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Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Editor, musician, layabout.
Editor, musician, layabout.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden's posts

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Like many other sites, Making Light will go dark tomorrow in opposition to SOPA and PIPA, bills which if passed would make it impossible for sites like ours to continue.

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If it's obvious to you that internet "piracy" is hurting writers and artists, you might want to think again.
Before Solving a Problem, Make Sure You've Got the Right Problem

I was pleased to see the measured tone of the White House response to the citizen petition about #SOPA and #PIPA!/response/combating-online-piracy-while-protecting-open-and-innovative-internet

and yet I found myself profoundly disturbed by something that seems to me to go to the root of the problem in Washington: the failure to correctly diagnose the problem we are trying to solve, but instead to accept, seemingly uncritically, the claims of various interest groups. The offending paragraph is as follows:

"Let us be clear—online piracy is a real problem that harms the American economy, and threatens jobs for significant numbers of middle class workers and hurts some of our nation's most creative and innovative companies and entrepreneurs. It harms everyone from struggling artists to production crews, and from startup social media companies to large movie studios. While we are strongly committed to the vigorous enforcement of intellectual property rights, existing tools are not strong enough to root out the worst online pirates beyond our borders."

In the entire discussion, I've seen no discussion of credible evidence of this economic harm. There's no question in my mind that piracy exists, that people around the world are enjoying creative content without paying for it, and even that some criminals are profiting by redistributing it. But is there actual economic harm?

In my experience at O'Reilly, the losses due to piracy are far outweighed by the benefits of the free flow of information, which makes the world richer, and develops new markets for legitimate content. Most of the people who are downloading unauthorized copies of O'Reilly books would never have paid us for them anyway; meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of others are buying content from us, many of them in countries that we were never able to do business with when our products were not available in digital form.

History shows us, again and again, that frontiers are lawless places, but that as they get richer and more settled, they join in the rule of law. American publishing, now the largest publishing industry in the world, began with piracy. (I have a post coming on that subject on Monday.)

Congress (and the White House) need to spend time thinking hard about how best to grow our economy - and that means being careful not to close off the frontier, or to harm those trying to settle it, in order to protect those who want to remain safe at home. British publishers could have come to America in the 19th century; they chose not to, and as a result, we grew our own indigenous publishing industry, which relied at first, in no small part, on pirating British and European works.

If the goal is really to support jobs and the American economy, internet "protectionism" is not the way to do it.

It is said (though I've not found the source) that Einstein once remarked that if given 60 minutes to save the world, he would spend 55 of them defining the problem. And defining the problem means collecting and studying real evidence, not the overblown claims of an industry that has fought the introduction of every new technology that has turned out, in the end, to grow their business rather than threaten it.

P.S. If Congress and the White House really want to fight pirates who are hurting the economy, they should be working to rein in patent trolls. There, the evidence of economic harm is clear, in multi-billion dollar transfers of wealth from companies building real products to those who have learned how to work the patent system while producing no value for consumers.

P. P.S. See also my previous piece on the subject of doing an independent investigation of the facts rather than just listening to the appeals of lobbyists,

About names, Google Plus's "Community Standards" document [1] says "Use the name your friends, family, or co-workers usually call you."

Evidently this is not how Google is actually handling matters. [2] [3] [4] Quite the contrary, they appear to be disabling the Google Plus accounts of people who clearly and demonstrably set up their profile under the name by which they are best known in multiple areas of life.

This is unjust, and those of us not directly affected by it are obliged to note that it's unjust. A Google Plus that reserves to itself the right to capriciously disable the participation of people in my social circles, despite thorough evidence that their profile name meets Google Plus's declared standards, is not an entity I am inclined to trust.

