August 31, 2011

Walled Gardens vs Openness - a small case study

[Update below]

What follows is a small recursive irony, for reasons which shall soon be apparent. I was reading the interview "The Future of The Internet (And How to Stop It) - A Dialog with Jonathan Zittrain Updating His 2008 Book". The basic point of the book is an exploration of structual issues among centrally controlled versus open systems. In particular, the way (my phrasing) some structures end up locking down what can be done with facilities, while open systems encourage experimentation.

I tried to leave a comment, nothing controversial, in reply to Zittrain's statement about

It's sheer genius for a platform maker to demand a cut of in-app purchases. Can you imagine if, back in the day, the only browser allowed on Windows was IE, and further, all commerce conducted through that browser -- say, buying a book through Amazon -- constituted an "in-app purchase" for which Microsoft was due

I would have said:

True example - back in the day, one compiler-maker (Borland) did want a cut on all applications made with its compiler. But they didn't have the market power to make that stick.

But I couldn't leave that comment. Because the blog requires a commentor to login with a Facebook account. And I don't have a Facebook account, and don't want one.

"Future Of The Internet" thesis in action! Silos over openness.

UPDATE - Apparently the blog comment software has been changed to allow non-Facebook comments. I'd in fact mentioned this to Zittrain personally earlier. Maybe someone actually cared!

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (3)
September 30, 2009

Why (individual) Blogging Is Dead - Objective Measurement

A few months ago, Charles Arthur had a column The long tail of blogging is dying ("The popularity of blogging seems to be fading as people turn to the easier aspects of social media: status updates and tweeting")

People are still reading blogs, and other content. But for the creation of amateur content, their heyday for the wider population has, I think, already passed. The short head of blogging thrives. Its long tail, though, has lapsed into desuetude.

See also The Rise of the Professional Blogger

The blogosphere was supposed to democratize publishing and empower the little guy. Turns out, the big blogs are all run by The Man.

There's a predicatable reaction to articles like these - reading it absurdly as saying nobody would ever post again, redefining the word blogger to mean low/unpaid corporate writer who rants, discounting the article because of the author, and so on. But it's quite measurable. Not by text string searching an index, which is going to be full of spam and echoing, but examining various indicators.

One strong indicator is to look at what the professional attention-sellers are doing. Remember, these people have as their careers figuring out what's the top manipulation tool, what trend they should promote. That's their job - and if they don't do it with reasonable skill, they don't succeed. So while they're hardly infallible (any trend-hyping is going to invove many duds), they are evidence. It's not canary in a coal mine, but more at if you see a pack of predators cluster in a particular territory, it's likely they think that's the best place to find prey (which, remember, is YOU!).

It's no secret much of the A-list has gone a-twitter That's an objective measurement. Another data-point comes from Shelley Powers noting blog reader-program development has ceased

I finally installed the Gregarius feed aggregator, even though it is no longer actively supported. I only need a web-based feed aggregator, and so far I've not been able to find a single one that is still actively being supported. Not a single one.

In fact, most of the feed related software seems to have been discontinued in Fall of 2008 - just about the time when Twitter use exploded. I knew that Twitter was popular, but I hadn't realized what an adverse impact it is having on how we find, and read, information on the web.

And it's been generally noted that the bubbly blog money has disappeared.

So, hypesters, developers, investors - all basically have now abandoned the former gold-rush. Stick a fork in it, it's done.

Coda: One marketing A-lister recently sent out a Twitter message about my article regarding why I refuse to be a sucker again, commenting "[Seth Finkelstein] is not happy about Twitter, for the same reason he wasn't happy about blogs".
I wanted to respond "Well, wasn't I right both times?". But of course, for either blogs or Twitter, A-listers reach orders of magnitude more people than me, so being right is something of a pyrrhic victory.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (16)
September 03, 2009

Bubble Blown - Whatever happened to the "RSS" venture capital fund

As part of what I call The Sign Of The Bubble, I've been interested in what happened to a venture capital fund which wanted to invest $100 million dollars based on "RSS" (syndication feed) businesses, started by two people at Harvard's Berkman Center. It raises many issues that I shouldn't elaborate on in a public message. But I was never able to figure out how to ask the questions I wanted to ask, in a context and manner that might have gleaned candid answers. And it didn't seem worthwhile to annoy people over the issue (both in asking sensitive questions, and in possibly writing about it).

But the peHUB site ("A Public Forum for Private Equity") now has a short article on it: RSS Is Dead, So Is The RSS Fund. Key points:

The firm launched with a press release touting "the creation of a $100 million fund," but that was basically a PR stunt. ... [they] wanted to raise $100 million, but had only $20 million from a cornerstone

The firm made a series of investments, in companies like Attensa, KnowNow (defunct) and Edgeio (assets sold to Vast.com). But new deals stopped when RSS Investors ran out of cash, and the decision was made to close up shop.

I'm not sure what the moral of the story is, beyond the obvious that the attempt to make 100 million dollars justifies every cynical thought I've ever had or written regarding blog-evangelism and the huckstering which drives it. I suppose a more politically astute person than me could have sold them some snake-oil and cheerleaded all the way to the bank ("Oh yes, RSS is a world-changer, people can write *blogs*, so buy my data-mining start-up ..."). But as we see, that game doesn't work well even for the players (though still much better for them than all the digital-sharecroppers).

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (2)
June 02, 2009

Harvard Business: "New Twitter Research: Men Follow Men and Nobody Tweets"

"New Twitter Research: Men Follow Men and Nobody Tweets", a blog post at Harvard Business, has some results which are sweet vindication of my recent _Guardian_ Twitter column.

They said it, not me:

"This implies that Twitter's resembles more of a one-way, one-to-many publishing service more than a two-way, peer-to-peer communication network."

The article in parts says (my very loose paraphrase) that Twitter is used by BigHeads to pontificate - they write and the audience reads. The authors seem somewhat surprised at a gender imbalance, but I suspect that's an artifact from most of the BigHeads being male.

My column brought me a lot of grief, and I see some of the same reactions starting in to this piece. Most notably, the you-can-CHAT! chorus. And one answer to that is perhaps in this column by Bobbie Johnson: How much is it worth to be one of Twitter's suggested users?

Plus, some of the resentment is driven - even if they don't admit it - by the fact that a lot of people really consider Twitter as a competition to gain the biggest audience. It's professionally useful to them to have more followers than other people - and, in many cases, they believe that they are being cheated out of their rightful position inside the social network. ... [snip]

And some have too much of their personal or professional reputation staked on being successful in these sorts of arenas. Hard to sell yourself as a social media guru if any old celebrity can get more Twitter followers than you without even trying.

A few days ago, I did a brief appearance on a talk-radio program (the Angie Coiro show), being critical of Twitter. She wondered if I'd feel the same way about Twitter in a year. I replied approximately that I almost certainly would, as I'd gone though the delusions of blogging, and I wasn't going to get fooled again.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 06:27 AM | Comments (4)
May 06, 2009

My _Guardian_ column on *TWITTER*

"Twitter: sucker's game that boosts elite"
http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/may/07/twitter-is-a-suckers-game

"People aren't being connected by the 'real-time messaging service', they're being bundled up and sold"

My working title was "Twitter Bitter, or Why I Am Not A Happy Twit". But frankly, the one they used is better.

I suspect some people are going to miss the point of this column, and tell me that, golly gee, I can chat with friends. I know that. Really. I'm well into a third decade of being on the Net (I went to MIT, I was on the Net more way before it reached the general population), and I know all about text chat. I don't want to use Twitter to chat.

I also don't want to broadcast or narrowcast my life's trivia. Encouraging exhibitionism is part of what I meant by "pathologies of celebrity". I made a deliberate, strategic choice to put "personal voice" into my blog, and in retrospect that was, overall, a pretty bad decision.

What's left is the rat race of trying to get followers for one's micropunditry and links. No. Not again. Not another grind of a few BigHeads on top all group-grooming each other, while everyone else is practically unheard. Not again, not so I can be monetized by another social/data-mining start-up.

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

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:09 PM | Comments (13)
April 29, 2009

Twitter - I'm not getting suckered again

Yes, I have a Twitter account (Seth Finkelstein). But today's hot item Twitter Quitters Post Roadblock to Long-Term Growth is a good hook to write a post on why I'm not playing that lottery game again.

"But despite the hockey-stick growth chart, Twitter faces an uphill battle in making sure these flocks of new users are enticed to return to the nest."

I understand why the BigHeads love being Twits. Which is exactly why I don't like it at all. That is, Twitter is the distilled essence of top-down, broadcast, pontification, of a small group of large egos thinking their blatherings are vital communication. It's worse than blogs. At least with a blog, you can pretend that you're writing something intellectually important, that someone somewhere might care (that's almost always false, but there's just the tiniest kernel of truth in it to support the delusion). With Twitter, there's a reason the evangelists hype breaking news and link-flogging - because that's about the only thing you can do in 140 characters which is other than trivia.

The "A-list" aspects are spectacularly blatant - due to "power law" effects, there's a tiny number of people with a huge number of followers (note that terminology!), and everyone else - well, little Z-lister, squeaking at the bottom of that very steep curve, isn't it enough for you to chat with your friends?

It's the same story as blog-evangelism - the hucksters switching their argument back and forth between diary/chat and journalism, the elite group of attention-dominants "conversing" among themselves while everyone else is their audience, the you-could-be-a-star selling of dreams and celebrity.

I'm not going to play that game again - of following (!) the BigHeads, trying to get an audience, all the while wasting time and effort so a start-up can monetize it (in an extremely inefficient way). It's enough being suckered once.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 10:21 AM | Comments (6)
March 25, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day - Shelley Powers

Ada Lovelace Day, "Bringing women in technology to the fore", is an "international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology.". This is belated, but here's a short participation post.

I'll pick Shelley Powers, who is living proof that the A-list is far less of a meritocracy than it tells itself, and very much an old-boy's club

Point of fact, if you follow the thread of this discussion, you would see something like Dave linking to Cory who then links to Scoble who links to Dave who links to Tim who links to Steve who then links to Dave who links to Doc who follows through with a link to Dan, and so on. If you throw in the fact that the Google Guys are, well, guys, then we start to see a pattern here: men have a real thing for the hypertext link.

Whoever thinks "hyperlinks subvert hierarchy" is severely mistaken.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (2)
December 01, 2008

Welcome Slashdot Readers

Bennett Haselton, in a Slashdot article today (thanks)

(My own favorite blog that nobody's ever heard of is Seth Finkelstein's InfoThought, which is usually logical and insightful and is only about 25% of the time about how "nobody ever reads this blog, so what's the point". His Guardian columns are also good and usually don't have that subtext, perhaps because it's considered impolite to use a newspaper's column-inches (column-centimeters?) to complain that you have no voice.)

No, because then they wouldn't publish it! :-)

Though on that theme, I recommend the Guardian column I wrote:
"If you want to change the world, a blog may not be the place to start"

Further, the unread blogger sayeth not, due to irony overload :-(

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 01:41 PM | Comments (6)
May 28, 2008

Anti-Kool-Aid Roundup

The latest readings for the Wonderful Web World (or, why I've just wasted my time again, and need to stop doing it):

Failing Web 2.0 stars pray for copyright abolition (Andrew Orlowski)

Exhibit One is a deadpan report in the Financial Times, bylined to Chris Nuttall and Richard Waters. It's titled, "Web 2.0 fails to produce cash".

This could be the least-surprising headline of this (or any) year. Dog Bites Man rarely makes the news. As we predicted years ago, Web 2.0 was only ever a rhetorical bubble, designed to boost a clutch of no-hope investments into the arms of an acquirer. For a handful of others - mostly pundits - it was a lifeline from a dead-end media job into gurudom. It didn't take a genius to work that out.

Perhaps You Should Examine Your Colon! (Jeneane Sessum)

Okay. Look. I can't take it anymore.

How many times in the last 7 years have we been through the women-free TOP LISTS OF BLOGGING. Or the penis-only MOST IMPORTANT CONFERENCE IN TECHNOLOGY events?

How small stories become big news (John F. Harris)

As leaders of a new publication, Politico's senior editors and I are relentlessly focused on audience traffic. The way to build traffic on the Web is to get links from other websites. ... There are probably a dozen websites with a heavy political emphasis whose links are sought by all for the traffic those links drive.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:56 PM | Comments (2)
April 04, 2008

Britannica Blog Link-Baiting "Newspapers and the Net Forum"

Britannica Blog is having another link-baiting party, I mean, "Are Newspapers Doomed? (Do We Care?): Newspapers & the Net Forum". They did not quite say:

Throughout the week assorted writers, bloggers, and media scholars will [provide link fodder] discuss and debate the state of newspapers and the impact of new media on traditional avenues of publishing. We welcome your [link] input, your [links] comments and [links to] perspectives, and encourage your [linking to] participation in these discussions.

I addressed a paradox in a column a while back: "Has Britannica co-opted blogging or has it been corrupted by it?". The Britannica people definitely seem to be cognizant of a blog as an attention-getting device and Search Engine Optimization aspects. In fact, it's arguably even working for them.

I've repeatedly tried to make the point, there's no reason to assume that organizations designated as the contrast to the shiny new thing, are therefore intrinsically unable to play with the shiny new thing's toys. Britannica Blog seems to show it's in fact quite possible to adapt, or at least try.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 08:01 AM | Comments (2)
February 14, 2008

My _Guardian_ column on Internet and political campaign counter-examples

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/feb/14/politics.internet
Great internet campaigns don't guarantee success in politics

Internet evangelism shares a marketing technique with sellers of quack medicine, in that the promoters are eager to emphasise any successes and ignore any failures.

Internet President Howard Dean, meet Internet President John Edwards (not to mention Internet President RuPaul).

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 04:15 PM | Comments (3)
January 30, 2008

John Edwards Ending Presidential Campaign and Blog Evangelism Is Quackery

I usually don't comment on politics, but "John Edwards to Quit Presidential Race" is an opportunity to note something I've often said, where the "Web 2.0" sales-pitch uses the same mechanism as quack medicine. The Net marketing hucksters hype up the people who have taken their snake-oil and do well, but don't mention (or worse, blame) the people who drink the Kool-Aid and DON'T do well. The John Edwards campaign had the bubble-blowers, genuflected to bloggers and big Liberal political blogs, had blog A-listers on board for advice ... and none of it worked. If his campaign had caught fire, we'd be hearing from that crew again about the wonderful Internet, buy their magic, etc.

Now, the A-listers involved might say they never promised success in every case, under all circumstances. But that would be missing my point. Some of the more clever peddlers of quack medicine don't promise cures in all circumstances either - they just show testimonials of the sick who coincidentally happened to get better, and ignore those who died horrible deaths (which were sometimes worsened by the quackery). They're not interested in any objective evaluations of how well their stuff works, they want to sell it to you.

Yeah, I know, old news. Shouting to the wind again, bad habit :-( ...

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 05:59 PM | Comments (2)
January 20, 2008

Andrew Orlowski reviews Nick Carr's book "Big Switch"

Echo: Nick Carr's Big Switch

The "Web 2.0" affliction of has so far only infected the media and political classes, with isolated outbreaks in marketing and the social sciences. ... But where it strikes, it seems to take over the unfortunate victim's entire brain; and that's still a lot of people with public policy influence. The zombie symptoms of the virus we all know today: gibbering about "new democracy", "wise crowds", and the rational faculties of a three year-old.

There's a lot of themes here, about worshiping technology or technological determinism. I figured I had too many conflicts of interest to delve into it myself, but adding to the Google-power of the above seems reasonable.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM
January 03, 2008

My _Guardian_ column on the Writers Guild strike, and the Net

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/jan/03/internet.digitalvideo
The writers, not the internet, will decide who wins their strike

"If anyone thought there's no money to be made from internet content, the Writers Guild of America strike refutes that idea once and for all"

The title's not too bad, but again, not quite what I was saying. The point was more that social and legal support for unions matters much more than "The Internet", and no outcome is predestined.

I've attempted to pack a lot of technology-positive social criticism into this column, basically trying to advocate against the view that the natural order of things is a multiple prisoner's dilemma game where corporations set all the rules. I'm struck by how little support there is for the strike on some A-list blogs, and I think there's an obvious business reason at work.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 08:21 AM
December 17, 2007

"Google Hijacked" debunking follow-up - guest post from ISP owner

[User Generated Content! Let's call this a guest-post, taken from the comments in the DEBUNKING "Google Hijacked" - The Sky, err, The Internet, Is NOT Falling! thread. Note the views and opinions expressed below are those of the writer, not me, though I am broadly in agreement on many points]

Brett Glass here; you may remember me as a long time columnist for magazines such as InfoWorld, BYTE, and PC World. I'm now (among other things) running an ISP, and think that people should think about what Rogers [ISP in Canada] is doing from an ISP's perspective. I've posted some of the text below to the comment sections of a few other blogs, but want to post it here too because it's relevant.

Network neutrality means not using one's control of the pipe to disadvantage competitive content or service providers. For example, if you're a cable company that offers VoIP, network neutrality means not blocking customers' use of other VoIP providers.

Network neutrality does NOT mean that a provider can't "frame" pages (as do many providers -- especially those like Juno which provide inexpensive or free service) or send them informative messages via their browser.

Let's step back and take a dispassionate look at what Rogers is really doing here. They need to get a message to a customer. Like any experienced ISP, they know that there's a good chance that e-mail won't be read in a timely way, if at all. (We, as an ISP, find that our customers constantly change their addresses -- often after revealing them online and exposing them to spammers -- without any notice, and often let the mailboxes that we give them fill up, unread, until they exceed their quotas and no more can be received.) The Windows Message Service once worked to send users messages, but only ran on Windows and is now routinely blocked because it's become an avenue for pop-up spam. Snail mail? Expensive and slow... and the whole point of the Internet is to do things faster and more efficiently than that. Give users an special program to display messages from the ISP? Users have too many things running in the background, cluttering their computers, already -- so no one could blame them if they didn't install it. (Also, many users won't install an application for fear of viruses, and alternative operating systems likely would not run the software.) Display a different page than the user requested? Perhaps, but that certainly comes much closer to "hijacking" than what Rogers is doing. Display a message in the user's browser window (where we know he or she is looking) along with the Web page, and let the user "dismiss" it as soon as it's noticed? Excellent idea. A wonderful, simple, unobtrusive, and (IMHO) elegant solution to the problem.

Now comes Lauren Weinstein -- known for drawing attention to himself by sensationalizing tempests in a teapot -- who has never run an ISP but seems to like to dictate what they do. Lauren claims that the sky will fall if ISPs use this nearly ideal way of communicating with their customers.

Contrary to the claims of Mr. Weinstein's "network neutrality squad" (who have expanded the definition of "network neutrality" to mean "ISPs not doing anything which we, as unappointed regulators, do not approve"), this means of communication does not violate copyrights. Why? First of all, the message from the ISP appears entirely above, and separate from, the content of the page in the browser window. It's not much different that displaying it in a different pane (which, by the way, the browser might also be able to do -- but this is better because it's less obtrusive and unlikely to fail for the lack of Javascript or distort the page below). The display can't be considered a derivative work, because no human is adding his own creative expression to someone else's creation. A machine -- which can't create copyrighted works or derivative ones -- is simply putting a message above the page in the same browser window.

It isn't defacement, because the original page appears exactly as it was intended -- just farther down in the window. And it isn't "hijacking," because the user is still getting the page he or she requested.

What's more, there's no way that it can be said to be "non-neutral." The proxy which inserts the message into the window doesn't know or care what content lies below. The screen capture in Weinstein's blog showed Google, but it just as easily could have been Yahoo!, or MySpace, or Slashdot. For the same reason, it can't be said to be an invasion of privacy, because the software isn't looking at the content of the page above which it is inserting the message.

In short, to complain that this practice is somehow injurious to the author of the original page is akin to an author complaining that his book has been injured by being displayed in a shop window along with another book by someone he didn't like. (Sorry, sir, but the merchant is allowed to do that.)

Nor is what Rogers is doing a violation of an ISP's "common carrier" obligations (even if they were considered to be common carriers, which under US law, at any rate, they are not). Common carriers have been injecting notices into communications streams since time immemorial ("Please deposit 50 cents for the next 3 minutes"). And television stations have been superimposing images on program content at least since the early 1960s, when (I'm dating myself here) Sandy Becker's "Max the burglar" dashed across the screen during kids' cartoon shows and the first caller to report his presence won a prize. (The game was called "Catch Max.") And in the US, Federal law -- in particular, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act -- protects ISPs from liability for content they retransmit whether or not they are considered to be common carriers. They do not lose this protection if there happens to be other content from a different source in the same window on the user's PC.

There are sure to be some folks -- perhaps people who are frustrated with their ISPs for other reasons -- who will take this as an opportunity to lash out at ISPs. But most customers, I think, will recognize this as a good and sensible way for a company to contact its customers. Our small ISP is looking into it. In fact, because the issue is being raised, we're adding authorization to do it to our Terms of Service, so that users will be put on notice that they might receive a message through their browsers one day. I suppose it's possible that a customer might dislike this mode of communication and go elsewhere, but I suspect that most of them will appreciate it. In the meantime, let's just say "no" to regulation of the Internet.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (19)
December 11, 2007

DEBUNKING "Google Hijacked" - The Sky, err, The Internet, Is NOT Falling!

[I wrote this for a mailing list, before the story started spreading all over the usual places. I didn't even get through there [sad face image]]

Regarding Lauren Weinstein's post on "Google Hijacked -- Major ISP to Intercept and Modify Web Pages"

This is apparently not quite the danger it may appear at first glance.

The product at issue, PerfTech, seems to have been around AND USED for a while, for example:

http://www.codeamber.org/news/PR020205_2230_code_amber_perftech_press.html
Code Amber Utilizes PerfTech to Reach ISP Customers
February 2, 2005

"Code Amber (http://www.codeamber.org) and Wide Open West (WOW!) Internet and Cable last week delivered an Indiana Amber Alert to customers in the neighboring state of Ohio, enabled by a product deployed in WOW!'s network that allows the Internet provider to deliver bulletins directly to the screens of its browsing subscribers."

A look at http://www.perftech.com/press.html shows this is hardly a stealth application - they tout advertising-insertion as a *feature*, for subsidized ISP services.

Also, http://www.perftech.com/images/Press_Rls_5_26.pdf is one file with an example using *Google* ... dated March 26, *2004*.

Now, it strikes me as a very obnoxious product. But I'm so tired of the "The Sky, err, The Internet, Is Falling!" paranoia every time an ISP or teleco does something, anything, that can be twisted into service for the buzzwords of Net-you-know-what.
Again, can't we be better than that?

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 01:48 AM | Comments (22)
November 28, 2007

Debunking linkfest - Long Tail, Infringements, Comcast, etc.

A collection of proof as to why being right is no match for being popular:

A Critical Reader's Guide to The Long Tail (Tom Slee)

Debunks the "Long Tail". Never confuse someone making a bit of money off you with you making a bit of money.

Adam Curtis: The TV elite has lost the plot | The Register (Andrew Orlowski)

Debunks well, a lot of stuff. Not all of which I agree with, but thought-provoking all the same.

Fringe Infringements (Jon Garfunkel)

Debunks some claims in a legal paper that's making the rounds. The problem is that if you don't come up with some sort of attention-grabber, you won't be heard.

DOCSIS vs. BitTorrent (Richard Bennett)

Debunks some of the technical matter about the Comcast network throttling blogstorm.

Old Media May Not Be Dead, But Traffic From It Is (Jeneane Sessum)

Debunks certain mistaken readership ideas.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 05:22 PM | Comments (2)
November 06, 2007

Debunking - Congressman Adrian Smith NOT blocking blogspot bloggers

If anyone wants to follow yet another fear-and-loathing blog story, the so-called Congressman Adrian Smith and blogspot blocking is a case-study. Quick explanation: The hosting provider for (some) House Congressional websites blocked access from referers from blogspot.com, as a spam issue. One blogger noticed this with one congressman - and we were off with the narrative that the Congressman must fear the awesome power of bloggers, rather than it being some sort of a technical glitch. Echoing and echoing, because in the bogosphere you GET ATTENTION!!! by repeating such a story, versus possible personal attack by saying it's false.

So now the unfortunate hosting company is running around chasing the various echoes, posting a technical explanation, which is both 1) not read, since it's down in the comments which are viewed by a small fraction of readers 2) being treated presumptively as a cover-up.

Remember, it's all "conversation" (link omitted for self-preservation), and the mainstream media gets things wrong too ...

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:59 AM | Comments (5)
October 24, 2007

My _Guardian_ column - a letter to Lessig on "corruption"

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/oct/25/comment.intellectualproperty

"A modern version of snake-oil hucksterism is invoking 'the internet' as a cheap simplistic remedy for political malaise."

This time around, I can live with the title they gave it - "We have nothing to fear, except those who have something to sell". Though the column is really more about my own fear that Lawrence Lessig's corruption studying would fall victim to the siren song of net evangelism.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 08:30 PM | Comments (5)
October 12, 2007

Gore's Peace Prize And Hits To My Debunking Page

The Nobel Peace Prize to Gore and IPCC was sure to drive many hits to my site for my page of Al Gore "invented the Internet" - resources. So I thought I'd check the numbers:

Unique_IPs: 2259

Top five referers:

google.com - 1603 (71% !)
unknown - 177
Other googles - 194
Other search engines - 180
en.wikipedia.org - 19

It's better than zero. Still, it's not clear it actually does much good.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:58 PM
October 10, 2007

Navel-Gazing Traffic-Chasing Echo-Chambering Post

I'll chase today's TechMeme discussion about blog traffic (h/t Nick Carr) since it'll give me a context to make a few points (which are mostly for my meager audience ...).

One of the futilities of blogging is that the same simple ideas get brought up over and over, in an endless cycle of hype and deflation. In this case, traffic from a trade journal can be numerically inferior but demographically superior, than a broader site. A large amount of data-smog is being generated today in restating this triviality, because of the cycle of hype the trade journal for its dedicated readers, then someone else points out it's not that much in raw traffic, then others counter it's good demographics.

Of course, the problem with being a Z-lister is that you likely don't get echoed either by the trade journal or the broader sites, so BigHeads debating the merits of the two is rather beside the point for everyone else. As well as the obvious aspect that the types of appearance are not exclusive, and one can lead to the other.

Oh, then in reaction to the above, there will be the people who will pipe up and say, be happy singing in the shower, talking to the crickets, writing away unheard except for a tiny fan audience. There's a lot of these, since they're basically the largest group which remains :-(.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 10:10 AM
September 07, 2007

Search engines, reputation, and denial of harm

I find one of the most frustrating aspects of certain types of punditry is that a critic can never win. One of the common patterns of unfalsifiability is to argue the following two propositions against each other:

1) Have you heard about anyone hurt by that problem? No? So no problem.

2) Oh, you did hear about someone hurt by problem? Well, that proves there's no problem, since Action Was Taken.

It's cruel, since:

YOU DON'T HEAR ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO DON'T BECOME MEDIA CAUSE CELEBRE'S!

We have a perfect example in a follow-up to the recent story about "When Bad News Follows You", regarding how problematic search engine results can potentially affect people's reputations. One person mentioned in the story became a cause celebre, which is fine, but that was twisted into more grist for denial:

The one non-blogger I wrote, [name redacted] of Slate, kindly took notice:
"Garfunkel's success at remaking Kraus' Google image so quickly with such little effort supports my original view that the alleged problem is de minimis."

The success was all luck. ...

But nobody is going to hear the Z-list contradiction of the media pundit, or if so, he then has the option of writing a personal attack from on-high that can't be effectively responded to (unless the targets have powerful allies, in which case the denial process plays out recursively).

Of course, this post won't be heard (much) either ... :-(

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 04:03 PM | Comments (3)
August 01, 2007

My _Guardian_ column on the CNN/YouTube Debate

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/aug/02/guardianweeklytechnologysection.comment

New media is just another way to pull the same old tricks

"We should never mistake a change in media style for any advance in citizens' power in politics."

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 07:14 PM | Comments (9)
July 24, 2007

Britannica Blog, Google PageRank, and Cites & Insights 8/2007

Walt Crawford's Cites & Insights publication issue 7:9 (August 2007) is available now, with a long article On Authority, Worth and Linkbaiting discussing the (my phrasing) Britannica Blog "link-bait" party. I want to give a slight correction to one Google aspect:

I'm focusing on the blog because of something Seth Finkelstein (and, I believe, others) have suggested: That the controversy over Michael Gorman's posts is, at least to some extent, linkbaiting -- behavior designed to increase the number of inbound links to Britannica blog, increasing its visibility on search engines. If that's true, it seems to be working: Google shows a PageRank of 7 in early July 2007, a level that usually takes a while to reach.

In fact, the time delay there is too short for a PageRank increase to show up in the public reports - the data Google usually displays for easy public consumption is typically a few months old. The Britannica blog has a PageRank 7 mostly because it's linked off the main Britannica page (which is PageRank 8) as well as article pages and similar.

In fact, the Britannica organization seems notably SEO-aware and marketing-conscious. For example, they've previously sent out a press release about "Michael Feldman blogs at Britannica site". Anyway:

Was this genuine controversy or incited controversy? ...
I will give Gorman himself the benefit of the doubt and not presume that he was setting out to incite controversy for the sake of controversy. I'm not inclined to be so generous regarding Britannica -- and, frankly, I wonder why the firm is so anxious to have a hot blog.

Well, I can't speak for them, but there's many obvious answers - e.g. to be part of the pontification (NOT "conversation" - A-listers speak down from on-high, to the audience), for the personal publicity (intellectuals are hardly immune from ego), for the product publicity (Encyclopedia Britannica is commercial product, remember), for the general awareness and promotion that comes with high Google placement, and so on.

It's actually not a bad blog on its own terms, a bit like an upscale liberal-arts type magazine. But that's not going to draw readers like taking a stick to the web-evangelist hornet's-nest will.

They do seem to read at least some blogger reactions, or so it's said :-)

# tpanelas Says: July 23rd, 2007 at 10:17 pm

Seth,

Yes, we read you. You have a lot of fans at Britannica. I hope this doesn't unnerve you.

Tom

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 10:32 AM | Comments (1)
July 11, 2007

My _Guardian_ column on the Britannica Blog Linkbaiting, err, "Web 2.0" Forum

http://technology.guardian.co.uk/weekly/story/0,,2123666,00.html

Has Britannica co-opted blogging or has it been corrupted by it?

"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. That's what the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica apparently decided to do ..."

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 07:47 PM | Comments (2)
July 04, 2007

Read Kent Newsome's "Declaration of Blogging Independence"

Echo: Declaration of Blogging Independence

They have refused to respond to conversational overtures, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

They have ignored posts of immediate and pressing importance, unless emailed till their Attention should be obtained; and when so emailed, they have utterly neglected to reply. ....

"Conversation" without representation is tyranny!

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:52 PM
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]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:58 PM | Comments (17)
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 ...).

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:57 PM | Comments (2)
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'

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:49 PM | Comments (1)
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/

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 06:14 AM
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.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:56 PM | Comments (2)
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] .

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:58 PM | Comments (3)
May 15, 2007

Cites & Insights November, June 2007 -Blogging "Code Of Conduct"

Walt Crawford's Cites & Insights publication issue 7:6 (June 2007) has extensive coverage of the Blogger Code-Of Conduct controversy, arising from the Kathy Sierra 'death threats" story (disclaimer: I'm mentioned, favorably).

[I keep saying it needs better marketing. While "Net Media Perspective: Civility and Codes: A Blogging Morality Play" is workable, wouldn't you be more likely to read something at least with a subtitle of Creating Passionate Users - With A Vengeance (pun intended there)]

My guess is that most readers missed most or all of this. That may be a good thing but there's stuff to think about here--almost all of it in Act II. That's one reason I'm spending a whole Perspective on this instead of the 400-word summary above. I'd also like to relate this morality play to the generally politer world of liblogs and offer some conclusions, mostly along the way. Finally, Cites & Insights sometimes serves as a "periodical of record"--and I believe it will be useful to revisit this in two or four or ten years to see what (if anything) was learned.

Nothing will be learned. It's not like people haven't been dealing with this since ancient days, even Internet ancient days like when USENET newsgroup hadn't ever had spam (yes, there really was a time when spam was unknown). And O'Reilly is no newbie.

The one innovation that's been learned over the past decade is that it's kinda sorta possible, in very restricted circumstances, to build a labor-intensive data-mining system that skims off the popular stuff and keeps down the spam. But that doesn't help against A-listers, who are a power unto themselves.

The whole thing is about trying to have the moral high ground in one form or another, which I think is why it's so hard to inject any sort of rationality into the pronouncements. By which I mean not that I'm patting myself on the back that I'm right, but that my first question about these is always who is going to enforce it and how that enforcement is going to be done. And I never get much of an answer. At least, not a good answer, as shown by the fact that the subject repeats itself so predictably.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:18 AM | Comments (6)
May 02, 2007

Meta-post on HD-DVD AACS Key, Digg, and the failure of blogging part N+3

I feel like I'm obligated to get in on today's pile-on regarding the topic of Digg and the HD-DVD AACS Key, but, wow, do I feel like a cricket at a rock concert. Key points - the number which is the AACS key is going to be argued to be "technology" within the meaning of the DMCA, we've been here before, with e.g. DeCSS, and being a data-miner of crowds (like Digg) sometimes means having to ride their madness. The rest is elaboration.

However, right now I look at the labor for that elaboration, and think: "Seth, you can spend unpaid hours writing a researched post on the issue, and then you get to spend even more unpaid hours trying TO BE HEARD over the noise-barrier, knowing that there's really a very small chance of getting much return (but you *could* win a prize for that attention lottery, it's *possible*) - isn't blogging great?" (and of course saying that is going to lose me readers, 'cause I'm a bad Z-lister ...)

So that's essentially all I have to say on the matter.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 12:42 PM | Comments (19)
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.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:29 PM | Comments (2)
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.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 08:34 PM | Comments (8)
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.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:46 PM | 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)

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 07:03 PM | 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 :-(.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 08:11 AM | Comments (17)
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]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:10 AM | Comments (3)
February 17, 2007

_Time_: "Getting Rich off Those Who Work for Free"

They said it, I didn't: "Getting Rich off Those Who Work for Free"

"That's because one of the most interesting questions in business has become how much work people will do for free."

In a way, it's very amusing, as if the writer is pitching the audience, don't think this article is about some granola crunchy flower-child dreaming about living in harmony with one another - it's really about the red-blooded capitalism of how big business can exploit all those flower-children dreamers just waiting to be fleeced with the right sales-pitch.

As usual, substantial critiques are to be found in some way off the beaten path forum marginalized comments:

Having arrived at your article, "Getting Rich Off Those Who Work for Free", from an Open Source portal, I regret (a little) to inform you the Free/Open Source software (FOSS) types are spurning your association of FOSS with anarchy. And I must say that it is a very poor comparison. Not only are the majority of FOSS developers not working for free, there is a strong hierarchical structure in most projects -- meritocritous to be sure, but strong nevertheless.

This also connects to the wager with Nick Carr on the topic. There's a certain mythology which is peddled widely, and very hard to counteract, since those myths serve the interests of the marketers.

Bonus link: Dave Rogers:

The problem with democracy is not an inherently technological one. We have all the technology we need right now. What we don't have is the self-awareness necessary to govern ourselves in a manner consistent with our stated values and ideals.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:58 PM | Comments (4)
February 13, 2007

Obligatory post on Copiepresse vs. Google (Belgium)

The Copiepresse lawsuit involves "Google loses copyright case launched by Belgian newspapers". All Google, copyright, and media bloggers are required to write about this. It is expected that you denounce the sheer effrontery of any court which should rule against the Holy Google (despite being it somewhat less holy nowadays), even if you know nothing about complicated issues of foreign copyright law, except what you read in a hurried newspaper summary written by a reporter. Bonus points will be awarded for dragging in certain hobbyhorses about US telecommunications fights.

Your post will be be graded on how appealing it is to US geek mindset, as well as of course speed in opinion generation. Actual research will be penalized - it takes too long, and virtually nobody wants to read it any way.

GO!

