Foucault’s Anonymous Authors

October 18, 2007 at 8:47 am | Posted in Assignments, ATEC 3325, Thoughts | Leave a comment

On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog The Internet allows users to create artificial identities with great ease. Multiple sites with their own policies and communities frustrate tracking online identities. Attempts at creating ubiquitous identity, such as Open ID and Live ID, have little traction outside their promoters. Thus, barring intervention on the part of an identity, connecting a real person with an authorial identity is extremely frustrating at best and impossible at worst.

This creates an environment wherein common authors easily acquire anonymity. The repercussions of starting a discussion disappears as the source of ideas is no longer easily tied to a person. Discursive environments quickly create memes which quickly spread across communities, unfettered by responsibility. Consumers only have what an author discloses as points of reference. At the same time, within communities authors may build identities to gain reputation.


Cult of the Professional Buck

October 2, 2007 at 5:17 am | Posted in Assignments, Thoughts | Leave a comment

The Internet frees consumers from the strangle hold of professional culture. Andrew Keen, however, would rather have media gatekeepers anoint talent and define cultural expression. Yet the real dichotomy for Mr. Keen is bought content and free content.

In his discussion with David Weinberger, The Good, the Bad, And the ‘Web 2.0’, he presents a view that traditional media has provided safe harbor for talented, professional expression.

Meanwhile, traditional scarcity is getting scarcer. We’ve always had a scarcity of seriousness, of talent, of the artist/intellectual able to monetize their expertise… Traditional media has done a good job in discovering, polishing and distributing that talent. But once everything is flattened, when books are digitalized, when libraries become adjuncts of Google, when writers are transformed into sales and marketing reps of their own brands, then what?

For Mr. Keen, being able to assign a value to talent and its production defines its worth. Traditional media acting to “discover” talent created false scarcities by controlling avenues of expression. His problem with the lack of artistic talent isn’t so much that it is vulgar, traditional media is vulgar, but that higher culture will no longer demand a premium in the marketplace of expression.

Gaming crowdsourcing

September 20, 2007 at 1:29 am | Posted in Assignments | Leave a comment

Assignment Zero Final provides a postmortem for Assignment Zero. The concept employed a smart mob to to create Pro-Amateur journalist content. If the organizers had looked at what game designers have learned from MMOs, they might have had more success.

The net effect was to put the organizational onus on the volunteers themselves. Baffled by the overarching concept of crowdsourcing, confused by the design of the website and unable to connect directly to a manager or organizer, most of the initial volunteers simply drifted away. “What we learned,” says Rosen, “is that you have to be waaaay clearer in what you ask contributors to do. Just because they show up once doesn’t mean they’ll show up over and over. You have to engage them right away.”

However, just letting a group of people loose on a website failed to create a community. Communities need means to establish themselves. Even beyond engaging the contributors, those involved needed to establish norms.

The effect of this reorganization was felt immediately, as contributors could now collaborate openly with each other and review one another’s reporting. This certainly reinforced one of the lessons that was learned from reporting on various crowdsourcing projects: Essentially, it’s all about the community.

Like games, you need a core of people invested and willing to induct newcomers. But without some means to organize, a core group will never form. As gamers and game designers know, without this core of people able to help out newbies, newcomers can quickly become lost and confused. Essentially what the organizers witnessed during the first half of the experiment.

But like everything else, you have to fail a few times and learn the hard lessons before you can be successful.

Undefended torrents

September 17, 2007 at 5:00 pm | Posted in Assignments, Copyright, Thoughts | Leave a comment

Torrent Freak caused a stir when they announced that a group called Media Defender-Defenders had released pilfered emails from Media Defender.

Unfortunately for Media Defender – a company dedicated to mitigating the effects of internet leaks – they can do nothing about being the subject of the biggest BitTorrent leak of all time. Over 700mb of their own internal emails, dating back over 6 months have been leaked to the internet in what will be a devastating blow to the company.

