Posts from Web/Tech

Protecting The Right To Speak And Write And Blog

I stayed out of the public debate and discussion of the Gawker lawsuit because while I privately came down on the side of Gawker, the specifics of the case made me uncomfortable and I don’t think it was an ideal case to determine what is free speech and what is not.

However, the same lawyer, Charles Harder, who argued the case against Gawker, is back with another libel suit, this time against Techdirt and its founder and lead writer Mike Masnick. Regular and longtime readers of this blog will know that I am friends with Mike and have supported his efforts to speak out on Techdirt about all sorts of tech policy issues over the years.

The specifics of the Techdirt case are easier for me to get excited about. Mike has consistently and rigorously debunked the claims of Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai that he (Dr Ayyadurai) “invented” e-mail. Dr. Ayyadurai is upset with Mike about this and so he hired Charles Harder to file a $15mm libel suit against Techdirt and Mike.

Regardless of whether Dr. Ayyadurai invented email or not (I highly doubt it), we have a long standing history in scientific and technical circles and in the United States of freely, openly, and publicly debating and discussing technical issues like this. Through that sort of public debate and discussion we determine what is real and what is not and we also move the understanding of science and technology forward. These public debates can get nasty and personal, and that is unfortunate, but I believe it is better that we allow for this debate than set legal precedent that wealthy people can stifle debate by suing publications out of business.

So, I am urging everyone who cares about the legacy of free, open, and public speech and debate about technical issues to support Mike and Techdirt’s efforts to defend themselves. Mike wrote a blog post about this issue last week and this is taken from that post:

I am beyond thankful to the many of you who have reached out and offered to help in all sorts of ways. It is heartening to know so many people care about Techdirt. At some point soon, we may set up a dedicated legal defense fund. But, in the meantime, any support you can provide us will help — whether it’s just alerting people to this situation and the danger of trying to stifle a free press through meritless lawsuits, or it’s supporting Techdirt directly (or, if you have a company, advertising with us). As always, you can support us directly as a Friend of Techdirt, or check out some of the other perks you can get in our Insider program. You can also support us via Patreon.

I am hoping that Mike sets up a dedicated legal defense fund and plan to contribute to it if he does. I will let AVC readers know if that happens. Until then, let’s all get behind Mike and put a stop to this nonsense.

Fixing The Internet

Walter Isaacson wrote a blog post last week suggesting that the Internet is broken and outlining how he would fix it. I think that most of his suggestions are currently being built using blockchain technologies. Here is his list (in italics) and my reactions to it.

1) Create a system that enables content producers to negotiate with aggregators and search engines to get a royalty whenever their content is used, like ASCAP has negotiated for public performances and radio airings of its members’ works.

While not “a system to negotiate”, services like our portfolio company Mediachain‘s platform will provide much of the underlying infrastructure for this to happen.

2) Embed a simple digital wallet and currency for quick and easy small payments for songs, blogs, articles, and whatever other digital content is for sale.

Bitcoin.

3) Encode emails with an authenticated return or originating address.

While not blockchain based, standards like DKIM and SPF in the email sector provide some of this today. I am also excited about a blockchain based identity later like the one being built by our portfolio company Blockstack.

4) Enforce critical properties and security at the lowest levels of the system possible, such as in the hardware or in the programming language, instead of leaving it to programmers to incorporate security into every line of code they write.

Blockchain based applications can use the underlying security of the blockchain (using sophisticated cryptography) to achieve higher levels of security in their applications.

5) Build chips and machines that update the notion of an internet packet. For those who want, their packets could be encoded or tagged with metadata that describe what they contain and give the rules for how it can be used.

I am not sure you would need a chip or a machine to do this.

The bottom line for me is that we don’t need to build a new Internet to fix the issues Walter articulates in his blog post. We just need to continue to build new capabilities on top of our existing Internet. And, right now, the biggest potential contributor to those new capabilities is the blockchain.

