Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Geek Wednesday: Coming this Fall—Google Legal

Here's some advice for any young law students who may happen to pass by the blog: Web 2.0 Law is your ticket to prosperity and popularity. Just learn a little of the tech and most of the terminology: wikis, blogs, social networking, vlogs, podcasts, discussion forums, auction/shopping sites, IM, online video and TV. As of today, there's $1B at stake in the Google vs. Viacom faceoff—think those lawyers on either side aren't making a few bucks?

Meanwhile, Wikipedia's in trouble again, this time over a lying "professor" who falsified his credentials (now that guy's got a future in the Bush administration). And guess who else is getting into the Web 2.0 legal game? None other than our favorite literary witch, J.K. Rowling. She's after eBay for allowing crooks to hawk bogus Harry Potter merch over their site. eBay says it has no control over what people do on a free site, and it's impossible to monitor the legality of every sale. Sounds to me like the classic old alibi, viz. "I couldn't have known my cat would eat your parrot." Or more recently, the Gonzales defense: "Don't look at me, I'm just the boss—how am I supposed to know what my people are doing?"

We've been saying for a long time that fresh trends in geekery are going to help transform societies all over the world, and that's likely to come with some growing pains. The Web 2.0 legal storms are showing us some of the pain; the steady burgeoning of Linux also brings both excitement and challenge. This week, the French Parliament has joined a growing number of governments and organizations that are moving to Ubuntu Linux as their computing platform of choice. I hear Bill Gates will be countering with his own "Freedom OS" movement, with the endorsement of Bill O'Reilly. Poor old Bill and his $56B net worth: the man has never known competition, and now he's getting it up the ass and down the throat. We feel your pain, Bill.

From MS-bashing to Apple-mashing: if you were checking our links on Monday, you noticed a story about Nike continuing its decadent labor practices. This is why we have been critical of the iPod-Nike alliance from day one, and why you won't find any iPod ads in the sidebar. They're overpriced drives with a rather spotty record for endurance*; they're sold and marketed to promote a monopoly in their niche; and they are stained with the sweat of thousands of oppressed and underpaid workers from around the world. The Macintosh computer is a marvelous machine, and OS X is the most intuitive and reliable commercial OS in existence**; but Apple has gone down a corrupt path with the iPod.

Netflix, Inc.

While I've got my lather up, perhaps I should mention that I've been checking out some of the big social networking sites. You have to begin with MySpace, and wow, was I surprised to find out that the likes of Amber, Jessica, Stephanie, and Emma all wanted to be my friend! They all linked me to an amateur porn site, though the models in there looked pretty professional to me.

Porn—and porn is what you get at MySpace—is really fascinating for its history on the web. Porn sites have been the source of some of the truly pioneering developments in web tech and server-side sophistication. Online porn videos were a reality years before YouTube or Google Video were a twinkle in their creators' eyes; porn brought us many of the techniques now used by email marketers, spammers, and corporate advertisers; and porn was doing online fiction, proto-blogs, and discussion forums way before anyone was talking about Web 2.0. Meanwhile, their use of robust, high-capacity bandwidth servers and their optimization of complex code has always pushed the envelope of web innovation; so it's no surprise that many of the MySpace-type portals and online dating services have followed porn's lead, adopted many of its technical practices, and like MySpace, even joined forces with its leading edges.

Yep: I agree—it's offensive, often repulsive, demeaning (and dangerous) to women, and frankly, it's not much of a turn-on, really. But porn, like online gambling, is a driving force in technology, as well as being a powerful lobbying force in Washington. If you're a Congressman or a member of the press corps at the White House or Capitol Hill, and you're looking for a good time, the porn industry is there to help. And if you're a really good javascript/HTML/CSS developer looking for work, the porn sites and online casinos can pay you top dollar—even in excess of what the big corporations could pay you.

Anyway, MySpace is at the top of my list of prohibited sites as far as my daughter's concerned. Fortunately, I don't have to sweat this point too heavily: she's seen it, and says it's "really lame." And I agree. So far, once you discount the porn links, Tom's still my only friend at myspace.

Are there any good social networking sites out there? Sure there are: Friendster, where I also have an account, is still very good; though it too is opening the door a crack to the money and allure of the cultish fetishes that pervade our culture. Today on my F-ster home page, I found a Flash ad for "Brittney at Her Worst".

And if you're not looking to get laid but would rather make professional connections and form some more substantive online relationships, go over to LinkedIn, and you'll be glad you did.

One other social networking site that you might not think of as one for starters is Amazon. Shop around, post some reviews, make some connections with like-minded people, and you'll see the networking potential at amazon.

Another terrific social networking site is the Firefox extension we've highlighted here at the blog, StumbleUpon. This is a simple idea of providing users highly-rated sites within certain self-selected categories, which developed into a thriving worldwide community. This is the open source society at its online best, in my opinion: there are discussion forums that contain some lively and actually meaningful discussion; groups that bring people of common interests together; and some outstanding favorites pages, put together by ordinary web users like me and you. When I go to SU, I sometime spend an hour or more there; it's just that good. It's why we have an SU link in the footer to every post here: if you like what you've found at Daily rEv, you can click the SU link, rate the site, and let others benefit from what you've found here.

Finally today, a request to our loyal readers: if you're a technophile who's looking for some cool new gear, try shopping at some of the links we have in the sidebar. Toshiba's got some kickass Wintel laptops; Apple still makes the best computers out there; Wolfgang's Vault is a marvelous site for music lovers; and Network Magic really works (I've tried it—more on that next week). Just go through the sidebar, click some links, and shop—you'll get some great stuff, and you'll be helping our blog pay its bills and pour out new content and fresh geekery.

*Data on iPod failures are not very scientific; the survey results cited are from a popular Mac news blog that surveyed iPod users rather than examining actual products. Other reports are generally anecdotal. So the principal focus of my objection to the iPod is the Nike/abusive labor practices alliance that Apple formed with the sneaker/iPod product, and Apple's MS-like aggression in pursuing a near-monopoly.

**That said, Apple's Mac OS X is amazingly efficient. Today, the latest and probably the last update of 10.4 Tiger, 10.4.9 was released to users, and I upgraded in minutes without a hitch. The update, over 160MB, includes security fixes based mostly on the MOAB findings from January, along with performance enhancements and an upgrade to iPhoto.

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