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 10:01 PM | Comments (3)
February 12, 2007

"Local Content Harvesting" - another honest term for "Citizen Journalism"

I am not making up this headline: Tonight at 11, news by neighbors - Santa Rosa TV station fires news staff, to ask local folks to provide programming

"I have my own silly little term," Spendlove said. "Local content harvesting."

A true moment not to be in the process of hydration, for fear of ruining a keyboard.

Yes, digital sharecropping has many names.

Value-add via an uncommon echo:

http://www.metamute.org/en/InfoEnclosure-2.0

The hype surrounding Web 2.0's ability to democratise content production obscures its centralisation of ownership and the means of sharing. Dmytri Kleiner & Brian Wyrick expose Web 2.0 as a venture capitalist's paradise where investors pocket the value produced by unpaid users, ride on the technical innovations of the free software movement and kill off the decentralising potential of peer-to-peer production

Not the least because of this paragraph in the article:

Graham's characterisation of the "Amateur" reminds one of "If I Ran The Circus" by Dr. Seuss, where young Morris McGurk says of the staff of his imaginary Circus McGurkus:

My workers love work. They say,
"Work us! Please work us!
We'll work and we'll work up so many surprises
You'd never see half if you had forty eyeses!"

[Also remember Nick Carr: "Web 2.0 provides an incredibly efficient mechanism to harvest the economic value of the free labor provided by the very, very many and concentrate it into the hands of the very, very few."]

I'd say something about the people who are cheerleading and enabling this effect (links omitted out of self-preservation), but they have far more power than I do :-(.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (12)
February 03, 2007

Pay Per Post And The Populism Pose - Or, Blue-Collar vs. White-Collar Capitalism

PayPerPost, a company which pays bloggers for posts, is an A-list topic of complaint again. I've talked about "Commodification Of Social Relationships" [Old joke: Sex for a million? Yes. Sex for ten bucks? No. We're just haggling over price.], and PageRank/Link-Buying Doesn't Care About Blogger Ethics. Lots of go-around again now, but I finally was inspired by the blatant class warfare:

In the clip below, watch the blog marketing gurus hand over $1,000 in cash to ... a Chicago mother-of-four who works as a postie to make ends meet -- after she allows them to scrawl, "I <heart> HP", on her forehead. Classy.

"Classy"? As in, it's lower-class. BLUE-COLLAR. It's not what white-collar professionals do, which is, for example, keynote conferences:

Next week it'll be announced that I'm keynoting at a conference planned and sponsored by PayPerPost. This is my first speech where I'm not only having my travel and expenses paid, but they are covering my salary too. ... Why do it then? Cause I'm a capitalist and because I think that blog advertising is something that we should talk about.

Note that phrase - "Cause I'm a capitalist" - what are all the PayPerPost sharecroppers? I'll quote a different reaction, about another A-lister's complaint:

Rule number one about guys who run around to speak at conference after conference: It's expensive and they're not doing it as a philanthropic act. ...

If the real issue is around what PPP is doing to search - which serves ads inside of the more tame advertising model Jeff makes money in - then he should say so.

If the Pay Per Post marketers are, in the words of one blog-evangelist, the "sidewalk hookers of the blogosphere", then the conference-club set are its "executive escorts" (note both sidewalk hookers and executive escorts are capitalists).

But note the language: not "classy", "sidewalk hookers", vs "I'm a capitalist". It's basically, again, they are blue-collar, we are white-collar. I think "I'm a capitalist" in this context really means: "Despite my relatively well-off status, economically I still need to convert social relationships into a commercial context" (which should be acceptable) - i.e. doing it ultimately for commercial purposes, no matter how much one may seem to to be in it for a purely social relationship. Which is of course breaking the marketing of human connections.

Ultimately, all of this is exposing the rift between the propaganda of blog-evangelism and its reality. There's a tiny, tiny elite of A-listers who do a sale-pitch of populism. YOU-YES-YOU can have the power, the status, the influences, of the "priests", the "gatekeepers", the "legacy media", who DON'T-GET-IT (and *you* do!) ... if you follow the gurus into the New Era. Their constant stock-in-trade is selling dreams to the little people, and then monetizing that delusion via services, data-mining, or corporate/Big-Media consulting gigs (one dispute, too easy dismissed as "soap opera", was in fact very revealing, since it was really about trying to sell the audience to large media companies).

But: The A-listers don't *deliver* (to the suckers). A talk-radioish schtick about a revolutionary fantasy can't compare to some cold hard cash on the barrelhead. A company actually *paying* a few bucks for a blog post is going to beat some empty Power To The People pitch all hollow - at least to those who are focused on income instead of ideology.

So A-listers are being undermined both in terms of being gatekeepers of influence, and their franchise. Their pose as populists is undercut by, ironically, "democratization" of payola, which is resulting in more spreading it around (while simultaneously centralizing in the company-as-aggregator).

Sadly, given the ability of the A-listers to direct attention, those of us with any interest in associated topics are going to be subjected to their ox-being-gored screams of outrage for a long, long, time. I just hope such Z-list shouting-to-the-wind and futile gestures as this post, do at least a little good :-(.

[Update: The keynoter above has announced he'll now not accept the honorarium.]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:49 AM | Comments (2)
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.

And:

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]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:42 PM | Comments (4)
December 19, 2006

Libel Law vs. Blog Evangelism

There's a recent column in the Guardian discussing libel law and the Internet, where it's argued:

The internet brings a fundamental change to the relationship of publisher and subject: now the subject can publish, too. So Susan Crawford, a professor at New York's Cardozo Law School and a member of Icann, the board that oversees internet structure, has blogged that in this era, "libel law seems much less relevant - rather than sue, you can just write back". A commenter on my blog responded that some bloggers boast larger audiences than others, so this playing field isn't as level as it seems: "On occasion, a weak target can become a cause celebre". True. But I still argue that libel law was built for an era when few owned the press and the doctrine must be updated to account for the democratised and accelerated means of response today.

That commenter was me. The full version of my comment was:

Jeff, if you seriously want thoughts, it is my deeply-considered view, after many, many, years of observing this issue, that the discussion becomes somewhere between absurd and cruel. It is not "conversation" when one person speaks to ten, hundreds, of thousands, and the target may have some obscure response off somewhere read by a few friends and family.

Some people don't believe in libel law as a matter of principle - they say it's the province of the rich who don't need it, that the little guy who might need it can't fight back anyway, if you're smeared, just "take it" because attempting any sort of defense will only make the situation worse. That's one general point of view, and it has nothing specific to do with blogs or Internet.

Alternately, if one does believe in libel law, then we know ("Power Law Distribution") that there are vast, enormous, audience disparities, which apply to blogs and the Internet as well as other media. It's a mathematical fact, and denying that doesn't make it go away. Some "bloggers" are for all intents and purposes the same as a mainstream media syndicated columnist. How many times have you heard some boast like "I have [huge number] readers, that's more than [media outlet]!". And we can't all have a zillion readers, again, that's just a fact.

Sometimes disputes take place between relative equals. On occasion, a weak target can become a cause-celebre. But that such cases exist does not invalid that there's plenty of situations where a person who is libeled has no EFFECTIVE means to reach any sort of comparable audience. To rebut the idea that it *could* happen, individually, we all *could* win the lottery - but almost all of us won't.

Again, there's an argument that libel law is more harm than good. But for heaven's sake, don't tell the Great Unread, who make tiny mostly-unheard squeaks compared to the booming megaphones of A-listers, that they can eat cake.

Further, Z-lister saith not.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:58 PM | Comments (9)
December 17, 2006

Obligatory Bubble 2.0 post on "TIME - Person of the Year: You"

In my recent post on the structure of Bubble 2.0, I ended by saying:

"That feast is starting now, and the main dish is YOU."

And now TIME - Person of the Year: You is going to spark a punditry-fest (as well as perhaps mark a "top" for the cycle).

While perhaps I should play, what more is there for me to say? I've said it all before, and what good did it do?

Bubble 2.0 is the province of a very small, extremely incestuous elite (A-list), of clever men (mostly) who run around marketing dreams. I can decry the academic cheerleading for unpaid freelancing, trying to get across my contention:

"Popularity Data-Mining Businesses Are Not A Model For Civil Society"

But there's no upside for me, and plenty of downside. The people who do well at this pander to reactionaries, and there's little market for "technology-positive" social criticism (especially compared to e.g. a goal of $100 million dollar venture capital fund).

So the hype may be "You", but the question is "Why?"

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 01:13 AM | Comments (5)
December 04, 2006

Bubble 2.0 - Another Digital Sharecropping Arrangement - Yahoo and Reuters

This is "Work" as in "free" - NYT: Yahoo and Reuters Want You to Work for Their News Service.

He said it, not me:

"This is looking out and saying, `What if everybody in the world were my stringers?'" Mr. Ahearn said.

And who's getting paid? Not you! (well, a little if your work is usable, but not much, unless you're really, really, lucky)

Users will not be paid for images displayed on the Yahoo and Reuters sites. But people whose photos or videos are selected for distribution to Reuters clients will receive a payment. Mr. Ahearn said the company had not yet figured out how to structure those payments. The basic payment may be relatively small, but he said Reuters was likely to pay more to people offering exclusive rights to images of major events. ...

And later in the article, certain Usual Suspects appear - i.e. certain projects which aim to repackage minor writers and researchers for potential mass media syndication (though this is not how they describe themselves).

I'm tempted to ask my question again: What's so great about the outsourcing of journalism (and who thinks it's so wonderful)? What's so fantastic about unpaid freelancing? But I should know better.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:50 AM | Comments (3)
November 21, 2006

Cites & Insights November, December 2006 - Wikipedia, Copyright, Blogging

Walt Crawford recently released issue 6:14 (December 2006) of his Cites & Insights, which made me worry about not being good at reciprocity since I hadn't noted issue 6:13 (November 2006) even though it mentioned me several times.

Things to read - a long discussion of "What About Wikipedia?". And to answer the question there, about why Wikipedia doesn't allow opting-out:

I must admit that, apart from politicians, Nobel Prize winners, and perhaps people with some high level of celebrity, I don't get this position at all. You can choose not to be listed in Who's Who in America. Why is it inappropriate for someone who's mildly notable but not a world-class celebrity or politician to ask to be left out of Wikipedia?

As I've said, I believe the answer is "that to allow anyone to decline to be a subject an article would be an admission that the supposed collective editing process is deeply flawed".

Long summary of Copyright Currents - Fair Use and Infringement, The RIAA and Copyright, DMCA Discussions, and more.

Blogging, and the corporatization thereof (links added):

Anybody can become an A-lister. There is no A-list. Any blog can reach a vast audience. You know the myths. Within the broad field of blogs, I no longer have any doubt that they are myths. The A-listers play by different rules and mostly draw sycophants as commenters; these days, though, many of the A-list blogs are really just new forms of old or corporate media in any case.

... Your chances of making those big bucks? Turns out that, once you take away the Hot Sites, there's not a lot left over (although the article never says that outright). And the blognates (blog magnates) are building lots of new blogs to soak up any excess revenue.

... But you have to be hot stuff to get impressions-based ad revenue, and I think The Great Unread and other articles discussed previously pretty much spell out the odds of becoming hot stuff if you're an honest-to-gosh blogger.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:52 PM | Comments (4)
November 04, 2006

"The compensation is usually far less than what a employee might make ..."

At the risk of boring Censorware/Search readers, it looks like I'm on a roll about Bubble 2.0. Let me highlight this sentence from an article "Gannett to Crowdsource News":

Of all the pilot projects the company has conducted over the last few months, the most promising would seem to be the crowdsourcing of in-depth investigations into government malfeasance. Crowdsourcing involves taking functions traditionally performed by employees and using the internet to outsource them to an undefined, generally large group of people. The compensation is usually far less than what an employee might make for performing the same service. Well-known examples include Wikipedia and iStockphoto.

Now: Who thinks unpaid (or very poorly paid) easily-replaceable labor is just the greatest thing ever? Who finds that exciting and innovative? There's not a lot of discussion of that issue (and what good does it do me to rant about it :-( ...).

Anyway, take this as another note regarding why all the academic cheerleading for unpaid freelancing, bodes ill for me.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 10:36 AM | Comments (11)
November 03, 2006

More Bubble 2.0 - The Race For Data Aggregation Search Is On

The following encapsulates the current bubble-state and times perfectly, in startup investment (my emphasis):

After a year of mostly veiled references and speculation fueled by the involvement of [Media A-lister] as an adviser and [Craigslist owner] as an investor, [news-aggregating startup] is about to see the light of day -- funded by roughly twice as many investors as it has employees.

And checking on the bellwether venture capital fund led me to this interesting action:

"The core focus moving forward is to be part of the process of RSS [really simple syndication] going mainstream in the coming years," said [venture capital partner]. "One of the areas that has been untapped is the job of the citizen to be not just a journalist but also an editor. We want to ensure that those who want to tell a narrative have the best sources to do that."

"Job"? Be wary, citizen-lunchmeats. The Bubble 2.0 social structure resembles less any sort of democracy, and more the third-world countries where there is a minuscule elite at the top, and then the rest of the population on the bottom.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 01:52 PM
November 01, 2006

Bubble 2.0 Status, Search Startups, Lottery Structure

First, a recitation of my bubble-prayer:

There's an old oil-business prayer, from years ago:

"O Lord, just give me one more oil boom - I promise not to piss it all away this time."

O Lord, just give me one more tech bubble, one more collective financial insanity where I might be able to get founder's stock and be bought-out for absurd amounts of money in a ridiculously short time. I promise not to waste it all away this time doing censorware decryption and fighting for net-freedom.

So, with the buyout of Reddit (a news popularity-mining/chat site), keeping in mind Google buying YouTube, are we there yet?

Objectively, I don't think the money is falling from the skies yet (and may never get to that point).

There was a recent interesting article examining: "Search Applications : Search Startups Are Dead, Long Live Search Startups"

While there will undoubtedly be opportunities for start-ups to extend and improve core search (which is where the vast majority of effort has been extended to date), some of the most interesting opportunities will come not from trying to improve the accuracy and context of a single query, but from looking at aggregate information about search indexes, results, and queries across time. In other words, the marriage of this search infrastructure, with persistent queries and advanced analytics will likely create an entirely new class of applications that generate insights and create value not by finding the specific piece of information someone is looking for, but by analyzing the ebb and flow of information across the web. It is here, in this new world of search applications that more than a few start-ups are likely to find a happy home.

However, there's a problem with focusing only on the lottery-winners, and it's neglecting to note how many tickets don't win. What's problematic about Bubble 2.0 is how the ratio seems to be even more lopsided. Of course, by definition, most start-ups fail, that's nothing new. But I draw a different conclusion from all the articles that seem to breathlessly proclaim how that ratio is now becoming even more extreme, and lottery tickets are cheaper than ever. They usually frame this in a positive manner, praising niches and "User-generated content" for which I'll quote a sardonic definition:

UGC
Stands for "user-generated content," a new form of online scam in which you make all the content, and we keep all the money.

Somewhere, I think there's a moral indictment to be had of the academic fashion for cheerleading this stuff as the greatest expression of "democracy". It's obvious why they do it, and far worse has been done, but it's still an abdication of the standards of critical thought.

Anyway, the sucker/winner ratio still looks outrageously high in my corner of the tech world, some big payoffs notwithstanding (remember, always, someone wins the lottery, "it could be you" - but it probably won't be).

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM
October 30, 2006

PageRank/Link-Buying Doesn't Care About Blogger Ethics

Much discussion about "PayPerPost" (a service which pays bloggers for posting about products) has understandably focused on the social rules involved in distinguishing what's an acceptable high-class social exchange of mutual benefit, and what's a low-class tawdry selling yourself (hint: where people stand on this is very tightly correlated to where they sit, as in on conference panels vs below in the audience or worse).

However ... in terms of "Search Engine Optimization And The Commodification of Social Relationships", it doesn't matter. That is, Google PageRank does not care about "*disclosure*". I laughed about PayPerPost's latest stunt in paying bloggers to link to a page about "disclosurepolicy.org". There's something very recursively absurd about that.

I don't think PayPerPost advertisers are buying the few dozens to hundreds readers of a typical blog post. Maybe, but I just don't think it's cost-effective. Rather, they're buying more the organic-looking LINKING from the various blogs, which looks to search engines as if the page is legitimately popular. Think of it like Astroturf applied to link-campaigning rather than political campaigning.

And when a product then ranks highly on a search engine due to those paid links, the people seeing that rank are not going to have any idea whether or not the blog posts which contributed to that rank followed A-lister Approved Best Practices For Soul-Selling.

Ironically, to use a buzzword, the A-listers are being "disintermediated" for certain business purposes (and THERE IS RE-INTERMEDIATION by the advertising agency), which I suspect is part of the reason for their howls that standards are being breached. Part of the evangelism sales-pitch is that bloggers are "influencers" - so of course A-listers are the biggest influencers of all. Thus advertisers should cater to them with everything from product freebies to consulting gigs. But what happens when, through The Magic Of The Internet, advertisers bypass those "gatekeepers", and simply buy large amounts of Z-listers through blatant resellers, instead of going through the A-list as intermediaries? Well, you have A-listers obviously upset that their own business model is being undercut. But it can be misleading to see their unhappiness as the main story (though it can be an amusing sideline), rather than a reflection of the economic shifts and battles between commerce vs social, being played out in various ways.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:58 PM | Comments (3)
October 20, 2006

Search Engine Optimization And The Commodification of Social Relationships

Many media A-list bloggers have been in an uproar over a service that pays bloggers for posting about products. More than just payola, Doc Searls also brought up the connection to "SEO":

Somebody said to me recently that PayPerPost and others like it are just "the latest SEO moves". SEO is "Search Engine Optimization", or the practice of doing things to raise your PageRank and get more Google advertising money, basically.

There are two approaches to SEO. One is to raise your PageRank with tricks. The other is to write useful and interesting posts about subjects you know and care about. Show me a blog with a lot of Google juice and I'll show you a blog that didn't need SEO tricks.

As all students of Search Engine Optimization know, link buying and selling is a big issue. In theory, PageRank is supposed to be developed from social relationship ("organic links"), representing the true value of human interaction. It is not supposed to be a commercial relationship, to the highest bidder.

But this is interacting really badly with commercializing social relationships. There's deep problems, especially when new variations arise in commoditizing connections between people.

Are you allowed to hire people to write useful and interesting posts? That's got to be permitted, right? I haven't seen the blogs which are basically commercial magazines online, being kicked out of the warm-'n-fuzzy backscratching A-list club for having paid staff.

Are you allowed to parcel out the hiring in little bits of cheap labor on other people's sites? Why not? You know what the blog evangelists would say if they were in favor of this, hailing it as a marvelous disintermediation of the old monolithic priesthood of the high barrier to entry media payoffs, compared to the hip new democratized PEOPLE-POWERED PAYOLA.

There's an old joke which runs:

Billionaire to woman: "Would you have sex with me for a million dollars?"
Woman: "Well ... yes"
Billionaire to woman: "Would you have sex with me for ten dollars?"
Woman: "What kind of a girl do you think I am?"
Billionaire: "We've already determined that. Now we're just arguing over the price."

There's two aspects here: Commercial, and amount. The obvious aspect of the joke is that there's two categories of interactions, commercial and social, and there's never supposed to be any overlap between them, whatever the amount. A less often remarked aspect is that there is indeed a "class" division between high-priced commercial and low-priced commercial.

I think we're seeing a real life version of that joke, roughly:

Company to blogger: "Would you write about me for advisory board membership?
Blogger: "Well ... yes"
Company to blogger: "Would you write about me for ten dollars?"
Blogger: "What kind of a flack do you think I am?"
Company: "We've already determined that. Now we're just arguing over the price."

Is a few bucks just the same as an advisory board membership? No - there's a class division, in that an advisory board membership is high-class and expensive, while a few bucks is tawdry and cheap. But there's something a bit methinks-the-lady-doth-protest-too-much when we have the equivalent of executive "escorts" venomously criticizing street prostitutes for being so crude as to be selling it.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 04:29 PM | Comments (8)
October 16, 2006

"Wal-Marting Across America" - Did Googlewashing Work?

The "Wal-Marting Across America" story, where a Wal-Mart PR firm sponsored a "fake" blog ("walmartingacrossamerica.com") about a couple's trip involving various Walmart stores, contains this interesting Google aspect:

It was a great way to redefine the term Wal-Marting, which is mostly used pejoratively to mean, among other things, how big box retailers mow down small businesses.

I was interested if the Googlewashing, i.e. crowding out search results, worked here. So far, all it seems to have generated is very poor results (#2 hit now). And at the cost of much negative reaction .

The idea above seemed to be, in part, to use the blog and the link behavior of bloggers to get prominent placement. But - again, so far - the blog ranks very poorly on a search for "Wal-Marting", or "WalMarting". I think what's happened is that the PR people drank the blog-evangelism Kool-Aid, and were misled by hype about blogs. Blogs can in fact be obscure in Google, especially if they are new and have few links, which was the case for this "flog" (PR blog). A-lister's blogs, established and popular, tend to rank well. But that doesn't mean any blog is going to do well, which is the sales-pitch.

Amusingly, there's the inevitable trumpeting that the failure of this stunt proves how blogs are so authentic and sincere (Scott Karp: "And because blogging is not a control-based medium, Edelman couldn't make Wal-Mart appear to be something it's not. It rang false, and they got caught."). In fact, I'd say the stunt didn't work because blogging is a very control-based medium, and you usually won't get heard unless a gatekeeper high up the hierarchy directs attention to you (I know, I say this a lot, I'm proposing it as an alternative explanation for the stunt's failure - it's not that bloggers can't be fooled, but that to fool them, e.g. you have to suck up to A-listers, not just exist).

There's a certain unfalsifiability in the reaction. Exploitations which conveniently blow-up are going to be greeted with a chorus of Transparency!, Conversation!, bloggers are just so gosh darn smart and clever and real that they can't be taken. But successful exploitations which do not fit this storyline will of course not be fodder for more delusion.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:54 AM | Comments (1)
October 10, 2006

Google Buys YouTube - the structure of Bubble 2.0

Did you hear? Google buys YouTube. After thinking about it, I actually have something to write about it that's a good update on the state of Bubble 2.0, and an explanation to anyone who cares as to why it won't be my fortune (or, to the handful of people reading this, why it probably won't be your fortune either).

We'll never see the likes of Bubble 1.0 again, for decades (the next one similar to that will probably be commodity-level biotechnology, but that could be 20 years away or more). But there are smaller bubbles at more frequent intervals, and Bubble 2.0 is one of those. Unfortunately, I'm close enough to see it, but the economics of it isn't favorable for me.

As a quick check, I looked at the status of the Harvard RSS investment fund, which I'm using as a bellwether. They wanted to raise 100 million dollars, but when I counted what was known about their investments, I came up with only around 6 million dollars. Seems like the party isn't in full swing yet.

Anyway, Bubble 1.0 was about people paying very high prices for assumed productively gains from the Internet. Take "Pets.com" - look, you can order pet food over the Internet! Cool - but how much would you pay for that company? The key was that it didn't cost a lot to play that game. Find some niche, make a little improvement, profit.

Bubble 2.0 is all about data-mining and getting suckers to work for free (this last is called "user-generated content" or "citizen journalism"). But that's a fairly expensive game to play (maybe not expensive from a venture capital fund standpoint, but it's not a garage operation). It also requires a huge amount of marketing. It's necessary to either somehow convince all those suckers that they should work for free, or find out what it is that they'll do that you can exploit (this is why there's a bunch of pilot-fish around the sharks, saying something like "Ecosystems are conversations. When the shark eats you, you are a *participant* in the circle of life - you are the nourishment formerly known as prey, think of yourself as a citizen-lunchmeat"). Both are tough sells, either to the little people that they really want to enrich you by doing grunt labor, or to the big people that they really don't want to pauperize you by suing about copyright infringement from all that "sharing".

There's definitely businesses here. But it's all built on becoming some sort of enormous silo filled with tiny grains, which requires a substantial capital expenditure, as well as winner-take-all contests with other silos who want to be the central place to store grains. To succeed, that requires a certain combination of rare circumstances that are unusual, though somebody wins the lottery.

Basically, Bubble 2.0 does have a model, but it's a very much a multi-level-marketing scheme model. As opposed to the Bubble 1.0 model, which was inflated expectations. The key difference is that mostly everyone can play at inflated expectations until it all crashes, while playing multi-level-marketing doesn't work if you're not already good at marketing.

Tangentially related, I was very amused to read about a online news conference kerfuffle, where a business focused bubble-blower apparently gave a typical blog-triumphalism rabble-rousing presentation, and got thoroughly chastised by other blog bubble-blowers - some of whom just happened to be in various partnerships and consulting arrangements with the "Old Media" companies which were targets of the rabble-rousing presentation. Links omitted out of self-preservation, but the reaction was hilarious in a cynical way: No, no, that's the speech for the chumps, what we feed to the rubes - don't give it in the faces of the moneybags who are hiring us, it'll just offend them.

Some of the evangelism rhetoric, when examined closely, has always been very weird. Paraphrased, "We will storm the ramparts, lay siege to the castle ... in order to be chambermaids and valets, for free!"

Nick Carr was prophetic:

One day, a blog-peasant boy found buried in the dust beside his shack a sphere of flawless crystal. When he looked into the ball he was astounded see a moving picture. It was an image of a fleet of merchant ships sailing into the harbor of the island of Blogosphere. The ships bore names that had long been hated throughout the island, names like Time-Warner and News Corp and Pearson and New York Times and Wall Street Journal and Conde Nast and McGraw-Hill. The blog-peasants gathered along the shore, jeering at the ships and telling the invaders that they would soon be vanquished by the brave royals in the great castle. But when the captains of the merchant ships made their way to the gates of the castle, bearing crates of gold, they were not repelled by the royals with cannons but rather welcomed with fanfares. And all through the night the blog-peasants could hear the sounds of a great feast inside the castle walls.

That feast is starting now, and the main dish is YOU.

[Update: Tristan Louis sends an examination of prices: "No Bubble 2.0 yet"]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 10:59 AM | Comments (20)
September 26, 2006

Pew survey - "Future of the Internet"

I'm late to the party regarding commenting on the Pew survey / "Future of the Internet". I am apparently one of the "Many top internet leaders, activists and commentators participated in the survey" (they said that, not me!). So I'm self-interested in pointing out that if one goes beyond the prefabricated punditry of the press release, and digs into the details, a lot of smart people can be found quoted in the report. Sure, there's the Usual Suspects who say we are about to enter a New Era where we'll go down a rabbit hole, err, I mean a black hole, and enter Wonderland, umm, the Singularity. But there's also another perspective to be found, such as the following:

Scenario Two: English displaces other languages

And Seth Finkelstein, anti-censorship activist and author of the Infothought blog, wrote that this scenario is "much too ambitious. There will still be plenty of people who will have no need for global communications in other languages, or who choose to communicate only within their local community."

Scenario Three: Autonomous technology is a danger

Programmer and anti-censorship activist Seth Finkelstein responded, "This is the AI bogeyman. It's always around 20 years away, whatever the year."

Scenario Four: Transparency builds a better world

"Between 'agree' and 'disagree' I'll pick 'agree,' but I think it's more accurate to say it could make the world a better place overall," wrote Seth Finkelstein, EFF Pioneer Award winner. "The difference between the Open Society and the Police State is political, not technological."

Think of it as the "balance" journalistic structure applied to futurism ("Are We Going To Live Forever? Opinions Differ.").

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:58 PM | Comments (1)
September 17, 2006

Adventures in Unpaid Freelancing, aka Citizen Journalism - Nonlethal Weapon Edition

[This post is dedicated to those people sincerely self-deluded or professionally delusional who think the bogosphere is democracy's (not demagoguery's) last best hope on Earth]

When I saw the Air Force / Non-lethal weapons testing story, on a mailing list, critical thought lead me to be immediately skeptical. So I started to dig around for material to write a reply (note the context is that I assume, or at least hope, members of the mailing-list will read the reply).

First problem, why blogging doesn't work: Blog references to the article are virtually all echoes or rants about it. In a hot story, there's piles and piles of these, making finding actual information difficult. I couldn't find any explanatory material. Just lots of arguing.

So I decided to do some actual work, and called the Air Force to ask them about what was really said. Note there's no incentive to do this. Just to argue.

It's really very easy. The media people just ask your name and affiliation.

Note from the field: I'd feel absolutely ludicrous replying to such a question by saying "I'm a citizen journalist". It sounds ridiculous. Worse than "I'm second-class", because even being second-class at least is in the rankings. More like "I'm a nobody pompously playing make-believe". Anyway, these days, one of the minor benefits of all the blog-hype is that saying "I'm a blogger" works well enough, not requiring involved explanations.

And I was promptly emailed a transcript. Which is sadly just the start of the effort required if I'm going to try to make much use of the material.

Now, if I want to be heard in the bogosphere, I have to pitch to gatekeepers. Which ones? Note you really have to know the "Writer's Market" here (the blog-evangelist's idea that, little Z-lister, you can make a hyperlink to the big boy's story, and some day, someone might actually search and follow it amidst all the spam and me-too and hell-in-a-handbasket, and read YOU-YES-YOU, doesn't that prospect just fill you with thrills at civic participation, come to the meConference and work for free - these people have nothing on "Let them eat cake").

The problem is that the left-wing side would not be interested in a debunking of the latest They're-Coming-To-Get-Us, and the right-wing side, well, that's a dangerous game. I suppose I could have asked some of the media A-listers for attention ("looky looky here, cit-i-zen jour-nal-ism"). But frankly, the thinker BigHeads don't send all that much traffic. Their specific power is more indirect, of nominating a person as worthy of being a junior club-member. And asking them for links also involves the backscratching relationships, where they may feel that criticism is disloyal (another aspect where personal nature tends to lead to cliquishness).

I settled for some comments, which drew a few dozen hits, and trying the Boingers (post accepted, ~ 1500 hits). All in all, it was a drop in the bucket, and arguably a lot of wasted time on my part. I know people are going to say it was worth it. But the problem there is that doesn't consider the cost to me, versus the lack of benefit to me.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:58 PM | Comments (8)
September 06, 2006

Linkdump: Google U California contract, suing Wikipedia, "Where are the women?"

Cleaning out various bogosocial obligations from the last week:

New sucker in the multi-level-marketing scheme for attention, err, I mean, blogger, Karen Coyle has an extensive post analyzing the contract for Google's University of California library digitizing (gatekeepering: Walt Crawford). Amusingly, one can see this post diffuse through the library domain, but not (yet) the search domain.

Daniel Brandt at Wikipedia Watch has a post discussing "Can you sue Wikipedia?". I don't agree with all the legal reasoning in it, but I don't like the way too much discussion is being driven by dysfunctional dynamics between Kool-Aid drinkers and Kool-Aid pushers.

Bandwagon: Vote Aaron Swartz for Wikipedia Board Member (if you have 400 edits, otherwise you can't vote).

A conservative is a liberal who has been mugged.
A liberal is a conservative who has been arrested.
Somebody who has not been invited to a hot party is a discoverer of the power of social connections.
Or "Welcome to Foo [Camp|Party|Networking Session], you lucky few". The A-listers said it, I didn't.

Which is a good segue to note Sour Duck's Where Are The Women Redux (h/t Shelley Powers), making a point that "Technology conferences, newspaper articles, and the Supreme Court workforce are the latest three areas where women are notably absent, prompting bloggers to once again ask, "Where are the women?". Another proof that blogging (if one wants to be read, rather than "connect with people") is not effectively very open at all.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 01:01 AM | Comments (5)
August 22, 2006

Blogging Demotivated

I must share this:

Blogging : We're Going To Need More Monkeys

"Blogging : We're Going To Need More Monkeys"

[Original source: ishkur.com, hat tip discourse.net]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 08:36 AM | Comments (1)
August 20, 2006

Bogospheric Calvinism, or Unread != Unworthy

I've been attempting to keep my head down, trying to make myself a relatively small target in the aftermath discussion, since I'm an ant among elephants. Additionally, one of the problems with blog evangelism is that since A-list status is proof of God's grace on Earth, I mean, merit, non-A-list status is therefore proof of unworthiness. So whatever I wrote next had better be damn good, otherwise it would just go to show I could not meet the high standards of posting about the hot conference/UnParty, and who was there. Fortunately, in response to one gatekeeper's protest, Dave Rogers provided some evidence:

If you use Google to search for the term "censorship" on Doc Searls weblog, you get about 109 hits. [...] Now, if you search for the term "Finkelstein" on Doc's weblog, it appears only twice on February 12th and 18th 2006, rebutting the charges of "gatekeeping."

Not all of those links where Doc mentioned censorship dealt with "net censorship" per se. But one gets the impression that censorship is an issue Doc is concerned about, and opposed to, yet he never happened to stumble across a blog post by Seth Finkelstein he felt worth pointing to. [...]

It's not that Doc is actively conspiring to keep Seth Finkelstein in obscurity, he's not and nobody is making that claim. It's just that Seth's relative obscurity, in relation to his authority on what is perhaps a niche, although important, topic is due to the fact that high attention-earners have not had occasion to use their attention-directing authority to point to Seth's efforts.

Now, I suppose someone can blame Seth for that, but that's not the point. The point is that it is a myth that if you write well about a topic that people care about, you will receive attention, you will have the opportunity to be influential by virtue of your authority on the topic. That's simply not the case. While I won't go so far as to say it's a patronage system, it's not far removed from that when people advocate that lesser attention-earners link to high attention-earners in order to receive reciprocal linkage.

Or as, in a different post, Kent Newsome put it:

I'm not so much interested in having the blogosphere operate differently as I am in calling bullshit when people try to say it operates differently than it actually does.

From another angle, as Shelley Powers noted the irony:

So, here's a brain teaser: what sentences can you derive from the following words: Shel Israel, blog evangelist, naked conversationist, tells Nick Carr to sit down shut up.

I should back up for a moment and note that in my original comment, I was assuming an oligarchy, and talking about why one might continue banging your head against the wall. The answer wasn't necessarily the shiny happy "to connect with people", but perhaps the reverse, more like why people stay in a bad relationship.

So I wasn't on a grand quest for links. Rather, I was being a part of examining the driving frauds behind blog evangelism. I could enumerate fallacies, but that doesn't seem to do any good.

Anyway, Doc Searls wanted to know:

What more can I do going forward than what I've always done, which is try to link to as many people as I can who have interesting things to say?

Frankly, I don't know how to reform society, even the bogosphere, to make it more egalitarian. And my own activism efforts have ended pretty badly overall for me. But (not singling out any individual person here, but making a general statement) the standard A-list reactions of denying the mathematics and attacking the critics, are not a solution.

Update: Read all of Dave Rogers follow-up

People like Seth write with authority about important issues and they thought the blogosphere would help them find their voice and reach an audience that would allow them to be influential. Well, it doesn't work that way and it never did.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:28 AM | Comments (3)
August 15, 2006

Nick Carr - "The Great Unread"

Nick Carr has a post "The Great Unread" examining some of the myths of blog evangelism, versus reality of bogosphere oligarchical structure:

A blog-peasant, one of the Great Unread, comes to the wall of the castle to offer a tribute to a royal, and the royal drops a couple of coins of attention into the peasant's little purse. The peasant is happy, and the royal's hold over his position in the castle is a little bit stronger.

I'm quoted for a comment I made on an earlier post by Kent Newsome about people's reasons for having a blog:

A handful of people responded to Newsome's post, among them the long-time blogger Seth Finkelstein. Finkelstein's tone was much darker. You sensed not only the resignation but also the bitterness that is always left behind when a fraud is revealed:

To be more personal here, I wrote because:

1) I was suckered into the idea that blogs were a way to "route around" media power, and to be HEARD.

2) I had delusions of influence.

3) The random-payoff of attention makes it seem far more effective than it actually is.

4) It's painful to admit that you've wasted so much time and effort and pretty much nobody is listening.

Blog evangelism is very cruel, as it preys on people's frustrated hopes and dreams.

My blog is read by a few dozen fans ... I've come close to shutting it down at times, and will finally reach the breaking-point eventually.

[And I meant every word of that!]

