Hoping Sources

As the occasional Civilities readers are no doubt aware, this publication is weighed down by a couple of realities: The editor tends to think big, and and the editor is not paid to do this. The editor is only person on staff, and that is me. I've also gotten in the consuming habit of tracking down obscure sources. As I can't compete on pace, so I try to compete on depth. I generally mine early Internet tracts and the occasional buried text. The general format I've settled into these days is a multi-part series of essays, usually around a thousand words each. So these are the various series I've been working on this spring:

Whatever happened to the Public Interest online?

Media | Access/Network

 “The Public Interest has had more influence on domestic policy than any other journal in the country – by far,” wrote David Brooks in his Times column in March 2005, after the quarterly had finished its forty year run. “All we'll have are the archives, at www.thepublicinterest.com.”

PONAR: Protocol for Online Abuse Reporting

This series proposes the establishment of a universal protocol for reporting online abuse. The intention of the protocol is to handle the entire lifecycle, from the initial complaint to resolution; it should specify a standard data structure which would allow for outside reporting.

Peeping Tom Friedman

Internet | Accountability

It's closing in on ten years since my last pitiful appearance in the Times, and an opportunity arose to try again. The front page of the Times website teased Friedman: Blogosphere, so I figured he was contributing some more suck-ups to the bloggers with the usual grab-bag of metaphors. In that sense, Friedman didn't disappoint with "The Whole World is Watching." And there he was, conflating business transparency (a very good thing) with the end-of-personal-privacy (a bad thing, which I've been digging into over the last week).

BPM, SOA falling to the LCD (a case for lowercase)


I work in an industry segment where our software revolves around not one, but two, TLA's (Three-Letter Acronyms). They are BPM (Business Process Management) and SOA (Service Oriented Architecture). The headline writers in the trade press love them, the names sometimes just function as "Brad and Angelina" due in the celebrity magazines. If there is room in the cosmic plan for Brad and Angelina to stay together, why not BPM and SOA? 

PONAR: Call for Participation

Internet | International | Accountability

This document lists the various groups I am inviting for assistance on the PONAR (Protocol for Online Abuse Reporting) project. As I get endorsements and sponsors I will update this document.

Ordinary folks who are the aggrieved parties

I was directly motivated to start this effort based on conversations over the years with people who have been the victims of online abuse and harassment. I have expressed some of the early formative ideas of PONAR to members of victim's aid group are taking their considerations quite seriously.

PONAR: Architecture

Internet | Accountability
This document provides a brief overview of the PONAR Architecture.

PONAR: Design

Internet | Accountability

Let's review the steps to take if one is the subject of online harassment.  How to Respond to Online Harassment is provided by Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA) an organization mentioned in the previous section. There are number of helpful steps; we'd just like to review how these would be followed with or without a lawyer– as well as through PONAR.

PONAR: Abuse Cases

Internet | Accountability

In my research at Civilities, I've come across several cases — three in the last many months– which inform the development of PONAR (Protocol for Online Abuse Reporting). Each involved an aggrieved party (in some cases, still mostly anonymous) who was harassed by anonymous aggravators online. In all cases I have been able to contact at least one of the parties, in order to understand the case better.

PONAR: Introduction

Internet | Accountability

Machines and humans see the Internet differently. At the machine level, two systems which are communicating are able to do so reciprocally. One system can send a message to the other with the expectation that it can get a response. At the human level, however, this does not hold: one person can send a person a message without any return address. This basic asymmetry has been at the heart of most of the abuse on Internet.

PONAR: Complaint Form

Internet | Accountability

This is the first draft of a submission form for PONAR (Protocol for Online Abuse Reporting). The form is the heart of the request; this can drive the design for an XML schema, database schema, and system architecture.

The objective of this form is to be more formal than an email, while being more convenient (i.e., less expensive) than filing a lawsuit. There is already a variety of online legal form services. I do hope to work with legal experts in order to improve its clarity. By example, here is the Craigslist abuse reporting form.

CommResp and AutoAdmin(t)

Internet | Familiarity

When I wrote the action plan for Comment Management Responsibility (“CommResp”) in April, I had hoped to test it against additional online communties. Oddly, I hadn't been aware about the brewing storm that month concerning the AutoAdmit law student discussion board and its rampant misogyny. It only reached my radar when I heard the NPR report that two aggrieved students have filed a defamation suit. I thought I researched the fallout from the “MeanKids” debacle fully, but I never came across the other story at all. Harvard Law School even assembled a panel on April 5th about the incident, and while a few of the listed resource were about MeanKids and Tim O'Reilly's Blogger's Code of Conduct, nobody made the connections. Perhaps part of the problem was O'Reilly's mistaken focus on bloggers and not on comment forums in general.

