{ thinking out loud about the things i care about }

Posts Tagged ‘social media’

Anonymous Blogging & The Internet

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Originally posted by rm and I’m spreading it around some more because I think the conversation is a good one to have: is it okay to blog about this woman anonymously?

I’m not sure which side I stand in the latest battle between unmasked anonymouse Rosemary Port and her target Liskula Cohen. On the one hand, I think probably Cohen had a fairly good idea who was behind the blog before she started going through the motions of forcing Google to reveal her identity, and it seems fairly clear this particular issue is more about the bad blood between these two people than either anonymity or privacy. (And can I just sidenote for a minute to say how much it saddens and frustrates me that women are taught to treat each other this way in our culture, and that it’s being pumped up by the news media largely because it is two women dueling in that way women have been conditioned to, which just reinforces it. End sidenote.) At the same time I detest and bemoan the way the anonymice have made the culture of the internet such a brutal, unforgiving, unreasonable one in many ways, I’m also not certain being rude should mean forfeiting your privacy and entitles the world to know your identity.

Thinky thoughts indeed.

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Sears, SEO, & Poor Web Implementation

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Sears’ cacheable URLs, poor web implementation (guys, this is why jobs like mine are important), and their own fuckwitery has combined to create this awesome fail.

Someone discovered they could change the labels on a Sears product and category pages by changing it in the URL, forcing the page to draw this BBQ category with the description “Grills to Cook Babies and More”. In most cases, this would have been a one-off visible only to the mischievous little scamp who’d made the change, but because Sears caches these URLs in order to get some black-ops Google search lift, the pesky URL was indexed by both Google and Sears’ internal search. As things do on the internet, the link spread like wildfire until the offending URL about eating babies became one of the featured pages on Sears.

The best part is, once Sears found out about it, they started trying to kill any conversation about it online, approaching sites like Reddit and threatening to pull any and all advertising if the admins didn’t remove and censor any and all conversations. Nothing makes the internets angrier than being censored, and thus the Streisand Effect was invoked.

Way to make something relatively harmless into an internet crusade. This lesson on what not to do brought to you by our sponsor, Sears.

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Oh Look, My Social Networking Hat

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Any other social networking/social media affectionados out there? Y’all should read this very interesting post by Cody Brown that talks about the difference between how Twitter, MySpace and Facebook scaled, the identity crisis of the former two, and what all that likely means for the business. And then, if you really want to geek out, read this article from TechCrunch that walks through some leaked confidential documents from a Twitter insider. (Way far down in that article, if you get that far, they talk about the Twitter employee “Happiness Committee” which made me LOL.)

The Coles Notes gist is that, while Facebook started small and with a particular focus (ie: connecting real life identities online as a way to keep in touch with collage friends), Twitter and MySpace created a basic tool and tried to grab as many users as it could as soon as possible. Where Facebook’s slow growth allowed it to closely watch how its users were using the site and begin tailoring and tweaking the features to make it easier to do those things, MySpace and Twitter both grew so quickly that they couldn’t keep up with the different ways their tool was being used in any meaningful way. The ReTweet and hashtag phenomenons are not and never were something created by the company, but rather something created and distributed across Tweetdom by the users as a simple way to credit other people for the content of a Tweet or tag Tweets for easy searchability on a platform that offered no formal tagging system. Similarly, MySpace never envisioned itself to be a home for blossoming indy musicians, but that group of people started twisting their profiles for that use and now MySpace has a rather large swath of users it’s not entirely sure what to do with and a profile system that’s been hacked almost beyond recognition.

Having never used MySpace myself, I have only a vague, academic understanding of how the service is used. I do know, however, that Twitter was designed initially as a mass SMS texting service and, yes, it does still do that sometimes, but has morphed through exponential, frantically-paced growth to be something far, far different. In the past six months Twitter has almost single-handedly reversed the way news online (and offline) is distributed, putting the public in the know (for a given, rumour-like value of “in the know”) before mainstream media’s had a chance to put its boots on. Trending topics on Twitter house meme and news items alike, and it’s often difficult to tell which is really which (see exhibit Michael Jackson). Users are linked in directly to a mass public consciousness that shifts and splits and reforms around news and ideas, and memes replicate themselves at a faster rate than ever before. (For a really interesting talk about memes, check out Susan Blackmore’s TedTalk on the subject. Very relevant to Twitter and more than a little prophetic given the February 2008 date of this talk.)

Reading through the company’s meeting notes, it’s plain as day to see the business is trying to figure out how to lead the masses it’s hosting, how to deal with the celebrity presence that it largely owes it’s massive user adoption to but sees as a “distraction”, how to deal with the threats of Google real-time search and Facebook’s aggressive campaign to adopt those features that make it’s service more like Twitter, and is still floundering trying to sort out a way to make money off the whole thing. (Sidenote: I get why Twitter’s all freaked out about Google search, but I’m not sure why they’re bothering trying to compete there. If I was them I’d be way more concerned about Google Wave than search, but that’s just me.) My guess is Twitter will flounder on for a while yet, and may ultimately have to break down into two or three separate services, but only time will tell. Twitter has spun so far out of its own control now that there’s no telling whether it will fall to earth, find a stable orbit, or fling itself completely out of the atmosphere.

