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Facta, non verba

The country’s news media are in a froth over the lurid, gory details of a bizarre murder case, certainly one of the most sensational in recent times. Luka Rocco Magnotta (a.k.a. Eric Clinton Newman), a 29-year old man from Scarborough, has apparently killed and dismembered 33-year-old Lin Jun, of Wuhan, China. Magnotta is alleged to have stabbed Jun with an ice pick, mutilated and sexually assaulted the cadaver, and then mailed bits of it to the headquarters of the federal Conservative and Liberal parties. Somehow a video of the murder and desecration ended up on a website specialising in “gore”; the site is owned by an Edmonton man, Mark Marek, but its servers are based in the United States.

I won’t bore you, dear readers, with a recitation of the litany one can find all over the internet and television; but in the churning torrents of spilled ink arrive a few tantalising bits of data that beg for elaboration.

The first is the tale of an American lawyer who claims to have seen the snuff video, notified both US and Canadian police about its contents, and been rebuffed. The lawyer was so affected by having seen the video that he attempted to contact every jurisdiction where Magnotta’s social media profiles indicated he had been, and Toronto was one such location. Our local police dispute the lawyer’s account of his efforts to notify them, and believe they acted appropriately based on the information they had at the time.

“Knowing what we do know now, perhaps we could have done more,” said [Kevin] Masterman. “But at the time, knowing what we knew then, we were satisfied with the response of the call taker.” […]

“He was trying to let us know about the video,” conceded Masterman, a Toronto police media and communications co-ordinator, who said Renville’s call came in at 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

But Masterman insisted “the call was quite vague at the time.” A police switchboard operator spoke to Renville, recorded the call, and referred Renville to Crimestoppers, but did not transfer him to a police officer, said Masterman. He added police would not release any recording of the conversation.

[…]

Renville called Miami police (Magnotta appears in online photos in Miami), Denver FBI and police (Magnotta was believed to be a former roommate of a convicted prostitute killer in that city) and the national FBI crime and terrorism tip lines and got either no response, or bewildered responses. He admits it must have sounded like a “crazy report.”

He called Toronto police Sunday and says a woman took the call and transferred him to a man whom he understood to be an officer. “He suggested the video I saw must be a fake, it must be good special effects. It just didn’t make any sense for a fellow to videotape himself committing his crime, then load it on the Internet,” said Renville.

“I asked him to give me an email address to which I could send a link to the video and he said ‘no,’ they wouldn’t be needing a link to the video.”

Masterman denied Renville asked for an email address or offered to send the video link via email, suggesting Renville had spoken to so many others that he may be “confused” about details of his interaction with a Metro Toronto Police Services switchboard operator.

Masterman said Toronto police communications officials are “satisfied” with how the incident was handled, adding “in hindsight, there could have been other options, but knowing what they did at the time they’re satisfied with the response.”

– MacCharles, Tonda. “Luka Magnotta: Toronto police admit they “could have done more” when U.S. lawyer flagged disturbing video.” Toronto Star, 31 May 2012.

Optimistically, it may have been a missed opportunity; but apparently Mr. Renville did not express himself eloquently enough (nor provide enough probable cause) for the police to begin to connect the dots. It would not, in any event, have changed the outcome for the unfortunate victim, Lin Jun. But the really fascinating admission from police comes in the latter half of the Star article; and it’s interesting not because it relates specifically to this case, but to the future of policing and how the public interacts with them.

“We prefer that people call us. We don’t want to receive reports of crime over the Internet. We want to respond to reports right away. We don’t want the Internet as an alternate (sic) to 911.”

Masterman said the police service’s Facebook page is not monitored 24 hours a day seven days a week, and so if people try to report a crime in progress, “there’s no one there to talk to you right away.”

Renville says he also spoke to a receptionist at the Toronto Sun and emailed a Globe and Mail reporter, again to no avail.

“Frustrated, discouraged and distressed” by his inability to get it “on the radar of people who could do something about it,” Renville says he gave up Monday evening at his wife’s insistence, after three days.

