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November 22, 2010

Copps shows gumption at the FCC

While FCC Chair Jules Genachowski has hesitated so long on Net Neutrality that he’s lost his legislative majority, explaining that he’s trying to balance the financial interests of providers who have already been heavily subsidized and given near monopolies, and who nevertheless have given us an unevenly distributed sub-par infrastructure, one of the other four commissioners is standing up without equivocation for an Internet equally open to every idea.

Commissioner Michael Copps calls for re-classifying the Internet as a telecommunications service, undoing the mischief of classifying it as an information service. “[Let’s] actually call an apple and apple!,” he says.

Commissioner Copps also excoriates the Google-Verizon proposal because it excludes wireless and because it would create “tiered Internets”: “‘Managed services’ is what they call this. ‘Gated communities for the Affluent’ is what I call them.”

You can read Commissioner Copps’ comments here (pdf). (via Slashdot) [Me on Googizon, and an interview with Rick Whitt, Google lawyer.]


September 2, 2010

What’s ours in the Age of Google?

William Gibson has an brilliant op-ed in the NYT about our inability to make sense of an entity like Google. “Google is not ours. Which feels confusing…,” he says. Exactly.

But then I think Gibson misidentifies the cause of the confusion. He continues: “Which feels confusing, because we are its unpaid content-providers, in one way or another.” He says our “every search” is “a miniscule contribution.” But, that’s not why were confused. I’d venture that very few people realize that Google uses our searches to refine future results. And if they did know, I doubt they’d care. Who would expect to be paid for that, any more than we expect any company to pay us for learning from its logs?

The confusion many of us feel about Google is based on a different problem with the “ours.” Yes, “Google is not ours,” as Gibson says. But why on earth would we think that it is? Do we think GM is ours? Ok, bad example, but you know what I mean. It seems to me (i.e., Im guessing and generalizing) that we think confusedly that Google is ours both because as Gibson says it is such an important part of our shared ecosystem and because Google has presented itself as being so consistently on the side of its users.

This started right from the first day Google went on line with a search page that had nothing on it except its logo, a search box, and two buttons. There is nothing on that page that is not there to help users. That search page has become one of the most valuable pieces of “real estate” on the Web, and just about every marketer on the planet would be selling off pieces of it to advertisers. Google did not. This design aesthetic embodies a cultural aesthetic and an ethics that has been relentlessly pro-user. (Craigslist, too. Wikipedia, of course. And many, many sites down the Long Tail.)

Yes, of course many Google pages run ads, which is not something users have asked for or would ask for. Even so, Google has strictly limited the permitted obnoxiousness of ads, a policy that — given Google’s need to make a living — comes across as being on the user’s side. Google sells us to advertisers, but it controls the worst predatory urges of those advertisers.

So, whats confusing about Google is that it feels so much like it is ours — for us, like us, of us. it is not just another entity in our ecology but is an important enabler of it. But, we also know that it’s a corporation out to make money. We don’t know how to make sense of this so long as we hold both sides of what, traditionally, would be a paradox. As Gibson says, we have not seen its like before.

The confusing part reflects the hope: Perhaps in this new world were building for one another on line, we can get past the age-old assumed alienation of business from customer. The Net is ours. We built it for ourselves and for one another. We’ve done so using collaborative techniques few would have predicted would have worked. The Net is ours profoundly. Google has seemed to be the one BigCo that genuinely understands that — understands it beyond a mere alignment of interests dayenu!, understands the depth and importance of the way in which the Net is ours.

So, when Google acts in a way that seems to benefit itself but not us — arguably in its initial proposed Google Books settlement and the Googizon proposal — the violence of the shock measures the depth of our belief that Google is ours — for us, like us, of us. If even Google is not ours, is there then no hope that this time, in this new world, we can get past the structural antagonisms and distrust that have characterized the old world of our economy and culture?


August 13, 2010

Notes from a disappointed fanboy

American Public Media’s Future Tense has posted a looong post from me about the Googizon proposal. Here’s the beginning:

There is no denying that I am a Google fanboy. I postponed my technolust for an iPhone until I could get a Droid. I switched from the Firefox browser to Google’s Chrome. I use Google Mail, Google Calendar, Google Reader, Google Docs, and Google Maps, and I’d probably use Google Bugle and Google Tattoogle, if such things existed. I bought into Google products in large part because they tend to kick butt, but I have put up with some frustrations because I believed that Google was on my side. Our side. “Where are the other big companies that are standing up for the open Internet?” I have asked in public more than once.

So, Google’s joint proposal with Verizon hurt. Has Google cheated on me? Were there others before Verizon? Did Google ever really love me in the first place?

It then goes through my attempt to understand a bunch of the issues.