September 4, 2006

Missed This: Google Capitulates [9:34 am]

Well, I guess there never was a fight at all, to read this article. The price of keeping logs…. Google to Give Data To Brazilian Court - pdf

Google Inc., which refused in the past year to hand over user search data to U.S. authorities fighting children’s access to pornography, said yesterday that it was complying with a Brazilian court’s orders to turn over data that could help identify users accused of taking part in online communities that encourage racism, pedophilia and homophobia.

The difference, it says, is scale and purpose.

The Justice Department wanted Google’s entire search index, billions of pages and two months’ worth of queries, for a broad civil case. Brazil, by contrast, is looking for information in specific cases involving Google’s social networking site, Orkut.

“What they’re asking for is not billions of pages,” said Nicole Wong, Google associate general counsel. “In most cases, it’s relatively discrete — small and narrow.”

[...] Legal and privacy experts said that Google had no choice but to comply with the court order. “From the law enforcement perspective, if the records are in the possession of the business, the business can be compelled to produce them,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The larger point, civil libertarians said, is that as long as Internet companies retain data that can identify people, which they use for marketing purposes, they will become targets of law enforcement.

That can raise dilemmas for the companies, they said.

Earlier post: Jurisdiction, Privacy and Google

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Adaptation to Technological Evolution [9:05 am]

Still Called by Faith To the Phone Booth - pdf

Off the side of a dirt road in Southern Maryland stands an odd answer to the swiftly changing telecommunications industry.

It’s a rusted metal chamber, nearly eight feet tall. The door is padlocked. Trees surround it, with no houses in sight. It looks like an old bomb shelter.

Inside is a telephone. Built by several nearby Mennonite families, the oil tank-turned-phone booth connects them to the rest of the world — sort of. And sort of — when it comes to the estimated 1,600 Old Order Mennonite and Amish residents who still ride horse-drawn buggies down the roads of St. Mary’s County — is the point.

In the past several years, they have quietly erected at least 12 similarly hidden, private phone booths, posting them behind barns, in the woods and, in one case, inside a former chicken coop.

The phones allow them to conduct business — crucial to surviving amid the region’s development pressures — while holding on to prohibitions against home phone lines and cellphones. Called “community phones,” they are the latest example of how the groups in Maryland and elsewhere have been cutting deals with technology for the past century.

Do NOT miss the pdf excerpt from The Riddle of Amish Culture — the cover photo alone is worth the download!!

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Expanding the Gaming Market [8:52 am]

Everybody into the pool! The Game Is on to Woo the Elusive Female Player

“The industry is starting to move, but it really needed a kick,” said Gabrielle Kent, a game developer and organizer of a recent conference on women in games in Britain. “It’s been a really slow process because the industry is so male-dominated.”

But things are starting to change in the gaming industry, where developers and engineers are typically guys with a penchant for creating action heroes and buxom female sidekicks. Today’s producers are starting to lay down their weapons and talk about the importance of video play infused with depth and emotion.

At the Edinburgh Entertainment Interactive Festival last month, one keynote address was about the need to recruit more women in the business.

“It’s a massively underserved and overlooked segment of the market,” said David P. Gardner, chief operating officer of Electronic Arts, the leading video game company.

“We don’t want to be just for the stereotypical spotty male teenager,” he said. The company’s philosophy was “not to make games for girls, but to make products that are more socially inclusive.”

[...] Mathilde Abgrall, 24, a player and coach on the Frag Doll team in France, still likes to destroy opponents in games like Counter-Strike or Rayman, but yearns for more of a tale.

“Girls want a good story, a good scenario,” she said. “They want to be able to identify themselves to the character they are playing. Somebody much more like them. Someone with more personality, more character and maybe a little more fat and less, uh, physical.”

Next year, Ubisoft will publish a game called Alive that features characters who rely on their instincts and each other to endure after an earthquake. It reflects the company’s focus on an “action plus” style, according to Yves Guillemot, chief executive of Ubisoft.

“It’s more oriented toward drama, more life in characters, more depth,” he said, adding, “It’s still about surviving, but you can’t resolve things by shooting only.”

