Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sexting and Punishment...

Every parent's worst nightmare these days involves pictures of their teenage daughters and the internet. While there exists a substantial number of laws designed to protect them, more and more frequently, the problem is the teenagers posting that material online themselves. They are, after all, teenagers.

This act of teens taking naked photos of themselves and sending them to friends via cellphones is called "sexting". The question every parent wants answered is how to prevent it, and the question for judges and law enforcement officials is, increasingly, what is the appropriate punishment?

As this Wall Street Journal article describes, a recent case in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania has brought sexting to the legal forefront. Cellphones with numerous images of naked or "scantily-clad" teenage girls were confiscated at the local high school. The judge had to make a decision between sending them to an "education program" or else have the teens face felony charges of child pornography.

Some legal scholars are arguing that pornography law is designed to protect children from adults, and that a felony conviction is too harsh a measure for protecting children from other children. Others are claiming that if charges are made, they should be limited to kids who actually distribute the photos.

The reason this is a complicated issue is that, of course, on the one hand, the distribution of child pornography, and any other online activities that put children in danger, absolutely cannot be tolerated. That principle is clear as day for any reasonably-minded person. However, on the other hand, when a 17-year-old girl sends her boyfriend a picture of herself dressed in a bathing suit, as actually happened in this case, then does she honestly deserve a felony conviction and to be branded as a sex offender for the rest of her life?

It would be more than fair to suggest that such teenagers need to use a little common sense. Then again, they are teenagers, after all, which by definition means that they can't be counted on to consistently refrain from being idiots. So what's to be done?

Ultimately, the punishment should fit the crime. Judges should be able to use their discretion in each individual case (within certain reasonable limits) in issuing punishments that are proportional to the levity of the crime committed. This should not, in any way, be construed as "soft" on child pornography. Protecting kids is unquestionably the highest priority here. Outraged parents may need to come to grips with the fact that, in sexting cases, it's often their own kids who would be targeted as felons by laws which were actually designed to protect them.
  

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

An Apocalyptic View of the New Prominence of Google Profiles...

Why is it that as good as Google is at listing relevant search results for things, they are equally bad at listing them for people?

I've gone off on this rant before. Basically, I'm paranoid about the fact that my professional livelihood is dependent on whichever websites Google decides to display as results when someone searches for my name. I spend far too much time learning the tricks of "Search Engine Optimization". As a result of my hard-won efforts, if you Google "Rob Domanski", the first three pages of results are all, what I consider to be, professionally acceptable.

However, as Mashable explains, today Google introduced a new feature that makes it so that, when someone searches for your name, it will display your Google Profile at the top of the results. They claim this gives users "more control" over their results by making their social-networking profiles highly prominent and immediately accessible to anybody searching for them.

So why am I so nervous?



Maybe it's because I don't want the entire planet to so easily find my social-networking profiles. Granted, they can be found in the traditional list of results anyway, but is it really necessary to list them first? Personally, when someone Googles my name, I'd rather have them find my professional website or even this blog before they are directed straight to my Facebook page. Under the old system, I've spent the past few years (!) learning how to make that happen. Now, the norm is going to shift from under my feet.

Perhaps I'm overly apocalyptical about all of this. It's true that even once you create your Google Profile you still have to "opt-in" to the enhanced search feature, so nothing will happen without your consent. However, I'm still fearful that in Google's quest to elbow their way into the social-networking market, they are sacrificing what's in the best interests of the individual. And as much as I want to control the search results listed under my name, I nevertheless hesitate to use my personal information and profiles in order to achieve that.

So thanks, Google, but I'll pass.
  

Monday, April 20, 2009

How to Research Social Media...

As a social media analyst, there are a number of constantly evolving challenges associated with how to perform research on the overall impact of Web 2.0 sites on business, politics, and culture.

Take, for example, the following statistics which amplify the rise of social media as a force to be reckoned with, courtesy of Mashable...


  • Facebook has grown from 100 million to 200 million users in less than 8 months. If it were a country, it would be bigger than Brazil.

  • Nielsen Online’s latest research shows that social networking is now more popular than email. According to their study, 66.8% of Internet users have used social networks, while only 65.1% have used email.

