Entries in internet (6)



I’ve been away from here too long, hosed by work and politics.  The presidential debates sure are interesting.  Wait… what was that about Barack Obama?  No, no, I didn’t mean that debate.  I meant this debate:

Round two:

Who the heck is moderating these?!  I guess it makes sense when you see the guy’s campaign ad:

The political cartoon has a venerable history, but I’m beginning to think the political remix is really capturing the zeitgeist of modern political satire.  Here’s something a bit more musical:

More from MC R-Money:

But before you think Romney’s the only one who’s been taking on a turn for the musical, I had to find some quality musical remix satire for Obama.  And not just the different, though also funny, type of remix that’s not political satire per se.  (This sort of thing is somewhere in the middle.)

Here’s one that’s pretty good (though probably cheating a bit and NSFW for swears):

What makes for a great political remix?  What’s your favorite example?


Internet Blackout

If you’ve been paying attention to the internet, you probably noticed that a wide swath of website users and owners were none-too-pleased at the proposal of the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) (from the US Senate and House of Representatives, respectively).  This led to a coordinated website strike and mobilization campaign last Wednesday.

There’s a great technical analysis of the problems with the bill on the Reddit blog here.  But I think the best analysis of the issue I’ve seen comes from this TED Talk given by Clay Shirky:

His central point is that SOPA and PIPA represent the latest in a trend in entertainment industry lobbying, away from getting Congress to define the distinction between legal and illegal copying (producing, for example, the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992), towards restricting copying through technical means and making it illegal to work around those “protections”.  The DMCA lets companies sell you “broken” (for the purpose of restricting copying) devices and makes it illegal for you to fix those devices.  PIPA and SOPA let the government (at the behest of the entertainment industry) break DNS to censor “pirate” sites, and would make it illegal to work around that (which requires search engines and the like to pay to police themselves so that they aren’t indiscriminately helping users find such things).

Cory Doctorow describes this trend towards technological control systems backed by force of law (and away from legislation about what sorts of things should or shouldn’t be legal, with restrictions on liberty sitting on the other side of due process) in a recent essay titled Lockdown: The Coming War on General Purpose Computing.

The bills have been defeated for now, and in the aftermath, many activists have pointed out that similar legislation will undoubtedly reemerge (under the same name, a new name, or grafted wholesale into something politically inconvenient for legislators to oppose).  But after watching Shirky and reading Doctorow, I’m convinced it’s not sufficient to oppose, whack-a-mole-style, the latest bit of oppressive-technology-backed-by-force-of-law that comes up.  It’s necessary to oppose the idea that companies should be allowed to sell computers that can work against their users in ways that the users are prohibited from fixing.  And it’s necessary to move the copyright debate back to what sorts of copying should or shouldn’t be allowed, regardless of what sorts of copyright law the entertainment industry might be willing to buy or sell.


Memetic Defenses Enabled

Comment moderation has been enabled to stem the tide of irrelevant and poorly written commercial solicitations.


Netflix Shot First

Netflix’s recent decision to split itself into two businesses (Netflix for streaming, Qwikster for DVDs) has been a source of confusion and consternation all over the web.  Netflix does explain their reasoning, though.  Not in the most recent announcement, but in the announcement of their price change in July:

Given the long life we think DVDs by mail will have, treating DVDs as a $2 add on to our unlimited streaming plan neither makes great financial sense nor satisfies people who just want DVDs.

Note what’s left out.  For whom does “DVDs as a $2 add on to… streaming” not make sense?  Netflix, not streaming customers.  The other half is more or less accurate, DVD-only customers have several options and may be more price-sensitive.

And why does that not make financial sense?  Presumably, the studios are forcing Netflix to pay per-customer for streaming licenses.  If that’s the case, Netflix might see the scenario this way:  If we split up our customers (most of whom mostly use one method or the other) into two bins, we profit even if they all choose one or the other.  Why?  Because even though they’re now paying 80% of previous, the streaming expenses are cut in half.  Win-win, right?

The risk relates to the fact that there’s a big difference between all-streaming and mostly-streaming.  The convenience of renting a DVD when streaming was not available patched over the lack of streaming selection.  “A $2 add on” might not make financial sense to Netflix, but it makes perfect sense to customers who view it as a patch to a bug that, in their view, is Netflix’s fault.  $2/mo. is low enough to feel “basically free”, $8/mo. is not.  Thus, this move may cause some streaming customers, instead of picking sides, to leave entirely.

