Censorship For Some but Not Others

“Senator Lieberman stated his belief, in a letter sent today, that all videos mentioning or featuring these groups should be removed from YouTube — even legal nonviolent or non-hate speech videos,” the statement said. “While we respect and understand his views, YouTube encourages free speech and defends everyone’s right to express unpopular points of view.”

[From YouTube won’t take down all Islamist video – UPI.com]

I guess Lieberman should have had the Chinese government send the letter to Google, those videos would be gone gone gone by now. This is the problem that Google created for themselves when they decided that censorship with a business objective wasn’t such a bad thing.

I’m pretty much black-and-white on this specific issue, if your group is an affirmed terrorist group then you have opted-out of civil society and don’t get to enjoy privileges like free speech. They are privileges in this context by the way, the Bill of Rights affirms rights you are endowed with and government must demonstrate a compelling interest before restraining you, but when it comes to private companies and properties they own, the only rights you have are declared in the terms of service and in a patchwork of laws created to address individual rights, e.g. data privacy, in a commercial setting.

The last time I checked, Congress has passed no law that permits as-Sahab or al-Furquan to enjoy the same protections as I do when posting to Youtube. Google is wrong on this issue, just as they were with China and ironically for the same reason even though it would appear the roles are reversed. They allow the Chinese government to exercise censorship for the purposes of control and they are allowing terrorist groups to operate on Youtube in a manner that promotes their own fascist agenda.

On the other end of the spectrum we have Facebook and Myspace deciding for us that some offensive language must be bleeped out. I actually find this just as troubling and I’m not hesitant about observing that I have put myself in a moral quandary here by endorsing policing of content in one instance while not in another.

If you ever get the itch to use the word “yuwie” or perhaps make reference to “wadja.com” – don’t bother. “Some of the content you included in this message is not allowed by Facebook,” is the message you’ll get in response. Both of the above are small social networks, but you can’t even send a message about how something disgusting (like yuwie.com’s site design) made you say “yuwie, that smells bad!” On principle, the whole thing stinks.

In thinking it through I find myself drawing a line between private messaging systems and broadcast networks. While it is morally repugnant for Google to allow terrorist organizations to use Youtube to broadcast their propaganda, it would be equally repugnant for Google to filter out these same groups from Gmail messages. Google has a responsibility to monitor Youtube, while they have no business snooping in anyone’s email without a court order to do so.

Facebook seems to be taking an interesting stance, aggressively filtering private email messages while not seeming to care about what is posted on public message boards. While Marshall and I may disagree on the finer points in this debate, I do agree with him that there needs to be a much greater degree of transparency about how social networks are operating and what rules they are enforcing.

Unfortunate Marketing Promotions

Baskin-Robbins is launching soft serve ice cream to, I guess, better compete with a resurgent Dairy Queen. In one of the more mystifying marketing plans I can recall hearing, they have pregnant celebrity Tori Spelling pitching the stuff to pregnant women today. I say mystifying because OB/GYNs consistently advise pregnant women that soft serve ice cream is not safe to eat while pregnant or breast feeding. The primary concern is that the machines can harbor some deadly bacteria, like listeria. More here, here, and here.

To help welcome the company’s new addition and to pay tribute to all moms-to-be, Baskin-Robbins is turning “hump day,” as it is traditionally known into “Bump Day” for one day on Wednesday, May 21, 2008 with the help of special host and expectant mom, Tori Spelling. During Bump Day, moms-to-be will receive a free 3 oz. cone of Soft Serve*. Leading up to Baskin-Robbins introduction of Soft Serve, the company also conducted a Soft Serve survey, to determine Americans’ Soft Serve eating habits.

[From Baskin-Robbins Launches a New Twist – Soft Serve]

Congratulations to the Clearspring Team

Clearspring announced that they have closed a $18m series C round of financing. This is not only great news for Clearspring but the entire sector as well.

Another hefty late stager: Widget analytics and distribution firm Clearspring has raised an $18 million third round led by New Enterprise Associates. Past backers including Novak Biddle Venture Partners also participated. The McLean, VA-based company has now raised $35 million, including two previous institutional rounds and a seed round.

[From Widgeteer Clearspring Gets Its Big $18 Million Third Round | paidContent.org]

Despite a broad tailing off of financing in the web 2.0 space, widgets remain a bright spot.

NewsGator raised a $12m funding round in Dec 2007.

Gigya closed a round in March 2008.

Widgetbox completed a $8m series B in Jan and Hummer Winblad partner Will Price joined as CEO.

Sprout announced a $5.5m series B just last week.

NewsGator and APML

There are a growing number of apps that generate APML but it’s a manual process to export this data, just like OPML. We just added a feature to our Sync Engine that enables a persistent APML URL that can be dynamically consumed by applications, and because this is your data, you decide if it’s public or private.

What does all this mean? Well for starters it simplifies the nature of APML data integration but more importantly it provides a vehicle through which you can empower 3rd party applications that have attention features with data that is generated through your use of mobile, web, and dedicated RSS apps.

The Sync Engine is something I have come to appreciate as a legitimate engineering achievement in that it is not tightly coupled into any single endpoint but really stands on it’s own as a service. 3rd party applications can take advantage of our APIs to enable sync services within their application, which then becomes another endpoint the user syncs to.

One of the few disappointments of OPML is that it just didn’t go far enough to enabling a service based approach to subscription management, the same could be said of APML. If we are relegated to a process that requires a user to manually update APML then it will not be sustainable, but of course this is something 3rd party apps can overcome by using our Sync Engine to manage this process.

Back when we announced that NewsGator’s RSS clients are now free, I also mentioned that we’d be supporting APML across the entire platform. Some of our client applications implement exporting APML at the moment…but we’ve now implemented a persistent APML endpoint in our online platform. What this means is, if you’re using sync with NewsGator Online, there is a well-known URL that represents your APML attention data.

[From NewsGator and APML – Greg Reinacker’s Weblog – Musings on just about everything.]


Actuaries Scrutinized on Pensions

What is going on in state and local defined benefit retirement funds is going to make the subprime crisis look like small change. The problem is that politicians have been promising benefits to employees at the state and local level that are unsustainable because 1) they are buying votes, and 2) by the time it becomes a problem it will fall to someone else to fix.

I can think of no better reason than to shift our antiquated pension system to a defined contribution system (401k). With baby boomers retiring in droves, or worse, seeing the writing on the wall and accelerating retirement, the conditions are primed for a complete meltdown in state and local finances as governments suffocate under the crushing weight of pension obligations they underestimated and are ill-equipped to pay for.

By firing its actuarial consultant last week, the New York State Legislature shone a light on one of the public sector’s deepest secrets: All across the country, states and local governments are promising benefits to public workers on the basis of numbers that make little economic sense.

[From Actuaries Scrutinized on Pensions – New York Times]