The Snow In The Summer or So-So


Thu 17 Aug 2006

The long tail

Ben Metcalfe on the rights and wrongs of a blogging A-list. "Many A-listers simply aggregate other people's work," suggests Mr. Metcalfe, and goes off on a particular rant against a site called Boing.

There's a lot to agree with in Mr. Metcalfe's analysis, though he does implicitly accept the presence of an A-list already. It may be that I move in completely different circles, but I have no recollection of reading this Boing thing previously; after giving it a once-over, I don't expect to be returning again.

Could this be an attitudinal difference? Mr. Metcalfe, and his post's inspiration Nicholas Carr, talk about the inlink ranking as though it were the single most important metric. I don't think that's the case - quality of writing, having a voice, having something to say - are all more important.

Mr. Carr's recommendation - to get attention from an A-lister, link to them - can only serve to cast the existing A-list in stone, as Mr. Metcalfe correctly points out.

At the time I started this article, there was one (identical) comment to each of Mr. Metcalfe's posts, wittering on about "adbitrageurs" and "a market for ad spaces". Then it hits me. My blog is a space where I can express myself. Other people - probably not Mr. Metcalfe, perhaps nor Mr. Carr, but certainly the people behind Boing - generate money from their blog. That's why the inlink ranking is so important - it's more eyeballs for the advertisers.

I suppose that's yet another reason to poke sticks and jeer at the advertising-and-search behemoth G****e. By making it moderately easy to turn a blog into a small income, the exact position on a long tail has become more important to some people; as no-one will be less interest in their place, it must be of greater interest to the world o'blog as a whole. From this perspective, it's slightly sad to see Mr. Carr saying that a post is a success purely on the G****e commercials it generates. That is putting the horse so far before the cart that it's not even in the same county any more.

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posted 17 Aug 2006, 19.21 +0100

Sat 19 Aug 2006

MIscellaneous thoughts this week

Max Hastings on his favourite pillock.

Howaerd forced to drop migration proposals. That's John Howaerd, the only vampire bat to sleep while hanging up.

Peter Preston on the disclaimers of politics.

The linguistic origins of Islamofascism. It's a shame that politicians don't have to pay a royalty to the first publication to use the world, otherwise a good newspaper would now be rich.

Game of the week: Can you see me now, mother?

As one might expect, Craig Murray has an interesting take on the recent flap. Mr Murray was the UK's ambassador to Uzbekistan, until he was sacked for having a conscience.

Glenda Jackson on why smart profiling is good and stereotypes don't work.

Crap - John Prescott.

I note the presence of a pressure group trying to ban the Caps Lock key from the keyboard. I also note that almost everyone who supports their position is from the failed colonies. Could this be because they use numeric postcodes, while the civilised world uses alphanumeric cyphers?

Matt T ponders on the cost of comments. Back in the mid-90s, when I was an internet neophyte, there was a brief flurry of interest in micropayments. A penny here, a fraction of a penny there, all administered by a generally accepted internet bank. It's only a slight surprise that the exact mechanism hasn't yet emerged; though the building blocks - Paypal, in particular - are present, they're still predicated on moving pounds, not fractions of a penny. Sooner or later, the same architecture will extend to the odd tuppence, and make it worth while handling such small change. Already, it's possible to deal in micropayments of about 0.4p, by charging 1 Australian cent. But that involves foreign currency conversions, an annoying flaw.

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posted 19 Aug 2006, 20.14 +0100

Wed 30 Aug 2006

Isn't Google wonderful?

24×0 support! No wireless access! Private data read by others! Ads inside applications! No uptime guarantee! Ben Metcalfe quotes a tongue-in-cheek press release, but it does raise genuine questions. Should the world be trusting everything to G****e, the world's largest advertising agency? When responding, remember that all the criticisms above are valid and accurate, if a little over-the-top.

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posted 30 Aug 2006, 19.50 +0100

Wed 06 Sep 2006


G****e has given all sort of user information to the government in Brazil. The leaders in the South American country want email addresses, IP numbers, and other information of some people on the data behemoth's social notworking site. Apparently, these people have been racist, anti-gay, or otherwise indulged in nastiness.