– MacCharles, Tonda. “Luka Magnotta: Toronto police admit they “could have done more” when U.S. lawyer flagged disturbing video.” Toronto Star, 31 May 2012. [Emphasis mine]

The bolded part of the quotation is revealing, and not in a good way; it is nonsensical. Toronto police didn’t receive notification of the murder over the Internet, they received it via a good old-fashioned telephone call—which is, according to spokesman Masterman, their preferred avenue. Moreover, Mr. Masterman was being intentionally obtuse or disingenuous in his characterisation; Mr. Renville was not attempting to use the Internet as an alternate to 911. He was attempting to direct the police’s attention to the electronic record of a violent crime, not summon emergency services to intervene and save the victim’s life in the nick of time. Call me dense, but I think the police would be upset if you used 911 as your personal conduit for relaying evidence. Everything our emergency services have ever told us indicates that they’d like 911 to be reserved for cases where they might usefully respond to a real and present crisis, not an after-the-fact examination and dissection of evidence. This is exactly why the police fobbed off Mr. Renville on Crime Stoppers instead of 911; because they recognised that there was no emergency within their jurisdiction to be dispatched to.

The broader problem is that this particular case—featuring internet-based evidence of a violent crime—did not add up to something that smelled like probable cause, and that lack of cause suffocated any desire to spring into even modest investigative action. I understand the police’s attitude on this, and halfway agree that procuring good Net-derived evidence as the basis of probable cause can be fraught with frustration, delay and complication. Sifting through server and network activity logs, then coordinating your investigation with ISPs and IT staff at a dozen other nodes spread out across the country (and all its time zones) can be a giant pain in the ass. Add another layer of complexity if you have to deal with a foreign jurisdiction, its law enforcement entities and their dissimilar statutes and legal requirements. Add to that another significant hurdle; most law enforcement officers (and an overwhelming majority of their superiors) are not even remotely computer-savvy, so even a relatively modest challenge can appear to be as daunting as scaling Everest or K2.

But it’s a cold, hard fact that an increasing amount of our communication, commerce, productivity and entertainment takes place in the electronic ether—and that, dear friends in blue, will mean an increasing variety and volume of crimes whose evidence will have to be sourced from the net.

Now Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and a million other social media sites might exist as long as IBM, or they might fold up shop and cease to exist within a decade. But what is inarguable is that the basic concept of social media (i.e. interacting with a global audience in near-real-time on the net) is here to stay; and net-connected mobile computing on small handheld platforms doesn’t seem like it is likely to vanish anytime soon, either. One cannot help but ask whether the police ought to be taking a head-in-the-sand approach to social media; surely adapting with the times is a strategy more likely to pay dividends.

I understand the reliance on tried-and-true infrastructure like telephones. They’re highly regulated, generally tied to a single individual (or at least a discrete physical location), and our emergency services infrastructure is designed to take advantage of this. If the call is from a traditional land line, the address/location of the caller will appear to 911 dispatchers, whether or not the caller volunteers that information. This gives first responders a certain degree of confidence that they are headed to the right vicinity where an apparent emergency is underway, and if the call is false or spurious, it can also be billed or fined accordingly. But even this has changed, and phone lines are certainly not immune to spoofing; an enterprising gadfly with modest telecom knowledge, access to a VOIP service and proxies can impersonate another telephone number without significant difficulty. This is why we now have the phenomenon of SWATting; making a spurious call to police that results in the dispatch of a tactical team to a residence whose innocent occupants pose no risk to public safety, and are unaware that their domicile has been reported as the scene of a violent crime. This potentially life-threatening prank has already occurred in Toronto and Langley, BC. Phones are not the be-all and end-all of citizen contact with police.

It seems to me that as the volume and variety of our net-based activity increases, the need for police to be able to conduct meaningful interaction (incident reporting, patrols, investigation and evidence collection) there will also increase. If I were a chief of police or senior superintendent, I would start to plan for that eventuality now—instead of trying to force the public back into the comfortable old way of doing things. Believe me when I say I am a curmudgeon and skeptic of every hare-brained “the internet will make life magic” scheme. It won’t. But in the developed world, the internet is to the 21st century as the telephone was to the 20th—essential, integral; woven into the fabric of daily life. Maybe it’s time that our police learned how to use it.