In Carr's comments, I mentioned a few other people's writing in a similar vein which I recommend:

Jon Garfunkel on The New Gatekeepers - "I will argue here that gatekeepers are inherently needed by the architecture of the blogosphere", and Promoting Women Bloggers.

Shelley Powers "some of my best friends are Z-listers", and good girls ask nicely

Dave Rogers on the "con" in "Markets Are Conversations"

I've made this point many times now, perhaps too often. But the hucksterism of blog evangelism still bothers me. While I treasure being complimented for my writing, it sadly just doesn't matter compared to the huge effect of the very tiny concentration of power which determines who gets past the gatekeepers.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:58 PM | Comments (13)
July 16, 2006

The Return Of Shelley Powers (with special appearance by Frank Paynter)

Shelley Powers is back, firing from a second blog "The Bb Gun":

How to Rollout a Web 2.0 Product, in sum:

When you have infrastructure problems, no need to hire an experienced tech when you can hire an evangelist instead.

And elsewhere points to The Chocolate Wars, where Frank Paynter details Corporate Community and Ethical Blindness:

Nestle seems to be on the offensive regarding their reputation on the web. This discussion page from Wikipedia illustrates a balanced and reasonable approach by corporate PR to keeping their public image clean.

[Wikipedia! Isn't it amazing how all these small pieces are loosely joined?]

The gist of it is that Nestle has PR flacks working Wikipedia and blogs. This is then praised by blog flacks as "conversation". That should tell you all you need to know about the prospects for blogs as any sort of democratic change. But saying this does no good (or at least, does me no good) sad face

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1)
June 30, 2006

"The People Formerly Known As The Audience" ... are STILL the audience

"The People Formerly Known As The Audience" by Jay Rosen, ends with the following:

Seth Finkelstein dissents in the comments at Dan Gillmor's blog:

Dan, we're still the audience. If you don't like my comment, you can personally attack me to a number of readers that is orders of magnitude more than I could realistically reach myself. I have no effective way to reply. That's "audience".

If I do volunteer journalism, but it is not propagated by A-list gatekeepers, and not appealing enough for the popular sites, it'll be ignored. That's "audience".

And what happens if the professional journalist just doesn't care if he or she gets it wrong, as long as it brings in the crowd? That's "audience".

Like the news media, Seth is an inflater of the balloons he pops. He refutes propositions I haven't made: that the audience is no more, that media power has been equalized.

[squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak ... comment:]

Thanks for proving my point Jay. :-(

I thought you were better than that.

You left off the last part of my comment:

"Don't shoot the messenger."

Is this the worst personal attack I've ever received in my life? No, not at all, by far. But it's illustrative of the inequality of audience, and it leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at June 28, 2006 04:57 PM

The bogosphere really isn't good for me [sad face]. And I miss Shelley Powers' BurningBird blog:

If I want anything from the A Listers, it's honesty. It's following through on their glowing beliefs in this environment. It's a cessation of the games, and a reduction of the small minded petty meanness that characterizes too many of the A listers (and which makes one realize that perhaps this environment is not so utopian after all).

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:08 PM | Comments (12)
June 25, 2006

"Pearls Before Swine" [comic strip] on bloggers

I was going to write something regarding what I'd read of "Bl*ggrc*n" this weekend, but I decided it wasn't worth squeaking from the tail again, about the Big Heads (which in a way is all one needs to know ...). As a substitute, I would draw attention to the following Pearls Before Swine comic strips about blogging:

http://www.comics.com/comics/pearls/archive/pearls-20060620.html

"I was thinking, maybe you could just shove your writings under this box ... that way just as many people would read it. But you'd save a fortune on Internet connection fees"

http://www.comics.com/comics/pearls/archive/pearls-20060616.html

"Perhaps you should just try posting notes on your refrigerator. You might reach more people".

Also worthwhile:
http://www.comics.com/comics/pearls/archive/pearls-20060625.html
[How to write a syndicated political column]

Bonus link: Chris Nolan - "Love For Sale"

This is an old story for those of us who have been in and around the tech business. Bloggers, like almost everyone else who has ever discovered the miraculous potential of a piece of software, have decided that they - and they alone, that few, that proud, that chosen (and why are they all men....?) - are agents of profound transformation. They are going to change the world as we know it and their potential power is awe-inspiringing, limitless and potentially very lucrative. Similar comments were made about the Segway and were happily reprinted without question or skepticism in Time magazine and other pubs. But can anyone look at a Segway these days without laughing? Don't get me wrong, the power of self-publishing is everything bloggers say it is (unlike the Segway) but the ways in which it's being used by this crowd are silly (like the Segway). And often self-defeating (like the ginned-up Segway PR effort).

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM
June 11, 2006

Hyperlinked Society

The Hyperlinked Society conference just took place. I greatly appreciated being an invited participant for a panel - "Navigating Nodes of Influence". So I suppose I've now officially joined the conference-oriate. In fact, given that I had the enjoyment of being a fellow-panelist with David Weinberger, I'm now one degree of separation away from anyone who has ever been prominent at a technical conference. And I suppose I could be said to be making, err, links, to Lee Rainie, Director, Pew Internet and American Life Project, and Peter Morville. Eszter Hargittai moderated our panel, which discussed various aspects of how users use links to find information and view links as imparting reputation. For example, I discussed my saying that "Google ranks popularity, not authority", and being the top result for a Google search for a term is often wrongly viewed as imbuing the result with some sort of endorsement (which leads to everything from Google-bombing to protests over rankings to censorship of search engines).

I find the whole conference experience to be unfamiliar, and rather difficult for me. Not in technical terms - after a while, I understood the basic goal, essentially the sociology of how people work with hyperlinks and the web. But the social practices are complicated, and I'm not skilled at them. An analogy would be that it's like trying to be part of a multiple conversation which is using a foreign language where you've taken lessons, but aren't fluent (What was that idiom? Do I reply back in the familiar mode or the formal mode? Am I saying what I mean? etc.). So no matter how many times you've attempted the glottal stop or rise-and-fall tonal inflection, there's a big difference in trying to do it in real time with no guides.

Gabe Rivera joked:

Seth Finkelstein is a consummate schmoozer, deftly milking his enpanelled status to expand his personal network for certain future professional advancement. Ok, that's not entirely true, but not entirely false!

Hee hee. It's a networking problem, and some of the issues aren't all that obscure (and in fact, this actually connects to the conference topic - links on the web, links between people, high Google PageRank, A-listers, there are semi-amusing structural parallels). I did chat with various people, e.g. (name drop!) Nick Carr, Mary Hodder, and Jay Rosen said hello (now if I don't mention someone I should, I'll offend them ...). I kept trying to figure out a good way to talk to Jeff Jarvis about Internet censorship coverage, but the conference ended before I could find a way to phrase it which seemed satisfactory.

But it was good for my ego to hear nice things, to have people compliment me.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1)
June 08, 2006

Reminder: "Life Trumps Blogging"

Reminder:

Life trumps blogging. At least it does for most sane, balanced people.

-- Walt Crawford

Busy. Back in a few days.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:29 AM
May 30, 2006

Apple v. Does (O'Grady v. Superior Court) and Wikipedia

The Apple v. Does (O'Grady v. Superior Court) case, where Apple tried to subpoena online publisher's information for an investigation, has been well-analyzed (big win for EFF). I'm going to skip the (somewhat misconstrued) Bloggers vs. Journalists! aspects, because they've been chewed to death, and focus on a synthesizing post about the Wikipedia elements, to highlight some other factors.

In "New Age judge blasts Apple", Andrew Orlowski states:

However Apple has struck gold in finding a techno utopian in a state of rapture. Judge Rushing cites Wikipedia as a source, a mistake which earns students an 'F' grade today. He talks about the need to disregard economics and sociology in favor of a "memetic marketplace" - whatever that is - and allows himself some flights of technological rapture.

[N.b. - I think "memetic marketplace" was the judge's way of being hip, where a more staid judge would have used the traditional phrase "marketplace of ideas"]

Actually, I suspect the problem was recognized, and Joe Gratz analyzed it in Apple v. Does Court Cites Wikipedia:

In 2003, I opined that citation to Wikipedia in the course of a legal argument was asking for trouble, since anyone - even opposing counsel - could pull the factual rug out from under one's argument.

The California Court of Appeal, though, dodges the problems I foresaw. It cites Wikipedia almost exclusively for the definitions of internet argot and geek pop culture references: ...

These articles are particularly likely to have reached an accurate and complete equilibrium, since the core Wikipedia constituency is deeply familiar with their subject matter, and that subject matter is not hotly contested. While one can imagine a flame war emerging over precisely what is or isn't a BBS or a blog, the opinion cites Wikipedia in the same situations I do - when the reader's general knowledge of the subject matter will assist understanding of the argument, but the underlying details aren't dispositive of the argument's merit.

In other words, citing a geek trivia collection to define popular geeky terms, is probably not dangerous.

And, besides taking apart some of the Bloggers vs. Journalists! hype, in Courting Wikipedia, Citing Wikipedia, Jon Garfunkel reveals:

In an earlier footnote, Judge Rushing defended his use of Wikipedia: "As with many of the concepts in this opinion, the most authoritative and current sources of information may themselves be found on the web." Of course, "on the web" is as precise as saying "in printed materials." The difference is that information printed materials generally can be traced. With the web, it's a bit trickier. One searches the Bear Flag League, and find out that they're a group of conservative California bloggers, and then search more to find out that the founder was Justene Adamec. As for who came up with "we blog," that is Peter Merholz, who explains such here. As for the quote in bold, it's a meaty passage out of Wikipedia. In this case, it's practically impossible to find out who had authored it, unless the author steps forward.

It was me. And I'm absolutely delighted.

Maybe this what they mean by anyone can contribute :-).

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 03:38 PM
May 24, 2006

Wikipedia, De-skilling, and The Wisdom Of Darts

There's been some discussion about changes to policies regarding restrictions concerning who can edit some Wikipedia articles, and what this means for the ideals of (lack of) collective intelligence.

I think it's important to distinguish between the "silk purse out of sow's ear" argument, and "free labor" argument. The hype around Wikipedia is basically, bluntly, that it's magic. Throw together a bunch of sausage fragments, cover with a mystic curtain, incant the spell "Modsiw Fo Sdworc", and poof - out will come a silky article.

When it's found out there's really a man behind the curtain (any administrative actions to halt the editing process when it goes awry), some Wikipedia boosters seem resentful about ruining the trick.

Without the magic, if all that remains is an example of how a heavily hyped project with very elaborate ways of escaping accountability for errors, can produce material on the level of a term paper, without paying the writers - well, one has to wonder at exactly who finds that so exciting, and why.

It's not a revolution in knowledge, it's an innovation in deskilling. It's taking the graduate-student model - get devotees to work for no money, to enrich and aggrandize the project-head - and applying it to middlebrow work instead of academic work.

People are fascinated by ways in which data-mining seems to represent some sort of over-mind. But sometimes there's no deep meaning at all. There's a well-known experiment in picking stocks: dartboards are competitive with individual money managers - but nobody talks about the "wisdom of darts" (because there are no DartBoard 2.0 salesmen ...).

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:58 PM | Comments (2)
April 20, 2006

Post1000versary, and skepticism related to growth statistics

Milestone: Post #1000. Is that half a working year in total? sad face

There was recently yet another spate of articles on blog statistics. I remain skeptical of the precise numbers, given that nobody else can examine them, as unverified reports are often wrong. But the interest is a good reason to reflect on what such growth statistics mean (especially since the press eats up the hype, and it'll be echoed many times).

While it's unarguable that there's growth, I think there's some questions as to where the growth is going. My conjecture is that it's going first to increasing numbers of young people chatting with friends (e.g. MySpace), then to generally popular pundits, then a little to local A-list BigHeads, and last of all to the Z-listers. So doubling of the total number of the bogosphere doesn't necessarily translate into doubling to the average blog-writer. It's tricky to establish this, though, because there's definitely an increase in automated retrievals of pages, and that *will* affect everyone to some extent.

It's very important to examine raw data with care. For example, I get some hundreds of image retrievals a day from various piggybackers using my site bandwidth to display icons, something which I haven't bothered about since it's relatively trivial. But if I mistakenly believed that it meant anything, I'm sure it would contribute to an impressive but meaningless number of hits (as in, "I get blah-blah unique IP addresses visiting my site per day").

There's also numbers which do not mean what you might think they mean. One aggregator-maintainer said there were around 200 subscribers to headlines from my blog. But when I checked against my own log files, it seemed that traffic from there was only one or two readers per day. The number was true. It just didn't mean what it sounded like it meant, what would be easy to believe it meant. Note this wasn't a read-by-feed issue. Rather, ~ 200 headline subscribers translated into one or two real readers.

I decided to look at some subscriber statistics compared to about six months ago

Aggravator November 08, 2005 April 20, 2006
Bloglines (.RDF feed): 189 216
Bloglines (.XML feed): 39 39
Rojo: 27 35
Newsgator: 13 30
Livejournal: 11 11
Total:279331

So, on that measure, there's been a roughly 20% increase in six months. Or, in absolute terms, a whole whopping *52* subscribers (am I A-list yet?). Not that I turn anyone down ... but it does present a different perspective than breathless bubbleness.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (3)
April 10, 2006

Cites & Insights Spring 2006 - "Blogs, Google and [Prawn]"

Cites & Insights 6:6, Spring 2006, Walt Crawford's publication, is out. I haven't written as much about these as I wish I could. But this issue is chock-full of material to motivate me (such as several nice mentions of things I've written). For example, regarding blogs (my links):

It's probably important to say at this point that Seth Finkelstein and Jon Garfunkel are, as far as I can tell, right about what they call "gatekeepers"--within any given field, a relatively small number of bloggers commands most of the attention and, to some extent, dominates the topics under discussion. For relatively small fields, that may not be an awful situation: It's not too difficult to break into the top hundred library related blogs (or even the top fifty). But, as Finkelstein notes, that's little solace if the fields you're interested in aren't narrow fields--if you're interested in politics or the like. There, things seem to be getting worse: The chances of a single amateur to be heard aren't zero, but they're no better than in traditional media.

Elsewhere, there's a section with the obscure title of "Discovering Books" (subtitle - "The OCA/GBS Saga Continues"). Hidden away in the middle of this section is a Google Book Search (that's the "GBS") discussion compilation, including an argument with some dude named Siva [Vaidhyanathan] (since apologized for, and clarified, for hopefully less acrimony). Perhaps idiosyncratically, I found much of the section oddly disheartening. As I read through it, I spotted (what I considered to be) many significant flaws in several quoted assertions. But there's no point, or even negative incentive, to my detailing that, because (almost) nobody would hear me, and many are far more famous commentators than me. The Google Book Search debate is full of "advocacy", which makes it very difficult to sort out *accuracy*.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 08:09 AM | Comments (1)
March 27, 2006

In Favor Of NOT blogging

I'd been saving some of the following material for a big retrospective article, but a discussion today against corporate blogging is a good occasion for writing this post, and makes it not completely self-indulgent.
For example: Seven rules for corporate blogging:

[#1] Don't do it. If you have no compelling business reason to get involved in the blogosphere, then don't. While there's no evidence, beyond a few anecdotes, that corporate blogging leads to better business results, there are clearly risks. If you give bloggers too much freedom, they may "go native" and tarnish your reputation by writing something stupid. If you try to rein them in, you'll be attacked for being a dinosaur. That's a lose-lose situation - the kind companies should avoid if at all possible. And don't buy that nonsense about needing to have "conversations" with the marketplace. That's an ideology, not a strategy.

When I started my blog, there was some very deliberate thinking involved. One idea was that, basically, I didn't have anything to lose. I was being attacked every single day, by a Slashdot "editor", and it seemed to me that anything at all that helped me counteract those attacks was likely worthwhile. And a somewhat "personal" tone was probably a good idea, since free-speech activism involves emotionally stirring arguments. Moreover, given that I was relentlessly portrayed so negatively, presenting myself as some sort of business-etiquette-rules person wasn't going to work (not to mention that I couldn't do it anyway).

But, there's costs involved. There's definitely evidence that decision hurt me, in my (failed) quest for a policy position. It wasn't the only negative there, by far, but it seemed to be a negative. The blog evangelists, being evangelists, do not like to serious consider the negative aspects of what they preach. It's akin to a pitch for quack medicine - good for what ails you, no side-effects whatsoever.

Going through this discussion with marketing types sometimes seems a trip through every cognitive flaw, designed to play on thinking errors, so as to lead a person to the wrong answer (but an answer profitable to the marketing types). There's the lottery/stock-speculation argument ("Look, look, that person bought a hot stock, and made a killing" - yeah, but how many others lost everything?). There's social reinforcement bias ("I read your blog, and love it" - but how many people are going to use it against me, and have far more power than you?). There's emotional appeals to frustrated hopes and dreams ("A Voice In The Conversation" - where if you're not on the relevant A-list, it's actually more like ranting on a streetcorner, and then saying maybe you like ranting on a streetcorner). Not to mention the option of personal attack ("Since it works for everyone worthy, if it doesn't work for you, you must not be worthy").

Anyway, these days I'm thinking more and more that for me, the costs/benefits have shifted in favor of not blogging. That, though I had my reasons, and it might even be argued to have been a good idea at the time, it's definitely not a good idea now. I've essentially been driven out of activism, and being gainfully employed is much more attractive than being marginalized. Note this doesn't mean there are no benefits - it means it's not worth the costs. The fact that the skeptical side considers a weighing of positives and negatives, while the marketing side seems to follow a cultist reinforcement of only favorable evidence, inclines me to believe that the skeptical side is right and the marketing side is wrong.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 05:19 PM
February 27, 2006

Technorati Top 100 blogs analysis methodology problem - different data sets!

Theron Parlin pointed out a severe problem in the data comparison of Technorati 100 Here Today Gone Tomorrow, which discusses shifts in the Technorati list of top 100 bloggers. It turns out that it compares data generated by two different algorithms! He's right (and I shouldn't have let the sociology distract me from investigating it, since I knew of the algorithm change). The Top-100 algorithm was changed in September 2005, per

http://www.technorati.com/weblog/2005/09/50.html

"Technorati now displays the total number of links from blogs over the last 6 months. Up until now, we displayed a count of all links from blog homepages, which tended to weight more highly blogs that have been around for a long time, even if they have not been posting recently."

The two sets of data being compared (from different time periods) are apples vs. oranges. They use two different means of making the list.

Sigh. This is a sad illustration of what's wrong with blog evangelism. First, the initial analysis was echoed, because it was viewed as saying something blog evangelists wanted to hear (one quote: "Unlike the old world, in this new world, quality is for all to see. Mr. Louis proves that." - which wasn't proved at all, except in a trivial sense). Then the politics distracted from an underlying technical flaw. Finally, 100% like "old media", the correction is never going to be heard to a comparable audience, since it's just not as good a story, even though it's right. Popular wins over accuracy.

And the irony is that further, it'll likely be said that the bogosphere is better, because of an obscure comment pointing out the problem, and a page somewhere that might potentially conceivably imaginably be found by a search engine. Don't you just feel the thrilling power of the new media?

Moreover, Tristan Louis does good work, and anyone can make a mistake. So I'm not motivated to run around to the echoings and make a futile attempt at once again battling A-lister's snake-oil. Again, why bother? Contrary to the promise of "having a voice", nobody much will hear. :-(.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (4)
February 25, 2006

Higher Jumpers Is Not The Same As Lower Barriers, or A-list Change != Rebuttal

[Tristan Louis did an analysis of shift in top blog slots, I posted the following to rebut the idea some people seemed to be drawing from it, that since there's movement in top slots, the gatekeeper analysis is somehow invalidated. I think it's the reverse and worse, the results show we're getting more professional media types as gatekeepers, sort of a reversion to and from the mean (pun intended)]

What provoked this line of thinking was a recent comment by Doc Searls in which he says that "being an alpha blogger was like being an alpha paramecium."

The more familiar phrase is "Big fish in a small pond". The argument then typically proceeds that since there are many ponds, each with their own big and small fish, it doesn't matter. But the problem is, what if it's your pond?

"This provided me with two points in time: One in May 2005 and one in February 2006, 9 months later. If the theory of gatekeepers held true, the lists should have been pretty consistent."

No. Not at all. I don't know what theory of gatekeepers has ever said "The Top 100 should be consistent over all time.". I certainly haven't said that. The formulations I use frequently are "On any given topic, a very few "gatekeepers" wield enormous power over who is widely heard", or "On any given topic, attention is dominated by a handful of gatekeepers". This does NOT say that the top 100 most popular bloggers in the world never change.

Indeed, given the growth (even exaggerated), I would *not* expect the top 100 to be static. In any expanding system, it's common for bigger players to come in from outside and take territory from existing players. This does not mean anything to Z-lister gnats, it's all about elephants displacing gorillas.

One variant of this, I call the "Fame Is Fickle" argument. Evangelists say "Fame is fickle - look, look, many superstars of yesterday are forgotten today, and there's many new superstars". For some very strange reason, they then seem to imply that because there is turnover on the list of superstars, then there are no superstars. I think this is connected to the mythology that anyone can be a big star. Therefore, the implicit argument is that since the list is not static, the implication is that there is a reasonable chance to become a big star, neglecting that the chances are always very slim, and not examining the star-making system itself.

When one looks at the changes at the top 100 list, it's evident that the space is being colonized by professional pundits (Malkin) and professional media (Gawker, Defamer, Gothamist), knocking down the original specialist types (Scripting, Searls). This hardly means there are no gatekeepers - it means the techie gatekeepers are being pushed down/out by more professional pundits! And what's so great about that?

Consider "Huffington Post", case in point, as "More Voice For The Voiceful". Rich media person, many celebrities, gets much audience. That doesn't prove that the gatekeeper hypothesis is false - it's saying that very wealthy and well-known new players can get a position. This should not exactly be thrilling to Z-listers.

It is absolutely true that there are possibilities for start-ups and professional pundits. However, that is a miniscule number of people. Nearly everyone else is going to be slogging away in obscurity and powerlessness even if lions and tigers are battling for who will be King Of The Jungle, err, Top 100.

Or: Having more competitors who can jump over higher barriers is not the same as barriers being low for everyone.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 06:24 PM | Comments (5)
February 19, 2006

The RSS Circus Is In Town, or, Specification As A Money-Ball

This is the circus of Dr. Lao.
We show you things that you don't know.
Oh, we spare no pains and we spare no dough.
Oh, we want to give you one hell of a show!
And youth may come and age may go,
But no more circuses like this show.

Alternately:

Syndication politics are every bit as twisted as any soap opera you'll see on daytime television. Only without the sex. And with a bunch of bearded fat guys in place of the pretty models.

Quick intro for non-tech readers: RSS, in various flavors, is the predominant format for distributing information for frequently updated websites, often but not exclusively, blogs. There is a lesser-known, though better-defined, competitor format called "Atom" (think VHS vs. BetaMax or IBM PC vs. Apple Macintosh). I will not attempt to recap the whole RSS history:

The development of the RSS standard may very well be a good case study of how not to go about developing a software standard. But ... it's bigger than that. The whole story has a rather Biblical arc to it. As in Genesis, there are two creation stories. A later generation of the standard wrestles with its Creator and triumphs, and is given a new name, Atom. Throughout the story, on archived mailing lists over the web-- jealousy! deceit! one-upmanship! oneman-shipup! Divine retribution! (Somebody must have wished for that somewhere). And that's just within the RSS standard.

Rather, I'm watching the latest episode, involving an RSS "Advisory Board" that is said not to exist, of similarly mythic chronicle:

A community, which now it seems, must absorb the Nine Champions of RSS 2.0, because they have been banished from the round table that was the RSS Advisory Board. A Board that is no more, created by a man who resigned from it, and who gave up any intellectual ownership of the specification, but still retains ownership of the specification, to wit, making decisions about who is or is not on a board that no longer exists for a technical specification given intellectual property rights by a University that had little or no involvement with the specification, ...

What I've seen commentators missing - and what makes it more a nighttime soap opera than daytime soap opera - is considering the $100 million (goal) venture capital fund around now. Which adds to the drama. That's a lot of money (it's not clear if it's actually $100 million, but that was the target). And such an amount of money has its own imperatives. And those are different from the things that bearded guys worry over.

The RSS specification has become a money-ball. That is, given that Harvard owns the specification, and some of the same players involved there are also involved in a venture capital fund based on, drumroll, RSS - we're not in Kansas, err, geekland anymore. We're in Oz, err, business. There's disclosure, of course, but that doesn't change anything.

Now, my own disclosure, some of the following analysis is undoubtedly affected by my negative Harvard experiences, so that may unduly sour me. Or give me greater insight. We'll see. But my assessment is: The Money Rules. It's clear that The Money is nervous. There's activity by Microsoft, and other big corporations. Any hint that there might be anything which casts doubt on the stability, primacy, readiness, usability, etc, of the great big asset they are trying to leverage, frightens The Money. It Will Not Be Allowed. Advisory Board? Never heard of it. Some obscure matter of years ago.

If you are able to somehow convey that you will sooth The Money, you serve The Money, you wish nothing more in life than to help The Money make even more money ... then maybe that'll work. Otherwise, the answer will remain that the specification license allows it to be used as a basis by other efforts, which is a very polite way of saying get lost. Enjoy being "Advisory-Board-In-Exile". Or worse.

This, by the way, is a reason why I am extremely leery of Harvard nowadays. I want to avoid being involved in any disagreement where it's moral rightness or technical merit versus powerful lawyers. That's bringing the proverbial knife to a (hired-)gun fight. Any decisions will be made on the basis of the relative power of the parties. And that's a bad place to be for someone like me.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:58 PM | Comments (1)
February 18, 2006

The Cold Statistics Of Recent Discussion

Time to do the number, to reality-check the hype and marketing

"Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best he is a tolerable sub-human who has learned to wear shoes, bathe, and not make messes in the house." -- Robert Heinlein

This is a quick check of unique visitors overall from the previous gatekeepers discussion:

doc.weblogs.com : approximately 150
gapingvoid.com : approximately 75
weblog.burningbird.net: approximately 50
tech.memeorandum.com: approximately 36

Last week: Technorati Rank: 28,942 (151 links from 66 sites)

This week, after being first gatekeepered by Doc: Technorati Rank: 23,579 (170 links from 78 sites)

[Flame-retardant: Rank isn't everything. But it's an objective measurement, of some rough utility.]

Maybe 20 new subscribers, most of whom will subsequently be bored away :-).

No, I will not be vaulted to the A-list by a single gatekeeper link. However, the silly reaction I'll parody as "Who me? What's a gatekeeper anyway? We're all gatekeepers, comrade, all animals are equal here down on the blog farm", is belied by the simple fact that far more people heard me this week on the topic, than have in the past.

Bonus link, via "Squash": "Our sad blog decision":

February 15, 2006
Our sad blog decision

This morning we've had to take a difficult decision. Most of you will be aware that for eight or nine months, we've been writing a blog called Razor, for The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. Unfortunately, we've found it consuming an increasing amount of our time - three to four hours a day - in research and writing and managing comments.

We've worked out that we've been earning less than 30c a word, compared to the 60c per word average that most IT writers earn. Writing for magazines, we generally earn around $1 per word. We haven't seen much of that $1 per word stuff, however, because blogging leaves us with very little time to do freelance writing. The effects on the Bleeding Edge balance sheet have been pretty drastic.

Additional memesterbaiting:

The dismal traffic numbers also point to another little trade secret of the blogosphere, and one missed by Judge Posner and all the other blog-evangelists when they extol the idea that blogging allows thousands of Tom Paines to bloom. As Ana Marie Cox says: "When people talk about the liberation of the armchair pajamas media, they tend to turn a blind eye to the fact that the voices with the loudest volume in the blogosphere definitely belong to people who have experience writing. They don't have to be experienced journalists necessarily, but they write - part of their professional life is to communicate clearly in written words."

[Note professional life maps to income!]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (4)
February 14, 2006

Coda - "The Haves and Have-Nots of the Blogging Boom"

[Excuse me while I memesterbait sad face] What a perfect coda to the previous discussion: New York: Blogs to Riches, "The Haves and Have-Nots of the Blogging Boom":

It's as if there were an A-list of a few extremely lucky, well-trafficked blogs--then hordes of people stuck on the B-list or C-list, also-rans who can't figure out why their audiences stay so comparatively puny no matter how hard they work. "It just seems like it's a big in-party," one blogger complained to me. ...

That's a lot of inequality for a supposedly democratic medium. ...

... In the blogosphere, the biggest audiences--and the advertising revenue they bring--go to a small, elite few. Most bloggers toil in total obscurity. ...

"It's not about moral failings or any sort of psychological thing. People aren't lazy--they just base their decisions on what other people are doing," Shirky says. "It's just social physics. It's like gravity, one of those forces."

In one of life's supreme ironies, there's a new feature being rolled out for Technorati and authority:

What's Authority?

Technorati calculates a blog's authority by how many people link to it. Filtering by authority is a good way to refine your search results. There are four settings (left to right):

1. Any authority. This will show all results.
2. A little authority. This will show results from blogs with at least one link.
3. Some authority. This will show results from blogs with a handful of links.
4. A lot of authority. This will show results from blogs with hundreds of links.

Synonyms for Z-list: Singing in the shower, talking to the crickets, ranting on a streetcorner, exercising one's jaw muscles ...

Why bother?

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 03:45 AM | Comments (10)
February 13, 2006

Gatekeeper argument, part N+1

Having had the gatekeeper argument many times, I know it follows certain patterns. Sometimes evangelist types make a kind of "best of all possible worlds" assertion. Regrettably, I've yet to be able to figure out what evidence they'd accept to the contrary - it's on par with: If There Is A God, Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People? To me, the "power law" structure objectively refutes any such Panglossian view.

Once more, the flip side of that, is the argument "I Am Not Worthy". To be immodest for a moment, I am worthy. Note I'm not out to become an A-lister myself. Rather, I'd like to be able to get heard, which is different (though related) and I want a means of *effective* defense against attacks. Both of which are a struggle with gatekeepers and hierarchy, and do not afford me the luxury of confusing pleasant sentiments with unpleasant realities.

Of course, raw audience numbers aren't everything, nor does any one A-lister rule the world (even the tech world). But, per-topic, often a small group of people does have a very large influence over the topic's discussion. Extensive examination of gatekeeping would be complex and nuanced. There's all sorts of involved effects. However, the orders of magnitude disparity in readership is the simplest, clearest way to illustrate that there are gatekeepers, and it matters (it's not the only factor - but it is a factor). It's hard to discuss advanced aspects when the most elementary observation is so problematic.

What is to be done? I don't have a solution. There's a long history of ways these issues have been addressed, from the social compact of Noblesse Oblige to the old legal system of the TV/radio "Fairness Doctrine" (and, in a sad commentary on the state of debate, I'll have to pause for a windy disclaimer because even the mere historical mention of that government regulation tends to cause a certain mindset to jump up and down in hyperventilation that it means a proposal to impose it on blog writing). But I certainly don't have the answer. The only part I believe I do know, is that any solution must come out of engagement with reality as opposed to mythology (and we see how influential I am in achieving that ...).

Let's just consider Shelley Powers' request, for a small example:

If I want anything from the A Listers, it's honesty. It's following through on their glowing beliefs in this environment. It's a cessation of the games, and a reduction of the small minded petty meanness that characterizes too many of the A listers (and which makes one realize that perhaps this environment is not so utopian after all).

But the problem is, what mechanism is there to reduce that "small minded petty meanness"? All the incentives which make kiss-up-kick-down a viable strategy, apply as well in blogging as elsewhere. I suspect any real progress will not be easy.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 03:13 AM | Comments (0)
February 11, 2006

New Gatekeepers Are Still GATEKEEPERS

A soft answer turneth away wrath. -- Proverbs

Doc Searls, one of the nicest A-listers, writes a reply to one of my comments, in part:

... it pains me to think I'm being cruel without knowing it to a blogger who's trying just as hard as I am - or maybe harder - to make sense of things. So, if that's what I did with that post, my apologies to Tristan, Scott, Seth and anybody else who took offense.

Thank you. That's very generous.

Here's the problem:

I have this idea that the blogosphere is the one place in the world - or perhaps an entirely new world, or a part of a new world, created on the Net - where there is no need for class, for caste, for gates or keepers of anything.

Regrets. It's not. Let's stop right there. This is an idea that goes way back in a certain type of mythologizing - whether it's called the Classless Society, The New Socialist Man, The Wild West, The Wide-Open Frontier, etc. - of a New Era where rank and privilege have been abolished, and all is based on individual merit. I wish it were true too. But sadly, wishing won't make it so (and mistakenly believing it can get people deeply hurt in various ways).

There's then some particularly pernicious implications which flow from the above myth. If there is in reality a vast inequality of status, yet the theory is that the new world is merit-based, that provides a lot of disturbing tension, cognitive dissonance. There's some obvious ways to resolve it. One immediate method is to say those lower down the hierarchy must be un-meritorious in some way - whiners, as a cognate A-lister has expounded elsewhere. Another method is simply to deny that inequality exists. And these are where the cruelty manifests.

This world is exactly the same as *every* *other* *media* *world*, in that there's a few participants who have enormous reach, while most have little to none ("Power Law"). That's just a mathematical fact. One obvious corollary is that if an A-lister (very high audience) writes a personal attack on a Z-lister (very low audience), the Z-lister has no *effective* means of responding, to any comparable extent. This is hardly life-threatening, but it's not pleasant. When, on top of this, there's some sort of concept that the Z-lister really does have a means of reply, because they can do the equivalent of standing on a streetcorner and the entire city *could*, *in theory*, be the audience - well, it's frustrating. It's a kind of insult to injury. If this implies the death of the dream of the New Home Of Mind, it's dead whether or not we acknowledge that.

The critique of gatekeepers often has an underlying message, that reformers need to face these problems of differences in power and grapple with them directly. Technology will not make it all go away. And that's a very hard message indeed.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 10:39 PM | Comments (5)
February 09, 2006

FON-ey business, or The A-list profit algorithm?

Wall Street Journal: Blog Buzz on High-Tech Start-Ups Causes Some Static (via Infectious Greed):

But the tiny company [FON] also got publicity from another source: influential commentators on the Internet who write blogs -- including some who may be compensated in the future for advising FON about its business.

...

The avalanche of blogging about FON, much of it from people now tied to the four-month-old company, highlights the rising influence of blogs in shaping opinions about tech start-ups, particularly in Silicon Valley. It also reveals the possible conflicts of interest such complicated relationships can dredge up.

Earlier, I had posted a comment about this on one A-lister's blog (slightly expanded):

Regarding: "I joined the advisory board without asking whether there would be any financial reward. (The answer, it later turned out, was that there might be, depending on how the company did in the marketplace.)"

Thanks for sharing that, I found it the most interesting part of the message (otherwise, another WiFi mesh-net, ho-hum).

I'm getting fascinated by how the whole A-list/start-up ecosystem functions. As far as I can make out, it goes like this:

The A-listers travel the conference circuit, accumulating attention. They may have a small foundation grant to live on, like a salesman's base salary. But if so, it's not a huge amount, essentially covering the core expenses of being an A-lister (basic living, airfare, transport, hotels).

The start-up gives the A-lister options, and a small measure of status. In return, the A-lister gives the company a measure of credibility, and some of the accumulated attention.

If the company crashes and burns, as most do, well, the attention and status exchanged was mutually beneficial.

If the company hits big, as happens, but rarely, then it's payday all around.

Have I got it right?

No criticism *at all* implied in this - purely my trying to analyze the mechanics of how it all works, and figure out how dangerous it is for me to be around that game.

Per the WSJ article validating this issue now, it seems to work like a personal version of a venture capital fund. The A-lister has a portfolio of "advisory board memberships", most of which aren't profitable. The few which are profitable, though, make the money for the whole endeavor.

Note this is an expensive game to play, since you basically have to spend all your time pitching and attention-cultivating. And be "connected", to get in on the hot deals (one of my big problems in this game is that I'm just barely "connected" enough to sometimes hear about the hot deals after the fact, but so much baggage that I'll never, ever, get one).

