Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Is Google losing its edge in Japan?

When we think of search engines, Google immediately pops into our mind. However, will it always stay that way? A Japanese blogger notes how search engines used to include search options by date and by nation until Google began the trend of discluding them. While this simplified searching, it is inconvenient for economic news. Furthermore, another Google user notes that the same set of words searched in Japanese Google and English Google bring completely different results. English words searched in Japanese Google often come up with unhelpful and obscure results from Japanese servers, he notes.

Recently, Baidu, the third most used search engine in the world with 5% of world shares and 70% of Chinese, started its Japanese search engine. Robin Li, the CEO of Baidu announced that it would be channeling an image of “entertainment” rather than trying to compete directly with Google and Yahoo! The new search engine will focus on image and video searches, and Baidu is confident that the common culture of using characters will give it an edge over English-based search engines in refining search results. Although Baidu's unique tool of MP3 search is not included in the Japanese search engine, it remains hopeful in implementing it in the future and bloggers believe it may be Baidu's key to surpassing Google.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Blogger Expands Languages

If ethics can be viewed as the expansion of choice, the Blogger service is trending in a good direction. They recently started offering blogs in three new languages: Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian. These languages posed a programming challenge because of their right-to-left orientation. Blogger responded with new templates and bi-directional text editing.

It will be interesting to see how this expanded reach impacts the blog communities in politically sensitive countries where these languages are spoken, in a region that could really benefit from more positive dialogue. Policy Innovations has covered a little bit of the Iranian Internet censorship story, and the revolutionary potential of blogs, but there is also the risk that this language customization will feed into the group polarization effect that Cass Sunstein identifies in 2.0.

Targeting the blogosphere

An interesting conversation is unfolding on The New York Times website on the subject of a story in today's paper titled "Target Tells a Blogger to Go Away," by Michael Barbaro.

In short, a blogger wrote an e-mail to Target, the big-box retailer, taking it to task for using an image of questionable taste on a billboard in Times Square. Target blithely dismissed the blogger's concerns on the grounds that they "do not participate with nontraditional media outlets." According to Barbaro, "Target’s policy is to focus limited resources on the big media outlets, like television stations and newspapers, which reach large numbers of shoppers."

The Times asked its readers to weigh in on a question first posed by myself and Devin Stewart in October: Do you think bloggers should expect to be treated the same as traditional media outlets?

Some of the responses:

To me, most blogs are a disappointment. They are quickly taken over by hardened "pros" and hardened "cons" whereas they seem to be a vehicle to explore different ideas. -- Deweyjon

No, althought the news media may be somewhat biased in its reporting; most bloggers are far too opinionated to relate objectively without reflecting their opinions. Of course, ideally, all reporting should be objective and non-biased. — Bill M

you think that I should be allowed to perform back-of-the-eye surgery just because I happen to have an opinion on its benefits and drawbacks? — ErikK

And my personal favorite:

Real journalists tend to have some education as journalists and some exposure to journalistic ethics. They maybe even had to pass a class or two in college dealing with the legal and ethical issues in their profession.There is not yet anything resembling a professional code of ethics for bloggers. And anyone with an Internet connection who can type can call himself or herself a blogger. It's the Wild West out there.In view of that, I don't think bloggers should expect to be treated like real journalists. — Patricia

Friday, January 18, 2008

Internet "Jackal Bins"

I just got my copy of the Jan/Feb 2008 edition of the National Interest. In it, scholar David Frum writes an excellent article called "Foggy Bloggom" (aka “Blogs Gone Wild”), which starts with the confessional "My name is David Frum, and I am a blogger." (The article’s title is a play off of Foggy Bottom, the Washington, DC neighborhood that is home to the State Department.)

In the article, Frum tells a funny story about how Lyndon Johnson aid John Roche dismissed the anti-war movement as a bunch of “Upper West Side Jacobins.” It turns out that the journalist covering that comment miswrote the quote as “jackal bins” instead of the name of the French revolutionaries “Jacobins.” According to Frum, residents of the Upper West Side wondered what a jackal bin was.