Category: Culpae Poenae Par Esto, Web/Tech  Tags:  Comments off

O tempora! O Myspace!

There’s an interesting article in Bloomberg Businessweek about the rise and fall of Myspace—the social media construct that had hoped to revolutionise the relationship between the music industry and its consumers. In the article, Myspace’s two founders seem to blame their woes on a combination of poorly scaled technology, management missteps, an increasingly negative user experience, and a heaping helping of bad press.

Those factors certainly play a role, however I would posit that even a well-run social networking site–with a pleasant, secure user experience and the press blowing sunshine up one’s backside all day–will still experience the dreaded user fall-off. The author of the Businessweek piece comes tantalisingly close to the truth when he writes the following:

Mismanagement, a flawed merger, and countless strategic blunders have accelerated Myspace’s fall from being one of the most popular websites on earth—one that promised to redefine music, politics, dating, and pop culture—to an afterthought. But Myspace’s fate may not be an anomaly. It turns out that fast-moving technology, fickle user behavior, and swirling public perception are an extremely volatile mix. Add in the sense of arrogance that comes when hundreds of millions of people around the world are living on your platform, and social networks appear to be a very peculiar business—one in which companies might serially rise, fall, and disappear.

– Gillette, Felix. “The Rise and Inglorious Fall of Myspace.” Bloomberg Businessweek, 22 June 2011.

The cyclical nature of social media is not accidental, and is in fact a vital clue to its lack of long-term viability. Back in June of 2006 I wrote about Myspace’s unlikely prospects due to its heavy reliance on circa-1995 models of online revenue generation, i.e. good old banner ads. That piece included the following abbreviated history of social networking, which may help one understanding its previous iterations.


A BRIEF HISTORY OF SOCIAL NETWORKING

In the early 80s we had telephone “party lines” where eager young teens could call up a central chat line service, create a cutesy little audible profile, and make new friends — realtime — with dozens of other like-minded teens from the same city (or across North America) talking about billowing hairspray-dos, tiger-striped pants, and Queen Street rock bars.

In the late 80s and early 90s we had multi-line bulletin board services like Metropolis and Canada Remote Systems, where angst-ridden young teens could dial in with a 1200-baud modem, create a lengthy personal profile, and make new friends — realtime — with dozens of other angst-ridden teens from the same city (or across North America) typing about unkempt hair, grunge rock and Queen Street goth bars.

In the mid-to-late 90s we had personal web pages and internet relay chat, where you could create a lengthy personal profile, link to all of your interests and pop-culture icons, and make new friends — realtime — reminiscing with people in the same city (or across the world) about the bygone days of tiger stripe pants, grunge rock, and Queen-Street-goth-bars-turned-Starbucks-outlets.

Now we’ve got MySpace, where you can create an intricate personal presence on the web (in 1995-style backgrounds and layout), link to all of your interests and pop-culture icons, and locate — realtime — new friends who share the same interests and possibly geography.

Each of those prior forms of social media have died out over the years. Technology keeps creating newer avenues of interaction, and the generation that initially adopts a tool will in a few short years mature into a different stage of life—and move on to something else that better suits it.

And that, dear readers, is why social media is always ephemeral and never quite the stable, long-term cash cow that everyone wishes it were.

Even though almost all office-dwellers have a computer at work, the working Joes and Janes are not the folks that will spend the vast bulk of their time on social media sites. Most companies require one to complete tasks in order to earn a salary; lollygagging and playing Farmville doesn’t cut it. Thus the folks with vast amounts of time to spend online are (generally) the young; teenagers, college students.

But as the young grow up they, too, get less time to spend online. Work will start eating up larger and larger slices of time, along with girlfriends/wives, children, and so on. If two or three key friends end up using and recommending a new social media vector, one might be more inclined to adopt it. But that vector (whether it is an instant messaging service, Myspace or Facebook) does not always maintain the same level of relevance to the user. As the user ages and his or her life circumstances change, the various attractions of the site will lose (or gain) relevance.

