March 28, 2007
Teach Your Children Well
The Kathy Sierra situation has now been in full meltdown in the blogosphere for two days. I've been talking with Doc Searls a bit about why I'm so bothered by this situation.
I know that the people Kathy named did not themselves write the posts or comments that are most disturbing. But I have a lot of trouble with their inability to acknowledge that by participating, or hosting, or linking to two group blogs, Meankids and unclebobism, where their fellow posters wrote misogynistic and racist things, posted photos like the one with Kathy and a noose, and by fostering an environment that allowed the perfect troll to get out of control in the comments, they allowed a kind of condoning relationship to those words and photos. I understand Jeneane was in the hospital for the second blog's life-span, but she hasn't really said much about the first.
Chris Locke thinks you own your own words. I understand that as far as not censoring or editing those you host. But I think Chris and Frank Paytner had a responsibility to not just slink off, when the posting got rough, deleting the blogs altogether, but rather to acknowledge what went wrong and condemn it publicly, not condone it in its absence.
Some of those blog posts are still out in caches, out of context and without their full data attached. Earlier today I saw a post reprinted here attributed to Frank Paynter. In fact I think it was written by a "Rev Ed" who posted to Meankids (with links to Listics, Frank Paynter's blog) -- Bloglines has the cached version. It's a terrible, racist, misogynist post that should have been condemned by the rest of the bloggers on Meankids. And it may have, but with the blog deleted, we can't know that right now. I hope that Frank Paytner is keeping all the data about the activity and will share it with us. Or at least with someone like Doc who I would trust to make sense out of it and lay it out for us. But that needs to happen now.
In some ways, by having most of the blog posts "disappeared" we are all in a situation where we cannot go back to the evidence to look at it. Rather, we can only imagine what happened. Which I think leads to something far worse: people talking about something they can't see and judge for themselves. It's like having a Baptist preacher denouncing the Passion of the Christ in the news, and then seeing the movie and feeling disappointed because it wasn't so bad .. you know he disagreed, but frankly, it's not the end of the world. In other words, our imaginations can really run away with us, when we hear a generalized story. Which leads the the unknown taking on far more power than it should. Getting the facts right is really important here. It's not that I'm saying that Kathy didn't get some pretty awful stuff. She did, but I think we need to know what it is and who exactly did what to judge it correctly. Otherwise, we just imagine and conflate and get it all wrong.
So figuring out who spoofed Alan, who "Rev Ed" is, and who Joey is, would be very helpful, and knowing what they said and did specifically would be helpful as well. I'd really like to see the whole blogs, first hand.
I don't believe we should condemn the folks that Kathy names yet, but I do think we should look hard a why they didn't condemn the behaviors that took place right in front of them. That's what I have the problem with. I believe this lack of responsibility and leaderships is why we will continue to see people behave this way in online communities with no word from those around them. Until the leaders condemn it, and everyone else feels safe calling it out as bad behavior right when something happens, and we have established what social norms we'll tolerate that are reasonable, we won't stop this from happening again.
I'm also sorry to say that I had no idea that Michelle Malkin has had these sorts of things written about her, photoshopped around her, or directed at her. Because I don't read her, I didn't know. But it's equally as appalling as Kathy's situation.
It's time men and women in the blogosphere took back the network and repeatedly and publicly condemned this sort of behavior. Let's take back this power from cyberbullies. Andy Carvin proposes Stop Cyberbullying Day for Friday and I'm all for it.
March 27, 2007
Making the Mean Kids Bad Isn't Going to Help
What the meankids did was not good: tolerating posts from some of their members that were bad and making a playground for bad comments. But let's not make them bad, let's make their actions the target of judgement. My experience with them, Jeneane Sessum, Frank Paynter, Chris Locke, is that they are good people, though my experiences have been limited. They made a mistake in creating a community blog that Frank, Jeneane and Chris have all acknowledged went out of control. A very bad one, and one that will cost them a lot.
