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December 4, 2016

Trump, Taiwan, and peace through fiction

I have a friend whom I cherish who loathes Donald Trump, but who thinks that Trump’s missteps with Taiwan were actually a good thing. My friend’s sole hope for Trump is that he will follow through with some of his campaign rhetoric and address China’s predatory trade practices. For my friend, Trump’s blunder — and he calls it that — has burst the bubble of “disingenuous and silly” lies that the Chinese have taken advantage of for thirty years.

I don’t know nearly enough about our economic relationship with China to be entitled to have an opinion about it, but even if it was good to pierce the mutual fiction about the relationship of the two Chinas (I’d put scare quotes around one of those two words, but I can’t figure out which), it’s not good to do so with no plan or strategy. Trump sent a strong, consequential signal to China that is only de-stabilizing. In fact, Trump then denied that it was a signal at all when, in the face of criticism, he tweeted that Taiwan “called ME!”. So, the phone call was merely ignorant, pointless destabilization that Trump then destabilized.

My friend likes the idea that the phone call destroyed a fictitious international relationship. But blowing up a relationship simply because it is disingenuous and silly is not necessarily a good thing in itself. The world’s constituencies are so different in their interests and understandings that we often can only maintain a difficult peace by finding language structurally ambiguous enough — each side knows that the other means something different by it — that we are not forced to bring an irresolvable disagreement to an unambiguous resolution.

None of this touches my friend’s larger and more important point about the possibility that Trump could address China’s predatory economic practices. Even Cheeto Hitler might get something right. But not this time or in this way.

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December 3, 2016

[liveblog] Stephanie Mendoza: Web VR

Stephanie Mendoza [twitter:@_liooil] [Github: SAM-liooil] is giving a talk at the Web 1.0 conference. She’s a Unity developer.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

WebVR— a 3D in-browser standard— is at 1.0 these days, she says.. It’s cross platform which is amazing because it’s hard to build for Web, Android, and Vive. It’s “uncharted territory” where “everything is an experiment.” You need Chromium
, an experimental version of Chrome, to run it. She uses A-Frame to create in-browser 3D environments.

“We’re trying to figure out the limit of things we can simulate.” It’s going to follow us out into the real world. E.g., she’s found that “Simulating fearful situations ) can lessen fear of those situations in the real world”simulating fearful situations (e.g., heights) can lessen fear of those situations in the real world.

This crosses into Meinong’s jungle: a repository of non-existent entities in Alexius Meinong‘s philosophy.

The tool they’re using is A-Frame, which is an abstraction layer on top of WebGL
, Three.js, and VRML. (VRML was an HTML standard that didn’t get taken up much because the browsers didn’t run it very well. [I was once on the board of a VRML company which also didn’t do very well.]) WebVR works on Vibe, High Fidelity, Janus, the Unity Web player, and Youtube 360, under different definitions of “works.” A-Frame is open source.

Now she takes us through how to build a VR Web page. You can scavenge for 3D assets or create your own. E.g., you can go to Thingiverse and convert the files to the appropriate format for A-Frame.

Then you begin a “scene” in A-Frame, which lives between <a-scene> tags in HTML. You can create graphic objects (spheres, planes, etc.) You can interactively work on the 3D elements within your browser. [This link will take you to a page that displays the 3D scene Stephanie is working with, but you need Chromium to get to the interactive menus.]

She goes a bit deeper into the A-Frame HTML for assets, light maps, height maps, specular maps, all of which are mapped back to much lower-count polygons. Entities consist of geometry, light, mesh, material, position, and raycaster, and your extensions. [I am not attempting to record the details, which Stephanie is spelling out clearly. ]

She talks about the HTC Vive. “The controllers are really cool. “They’re like claws. I use them to climb virtual trees and then jump out”They’re like claws. I use them to climb virtual trees and then jump out because it’s fun.” Your brain simulates gravity when there is none, she observes. She shows the A-Frame tags for configuring the controls, including gabbing, colliding, and teleporting.

She recommends some sites, including NormalMap, which maps images and lets you download the results.

QA

Q: Platforms are making their own non-interoperable VR frameworks, which is concerning.

A: It went from art to industry very quickly.

