Creative Commons and common acts of creativity

Today I was tagged in one of those Facebook things that ask you to make up an album cover based on grabbing a couple random bits of text from wikimedia and wikiquotes, and a random photo from flickr’s Explore page. I immediately wondered about the licensing issues involved, since most of the photos on flickr’s Explore page are set to “(c) all rights reserved”. 

Sure, this is just a fun bit of remixing, and no one is profiting from it, but isn’t this exactly the kind of thing that Creative Commons was invented to support? Why not make use of it? First I looked around on flickr and discovered that they allow you to find random images, interesting images, or CC-licensed images, but they don’t offer a way to use all three of these criteria at once. 

But I’m sure that it’s possible with the flickr API. A quick search led me to this blog post by Eszter Hargittai about this very same issue. She points to this handy tool by Mike Lietz, who used the flickr API to do this very thing – show a random photo from the Explore page that has a CC license. 

With more and more people using flickr as a source for reusable, remixable images, maybe they will start to provide more robust options for exploring and searching CC-licensed content.

Misconceiving the Mainstream Media

When things that are just under the cultural radar get covered in the “mainstream media” – like a doctor using Twitter during surgery (CNN), the uproar over the new Facebook terms of service (MSNBC), or the “25 random things” meme (NYTimes) – reactions tend to range from “Oh wow, they covered this thing I like” to “Yeah, what took them so long to catch on?”

Both of these reactions are misguided. Having worked in mainstream media for many years, I can tell you that there’s no concerted effort to cover certain things, or hold off on covering things. The “media” is made up of individual people who have a lot of space to fill, whether in print, on TV or online.

Sure, some of their stories are pitched by publicists, and some news is so important it demands to be covered. But the rest of the space is going to be filled with content about things that individual writers or editors are interested in. And these things will be covered at the time when the person happens to find out about them. That might be 6 months after you’ve already gotten sick of it, but to that journalist it’s new. 

Plus, once a subculture has been covered by some mainstream news outlets, it becomes legitimate fodder for everyone else. Here’s a meta-article on NBC LA about coverage of the “25 things” meme: 25 Things Articles Arriving as Fast as 25 Things Lists.

All I’m saying is that people should neither be insulted nor impressed when their pet activity is covered in the mainstream media. It just means that the right person discovered your niche at the right moment, and there was space to fill on the page. Enjoy the moment, but keep it in perspective.

Twittering: Broadcasting the Inner Monologue

Last night at about 2am I finally bowed to the pressure to sign up for Twitter. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I have a tendency towards, shall we say, over-analyzing. I like to deliberate, which is generally not as highly valued an approach as on-demand spontaneous displays of genius, but I’m not sure that uninhibited exposure of my every thought is the solution to that problem. (And yes, I realize that “on-demand” and “spontaneous” are, by nature, in conflict.)

There are a few other reasons that I’ve been resisting Twitter.

Continue reading “Twittering: Broadcasting the Inner Monologue”

Information glut: It’s gonna get worse before it gets better

I’ve been thinking lately about information overload. It’s ironic, in a way, because I’m pretty convinced that what needs to happen in order for the semantic web to take hold is for more people, sites, and organizations to expose their data. There are a lot of control issues involved – trust, security, confidentiality, copyright – but there’s also a real danger of accelerating the general movement towards digital saturation.

I haven’t used Twhirl, but apparently it prompted Erick Schonfeld to speculate about Web 3.0’s noise cancelling powers over on TechCrunch. I’ve heard it said many times that one of the goals of the semantic web is to deal with complexity. There’s definitely a need for it, and that need is only going to get more urgent as the information-providing services multiply. Bring on the intelligent information-filtering services!

What the FunWall, people?

I don’t know what’s been going on with the Facebook application “FunWall” in the past couple days. I got about a dozen messages forwarded from people – some of them were the same message being forwarded multiple times by the same person. Some of them consisted mainly of a semi-pornographic scribble and a message telling people to forward it and see what happens.

Continue reading “What the FunWall, people?”

Some things get better, some get worse…

A couple months ago, I wrote a post about disinformation architecture in Facebook apps. Recently I noticed that the app had been improved in some ways. For one thing, you don’t get interrupted quite as often and asked to invite your friends. When you do have the opportunity to invite friends, the “skip” button is now a lot more prominent, like so: 

Skip Button on Flixter Quiz

Unfortunately, they couldn’t leave well enough alone. Continue reading “Some things get better, some get worse…”

OpenID and the Social Graph

First, full disclosure: I don’t know a lot about OpenID. But I do know that there are some serious issues related to online identity. Here are two of the questions I find most pressing:

  1. How do I create a persistent identity, across all the different web services I use? This is a question of convenience. Registering for a website that I’m going to use once is kind of ridiculous. Even if I wanted to use it again, chances are I will have forgotten my password, or even that I ever registered there in the first place. I could always register again, but that isn’t useful for me, or the service provider.
  2. How do I take ownership of my personal information? This is a privacy and security question. I’m online a lot. There’s a lot of digital information about me that could be gathered up to paint an interesting picture of who I am. Ideally, I should be the person who owns that picture and controls who has access to it.