But let's take this opportunity to include them in the conversation about why making fun of *who people are* is bad. Of course in most cases it's fine to make commentary, parody or other fun *what others do*. But there is so much hatred of women in the tech community, just under the surface and it peaks out it's head in some really ugly ways. Before joining the tech community, to mention Kaliya Hamlin's point on the deeply geeky list, many of us had not thought about gender differences and never focused on them. But in this community, it's a festering problem.
Let's use this opportunity to discuss this and make it better.
On a list with some other cc's, I said this to Robert (and Maryam) Scoble earlier today:
I understand your pain and feeling that people who behaved badly shouldn't be in our communities.
And you or anyone else is under no obligation to associate with anyone.
But I do believe that rather than throwing people out, we will do a lot more to have a frank and open
conversation about what is right, and invite people to stay and learn from those mistakes.
Banning people really is the start of the meankids going off to taunt the rest of the kids, because they've
been punished. I don't want any more of that.
I want people to stay, and understand why this is so hurtful, and learn how to express themselves,
with humor if they like, without taunting others over race, religion, gender or anything else.
I'm asking to have that frank conversation. Maybe it's too early because we are all pretty pissed,
but let's do that. Because exclusion will for sure breed more of this.
Robert replied that he was really angry but coming around to this view.
March 26, 2007
Kathy Sierra: Stepping Back after Abusive and Violent Threats
Earlier today when I read Kathy Sierra's post, I was really stunned and very sad to see it. She has had death threats and abusive behavior directed at her, both in the comments of a blog (seems to have been removed) called Meankids.org and on what sounds like a spinoff: unclebobism. (Also, these abusive acts manifested in comments on her blog, and in email.)
Those two blogs were made to vent and the commenters on the blogs took things way too far. It's a slippery slope, making a publication that is mean to make fun or be a little nasty. How nasty is too nasty? And how far do the writers let the rest of their direct community of readers go in extending the fun?
It's really sick and chilling to have this happen to Kathy, who is one of the kindest people I've met. And very smart and reasonable. I can only imagine the cumulative effect of all the communications coming toward her over a month period, that would lead her to cancel speaking engagements and want to drop out of this community for a while.
After seeing her post, and the rest of the community rally around her (yea! great job blogosphere!) I searched for cached versions of meankids and unclebobism because I wanted to see what was up. I know the people who started those blogs and I wondered about how bad it could be. Well, I was disheartened to find some really nasty stuff about the Scobles that I would put in the racist, misogynist and vulgar category. By people I respected! Not funny at all. Just really mean. So I can imagine based on those words that whatever they said about Kathy wasn't good, and their readers took it as a cue for the worst.
Leading a pack of rabid animals is not something to be proud of... I hope people will think hard before they decide to create an online community like meankids again. I don't think mean speech should be illegal, but I do think the rest of us have responsibility to condemn it if we see it getting destructive and to protect the targets. And of course, threats are illegal.. so I'm happy those sites removed once they went from mean, to threatening abusive acts.
I hope Kathy sees, over time, that the vast majority of people are good, and that we will support her and stand up for her, and not let abusive and violent people win over the good she contributes to our community.
Principles of Citizen Journalism Project Launch
They also include one interview with me, where I say that I trust bloggers more in some cases. What really matters is that people who report/opine adhere to these principles outlined above.
Great work Dan, JD Lasica and all the others who worked hard on this!
March 25, 2007
Women 2.0 Gets It So Wrong
First off, I really hate all this 2.0 naming. Why plant yourself in a time that is on the verge of obsolescence? Women 2.0. What can I say? Are we software that needs an upgrade?
Anyway, Women 2.0 is running a pitch contest (great idea), but for the rules way down at the bottom which say:
Women 2.0 Napkin Business Challenge Eligibility and Rules
The business plan must represent the original work of members of the team. You can submit as many business ideas on napkins as you want. You may have a team of up to four individuals. At least half of the team must be female and at least half of the team must be under 35; else the majority shareholder must be a woman and under 35. This is a Women 2.0 and Entrepreneur27 production after all.
Nice. So Mike Moritz and Tim Drapier are the prizes (meetings with them for another pitch). And the judges are mostly women, over 35.