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[liveblog] Paul Frazee on the Beaker Browser

At the Web 1.0 conference, Paul Frazee
is talking about a browser — a Chrome fork — he’s been writing to browse the distributed Web.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

The distributed Web is the Web with ideas from BitTorrent integrated into it. Beaker
uses IPFS and DAT

  • This means:

  1. Anyone can be a server at any time.

  2. There’s no binding between a specific computer and a site; the content lives independently.

  3. There’s no back end.

This lets Beaker provide some unusual features:

  1. A “fork button” is built into the browser itself so you can modify the site you’re browsing. “People can hack socially” by forking a site and sharing those changes.

  2. Independent publishing: The site owner can’t change your stuff. You can allocate new domains cheaply.

  3. With Beaker, you can write your site locally first, and then post into the distributed Web.

  4. Secure distribution

  5. Versioned URLs

He takes us through a demo. Beaker’s directory looks a bit like Github in terms of style. He shows how to create a new site using an integrated terminal tool. The init command creates a dat.json file with some core metadata. Then he creates an index.html file and publishes it. Then anyone using the browser can see the site and ask to see the files behind it…and fork them. As with GitHub, you can see the path of forks. If you own the site, you can write to the site, with the browser. [This fulfills Tim Berners’-Lee’s original vision of Web browsers.]

QA

Q: Any DNS support?

A: Yes.

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[liveblog] Kyle Drake: Making the Web Fun again

Kyle Drake, CEO of Neocities, is talking at the Web 1.0 conference. His topic is how to “bring back the spirit of geocities for the modern web.” The talk is on his “derpy” Web site

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

“When you don’t create things, you become defined by your tastes rather than ability,” said Why the Lucky Stiff. “Remember when everybody created Web sites?” Kyle asks. (He points to a screen capture of Mark Zuckerberg’s homepage, which is still available at the Internet Archive.) In the spirit of fairness, he shows his own first home page. And then some very early 90’s-ish home pages that “highlight the dorkiness of the 90’s Web.”

“They looked bad. But so what? They were fun. They were creative. They were quirky. They were interesting, And what did we replace them with? With a Twitter textbox.” Those textboxes are minimal and the same for everyone. Everyone’s profiles at Facebook has the same categories available.”It seems strange to me that we call that new and Web pages old.”

We got rid of the old Web because it wasn’t profitable. “This isn’t progress. It’s a nightmare. So, how do we take the good things about the old Web and modernize it? How do we bring back the old idea of people creating things and expressing themselves?”

That’s why Kyle founded Neocities. 1. It brings back free home pages. 2. No ads. 3. Protects sites against being shut down. It’s open source, too. It currently hosts 100,000 sites.

“This is not nostalgia,” he says. Web sites do things that social networks can’t. A Web site gives you more control and the ability to be more of who you are, with the confidence that the site will persist. And the good news about persistence is that pages still render, often perfectly, even decades later. Also, the Internet Archive can back them up easily. It also makes it easy to create curated lists and collections.

He’s working with IPFS so that Neocities sites can be community hosted.

QA

Me: How does he sustain it financially?

A: You can be a supporter for $5/month

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[liveblog] Amber Case on making the Web fun again

I’m at the Web 1.0 conference, at the MIT Media Lab, organized by Amber Case [@caseorganic]. It’s a celebration of sites that can be built by a single person, she explains.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

The subtitle of Amber’s opening talk is “Where did my data go?” She talks about hosting sites that folded and took all the home pages with them. After AOL Hometown got angry comments about this, it AOL Hometown “solved” the problem by turning off comments“solved” the problem by turning off comments. Other bad things can happen to sites you build on other people’s sites. They can change your UI. And things other than Web sites can be shut down — including household items in the Internet of Things.

She shows the Maslow Hierarchy for Social Network Supermarkets from Chris Messina. So, what happened to owning your identity? At early Web conferences, you’d write your domain name on your ID tag. Your domain was your identity. RSS and Atom allowed for distributed reading. But then in the early 2000s social networks took over.

We started writing on third party platforms such as Medium and Wikia, but their terms of service make it difficult to own and transfer one’s own content.

The people who could have created the tools that would let us share our blogs went to work for the social networking sites. In 2010 there was a Federated Web movement that resulted in a movement towards this. E.g., it came up with Publish on your own Site and Syndicate Elsewhere (POSSE
).

Why do we need an independent Web? To avoid losing our content, so businesses can’t to fold and take it with it, for a friendlier UX, and for freedom. “Independent Websites can help provide the future of the Web.”