Therefore, it should be clear that the price change is not a grab for $6 more per month.  Separating the sites, marring the user-experience and reducing convenience (when this is all about convenience) is a clear anti-feature.  Netflix really wants people to choose sides, and was willing to cut prices to give them an incentive.  And where carrots are insufficient, let the beatings commence!

My guess is that Netflix is in a bit of a catch-22 here.  They can’t fix the selection problem while DVD streaming is an option.  Even if Netflix can convince a studio that they “have to be on Netflix”, the studio can just shrug and say, “So? They’ll just get it on DVD.”  On the other hand, the “have to be on Netflix” argument depends on the popularity of Netflix, which may depend on “DVDs as a $2 add on”, so staking everything on “streaming or nothing” is not without risk.

It’s a dramatic case of business negotiations.  Netflix is trying to convince the studios that they need Netflix to win (quickly) in the streaming video market, then holding itself hostage, threatening to shoot if the studios don’t renegotiate.

More than that:  Netflix shot itself first, and is daring the studios to let it die.

(Context: I’m not a Netflix investor.  I am a Netflix subscriber.  I subscribe to both DVDs and streaming.  Before the split I would have paid the extra money, but now I’ll probably cancel the DVD-by-mail service and keep streaming… for now.)


Wave Goodbye?

Google Wave is being discontinued as a standalone product.  I’m not sure whether to be surprised.  On the one hand, it seemed like if anyone could solve some of the flaws of email and get people to actually adopt it, it would be Google.  On the other hand, I was tremendously excited about Wave… but I never used it.

It seems that with networks as big as email, there are no good ways to push out a new protocol.  If you let everyone in right away, it doesn’t scale.  If you slowly add users, people’s friends are not on it when it’s fresh in their minds.  If you make it a separate product, it’s an inconvenience.  If you make it part of an existing product, users object to having it foisted upon them.

Still, Wave contained some fundamentally good ideas.  It makes sense to have an email client that can handle scheduling or collaborative document editing or shared to-do lists or threaded discussions; that is, instead of sending an email with a link to a web-app, why not send an email with a webapp in it?  It also makes sense to create open protocols instead of closed systems, especially if you want to build off of something as widely adopted as email.  (Not that open protocols are guaranteed winners.  Many open-source proponents would like to paint the history of the internet as a steady progression away from “walled gardens”, but that’s not necessarily the case.)

Google Wave isn’t dead yet.  It’s already used by at least two sets of enterprise collaboration software.  Hopefully, some of Wave’s features will find their way into GMail and other mail clients.

What do you think?  Will Wave rise again, or sink into obscurity?  Will the email client of some decades hence look much like one today, or will email’s role be filled by something different?  Will it be in FULL 3D?  It’s the future, after all.


The Future in the News

If I listed organizations exemplifying significant near-future trends, Wikileaks would certainly be towards the top.  Wikileaks is a platform for the anonymous submission, verification, and publication of classified or otherwise secret documents.  By operating online, with servers in multiple journalism-friendly jurisdictions, information given to Wikileaks becomes incredibly hard to suppress.  The fact that Wikileaks tries (to whatever extent possible under their journalistic ethics) to publish full documents instead of processed stories allows multiple news organizations to do their own analysis of the raw data.  Wikileaks suffered a funding crisis earlier this year, but after a donation drive, their document submission site and their published archives are back online.

Last April, Wikileaks was rocketed into the headlines when they released a video from July 2007 showing a helicopter gunship attack on suspected insurgents.  Reuters journalists with the group were also killed in the attack, as were civilians who attempted to rescue the wounded.  Two children in the rescuers’ vehicle were also seriously wounded.  The video was leaked by Private Bradley Manning, who was arrested and charged this July.

This week, Wikileaks released tens of thousands of pages of classified documents on the Afghanistan war, launching US strategy in the war back into the news and the political spotlight (or so anti-war politicians hope).

That of course means that the US Government has intensified their efforts to capture and question Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder and spokesperson.  That didn’t stop him from showing up to speak at TED Global 2010 in Oxford, but he didn’t show at The Next HOPE Conference (where he was to be the keynote speaker) last week in NYC.

So, this is one to watch.  It’s not clear to what extent Assange’s arrest would hinder Wikileaks.  It is clear that the Anthony Russos of the world now have far better technology at their disposal than a Xerox machine, that this will be a force for governments and businesses to contend with, since the issues of secrecy, security, and democracy are deeply intertwined.