The point here is that, yet again, we have a case where laws and standards are in conflict. On the one hand, the rules in Brazil say that thou shalt not be abusive to other people. On the other, G****e acts under a legal code that claims to let people say anything to anyone. Which law should rule; the restrictive standards of Brazil, or the laissez-faire attitude from Arizona West?

Let us, for the sake of argument, suppose that it should be the more restrictive standard that applies - it's that way for Brazil, it's that way for the advertising engine's operations in Red China. By that token, G****e would be doing all it can to comply with other regulations in various countries around the world.

Such as, for instance, the European Union's stringent data protection regulations. Data holders can only process data for clear and limited purposes, and keep information only as long as is necessary. One can't, for instance, put all the information from your web searches, your emails, and your blog posts into one massive database, keep the information for all time, use it to build a profile of someone, and then go on to sell advertising that may or may not be more closely targetted. That is so clearly illegal as to be laughable, yet G****e continues to get away with it.

If the information-to-advertising machine is going to respect the local customs of Red China and is going to respect the local customs of Brazil, why won't it respect the local customs of Europe? All we're asking for is equal treatment, not to be treated as second-class citizens by a third-rate company from a fifth-rate desert.

Other points of note: Two and a half years after first release, G****e-mail still actively discriminates against the blind. This blog does not permit references from G****e, be it crawler, search engine, or mail account. And I may be the only person in the entirity of cyberspace who does not have a G****e-mail account - unless you know better!

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posted 06 Sep 2006, 18.23 +0100

Sat 09 Sep 2006

Creating passionate users is everything

Danah boyd reports that Farcebook users are annoyed at the new stalking mechanism that the site's founders have opened up. The corporate suits say that the service does not "give out any information that wasn't already visible. Your privacy settings remain the same - the people who couldn't see your info before still can't see it now." Since Ms. boyd wrote her piece, Farcebook has climbed down, and danah has written an extended essay on the concept of privacy.

In brief review, I note that the site's published privacy policy may well be compliant with the European privacy directives. It certainly appears to respect the same basic principles.

Farcebook's privacy-hating rivals at Liverjournal have also launched a new stalking mechanism. The corporate suits say that "we took a lot of effort to remove all potentially creepy features out of it. You can't track things you can't see. Even though it's public, you can't track 'all comments anywhere by user bob'."

Of course, for every decent idea (even if I've got no idea why anyone would want to use it) that's been ten million years in development, there's a downside. Liverjournal is now sending out rotten multipart emails, causing sensible people across the world to download 25K of crap for 1K of text. The two or three freaks who still think HTML email is the way of the future can go hang.

Poking around the file labelled Six Apart Is (Still) Rubbish, the following points.

Anil Dash is a lying toe-rag. Defending an inaccurate claim that Six Apart created Liverjournal, Mr. Dash claims, "when one company acquires another, it's pretty common shorthand to say that the new parent company created the product, even if it predated the acquisition." It would be precisely one letter longer, and much more accurate, to say that Six Apart acquired Liverjournal. Mr. Dash's formulation may be common, but it is false, and the person making the claim knows it to be false. His claim, I suggest, is the textbook definition of a malicious lie.

I wrote to Tedtalks, the site putting up the incorrect claim, asking them to correct their error. The incorrect claim was still present last night.

It's also emerged that Six Apart is allowing advertorial into the Liverjournal system. A community about some motion picture or other (apparently, it's not out until November) has been featured on the site's front page. This breaks the company's guidelines - it's a blatant endorsement by Six Apart of the product - and breaks the previous pledge that "You don't have to ... view ads in the LiveJournal site pages.". To be honest, I expect absolutely nothing less of Six Apart. They remain a bunch of money-obsessed tosspots, people who may know the price of everything but certainly know the value of nothing.

I wrote to Liverjournal back in April, and again in June, and again on Thursday, asking what they were doing to stop advertisers from obtaining users' personal information, as is possible and (I'm sure) is happening already. I am still awaiting an acknowledgement, never mind a substantive response. I must therefore conclude that Livejournal's advertising model allows individual users to be tracked. Prove me wrong, Six Apart. If you can.