Pitching High and Inside

Media | Familiarity

I was busy on a follow-up of my Talking Points Meme research, and then the bloggers code of conduct story hit me like a Dice-K gyroball. Granted, the gyroball is a media creation, just like the bloggers code of conduct, but the ball was in the air and I had to find my bat. I did some deep thinking and deep linking, and churned out 3,000 words on the larger picture about comment management responsibility.

CommResp for MeanKids?

Internet | Familiarity

Would the MeanKids/Kathy Sierra have unfolded differently under CommResp? That's a tricky question. Perhaps, perhaps not. I'm just reading about the whole genesis of the problem now.

Comment Management Responsibility – Concerns

Internet | Familiarity
I thought up a number of concerns with CommResp; I may add to this list.

Why bother? Can't commenting policies be written in plain English, or just applied ad hoc?

The articulation CommResp is intended to serve two purposes. One, to serve publishers and readers in directly communicating what rules apply. But more importantly, it should suggest the realm of possibilities for what rules there can be.

Comment Management Responsibility — a proposal

Internet | Familiarity

Just as Creative Commons cleverly emphasizes the rights of users (over what appear to be the overly restrictive rights of coyright), so should Comment Management Responsibility ("CommResp") emphasize the rights of the community members. O'Reilly pointed to the blogher Code of Conduct as an exemplary policy (note: I've been nominated as by the blogher co-founder as "bloghim"), but it focuses mostly on the prohibitions.

A Brief History of Online Commenting Norms

Internet | Familiarity

The difficulties of comment management have been known for some time. What follows is a brief history [though I may update it later.]

Esther Dyson, in her popular-selling book Release 2.0 about the emerging Internet a decade ago (predating the current trend of "2.0" marketing) considered anonymous communities online. Whereas ad hoc Internet communities seemed to thrive with anonymity, the most influential online community of all— the San Francisco-based WELL– was nurtured by the philosophy that all identities were to be known, and participants were encouraged to meet each other in real life. Founder Stewart Brand felt very strongly in the philosophy of You Own Your Own Words — that each person would have to post with their real identity. In fact, as Dyson recalled, a WELL experiment into anonymity proved disastrous. We can probably conclude that the natural evolution of communities is to go from anonymity to familiarity, and not the other around.

Comment Management Responsibility – Introduction

Internet | Familiarity
Tim O'Reilly, head of the eponymous computer publishing firm, recently tried to tackle this issue with a "Call for a Blogger's Code of Conduct" last week. In the comments, he conceded that it was misleading here to use the term "blogger" (see Bloggers: Some Formal Definitions). After all, what concerns us is the publishers– the individuals who host the website and the comment threads, and thus have the ability to moderate them. Thus it's not so much a Code of Conduct for the individual comment manager, but a Terms of Service offered by a publisher.

But O'Reilly ignored his own advice. His second iteration of his idea is still titled "Draft Blogger's Code of Conduct." It has six elements, all using the pronoun "we." (The wiki version hosted by Jimmy Wales is similarly stuck on first-person plural as well) Michael Arrington, the influential tech writer, demurred from what he felt effort to pressure bloggers into submission, concluding simply:

Comment Management Responsibility (CommResp)

Cyberspace is a rotten place.

Rotten is, of course, a relative term. Fresh fruit left on the kitchen counter is only rotten after another creature has beat you to eating it. What's tastiest to us is what's tastiest to molds and fruit flies. I bet you'd rather have a fresh plum right now than a manufactured corn chip. So would your average Drosophila melanogaster.

Discussion boards, email lists, and comment threads are the ripe fruit of cyberspace, attracting all sorts of constructive people. But they also bring out the virtual fruit flies and molds who have their own agenda.

Whipster – who supports what

Governance | Building/Consensus

The Congress Votes Database from the Washington Post tells you how Senators and Representatives have voted.

But wouldn't it be useful to know what their positions are on issues coming up?

In politics, it's the whip who counts the supports before a vote. Hence: Whipster.

Take a look at the amount of effort undertaken by Talking Points Memo and by Porkbusters last August — incidentally, not regarding a specific vote, but regarding finding out who was the Senator who placed the "secret hold" on a bill (which would have created a public, searchable database on federal grants contracts).

Mass Civic Engagement: Governor Deval Patrick vs. State Senator Jarrett Barrios

Fans of civic engagement should be delighted by the continuing constructive dialogues about Deval Patrick's new website. Since I posted last week, there's been a number of fixes to the site. Kate Donaghue, a Democratic party activist I know, made a post on the forum (and on Blue Mass Group) chastising anybody who was criticizing the website: "when opponents choose to focus only on the challenges, they are siding against the people and our opportunity to let our voices be heard."