Isn't the issue that women who are first timers need a lot of help getting started in terms of making a startup, pitching and getting funding? And, there are so few women anyway. Why on earth would you limit it? If you are really concerned that the few women over 35 that might submit ideas are going to wipe out the few women under 35, why not divide them into categories by age?
There is so much to know as you make a startup, and you need experienced people around you to clue you in, because almost none of what you really need to know is written down or even bloggable.
My best learning experiences have been with people who have a lot of experiences with the VC community, who can explain how things work, the quirky hand done ways of VC land, and what the various relationships are between people, and just how connected they are in what appears from the outside to be invisible.
I also am well aware that women over 35 are often seen as invisible in our society. If women are only valued for their looks (not how I see the world, but there is certainly a large percentage that treats women this way, and they aren't only men), then a woman over 35 is a stereotypical 'fading bloom.' And a women over 35 making her first company, pitching for the first time, in this Byzantine and fairly undocumented world around funding can be very difficult, because people may well be seeing right past her.
I don't believe I've had this experience myself, and maybe that's because people don't see me at about that age. Or maybe it's because of other things.. I don't really care. The bottom line is for women who are older, it's more difficult.
The thought of going to Sand Hill Road and standing up for yourself and your ideas can be intimidating. VCs meetings can be hard. One VC interrupted me 12 times (after the third, I started making tic marks) to say that with his startup (10 years before) they never had to do anything social. And he didn't belive in it now and why on earth was I even thinking about it? I don't mind defending what I work on, but you really have to have it very together, and often they actually don't want a real answer. They are looking for the right code words to provide comfort that this is a good investment. If you don't speak the way they understand the world, you will not be taken seriously. They also may be looking for push back instead of inclusiveness if they challenge you, and women when they first meet someone are often reluctant to push back without more relationship building. Right there in the first 5 minutes of a meeting, that can be a confidence undermining event for both parties. Women do communicate differently than men, and it doesn't change at 35.
One adviser I have talks about how Silicon Valley (or Silicon Village) is run on fear and greed. Greed comes first, but fear trumps all. And listening to the years of stories does make that world more understandable and feel less scary, more like something you can work with in an acceptable way.
Anyway, my point is, Women 2.0 needs to focus on what the barriers are: going out the first time with your first company. Doesn't matter whether you are 25 or 70. It's going to require a support network and information no matter your age. Women do have different needs than men, and we do behave differently in these situations. We tend to network differently, and that can be a barrier as well.
Women 2.0 isn't helping by institutionalizing and making acceptable agism. On top of everything else women face going to Sand Hill, that's just not something we need, especially from our own.
Update: I took this photo at Mesh07:
All the more reason I think this post was necessary to point out that first time women entrepreneurs and not young entrepreneurs are the ones who need help. I don't care if it wasn't towing the party line. Age discrimination isn't right.
March 24, 2007
FBI Gag Order Abuse: Please Read This. It's Very Important.
Put down your Britney and your Anna Nicole.
When I read the first parts, I thought, why not just personally protest the order and expose it? But by the end, I could see why he didn't and why it really matters that we not ruin the democracy, in order to save it
from the terrorists. Again. We keep doing things to become what we despise. This doesn't end well if we keep going in this direction. Only with notice and sunlight do we stop it.
From Anonymous, My National Security Letter Gag Order Friday, March 23, 2007; Page A17
It is the policy of The Washington Post not to publish anonymous pieces. In this case, an exception has been made because the author -- who would have preferred to be named -- is legally prohibited from disclosing his or her identity in connection with receipt of a national security letter. The Post confirmed the legitimacy of this submission by verifying it with the author's attorney and by reviewing publicly available court documents.
The Justice Department's inspector general revealed on March 9 that the FBI has been systematically abusing one of the most controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act: the expanded power to issue "national security letters." It no doubt surprised most Americans to learn that between 2003 and 2005 the FBI issued more than 140,000 specific demands under this provision -- demands issued without a showing of probable cause or prior judicial approval -- to obtain potentially sensitive information about U.S. citizens and residents. It did not, however, come as any surprise to me.
Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including my client, that the FBI was seeking this information. Based on the context of the demand -- a context that the FBI still won't let me discuss publicly -- I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power and that the letter sought information to which the FBI was not entitled.
Rather than turn over the information, I contacted lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, and in April 2004 I filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NSL power. I never released the information the FBI sought, and last November the FBI decided that it no longer needs the information anyway. But the FBI still hasn't abandoned the gag order that prevents me from disclosing my experience and concerns with the law or the national security letter that was served on my company. In fact, the government will return to court in the next few weeks to defend the gag orders that are imposed on recipients of these letters.
Living under the gag order has been stressful and surreal. Under the threat of criminal prosecution, I must hide all aspects of my involvement in the case -- including the mere fact that I received an NSL -- from my colleagues, my family and my friends. When I meet with my attorneys I cannot tell my girlfriend where I am going or where I have been. I hide any papers related to the case in a place where she will not look. When clients and friends ask me whether I am the one challenging the constitutionality of the NSL statute, I have no choice but to look them in the eye and lie.
I resent being conscripted as a secret informer for the government and being made to mislead those who are close to me, especially because I have doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying investigation.
The inspector general's report makes clear that NSL gag orders have had even more pernicious effects. Without the gag orders issued on recipients of the letters, it is doubtful that the FBI would have been able to abuse the NSL power the way that it did. Some recipients would have spoken out about perceived abuses, and the FBI's actions would have been subject to some degree of public scrutiny. To be sure, not all recipients would have spoken out; the inspector general's report suggests that large telecom companies have been all too willing to share sensitive data with the agency -- in at least one case, a telecom company gave the FBI even more information than it asked for. But some recipients would have called attention to abuses, and some abuse would have been deterred.
I found it particularly difficult to be silent about my concerns while Congress was debating the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2005 and early 2006. If I hadn't been under a gag order, I would have contacted members of Congress to discuss my experiences and to advocate changes in the law. The inspector general's report confirms that Congress lacked a complete picture of the problem during a critical time: Even though the NSL statute requires the director of the FBI to fully inform members of the House and Senate about all requests issued under the statute, the FBI significantly underrepresented the number of NSL requests in 2003, 2004 and 2005, according to the report.
I recognize that there may sometimes be a need for secrecy in certain national security investigations. But I've now been under a broad gag order for three years, and other NSL recipients have been silenced for even longer. At some point -- a point we passed long ago -- the secrecy itself becomes a threat to our democracy. In the wake of the recent revelations, I believe more strongly than ever that the secrecy surrounding the government's use of the national security letters power is unwarranted and dangerous. I hope that Congress will at last recognize the same thing.
March 16, 2007
Just When I Thought Cingular Couldn't Get More Evil...
So, last month, after my Cingular bill was three days late (3 days!) they sent out a notice to me to pay up or get cut off. Since I've been a customer for years, and the bill was only for my flat rate service (no additional phone charges), I thought this was kind of draconian when I received the notice, 8 days after the bill was due. But I immediately hopped onto my online billpay service, paid the full bill plus $20 and left it at that. This was on a Wednesday. The following Monday, with no messages from Cingular on my phone, my service was cut off. I called them to ask why (of course, the phone was not able to call them.. they forced me to use a landline. Thanks guys, it's not like you're the phone company or anything.)
Anyway, while I was onhold, I looked at the previous month's bank statement, which showed I'd done online billpay on the 3rd, and then the Cingular bill which showed they'd receved the payment on the 5th of the month. When the person came online, I asked her about my phone being disconnnected, and the fact that the bill was only a few days overdue. She said they hadn't received my payment and they could do that. I said, "How is that? I just sent online bill pay money the day I received your notice. There is no time under this schedule to even get it into you? But last month you got it in two days. And my bank just told me online at their side, that you received the current payment." She turned the phone back on, but not before saying that online billpay typically takes a week or more. But I pointed out that between me and Cingular, it's taking two days and what sort of games are they playing anyway?