In my teens I had used BBSes (particularly the live chat) to communicate with friends, organise spur-of-the-moment social and sporting events, and so on. Although we moved from BBSes to IRC in the 90s, live chat lost all relevance after my early 20s, because I and all of my friends were working full-time—and, critically, few offices in 1995 had desktop Internet access. I still have ICQ, Yahoo! and MSN instant messaging accounts, but I never use them; they are not earning any revenue for any of those firms. Facebook, too, was interesting initially but quickly became less so. I don’t use its chat function, and the games feel too much like work. Many games want you to check in every couple hours or risk losing progress, and at that point it’s no longer fun—it’s a chore. Nor do I use the Foursquare integration, photo album or event calendar; my use of Facebook has thus declined to that of e-mail substitute. Trying to get people together for a ball game in your teens in easy; most of the people you know live nearby (or at least in the same city). And being teenagers, there are usually few duties and ample free time. But to do the same with adults is something else entirely. Few of my high school friends live in the same city anymore, and most have wives, kids, tons of responsibility, and little spare time.

Unlike brick-and-mortar businesses, social media isn’t selling something you might actually need. So when the early adopters find a service’s relevance fading, it can’t always count on the following generation to take up the slack. A pub can survive for hundreds of years in the same location because people in every generation will want to eat, drink and socialise. Social media can only offer the socialising, and that lasts only as long as the young find it relevant and cool. None have found a way (nor investors patient enough) to recruit successive generations.

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WordPress spam protection and blacklists

The battle against comment and trackback spam is one that can never really be won, as the tactics and countermeasures are constantly shifting.  In the past couple of days, however, I feel like I’ve won a major tactical victory because there have been no spam comments in the moderation queue.

First I made some changes to the root .htaccess file using the 4G Blacklist and 4G Referrer Blacklist provided by Perishable Press.

Then I installed the AVH First Defense Against Spam plugin, and I can’t say enough good things about it.  For the past few days,  AVH and Akismet are the only two anti-spam plugins I’ve been using and so far, nothing has snuck by AVH to make it into the Akismet queue yet.  Here’s why I think AVH is more effective than any other WP anti-spam plugin:

1) It will check the visitor’s IP against a local whitelist, blacklist, and the Stop Forum Spam and Project Honey Pot databases.  (You’ll need API keys from both, though.)  If the visitor’s IP is identified as a spammer then AVH will not serve the blog’s content and optionally display an “Access has been blocked” screen indicating that the visitor has been blacklisted.  By not loading the site for spammers, your stats are cleaner and you save a bit of bandwidth.

2)  The notification emails AVH generates to the blog owner include not only the blocked comment, but also the reason for it being blocked.  This is such an elementary feature it’s a wonder more anti-spam tools don’t include it.  You no longer have to puzzle over innocuous-looking comments in the spam queue and try to figure out why they got tagged as spam.  A reason will be provided right at the top of the message indicating the failure mode, such as ” An attempt was made to directly access wp-comment-post.php“.  Humans using a browser will never load the comment PHP script directly, so there’s no longer any ambiguity about the nature of the commenter.

3)  The blog owner has the option (either in the notification email or via the comment moderation panel), to add the spammer’s IP to the local blacklist, and—if one has the proper API key—the option to register the spammer in the Stop Forum Spam database with a single mouse-click.  If you do this you’ll be making life easier for other blog and forum owners, too.

Previously I used to blacklist spammers in WordPress’ own native blacklist, and also in the site’s root .htaccess file—which is not something you can edit quickly and easily while on the go.  With AVH, being able to blacklist and report spammers just by clicking on links in the email notifications is a major plus; it’s something you can do from a very light platform like a mobile phone or tablet device, and it doesn’t take a lot of time or typing.

My site has a relatively small audience and so I am not inundated with comments (spam or otherwise) at the best of times; but AVH First Defense Against Spam has taken all the hassle out of managing even the very small amount of spam that I get, and I highly recommend it.