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posted 09 Sep 2006, 20.13 +0100

Thu 05 Oct 2006

The benefits of careful consideration should be clear to all. They are not.

I had the slight misfortune to hear an interview with Jeremy Wright (C, Rugby and Kenilworth) yesterday evening. He was ploughing on about how utterly wonderful the new-look Conservative party was, and he wasn't at all apologetic about the party's lack of policies. To paraphrase, his point was that the Conservatives would not be rushed into presenting a new policy every time the wind changed. They'd rather take their time and come up with a coherent and consistent set of policies.

Of course, this is a veiled attack on the knee-jerk policy-making of the Labour party. For the last ten years, its policy has been driven exclusively by what would look good in the next day's press, rather than what would be good for the country, or consistent with other proposals.

But it's a lesson that other people might well learn. Just after I completed my mini-essay on Six Apart's idiosyncratic approach to contract law, the most almighty mess was exploding right across its Livejournal property.

At 10.53 on Friday night, Denise Paolucci re-informed users that paid-for commercials were being slipped into the site. At the time of writing, there were over 3600 comments to Ms. Paolucci's post, of which approximately 3500 expressed dissent to the proposal, and the remainder were from staff valiantly defending the idea. Many of the critics found her tone to be patronising, insulting, offensive, or some combination thereof.

Site founder Bradley Fitzpatrick saw the shitstorm, and posted at 2.28 on Saturday afternoon. His post has attracted a mere 1400 comments, many of which interpreted the original post as an attack on Ms. Paolucci. Mr. Fitzpatrick substantively revised his post some time later, and (because Livejournal is not Wikipedia) the original is no longer available.

On the Monday, there was an emergency staff meeting, from which a more coherent policy has emerged (in particular, posts 1, 2, and 3, all posted from the account of Abraham Hassan.

The link with Mr. Wright's observation should be obvious - Six Apart has singularly failed to think through its policies, and has succeeded in alienating a significant proportion of its paying userbase.

Can we draw this analogy further, and directly compare Six Apart with New Labour? Well, perhaps - user Insomnia might represent Old Livejournal, and he's not afraid to call site founder Bradley Fitzpatrick a control freak, a clear comparison with Mister Blair. Both organisations seem to be dislocated from reality - the initial comments on Ms. Paolucci's post from staff were "everything in the garden's rosy", as divorced from reality as anything Hazel Blears would come out with. And Anil Dash comes across as Six Apart's resident John Reid - when he's not lying through his teeth to present Six Apart in a slightly less negative light, he's pouring liquid flame onto an already flammable situation. We should also point out that Livejournal is, ultimately, owned by an unelected cabal over which the regular user has neither influence nor importance.

(As a sidebar, was there ever a serious proposal for Livejournal to be run by a board of trustees elected from amongst the paid users? That would have worked against attempts to turn a profit by most funding methods, but a democracy could be the best way forward for a site paid for by its users. This is a completely hypothetical discussion, as the chances of Six Apart giving up its one cash cow are minimal to none.)

Once we move beyond slightly cheeky personal comparisons, the analogy rather breaks down. New Labour is committed to introducing its own database recording where everyone is at any time; this is utterly unworkable, has no reason for being, and would be cancelled by any quarter-wit within ten seconds of coming to power. Six Apart, on the other hand, prefers to outsource its tracking to an advertising agency with ideas above its station.

OK, both are fully prepared to lie through the teeth about their tracking mechanisms - Labour claims that their "identity register" will be useful to prove one's entitlement to services, er in the war against terrorism, er to prove one isn't an illegal immigrant, er, for reasons that Labour has yet to invent.

Six Apart, meanwhile, claims that, with G****e, "Users can only be tracked anonymously". It's a fib. It's probably the biggest fib that anyone has told so far this month. It's also a very common misperception, a lie allowed to persist by G****e's sickening mendacity. It's a desperate shame that there are still people so woefully ill-informed that they see G****e's activities as benign, and an even greater shame that its tentacles are spreading into parts of the web from where it has previously been blocked. It is not clear when the anti-advertisement activists will target their attention to the world's biggest spam engine.

Mr. Wright's analysis is correct: a little time in careful, considered reflection is worth a million and one apologies later on. Labour didn't, and they're paying the price. Livejournal didn't, and it's really paying the price.