Now, I’m not saying that OpenID has solved these problems – far from it – but it has created the opportunity for people to test things out and discuss what works and what doesn’t. As far as I can tell, the first issue is being addressed more directly than the second. Still, I don’t think we’re going to have a meaningful approach to the privacy question until we get some more experience with persistent identities.

Continue reading “OpenID and the Social Graph”

My Facebook Status is… Meta

I love checking the status of all my Facebook contacts. I do this whenever I’m bored or need a distraction. I can check them on my phone, so proximity to a computer isn’t a requirement. And, since categorizing things is what I do, I’ve noticed some patterns.

Types of Facebook Status

(Note: All examples are completely made up. Any similarity to any of my Facebook buddies is purely coincidental.)

  1. Cryptic – no one knows what your status means, but it shows off your creative and/or mysterious side. Ex: Rachel is indefatigable.
  2. TMI – sometimes people don’t need to know what you’re up to. Ex: Rachel is getting drunk and going home with strangers.
  3. Inside Joke – only a few people know what your status means, everyone else is saying “huh?” Ex: Rachel is missing blue boy, already.
  4. Meta – you’re breaking down the fourth wall. Ex: Rachel is checking Facebook on the train.
  5. Mood-based – describes how you’re feeling. Ex: Rachel is bored.
  6. Activity-based – describes what you’re doing. Ex: Rachel is shopping.
  7. Location-based – describes where you are. Ex: Rachel is in Washington.
  8. Health-based – describes your physical or mental state. Ex: Rachel is coughing, again.

These types are not mutually exclusive. Someone’s status can be TMI and Activity-based. But everyone’s status fits into at least one of these categories. Want to know the breakdown of the 65 status updates of my Facebook contacts? Continue reading “My Facebook Status is… Meta”

Enterprise Solutions Summit 2007

Last week my office arranged a summit on Enterprise Solutions. The first day was employees only, so we could discuss the current and future practice of Enterprise Solutions at Avenue A | Razorfish. It was a day full of animated discussion.

Having a strong interest in Content Strategy, the semantic web, and knowledge management, I’ve thought a lot about how these elements could be put to use within an organization, to help support the goals and needs of an enterprise. But I hadn’t had a chance to discuss it with a lot of people that I work with. The summit was attended by people from all different disciplines – technology, strategy, client relations – and I got to see a wide range of perspectives on the issues.

Jimmy Wales

The second day included clients, and we had a range of speakers and use case presentations. Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia) gave a keynote, though in some ways it was more interesting talking to him at the cocktail party the night before. Kind of a mysterious character. He must have people talking to him all the time about their favorite topic, and they’re stunned when he doesn’t have the entire body of knowledge represented by Wikipedia at his immediate disposal.

I say this because I saw him, a couple times, respond to people with what can only be described as pride about his ignorance of some topic or other. I can only imagine that he’s developed this technique as a defensive measure against people who would otherwise say, “But how can you not know about [insert nerdy topic of interest here]??”

I’m as guilty as the next nerd, in this respect. One of my colleagues enthusiastically mentioned that I’m interested in the Semantic Web and Wales responded that he doesn’t get it, and he doses off every time he tries to read the article. I prodded him a little bit, and asked what he thinks of people using Wikipedia to extract concepts and generate ontologies. He said he thinks it’s pretty cool, since, after all, it’s the biggest collection of human knowledge ever.

I had a feeling that was about as far as it was going to go, so I told him that if the movie The Fifth Element were made today, Leeloo would have learned about human life by speed-reading Wikipedia (instead of absorbing encyclopedic video feeds). He seemed to like that idea.

You can read a more thorough account of the highlights of the Enterprise Solution Summit over on Shiv Singh’s Workplace Blog. He also gives a good account of Jimmy Wales’ keynote and the very lively panel that closed out the day.

I want to Twine

Can I use that as a verb? Well, I’m going to anyway.

If you haven’t seen or heard of Twine, it’s a new Semantic Web Application from Radar Networks. The project was kept secret for quite a while, but Nova Spivack unveiled it last week at Web 2.0.

From what I’ve seen, it’s a social, semantically enabled, co-brandable information collecting & sharing service. Well, that makes it sound a lot more clinical than it really should. Picture something like Only it’s smarter because, while allowing you to tag the content you want to share, it also extracts concepts and makes tagging suggestions. By “co-brandable” I mean that one can create different communities, and they’ll sort of stay distinct, but your profile can cross communities and mingle. Or something like that.

Honestly, there’s probably more to it that I’m not able to express. I requested an invite to the beta on Monday, but haven’t heard back yet. I’ll post more when I do and I’m able to try it out first hand.