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UK classes killing kids’ interest in tech

So says The Register.

It’s been my experience that most of the nerd-for-pay careers they highlight in school can be incredibly boring. The world of IT is so incredibly vast that it is hard to gain exposure to all of it in high school or university.

When I was a wee tadpole our school computing classes were light years behind the times. They taught us how to use old, blue-screened, DOS-based WordPerfect at a time when more intuitive GUIs like MS Word (at that time, Word for Windows) had already gained prominence.

Later they put us to sleep with lectures on Alan Turing and focused heavily on programming—which was fine if one wanted to be buried in code for the rest of his or her life. We were taught to program in Pascal, a language which gets almost entirely jettisoned in post-secondary education in favour of those more widely used in defense and commercial applications. It’s like being required to learn French, only to find out you really needed to learn Japanese.

Back then they didn’t even bother to teach the things I would have wanted to learn—such as network architecture and theory. Most of the interesting and commercially useful IT skills I have are a result of a company paying to send me on expensive, hundred-thousand-dollar courses which your average high school student simply will not be able to afford.

The most intellectually rewarding work I have done revolves around building and optimising server and network architectures. Taking a bunch of requirements and turning them into a working, smoothly-functioning system that has enough juice to do what the client wants today, has room to grow for tomorrow, and is as automated as possible to avoid boring, repetitive tasks for the maintainers. To see a system like that in action, the offspring of your own ingenuity and reasoning, that’s fun.

The downside of the trade is that you occasionally get hired to merely maintain (and not rebuild) somebody else’s broken-down architecture. One should stay far, far away from those kinds of engagements, even if they are extremely well-paid. It’s like being a plumber who is paid to apply a daily patch of duct-tape to a leaky pipe, but you’re not allowed to rip out the damaged pipe and replace it. It might be lucrative but it doesn’t teach you anything new, and your skills atrophy.

In later years I got to figure out how to integrate wireless devices and applications with the corporate mail and application platforms. That too is fascinating during the conceptual and construction phases, but not so much fun if you’re merely maintaining something already built. In that field of endeavour, be prepared to be disappointed often.

Companies will buy these wonderful toys for executives, who will use them as fancy day-timers. Unless you are extremely lucky, most will not bother to put the money into the best possible investment—developing full-blown integration with mission-critical backend applications; which would allow line staff in the field to perform all the core functions of their job on a BlackBerry or an iPhone without ever having to crack open a laptop. Mobile workers in most companies would love that capability, but most companies never get out of the email-plus-day-timer mentality. Most never develop their desktop mail applications into full-blown workflow tools either, even though the framework has been there (from multiple platforms and vendors!) for at least fifteen years. They balk at spending a couple million on things that will save them hundreds of millions over the lifetime of the system.

The other fun stuff I learned as a youngster was, to be blunt, mostly a result of ill-gotten gains. Pirating software, teaching myself to use it, and then seeing what I could do with it. Most of the fun graphics you see on this webpage are there because twenty years ago I nicked copies of CorelDRAW and Adobe Photoshop using a slow modem (though it was high speed, for the time) and built pointless—but pretty—web pages on local ISPs (and, of course, GeoCities).

If you’d asked me then if I wanted to spend a career designing websites, I would have said no, because sites of the time were mostly dull, blue-hyperlink-on-grey background affairs. I was the kind of guy that wanted to cram it full of tasteful, arresting (but bandwidth-appropriate) imagery. To craft a brand, as it were.

Few companies had even heard of the World Wide Web, and those that knew of it did not consider it vital that they establish any kind of presence there. I can still remember the CIO of Canadian Tire telling me in 1995 that they saw no future in the web and no point in giving employees email addresses. They had other priorities at the time, most notably building hundreds of new stores and improving their logistics chain so as to be able to compete with Wal-Mart. Their priorities were correct, but it was only a year or two later when the Tire did actually start thinking seriously about the Web.

In the grand scheme of things, schools are going to focus on what educators and trustees feel are the most commercially viable skills. This does not necessarily correlate with what students will find interesting or appealing. And most businesses will be five to ten years behind the truly interesting trends and ideas. If you want to find out about the truly interesting junk today, you’ll probably have to do it the way we did back then; hang around in IRC and listservs where nerds congregate.

