May 2, 2007

I’ve been watching the debate going on over at digg.com. The basic back story? Last year, a utility was written by somebody under the pseudonym “muslix64” which would decode HD-DVDs and back them up, if provided with the decryption keys for the disc. The utility did not provide the codes to the user, so it’s not illegal as such. “Muslix64”, however, also later revealed the encryption keys to certain HD-DVD titles. Circulation of these is illegal, because the US doesn’t believe it can make money from allowing people to back up or otherwise freely copy freely their media (roll out standard acronyms of hate here: DCMA, MPAA, RIAA, etc). Later, links to HD-DVD encryption keys were posted on digg.com; Digg subsequently received a cease & desist from the AACS, and obeyed. But the community railed against this, overwhelming the admins of Digg with the volume of resubmitted related posts. Thus, Digg has relented, and will not remove any more of posts. The Digg-related, part of this story flared up very quickly indeed.

What does this mean? I’m not sure. Perhaps nothing, provided nobody does anything.

  • Digg can’t do anything. If they start deleting links again, the userbase will become very angry indeed. Given their statement that they will keep these links, to do anything else now would be cowardice and would surely lose the respect of many users.
  • The lawyers can’t do anything. Digg attracts around 1% of US internet traffic, if the BBC News is to be believed, and that’s a lot of traffic. Consider that most traffic is porno or Bittorrent; to mark up 1% of data transfer on a low-graphics site is impressive. If Digg got shut down, things would be really, really, messy. And, by messy, I mean potentialy violent. People have been annoyed at the ever-increasing powers of the media industry for long enough that I’m actually not joking.

Perhaps the lawyers representing the companies who developed AACS (including the big evil itself, Disney) will be required to chase this like a dog on a rag. If they do, it’ll be a PR disaster for somebody given that this is now hitting the mainstream press.


April 11, 2007

I just spotted a news article on the BBC regarding a draft blogger’s code of conduct. The main points of the draft are as follows:

1. We take responsibility for our own words and for the comments we allow on our blog.

2. We won’t say anything online that we wouldn’t say in person.

3. We connect privately before we respond publicly.

4. When we believe someone is unfairly attacking another, we take action.

5. We do not allow anonymous comments.

6. We ignore the trolls.

Interesting stuff, isn’t it? A nice, tidy little list of rules. Just what we all need, ain’t it? This is going to turn many heads. Ultimately, however, it will deliver little.

Upon reviewing these rule, it’s clear to me that rule 2 is a subset of rule 1 and is not required. Rule 5 contradicts rule 1 slightly, in that it does not allow us to take responsibility for anonymous comments, so let’s ignore rule 5 for the time being. This leaves us with:

1. We take responsibility for our own words and for the comments we allow on our blog.

3. We connect privately before we respond publicly.

4. When we believe someone is unfairly attacking another, we take action.

6. We ignore the trolls.

Rules 3 and 4 seem intertwined. Rule 4 dictates that we take action when someone is being unfair — for the moment, I’ll adopt the implicit assumption that we have a mechanism for determining fairness. Thus, we must connect (I assume they mean “email,” but they’ve dressed it up in mumbo-jumbo) with the offender, presumably to sort the matter out behind closed doors. Rule 6, however, offers a subtle contradiction — trolls, by design, unfairly attack people. So we must figure out how to detect a troll, and once detected, always remember to never use rule 3 on them.

Of course, these three rules all fall apart. We can never all agree on what is fair and what is not, what should be allowed and what shouldn’t, or what is offensive and what isn’t. As per rule 1, only the blog maintainer can make these decisions, which generally stokes the burning fire from which the unfair attacks in rule 4 originate. So rule 4 cannot be enforced without causing further offense. Without rule 4, rule 3 can never be invoked, and it becomes difficult to figure out what to do with rule 6.

So we’re left with rule 1: “We take responsibility for our own words and for the comments we allow on our blog.” Sure. I can do that.

The anonymity factor I brushed to one side is an interesting one. I do wonder why it was suggested at all, given that people can choose to post under a pseudonym. I shall take this as an aside to briefly explain my motives for blogging anonymously: I use this blog to explore my writing, to explore ideas, and to babble away without it affecting my career. Why? Because I have an astoundingly uncommon name, and everything I touch normally gets fingered by the great Google very quickly. It’s wise for me to not post under my real name. I never intend to offend, though inevitably sometimes I might; I would, however, feel picked on if I were never allowed to comment on other’s blogs anonymously again.

The beauty of the web is that I can be anonymous if I so choose. It’s purposefully decentralised. This decentralisation means that this sort of “initiative” can never totally take hold.

And I quite like it like that.

Carry on.