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First, a disclaimer: I do not know nearly enough about (1) economics, particularly as applied to telecommunications markets, or (2) how the Internet works, or, put more festively, “the architecture of the Internet.” Please take my comment with a healthy grain of salt.

On the one hand, this seems very problematic. The Internet functions essentially by sending discrete packets of information anonymously over a decentralized “web” of local networks. If I’m not mistaken, Time Warner’s suggestion would seem to disrupt this model. I’ll steal an analogy I heard when NPR covered this story the other day– this seems no different than a cable company trying to refigure your bill to reflect how much TV you watch. And this seems somewhat absurd to most people.

On the other hand, isn’t this just a free market in action? And aren’t we, in fact, gaining greater efficiency by allowing people to more accurately absorb the costs of their actions, rather than displacing them across a larger population? One way of looking at this might be through a “Tragedy of the Commons” lens. Isn’t privatization the best route for us?

OK, so there’s both poles, at least as I see them. I’d love to have someone help me tidy this up a bit. Any techies and/or economists who can set me straight?

Daniel Corbett

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Take a look at this article from the AP via Wired Mag.  Any strong opinions one way or another on the next step away from net neutrality?

On the heels of Universal’s threat to sue YouTube for copyright infringement, Warner Music has taken up a different strategy in dealing with the burgeoning media outlet (and, notably, my current number one method of procrastination). Warner recently struck a deal with YouTube, opening its library in exchange for a share of advertising revenues.

Interestingly, the relationship between Warner and YouTube began with the creation of a “branded channel” on YouTube designed to promote Paris Hilton’s first musical endeavor. It pains me to say it, but something good has finally come (very indirectly) from Paris Hilton and her bulldozer press agentry.

Daniel Corbett 

    By the time waters had receded in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina had wrought twin disasters. One was the obvious flesh and blood tragedy– thousands of human lives were lost in the disaster. The other disaster was for FEMA, for Bush, and for all the civil servants whose bungling in the face of devastation was a sharp blow to their credibility.

    One lesson we can take away is this: "Ordinary people can solve communication problems much quicker than clueless government officials when catastrophes like hurricane Katrina strike." So says Steven Berlin Johnson, in an article for Discover magazine. Why is this the case? The simple answer: as technology continues to grow, there is more and more intelligence in mobs.

    When Katrina struck, panicked survivors went to sites like Craigslist, Yahoo!, and the Red Cross website. But the information on these sites– by virtue of the sheer number of people affected– was too much to sift through. Survivors were lost in what is often termed "data smog." How would they find their way through all this?

    The answer did not come in the form of a systemic plan, be it state or private sector. It came, instead, through the diffuse actions of thousands of tech-savvy volunteers. In response to the tragedy, David Geilhufe and his small team formed the PeopleFinder Interchange Format– "a service that gathered information from all over the Web through something called "screen scraping," an automated process that involves grabbing the relevant information for each person—name, location, age, and description—and depositing it in a single database." The team's efforts were picked up by a few prominent bloggers, who spread the word. Almost overnight, Geilhufe's team had expanded to a decentralized army of thousands, all helping survivors connect and communicate.

    Johnson notes that only through spontaneous order could such a sucessful task be executed:

"PeopleFinder was the kind of data-management effort that could have taken a year to execute at great expense if a corporation or a government agency had been in charge of it. The PeopleFinder group managed to pull it off in four days for zero dollars."

Daniel Corbett

    The new X-Men? Disappointing? How can it be? In any case, I hope my answer is at least somewhat fulfilling. First, I have to echo my support for your unflinching stand on free speech in cyberspace. The Electronic Frontier Foundation out of San Francisco has been the vanguard of the "bloggers' rights" movement. Why should, within reason, companies rein in what their employees say and do in their private lives?

    But it's this "within reason" caveat– painful but necessary– that comes around to haunt our theoretical defense of Internet free speech. Nondisclosure agreements are the lifeblood of many companies, especially in an idea-based economy. But where do we draw the line? Is blogging publishing, per se? What, exactly, is a "trade secret?"

    These are thorny questions, to be sure. And I can't provide clear answers to them because so much (of life and of law) is contextual. In response to your idea that a Cleveland desk jockey has little in common with the radical, the cafe owner, and the stablehand– I agree partially. You're right that these disparate people have little in common; and even though they can connect via the Web, it doesn't mean they will. This view has dominated some arguments about whether blogging is "publishing" in a meaningful sense. Like many debates before it, however, technology has drastically changed the terms of the debate. Through aggregators and blog-specific search engines, more people are accessing more blogs than ever before. And they don't need to know where to look– just what they're looking for.