Irony, not withstanding, bittorrent users engage in the very tit-for-tat that makes collaborative efforts worthwhile. In this case, bittorrent users identified a cheater that engaged tactics to impede exchanges (albeit illegal exchanges) and reacted by outting the cheater.

Particularly interesting in the comments are the extracted lists of IP addresses. Once these are available, everyone will effectively killfile anyone connecting from those addresses.

The bittorrent community, acting as a smart mob attacked the reputation of Media Defender.

However, one must consider how the information was acquired and the total content. Others have mentioned that SSN were amongst the data acquired and wondered whether they will become pariahs. Also interesting is how someone knew to attack the GMail account which held the files in the first place.

It’s a bird, it’s a beat, it’s not DRM!

September 11, 2007 at 1:36 am | Posted in Assignments, Copyright, Thoughts | Leave a comment

Recently, Truth Happens released a video fable as part of an anti-DRM campaign.

Requiem for DRM

(Audio Required. This video makes little sense without audio.)

This video tells the tale of the life of a beat to a bird song to its capture and then its final, inevitable release. While the video may or may not appeal to everyone, anyone can take the pieces and make something new. The authors have freely provided the assets used to create the video in the spirit of community driven art. Implicit with this offer is the hope that someone else will expound on their ideas. The interest thus far has been underwhelming.

A little over a year ago, Stephen Colbert posed a similar challenge to his viewers. He provided half a minute of cable TV footage. The results were amazing. Results ranged from simple Star Wars light saber antics to meshed video to an iPod advertisement. The stakes were high, the stage was set, millions vied for hits with the chance for notoriety and a change to make it big.

Both these efforts entice media consumers to become producers. But, for reasons of celebrity, humor and the like, one has received more attention than the other. Yet, this attitude ultimately runs afoul of entrenched media copyright interests.

For example, this post from when the show originally aired no longer leads to the challenge’s footage. A Viacom campaign removed it. Instead, YouTube provides the following message “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Viacom International Inc.” Viacom via ComedyCentral provides the only remaining source of the video, locked inside a flash website. They are under no obligation to keep providing it. They are under no obligation to not also remove the derivative works.

In contrast, Truth Happens has provided the content under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License. Everyone may freely share the video, all of the source files, and any derivative works so long as they abide these licensing terms.

While the Truth Happens video and materials on their own provide an abstract and slightly confusing message, when compared with Viacom’s treatment of Colbert’s challenge, the strength of their position shines.

Burning websites

September 4, 2007 at 2:33 am | Posted in Assignments, Thoughts | Leave a comment

Aside from such scenes as Book Burning 2007, there are more effective ways of burning books and ideas online. Amongst ways of debilitating a website, delivering a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) ranks closest to burning a book.

DDoS Attacks Target Prominent Blogs describes an attack during the Muhammad cartoon scandal of 2006.

An earlier series of attacks targeted the blog of Michelle Malkin, who led a movement among bloggers to mirror the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that initially appeared in a Danish magazine. The attacks began Feb. 15, and escalated on Feb. 23, when an attack from a botnet in Turkey forced Malkin to post on the Pajamas Media weblog until her main site was available again.

Like burning a book, the DDoS sends a message. However, unlike an old fashioned book burning, the message is more than symbolic. The DDoS prevents visitors from reading the victim, from hearing the offendable ideas.

The attack overwhelms the victim’s servers with a deluge of innocent seeming requests. Lesser servers grind to a halt, unable to respond. The victim can no longer tell the real visitors from those interested in squelching the message and is silenced. The network traffic connecting to the victim’s computer network makes LED indicator lights blaze with fire.

Those who would burn books, have found ways to burn and persecute victims on the Internet.

When a little JavaScript is too much

August 30, 2007 at 8:31 am | Posted in Assignments, HTML, Programming | Leave a comment

Create a Lightbox effect only with CSS – no javascript needed at Emanuele Feronato provides a simple solution to create a basic light box using predominately CSS. The promise of liberating the conundrum of presenting images, often photographs, within the virtual space of a webpage using simple techniques drew a large amount of interest (myself included) and feedback.

