Monday, January 23, 2012

Pardon my Politics: My Opposistion on SOPA/PIPA

There's already much being said in opposition that I agree with in terms of stifling Free Speech and Innovation. The Electronic Frontier Foundation explains those issues here; in regards to particular provisions of the bills.

However, my opposition (read: point of view) took shape after reading a set of articles; both of which involved author and publisher Tim O'Reilly. The first one was an interview with O'Reilly, done by GigaOM's Colleen Taylor, where Tim explains his stance on SOPA. With his experience in publishing and technology, I was intrigued by the points he made. For example, Tim talks about how piracy isn't the real issue:

"The way I see it, there’s a lack of need for any legislation at all. As a publisher, I have a very deep experience here, and the fact is that piracy is not a significant problem. Yes, there are people who are pirating my books, there are people who are sharing links to places where they can be downloaded. But the vast majority of customers are willing to pay if the product is widely available and the price is fair. If you have a relationship with your customers, and they know you’re doing the right thing, they will support you."

With this, I made a connection to my experience with my Amazon Kindle and the books I purchased for it. I was quite pleased to find Douglas Adams books, Last Chance to See and The Deeper Meaning of Liff, available for the device. This was because they were mentioned in Don't Panic (Neil Gaiman's biography of Douglas) and were also listed in The Salmon of Doubt (a collection of Douglas's works and his points of view), but were unavailable in my local bookstores. Overall, the concept of availability and fair price* in the web market is important to me since I can find books from authors like Douglas Adams and others that I would be unable to find otherwise.

The other piece comes straight from Tim O'Reilly himself, where he also talks about the history of piracy, in terms of content, and why SOPA/PIPA are bad for the content industry business. He explains:

"Policies designed to protect industry players who are unwilling or unable to address unmet market needs are always bad policies. They retard the growth of new business models, and prop up inefficient companies. But in the end, they don't even help the companies they try to protect. Because those companies are trying to preserve old business models and pricing power rather than trying to reach new customers, they ultimately cede the market not to pirates but to legitimate players who have more fully embraced the new opportunity. We've already seen this story play out in the success of Apple and Amazon."

Both articles lead me to develop my opposition to SOPA and PIPA not just further, but on a personal level. As mentioned time and time again, I am a writer and someday, I would like to share my stories to a wider audience. I understand that there are writers who write for a living and may be more concerned than I am if their content is not paid for. However, I would rather not go down that route and concentrate on getting towards my goal of being a teacher, with writing on the side. With recent experience, I find it worse to have somebody take a work in progress and convert it to something else out of my control. If someday I finish a series of short stories, a novel, or something writing-related, and have it self-published through a service like Lulu, likely under a Creative Commons License, I would not be too worried about people sharing my work without paying for it. The reason for this is simple: Those works are finished! I can then go on knowing that people are sharing the work because they enjoyed reading it; anything else they do with it is out of my hands.

While the same situation can still exist where one reader takes the finished product and recreates something else from it, I would still worry less. This would depend on what type of Creative Commons License is used, and other factors as well. Still, if I finished the work, then that's the biggest achievement and the reward won't focus on profit as it will on satisfaction of a job well done. The market and how we share is changing due to the internet and developing technologies and, as O'Reilly mentions, markets need to adjust to the web in order to curb the piracy issue (on content) down. Also, the concept of content creation, in both culture and journalism for example, now applies to us: the Joe Schmo's of society. This is where the argument becomes complex on a massive scale**, but the same point remains: Things are changing with advancing web and other technologies.

*This point can be argued due to some publishers as pointed out by Dan Gillmor.
**I find that websites, such as Dan Gillmor's Mediactive (also a book), and following people like Cory Doctorow, Jeff Jarvis, Dan Gillmor (as mentioned), and others help to simplify the concept.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Google+: My Current Take

For the Record: Before I begin discussing my views on Google+, I am not going to discuss the new Search Plus Your World feature, which was recently introduced and the issues surrounding the feature. This is because unlike many of my uses of Google (Reader, Gmail, G+, Blogger, and YouTube*), I let DuckDuckGo handle most of my searches and only using Google search specifically for local searches. Otherwise, this is my assessment of Google+ within the past 7 months. 