Help Brands Blacklist Sites That Don’t Fit With Their Brand

One of the issues with the emergence of programmatic and re-targeted advertising is that brands target people not publications with their ad spend. And the result is a brand’s ads end up on sites that they don’t really want them on. Brands can blacklist publishers they don’t want to do business with but they have to choose to opt out. And they need to be notified when this happens.

I saw a cool approach to dealing with this yesterday. Craig Shapiro blogged about a Twitter account called Sleeping Giants.

Here is how it works:

People take a screenshot of an ad running on a site that is likely not appropriate for that brand, they tweet that screenshot to the ad’s parent company to notify them of the placement, and tag Sleeping Giants in the tweet.

Then the word spreads. Sleeping Giants promotes each tweet to it’s 11,000 followers. It also offers simple instructions how to blacklist sites from your ad campaign, so your brand won’t show up on objectionable publishers sites.

I followed Sleeping Giants today and will participate in this community driven effort to help brands keep their ads off objectionable websites. You might want to do that as well.

It Is All Spam

My friends Jeff Jarvis and John Borthwick wrote a thoughtful post about the fake news issue and put forward fifteen suggestions for the platforms and news organizations that are struggling with it.

This suggestion got my attention:

Create a system for media to send metadata about their fact-checking, debunking, confirmation, and reporting on stories and memes to the platforms.

It reminds me of the efforts in the email sector to create metadata around email messages to help the mail platforms identify what is spam and what is not. Examples of such efforts are DKIM and SPF.

If you think about the guts of the Internet, you have these simple protocols like TCP/IP, HTTP, SMTP, etc that allow information to flow from one computer to another. These systems are inherently open, often radically open. Anyone can publish anything to anyone. That has largely been a good thing because it has allowed an open communication network to develop globally without a lot of interoperability worries and work.

But when you do that, you allow all sorts of bad things to happen. And the people who build and manage internet technologies have been trying to figure out elegant solutions to all of this bad behavior for the past twenty five years (or possibly longer).

For me, the first example of this was email spam. And then search spam. Email and web search were two of the first wide open systems that were plagued with all sorts of bogus information and messages. And twenty years later, these two systems have largely been cleaned up through massive investments across multiple dimensions.

So when I hear of some new bad thing like fake news, I immediately think of spam. And I think of the things that have been done to manage and mitigate spam. There is a roadmap for mitigating and managing this sort of thing. It seems like we need to replicate it around fake news. And we should.

The Little Search Engine That Could

Our portfolio company DuckDuckGo continues to impress me.

By offering one thing that other search engines don’t offer, a promise not to store your search history, DuckDuckGo has grown impressively, year after year, with no signs of that abating.

ddg

It may turn out that in an era of growing mistrust of companies and institutions, DuckDuckGo has a very attractive proposition for the market.

I’ve used DuckDuckGo as my default search engine for years now and though I will occasionally use Google for certain queries, DuckDuckGo gets it done for me the vast majority of the time.

If you want to change your default search engine to DuckDuckGo and see what it’s like to use a search engine that doesn’t track you, go to DuckDuckGo and click the “Install” button on the upper right.

ddg-install

Twitter Moments

Twitter has quietly built their news product. It is called Moments.

The sports page this morning:

sports moments

If you haven’t tried Moments in a while, you should. It is really good.

Where Are The Software Jobs In The US?

I came across this blog post, based on a study by the software industry trade group, The App Association, which includes this map of where the software jobs are in the US:

software jobs

Essentially every big city in the US has a lot of software jobs. If you want to be a software engineer in Atlanta, there is work for you there. If you want to be a software engineer in Chicago, there is work for you there.

The highest per capita density of software jobs are, of course, in the Bay Area and Boston.

software jobs per capita

So if you want the highest density of software jobs, go to the Bay Area or Boston.

But if you want to live and work somewhere else and find a good and well paying software engineering job, you can find that in most of the big cities in the US.

And, I would suspect the same is true all around the world.

That’s a good thing.