Once again though: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 10:29 AM | Comments (3)
February 07, 2006

BMW.de, Google results, and punditry

BMW.de got "banned" from Google (temporarily) for search results manipulation, and this set-off an amazing amount of punditry. To sum it up briefly, the German website of the car-maker BMW hired a website firm that used fake pages ("doorway pages") to mislead search engines as to the content of the site. In my view, this is a very bad thing, basically corrupting search engine results, a kind of spam.

Google penalizes such actions by removal. This, again in my view, is a good thing. It is a use of power, but necessary and proper against spammer-like actions.

I originally thought there wasn't much to say - after the basic descriptions of what happened, what more is there? But, this just goes to show that I don't have what it takes to be a pundit. One must make controversy - e.g. accuse Google of enforcing "orthodoxy", of being "Orwellian" (the journomind has no good way to deal with thinking about private power - so it comes out in very strange ways, usually involving a few keywords). And that rhetoric brings in the all-important links.

So I am hereby going to stake out my punditry-point:

Death to spammers!

No, on second thought, Google-death is too good for them. A fate worse than death. No, a fate worse than a fate worse than death. ... Well, you get the idea.

How many Technorati-points is this worth?

[Update: Resurrected!. That was a short death. And they've probably got lots of links out of the publicity - SEO by infamy.]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:58 PM | Comments (5)
January 14, 2006

"Citizen Media" Skeptical Questions

Dan Gillmor is speaking about "Citizen Media" at Harvard Tuesday (1/17). I did something perhaps not in my best interests, but fuelded by my frustrations, and posted a "Skeptical Questions" comment:

[Dan, you're a nice guy, so I can get away with this - which is kind of a mini-point in itself :-(]

1. The journalism business is changing - GOT IT! HEARD IT! UNDERSTOOD! Now, why should anyone who is *not* a pundit (professional or wannabe), or interested in creating a business (i.e. 99% of the population), care that media people, both talent and finance, are fighting over the changes?

2. What's so superultrafantastic about being an unpaid freelancer? I grasp that there are many promoters who are very excited about the possibilities of data-mining and vanity-press business models (*cough* *cough* venture capital funds ...). Shouldn't everyone else be wary of being the chum to dream-sellers?

3. Doesn't the power-law show that ordinary citizens really have no way to effectively make their voices heard? (appealing to gatekeepers, whether they are called "reporters" or "A-listers", doesn't count). As I put it: THERE IS RE-INTERMEDIATION!

4. Given that the top-ranked blogs are full of slavering partisan hacks, outrage-mongers, and marketing hypesters, doesn't this demonstrate that, bit-for-bit, the bogosphere is hardly better than the mainstream media, and arguably *worse*?

5. Moreover, it's occasionally sometimes discussed that the politics and media top blogs are overwhelmingly well-off white males. So arguably the bogosphere is highly non-meritocratic. Again, isn't this evidence that contrary to idealism, for *effective* diversity, it's no better, and quite possibly worse? (i.e, the diversity wars are being refought, from further behind).

But good luck anyway.

[End comment - note for non-native English speakers, that phrase "being the chum to dream-sellers" is a play on words. In English, the word "chum" means both "friend" and "fish-bait", depending on context]

Again, Dan Gillmor isn't the sort to throw a temper-tantrum over insufficient sycophancy, so I'm probably not going to suffer for a little bit of being a gadfly. But I sure wouldn't want to be saying this stuff in front of guys who want to make more than $100 million. It's perilous for a skeptic to be around large amounts of money (n.b. it's often not the big moneybags themselves who are abusive, but secondary people who want to ingratiate themselves with the big moneybags).

Comic relief: Jon Garfunkel -The New Worders ("A guide to the various Worders in the New Media landscape. It's no longer just Writers and Readers. But one term doesn't fit all.")

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:56 PM | Comments (3)
January 11, 2006

The Self-Deluding Bogosphere

Memo to sociologists: Events like the Declan McCullagh E-annoyance are pure fodder for analytic papers. Note there's a single source, almost like a radioactive tracer, and you can track how the misconceptions propagate.

Some possible questions (not phrased in a neutral manner!):

How much skepticism is shown?

How willing are blog A-listers to update posts to reflect possibly being taken?

Is it futile to make corrections in comments, since virtually nobody reads them?

Does a journalist or A-lister need to be concerned about dishonest hype, if he or she appeals to the core red-meat audience?

Etc.

[I think the way the "polarization" argument is framed does a great disservice - many people know the opposing arguments, they just don't care :-(]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 10:58 PM | Comments (1)
January 06, 2006

Hyperlinks Subvert Hierarchy Meets The Internet Oracle

The Internet Oracle has pondered your question deeply. Your question was:

I guess we should just govern out lives by whatever marketing slogan makes us feel good about ourselves.

Markets are conversations. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. And Technorati is the authority on what's going on in the world of weblogs. (But please don't rely on that authority, because they accept no responsibility for it. It's just a marketing claim. Your mileage may vary. Sold by weight, not by volume. Results not typical. Closed course, professional driver. Do not attempt.)

I'm so frustrated because I'm not irritated by hierarchy. Yes, it can be pernicious, but so are ants and we need both. I am irritated by slogans accepted as common wisdom that illuminate nothing.

But that's what the world becomes when most of what we read and hear is "just marketing."

Because "markets are conversations."

I give up.

I for one welcome our new hyperlinked overlords. I await the delivery of technological nirvana from their wise and skilled hands. I will be pleased when all my sins are washed away once I accept the World Live Web into my heart as my personal savior. Um, is that going to be Web 2.1, or is nirvana a feature planned for 3.x? Just asking. And will that be a free upgrade, or we will have to pay for it? Because, you know, I can just wait for 3.x too.

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

Nirvana will always be in The Next Release. It'll be implemented Real Soon Now.

Ponder these Koans 2.0 :

If a hyperlink leads to a web site, but nobody follows it, does it exist?

What is the sound of one BigHead "conversing"?

If we're writing ourselves into existence, what is your original face before you were written?

A Zlister heard an Alister speak of the riches and power and influence of bloggers. The Zlister pleaded: "MasterHeader, I have bought an account, and commented much, and linked to many. Yet I remain poor and marginal and unrespected.". The Alister was angered and unleashed flames: "Arrogant one, is not writing your diary sufficient? Off with you. I must meet with my accountant about a BigCo buyout for blog services, and prepare for my BigConference panel on how blogs subvert hierarchy, and be interviewed by BigMedia as to why blogging will destroy them.". At that moment, the Zlister was enlightened.

[You owe the Internet Oracle an Emergent Cloudy Semantic Tag Folksonomy, and a copy of an A-lister's next book]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1)
December 11, 2005

Reminder: "Life Trumps Blogging"

Reminder:

Life trumps blogging. At least it does for most sane, balanced people.

-- Walt Crawford

While this blog is not quite dead (yet?):

Family trumps blogging. Health trumps blogging. Work trumps blogging (unless blogging is your life or work, ...).
As a tool, blogging isn't something "everyone" needs to do, and it isn't something that you need to keep doing even when it no longer meets your needs.

I gained a few readers from the DMCA events recently, many of whom promptly left again (sorry folks). If work and health permit, there are still a few essays I want to write and post. But life/health/work have to trump blogging.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:56 PM | Comments (5)
November 27, 2005

Cites & Insights December 2005 - "Analogies, Gatekeepers and Blogging"

I've described the following as the "pundit's dream" - I have actually said something which convinced someone!

Walt Crawford's latest issue his publication, Cites & Insights 5:14 December 2005, has this description in part (links added):

Following Up: Mea Culpa - While this section includes several "following up" notes, the "mea culpa" regards "Analogies, Gatekeepers and Blogging" - Seth Finkelstein and Jon Garfunkel have convinced me that I'm not qualified to deny the existence of "gatekeepers" within the biblioblogosphere. Read why.

And in the issue:

Seth Finkelstein (Infothought, sethf.com/infothought/blog/) posted "Cites & Insights November 2005" on October 14, pointing out cases in which yes/no decisions within net media keep people from being widely heard who should be widely heard--just as similar decisions keep voices out of traditional media. (I'm phrasing this badly; go read his post.) He emailed me questioning my A-list skepticism:

[T]he word "controlling" might be a little misleading, in that of course it's not absolute--but that shouldn't be used to deny an effect...Every group has its influential leaders, who can often (not always, but often) make an issue prominent or marginalize it. Why should library issues be an exception?

After another exchange, Seth did a terrible thing: He convinced me I was wrong. [example snipped] ...

I was denying the significance of the A-list as gatekeepers by pointing out that I'm not part of the library A-list but nonetheless pretty good at making my voice heard. To which Seth responded, "Of course not (`primarily from Walt at Random'). You're a well-known writer and columnist in the field... That's the source of your power. Similarly, there are blogs that are very highly ranked generally because of the author's `rock star' status, not particularly because of what he or she writes on the blog. Some people have influential and/or widely-read blogs because they are (local) celebrities, and some people are (local) celebrities because they have influential and/or widely-read blogs. Cause and effect varies."

There's more. But I'll just say: Thanks! It's impressive to see such a willingness to incorporate reactions into one's thinking (would that certain others follow suit ...)

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:46 PM | Comments (3)
November 07, 2005

Cites & Insights Mid-Fall 2005 - "Life Trumps Blogging"

Walt Crawford has some wise words in his most recent publication of Cites & Insights 5:13, Mid-Fall 2005:

Life trumps blogging. At least it does for most sane, balanced people.

And further (excerpted):

Family trumps blogging. Health trumps blogging. Work trumps blogging (unless blogging is your life or work, ...).
I'm delighted to see that more and more people recognize that vacations trump blogging ...
As a tool, blogging isn't something "everyone" needs to do, and it isn't something that you need to keep doing even when it no longer meets your needs.

While he gives some examples from the library world, this connected to me with Siva Vaidhyanathan's recent statement:

I am way behind on a couple of major projects. My tenure file is under review by my department right now. And I have a bunch of other things going on in my life (all good).

I really can't blog for a while. It's too draining and distracting to do battle so publicly. It might actually be risky. ...

I usually can't help mouthing off on all this stuff. But it's not wise.

Points to ponder.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 01:06 AM | Comments (1)
October 29, 2005

Meme and (tech.)memeorandum.com

tech.memeorandum.com is reviewed by Shelley Powers:

Fourth, rank matters more than content. Recently Danny Ayers started a conversation about what other options do we see for a semantic web. He got several responses - not an avalanche, but respectable. However, Danny's post and the cross-blog discussion didn't show on tech.memeorandum.com. What did show was a post by David Weinberger saying how he hadn't posted in four days.

Conclusion: if this site represents the new Web 2.0 technologies that filter content to eliminate noise, then thee and me are nothing but static, baby.

This inspired me to articulate what I shall call (with apologies to the "Central Limit Theorem") the "Central Pundit Theorem":

All programs which do popularity data-mining of a topic, tend to converge to a small pundit subset.

I'm thinking this might actually be able to be made somewhat rigorous. Roughly, if one has a tiny number of gatekeepers on a topic, then reconstructing the set from "bottom-up" references will give the same result as "top-down" specification.

All roads lead to Rome, all links lead to the A-list ...

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:58 PM | Comments (7)
October 14, 2005

Cites & Insights November 2005

Cites & Insights 5:12, November 2005, Walt Crawford's publication, was just released (and I'm remiss in that I haven't even managed yet to write about the previous issue). Besides e.g. good statistical skepticism of certain surveys, the meatiest part of the overall mix is:

* Net Media Perspective: Analogies, Gatekeepers and Blogging - some notes about net media and analogies, more comments on Civilities' "New Gatekeepers" series (and a related essay on citizen journalism), notes on seven other blogging essays and papers, and a few notes on Meredith Farkas' first-rate demographic survey of the biblioblogosphere.

This actually gives me an opportunity to write a little more deeply than my standard unheard messages about being unheard, and connect to some issues of search algorithms. The key passage:

[Jon] Garfunkel calls aggregatable declarations "crucial for markets and democracies" and says it's unfortunate that "so much of the communications essential to both democracy and markets escapes aggregation." He then goes on to note "practical deployments"--e.g. Google PageRank and Technorati rank. And here I see why I may be having so much trouble with Garfunkel's series--why I keep recommending it and talking about it, but disagree with so much of it. Garfunkel's looking for ways to establish significance. I'm more interested in discussion and complexity. I believe Garfunkel's looking for the kind of simple "good/bad" rating that aggregatable declarations lead to.

Well, one problem is precisely that "discussion and complexity" is often gatekept by "good/bad" rating, for the simple reason of time constraints: "Do I read this or not?". What informs the discussion? Hence the rise of gatekeepers. I'm not being extremely original there, but I suppose it's worth emphasizing that connection in this context. There's a whole structure underlying any system of discussion in the first place. It's more like whether you want to study the process of cooking, or review the quality of the meal itself. Note these are not completely disjoint, as in "This tastes bad (quality) because it's been burned (process).". So:

There may be structural problems that keep giving those who already have voices even more listeners, ... (Seth Finkelstein reacted to the "more flat society" possibility with some pessimism, mostly because it's such a difficult problem. "Nobody knows how to do good technology for non-hierarchical organizations...")

Right ("Nobody knows ..."). Here's where I connect to a simple worked example. Recently, Yahoo search started pointing to some blogs for "News". Now, I am arguably the world's expert on censorware - and if not, certainly up there. What I write is likely orders of magnitude more accurate than popular pundits. But my material won't appear in those search results (a yes/no decision). For the simple reasons that I don't have the voice that A-listers do (and, no, personal tone isn't the reason, that doesn't exclude the big blogfish). Which means the hierarchical organization just got a little stronger. No technology in widespread use measures my knowledge of censorware. I wish there was something that did, and someday in the far future, that may happen. But every time I have to go around pitching gatekeepers to be heard, the gap between what people would like, and what exists, is manifest to me.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:54 PM | Comments (3)
October 09, 2005

If Markets-Are-Conversations, Megabuck Buyouts Are The Last Word

Let's see ... 2.3 million dollars worth of being-written-into-existence (the wages of rants). And elsewhere, 25 million dollars for the hot-new-media. Let's not forget the earlier 9 million for your-voice. Or the hoped for 100 million!!! of change-the-world.

By contrast Jean Véronis cranks some recent numbers, and the power-law lives ("... a tiny minority of blogs get nearly all the references, while the immense majority of blogs are not quoted (or perhaps even read) by anyone, or certainly by very few people").

Related, I wanted to link to a Z-lister and her account of being smeared for a post ("Strangely, being laughed at and squashed like a beetle by a Mega Top Academic in a Top Newspaper only seems to have garnered this blog an extra five or six hits yesterday. ...").

I suppose I should try to avoid being too judgemental. People have developed deep and abiding beliefs of their pet ideas being the hope of democracy, for far less than multimillion dollar purchases (but I can't shake the feeling that it sure alters the perspective - heck, if someone offered me a piece of a big-money deal, I wonder if I'd suddenly convert to a profound faith in "the conversation" - fortunately(?), I guess, I'll probably never be subjected to that temptation).

Maybe I should try to sign up with Weblogs Inc. to get an audience for Google research.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 02:33 PM | Comments (3)
September 18, 2005

Bubble! Bubble! Bubble!

New Tulip Lands Ahoy! (Techdirt):

The final proof that a new internet bubble has arrived is the fact that we're back to explaining why a huge stock bump on the day of your IPO is bad. It means you got screwed out of a lot of money. ... [The china search engine pop is] nothing, though, compared to AllAbout.co.jp (the article calls it AllAbout.com, but that's a different site) -- apparently the Japanese version of About.com. It debuted today in Japan and promptly jumped 727%. To put in perspective just how ridiculous this is looking, the company raised a grand total of $17 million out of the IPO. That's not all that much, right? Thanks to the stock pop, though, the company is now valued at a whopping $1.24 billion. That could be okay if the company were rolling in cash, but it only had revenue of $20 million for the entire last year.

Only tangentially related, but worth keeping in mind, at least one blogs-are-the-future A-lister has a consulting deal with About.com. No secret, it's often-mentioned. But I think the implications of the potential payoffs are interesting.

Remember, when you hear "Markets Are Conversations" - there's no "u" in that phrase - but there is a "con".

Write those diaries, people! The IPO you bubble-up may be their own.

[And all of this is an obvious reason why I should stop wasting my time being a Z-lister, and work more in search]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1)
September 14, 2005

Blogging Effects As Quack Medicine

[Context: I originally wrote this as a comment for a discussion of blogging and academic jobs, from a column noting downsides of blogging. See also Blogs can help boost a career or sink it]

[The academic bloggers writes:]

"I just want to observe that blogging has been helpful in a very practical but unexpected way to my academic career."

[I reply]

Ah, but note, this is a classic example of "survivorship bias". If blogging had NOT been helpful, you'd be unlikely to be posting that on a well-read academic blog (not impossible, but much less likely).

I don't mean the following applies to you, but in general: A certain type of blog evangelism strikes me as very similar to the process of selling quack medicine. Any medical quack can usually produce a list of glowing testimonials - "I tried Dr. Blog's All-Purpose Cure-All, and I lost weight, my health improved, I became a magnet for hot members of the appropriate sex, and my career skyrocketed". If one does a scientific analysis, and shows there's no therapeutic positive effect, or even an overall negative effect, the person can always say, "Well, it worked for me!".

But in real medicine, there's a saying, there are no effects without side-effects. Even the safest drugs sometimes kill people through allergic reactions. And it's not because the patient has a bad attitude, or was weak of faith.

In much discussion of blogging, I see very little recognition of what seems to me to be an elemental point - if there are substantial positive effects, there must almost certainly be substantial negative effects. Now, it may be the negative is outweighed by the positive, or can be managed. But there seems almost an outright blindness, an unwillingness to acknowledge that negative effects can and will happen, intrinsically, as part of the nature of the endeavor.

I suspect a large part of this result comes from the fact that blogs have been prominently "sold" by a certain huckster-type, somewhat akin to the quack-medicine man, but here in love with the supposed benefits of personal self-revelation. It's a current version of "Let It All Hang Out". Many of these people are relatively wealthy, so they don't have to worry about career-climbing. Others are professional "outrage-mongers", and well-studied in the ways of making the "personal" marketable.

I see cautions as just a mild corrective to the overbearing hype and cultism, where the potential negatives deserve far more examination than they presently receive. Ever seen the package inserts for even over-the-counter medicine? As in "DO NOT take this if ...". It's easy to parody that sort of warning. But on the other hand, the purveyors of the text equivalent of patent tonics, should be called to greater account.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:46 PM
September 13, 2005

George Monbiot: "Thanks to corporations, instead of democracy we get Baywatch"

Why We Fight (or in my case, why I fought, past tense), outlined in a Guardian column by George Monbiot:

"It was claimed that the internet and satellite TV would topple dictators, but commercial interest are making sure they don't."

They can write these sorts of things over in UK publications. Like:

"We had the dream that the internet would free the world, that all the dictatorships would collapse," says Julien Pain of Reporters Without Borders. "We see it was just a dream."

Sound familiar:

The technology which runs the internet did not sprout from the ground. It is provided by people with a commercial interest in its development. Their interest will favour freedom in some places and control in others. And they can and do turn it off.

And:

Indispensable as the internet has become, political debate is still dominated by the mainstream media: a story on the net changes nothing until it finds its way into the newspapers or on to TV. What this means is that while the better networking Friedman celebrates can assist a democratic transition, the democracy it leaves us with is filtered and controlled. Someone else owns the routers.

Though I wouldn't put that last idea quite that way, because it phrases the concept badly by putting "internet" and "mainstream media" in opposition. Many of the punditry Big Heads of the Internet are part of the "mainstream media" - or want to be! But the very last part parallels my own aphorism, "What if censorship is in the router?".

Note, for myself, as the sort of analysis I've advocated for so many years becomes more respectable, and makes its way into higher reaches of the punditocracy / chattering classes, many people think I'll get more support for activism. In fact, it seems to mean the opposite, as the colonization process pushes out the natives.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (4)
August 10, 2005

Podcasting Bubble!

Via TechDirt:

The latest is Adam Curry's Podshow, taking nearly $9 million from Kleiner Perkins and Sequoia (more details). No matter how you feel about podcasts -- from horribly overhyped to the next great communications medium -- it's hard to see how any company in the space needs that much cash today. John Doerr has said he's interested in podcasting in the past -- so it's not entirely surprising that he'd be involved in such an investment. However, it's difficult to figure out what a company like Podshow could possibly do productively with $9 million at this stage of its development.

NOW I understand why Dave W-ner was so [redacted] over the falling-out with Adam Curry over the podcasting business.

And $9 million will buy a lot of hype.

Think for a moment. VC's want a big payout for their invested money, they don't do it for emergent punditocracy and self-expression. Which means somewhere some sucker downstream investor has to be found who is going to pay even more at the exit.

Get set to hear how you should be PODCASTING, it's so great, because it's the highest form of expression of your voice, and now you have a voice (buy buy buy ...)

And remember the VC's behind the curtain. Only a heretical killjoy would imply they might not have you, yes you, for best interests in mind.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (4)
August 08, 2005

Blog Blather Bubbles Leading To Search Opportunity Bubbles?

Perhaps my bubble-prayer is starting to be answered. A few days ago, the search engine Baidu IPO did an IPO-party like it's 1999!. This connects very interestingly with all the recent examination of blog search

Back at the start of the development of censorware, people would sometimes say to me: "Seth, if you think censorware programs are so bad, why don't you work on making better censorware?". I always opposed that line of thought, for reasons others may have thought dogma or abstract morality, but I thought were predictable bad consequences. Since the problem itself was fundamentally flawed, it was just going to further entangle civil-libertarians in touting censorware (I turned out to be right, but that did me little good).

I didn't want to sell snake-oil to people, even if it was slightly less toxic snake-oil than other brands. But search algorithms aren't snake-oil. A small incremental improvement has value. Sometimes much value.

And remember, it's pretty apparent these days that I don't have much of a future in activism/law/policy. As well as won't ever get out of the Z-list of blogging. I can't sell that snake-oil either (link omitted out of self-preservation ...).

Nothing is guaranteed success. But I really like nontrivial odds of potentially being a millionaire much better than being marginalized or even ultimately a defendant.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:51 PM
August 07, 2005

BlogHer "backlash", and self-proving A-list'ery

I was briefly quoted in CNET's "Blogma" regarding the issue that the first rule of A-List Club is you do not talk about A-List Club, and discussions about the BlogHer Conference meritocracy implications:

In these circles, apparently, BlogHer represents a form of gender-based politics that is a product of older generations and antithetical to the utopian libertarianism espoused so often in cyberspace. Yet as one observer noted in response to an essay that conveyed this point of view: "There's a difference between an ideal and a delusion. I think you have confused the two."

To me, the post-conference debate is self-proving. Consider the mathematics:

There were a few hundred people who attended the BlogHer conference. Which leads to a few hundred direct opinions from attendees about how it went. Add indirect opinions from interested readers too. Now, of this melange of viewpoints and conversations, which ones were amplified overall and then retailed to thousands of people not involved. Simple:

THE OPINIONS OF THE A-LISTERS!

So, if you believe all that matters is socializing, you can dismiss everything else, since it doesn't affect whatever socializing happened. If you believe being heard and having an influence matters, well, that fact that a handful of rich/connected ranty A-listers (some who weren't even there) are basically defining the issues to everyone else, should be a sterling disproof of meritocracy.

Of course, that also implies this post doesn't matter, but it has an individual purpose in noting I'd been quoted :-).

On the other hand, some good discussion is coming out of the issues, such as more thought about search algorithm implications, and reactions thereof.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 10:24 PM | Comments (5)
August 01, 2005

BlogHer Conference and the A-list argument backlash

You just know BlogHer Conference debates were going to draw reactions like this:

White Male Power
(image from Jonathon Delacour)

Every time this goes around, I think of writing a FAQ ("Frequently Asserted Querulousness") on A-list issues. Then I remember how many times it's been done before, and that self-referentially, almost nobody would read it (since I am very far from the necessary status).

A long time ago, on certain USENET newsgroups, a guy named Carl Kadie used to do something very useful. For certain debates, he'd do a lengthy post along the lines of (roughly) "The last time this topic came up, X people said [THIS]. Y people said [THAT]. Z people said ...". Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed to me that it helped. Then again, times have changed, and that might not do any good now.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM
July 31, 2005

BlogHer Conference From Afar

From reading about the BlogHer Conference, it looks like it was a great success. Though "specifically cultivating the female blogging community", it was open to men too, and I even considered going to it. Sadly, I didn't, since it was on the other end of the country from me, so it'd require a day on a plane there, and another day on a plane back.

Note, despite my lack of cheerleading views of blog-evangelism, I've enjoyed blogger conferences, mostly by the simple expedient of ignoring the Big Heads and talking to struggling writers. And from afar, this particular conference looked notable for being low on overweening egos.

I don't believe in any sort of biological determinism of thought (i.e. "women's way of knowing"). But all the ways in which we divide up the world express themselves, and the "on-the-verge" sensibility is an interesting contrast to earlier blog conferences (close enough in status to be talking the same language overall, but removed enough from the top power structure to know things are not all they've promoted to be).

It's a pretty good example of how "diversity" can work, and provide insights that get buried from conference organizers with other focuses.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1)
July 30, 2005

"Blog Depression"

"Blog Depression" pamphlet::

Blog Depression

Brilliant. Just brilliant. And so true.

"There is a growing epidemic in the cyberworld. a scourge which causes more suffering with each passing day. as blogging has exploded and, under the stewardship of the veterans, the form has matured more and more bloggers are finding themselves disillusioned, dissatisfied, taking long breaks, and in many cases simply closing up shop. this debilitating scourge ebbs and flows but there is hardly a blogger among us who has not felt it's dark touch. we're speaking, of course, about blog depression."

I especially like the part "Know When To Fold Em - hey, if it's not for you, then close up shop. Call it quits. Let it go. No shame in that."

(hat tip: Shelley Powers)

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:17 PM | Comments (1)
July 20, 2005

"Prediction Markets" and GIGO

I've been commenting on law professor Cass Sunstein's guest-postings at Lessig's blog, regarding aggregation and "prediction markets". (for whatever good it does ...). My general view is summed up by the old quote:

"On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], ``Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?'' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question." - Charles Babbage

But I see an underlying idea in some evangelism now, that we can put into the "machine" wrong figures, and through the program WISECROWDS, the right answers will come out.

But as the saying goes, "Garbage In, Garbage Out", and usually aggregating a bunch of wrong answers leads to a wrong answer. There are indeed some extraction procedures which can find a signal amidst noise. However, accurate information can't be created if it was never there in the first place.

I'm not the only person to point this out. Several other commentators are doing so too. There's plenty of material. But I can see that skepticism is fighting the appeal of punditry. For all the supposed wonders of interactivity, there doesn't seem to be much good in going against the hot fad.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:01 PM | Comments (1)
July 17, 2005

Meta-"London Bombings and Blog Evangelism"

Guardian Onlineblog - "Ambulance chasers?":

There's a little controversy spreading around the blogosphere over the past week, for the usual reason: somebody's said something bad about blogging.

It originates in the response to the London bombings, and some people worrying that some weblogs have been a little too self-congatulatory. First up was Shelley Powers, who warned "don't used this event to promote weblogging". Seth Finkelstein continued the theme by saying "there will always be a certain percentage of the population that will take self-promotion over solemnity".

Then, and probably most importantly, The Register's Andrew Orlowski stirred the pot with a piece headlined "For ambulance-chasing bloggers, tragedy equals opportunity":

No human disaster these days is complete without two things, both of which can be guaranteed to surface within 24 hours of the event. First, virus writers will release a topical new piece of malware. And then weblog evangelists proclaim how terrific the catastrophe is for the internet. It doesn't seem to matter how high the bodies are piled - neither party can be deterred from its task.

He puts the boot in fairly strongly. And hey, the Guardian even gets a slating along the way (a reference to this piece, I think). The response has been varied, and there's been a fair bit of it. But is this genuine disgust, or just a fuss over nothing?

Further, deponent sayeth not.

Except that Dean Landsman's reply deserves a link.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1)
July 06, 2005

"RSS Investors" fund and The Sign Of The Bubble

"RSS Investors" is a new venture-capital fund, with goals:

RSS Investors Announces Creation of $100 Million Technology Fund
Thursday June 30, 10:32 am ET
Leading Technology Experts, Internet Pioneers and Venture Capitalists to Support RSS-Related Internet Technology Companies

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--June 30, 2005--RSS Investors, LP, today announced the creation of the first investment fund specializing in companies based on the Really Simple Syndication (RSS) family of standards and services. This technology includes OPML and the newly proposed Microsoft extensions to RSS and is rapidly becoming integral to the next generation of Internet technology.

It is a Sign. The Sign Of The Bubble.

The start sign is small private venture capital funds. The end sign is hot public mutual funds.

Of course, RSS is just a protocol. The fund really seems to be about the wonderful world of the businesses which can be built by exploiting people's dreams of being heard and having influence. Remember, vanity press is a publishing business.

I don't think it's an intrinsically bad idea from a business perspective, though it's a tough, low-margin, market. But they also seem to have people who can work that market. Many Usual Suspects are major players. Some other analysis is lukewarm.

Note, these sorts of undertakings are where "the money" is. It's not in salaries for academic appointments. Rather, one big payday for those types of people is from being able to participate in such business opportunities.

It's not for me (I suspect I'll never be enough of a "club-member" to get any piece of that kind of action). But it does objectively suggest there's some opportunities arising.

There's an old oil-business prayer, from years ago:

"O Lord, just give me one more oil boom - I promise not to piss it all away this time."

O Lord, just give me one more tech bubble, one more collective financial insanity where I might be able to get founder's stock and be bought-out for absurd amounts of money in a ridiculously short time. I promise not to waste it all away this time doing censorware decryption and fighting for net-freedom.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 05:14 PM
June 25, 2005

"Existence" vs "Constructive" Blog Punditry Standards

Ernie Miller responded to my punditry observations, and I updated my Grokster post in reply. I want to break out another part of his post for note:

Finkelstein himself is privileged when analyzing and writing about censorware. My commentaries on censorware can't touch Finkelstein's. That's a good thing. That's a reason for more people to write about what they know, in otherwords, to blog. The hard part is finding who to read when. The filters are imperfect, but the quality of material available has improved dramatically. ...

I appreciate the compliment. Unfortunately, as I have often noted (I know, _ad nauseum_ ...), to a good approximation, nobody reads my commentaries on censorware. Recently, one deep irony was that a great suggestion for getting heard in criticizing "Safe Eyes" censorware and the Consumer Reports article, was to write a letter to the editor (thanks, Lis).

The quality of material has indeed improved dramatically if you judge on "existence" - that somewhere, in the literally billions and billions of web pages in existence, there is accurate information. But given the billions of people in the world, there's almost certainly a perfect soulmate of true love for nearly everyone too. The trick is finding it, and that problem is far more than "imperfect".

Moreover, one thread which runs through my writing is that there really isn't "a reason for more people to write about what they know, in otherwords, to blog" - unless e.g. they're somehow connected to a reward system for it (granted, true of many professionals) or happy shouting to the wind (a self-delusion of many people in general). Blogging is not costless, in terms of time and effort. Volunteering is laudable, making the world a better place even in terms of information available. However, it's notably limited as a reason.

I am hereby increasing the amount of skepticism of blog evangelism on the Net. Recursively, how much good, objectively, will that do?

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (2)
June 23, 2005

meta-meta-Grokster

[Note - This post isn't really about the MGM v. Grokster Supreme Court case (liability standards for Peer-To-Peer technology). It's about punditry.]

After reading the n'th post saying roughly that the Grokster case has not yet been decided, I was strongly reminded of the old Saturday Night Live running joke where a satirical news flash would report "General Franco is still dead" ("and today, in our citizen-journalist blog-correspondent legal report, the Grokster case is still undecided").

When the court's decision finally is released, to a first approximation, there can't be more than about a dozen things to say about the result. The top three being:

1) Industry wins, civil-libertarians say "Bad", analysis: Court slap "pirates".
2) Industry loses, civil-libertarians say "Good", analysis: Congress will pass new law, slap "pirates".
3) Muddled decision, Industry, civil-libertarians say "Good/Bad", analysis: Some say congress should pass new law, slap "pirates"?

All that remains is to fill in the details (the fastest pundits may have already half-written articles set to go, with just the relevant quotes to add).

So, as a matter of mathematics, the number of people trying to say something about this, vastly outnumbers the basic number of things to say. The insight of power-laws is that the distribution won't be uniform. Sure, anyone can write about it - but there isn't much of a reason to read what anyone writes. Blog-evangelists consistently neglect this factor. Not to mention the relative privilege necessary to be able to take the time to spend pouring poring over a document and writing analysis.

Which is a long-winded way of noting that after all the time I spent going over the Blizzard vs. BnetD material (which was of some personal interest), to maybe 100 extra readers (though all contributions gratefully accepted), I'd say there's little gain to be had in the punditry race if you're not already a Usual Suspect or attempting to become one.


Update , 6/24 1pm Eastern: Ernie Miller posts a response (my emphasis):

Seth Finkelstein takes an interesting and pre-emptive shot at post-Grokster commentary, claiming that there will only be one of three main story lines. For the traditional media, sure. ... [snip]

Yet the blogosphere is going to be doing something else as well. On several sites, including the Picker MobBlog and a branch off of SCOTUS Blog, you're going to have more than two dozen of the finest legal minds in the country dissect and discuss the decision in real time. Within 24 hours, many of the main legal themes, disagreements, and remaining questions will have been thoroughly analyzed.

This commentary misunderstands my main point, which is a mathematical observation on the nature of punditry, and implications thereof. I wrote "there can't be more than about a dozen things to say about the result. The top three being:". The big, mass-appeal, newspapers and TV will take the simplest view. Small specialized publications - which include blogs will go into more detailed analysis. But, for any nontrivial given scale, the total number of "worthwhile" analyses is quite small, and much less than the number of people who will write them. Hence, there is a huge imbalance - which is then resolved in a exponential distribution, with a few specialists taking the secondary slots after the bigger media takes the primary slots. And you have to be positioned to get in "[w]ithin 24 hours" to even try. Frankly, this looks very much like being an (unpaid) trade-publication reporter than anything else.

The point is hardly that specialist publications go into more detail than nonspecialist publications. But here, talk of "the blogosphere" is not useful analysis. There's levels of pundits. In fact, my view is that from a certain height of observation, this is the old regime structually (and remember, quite a few A-list bloggers are traditional media people, and the prominent specialists often have many bigger-media connections).

I highly value Miller's legal analysis. However, the structure of the distribution isn't changed - in fact, that's exactly the point. There's more overall excellent people that there are pundit-slots, and small differences (not necessarily of quality) lead to exponential curves. Hence my use of this case as a worked example.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 04:21 PM | Comments (2)
June 13, 2005

The Power Of The Press, Personal Being Quoted Example

Observe the results of the following Google news search:

Results 1 - 10 of about 157 for Seth-Finkelstein Internet-filtering-expert

Observe the many sites represented in the echoing.

Ponder the estimated total audience.

Is this a make or break article? No. Though it's a great piece. However ...

People who think blogs are going to "route around" Big Media, or even provide a way for an ordinary citizen to fight Big Media, are simply stark raving lunatics. Bonkers. Deluded. Touched in the head. Or, more darkly, selling something a smart person would be well-advised not to buy.

Structurally, the only thing that happens is that BigBlogs take a place among other "bigs". I've said this before, of course. But recursively, practically, it won't be heard.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM
June 10, 2005

Technorati Top 100 Notes

Inspired by Dave Rogers' observations on Technorati's redesign, I looked over the new Technorati Top 100 page. It's now using the slogan "The biggest blogs in the blogosphere, as measured by links"

Without being exhaustive, I noticed two of Top 100 blogs, "#73 - Where is Raed ?" and #"90 - dive into mark", haven't had any material in many months. Oh, tell me again how marvelously meritorious is the A-list. The entry "#86 - Silicon Valley Dan Gillmor's eJournal", has also been abandoned, since he changed locations, twice now (hmmm - how long for his latest blog to crack the list? To surpass his old one?)