In fact, the preponderance of evidence is that even the kind of flexible "real names" policy that Google (falsely) claims to be following acts to systematically disadvantage vast numbers of people--ranging from the marginalized and the disadvantaged to people with the misfortune to be named something common like "John Smith." [5]

If you are enjoying Google Plus and you think this isn't your fight, you're mistaken. Someone you care about on this service--one or more of the people you joined in order to interact with--is now, or will be, adversely affected by Google's carelessly-considered policies and feckless behavior in this matter. They may not be sharing this fact with you, but it's true nonetheless. You owe your friends something better than your silence.

What Google Plus actually needs is a policy that discourages identity hacking--sockpuppetry, imposter games, and other exercises in bad faith. Google needs to get out of the business of deciding, on a planet comprising nearly 200 legal jurisdictions and innumerable cultures and subcultures, what particular strings of characters constitute "real" names. Google is no more equipped to adjudicate this on a global basis than they are prepared to administer livestock inheritance law in Ulan Bator.

It's been observed by many people that when you're getting nifty web services for free, you're not the customer, you're the product. Google has a chance here to do better than that by its users. Let's see if they do.






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Charming paragraph from the NY Times' coverage of the Oslo attack:

"Terrorism specialists said that even if the authorities ultimately ruled out Islamic terrorism as the cause of Friday’s assaults, other kinds of groups or individuals were mimicking Al Qaeda’s brutality and multiple attacks."

Can I translate that for you? It means it's still the brown people's fault, even if the brown people didn't do it. Never mind Timothy McVeigh (right-wing extremist with a fertilizer bomb) or anyone from the Troubles (one incident as a distraction for another). Nope.

Anything but admitting that their first impulse to blame Islamic terrorists was wrong.

There are several contexts in which hovering your pointer over a Google+ user's name or icon results in a postage-stamp-sized popup with a little more information about them. That's great. But if you've put anything into the "Employer" field of your Google Profile, that's the single piece of information about you that appears under your name, and there's no way to change it short of zeroing out that field.

It seems to me this really ought to be a user-settable option. Whether you've worked for your current employer for two weeks or (like me) 23 years, it should be up to you whether your employer, or something else, is the single fact conveyed about you in these popups.

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What she said. I keep seeing stuff that suggests that a lot of people don't get this.
Dear world: Google+'s Circles are not mandatory

I've been fascinated by the responses to G+ so far, and in particular to the Circles concept. It's a seemingly simple idea that becomes more and more complicated the more you think about it.* But what stands out in the collective response is the number of people who seem to almost resent what they feel is a requirement to sort their contacts into groups and then share things accordingly. Circles is the most distinctive aspect of the service so far, conceptually and visually, so it's natural that it's gotten a ton of attention. But it's surprising how many people who've taken the time to write about it have totally missed these compelling fundamentals:

A) You can put people in Circles who aren't even on Google+.

B) You can share with people selectively without using Circles to do it.

For the past several years, I've been staunchly Team Twitter. On Twitter, what I post is public. Look at what I post if you like; I'll look at what you post if I like. Facebook, on the other hand, is a walled garden -- one where everyone must mutually agree that they are "friends," and then have access to each other accordingly. That was the original deal-breaker for me. (There've been countless others in the meantime.) What G+ has done in this regard is pretty genius. First off, Public is an option for any post you make. Don't care who sees what you're sharing? Great! Make every post public. It's like Twitter with inline images and no character cap.

But the beauty of Circles -- flawed though it may currently be -- is that it's infinitely flexible. G+ is the first service (that I know of) where I can post something and share it with the public and/or the people I'm following and/or people who aren't even here -- it's up to me, on a post-by-post basis. Few of my closest friends are here yet, for example, but I can still put them in my Friends circle as email addresses. If I post a photo and share it to my Friends circle, those people simply get it in their email. I only need to perform one act for everyone to receive it. (And maybe those G+-branded emails will result in their eventually joining.)

Likewise, Circles aren't the only option when setting sharing on a post. Maybe you're a person who mostly posts publicly but also has a Family circle for personal stuff. Then along comes something you specifically want to share with just a handful of contacts. You don't need to create another Circle for them, as some have suggested. You can enter a list of individuals in the share field and that's who'll see that post. I've found myself re-sharing many G+ posts to just one or two people I knew would be interested.

