Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Privacy, You, Social Networking, and Little Brother

I am not often driven to words here. This is my first real post in months. This is the medium of such luminaries (and my favorites on the web and in print) Cory Doctorow , Neil Gaiman, and John Scalzi to name my three favorites. I am no competitor to them to say the least and feel that it would take more hours than I have to become good enough to not be embarrassed by my efforts held up in comparison to theirs . But on this occasion I am impelled to add my voice.

They are all influential people on the internet, in print, and in social media.
@doctorow, @neilhimself, and @scalzi are all on twitter. It is how I learned more about all of them. If it was their goal to use twitter and other "social networking" tools as marketing tools (even if only partially as motivation), I view it as a success. It is completely clear to me that they "get it" and enjoy the banter on twitter.

From Scalzi: "
Deleting e-mails from strangers asking for Google Wave invites."

From Doctorow: "
Cydwoqs may be the coolest men's shoes on the planet, e.g., http://tinyurl.com/y9mc4vy http://tinyurl.com/yewpc6m"

and lastly from Gaiman in response to a tweet sent to him by "jolieminkbikini":

From Gaiman: "
@jolieminkbikini I know. @amandapalmer always tells me to travel with snacks. And I should."

It is clear, after looking for a single day, they enjoy it. They enjoy the give and take with their fans/followers in this nearly safe environment. You get trolls but with a single click you can block them, report them as abuser, and twitter.com has NO MERCY. It works.

Witness the recent launch of Imogen Heap's new album
Ellipse (which she twittered about for months as @imogenheap and allowed her followers to actively participate in the making of Ellipse). It was brilliant, cost her a few dollars, and a few hours a week. It was much better than touring through small clubs and exhausting herself. She managed to build a house, have a life, AND do the album. She agonized over every detail, but with the support of her 1,000,000+ followers. And she follows us as well, not all do. Stephen Fry does as well. Heap's Ellipse enjoyed a #5 opening on the billboard charts. Her record label did VERY little advertisement and after the fact, helped her get a spot on the Letterman Show (too bad it was before his big announcement, his ratings are through the roof).

This leads one immediately to speculation and hopes. It would be a great day indeed if these great artists can market themselves effectively with their small efficient staffs (all of these artists are showing us the way) and at the same time, deliver their offerings to us directly without the need for what is surely seen by all of them as inefficient intermediary dinosaurs. I think all of them are beginning to push the technology. Heap has allowed us to see all of her tunes without a single mention of paying to get a listen. Yet she debuts at #5 on billboard and is selling well still.

Doctorow gives away his book under an "open license". He still sells books, does tours, has a day job informing us about our web world. He is one of the most influential writers on the web. He does other neat things for activist supporters who believe his writing is important. He allows us to donate copies of his works, fiction and nonfiction, to the causes we support.

Gaiman does speaking tours everywhere and in spite of the fact that he
gives away readings from his tours and promotions, his books sell like hotcakes. He wins big awards, and is beloved by his fans. He has shared his budding relationship with Amanda Palmer on twitter.

I could go on and I have started this line of argument before. The need has grown to the point that a serious effort is required to provide the new user an entry level introduction to all of this social networking and how to use it to meet your needs (and how you can allowed to invent new ways to use it).

For now, it is very important to understand that while the available tools are very exciting we must be aware of the potential loss of privacy these tools and others in our online lives subject us to. Remember the old time worn adage: "Just because you are paranoid does not mean no one is out to get you". Never has that been more true. Not all of the reasons are nefarious. Many are an attempt to provide you the end user with services tailored to your particular desires and to guess your needs. That can be good for you. It is certainly good for those who are gathering the data. So while not necessarily evil, they certainly have the potential for becoming so.

Recently I read Doctorow's novel
Little Brother. I love books. I read hundreds of them a year, some not completely before I have from them what I need (technical books for my job), some non-fiction, but most by far are novels. I love the well turned phrase and the mental imagery the talented have. Doctorow has an abundance of ability and it has grown over time. His writing on the internet are well known and many rate him in their top ten list of most important writers on the internet. I could care less about ratings. What I care about is that his impact on my thinking has been profound. Nothing he has done has had more impact that this novel.

The plot line is simple. San Francisco, the town where our protagonist Marcus lives is attacked by terrorists. Ostensibly it is the omnipresent Al Qaeda. Yet it quickly evolves into a damning look at the typical overreaction by security organization and politicians. We had the terrorists a victory when we decide that the freedoms upon which we have joined the US American democratic experiment (with a little d).

I URGE all people to read this book.

Then you should go and look at the damage being done by Music, Movie, and e-book industries to your freedoms and right to due process in the US and around the world. The last trade agreement gave us the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and just stay tuned for much worse. You are about to get much much worse. In the trade agreements being supported by the Obama adminstration right now, you can forget due process. Three ACCUSATIONS of copyright infringement is all that is needed to have you banned from connecting to the "web" for an indefinite period. Just like confiscation of property without a trial, you can now sacrifice your right to access the modern world with a trial, without hearing the evidence, with seeing your accuser. Recently, the British government tried to pass laws "in the middle of the night" until the same Cory Doctorow who wrote Little Brother, raised hell in Boing Boing. The Obama administrations trade negotiator is in the same meetings that led to this law being proposed in Britain.

We CANNOT allow sacrifice of basic rights to guarantee security, to protect artists and studio and publisher rights.

Stay tuned. I have more rants to follow.

Please join EFF. This is not an organization of trouble making rabble rousing goofs. They are a group that is determined to stand in the way of this assault on YOUR freedom. They are refuse to listen to the argument (specious at best) that goes something like "I have nothing to hide and those who do, should beware". Just try this on for size when you areFALSELY ACCUSED and have no due process to protect you from the assault by the mighty.