If we don’t do this, the Web gets serious, she says: People go to a tiny handful of sites. They’re not building as many quirky, niche, weird Web sites. “”We need a weird Web””“We need a weird Web because it allows us to play at the edges and to meet others.” But if you know how to build and archive your own things, you have a home for your data, for self-expression, and with links out to the rest of the Web.

Make static websites, she urges…possibly with the conference sponsor, Neocities.

QA

Bob Frankston: How can you own a domain name?

Amber: You can’t, not really.

Bob: And that’s a big, big problem.

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November 27, 2016

Fake news sucks but isn't the end of civilization

Because fake news only works if it captures our attention, and because presenting ideas that are outside the normal range is a very effective way to capture our attention, fake news will with some inevitably tend to present extreme positions.

Real news items often uses the same technique these days: serious news stories often will have clickbait headlines. “Clickbait, whether fake or real, thus tends to make us think that the world is full of extremes. The normal doesn’t seem very normal any more.”Clickbait, whether fake or real, thus tends to make us think that the world is full of extremes. The normal doesn’t seem very normal any more.

Of course, clickbait is nothing new. Tabloids have been using it forever. For the past thirty years, in the US, local TV stations have featured the latest stabbing or fire as the lead story on the news. (This is usually said to have begun in Miami
, and is characterized as “If it bleeds, it leads,” i.e., it is the first item in the news broadcast.)

At the same time, however, the Internet makes it easier than ever to find news that doesn’t simply try to set our nerves on fire. Fact checking abounds, at sites dedicated to the task and as one of the most common of distributed Internet activities. Even while we form echo chambers that reinforce our beliefs, “we are also more likely than ever before to come across contrary views”we are also more likely than ever before to come across contrary views. Indeed, I suspect (= I have no evidence) that one reason we seem so polarized is that we can now see the extremities of belief that have always been present in our culture — extremities that in the age of mass communication were hidden from us.

Now that there are economic reasons to promulgate fake news — you can make a good living at it — we need new mechanisms to help us identify it, just as the rise of “native advertising” (= ads that pose as news stories) has led to new norms about letting the reader know that they’re ads. The debate we’re currently having is the discussion that leads to new techniques and norms.

Some of the most important techniques can best be applied by the platforms through which fake news promulgates. We need to press those platforms to do the right thing, even if it means a marginal loss of revenues for them. The first step is to stop them from thinking, as I believe some of them genuinely do, that they are mere open platforms that cannot interfere with what people say and share on them. Baloney. As Zeynep Tufekci, among others, has repeatedly pointed out, these platforms already use algorithms to decide which items to show us from the torrent of possibilities. Because the major Western platforms genuinely hold to democratic ideals, they may well adjust their algorithms to achieve better social ends. I have some hope about this.

Just as with spam, “native advertising,” and popup ads, we are going to have to learn to live with fake news both by creating techniques that prevent it from being as effective as it would like to be and by accepting its inevitability. If part of this is that we learn to be more “meta” — not accepting all content at its face value — then fake news will be part of our moral and intellectual evolution.

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November 22, 2016

[liveblog][bkc] Scott Bradner: IANA: Important, but not for what they do"

I’m at a Berkman Klein [twitter: BKCHarvard] talk by Scott Bradner about IANA, the Internet Assigned Names Authority. Scott is one of the people responsible for giving us the Internet. So, thanks for that, Scott!

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Scott begins by pointing to the “absurdity” of Ted Cruz’s campaign
to prevent the “Internet giveaway.”“ The idea that “Obama gave away the Internet” is “hooey,”” The idea that “Obama gave away the Internet” is “hooey,” says Scott.

IANA started with a need to coordinate information, not to control it, he says. It began with the Network Working Group in 1968. Then Requests for Comments (RFC) in 1969. . The name “IANA” showed up in 1988, although the function had begun in 1972 with coordinating socket numbers. The Domain Name System made IP addresses easier to use, including the hierarchical clustering under .com, .org, etc.

Back to the beginning, computers were too expensive for every gov’t department to have one. So, ARPA wanted to share large and expensive computers among users. It created a packet-based network, which broke info up into packets that were then transmitted. Packet networking was the idea of Paul Baran at RAND who wanted a system that would survive a nuclear strike, but the aim of that network was to share computers. The packets had enough info to make it to their destinations, but the packet design made “no assumptions about the underlying transport network.” No service guarantees about packets making it through were offered. The Internet is the interconnection of the different networks, including the commercial networks that began showing up in the 1990s.

