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Public notebook

Here come the MetaSocNets?

Image: Er, All your media in one place (an excuse to include a pic of Babel, by Cildo Meireles)
Image: Er, All your media in one place (an excuse to include a pic of Babel, by Cildo Meireles)

Yep, you heard that right: 2009 could be a year of MetaSocNets. That is to say meta-social networks, services that give you access to all of your social networks in one place, a bit like the way that Adium will give you access to all of your IM accounts in one package.

And it could be a very good thing indeed. Although not if Facebook has anything to do with it, seeing as it has started the year with a law suit against Power.com.

Users of Power.com can stil access Hi5, Orkut, MySpace, YouTube, MSN and other social networks, but no longer Facebook.

It seems a bit mean, given that Facebook Connect is all about letting you access other web sites and serivces while remaining within the comfortable grip of your Facebook log-in…

That’s hard cheese for Power.com but as Alan Patrick at Broadstuff observes, this could well just be the beginning:

I await with interest the surfeit of MetaSocNets that will now predictably emerge in 2009, but without making Power.com’s main error of having an office in the US – fighting the lawsuit in their native Brazil would have been far more entertaining.

Now, I’m no Facebook hater. I like that Facebook is there giving so many people their first taste of the power of the social web, spreading the seeds of social media literacy, as it were.

The fact that so many of my friends and family use it have also prompted me to make an almost-resolution to use it more this year. Social media snobbery aside, it’s the best thing online for doing that because that’s where those people are.

But open, as we know, beats closed

Good luck, then, to the rising tide of MetaSocNets, the FriendFeeds, the aggregators and the filters… we need things to make things simpler and to provide easy exits (and entries) into platforms like Facebook. The more bits of the social web work as walled gardens, the more potential good things with wither and fade away.

Categories
Public notebook

Google’s world supreme court of free speech

 

Can the web remain as free as speaker's corner (From Flickrstorm - credits at end)
Can the web remain as free as speaker's corner?

 

For the timebeing, Google acts as a supreme court in a world of “sovereign users” clashing with ever increasing frequency with nation states that would prefer to have the last word on free speech. 

Google acts like a benign dictator of the world’s data, which makes it important that we keep an eye on how it behaves and who is in charge of the decisions about what can and can’t be accessed via the company’s search engine and YouTube services. 

An article in the New York Times (free registration may be needed – can never work out the NYT’s crazy system) takes a close look at the Google legal team and some of the legal struggles they have been involved in around the world. These cases and how The Goog handles itself give us a sense of how it is operating within the various codes of behaviour, mainly informal, that have emerged. 

As the piece’s author, Jeffrey Rosen, a law profesor at George Washington University says: 

Voluntary self-regulation means that, for the foreseeable future, Wong and her colleagues will continue to exercise extraordinary power over global speech online. Which raises a perennial but increasingly urgent question: Can we trust a corporation to be good — even a corporation whose informal motto is “Don’t be evil”?

Governments of various repressive shades are testing Google all the time. While we’re all aware of the restrictions in China, and of the Thai and Turkish governements effectively ransom the company’s access to their citizens (and vice versa) in return for Google blocking access to certain materials, most often YouTube videos. And other attempts to clamp down on content and conversations are surprisingly common: 

Over the past couple of years, Google and its various applications have been blocked, to different degrees, by 24 countries. Blogger is blocked in Pakistan, for example, and Orkut in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, governments are increasingly pressuring telecom companies likeComcast and Verizon to block controversial speech at the network level. Europe and the U.S. recently agreed to require Internet service providers to identify and block child pornography, and in Europe there are growing demands for network-wide blocking of terrorist-incitement videos. As a result, Wong and her colleagues said they worried that Google’s ability to make case-by-case decisions about what links and videos are accessible through Google’s sites may be slowly circumvented, as countries are requiring the companies that give us access to the Internet to build top-down censorship into the network pipes.

A speaker's corner speaker
Defend his right to speak online (Image: Tom T)

 

Google operates a “decider model” for what plays and doesn’t on YouTube, for instance. Basically decisions get escalated depending on their complexity. A further concern for us all, Rosenberg points out, is that this system isn’t very scalable at a time in the development of the web where video and indeed all forms of content are, well, scaling pretty rapidly…  

I trust Google – for now. But it’s important that we keep watching. Last word to Rosen and Lawrence Lessig: 

“During the heyday of Microsoft, people feared that the owners of the operating systems could leverage their monopolies to protect their own products against competitors,” says the Internet scholar Lawrence Lessig of Stanford Law School. “That dynamic is tiny compared to what people fear about Google. They have enormous control over a platform of all the world’s data, and everything they do is designed to improve their control of the underlying data. If your whole game is to increase market share, it’s hard to do good, and to gather data in ways that don’t raise privacy concerns or that might help repressive governments to block controversial content.”

I note that Rosen is also the author of a book about the US supreme court. For the timebeing, Google acts as a supreme court in a world of “sovereign users” clashing with ever increasing frequency with nation states that would prefer to have the last word on free speech. 

Photo montage credit: Wallulah Junction, Snappy Bex, Wittekind, Quinnum, Tom T, C’est moi!.