My blog's on a long blogroll of someone around the middle of the list (thanks). It turns out not to send me much traffic though - maybe four real hits all of last month. Not that I'm complaining (about that). But it inclines me to think that perhaps one shouldn't worry all that much about blogrolls, except maybe for the very, very, top. Or that there's a difference between a list of resources, and cronyism.

As to comments on the numeric implications, well, I've said that over and over. And self-referentially, it doesn't do any good.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (2)
June 05, 2005

Authority, Mediating, Hierarchy, etc. again

It's been an interesting week for A-list-watchers. The launch of a radio show led to discussions about brand bloggers, mediating, long considerations of authority, attention, hierarchy, spinning out to everything from seeds of the longtailer's manifesto to conjectured layers of onions.

But, how much good does it do? Won't we still put trust in gatekeepers? Are there any lessons learned? Since blogging is more broadcasting than conversing, there seems no hope of flattening the curve.

So I'm wondering again if this all does much good. sad face

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (3)
May 29, 2005

A-List Analysis Collected Notes

"The A-list'ers are different from you and me" - T. Echnorati

"Yes, they have more links" - P. O. Werlaw

Some weekend fodder:

Jon Garfunkel has a follow-up piece to "The New Gatekeepers" series: "Reactions" - "Ultimately, I wonder, will the essay spread because of those gatekeeper-less technologies, or by the grace of the influential gatekeepers?" I also must note his definition elsewhere: Long Tail - The part of the power curve away from the power.

Bob Cox makes some remarks about the success of the "Huffington Post": "I was on Truth Laid Bare earlier today and noticed that is took all of a week for Ariana to jump to #11 on their "link ranking" with 2,472 with links.". Note one of the FAQ's (Frequently Asserted Querulousness) to understanding gatekeepers is that an A-list changes over time. And it does! Anyone who is a rich syndicated columnist, and knows many celebrities, can come out of nowhere and leap right to the top of the charts. When compared before and after celebrities and syndicated columnists took an interest, top rankings would be different, you betcha! (note these last remarks aren't meant to apply to Bob Cox, who knows all about A-list marketing)

"The Vision Thing" has more linking analysis

Keep Trying - "Examining More Half-Truths of the Blogosphere"

Shelley Powers - "Weblogging is for Winners: Backlash": "Getting flack about trips now, when you didn't a couple of years ago? Well, a couple of years ago, we hadn't heard the complaint about airports and no Internet access for the 20th time. Neither had we seen so many photos of so many beautiful people - most of them eerily similar." (though compare - Those Bastards - "Who wants to hear a bunch of white males blogsterbate anyways?")

I will not discuss that abomination to the Web known as "Blogebrity".

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:14 PM | Comments (3)
May 17, 2005

Gatekeepers series conclusion

Jon Garfunkel concludes with NewGatekeepers Part8: The Future, calling for better technology design:

We shouldn't be surprised if the new gatekeepers start acting, or even looking, like the old gatekeepers. That's one future and we'll have to like it.

Or, if we really want a more flat society, with "power to the edges" and the "grassroots" and the "long tail" and any other marketing term that can be substituted for the citizenry, we ought to do what we set out to do in the first place: we have to design the technology specifically for that purpose.

I'm in fact pessimistic about the prospects. Not because I'm anti-technology. But because of the immense difficulty of the problem. There are business opportunities for people who want to do start-ups in the burgeoning new fields of data-mining or popularity-presentation. I could even see myself doing something along those line someday. So I suppose I shouldn't be too discouraging.

But nobody knows how to do good technology for nonhierarchical organization, and there's an annoying number of evangelists, touts, hucksters, con-men, and similar ilk, all generating lots of self-serving noise.

Ernie Miller had some reactions to the series:

Would you rather have a gatekeeper of production, of distribution, or of audience? It does, ultimately, make a difference. If a law is passed does it matter if it was passed by a democracy or a dictator? It may be the same law, but process matters.

And my initial thought on this was, no offense intended, that it's somewhat like asking if you'd rather be killed by enemy forces or "friendly fire". You're still just as dead for the end result.

To me, it's almost a joke - "So, Seth, your extensive research languished unread, abandoned, not because of gatekeepers of production, but because of gatekeepers of attention - don't you feel that's a crucial difference?". No, sorry, not really, why should I care?

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 10:58 AM | Comments (3)
May 15, 2005

Anti-A-List Reading Roundup

Pure linkage, for blogging!

Jon Garfunkel - NewGatekeepers Part6: Summary (a recapitulation). Jon Garfunkel - NewGatekeepers Part7: Solutions (about aggregation).
Vision Thing on gender-link statistics and compare subject Shelley Powers' reaction.
Vision Thing on Big Heads and compare Dave Rogers on "conversations" and "authority".

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (0)
May 05, 2005

Blog Gatekeeper Oligarchy Perceived III, Feminism/Progressive Edition

I feel like a traitor to my sex, but I want to quote Karen Schneider's take on attention-distribution:

As Mena suggests, the women are there; it's that their blogging efforts are not featured as much in the media, largely because women are not the dominant voices in the so-called "political" blogs, which in the peculiar self-referential nature of sexism, are the important blogs because men write them. This morning I was browsing several major technologically oriented websites such O'Reilly Network, XML.com, Perl.com, and so forth. As is always the case, when you look at the conference panel mug shots, you see men. Men. Men. It's much less imbalanced in librarianship (though the loudest voices in our own technology discussions tend to be male); I wonder why we haven't promoted library systems work more to female techies.

But aside from another verse of "there's no one here but men" (very true but also incomplete), there's deeper preceding analysis (my emphasis):

To speak to another kewl tool dominated by a minority voice, Wikipedia will have truly arrived when its "community" begins to express disappointment in the rabble infiltrating its citadel. It's not just a question about content -- ensuring Wikipedia has Gretel Ehrlich as well as John McPhee -- but about the values expressed through design. The "egalitarian" nature of Wikipedia favors the loudest voice over the most authoritative, and as long as that continues to be the case its structure as an institution will be much closer to Lord of the Flies than Britannica. You can only be oblivious to the problems endemic to a system favoring strength over reason when, to quote one of my favorite bumper stickers, you are part of the dominant paradigm.

Which connected with Shelley Power's recent examination:

Certain behaviors are rewarded with links in weblogging; certain behaviors are not. It's just that a certain class of weblogger (white, male, Western, educated, charismatic, pugnacious) has defined the "winning" behavior in weblogging and what must be done to "earn" a link, and this is what we need to change, if change it we can. We have to start valuing the poet, the teenage girl, the middle aged gardner, as much as we value the pundits, whether political or technological.

Bottom line: I want to be respected, I want to be heard, I want to be seen. I want to be visible, but I don't want to be you.

And led to Dave Rogers:

Absent any real responsibility or means of accountability, what the A-List really is is a lot of people with a lot of opinions who get a lot of attention. Yet the fact remains, as a result of that attention, they are regarded in other quarters as "authorities." So we have the situation where some type of authority being exercised without regard to responsibility or accountability, and that's a formula for being an autocrat (lots of "A" words associated with the "A-List" - I won't mention my favorite one), or a fraud; and I regard many on the "A-List" as both. But that's just my opinion.

But, this all comes back to general issues which have bedeviled feminist and progressive thought forever. We should all be good people, valuing each other's humanity, kind and charitable. Now how do we make an economy which reflects that (whether it's dollars or links at stake)? There's of course some value in breaking through the myth of pure meritocracy, and refuting advice trivialities of the general form of "Be the best little Z-lister you can be" or "A billion Chinese couldn't care less", or even "Shut up and write your diary".

However, there's only so many attention slots. It's almost exhausting to get people to even begin to realize that they're not allocated in some sort of bibble-emergent yada-cyber cluelame-paradigm magic method, but very much closer to crony politics.

The implications are disheartening.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:52 PM | Comments (1)
April 26, 2005

"Blogger Relations"

"Blogger Relations", as a PR practice targeting writers of blogs, is being mentioned now by A-listers. This has been around for a while. The current interest is a good opportunity to post the following item from a PR newsletter:

http://bjohnson.typepad.com/context_continuity/prn0322.comp.pdf

March 22, 2004 PR NEWS
Volume 60, No. 12
www.PRandMarketing.com

Blogs Becoming a Growing Bazaar for PR

They were started a few years ago by political observers who made their running commentaries available online, but have recently emerged as a potent media force for PR execs: blogs. These days, blogs go well beyond the political scene, with diverse sites offering all kinds of news by the day, hour and minute. Indeed, a recent survey by Perseus Development Corp. predicts the top blog-hosting services will be home to 10 million blogs by the end of 2004. "I know journalists visit the better blogs, so this is a way to spread a story or spread awareness of your company," says David Burt, PR Manager at security software firm Secure Computing, who spends about 5% of his time trying to get bloggers to mention his company. In one case, a blog reported on a security study conducted by his firm. That story, in turn, drew a call from a writer at Information Week. (Curiously, Burt sent a press release on that same study to another reporter at the magazine but did not get a call back.)

Note the concept - cold press-releases didn't work, but going through a gatekeeper, a person who echoed the press release, did work. Blogs can act as a conduit from flacks to journalists.

(I realize David Burt's tactics did get his company mentioned here, but perhaps not the way he wished).

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1)
April 24, 2005

Posts-not-written roundup, and Jon Garfunkel's "The New Gatekeepers" series

Collected recent items on the A-list and posts not done.

1. I used to participate in commenting at Jay Rosen's PressThink blog. But I gave it up when the chaff/wheat ratio skyrocketed, along with the dogs/cats ratio (and I didn't want to hang around to the point I was deemed prey). I've thought of writing a post concurring with the perspective that he's been making some bad mistakes lately (when a lead dog of a pack congratulates you on your help in the pack's hunt, that's a good time to start checking yourself for fleas). But it's been evident both privately and publicly that Jay's very unhappy about some criticism he's received. He'd probably just get mad at me, and it's all way out of my power-league. Let somebody else save the liberals.

2. In an ideal world, I could have added more factual support when Shelley Powers was flamed over women and "qualifications". The problem is that you can't really win a debate with an A-lister unless they permit it. Trying to do so is a bit like arguing with a military dictator or a small child. They always have the option of declaring themselves the winner, and woe unto you if you don't go along with that. Every once in a while I asked during the "RSS Wars" how blogs were supposed to revolutionize society when the leaders couldn't even agree on lunch, I mean a site syndication format. This, to me, was a profound question. But the consequences were going to be against me for asking it, not against those who didn't want to try to answer it. Here, I could have pointed out to the A-lister that he had once slammed me to his entire audience without being willing to do one click to check "qualifications". Just a single click, and he didn't do it, before unleashing on me a flame from on high. This thoroughly convinced me that Shelley Powers had critical facts right about the social process at work about determining who is "qualified". But, recursively, I was almost certain to get another flame out of that.

3. Inversely from the all the above, I've owed Jon Garfunkel some linkage for his series:

  • The New Gatekeepers - "I will argue here that gatekeepers are inherently needed by the architecture of the blogosphere"
  • Changing of the Guard - "Is it that this new set of gatekeepers is more responsible to the public than the old?"
  • Who They Are - "...where I learned just who the new gatekeepers were, and why people are suspicious of their roles."
  • Their Values - "... Freedom over responsibility. Anonymity over traceability. Immediacy over thoroughness. Talking over listening. Breadth over depth. Ego over deference ..."
  • The Alternative - "We should be aware of the things that can go wrong before we assume that they will always go right."

Read it. [Disclaimer - I appear in the series].

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 01:22 AM
April 08, 2005

Cites & Insights April 2005

Walt Crawford recently released the latest edition of his publication Cites & Insights 5:6, April 2005. I consider it my mission in value-added echoing to alert people to the hidden gems deep within and hiding under headings such as "The Library Stuff":

Block, Marylaine, "Libraries: The original `long tail'," Ex Libris 239 (February 11, 2005). marylaine.com/exlibris/xlib239.html

I've mentioned the "long tail" before--and the extent to which I believe it's a fairly typical Wired Magazine situation: An editor grabs a long-standing cultural phenomenon, gives it a cute name, generalizes, and claims it's something New and Special. The concept that most people appreciate and buy (or consume) media and other options far beyond the best-seller list should be familiar to libraries. It's certainly familiar to good bookstores, magazine publishers, book publishers, record companies, and Netflix. Calling it "the long tail" gives Chris Anderson a wonderful new discovery and most likely a book that will be one of those irrelevant best-sellers. Oh that's right: Anderson says the Internet makes the long tail feasible--which is largely nonsense but gives the concept that digital aura of greatness and newness. ...

[The article's author] goes on to quote from an email conversation between her and Anderson (who apparently knows almost nothing about libraries, another consistent Wired trait). That said, read this column. Anderson may be as tired as the rest of Wired, but Block has good things to say, particularly about the importance of libraries maintaining a commitment to deep collections (call it the "long tail" if you must) along with improving marketing savvy.

Oh, there's also many, many pages about the infamous Michael Gorman column.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (2)
April 02, 2005

Blog Gatekeeper Oligarchy Perceived II, Women-On-The-Verge Edition

The ability to perceive power imbalances, if sex-linked, continues to manifest itself in blog discussions, led by women on the verge. What's going on here is the classic case of theory colliding with reality, reality wins, problem occurs for ideology. As a simple fact, the top "influential" bloggers are overwhelmingly white male. That's blindingly obvious. So with regard to blogging being a meritocracy, then EITHER:

1) White males are somehow the most meritorious.

OR

2) The bogosphere is deeply far from being a meritocracy.

Pick one.

But either way, there's a very big problem. It's that simple. Oh, somebody can try to argue out of it - "What's "influential" anyway, huh huh huh? The most populous demographic of (diary) bloggers is teenage girls, so that's where the real "influence" is ...". But it's just hard to do that sort of fogging in the face of the stark reality that nobody is begging the typical teenage girl for a blogroll spot or a mention in a post. Perhaps the best avoidance strategy is simply to flame very loudly for people not to think about it. But the dilemma is going to be visible at all the high-powered conferences. So denial is of limited (not zero, but limited) effectiveness.

Arguing in favor of position #1 is difficult, but there's a bona-fide example in a semi-respectable context by Heather Mac Donald in National Review Online:

Why? Could it be that the premise of the "diversity" crusade is wrong ? that there are not in fact hordes of unknown, competitively talented non-white-male journalists held back by prejudice? ...

Here's a different explanation for why the blogosphere is dominated by white males: because they're the ones producing the best product. Sorry, ladies, but there aren't as many of us engaged in aggressive, competitive opinionizing and nonstop consumption of politics as our male tormentors.

Now (note position #2) compare Halley Suitt:

... they don't understand how you get READ in the blogosphere. As the piece by Heather MacDonald in NRO goes on and on about -- that blogs are free and everyone's equal in the blogging world -- this happens to be true, but completely misses the point. Yes, anyone can write a blog, but it's not about writing -- it's about being READ. ...

Similarly in the blogosphere, who mentions you and who LINKS TO YOU, puts you in premier position on the virtual newsstand to be READ, or without links, to be ignored. ...

Drumroll ... Or, in a word: GATEKEEPERS.

(Once more: She said it, not me. She said it, not me. She said it, not me ...)

And a comment in that post led me to Jenny D: "Journalism and the culture of power":

There is clearly some kind of weird bias among the "blogging elite" with regard to their links and referrers. They link to each other, talk to each other, and only each other. ... [SF: Yeah.]

It's like being a fish...you can't see the water. That's because it's your environment, it's what you know, it is completely attuned to your needs and you are attuned to its characteristics. But everyone who's not a fish...we can see the water. We can see who's in it, and we can see that we're not. ...

Same with the blogosphere. The A-list linkers and the linked don't see that there's any other than this nifty, wide-open, democratic, citizen journalism thing. And they're all sitting around yapping with each other at conferences, and soaking up precious venture capital, ...

Sometimes I wonder why I bother to visit their sites. After all, who cares what they think? But I do because it's the only way to get heard. ... [SF: Yup.]

Doesn't this sound frighteningly like the way these guys describe old media? [SF: YEAH!]

Sigh .... Squeak squeak squeak ...

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which." (Animal Farm)

"The creatures outside looked from A-list to MSM, and from MSM to A-list, and from A-list to MSM again; but already it was impossible to say which was which." (Link Farm)

[Disclaimer: This article is written by a white male, but one not a gatekeeper]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:52 PM
April 01, 2005

Michael Gorman (ALA president-elect) taken down by "Blog People"

Library Journal, April 1 2005:

Michael Gorman, president-elect of the American Library Association (ALA), has stepped down just months before assuming office. "It was the blog people, they did it," said RLG 's Walt Crawford, a friend and co-author (Future Libraries: Dreams, Madness & Reality; ALA, 1995). "They made Mike's life a living hell," Crawford said in reference to the outcry following the publication of Gorman's essay "The Revenge of the Blog People."

... The blog world was buzzing with the rumor that ALA councilor and blogger Karen Schneider would be asked to step in as interim president and inaugurate a "wholly virtual" ALA. ...

Just like the blog-take down of Dan Rather, the strength of the blogolution has been shown. Fear the power of many. It's a New Era.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 01:35 PM | Comments (2)
March 20, 2005

"Blogging Beyond the Men's Club", or, the Oligarchy Perceived

Please shoot me if I ever join this crowd: White Male Power
(image from Jonathon Delacour)

By now, the Steven Levy/Newsweek article on "Blogging Beyond the Men's Club" has been extensively, err, "discussed". Myself, I'm still fascinated by the way in which the specific example of sex imbalance in power suddenly makes general power dynamics perceptible to many (my emphasis below):

It appears that some clubbiness is involved. [Halley] Suitt puts it more bluntly: "It's white people linking to other white people!" (A link from a popular blog is this medium's equivalent to a Super Bowl ad.) Suitt attributes her own high status in the blogging world to her conscious decision to "promote myself among those on the A list."

Note she said it, not me!.

Compare Shelley Power's hilarious survey of promoting herself, e.g.:

[BigBlogger] used to link to me off and on in the past, and not necessarily always in a critical manner, but won't any longer. I've crossed the line with that boy and would have to do major booty kissing if I want to get back into his favor. Frankly, I'd rather have oral sex with a crocodile.

Of course, as Jon Garfunkel wrote, the issue of women's representation and power has been discussed for a while. I'm happy to see someone with at least a little media presence, such as Juan Cole, do a take-down of the nonsense statistical argument:

... that the bottom 7,999,999 blogs in hits get much more circulation than the top 100 blogs. This statement is true but contains a genuine fallacy of reasoning. Most blogs get only a few hits, and are seen by only a few people, and they are not the same people as see the other small blogs. So to aggregate all these readers is illegitimate. [A-lister's], on the other hand, get tens of thousands of hits a day, especially from other opinion leaders, and circulate widely. So that a million other blogs each get 3 hits a day is completely beside the point.

It's all about barriers. As Chris Nolan put it:

The problem with women writing on-line isn't the barrier to entry: Getting a site, getting it up and running is inexpensive and technically easy. The issue is barrier to popularity, which leads to influence and power. That leads, eventually to advertising revenue, freelance gigs and more influence and power, authority even. ... On-line the entry to influence and authority is controlled by a small group of very popular writers, almost all of whom are men who have been at this for a while - in some cases years.

Or, in a word: GATEKEEPERS.

I keep saying, exchanging one set of gatekeepers for another, is no net gain overall. What's so superultrafantastic about yet another media oligarchy? (and sadly, what's the point of my ineffectual squeaking, having frustratedly gotten sucked into this yet again? - notice, more gloomy posts planned in the future).

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM
March 07, 2005

Shelley Powers' Theory of Google AutoLink as Sexual Dimorphism

Google AutoLink has been prompting various negative reactions. But Shelley Powers has a hilarious satire/explanation, which warrants love for the linklorn:

When we women ask the power-linkers why they don't link to us more, what we're talking about is communication, and wanting a fair shot of being heard; but what the guys hear is a woman asking for a little link love. Hey lady, do you have what it takes? More important, are you willing to give what it takes?

Groupies and blogging babes, only, need apply.

And the phrases, "circle jerk" and "Google juice", take on new depth and sudden meaning in light of this discovery.

...

Yes, so much is explained now. Where I saw AutoLink as a relatively uninteresting and innocuous innovation, to some guys it was a way of dropping their pants and swinging what they got, while to others, it was a big metal Zipper, just waiting to catch the unwary.

But ... but ... isn't it just the territorial imperative? As men, we are culturally expected to be responsible for the defense of the community against invaders. Which, in cyberspace, then must translate into defending the HTML page against outsiders who might appropriate the link-resources for their own click-"progeny". So, from this perspective, we form into hunting bands to better make use of scarce energy resources. Hence ... both the A-list, and their reaction, is the inevitable neural programming of the sociobiology of blogolution.

No?

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1)
March 02, 2005

"Ethical Spectacle" webzine and blogging

Jonathan Wallace wrote the following mini-essay for the letters page of his webzine Ethical Spectacle. I'm going to echo it, since I do have a blog, and think it's worthwhile and not quite the same bloggy crowd.

[Disclosure: I've had essays published in the Ethical Spectacle, and he's written some nice things about me]


Letters to the Ethical Spectacle

January was the tenth anniversary of The Ethical Spectacle. There are times when it is the most compelling activity in my life, and others when I feel tired and have considered hanging it up, but I just can't stop. In the early days, I frequently wrote several essays per issue, so a rough estimate is that I have written about 200 pieces for the 123 issues of the Spectacle. Some continue to bring me monthly email years after publication (An Auschwitz Alphabet, essays on Kent State, God, pornography, and lying) while others sank like stones (some deservedly). Many email and web publications I followed when I started-- Computer Underground Digest, the Network Observer, the Journal of Mediated Communications-- have all gone away, but I'm still here.

Part of the experience has been watching the successive waves of hype wash over the Internet. The latest is blogs. To put them in perspective: if instead of a monthly publication, I posted text every day or two; if instead of full articles, I put up random factoids and musings, and lots of links elsewhere; then the Spectacle would be a blog. Am I missing something?

So all the talk about the blogosphere is amusing. It is nothing more than fragmentary, frequently updated web pages (which have always existed) plus marketing. On the other hand, anything which increases the visibility and influence of Internet-based journalism is a Good Thing.

Of course, fractured communication, frequent updates, lots of links is a format practically dictated by the medium (which, once again, is the message). I am aware that the Spectacle format, a monthly issue aping print, is an archaic way to use the Web. But I plan to continue doing it that way anyway.

Jonathan jw[at]bway.net

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Followups
February 25, 2005

Michael Gorman "Revenge of the Blog People!" quote sources

Michael Gorman's article "Revenge of the Blog People!" has, err, caused a stir, due to statements such as:

It is obvious that the Blog People read what they want to read rather than what is in front of them and judge me to be wrong on the basis of what they think rather than what I actually wrote. Given the quality of the writing in the blogs I have seen, I doubt that many of the Blog People are in the habit of sustained reading of complex texts. It is entirely possible that their intellectual needs are met by an accumulation of random facts and paragraphs. In that case, their rejection of my view is quite understandable.

[Note Michael Gorman is the President-elect of the American Library Association]

In particular:

If a fraction of the latter were devoted to buying books and providing librarians for the library-starved children of California, the effort would be of far more use to humanity and society. Perhaps that latter thought will reinforce the opinion of the Blog Person who included "Michael Gorman is an idiot" in his reasoned critique, because no opinion that comes from someone who is "antidigital" (in the words of another Blog Person) could possibly be correct. For the record, though I may have associated with Antidigitalists, I am not and have never been a member of the Antidigitalist party and would be willing to testify to that under oath. I doubt even that would save me from being burned at the virtual stake, or, at best, being placed in a virtual pillory to be pelted with blogs. Ugh!

I did some research tracking down these two items. The "idiot" quote is almost certainly:

"Where do they find these people?"
http://www.livejournal.com/users/crasch/327213.html

"Michael Gorman, president of the American Library Association, is an idiot too."

You wouldn't find it simply searching Google for the phrase "Michael Gorman is an idiot", since the above quote is slightly longer. I also thought to check Feedster, since it's a bit better at indexing blogs.

"Antidigital" is probably

http://cavlec.yarinareth.net/archives/2004/12/21/more-on-google-digitization/

"All I have to add is a couple cents' worth about Michael Gorman. He has always been anti-digital (just read what I've written about him for details)"

Again, slight variation means a phrase search wouldn't find it.

All of this is yet another iteration of the confusion of the word "blog" meaning all of diary/chat/punditry. But that's another blogging topic.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 01:52 PM | Comments (2)
February 24, 2005

Cites & Insights, March 2005 (Blog/Lists/Wiki == Community?)

Apparently I'm an influencer, influencing influencers (JJarvis' phrase).

Walt Crawford noted my tongue-in-cheek PR advice, and announced:

Cites & Insights 5:4, March 2005, is now available for downloading. 22 pages, PDF as usual.

Taking Seth Finkelstein's suggestion on tabloid-style marketing to heart, here's what's included:

  • Did NIH back down to Big STM--or was this a reasonable compromise?
    Library Access to Scholarship
  • Who gets first-name treatment in C&I?
    Bibs & Blather
  • You call this a community?
    Perspective: The Dangling Conversation
  • Does anyone care about multichannel sound or ethics?
    Following Up
  • Chills, thrills, public-domain flicks
    Offtopic Perspective: Family Classics 50 Movie Pack, Part 1
  • Is a short story a book--and would you read Moby Dick on a cell phone?
    Ebooks, Etext and PoD

Beginning with this issue, Cites & Insights uses Adobe Acrobat 7 to support text-to-speech and bookmarks. You'll need at least Acrobat Reader 5, and 6 or 7 for the accessibility and organization bookmarks (7 is faster than 6).

This issue also has a few more test HTML files--the selective form that may or may not continue. These particular files should be stable indefinitely. Go to the home page to check them out.

And now that it's clear that I really, truly suck at creating tabloid-style headlines, don't expect to see them again.

Let's see if the tabloid-style headlines increase the download stats :-). Too bad there was no use of the word 'RSS' in the tabloid headlines. These days, RSS controversy is like the old publishing joke about how one should write a book about "Lincoln's Doctor's Dog", a surefire hit.

The underlying serious point, though, is that there's thousands of words that people don't get an indication to read. A few gems:

(One weblogger commenting on the 6,000-word WIKIPEDIA AND WORTH [REVISITED] perspective managed to boil it down to "we should all just get a grip." Now that's concise writing. I'm jealous.)

And:

You've guessed by now that I regard slashdot with a mixture of horror and fascination: If that's a community conversation, call me a hermit.

More relevantly:

But there's more--although it's all variations on the rest of this essay: Every weblog gives a considerably larger voice to the owner(s) of the weblog than to anyone else wishing to "join in the conversation." It's not a conversation. It's a statement that may be followed by responses (and responses to those responses), but one person (or a small group) always gets to make the initial statement--and usually the final one as well.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:57 PM | Comments (2)
February 09, 2005

Cites & Insights, February 2005 (Pew "State Of Blogging")

Walt Crawford's amazing library 'zine Cites & Insights is already on the February 2005 issue, and I feel guilty because I barely skimmed the January 2005 issue. Maybe it needs better hype. After all, which would you rather read, a webzine blurbed like this:

* Ethical Perspectives: Republishing and Blogging 1-4
* The Library Stuff 7-11 Trends & Quick Takes 7-11
* Perspective: Wikipedias and Worth [Revisited] 11-19
* The Good Stuff 19-21
* Session Reports: ALA Midwinter 2005 21-24

Or like this (deliberate supermarket-style):

Article Recycling - are professional journals giving you your money's worth?
RSS in libraries - a solution looking for a problem?
Blogging and Triumphalism - How many people have NOT heard of blogs?
Wikipedias - Collective nonsense or distributed knowledge?
Ruminations over Aaron Schmidt, Michael Stephens, Karen Schneider, Rachel Holt, Seth Finkelstein, and more ...

The Wikipedia material itself is fascinating. But I can't resist excerpting his take-down of the Pew State Of Blogging Report:

Here's Pew again, once more extrapolating from 1,800 interviews to give us the precise state of the nation on internet-related issues. (Yes, 1,800 interviews chosen with appropriate tools should be enough for reasonably accurate projections, given a whole set of hard-to test assumptions.) This time it's about the blogosphere. I didn't download or read the whole report, but I did look at the summary and some comments about the study and the summary. I'm assuming here that "adults" means "age 18 and over." I'm going to repeat some of the key points in the summary, using precisely the information given, but wording them just a bit differently: 96% of U.S. adults have not created weblogs. 86% of them do not read (and, I would extrapolate, have never read) weblogs. 80% do not know what a blog is. 93% have never posted a comment or other material on blogs. During the political campaign, 95% of adults did not read political weblogs--and 97% did not read them regularly. 97-98% of U.S. adults do not use RSS aggregators or XML readers. 52% of blog creators are more than 29 years old. 58% of blog creators are not particularly well off financially, living in households with no more than $50,000 annual gross income 61% of blog creators do not have college degrees. As some readers have figured out by now, I've just provided the inverse of the claims actually made in the summary--and adjusted for the difference between 120 million adult internet users and around 222 million adults (2000 census).

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:58 PM | Comments (1) | Followups
January 06, 2005

"Finkelstein's Law"

"Finkelstein's Law" is what Andrew Orlowski graciously terms my echo chamber observations of Mathematics of ordinary-blog non-influence, in an article in the The Register:

62pc of netizens unaware of Pajamahadeen militants
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/01/05/pew_pajamahadeen/

After two years of militant bluster, and in the US at least, widespread media coverage, the new research comes as a surprise. It shouldn't. Finkelstein's Law, coined in the aftermath of the collapse of the blog-powered Howard Dean campaign, illustrates why sound doesn't always travel. It all depends on who's listening.

"Eleven people of like mind talk to each other. They had the same views before, they end up with the same views after. But every single one of those eleven people says 'I convinced 10 other people'. Then the blog-boosterism runs 'Aha, we have 11 people who each convinced 10 other people, so that's *110* more votes from BLOGGING! Feel the power OF THE BLOG!' In reality, nothing changed. The choir preached to itself. But everyone got to think that they were an influencer, a kingmaker, if just for a tiny kingdom" observed Seth Finkelstein [our emphasis].

Which characterizes the phenomenon quite nicely. The observation that the internet is at least as likely to entrench social divisions and reinforce people's existing prejudices has been noted for some time. But weblogs are becoming increasingly emblematic of internet discourse because they take a bad problem - one that we all knew about - and make it worse.

Thanks much!

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 07:51 PM | Followups
January 04, 2005

Blog power law and big fish / small ponds

When the power law for blogs is examined, and it's seen that the exponential distribution mathematics leads to a "conversation" consisting of a small A-list with big megaphones, and everyone else squeaking down at the bottom, many blog evangelists find this troubling. They believe in a theoretical equality (though it's belied in practice). One objection is to claim that the overall power law result is meaningless, since some people might care only about specific topics, not general interest news or politics.

The curve for politics or news is just a particular example. The idea is to show the enormous differences (several orders of magnitude), the huge concentrations of power in the hands of a tiny few, and that it all follows a mathematical law. Of course it can then be refined to higher-level approximations. But, per-topic, for any topic (roughly) it's the same power law.

Consider the simple concept "everyone can't be above average" (the "Lake Wobegon effect"). A Lake Wobegon evangelist might object, along similar lines: "There's not just one average in the universe! There's various averages, e.g. for money, strength, skills, etc. So the idea that everyone can't be above average is oversimplified, because there's so many different types of quantities".

However, once a quantity is defined, with an average (under reasonable circumstances), everyone cannot be above that average. And some quantities can't be blithely ignored. For example, that everyone can't be an above-average stock market investor (and a significant portion will be far below average) has some very profound implications for plans to privatize Social Security involving stock market investment accounts.

So if the exponential nature of the power law applied to blogs means that, for any given topic, under reasonable circumstances, debate will be dominated by a tiny few - that's in effect an oligarchy. It's not much of a comfort to say the oligarchies differ between topics, or that a person could try to find a topic where he or she might have a higher chance to become one of the favored few. The critical aspects is that it is an oligarchy, that there's room only for a few at the top.

More concretely, if it's all big fish in small ponds, that still matters in your pond, and being told "Go find another pond" dodges the problem.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (3) | Followups
December 10, 2004

IS2K4 Conference Skepticism Articles

A little while ago, I noticed John Palfrey wrote, about the votes, bits, bytes conference and a hypothesis that blog campaigns "created a larger, activated at-critical-mass-constituency, and lots of VOICE" (my emphasis)

I look forward to testing out this and other hypotheses at the Internet & Society conference in a few weeks.

I thought to myself, that testing involves discovering whether something is true or not, of what is correct and what is not. I hope that testing is fact being done.

As almost nobody cares what I think, I will merely attempt to perform a public blog-service and increase the PageRank and popdex and other measures of the following skeptical Andrew Orlowski articles:

Kerry net chief: cool software doesn't win elections
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/12/10/votesbitsbytes_kerry_chief_post_mortem/

He derided net evangelists who believed that the answer was 'let's come up with new ways of talking!'

"The belief was 'let's get 5,000 people out there and they'll talk to each other. but to put a president in office we need to get people organized and trained." In the end, he said, a field organization was far more valuable than blog blather.

[n.b. cross-reference to David Weinberger's report]

In net politics, it's God vs Dog
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/12/10/votesbitsbytes_net_religion/

[n.b. cross-reference again to David Weinberger's report]

It is a sobering thought that my post here probably has more of an influence via ranking algorithms than audience :-(.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1) | Followups
December 09, 2004

Republic.com book / Internet-extremism idea comment

Due to a curiosity which is perhaps not good for me, I glanced through the Harvard Conference "Working Hypothesis" paper. I don't think I can rightly write much about it. I'm 99% sure no harm would come to me as a result, but the other 1% ... Not worth the risk :-(.

However, regarding the Republic.com idea of the Internet creating extremism, I've already written (and took whatever flames and reputation-hit resulted) extensive criticism in a discussion about that topic back when the book was first published, at:

http://pup.princeton.edu/sunstein/sun_forum.txt

That's about all I should say. sad face

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 06:35 PM | Followups
December 06, 2004

Gatekeeper validation

Lis Riba wrote a recent post that I found very interesting in terms of data about getting posts read. Describing some original research she posted herself, On blog popularity (my emphasis):

I blogged it, but that wasn't enough for me.

I thought this was big news and wanted to spread the story.

So the next thing I did was go to the big name blogs. ...

I probably spent the better part of two hours sending emails and posting comments around the blogosphere.

Hits to my weblog soared. I was getting as many hits per hour as I normally got in a typical day [graph] ...

Except, I loathed the process! Notifying other bloggers of my find was boring and repetitive. I wanted to go out and conduct further research, move the story forward. But I couldn't do that while I was spending my time publicizing my existing post. I felt like I was stuck in a standstill. Does that make sense?

Yes. Greatly.

Note, someone can write an absolute gem of a post. Original, top-quality work. But ...

IF YOU DON'T GET ECHOED BY THE BIGBLOGS, YOU DON'T GET HEARD!

To get any reputation-credit at all from my being an expert witness in the Nitke v. Ashcroft case, I've had to flack, flack, flack, and I'm not skilled at it - "boring and repetitive" is just the start.

Or, in a word: Gatekeepers.

But I bitterly repeat myself.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1) | Followups
December 05, 2004

Slashdot Convect

Three thousand (3000) hits.

That's approximately how many hits were just received by my page on the Al Gore Internet story. Those were generated from one or two popular comments linking to it, in a Slashdot discussion.

Comments.

That 3000 is an order of magnitude more than my daily blog readership.

Which means those comments themselves have two orders of magnitude more readership than my blog.

So the Slashdot front page is three orders of magnitude greater reach.

I've done this "Slashdot Effect" calculation before. This is not difficult mathematics, not Analytic and Algebraic Topology of Locally Euclidean Metrization of Infinitely Differentiable Riemannian Manifold.

I suppose there's no point in repeating myself. It doesn't do any good :-(.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (4) | Followups
November 29, 2004

An A-list compliment on blog power

Doc Searls says nice things about me: (in reference to comments I made in a Jay Rosen PressThink article on Dan Rather:

Anyway, I'm not here to write about Jay or Dan. I'm here to point toward one standout among the many thoughtful folks who comment on Jay's piece: Seth Finkelstein.

