Thursday, December 31, 2015

Artist files class action copyright lawsuit against Spotify, saying its reserve system for unidentified artists doesn't try hard enough

David Lowery, who plays in the bands Cracker and Camper van Beethoven, has launched a class-action copyright lawsuit against Spotify, still claiming that the service cheats musicians, in the Central District of California.

Ed Christman has a story on Billboard.

The basic contention is that Spotify fails to locate owners for payment before “publishing” music for “free” consumption.  Spotify claims it keeps reserves to pay musicians when it can locate them and discusses the issue on its blog.

I actually could have a situation like that. I remember a classical music composition by a friend from 1961 and can play it by ear into Sibelius but would have to locate him to “publish” it.
The Washington Post has a similar story by Justin Moyer.

Lizzie Plaugic has a detailed story on The Verge (Vox).

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My own milestones: "Epiphany" screenplay finished: what lies ahead (and maybe beneath)

I recall a moment shortly after midnight New Year’s Eve, when we had moved into 1990, as I left a DC Sports event in a party room at a large Crystal City (Arlington VA) highrise, saying to myself, “The clock is ticking.”  Soon I would start a new job, that would mesh with my writing of my first book in 1997, and six very interesting years in Minneapolis (around Y2K).  1990 seemed like  very modern times.

So it is again. I have self-published in print and onlone (since 1996) and blogged (since 2006) with a certain political effectiveness, which may seem to have lessened in more recent years, and like everything else in life, I have to wonder what is really sustainable, especially at age 72.
In early 2014, recall, I pubbed the third of my “Do Ask Do Tell” books. I opened two new Wordpress blogs at the end of 2013 for more extensive footnotes (including some very detailed narratives of some unusual life events) and to track my own media work, as well as review media items that are unusually relevant to my own work and that don’t fit into my Movies, Drama, or TV Blogger logs (partly because they are older and may have been reviewed once on my legacy “doaskdotell” site).  Part of the point of the media Wordpress blog was also to summarize old novel manuscripts that I had started, as far back as 1969 (“The Proles”) but mainly in the 1980s and early 1990s, before I turned to my DADT books and has been motivated by the “gays in the military” issue.  World history changed a lot (like the collapse of the Berlin Wall and then the Soviet Union) during those years, meaning my fiction had been hitting a moving target. It keeps changing.

More recently I set some development goals for myself, which I most recently outlined in detail here Sept. 3, 2015.

On Monday (December 28, 2015), I finally “finished” an “acceptable” shooting script of the screenplay “Epiphany” in Final Draft 9 format. I tweeted (and “Facebooked”) that fact late Monday night, and got surprising response (including people who want to make money running funding campaigns and revising the script for commercial pitches).  The length is 105 pages.  The film would run about an even two hours (I can estimate scene times in notes), but the extra music performances would probably have to go into deleted scenes or be a DVD special ad-on.  I cheated a little on the detail of “secondary flashbacks”.  The intention is that when characters talk about past incidents or even recall them (telepathy becomes a big plot element), the camera shows quick 1-2 second flashes of the events (filmed at original locations if possible).

I do wonder if Project Greenlight plans to announce a script-writing contest in 2016.  In the past, such announcements have typically occurred between the Gold Globes or Oscar Nominations, and the Oscar ceremony in late February.  One of the announcements happened on a Sunday morning. PGL used to have a great discussion forum site (in the pre-Facebook era) and had at least one big party in LA, in 2003 I think.  I’m not sure if PGL still has a studio affiliation (with Disney-Miramax, the Weinstein Company, or anyone else).

Announcing: Project Greenlight Digital Studios from Project Greenlight on Vimeo.

But I actually have another script, which I call “Titanium”, in reasonable shape, which comes closer to the expectations of the commercial market.  It would need to be moved into Final Draft 9 format.
“Titanium” does involve “me” as a background character but is seen largely through the life of a heterosexual reporter in Dallas, whose fiancĂ© has disappeared and may have been abducted by a UFO. the meantime, the reporter has another (in fact, mixed race) affair.  But when he investigates the abduction, he becomes the first to witness a public UFO landing. One of the points of this 2006 screenplay is to show how the public (like the media, government, stock markets) really would deal with a public UFO event (not in the “silly” style of “Close Encounters”).  This idea would sound sellable. On he other hand, “Epiphany” is driven by my need to find a way to propose filming the “Do Ask, Do Tell” series of books.  On an outer level, the story reminds one of Arthur C. Clarke’s (SfYy Channel, TV blog. Dec. 15) “Childhood’s End” and “Rendezvous with Rama” (which Morgan Freeman has been trying to produce).  But the backstory about “me” and a few others comes from the DADT series.  One advantage of “Epiphany” is that the “space rama” set could be constructed anywhere (at studios in Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, Toronto, or even overseas like the Czech Republic). But the flashbacks (especially those involving William and Mary) really should be filmed on location to be effective.

For the novel (“Angel’s Brother”) I found that diagramming the plot in Microsoft Access to be very helpful, as providing a template. I thought that this would help with the screenplay (“Epiphany”). But  the Final Draft 9 Script Notes provided what seemed an even better analytical diagram of the story. The use of the feature led me to change the writing, and emphasize a lot more the interactions among the many other characters on the space station “colony” apart from “me”. The surface story became much more intricate and probably more appealing to a wide mainstream audience (outside the LGBT area).  Maybe a fair comparison could be “Judas Kiss” and “The Dark Place” but this concept is much more ambitious.  Perhaps my Rama-world is indeed a “roadside attraction”.

I also found that a detailed treatment of the screenplay was not as useful as a shorter template that followed the five "key turning point" steps on Michael Hague's Story Structure chart.

As a sequel for either film, imagine life on an “evacuation” spaceship raising whole new generations of children (with Rama-like artificial gravity), and then life in a civilization on an eyeball planet , maybe tidally locked (in a “twilight” termination zone) and maybe a satellite of a really big civilization able to have built a Dyson Sphere. (Or is Ridley Scott doing that now with sequels to “Prometheus”?)

The other work in the near future includes completing the Sonata in Sibelius, and making about seven short pieces that contain thematic material used in the sonata playable on their own in Sibelius. (Just two of these are done right now.)

A major concern of mine will be whether others could “pick up the pieces” and see this work produced should “something happen to me”. No, I’m not being pessimistic.  But sometime in January, I expect to leave much more explicit directions as to where everything is and what can be done with it, on a well-documented location (known to potential executors).  It may be a page on one of my Wordpress blogs (probably “Bill’s Media Reviews”).  I would expect being able to post this information no sooner than Monday January 18, 2016 (or Tuesday Jan. 19 because of the holiday) but hopefully no later than Monday, February 1, 2016.

