Happy Thorstag Omibus!

It’s that time again — time to sum up a few days’ worth of browsing in a single, massive post.
Richard Scarry 1963 vs. Richard Scarry 1991, a study in the P.C. Police.
Oops. Somebody’s getting fired, so fired:

A less than… glowing review of Halo 3, featuring a wicked Australian accent and a healthy dose of cursing (i.e., very NSFW language). Not for the faint of heart.
The award for “Stupidest Name For A digg Competitor” goes to thoof.com.
Continue reading “Happy Thorstag Omibus!”

The Proper Care And Feeding Of Fools, Internet Edition


Or: Idiotically digging Your Community’s Grave

A “minor” rebellion over at digg yesterday has simply reinforced my perception that the comments section of said news aggregator is filled with either a) 14-year-old males with little-to-no understanding of the real world or b) grown men acting like 14-year-olds, petulantly thumbing their collective nose at “The Man” in a vain attempt to appear hip and/or rebellious. Slashdot has a post collecting many of the details, but the story in brief runs thusly:
Some enterprising hackers (and I mean that in the good, Eric S. Raymond-esque form of the word, not the Johnny Lee Miller/Angelina Jolie sense) managed to discover a simple hexadecimal keystring that single-handedly pretty much breaks the encryption scheme employed on the new HD-DVD format. The AAC-LA and its affiliates had virtually guaranteed content producers that the encryption (AACS) used on both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD formatted discs would be hack- and crack-proof, so this deciphering of the system obviously constituted a fairly major technology news story. Users of digg began submitting links to blog and forum posts containing the hex string and even placing the string within submission headlines and blurb texts which caused the digg administrators to react quickly and bury posts and even disable the accounts of the stories’ submitters. The official editorial stance of Revision 3/digg was that these submissions placed R3/digg at risk of lawsuits from the AACSLA/MPAA and thus violated digg’s Terms of Service. digg users took these buries to represent a form of “censorship” and staged a minor revolt, at one point filling the entire digg front page with stories containing references to the hex string, a course of action that led digg co-founder Kevin Rose to throw his hands up in frustration and state

But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.

To put it frankly, the actions of the digg community are idiotic. They are not “brave”. R3 was not “censoring” their “speech” and the infantile kicking of the ox goad that resulted was ludicrous in the extreme. “Brave” users seeking to stick it to the MPAA “Man” would have posted the offending string on their own blogs and thus exposed themselves to potential litigation, rather than dragging an unwilling digg into the fight. If they seek the destruction of the community they take part in, I can think of no quicker route than to get the creators sued into oblivion.
So well-played, diggers. You managed to make Slashdotters seem principled and Farkers seem reasonable by comparison. Dunces.
Michelle Malkin posts briefly, Brian Preston calls it (perhaps) the “first full-blown online riot?”, TechCrunch says that digg surrendered to the mob (and tosses in a “Vive la revolution.” for good measure), OwenBen Gray comments with the ol’ “information wants to be free” chestnut but then admits that the diggers are being childish, Gizmodo gives an up-to-date summation of the story and Charles Johnson notes that Rose’s capitulation may actually put digg itself at a real lawsuit risk – since Rose’s blog post contained the offending hex string,

[…]a case could be made that this is executive malfeasance; capitulating to a lynch mob is bad enough, but by posting the code himself he’s putting his own company in danger and exposing it to legal action.

As others in this debate have put it: reddit, here I come.
Download Squad overblows the issue and compares the HD-DVD incident to Luther’s 95 Theses, Forbes.com likens it to the ongoing Google v. Viacom $1B USD lawsuit, C|Net simply passes along an executive summary of the issue while Jeff Harrell is entirely less kind to the diggbots than I:

What happened last night wasn’t a revolution, and it wasn’t something to celebrate. It wasn’t really even something to be momentarily amused by then forget, though that’s certainly tempting given the absurdity of it all. If you take a minute to think about it, what happened last night is that a bunch of kids on the playground banded together to beat up another kid, a kid they saw as richer or more powerful or more snotty than them. “The teachers can’t expel us all,” they said, so they put the other kid in the center of a big circle and took turns punching him, then turned out his pockets and took his lunch money.
That’s not an uprising. That’s not even really a riot. It’s a lynching. And for facilitating it, Kevin Rose and his colleagues ought to be ashamed of themselves.