And the exchange is quoted extensively (... Seth says ...) Particularly portions where I wrote:

... No, ordinary people cannot talk back. Large right-wing rant-machines can talk back. There is a difference, and don't confuse the two.

Jay, when the report does come out, can I pre-emptively plead for an attempt to get beyond the, err, master narrative here? That is, I expect a torrent then of: "Blah blah blah *THE Internet*! Blah blah *B*L*O*G*S*!! It's a new era!!!". etc. etc. You in particular are very well-situated to write an insightful article on the deep pressthinking processes within CBS.

...

... it's a mathematical fact that we all can't have a million readers. The distribution of readership is *highly* exponential. IN TERMS OF POLITICS, there are a very, very few, people who have a meaningful audience, and everyone else is just chatting to friends. If one of the editors does not select your letter for publication, I mean, one of the A-listers doesn't select your post for linking, then the ordinary person might just as well be blowing-off to bar buddies for all the effect it has. Again, this is just mathematics. The power law curve can't be wished away. ...

With regard to Dan Rather and CBS, there is a pack of right-wing attack-dogs which has hated them for *decades*. When they (Dan Rather and CBS) goofed-up - and they did, no way around that - the pack pounced with all their fury. It's not citizens vs. Mainstream Media. It's Right-Wing Partisan Media vs. Mainstream Media.

And concludes

In the meantime at the very least it helps to have sharp folks like Seth remind us how far off we can be.

For more on Seth, dig this interview in GrepLaw, where we learn that Seth, like Dave, went to More Science High.

Thank you. (I'll quit this article while I'm ahead!).

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Followups
November 06, 2004

"Not even a gay, blogging Jesus could help"

These articles say it to many more people than I could reach:

How organized religion, not net religion, won it for Bush (Ashlee Vance)
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/11/05/jesus_blog_dems/

Nerd party needed to replace 'left-wing' Democrats, says area man (Andrew Orlowski)
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/11/05/net_nerd_party/

But in honor of the Votes, Bits and Bytes punditry, I'll point to my own previous article:

Mathematics of ordinary-blog non-influence
http://www.sethf.com/infothought/blog/archives/000516.html

[Self-referentially, practically, nobody read it in the first place, or will read it now :-(]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1) | Followups
November 01, 2004

"Votes, Bits & Bytes" conference schedule, and Punditry != Democracy

The conference schedule was just posted for the Harvard Votes, Bits & Bytes conference. Apparently they didn't care for my suggestions, as I don't see much of a skeptical presence.

My summary thought:

How many problems are there in this world where the solution is: more punditry?

Now, I don't believe talking itself is bad. But talking *only* about how great it is to talk, tends to be very bad.

On a personal note: It's a free conference, local to me, and I could physically attend. But I decided to pass. That decision was a manifestation of my further activism turning-point, from the attacks on me in the Mike Godwin and Greplaw case. I still haven't written up my final take on it all, but I was serious about it having an effect. I suppose the Berkman Center wouldn't outright deny me registration. But there's just no point any more.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Followups
October 20, 2004

Conference on Internet & Society 2004: Votes, Bits & Bytes

John Palfrey talks about a Berkman Center Conference and Internet & Society, "to consider, from a skeptical viewpoint, the impact of the Internet on politics."

I probably shouldn't do this, but their recent Filter newsletter asked for the "hardest, most interesting questions that might serve as the organizing principle for a specific panel or discussion session on the primary day of conference, December 10, 2004.". So, despite my not being in the best graces there, and perhaps against what would be better judgment, I had sent them some of the following comments:

> An example might be: "Are campaigns more effective at engaging young
> people in campaigns by using Internet technologies?" Give us a
> better one.
>
> The Question: Is this a question you'd show up to hear discussed?

No. In fact, it sounds like a softball question designed to be an advertisement for somebody's pet project. Here's some of my thoughts as to "the hardest, most interesting questions":

"The Selling of the President 2004 - from Detergent-Boxes to IPO's?"
[The reference is a riff on the classic Selling of the President 1968, which talked about the candidate being a bar of soap or box of detergent]
As technology advances, so does marketing. Are we merely witnessing innovations in candidates-as-products? That is, is the political pitch moving from consumer staples to a bubble-stock public offering?

[Clay Shirky did an excellent analysis of the Dean implosion]

"Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss?"
Most people don't want to be political junkies, they have lives. This creates opportunities for a class of professionals to spin and control the political debate. Maybe we are just seeing a shift in the base of that professional class, from one media to another.

[a.k.a. "Power Law"]

"You Talk Too Much: Does The Internet Really Matter To Voter Involvement?"
Some have said that one blogger is worth ten votes, via political engagement. Others counter that one blogger is worth one-tenth of a vote, due to isolation in an echo chamber. Which is right?

[Note only would I show up, but I would pay, to see a debate here between Jim Moore ("Second Superpower") and Andrew Orlowski :-)]


We'll have to see if these provided anything besides amusement.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 10:05 PM | Comments (1) | Followups
September 23, 2004

Gatekeepers of the Media vs. Blog Triumphalism

Information Flow and the Gatekeepers of the Media (via Eric Muller) is a great antidote to the blog blather. But the CBS Memos story is in fact a little more complex than is generally understood.

There were apparently at least two tracks pushing the story. TWO. A blog track and a right-wing PR agency track. Now, some people have thought the blog track was a sock-puppet of the PR agency. The evidence doesn't support that. In fact, it argues the tracks developed separately, and then later merged.

According to PRWeek:

Creative Response Concepts (CRC), the VA-based agency promoting the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, used right-wing blogs and news sites to turn a CBS report casting doubt on President George W. Bush's National Guard service into a potential black eye for both the network and the Democrats.

A CRC client, the Cybercast News Service (CNS), was among the first to voice suspicion that documents suggesting Bush had received preferential treatment in the Guard were forgeries.

"After the CBS story aired, [CNS] called typographical experts, got them on the record that these papers were fishy, and posted a story by 3pm Thursday," said CRC SVP Keith Appell. "We were immediately in contact with [Matt] Drudge, who loved the story."

CRC worked with CNS and the Media Research Center, another media watchdog client, to push the story into the mainstream press.

"We've been communicating with bloggers and news websites to make sure they know it isn't just Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge who are raising questions," added CRC president Greg Mueller.

CRC later clarified the blog claim.

The initial CNSNews.com article was at "Thursday, September 09, 2004 2:41 PM EST" (probably should be EDT). The full CNS article (out by 2:55:04 PM EDT) is clearly a parallel work. It doesn't refer to the blog investigations at all, and quotes different experts. The article went on the United Press International wired, being at least echoed by the Washington Times

Drudge posts about the CNS article and the blog investigation around 2:46 EDT, combining the two tracks (note: for some reason, the Drudge archive version only has a blog link, but "'60 Minutes' Documents on Bush Might Be Fake" is the CNS article title, and the contemporary echoes have both links)

The Media Research Center press release says: "CBS News must come clean on this document scandal broken by CNSNews.com ...". But that's dated "September 10", so it seems that bit of PR was late to the party.

So, the blog track was not an invention of the PR firm. Instead, the tracks seem to have come together with vigor. HOWEVER, when there is high-powered PR firm also flacking the story at the same time, in parallel, it's a little difficult to see a triumph of (insert string of buzzwords here). The story would not have been undiscovered if the blog writers hadn't been working on it *too* - it would merely have been a more PR-firm driven story.

Which is not to denigrate the widespread work. However, the reason that work was heard boiled down to various press connections, and in terms of having the story being publicized, the wind was at their back.

In contrast, a blogger without those situational advantages is shouting to the wind.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 02:40 PM | Comments (2) | Followups
September 21, 2004

Blogs, Gatekeepers, Truth, Media (CBS Memos vs Internment Defense)

Last week Daniel Kreiss had a post quoting me (accurately). The subject was commenting within blogs, but the ideas have even more relevant as blogs are being touted so much in the wake of the CBS Memos scandal. (my emphasis added below)

The second problem I have with Winer's comments is something that I have long encountered in the blogosphere: the idea that everybody can participate equally. Perhaps Winer, who no doubt has enjoyed the fruits of heavy traffic to his "publication" for years, cannot relate to what the less visible among us actually experience when we blog. Our words tend to slip into an ether of random google searches and stay confined to a loyal readership among family and friends.

There is no problem with this, but for Winer to suggest that somehow starting your own blog to comment on other blogs is miraculously going to provide for anything but one-sided conversation (coming from the "A" listers) is disingenuous at worst, naive at best. Seth Finkelstein put it best when in an interview with me he said:

"It's a big big mistake thinking that gatekeepers are gone. The reason people say this, those people saying it are those who have overcome all the barriers except for the production barrier. They have the connections, the paying job, all the barriers except for the editorial publishing barrier are removed. When it shifts they think they have Christmas everyday. That barrier is replaced by a noise barrier. The barrier is exactly the same, one gatekeeper has become another. Shift in one place, but there is a corresponding loss in another space."

Seth is getting at an important point, namely that you cannot read everybody in the blog world. ... The underlying fact is that unless you are well-established at this point, you are not going to be that well read; breaking into the market is successively harder as more and more people come on-line.

Which is why perhaps, outside of a select few, the marquee bloggers are white men, probably somewhere between 35-40. Certainly at the DNC this was true. And events like BloggerCon tend to look like the white men who sit in Congress, or sit in the media booths. All of which tends to remind me of the myth in America that everyone can make it, everyone can participate, there is no need for affirmative action, etc... If all this is true, why is the on-line and off-line world still white like Casper. But do not look for discussions of "race" on the blogs; we are a color-blind blogosphere.

Ain't it funny how big bloggers become big media?

Now connect this to Professor Eric Muller's recent remarks:

Take, for example, the guys at Powerline. They have (rightly) been bragging about the holes they punched in the CBS memos. Yet back in mid-August, they heaped praise on [Michelle] Malkin's book ["In Defense Of Internment"] without so much as noting that the blogosphere was tearing the book to pieces. (Any comments, Powerline guys, about Malkin's failure to drive a few miles to the National Archives to look at the file that contained the truth about the man she compares to Mohammad Atta in her book? Does that remind them at all of the lame research done by a certain network news program?) Now, they did note (as though this were something only marginally relevant) that they found the book's thesis unpersuasive. But that didn't stop them from giving the book a rave, or from giving Malkin a book promo spot on their Northern Alliance radio show, where they report that they found her "delightful."

...

I know a double standard when I see one.

So folks, these heady days of blogospheric triumphalism are not really about the victory of truth; they're about partisanship. Before the blogosphere's "truth squads" can tell you whether a claim about history is false, fraudulent, and deserving of condemnation, first they need to know whose team the claim's proponent is on. (And this is undoubtedly true as you approach both political poles of the blogosphere.)

Big bloggers == Big Media.

But this post will merely vanish into the ether too. Sigh ...

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1) | Followups
August 09, 2004

The Meaning Of Blogging Argument

Let me try to approach the recent blogging argument from another direction. The use of "blogging" to mean all of online diary/chat/newsletter/journalism fuels the following sequence:

Bubble-Blower: "Blogs are the revolution of Effulgent Pundocracy. It's A New Era. All the jackals of the press will be replaced by a spontaneous uprising of citizens bloggers who form Smart Snobs."

Journalist: "You're all a bunch of navel-gazing diary-writers, blithering about what you ate for lunch, and what your cat did."

Columnist: "I'm not a journalist. I don't aspire to be a journalist. I'm writing my freelance feature material, so it's a strawdog argument to accuse me of trying to replace a journalist".

Diarist: "But I'm happy keeping my online diary about what I ate for lunch and what my cat did, even if nobody reads me. What's wrong with that?"

[No specific people are intended here, but these are archetypical patterns, so resemblances could be imagined.]

Viewed this way, when the extravagant bubble-blowing claims get debunked, the critical reaction sweeps up all manner of other basically unrelated issues via linguistic confusion over the purpose of the writing. But that linguistic confusion is also appealing to many blog-writers, because those bubble-blowing claims are flattering and attractive (it's quite fun to think of oneself as being part of the revolutionary vanguard, from the comfort of one's home and keyboard). And in certain circles it would be just plain dull to say "I'm a freelance writer", as opposed to "I'm a blogger".

But crucially, the issue is not whether a freelance writer enjoys writing. Almost all do, because they sure aren't in it for the money (obviously, if they didn't enjoy writing, they'd stop and/or get another job). Rather, there is nothing particularly new or innovative in whether freelance writers get any readers. The writers are not wrong either to not want readers (diarists) or to want readers (everybody else). But the readers are going to be present in roughly the same proportions as always, with the recommendations of gatekeepers playing a big role in the making or breaking of a popular writer.

So freelance writing isn't wrong. But neither is freelance writing special.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:32 AM | Followups
August 06, 2004

The Meaning Of Blogging

Andrew Orlowski kindly quotes my post "Blogging, Democratic Convention, and Reaction" in The Register article "Blogging 'cruelty' allegations rock post-DNC calm", for example:

The DNC breakfast illustrates that it's a vicious fight out there, and to survive, it isn't enough to define yourself by the tool you use. Seth Finkelstein sums up the gaucheness of the hopeful WiFi militia when he wrote,

The blunt question of readers is always 'Why should I read you?. They're asking, what power and influence do you have, what intellectual worth do you possess, what is your place in the social hierarchy? It's not impressive to answer: "Because I am a unique and special snowflake".

This will not increase my popularity with the A-list :-).

In general, in the aftermath of all the articles about whether there was a "Blogging breakthrough" or not, I've seen many go-arounds of the basic "Is it a floor wax or a dessert topping?" (both!) argument about The Meaning Of Blogging. The problem is that this argument tends to switch back and forth between two different tracks:

There's a path which runs along the lines:

1) Blogging is your own unedited voice, your personal spin, the perspective you, yes, you, bring to the universe ...

Problem: Well, generally, who in the world cares about anyone else's little spin or perspective, beyond a few friends or fans (the exceptions being extremely rare)? Why should ordinary people spend so much time writing and reading other writers, except as a hobby? And if it's just a personal hobby, in the same sense as bird-watching or train-spotting, why should anyone care outside of the other fellow-hobbyists?

[So, in response to this difficulty, advocates want to reach for a higher social purpose. Which yields:]

2) Blogging is citizen journalism, it is We The Media, it is Emergent Democracy, it is the reworking of society itself ...

Problem: But that sure looks like the same-old same-old in practice, a handful of A-listers having the audience and being gatekeepers, and now without even a figleaf of journalistic standards for justification. So why should anyone care that some pundits and want-to-be-pundits are fighting over the very few available spots? Evangelism to the contrary, either you're a part of that network, with all its clubby incestuousness and tribal rivalries, or you're the equivalent of a guy standing on a soapbox ranting to passers-by, for all the effect you'll have.

[Switch! Go back to #1 - blogging is you, yes you. Maybe you like standing on a soapbox and ranting, some people do enjoy doing that.]

[Eventually, jump out of the loop, to:]

3) Blogging is undefinable, ineffable, outside of time and space. No judgment can be made, because there are no rules to it besides the rules we each make.

[Basically, shut up and stop thinking about it]

Playing a shell game with these argument-tracks leads only to distraction (and calling me names will not make the issues go away).

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 12:09 AM | Comments (6) | Followups
August 02, 2004

Slashdot Effect

On Saturday, there was literally an astronomical blue moon. This meant I could get mentioned on Slashdot (thanks!). The statistics of referer hits to my JibJab lawsuit info post were:

Slashdot 1,603
Importance blog 404 (this is almost all a Slashdot reflect since posts there were also mentioned)
unknown 214
sethf.com 63

Note, that post was so much less work than a DMCA exemption or my Nitke vs Ashcroft Expert Witness Report.

Anyone who thinks there are no gatekeepers in the bogosphere, is simply deluded.

I'm not 100.0% banned from appearing in Slashdot. That would be a strawman version of the problem. Rather, I'm extremely marginalized, due to the complicated politics of the Slashdot de facto support connected to "editor" Michael Sims' domain hijacking (which is NOT a case of moral equivalence).

I've said this before. But every time I work through some numbers, some measurements, I think about how the Panglossian view is absurd and downright cruel. No, we are not a bunch of happy little blogging bears all playing patty-cake with each other. There are some animals who are far more equal than others.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (2) | Followups
July 30, 2004

Blogging, Democratic Convention, and Reaction

[Given the Big Media reaction, maybe I can write this without A-list revenge]

Many (though by no means all) things in life can be clarified by mathematics, if properly understood. There are some basic principles that are key to keep in mind: For example, everyone can't be above average. Or, if there are N pigeons and K holes, and N > K, at least one hole *must* have two pigeons.

Don't laugh. A simple calculation from the latter: If there are 15,000 journalists and approximately zero news stories ... The outcome of "BLOGGERS AT THE CONVENTION" could not have been other than it was.

The blog-writers who in fact do journalism, were stuck in an event where there was no news, so they spun their wheels. The bloggers who do diary-style writing, were doing diary-style writing. Which was as interesting as you'd find it otherwise (note the deliberate ambiguity of that statement). All was as it must be, could only be, any hype to the contrary.

When people speak of "bloggers as the new pamphleteers" or some such, that almost always has a patronizing undertone to me. I hear an unvoiced aspect of "Aren't they C-U-T-E!". Like what you would say to a child doing finger-painting. "That's such a gorgeous picture, err, blog-post. Maybe someday you'll be a famous artist, err, pundit". It's like "Model United Nations" or "Class President". It's not meaningful in terms of power, except perhaps as play-act training in how to behave in those roles. And the flip-side of the "Junior Achievement" expectation is the "Juvenile Delinquent" archetype, those rotten kids today who have no standards, not like their elders.

In the 18th century, being a "pamphleteer" meant you had the comparative social position not only to engage in a life of leisure (very rare), but even the wealth to pay to have your political views distributed to others people (even rarer). A significant amount of the population wasn't even literate, or barely so. It was discussion among the upper classes, not the rabble.

It's all a bit like calling people who own their houses: "the new plantation-masters". Or not understanding who is a really a "gentleman".

The pamphlet demanded attention. But this was because the mere fact of being able to produce it was proof that you were rich and educated. Which then strongly implied you were worth listening to. In more sociological terms, the pamphlet was not just the message, but also a token indicating that the pamphleteer was likely socially influential. However, the influence didn't come from the pamphlet _per se_, but rather from the wealth and influence it represented. And obviously, if the mere fact of production eventually becomes so cheap that it's widely available beyond the tip of the social pyramid, it no longer represents an indicator of being a worthwhile speaker.

The blunt question of readers is always "Why should I read you"? They're asking, what power and influence do you have, what intellectual worth do you possess, what is your place in the social hierarchy? It's not impressive to answer: "Because I am a unique and special snowflake".

You're not cyber-revolutionaries. You're a freak show.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (8)
July 13, 2004

Dan Gillmor vs. Trolls

Dan Gillmor has a troll problem on his blog, to which he's seeking a solution. Good luck.

I've been following the discussion with some interest. I've seen the troll postings, and it's not the worst as trolls go. Not the sort of Slashdot crowd that crapfloods or posts racist and homophibic slurs. Mostly it's "merely" a bunch of false partisan personal accusations.

I've been trying to come up with something useful to say to him, but I'm basically at a loss. There's a sort of stock sermon I know by heart, having had it preached at me endlessly. It'd run: "Dan, you're a distinguished journalist, AND an A-list blogger, influential and respected. The troll has no credibility whatsoever. TAKE IT! Ignore the attackers. Be above it all. Show your good character by how classily you react even to the most vicious provocation. Put on a big fat happy-face, and never let on that it bothers you. Just smile, smile, smile, through adversity." (One can tell I've got a lot of material to draw on ...)

But I hate it when people wag their finger at me that way. It doesn't help, it's just another burden. So I want to practice what *I* preach, and reach beyond the cliche. Which unfortunately puts me back at not knowing what to say. Misery loves company? Try being the target of domain hijacking by a Slashdot "editor" ? That probably wouldn't be welcome advice either.

If there's anything my years of netnews/mailing-list/blog participation have taught me, it's that good discussion is a hard problem. Many people seem to underestimate just how hard it is. Here we have an A-lister who is devoting two front-page posts so far to the baneful effects of (fairly mild, comparatively) trolls. Question: What Does This Mean For Democracy?

And I submit this as one more example as to why the preachers and finger-waggers should refrain from preaching and finger-wagging at me. You likely wouldn't do any better if it were you, remember that (but I know this trick never works :-().

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (5) | Followups
June 23, 2004

Weblogs.com And The Aftermath

Given that news article followups on the weblogs.com shutdown have appeared today, and other flack is flying, I'll risk some retrospective comments.

Now, I don't think this was "a 9/11 of sorts for the weblogs.com bloggers". Not because 9/11 references are sacred, but rather the metaphor seems wrong. Rather, this was a Howard Dean implosion of sorts, complete with a "Dean Scream"-like remix contest. Very similar dynamics. The center of the firestorm claiming that a minor event had been blown out of proportion, that opponents took advantage, it all sounded very familiar. But deeper, it's another moment when an overhyped promise of social change goes down in, err, flames. Or, just to take one notable comment:

Anyway, I got out of it. Now onto the next time I'm attacked. I want to be ready for it. I want to make sure my track record is available to the press, and that there are people to disagree with the flamers about the danger (they grossly exaggerated it, no surprise, but no one but me said otherwise). And finally, turning the focus on the flamers, so if they're hiding anything, a conflict of interest, a reason to doubt their competence, this has to come out at their moment of greatest vulnerability. Maybe one more huge shitfest. I imagine the ones with something to lose will be much more careful already.

Here is the Blog God, importuning the Great Satanic Powers (aka BigPress), hoping they shall smite his enemies, almost literally seeking the lamentations of the women.

Long live blogocracy!

It's all about gatekeepers.

I've said about the RSS/Atom Wars: "How can you route around big media, revolutionize society, create new forms of participatory democracy, solve deeply complicated social problems ... when "we" CAN'T EVEN AGREE ON A FORMAT FOR WEB SITE CONTENT SYNDICATION?!

Now crank it up to "handling stressed server".

YEARRGH! [Deanish Scream]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (0) | Followups
June 19, 2004

Cites & Insights July 2004

Walt Crawford has written even more material of his library 'zine (not blog) "Cites & Insights", releasing the July 2004 issue, (I haven't even finished with the Copyright special issue)

The best technical part are the extended discussion of E-books, audio CD and DVD burning, and monetizing the 'zine. But I must say I most enjoyed his, err, unedited human voice, in certain observations:

Joi Ito may be one of the new gods of the internet, but based on a little Wired item he might want to learn to ask about prices. Going on a business trip, he got a new cell phone that allowed him to connect his notebook to the Internet via GPRS. Internet everywhere. "It was sooo cool..." The access rates were on the company's website, but I guess it's like actually listening to speakers at a conference: The A-list can't be bothered. ...

Or

I don't know David Weinberger. I have yet to figure out what Orkut's good for, other than some bizarro notion that I could make meaningful contact with more than 400,000 people because of my 17 "friends" (most of whom are casual acquaintances). I do know that Weinberger's essay pushed me even further to the view I held when I started reading the whole set of comments and feedback, at least as applied to the kinds of conferences I would tend to attend or speak at. I won't bother to repeat that view; it's not one that celebrates backchat.

The world looks different to non-Alisters :-)

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1) | Followups
June 16, 2004

Weblogs.com free sites shutdown, and supplicating gods

How Not to Shutter a Service: Weblogs.com Goes Dark (James Grimmelmann) is the best article I've seen which described those events. It would be unfair to say Dave Winer pulled a Michael Sims with those weblogs. But shutting down people's sites without any warning is a very rude thing, even given any extenuating circumstances.

First, I must take the nethead loyalty oath, which consists of stamping one's foot and saying "MY SERVER, MY RULES".

[stamp foot] "His server, His rules!" - forever and amen.

There. That allegiance being pledged, we can move on to consideration of the nuances that even though one may have a legal right to do something, it can still be against common courtesy and social obligation.

Second, I must praise him for the often-thankless task of providing a free service. Consider that done. I'll also note with deep sympathy and true consolation that he got a heavy Slashdot-slam, which is some of the most troll-filled hate-flaming known to the net.

So I haven't wanted to say much, since after all the coverage, there's not much to say. But I did want to note something which moved me to speak truth to power. When Dave Winer proclaims:

One thing is gratifying, the weblogs.com users have uniformly been patient, supportive, gracious, and just plain nice.

I have to add my voice to say this is bullying in effect to the powerless, no matter what's inside the speaker's head. If a person's files depended on the goodwill of someone who just yanked their site without any notice, then all the affected person might want to say is:

"Most kind and beneficent Blog-God, bringer of RSS, giver of links, router of media, exemplar of the New Era, apostle of Truth, Defender of the Faith, smasher of Atoms, grand radiance of the 'Sphere ... please grant this unworthy freeloader the boon of site restoration."

Yeah, they'll have to be "patient, supportive, gracious, and just plain nice". Until they get their files back. But by then it will be "old news", and practically nobody would hear what they had to say.

I've been there. And it's not pretty.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1) | Followups
June 01, 2004

PressThink, A-link, time-sink

PressThink, Jay Rosen's blog, celebrates "PressThink Passes The Quarter Million Mark" (Congratulations!)

Since September, 2003 there have been 250,000 officially recorded visits at PressThink. Plus, some other significant markers in the life of a weblog.

I'm listed as one of the "top referers" (must be "top" meaning quality rather than quantity :-)).

Hmm ... nine months ... (250 x 10^3) / (9 months x 30 days) = (2.5 x 10^5) / (2.7 x 10^2) =~ 1000 visits per day

It's certainly deserved. But the numbers are interesting (regrettably, not too many of those thousand or so seem to be following the link to me ...)

PressThink is a good example of where frequently-updated-reverse-chronologically-oriented writing is workable for a person.

Let me look deeper into what makes it successful. To perhaps run the risk of being accused of sucking-up for A-linking, Jay Rosen is smart, thoughtful, articulate, and many other excellent qualities. But more critical, I think, is the way the topic works "ecologically".

Like the weather, people talk about the press. And again like the weather, there's a constant stream of uncomfortable events, wrong predictions, speculation on what's next, historical background, ahistorical hyperbole, and sometimes lurking fear from the ordinary person regarding ponderous forces which seem beyond control, all of which serve to keep interest.

As an NYU professor of journalism, Jay Rosen is nicely situation to both observe this and provide commentary on it, and to do it well. Which all results in the excellent work which we see. A well-deserved blog success story.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Followups
May 23, 2004

Cites & Insights, June 2004 and May 2004

Walt Crawford's library 'zine (not blog) "Cites & Insights" already released the June 2004 issue, and I'm not even caught up on what I wanted to write about the May 2004 issue. The June issue starts out with a piece I find extremely relevant:

Perspective
Motivation:
Monetizing the Zine?

If you find Cites & Insights worthwhile and would like to see it continue past January 2005, please read this perspective. What you do with it is entirely up to you. ... "How do you manage to do so much?" ... Almost none of the weblogs I check (mostly via Bloglines these days, but not exclusively) are as frequent or intensive as they used to be. ... I'm not the only one raising a very similar set of questions at this point. ... But the issue of long-term continuation is common. ... Feedback? I'm not planning to make major changes in any great hurry. I won't make any decisions until after ALA Annual in late June. Other than a possible PayPal account (if there's enough response and if it seems workable), I probably won't do much about this until the fall. The chances of shutting down Cites & Insights before January 2005 are extremely low. From now through August I'll be thinking about the situation. ... Your feedback is invited. I'm not asking anyone to pledge a donation or say they'd buy a book. I am asking for your comments as to what might work.

My comment: If you ever find something that works, please tell me!

Monetizing writing is the holy grail. I've come to believe that one reason for the free-writing abandonment cycle is a systematic misestimation of how much work it is, how small are the chances of any renumeration, and how draining it can be. Call it the intellectual version of trying to be a rock star. Or multi-level-marketing schemes (i.e., the people who get in at the very start make out like bandits, everyone else nets a pittance if not an outright loss).

Anyway, the bulk of that edition is about open access scientific publishing, excellent coverage of some arguments in that debate.

I really should have noted the May issue earlier, since I was mentioned three times. Once for catching an amusing typo of 2005 for 2004 ("Seth Finkelstein noted an Into the Future item on Page 1 of the March 2004 issue, where I said, "The May 2005 "Crawford Files" in American Libraries offers my own brief description of the future I'd like to see." His comment: "Good trick!"). And two more seriously:

[On Ralph Nader] Seth Finkelstein offers a nice comment on the claim that Gore ran a lousy campaign, the major reason he lost: Each individual straw heaped on a camel's back can say, "Who me? Wasn't me. I'm just one straw! What sort of a big strong camel is this, if he can't deal with one more straw on his back? The solution is to get a better camel!" ...

[On Google and stupid journalism tricks] Seth Finkelstein noted the article and some errors within it. He notes the lack of any indication as to whether searches mentioned were surrounded by quotes. Without them, "many of the number reported are utterly and completely meaningless. They don't even do the silly measure of the phrase the journalist thinks they measure." His example: the words `hot' and `dog' keyed as a two-word Google search would yield pages about hot days on which dogs are unhappy, where "hot dog" is at least more likely to yield frankfurter-related stories (or stories about surfing, or...). He verifies that the Mediabistro article gets it wrong in at least one case, when it passes on a report that the phrase "permanent resident cards CA" yields 92,200 sites on the subject: NO. The phrases return zero or a few hits. The words return that many hits, but having a lot of pages with the four words "permanent" "resident" "cards" "CA" somewhere on them is not "staggering." Sigh, Flash--journalists write nonsense. Not news at 11.

Lot of stuff on censorship, Google, even reviews of cheap-movie DVDs ...

And I do wonder "How do you manage to do so much?"

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Followups
May 10, 2004

Journofeeding on blogger political convention credentials, and numbers

The Boston Globe has an article on the idea of political convention coverage by bloggers, as possibly formally credentialed journalists (see my earlier post, and link credit buzzmachine)

Blogs colliding with traditional media

Same old (tired to me) story, who is a journalist, do these people qualify, aren't they exotic. What caught my eye was the following part:

[Jesse Taylor has] a website called pandagon.net, where his opinions on current events and the press draw 12,000 readers per day. ... Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, 32, who runs the popular liberal blog dailykos.com -- daily readership, 150,000.

Seth Finkelstein's daily readership: 75 - 150.

For obvious reasons, that killed my desire to write much today.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 08:54 PM | Followups
May 09, 2004

Interviewed for "Blogging of a Thesis About Blogging"

Daniel Kreiss, who is doing "Blogging of a Thesis About Blogging", wrote an interview with me:

Seth Finkelstein interview

In the spirit of blogging, here's my partipatory journalism regarding it:

Crashing Back Down to (a Realistic) Earth

Had a long chat with Seth Finkelstein last night. He has some fascinating insights/arguments into blogging, and why it's a myth that the journalistic gatekeepers are gone. ...

It's quite good, but I'm biased :-)

The discussion ranges over my ideas of gatekeepers of production being replaced with gatekeepers of audience, to power laws to the "complete and utter nonsense to say that blogging will herald a new era of "participatory democracy" or communication where everyone has a voice" (I did indeed say that).

In looking at the evidence, like the theory of power law, Finkelstein (who uses terms like "calculated" when discussing theoretical arguments; ...

Yup. That comes from my Math/Physics background. Many of these discussions strike me as very much like errors one can make in similar calculations. "What's the (electrical) power necessary to run this motor?" isn't too far from "What's the (political) power necessary to run this candidate?". Complete with the contingent that wants to assume a spherical cow.

Now, there's a part of the interview where I disagree or would comment:

I tend to agree that power law is a good description of how users are reading the web, but I also have a sense that this model does not adequately amount to a theory of digital communication. Communication also has a tendency to percolate back up (trickling perhaps, but it is happening none the less) to the gatekeepers of audience, or beyond that into other social relationships.

This where I'd start thinking/asking, "What do you mean by "has a tendency", that is, how much"? Even in the most totalitarian dictatorship, there's some sort of "communication" between the elites and the population at large. Any smart ruler knows you have to listen to the masses to some extent, if only to keep track of who is a potential threat to imprison or kill. Getting too out-of-touch that way is a recipe for overthrow. But the elites and the dissidents sure aren't equal in communication.

For instance, my own newbie gestures at blogging at the time of this post have resulted in a grand total of two citations! Does that mean I am not heard, that I do not have a voice?

Yes. It means you don't have a voice if, say, you're concerned that a "Slashdot editor" with access to 250,000 readers may domain-hijack your website, for example. You couldn't fight back (unless those two readers happen to be very powerful themselves, what I call "The President And The Pope" argument).

Perhaps. But this might not be the end all measure of communication. This is not meant as a grand gesture here, but perhaps my ideas or reporting influenced someone's thinking, which then got passed onto their own blog, with or without the citation, and then around from there both off and online in their dealings with other people. My communication would then implicitly have an audience and power to it, even though I might have no idea or concept of the boundaries of that audience.

Audience (and used here as a proxy for power) is a variable. It can be measured and compared.

First person: "I'm heard by 250,000 people".
Second person: "Well, I'm heard by 250 people, does that mean I have no voice?"

Basic mathematics is that, all other things being equal, as a first approximation, the second person has 1/1000, one one-thousandth, of the voice of the first person, that the first person has ONE THOUSAND times the power of the second.

The amount of noise devoted to denying and obscuring the implications of this very simple little fact is amazing. On and on: Maybe audience isn't everything (right, it isn't, but it's not nothing either), maybe the first approximation isn't accurate (sometimes, but it's still useful overall), maybe the writer is happy to just stand on a streetcorner and rant to whomever passes by (which wasn't the point).

But the vast inequality in power this implies, replicated in Big Bloggerdom as much as other Big Media, is very ideologically unpalatable.

So regardless of the gatekeepers of audience, all communication has the potential to be implicitly powerful in how it is spread; and we do not have a good means for tracking this.

What is "implicitly powerful"? This sounds a lot to me like saying every lottery ticket has the "implicit power" to be a winning ticket. It does. But we also know that the probability is quite measurable.

True, some people are the social entrepreneurs in network theory, but there is always a dialectic at the micro level of communication (and this also does not account for the mere fact that people writing consistently, about anything, has implications in and of itself.)

"True, some people are super-rich, but even poor people have some money, and this does not account for the fact that having some money at all has implications in and of itself". See the problem? That is, saying almost all people have at least a little money, is typically not very useful to examining the divide between wealth and poverty.

There is a danger however, and Finkelstein is right to forcibly point this out. When people blow bubbles there is a distortion that occurs inside the bubble and whether that is traced through the stock market, the Dean campaign, or by ignoring the very real sites of social, economic, and political power, the promise of technology needs to be realistically combined with the cold hard historical reasoning that tells us there will never be a purely technological fix for what ails us.

Thus, we should advocate, and as strongly as ever, for the structural changes (like public subsidies for media outlets) that will create a more responsive, and responsible, media in this country.

I completely agree with the above. The problem, however, is that too many of the bubble-blowers think blogging in itself is that structural change. And I believe in this regard, they are: 1) deluding themselves 2) being cruel to the have-nots 3) aiding to ensconce the exact same gatekeeper hierarchy, by refusing to grapple with its emergent existence.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 06:13 PM | Comments (1) | Followups
May 07, 2004

On "Blogging The Convention", or Cargo-Cult Journalism

In the run-up to the 2004 Democratic and Republican Conventions, I keep seeing talk of having bloggers do (usually assumed free) work of covering it (e.g. buzzmachine). [Update: I mean covering it in terms of having formal press credentials and writing from the scene with original reporting]

At the risk of getting myself more A-list revenge for unblogcoming conduct, I'm moved to say: Oh lord in heaven, WHY?. Modern political conventions are anti-news. Almost nothing happens at them. It's not like it's 1968 and there's rioting in the streets. It's not even as if there's a huge contentious party platform argument in the making.

Moreover, anything which does happen, will be picked over by a bunch of reporters who are paid to be there, and so bored and desperate to report anything, anything at all, that they habitually eat their own tails by reporting on each other's reporting (a sure sign of oversupply).

