Web 2.0

Got Arachnaphobia? Here’s Your Worst Nightmare“, from today’s New York Times: “[T]he discovery of a vast web crawling with millions of spiders that is spreading across several acres of a North Texas park is causing a stir among scientists, and park visitors . . . Sheets of web have encased several mature oak trees and are thick enough in places to block out the sun . . . The gossamer strands, slowly overtaking a lakefront peninsula, emit a fetid odor, perhaps from the dead insects entwined in the silk. The web whines with the sound of countless mosquitoes and flies trapped in its folds . . . The web may be a combined effort of social cobweb spiders. But their large communal webs generally take years to build, experts say, and this web was formed in just a few months.”

That’s what happens when social coweb spiders get into the Red Bull.

Massaging the Record

It is not a surprise yet worth noting how people, companies, and institutions are using Wikipedia’s open-editing architecture to provide a more positive spin to stories about themselves. A program called WikiScanner allows one to track to location of computers from which Wikipedia articles were edited. Recent news stories and blog posts report that the CIA, the FBI, a number of major U.S. law firms, presidential candidates, and others have tinkered with Wikipedia articles in which they have an interest. Wikipedia’s response is that it’s “self-correcting” nature will catch and undue slanted articles. That sounds positively organic, as if Wikipedia is a living entity that rushes white blood cells to any place in which the truth is harmed. The truth is that Wikipedia articles will be corrected only if (a) someone notices an suspect alteration, and (b) that someone cares to make the change. He who dies in control of the last edit wins.

Adding Teeth to University Policy

The new quid pro quo for campus Internet service: RIAA-motivated copyright infringement notices that are backed with university-mandated punishments. So reports SiliconValley.com in an article titled UC-Berkeley students face tougher piracy rules this fall. Here’s the money quote: “Starting this fall semester, students using campus computer networks to illegally download copyrighted audio and visual materials will automatically lose their in-room Internet connection for a minimum of one week . . .” Another example of exerting control over an intermediary to affect the behavior of an end-user.

Random Articles

As the blog train begins powering up for the fall, a few news articles have caught my wandering attention:

  • 100,000 Gone Since 2001 (Bob Herbert, The New York Times 14-Aug-07) 100,000 people have been murdered in the U.S. since 9/11. “No heightening of consciousness has accompanied this slaughter, which had nothing to do with terrorism. The news media and most politicians have hardly bothered to notice. At the same time that we’re diligently confiscating water and toothpaste from air travelers, we’re handing over guns and bullets by the trainload to yahoos bent on blowing others into eternity in armed robberies, drug-dealing, gang violence, domestic assaults and other criminal acts.”
  • A New York Times article about former Surgeon General Dr. Richard H. Carmona, recounting how the Bush administration muzzled Carmona and politicized the post, quotes Carmona as saying “I increasingly witnessed a government that was more and more using theology and ideology to drive its policies and its people — stem cells, abortion, Plan B, the war and many more . . . Our go-it-alone so-called cowboy diplomacy has in fact isolated us from the world more than ever in our history.” The story is consistent with this administration’s promotion of cronyism, political loyalty, and ideological purity over competence, expertise, and fact-based analysis.
  • A Grass Roots Effort to Grow Old at Home discusses the movement to foster aging in place (a term which always makes me think of “ripening”) by delivering social, medical, and support services to elders in their homes. I read the article to be certain it credits Beacon Hill Village for its leadership role in this movement; it does. The executive director of Beacon Hill Village is a good friend and I’m pleased to see this non-profit acknowledged for its pioneering efforts.
  • Last, Who Owns the Concept if No One Signs the Papers? discusses an issue that students raise frequently: how can I prevent others from copying my great idea? The quick-and-dirty answer is this: you cannot protect ideas. You can protect the particular manifestation or expression of an idea through a patent, copyright, or trade secret, whichever might apply. The article focuses on the dispute between Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, founders of ConnectU, and Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. The Winklevoss twins engaged Zuckergerg’s services as a coder to work on ConnectU, their Harvard University-based social network site. They claim Zuckerberg copied their sites program code and business plan to start Facebook and want Facebook’s assets turned over to them. The Winklevoss twins never paid Zuckerberg for his services, promising him to pay him later if they made money, and apparently never asked him to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Jason Pontin, the article’s author, states “I suspect that Facebook would not exist had it not been for ConnectU” but nevertheless concludes that ConnectU does not have a case against Zuckerberg.

Brits Nix Term Fix

I’ve posted about this before: Britain to Reject Copyright Extension and Like Coals to Newcastle. Now it’s official. Unlike the U.S., which in 1998 the added 20 years to the term of copyright protection (it’s now the life of the creator plus 70 years or, for a work made for hire, between 90-120 years), last week the British government opted not to extend the copyright for sound recordings to beyond 50 years. British law tracks parallels U.S. law by protecting novelists, playwrights, and composers for their life plus 70 years. Starbucks will have to ramp up sales of Paul McCartney’s CDs or he’ll spend his dotage as a green-aproned barista.

Time to Change tactics?

The RIAA has brought thousands of copyright-infringement lawsuits for illegal music downloads in recent years. Nevertheless, as The Guardian reported on Monday, “illegal music downloading is at an all-time high and set to rise further” because “a growing band of consumers are unconcerned about being prosecuted for illegal downloads.” In the face of such abject failure of its current business model and enforcement tactics, how long before the recording industry shifts business models?