    There's a lot I can and will blog about in law school this fall. It's practically expected of me. But I would dare say there are some things about your job that you may not be allowed to share on this blog. Call it a cop-out, but I think the answer here is balance– a case-by-case approach that reconciles the privacy, property, and free speech rights of employer and employee.

Daniel Corbett

      For some it's cause for alarm: the public tarnishment of a corporate image. But for some it's simply the digital water cooler: the free speech of employees in a connected world. Like it or not, workers everywhere are taking to the Web and taking their work experiences with them. From the New York Times:

"Most experienced employees know: Thou Shalt Not Blab About the Company's Internal Business. But the line between what is public and what is private is increasingly fuzzy for young people comfortable with broadcasting nearly every aspect of their lives on the Web, posting pictures of their grandmother at graduation next to one of them eating whipped cream off a woman's belly. For them, shifting from a like-minded audience of peers to an intergenerational, hierarchical workplace can be jarring." 

      This raises an interesting dilemma for as the Internet Generation descends on the working world. More and more, employees are getting the boot for blogging about their company's propietary information. It may be malicous. It may be cathartic. It may (at least to the bloggers and their readerships) be quite funny. But the fact remains, for better or worse, we are increasingly interconnected. And when a boss does a Google search for his or her company, and an employee diatribe comes up– it's not a pretty picture.

      Or is it?

      For many, getting fired for blogging is the best thing that could happen to them. For Kelly Kreth, a marketing director in New York, who lost her job for blogging about employees, she couldn't have made a better career move: "It led to me opening my own business and making triple what I was making before." A writer who was canned for writing about his job at Comedy Central is converting his experience into a book. And workplace tell-alls like "The Devil Wears Prada" and "The Nanny Diaries" are slated to hit the big screen this summer. It seems that behind this cloud, a market is emerging.

      But what will be the social effect of these events? Will companies, seeing green, find a way to make blogging work for them? (Remember Wal-Mart had a mini-scandal involving information it provided Wal-Mart-friendly bloggers.) One thing is for sure; however, companies are going to take notice of blogging. Right now, only 8 percent of HR executives in a survey said their companies had policies about blogging. Given the controversy it is generating, I think we're bound to see some fences put around the digital water cooler.

Daniel Corbett   

    "If the Internet was once ungoverned by etiquette, those days are gone; MySpace and its siblings, by many accounts the future of the Net, are rife with discussions of good manners versus unforgivable faux pas,"writes Steven Barrie-Anthony for the Los Angeles Times.

    The freedom is indeed vanishing. Now the Net is a place where serious questions are hashed out: relationship statuses, rules of syntax, and now– thanks to MySpace– the hierarchy of friendship. You heard it right, a new feature on MySpace allows users to rank their "Top 8," a list that can include friends, family members, significant others, as well as favorite films and bands. And, as is often the case when "real" meets virtual, things get messy. The article details spats between spouses, co-workers, and long-time friends that have emerged on social networks.

    I am nothing short of a technophile (if not personally, then at least theoretically). I honestly believe, contrary to naysayers' arguments, that new technologies have the power to bring people closer together, and make us more human, not less human. But what does it mean when we have 78 million on MySpace already (and, on average, 270,000 joining every day)? Does the "opt-out" argument still apply? Can technology facilitate the feared tyranny of the majority? (I know I have made no empirical claims, but I'm just throwing out some big questions for you.) So, technophiles and Luddites alike, where do we go from here?

    I leave you with the MySpace experience of Michael Block, a search engine marketer from L.A., who received the following indecipherable message from "an unknown 15-year-old in Florida": "y u want people 2 look at u 4. u thinken that u looken sweet 4 da females."

    Wow.

    I admit I am young, but from what I've read, Internet discussion used to look a little more like this.

Daniel Corbett

Everyone's been there. You're sitting quietly, taking in a movie when the person behind you picks up his cell phone and makes hushed conversation during the middle of the film (how polite!). Wouldn't it be great if we could just shut off all these idiots' phones? This is a plan of action many theatre owners are now considering. But as it stands, the FCC prohibits theatres from doing this. And in many people's opinion, rightfully so. Letting theatres jam wireless signals could threaten the freedom and safety of wireless customers, effectively shutting them off from the outside world when the step into the neighborhood megaplex.

 

Jesse Walker of Reason makes the case for markets solving this debate. He aruges that theatre owners will have a disincentive to jam signals. This may be the case, but the threat goes beyond issues of consumer freedom. Here we have the private property rights of theatre owners butting up against the private property rights of wireless providers like Cingular, Verizon, and the like. Allowing theatre owners to jam wireless networks would benothing short of theft from wireless networks who rightfully own their piece of the spectrum.

Daniel Corbett

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