  • In March, YouTube (YouTube reviews) reached 100 million monthly viewers in the US. 6.3 billion videos were viewed on the site. According to some calculations, YouTube will serve 75 billion video streams to 375 million unique visitors in 2009.

  • Twitter itself is growing at a crazy rate; although it already has a very large audience, it grew 76.8 percent just from February to March. Its yearly growth rate? 1,382 percent. According to Nielsen, Twitter currently has 7 million unique monthly visitors. If it keeps growing at this rate, it’ll have nearly 100 million visitors same time next year.

  • As far as social news sites go, Digg’s recently launched DiggBar has increased the site’s traffic by 20%, or so they claim. And, according to Compete, Digg is at 36 million uniques and growing fast again, despite a dip in traffic in February. Frequently cited as Digg’s main competitors, Reddit and StumbleUpon (StumbleUpon reviews) are also growing, but they have a long way to go before they come anywhere close to Digg.



For researchers, these numbers serve to illustrate the growing need for accurate data collection in social media. Most website operators track basic information directly related to their site, such as number of page hits, unique visitors, and incoming traffic sources. However, the whole notion of "social" media demands that data also be collected on how much people are talking about and referring to your site on other networks as well.

This is a monstrous challenge that nobody has yet been able to 100% crack. Some helpful ideas include using a Greasemonkey script called the "Social Media Metrics Plugin" - which displays the number of diggs, reddits, del.icio.us bookmarks, and stumbleupons for your pages side-by-side with the classic metrics of page hits and unique visitors on Google Analytics.

Also, another helpful tool is Blippr, which can provide quantitative data regarding the buzz around your site by aggregating qualitative reviews. Likewise, the Twitter search engine can provide one with a sense of how much certain topics or sites are being discussed in cyberspace at any given time.

One of my favorite social media researchers on Twitter is Dan Zarrella, who conducts fascinating experiments on social-networking sites. His blog lists some great tools as well.

What social media research really boils down to is understanding that website traffic is no longer adequate enough of a metric to determine the popularity of a given website or topic. Functionally speaking, we have moved beyond the need to only track website engagement, and instead have to additionally consider tracking wider internet campaigns.

This idea that "campaigns", rather than simply websites, have come to define internet popularity is an essential starting assumption from which more accurate research can then proceed.
  

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Pirate Bay is Found Guilty. Now What?

In one of the most closely followed trials in the internet's history, a Swedish court has delivered its final verdict and found The Pirate Bay guilty of contributing to copyright infringement.

The Pirate Bay is the world's most popular bittorrent tracking website, essentially serving as a search engine for music, movies, and video games that people can download illegally. As Wired explains, the three defendants who ran the website, as well as the one individual who funded it, were sentenced to a year in prison and ordered to pay damages of 30 million kronor ($3.6 million) to several of the large entertainment companies, including Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Bros, EMI and Columbia Pictures, for the infringement of 33 specific movie and music properties tracked by industry investigators.

A couple of observations...

First, the victory for the entertainment industry is mainly just symbolic. They are only recovering 3.6 million dollars (despite claiming to have lost billions due to illegal file sharing), and while the four defendants will be imprisoned for a year, The Pirate Bay website itself is not even shutting down - its index is distributed over a network of servers outside of Sweden. Meanwhile, what's further ironic about this case is that, due to all of the publicity in recent months, the website has become more popular than ever, swelling to over 22 million users. Thus, the court's decision can realistically only be viewed as a symbolic victory at best.

Second, the drama has been marvelously theatrical surrounding what is certainly the most prominent internet issue in the public consciousness. One defendant's emphatic response to the verdict was: "Like a dog!" — the condemned Josef K's final words in Franz Kafka's The Trial. Politicians from Sweden's copyright reform Pirate Party stood on their metaphorical soap-box and asserted that "the verdict is our ticket to the EU Parliament" (The Pirate Party has recently grown 50 percent, while its youth affiliate is now the second largest in Sweden). Also, the Pirate Bay spokesman released an immediate statement on Twitter claiming that "this is just theater for the media".

And the bloggers haven't even had their chance yet to join the fray.