A far as I can figure out, this idea is all about saying "We're as good as them, we're a credit to our race, we can be credentialed". OK. I suppose there's some "morale" value in that. I can even see there'd be personal promotion opportunities arising from the volunteers being noticed by Big Bloggerdom.

But a concept that it would be so nifty-keen to tread the same ground that dozens of others will strip-mine, or to search like a starving dog for some morsel of substance which has been overlooked by the scavenger pack, all for the glory of blogkind - well, that just leaves me cold. It's the classic imitation of form. Because there will be no substance almost by definition (because there's no there there, in a modern political convention).

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 04:18 PM | Comments (2) | Followups
May 01, 2004

RSS Renaming : not "webfeed", but ARSE

The RSS renaming contest result ("webfeed") is receiving a surprising amount of blog coverage (e.g. Dan Gillmor, John Battelle).

I'm in favor of the "Peace-In-Our-Time" mythical combined format which should be called:

"Atom / RSS Syndication Enabler" == ARSE

As in, "ARSE feeds".

Need I belabor the utter obvious utility it has (not to mention accuracy :-)), in terms of describing to newcomers what it does?

(inspired by Andrew Orlowski - http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/04/01/boffins_isolate_blogging_gene/)

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:48 PM | Followups
April 19, 2004

Revenge Of The A-List(er/ers)

Sigh ...

http://doc.weblogs.com/2004/04/19#dependsOnWhereYouStand

Seth Finkelstein: The A-List Cites The A-List. Yet when I look down through the list of links at my blog, though (like the post below), or at Dave's, or Scoble's, or ... just about anybody's... there are plenty of off-A links.

I've met Doc. He's a charming, genial, fellow. But if he said 2 + 2 = 5, that wouldn't make it accurate. The above is a classic strawman fallacy. Did I mean "No A-lister will ever have a non-A-lister on their blogroll, or ever, ever, link or mention to a non-A-lister."? No. That would be silly. Transparently so, easy to rebut, ludicrous. But how many people are going to see that absurd rendering, compared to the actual point?

I look at this stuff, and think, "Why bother?" (writing what I did). I can lose far more than I can win.

One note about the end of the piece above:

The world of blogs is flat as a floor, with a sharp rises around various edges, which come and go. There's your power curve. Or curves. Focus on those and you lose track of the fact that the whole thing is one big floor.

Let's just look at some Technorati statistics:

Infothought has 81 Links from 68 Sources

The Doc Searls Weblog : Monday, April 19, 2004 has 3055 Links from 2481 Sources

(Interesting, 3055/81 = 37.7 and 2481/68 = 36.5, so the two metrics track well here)

Feel the floor, I mean being flat on the floor (don't have more than a tiny audience), while a very few have the floor (have a substantial audience).

But I am sure this is all due to my intrinsic lack of merit. How could it be otherwise, in this glorious revolutionary classless society?

[Update: It's an A-list slam party:

Scoble: Finkelstein notes that he isn't in the A list

Seth Finkelstein says that the A-list isn't linking to him. Or something. [snip...] Here's a question for you Seth: have you ever linked to an A lister? Here you do and you get linked to by two of us.

This is almost funny. Yes, I'm getting linked, but ...

a) It's for talking about the A-list
b) It's attacking a ridiculous strawman, knocking me as supposedly saying something super-silly

What I am saying is that bloggerdom is as gatekeeper-constricted as other Big Media. It's a gatekeeper of audience, not a gatekeeper of production, but this makes no different in the final result. To be charitable, people keep responding to that observation by saying anyone can pitch a story to the editors, I mean the gatekeepers, and that they are unmoved by insularity and clubbiness. Which, by the way, is exactly what Big Media claims too, and I think is about as true (note the implication there - people can think conections count for more than they in truth do, but denying they mean anything at all seems over-idealistic)]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:58 PM | Comments (11) | Followups
April 18, 2004

BloggerCon II obligatory post

I went to BloggerConII It Was OK. Friday dinner was good. Live music is fun. Saturday was warm. I ate lunch. I talked to people. People talked to me. I ate dinner.

Sigh ... I'm not good at this, sorry.

[But I really did enjoy meeting the people]

Meat:

"The future of Weblogging"
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/04/18/blogging_future/

"The rise of Weblogging has been a cold shower for the complacent mass communication industries. Although the Weblogging pioneers are due much praise, their own rhetoric deserves examination, and they could also raise their sights higher. Nico Macdonald reports, and concludes with a radical proposal for the future of Weblogging."

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Followups
April 17, 2004

A-List Example

Executive summary: The A-List Cites The A-List

Given the (funny 'cause it's true) " elitist bad-ass-A-list-bloggers" reference, and some of the recent discussions about journalism and power laws, I was struck by an almost picture-perfect example of night and day in discussion linking. Ideological disclaimer: It's everyone's free-speech right to cite their friends. But it's my free-speech right to write about it.

In the below, I've added emphasis to all the names. Note who cites whom.

Doc Searls wrote:

Jay [Rosen] has been doing an outstanding job ... His latest is Brain Food for BloggerCon: Journalism and Weblogging in Their Corrected Fullness. ... (Nice background in his No One Owns Journalism essay from a couple weeks back.) ... Dave [Winer] correctly points out ["route around" blather elided]. That was my recent experience with a long interview for CBS, 22 seconds of which served as an intro to a story that was mostly about what Joe Trippi was up to. (Guess I was lucky, sort of. Dan Gillmor and Tim O'Reilly ended up on the cutting room floor.)

And the above points out links start off with Dave Winer saying "Jay [Rosen], I didn't ask if blogging is journalism.". And that links to:

Kevin Drum, formerly CalPundit, now at Political Animal, and one the bloggers said to be most like a journalist, told me in an email: "I don't think much of the blogging as journalism meme." Kaye Trammell says bloggers may perform "random acts of journalism," ...

Then there's this, from Dean Landsman, in comments at the mother ship: ...

And this, from Rebecca Blood: ...

Now ... let's compare how the discussion was summarized by Jay McCarthy. It's very extensive. See the difference.

Jay Rosen is moderating ... Dave Winer commented ... Bryant refers to ... Micheal Boyle lists ... Terry Heaton asks, ... Jay Rosen interprets the above ... soundbite of this issue from Academy Girl... Seth Finkelstein identifies that ... b!X wants to know ... Julia G. thinks that ... Mary Hodder points out ... Amy Wohl refers to ... Michael ask if ... Academy Girl points out ... Jay Rosen does a great job ... Phil Wolff both asks if ... Tom Matrullo refers to ... Michael says ... Academy Girl points out ... Jeneane mentioned. ... Jeff Sharlet continues ... b!X seems to suggest ... Rebecca MacKinnon ... Seth Finkelstein says ... Matt Stoller ponders ... Weldon Berger writes ... Jeneane refers to ... Debra Galant explains ...

As the saying goes: "There is an A-List. And you're not on it."

[Update: via John Palfrey, quoting an article on the law journal A-list: "Friends are usually more than happy to cite you, especially if you offer to cite them in return."]

[Update: Jay Rosen raises an objection that the comparison above is not fair: "Jay McCarthy was not summarizing the post Doc was talking about or Dave was talking about. That was "Brain Food for BloggerCon."

McCarthy was summarzing the comments thread to an earlier post, "BloggerCon: Discussion Notes for, "What is Journalism? And What Can Weblogs Do About It?" What kind of comparison is that? ]

[What I was attempting to compare was, roughly, "Look what the topic generates from the upper-class, and from the lower-class." Perhaps I was unsuccessful]

[Update2: Jay Rosen added more material to his post, as an "Aftermath" section to the initial version. It should be noted it now has much more diversity]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:58 PM | Comments (23) | Followups
April 16, 2004

"elitist bad-ass-A-list-bloggers"

It's funny because it's true: "elitist bad-ass-A-list-bloggers exclusive event"

Of course, it's humor. Hyperbole. Exaggeration. It's very amusing.

But ...

There's something deep there, as to why it's funny.

Dave Winer replied:

Having even one elitist meetup spoils the whole thing, imho. It makes people who aren't invited feel bad. I know because I feel that way about it (even though I was invited).

There is a A-List. Then what?

Acknowledge its exclusivity, but self-deprecatingly?

Try not to flaunt it, aw-shucks, etc?

That's the underlying tension, of which the joke and reaction is a reflection.

That is, "superrich vast-right-wing-conspiracy cabal" versus "every person is a unique and special snowflake".
Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (5) | Followups
April 12, 2004

"US Declares War On Porn", versus journalism thoughts

The report of "US declares war on porn" has been generating much blog chatter. This post isn't about that article. Instead, it's a meta-post about "unpaid", I mean, "citizen", journalism connected to that "war" (inspired by recent blogs and journalism discussions). As I mentioned in my item Bruce Taylor, Declan McCullagh, and "rotten little kids", I recently attended the debate " New Media Forums and the First Amendment", where I had the opportunity to ask questions and discuss issues with one of the key figures in that "war on porn" (the aforementioned Bruce Taylor).

Now, in terms of ordinary people doing journalism, this is a fine case study. A Senior Counsel of the United States Department of Justice was quite willing to talk with me, even "on the record". He didn't ask me for my press credentials or name, rank, and serial number. He was in fact very nice and personable. I didn't need any special access or status. What I needed was time. Time to spend the day attending the Harvard symposium (which was free and open), then going to the reception. Then of course, there's the time spent if I wanted to write it up. I only wrote about one small part, rebutting where Declan McCullagh did another hatchet-job, as only a few people were going to read what I wrote. There was much more. But I'm supposed to volunteer all the journalistic effort, likely to go to waste, just for the joy and happiness of it? I'll pass. Because: Nobody is reading (comparatively).

Of course, I could have put in the time, and then put in even more time trying to get it accepted by an editor for a large audience publication, I mean, linked by an A-lister with a large readership. From this perspective, I'm a freelance journalist doing the same grind as every other freelance journalist. With the additional disadvantage that I won't even get paid peanuts if my article is accepted. Whoopie. Am I routing around Big Media yet?

This all takes effort. Flaming is easy: "The US government has declared war on porn, the fascists, isn't this just like those Religious Right fanatics in power to fear that someone, somewhere, is having fun. But they can't win, because The Internet will defeat them through its magic anti-censorship powers ..." (with a little polishing, that would even pass as some net-pundit's commentary).

Moreover, that mass of flaming forms a barrier - who is ever going to find my diamond of journalism amid the dross of all the sounding-off? A million vanity presses do not add up to a single well-researched report. But they sure can make that report hard to find.

Before someone tries to play 'gotcha!', and says I could have written the report instead of this very message, no, this message is much simpler. I don't have to fact-check it. I don't have to take extensive notes on another person's statements. I don't have to do any research.

I dislike a temptation I see by certain interests, to dispense with all the costly, difficult, expensive work - and replace it with the cheap stuff, your opinion, your comments, rant, rant, rant. Because that's very easy and far more popular. It's similar to talk radio. National Public Radio style issues discussion is boring, so get some shock-jocks instead. The voice of the people can be a euphemism for lowest common denominator.

Anyway, as I'm demonstrating, the question isn't if nonprofessionals can do journalism, in terms of ability. It's whether they can afford to do journalism, in terms of all the costs.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 08:21 AM | Comments (1) | Followups
March 11, 2004

PhoneCon!

Jeneane Sessum announced "PhoneCon", "where we'll be bringing together some of the smartest minds from across the Harbor to talk about talking on the Telephone" (via JOHO).

Any similarity to "BloggerCon" is purely intentional. My favorite:

KEYNOTE ADDRESS
Tilden for America -- How the Telephone Will Affect the Hayes-Tilden Presidential Campaign of 1876. Keynote Speaker: M. SO. Trippy.

I contributed the following to the various comments:

I've heard that because anyone can become a phoner, we are all orators now. We can route around Big Podium. But the people saying this all seem to be on the A-Directory.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 03:39 PM | Comments (2) | Followups
March 10, 2004

RSS/Atom Wars - Peace In Our Time?

Hope shown at one time in history (not to draw exact parallels!):

In my view the strongest force of all, one which grew and took fresh shapes and forms every day war, the force not of any one individual, but was that unmistakable sense of unanimity among the peoples of the world that war must somehow be averted.

-- Neville Chamberlain

News yesterday:

In an attempt to lasso support from Google, a key proponent of the syndication format RSS has proposed that it merge with its challenger under the auspices of an Internet standards body.

-- Paul Festa, CNET News.com, Blog format truce proposed

I'm not taking any sides in the "RSS Wars". I don't have a dog in that fight, and it'd be much too dangerous for me.

I just hope I can get away with one observation, a generic consideration for all who over-rate the supposed revolutionary effects of blogs and such:

How can you route around big media, revolutionize society, create new forms of participatory democracy, solve deeply complicated social problems ... when "we" CAN'T EVEN AGREE ON A FORMAT FOR WEB SITE CONTENT SYNDICATION?!

Really. Site syndication is a "little" problem. Nobody is going to literally die over it. Not like access to health care, or poverty, or world wars.

But there's no popularity points for me in saying that. No gain, no win, no benefit. It will not be amplified, megaphoned, echoed. Which in a way, is a relevant statement itself.

Anyway, I wish the peacemaking efforts well.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 02:46 PM | Followups
March 09, 2004

Shorenstein, "Big Media" Meets the "Bloggers", and who wins

Given that I spent so much effort on the ability to make fair use of the Shorenstein Center report "Big Media" Meets the "Bloggers", I should use that ability myself for some commentary.

The strongest passage, which leapt out at me, is the conclusion, and he said it, not me (emphasis mine):

But if blogs offered "big media" a rich vein and a testing ground for potential story ideas, it in turn conferred legitimacy on the blogosphere, and provided the "bigger megaphones," as Atrios puts it, that the young medium needed to be heard. "Weblogs," Atrios observed, "still need the validation of print and television media--otherwise it's just a bunch of people ranting away on the Internet, which is nothing new."

Elsewhere:

"For the most part," Atrios maintains, "the influence of blogs is limited to the degree to which they have influence on the rest of the media. Except for the very top hit-getting sites, blogs need to be amplified by media with bigger megaphones."

And:

Many in the press and in the blog world gave Marshall credit for "pushing the Lott story to the forefront," as one observer wrote, "with more vigor than any other online pundit."58 Atrios, too, was credited by some with being "nearly as influential" as Marshall in calling attention to what Lott had said.59 But Atrios himself argues that Glenn Reynolds played a key role in elevating the story out of the blogosphere and into the mainstream. "The truth is," Atrios maintains, "if Glenn Reynolds hadn't taken a stand on this story, then no one would have considered the role of bloggers in [it]. ... It isn't because Glenn was the first or the most vocal. Rather it was because he has a big megaphone and real media connections."

Now, this is of course coming from these people:

This case was written by Esther Scott for Alex Jones, Director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, for use at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

So, considering the source, it must be noted they aren't going to produce a study hyping blog-triumphalism. But the observations are very useful to those who take "everyone's a journalist" too seriously (everyone's a journalist like everyone's a potential candidate for California Governor)

There's other great stuff, such as fascinating sections which show the psychology of "pack journalism":

O'Keefe remembers that an employee of another network "had one of their producers in their [Washington] bureau look at it and later came back and said, `No, I don't think it's anything.'" This gave O'Keefe some pause, causing him to second-guess his judgment. "I think there is something to the [notion] of pack journalism," he reflects, "of individuals believing that if something is noteworthy, ... everyone will get it. ... If they didn't all get it, then it couldn't possibly be a newsworthy item."

And the mechanics of reportorial sausage-making (emphasis mine):

O'Keefe quickly contacted Linda Douglass, ABC's congressional correspondent, who began making phone calls "to a lot of different interest groups and folks" to seek a response to what Lott had said. Douglass was "trolling for reaction," as O'Keefe puts it, which was standard journalistic practice when someone had made a possibly controversial statement. The press, Halperin notes, "is usually not in the business of saying, `Oh my God, this is outrageous,' but rather of asking someone else [to express an opinion]."

In other words, if you're a journalist, and you want to write "This is an outrage!", you don't come right out and write "This is an outrage!". Rather, you call around to the various groups you know, and see if you can "troll" someone to say it. So you can write, that in reaction to X's remark, Y said "This is an outrage!". There seems to be something wrong with a system where disguising the editorializing via a straw-mouthpiece is acceptable.

I'm reminded, to connect to a different story that has some parallels, that I've seen this as part of Declan McCullagh's technique in proselytizing Libertarianism. For example, where e.g. in the Al Gore Internet hit piece, he studiously avoided asking anyone who had actually been involved in technologically inventing the Internet, and got reactions only from right-wing and Libertarian-type flacks. No accident, he knew exactly what they would say.

Anyway, the whole report strikes me as an interesting view into the perspective of insiders as they work out how to place the new niche into the predator-prey-fodder foodchain.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 08:49 PM | Comments (4) | Followups
February 20, 2004

Echo Chamber vs. Choir

Some of the recent discussion I've seen about "echo chambers" seems to be blurring that concept with what I'd call a "choir".

As a simple technical statement, cheaper communication makes it easier to form "choirs", groups of like-minded people. There are two opposite ways in which one can go wild with this, in terms of filling column-space:

1) Utopian - The happy little blogging bears will "self-organize" into an, err, Regurgitant Pundocracy, where The People will defeat The Special Interests, as writing about one's cat will make George Bush vulnerable (and Howard Dean president).

2) Dystopian - The dregs of society will be able to form gangs as never before, and other groups will become isolated and polarized, leading to the wholesale breakdown of commonality necessary for a functioning democratic civilization (The book Republic.com is perhaps the most well-known example of this genre).

Again, these "choirs", groups of people coming together for a common purpose, can be positive or negative. Crucially, everyone involved is assumed to understand the purpose, and in theory is passionately committed to it (though the practice often falls short).

In contrast, an "Echo chamber" is more the illusion of many voices, but in actuality, each voice is just the same thing, a reflection of the initial statement. Most blogs and most reporters simple do echoing of authority.

Important result: People echoing each other can sound like they are forming a choir, though these are conceptually distinct.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 04:41 PM | Followups
February 13, 2004

Joe Trippi, Net Politics, and The Money

I don't want to turn my blog into "bash Joe Trippi" one-notes. But the more I read, the more I distrust what he's doing for net politics. Yes, there are some interesting technical innovations. But there's interesting technical innovations in creating weapons of mass destruction too. The advances here are in new forms of bubble-blowing.

Note in particular the following section of the Joe Trippi Etech talk (my emphasis):

There's a reason George Bush is vulnerable today and it's because of the blogs. It's because of Howard Dean. It's because tools were out there that let hundreds of thousands of Americans get involved and let a debate happen in this country again that wasn't happening.

Once more - RUN AWAY! Just run away. Anyone who can make that statement with a straight face, is either remorselessly manipulative, or so deluded as to be outright dangerous, in the sense of a cult-leader. It's like someone who says "I'm Jesus Christ returned to Earth, so follow me to save your soul, err, democracy.". We can have a debate over whether they're a heartless con-man who preys on the vulnerable, or are "merely" sincerely completely disconnected from reality. But either way, or any mixture, the end result is the same: It is a bad idea to follow them.

Let's consider the money. In some ways, the exaggeration of the amounts Joe Trippi supposedly made, has deflected attention from the deeper problem, the set-up of "heads I win, tails you lose". No, he did not collect $7 million dollars in campaign cash himself. The $7 million is the total ad buy, of which his firm gets a commission (said to be in fact 7%, not 15%), of which he gets a 1/3 split:

http://changeforamerica.com/blog/archives/000015.html

2. I recently inquired about the contract and my compensation. It turns out it was a 7% contract. Meaning that if $7 million in TV was bought 93% went to TV stations to buy the time and 7% or $490,000 was paid to the firm in which I was a partner. My firm has 3 partners so my third or share comes to approximately $165,000. I will let the grassroots and donors of the campaign decide if that was too much compensation. $165,000 is a lot of money, but it is not the $7 million the media and those leveling the attacks want you to believe either.

Indeed, $165,000 is not a king's ransom. But it's not bad either. Heck, for the work involved, I'll say it's not even undeserved! But now things get interesting (emphasis mine):

So why are they trying to make $165,000 sound like $7 million?

Because how do you stop a movement? How do you stop people from contributing to change their country? Its easy -- make them think the whole damn thing was a ponzi scheme to enrich a consultant.

3. My partner Steve McMahon had handled Governor Dean's media for over 12 years. And Trippi McMahon & Squier were hired as the media firm long before I volunteered to run the campaign when not many would. This is important -- because this fact means that as a 1/3 partner in my firm -- I would have made the $165,000 in 2003 if I had gone golfing in Fiji for the entire year instead of going sleepless in Burlington.

NO. That $165,000 is the final yield on the $41 million fundraising which he did, from the grassroots. He wouldn't have gotten it if someone hadn't raised it - it's his contribution as a member of the firm in the first place! He's not a partner just to look pretty. And the numbers are exactly the same thing, in terms of inflated figures, as when the media reports "XYZ was involved with $7 million of illegal drugs seized in a raid!". That $7 million is an inflated overall value. It certainly doesn't mean $7 million for any one drug-dealer. The overall sums have to be split with partners, middlemen, low-level dealers, and so on. And someone as familiar with bubbles as Joe Trippi certainly knows this media-hype convention.

What's far more important here, is how the the risks are arranged. No matter what happens, he comes out well. Look at it this way:

1) If he wins, in the best case, he comes out with tremendous power, as well as maybe *$800,000* for the ride (he wanted to raise $200 million, and $41 million = > $165,000, so I assume (200/41)*165 => ~ 800).

2) If he loses, in the worst case, he comes out with fame (or notoriety), has a shot at being a national pundit, can go on the lecture circuit, and gets a low six-figure consolation prize (which ended up at around $165,000).

Not a bad deal at all. And it's made possible by YOU, yes, you, citizen-blogger, taking back democracy from your computer, revolution 2.0 in America! Just send a check, err, a PayPal transfer to this address ...

It's not wrong for a salesman to get a commission. And yes, we have to deal with the money involved in the whole process. But that doesn't make this salesman right, nor this product a good one. In fact, the end results have been downright shoddy, and the number of people taken-in is only a measure of how much of a dream existed to be fleeced.

[Personal note: I've put in a lot of net-freedom work myself. I finally was driven-out because, far from a golden-parachute, I was spending hundred of dollars in expenses out of my own pocket while unemployed, and not a big-time pundit, but being attacked every single day. This does affect my perspective in the above!]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:54 AM | Comments (4) | Followups
February 11, 2004

Joe Trippi Quotes Me (almost) At ETech Q&A!

People say that I have more readers and influence than I know. Perhaps that's true. But be careful what you wish for, because you might get it. I just found out that Joe Trippi used some blog comments focused on me, as part of a story he told at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, during the "Digital Democracy Teach-In". I'm not mentioned by name there, and it's not harmful to me. So thankfully, this is not a case of my being flamed from on-high, with no way to reply. But I was very surprised to see how some months-ago remarks I wrote, had made their way into his Etech discuasion, and how they were presented.

[Update note 2/15: I initially transcribed this myself from the audio, so it differs slightly from the now-released official transcript]

At around 19:42 minutes (of the audio) into the Q&A session, discussing blogs and ideas, Joe Trippi says:

[There were so many different ideas ... such as] Larry Lessig letting the governor blog on his blog. The governor just wanted to learn, he literally wanted to get the living daylights kicked out of him, learning what blogging was really like, in the real world.

One of the coolest things that happened in that one was everybody wanted to know - his [Dean's] blog comments were thought to be so - how do I put this - inane, that they couldn't possibly be really him, that they might have been sort of autobots. And I came on the blog, on Lessig's blog, and immediately said, like

"I know you guys think this, but if you thought that these were being ghost-written, don't you think we'd do, I'd do, a better job of it?"

[audience laughter]

And I can't remember who, I think it was David Weinberger or somebody, basically wrote this all up on the JOHO blog, and said

"This is one of the most authentic moments in American politics on the web"

Because when you look at that exchange on the Lessig blog, it's *clear* that this is really Howard dean, and it really is his campaign manager, who else - who would manufacture this sort of blow-by-blow?

Now, Joe Trippi is not the first politician, or even the first person, to tell a story where he makes himself sound more heroic than circumstances warranted (Who would manufacture this sort of blow-by-blow? What a straight-line! :-)). But since his comment on the Lessig blog specifically addressed me by name, and that exchange was much in reference to me, I recall what really happened - and in fact was able to locate the actual blow-by-blow. It's entry #1363 on Lessig's blog:

http://www.lessig.org/blog/archives/001363.shtml

Short version - what I really said was:

Earlier, I wondered if a staffer would be ghost-writing the entries.

Now I'm wondering if the entries are auto-posted by a script.

posted by Seth Finkelstein on Jul 15 03 at 8:48 PM

AND IT WAS A JOKE!. I was saying exactly what Joe Trippi gives as his zinger - that a ghost-writer would have done a better job with writing articles. And moreover, while some people didn't get the joke, other commenters did get it:

Jonathan: Seth is (quite humerously IMHO), saying that Dean's arguments have, thus far, been so elementary that they could have been posted by an artificially intelligent script.

I don't think (now) that anyone doubts that it is truly Dr. Dean who is posting.

posted by jt on Jul 15 03 at 9:13 PM [jt != Joe Trippi, it's someone else]

THEN, afterwards, around forty minutes later, is when Joe Trippi chimes in:

Seth ? can I ask you something ? don't you think that if we were ghostwriting this stuff we would have come up with something better than that? I mean seriously if that post doesn't prove Howard Dean himself is posting ? I don't know what will cut through your doubts.

[rest of comment snipped]

posted by Joe Trippi on Jul 15 03 at 10:01 PM

Now, I don't fault him for wanting to make an "official" statement, given the comments. But turning this into a story where he sets everybody straight with humor - that's complete fiction. Again, NOBODY, NOBODY, was truly thinking the posts "might have been sort of autobots". That's a kind of slang for what, in pundit-ese, might be termed "a scripted performance" (i.e. whether script as in theater, or script as in computer program, the result is the same).

And this is what David Weinberger wrote at the time on the JOHO blog

http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/mtarchive/001799.html

In response to a comment questioning, in an unnecessarily nasty tone, whether Gov. Dean was the actual author of the posts at the Lessig blog, Joe Trippi, Dean's campaign manager, wrote:

Seth - can I ask you something - don't you think that if we were ghostwriting this stuff we would have come up with something better than that?

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen: the entire Wed summed up in one line. Take it in the micro sense and you have the Web's Theory of Authenticity with its corollary that Imperfection Is a Virtue. Take it to the macro and you get the Messy Network Axiom with its corollary that Efficiency is the Enemy of Truth.

Umm ... What? No, don't explain, it's possible, but it's not worth it. Much more important is that this latter comment proceeds from a false premise, from Joe Trippi's supposed zing. I wasn't questioning, at that point, whether Gov. Dean was the actual author of the posts. Rather, then, I was humorously saying they were vacuous, playing off earlier authorship doubts for the joke (whether in an unnecessarily nasty tone, I won't comment).

Oh, the irony, of thinking
"This is one of the most authentic moments in American politics on the web"!

First my point is misconstrued. Then it's pundit-fodder. Then the whole story is spun to make the campaign a hero, against the confused and ignorant public. And almost nobody will ever hear differently, because of power-laws and marginalization.

IT'S POLITICS AS USUAL!

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:23 AM | Comments (3)
February 09, 2004

The Dean Scream vs. The Net Dream

The Howard Dean collapse has given me a new stock answer to reply to people who argue that the Internet is a power equalizer:

"Howard Dean had a website. Look how much good it did him, in fighting a media slam. YEARRGH!"

[And I can have my scream above as a multilayered reference, encompassing both the famous image driven into our collective consciousness by media saturation, as well as my own desire to scream whenever someone preaches the website-is-equality argument!]

In some ways, it's fascinating to watch the Who-Lost-Dean debate. PressThink has a great summary article on various explanations. One interesting underarticulated thread, is that here, we've actually run a large-scale real-world experiment in being heard versus power-laws in audience numbers. Again, Howard Dean had a web platform, an extremely well-known site as such things go, where people could go to get his side of the story! Remember the net utopian idea? Just have a site on The Internet, and the media can't smear you, because people can (gasp, choke, get a load of this) find it out themselves!.

But, overall, they don't. People don't painstakingly research an issue. Either they don't care, or they take the media report as definitive, or they just don't want to be bothered.

In general, the blogosphere just talks to itself. So the A-list posters, who have tens of thousands of readers, get a vastly inflated sense of their own influence. They're big fish (A-list) in a small pond (policy blogs). But when it comes to the general political mediamass, the blog-writers who aren't members of that punditocracy, don't even register. And even those who are media pundits, are low on the scale.

Just as the blog A-list is around 1000 times more powerful than the average blogger, the mass media A-list is around 1000 times more powerful still. Welcome to my world, folks. This is how it feels to be a minnow instead of a shark. When you get slammed, you get to hear dark mutterings from your friends about how threatening you were to the powers that be, or how we must redouble our efforts against The Man, or that your sacrifice was worth it because of the change it wrought.

But in terms of the cliche about a beautiful theory being slain by an ugly fact, well:

"Remember, no matter how hard you work, no matter how right you are - sometimes the dragon wins."

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1) | Followups
February 03, 2004

Dean-ial

Forgive him, for he believes that the customs of his tribe are the laws of nature!

George Bernard Shaw

Clay Shirky has an excellent lengthy post-mortem on what I've taken to call "Dean-ial", the bubble which was the Dean campaign:

Exiting Deanspace
http://www.corante.com/many/archives/2004/02/03/exiting_deanspace.php

Quote, my emphasis (he said it, I didn't)

"... the hard thing to explain is not how the Dean campaign blew such a huge lead, but rather why we ever thought that lead actually existed. Dean's campaign didn't just fail, it dissolved on contact with reality.

I actually don't think it's too hard to explain. It's basically plain old Groupthink. It's not particularly net-specific. The Howard Dean campaign had a good run for a few months, capitalizing on anti-war sentiments and press fascination with "The Internet" (e.g. social software, blogs) and his admittedly successful fundraising. But if you treated him like a standard candidate (rookie, anti-war against incumbent, noisy factional support), you got a reasonable scenario about how this would play out.

This leads me to one of my few disagreements with an article full of sound analysis, the part where it's said:

A number of people, disputing the idea that the use of the internet had anything to do with the gap between Dean's predicted and actual support, have advanced the "internet minority" thesis, as in "The internet is used by a minority of citizens", or, in its more regionally biased version, "Who in Iowa has computers anyway?"

With national internet penetration at roughly two-thirds of households, it's long since time to retire this canard. More people use the internet than read a daily newspaper. More people use the internet than vote in general elections, much less primaries. Iowa and New Hampshire both have better than 50% penetration (as does most of the country except the antebellum south.) Furthermore, one of the commonest uses of the internet is getting daily news. The internet is now, and from now on, a political media channel.

I think this misses the critique of the Internet triumphant. Many people may "use the Internet", in terms of email, eBay, or chat. But that doesn't mean they're at all interested in the tiny bubble of blog blather, or going to MeetUp with people as anything other than a dating opportunity. Indeed, "a political media channel" might very well be the website of CNN/ABC/CBS/NBC/etc.

As I've mentioned, there's too often a conflation of writing an online diary for oneself and a few friends, with having an effect on the political process. It's a bit like the old jokes about how logical fallacies can imply anything, "IF 1+1 = 1, THEN I am the Pope". Except here the reasoning is more like "IF many teenage girls e-write about their crushes, and their parents use eBay as a garage sale, THEN Howard Dean is President". Not quite the same thing, but about as useful.

It's all part of a fantasy that, Come The (Net) Revolution, we're all supposed to be happy little blogging bears, "citizen-journalists" reading and writing to one another, merrily pouring in hours and hours of time each week, for free, in order to take back Democracy from Big Media via People Power, I mean The Blogosphere.

That's an appealing fantasy, and for a while, it got attached to the Dean campaign. But one doesn't get popularity-points for saying its utter nonsense. That view isn't amplified, echoed, promoted.

David Weinberger commented:

So, I find myself agreeing with Clay's warnings about how a candidate's Internet campaign can create an unfounded perception of electoral strength, yet also worried that readers will come away with an exaggerated view of the Internet's role in that perception. It wasn't just the Internet that led us into false optimism.

It's not "The Internet". It's us. It's that desire to want to believe in things which make us feel good, and not to consider that which makes us feel bad. In short, Dean-ial.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:22 PM | Comments (9) | Followups
February 02, 2004

Walt Crawford - Starting a Bicycle Club: Weblogs Revisited

Walt Crawford recently had an excellent article in American Libraries Online:

Starting a Bicycle Club: Weblogs Revisited
http://www.ala.org/al_onlineTemplate.cfm?Section=crawford2004&Template=/ContentM anagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=52691

I should have noted it earlier. But it's well worth rereading, especially in light of some people being in Dean-ial of the fact that blogs didn't revolutionize politics. Of course, I'm biased, since it quotes me :-)

A person attending a weblogging conference compared the "blog bubble"-the tendency to treat weblogs as more important than they are-to the "web bubble." Seth Finkelstein (sethf.com), an experienced freelance filtering/censorware investigator, commented on this issue in his Infothought weblog:

"The problem [with blogs-as-revolution] is that if the optimist says, `This post will reach a million people,' and the pessimist says, `This post will reach 10 people,' and it ends up reaching 100 people, the truth isn't in the middle. The pessimist was basically right, the optimist very wrong.

"It's not bad to reach 100 people. But it's not anywhere near a million people.

The optimist says the equivalent of `Give everyone a bicycle and cars are dead, no more oil, all Middle-East geopolitics will change.' And the pessimist points out, `No, it doesn't work like that; only a very small part of the population wants to ride bikes or will deal with them.' Then the reply is, `But isn't our biking club great fun? I love biking. You love biking. Let's all go ride around on our bikes and enjoy ourselves.'"

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1) | Followups
January 31, 2004

Howard Dean and the banality of "Social Software"

An inevitable reaction to the failure of the Great Internet God, is view it as the Great Internet Satan. But perhaps social software, blogging, etc. was neither Deity nor Devil, but merely banal.

There's a good quote in Andrew Orlowski's article Howard Dean's Net architect blasts 'emergent' punditocracy:

"Campaigns have always been decentralized and disorganized. There's always authorization and endorsement behind the scenes. In 2000, McCain's campaign was totally disorganized outside the main little bubble that they had. We were simply able to have more disorganized people!"

Presidential campaigns are big, geographically widespread, rambling organizations. A moment's thought will show they can't be too centralized by their very nature. Let's turn it around. Let's assume the Dean campaign was not extraordinary in any way we can. That is, nothing will be accounted extraordinary if it can be explained conventionally (extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence - not press-hype).

Yes, Dean has dedicated volunteers. But Kerry has campaigners who give the impression they'd literally take a bullet for him (which, one has to admit, would be much more impressive that writing on a blog, or even letters/canvassing). Yes, Dean raised much money, - but there was nothing unique about him which raised that money (rather than being an earlier-adopter of Internet fund-raising).

However, there's also downsides which didn't get discussed much in the hype. Dean is a rookie. His campaign managers (past and present) may have been experienced - but he was not. Experience counts in campaigning. While money talks, his opponents also had growls of their own, sometimes against him. Even if you raise more money than everyone else, if several of them gang up on you with attack-ads, you go down.

And again, if you campaign as Mr. Anti-War, and ride high when the war is more in the news, it's not surprising to fade as the war fades.

So maybe the all the Internet chatter was just ... chatter. Didn't help much, didn't hurt much. Or at least not nearly as much as would make The Internet Revolutionize Politics.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:56 PM | Comments (3) | Followups
January 29, 2004

Howard Dean, Joe Trippi, and Bubble Valuation

Continuing the theme of Howard Dean campaign and a bubble have been confirmed by his New Hampshire loss.

In a piece by Clay Shirky, Is Social Software Bad for the Dean Campaign?, he writes:

I'm getting the same cognitive dissonance listening to political handicappers explain Dean's dismal showing in Iowa that I used to get listening to financial analysts try to explain dot com mania with things like P/E ratios and EBITDA. A stock's value is not set by those things; it is set by buyer and seller agreeing on price. In ordinary markets, buyers and sellers use financial details to get to that price, but sometimes, as with dot com stocks, the way prices get agreed on has nothing to do with finance.

