Post Blogs

Copyright restriction

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

Ethan Zuckerman writes:

Under US law, pretty much anything you write down is copyrighted. Scrawl an original note on a napkin and it’s protected until 70 years after your death.

Note: None of this post should be taken as criticism of Zuckerman. I’m just using his sentence as a foil. He is a great blogger, the above is a great post of his, which furthermore talks about the great work of some of my colleagues…

In what sense is the hypothetical scrawl above “protected” by copyright? A scrawl might be protected by a glass case or digitization, or even (somewhat remotely) by secure property rights in napkins, glass cases, and computers.

No, copyright restricts the ability of others to use representations of the scrawl legally, without obtaining permission from the scrawler or a party the scrawler has transferred this right to censor to.

Which brings us to another inaccurate phrasing, which has many variations, all along the lines of “copyright is the right to … a copyrighted work” where the ellipsis are filled by words like “publish”, “distribute”, or “perform”. Not true! Copyright is not required to have the right to publish a work, or public domain works would be illegal to publish. Instead, copyright is the right to legally restrict others from publishing, distributing, performing works.

So use of the term ‘copyright protection’ (2,930,000 Google hits) instead of ‘copyright restriction’ (19,300 Google hits) is a peeve of mine and seeing copyright equated with censorship a small joy.

Control yourself, follow Evan

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

See Evan Prodromou’s post on launching, good background reading on open services.

I love the name of Prodromou’s company, Control Yourself. Presumably it is a reference to discussions of user autonomy as a better frame than freedom or openness … for discussions of concerns addressed by free/open source software and its ilk.

You can follow Evan’s microblogging at

I’ve only used Twitter for an ongoing joke that probably nobody gets, but for now I’ll be trying to honestly microblog at

No index.php

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

On a mailing list I’m on someone just pointed to It’s been awhile since I’ve run across that site (or, before it existed, Slashdot commenters condemning use of TCWWW — The Cursed WWW), but I strongly agree — www. in a domain name is pointless.

Even worse is index.php in the path. You’ve taken the time to publish a website, now take a few minutes to make its URLs less ugly. I’m not going to bother setting up, but someone should. However, in the spirit of, here are a couple resources for removing index.php from popular software installations:

Please remove index.php from your URLs, or signal that you have no taste, no technical abilities, or both.


Blog readers

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

A post about a child’s reaction to a party at which people apparently mentioned their blogs a lot reminded me of a name that last summer Jon Phillips and I gave to people who don’t talk about their blogs but do sound as if they were reading their blogs aloud — and every “conversation” with them sounds like this.

Of course these people existed before blogs and were perhaps simply called insufferable.

Although it isn’t nice to call someone insufferable and “blog reader” is snarky, I have some admiration for these people. At least they have something non-generic to say and with aggressive questioning one can learn from them.

Blog search putrefying

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

I’ve complained before here that blog search stinks and isn’t getting better. Now I know why — in addition to blog search being a difficult and expensive service to run — there isn’t much demand. The blog search focused sites I mentioned in the “stinks” post each seem to have gained no traction since then, excepting Technorati, which itself is constantly rumored to be troubled.

A TechCrunch post on traffic at various Google properties finally gave me a clue and an inclination to look at my past posts on blog search. Click through to see a graph showing that Google Blog Search barely registers.

To end on a positive note, perhaps blog search is a good use case for , as it isn’t economic for a centralized entity to do well. This reminds me, whatever happened to various ?

Only tangentially related to blog search, I really like Chris F. Masse’s post on blogs vs. newspapers, in which Wikipedia sits at the top of the ecosystem:

So the real winner is Wikipedia — a news and knowledge aggregator… using anonymous volunteers. But Wikipedia is only an information aggregator… it feeds on both media and blogs to gather the facts. Wikipedia is the common denominator of knowledge —not the primary source of reporting. Just like prediction markets feed on polls and other advanced indicators.

RIA marketing follies

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

I don’t know anything about software marketing, but if I had to give an impromptu lecture on the subject right now, I’d use the following two posts (with comments) as virtual handouts: Mozilla Labs on Prism and Mike Chambers (of Adobe) on Mozilla Prism and the disingenuous web.

: Difficult to figure out exactly what it is other than expansive and proprietary, so people assume it is an evil attempt to take over the web. Dan Brickley‘s comment on Chambers’ post is illustrative:

Hi thereFrom your post over on Mozilla’s site,

“You do realize that Adobe AIR is as much about HTML, JavaScript, CSS, etc… as it is about Flash / Flex?”

Just as a point of feedback: I had no idea of this. I’ve seen a lot of mentions of Air around the Web of course, but not dug into its official docs. Well I assumed AIR could probably handle HTML, maybe even bits of SVG if you’ve got webkit in there, but I somehow had the impression it was primarily all about Flash. Quite probably I didn’t bother to read up on it properly because, for better or worse, I somewhat expected a Flash-centric agenda, and so didn’t take the time to investigate what I unreflectively figured was “Adobe’s new Flash-based thingy”. If it is more standards-friendly, there’s a chicken and egg problem in getting this news out to developers who may tune out when they hear “Adobe toolkit” on assumption it’ll be Flash-flash-flash. I’m happy to be re-educated anyway :)

Will Air support (interactive) SVG to any level? Or the W3C widgets work ( ?

Tellingly (in terms of marketing if not reality), Brickley’s questions have gone unanswered.

: Open source and so simple that there’s almost nothing there (open a URL from a desktop icon in a browser with some web navigation features removed) that people instantly “get” it (and the bigger ideas behind it) and looooove it.