I'd also like to thank my cousin for first sending me the invite to the network in July. Without him, this assessment couldn't have been possible.

The first social network I joined was Facebook; coming out of high school in 2009. Essentially many of my high school classmates and friends were on the website, alongside many members of my family. Initially I used Facebook as a means of just keeping in touch with the mentioned groups. However, I also began to use the social network as a means of sharing links and points of view, which of course changed over time.

The problems I had with Facebook developed overtime rather than on the spot, but I was their product on a free social network. Most of these issues could be considered nitpicking, but I personally feel that some of those nitpicks are important. The most important issue that has developed over my time on Facebook was the decreasing font size, which has been followed up by an increase in the number of characters allowed. I mentioned my views on the both issues in a Google+ conversation where I made the case that the font size should increase (on FB) due to the increasing user base that the network has in terms of people.

And this was where I started to like Google+ since the font size for posts was larger and more readable than it currently is on Facebook**. Even if the post happens to be large, if the paragraphs are spaced evenly then the post is still easily readable; like this post from Jeff Jarvis (also cross-posted on his own blog).

Also, the concept of circles, where I can sort friends, family members, and others, gives me a way to selectively share public and private notable events; depending on how I define those events. Also the concept of public posts allows me to share links and my opinions to a much wider audience than Facebook, which I mostly use for closed, local communications. The circles also apply to Google+'s Brand Pages, which I believe will wipe much of my Facebook 'likes' off the list. This is because of the fact that I can control what parts of my profile are viewable to the public and certain circles, unlike the Facebook 'likes'.

Also, one of the other aspects of Google+ which I like is the use of hashtags; which are usually recognized on Twitter. The use of hashtags on the services, serves more or less the same purpose of finding related items regarding a certain topic. I personally use the hashtags to denote political items that I share, as in #pardonmypolitics and I also save particular hashtag searches to see what other people say on the hashtag (or topic). Regardless of the 'This Ain't Twitter' arguments I hear on Facebook from time to time, I feel that the hashtag is becoming a permanent part of social media as a use of spreading topics, political movements, a variety of events, and much more. Citing Mr. Jarvis once again, here's his take on the hashtag, which I believe helps further explain the term and concept of the hashtag.

Of course, Google+ isn't without it's own issues, which may vary among it's users and those reading on the network. My main issue is the use of 'real names'*** to promote civil conversation. When I started my Google Account back in late 2008, I used a pen name: Harold House. It was only near graduation when I changed it to my real name since Gmail would be my main e-mail account for communications and many close friends and family would wonder: "Who is Harold House?".

The whole debate around pseudonyms vs. 'real names' is highly complex, but I've found some interesting pieces on the topic. Comment System and Website, Disqus, did some research on users of their comment system and found that those with pseudonyms provided the highest quality and quantity of comments. Another piece, a CBC Spark program, talks about the need of pseudonymity, but also has an argument about the use of 'real names'. However, I believe the use of 'real names' and pseudonyms does not contribute to the quality of comments since it is possible that the 'real name' person can be just as rude as some with pseudonyms. 

Otherwise, Google+ is a brilliant social network in terms of readability, the concept of circles, hashtags, and other aspects. I wish the team their best and look forward to what they do in 2012, along with my own experiences.

*No channel, just using Google's integration to view videos to subscribed channels.

**The Facebook Timeline solves this font problem somewhat, but has issues of it's own; especially when looking back at much older posts.

***I am aware of the news about the admission of pseudonyms by the Google+ team. I've seen this recently with the blogger, Documentally; who I follow on Google+. However, I'm uncertain if it's now in full effect.