To paraphrase Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption: that’s doggone right.
Ars Technica warns the MPAA/AACS-LA coalition that the cat’s out of the bag, the horse is out of the barn, Pandora’s Box is open, etc. Jordan McCollum expresses incredulity at the “Diggocracy’s” brazen wig-out and Graywolf manages to slip in a really fancy word that means “mob rule” while declaring May 1, 2007 as “the Day the Digging Died”. Bonus points for the alliteration.
Computing’s Tom Sanders goes all “Leia-to-Grand-Moff-Tarkin tighter-fist-more-star-systems-slipping-through, etc.” on the AACS-LA.
Pajamas Media intones “live by the users, die by the users” and draws a comparison between the “sekrit number” and the Usenet vs. Scientology dustups of the early ’90’s.

Beyond Crypto Journalism: MySpace, digg And Trust Engines

I’ve had time to mull over the implications of my previous post on technological solutions to what ails journalism and have come to the conclusion that a solution based on high technology would ultimately fail for the same reason that PGP-based email encryption has failed to catch on in the world at large: it’s simply too complicated for the average user to interact with, let alone understand. The very notions of “key exchanges” and “signing” tend to be over users’ heads and questions such as “What do you mean, they have to send me a key first? Why can’t I just send them email and have it be encrypted without messing around with all that extra stuff?” While the concepts behind public key encryption are fundamentally sound and fairly easy to understand for computer science grads, they tend to be over the heads of average users. Still, I believe that the idea of using technology to enhance the trust relationship between the producers and consumers of news to be one within reach. If a high-tech solution is out of the question, though, what are we left with?
Then it struck me: simply leverage social network effects to make up for any technological shortcomings.
Three sites known for their exploitation of network effects immediately leapt to mind: digg, MySpace and Google. Each of these sites (and their corresponding technological underpinnings) rely upon users to build and make up for content and relationships that their systems would otherwise lack. digg allows users to both submit noteworthy content and vote for content that strikes them as interesting, allowing the stories that most people find interesting to “bubble to the top”. Blatant spam attempts, linkwhoring, repeat content, etc. tend to get “dugg” downwards, assuring that most digg readers never see the worst of the worst. MySpace offers users a chance to build a network of friends through simple invitations and gives a chance for all to see the networks each user has managed to collect. Google, through a set of algorithms they have spent millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of man-hours in developing, peruses each site that it knows about, assigning each page a relative ranking (known as “Page Rank” – creative, I know) based upon the number and “strength” of links other Internet users have chosen to point to it. The cardinality of each link is used to give each page its own place in the hierarchy of the Web. Each of these models, particularly in some combination of the three, could be used to great effect in the furtherance of restoring trust in journalism.
Imagine a site where each reporter and source maintained a MySpace-esque profile page listing each and every user that has given their explicit trust to the news producer, couple that functionality with the ability for users to affect the actual news that gets top treatment ala digg, add in a distributed protocol of “trust links” or somesuch that would allow independant, average citizens (read: bloggers) to note their trust for certain authors. Bloggers and web content creators already obsess over Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – what would our news organizations look like if they similarly obsessed over their Trust Engine Optimization? Their Google Trust Rank? All of these notions use interface cues and concepts that are already widely-used by average Netizens of all stripes.
So, all that being said, how do we get the AP, Reuters, etc. to care about TEO?

Winning The Battle Of “Iconistan”

Wired News is currently running a piece regarding the proliferation of “Submit my blog entry to…” buttons that have been cropping up hither and yon on blogs of every stripe. The number and proliferation of said buttons is indeed getting to the ridiculous point and, when bloggers actually post links to even the top few sites, the bottoms of their posts begin to look just a wee bit, well, cluttered.
Peering icons.
Into this messy scene rides Alex King to the rescue with his Share This plugin for WordPress. Share This neatly encapsulates many of the top “social” sites’ submission buttons into a single DOM element box that is hidden by default, linked to by a simple “Share This” link and icon unobtrusively tucked away at the end of each WordPress post. (See the bottom of this post, for instance). Using a little Prototype JavaScript magic, clicking on that link pops up that box, giving readers the ability to submit the story to the social networking site of their choice – Fark, digg, reddit, Netscape, Newsvine, etc. It’s a very simple idea that I think goes a long way towards benefitting both readers and blog authors: it (mostly) hides the various multicolored submission buttons from view and keeps blog footers from becoming cluttered while allowing sufficiently-motivated users to submit authors’ content to a wider audience – a real win/win situation, as far as I’m concerned.
As to my particular implementation of Share This: yes, I realize the transparency isn’t working so the ST icon looks a little funky and the default CSS for the pop-up box is fairly hard to read. I’ll work on making those issues go away, but in the meantime – Share This post, won’t you?
(Side note: the ST icon you see is also the work of Alex King, who has started the Share Icons Project, an attempt to standardize these things in the same vein as Feed (RSS/Atom) Icons and the OPML one as well. I like it – simple and effective.)