I suspect that an AIR application can accomplish the same limited functionality with just a bit more code than hello world and that AIR provides much more. But unless Adobe can effectively communicate what the heck AIR is and exactly how it works with open standards, it will be eaten for breakfast by the slow (for good reason — more fully featured web/desktop integration will raise all kinds of thorny security, synchronization and software update issues) web juggernaut. As some commenters pointed out, the obvious thing for Adobe to do is to “work with Mozilla and other players to standardize these features.”

Then there’s the obvious joke about AIR (although that link does include the appropriate reference to vapor, it concerns something surprising and somewhat — an attempt to make Java Applets — relevant).

Don’t know what any of this is about? Try Rear Guard Applications for perspective.

The most bizarre sentence I’ve read today

Saturday, April 21st, 2007

Tyler Cowen just linked to a comment left by Robin Hanson on this blog. I agree with Cowen’s comment left on the same post here: “Robin is awesome, enough said.”

Hanson’s writing never disappoints, even when he’s claiming that medicine is useless (the statistical argument is strong).

On the other hand Cowen is one of my most eagerly read bloggers (and semi-frequent provider of fodder for my comments), but sometimes Cowen says the darndest things, like this from the post linked above:

The very reason we resort to a firm, rather than the market, is to build consensus and morale, not to forecast the truth.

Consensus I’ll buy, as shorthand for lower in-firm transaction costs. Morale? He’s got to be kidding (note that the only instance of “morale” in the Wikipedia article on is immediately followed by “-damaging”).

Cowen continues:

Prediction markets would tend to break down firms, but of course they still can flourish in Arrow-Hahn-Debreu space.

My guess is that in the short term adoption of prediction markets will favor firms that have access to specialists needed by early adopters to succeed and layers of management that can be made redundant without immediately threatening the authority of the top, i.e., large firms.

I have no idea what Arrow-Hahn-Debreu space is, other than that it has something to do with . If I had to take a wild ignorant guess at the import of “but of course…” I would say it is arguably a tautology.

“Citizen journalism site” = splog

Monday, March 19th, 2007

I’m not going to link to any offenders, but my consistent observation is that nearly all “citizen journalism” sites fall somewhere between spam blog and crappy community of suckers. If you feel the urge to provide people with a platform to “do” community journalism, don’t. You’re not needed (see below). If you really, really must go ahead, read Evan Prodromou’s seven rules for commercial wikis (which apply to any community site) seven hundred times, then think about it for a long time.

If you feel the need to “do” citizen journalism, stay away from sites that claim they help you “do” citizen journalism. You absolutely do not need them. Instead:

  • Write on your own blog.
  • Write on a site of, by, and for some community (check if they are following the seven rules linked above; it should be obvious).
  • If you want a generic platform, write on .
  • Some reader blogs hosted by established media aren’t that bad, but be careful.

SXSW: Blogging Where Speech Isn’t Free

Sunday, March 11th, 2007

On Blogging Where Speech Isn’t Free, moderated by Jon Lebkowsky…

Robert Faris of the showed a worldwide filtering map and a Venn diagram grouping jurisdictions according to whether they filter for political, security, or social content. Most that filter do so for all three. Filtering is very hard, so excepting a few jurisdictions that disallow net connectivity period, most attempt to induce a climate of self-censorship.

Ethan Zuckerman showed the map of press freedom and pointed out that blogging takes off in moderately repressive jurisdictions that restrict the formal press, sending journalists to the net.

Shahed Amanullah said there are many Muslims in the US who want to debate radicals on their websites but are afraid to because merely visiting those sites will catch the eye of US security. He also said that among other things we can do is to highlight the persecution of bloggers in the Muslim world.

Shava Nerad took on a number of FAQs about .

Jasmina Tesanovic mentioned the popularity of , which has a very impressive Alexa rank (1,376) considering its small and relatively poor potential audience (Serbia). The site is hosted in the Netherlands.

A questioner gave examples of the importance of expatriate media about repressive jurisdictions, which Zuckerman reiterated, using the term “” to describe expatriates and the stateless.

I completely forgot to ask a question about the overlap between filtering for political and economic protectionist (i.e., copyright) purposes.

Update 20070313: Read Zuckerman’s in-depth panel writeup.

SXSW: Web hacks copyright

Saturday, March 10th, 2007

Sergio Villarreal and Kent Brewster gave an interesting, if mostly offtopic talk on Web Hacks: Good or Evil (or: Welcome to Web 2.666). Many web technologies started off as “hacks”, notoriously <img> and .

The rest of the presentation followed loosely from the premise that “content” is, will be (via services like Dapper) and needs to be “everywhere”, largely via feeds and now . From this came three observations:

  • JSON everywhere as an alternative to feeds
  • “IP” is a questionable concept
  • Suddenly, everything is hackable (e.g., via a service like

And three recommendations:

  • Don’t wait for pipes to drain your feed (publish JSON)
  • Don’t stop writing!
  • The web hates authors and loves writers (continue to create, as opposed to selling previous creations)

The last seems like an observation, or a repeat of the previous recommendation, but is a really nice soundbite.

The presenters struck me as being far too optimistic (or pessimistic if you want) about the impact of their technologies (Brewster is a technology evangelist for Yahoo!) — closing slide “Copyright is dead” and imagining a copyright-ignoring YouTube appearing in Kazakhstan, and having an impact.

Factoid: Brewster said Yahoo! has about two dozen full time people reviewing content flagged as porn, mostly moms, with higher than standard cubicle walls.