So here are some ideas for using Circles:

1) We'll call this the Twitter technique: Put anyone you want to follow in the Following circle, then make all of your own posts public. Done.

2) The Facebook technique: Put everyone in your Friends circle and share everything with them; no public posts or Circle management necessary.

3) Do either of the above, but keep an additional Circle or two -- maybe an "Inner Circle" for private family/friends stuff and a "Coworkers I Like" for office gossip -- for those rarer times when you do want to limit access to a recurring subset of people.

4) Be as OCD as you want, and create a Circle for every group, subject or mood.

5) Do any of the above, but also limit occasional posts as warranted by sharing with targeted individuals, regardless of your Circles setup.

It would, of course, be nice if Google let you set a default for sharing that you could then adjust only when needed, rather than having to specify who gets access with every single post. But I trust they're working on that! (Or maybe it exists and I've missed it. If so, please tell me in comments.)


* This will be the first of two posts from me on the implications and usage of Circles. Part two to come ...

Something is definitely messed up in my Google Profile. It displays different, and wrong, contact information when you look at it with Mobile Safari.

Specifically, it gives my primary email address as, and it gives my mobile phone number as a number that I haven't had for a couple of years. This probably explains why, while I get most email notifications from Google+ at my actual primary address (, I keep getting a small number of them at the address. Those notifications are probably being generated by people using G+ via Mobile Safari.

I've sent feedback through the dingus in the lower-right-hand corner and I've sent email, all days ago, but I haven't heard a thing from anyone. I realize that Google+ is beta, but (to the best of my knowledge) Google Profiles isn't.

This is a totally minor problem, but it's also a reminder of the limited usefulness of services from an organization that you can't reach on the phone.

UPDATED TO ADD: +Cameo Wood had the solution, in the comments below. I'm unclear how "Google Contacts" differ from the contacts manager in Gmail, but going to yielded up a list that looks just like my old Gmail contacts list, and fixing the card for myself fixed the problem with my profile as seen by Mobile Safari. I would never have figured this out.

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By the way: Google+ won't be remotely plausible as a "replacement for blogging" as long as you can only include one link per post. Even Twitter does better than that.

EDITED TO ADD: Well, actually, you can include as many links in the form as you want -- see? -- -- and more -- -- but only the first one will automatically spawn the little box under the post, showing the actual title (and first few lines) of the document being linked to. The rest of your links will work, but they'll look like alphanumeric barf inside your text, as above.

Okay, here's some not-so-great social design in Google+ as presently constituted.

When I got up this morning I had a link in my right-hand column suggesting that I invite some people into Google+. I did so. Not long afterward the link went away, as I gather has happened with other people.

What's less-than-optimal is that while some of the people I invited got in, a bunch of them got emails telling them that I'd invited them, but that Google+ is full now and they should check back later.

Obviously there are 5,271,009 things more important than whether some friend of mine gets into Google+ today or two weeks from today, but this is still a lousy way to toy with people's expectations. If Google suggests I send some invites, I think it's reasonable for me to expect those invites to work. (Some of those people who can't get in are people who went looking for my invite because I told them I'd sent it. Thanks for making me look like an even bigger dork than I already am, Google!) If capacity is limited, as Google says, then Google should have told me that I have some specifically limited number of invitations, the way they handled this back in 2004 before Gmail went public. What Google is doing here is worse than a tease--they're deceiving me into being an agent of their tease.

Again, this isn't important the way that child abuse or the debt-limit negotiations or even A Dance with Dragons are important, but it does seem to me indicative of the kind of flaw to which Google is prone. They're brilliant at contriving automatic systems, but--as we saw over the weekend with the whole business with 10-year-old Alex Sutherland--not always so smart at anticipating how the output of those systems will play on normal human emotions and expectations. I would suggest they need to put more resources onto it. I wonder if there are professionals who specialize in studying how these mysterious "hoo-man" creatures function?
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