30 Apr

Anti Web 2.0 Manifesto

Just came across Keen’s manifesto against Web 2.0.  There’s something to be said for this counter argument.  Instead of delving into a critique of them, I’m just going to let them speak for themselves.

THE ANTI WEB 2.0 MANIFESTO (Adorno-for-idiots) by Andrew Keen

1. The cult of the amateur is digital utopianism’s most seductive delusion. This cult promises that the latest media technology — in the form of blogs, wikis and podcasts —  will
enable everyone to become widely read writers, journalists, movie directors and music artists. It suggests, mistakenly, that everyone has something interesting to say.

2. The digital utopian much heralded “democratization” of media will have a destructive impact upon culture, particularly upon criticism. “Good taste” is, as Adorno never tired
of telling us, undemocratic. Taste must reside with an elite (“truth makers”) of historically progressive cultural critics able to determine, on behalf of the public, the value of a
work-of-art. The digital utopia seeks to flatten this elite into an ochlocracy. The danger, therefore, is that the future will be tasteless.

3. To imagine the dystopian future, we need to reread Adorno, as well as Kafka and Borges (the Web 2.0 dystopia can be mapped to that triangular space between Frankfurt,
Prague and Buenos Aires). Unchecked technology threatens to undermine reality and turn media into a rival version of life, a 21st century version of “The Castle” or “The Library
of Babel”. This might make a fantastic movie or short piece of fiction. But real life, like art, shouldn’t be fantasy; it shouldn’t be fiction.

4. A particularly unfashionable thought: big media is not bad media. The big media engine of the Hollywood studios, the major record labels and publishing houses has
discovered and branded great 20th century popular artists of such as Alfred Hitchcock, Bono and W.G. Sebald (the “Vertigo” three). It is most unlikely that citizen media will
have the marketing skills to discover and brand creative artists of equivalent prodigy.

5. Let’s think differently about George Orwell. Apple’s iconic 1984 Super Bowl commercial is true: 1984 will not be like Nineteen Eighty-Four the message went. Yes, the “truth”
about the digital future will be the absence of the Orwellian Big Brother and the Ministry of Truth. Orwell’s dystopia is the dictatorship of the State; the Web 2.0 dystopia is the
dictatorship of the author. In the digital future, everyone will think they are Orwell (the movie might be called: Being George Orwell).

6. Digital utopian economists Chris Anderson have invented a theoretically flattened market that they have christened the “Long Tail”. It is a Hayekian cottage market of small
media producers industriously trading with one another. But Anderson’s “Long Tail” is really a long tale. The real economic future is something akin to Google — a vertiginous
media world in which content and advertising become so indistinguishable that they become one and the same (more grist to that Frankfurt-Prague-BuenosAires triangle).

7. As always, today’s pornography reveals tomorrow’s media. The future of general media content, the place culture is going, is Voyeurweb.com: the convergence of
self-authored shamelessness, narcissism and vulgarity — a self-argument in favor of censorship. As Adorno liked to remind us, we have a responsibility to protect people from
their worst impulses. If people aren’t able to censor their worst instincts, then they need to be censored by others wiser and more disciplined than themselves.

8. There is something of the philosophical assumptions of early Marx and Rousseau in the digital utopian movement, particularly in its holy trinity of online community,
individual creativity and common intellectual property ownership. Most of all, it’s in the marriage of abstract theory and absolute faith in the virtue of human nature that lends
the digital utopians their intellectual debt to intellectual Casanovas like young Marx and Rousseau.

9. How to resist digital utopianism? Orwell’s focus on language is the most effective antidote. The digital utopians needs to be fought word-for-word, phrase-by-phrase,
delusion-by-delusion.  As an opening gambit, let’s focus on the meaning of four key words in the digital utopian lexicon: a) author b) audience c) community d) elitism.

10. The cultural consequence of uncontrolled digital development will be social vertigo. Culture will be spinning and whirling and in continual flux. Everything will be in motion;
everything will be opinion. This social vertigo of ubiquitous opinion was recognized by Plato. That’s why he was of the opinion that opinionated artists should be banned from his

19 Apr

Struggle over Colbert

Don’t executives at major media companies pay attention?  This parody of the Colbert Report, called Stop the Falsiness is as much an ad for the show as it is its own thing.  There is nothing here that would at all threaten Viacom’s product or in any way go against the political sensibility of the show.  It would appear that a boardroom of monkeys gathered to view the clip and took it at face value.  Won’t anybody explain to them what’s really going on here?

EFF is on the beat.  Here’s a paragraph from their description of the case.

The video, called "Stop the Falsiness," was created by MoveOn and Brave New Films as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on Colbert’s portrayal of the right-wing media and parodying MoveOn’s own reputation for earnest political activism. The short film, uploaded to YouTube in August 2006, includes clips from "The Colbert Report" as well as humorous original interviews about show host Stephen Colbert. In March of this year, Viacom — the parent company of Comedy Central — demanded that YouTube take "Stop the Falsiness" down, claiming the video infringed its copyrights.

