Liberty, Media, Permission Taken

What I sent to the FCC in support of the open Internet

It’s not too late to send a comment to the FCC regarding its moves toward creating a “fast lane” on the Internet — thereby handing control over innovation and speech to a tiny group of corporations that have amply demonstrated their intention to abuse it. I discussed much of this in my new Guardian column this week.

And here’s what I sent to the FCC separately:

Please reclassify ISPs as common carriers under Title II, with an exemption for small wireless providers.

It is unconscionable for the FCC to permit the monopoly/oligopoly ISPs — specifically the cable and phone companies (the latter via newer fiber deployment) — to decide what bits of information reach end users’ devices in what order and at what speed, or even whether the information reaches them at all. The ISPs insist they will not abuse this power, but there is no record of monopoly/oligopoly businesses NOT abusing power.

It is even more unconscionable that the telecom companies take this position even though they were built initially on the backs of helpless customers who had no alternative to the carriers’ government-granted monopolies.

In addition to Title II reclassification, the FCC should pre-empt all state and local laws forbidding ISP or other telecommunications competition from the public sector. The carriers’ successful lobbying to prevent this kind of service is testament to their anti-competitive motives.

The future of American innovation and free speech could well depend on your decision. Please make the right one.

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Education, Etcetera, Liberty, Media, Policy

I want to create “The Open Internet MOOC” — and you can help

The Knight, Ford and Mozilla Foundations are collaborating on the latest edition of the long-running Knight News Challenge. This one asks, “How can we strengthen the Internet for free expression and innovation?” — or risk losing the Net to the ever-more-powerful players that want to re-centralize (i.e. control) speech and, ultimately, innovation.

As you’ll see when you read the entries, folks are coming up with some terrific answers. I hope you’ll take a look at mine — I call it “The Open Internet MOOC” — and offer support if you like it. (Hint: There’s a little “Applause” button on the side that you can click.)

More important, I hope you’ll recognize the threat we all face, and get involved in saving/restoring the open Internet we all need.

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Arizona, Education, Media

My new online digital media literacy course: an outline

I’ve created a new course for the Arizona State University’s online program, on digital media literacy. It’s a follow-up to an earlier course that focuses on media “consumption” (a word I dislike in this context even though it’s so widely used); I urge students to be active users of media rather than mere consumers.

This course, based in part on my last book, Mediactive, focuses on media creation, and its natural extension, given the digital tools we’re now using: collaboration. Among the requirements will be registering a domain name; contributing to Wikipedia, blogging, and more.

Unlike standard university courses, the online program runs for 7 weeks at a time. Here’s an outline of what we’ll be doing this spring — and if you see something I should add, please let me know: Continue reading

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Liberty, Media, Policy

David Brooks on the end of prohibition

In his column today, David Brooks frets about legalizing marijuana, because it’s bad for society.

As an exercise, I changed every reference of marijuana to beer, and smoking to drinking (and Colorado to the United States). Here’s the Brooks column with those edits:

For a little while in my teenage years, my friends and I drank beer. It was fun. I have some fond memories of us all being silly together. I think those moments of uninhibited frolic deepened our friendships.

But then we all sort of moved away from it. I don’t remember any big group decision that we should give up beer. It just sort of petered out, and, before long, we were scarcely using it.

We didn’t give it up for the obvious health reasons: that it is addictive in about one in six teenagers; that drinking and driving is a good way to get yourself killed; that young people who drink go on to suffer I.Q. loss and perform worse on other cognitive tests.

I think we gave it up, first, because we each had had a few embarrassing incidents. Drunk people do stupid things (that’s basically the point). I drank one day during lunch and then had to give a presentation in English class. I stumbled through it, incapable of putting together simple phrases, feeling like a total loser. It is still one of those embarrassing memories that pop up unbidden at 4 in the morning.

We gave it up, second, I think, because one member of our clique became a full-on drunk. He may have been the smartest of us, but something sad happened to him as he sunk deeper into alcoholic life.

