Joho the BlogApril 2010 - Page 3 of 4 - Joho the Blog

April 10, 2010

Natural disasters and the absence of G-d

I woke up this morning with an odd tweet in my head: Just about everything in the universe is bigger than we are.

I didn’t tweet it because it’s false: There’s an awful lot of dust in the universe. But I was pleasantly surprised to find (via Leiter Reports) an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, by Samuel Newlands, sort of on that topic. It’s about Haiti, Leibniz, and the problem of evil.

The problem of evil is the philosophical way of referring to the fact that an awful lot of bad sh*t happens to innocent people for a world supposedly watched over by a benevolent deity. Traditionally, there are a number of ways to resolve the problem. You can say that people get what they deserve, so that what looks unfair in fact is not. That’s a little hard to square with the death of babies, but people have certainly tried. Then there are the big three properties of G-d: All powerful, all knowing, all loving. Take away one of those three, and you can explain why bad things happen to good people: G-d is powerless to prevent it (Leibniz’s answer, in a clever form), G-d can’t predict it, or G-d just doesn’t care.

If I were to believe in a god, I think the only one I could muster up any loyalty to would be one who created us but not the universe. The Earth looked like a good place to plant us, so the Deity set us down carefully, gave us some useful texts to get us started, and then left us on our own.

Beyond that, it’s a mystery to me. But, then, it’s supposed to be a mystery. After all, most of the universe is bigger than we are.

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April 9, 2010

Dan Gillmor on what’s wrong with the iPad

Dan Gillmor has a terrific piece that looks at what’s worrisome about the iPad and its fawning embrace by the very media that hope to be saved by it.

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[2b2k] Mr. Denham’s defense of child chimney sweeps

From the summary of the remarks in 1819 of a Mr. Denham during the British House of Commons debate of a bill that would have limited the use of young boys as chimney sweeps — as young as four years old, stuck into chimneys 7″ square for up to six hours at a time [source]. How many modern arguments can you spot?

If chimneys could be swept by machinery cheaper and better than by boys, he could not conceive that the people of this country were so attached to cruel treatment merely because it was cruel, as to continue to sweep with children, when if would be better to sweep with machinery. If, as had been stated by an hon. gentleman, on the authority of the fire-offices, that machinery was safer and better, he should think it was quite enough to state this to the public in order to induce them to adopt machinery. When he found in this bill a series of clauses, empowering a single justice to convict on the evidence of a single witness, and the functions of a jury superseded, he could not help viewing it as extremely objectionable. He must see a strong case of necessity made out before he could vote for such a measure. … [H]e thought the good sense of the public was sufficient to correct the evil without loading the statute book with another penal law, every penal law being in his opinion a great evil. … It might be proper that children of tender age, either with their parents or as parish paupers, ought not to be bound out to this employment; but he thought that parents might in general be trusted with the guardianship of their own children; and he submitted, whether it would not be better that they should be employed in sweeping chimneys than in idleness, in the workhouse, or in the fraud and pilfering which was now so common among boys of tender age. With respect to the convictions for breach of covenant before a magistrate, he could not see why this, like any other covenant, should not go before a jury. He did not wish to give such enormous powers to magistrates…

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April 8, 2010

Pixels, the movie

I love this video, by Patrick Jean (via BoingBoing)

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April 7, 2010

Reclassifying broadband

I was less depressed than I would have expected about yesterday’s ruling that the FCC does not have the authority to tell Comcast to let us do what we want with our Internet. In part, that’s because I was expecting to lose. In part it’s because this battle is far, far from over. There’s the possibility of an appeal (although the 3:0 decision seems pretty definite), Congressional action, or reclassifying the Internet. The third is the most interesting, although it has its own risks.

I am not a lawyer and I do not understand these things well, but this ruling could spur the FCC to make a simple change in how it classifies the Internet — it’s all about the classifications, people! — which would truly change the game.

So, pardon me (or better, correct me) as I get this wrong, but it all comes down to the various classifications that began with the 1934 Communications Act and were amended in the 1996 Telecommunications Act. The 1996 Act institutes a difference between “information services” (like the Net at the time) and “telecommunication services” like the telephone system. Information services include “the offering of a capability for generating, acquiring, storing, transforming, processing, retrieving, utilizing, or making available information via telecommunications,” i.e. the Internet. Telecommunication services transmit “information, without a change in its form or content,” i.e., the telephone system. Telecommunication services are considered “common carriers,” and are classified under Title II. Common carriers are not allowed to unjustly or unreasonably discriminate in their services, which is why you can use George Carlin’s seven dirty words in any [email protected]$#%-ing telephone call you want. (I found David Johnson’s post on this helpful, but don’t blame him for my misunderstandings. Stephen Schultze also does an excellent and thorough job on these topics in a Radio Berkman podcast — highly recommended. Also, see Susan Crawford‘s concise explanation of yesterday’s decision.)

