April 9, 2006

The *Other* Side of (Software) Piracy [10:54 pm]

When is it piracy and when is it just promotion? Interesting to see that it’s getting a little ink: How Piracy Opens Doors for Windows [pdf]

Although the world’s largest software maker spends millions of dollars annually to combat illegal copying and distribution of its products, critics allege — and Microsoft acknowledges — that piracy sometimes helps the company establish itself in emerging markets and fend off threats from free open-source programs.

[...] The proliferation of pirated copies nevertheless establishes Microsoft products — particularly Windows and Office — as the software standard. As economies mature and flourish and people and companies begin buying legitimate versions, they usually buy Microsoft because most others already use it. It’s called the network effect.

“The first dose is free,” said Hal Varian, a professor of information management at UC Berkeley, facetiously comparing Microsoft’s anti-piracy policy to street-corner marketing of illicit drugs. “Once you start using a product, you keep using it.”

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LATimes on Net Neutrality [10:45 pm]

Phone, Cable May Charge Dot-Coms That Want to Race Along the Internet [pdf]

As Internet traffic starts to clog, the telephone and cable companies that control the nation’s telecommunications networks are considering charging dot-coms such as Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. extra to make sure their data gets special treatment — zooming along faster and more reliably than anyone else’s.

The idea has ignited a sort of online road rage in the technology and entertainment industries and in Congress. Although differential pricing is widespread — think first-class airline tickets or box seats at the theater — it defies the Internet’s egalitarian tradition.

[...] In Washington and Silicon Valley, the debate is over the long-held tenet of network neutrality — the notion that access to all the Internet’s offerings should be free from interference from the companies that own the vast fiber-optic and copper-wire networks linking the world’s computers.

Those companies — phone and cable companies, mostly — counter that they are entitled to offer expedited delivery services because the growth of online video, music and games is jamming their lines. Already, they charge companies for premium offerings such as private networks.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) sees network neutrality as the most contentious issue in Congress’ overall effort to amend federal communications laws.

On Friday, Sens. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) and Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) issued a draft bill that contained strong language protecting network neutrality. It would bar broadband providers from charging Internet companies for priority access to faster lanes.

In contrast, a House subcommittee on Wednesday shot down a toughened net neutrality provision championed by the chief executives of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft Corp., EBay Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and IAC/InterActive Corp. A weaker provision gives federal regulators less authority to enforce neutrality principles.

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Neologisms for the Online World [7:46 am]

Overly Wired? There’s a Word for It

WAS there gridlock before there were automobiles? Was there jet lag before there were airplanes? Who was the first person to say “I Googled it” or “he’s cyberstalking me”? At what moment did a “web log” turn into a “blog”?

Language makes things official. Change in the pace of life over the last decade can be measured by change in our vocabulary. We I.M., we get phished, we have PIN’s. We HotSync, therefore we are.

Does a phenomenon fully exist until it has a name? [...]

So he has come up with the following suggestions, among others:

¶Screensucking, which he defines as “wasting time engaging with any screen — for instance, computer, video game, television, BlackBerry.” He goes on to use his new word in a sentence: “I was supposed to write that article, but instead I spent the whole afternoon screensucking.” That concept hits particularly close to home. [...]

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Writing for Search [7:35 am]

This Boring Headline Is Written for Google

JOURNALISTS over the years have assumed they were writing their headlines and articles for two audiences — fickle readers and nitpicking editors. Today, there is a third important arbiter of their work: the software programs that scour the Web, analyzing and ranking online news articles on behalf of Internet search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN.

The search-engine “bots” that crawl the Web are increasingly influential, delivering 30 percent or more of the traffic on some newspaper, magazine or television news Web sites. And traffic means readers and advertisers, at a time when the mainstream media is desperately trying to make a living on the Web.

So news organizations large and small have begun experimenting with tweaking their Web sites for better search engine results. But software bots are not your ordinary readers: They are blazingly fast yet numbingly literal-minded. There are no algorithms for wit, irony, humor or stylish writing. The software is a logical, sequential, left-brain reader, while humans are often right brain.

[...] In journalism, as in other fields, the tradition of today was once an innovation. The so-called inverted pyramid structure of a news article — placing the most important information at the top — was shaped in part by a new technology of the 19th century, the telegraph, the Internet of its day. Putting words on telegraph wires was costly, so reporters made sure the most significant points were made at the start.

Yet it wasn’t all technological determinism by any means. The inverted pyramid style of journalism, according to Mr. Schudson, became standard practice only in 1900, four decades or more after telegraph networks came into use. It awaited the rise of journalists as “an avowedly independent, self-conscious, professionalizing group,” confident of their judgments about what information was most important, he said.

The new technology shaped practice, but people determined how the technology was used — and it took a while. Something similar is the likely path of the Internet.

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