User-Generated Content

October 2, 2007

There is a great post in Techdirt about the pitfalls of combining user-generated content with top-down organizational structures.  I just cannot help equating this to assignments in college-level courses that are open-ended so as to encourage student creativity.  But then when the time comes for the professor evaluate student performance, they dock points because the student failed to have the same take on the issue as they do.  In other words, its “tell me what you think after looking at these sources, but if you don’t think the same as me you’re wrong.”  I had this experience in graduate school, where in-class discussions would sometimes be a game of “guess what the professor is thinking.”  The connection here is this: when you open up the generation of content to the masses, you have to be prepared to not like the results.

Smart Mobs Come to Burma

October 2, 2007

People in Burma risked life and limb to get out images of the Saffron Revolution and the government’s bloody crackdown. In the internet age, it is becoming increasingly diffficult to control the flow of information in and out of countries controlled by totalitarian regimes. The measures that regimes like that in North Korea have to go to in order to control international knowledge of the nature of their regime are so extreme that the chokes off acccess to foreign revenue streams from direct investment and tourism. Burma is no longer an unknown country in a far away corner of the world. The Chinese can no longer prop up the junta in Burma by financially supporting them by purchasing their oil and natural gas without international knowledge of their actions.  You can turn off the internet pipeline to the outside world, but connected people will simple move to another communications medium.  The Smart Mobs have arrived in Burma and for this reason they will be in the international eye for the forseeable future.  I wonder if the astrologers predicted this one.

Law suits and such…

September 25, 2007

This week two law suits that are of interest to the open source/access community have come to my attention. First of all, Creative Commons is being sued for, among other things, not protecting the privacy of the minor subject of a photo that was posted to Flickr and was subsequently used in a Virgin Australia ad (you can see the photo here). It seems odd to me that privacy is the path that they choose to take here. A public Flickr photo is hardly private, so its existence online in a public forum sort of negates the privacy issue. What they are claiming that the commercial use of the photo is what violates the privacy of the subject. But the kicker is that the photo had a CC license that allows for commercial use. The plaintiff argues that CC licenses are not clear about what commercial use entails. But the thing is that the photographer selected a attribution CC license. Anyone who has changed the license in Flickr knows that they user has to make a concerted effort to make the change. He/she selected to allow commercial use (I have no idea how someone could not be clear about what that means) from a list of possible choices, some of which expressly forbid it. I see the upshot of all this being similar to the Stella case
where everyone you want to change the license for an online object you will have to complete an extra step stating that you in fact understand what commercial means.

The other case is somewhat more interesting. The Software Freedom Law Center has filed the first-ever law suit for violation of the Gnu Public License (GPL). This has been inevitable for a long time. Linux is a great OS for set-top and mobile devices, and the manufacturers of these devices stand to make a lot of money from software that uses open source code. TiVO uses Linux, but is careful to make enough of their source code public so as to not violate the GPL. However, in the case of the company being sued here, the open source code is but a small part of the overall code for the application. This presents an interesting dilemma, the resolution of which will have far reaching implications for the open source community.

Update: There was a post on Slashdot this morning that referenced an article on linux.org that reports that the two parties, although working on a settlement, have not as of yet reached an agreement.  I find in interesting that the SFLC representative states that simply coming into compliance at this point is not enough.  I find it interesting that even though the plaintiff in this case never stood to make any money from their product that they still want to receive compensatory damages.  The open source movement can sometimes seem Utopian (or a communist cancer), but here they are interested in wielding the heavy stick of the law to set legal precedents.  How Microsoft of them!  Gimmie 5!

Ballmer kickin it in ’91

September 12, 2007

Gimmie 5! Break it down!

Is this stealing…

September 11, 2007

A few weeks ago, it came to light (I first heard about this here)that a small radical right-wing blogger was blocking Firefox users because of the growth of the Adblock Plus plugin. Try it in Firefox and IE and notice the different results. First of all, why anyone would want to read this guys drivel is beyond me. But unlike his Christian Nazi diatribes, his opposition to the ad-blocking plugin raises an issue worth talking about. From his point, it is an infringement on his intellectual property to block any aspect of his content. This is an interesting argument from a number of aspects. First of all, is the placement of the ads his intellectual property although the content is not? It is not his content that is being infringed upon, that in all its hateful glory could be displayed word for word sans ads. If modifying the layout and look and feel of a website is an infringement of the designer’s IPRs, then every disabled person that needs to use the high contrast settings in Windows to view computer resources should be sued. Am I commiting a copyright violation if I choose to not allow individual websites to control the color and/or size of the text and links? We as individuals have the right to reorganize websites in order to make them easier to digest, so I do not buy this argument. However, I do think that the stealing argument has some weight. He argues “Numerous web sites exist in order to provide quality content in exchange for displaying ads.” “Accessing the content while blocking the ads, therefore would be no less than stealing,” he continues. Although I dispute the “quality content” portion as it relates to his site, the idea that the loss of revenue from adblocking software is tantamount to stealing seems on target. As Chris Soghoian points out in his C/Net blog on this subject, The difference between using TiVO or a VCR to skip commercials as using Adblocker is that the TV network still gets paid for the AD if you choose not to watch it. A webmaster gets paid based on the number of times an ad loads, so if you block the ad he/she does not get paid. If downloading a song is stealing because the content producer does not get paid, then the blocking of ads that denies income to webmasters has to be seen as stealing as well. Now, being a card carying member of EFF I don’t think that either one is immoral or wrong, but if one is stealing then the other has to be.

Cut by the bleeding edge…

September 10, 2007

There is a reason that it usually does not pay to be an early adopter. Lets take the iPhone as an example. First of all, the technical infrastructure was not prepared to handle the load of the new device (see this and this). But these sort of things are to be expected. However, the economic impact of infrastructure problems are often grave. This poor sap simply took his iPhone to Europe in his bag and paid enormously for the pleasure. Constant syncing seemed like such a good idea, now didn’t it.

Now, if all that was not enough, there was Steve Jobs announcement of a price drop to act as the final nail in the early adopter’s coffin. See folks, patience is a virtue after all.

Ways to discover content

August 31, 2007

In this entry, I would like to list a few additional websites that can aid you in finding sites for your blogs and del.icio.us accounts.

1) Digg / All News — This is a great way to discover content for your blogs. Digg is a service that allows users to vote and comment on online stories and other content. Because of the nature of the user community, the content tends to be tech heavy. You certainly could create your own account and participate in the conversation.

2) Slashdot — Slashdot is a site where users submit and comment on technology-related stories. This site has such a devoted following that websites that have been “slashdoted” often crash.

3) Cnet News — Cnet’s news section gathers technology-related news stories from mainstream outlets in a single place. They are arranged into subject areas, one of which is “media 2.0.”

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