No one cared about the Net for decades. To the traditional telecom and corporate networking people, it was just a toy—”No quality of service, no guarantees, no security, no one in charge.” IBM thought you couldn’t build a network out of this because their definition of a network — the minimal requirements — was different. “That was great because it meant the regulators ignored us.”

The IANA function went into steady state 1984-1995. It did some allocating of addresses. (When Scott asked Jon Postel for addresses for Harvard, Postel sent him some; Postel was the one-person domain allocation shop.) IANA ran it for the top level domains.

“The Internet has few needs,” Scott says. It’s almost all done through collaboration and agreement. There are no requirements except at a very simple level. The only centralized functions: 1. We have to agree on what the protocol parameters are. Machines have to understand how to read the packet headers. 2. We have to allocate blocks of IP addresses and ASN‘s. 3. We have to have a single DNS, at least for now. IANA handles those three. “Everything else is distributed.” Everything else is collaboration.

In 1993, Network Solutions was given permission to start selling domain names. A domain cost $100 for 2 yrs. There were were about 100M names at that point, which added up to real money. Some countries even started selling off their TLD’s (top level domains), e.g., .tv

IANA dealt with three topics, but DNS was the only one of interest to most people. There was pressure to create new TLDs, which Scott thinks doesn’t solve any real problems. That power was given to ISOC, which set up the International Ad-Hoc Committee in 1996. It set up 7 new TLDs, one of which (.web) caused Image Online Design to sue Postel because they said Postel had promised it to them. The Dept. of Commerce saw that it needed to do something. So they put out an RFC and got 400+ comments. Meanwhile, Postel worked on a plan for institutionalizing the IANA function, which culminated in a conference in Jan 1998. Postel couldn’t go, so Scott presented in his stead.

Shortly after that the Dept of Commerce proposed having a private non-profit coordinate and manage the allocation of the blocks to the registries, manage the file that determines TLDs, and decide which TLDs should exist…the functions of IANA. “There’s no Internet governance here, simply what IANA did.”

There were meetings around the world to discuss this, including one sponsored by the Berkman Center. Many of the people attending were there to discuss Internet governance, which was not the point of the meetings. One person said, “Why are we wasting time talking about TLDs when the Internet is going to destroy countries?” “Most of us thought that was a well-needed vacuum,” says Scott. We didn’t need Internet governance. We were better off without it.

Jon Postel submitted a proposal for an Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). He died of a heart attack shortly thereafter. The Dept. of Commerce accepted the proposal. In Oct 1998 ICANN had its first board meeting. It was a closed meeting “which anticipated much of what’s wrong with ICANN.”

The Dept of Commerce had oversight over ICANN but its only power was to say yes or no to the file that lists the TLDs and the IP addresses of the nameservers for each of the TLDs.” “That’s the entirety of the control the US govt had over ICANN. “In theory, the Dept of Commerce could have said ‘Take Cuba out of that file,’ but that’s the most ridiculous thing they could have done and most of the world could have ignored them.” The Dept of Commerce never said no to ICANN.

ICANN institutionalizes the IANA. But it also has to deal with trademark issues coming out of domain name registrations, and consults on DNS security issues. “ICANN was formed as a little organization to replace Jon Postel.”

It didn’t stay little. ICANN’s budget went from a few million bucks to over $100M.“ “That’s a lot of money to replace a few competent geeks.”” “That’s a lot of money to replace a few competent geeks.” It’s also approved hundreds of TLDs. The bylaws went from 7,000 words to 37,000 words. “If you need 37,000 words to say what you’re doing, there’s something wrong.”

The world started to change. Many govts see the Net as an intrinsic threat.

  • In Sept. 2001, India, Brazil, and South Africa proposed that the UN undertake governance of the Internet.

  • Oct 2013: After Snowden, the Montevideo Statement on the Future of Internet Cooperation proposing moving away from US govt’s oversight of IANA.

  • Apr. 2014: NetMundial Initiative. “Self-appointed 25-member council to perform internet governance.”

  • Mar. 2014: NTIA announces its intent to transition key domain name functions.