In 2002, the Bush FCC decided that if you get Internet access via a cable company, those services should not count as coming under Title II; cable companies are information providers, not telecommunication companies. The courts agreed in the 2005 Brand X decision, which meant the cable companies no longer had to provide wholesale access to ISPs the way telephone companies did under the obligation of common carriers to provide access to all without discrimination. That’s why around that time your choice as a user went from lots of small, competitive ISPs to one or two Big Name cable ISPs.

These classifications are troublesome — everything is miscellaneous, people! — because the Net is eating the other communications media; the Net now carries a good percentage of telecommunications traffic and doesn’t always run via the sorts of telecommunications the Congress envisioned in 1996. So, assuming that the FCC wants to regulate the Internet — and “regulate” here means to keep it free of the de facto regulation by those who provide access to it — it could reclassify broadband as the transmission of information (telecommunications, Title II) rather than as an information service that transforms information. This would make broadband a type of common carrier, preventing providers from discriminating against content they don’t like or discriminate in favor of their own content. There is, of course, dispute about whether the FCC has the authority to reclassify it this way (putting it under Title I, AKA “ancillary powers”), so “the FCC could” actually means “the FCC could and face legal challenges.”

Erik Cecil is among those who have posted very interesting comments on these issues. Erik maintains that, despite the pundits, it would be easy for FCC to reclassify broadband services under Title II as a type of telecommunications. He says the FCC already has a set of regulations about broadband (including requiring wiretapability under CALEA, and 911 VOIP access), and thus is already treating it as a Title II telecommunications service that moves bits without changing them. Public Knowledge, which has been active in pushing for Net Neutrality, also has posted about this.

My own, uninformed point of view? Classification for its own sake is a mug’s game, especially when we’re using categories such as “common carriage” that go back to the age of railroads. So, I don’t much care how broadband services are classified except insofar as it gets us to the social end that I want: maximal access to a maximally open and non-discriminatory Internet.

 


CEO of Verizon, Ivan Seidenberg, says “we will throttle”:

… the very, very high users, the ones who camp on the network all day long every day doing things that — who knows what they’re doing — those are the —

MURRAY: It’s video, right? I mean, it’s video.

SEIDENBERG: But those are the people we will throttle and we will find them and we will charge them something else.

Anyone want to print up some “Internet Camper” t-shirts

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April 6, 2010

[berkman] Christian Sandvig on the future of TV

Christian Sandvig is giving a Berkman lunchtime talk called “The Television Cannot Be Revolutionized.” [NOTE: I am live-blogging, making mistakes, getting things wrong, leaving things out, not spellpchecking. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK and do not assume this is an accurate reflection of Christian’s talk.]

He begins by crediting Gil Scott Heron for the title. He says he’s looking for a research agenda for studying TV, especially three bottlenecks: distribution, search, and genre.

He talks about a 1995 effort to create a cable channel (The Puppy Channel, then Channemals) that was all cute animals all the time. The creator’s market research showed it would capture a respectable 0.1% of the US TV market. So, he went to Rupert Murdoch, Barry Diller, and Ted Turner, but they thought it was “too weird” an idea for cable. He found it’d cost $17M to distribute it himself.

So, says Christian, the creator launched ThePuppyChannel.com. no one is watching it, but people are watching cute animals on YouTube, etc. The bottleneck has been broken, but it still looks like 1995. E.g., YouTube has a Rentals beta and puts ads everywhere. “YouTube is behaving like a television network and not like a tube for you.” The person behind the recent redesign (Margaret Stewart) of YouTube said “We want you to go into passive mode, sit back, and watch.” We used to think that the Net and Net TV were about interactivity.

TV is important, Christian says. A Ball State U study in 2009 looked at what Americans spend their time doing with media. 100% of people use the phone every day. People use video about 6 hours a day in the US. (This includes video on any device.) About 2/3 of views were on YouTube last year. Analysts say YouTube loses money, but Hulu is profitable. One possible conclusion: Dump amateur content.

In an essay, Christian and a colleague compared Life Magazine and You Tube. Life launched as pioneering photo-journalism. Is YouTube becoming like Life magazine?

Christian shows the power law distribution. What would be the ideal distribution, he asks. We don’t want a single producer of media. We don’t want only a long tail because then none of us share any single media content; that would be complete fragmentation. We don’t want only the head, because that’s media concentration, although it would at least give us enough shared experience to have a culture. In fact, says Christian, we shouldn’t be thinking simply about the shape of the curve. If we were talking about monetary income curves, we’d want to do a mobility analysis: How hard is it to move up the curve? It’s not so much the shape as whether you can move up it, he says.