That the title promises no JavaScript, but the substance of the solution relies upon it, drew ire from most commentators. Some provided constructive feedback, others provided their own solutions, and still others were quick to point out which particular browser failed to display correctly.

There are tons of Lightbox scripts in the web, each one with its unique features and limitations, but all require massive use of Javascript or the installation of javascript frameworks.

Which captures the current problem. JavaScript creates a perception of complexity, of insistent pop-ups, of browser incompatibilities, of bloat. People who desire to create virtual light boxes want implementations they can use without needing Computer Science degrees.

JavaScript predates CSS. Current CSS progress extends CSS with modifiers such :active and :focus. These improvements allow CSS to supplant and remediate JavaScript with similar functionality. This follows current programming design to favor abstract descriptions in favor of explicit control. While the light box may be a case of There is More Than One Way To Do It (TMTOWTDI), in the end very few of the comments eschewed the solution for avoiding JavaScript, but rather using too much JavaScript.

A discussion of <blockquote>’d interviews

August 28, 2007 at 12:07 am | Posted in Assignments, HTML | Leave a comment

In Should interview answers be marked up with a <blockquote>? PPK discusses the quoting of interviews and conversations in HTML.

The website of a Dutch ministry has been tested for compliance with the Web Guidelines. I have been asked to supply a second opinion, which I’m currently writing. I came across a complicated semantic point that I’m not quite sure of; hence I’d like to ask your opinion.

The main question according to PPK is…

…if interview answers count as quotations. After all, they are almost never direct, literal quotations of the interviewed person. Instead, the journalist usually changes the texts a little bit to remove the erms and such, and to create grammatically correct, readable sentences.

Semantically <blockquote> sets off text that is cited from another textual source (such as in this post). By using a block quote, authors acknowledge that the cited text comes from another source. However, PPK makes the point that journalist will usually need to edit dialog to a printable form. Journalists replace useless bits of mumblings (such as these) and conversational phrasing with coherent sentences.

Rather than reach a conclusion, PPK poses the question of appropriateness of <blockquote> to his readers.

The responses discuss other solutions. For instance, <dt> / <dd> pairs may create appealing visual results, but if reproduced aurally make little sense. Tables provide structure, but provide little semantic meaning. Most responses agreed that within current HTML, nothing quite completely captures the ordered nature of a dialog. Finally, PPK reaches the conclusion that for the time <p> provide the best compromise until <dialog> in HTML 5.

The discussion is interesting because of the various solutions provided. Yet, no one approach completely solves this issue. That web designers need to consider the aural representation of documents says a lot about the strides in accessibility the web has made in recent years. The balance of visual versus aural rendering illustrates the importance of clean markup combined with CSS to control document presentation.

A very minor survey of blogisms

August 23, 2007 at 3:38 am | Posted in Assignments, Thoughts | Leave a comment

I’ve been using Peter-Paul Koch’s website, Quirks mode, as a reference for the past couple of years while working on various web projects. The site describes and catalogs many idiosyncratic differences in HTML, CSS and JavaScript exhibited by web browsers that plague developers. He has also published a book by the same name.

Knowing that his website is such a great resource, I went looking for a blog and was happy with what I found. The blog is as interesting and useful as the website. If you develop websites and don’t know of this resource, you don’t know what you are missing.

If you haven’t heard, Internet Radio stations are currently under threat of annihilation. The blog at Digitally Imported is but one of many places across the net chronicling this travesty.

The recording studios, using their proxy SoundExchange, have demanded excessive per listener statutory licensing rates, rates in excess of satellite radio, itself a barely profitable business model. They are threatening stations with little annual income with million dollar bills, with billion dollar fees for larger sites. To ensure destruction, the fees have been backdated a year. Meanwhile, terrestrial radio pays no such fees. At the moment the hour of execution has been paused, but the future remains uncertain. Help Save Net Radio and contact your congress people.

Like shinyaryart, I’ll probably begin reading Game Blogs this semester just because it looks like it might be interesting.