Another issue is the sustainability of my various websites (one or two of which get little updating now) and blogging setup.  It is difficult for me to maintain some many separate URL’s forever, and I am considering reducing the number of them. There would be fewer “small” news stories (which I could post instead on a Facebook “public figure” page which pulls "followers" instead of "friends" but still feeds in algorithmic sequences to visitors) and most posts would be “in-depth” and emphasize more original material not easily available elsewhere (these seem to do the best according to Analytics anyway).  I know I’ve said this before.  But I would like the media review blogs and major news blogs to be under a contractual support agreement on paid space.  That would make it easier to work with guest bloggers and apply some of the advice of “Blogtyrant” (Ramsay Taplin) that I’ve covered before.  It appears right now that this is more easily done on Wordpress than Blogger, but that needs to be reviewed further.  One potential big issue would be conversion of large blogs (> 2000 postings) to Wordpress.  I don’t know whether there would be problems. On the other hand, I have reason to believe that the “free service model” may not be sustainable forever as a business model by the companies that provide them.  (Oh, yes, “It’s free”.) I’ve covered issues like native ads and “do not track” here before, a lot.

I'd like to announce a decision as to how I will do this by Monday March 21, 2016 and be able to start the process in April 2016.

After posting my “wishes” for my projects (by Feb. 1), I expect to start spending more time on activities that could benefit others in the community, including the possibility of making the house available for more “radical hospitality” or for the possibility of a sale and relocation, and volunteerism.  But I need to be able to spend more focused time on this once I start, so I need to get to this early 2016 breakpoint first.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Occidental College wants to document all "microaggressions" in campus speech

Occidental College in Los Angeles wants students to help it build a “database” of “microaggressions” or statements that should not be acceptable on campus because they tend to add up to attitudes of discrimination against minorities.

Reason TV has a video where some students are interviewed about what could constitute “microaggressions”.

Examples of possible microaggressions include saying “Bless you” to a sneeze, saying “all lives matter”, or saying the most qualified person should be hired for a job or admitted to college without regard to race.
Students tended to waffle on the importance of free speech. One African American woman says that free speech usually comes from those already in power, and not everything said has equal weight.  How would that apply to my own books, blogs and social media sites? Some students seemed more interest in communal equality than freedom.  Maybe they should consider joining income-sharing intentional communities. Mention was made of the expectation of media-free zones.

University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe and his resignation got some attention.

I wondered if it would be a “microaggression” to say that I would not date or have a romantic relationship with someone of a different race.  Think how that be construed, if “passion” is taken to me a person’s own perception of virtue in another. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

"Southpark" made "Fair Use" more accessible for "all of us"

Let’s pause for a moment and remember “How Southpark Saved Fair Use”, an article in Reason by Alexis Garica.
The article embeds a Reason TV video where Parker Higgins, copyright counsel at Electronic Frontier Foundation, explains an unusual case where EFF sided with media giant Viacom (aka Paramount Pictures) when Viacom created a Southpark episode called “Canada on Strike” (remember, “Blame Canada!”) based on Brownmark’s video by Samwell.

In 2010, the Seventh Circuit (Chicago) upheld the dismissal of the suit before it got to trial, on fair use grounds.
But Higgins also explains how “canonical fair use” has been undermined by a “permissions culture” in much of the media business, where people pay for unnecessary licenses because they fear frivolous litigation.

Southpark has been popular with libertarians, as there is a lot about personal responsibility.  Don’t forget the 1999 film with the character “Big Gay Al”.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The way people form relationships (including their social media interactions) has a bearing on inequality

A piece by Tyler Cowen in the New York Times Business Section caught my eye because of some unusual moral overtones, “The marriages of power couples reinforce income inequality” ,

The article emphasizes the advantages to kids growing up in families where both parents are professional and highly educated, and which appeals to modern ideas of liberalism, individualism and gender equality.  The idea works well with same-sex couples raising kids because it’s likely each partner is a strong individualist to start.  But the cherry picking leaves the rest of society weaker. So what’s good for innovation and progress isn’t always good for stability and sustainability.  The article mentions the way social media and dating or matchmaking sites add to the tension.

In fact, when I was growing up and entering young adulthood, the opposite idea prevailed: complementarity. You were supposed to have a sexual response and then a life investment in someone who would depend on “you” (if you were male), something that at a basic biological level would not connect in my brain. It made more sense to affiliate up. That worked at an individual level, but wouldn’t meet society’s (or the extended family’s or community’s) needs as they were viewed, out of some war-driven necessity, at the time.  My inclinations, if seen as acceptable, could lead to fewer babies, and most of all, to some women, who at the time had much less developed career opportunities on their own, remaining in some poverty when they could have been supported in a stricter culture.  I was perceived as not playing fair, and providing a lot of distraction by my distant (Karellen-like) “oversight” of others.

Enter economic growth into the debate (International Issues blog, Dec. 18).  That comes up, because there will be a challenge in keeping the economy growing while dealing with climate change.  In fact, it’s individual innovation (from young adults like Jack and Luke Andraka, Taylor Wilson, Param Jaggi, and of course the “example” already set by Mark Zuckerberg) that is the best change to solve the problems while providing growth. When the pie grows, the world is no longer a zero-sum game, so the idea that individual aspirations and actions may need macro-level control by the group becomes morally (and politically) less credible.

Another part of the picture is “social capital” and “solidarity”.  I’m personally pretty reluctant to get recruited by “groups” and pledge any particular loyalty to them because they can turn out to be doing the “wrong things.”   Yet, the ability of groups to get people to work together on shared (even if partisan or specific) goals is itself a virtue.  Content means nothing until someone else experiences it.
Let me mention another kind of social media -- the old fashioned kind -- mass produced letters with family pictures mailed with Christmas cards.  I've never been into doing this myself -- by blogs and books (and tweets and Facebook posts) tell all anyway.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Law professors debate constitutionality of limits on free speech (and unsupervised distribution) given unprecedented nature and paradox in ISIS's recruiting propaganda methods

Proposals to limit free speech (or its unsupervised distribution) continue to emerge.

In Bloomberg, Cass R. Sustein writes about “Islamic State’s Challenge to Free Speech”. One of the ideas he discusses is the “Learned Hand Test” from a judge with a curious name, which would consider indirect incitement to violence as a clear and present danger.  A relevant case is Dennis v. The United States, decided by the Supreme Court in 1951.

American (University of Chicago) law professor Eric Posner writes in Slate bluntly “ISIS gives us no choice but to consider limits on speech” with the subtitle byline, “America faces unprecedented danger from the group’s online radicalization tactics”.   Posner wants to make it a crime to even access, or at least link to, sites that promote ISIS propaganda.  Imagine the NSA surveillance issue then!  And imagine the idea of it being a crime to provide a simple hyperlink (although that had come up with the Communications Decency Act in 1996, the portion that got struck down by the Supreme Court in 1997).  And why, in this era of unprecedented communication, is so much of our population sitting ducks for “propaganda”.  That sounds like something Vladimir Putin would say. I can remember we studied the idea of "propaganda" in twelfth grade government class back in 1961. Posner's "modest proposal" would not seem funny to Jonathan Swift.

It would seem that a relevant idea would be, whether the nation is legally "at war", which NATO commitments could relate to.

Geoffrey Stone (also, like Posner, a law professor, at the University of Chicago) responds to all this in the Huffington Post, “ISIS, Fear, and the Freedom of Speech” in the Huffington Post.   Dec. 22. But any other issues, already considered here, could fold into these debates, such as downstream liability for service providers, the absence of gatekeepers before posting, gratuitous publication, and implicit content.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

FTC issues guidance on web "native ads"; author of book behind award-winning film ("The Revenant") deals with federal conflict-of-interest rules

The Federal Trade Commission has published an “enforcement policy statement addressing native ads” in websites.  The New York Times, for example, has a detailed article today explaining the guidelines, by Sydney Ember.

