Archives for: July 2006

Shirky on Fairness in Blogging

Posted by andrew on July 31st, 2006
Clay Shirky

As I've previously noted, the purpose of this blog is very different from what Chris Anderson's book The Long Tail takes to be the payoff of the "long tail" insight.  Instead of asking how businesses of the future can exploit a long-tail market by "selling less of more," this blog focuses on the plight of speakers and communities that find themselves in the long tail and involuntarily voiceless.  It also searches for knowledge lost in the structures that hide, confound and silence creative and informative voices.  It argues that such voicelessness is not only unfair, but inefficient.

While the existence of the long tail is now common knowledge, displacing the "Web publishing will level the playing field" meme of 1996, it is rare to see commentators regard this inequality as problematic.  Most reviews of The Long Tail focus on its marketing insights, completely ignoring the question of fairness.  And in a widely-circulated February 2003 listserv posting, NYU adjunct professor Clay Shirky argues that the long-tail distribution of the blogosphere is actually fair:

=> Read more!

Mandel on Saving Science from Politics

Posted by andrew on July 29th, 2006

My recent posting on "An Inconvenient Truth" observes "the fundamental incompatibility between journalistic balance and peer review as organizing principles for the pursuit of truth, particularly in a field susceptible to domination by wealthy, self-interested speakers," and concludes that

In designing legal and technological structures to accommodate rather than silence scientists, we should therefore take care that such structures do not privilege journalistic balance and the norms of rhetoric over peer review and the norms of science.

How can public policy discourse make room for the norms of science? In a recent article, "Technology Wars: Mending the Failure of Democratic Discourse," Albany Law School Professor Greg Mandel examines the political and cultural settings in which conflicts about technology adoption and regulation take place.  On issues ranging from nuclear power to genetically modified foods, policymaking debates have remained polarized and deadlocked, even when there might be compromise positions that would be clearly preferable to both sides.  The debates have also tended to ignore or misuse scientific information:

=> Read more!

Sample the Blog

Posted by andrew on July 27th, 2006
Rotary phone(with apologies to Timbuk 3)

The blogosphere has been abuzz with last week's results from the Pew Internet & American Life Project's survey on Americans who write and read blogs. It turns out we like to read studies about ourselves.

The survey's key findings, reported in "Bloggers: A Portrait of the Internet's New Storytellers":

  • 54% of bloggers say that they have never published their writing or media creations anywhere else; 44% say they have published elsewhere.
  • 54% of bloggers are under the age of 30.
  • Women and men have statistical parity in the blogosphere, with women representing 46% of bloggers and men 54%.
  • 76% of bloggers say a reason they blog is to document their personal experiences and share them with others.
  • 64% of bloggers say a reason they blog is to share practical knowledge or skills with others.
  • When asked to choose one main subject, 37% of bloggers say that the primary topic of their blog is "my life and experiences."
  • Other topics ran distantly behind: 11% of bloggers focus on politics and government; 7% focus on entertainment; 6% focus on sports; 5% focus on general news and current events; 5% focus on business; 4% on technology; 2% on religion, spirituality or faith; and additional smaller groups who focus on a specific hobby, a health problem or illness, or other topics.

For my money, though, the most interesting aspect of the Pew survey is what it reveals about voicelessness in the blogosphere and on the Web -- not through the survey results, but through the elaborate yet archaic methodologies that the Pew researchers used to gather data on American blogging habits. As the accompanying press release explains:

=> Read more!

"An Inconvenient Truth": A Glimpse Under the Hood

Posted by andrew on July 26th, 2006

Yesterday afternoon, Judy and I finally saw An Inconvenient Truth (a.k.a. "The Al Gore movie"), belatedly fulfilling the pledge we had made to see it "on opening weekend." (No harm done, I trust:  Raleigh-Durham is far enough "out in the provinces" that the film didn't open here until its fourth week of release, by which time we weren't going to affect any subsequent distribution decisions by Paramount Classics anyway.)

The film lived up to its billing.  Its compelling message was presented as vividly, coherently, and accurately as a collection of mathematical forecasting models could possibly be communicated to a lay audience.  Having had some experience with such models myself, I did feel deprived of a glimpse "under the hood" of Gore's graphs and charts: observational constraints, control variables, assumed feedback mechanisms, confidence intervals, and the like.  But my experience in presenting such models to non-technical audiences also left me with an especially profound appreciation of Gore's achievement.

=> Read more!

Silencing Speakers (But Amplifying Libraries)

Posted by andrew on July 25th, 2006

Volokh and First Amendment Legal Fictions

Library shelvesA followup of sorts to yesterday's post. In linking to UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh's 1995 article "Cheap Speech and What It Will Do" as an example of "sanguine claims about the Web leveling the playing field among speakers," I was more dismissive of the piece than I had intended. I remember hearing much more grandiose claims about the Internet's essential egalitarianism being made in the mass media circa 1996. While Volokh does ultimately side with the libertarian view that the Internet will bring about a vastly different and more egalitarian "new media order," his claims are more nuanced than other examples I had in mind but could not reference yesterday. So Volokh's article merits further discussion here.