Third, most of us developed higher pleasures. Drinking was fun, for a bit, but it was kind of repetitive. Most of us figured out early on that drinking beer doesn’t really make you funnier or more creative (academic studies more or less confirm this). We graduated to more satisfying pleasures. The deeper sources of happiness usually involve a state of going somewhere, becoming better at something, learning more about something, overcoming difficulty and experiencing a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

One close friend devoted himself to track. Others fell deeply in love and got thrills from the enlargements of the heart. A few developed passions for science or literature.

Finally, I think we had a vague sense that drinking beer was not exactly something you were proud of yourself for. It’s not something people admire. We were in the stage, which I guess all of us are still in, of trying to become more integrated, coherent and responsible people. This process usually involves using the powers of reason, temperance and self-control — not qualities one associates with being high.

I think we had a sense, which all people have, or should have, that the actions you take change you inside, making you a little more or a little less coherent. Not drinking, or only drinking sporadically, gave you a better shot at becoming a little more integrated and interesting. Drinking all the time seemed likely to cumulatively fragment a person’s deep center, or at least not do much to enhance it.

So, like the vast majority of people who try beer, we aged out. We left beer behind. I don’t have any problem with somebody who gets high from time to time, but I guess, on the whole, I think being drunk is not a particularly uplifting form of pleasure and should be discouraged more than encouraged.

We now have a nation that has gone into the business of effectively encouraging beer use. By making beer legal, we are creating a situation in which the price will drop substantially. One RAND study suggests that prices could plummet by up to 90 percent, before taxes and such. As prices drop and legal fears go away, usage is bound to increase. This is simple economics, and it is confirmed by much research. The end of prohibition, in other words, is producing more users.

The people who debate these policy changes usually cite the health risks users would face or the tax revenues the state might realize. Many people these days shy away from talk about the moral status of beer use because that would imply that one sort of life you might choose is better than another sort of life.

But, of course, these are the core questions: Laws profoundly mold culture, so what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture? What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being drunk.

In legalizing beer, citizens of America are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.

So here are a couple of questions for David Brooks. Do you use alcohol? Was Prohibition a good idea?

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Media, People, Silicon Valley

Why WordPress is so Important

This is a WordPress blog — created and maintained using the great open-source team at WordPress.org. I’m a huge fan both of the software and the people behind it.

In my latest Guardian column, pegging off the Yahoo buyout of Tumblr, I explain why WordPress matters so much, and why I hope its founders never sell out. Key quote (from Matt Mullenweg, a WordPress founder):

“We still need this platform for longer forms of self expression, and a place that people can have their own domain on the web, that really belongs to them, that they have complete control of it, all the way down to the software, the actual code executing on the server someplace in the cloud. You should be able to control every single line of that. And that’s the beauty of open source.”

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Media

Is Twitter’s Suspension of Journalist’s Account a Defining Moment?

(Note: There’s an expanded version of this post at the Guardian.)

UPDATED

Twitter has suspended the account of a British journalist who tweeted the corporate email address of an NBC executive. The reporter, Guy Adams of the Independent, has been acerbic in his criticisms of NBC’s (awful) performance during the Olympics in London.

Adams has posted his correspondence with Twitter, which claims he posted a private email address. It was nothing of the kind, as many including Deadspin have pointed out. (Here’s the policy, which Adams plainly did not violate, since the NBC executive’s email address was already easily discernible on the Web — NBC has a firstname.lastname@ system for its email, and it’s a corporate address, not a personal one — and was publicly published over a year ago.)

What makes this a serious issue is that Twitter has partnered with NBC during the Olympics. And it was NBC’s complaint about Adams that led to the suspension.

Twitter has been exemplary in its handling of many issues over the past several years, including its (for a social network) brave stance in protecting user privacy. So I’m giving the service the benefit of the doubt for the moment, and hoping that this is just a foolish — if well-meaning — mistake by a single quick-triggered Twitter employee. If so, Twitter should apologize and reinstate Adams’ account immediately. If it does so, there’s little harm done — and the company will have learned a lesson.

If not, this is a defining moment for Twitter. It will have demonstrated that it can be bullied by its business partners into acts that damage its credibility and ultimately the reason so many of us use it as a platform. And if that’s the case, there will be much less incentive to use it.