Native ads have become more popular with web publishers because users are more likely to engage them, and support web publishers who have to “do it for a living”.  I can tell from Google help forums, a substantial number of people say they indeed make a living off their sites, and more or less follow “Blogtyrant’s” practices (although not always with Wordpress).

The guidelines are a bit flexible and subjective.  But there are rules.  It’s not acceptable to call an ad a “promoted story”.   The FTC seems more concerned about this issue in a mobile environment than in older desktop computing situations.

I get a lot of email requests to “promote” other parties’ stories on my blogs.  It may be more possible for me to do this cleanly after some restricting in 2016 but more about that later.

A very tangentially related story today concerns my own idea of “conflict of interest” and web speech. Attorney Michael Punke, who works as a deputy US Trade Representative and ambassador to the World Trade Organization, wrote the early 19th century period “western” novel “The Revenant”, which 20th Century Fox has made into a likely Oscar winning film, due out at the very end of the awards season. But Punke can’t talk about it online or publicly, as this Washington Post story by Ben Terris explains, due to federal ethics rules.  Apparently Punke has worked on TTIP, which has been the target of criticism by EFF and others.

The situation reminds me of my own dilemma when writing a book about gays in the military in the 1990s why working for a company that sold to military members.  I got a transfer away from the conflict, to Minneapolis, starting one of the most interesting episodes in my life (but would run into future issues over eldercare).  The issue also came up when I was approached (without my solicitation) to become a life insurance agent and financial planner around 2005, when I was told that Sarbannes-Oxley would prohibit all outside income (except previous pensions).  I’ll process all this further to see if there are more legal parallels.

I’m impressed that Punke got out of his own narrative to write a novel about people totally unlike him or in an alien environment.  My own narrative simply keeps me occupied.

Update: Jan. 7, 2016

Digital Context Next offers an article by Mark Glaser of Media Shift, "What's next for publishers after FTC's native ad guidelines?"

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Criminal conviction can result in severe restrictions on Internet use, and therefore earning capacity

I haven’t spent a lot of energy on the problems for people convicted of crimes – which could include wrongly convicted.  One issue is that conviction of many crimes results in great restriction or sometimes total denial of Internet use, including electronics such as smartphones and personal computers and laptops.  This is particular true of sex offender cases (which I have covered a lot on my COPA blog) and one problem is that people who obviously don’t endanger the community are placed on registries for quasi-consensual acts under literal reading of some state laws. I covered the case of Zack Anderson on the TV blog Aug. 1, and the media reports that his sentence was reduced and he was removed from the registry and can hopefully resume a career in information technology.

I would even add that the first interim job I had after my “career-ending layoff” at the end of 2001, was a job calling for the Minnesota Orchestra, part time – I did it for 14 months, and everything was paper and pencil, manual, and phone.  I was amazed that a job could exist without a computer.  (That’s a sub-theme on the screenplay I am working on now.)

On December 16, 2015, Adam Schwartz of Electronic Frontier Foundation offered a piece, “Internet free speech for people on supervised release from prison”, summarizing the history of Darren Chaker.  Typically, people on probation are prohibited from many behaviors online, and these have sometimes spilled over to interpreting criticism of public officials as expressing threats or malice.

Monday, December 21, 2015

McWhorter examines the flip side of campus speech codes and political correctness: are kids "whining"?

James McWhorter, professor of linguistics at Columbia, is talking about his Saturday essay “Closed Minds on Campus” on CNN tonight.

McWhorter talks about the concept of “micro-aggression” where even incidents involving simple matters of personal insularity become perceived as indirect aggression.  For example, I could imagine it would be seen as wrong to say I would never date or marry a person of an opposite or different race, because of the inference one could draw from that statement’s being “OK” in some collective social contexts.

McWhorter refers to a Dartmouth Review article without a direct, and appears to this Nov. 17 account of an incident there.

McWhorter also sees that the demand for some sort of loyalty to the political goals of the group develop into a new kind of bullying, as well as whining.  See related story Nov. 22.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

It can be a crime to delete your browser history if you suspect connection to terrorism; Religion Clause case prompts controversial post-judgment speech injunction

There are situations where it can be a crime (under some interpretations of Sarbannes-Oxley) to delete browser history from your computer or smartphone if you know or reasonably suspect that the history could be pertinent to a criminal investigation.

Claire Bernish writes in “Anti-Media”, “Bush era law could get you 20 years in prison for clearing your browser history”.  There was a troubling prosecution of former cab driver Khairullozhon Matanov, with asylum from Kyrgyzstan, who saw the Tsarnaev brothers before they became suspects in the Boston Marathon case, Susan Zalkind’s article “The FBI is trying to ruin my life” in the Daily Beast.

But the legal risk of being considered an accessory in a terrorism case, however indirectly, has been perceived as increasing due now to the San Bernadino situation.

In another important matter, Jamie Williams of Electronic Frontier Foundation writes that the Seventh Circuit had struck down an “overbroad permanent injunction on Internet speech” in the case McCarthy v. Fuller with the issue of the “Religion Clause” . The jury has found for the plaintiff without a lot of specificity as to the reasoning, and a lower court had tried to preclude the defendant’s trying to tell its own side of the story in public.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

New Washington state cyber-harassment law could ensnare the unwary, trample the First Amendment

Adam Schwartz of Electronic Frontier Foundation has an op-ed “EFF asks Washington State Court to protect Internet free speech”, concerning a recently enacted state law  (9/61.260) in that Pacific Northwest paradise, making it a crime to “stalk” someone electronically, that being defined as intimidating communications that are repeated, anonymous, or using bad words.  But the speech, now illegal under new state law, would be constitutionally protected. Womenslaw has a copy of the law. SkyValley has an article explaining how the "law can protect you".

It is conceivable that “bad reviews” could sometimes be illegal.  So could some behaviors on social media, especially Twitter.  Could repeatedly doing a “reply” to tweets of someone whom you follow but who doesn’t reciprocate by following you conceivably be illegal, if the other person somehow construed them as harassment because of  (steganographic or contextual) hidden meanings?  That’s troubling because some people consider that behavior on Twitter to constitute “stalking” (Dec. 4).

But what is acceptable and appropriate behavior online is an idea that keeps changing all the time anyway. But the definition of harassment lies within the mind of the target, not the speaker.

Wikipedia attribution link for Vancouver WA picture (I actually visited in 1966), by Piyo, under Creative Commons Share Alike 3.0 license.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Equality, Stability, and Expressive Freedom -- and unchosen social obligations that come with belonging

I’ll start out with Jeff Guo’s Wonkblog post today (Washington Post p. A21) “Men, women and Ikea: It’s complicated”   I’m not sure what this says about me, because my brain seems to have fallen more on the female side of this.. I can remember a coworker, in 1980 in Dallas, saying I should be able to change her flat tire because I am a man.

Of course, that brings up gender equality, and equality in general (like marriage equality).  There’s some tension among these concepts:  equality, stability-security, and individual ungated expressive freedom (personal autonomy).  You need stability to keep on being able to function and contribute to the world in a manner that you have been prepared for.  You need freedom for your personal dignity.  You need equality to avoid becoming some other group’s bargaining chip.