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International Blog Against Racism Week

Monday, July 27th, 2009

International Blog Against Racism Week starts today and runs until August 2. It just happens to coincide with some links I wanted to throw out there.

Justine Larbalestier has posted on her blog regarding the white-washed US cover of her book, Liar, which features a black female protagonist. She talks about how she fought against the cover, but ultimately lost the battle because authors have very little control over the covers of their books. Publishers pick a cover they think will sell, and right now the publishing and retail worlds believe books with faces on them sell better unless those faces are black ones. Larbalestier draws the connection between marketing dollars and black faces, saying “I have found few examples of books with a person of colour on the cover that have had the full weight of a publishing house behind them … all we can say is that poorly publicised books with “black covers” don’t sell [which] is usually true of poorly publicised books with “white covers”.” She then wonders if “the big publishing houses really only in the business of selling books to white people” and I can’t help but agree with her.

Larbalestier goes on to speak about how covers can change the way people read books:

Liar is a book about a compulsive (possibly pathological) liar who is determined to stop lying but finds it much harder than she supposed. I worked very hard to make sure that the fundamentals of who Micah is were believable: that she’s a girl, that she’s a teenager, that she’s black, that she’s USian. One of the most upsetting impacts of the cover is that it’s led readers to question everything about Micah: If she doesn’t look anything like the girl on the cover maybe nothing she says is true. At which point the entire book, and all my hard work, crumbles.

Online reviews show this is exactly what’s happening. So, even aside from the fact that white-washing these covers is racist (and that’s a huge aside), they also affect the artistic and thematic integrity of the work they’re supposed to be representing.

International Blog Against Racism Week is just starting up, and I’ll be taking some time out of my week to read through the posts that come from it. Even if you have nothing to add, it’s an important conversation to listen to.

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Amazon Fail of a Different Sort

Friday, July 24th, 2009

I love the idea of the Kindle as a device that can instantly connect me to any and every book out there. At least 60% of my reading takes place on a computer of some sort, either through pdf ebooks or fanfic. All my news comes from the screen, and the idea of having a device built for comfortable reading that fits in my purse and links me wirelessly to all that is an extremely appealing thought.

Tethered devices are not necessarily all good, though, as Kindle owners are discovering. Tethered devices don’t only mean you can reach in and grab what you want from the cloud, it also means the cloud can reach down to your Kindle and grab it back.

Recently, Amazon remotely removed digital copies of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm because of a rights issue, refunding all the users their $0.99 back. The symbolism was not lost on anyone, particularly the news media and the affected Kindle customers. The uproar has been significant enough that Amazon released a statement promising they will stop deleting the already-downloaded books on user’s Kindles when they delete rights-violating content from their archives.

This is not the first time Amazon has removed books from user’s Kindles, but it got the most press for the obvious ironic reasons. Some people don’t get why this is an issue, but consider how this affects ownership. When you buy a physical book and take it home, even if it’s pulled off the shelves the minute you walk out the store, no one comes round demanding the return of the already purchased ones. Once you’ve bought it, you own that copy. Book burning is a serious yet mostly symbolic affair, largely because copies always survive. Someone finds a copy in their attic or hides one under their bed.

A world where books are tethered to devices is problematic because it allows someone to take back those books — all of them — quickly and efficiently, without warning. You may not even realize it’s missing. The ebooks you buy don’t really belong to you, not the same way real paper books do. This is how book burning will look in the future, when everything is published via data instead of as ink. Remember how much AmazonFail sucked? Think how much worse it would have been if someone had ticked the wrong box in their content admin tool and deleted all those books from thousands of people’s personal libraries. Some day (and probably some day soon) someone will write a letter or make a phone call complaining about some book or other, and an underpaid and overworked manager will log on and click the delete button without really considering the ramifications, and next time there might not be a way to take it back.

This problem doesn’t just affect books. It affects applications (Apple, a company I love dearly, has some serious issues in this regard when it comes to iPhone apps and it makes me furious), music, and gaming every day. This is the way companies will seek to control their copyright in the future, with tethered devices and back doors.

Please do not hand wave this issue off. Pay attention to it, because it affects everyone. Understand that an age of cloud-computing is descending where everything is computer-based and everything is connected and everything is stored somewhere else. Google docs are wonderful tools, but Google can easily remove the content you’ve built or the service entire. Livejournal can delete years of personal journaling, writing and art, and no matter what you say or how loudly you complain they don’t have to give it back to you. That “right” is build into the user agreements no one reads but everyone accepts when they sign up for a service.

Be aware of how the world is changing, not just how it benefits but also how it restricts. We’re not just talking about books and music, we’re talking about the fundamentals of ownership.

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