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posted 05 Oct 2006, 20.02 +0100

Sat 02 Dec 2006

Like father, like son

British Sky Broadcasting's current chief executive has raised his objections to the concept of broadcasting regulation. James Murdoch, son of Rupert, launched a remarkable tirade against the concept of broadcasting regulation.

Mr. Murdoch said, From the very start UK broadcasting regulation was skewed. Not to protect people against real harm, but to ensure that broadcasting was a sort of moral and educative crusade... It was and is authoritarian.

Two points arise from this passage. First, Mr. Murdoch really is casting the net a very long way back. The view of broadcasting as, first and foremost, a moral and educative crusade went out with the advent of the second world war. During that conflict, the B.B.C. successfully unified the nation. Mr. Murdoch's operation will never, ever, manage such a feat, unless it's in revulsion at the vapidity of its output.

The second point relates to real harm, which Mr. Murdoch tosses about as though it were a concrete object. It's not, and he must define his terms before using them. It is generally accepted that sex, drugs, violence, and bad language should not be seen on screen. But is there not a case to take care against moral harm? It is far more difficult to define moral harm, as it is not the subject of a consensus. I would argue that the untrammelled pursuit of profit before any social objective is a direct cause of real harm.

This is, of course, part of the tension between capitalism and liberalism that Mr. Murdoch does his best to ignore. He goes on, The reality of the explosion of broadcasting choice... is that there is something for everyone.

Where, then, is the channel discussing difficult philosophical matters? Where is the primer on the works of Primo Levy or Bertrand Russell? Where is the discussion on the future of the English language? Indeed, where is the channel providing pawn-to-pawn coverage of the world chess championships, or a feature documentary on the sudoku masterclass?

Where is the channel broadcasting the best entertainment from across Europe? Where is the channel showing the best bits of Star Academy in France, Spain, Belgium, Sweden? Where is the channel flitting from German to Italian to Hungarian, showing us the best of Europe's broadcasters without regard to language?

Where is the channel broadcasting the Junior Eurovision Song Contest?

Mr. Murdoch is talking out of his hat again. His service offers something for everyone, so long as they want mindless entertainment and in the English language. It's worth noting that the only intelligent entertainment comes from the public service broadcasters, BBC, Channel 4, and the TV5 consortium.

Mr. Murdoch continued with the amazing claim, People are not forced to watch what the elite think is good for them. Yes they are. People are, if not forced, then nagged ceaselessly into watching what the elite thinks is good for them. The elite here is the advertising elite, and the constant drumming about the brilliance of shoddy programmes comes for shows that are good for the advertiser, and good for the broadcaster, not necessarily good for the viewer. Witness British Sky Broadcasting's remorseless over-hyping of the mediocre Lost! and 17.

He also attacked the BBC's fantasy of creating a British alternative to Google as this is not public service, it's megalomania.

Mr. Murdoch has started by being wrong, has continued by being wrong, so why stop being wrong now? Its internet presence continues the B.B.C.'s mission to push forward the best of British values, including honesty, fair play. Values of accessibility to all, not just those who will pay £500 per year. Not values that Mr. Murdoch or his family have ever encountered before.

Mr. Murdoch concluded his speech by saying, The best approach for a regulator is to watch the market carefully, deal with real harm when it occurs, and make sure that the public interest really means what it says.

Guess what. He's wrong. The best approach for a regulator is to ensure the optimal allocation of a finite broadcasting space. Twenty million channels selling shit that no-one wants to buy, or fleecing the public through call-and-lose scams, is a complete waste of space. This accounts for an awful lot of the drivel thrown into the ether by British Sky Broadcasting.

The company can churn out as much gubbins as it wants through the Astra satellite, for space on there is almost infinite; I am far from convinced that it should do so. Terrestrial space is severely limited, and for the British Sky Broadcasting to have 1/12 of the bandwidth is about right, particularly given their very questionable contribution to society, and laughably low-quality programmes.

Give me content, or give me hell. British Sky Broadcasting: one-third more hell for your money.

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posted 02 Dec 2006, 14.06 +0000

older writing... write to