The NTIA proposal was supposed to involve all the stakeholders. But it also said that ICANN should continue to maintain the openness of the Internet…a function that ICANN never had. Openness arises from the technical nature of the Net. NTIA said it wouldn’t accept an inter-governmental solution (like the ITU) because it has to involve all the stakeholders.

So who holds ICANN accountable? They created a community process that is “incredibly strong.” It can change the bylaws, and remove ICAN directors or the entire board.

Meanwhile, the US Congress got bent out of shape because the US is “giving away the Internet.” It blocked the NTIA from acting until Sept. 2016. On Oct. 1 IANA became independent and is under the control of the community. “This cannot be undone.” “If the transition had not happened, forces in the UN would likely have taken over” governance of the Internet. This would have been much more likely if the NTIA had not let it go. “The IANA performs coordination functions, not governance. There is no Internet governance.”

How can there be no governance? “Because nobody cared for long enough that it got away from them,” Scott says. “But is this a problem we have to fix?”

He leaves the answer hanging. [SPOILER: The answer is NO]

Q&A

Q: Under whom do the IRI‘s [Internationalized Resource Identifier] operate?

A: Some Europeans offered to take over European domain names from Jon Postel. It’s an open question whether they have authority to do what they’re doing Every one has its own policy development process.

Q: Where’s research being done to make a more distributed Internet?

A: There have been many proposals ever since ICANN was formed to have some sort of distributed maintenance of the TLDs. But it always comes down to you seeing the same .com site as I do — the same address pointing to the same site for all Internet users. You still have to centralize or at least distribute the mapping. Some people are looking at geographic addressing, although it doesn’t scale.

Q: Do you think Trump could make the US more like China in terms of the Internet?

A: Trump signed on to Cruz’s position on IANA. The security issue is a big one, very real. The gut reaction to recent DDOS
attacks is to fix that rather than to look at the root cause, which was crappy devices. The Chinese government controls the Net in China by making everyone go through a central, national connection. Most countries don’t do that. OTOH, England is imposing very strict content

rules that all ISPs have to obey. We may be moving to a telephony model, which is a Westphalian
idea of national Internets.

Q: The Net seems to need other things internationally controlled, e.g. buffer bloat. Peer pressure seems to be the only way: you throw people off who disagree.

A: IANA doesn’t have agreements with service providers. Buffer bloat is a real issue but it only affects the people who have it, unlike the IoT DDOS attack that affected us all. Are you going to kick off people who’s home security cameras are insecure?

Q: Russia seems to be taking the opposite approach. It has lots of connections coming into it, perhaps for fear that someone would cut them off. Terrorist groups are cutting cables, botnets, etc.

A: Great question. It’s not clear there’s an answer.

Q: With IPv6 there are many more address spaces to give out. How does that change things?

A: The DNS is an amazing success story. It scales extremely well … although there are scaling issues with the backbone routing systems, which are big and expensive. “That’s one of the issues we wanted to address when we did IPv6.”

Q: You said that ICANN has a spotty history of transparency. What role do you think ICANN is going to play going forward? Can it improve on its track record?

A: I’m not sure that it’s relevant. IANA’s functions are not a governance function. The only thing like a governance issue are the TLDs and ICANN has already blown that.

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November 15, 2016

[liveblog][bkc] Aaron Perzanowski: The End of Ownership

I’m at a Berkman Klein Center lunchtime talk. Aaron Perzanowski is talking about “The End of Ownership,” the topic of his new book of the same name, written with Jason Schultz. Aaron is a law professor at Case Western Reserve Law School.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Normally we consumers take for granted rights for physical goods that come from the principle of exhaustion: when you sell something, you exhaust your rights to control it. That’s why we have used book stores and eBay and we can lend a novel to a friend. In this way, the copyright system gives end users a reason to participate: if you buy it, you can do what you want with it.

Aaron Perzanowski:

Online we use familiar forms of ownership: buy, rent, gift. This means that consumers don’t have to figure out every purchase from scratch; we have the basic understanding. Or do we?

The book talks about the erosion of the concept of exhaustion and the rights that flow from it.

First, copies themselves are disappearing. We used to own a copy. Now we subscribe to content streaming from the cloud. Copies are no longer rare, valuable, persistent.

