Jun 22, 2010

three bits out of context

Part of the joy of Instapaper is finally getting around to reading those pieces that everyone was talking about last week. Hooray for time-shifting. Though it does make for some awkward blogging, since you've probably already read all of these...and all of the reactions to these. Oh well.

First, Brad Burnham's post "Web Services as Goverments" is a great read, and a good companion to (a) all the insanity that happened back in April with platform moves by Twitter, Facebook and Apple and (b) Larry Lessig's book Code.

Once you start thinking about large web platforms as governments, the logical question is what kind of government are they. One thing is for sure - none of these platforms are democracies. They are oligarchies controlled by founders, investors or shareholders. That may not be at all bad. As long as citizens (users) can move freely from one government to another with little switching cost, there is no reason to burden these polities with the inherent inefficiencies of popular democracy.

Second, speaking of governments, Danah Boyd writes about the issues with COPPA, as a companion to the statement she submitted to the FTC and Senate along with John Palfrey and Urs Gasser. Thinking about all the investment in COPPA-related legal work, product management, design, engineering and QA all across the web makes me sick to my stomach; Danah nails the issue right on the head...

COPPA is well-intended but its implementation and cultural uptake have been a failure. The key to making COPPA work is not to making it stricter or to force the technology companies to be better at confirming that the kids on their site are not underage. Not only is this technologically infeasible without violating privacy at an even greater level, doing so would fail to recognize what’s actually happening on the ground. Parents want to be able to parent, to be able to decide what services are appropriate for their children.

Finally, Eric Rosenfeld has an appreciation of the work that Robin Sloan is doing.

While Bruce Sterling and Cory Doctorow and Vernor Vinge fantasize about the Singularity or augmented reality or 3D printers that can reproduce themselves (which, incidentally, all appeal heavily to juvenile power fantasies), Sloan is writing a fiction that speaks to a world in which we find ourselves not exactly emancipated by technology but simply hyper-connected by it, our identities as people redefined by the media we share, media which we embrace and deeply care about even when it leaves us bewildered, co-opted, and reduced in a thousand ways to algorithms.

Want a good introduction to Sloan? Go read Mr. Penumbra's Twenty-Four-Hour Book Store.