Third, the outcome of this case once again highlights the relative futility of national governments trying to legislate internet issues. In practical terms, finding the Pirate Bay guilty of contributing to copyright infringement won't have even the slightest effect on curbing online piracy. In fact, if the aforementioned numbers are correct, the opposite is more likely the case. And think about this... out of the 1.6 million torrents of material made available on the site, the industry's own lawyers determine that charges relating to only 33 of them might stick (!), and after more than a year of litigating and bringing this case to trial, the entertainment industry finally gets the exact verdict it was hoping for, and yet they still can't even manage to shut down the website for a day (let alone curb people's behavior).

Don't get me wrong, online piracy is a legitimate problem that needs to be addressed. But the only way that any remedies are going to gain real traction is if a new governance framework is created on a supranational scale to deal with such internet issues. Otherwise, this is all mere hyperbole.
  

Thursday, April 16, 2009

CNN and Ashton Kutcher Fight It Out on Twitter...

The race is officially on to become the first Twitter user with one million followers. Prizes are to be won, incentives to followers are to be dished out, and, in a worst case scenario, the primary players still get an awful lot of free publicity.

Basically, it's a PR agent's dream.

TechCrunch describes the events which are currently taking place...

A couple days ago, actor Ashton Kutcher stated his goal to beat CNN to be the first Twitter user with a million followers. He promised to punk CNN founder Ted Turner if the Internet made it happen. Yesterday, CNN anchor Larry King fired back at Kutcher saying that one man couldn’t take down a whole network.

Kutcher was still trailing CNN by tens of thousands of followers, so he upped the ante by offering his one millionth follower the popular game Guitar Hero. A pretty weak offering for a movie star. He later came back with an offer to buy 10,000 bed nets to help fight malaria in third world countries. Nice.


Additionally, Electronic Arts (EA) has announced that if Kutcher wins, they will put his 1 millionth follower in a future EA video game. That's expected to get the Twitter hoards motivated.

But TechCrunch also makes an interesting observation. The CNN Twitter account in question (@cnnbrk) isn't even associated with the CNN news network at all. It was created by a San Francisco-based man named James Cox, and that's why there are no links to CNN web pages in any of his tweets.

But in a fascinating twist, all of this hoopla surrounding the "fake" CNN account has led the "real" CNN to take advantage of all of the publicity. As the Silicon Alley Insider reports, CNN has officially purchased the Twitter account from Cox for an undisclosed sum. Considering that Cox created and nurtured it for two years, and gained more followers than any other Twitter account in existence, that sum ought to be pretty hefty.

Regardless of who wins this fight for a million followers, apparently everyone involved stands to benefit.
  

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Digggate Conspiracy...

There is a major drama unfolding this week that gets to the very heart of what the Web is and what it ought to be.

On April 2nd, the social news website, Digg, launched its new toolbar. The idea behind it was relatively simple and had been done many times before... let people Digg their favorite stories directly from their browser without needing the extra step of to visiting Digg's website. This follows on the footheels of Facebook, StumbleUpon, Twitter, Del.icio.us, and many others who've taken similar actions.

So what's the big deal? Well, the uproar is over the "extra" things the Diggbar does which critics claim go too far. As this RWW article explains, they are upset about 1) the framing of content and 2) the new URL shortener.

Let's break these down one at a time. The framing of content refers to Digg's new practice of placing the contents of someone else's web page in an HTML frame. Take a look at this link to see how Nerfherder pages now magically appear underneath a Digg frame. It might not seem like such a big deal to the average reader of websites, however what it means for content producers is that Digg is now stealing all of that website's traffic and "link juice" (and with it, taking away their advertising revenues and hurting their rankings in search engines).

To put this in perspective, Digg has always relied on external links, but whereas, in the past, someone might discover a Nerfherder link interesting and then visit its website to read the entire article, now people will be able to read the Nerfherder post entirely on Digg without ever needing to leave. Not only does that greatly diminish the traffic this blog receives, but also hurts its humble attempts at generating ad revenue. Furthermore, anytime someone creates a trackback and link to a Nerfherder post, the link is actually made to Digg's framed version of the page. In a world in which Google and the other search engines base their rankings on external links, this has a crippling effect.

