April 20, 2006
Tonight: "Email -- Should the Sender Pay?": EFF Fundraiser, Debate Between Esther Dyson and Danny O'Brien
At eTech, Esther and Annalee Newitz were talking about Goodmail, innovation in spam control for email and the controversy with EFF and others around this topic. I asked them both about stats. What I wanted to know was how much (number and percentages) email is spam, how much is non-profit email, how much is educational, and how much is political speech?
My feeling was that with those kinds of stats, and an agreement that we would let the IRS decide who should get free email if we instituted a pay for send system, we could give this a try. The issue with the IRS is this: they give tax exempt status to entities who are non-profits, some political organizations and others, and if an organization has that piece of paper from the IRS, we should exempt them from fees. The additional step for political organizations might be that we also use state and federal Fair Political Practice Commissions that also have organizations categorized. But with these kinds of certifications and exemptions from fees, we could try, innovate, experiment with different email systems that might help us solve some of the spam issues we currently have online.
One thing, when I was having this discussion with Esther and Annalee, I realized that I don't really get spam. This, even though my email address is on the front of my blog. I'm sure the spam is coming in like crazy, but because the ISP that hosts my hoster is clearing away some, and then my hoster clears more at the server level, after which the remaining batch has to go through the specific email system I have set up with my settings and training about what is spam on his servers and then I have more clearing going on at the email client level on my computer, I see about one spam email every week or so. It's rare, especially considering I get 1000 email a day. So I hadn't thought for a while about what a problem this is at the email level. In fact, I see far more spam blog, or splog, spam, via comments, trackbacks and in posts and through live web search, than I do in email. So my sense of the problem was really underwhelming for email and overwhelming for live web stuff.
Anyway, come to the debate tonight, to hear the arguments for and against!
3117 16th St (Yahoo! Maps, Google Maps)
San Francisco, California
* "Email -- Should the Sender Pay?": EFF Fundraiser, Debate
Between Esther Dyson and Danny O'Brien
In light of AOL's adopting a "certified" email system, EFF
is hosting a debate on the future of email. With
distinguished entrepreneur Mitch Kapor moderating, EFF
Activist Coordinator Danny O'Brien and renowned tech expert
Esther Dyson will discuss the potential consequences if
people have to pay to send email. Would the Internet
deteriorate as a platform for free speech? Would spam or
Thursday, April 20th, 2006
7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
"Email - Should the Sender Pay?"
Danny O'Brien is the Activist Coordinator for the EFF. His job is to help our membership in making their voice heard: in government and regulatory circles, in the marketplace, and with the wider public. Danny has documented and fought for digital rights in the UK for over a decade, where he also assisted in building tools of open democracy like Fax Your MP. He co-edits the award-winning NTK newsletter, has written and presented science and travel shows for the BBC, and has performed a solo show about the Net in the London's West End.
Esther Dyson is editor at large at CNET Networks, where she is responsible for its monthly newsletter, Release 1.0, and its PC Forum, the high-tech market's leading annual executive conference. As editor at large, she also contributes insight and content to CNET Networks' other properties. She sold her business, EDventure Holdings, to CNET Networks in early 2004. Previously, she had co-owned
EDventure and written/edited Release 1.0 since 1983. Recently, Esther authored a New York Times editorial called "You've Got Goodmail," defending a sender-pays model for the future of email.
Mitchell Kapor is the President and Chair of the Open Source Applications Foundation, a non-profit organization he founded in 2001 to promote the development and acceptance of high-quality application software developed and distributed using open source methods and licenses. He is widely known
as the founder of Lotus Development Corporation and the designer of Lotus 1-2-3, the "killer application" which made the personal computer ubiquitous in the business world in the 1980's. In 1990, Kapor co-founded EFF.
Roxie Film Center
3117 16th Street, San Francisco
(between Valencia and Guerrero)
Tel: (415) 863-1087
See the link below for a map:
Local Muni are the 22 and 53 (both at 16th & Valencia), 33
(18th & Valencia), 14 (16th & Mission), 49 (16th & Mission).
BART stops one block east at 16th & Mission.
Public Parking is available on Hoff Street, off of 16th
between Valencia and Mission at very reasonable rates.
This fundraiser is open to the general public. The suggested
donation is $20.
No one will be turned away for lack of funds.
Please RSVP to email@example.com
Adaptive Path is the generous sponsor of this fundraising event. Founded in 2001, Adaptive Path is a leading user experience consulting, research, and training firm that has provided services to a range of clients, including Fortune 100 corporations, pure-Web startups, and established nonprofit organizations. The company is headquartered in San Francisco. To learn more about Adaptive Path, visit the company website at:
To learn more about the DearAOL campaign against AOL's planned system:
For Esther Dyson's editorial, "You've Got Goodmail".
