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September 6, 2009

Danny de Vito’s Twitter pic

Danny DeVito

He’s tweeted twice so far, once that his nuts are on fire, and then promising a phone call to a friend when he hits 100K followers, indicating that perhaps he hasn’t looked past the “number of followers” portion of the site, but I have to say that I love his photo…

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September 2, 2009

Wikipedia’s bio policy explained

Billy Barnes explains what’s really going on with Wikipedia’s new process for editing the biographies of living people.

What the media reported: In response to vandalism of bios, Wikipedia is not allowing any edits to bios of living people to be posted before they have been reviewed by trusted editors. (Implication: Wikipedia has failed at its mission of completely open, ungoverned editing [which of course isn’t Wikipedia’s mission].)

What actually is happening: Wikipedia has a two month trial of a “patrolled revisions” system that lets a reviewer (and I’m not sure who is in that class) set a flag on a bio of a living person to indicate that that particular version is vandalism free. According to the Wikipedia page describing this: “Currently, the number of edits to BLPs [biographies of living people] is so large that we don’t have the power to check all of them. This system allows us to monitor changes to BLPs by reducing the number of diffs to check by comparing new edits to previously patrolled revision.”

Does this mean that if you make a change to a living bio, it first has to be marked as approved before it will be posted? Not as far as I can tell: ” Patrolling does not affect the revision viewed by unregistered users by default, it’s always the latest one (unless the article is flag protected).” In fact, Jimmy Wales has said (on an email list I’m on) that the aim of this change is to use more efficient patrolling to enable some pages that have been locked to once again be editable by any user. That’s more or less the opposite of what the media coverage said. And, I hasten to add, what slashdot and, um, I said about it. (And I hope I’m getting it right this time…)

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September 1, 2009

Pew on civic engagement

Pew Internet & Life has a new study on the Internet and civic engagement. Here are the four key findings, as put by Lee Rainie, the head of the project:

First, those engaged with civic life online are very similar to those who participate offline from a socio-economic perspective. It turns out that overall the internet is not dramatically diversifying the class of folks who are civically engaged. The well-to-do and well-educated still predominate online, despite some of the early hope and predictions of activists.

Second, generational change in civic engagement is taking place online. Young adults, traditionally a politically inactive group, show less of a deficit in online than in offline political participation.

Third, new kinds of civic engagement are being created in the social mediasphere – on blogs, social network sites, Twitter and the like. Young internet users dominate their elders in those areas and there is tantalizing evidence that socio-economic stratification is not as pronounced among the social media participants who are civically engaged.

Fourth, we find that online tools like email, websites, and instant messaging are now embedded in civic activity as groups of all kinds use them to further civic and political goals.

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August 30, 2009

RIAA wins DMCA case: Now illegal to decompose

The RIAA has won a ruling that the DMCA‘s provision that forbids backward engineering software to see how it work applies also to musical recordings. The ruling forbids any attempt to figure out the melody, arrangement, or chord progression of any copyrighted song, whether that figuring out is done mentally, at a keyboard, or using software. It also forbids graphical displays based on the music, including the psychedelic visualizations that come with many music players or the tapping of feet to beats embedded in a copyrighted work. An exemption has been made for those with perfect pitch, although they are not allowed to transmit or communicate the internal structures of music that they have mentally decoded.

The RIAA has also announced that it will sue to protect all who claim unique musical contributions to the culture. As a result, Pat Boone now owns the Motown sound, John Lennon owns singing above one’s natural range as a way of expressing emotion, Cat Stevens owns singing below one’s natural range for the same purpose, and Van Morrison has been awarded custody of any two-chord song to which musicians improvise while high enough on marijuana that they think other people are enjoying it.

An RIAA spokesmen expressed delight with the ruling and the new set of protections: “We think we’re now within sight of producing the last two or three original songs, and then the entire culture can call it a day.”

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August 28, 2009

My arms too short to box the Internet

Doc’s got an excellent, provocative post about how our thinking about the Internet hems us in. I find myself nodding my head but also holding back just a little.