Gender equality, for example, brings up balancing paternal leave with maternal leave, which leads to another issue, paid family leave, and whether it should be mandatory. Libertarians say, let more progressive employers (like Facebook) solve this on their own, and they obviously will  Liberals say, the US lags behind the rest of the world.  The bigger problem than gender is the balancing of the interests between those with kids and the childless, and nobody seems ready to take this up.

But then look at eldercare.  Anyone can wind up with that situation, and it can hit the childless even harder.  That’s one thing that happened in my life.

I think we are heading to a space in our “culture wars” where we need to recognize the intrinsic importance of taking on responsibility for others as something we expect of adults.  I grew up with the idea that that happens once you experience heterosexual intercourse and are exposed to the “risks” of having children.  But responsibility for others, as a cultural value, doesn’t always wait for voluntary sexual intercourse.  In my case, as a non-parent, it was very difficult to deal with this (as when “fathering skills” were needed when I worked as a substitute teacher).  Today, progressive churches have been sending young people (high school and college) on “missions” or summer work camp experiences in developing countries, like Belize, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Kenya, Nigeria.  (The Belize experience got made into a short film (hint ) which I have seen but, as far as I know, has never been distributed publicly.)  This kind of experience becomes more difficult as world tensions over terror (and over gang-exploited poverty, drugs, religion and even sexual orientation) seem to be increasing.  But it can socialize emerging adults into learning constructive personal intervention well before they get into their own dating, marriage and parenting experiences – an idea that would have seemed unwelcome in the more conservative culture in which I grew up decade before.

In my first DADT book (1997), I believe that I even proposed a kind of backdoor “paid leave”, in the sense of shorter work weeks for all, but graded:  37 hours base, but 34 hours for those with dependents.  I suppose a “mandatory” paid leave policy could make sense in conjunction with a small payroll tax or “premium” to show that it needs to be paid for, but there needs to be a new debate on the idea that “providing for others” should become a new norm again.  But that transcends our debate on the meaning of marriage.

You could go more Maoist and propose moralistically that any inherited wealth should be spent on proving for people without support.

For most of my adult life, I could remain in my own world, somewhat sheltered, ironically, by the demands of the workplace for unpaid overtime to achieve perfection from computer systems in production. In retirement, I create content with an extremely broad brush (incorporating books, music, and I hope movies), and, yes, if I can do a good enough job “myself” I can gain legitimate recognition from others (Sept 30, 2014), and prove something to myself, that I am “better” than “them”, and not need all this interpersonal stuff that, after all, would have been unwelcome in the more distant past.  But I need to get beyond this.  Time can really run out.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Researchers prohibited from sharing work "free" through "back doors" by publishing contracts

The company Reed Elsevier, or RELX  (the “Books in Print” people, also handling ISBN’s, all very familiar to me from the 1990s when I wrote my first DADT book) has been pursuing researchers who share their own work for free when it has been made proprietary.  Cory Doctorow on “BoingBoing” writes “scholars and activists stand in solidarity with research-sharing sites” and, at Electronic Frontier Foundation, Elliot Harmon writes “What if Elsevier and researchers quite playing hide-and-seek?” EFF had even broadcast this on Twitter with the Timo-esque language "What if large publishers spent less time in court and more time improving their business models?" (that is, getting "less bad"!)
One problem is that scholars are prohibited, by contracts, from sharing their work for free if it is being published “through channels” so that the publications can make their money.  That is to sat, researchers cannot legally compete with themselves.

What if I was told I couldn’t put my own books online for free (for people who don’t want to pay or can’t afford to) because it would reduce actual sales (often overpriced) and publisher prices (and maybe undermine jobs of people at the publishers).   You could say, such a development would support the moral idea that one needs to make money for others or meet real or perceived needs in some social context before being "listened to" (as in the title of my DADT-III book).  What if songwriters or classical music composers were told this (I won’t “name names” right now).

I can recall doing a very small amount of work for Reed back in 2002, after my layoff, when I was rummaging around for entrepreneurial stuff after my career “cardiac arrest” at the end of 2001.

Jack Andraka  (Books, March 18, 2015) usually mentions open access in his public talks (like on TED) also critics have asked why he hasn’t fully published his own work yet.  (Maybe it isn’t ready.)

And the tragedy of Aaron Swartz was about open access. (On Twitter, one can use the hashtags #openaccess" and "#EFF" to spread the debate.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Trump, Hillary Clinton tone down a bit on Internet shutoff "threats"

Donald Trump was questioned during the CNN debate Tuesday night on what he had meant by shutting down parts of the Internet to stop ISIS recruiting of impressionable or disaffected youth.  This time, he was more vague, saying that the US could cut off access from servers overseas (like in Syria), or at least that what it sounded like. But cutting off Internet access within areas of Syria is an idea that would actually suit ISIS aims.  Vox had a brief article by Zack Beauchamp on Trump’s proposal to “close off areas of the Internet” last night.

But Hillary Clinton has also recently been a little more specific.  She wants a law to require service providers to monitor and screen out terrorist recruiting content, according to this CNN story. Clinton’s comments would follow from a recent bill proposed by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), mentioned and linked on the Dec. 13 posting.  Feinstein claims that her Bill would not require pro-active monitoring in advance (maybe she has anticipated Section 230-based arguments).

In fact, companies can screen for digital watermarks, which is how Google checks for some child pornography, but the images or videos have to have been identified by NCMEC.  There is no facility yet to identify jihadist promotion, but it’s conceivable one could be developed for limited range of material, like the beheadings.

I wrote the following comment on Facebook last night on Vox’s article.

“If you required service providers to pre-screen everything that got published online, you would shut down all user-generated content. Essentially no Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or blogs. You wouldn't get to speak and be heard until you had "earned" it. But there is a nagging debate about Section 230 (which protects service providers from most downstream liability for libel) and DMCS safe harbor (similar for copyright), and in Europe, "the right to be forgotten". These downstream liability protections could be jeopardized if service providers had to prescreen for jihad. Even Hillary Clinton said she wants service providers to weed out terror support (by legal requirement). It's difficult to imagine automated tools that would be very effective, even though they can work for some things (looking for known digital watermarks in images).  ( I note also, later Trump "clarified" by saying he would interfere with the Internet only in Syria and Iraq? -- AC360 coverage on CNN at 11:50 PM)”

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Resilience: a component of moral compass, online and in "real life"

One question that rummages is, as a personal moral matter, should I (or “we”) count on the “the rule of law” and “the world as we know it” to work all the time?  Or is there some ukase that I should be able to survive and be of use to others if some catastrophic breakdown happened as a result of war, terror, or even natural cataclysm (like a huge solar storm).

This gets into the “doomsday prepper” mentality, as well as the idea that every law-abiding citizen should be able to defend him or herself and family. Along those lines, note a Washington Post story early Tuesday, “For many at Liberty University, Guns and God go hand in hand”.  That refers to the late Jerry Falwell’s school in Lynchburg VA.

In ordinary daily life, many of us do have the opportunity to be masters of our own fates.  Given the familiar legal and financial system, it is easy to “screw up”, just as it is in the workplace or in personal relationships.

