 10%? Legalism?)

A few days ago, the tech-gossip blog "Valleywag" published an item that the digital-sharecropping ad-farm, err, excuse me, "communities" wiki site company "Wikia" had laid off 30% of its staff. Recall, Wikia is the company Jimmy Wales started to, in words of one article (not by me!), "take the success -- and, indeed, the underlying philosophy -- of Wikipedia," and "commercialize the hell out of it".

So, the story started metastasizing through the relevant bogosphere organs, and Wikia then issued a denial ... or so it looks. However, as a question I asked Jimmy Wales via his Wikipedia user discussion page observed, the language was ... interesting.

Jimmy, speaking as a journalist, I hate to bother you over this story, but it's necessary for me to do "due diligence". I figure since it's all public statements, I'll ask it here rather than emailing you (also some protection for me!). I've read the denials of the Valleywag story about Wikia laying off around 30% of its workforce. However, to nail things down on the record, when Wikia says - "as part of a reorganization, Wikia recently let go less than 10% of its salaried employees" - that raises an alarm bell for me in terms of legalistic language. To wit: 1) Did Wikia let go others who were not SALARIED EMPLOYEES? (as in, for example purposes, but not meaning this mention to be exclusive: contractors). To be precise, 2) If X people received pay for work in September 2008, and Y people are projected to receive pay for work in January 2009, then X - Y is ... (3? 12? what? - note the phrasing is meant to cover the loophole of people staying on for something like just stock options, so not formally "let go"). Thanks for your time on this matter.

The only reply from him was to remove the question with a note "wrong place for this question".

I did some other checking without much result. I was going to let this all pass, since it didn't seem worth the effort, but then today I had occasion to email Jimmy to check out another story, so added it on. We'll see.

It's always unclear how far to push things like this. Wikia could be telling the truth. It's possible. If they claim they simply don't want to talk to me, because I'm an idiot conspiracy mongering FUD'er, I shouldn't go to the wall over minor stuff. On the other hand, if they play it wrong, they can come off looking like vindictive weasels. It's a complicated game.

Oh yeah, I also have a blog, I'm sure they weight that with all the influence and power it commands.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia | on October 22, 2008 07:27 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
October 20, 2008

Google, Wikipedia - seeing RE-INTERMEDIATION in action!

One of the concepts I've tried to advocate (pretty much futilely) against the web evangelists who blather on about the buzzword "disintermediation", is that they are talking nonsense. My counter-buzzphrasing is, "There is re-intermediation". That is new centralization (new gatekeepers), new centers of power.

Nick Carr is now making this point better heard in The centripetal web

Technorati just couldn't compete with Google's resources. But it wasn't just a matter of responsiveness and reliability. As a web-services conglomerate, Google made it easy to enter one keyword and then do a series of different searches from its site. ... Google offered the path of least resistance, and I happily took it. ... I thought of this today as I read, ... a report that people seem to be abandoning Bloglines, the popular online feed reader, and that many of them are coming to use Google Reader instead. ...

By coincidence, Philipp Lenssen just posted about Google Now Allows Sites to Serve Content to Them While Showing a Registration Box to Non-Google Users, noting one implication being:

the barrier for competing search engines, existing and future ones, being raised... because Google may now be offered a key by some sites, something which the same site may not bother implementing for the new engine on the block (if that other engine would also suggest a first click policy). If this policy would ever become wide-spread, the next Larry and Sergeys of today writing a web crawler would face a lot of new dead ends: "Google exclusive" crawl territory, a place where newcomers need to ask permission first.

One the biggest examples of re-intermediation (driven by Google) has of course been Wikipedia, and Nick Carr observes in his post:

One of the untold stories of Wikipedia is the way it has siphoned traffic from small, specialist sites, even though those sites often have better information about the topics they cover

I actually argued this point in an academic discussion thread over a legal case, where I pointed out the process in action. That a link/attention to a poorly-fitting Wikipedia article supplanted attention and ranking from specialists who were experts on the topic (n.b. I didn't mean me, but real lawyers who were on top of the legal issues). The dream of blogging was that such specialists would supplant the superficial "MSM" ("Mainstream Media"), but instead we're just getting the potentially worse Wikipedia. But I just ended up getting flamed, maybe Nick Carr will do better (centralization of critics? 1/2 :-)).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on October 20, 2008 08:09 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)
October 15, 2008

My _Guardian_ column on truth, Tim Berners-Lee, World Wide Web Foundation

Please, Sir Tim Berners Lee: try investigating how corporations rule the net

"Seth Finkelstein on Tim Berners-Lee who raises the issue of separating truth from fiction on the internet"

[Note: I didn't pick that title - my own suggested title was 'Tim Berners-Lee takes on "The Net of a Million Lies"']

Here I discuss the ever-popular topic of finding truth among the lies. But I hope I acknowledged some of the cliches about the subject, and got beyond them a little.

Long-time net civil-liberties people might enjoy the references to the old "PICS" ("Platform for Internet Content Selection") proposals, which I sardonically note were derided as "Platform for Internet Censorship System".

I also weave in the effect of Google, from the uncommon angle that it's algorithmic technology wasn't very successful until the company turned into a advertising-selling platform. There's a profound lesson there.

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

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware , google , press | on October 15, 2008 08:20 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
October 08, 2008

Blog Posts As Wikia Search Application - Scary If Anyone Cared

Wikia Search just posted about turning blog posts into a "Wikia Search Application". That has the potential to be amazingly contentious, and dangerous - if anybody cared! Basically, if Wikia Search actually had any users, and so was worth going to the effort of fighting over spaces and scamming people, that feature would be a trouble-magnet. However, "luckily", essentially nobody uses them, so it's not going to cause much of a stir.