But I can guarantee you’re not going to find out about it in school.

Category: Web/Tech  One Comment

Our Lady of Cupertino

I have long maintained that the religious impulse is a core part of our evolutionary biology, because every human being I have ever known is religious about something.

Even—and especially—the unreligious, who will not realize they are in the throes of it because they may define religion as “believing in something for no reason at all”, rather than a rational faith that asks questions, observes data, records answers, and believes on the strength of the evidence that it has thus far.

Given that every known human civilization has objects of affection, inspiration and veneration, it is not surprising to see that religiosity extends into the secular realm and may even be actively cultivated by savvy marketing.

Just as the Genius Bar has proved to be genius, the now-classic Apple slogan “Think Different” also turns out to be more than just words: The brains of Apple fans really are different. When Martin Lindstrom, a brand consultant and author of Buyology: The Truth and Lies About Why We Buy, examined those brains under a functional magnetic-resonance-imaging scanner, he discovered that Apple devotees are indistinguishable from those committed to Jesus. “Apple’s brand is so powerful that for some people it’s just like a true religion,” Lindstrom says.

Apple cultivates religious fervor among its adherents in a number of subtle ways, including its mysteriousness and its suggestion that customers are among the chosen ones. Perhaps most important, though, is Apple’s devotion to symbology. Its most effective marketing efforts, Lindstrom says, are built into the products themselves. Think of the iPod’s white earbuds, the Mac’s startup sound, or the unmistakable shape of the MacBook’s back panel. None of these choices were accidental. Apple understands the lasting power of sensory cues, and it goes out of its way to infuse everything it makes with memorable ideas that scream its brand.

– Manjoo, Farhad. “Invincible Apple: 10 Lessons From the Coolest Company Anywhere.” Fast Company, 1 July 2010.

It would be easy to go for the cheap laugh and say “See? It is a cult!” But I think the story reinforces a broader truth about human nature.

My sense is that asking humans to not indulge their religious nature is akin to asking sharks not to swim or eat seals. When people draw pleasure and inspiration from something—be it a relationship with the Creator of the universe or merely Apple Inc. of Cupertino—they will continue to seek out that experience and strengthen that bond.

One hopes that those who experience their religion as a purely secular phenomena can have some understanding of what draws believers back to churches and hymns week after week.

RELATED: The Atlantic Monthly‘s interesting piece on Apple as religion, detailing the company’s creation, hero, devil and resurrection narratives.

Steve Jobs says Google’s “don’t be evil” ethos is bullshit

I love it when nerd icons start sticking pins in the competition.

At a town hall event following the iPad announcement, Apple CEO Steve Jobs took the time to kick Adobe and Google in the shins.  I get a chuckle out of his calling Google’s do-no-evil mantra “bullshit”.

I happen to think he’s correct, if only because Google has already demonstrated that it’s willing to compromise its first principles in pursuit of more moolah.  This is no surprise; individuals and companies make that tradeoff all the time.  But most are smart enough not to publicly pretend otherwise.

Jobs trying to unmask Google is particularly entertaining, though, since it’s coming from a guy whose outfit gets perverse pleasure out of locking in users with long term contracts, non-open interfaces, and overpriced peripherals using proprietary connectors.  Pot, kettle and all that.

One of those conflicts where you’d like to see both parties lose.

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The token has become indistinguishable from the fact or the deed

Italy speeds toward its historic goal of becoming a comic-opera parody of itself.

An iPhone app featuring text, audio and video of one hundred speeches by Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini is, according to the Times of London, the best-selling app in the country.

RELATED: Early 20th century aviatrix Beryl Markham has Italy’s number.

The symbols of war—impressive desert forts, shiny planes, beetle-browed warships—all inspire the sons of Rome, if not to gallantry, then at least to histrionics, which, in the Italian mind, are synonymous anyway.  I sometimes think it must be extremely difficult for the Italian people to remain patient in the face of their armies unwavering record of defeat (they looked so resplendent on parade).  But there is little complaint.