But, “we” see literature telling “us” how to be prepared to survive for extended periods without power. We are told we should learn how to defend ourselves.  How to do CPR, how to rescue people from drowning, how to step up and intervene when necessary.  The availability of your body for blood ad organ donations (slowly being resolved for MSM) becomes an expectation.  It’s curious how these expectations recycle in different forms;  I grew up at time when the male-only military draft was a major moral issue, and how I dealt with it is part of my own narrative.

One of the most critical ideas seems to be, when we’re at “war”.  Isolated terror incidents, even large ones, do not constitute war, and for politicians to react as if it did may be what enemies want to see.  But at some point, civilian populations may have to deal with the reality of war, as so many in Europe learned in WWII and has happened repeatedly in world history.  When war comes, individuals are expected to make existential sacrifices and start over, and still find life worth living.  Some may not. (The great example in literature is Scarlet O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind”: she had it [unearned and acquired unjustly], lost it, got it back, and lost it (that is, Rhett) again.)  But resiliency, in this sense, becomes part of moral fabric.  If people are perceived as personally resilient, enemies may be deterred. But resiliency also involves a modicum of “must” rather than merely “should”.

The biggest issue for me personally at this stage of life is that my whole sense of personal “effectiveness” depends on Internet speech without gatekeepers.  That could be lost because of abuse by others or as a response to terror (as with long-term power grid failures in the most extreme terror or natural catastrophe scenarios), or even to changing business models.  It raises the question, why don’t I “get more out of” direct intervention to help others.  Some, but not all of the answer is that such interventions would not have been welcome in the past;  they are more expected today (ironically) partly because of the way modern social media has played out. (Some people insist thaat you live in their shoes and world if you are to help them at all;  they don't want to hear from "you" about the "Outside", and that indeed is a problem.)  Some of the answer is just the mathematical idea of differentiating “eventually” from “frequently”; the notion that “There is always a first time” and sometimes there indeed is.  Anyone can suddenly be in need, because of someone else’s irrational hostility.  Anyone can lose everything, or have it taken away by force.

 True, this is not an everyday concern, but because it can happen “eventually” the idea is part of our moral landscape.  That may be one reason for the brazenness and combativeness of some “enemies”.
The other side of this discussion is, of course, prevention.  Politicians (especially the GOP) are ignoring the steps we can take to protect infrastructure.  But libertarian investors have indeed noticed.

So the whole Biblical question about "loving your enemies" has moral significance.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Homeland Security mulls viewing social media for immigrants and maybe citizens; Feinstein wants to compel companies to monitor for terrorism

The New York Times on Sunday ran a front page story “Visa Screening Missed an Atacker’s Zealotry on Social Media”,  by Matt Apuzzo, Michael S. Schmidt, and Julio Preston. The details of the story are about Tashfeen Malik, whose apparent support of violent jihad was event in social media to anyone who looked.  Homeland Security had apparently not started looking even at public social media until recently, and had not determined what screening was appropriate, even for public postings.

In fact, apparently DHS forbade agents from looking at social media of applicants, fearing bad public relations (ABC News). But Fox, NBC and CNN report that Malik's page had been private and in the name of her sister.

Of course, a lot has been reported over the years about employer probing social media, especially during the hiring process.

The First Amendment would preclude government’s taking action against someone already in the country for lawful speech, but not for making threats.  The analogy is to the Cold War days with speech advocating “overthrow of the government” or violent “revolution” would have been illegal (and the country got carried away with this, as in the movie “Trumbo”, on Movies blog, Nov. 13.)

As I've related before, I had an incident involving this issue in 2005 when work as a substitute teacher (as a public employee with First Amendment protections).

But exclusion based on speech could be more easily applied lawfully against someone (a non-citizen) not in the country.

Applying the situation in reverse, people with controversial social media content might have a much harder time in the future visiting authoritarian countries like Russia.

Update: Dec. 14

The the Washington Post editorial "Social media sites don't need government to shut down terrorists",  Diane Feinstein (D-CA) has a bill to make monitoring mandatory.  I expected Electronic Frontier Foundation to post a piece critical of her bill today.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The "Afterlife": where faith meets science, where "information" meets matter-energy

I’ll change the subject, slightly, this weekend, although to me this material about the Afterlife seems seamlessly integrated to everything else. I could even say that “Afterlife” reminds me of “Second Life”.

Mike Pettigrew has an article that apparently summarizes the partitions of the Afterlife as (apparently) it is presented at the Monroe Institute (South of Charlottesville VA).  There is a “map” that looks like a drawing of the Shire and related territory from “The Hobbit”.  I wish he provided a larger resolution of the image.  It looks like a board game, or something you could build a model railroad on (or make a computer game from).  The article us valuable to those (including me) who haven’t spent the thousands and spent the weeks of time to do the Monroe resident programs.

Interesting is the identification of the various levels.  “C1” is the consciousness and personhood of real life. He then describes several “Focus” levels, starting with a coma, and then with a state of having died but not realizing it.  That (Focus 23) could be a bad (and life-contradicting) dream that you cannot wake up from, or getting lost somewhere and never finding your way out of a “maze”.

There are three “hollow heavens” that correspond to major religious versions of the Afterlife.  (There might be a problem because the Islamic idea of Paradise starts at the end of time, which modern cosmology says may never occur.) People who actually “believed” with a capital “B” will experience these levels.  The Christian version of Heaven has always sounded a bit naive and not covering a lot of questions (what about infants? how can you "accomplish" anything?)

Then there is “Focus 27” which seems to be the ultimate place for the soul, to become part of a “soul family”.

In this level, one will have to confront one’s own “moral compass” when living on Earth (or any other comparable planet). That’s a favorite term of Anderson Cooper.  It could be loosely (or closely) related to “karma”.  One key idea is that equality of birth circumstance and genetics is simply impossible (not because of ideology, but because of logic), so there is some obligation to “start where you are.”  I can wonder how well the typical libertarian idea of personal responsibility (even as shown so well on “South Park”) comporting to individualism, plays out here.  It’s not good to take advantage of an advantage and not give back.  One idea is that it is impossible not to benefit from sacrifices of others that you never are aware of when they happen.  Libertarian moral thought, however, may take you farther than expected.  For example, greater freedom of self-produced public  and "gatekeeperless" speech  (as in the Internet age, on social media), for all the criticism (the cyber bullying, the enemy recruiting) is also promoting kindness and going to bat for others in a way not envisioned by past generations;  in a world where we are “alone together” we still cannot get very far if we remain personally insular (as people have done in the past).

One important issue, though, at this level has to be how one responded to coercion from others (even if perceived as bullying or combativeness).  That’s related to resilience.  I’ve said that I won’t allow my own life (and plans) to become bargaining chips for someone else’s religious or political agendas.  My own life path depends on and expressive my own (unusual) narrative, and I can’t always go to bat for someone else’s narrative even when under a lot of pressure.  That might not play well at this level, where things can get personal when you’re not ready for them to.  Still, when one is left free, it’s so very easy to stumble and make serious mistakes within narrower ideas of “personal responsibility”.

Another idea is that a religious belief, unto itself, doesn’t have moral standing.  Believing is not an event until there is some kind of works or action based on the belief.  It’s actions that matter, although this includes sustainability of the personal goals that motivate the actions.

