PONAR: Icons

[Note: this was originally on the cover page of this series; it was split off to add new information.]

Oppressiveness by Software

The engineer looks at the law and asks, why is it so sloppy? Take the DMCA-CDA disparity, or the fact that anonynous political robocalls are legal in many states while anonymous political commercials are not. The software engineer wonders why this all can’t be straightened out.

Presenting some sloggership at the Berkman Blog Group tonight, 3/13/2008

I’ll be presenting Thursday evening to the Berkman Blog Group. It’s kind of an honor, since I really don’t see myself as one. I associate with bloggers, I befriend them, I research their methods… and I hope they don’t mind if they accept me as different.

Truth or Swear: the Notary Internet

Two updates in the jurisprudence of free speech online this week help shed light on one of our favorite pastimes, the search for truth. The lawsuit against Wikileaks (that “entity of unknown form” according to the district court) was dropped.

Blogger Archetypes, Too: Strivers, Divers, and Thrivers

A couple of years ago, I offered a set of blogger archetypes. I came up with six based on the motivations of bloggers (singers, ringers, wingers, fingers, stringers, flingers). They didn't catch on very well, perhaps because there wasn't very much holding the set together beyond the rhyme. But I did want to distinguish those bloggers who didn't see themselves as playing any role in the news process and those that didn't take themselves to seriously (the “singers,” with a nod to Walt Whitman) from those that do.

Unread alerts– why not to depend on Twitter for breaking news

In Glenview, Illinois Saturday night, a teenager pulled a disoriented women from a car that was stuck on the railroad tracks moments before an Amtrak train barrelled into it. The only reason I heard about this was because an eyewitness, David Armano, had reported via the Twitter service, which meant that he sent via his mobile phone to his network of friends; one friend forwarded it to Doc Searls, who declared on his blog Sunday morning:  "Citizen journal breaks a heroic news story."

a Will of Rights Online (followup to Slate piece)

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…)

How long does bigotry stay hosted on YouTube?

That somebody in America can publish antisemitic literature to encourage hatred and bigotry is regrettable, but it is protected by the First Amendment. That said, YouTube is a private service, and their community guidelines prohibit hate speech.

Well, some user JewsWorldPower signed up three months ago, and this person does things like posting copyrighted video from the Colbert Report with antisemitic text in the description alongside. Surely Stephen Colbert has even less interest in being associated with antisemitism than he does in having his video pirated.

Peeping Tom Friedman

It’s closing in on ten years since my last pitiful appearance in the Times, and an opportunity arose to try again.

PONAR: Call for Participation

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

This document provides a brief overview of the PONAR Architecture.

PONAR: Design

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

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

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

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)

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.

CommResp for MeanKids?

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

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

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

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

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).

Wikiseeding and wikiplanting

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

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).

Constructive Activism Badges

In the previous article, I illustrated how a portal could be specially designed for activist efforts. Now I want to turn my attention towards enhancing activism badges, in order to address some of the needs that have come up among the Free Alaa supporters.


Badges are graphics that bloggers and website publishers representing generally affiliations. Traditionally, they are image references which point to graphic files, such as GIFs.

Courting Wikipedia, Citing Wikipedia

Suppose you’re a state judge, like Conrad Rushing of the Santa Clara-based 6th Appellate Court of California. Where do you go if you need to cleave the difference between words like “blog” and “webzine”? You could seek the opinions of any number of experts from law school-affiliated “Centers of Internet and Society” in Palo Alto or in Cambridge. Or you could have asked my opinion. But perhaps citing me directly would not have been very impressive in the footnotes. So instead, the Appellate Court cited Wikipedia, where my words were published, semi-anonymously. (Until now.)

Constructive Activism, Part II: Freedom of Association

Now that I was committing money to buy a Google AdWord for Alaa, my cause was his. I realized I ought to spend a little more time to learn about him.

The thought crossed my mind that he might have different politics than I, and that somebody might pick on me later for this. Whatever were his thoughts on Israel, I wondered. I searched his website, and found some topical entries– but couldn’t find any actually written by him, only by the folks he was drawing in. I figured if I ought to draw the line somewhere: I couldn’t support anybody who advocated aggression against U.S. or Israeli interests. Anything else he had to say– well, it was up to him, I was defending his right to say it.

Constructive Activism, Part I: Freedom Isn’t Free

Regrettably, I do not have a channel tuned to alerts about human rights violations; so I rely on the pinball nature of news to get them to me. Normally one could find them through the blogs, though, I remain overwhelmed by the overall mundanity have stopped reading many of them regularly. Only by the grace of perusing Seth Finkelstein’s Infothought last week did I learn about the jailing of Egyptian blogger Alaa Ahmed Seif Al Islam.

Alaa had won an award last November by Reporters Without Borders for his Drupal site, an aggregator Egyptian blogs. He was participating in ongoing protests for an independent judiciary, when he was arrested along ten others; Now a mighty wind had blown across the the plains of the blogosphere to raise support for one of their own. The wind also carried seeds of activism: as a protest measure, bloggers were invited to link to the new Free Alaa website, but using the link text Egypt. Doing so, on a massive scale, was supposed to effect a googlebombing.

Notes from the Gilbane Conference on Content Management

Here’s a write-up of what I learned in the sessions at the Gilbane Conference on Content Management in San Francisco two week ago.

It is not a complete account for a number of reasons. First, I was unable break the laws of physics and attend every session. Second, I didn’t take as detailed notes as I should have, but this exercise should encourage me once again to do so. Third, I’m reserving some information for the entity that sponsored my attendance to the conference, my employer.

Evidence Domain: How do you preserve data evidence before it disappears?

One of the more damning things about evidence is that there are usually parties who want it removed, such as by the accused.

List in Transition — Top "Ecosystem" blogs 2003 and 2006

I thought I’d put together a bit of a teaser here for the upcoming series about the meme of “Shirky’s Power Law” (it’s already at 5,000 words in draft). Three years ago, Clay Shirky and Jason Kottke independently looked at some of the top weblog rankings and concluded that they reflected a power law distributed. Shirky used the data from the “Truth Laid Bear” list, which has been declining in relevance ever since. Kottke, on the other hand, used data from Technorati, which only launched a few months earlier and has been on the ascendence.

But being as I’m writing about Shirky, I thought I’d look at the ol’ bear’s list before it goes into permanent hiberation.

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