The jackal bins, however, serve as the symbol of Frum’s central point: The vitriol in the blogosphere against liberal think tanks is basically a family dispute—within the Democratic party—between liberal bloggers and conservative Democrats inside think tank land. The article confirms a suspicion a colleague of mine had that the blogosphere is more heavily populated by liberals than by conservatives.

But it also explains something I have wondered for a while: Why bloggers make such a fuss about think tanks when so many policymakers in Washington find them to be marginal players that are helpful at best. Is the think tank drama playing out on the Internet one in which insurgents, our jackal bins, are trying to over throw the established foreign policy community or FPC as Frum puts it?

The Carnegie Council is holding a luncheon conference on April 3, 2008 as part of our Ethical Blogger project with Oxford, Brown, NYU, and Demos. It will explore the nexus of private money, the media, and political influence. I hope you will join us.

Photo "Jackal with Breakfast" by Picture Taker 2.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Online Identity Management

Matthew Hennessey reported last November on the case of Megan Meier, a 13-year-old who committed suicide after receiving bullying messages from someone she thought was another teenager named Josh. “Josh” turned out to be Meier’s 47-year-old neighbor, Lori Drew.

Someone later used Drew’s identity to publish a blog entitled “Megan Had It Coming,” purporting to be Drew’s self-defense outlet:

Yes, I made this blog. Yes, I’m Lori Drew… Now that Mr. Banas has made public the announcement that there will be no charges filed against me or my family, I feel it is time to speak out about this tragic affair. I cannot count on any media organization to fairly represent my story, as they have grossly misrepresented and sensationalized the story so far. So, I must present my case here, on the blog that has been my only outlet…
(The original post has been taken down, but is copied in part here.)

The Ethical Blogger experienced something similar when it came to our attention that several comments submitted to our site were posted not only by an individual pretending to be someone else, but with the obvious intent to slander. The comments were often strange and in many cases only tangentially relevant to the topic being discussed. The body of the posts were signed using two names. While the comments struck the blog administrator as unusual, nothing about them was explicitly derogatory or inflammatory.

Only when we received a phone call from the party whose name was signed to the post did we begin investigating. The pen name was linked to a Blogger profile that was in turn linked to two Blogger hosted blogs. A quick analysis of the nature and content of the blogs revealed that both they and the comments posted on our blog were intended to smear the reputation of the party whose name was signed to the post.

A Google search of the names signed to the posts revealed a pattern of comments on other blogs that, in light of the phone complaint, seemed consistent with the poster’s intent to discredit the party whose name was signed to the post.

Using someone’s identity in an attempt to damage the person’s reputation is clearly unethical, but what are the legal implications?

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Legal Guide for Bloggers, the US Supreme Court has ruled that blogs have the same constitutional protections as mainstream media as concerns defamation. And those protections are dependent on the context in which the comment was made:
For a blog, a court would likely start with the general tenor, setting, and format of the blog, as well as the context of the links through which the user accessed the particular entry. Next the court would look at the specific context and content of the blog entry, analyzing the extent of figurative or hyperbolic language used and the reasonable expectations of the blog's audience.
More details are available here.

Google is reported to have handed over the IP address of an anonymous blogger in Israel (after the blogger failed to appear in court) for defamation after comments were posted on Blogger suggesting that members of the Shaarei Tikva Council take bribes and have links to organized crime.

No charges that we know of were pressed against the Ethical Blogger commenter.

Comments not intended to harm can still damage a person’s reputation. Whether or not the law applies, individuals and companies can turn to firms specializing in online identity management.
From ReputationDefender’s website:
First we SEARCH… Next we DESTROY…

Our trained and expert online reputation specialists use an array of techniques developed in-house to correct and/or completely remove the selected unwanted content from the web. This is an important and time-consuming task, but we take the job seriously so you can sleep better at night.

