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Your Friday reads

Jack Kapica searches the Web and offers a selection of the week's interesting stories: A BoingBoing brouhaha, Indy for Prez and Oscar-worthy animated robots

Globeandmail.com

iconThe blogosphere is usually described in utopian terms, a kind of "citizen's publishing," the "peoples' medium" where censorship does not exist and all actions are transparent.

Which is why the blogosphere was rocked when BoingBoing, one of the most venerable geek-culture blogs, acted in a totalitarian manner with writer Violet Blue. Ms. Blue (not to be confused with Violet Blue, the porn actress, whose lawyers are discussing the similarity in names with lawyers representing the other Violet Blue) is a sex columnist named by Forbes Magazine as one of the 25 most influential people on the Web.

BoingBoing and Ms. Blue had a falling out, apparently, and somewhere along the line the BoingBoing hierarchy deleted all blog entries that its writers had referred to and linked to, including one that Ms. Blue herself had posted.

The act effectively "disappeared" her from their mutual history. The move was so dramatic that it prompted bloggers Joanne McNeil and Jerry Brito to compare BoingBoing's actions to the ham-fisted efforts by Soviet Union photo-editors to remove hapless people from pictures of the party elite waving from the Kremlin balcony. Another, called Domoni, called it the "death knell of boingboing," expressing further disgust with a refusal to capitalize the blog's name.

But the story gets more interesting with BoingBoing's explanation, called That Violet Blue Thing and posted Tuesday by moderator Teresa Nielsen Hayden. It was clearly written under great pressure.

"A blogger named Violet Blue noticed that we unpublished some posts related to her," Hayden wrote. "Some people wanted to know why. Bottom line is that those posts (not 'more than 100 posts,' as erroneously claimed elsewhere) were removed from public view a year ago. Violet behaved in a way that made us reconsider whether we wanted to lend her any credibility or associate with her. It's our blog and so we made an editorial decision, like we do every single day. We didn't attempt to silence Violet. We unpublished our own work. There's a big difference between that and censorship."

"Unpublished"? As a verb it goes beyond Kremlinspeak and into the world of George Orwell.

The Valleywag blog was positively acidic in its response: "Because BoingBoing started as a personal blog, it's entitled to be as petty, as hypocritical, and as inconsistent as a 14-year-old girl with a MySpace page. ... Had this happened at another website, we'd be reading all about it at BoingBoing, with its editors in a righteous nerd froth."

Gawker added the verb "unpublished" to the top of its list of The Fifteen Most Useless Euphemisms on the Internet. "The [BoingBoing] team's refusal to explain further turned this obscure event into a giant blog fight," Gawker wrote, "because a couple of bloggers hid behind mealy-mouthed words instead of coming out firing all weapons, like proper Internet talk is supposed to go. Driven by the same old ass-covering impulse, anyone trying to make a buck uses bland business-speak online: 'Restructuring' for mass layoffs, 'brand advertising' for ads that no one clicks."

Gawker's definition: "Unpublished: Blacklisted. Made famous by BoingBoing, who insists that they didn't violate their standards of openness by hushing someone up."

Gawker also added another definition to the euphemism "pile-on": "Unanimous criticism we're ignoring. Used by BoingBoing to imply that the lucrative commercial six-person blog had no chance to defend themselves from the masses of powerful, uh, blog commenters."

Welcome to the world of Old Media, BoingBoing.


iconWriting on the U.S. presidential election, Timothy R. Furnish, a "recovering college professor" who tracks Islamic messianic and apocalyptic movements on his website www.mahdiwatch.org, confesses he's "scared" by both Barack Obama and John McCain, the two presumptive presidential nominees.

So he's proposing someone else for president: Indiana Jones.

"What we need is someone who combines the charisma, global savvy and intellect of Obama with the tenacity, think-outside-the-box experience and ability to take a beating — literally — of McCain. There's only one man I can think of who fits that bill: Dr. Henry Jones, Junior. The guy who's named after his dog. ... How does Indy stack up against BHO? Well, he's no less charismatic, appealing to the same college demographic as does the Democratic candidate—although Dr. Jones's appeal would seem to be most effective in smaller venues, such as classrooms, where co-eds have been known to express their ardour for their favourite archeology professor on their own eyelids. And whereas Obama's cosmopolitanism is impressive — Kenyan father, grammar school in Indonesia, high school in Hawaii—Indy's is no less so — Scottish father, travels as a youth in Europe and the Ottoman Empire, then of course his sojourns as an archeologist all over the world, from Peru to Egypt to India.

"As for how Indiana Jones would stack up against John McCain….well, it's hard to top McCain's surviving 5 ½ years in a tiger cage in Vietnam. But not only has Jones come out on top in fist-, sword-and pistol-fights with Nazis, Thugees and Commies, he's survived poisonous snakes, ancient booby traps, loincloth-clad Indians, runaway mining cars and even a nuclear bomb blast. McCain also has nothing on Dr. Jones when it comes to unconventional thinking and crossing the aisle: the former may have worked with Democrats, but the latter has worked with Arabs, African merchant captains, Chinese youth, Indian village leaders and his own estranged family members to outwit — as well as outslug — all the aformentioned villains."

It's a pretty persuasive argument.


iconSerial entrepreneur Mark Cuban sees doom on the horizon for YouTube. The video website is being sued by entertainment giant Viacom, which alleges that YouTube has allowed clips of its copyrighted material to be shown. A judge rules this week that this means Google will have to turn over every record of every video watched by YouTube users, including users' names and IP addresses, to Viacom.

"Viacom," writes Cuban, "wants to know whether copyrighted or user-generated content is more popular. That's nice to know. What will really tip the balance of power in this case, now that every viewing instance will be in Viacom's possession, is the answer to how Youtube deals with porn.

"Who identifies the porn on Youtube ? According to Youtube, its regular users who police the site. Personally, I don't believe it. Whether it's individuals or technology that keep porn off of Youtube, it really doesn't matter. If Viacom can use this data to show that Youtube manages the presentation of porn in any way, then they lose their DMCA protection.

"Which means they lose their case to Viacom."


iconJeff Jarvis seems to be terrified of Google. Yes, Google. In a post called When Google's the library, who's the librarian?, he ponders AdSense, which has an algorithm for matching ads with content.

He asks, "Is Google psychoanalyzing me? I just noticed that all the AdSense ads on the page with this post were for anger management. Well, I didn't think I sounded angry. How did Google conclude that I was? Is it targeting ads just to words or now to moods? Next time I do go on a rant, I expect them to advertise massages, spas, merlots, and drugs."


iconAlex Remington believes that the animated robots in Pixar's latest movie, WALL-E, are "better actors than most live humans."

"It's a robot love story that's more touching and more human than anything else in theatres, and it might be the best romantic comedy since High Fidelity. The genre-bending is even more remarkable than that, as its post-apocalyptic love story careers wildly but surely from silent film to sci-fi epic, landing a subtle message about personal responsibility amid automation.

"Perhaps most importantly, it may be the first animated film in over a decade not to be marketed on the strength of its voice talent. There are only seven speaking roles in the entire film (an eighth is voiced by Apple's Macintalk software, best known for Radiohead's Fitter Happier), and its two robotic leads have vocabularies of about five words each."

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