This sums up much which goes wrong in bubble-blowing. It's absolutely true that a stock's value is "set by buyer and seller agreeing on price". But it's a trivial definition of the word value. "What is this stock worth?" "What you paid for it". Right, but that's a joke, since it's re-interpreting the question in a semi-humorous way ("Call me a taxi","OK, you taxi!"). What people tend to mean by a stock's "value", is the complicated string of words "What is the return on investment for the level of risk, and is this greater or lesser than other investments for the same cost?". That's value - not price.

Now, this is a very complicated estimate - there's much mathematics, and superstition, associated with it. But that doesn't make it meaningless. When estimates of these factors (return, risk) depart from rational parameters, we enter bubble-land - and people get hurt (Enron!)

The comparable metric for a politician is roughly, metaphorically, "What is the worth of these policies, given that he/she has to get elected?" (return on investment == worth of these policies, get elected == risk)

The Dean Campaign was a classic bubble-stock. He was "thinly traded" (no real votes for a very long time). He was hyped by self-interested promoters, having found a new, naive, constituency which could be fleeced (net-heads). He had a gimmick (BLOGS / SOCIAL SOFTWARE, feel the *B*U*Z*Z*!), which was made even stronger for having a kernel of truth (fundraising being more efficient). He tapped into strong emotions (the war). And there was a ready supply of castle-in-the-air builders to tell us all about the New Era (of Regurgitant Pundocracy). All very standard.

And also classic is the way a rational assessment would show these to be blown way out of proportion. Howard Dean is a good guy, But he's not God. He's not even JFK. He has nothing so overwhelmingly favorable so as to make him even certain of victory. Yes, a big war chest is nice. But it wasn't 10 times, 100 times, more than his nearest competitors. Moreover, campaigning as an anti-war candidate automatically shut him off from the substantial number of pro-war voters (even Democratic voters). And was further vulnerable to being weakened by candidates who were somewhat anti-war, but less objectionable to those leaning pro-war. And his primary "market" (anti-war), weakened substantially due to world events. Plus he apparently blew the cash in some ill-advised ways.

Narrow market, over-hyped, lost share to more established players, crashed and burned (though to be fair, not to absolute zero) - where have we heard that story before?

When I read the following part of the New Republic article on Joe Trippi, my eyebrows raised up (emphasis mine):

Beyond its size, two things stood out about the Wave community. The first was the emotional investment the shareholders were making thanks to their interaction with each other and the company's management--an investment that produced incredible loyalty. "I think that the individual retail investor, no doubt about it, kept Wave afloat," says Barkeloo. "The loyal following kept the stock price up. The company should have gone away [when the tech bubble burst], but it didn't because of the retail base." The second thing was the way the investment community expanded. "It was word of mouth, grassroots," Sprague explains. "A buddy calls you up and says, 'Ah, I have a great stock.' You say, 'Where can I learn more?' He says, 'Join the chat board.'"

NO! Run away! You don't learn more on a chat board. A chat board is a nest of ranters, schemers, pump-and-dump scammers, manipulators, dreamers, and generally the worst place to learn anything except the many ways people can get things wrong (and their various reasons for doing so).

If presidential candidates were previously being sold as detergent, the new approach here was to sell them like a bubble stock IPO. That's indeed an innovation. But not necessarily a good one.

And I would have been flamed raw if I had said this while the bubble was being blown, before it had blown-up. At least nobody lost their retirement funds.

See also a NY Post column

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:54 PM | Comments (4) | Followups
January 28, 2004

Seth Schoen - The History of the DeCSS Haiku

Highly recommended:

The History of the DeCSS Haiku
http://www.loyalty.org/~schoen/haiku.html

I wrote the poem known as the "DeCSS Haiku" three years ago, in 2001.
...
Impressed by other people's contributions to the rapidly-growing gallery, I decided I had to make some kind of effort of my own.

Some quick observations:

An observer might be shocked to compare the Bernstein and Corley cases. She would perceive that the courts have concluded that it's wrong to censor software in the name of preventing terrorism, but it's all right when what's at stake is the ability to copy movies.

Well, yes. Because terrorism is about politics, but copying movies is about money. Just like it's 100.0% First Amendment protected to advocate bona-fide Nazi-ism (I mean real bring-back-the-Third-Reich, not hyperbole), but if you give your friends copies of a few some favorite songs, that can literally be a criminal offense.

Meanwhile, serious problems with the DMCA go unaddressed, and the traditional legal status of reverse engineering is under attack. Public opinion is not rising to defend it; since I wrote the DeCSS Haiku, property rhetoric has continued to its success in making people "brand / tinkerers as thieves". We are not communicating effectively, even though so many of our best cultural traditions are on our side.

Right on. Tell me about it. We aren't communicating effectively in part because too many people (present company excepted!) think talking among themselves is the epitome of political activism, and someone else will do the hard work. But I hardly have a solution.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Followups
January 21, 2004

Howard Dean Is (Was) a Bubble IPO

At times during the past few months, I thought about writing a critical essay about the Dean campaign. Yes, they used the Internet in interesting ways, socially, very interesting ways. But some of those uses were by no means as warm and fuzzy as one would like. In fact, they bore a very disturbing similarity to Net-Bubble IPO's.

I never wrote the essay, though. I thought to myself: Don't get-into-it. There's no benefit. I can't win. There's no point in being contrarian about The Dean Machine. It's not my job. The result will only be that the Dean-iacs attack, and that'll just be one more reputation-negative, for nothing. Overall, the only people who would defend me after being slammed for such an analysis, are right-wingers, and they aren't my base.

I even wondered if I could get some political cover from Dave Winer. But that didn't change the high risk/reward equation.

Now, not only the blogosphere, but the medialump in general, is thick with Dean demolition. Pack journalism is a very ugly thing to behold.

I've seen relevant articles on e.g. PressThink and Ed Cone, I won't attempt to write a post-mortem of my own. Instead, the press process intrigues me. It's strangely "emergent" - it feeds on itself, and feeds on its feeding of itself. The worm ouroboros, made media.

The Internet will revolutionize politics - chatter, *buzz*, HYPE! AND HYPE HYPE HYPE again for good measure.

Oops - The Internet DID NOT revolutionize politics - what went wrong??? - repeat, chatter, *buzz*, HYPE!.

And, just like a bubble IPO, it's the (bottom?) feeders who end up coming out ahead.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 01:25 PM | Comments (14) | Followups
January 20, 2004

Categorizing blog "power-law" discussion themes

[I wrote this as a comment, as part of a blog discussion about the popularity of the A-list, "fairness", power-laws, and what people want from their writing. It works as a stand-alone excerpt, and an interesting companion to the previous readership analysis ]

In general, much of the discussion about the types of blogs and writing seems to revolve around a few ideas:

1) Some People Write Just For Themselves

Indeed they do. But they don't care about power laws, so anyone who is interested in fairness or ranking is automatically excluded from that category.

2) Fame Is Fickle

Well, yes, at the margins, someone can hit it big, or fade from view, it happens. And celebrity requires some care and maintenance. This is pretty mundane stuff. It doesn't automatically somehow mean that fame/celebrity is therefore "fair".

3) You Can Be A Big Fish In A Small Pond

Sometimes people want the respect of few peers, a professional circle, more than a global audience. For example, they'd rather impress the New York Times Review Of Books, than Oprah's Book Club. This tends to be argued as if it were a rebuttal to the limits of having a global audience. It isn't. It's both a different goal, and within its own terms, it has the exact same problem of only a few slots (we can't all have a million readers, and we can't all win the Nobel Prize For Literature either).

4) Don't Worry, Be Happy

Cultivate your garden. Merrily pour time, energy, effort into your work, and if it reaches just one reader, consider it a job well done. It is very easy for a "have" to say this to a "have-not".

I could say more, but this is long enough (and I worry about being a blog-ant among blog-elephants).

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 10:14 AM | Comments (5) | Followups
January 14, 2004

Opinions vs. Reporting

Deep down in the comments of a note on Buzzmachine blog, is a very interesting statement by the CEO of the Google-News-like site Topix.Net. He's responding to a query as to why the site doesn't have much blog content (emphasis mine below):

Topix does include a handful of blogs. We will probably add the bulk of them back into the main crawl at some point, but one of the problems is that, despite our affinity for blog content, there's not as much hard news being reported in them as we'd hope. Given the scanning-for-hard-news nature of our system, not very much actually came out of the blogosphere when we pointed our system at it.

It's easy to put out yet-another-opinion on the Iraq war, but it's actual work to attend the city council meeting and produce a write-up, or interview the owner of the local mall about why they're not doing so well. Journalists definitely earn their money. I'll cite your own hyperlocal blog for Bernards, NJ as an example of the difficultly of reliably blogging local news...

He said it, I didn't. And his views matter far more than mine :-).

Sounding-off is easy. Work isn't. Too many people confuse the two, and then compound the error by further overestimating the value of sounding-off. And even worse, confuse pontificating with change.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Followups
January 12, 2004

Mathematics of ordinary-blog non-influence

I've come up with a simple way to explain what's wrong with the idea of "One blogger is worth ten votes". Now, the sense of this idea is clearly that it's worthwhile to recruit recruiters. But the unintended consequence is that recruiting each other yields only a net waste of time. That is, consider the following scenario:

Eleven people of like mind talk to each other. They had the same views before, they end up with the same views after. But every single one of those eleven people says "I convinced 10 other people". Then the blog-boosterism runs "Aha, we have 11 people who each convinced 10 other people, so that's *110* more votes from BLOGGING! Feel the power OF THE BLOG!"

In reality, nothing changed. The choir preached to itself. But everyone got to think that they were an influencer, a kingmaker, even if just for a tiny kingdom. That's a seductive feeling.

There is, however, a notable effect. The organization which is passing around a collection-plate during these events, is raking in money. That's real. But it doesn't quite mean what the flock thinks it means.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Followups
January 11, 2004

Outsourcing != Democracy

Whenever someone preaches that an industrial change is going to lead to a major revolution, I find it that it's useful to consider whether there will be a revolution, but in the opposite direction entirely. So it is with many democracy-of-the-media discussions I've seen recently. All of these seem to have the same path:

The Media Revolution Is At Hand:

Production is much cheaper. Employees are easier to replace. The occupation is becoming less the province of skilled workers, and more of amateur labor which works nearly free. Advances in mechanization, err, communication, allow for cutting staff drastically, and one laborer can now do what previously required several people. If you don't take advantage of these trends, your competitors will, so get with it.

This is democracy?

No.

This is OUTSOURCING!

No wonder so many of the media pundits are so rude about blogs - they're defending their conception of themselves as hard-to-replace highly skilled labor.

But on the other hand, why am I supposed to be so excited that many skilled jobs are turning into unskilled jobs or cheap-labor jobs? Well, there is of course the populist joy in seeing an arrogant profession brought low. But putting aside heart-warming Schadenfreude at their humbling, the end result here seems to be the exact opposite of what's preached. That is, overall, there will be more power for management, not labor.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:26 PM | Comments (7) | Followups
January 06, 2004

Blog audience, or lack thereof

Lis Riba just wrote a noteworthy post on blog audience which makes for an interesting parallel to what I've written recently:

I like to think that cream will float to the top and good material will get me noticed, but sigh... It feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy that those in power have better means to stay in power. Even if they're not doing anything consciously, they've still got a certain mindshare that persists with readers and perpetuates itself.

I really do want to increase my readership in 2004. And I'm really wondering what I should do about this: ...

Is it just a popularity contest related to whom you know in [real life]? ...

I sympathize :-(

It's the "Matthew Effect"

"For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath"

There's only so many slots at the top of the pyramid.

Basically, as far as I've analyzed it, there's usually a reason for being A-list. Some people get there because of their celebrity status from some other domain. A few were in the right place and the right time and managed to capitalize on it (not without skill, but not entirely skill either). Quite a few are intense, relentless, promoter/impresarios (and there's nothing wrong with that, I'm merely being descriptive).

Critically, almost none of the above is acquirable if one doesn't have it to start. That is, you can't just become a celebrity elsewhere, or decide to be in a favorable place and time, or even do the necessary huge amounts of self-PR (the exception to this last being professional talkers). Being someone's protege is possible, but again highly limited to a very few slots.

So contrary to myth, good material will not automatically get someone noticed.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (6)
January 05, 2004

USA Today, blogs, and journalism irony

I was tempted to write something about the recent USA Today blog article: "Freewheeling 'bloggers' are rewriting rules of journalism", which has much bubble bibble in it:

But the biggest raves come from bloggers who have found a voice they never had before. Tom Bevan, a former advertising executive, turned to full-time blogging after a Web site he helped found, RealClearPolitics.com, took off. Bevan, 34, has no experience in politics or journalism. But he says he knows from the feedback that "a lot of influential opinion-makers" are benefiting from his views.

"That's one of the fantastic things about the blogosphere and the Internet," Bevan says. "If you have something to say that's interesting, you will eventually be heard."

[Ouch. "But the biggest praise of the lottery come from winners who have found wealth they never had before ... if you work hard, you will eventually succeed"]

But why bother? Fortunately, I stumbled across Anil Dash (Vice President of Business Development for a big blogging company) rebutting with great authority (emphasis mine):

It may just be that we're all more jaded overall. The other day, there was a story on the cover of USA Today regarding weblogs, and it even had a quote from Ben. I suspect that a year ago, I'd have been jumping up and down with excitement, thinking about what great recognition that sort of press coverage represents. But I barely skimmed the article yesterday, noted a bunch of annoying inaccuracies, and bookmarked it for the future. I know that the grand theory of weblogs is that I could have Fact-Checked Their Asses ™ but who cares? USA Today readers aren't going to stumble across my site and find the true facts, the newspaper isn't going to run a correction based on my blog post, and my readers already know the details of how weblogs work.

[Oh, the irony]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 12:52 AM | Followups
January 04, 2004

Separated At Birth, and blog power illusions

"Separated At Birth" is the expression where two famous people are juxtaposed for their resemblance. More broadly, it's two very odd things which amusingly look the same.

A few days ago, Dave Winer had an essay where he said (emphasis mine)

Dean acts like a high flying Silicon Valley startup, which is crap. Even if they succeed, get all the way to the White House, they are still working for you and me. We seem to have lost sight of that. None of us use our power. But just the illusion of power is enough to excite some of us? Is that what the trip with Dean is?

Now compare the above sentiment to the following Andrew Orlowski essay a little earlier: "One blogger is worth ten votes - Harvard man" (again, emphasis mine)

This is a characteristic of the giddy kind of people who define themselves through computer-mediated relationships. They get terribly excited about people just like themselves using the same software, when all that bounces back from these dead phosphorous LCD screens is something that approximates their own reflection, and isolation. Bits and bytes are useful - but they're not where real power is exercised. And fantasies are popular here - "blog shares" mirrored Wall Street, in a harmless way, and "Emergent Democracy" mirrors real power in an equally harmless way too. Somehow, we suspect, Karl Rove (dubya's Peter Mandelson) isn't losing sleep over these capers.

The similarity of sentiment, converging from different directions, was amazing.

Dave Winer and Andrew Orlowski ... Separated At Birth?

[Disclaimer: I know both of them - no offense intended to either one, just surprising observation]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Followups
December 06, 2003

Mathematics of Lessig blog influence

I've been wondering if I can do any mathematics to figure out the reach or influence of Lawrence Lessig's blog posting "the classic Declan" (rebutting Declan McCullagh falsely characterizing him as favoring "ending anonymity."). Especially compared to Declan's hatchet-jobs. I can just hear it now "Look, look, behold the power of blogs. This person has a flame-thrower. Seth, you have a kitchen-match. That means you can fight fire with fire".

The "Technorati" blog index site currently ranks Lessig as #94 out of "1,323,388 weblogs watched". We're talking, drumroll,

The top 1% of the top 1%

Not the top 1%. Rather, again the top 1% of the top 1%.

There's the mathematics. That's A-list for you. The blog-blather is ludicrous.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (3)
November 29, 2003

Cites & Insights December 2003, and blog audience math

Walt Crawford's library 'zine "Cites & Insights" has had the December 2003 edition available for a few days now. It's excellent reading as always.

The meatiest civil-libertarian material is in the portion concerning "Hysterical Librarians, Attorneys General and Section 215", which collects some great critiques.

I'm quoted in the Feedback section, "on a Variety of Topics", including Open Censorware vs. Child Pornography Sites and the math of six degrees of separation.

Further on math, the discussion of the mathematics of blogs caught my eye:

The most interesting part of [the Perseus blog survey] is the conclusion, "Nanoaudiences are the logical outcome of continued growth in blogs." The mathematics are tough to challenge, but they state an "average" in a field where averages are wholly meaningless. If we get to the point where 100 million people regularly read blogs, and each of them reads 50 blogs (an awfully high number), and if there are 20 million active webloggers, then the average audience per weblog will be 250 people. So?

So, as I'm quoted (later in Cites, not the survey) blogs won't "revolutionize politics, overthrow journalism as we know it, or change the world into cyber-utopia.". Almost all people won't reach much of an audience.

The key is realizing that, mathematically, this ficticious mean average gives an upper bound for the actual median average. That's how it's meaningful. In a world of perfect equality, everyone would have 250 readers. Now any skewness means some people are going to have more, and some people less.

And so a blog-peasant with 25 readers is going to be effectively powerless against a blog-royal with 25,000 readers (much less big media with 250,000 readers).

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1) | Followups
November 24, 2003

Boston Globe Google article, and blog peasants without cake

Dave Winer has a good account of being distorted in meaning for a Boston Globe article on Google. Derek Powazek concurs on extensive misportrayal ("Just for the record, I do not hate Google, nor am I its enemy."). But then Dave makes a comment which is an excellent example of something where the blog-hype is simply, thoroughly, wrong:

It's a new world ladies and gentlemen. In the old days, the BigPubs would put words in your mouth, and what could you do? Today each of us have a platform to tell our own story, so when they screw it up, we can run a correction, immediately.

When misquoted by any agenda-driven journalist, "we" have to suffer that asshole. Dave Winer, A-list, Harvard Berkman Fellow, President of Userland Software Inc, has a platform to tell his own story. J. Random Blogger would do better standing outside a subway station with a picket sign to tell their own story for themselves (ie., not counting attracting the support of some other journalist).

The numbers are stark. The Boston Globe circulation is "a daily circulation of 474,845 and a Sunday circulation of 704,926". Let's look at that number - 474,845. HALF A MILLION, roughly. Very, very, few bloggers have a readership which can oppose that.

This is simple mathematics. Note any calling me a name, "negative" or "cynical" or some such, does not change the numbers. On the one hand, HALF A MILLION readers. On the other hand, what, for the ordinary person, a handful of family, friends, and a few random fans?

In fact, I shouldn't write this post, from a strictly rational viewpoint. Because if I get slammed from a BigBlog, my ability to effectively reply is nil.

It's great that a few people can meaningfully take on journalists. It really is, good for them. But statements such as the above "new world" are downright cruel to peasants who do not have cake to eat.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 10:12 PM | Comments (3) | Followups
October 06, 2003

Blogs vs. Bicycles

Still thinking about BloggerCon, I posted the following in the comments section of Oliver Willis' excellent entry Deflating The Blog Bubble:

The problem [with blogs-as-revolution] is that if the optimist says "This post will reach a million people", and the pessimist says "This post will reach ten people", and it ends up reaching a hundred people, the truth isn't in the middle. The pessimist was basically right, the optimist very wrong.

It's not bad to reach a hundred people. But it's not anywhere near a million people.

The optimist says the equivalent of "Give everyone a bicycle, and cars are dead, no more oil, all Middle-East geopolitics will change ..." And the pessimist points out "No, it doesn't work like that, only a very small part of the population wants to ride bikes or will deal with them". Then the reply is "But isn't our biking club great fun? I love biking. You love biking. Let's all go ride around on our bikes and enjoy ourselves".

Which is fine. But not anything near the original statement.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:58 PM | Comments (7) | Followups
October 05, 2003

Blogs, Journalism, and Mathematics

The fallacy of "blogging == journalism revolution" has been on my mind today, from BloggerCon. I've figured out the key reasoning error:

People assume production is the same as audience

This is wrong. This is false. This is an unwarranted leap of logic ("then a miracle occurs") that has very little to recommend it, and much to argue against it.

A recent blog survey, "The Blogging Iceberg", has a good paragraph on this:

Nanoaudiences are the logical outcome of continued growth in blogs. Assume for a moment that one day 100 million people regularly read blogs and that they each read 50 other peoples' blogs. That translates into 5 billion subscriptions (50 * 100 million). Now assume on that same day there are 20 million active bloggers. That translates into 250 readers per blog (5 billion / 20 million) - far smaller audiences than any traditional one-to-many communication method. And this is just an average; in practice many blogs have no more than two dozen readers.

Everyone can't have an audience of millions. That's a simple mathematical fact.

So, what's the result of traditional media + blogs? Are the media which does have an audience of millions going to just go away? Why would that happen?

There's a reasoning disconnect, from a very idealist dream, of everyone reading and writing to each other (on an assumed equal or at least meritocracy basis), to the practical constraint that it can't happen in implementation. Because everything from economies of scale to clustering tendencies ("power laws") is going to produce a relatively few large-audience outlets, and everything else is noise.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:58 PM | Followups
October 04, 2003

BloggerCon, or BlatherOn?

[Taking a break from why-I-can't-publish-censorware-research...]

I've been blogged-down in the past few days, attending or watching BloggerCon events. I think I'm too cynical for Dave Winer. I hate to be so much of an Eeyore, but the deja-vu was extremely strong.

I remember, I remember / The glorious bubble days / When all the net was floating / in a frothy heady haze. (apologies to Thomas Hood)
I've had no trouble with Big Questions, e.g. What Is Blogging. It's frequent writing, no less and no more. BloggerCon is a type of writer's convention, about the process of writing, writer's markets, and some tools which are good for supporting reading and writing.

That's nice. I like it, though I wouldn't pay $500 and fly across the country to attend such a convention. But if it's down the street from me, great.

However, sessions are larded with so much hype that it's almost painful. I lived the blather of the Internet Revolution. And I found out, very personally, how mistaken it was. Now I get to see evangelists and sensation-mongers do it all over again.

It's fine and dandy to be a well-off professional discussing writing about your job, or maybe having writing as your job, and meeting with people like you. Very cool, very fun, great parties. Being in a bubble is delicious.

But this is not going to revolutionize politics, overthrow journalism as we know it, or change the world into cyber-utopia. One of the most wince-worthy moments was when Dave Winer proposed giving every voter (in New Hampshire?) a blog. I couldn't help thinking, he's gone beyond the cliche of throwing money at a social problem. Now it's not even throwing money, he's throwing blogs at a social problem. I suppose that's the sort of thing one does as an evangelist. And maybe I'll get slammed since I'm such a wet-blanket. But having heard the optimism all before, way before, and seen what happened to it, I can't buy into it again (sigh, I'd probably do better if I could).


Update: I highly recommend Lis Riba's Essay on this topic. Says much I wanted to say in addition, but haven't.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (4) | Followups
September 13, 2003

Blogiversary

A little more than a year ago, I started my blog, with my first entry being one of my favorite quotes:

"The world of computer communications, however, has turned out to be the great equalizer. Suddenly anyone can become a publisher, reporter, or editorialist. What's more, each of us has as good a chance of being heard as anyone else in the electronic community."

Mike Godwin

[(in case it isn't clear, I'm quoting this very ironically)]

One year later, the main thing I think I can say, is that I have a deeper yet appreciation for the meaning of the phrase "some are more equal than others".

There's always going to be a journalistic pyramid. In any shake-up, some people will find niches in those walls, some people will do well as guides, and a very very few will be high on top. Everyone has an equal chance of winning the lottery too, but only a few people will do so.

I've had a handful of slightly successful posts. But overall, I'm way down at the bottom of the pyramid, and probably will remain so. In general, I've thought there's no use saying what everyone else is saying, I'm not well-positioned to compete in the journalist niche. On the other hand, I'm nowhere near as prominent as necessary for many people to have any interest in my thoughts as a pure commentator. In retrospect, I'm not sure blogging really works for me. I'm not planning to stop tomorrow. But it's another weight on my mind.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1) | Followups
September 03, 2003

Eeyores vs. Tiggers

Derek Slater had an extensive post On Bunner, where he remarked in a passage:

Seth "Eeyore" Finkelstein (who's been posting a lot about Bunner) and I discussed this awhile back. ....

The reference caught my eye, in an amusing way. Hmm, I thought, wasn't Lessig also Eeyore?

That inspired me: Forget Liberals vs. Libertarians or Geeks vs. Suits. An unexamined divide is Eeyores vs. Tiggers.

Especially when I saw this quote from Eeyore, which sums up much:

'Sometimes he thought sadly to himself "Why?" and sometimes he thought "Wherefore?" and sometimes he thought "Inasmuch as which?" - and sometimes he didn't quite know what he was thinking about.'

Remember the Tigger is described as:

Their tops are made out of rubber. Their bottoms are made out of springs. They're bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy Fun, Fun, Fun, Fun, Fun!

Unfortunately, there is not just only one (link omitted out of self-preservation). Anyway, it's fun to be a Tigger. (fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!) You get to be bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy. To sing of "Emergent Pundocracy" and "Smart Snobs", go on about "The Second Soupy Powder". Who wouldn't want to live in "Cyber's Place", the new home of wunderkind?

By contrast, being an Eeyore is indeed pretty gloomy. It's no - fun - at - all. Copyblight and shrinking-wrap and trade-bleakness and De-'Em-See-Away. Lawsuits and lawyers and liability and losing.

However, the Eeyores tend to be right, while the Tiggers get to be popular. But to quote Eeyore,

'Pathetic. That's what it is. Pathetic.'

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:09 PM | Followups
August 13, 2003

BloggerCon

Andrew Orlowski has written a story in The Register, regarding Webloggers deal Harvard blog-bores a black eye. This covers BloggerCon, and most critically, the $500 cost:

But on what grounds does Dave Winer, backed up by a small circuit of adoring journalists and fellow webloggers, have to uphold his right to fleece them for real bucks?

Dave Winer says No fleecing and John Palfrey has commented "We've got a strong public spirit, and we're certainly not out to fleece anyone".

The following is my oversimplified analysis, but I think in broad general outlines, it explains what's going on (again, remember, I said it's oversimplified, there are exceptions, but I think the overall analysis is valid):

The right-wing bloggers are rich (or at least comfortably well-off). To make connections with other people useful to them, a $500 conference fee is a token. It's just a cost of doing business, like country-club dues.

The left-wing bloggers are not rich (some not even comfortably well-off). To them, an invitation to pay $500 to pal around with mostly (not exclusively, but mostly) right-wingers, is absurd. They have trouble imagining anyone would regard that as a reasonable fee.

The academics never pay for any conference out of their own pocket (it's a perk of the job). So viscerally, they don't understand what the fuss is about.

There's other issues, but I believe this is the flash-point. It's the key to the various views.

Disclaimers: Dave Winer mentioned me (favorably!) yesterday, for solving a puzzle of his. Andrew Orlowski has quoted me in the past. And John Palfrey also recently has noted me. I actually don't know who I should be lining-up with here, according to the rules of politics. I think I won't get in trouble for this article. I think ...

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 06:17 PM | Comments (4) | Followups
July 23, 2003

Howard Dean guest-blog spot and scripts

A German publication covered the recent presidential candidate Howard Dean guest-blogging on Lessig's blog. I'm mentioned:

Lessigs Leser waren allerdings zunchst skeptisch. Seth Finkelstein glaubte sogar, es bei Deans Beitrgen mit den Erzeugnissen eines automatisierten Skripts zu tun zu haben.

Which apparently translates into roughly:

Lessig's readers were however first skeptical. Seth Finkelstein believed even to have to do it with Dean's contributions with the products of an automated script.

The writer was refering to my comment in discussion:

Earlier, I wondered if a staffer would be ghost-writing the entries.

Now I'm wondering if the entries are auto-posted by a script.

That was a joke. I was making fun of the simplistic and "scripted" quality of his postings at that point. I didn't mean he was literally a robot. Rather, it was my way of indicating he might just as well have been.

I don't want to be too hard on Howard Dean. I suppose he deserves points for trying. It's nice. He seems to be a good guy. His campaign is doing interesting and notable things with the Internet and organizing people. But I wasn't overwhelmed by him.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM
July 14, 2003

What does God (or Howard Dean) Need With A Starship (or Blog-Hit)?

As I continue to think about Howard Dean's guest-blogging of Lessig's blog, I'm bothered by something. To put it as a pop-cliche, "What does God need with a starship?". Or, more prosaically, WHY does a presidential candidate be a guest-blogger?

People write blogs for a mixture of reasons (these aren't exhaustive or exclusive):

1) To write about their life (gossip, friends)
2) To write about their ideas (lawyers, policy-makers, columnist punditry)
3) To write about other's ideas (portals, reporting punditry)

Where does this guest-appearance fit? Is it thought of by the Dean campaign as akin to doing a talk-show? "You're on TV with Oprah at 2, Radio with Larry King at 5, and in-between, an Internet guest-shot on The Lessig Blog."

There's nothing wrong with that. And I suppose it's a milestone of sorts when candidates make net appearances, an indication of campaign worthiness.

But then it mean much less than many people think it does. Not zero, but much closer to zero (another media appearance) than infinity (revolutionary democracy by Internet blogging).

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 05:44 PM | Followups
July 13, 2003

On the Internet, nobody knows you're Howard Dean

Howard Dean will be guest-blogging on Lessig's blog. Or at least, that's what's being claimed. I posted the following comment in response:

Hmm ... "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" ... or a presidential candidate?

How do we know it's really Howard Dean, and not a Dean campaign staffer?
(after all, letters from many officeholders, are really by their staff)

I've gotten very cynical since "Aimee Deep"

I'm reminded of a Heinlein book, where a candidate is kidnapped, and his staff temporarily covers it up by replacing the candidate with an actor. It works so well they decide to ask the actor take over as the candidate. The actor objects that he's not a qualified. The staff argues in reply that it doesn't really matter, since the candidate is just the public face of the campaign organization anyway.

posted by Seth Finkelstein on Jul 12 03 at 9:51 AM

[If I had known how many people eventually would read that, I would have been more careful about the typos! Alwin Hawkins added that "The Heinlein book is Double Star" ]

Even if this occasion turns out to truly be Howard Dean, I suspect we're soon going to see "Internet appearances" which are ghost-written by campaign staffers (if it hasn't happened already!). It's too easy.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:58 PM | Followups
July 04, 2003

July 4 thought: Declaration of Independence, real and imaginary

Compare the real Declaration of Independence with John Perry Barlow's A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace

Real:

... That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.

Imaginary:

These increasingly hostile and colonial measures place us in the same position as those previous lovers of freedom and self-determination who had to reject the authorities of distant, uninformed powers. We must declare our virtual selves immune to your sovereignty, even as we continue to consent to your rule over our bodies. We will spread ourselves across the Planet so that no one can arrest our thoughts.

War, Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce ... that's what it's about. Not "virtual selves immune to your sovereignty".

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:57 PM | Followups
March 25, 2003

A short letter I didn't send, about the word "hackers"

I wrote the following, but kept myself from sending it:

Dear [redacted]

I recently read your legal paper, in which you constantly refer to all programmers who do reverse-engineering as "hackers", and not in the complimentary sense of the word. As a landshark at the [redacted] Sharkery School, who teaches sharking, I'm sure you're aware of the implications of rhetoric. Regards ..."

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 06:07 AM | Followups
January 13, 2003

Reply to "Blog Politics of Form"

Donna Wentworth at Copyfight talks about the "politics of form". While I think that's a interesting topic, I also think it won't get discussed meaningfully. Because the meaningful material is likely to be more specialized and unsexy than befits Grand Ideas. No offense, but as I read over everything, I thought again:

AARRGGHH! More blather!

Some days, I think I would be vastly more popular if I took journo-blathering seriously. Let's see ... "Yes, the weblog is yet another pinnacle in the postmodern [neat word!] cyber-democratization [neat prefix!] of the infosphere [neat phrase!]. It is not the ``I Media'' of the top-down organizational form of the old regime, but as others have noted, the ``We Media'' [neat term!] of a spontaneously self-organized complex system [a sprinkling of pseudoscience jargon is always good!]. We must ask "What Does It All Mean"? [big broad question are excellent filler!] And answer that the meaning is a unique new frontier in human expression [nothing is ever an old retread!] ..."

Sorry, but I get curmudgeonly over this stuff. I lived through the growth of mailing-lists, Usenet, the early Internet, and so on. I remember when there really was an aspect of egalitarianism and democratization with networked communications. But it was a fragile state, stemming from the fact that the community was small and insular then, and it didn't last.

I think the key insight is the following:

PUNDITRY ISN'T DEMOCRACY

More opportunities for punditry doesn't necessarily mean society becomes more egalitarian - this is the fundamental error of 95% of the noise on the topic. It connects to the idea of commentators being the watchdog of a well-functioning world. So then more comments equals a better world. But rather, it just means more people have a chance at becoming professional chatterers, and/or the existing chatterers have yet another outlet. Indeed, that's a change, certainly a change worth studying - but not a unique, unprecedented change. And the implications are likely to be much less than the hype over them.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 01:30 PM | Followups
December 14, 2002

Arguing Privacy Technology vs. Privacy Laws

Ed Felten has a note about Privacy Technology vs. Privacy Laws, responding to:

Politech reprints an anonymous, somewhat overheated essay arguing for a technology-only approach to privacy, as opposed to one based on laws. It's easy to dismiss an essay like this just because of its obnoxious tone. But we should be skeptical of its ideas too.

Just a note of caution - if anybody attempts to deal with these people, I'd suggest a little practice first, such as trying to convince your local evangelical street-preacher that God does not exist. The parallels will be uncanny.

That essay comes from the cypherpunks list, which is now mostly a kind of fundamentalist rant-fest for "overheated" Libertarian proselytizing. It's mostly harmless stuff, as long as one doesn't take it too seriously (as two people did, but that's a long story).

I've written an essay on the reasoning defects caused by Libertarianism. The basic flaw here, which may not be obvious at first glance, is a strategy I call "Fantasy vs. Reality". The Libertarian proselytizer sets up a fantasy world, and repeatedly tells you how great everything will be in the Kingdom Of Heaven, I mean, techno-crypto-Libertopia. As opposed to how much sin there is on this veil of tears, I mean, the real world. Endlessly. All will be perfect when we run society according to bible law, I mean, contract law. And all which is bad in the world just goes to show the evil of Satan, I mean, government.

See if I'm wrong. Hallelujah!

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 12:33 AM | Followups
November 22, 2002

Curmudgeonness on "Revenge of the Blog"

I started reading the commentary for the Revenge of the Blog Conference. Frankly, and no offense to the blog-star panel, I started to overdose very quickly. I had too much deja vu and bad flashbacks, from the days when the magical Internet was going to equalize us all.

The basics: If you're a professional talker, that is a journalist, some lawyers, some policy-makers, and a new punditry tool appears, this leads to more commentary. And some people are well-positioned to take advantage of this new ecological niche, and prosper in it. This leads to much ponderous pontification of What It All Means, which is of course - more punditry, on punditry, which is a favorite subject of punditry.

I saw this happen with mailing lists and Usenet. It came around again at the start of the World-Wide-Web. There was some of it for Internet-Relay-Chat. There was was another iteration when "virtual communities" were all the rage. And now it's come around to blogs.

Let me say again, there's nothing wrong with a profound navel-gaze of The Meaning Of It All. I just couldn't bear to read much of it, since I'd read it all so many times before in the past decade.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:30 PM | Followups
September 04, 2002

Blog started - anyone here/hear?

"The world of computer communications, however, has turned out to be the great equalizer. Suddenly anyone can become a publisher, reporter, or editorialist. What's more, each of us has as good a chance of being heard as anyone else in the electronic community."

Mike Godwin

(in case it isn't clear, I'm quoting this very ironically - Seth Finkelstein)

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 04:41 AM