The second issue is over the Diggbar's new URL shortener. Other shorteners like TinyURL and Bit.ly have existed for quite some time. However, while those services redirect people back to the original link being abbreviated (often for Tweeting purposes), the Diggbar directs traffic back to Digg.com. "In technical terms, the Diggbar produces a 200 server code instead of a 301 redirect (Danny Sullivan explains the difference here), and," as Michael Arrington writes, "on the surface that just does not seem kosher."

As a result, reactions in cyberspace have been pretty intense against the Diggbar. Comments in the RWW article include one person labeling Digg as "EVIL" and another explains how "framing breaks bookmarking, it breaks copy-and-paste from the location field, it breaks your browser history, it breaks bookmarklets. There’s nothing OK about it."

Additionally, one of the most successful bloggers in existence, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, has started a movement to "Block the Bar", citing a 20% drop in traffic over the past week due to the Diggbar.

One hacktivist, John Gruber at Daring Fireball, is so mad that he has even released this code to block the Diggbar from any site.

At its core, this is an issue that gets at the fundamental question of the Web... What are the limits and reach of copyright in a shared environment? Linking and sharing content has always been encouraged in cyberspace, so has the Diggbar really gone too far? Are the critics right in asserting that Digg is hijacking their web pages? Stealing, even, and then collecting advertising money from someone else's work?

When all is said and done and the furor has passed, this Digggate controversy will help shape the future development of the Web itself. How these questions get answered, and also how they are eventually framed (no pun intended), will prove telling.
  

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Danger of Publicly Shaming People Online...

The internet's greatest challenge these days is figuring out exactly how to tread that fine line between relying on "the wisdom of crowds" for content, yet not encouraging a mob mentality.

Enter Reddit, one of the leaders in user-generated social media in cyberspace. Yesterday, someone posted a link with the following title:

"Reddit - Name and shame this guy - TODD PICQUELLE - rips off a designer's hard work and passes it off as his own - even changes magazine articles to pretend they're about him (see comments)".


Apparently, this web designer, Todd Picquelle, was caught plagiarizing the work of another web designer, Rob Morris. Take a look at the original web page versus the plagiarized version and judge for yourself (if it's unavailable due to heavy traffic, a screenshot can be found here).

It appears pretty obvious that Vicquelle absolutely stole Morris' design down to the very last detail. In fact, the only things he seems to have mustered up the energy to do was photoshop his own head into the existing picture and change his name.

But here's the bigger problem. Read the comments people left on the Reddit page about this story. Vicquelle is cursed at and called names with all sorts of obscenities being hurled at him. Even more disturbing, some folks (many anonymous, of course) even discuss possible physical violence. One user writes how he would "personally like to punch him".

Throughout the rest of the day, what ensued was nothing less than an all-out cyber witch-hunt. Reddit mobs scoured the Web and then "outed" his blogs, websites, LinkedIn profile, and basically any other piece of personally identifiable information related to the guy in an attempt to publicly "shame" and "[warn] potential customers to steer clear of him".

Now, I don't mean to put myself in the position of trying to defend someone whose actions seem so obviously despicable, but what ensued yesterday on Reddit was really quite disturbing. People might perceive the events that unfolded as either 1) a good thing that the Web has a self-enforcing mechanism that fosters accountability and won't allow anyone to do "something as obvious as that and not expect to get noticed or called out on it", or 2) a bad thing that mobs are so quickly and easily able to destroy someone's life and reputation without any sort of due process.

After all, what if - just what if - one of Vicquelle's buddies actually photoshopped the image and posted it to the Web as a type of practical joke?

The bottom line is that destroying someone's reputation and livelihood is an extremely serious matter, and it's completely unacceptable for ordinary individuals to do so without any actual knowledge of the situation other than what gets posted in a 189-character link, and submitted by anonymous users, no less. Meanwhile, it ought to go without saying that threats of violence are, of course, criminal and deserve to draw the ire of law enforcement officials.