They don't even give you enough time to act after receiving the notice. My notice was dated the 5th, I got it in the mail on the 8th and my bank says they had the money on the 10th. I think this is all about generating $36 restoration fees for those who are forgetful as I am, working and traveling so much right now. And it's not like I have some giant balance. I did pay late.. but it's the same amount every month and I always pay and before I've been a very regular on-time payer.
So.. I still don't have my latest bill, to see how long the last online bill pay took compared to when I sent it, the 8th of last month. But.. get this. I received another notice this month, dated the day after the bill was due. I've already paid it. But geez. What a bunch of jerks. I mean, charge a late fee or something. Wait two months before you act like you hate your customers.
The other thing was that on my most recent bill, there were $30 in charges for some ridiculous spam text messages. I didn't ask for these messages, and so I called Cingular to have them removed. And I asked that before anyone can "charge me without asking" that Cingular force them to have to ask me first, before texting me twice, for $30. Cingular said they couldn't do that. I said they do it for collect calls, so why not "collect text messages?" They said they could only remove text messaging as a feature, which I need and use all the time. So my choices are, either be open to getting slammed by evil text messaging companies for very high fees, or don't have text messaging. Yikes. Way to protect your customers, Cingular.
Oh.. but wait. Maybe Cingular gets a part of the $30 fee, and therefore doesn't want to shut down this bad behavior?
Then, on Dave Farber's IP list, I found out that Cingular, Qwest, AT&T and Sprint are blocking calls to FreeConference.com. GigaOm also did some investigation that's interesting. That's because they don't want us to use our cellphones to call a long distance number, to get free conference calling.
OMG. I mean really. I pay Cingular approximately $.10 a minute during the "anytime" calling hours, and that's when I use Free Conference. Who are they to block me from dialing, not an 800 number, but a regular charge call? That they make money from?
Cingular == evil. I would do anything to get off the stupid telco rollercoster that seems to be routed perpetually downward and just use VOIP with an internet connection on my cell phone.
March 14, 2007
Dylan Does Seuss
The Napster Nation at work.
March 13, 2007
Ok.. people I missed who I wished were there:
That's all I can think of at the moment. But I remember missing more! Pls come next year!
Ok.. the hotels.
We stayed the Hilton Garden (around the corner from SXSW and the main Hilton) which had just been bought, renovated partly and had a gym with 4 (four!) treadmills which no one wanted to use and 1 (one!) eclipse machine, which everyone wanted to use. Nice distribution guys. Oh, and the two broken bikes didn't help.
But they had free internet access. But it was only for one night.
Then we stayed at the big Hilton across from SXSW. Very convenient. But, they charge for their gym (supposedly because they have attendants.. which I could care less about and just need an eclipse machine thank you). And they charge for the wifi.. which I paid for, and every third page (yes!!! was so messed up!!!) redirected my browser to a Hilton ad.
Ok... I paid $10 for wifi, and it was slow as molasses. So I would load up a bunch of pages, do email for a while, and go back to find that 1/3 of the pages had been hijacked by Hilton. I'm already staying there.. so do I really need an advertisement? I mean come on. I paid already. I showed it to Kaliya who was totally appalled. What a rip off. Needless to say, I didn't buy it for the rest of the stay. So for three days I kept getting my computer at 1am or 8am, and going to the lobby to get the free, fast, ad-free wifi. Which was annoying as hell.
I won't stay at the big Hilton ever after that. Esp since the big Hilton is literally double the price. I'd rather get a free gym and wifi from a cheaper hotel than pay more, and then pay again, and again. And again. Stupid.
Ok.. so the BBQ, with Joyce and Lili rocked, as did all the fun parties, the people (every day I'd be walking around Austin and see like 80 people I knew.. was totally fun), the interesting talks, etc.
So, the only thing that wasn't so convenient was the rain. Which had massively affecting the party schedule for lots of people, and then delayed planes on the way out.. mine to Oakland was delayed for hours, when we were checking in, so Joyce said, hey, just take my plane to Las Vegas and then go to Oakland, which got me there 25 minutes earlier than my other flight. Yea!