Category: Technology


Apple, iPods, Network Effects & Interoperability

I’ve enjoyed reading Dave Hoffman’s post on the iPod phenomenon and Josh Wright’s rejoinder. I wasn’t too tempted to jump in until Frank (in the comments) blamed the iPod’s success on network effects. Interestingly, Apple has long been the victim of network effects in the personal computer sector. Although I had a Mac computer in 1988, I soon had to switch to IBM clones in order to be able to communicate with co-workers, clients, and courts. By making a product with hardware and software that was not interoperable, even though its product was arguably superior, Apple lost market share to the makers of cheaper computers that all used interoperable operating systems and software. Now, Microsoft Word tries with each new version to come closer to what MacWrite achieved in the 80s and Apple tries to rebound in a world where many people have two computers and technology has allowed some material to go between the two systems.

So, I am interested in the madness behind duplicating this strategy in the mp3 industry of creating a product that stands out but stands alone. One can go to any electronics store and buy a cheaper mp3 player that will use MusicMatch, or one can buy the much more expensive iPod that requires the use of iTunes (unless you have access to someone with a computer science degree). First, why would Apple go down this road again? Second, why is this scenario working better this time? The only difference I can see is the point that Dave makes — mp3 players, while pricey, are almost disposable. Perhaps network effects are not going to favor the interoperable here over the superior first-mover because the initial outlay is not as substantial. If I’m buying an expensive computer, I want to be able to use it for awhile, communicate with others and possibly resell it on the open market, but if I’m just buying something that lasts a year, I’ll buy the cool one. Any other explanations? (Yes, I have an iPod, but our other $150 mp3 player broke twice in one year also.)


Google’s PageRank and Google’s Justice System

google.jpgGoogle doesn’t look kindly upon attempts to game its PageRank system. Google PageRank is the way Google determines what order to display search results. The higher a page’s rank is, the higher up the page appears in a search results list.


According to Google:

PageRank performs an objective measurement of the importance of web pages by solving an equation of more than 500 million variables and 2 billion terms. Instead of counting direct links, PageRank interprets a link from Page A to Page B as a vote for Page B by Page A. PageRank then assesses a page’s importance by the number of votes it receives.

PageRank also considers the importance of each page that casts a vote, as votes from some pages are considered to have greater value, thus giving the linked page greater value. Important pages receive a higher PageRank and appear at the top of the search results. Google’s technology uses the collective intelligence of the web to determine a page’s importance. There is no human involvement or manipulation of results, which is why users have come to trust Google as a source of objective information untainted by paid placement.

What happens when a website tries to game Google’s PageRank system? Philipp Lenssen has an interesting post about one such case over at Google Blogoscoped:

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Privacy of Internet Search Records

subpoena1.jpgHere are some recent interesting links about the privacy of Internet search records:

Check out Patriot Search for a laugh. It’s a new search engine where your results are reported directly to the government: “Our mission is to provide the best possible search engine to you while at the same time, making sure the government is informed should you search for something obscure, illegal, or unpatriotic.” [Thanks to Scott Forbes for the link.]

CNET has interviews with Internet search companies about the kind of data they retain about their users. Of the many questions asked, the answers to these two questions are particularly interesting:

1. “Given a list of search terms, can you produce a list of people who searched for that term, identified by IP address and/or cookie value?”

AOL: “No. Our systems are not configured to track individuals or groups of users who may have searched for a specific term or terms, and we would not comply with such a request.”

Google: “Yes. We can associate search terms with IP addresses and cookies, but not with users’ names unless they are registered with Google.”

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Congress takes action on Wikipedia abuse . . .

. . . but not the kind of action you might be thinking. A law against Wikipedia abuse? An investigation? A blue-ribbon panel? Nope — our fearless political leaders have decided to take up the rallying cry “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Declan McCullagh has the story (via my sharp-eyed, non-Wikipedia-abusing colleague Deven Desai):

The trusty editors at Wikipedia got together and compiled a list of over 1,000 edits made by Internet addresses allocated to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The IP address subsequently was blocked and unblocked.