One other question, would be, does it matter if one had children in earthly life?  Is there a connection to biological children (like the LDS idea of eternal family)?  I don’t find much off hand, but there is a perspective that children in the afterlife need adoptive parents.  The mention of angels can be left for another time. I'll add that, as a male who is not naturally actively heterosexual, I feel little inclination to accept socialization directed by others (starting with the needs of a mother in the home, and building family onto that).

I’ll share a related article from the “Lucid Mind Center”. Let me add, anecdotal evidence suggests that some reincarnation must happen.  How can prodigious children start out in life with such incredible abilities (whether music, mathematics, physics, programming) without having lived and learned the material before?  It would be great to have a 90-year-old's wisdom and start adult life over with a 20-year-old body.  Maybe transgenderism could be explained by reincarnation (as with "The Danish Girl", movie blog, Dec. 11).  But mathematics shows that more people have lived than are alive today, so most souls could not have been reincarnated yet. Note the BBC post, "Do the dead outnumber the living?"

Friday, December 11, 2015

Search Engine Optimization and blog consultation services may be more legitimate than a lot of us realize

Ramsay Taplin “BlogTyrant” from Down Under has a new piece, "10 Basic of Blogging Search Engine Optimization" (tips).

 I get lots of spammy email offering SEO and web design, and Google and Bing are always advising against fall for schemes because they change their algorithms to avoid cheating.

However, some of the tips make a lot of sense. One is to watch your use of anchor text for links, which I admit I haven’t always done, often saying something like “link here” rather than underlining and directly linking from the most descriptive words.  But there are some legitimate SEO help packages available with Wordpress (Bluehost) that appear OK with search engine companies to use.
Another is to watch your use of themes.  Again, Wordpress offers a wide range of themes that should be legitimate.

Ramsay also says that search engines now correlate blog search ranking with the owner’s social media presence.  I find that a little hard to believe it could be done.  Social media posts should “add value” to what is already available in blogs (or available books or videos) and not just pimp more “deals”.  Again (as with the post a week ago), the quality of followers (on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) and even “Friends” (on Facebook) would seem more important than the quantity.  As I noted, I stumbled on this point recently in how I handled the “numbers” issue.

Blogtyrant also says that every blog should have a separate domain name.  I have not done this with “Blogger”, but I am considering doing this next year with a reduction (or condensation) of the quantity of blogs with fewer of the small posts.  Right now, Wordpress looks quite superior to me and I might move everything, but there is no reason in principle why Blogger could not offer the same level of quality and support if it wanted to.  I expect to look at this in detail in early 2016, by March at the latest (I hope).

Sites that are updated frequently tend to rank higher: I've noted this myself.

There is an interview with Ramsay on Profit Blitz from June 2014.

Ramsay’s advice is most applicable to narrow niche blogging.  A good example would be a realtor, intellectual property attorney, or tax preparer, or financial or estate planner, communicating with the public to “get business”.  There are companies that offer services maintaining blogs or sites for such professionals.  I used to think of these companies as come-ons (with their emails), but some are legitimate.  Getting real traffic and new business from the web, or helping independent professionals (in finance, law, medicine, etc) get that traffic can become an occupation in itself.  Could I have tried to do this back around 2006?  Or was the business and the available tools far enough along?

Niche blogging could figure in to future debates about Section 230 or even about shutting down a lot of user-generated content as a counter-terror measure, which Donald Trump proposed on Monday (but got little attention for outside of NBC, although the New York Times recapped it Thursday;  Hillary is reported to have made such a proposal, too, but a YouTube user removed a video of a speech where she supposedly said it).

Along Ramsay's line, here's another idea, to become a "Skillshare Teacher" online.

Update: Dec. 12

In fairness to Blogger, note that the platform has added a facility to highlight the archived posts that are the most important.  Wordpress may have a similar facility.

Note that Blogger does have "Next Blog", but in Wordpress, when you log onto it, you see your own recent posts within a day or two. Search engine placement even in Google for Wordpress now seems to be about the same as for Blogger in my own experience.  I have a theory that one reason Wordpress has a better reputation with professionals is that it uses MySQL, whereas Blogger seems to use its own proprietary database, which would be harder for potential web hosting partners to work with. Developing its own might have made sense in the early 2000s but it seems to be a problem now.  I wonder if Ramsay will comment on this matter soon.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Major case (Facebook v. Power Ventures) tests whether it can be a crime to get around IP blocks

In 2012, Facebook won a judgment in a case against Power Ventures in a case where the defendant had provided a work-around to Facebook users where specific IP addresses could be banned from seeing certain pages.  The case is described here.  To win the case, Facebook had used various federal anti-hacking statutes that provide criminal penalties.

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a story Dec, 7 about an appeal before the Ninth Circuit of the case, here. EFF argues that it should not be a crime to get around an IP block.  The reasoning is similar to another case where EFF argues that it should not be a crime to violate an employer’s computer use policy (which could have the potential to spill over into personal areas, covered here Dec. 3).
An IP Block is significant in other areas.  It can be done (with server-side scripting that some web-hosting companies will provide) as a defense (most commonly) to DDOS attacks, even by a public website, or possibly to hinder a perceived stalking threat. If a particular person found his home IP addressed blocked at a particular site, could it be a crime to access it at a local Fedex-Kinko's or even from a hotel? That sounds rather much.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Donald Trump calls for shutting down amateur Internet use to control terror threats to life; but Hillary Clinton has also hinted at such a measure

Donald Trump has just been reported as calling for “Closing that Internet Up”, in an NBC News story (by Keith Wagstaff) just published, link here. This “Jonathan Swift” modest proposal follows earlier ones to ban all Muslims from entering the United States.

This unfortunately is not a story from the Onion.  It will get around today.  One could be cute and suggest that Trump is reacting to the idea that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are much richer than he is (Peter Thiel is about as rich).

In a world with no Internet, I would be (socially) “useless”.  I won’t expand further on that right now;  my last few posts suggest what I mean.  "War", though, is seen as requiring unpredictable sacrifices from citizens "for the future".

President Obama made no such suggestion in his speech to the Nation from the Oval Office Sunday night.

Terrorism intends to force politicians to take repressive measures against ordinary civilian populations, in order to create further divisions (whether among Muslims, between Muslims and other religions, between races, between people with different views on family values).  I can’t resist wondering if there are parallels between Jonestown, ISIS, and “the Guilty Remnant” on the fictitious drama “The Leftovers”, all as aggressive cults.

I’m going to talk more (OK, too much) about “resiliency” soon as a moral issue itself.  But one problem that pops up right now is whether it’s right to ask some people to sacrifice themselves for the supposed common good, especially when there is a perceived (or real) peril that politicians can play up.  We did that before, with the Vietnam era military draft.

It’s also rather disturbing to see some of Trump’s less educated followers (right now in South Carolina) talking about how “they” reproduce as if they were enemy extraterrestrial aliens.  Everything is about “taking care of your own” – part of resiliency, as a moral issue.

The Wall Street Journal had an article Monday about the intensity of effort at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (and others) to track terror threats or enticement (on my Internet Safety blog Monday).