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Media

Why LinkedIn’s News Site Could Be Huge

LinkedIn Today Image

UPDATED

What big-time Internet social-media company is creating a valuable news site? I’m not talking about Google, or Facebook, or Twitter, though of course they are among major players in the news sphere these days.

I’m talking here about a company you won’t typically connect to news: LinkedIn. When it comes to news about business, technology and economic issues I follow, LinkedIn Today is becoming a useful source of information.

Useful, but not nearly what it should be on a site that could just about own aggregated business news. And later today, when I moderate a social-media-in-journalism panel at the International Symposium on Online Journalism at the University of Texas, I’m looking forward to hearing one of the site’s editors, Chip Cutter, describe his view of the service’s future. (Update: He spent more time, as a good panelist should, on broader issues than just his own company’s site.)

When I’m signed in to LinkedIn and select the LinkedIn Today menu tab, I get a nicely arranged aggregation, shown on this page. It’s compiled from topics I’ve designated and from people in my LinkedIn “connections” list — more than 500 people with whom I have some kind of business connection. It goes beyond that, including links from the industry I’m interested in and even from outside that industry.

LinkedIn’s aggregation algorithm doesn’t strike me as particularly great; in many ways Google’s produces (subjectively) better results. But when I combine it (rather, when LinkedIn combines it) with the choices made by the people to whom I’m connected by reputation or personal knowledge, plus the shares of others who care about the topic, something new happens. I get much better results.

LinkedIn Today is only the latest example of what I’ve been wanting for years — and wrote about most recently in my book, Mediactive – the notion that combining human and machine intelligence will get us closer to the kind of news aggregation that truly serves our needs. We’ve seen progress with blogs, Twitter (one of my most essential news feeds in a variety of areas), Google+, Facebook and other services.

What makes LinkedIn so intriguing is the way it leverages business contacts, not just social ones. These folks are connections whom I’ve chosen because I trust them in some way, not as friends (though some are) but as people in another kind of circle that is about professional life.  And others in the same industry will be more likely than not to be noting interesting or at least relevant news.

I’m not especially interested in what they think, for the most part, about topics outside the ones I’m choosing. Their likes and dislikes in, say, film won’t be in my feed, because I want to keep this site’s news content strictly organized by the professional part of my existence.

Like its competition, LinkedIn Today is way, way short of what it could be. Users need to be able to make much more granular choices about sources (including people) and topics (and more), and user-interface customization features are at best crude in this early version.

In general, the product feels and operates like a side project, not a truly core feature. If I were running the company, I’d move it higher on the list of things that are strategic as opposed to tactical. I’m told that news is strategic, but I don’t see remotely convincing evidence.

It also seems obvious Google and Facebook are going to try to capture the aggregation-recommendation space — and they have at least as much ability to do so, if not more, when it comes to technical talent and user bases. Google, in particular, needs to figure out how to combine Google+ with Google News ((and other parts of the empire). Facebook’s news feeds send huge amounts of traffic to linked items, but in my experience (before I closed my FB account) the value of those links to me was low at best.

What neither Google nor Facebook can boast — yet — is the business-oriented membership base that LinkedIn has made its unique selling proposition. Again, it’s essential who makes the recommendations, along with who’s doing the programming in the cloud, and that’s why LinkedIn still has every chance of being preeminent in business/economic news aggregation if not more.

Bottom lines: Aggregation and curation — sorting the good from the bad, the useful from the useless — are still in their early days. But LinkedIn Today is an extremely interesting step forward.

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Etcetera, Media

Japan Next Week

I’m heading to Tokyo this weekend for some events and talks about the recently published Japanese edition of Mediactive The following events are open to the public. All but the Digital Hollywood event are free, but reservations are required in each case.

Tuesday, Oct. 11: 7-9 pm at Asahi newspaper

Wednesday, Oct. 12: 8-10 pm at Digital Hollywood (School of Media Art)

Thursday, Oct. 13: 2-4:30 pm at Digital Garage

Thursday, Oct. 13: 6:30-8:30 pm at Nikkei newspaper

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