An extensive analysis reveals how juvenile official Washington secretly is, behind the mind-numbingly serious talk of public policy.

One edit listed White House press secretary Scott McClellan under the entry for “douche.” Another said of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma) that: “Coburn was voted the most annoying Senator by his peers in Congress. This was due to Senator Coburn being a huge douche-bag.”

It boggles the mind to think that Congress is abusing Wikipedia. I mean, if we can’t trust Congress, and we can’t trust Wikipedia . . . my goodness — who can we trust?


Website Hacking Blackmail

A while back, I wrote about the Million Dollar Homepage, where Alex Tew, a student, created the idea of selling a million pixels on a website to advertisers for $1 each. His plan was successful, and he recently reached his goal of raising a million dollars in just a few months.


But the story attracted some unsavory criminals bent on ruining Tew’s enterprise. From the BBC:

But the publicity brought the unwanted attention of extortionists who knocked the site over with a massive denial-of-service attack.

Following a week of downtime, the website is now back online.

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Microsoft Shuts Down a Blog in China

china1a.bmpRecently, I blogged about how companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo have been helping China filter searches for censorship purposes and in some cases track down dissidents who post online. According to a story today in the New York Times:

Microsoft has shut the blog site of a well-known Chinese blogger who uses its MSN online service in China after he discussed a high-profile newspaper strike that broke out here one week ago. . . .

The blog was removed last week from a Microsoft service called MSN Spaces after the blog discussed the firing of the independent-minded editor of The Beijing News, which prompted 100 journalists at the paper to go on strike Dec. 29. It was an unusual show of solidarity for a Chinese news organization in an industry that has complied with tight restrictions on what can be published.

The move by Microsoft comes at a time when the Chinese government is stepping up its own efforts to crack down on press freedom. Several prominent editors and journalists have been jailed in China over the last few years and charged with everything from espionage to revealing state secrets. . . .

Mr. Zhao said in an interview Thursday that Microsoft chose to delete his blog on Dec. 30 with no warning. “I didn’t even say I supported the strike,” he said. “This action by Microsoft infringed upon my freedom of speech. They even deleted my blog and gave me no chance to back up my files without any warning.”

Related Posts:

1. Solove, Should Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft Help China Filter Searches?


Should Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft Help China Filter Searches?

china1a.bmpAn interesting article from Salon discusses how Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft assist the Chinese government with censorship. The companies filter out search results that the government wants to censor, and they help the government track down individuals engaging in criticism and dissent:

To conduct business in China, popular Internet companies Yahoo, Microsoft and Google have had to accommodate a regime that forbids free speech, bars political parties and jails journalists. This means filtering searches on their sites, censoring news and providing evidence in the trials of political dissidents — or risk having their sites blocked in China. Forced to choose between ignoring the world’s hottest market or implicitly endorsing a system of censorship that a recent Harvard study called “the most sophisticated effort of its kind in the world,” the companies have decided to cooperate.

“Business is business,” Jack Ma, CEO of, which controls Yahoo China, told the Financial Times. “It’s not politics.”

How do companies cooperate? The article explains:

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Vlogging: The Future or a Passing Fad?

vlogger2.jpgThe New York Times has an interesting recent article on “vlogging,” a term for video blogging:

Amanda Congdon is a big star on really small screens – like the 4½-inch window she appears in on computer monitors every weekday morning or the 2½ inches she has to work with on the new video iPod. Ms. Congdon, you see, is the anchor of a daily, three-minute, mock TV news report shot on a camcorder, edited on a laptop and posted on a blog called Rocketboom, which now reaches more than 100,000 fans a day.