“We seem to be in the process of building two Internets, Christian says, “which is worrying.” Getting your baby video up on YouTube is easy, and you don’t even need YouTube to do it. But, if you want to show the Olympics, NBC has to do a deal with a Net intermediary; if you tried to do it from the server under your desk, it wouldn’t work. History break: Adorno was exercised by the making industrial of culture via things like expensive, complex broadcast studios; the same is happening with the Net because we need expensive, complex hosting/edge-caching services.

A difference between broadcast and Net media: The head of the curve was purposefully built for TV, but emerged for the Net. TV started out with only local audiences because there were no national networks. After a lot of investment and lobbying, after 1962 we have a national TV system, built to satisfy advertisers.

The Net is supposed to be a cheaper form of distribution than TV. Is this true? If you use Amazon Web Services to distribute a video to a million people, is it cheaper than TV? It’s a hard comparison because TV bundles in the costs of building a market. So compare putting on a late-night one-minute infomercial. The costs are surprisingly similar.

Christian asks why more people aren’t doing research on this and on mobility. In part, he thinks, this is because of the way university departments are structured; they don’t always have people combine expertise in media and Net infrastructure.

Second bottleneck: Search. Videos become popular through being featured on distribution home pages, and on recommender systems. Chris Anderson says recommender systems help you find unpopular results. But there’s no reason for a system to design their algorithms that way, instead of promoting more popular systems. These systems look at things like featured videos (which can be paid placements). Steven Wittens in 2009 found that the algorithm tends to match view counts: If you look at a video, it will recommend other videos with the same or greater number of views.

Finally, the third bottleneck: Genre. How do unpopular things become popular? So much on YouTube apes the conventions of broadcast genres. Parodies of television sitcoms. Parodies of newscasts. Does mobility depend on adopting broadcast genres? Is YouTube just the A&R of the tv industry, externalizing the development of new talent?

Christian says he’s surprised that television seems to be going backwards. Distribution: He’s looking for ways to study this. And, he says, policy issues depend on this as well. E.g., Princeton has a distributed, p2p edge-caching system, sans Akamai. Search: See Frank Pasquale, Christian says. Search: Maybe vlogging, video game commentary, or animal videos are the new genre.

Q: Google says it puts user experience first. Are they betraying that at YouTube?Are they serving users by driving them to popular videos?
A: It’s hard, because people’s wants can be trained. Their search algorithms may reinforce popularity.

Q: You set up a dichotomy. TV is still transforming. There are more channels than content. TV is heading to the Net. Why not see this as a convergence?
A: I admit that in the framing I’ve emphasized a question of Internet exceptionalism. But, this, the Berkman Center, is Ground Zero for Internet exceptionalism.
Q: Maybe the conclusion is that people want mass hits and a long tail.
A: We don’t have good tools for arguing about what we want the shape of the curve to be, but we could about mobility.

Q: What about marketing? That makes a big diff about where you are in the curve. Networks are the biggest advertisers of themselves.
A: Yes, marketing is crucial. We’ve also unintentionally made capital requirements for distribution. I’d like a way to host a video that isn’t hugely expensive.,br>
Q: Why not be in the tail?
A: Chris Anderson says it’s finding your niche, but you could also call it total irrelevance. You want everyone to be able to construct culture.

Q: Isn’t BitTorrent the tool you’re looking for?
A: Any p2p performance tracks to page rank. The ones that will perform best are the ones that are popular.
Q: We want more bandwidth for the popular, and less for not popular.
A: We want a route to move from unpopular to popular. If I put it on my host, I’ll get hit if popular zooms.

Q: Could we be going back to the CompuServ model where we paid but the content was good?
A: Normatively, if we paid for it, there’d be a lot of advantages. Right now we have a sender-mostly-pays system, which is why we have edge-caching.

Q: How much does the culture of the users matter, vs. the culture of the distributors? What happens when users start to game the system?
A: One of the best way to find out about the algorithms is look to people who use these services a lot. E.g., the search engine optimizers. And the new users of new media tend to bring forward assumptions and behaviors from the old culture. Cf. Claude Fischer. Amanda Lotts in The Television Will Be Revolutionized focuses on the old industry. It’d be interesting to see how the old TV folks think about the new one.

Q: Content will flow uphill to money. TV has moved toward the Net. We watch when we want. We’ll see a merge of the two technologies. Understanding why some videos go viral would be valuable, because that will attract money.
A: It’s such a challenging research challenge. There are so many factors involved. But, I do want to say that my talk does recognize the influence of money.