Anonymity vs Real Name

Recently there has been a buzzing debate in Japanese blogs on the benefits of anonymity versus real name. The simplest argument is that requiring or using real names increases the responsibility of the user; that is, the author is less likely to make libelous or unfounded statements. A Japanese blogger credits anonymity with the growth of the internet, however, also labels it responsible for the recent slack in blog growth compared to SNSs like Facebook and LinkedIn, both of which require real names. Libelous comments not only hurt the recipient, but also any companies that use the site for advertisements. He cites the difference between Wikipedia, “paradise of unlawfuls” as he calls it, and the new knol, a Google-powered site very similar to Wikipedia except that it requires the author’s real name. Google’s Udi Manber, the VP of engineering, emphasizes this difference:

The key idea behind the knol project is to highlight authors. Books have authors' names right on the cover, news articles have bylines, scientific articles always have authors -- but somehow the web evolved without a strong standard to keep authors names highlighted. We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content.
However, other bloggers argue that the risks in blogging anonymously and blogging with your real name are not that different, in fact, that it all depends on the context. A penname no longer gives the cover of anonymity should people realize whom the alias refers to. On the other hand, using your real name does not matter if the reader cannot place you in context:
Unless the reader knows who you are, your name is only another pen name. However, once the name is associated with a company, for example, the story changes. For example, readers will receive very different impressions from “Mr. Tanaka” criticizing NTT on his blog, and “Mr. Tanaka who works for NTT” criticizing NTT on his blog.
The opinion is nearly evenly split outside the blogosphere as well; when viewers of a certain Japanese TV program were polled through their cell phones and internet whether “Internet users should be required to publish their real name”, the results were 53% affirmative, 47% negative.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Death & the Digital Age

U.S. Army Major and blogger Andrew Olmsted was killed in Iraq on January 3, but his last blog posting appeared online a day later. Olmsted sent the post to a friend last summer and asked her to post it if he died in the war. The post covered topics from war and family and included a paragraph on blogging:

If there is any hope for the long term success of democracy, it will be if people agree to listen to and try to understand their political opponents rather than simply seeking to crush them. While the blogosphere has its share of partisans, there are some awfully smart people making excellent arguments out there as well, and I know I have learned quite a bit since I began blogging.
The friend who published the last post also linked to places where readers could leave their respects for Olmsted, including a memorial posting.

As of yet, no overarching policy exists among services on what to do when a user or blogger dies. According to MSNBC:

MySpace avoids deleting the deceased's profiles unless asked by family members, which means the profiles-turned-memorials can stay active for years. Other social-networking and blogging sites, such as Xanga and LiveJournal, also host memorials tied to deceased users' pages.

"We often hear from families that a user's profile is a way for friends to celebrate the person's life, giving friends a positive outlet to connect with one another and find comfort during the grieving process," MySpace, a unit of News Corp., said in a statement.

Last April, Slate Magazine reported on social networking sites in the context of the Virginia Tech shootings, linking to the victims' MySpace and Facebook profiles and tribute websites.

Some suggest that these online memorials have replaced traditional mourning processes for teens who've grown up communicating to each other online. MSNBC quotes Amanda Lenhart, of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, saying "What better way to grieve or mourn a person than in a space they created." In 2006, was created as a forum to gather information on and pay respects to deceased MySpace users.

But there are downsides of grieving online. Joanne McNeil of Brainwash Magazine is critical of the practice:

On the Internet, mourning has surreal or even sanctimonious undertones, especially for those who only knew the deceased as a web presence. It could be because emails and blogs are the worst places to communicate sincerity... The time-shifts that are the natural web-crawling experience prevent us from ever really dwelling on a tragic experience.
Online mourning also creates privacy issues. Writing in Journalism Ethics, Alfred Hermida said that journalists' presence on social networking sites in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings was the equivalent of "barging into the [VT students' dorm] rooms and leafing through personal journals."

Researchers at the Florida Mental Health Institute at the University of South Florida, including Dr. Ilene R. Berson, are studying the impact of social networking memorials on copycat suicides:
On one end, because the frontal lobe of the brain doesn't develop until early adulthood, teens are naturally built to be impulsive, Berson said.

"In an online environment, they're bombarded with images and digital stimuli that strengthens the response of that part of the brain," Berson said. "It feeds that sort of behavior to engage in that activity."

But she realizes that digital spaces also provide outlets for grief.

"We may find that in general it provides a supportive part of the grieving process," she said.

Berson says plans for the study are evolving. But she's certain of this: MySpace is giving psychologists more insight than ever into the teenage mind and social structures.

"We are getting access to things we never had before, or at least didn't have easily," Berson said. "We can sort of watch from behind the scenes."