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Democracy? Really? [8:46 am]

I finished Niche Envy last night — and I think that Joseph Turow would definitely disagree with this article’s lede: Help for the Merchant in Navigating a Sea of Shopper Opinions

DEMOCRACY is coming to online shopping.

Scores of Internet merchants have recently begun following Amazon’s lead by posting customer reviews — both flattering and flaming — of products they sell, and directing shoppers to sources of the most highly rated items. For example, shoppers can now find frank assessments of everything from Rolling Stones concerts to computers on sites like TicketsNow.com and CompUSA.com, among many others, as well as portals like Pricerunner.com and, in the coming months, MSN.

The trend arises both from an increasing tolerance for candor among retailers and from the emergence of inexpensive technology to track and post customer opinions on individual Web sites. This promises to give customers a new way to shop. Perhaps more surprisingly, it has bolstered the sales of some early experimenters.

Almost certainly, the reason for greater acceptance of comments is that *any* form of interaction adds to the retailer’s understanding of each individual customer, enabling profiling and “customer relationship management.” But “democracy” — no way.

It’s interesting to note that one of the features of the current advertising world that Turow cites appears in the article — the fear that companies are losing control of their message. And the article does give one indication of how hard they’ll work to try to redress the balance.

“It’s pretty clear that people are trusting the words of other consumers more than what’s broadcast on the airwaves,” said Peter Kim, an analyst with Forrester.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kim said, merchants have watched the ascendancy of Web logs. “They see they have less and less control over their brand image, and are questioning whether they ever did have that control at all,” he said. “That’s driven the openness toward having a greater dialogue about their products and services.”

Retailers like Mr. Lazarchic and others say they have long known this about consumers, but have had no efficient way to collect customer reviews. “This has been on our radar for the past four or five years, but the manpower required for it was always outside our capabilities,” he said.

Bazaarvoice solves that problem by soliciting, screening and analyzing reviews on the retailer’s behalf, then feeding data from those reviews back to retailers so they can modify their sales methods. The service charges a minimum of $24,000 a year.

The name of the firm, Bazaarvoice, is ironic. While the bazaar is romantic, it’s a complete reversion of what the modern marketplace has been about — openness and accessibility (”my money’s as good as anyone else’s”). That notion is eroding and, just as we see in the copyright domain, those with concentrations of wealth are investing in the technologies that they hope will skew the system to their advantage.

Related: New Way to Gauge a Publication’s Appeal

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LATimes on Politics and YouTube [8:35 am]

A consequence of broadband buildout — what else is coming down the road? Smile, Politicians! You’re on YouTube - pdf

Websites and candidate blogs, once novelties, are now common. So why has video emerged as the latest political star? One key reason: More Americans have high-speed Internet access at home.

In 2003, about 25 million U.S. consumers had a connection fast enough to easily watch videos on their computer, according to research firm Strategy Analytics Inc. Today, nearly 50 million do — which has given rise to sites such as YouTube.

As the Web’s most popular video channel, the small company based in San Mateo, Calif., is trying to figure out ways to translate its free service into a profitable business model. Its fans watch 100 million clips and upload more than 65,000 videos each day, catching sports clips as well as personal videos of the Gulf Coast a year after Hurricane Katrina.

YouTube also helps some of them blow the whistle: A former Lockheed Martin employee, claiming the company had ignored security flaws when it upgraded patrol boats for the Coast Guard, last month posted a 10-minute video outlining his claims. Now the Department of Homeland Security is reportedly looking into the matter.

“Campaigns figured out pretty quickly that this offers them direct access to a new constituency,” said Jennifer Duffy, editor of Washington-based nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

The site also gave campaigns a way to publish footage they already were gathering, Duffy said.

“Campaigns have used people known as ‘trackers’ for years to follow opponents and tape their every move,” Duffy said. “But the quality of the footage was typically too poor to use on TV. Now there’s an outlet for it.”