In many respects, "Cheap Speech" has been brilliantly prescient. A market for online sales of recorded music has indeed emerged (even though the price of an album has not yet fallen to the "$3 to $5" level, possibly because of price-fixing). And a "thriving electronic opinion column market" has emerged in the blogosphere, with "tens of thousands of people" stepping forward to write "informative, readable prose" for free.

=> Read more!

Slate Reviews Anderson's Book

Posted by andrew on July 24th, 2006

The Long Tail by Chris AndersonWith Wired editor Chris Anderson's book The Long Tail currently on the bestseller list, a casual reader might assume that my "blogging from the long tail" concept is intended as a riff on Anderson's meme. It isn't.

(This blog has actually been many years in the making. I published my own critical observations on the Web's long tail in the fall of 1996, contrarian thinking at a time when libertarian voices were dominating public discourse with sanguine claims about the Web leveling the playing field among speakers. So dominant was this flat-Earth thinking that the one-word domain names and were still available for me to purchase in January 1999. Before the dotcom crash, there weren't many people who believed that an enterprising Web publisher could end up in a state of involuntary voicelessness.)

I haven't even read Anderson's book yet, although I hope to do so soon. (From what I've heard, it supports what I've been saying all these years, much as Cass Sunstein did a few years ago.) But for now, I can at least review a review of Anderson's book.

=> Read more!


The TTLB Ecosystem's Long Tail

Posted by andrew on July 23rd, 2006

Food chainThe Truth Laid Bear is a well-trafficked clearinghouse of U.S. political blogs. One reason it is so well-trafficked is the TTLB Blogosphere Ecosystem, a real-time ranking of blogs based on numbers of incoming links. It turns out that bloggers care a great deal about where they stand in the blogosphere -- at least enough to go to the trouble of registering on the TTLB site and linking to the ecosystem page from their own blogs. It also turns out that the TTLB ecosystem exhibits a long-tail distribution, reminiscent of the same food chain that its fanciful rank names were designed to evoke:

=> Read more!

Harmful "Anti-Spam" Systems?

Posted by andrew on July 22nd, 2006

I was pulling together my tenure file in the summer of 2004, so I wasn't able to attend what looked like a fascinating conference on "Preventing the Internet Meltdown" hosted by People for Internet Responsibility. I came across the conference announcement again today, which includes the following description of topics to be discussed:

=> Read more!

Microsoft Talk in Berkeley

Posted by andrew on July 22nd, 2006

IPSCMicrosoft is planning to "integrate" a virtual machine monitor into a forthcoming version of its Windows Server (codename "Longhorn") operating system. If this sounds eerily familiar, you're right -- it is 1995 all over again.

I'll be presenting a talk about this Aug. 11 at the 2006 Intellectual Property Scholars Conference at UC-Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law. You can read an early draft of the article ("Antitrust in the Age of Virtualization: A First Principles Approach") here.

With over 100 speakers on the program, there's a good chance you'll be presenting at IPSC as well. If so, leave a shout out in the comments!

Added Aug. 11: I've posted some photos from the conference.

Microsoft's Competition Principles

Posted by andrew on July 22nd, 2006
Brad SmithAt a specially scheduled luncheon Wednesday (July 19) at the National Press Club hosted by the New America Foundation, Microsoft's General Counsel Brad Smith announced a set of twelve "voluntary principles ... intended to provide the industry and consumers with the benefits of ongoing innovation, while creating and preserving robust opportunities for competition."

While press reports have touted Microsoft's principles as a commitment to "opening up Windows a lot wider," it is not hard to read between the lines of the announcement's text (underlining added) to find a commitment only to more of the same:

Microsoft Corp. recognizes the important role its Windows® desktop operating system products play in the information economy and the responsibilities that come with that role. To promote competitive opportunities and otherwise enhance the appeal of Windows to developers and users, Microsoft is committed to running its Windows business in accordance with the following principles that address computer manufacturer and user choice, opportunities for developers, and interoperability for users. These principles will apply to Windows desktop development projects going forward.

No mention of Windows Server.  No mention of unremedied harms to competition going backward.  And in the meantime, Microsoft will be busily tying its virtual machine monitor (Windows Server Virtualization) to Windows Server "Longhorn."

=> Read more!

:: Next Page >>

An examination of the legal and technological structures that keep almost all of us voiceless, by Prof. Andrew Chin (who?) at the University of North Carolina School of Law and Prof. Jay Kesan at the University of Illinois College of Law

voiceless is a new blog. If you like what you've seen so far, please consider making voiceless a little less voiceless by adding a link to it from your blogroll!

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