April 05, 2006
The Conversational Middle: Maturing of the Blogosphere
On Saturday at Kinnernet, the last session I attended before leaving was led by an Israeli guy named Uri Baruchin who asserted that something had changed in the blogosphere, and we were starting to have a problem because a meme (my word, not his, and it's what I called it as I disagreed in the session) would not spread so fast in the blogosphere now that A-list bloggers were waning in link counts (a popularity scale because it uses a single digital social gesture, the link, and does not weigh at all the many other conversational gestures of a blog over time -- that would require multiple digital social gestures and a much more complex "algorithm" than just counting links). He was worried that the number of smaller discussions required to spread news would make the blogosphere as a whole less effective in broadcasting news, and somehow this meant there was some loss of power bloggers had been holding and was now waning.
I disagreed with his thesis, and gave some obvious statistics but also some ideas. First, I said that the blogosphere's purpose was not singular. This goes for both individual bloggers and on the whole, if there can be a "unified purpose," which I don't think there is because there are too many different kinds of blogging. Remember blogs are tools, and each person takes it and uses it in whatever way makes sense, which probably means there are 33+ million slightly different to extremely different variations of blogs now.
Anyway, back to disagreeing with the "unified purpose" idea. So, if you look at this from one view -- through the State of the Blogosphere reports put forth a in October 2004, where counts for the NY Times and MSNBC were in the neighborhood of 17 or 18 thousand links, and top 100 bloggers like Boing Boing and Instapundit had 6 or so thousand links.
At that point in time, Technorati tracked 4 million blogs and 400 million links, and now, a year and a half later, Technroati tracks 33+ million blogs and 2.2 billion links. In January, 2006, the NY Times has 55,000+ links and CNN has around 53,000+ but Boing Boing has 18,000+ and Instapundit has 5,600 links (the are no longer the number 2 blog, as that position is now held by Engadget at 15,600+ links) you can see that while the blogosphere has grown 7x and the links 5.5x, the inbound link counts of the top blogs and media has grown 3x.
Also, take into account that Technorati changed its methods of link counting last August, after several things occurred (Robert Scoble complained about its link counts in comparison to Bloglines which counts every link since it started counting, and I had reported on how link counting worked across 5 services and then other's reports of frustration with the Top 100 and A-list counts where sparce posters' links were favored over frequent posters' links). So Technorati changed from counting just links on the top pages of a blog (those posts that linked but dropped off the front pages were dropped from link counts) to any link that had occurred in the past 6 months. Technorati still counts one link only per blog, no matter it's location on the blog posts or blogroll, no matter how many links come from one blog, but all link types age out after 6 months. So these statistics for the later time frame are different and not exactly comparable, but let's do it for the sake of argument here.
So, what does this mean? Well, since there are 5.5 times more links in this 1.5 year time frame, I believe it means that there are more links made to non-A-list bloggers than bloggers further down the power law curve about , that are in what I call the "conversation middle of the power law curve" (the curve for specifically link counts), than those A-listers at the top are receiving. It means to me that while a year and a half ago, when I explained the conversational middle to people like Peter Hirshberg and Francis Piscani and thought it was far more interesting than what most people were discussing then (the top of the power law, or the existence of the power law curve at all), that now there is some evidence that as the blogosphere goes main stream, it is moving more to the middle, at least as link counts go, to more personal conversations rather than pointers to a few top media sites or the blogs that are act more like broadcasters. The broadcast model for links in blogs means that many more links went to a top blog, than they were able to link back to, because it was just physically impossible. Those top bloggers are 1-to-thousands in their distribution, and yet for inbound links counts, they have thousands of inbound links as opposed to far fewer outbound links to others.
From February 2003, here is one distribution curve showing bloggers inbound link counts in the Shirky article on power law curves:
But the conversational middle, then, and now, is both say, 12-to-12 for distribution and receiving links, or 50-to-50, or for larger blogs, maybe 500-to-200, depending on the size of the conversation verses those listening and linking back. And now the mainstreaming of the blogosphere supports this hypothesis more.
The top of the power law curve has been referred to as the A-list, and certainly last summer, when Blogher discussions erupted at the last and well packed session of the day, and so many women expressed extreme anger and frustration at Technorati's link counting methods and particularly the there was a lot of interest in figuring out ways to reveal topic communities lower down that power law curve.
At Blogher, I suggested we work on something that would show not just a few bloggers in topic areas that were at the top, but rather sift the entire blogosphere, using as many as 22 different metrics, though some are not currently available but tool builders were welcome to build some of these out, to show "conversationalness" and "influence over time" instead of the "popularity" of link counts as the Top 100 or Top 500 that was subsequently built by Feedster, currently shows. Lots of people responded with lots of interesting ideas on the subject of how to approach this. A system like this could more accurately reveal the conversational middle, to make it much easier for more than just the participants in smaller communities of say 50, to find and expose their interests and conversations. This would also, for some of the women at Blogher, make them feel more validated or exposed as leaders in their topic areas (not politics or tech stuff), or if that was not their interest, make the Top 100 less validating and congratulatory of those who by virtue of being on the list seemed dominant, which clearly was their desire.