I was going to make a posting today “just” about the vote to call Julie Pennington-Russell as the new pastor, which happened Sunday Dec. 6 after the usual communion service and continued during the brunch (before Obama’s speech). I recall in her comments Wednesday night and sermon Sunday morning a recognition of a dichotomy for people of any legitimate faith.  When to turn things over to “God” (with a lot of gratuitous communal emotion), and when to help yourself solve your own problems.  Faith does not mean we can’t solve problems regarding balancing freedom and threats to our way of life – whether from unbalanced people who can be recruited into cults, or from more organized threats (like potentially to the power grids, which I have often talked about) or from climate change.  All of this, however, tracks back to our own moral compasses as individuals.

'Why hasn;t Donald Trump mentioned the idea of strengthening our infrastructure (starting with the power grids beneath the Internet)?

Update: Dec. 11

On Thursday, Dec. 10, the New York Times offered two reactions to this story.  On p B6, John Markoff writes "Making sense of Trump's call to 'close up' the Internet", or (online), "Why Donald Trump's Call to 'Close-Up' the Internet is Science Fiction". An on p. B1  Farhad Manjoo in "State of the Art" writes "The Internet is Breaking the Outrage Meter" or, online, "The Internet's Loop of Action and Reaction Is Worsening" where he gives some more supporting original links and reports that Hillary Clinton has made a similar proposal.  It's Hillary, however, how loves Snapchat because "those messages disappear all by themselves".  She had said that before Paris.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Yes, I could focus my journalism on a few under-covered but critical issues

I often have gotten bad vibes within my own adult social circles, and sometimes “political activist” circles, for bringing up issues that come from the external, outside world, with such a wide range that I seem dilettante.

Why can’t I be real to other people for the moment?  Why can’t I become a team player?  (Why can’t I take one for the team?) Where is my loyalty?

Sometimes I’ve questioned simple political correctness, like the overdependence on immutability rights to advance gay equality.  Back in the mid 1980s, I questioned the left wing leadership’s pretty much ignoring the right’s attack on gay men as AIDS progressed.

The external world matters because infrastructure and stability matter.  Indeed, they may matter more to someone like me, who does not easily from close relationships in merely “adaptive” situations that can be forced on people.

But, as a blogger who would like to be taken seriously in journalism (and given all the recent attention to the virtues of “niche blogging”) I do have to ask myself, where can I make my own, focused contribution.  I was, throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, able to make a focused contribution to the debate on gays in the military (aka the defunct “don’t ask don’t tell”) because of my own unusual life narrative going back to 1961.  I can’t do the same for debates on gay marriage or gay parenting because neither of these occur in my own experience.

Or take an issue like surveillance.  Electronic Frontier Foundation is on my donation list, but I can’t blindly support every last thing EFF says about the NSA, Snowden, and the right to perfect encryption.  That’s because I believe big-scale terrorism really can suddenly become an existential threat to my whole way of life, to the infrastructure that lets me be moderately effective as a person (without too much unwelcome intimacy from others whom I would not choose to be with).

But there are a few major issues that have affected me, or that I seriously believe could affect me and others in my raft (like “The Raft of the Medusa”).  The established media (even the most progressive company like “Vox” with its “explainer” yellow card-stacks) haven’t really taken these up yet.  Yes, I can envision a “job” of contract going into more depth on one or more of these.  I would need to be paid and need to have an infrastructure behind me to get into these.  Yes, I would love to go “back to work” at 72 to tackle these.  I’d be “paying my own way” again.

Let me run down a few of them.  One of them is “filial responsibility laws”.  I ran into this during my long period of eldercare with my mother.  The AARP used to have a chart giving details on every state’s laws.  The chart disappeared, probably because AARP didn’t have the staff or time or resources to keep it maintained accurately. So while I wouldn’t work for AARP just to support the interests of seniors like myself as a group, I would want to work on a focused issue like this, which badly needs attention from the media.  (The last time it was covered was the Pittas case in 2012.)  In fact, I’ve been told that there is a fear that covering it (even by a blogger like me) could pressure states to enforce them. That’s ostrich-like and dishonest.

Related to “filial responsibility” is a fully correct explanation of the state of Social Security, and to the legal and “moral” questions as to whether Social Security benefits should be regarded as “welfare” (meaning better-off seniors could have their current benefits means-tested) or as “annuity payments” funded by FICA.  I don’t recall seeing Vox explain the Trust Fund yet.  Yes, I could help a media company get this right, once and for all.

Another issue is a continent away – the vulnerability of the power grids (all three of them in the US) to either nature (extreme solar storms), to terror attacks (EMP, which contrary to what is usually said doesn’t necessarily require nuclear weapons and which can be more localized), and cyber-attacks, which Ted Koppel covered in his recent book “Lights Out”.  I’ve covered this problem with numerous reviews on my Books blog and have another one due soon (the possibility that Taylor Wilson’s proposals could really work).  Major components of this problem are the tendency for failures to cascade, and the fact that most power hardware (big transformers) is made overseas and not easily replaced or transported.  In worst case scenarios, yes, we could wind up with a world like that if the NBC “Revolution” series or the novel “One Second After”.  This topic has been overlooked during the coverage of recent terror attacks with gunfire – Paris and San Bernadino.   As with bioterror, chemical weapons, and radioactivity dispersion (and “suitcase nukes”), EMP sounds unlikely at any given time but would be catastrophic if it ever happened, and may be more within the reach of foreign terror or enemy interests than we realize. Needless to say, I would have nothing to offer a world of “The Leftovers”.  Relatively few mainstream politicians mention it (Newt Gingrich does, to give him credit).  I haven’t heard Trump, Carson, or any other GOP candidates mention it.
Closer to “home field advantage”, there’s the issue of downstream liability exposure for Internet service companies – both the DMCA Safe Harbor issue and Section 230 (which handle different perils).  And there are business model questions – while “do not track” and (mobile) ad blocking seem necessary to many individual users, the overall effect could be to undermine business models that enables “gatekeeper-less” user-generated content to flourish. And don't whine that the big social media companies make big profits off  "your" content.  Without these companies and advertising, "you" might have no voice at all.  I do choke when I see pleas (either emails or Facebook news Timeline posts) from organizations or even individual authors pimping out donations so they can "speak for me".  Right now, I don't need anyone to speak for me.  So I'm lucky.

I do feel that I have served a useful function as a resident devil's advocate, leaving open to the public questions about overly "partisan" and intellectually insufficient arguments that appear to suit the immediate needs of constituent groups (which may indeed play victimhood) while ignoring a bigger picture.  But at some point one has to do more than function as a rotating reverse ombudsman, and be prepared to serve the real needs of other people in ways never envisioned previously.
So, yes, I could narrow down my focus, if I find a news partner.
I see an older and longer "short list" of specialty topics on a post here July 21.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Internet service platforms work on ways to get around mobile ad blockers, to defend their business models

“Small Business Trends” reports that DoubleClick has developed a technology to get ads on mobile website displayed despite ad blockers.  The concept is called “native advertising”, where the ad is comingled deeply with the website content.