In terms of subject matter, Rocketboom is actually quite a standard – one might even say traditional – Web log: Ms. Congdon comments on intriguing items she, and the site’s producer, Andrew Baron, have found on the Web, and includes links to them which appear just below clear, smooth-playing video. The items tend to be developments in Internet culture (robots and flash mobs, say, or flash mobs of robots) with a sprinkling of left-leaning political commentary (Ms. Congdon announced the posting of Representative Tom DeLay’s mug shot while wearing a party hat and blowing a noisemaker) and samples of Web video from around the world. . . .

In case you’re wondering, it has occurred to Mr. Baron and Ms. Congdon that they just might be sitting on a gold mine. At a cost of about $20 an episode, they reach an audience that some days is roughly comparable in size to that of, say, CNN’s late, unlamented “Crossfire” political debate show. They have no background in business, but Jeff Jarvis, who tracks developments in technology and culture on his blog, (and who has served as a consultant to The New York Times on Web matters), pointed out to them that they might be able to charge $8,000 for an interactive ad at the end of the show, which would bring in about $2 million annually.

Is vlogging the television equivalent to blogging? Will vlogs have the impact that blogs are having? One can imagine that some vloggers may become celebrities — perhaps the next John Stewart. On the flipside, one can imagine vlogging as just a passing fad, something that will not take off as vigorously as blogging. Video is still not as easy to search and stumble upon as text on the Internet; nor is vlogging as interactive as blogging. But all that might change. What will vlogging become?

Related Posts:

1. Solove, Are Bloggers Having an Influence Inside the Beltway?

2. Solove, A Day in the Life of Blogging

3. Solove, Exponential Growth of Blogospheric Proportions

4. Solove, The Most Expensive Blog Ad Ever?


Wiki Art?

swarmsketch1.jpgA new website called Swarm Sketch allows people to create a sketch in wiki fashion:

SwarmSketch is an ongoing online canvas that explores the possibilities of distributed design by the masses. Each week it randomly chooses a popular search term which becomes the sketch subject for the week. In this way, the collective is sketching what the collective thought was important each week. . . .

Each user can contribute a small amount of line per visit, then they are given the opportunity to vote on the opacity of lines submitted by other users. By voting, users moderate the input of other users, judging the quality of each line. The darkness of each line is the average of all its previous votes.

The sketch included in this post is entitled “Cell Phone Bandit.” You can browse the other artwork here, including a rather vulgar picture of Jessica Simpson’s wedding. Let’s just say that wiki is no Picasso.

Hat tip: Google Blogoscoped

Related Posts:

1. Solove, Curtailing Anonymity on Wikipedia

2. Solove, Fake Biographies on Wikipedia

3. Solove, Suing Wikipedia

4. Solove, Wiki Your Papers?

5. Hoffman, Wex

6. Wenger, Wikimania


New York Times on Gold Farming

gold.jpgThe New York Times carries a story today on gold farming activities in virtual worlds. “Gold farming” is the term used for acquiring virtual wealth within multi-player games like World of Warcraft and then selling it to other players for real cash. As the Times notes, it is a growing industry, despite the fact that the sales are usually in violation of the software contract of the games.

I mention this because exploring the legal issues raised by these environments has been a pet project of mine, and it has been interesting to see the popular media attention increasingly given to multi-player games as their demographics expand. In many ways, the predecessors of World of Warcraft were part of the impetus for the debates in the 1990’s over the growing importance of cyberlaw as a field for legal inquiry. For instance, William Mitchell’s City of Bits, about the construction of digital social spaces, is a book from 1994 that is well worth reading today.

If you want a crash course on the economics and society of virtual worlds, I’d recommend Virtual Worlds by Ted Castronova, Unreal Estate by Julian Dibbell, and this blog. For some thoughts on the legal dimensions, Dan Hunter and I have published two articles on point: The Laws of the Virtual Worlds and Virtual Crime. Among other writings on the topic are Virtual Property by Josh Fairfield and Virtual Liberty by Jack Balkin.

Even Judge Posner thinks this stuff is cool.