Later - an LATimes editorial - The First YouTube Election: It’s easier than ever to spread political propaganda online, but it’s also easier than ever to get caught. - pdf

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Wikis As A Money-Maker? [8:29 am]

I dunno. I’ve been using one internally for research purposes, and making an accessible wiki is no simple task. My experience says that, until someone figures out how to “herd cats” online, wikis are going to be a tough row to hoe. Some serious thinking about indexing and general library science needs to be integrated into the model, IMHO. But, as this article suggests, there are those who are going to give it a shot: New Web Sites Seeking Profit in Wiki Model

Mr. Herrick is hardly the only entrepreneur inspired by the efficiency and low cost of what has become known as the wiki model. Although Wikipedia is operated by a nonprofit foundation, ideas for advertising-based wiki sites are beginning to take their place alongside blogs and social networking sites as a staple of Silicon Valley business plans.

In addition to Wikia, a site devoted to topics judged too esoteric for the online encyclopedia, there is ShopWiki, for product reviews, and Wikitravel, for tourism advice. Several start-ups allow users to operate their own wiki sites.

“Wikipedia is an encyclopedia and this is about the other 999,000 books in the library,” said Ben Elowitz, chief executive of Wetpaint, a start-your-own wiki site.

Others wonder how big that library can get. All of the companies making consumer-oriented wikis are privately held and do not release revenue figures. But so far not one of them has come close to the popularity of Wikipedia, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. WikiHow had 1.1 million visitors in July, Wikia had just over 270,000, and several other wiki sites had too small an audience to be measured by the Nielsen/NetRatings methodology.

On a related note, I got an email over the weekend announcing WikiPatents, a site for community comment on patents and, eventually, patent applications. Their About promises that big things are coming. Should be interesting to see how it evolves. But a look reveals that there are definitely ways that one CAN elect to structure a wiki — the gamble is selecting a structure that will actually bring people to the wiki, for both information and commentary.

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A Look At the MySpace Music Store [8:24 am]

Shawn Fanning lies in the background, remember. It will be interesting to see if the SnoCap model will be accepted by the “Bigs.” MySpace Music Store Is New Challenge for Big Labels

[F]or the four major labels, which must approve each retailer that sells digital versions of their music, the new store could represent a challenge.

The MySpace store would let labels set their own prices for songs, which they have complained that iTunes does not let them do. And all of the major labels have put their catalogs into Snocap’s database, which uses an audio fingerprinting technology to prevent people from selling songs they do not own.

The MySpace store will sell music in the MP3 format, however, which allows them to be played on the Apple iPod but does not offer any copy protection. So far, the labels have been unwilling to sell music online in any format that does not allow them to restrict how many copies can be made.

Later: the Washington Post’s MySpace: Meet the Band, Buy the Song -pdf

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OT: Why I’m In The Office Today [8:20 am]

A look at the academic life: The Summer Next Time

On paper, the academic life looks great. As many as 15 weeks off in the summer, four in the winter, one in the spring, and then, usually, only three days a week on campus the rest of the time. Anybody who tells you this wasn’t part of the lure of a job in higher education is lying. But one finds out right away in graduate school that in fact the typical professor logs an average of 60 hours a week, and the more successful professors work even more — including not just 14-hour days during the school year, but 10-hour days in the summer as well.

Why, then, does there continue to be a glut of fresh Ph.D.’s? It isn’t the pay scale, which, with a few lucky exceptions, offers the lowest years-of-education-to-income ratio possible. It isn’t really the work itself, either. Yes, teaching and research are rewarding, but we face as much drudgery as in any professional job. Once you’ve read 10,000 freshman essays, you’ve read them all.

But we academics do have something few others possess in this postindustrial world: control over our own time. All the surveys point to this as the most common factor in job satisfaction. The jobs in which decisions are made and the pace set by machines provide the least satisfaction, while those, like mine, that foster at least the illusion of control provide the most.

[...] I was recently offered a non-teaching job that would have almost doubled my salary, but which would have required me to report to an office in standard 8-to-5 fashion. I turned it down, and for a moment I felt like the circus worker in the joke: he follows the elephant with a shovel, and when offered another job responds, “What, and give up show business?”

Really, though, I’m more like Jacob Ventling and Edward Rutter. I don’t go out 10 times a day for a dram of rum, but I could. And in fact, maybe I will. Next summer.

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