If Vicquelle is, in fact, guilty of outright plagiarizing Morris' website, then his actions do indeed warrant strong condemnation, and legal remedies exist to redress the situation. But what this case truly demonstrates is that online mobs are the greater danger. They're the ones creating fear and giving user-generated sites a bad name.

Paradoxically, these mobs are destroying the very credibility of their own venues.
  

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Highest Earning Websites and Blogs...

Ever wonder how much money internet companies actually make? Curious about whether it's possible to really make a living being a blogger?

Well, Michael from Income Diary has compiled the following lists of top-earning websites and blogs. Some of it's rather predictable (like Google earning zillions of dollars), while much more is genuinely surprising (like how far down Facebook is on the list). Also, most of you have probably never even heard of some of these income giants, particularly on the blogging side. And FYI, because I know you're all curious, The Nerfherder unfortunately fell just short of making the cut :-)

Top-Earning Websites:

Rank

Website

Annual Revenue

Per Second

1

Google

$21,800,000,000

$691.27

2

Amazon

$19,166,000,000

$607.75

3

Yahoo

$7,200,000,000

$228.31

4

eBay

$6,290,000,000

$199.45

5

MSN/Live

$3,214,000,000

$101.92

6

PayPal

$2,250,000,000

$71.35

7

iTunes

$1,900,000,000

$60.25

8

Reuters

$1,892,000,000

$59.99

9

Priceline

$1,884,000,000

$59.74

10

Expedia

$1,447,000,000

$45.88

11

NetFlix

$1,200,000,000

$38.05

12

Travelocity

$1,100,000,000

$34.88

13

Zappos

$1,000,000,000

$31.71

14

Hotels.com

$1,000,000,000

$31.71

15

AOL

$968,000,000

$30.70

16

Orbitz

$870,000,000

$27.59

17

Overstock

$834,000,000

$26.45

18

MySpace

$800,000,000

$25.37

19

Skype

$550,841,000

$17.47

20

Sohu

$429,000,000

$13.60

21

Buy.com

$400,000,000

$12.68

22

StubHub

$400,000,000

$12.68

23

Alibaba

$316,000,000

$10.02

24

Facebook

$300,000,000

$9.51

25

YouTube

$300,000,000

$9.51

26

Blue Nile

$295,000,000

$9.35

27

Tripadvisor

$260,000,000

$8.24

28

Getty Images

$233,200,000

$7.39

29

Bidz

$207,000,000

$6.56

30

NYTimes

$175,000,000

$5.55



Top-Earning Blogs:

Rank

Website

Monthly Earnings

Main Income

1

Techcrunch

$200,000

Advertising Banners

2

Mashable

$180,000

Advertising Banners

3

Perez Hilton

$140,000

Advertising Banners

4

Gothamist

$80,000

Pay Per Click

5

Timothy Sykes

$80,000

Affiliate Sales

6

Venture Beat

$62,000

Pay Per Click

7

Life Hacker

$60,000

Advertising Banners

8

Tuts Plus

$55,000

Advertising Banners

9

Smashing Magazine

$50,000

Advertising Banners

10

Steve Pavlina

$45,000

Pay Per Click

11

TPM

$45,000

Pay Per Click

12

Car Advice

$42,000

Advertising Banners

13

JohnChow

$35,000

Affiliate Sales

14

Kotaku

$32,000

Advertising Banners

15

Coolest Gadgets

$30,000

Advertising Banners

16

Problogger

$25,000

Advertising Banners

17

Joystiq

$18,000

CPM Advertising

18

PC Mech

$16,000

Affiliate Sales

19

Shoemoney

$12,000

Private Advertising

20

Informasi Dan Tips

$9,500

Pay Per Click

21

Sizlopedia

$9,000

Pay Per Click

22

Retire at 21

$5,000

Affiliate Sales

23

Noupe

$4,930

Advertising Banners

24

Uber Affiliate

$4,500

Second Tear Affiliates

25

Abduzeedo

$3,920

Advertising Banners

26

Click For Nick

$3,900

Pay Per Click

27

Tyler Cruz

$3,200

Advertising Banners

28

Just Creative Design

$3,000

Services

29

Sizzled Core

$3,000

Pay Per Click

30

Filmonic

$2,200

CPM Advertising