Intellipedia Oversight

Language/Structure | United States

I had some questions for the Intellipedia project, the wiki-based, open-editable encyclopedia for use in the U.S. intelligence community.

I’m a bit late in responding to Clive Thompson’s article Open Source Spying in the New York Times Magazine from December. Naturally the subtitle "Could blogs and wikis prevent the next 9/11?” caught my eye, due to my work in teasing out the different claims of technology boosters claiming to have solved the larger problems of information retrieval. Case in point? It’s not just the ability to find information; I was able to find the article by giving Google the search terms Thompson Times Magazine. I also needed to evaluate the quality of that article, and whether any information was out of date. That problem is hard (ie., not yet automated). The blogs, by themselves, don’t do anything at all to solve it. The favored blog search engine, Technorati, lists 341 blog posts linking back. How do I find the needle in that haystack? (Wikipedia was at least helpful by suggesting related sources for Intellipedia.) The general problem of a blog community as an echo-chamber I have discussed at length in the New Gatekeepers series of two years ago.

Deval Patrick’s Issues

Language/Structure | Massachusetts | Politics

I caught wind before the weekend of Governor Deval Patrick’s bid to freshen up his image by unveiling a new website.

Dan Kennedy asks why he didn’t do it on Mass.gov?

I suppose it’s simply easier for him to post the information there. And the discussion on Blue Mass Group basically confirms this. But let’s look at the details:

The Talking Points Meme

Media | United States | Access/Network
Several months ago, I decided on a simple experiment: I’d stop reading most blogs I’d been reading, and just get news from my regular sources, and see if I’d be any less informed. I think I’ve stayed sharp. In this three-thousand exercise, I looked to see whether I missed anything in the U.S. Attorney "purge" scandal that’s been brewing over the past couple of months.

The best change to my own personal habits was that I no longer felt compelled to make corrections everywhere. The New Republic has 50,000 paying subscribers; this yields enough readers writing in with corrections. If somebody were to come along and start fabricating things, somebody will make a movie about it. So I trust it and other publications that I follow. This process could be improved, but that’s for another time.

MemeGate Studies

Media | Access/Network

The concept of a meme was coined by the eminent biologist Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins suggested that it one can view genes as propagating through organisms, and not the other way around; similiarly, a meme propagates through minds and media.

The popular lexicon of memetics omits any notion of memegate, so we supply it here. A meme may have a barrier or gate which it needs to pass in order to propagate. Thus, the expression "get through the memegate" would conveny how a particular meme amplified to a large part of the population.

iTrust: Millions of iPod users can’t be wrong…

Media | Familiarity

When life gives you apples…

Sunday’s Times amplified the story of one Melanie Tucker, whose suit against Apple Computer, Inc. last year must now be updated to reflect that the defendent has shed the "Computer" appellation from its corporate name. Apple is now quite solidly in the media business, and it is for this Ms. Tucker complains in her suit. To wit: the Apple iPod can play music from only one electronic music store, Apple’s itTunes (as well as, it should be noted, music files from the owner’s collection). And music from Apple iTunes can only be played on an Apple iPod and not any other device. What is fairly convenient for the Apple, Inc., and to millions of users, is apparently some gross inconvenience to a few. To Tucker, this is "crippleware" a product tie-in which violates United States and California antitrust laws.

Wikiseeding and wikiplanting

Internet | Familiarity
In honor of the Wikipedia community gathering across the river in Cambridge at the Berkman Center for the Wikimania 2006 conference— or rather, exploiting the occasion that the wiki watchdogs will have their attention elsewhere until Sunday– I edited an entry in Wikipedia.

The entry I edited: the one for the word wiki.

A wiki is a CMS with neat links

Internet | Lexicon
A year ago, a colleague asked for a wiki to be set up at work to accelerate our collaborative efforts. I responded by setting up Drupal, because it can act like a wiki and do so much more (like forums, portal layout comments-on-the-page, user/groups management, etc., and that’s the reason I had familiarized myself with it long ago).

Incivilities: Finally, a place to dump those letters to the editor

Media | Building/Consensus
An ex-girlfriend of mine once mentioned that her father had an idea to create a magazine that featured only letters-to-the-editor (it would be sold next to the coffee-table book about coffee tables, naturally). I’ve stopped trying to impress her now that she’s gotten married (not to mention some years passing) but I can still try to impress her father. Or get revenge by capitalizing on his idea.


The LetterVox: a proposal for handling letters to the editor

Media | Language/Structure
Linking from a published article to a letters-to-the-editor written in regards to it makes sense; it’s the essence of constructive media. Still, with a decade of web journalism underway, why is this not a standard convention by online newspapers?