A bunch of the folks who were instrumental in the SOPA/PIPA fight have been working together over the last few months to build The Internet Defense League, which is launching today. Techdirt is a founding member, along with a number of other organizations and sites, including Reddit, Mozilla, Cheezburger, EFF, Fark, Imgur and more. The process is being driven by the awesome folks at Fight for the Future, who were the ones behind the American Censorship Day effort during the SOPA fight. The launch is today, in part because today is also the day that the new Batman movie opens -- and part of the IDL's concept is that when the internet is at risk, it can shine a "cat signal" to alert the internet to jump in and do something:
Believe it or not, they've actually put together a few of these cat signals in real life, so look around tonight in a few cities and you might see one.
Earlier this year, I wrote about the Hacking Society gathering, put on by Union Square Ventures. During that discussion, Clay Shirky brought up the idea of an "Internet Volunteer Fire Department" and Tiffiniy Cheng, from Fight for the Future, explained the IDL and how they were already working on it. You can watch that discussion to get a sense of the thinking behind this effort:
We're proud and excited to be a part of this effort. We, like many, hope that the IDL is actually a wasted effort and is never actually needed. But, given what we see happening all the time, it seems unlikely that the IDL will never need to be called into action.
Here's an odd one. Yesterday, I saw that a top story in the technology subreddit was a claim that Facebook was blocking Imgur, the popular image hosting service (especially popular with Redditors, but which we use here as well). This screenshot was shown (hosted on Imgur, natch):
A few hours later, however, an interesting comment popped up on the Reddit thread, from a user "fisherrider," who claimed to be a Facebook engineer taking responsibility for the situation. What's somewhat stunning is that when companies screw up something, you almost never get this level of honesty about the nature of what happened (especially directly from the person who screwed up):
Hey folks - so this is actually my fault. Literally, I'm the guy who accidentally blocked imgur for a brief period of time today. I'm really sorry.
Some background: I'm an engineer who works on the system we use for catching malicious URLs. In the process of dealing with a bad URL that our automated defenses didn't catch, I ran into a rare bug that caused us to incorrectly block some legitimate URLs for a brief time. Right after I figured that out and removed the bad data, I reworked the UI so no one will get bit by the same issue in the future.
As a form of apology that I'm sure is insufficient, here is a picture of my dog dressed up for the 4th of July: http://imgur.com/pR4mR
As some have noted, this really is a fantastic apology. It's not filtered through PR and actually seems to come from someone who sounds human -- which is pretty important in the midst of the Reddit faithful. But it should spread beyond just Reddit. When companies screw up, this is a pretty good lesson in how to respond. Admit to the screwup, be clear and honest about it, and explain what happened and what's been done to prevent it from happening again. And... don't let it near a PR person.
It was, of course, also great for late night television. People are referring to this as cable news' "Dewey defeats Truman" moment, while others are arguing that "breaking news is broken." Of course, being a part of the "blogging" world which is often accused by "old media" types of publishing untrue things... there is some element of schadenfreude in being able to see it made clear that the mainstream media is often no better at publishing incorrect things. Of course, some tried to flip this around, and suggest that the problem actually came about because of "new media" thinking around things like "process journalism," though there's a strong argument that reporting before reading something isn't process journalism, it's just bad journalism (i.e., process journalism is about reporting things as additional news comes out -- but in this case, the news was out, the problem was people reporting it before reading it).
A few years ago, uber-blogger Mike Arrington said something that has quite a lot of truth to it: to get attention as an online media player, you generally have to be first, funny or insightful -- and being first is often the easiest, so lots of people concentrate on that. It's the chase for "the scoop." Being funny is powerful, but very, very difficult. And... being insightful takes a lot of time and effort, and is no guarantee of attention. Generally speaking, our goal here has never been to be first with news (in fact, we often wait for others to publish so that we can link to their reports in what we write up). Personally, I like that much better. Focusing just on "the scoop" may be good for traffic in the short term, but especially for big stories like this one, I'm not sure how much value it creates in the long term.
Of course, the realities of gaining traffic often support the quick "scoop" over deeper insight. For example, Reddit -- a potential major firehose of traffic these days -- has its algorithm designed to reward quick, early votes, meaning that longer, thoughtful, insightful pieces almost have no chance, because by the time people have read and thought through them, it's "too late" to have the votes really count.
Some will argue, of course, that this is just a sign of the "bad" side of the internet: valuing quick, dirty and sometimes wrong reporting over longer, more thoughtful work. But I'm not convinced that's true. Again, there are plenty of historical examples of this in pre-internet times as well -- with Dewey Beats Truman being just one of many such examples.