The idea that bloggers are not passing memes as effectively because there is less influence by broadcast style bloggers, even though more small conversations are experiencing more links going blogger-to-blogger, further down the power law curve, is silly. If people are genuinely interested in something, and have something to say, they'll blog it. These conversations occurring in the middle pass and discuss memes just as before, but the linking and diffusion of the conversation is evidence of a more mature, and interesting use of the internet, not less so. And now, if a meme crosses lots of blogs in the blogosphere, I believe it's a sign of far more interest by people, than under the earlier broadcast mode of meme spreading in the older, more early adopter blogosphere. And this certainly isn't a problem. The internet as a medium is more supportive of spread, edge conversation, than the amassing of top down broadcast distribution. The act of blogging is the act of subverting old broadcast methods of communication.
The maturing of the blogosphere with less broadcast distribution and more conversation between people spread far and wide is a welcome and more democratic way of bringing together people who want to discuss like interests. Certainly there are still bloggers who are more highly read with more inbound links that resemble broadcasters in some ways, and who PR people will continue to try to manipulate, but still, there is a shift to conversation with more symmetric linking, and that is positive overall.
Our next challenge now is how to see how small conversational communities and the attendant tools that sift these conversations can use more than one or two digital gestures, and create topic awareness of blogger groups with more than just the early adopter or blog-tool favoring metrics that post categories or tag indicators do now. These metrics too are subject to power law curves and the current uses of them one or two at at time only reflect top bloggers, or early adopters, just as link counts did before, emphasizing them over the conversational middle. When the tools of exposure change, the conversational middle will become accessible and apparent not just to those in and around a particular conversation but to those outside it.
April 01, 2006
Can you say 'it's only water' if you're in the Middle East?
I arrived in Tel Aviv, at 11pm, and around midnight, my taxi driver dropped me at the Dan hotel, instead of the Dan Peninsula as I'd asked. The man at reception was very sweet. It was midnight, and he couldn't find my reservation, and started looking for alternatives. Eventually he wanted to know again where my reservation was supposed to be and I told him the Dan Peninsula. We figured out the problem; he called a cab. I asked for some water. And he said, "For you, I'm going to bring you two glasses." After drinking them, I said, "Thank you so much." He said, "It's just water." I replied, "Can you say 'it's just water' if you're in the Middle East?" He smiled.
Israel is really an intense place. I didn't consciously think about it as an experience for travel or a country when I bought my ticket. Afterward, I was going to cancel up to the last minute because of my work, but everyone at home said to go anyway, that we were at a stage beyond where I was needed for a few days, and I should just do it. So I left them.. and it was only about 5 days away, before I'm back in the US and doing my regular work again. It's kind of hard to turn down a trip to Israel that once you arrive is all arranged.
It's a beautiful place. The road to Jerusalem is like Tuscany. The Sea of Galili (which is really a lake) and the surrounding green hills, wildflowers and farms are like California, (except for the guns a few people sport). I'm at Kinnernet, a camp conference made by Yossi Vardi, talking with people about their projects, my work, what's going on in the world of tech, and playing with robots and gadgets. It's held at a place on the edge of the Lake. There is snow on the Golan Mountains, to the north which I can see across the Lake through the window of my room. Jordan is over the next hill.
It's also been an opportunity to look up my relatives, some of whom disappeared in WWII but some of whom are alive and living in Slovenia. I can't find the main person I wanted to, but I did find some people in Jerusalem I can email later to keep researching. Being here and seeing the Holocaust museum was not depressing, as my hosts suggested it might be. Instead, I felt like I was more connected to my family and had a better understanding of what they experienced. That has been the most changing feeling I've had here.
The food in Israel is amazing. I wasn't expecting the croissants to be so good. Like Paris. Or the artisan cheeses and salads to be so subtle and delicious.
People have made art projects and are playing music, a woman who designs unusual kites is flying them in a field, and there are loads of interesting 'projects' much like Burningman without the dust and naked people around. It's a laid back environment, and maybe a much needed rest after working around the clock for months.
At one point, someone told me about how the evening news reports nighly on the water-height in the Lake of Galili. The water level doesn't look low at all, but it's a big concern. People talk about the snow melting on the Golan mountains, and we splashed water in the Jordan River. These were mythical places in my mind, coming from the US. Somehow the myths ended up there, through a combination of media and some religious references, but seeing these places and hearing people speak so matter of factly about them was dissonance inside me. Snow doesn't melt in a mythical place. I was listening, but also feeling the myths unravel.