The answer must be that the country of Caruso has lived a symbolic life for so long that the token has become indistinguishable from the fact or the deed.  If an aria can suffice for a fighting heart, a riband draped on any chest can suffice for a general—and the theory of victory, for victory itself.

– Markham, Beryl. West with the Night.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1942.

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Google contemplates being slightly less evil

"Imperialism and all reactionaries are paper tigers." c. 1965 (Source: Stefan Landsberger)

After four years of materially aiding the PRC government in its quest to divert Chinese web surfers away from dissident online content, Google has belatedly executed an about-face.

The change in attitude comes after the company’s Gmail service was subject to cyber attacks which targeted the accounts of human-rights activists around the globe.  In retaliation, Google has said it will relax its censorship regime and contemplate closing its Chinese subsidiary.

These are, in the main, good things—although even the not-very-bright could have foreseen no small amount of inevitable unpleasantness when dealing with the autocrats of Communist China.  But despite all the hoopla I do not expect Google to exit the Chinese market, even though Google is a mere bit-player in China (an also-ran next to homegrown services like Baidu and Sina).  The company’s revenues in China are estimated to be on the order of $400 million; by leaving now they would effectively cede the field—and long-term growth potential—to competitors.  As Google has already demonstrated an inconsistency with its corporate ethics while setting up its Chinese operations, I do not expect its late discovery of a spine to make much difference.

I rather expect the Chinese government will find an appropriate scapegoat; some general or senior bureaucrat who was “overzealous” in pursuit of public security.  That official and some of his underlings will be cashiered and disgraced.  The PRC will agree to a minor lessening of the censorship regime, which it will disingenuously revoke later when the furor has died down; Google gets to look like a champion of human rights, the PRC gets to look like it is making some progress on liberalising itself.  Google and the PRC will pronounce themselves satisfied—if not amicable—and business will go on as usual.

But it was intoxicating to think for a few brief hours that they might actually do the right thing, and refuse to play ball with the tyrants in Peking.

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Why would you duplicate the worst aspects of the medium?

I need somebody to explain the appeal of PJTV and Bloggingheads.tv.  I thought this whole “citizen journalism” thing was about bringing greater depth, detail and context to the news the major media cranks out into the airwaves.  Taking the time to write from a specialist’s perspective, to fill in the background that a beat reporter would not even realise they are missing.  And all of that married to the ability to receive and remark upon news stories and opinion, anywhere there is a wired or wireless net connection.

The move to try and push this discourse into video from text is ridiculously misguided.  The most compelling video isn’t watching two talking heads debate the issues of the day; if it were, the local candidates debates during elections would rival strip clubs for popularity and revenue-generating possibilities.  Compelling video is watching the events occur, unfiltered; not having a vacuous talking head try to interpret the events long after they have actually occurred.

Seems to me that the move to erect bloggers as ersatz newsmagazine talking heads is capitalising on a weakness of the medium, not its strength. The annoying thing about the major media is that they often choose to strip away most of the valuable contextual information and leave behind only the most sensational and attention-grabbing aspects, giving us a very warped interpretation of events.  Making the medium of transmission web-based rather than radio/TV broadcast-based doesn’t diminish the fact that video is always the poorer medium for imparting detailed information; it will always take twice as long for a blogger in a suit to read a piece than it does for a reader to digest that piece in its text form.

I don’t understand why anyone would want to trade one variety of newsreader or puff-headed pundit for another; the newsreading—having another human being decide what issues and concerns ought to be put in front of you with the mass-media focus—is the problem, not the solution.  Surely the first, best destiny of the blogger is not to replicate the tired forms and functions of the old mass medium, but to capitalise on the strengths of the new.  To fill out stories and background that are ill-served and under-exposed; to do it at length and in a thoughtful way, as befits a subject matter expert.  To engage author and reader in dialogue—not have us revert to watching somebody else have that dialogue, and then commenting after the fact.

Category: Media, Web/Tech  Tags:  4 Comments