Second, courts have redefined who counts as an owner. It used to be that if you paid money for it, and you paid for it once (i.e., not a subscription), then you owned it. In 1908, the courts decided that Bobbs Merrill couldn’t control the price for which a purchased copy could be re-sold. Now, end user license agreements routinely say that you have not bought a copy and thus you can not re-sell it.

He contrasts two cases from the 9th District Court of Appeal that were decided back to back on the same day, and that are totally inconsistent. In the first case, a promotional copy of a CD had stamped on it that accepting the CD binds the recipient to a prohibition on transferring it to someone else. The court said that you can’t impose ongoing obligations that travel around with the disk.

“We’ve passed the logical breaking point…”In the same case, on the same day, the same panel considered who owns the CD in the AutoCAD package. It contained the same sort of license. The court decided that those disks were licensed by users, not owned.

Q: The music CD was unsolicited. But I bought the AutoCAD disk.

A: Do you have more or less ownership interest in something you got for free or something you paid $8,000 for?

Early in the software industry, it wasn’t certain that sw could be patented or protected by copyright, so licenses played a bigger role. But now sw is everywhere, not just on little disks. Which bring us to Digital Rights Management (DRM). At first it was at least somewhat related to protecting IP. But we’ve passed the logical breaking point, E.g., Lexmark doesn’t want people to refill their printer ink cartridges. So they had code on their printers that detected non-Lexmark cartridges or refills and wouldn’t use them. The courts disagreed.

Apple recently got a patent on using infrared light recording to disable recording on your iPhone. If a concert broadcasts this light, your phone won’t be able to record it. Or if you’re a police officer who doesn’t want to be recorded. This is an example of how tech can turn the devices you think you own against you.

“The Internet of Things is really the Internet of Things you don’t own.”The Internet of Things is really the Internet of Things you don’t own. John Deer tractors have sw embedded in them that is licensed to the owner of the tractor. GM says the same thing about cars. Another example of “machine mutiny”: Keurig.

The final problem: The deceptive “Buy Now” button. You’re usually not really buying anything. E.g., remember when Amazon deleted copies of 1984 from Kindles? “What rights do people think they have when they ‘buy now.'” Aaron and Jason did an experiment that showed that if people bought through a “by now” button, they thought they have the right to keep, device, lend, and give their copy. People make this mistake because they port over their real-world understanding of buying goods.

Q&A

Q: How does this work internationally?

A: An international exhaustion regime could have dramatic consequences for people in less developed economies. I worry about this, but I don’t know the answer. It’s very tough to generalize.

Q: How does consumer understanding of this affect pricing?

A: We tested this. Would consumers behave differently if they knew the truth? We asked how much more people would be willing to pay. It was worth about $3 more for those rights, although we didn’t ask them to actually pay that money. [Amazon lets you stream a video for 24 hrs for $3-$5 or buy for somewhere around $15, or so I recall.]

Q: How are the demographics in their understanding of the rights they’re buying?

A: Generally white men 30+ were the least accurate. They assumed they were entitled to all the rights.

Q: How are the streaming services doing in terms of the confusion?

A: We haven’t researched it specifically but my intuition is that people aren’t as confused. They know that if they don’t pay their Spotify bill, they won’t have the service next month.

A: Disney will never again release Song of the South because it’s embarrassing. The loss of a cultural object like this is very disturbing.

Q: Is people’s sense of fairness shifting so we won’t be bothered by, say, GM turning off your car’s software?

A: This is a problem with dealing with consumer expectations. We’re advocating for one set, but they’re going in the other direction. We’ve situated our argument in the language of property because it’s incredibly powerful. That’s how sw owners argue their cases: “We own this property, so we get to say how it’s used.” But the property rights of IP holders shares a border with the stuff that we as consumers own.

Q: What can be done to change the trajectory?

A: The parallels to the privacy world are instructive. The people we surveyed took these concerns about ownership to heart in a way that they don’t in the privacy context.

A: You’ve only touched the tip of the ice berg. The problem is worse than you’ve indicated.

Yes, there is a broader problem.

A: [me] Take away the deception about “Buy” buttons and one could argue that customers simply have (or will have) more options. Does your focus on the property argument misses the cultural damage that unbundling licenses will wreak?

Q: This is why we talk about exhaustion. We’re trying to explain to people why ownership matters to culture. It’;s risky to argue that we just need to correct the misinformation. But there’s some hope. The only sector of the music market growing faster than Spotify et al. is vinyl. It’s a smaller percent of the market, but there are people who will pay a price premium for something that’s tangible and that’s theirs. Likewise, physical books haven’t gone away the way people [er, like me] predicted.