Instead of just mocking those who messed up, or using a bit of confirmation bias to insist that it shows how awful things are in this "real time era," I'd be much more interested to see if we could have a discussion on how to change the incentives. How do we better reward insight and thoughtful commentary over the quick hit-scoop? Is it possible? And, if so, what needs to be done?
from the best-of-the-internet,-worst-of-the-internet dept
A few years ago, I noted the seeming irony in the fact that there appeared to be a decent amount of overlap between groups of people doing amazing altruistic things on sites like Reddit, while also doing amazingly troll-tastic things in places like /b/. Groups getting together to "do something" are a powerful force, and often are a powerful force for good. But they can also get out of hand, and turn into questionable mob-like vigilante-ism. However, it's not often that you see both such forces come together in the same story. However, that appears to be the case with the amazing story concerning upstate NY school bus monitor, Karen Klein. If you've been buried under a rock somewhere, Klein, a 68-year-old grandmother, has a low-paying job as a school bus monitor for a middle school in upstate NY (Greece, near Rochester). Middle school kids can be incredibly cruel, and a group of kids spent a bus ride mercilessly mocking Klein and filming the interaction. Someone else saw the video being passed around on Facebook and posted it to YouTube, where it quickly racked up millions of views, with tons of downvotes. The video is heart-wrenching for the cruelty from the boys in question. Just horrifying:
It also appears this was not a one-incident either. There are at least twoother such videos.
However, in response to this, someone set up an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money for Karen to go on vacation. And, wow, did the internet ever come through in a massive outpouring of altruism, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars in a day. As of this writing, it's already around half a million and there's still nearly a month to go. That's going to be quite a vacation.
Cue tons of great stories about how wonderful the internet can be.
The names of some of the alleged perpetrators — all juveniles who have yet to be charged with any crimes — and their parents and details about where they live ended up online. And since Wednesday, they’ve been barraged by death threats and harassing phone calls.
Greece police Capt. Steve Chatterton said Thursday that someone even made a false 911 call claiming there were people being held hostage inside one of the students’ homes. He said officers have been assigned to run special patrols down the youths’ streets to ensure their safety.
“We have a cellphone of one of the boys and he’s received more than 1,000 missed calls and more than 1,000 text messages threatening him,” he said. “Threats to overcome threats do no good.”
Karen herself has come out to say:
“This is going too far,” she said. “This is no better than the kids who did that on the bus.”
Exactly. If you're so upset by people acting totally obnoxiously to someone, there are a lot better ways to express yourself than to call them with a death threat.
Amidst all the recent talk of just how successful Kickstarter has been as a platform for creators raising money, some people have suggested that the company may run into problems down the road because it seems ripe for fraud. Of course, most things are ripe for fraud in one way or another, so Kickstarter isn't exactly special in that regard—and when fraud does happen, people will fight it just like they do anywhere else.
... a campaign for an action video game, MYTHIC: The Story Of Gods and Men, has just been busted by forum users at Reddit, SomethingAwful and Rock, Paper, Shotgun. The creators claimed to be an independent studio, “Little Monster Productions,” of 12 industry veterans in Hollywood. “Our team has done a significant amount of work on the World of Warcraft series as well as Diablo 2 and the original Starcraft,” says the project page.
Bullshit, said the Internet. Turns out the art was cribbed, the text for backer rewards was copied and pasted from another Kickstarter project, and even the office photos were from another game studio, Burton Design Group.
When people brought their accusations to the Kickstarter comments, the developers made a few weak attempts at deflection then quietly shut down having raised just under $5,000 (far short of their goal, so that money won't actually be released). With Kickstarter gaining more attention every day, we're sure to see more attempts at scams—and maybe even some successes—but with a savvy community that polices itself like this, the scammers face an uphill battle.
Here's an interesting one. Fast Company had professor Jonathan Taplin, director of the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab and the former tour manager for The Band debate Alexis Ohanian, cofounder of Reddit, Hipmunk* and Breadpig. The debate is definitely worth watching, but I'm disappointed with many of Taplin's claims. He starts out by going for the emotional, talking about how The Band -- whose drummer Levon Helm passed away the day after the debate -- had members who were no longer making $150,000 to $200,000 per year, as they had been able to do up until about 2002. As Alexis notes in response, there are all sorts of useful business models to help them make money -- and he's even offered to help them make money. And, indeed, the story of Helm is quite tragic, but at the same time, most people when they are no longer working tend not to make as much money as they did in the past. Copyright was never supposed to be a pension for retired musicians, so it seems odd to argue that it isn't doing that. That was never the intention.
Frankly, what bugs me most about Taplin's argument is that he continually takes things totally out of context. For example, he cites the familiar numbers about the "music industry" going from $20 billion to $6 billion. Yet he ignores that the overall music industry grew because other parts of the industry grew at a much faster rate. More ridiculous? He claims (totally incorrectly) that Chris Anderson believes that "everything should be free." Either he didn't read Chris Anderson's book, or he's purposely distorting the book, which focuses nearly all of its attention on how to get paid for content. In fact, most of the book is about ways in which a "freemium" model works -- where you have some stuff free, and other things paid. Why Taplin would then claim the book is that "everything should be free" is beyond me. To have a university professor so misrepresent Chris's book is ridiculous. He owes a major apology to Anderson.