Link: EFF: Breaking News.

17 Apr

Google Buys Double Click for $3.1 Billion

So, you thought that Google’s acquisition of YouTube was a momentous business deal.  Well, YouTube’s price tag was only half what they’re paying for Double Click – a top provider of marketing technology and services.  Double Click’s technology is what Google needs to "perfect" their adsense technology.  The high price tag was an effort to keep this technology away from Microsoft – who wants desperately to get in on the personalized ad market. 

So, no one should be surprised by this deal.  However, we might start to question the intensity with which our data will be gathered in the wake of this combination of titans.  Just look at the official "benefits" of the deal:

The combination of Google and DoubleClick will offer superior tools for targeting, serving and analyzing online ads of all types, significantly benefiting customers and consumers:

* For users, the combined company will deliver an improved experience on the web, by increasing the relevancy and the quality of the ads they see.

* For online publishers, the combination provides access to new advertisers, which creates a powerful opportunity to monetize their inventory more efficiently.

* For agencies and advertisers, Google and DoubleClick will provide an easy and efficient way to manage both search and display ads in one place. They will be able to optimize their ad spending across different online media using a common set of metrics.

The consumer experience will be improved – but at what cost?  DoubleClick operates in a fairly precarious position between privacy and convenience.  While the experience of consumption might grow close to perfect, what does this alliance do for the non-consumptive web?  Google’s presence, combined with DoubleClick’s "consumer intelligence gathering," speaks of a whole new terrain for data promiscuity and the value of data detritus.

Link: Google to Acquire DoubleClick: Financial News – Yahoo! Finance.

13 Apr

Persistence of Presence (Twitter)

Film is based on an illusion of mobility.  ‘Persistence of Vision’ is the way a number of still frames, when moving very quickly through a machine and separated by a black bar, creates the impression of movement.  Cinematic movement is an illusion that is so successful that we hardly question its authenticity.



It’s for this reason, that I find an interesting correspondence between the primary illusion of cinema and the primary illusion of social media.  But instead of the persistence of vision, we can talk about the persistence of presence.  Consider an application like Twitter – a micro blogging system that encourages users to answer the question "what are you doing?"  (I just wrote a twitter that said I was writing a blog entry about twitter.)  People can then follow other people’s twitters as they periodically declare their activities.  But what’s important about twitter is not the activity, but the declaration of presence.  Regardless of what you’re doing, you’re stating that you’re doing something.  You are present.  Through these periodical instances, trackers construct an illusion of of presence of the person tracked.  While I don’t have constant access to those twitter-ers I track, a comment every few minutes, hours, or even days, assures me of that person’s existence.

10 Apr

Data Detritus

In most instances of online navigation, we retain a reasonable expectation of privacy.  Yet it is clear that every move, every written thought, conversation, or search string, is transformed into data and stored somewhere.  In essence, every thing we do is transformed into data detritus.  We leave data traces behind.  Traces that we expect will be discarded or ignored. 

Data detritus is trash.  And people often have reasonable expectations of privacy when it comes to their trash.  If we put a bag out on the curb, we expect that no one will search through it.  The U.S. Supreme Court in California v. Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35 (1988), however, ruled that the police may legally search through your trash.  This ruling has not sat easily with many people.  Five states, including California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Washington and Vermont, have provided their citizens with higher levels of privacy as it pertains to trash. 

The question is: should people have expectations of privacy when it comes to their perpetually discarded data?  Are we essentially bundling up our information and tossing it out on the curb to be disposed of?  I would say, yes.  People suspect that their data is private?   Even if it’s voluntarily manufactured in a seemingly "public" place.  Because the concepts of "volunteer" and  "public" are not clear in  many digital contexts, the privacy of trash needs to be reconsidered.

10 Apr

Perceptions of Privacy

I’ve been thinking about how the average web user formulates their conception of privacy.  A lot of people have very personal conversations in "public" online spaces, such as chat rooms and in sites like Myspace, et. al.  Do they have expectations of privacy within these spaces?  If they do, what exactly are those expectations? 

First, I should establish what is normally meant by privacy.  According to Ronald Standler:

Privacy is the expectation that confidential personal information disclosed in a private place will not be disclosed to third parties, when that disclosure would cause either embarrassment or emotional distress to a person of reasonable sensitivities. Information is interpreted broadly to include facts, images (e.g., photographs, videotapes), and disparaging opinions.

OK. But in the context of digital networks, the definition of "private place" is up for grabs.  While most of us would say that any social software platform is not private, it is the case that these systems are designed to cultivate a sense of personalized (thus private) spaces.  I’m not suggesting that they are legally private.  I am suggesting, however, that the perception of privacy cultivated in these online spaces exposes some fundamental problems in the way the law is currently written.  I would argue that these personalized spaces are altering what private space means and therefore forcing a reconsideration of the "reasonable expectation of privacy" concept.