My head nods up and down to Doc’s overall point. We hear “Internet” and we think an infrastructure of cables and radio signals, when in fact the Internet is a set of protocols that can be implemented over anything from copper wires to carrier pigeons. We shouldn’t be surprised. We reify stuff all the time. For example, somehow bits themselves went from a measurement of difference to the “stuff” inside a computer. So, it’s practically inevitable that we’ll think about the Internet in overly concrete terms. It’s what we do. At least in the West.

And I certainly nod my head at Doc’s conclusion that we need to “re-think all infrastructure outside all old boxes, including the one we call The Internet.”

And I’m at 100% nod-RPMs when Doc talks about Erik Cecil “thinking out loud about how networks are something other than the physical paths we reduce them to.” In fact, I find myself understanding issues ever more frequently in terms of traditional structures becoming networks or taking on the properties of networks. E.g., news is a network, not a set of stories. Businesses ought to view themselves more and more as networks. Expertise is a property of a network. Leadership is a property of a network. Markets are networks within which conversations take place, natch. Networks are very much becoming our new paradigm. And, as Erik says, a network is not its physical path.

So, where do I diverge from Doc? I’m not entirely sure I actually do. But I think Doc feels we need to come up with a new framing of the Internet, whereas I see networks as a growing paradigm that will naturally reframe it.

The reframing is here; it’s just unevenly distributed?



August 25, 2009

Wikipedia’s tactical change mistaken for strategic

At the English language version of Wikipedia now, changes to articles about living people won’t be posted until a Wikipedian has reviewed it. Those articles are now moderated. (See Slashdot for details and discussion.)

I am surprised by the media being surprised by this. Wikipedia has a complex set of rules, processes, and roles in place in order to help it achieve its goal of becoming a great encyclopedia. (See Andrew Lih’s The Wikipedia Revolution‘, and How Wikipedia Works by Phoebe Ayers, Charles Matthews, and Ben Yatesfor book-length explanations.) This new change, which seems to me to be a reasonable approach worth a try, is just one more process, not a signal that Wikipedia has failed in its original intent to be completely open and democratic. In effect, edits to this class of articles are simply being reviewed before being posted rather than after.

The new policy is only surprising if you insist on thinking that Wikipedia has failed if it isn’t completely open and free. No, Wikipedia fails if it doesn’t become a great encyclopedia. In my view, Wikipedia has in many of the most important ways succeeded already.

PS: If you think I’ve gotten this wrong, please please let me know, in the comments or at, since I’ll be on KCBS at 2:20pm EDT to be interviewed about this for four minutes.

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August 21, 2009

Kids with flamethrowers

Flavorwire posts about a project studying microcommunities that takes online flamethrowers as its topic:

The premise is simple; to showcase kids and their homemade flamethrowers. However, the concept behind the premise isn’t as cut and dry. Not just a music video, the ode to flamethrowers and the kids who make them is also the focal point of a case study being conducted by the Web Ecology Project, Tim Hwang of ROFLCon/Awesome Foundation and Sawyer Carter Jacobs, bassist for Family Portrait. Together the research team, which formed while working together at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, are using the video to highlight the “often overlooked universe of micro-communities flourishing in the nooks and crannies of the web.”

I’m a Tim Hwang fanboy, so I’m looking forward to what the project comes up with. You can vote for including a panel on microcummunities (with flamethrowers as its example) at SxSW.

On the other hand, I’m old, so I look at the video and say “HOLY MOTHER OF CRISPIES, YOU KIDS PUT THOSE THINGS DOWN THIS INSTANT!!!”

Seriously, someone should take these kids to a burn ward as part of a Scared Flame-Retardant program. And then Smoky the Bear ought to give them a singed-knuckle sandwich.

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August 20, 2009

New issue of JOHO the Newsletter

I’ve just sent out the August 18, 2009 issue of JOHO, my newsletter. (It’s completely free, so feel free to subscribe.) It’s all new material (well, new-ish) except for one piece.

[email protected]: Recently, the tenth anniversary edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto came out, a book I co-authored. Here’s some of what we got wrong in the original version.

In the new edition’s introduction, I list a bunch of ways the world has become cluetrain-y, many of which we take for granted. The fact is that I think Cluetrain was pretty much right. Of course, at the time we thought we were simply articulating things about the Web that were obvious to users but that many media and business folks needed to hear.

But Cluetrain also got some important things wrong…and I don’t mean just Thesis #74: “We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.”

