a Will of Rights Online (followup to Slate piece)

Internet | Familiarity

After my investigation into Search Engine Obfuscation— the case of the Times's pages on Allen Kraus dwarfing the search rankings on Google– I emailed a number of the bloggers who'd written about it last week. The response was underwhelming. (Begging the Times to start a blog back in 2003, Dave Winer had explained: "In the weblog world we don't string together soundbites to create a 'story' — we continually cover an area, and comment on developments over time." In theory, yes…)

The one non-blogger I wrote, Jack Shafer of Slate, kindly took notice: "Garfunkel's success at remaking Kraus' Google image so quickly with such little effort supports my original view that the alleged problem is de minimis."

The success was all luck. I never would have heard about it if he hadn't complained to the Times and Clark Hoyt hadn't listened, and if Seth Finkelstein didn't bring it to my attention for a third time. And consider the thousands of people, who came across this story and didn't know how to remedy it. Somehow I convinced Seth and another blogger to give Kraus a link. I was in a car accident this past Monday and walked away from it (even drove away). Just think, if Interstate-91 had been a bit busier, I might not have been in condition to update Jack on the story. You at least have redundancy on the iPhone hacking front.

What I really wanted to do is to start a conversation about online publishers, search engines, and social responsibility. Such a conversation did materialize over the last few days, but it's coalesced around a Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web — which followed on the heels of a Facebook announcement (and subsequent buzz) about opening profiles to Google, and in advance of the Data Sharing Summit. (The Facebook "news" is a bit artificial, as Danny Sullivan explains.)

But other concerns deserve to be in such a "bill of rights." How about setting a standard vocabulary for comment management? (see CommResp) How about reporting online harassment– and getting slander erased from search engines? (see PONAR) These are bigger issues than Jack Shafer could tackle in a single follow-up column. Somehow I'm still trying to will this conversation into being. And until these are encoded into bills of rights, they remain mere wills of rights.

Update, Friday afternoon: I suppose I shouldn't take the social web's lack of interest to heart here. Eszter Hargittai has written a book chapter for the forthcoming book The Hyperlinked Society: The Role of Expertise in Navigating Links of Influence, covering much the same ground.