Bizarrely, Taplin then claims that Reddit makes money off of piracy. Say what?! At this point I think he's just making things up.
He also completely misrepresents Google having to give the government $500 million concerning advertisements from unlicensed online pharmacies. Taplin calls them "phony drug ads," which is also inaccurate. In many cases the drugs were legit -- but the licensing of the pharmacies to deliver those drugs to the US was in question (some, in fact, appear to have been perfectly legit Canadian pharmacies). He then claims that if Google made $500 million on fake drugs ads they must be making more on "illegal pirate ads." I'm curious: who exactly is buying "illegal pirate ads"?
From there, he tosses in the whole controversy over Backpage.com -- which has nothing to do with copyright, and he falsely smears them as providing a service for pimping "young ladies" -- leaving out the fact that (a) a court has already cleared the company and (b) this has nothing to do with copyright.
Taplin seems to be throwing together a bouillabaisse of arguments without understanding any of them, and thus misrepresenting nearly everything.
Alexis does a great job with his intro, first pointing out how movie box office revenue has increased, and then pointing out how innovation is the key here, and that industries can innovate their way forward, and points to Kickstarter's success as an example of how that's already beginning. Taplin, playing the old curmudgeon, insists this is all crazy. He mocks the movie stat because it ignores the collapse of DVDs. Of course if folks like Taplin had their way, there would be no home video market, because they tried to make it illegal back in the 1970s and 1980s (an inconvenient fact he seems to have forgotten). He also mocks Kickstarter because it won't fund Martin Scorcese's latest film. This is typical of someone who doesn't seem to understand the the innovator's dilemma. It's kind of shocking, frankly, that someone in charge of a so-called innovation lab doesn't understand how innovation works.
In the second part of the debate, Taplin goes full on elitist, mocking those people who use Kickstarter to fund a piddly $50,000 movie, because apparently, to him, those movies don't count. And yes, earlier in the debate, he was talking about how he was really concerned about the up and comers. He also seems to think that the only movies that matter are the movies that score big distribution deals. He's internally inconsistent and doesn't even seem to realize it. He goes on to mock the idea that musicians can make money other than through record sales. Except, he assumes (incorrectly) that the only way to make money is concert sales, and then says that some acts just can't get enough people to see them live. Um, duh. But that's always been true. Most musicians never sold enough music to make a living either, but we don't pass a law to change that. Taplin seems to be complaining that not all musicians or movie makers are rich. I didn't realize that was an issue.
Taplin then comes up with his "solution." It's to have every ISP charge users $2 to $3/month which would go into a giant global pool that would be distributed to copyright holders. Immediately, someone in the comments points out that doesn't fix bad contracts. It's even worse than that. First, the entertainment industry would insist that $2 to $3 is way too low. Hell, most music services alone get $10 or so per month. And really what Taplin is doing is to create a giant bureaucracy that won't effectively help small artists. He talks about ASCAP as the model for this. I wonder what he has to say about the fact that ASCAP takes money from up-and-coming artists and gives it to the largest acts.
Both videos are worth watching. The whole thing is only about 25 minutes, and I think Alexis more than holds his own, though it would have been nice if there was a little more time to hit back on many of Taplin's claims.
* Corrected after learning that Alexis didn't found Hipmunk -- just joined pre-launch.
We've been talking about the value of content creators being awesome (and human), so it's always nice to highlight a few stories of that in practice. Late last week a story made the rounds of how a terminally ill cancer patient, Nachu Bhatnagar, was disappointed that he might not find out how his favorite book series, The War That Came Early, by Harry Turtledove, would turn out. The next book in the series is expected to be released in July, but apparently Bhatnagar isn't expected to make it that far. Bhatnagar's friend, who's known as kivakid on Reddit posted about the situation, wondering if he could get an early copy of the book. Within hours, he had a galley copy being sent to him, and also arranged for a phone call between Bhatnagar and Turtledove, so that the plans for the rest of the series could be revealed.
Beyond being yet another example of Reddit's famed power to do good things, it's another example of a content creator going out of his or her way to help out a fan (in this case, under somewhat unfortunate circumstances). In general, though, it's just a heartwarming story that involves a content creator going out of his way to open up to a fan.
As we noted last month, the community at Reddit responded to the whole SOPA mess by deciding that they should collaborate to write their own piece of legislation that protects internet freedoms. The first draft of the Free Internet Act is now available as an open Google doc, where there are additional edits and comments going on as we speak.