Internet service companies that provide free publishing platforms (most of all, Google) probably need to keep investor confidence that a reasonable percentage of visitors to sites (like videos, blogs, and social media pages) will see the ads and sometimes visit the sites behind them.  I don’t block the ads myself, or even stop tracking (and indeed everywhere I go I see ads from the cities I visit --- not just on a tablet or phone but on a laptop in a hotel).   Rarely do I actually visit the advertising site intentionally (I have done  so with new cars) or buy immediately, out of security concerns. Without advertising revenue, there would be no free social media platforms as we know them, and no free publishing services.  Think about the time that “free” broadcast TV was supported by those commercials.  (And, by the way, the typical hour-long daytime soap opera now has about 22 minutes of sponsors.)

One thing to bear in mind is that some advertisers don’t like to be placed on certain kinds of sites.  For example, airlines don’t like to advertise on sites with political content.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Don't become an accidental Twitter "stalker": watch the follower-following counts; Facebook seems a little "safer" in this regard

I had not paid a lot of attention to the numbers aspects of social media circles, but it seems as though I probably should have.  The concepts of “friend” and “follower” vary on different platforms, and it’s well to understand these in order to attract a “quality” audience and not unnecessarily antagonize individual people you (or “I”) may want to work with in the future.

Twitter is the “culprit” first. There is a lot written about ratios between followers and people “you” follow.  As the number of either increases into the hundreds, it is viewed as desirable that the ratio approach 1.    My number of followers right now is 306, so it is considered a good idea to keep the “followers to following” ratio at least 0.75.  Over time, as both numbers grow, the ratio should increase. A typical reference is here.

There is also literature that maintains that the total number of tweets should not be more than 10 times the number of followers I’m over the top on this one, like a prattling chatterbox.

There’s an obvious question on the quality of followers.  After I posted a new index to my own books (purchase link) on one of my Wordpress pages (I had a crude one on a legacy site) my twitter follower count quickly jumped, but many of them were self-published authors (OK in itself) pushing their own books (often horror), and some were commercial self-publishing services.  A few were services promising to deliver more twitter or Instagram followers (against TOS).  So I look askance at placing too much importance in ratios, as they can lead to “follower inflation”.

In the world of "tweeps", there is an issue with people who have many more followers than they follow. Let’s back up a bit.  There are claims that if you follow someone who does not follow you back quickly, you are stalking the person. (That does not apply to twitter sites for companies or organizations, just individuals).  Here’s an example.  Of course, attractive young females may attract “stalkers”, but young “intermediate level” celebrities – often young men in the arts (music), or movies (acting, directing), who have a lot of fans but who are not yet “Trump-rich” and can’t afford a gated life, and who really have to earn a living every year on what they do, can run into an issue.

Then the problem is the amateur, maybe talented, or promising but even less established (maybe older and less “lucky” in this world of existential inequality), who follows the person.  The person occasionally sends what seem like constructive, supportive “replies” or “mentions” to the person, completely appropriate in tone according to normal social decorum.  Suddenly, one day, the person is blocked.  (There seem to be same automated tools around to do the blocking; on June 15 I referenced an EFF article on shared blocklists -- which could maybe morph to Trumo-like blacklists.)  Why?  It’s probably the math.  If someone has 20000 followers and follows only 200 himself, he just doesn’t have time to process all the hopeful replies.  “Your” 5 messages over a month would be 100,000 if “everybody does it”.  I found an article that may give some sense of how this plays out, here.
So the moral of a situation like this, is don’t take undue advantage of twitter’s permissive structure.  (Read Twitter’s TOS if you like, but they allow huge numbers of followers and are rather vague beyond the obvious, although Twitter itself talks about “attention-getting” behaviors.)  You probably wouldn’t call the person or text them, so unsolicited reply tweets (that get rebroadcast to all the person’s followers), that Twitter seems to encourage, may come across as a socially unwelcome way to get around normal “barriers to entry” into real world social circles.  It’s better to be very discrete in replying to tweets of people who don’t follow you back, especially if they have very large numbers of followers themselves.  (It’s interesting and more ambiguous if the person sometimes does reply constructively or favorite a tweet but still doesn’t follow you, because you would have to make a good impression to deserve a reply out of so many followers; another possibility is that other followers have replied to or favorites your replies, which may not be welcome by the person.)  No, this isn’t quite the same thing as robocalling, spam, or real-world stalking, but it may come to be perceived as rude given the way Twitter works.

“Intermediate” celebrities should also consider setting up protected twitter accounts, where every follower has to be approved, at least for very personal tweets intended only for family members or a closed circle of friends.  You can have more than one account (one public and one private), although each one needs a separate email address – and reply only in the private one.  And no, don’t set up a second account just to get around someone else’s block.

Remember, once you follow a lot of accounts, the probability of seeing one from a "quality" account that really interests you any time you check Twitter is low.  You have to keep in mind the best ten to twenty accounts you follow and check them manually from time to time.  Public accounts, even if blocked, can be viewed online from Google searches when not logged in to Twitter.

I’ll bypass Instagram (because I have done very little on it – as much as some sales people like it) and get to Facebook, where it isn’t as easy to “cheat” for “attention” as it is on Twitter.  You have to invite someone to be your Friend, or be invited.  (I rarely invite people, because I don’t like to create the need to make a “decision” that could seem irrevocable – so you can see why the Twitter issue about gets tempting.) But you can make a Facebook page (which it appears you are supposed to do anyway if you want to represent your business rather than yourself, if I understand their rules correctly), which can have followers.  Facebook pages have the advantage of allowing more text per post and expanding links and videos (compared to Twitter) and seem to attract higher-quality (if fewer) followers and comments.  You can “ban” specific people from commenting or “Likes”, etc., but not from viewing.  However, in some cases, it is possible for well-intended but "talky" comments to seem disruptive to Facebook-page owners because the pages don't remain conveniently viewed in most other followers' news feeds except for one refresh.
Also, remember that a "reply" on Twitter is not as "innocuous" as a comment on a Facebook page because the reply will break into the feeds of all the other person's followers, possibly unwelcome in some circumstances. This is a fundamental disadvantage of Twitter as a platform.
One other aspect of all this needs to be mentioned: "celebrities" do work with agents, who get paid to work with the public for them.  There was a situation recently where I was asked to contact a couple of them to promote a screening of a particular film by a PR person, in social media.  I did so, but I won't again.  It could seem flirty or spammy for me to do so.  Public Relations persons should do their jobs.  Legitimate contacts are usually listed on databases like imdb.
I’ll mention a rather heavy-handed Wordpress article by John Smart, “The Internet of Families, Private Facebooks and Global Family Adoption – the Powerful and Intimate Future of Groupnets”, link here.  I personally find this expectation of such openness to intimacy unwelcome, but I can see that this is another example of the “upward affiliation paradox”.  I’ll come back to this later

Update: Dec. 20

I note that Twitter now reports "Analytics":  total impressions and "engagement" over various time periods on your profile.  And, counter to more recent standards of expected courtesy, tweets to specific people and replies tend to score higher often, if the people are moderately popular.  This could be an emerging issue/

It's also likely that use of "@reply" gets more new followers, and helps one build his own Twitter numbers into balance. Nevertheless, some "midlist" (I don't mean to be derogatory) celebrities on Twitter don't like to see other beginners leverage them this way and view it as rude.  Maybe Twitter can design some more ways to deal with this.