Q: [yochai] You are proposing three distinct kinds of research projects: 1. Look at video creators and musicians. Mimi Ito on anime movie videos: they’re not primarily on YouTube. Look at how hard it is for a producer community to reach the relevant audience. And how important is that, normatively. 2. How much does a user see, read, or hear that is not news and that does not come through capital-intensive media? What is the flow of streams that people watch? We don’t know the answer to that. 3. What is the ability to set the agenda for what is broadly viewed as culture? MediaCloud looks at agenda-setting over time. Start with case studies. E.g., find 50 of the 895,000 viewers of the autistic kids YouTube.
A: This talk is a reaction against looking at how artists reach their desired communities. Lots of research is being done on this. How virtuous communities arise is not the most pressing question. More important: Are there new cultural gatekeepers arising?
A: Imagine that the answer of #2 is the 40% spend 50% of their time on content that doesn’t reach more than 100 people…

Q: Anita Elbersee [sp] says that the Web is magnifying the impact of blockbuster media. This gives the mainstream little incentive to be revolutionized. What’s the impetus to change?
A: Chris Anderson’s book doesn’t hold together because what drives things down the tail you could argue the other way, e.g., the recommender algorithms I talked about. So, what’s the incentive? There’s no “charlie bit my finger” lobby. There are beginning discussions about open video standards. I’d like to see more of a counterpoint to the mainstream approaches. The institutional impetus isn’t there. In most user-produced content, you don’t see revolution, nor would you expect to. Maybe I was being naive.
Q: If you kill the edge-caching business, why wouldn’t everyone get what they want?
A: The fact that you have to rely on third party hosting has effects broadly.

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April 5, 2010

Shirky’s myth of complexity

Clay Shirky has given us a surprising number of Internet myths. And by this I mean not falsehoods but the opposite: Broad, illuminating ways of making sense of what’s going on. For example, Clay’s post about the power law distribution of links in the blogosphere (based on research by Cameron Marlow) changed how we view authority, fame, and success in the Web ecosystem, and provided the structure within which Chris Anderson could point to the Long Tail. And Clay’s Ontology Is Overrated made clear that a change in how we categorize our world affects very real power relationships; that essay was highly influential, including on my own Everything Is Miscellaneous.

Clay’s new post — The Collapse of Complex Business Models — gives us a broad way of understanding why those who used to provide us with content will not be the ones who give us content in the future…and why they cannot fathom why not.

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April 3, 2010

The television will not be revolutionized

I’m looking forward to Christian Sandvig’s Tuesday talk at the Berkman Center:

THE TELEVISION CANNOT BE REVOLUTIONIZED

Tuesday, April 6, 12:30 pm

Berkman Center, 23 Everett Street, second floor

RSVP required for those attending in person ([email protected])

This event will be webcast live at 12:30 pm ET and archived on our site shortly after.

ABSTRACT

Video on the Internet briefly promised us a cultural future of decentralized production and daring changes in form–even beyond dancing kittens and laughing babies. Yet recent developments on sites like YouTube, Hulu, and Fancast as well as research about how audiences watch online video both suggest a retrenchment of structures from the old “mass media” system rather than anything daring. In this talk I’ll argue that choices about the distribution infrastructure for video will determine whether all our future screens will be the same.

ABOUT CHRISTIAN

Christian Sandvig is a Fellow of the Berkman Center and Associate Professor in Communication, Media, and at Coordinated Science Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He holds the Ph.D. in communication from Stanford University. In 2006 he received the Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation in the area of Human-Centered Computing.

All part of what one might see as the Berkman Center’s recent (past couple of years) theme that the Internet isn’t working out the way some of us hoped. (Note that the Berkman Center doesn’t really have a theme. I’m just pointing to a trend that may be more of a result of selective perception on my part, reflecting changes in my own thinking.)

Note the info about RSVPing if you want to attend, and the fact that it will be webcast live…

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April 2, 2010

[2b2k] The book of the future has arrived!

Yikes. All this talk about the future of books and the future of ebooks. Will it be like the Kindle? Will it be like the iPad?

The book of the future is already here. It’s been here for about 15 years. It’s called The Web.

That’s taking books as the medium by which we develop, preserve, and communicate ideas and knowledge. The Web is already that book — distributed, linked, messy, unstable, self-contradictory, bottom up and top down, never done, unsettled and unsettling, by us and of us. The book of the future has a trillion pages and trillions of links, and is only getting started.

If, however, you mean by “book” a bounded stretch of an authorial monologue, we have plenty of those on the Web, and some have great value. But they now get their value by being linked into the roiling universe of their peers.

The book of the future isn’t on the Web; it is the Web.

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[moi] David Hornik on privacy.

David Hornik of August Capital is funnier than many of the guests on the Radio Berkman series of podcasts. Not to mention that he’s also smart. I interviewed him about privacy ”n’ stuff.

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