The Free Internet Act: To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation by preventing the restriction of liberty and preventing the means of censorship. FIA will allow internet users to browse freely without any means of censorship, users have the right to free speech and to free knowledge; we govern the content of the internet, governments don't. However enforcements/laws must also be put into place to protect copyrighted content.
Huffington Post has a good background article on how the bill was developed. Of course, as we noted when this originally started, there is something a bit naive about how they're going about it... but that's kind of what makes it exciting. It was that kind of naivete that actually enabled SOPA to be stopped. Most "experts" assumed it was a done deal and nothing could stop it. But along came folks such as the Reddit community who simply didn't know that SOPA couldn't be stopped... and they were instrumental in getting it stopped. So I'm excited to see what that same sort of open optimism can do on the proactive side, even if at points it feels naive or cringe-worthy.
Of course, at the same time, it's a little disappointing to see this:
"The idea is to aim high," the thread reads. "This is the same strategy employed by SOPA/ACTA pushers. We are aiming absurdly high, so that we can back down and reach a compromise."
The power of the Reddit community was that it aimed high and achieved. The fact that it stood by its principles rather than "looking for a compromise" was what worked. If you go into a process looking for a compromise, that's what you'll get. If you go into a process looking for the absolutely best solution then you're more likely to get that. People shouldn't be approaching a bill about internet freedom as if it's a fight between multiple parties and compromise is needed. This should be about creating a solution that is really important and really good for everyone. Then no compromise is needed at all.
Either way, this is an interesting process to watch. I'm not sure it will actually go anywhere, but I love the enthusiasm and the proactive initiative...
I have to admit that one of the more fun aspects of watching what has happened over the past few months with the SOPA/PIPA debate is watching the Reddit community jump on this issue... and evolve with it. The thing with the Reddit community isn't just it's sheer power as a large group of people who are more than willing to stand up for what they believe in, but their willingness to take on big challenges that most people would back away from. Not all of them work out, but as a community, they like to really jump into things and aim high. Such is the situation with the proposed plan to write a piece of legislation, The Free Internet Act, on Reddit. As an observer of these things, a reasonable first reaction is to chuckle a bit at what seems like a combination of both hubris and naivete that an online community (mostly of political novices) can create a reasonable piece of legislation. But... then you think of what else Reddit has done, and you begin to realize that if it can somehow pull this off -- or at least influence the debate in a positive way, this could be amazing (even if it's a long shot).
A specific sub-Reddit has been set up, where different people are discussing different thoughts on what such a bill might include and other issues related to the bill's central concept: guaranteeing a free internet.
Again, there's a big hill to climb here to make this into any sort of reality, but there's something really amazing and compelling about this self-forming group taking the initiative to try to not just drive the debate, but to actually craft legislation that would protect internet freedom. As much as I've been impressed by the process of the Wyden/Issa proposed OPEN bill, in which they put it up on a platform that allowed the public to crowdsource thoughts on a bill, they still started with a bill suggested in Congress. What happens when a bill is crowdsourced from scratch? Possibly nothing at all, but as an experiment, it will be fascinating to watch...
Following the news that Reddit, Wikipedia, and a bunch of other sites will be going dark to protest PIPA (and, to a lesser extent, SOPA) tomorrow, Google has now announced that it will use its home page to express its dislike of the bill. Google has not made clear exactly how it will protest. It won't "go dark" like those other sites, but it appears that it will post some sort of link, and will highlight ways for people to contact their elected officials in protest over the bill. With both Google and Wikipedia pushing people to call Congress... you might want to assume that Congress is going to get a few phone calls tomorrow.
silverscarcat: GM, I could barely read the article myself. John Fenderson: Wow. I seriously think that AJ has finally suffered a complete psychotic break. Josh in CharlotteNC: Not the first time, John. He's been overdue for awhile. silverscarcat: Which thread? Jay: He now has a pastebin for just Mike. Wow, he just doesn't quit... John Fenderson: @silverscarcat: All of them. silverscarcat: Wow... I think the funny men with the little white coats need to pay him a visit. Jay: ... I just thought about what the NSA is doing... They're creating the largest collection of books in history. Conceptually speaking, they're archiving and vacuuming all of the books that they can't read. BentFranklin: Links in comments need a new style. You can barely see them. How about bold them like in articles? silverscarcat: Holy... OUch, it gets worse and worse for MS these days. http://www.warpzoned.com/2013/06/congressmen-propose-we-are-watching-you-act-an-anti-kinect-bill/ Ninja: People should just report and ignore the link troll.. I like how some of the most wacky comments from the trolls are being left alone under the pinkish link silverscarcat: Um... WOW! Just wow... Looks like MS FINALLY started to listen! http://www.purexbox.com/news/2013/06/microsoft_to_reverse_drm_policies_make_xbox_one_region_free http://news.xbox.com/2013/06/update BentFranklin: Crap. First word strips links.