Penny Arcade is probably well known to most of us. More a web comic than a blog, the blog acts as a sound board for the comics creators, Gabe and Tycho. The melding of comic and commentary provides telling insight into the gaming world and its norms. Posts range from con experiences, to making fun of over hyped games, to telling self-referential criticism (Green Blackboards (And Other Anomalies)).

Slashdot, an online community, was one of the precursors of community driven link sites such as kuro5hin, Digg and Reddit. Styled as “News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters”, Slashdot allows users to submit stories and post comments. While the site has been in decline, its hordes created the term slashdotting due to the tremendous surge of visitors a site would receive upon posting a story (back in the day when people read stories and computers were less capable). A number of Internet memes, such as RTFA, “hot grits”, mis-labeled links to (which apparently originated on 4chan, NSFW), “first posts” and the like started here.

2B || !2B

August 20, 2007 at 3:40 am | Posted in Assignments, Thoughts | 1 Comment

Not having blogged before, I decided to find some useful guides as to where not to tread. I found Chris Pirillo’s 10 ways to eliminate the echo chamber an interesting read. Essentially, what everyone growing up needs to learn, “stop worrying about what others might think and just be the insane odd ball you are, you’re cool anyway”. Particularly interesting are the warnings against being topical and simply toeing the blog-o-line. Not having run into these issues myself (not having blogged before), I moved on.

Somewhere along my quest I threw “usability” into the trusty google box and found Linda Bustos Top 10 Sins
of Blog Usability
. I found it interesting that she echoed Chris’ admonition on timeliness. She provides a number of useful tips that I quickly acted upon: making an “About” page with my full name (not like this one, ahem); staying away from fiendishly colored templates; ensuring that the widgets were in proper order with a easy to spot search box, some of the templates are just wrong. I’m ambivalent about moderation just yet.

Usability aside, I started looking for the clichés that run through the blogosphere, not wanting to fall victim to naiveté. Coding Horror provides a nice succinct list of 13 Blog Clichés, not 10 mind you. Of interest is the history of the random image gallery that often curses a blog. Another mention to include your name and a backdrop for your words. Unfortunately one of the 13 is meta-blogging (I wonder what they mean by that?). And don’t blog about not blogging. Insert funny warning about blogging between 2 and 4am.

At the other extreme of brevity is For the Love of Blog Cheese which manages a little bit of wit. Lots of good advice, lots of good annoying clichés (if needed). I guess everyone agrees that blogging about blogging is a cliché (I’ll have to remember that one).

Still not quite sure what blogging was (but with some ideas how not to go about it), I decided to check out Everything2 (they retired everything several years ago).
The Node about blogging provided some interesting insights that explained some of the features presented here at wordpress before I read our assigned reading. Particularly, the relationship and meaning of the blogroll became apparent and why everyone kept warning about worrying about it. Like our readings, the criticism about blogging about blogging is credited with the age of the medium.

(Getting to the point) With the readings and these thoughts in mind, essentially blogs provide an outlet of expression. They facilitate communication, particularly communication that would have been tricky or impossible to coordinate otherwise. They provide greater flexibility than message boards, both in format and content, yet allow communities to flourish. They expose more personal and informal thoughts than wiki’s or information rich sites. They engage in dynamic change quite a bit more often than static home pages. And their sheer numbers rival the total of printed media, there are maybe 8 million printers (at 1/1000 pop?). Finally, anyone can join (look at meeee!).

On the other hand, the present state of blogs resembles the time when newspapers were plentiful and varied. When the daily churn of paper covered the street corners from sidewalk to sidewalk. When you’d find comrades who read and engaged in passionate debate over morning coffee or the last evening stein. Was there ever a time like that before? In fiction, IIRC Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle hints that 18th century England was like that. In any case, as then, as now, a revolution is looming (loomed?) that will hopefully change how we communicate forever.

If the future is anything like Charles Stross’ Accelerando, it’ll be interesting.

Create a free website or blog at
Entries and comments feeds.