In sum, they're allowing blogs to be "Search Extensions" for keywords. You can nominate any blog for any term. Subject to their approval. Now, I happen to think my blog is quite relevant to terms like "Jimmy Wales" and "Wikipedia" and "Wikia" ! :-) Would they let me in? For those keywords? I can think of several other folks with blogs who would also love prime ranking for those terms.

Someone could object that this is the same problem with as Wikipedia, and that was sort-of addressed, enough to be functional (with lots of cost-shifting and misery). But it's often said, search is worth real money, and that's orders of magnitude more difficult to handle.

Anyway, I'm not going to bother trying to get accepted as a bona-fide "WISE"-guy. It doesn't seem worth the potential backlash. But I wish coverage pointed out these problems more often.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia-search | on October 08, 2008 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
October 07, 2008

"Wikia Intelligent Search Extensions"

Wikia search is releasing "Wikia Intelligent Search Extensions" ("WISE"):

WISE -- "Wikia Intelligent Search Extensions" -- is Wikia Search's application framework. WISE makes it easy for website owners and developers to provide Wikia Search users with search results enhanced by the data available across the Web.

There is a problem with that paragraph, in the words "Wikia Search users". To a good appproximation, there aren't any. It's a long way from buying Jimbo his jet.

In a way, it's pretty funny. Wikia Search has no traffic and no quality results. Therefore, ask partners to provide the quality results - in the guise of reaching the audience that isn't there! I've got to say, it's a neat search engine twist on the strategy of digital sharecropping sites.

Note the press release contains this revealing portion:

"Here at Last.fm we consider Wikipedia to be one of the most pioneering community-driven websites of the last 10 years, so we're thrilled to be a part of Jimmy's new venture," said Martin Stiksel, Last.fm co-founder.

I don't make this up. There's the benefit in a nutshell that Wikia the for-profit venture capital backed startup company obtains from Wikipedia the famous non-profit site.

My recent Guardian column on Jimmy Wales and Wikipedia and advertising is particulary relevant here:

"It's informative to observe how long Wales has been pursuing a strategy of selling advertising around other people's work."

[Checking, my blog post which used to rank highly on a search for his name has been user-deleted from those Wikia Search results (it's greyed-out a bit down the page as a user-deleted item). But those search results are currently full of "Valleywag.com" posts, which he may not consider an improvement]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia-search | on October 07, 2008 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink)
October 05, 2008

Google / NSA Freedom-Of-Information Act Request Yields Little

I should have mentioned this earlier, but Philipp Lenssen at Google Blogoscoped has posted (with permission) an analysis I did when he asked about the meaning of a journalist's freedom-of-information act request case file regarding the National Security Agency (NSA) and its connections to Google. Basically, nothing came of the journalist's request. All that was released was that the NSA bought 4 Google search appliances, a 2-year warranty covering replacement on all of them, and 100 hours worth of support consulting.

Any deep connections that Google has to the NSA and the CIA are not going to be found so easily. Find that sort of stuff requires either a huge amount of legwork with the right sources in the intelligence community, or a whistleblower.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on October 05, 2008 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink)
October 02, 2008

"Wikipedia Vandal Study - US Senate"

[I received this press release from Gregory Kohs. I haven't thoroughly examined the material, but it looks interesting - also they're asking for diggs]

Fatigue has set in, and what with the collapse of the US economy on the Senate's mind, we have decided that our study of Wikipedia vandalism against the 100 articles about US Senators should simply be released to the public, without an accompanying letter-writing campaign to Capitol Hill.

However, I am hoping that the alternative and mainstream media could enhance public awareness of the problems of inaccuracy, hatred, and defamation on Wikipedia -- all protected by the Section 230 written into law by the very august body of legislators now vandalized.

Everything you need to write a story is found here:


I am available for commentary about the study's managers and methodology.

Catchy headlines are aplenty:

"93,000 Wikipedia readers learn that John McCain was born in Florida, where the Panama Canal is"

"Sen. Ted Stevens didn't just get free home improvements, he participated in kinky sex adventures, too (according to Wikipedia)"

"John McCain 'sucked a few <BLEEP> in his life', per about 14,000 readers of Wikipedia"

Okay, some of these headlines could be a challenge for editorial review.


[Gregory Kohs]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on October 02, 2008 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
October 01, 2008

Breaching Trust: surveillance and security on China's TOM-Skype

I'll echo:

Information Warfare Monitor
ONI Asia
Joint Report
An analysis of surveillance and security practices on China's TOM-Skype platform

Nart Villeneuve, Psiphon Fellow, the Citizen Lab


Our investigation reveals troubling security and privacy breaches affecting TOM-Skype--the Chinese version of the popular voice and text chat software Skype, marketed by the domestic Chinese company TOM Online. TOM-Skype routinely collects, logs and captures millions of records that include personal information and contact details for any text chat and/or voice calls placed to TOM-Skype users, including those from the Skype platform. These records are kept on publicly-accessible servers, along with the information required to decrypt these log files. These files contain the full text of chat messages sent and/or received by TOM-Skype users that contain particular keywords that trigger TOM-Skype's content-filtering capability.

Just amazing stuff. I shouldn't say any more.

[ Memesterbation: (linking so that this post shows up on trackers)]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on October 01, 2008 11:33 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)