If it turns out that we as a culture don’t value these objects, that we want to pay $9.99 for access to everything, there’s not a lot that I can do other than point out the virtue of this other path.

Q: Are you identifying values connected to our ownership of tangible items that we ought to be defending as we move to digital items?

A: “Property functions as a stand-in for individual freedom.”Property functions as a stand-in for individual freedom. It gives individuals the right to make choices without asking anyone for permission. Thirty years ago, you could repair your car without asking anyone for permission.

Q: Have there been court cases about medical devices?

A: Not that I know of. But we give some examples in the book where individual users want to improve their functional. Manufacturers don’t want to let users monkey with them. Car companies say the same thing.

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November 11, 2016

Life will, uh, find a way

Mike Ananny [twitter: ananny] had to guest-lecture a class about media, communications and news on Nov. 9. He recounts the session with an implicit sense of wonder that we can lift our head up from the dirt after that giant Monty Python jackboot dropped on us.

monty pyton foot

It’s a reminder that step by step, we’ll make some progress back to where we were and then beyond.

No, I don’t really believe that. Not yet.

But I will.

Thanks to you.

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November 6, 2016

United Needs Info: a screenplay

United Airline’s new app let’s you watch free entertainment on flights on your Android or IoS device. But it wants to know a lot about you first:

United app's permissions

Some find that a tad intrusive. Not at all. Let me explain why…


You’re watching a movie on the new United in-flight app when suddenly a perfectly groomed middle-aged white man in an expensive suit and a carefully cropped goatee stands up and announces that the plane is now under his control. He turns his palms up, and one by one six young men rise from their seats spaced throughout the plane. Their dark faces are covered by bandanas so that all you can see are their dark eyes and dark skin. One of them coughs in Arabic.

All of your instincts, honed by years in a service known by a three-letter acronym that no one knows, not even you, come into play.

You gently swipe your thumb, scarred and weary from your many exploits, across your iPhone7™ on which you had been watching a movie, using United’s revolutionary YouScreen Personal Full Entertainment System — the Home of the Whopper — revealing what to the shapely white woman in the seat next to yours appears to be a game of Ultimate Fighter. The quizzical but charmed look on her face says she’s thinking it’s an odd time to play a game. But you know better.

Click left-right-right-up-up-A-left-D-down-right-down-down-up-A-A-B-A and … you’re in.

YouScreen slides a special screen in front of its usual friendly GUI. The YouScreen ATM (Anti-Terrorist Mode) displays blinky data and little fiddly bits against a camo background. It does a quick matrix analysis and reports on all non-white passengers currently not activating their AIS (Ass In Seat) sensor.

Got ’em!

The YouScreen’s map reveals that the one closest to you, in seat 16B, has some Arabic name that sounds all the same to you, lives in, let’s say, Iran, has been treated for cardiac arrhythmia, and during the flight watched two Jennifer Aniston movies and an episode of “Touched by an Angel.” He is clearly the weak point where you can begin.

But then you notice something interesting. YouScreen tells you that the man standing at the front of the plane is Fritz Deutscher, a German national. YouScreen reports that his phone is filled with TED Talks about leading through intimidation, and that he recently searched for “shoe inserts that embiggen you.” You can see that on his calendar are weekly therapy appointments, and twice weekly tanning sessions. There are daily skype calls to and from his mother with an average her-to-him talk time ratio of 14:1. Herr Deutscher may look tough, but is quite insecure.

You have the YouScreen ATM call Deutscher’s mobile using the special ring tone he’s set for his mother. As he lifts it to his face, you have it take a selfie, knowing that the lighting in the plane is low enough to trigger the flash. He is just for a moment dazed, confused — why is Mutti calling him in his moment of triumph? Why can’t he ever satisfy her? — and blinded.

You are out of your seat. Within moments you have subdued the terrorists.

Humbly waving off the cheers from the rest of the passengers, you slip back into your seat. The white woman next to you touches your hand. You go back to your movie.

And that movie is … Die Hard. Or maybe Air Force One. Something self-knowing and ironic. Doesn’t matter.

[Fade out]


You see, ladies and gentlemen, it’s all for your safety and convenience.

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