Our kids’ Internet: 

Part 1: Will our kids appreciate the Internet?: Will the Net become just another medium that we take for granted? 

I love the Internet because even now, fifteen years into the Web, I remember what life used to be like. In fact, give me half a beer and I’ll regale you with tales of typing my dissertation on an IBM Model B electric, complete with carbon paper and Wite-Out. Let me finish my beer and I’ll explain microfiche to you, you young whippersnappers.

The coming generation, the one that’s been brought up on the Internet, aren’t going to love it the way that we do…

Part 2: The shared lessons of the Net: The Net teaches all its users (within a particular culture) some common lessons. And if that makes me a technodeterminist, then so be it.

In my network of friends and colleagues, there’s a schism. Some of us like to make generalizations about the Net. Others then mention that actual data shows that the Net is different to different people. Even within the US population, people’s experience of it varies widely. So, when middle class, educated, white men of a certain age talk as if what they’re excited about on the Net is what everyone is excited about, those white men are falling prey to the oldest fallacy in the book. 

Of course that’s right. My experience of the Web is not that of, say, a 14 year old Latina girl who’s on MySpace, doesn’t ever update Wikipedia articles, isn’t on Twitter, considers email to be a tool her parents use, and — gasp — hasn’t ever tagged a single page. The difference is real and really important. And yet …

Part 3: How to tell you’re in a culture gap: You’ll love or hate this link, which illustrates our non-uniform response to the Net.

The news’ old value:  

Part 1: Transparency is the new objectivity: Objectivity and credibility through authority were useful ways to come to reliable belief back when paper constrained ideas. In a linked world, though, transparency carries a lot of that burden.

Part 2: Driving Tom Friedman to the F Bomb: Traditional news media are being challenged at the most basic level by the fact that news has been a rectangular object, not a network.

Bogus Contest: Net PC-ness: What should we be politically correct about in the Age of the Web?

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August 12, 2009

Apple: Totalitarian art

Jason Calacanis has an excellent post making the case against Apple, from an Apple fan’s point of view. I’m basically with him.

Doc Searls has long said that the key to understanding Steve Jobs — and thus to understanding Apple — is that Job’s an artist. We understand when an artist wants to maintain complete, obsessive control over his creations, especially when they are as beautiful as some Apple products are. But it’s not just artistry at work at Apple. Apple tends towards totalitarianism.

You can see why in its computer architectures: Its products work because they’re relatively closed systems that run tightly controlled hardware, unlike Microsoft’s operating system that has to be able to work on just about every piece of hardware that comes along. And Apple’s stuff generally works beautifully. (I switched from Windows to the Mac about three years ago.) But the hardwired connection between the iPod and iTunes — only recently loosened — is there not to benefit users, but to meet the DRM needs of recording companies and to tether users to Apple. The hardwired connection between the iPhone and the App Store represents a disturbing direction for the industry, in which Apple acts in loco parentis to protect users from their own software decisions, and (apparently) to exclude products they believe hurt the business interests of their partners. The App Store’s success makes it particularly threatening; it’s easy to imagine Apple’s rumored tablet adopting the same strategy, then other companies following suit.

It’s not an unmixed picture, of course. The removal of the egregious DRM from iTunes is a step forward, and seems to have been a step Apple eagerly took, and the movement of the Mac’s OS onto Unix added admirable transparency. Plus, Apple makes some beautiful stuff that works beautifully.

I just wish that going forward, I felt more confident that Apple is on our side, not just as customers but as digital citizens.

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August 4, 2009

Don’t Ask and Don’t Tell Facebook

The military is trying to devise policies to govern how our service people use social networking sites, according to a story by Julian Barnes in the LA Times. The article implies the Pentagon accepts that military folks are going to use these sites, and there may even be some good that will come from it, but the military is concerned about security. At the moment, the Marines have banned accessing Facebook, MySpace and Twitter from government computers, to make sure there’s bandwidth for more pressing military needs.

Not that anyone asked, but it seems to me that the military would do best by treating social networking sites simply as another place service people will be gathering, just like in coffee shops, living rooms, and bars, and should therefore be training them in the use of social networking sites, with clear penalties for violating security guidelines. Which may be exactly what the military policy is heading toward.

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