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Who Owns the Internet?

You and i Do. Prof. Joseph Turow, form the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, wants ‘internet’ uncapitalized (and wants the internet “de-capitalized”…). “Capitalization irked him because, he said, it seemed to imply that reaching into the vast, interconnected ether was a brand-name experience… The capitalization of things seems to place an inordinate, almost private emphasis on something.” While Mr. Turow’s editor at the MIT Press agreed, the New York Times swallows hard and holds down the fort for at least a little while longer:

Allan M. Siegal, a co-author of The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage and an assistant managing editor at the newspaper, said that “there is some virtue in the theory” that Internet is becoming a generic term, “and it would not be surprising to see the lowercase usage eclipse the uppercase within a few years.”

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Ashcroft, Champion of the Free Press?

“Federal and state Justice Department officials are aggressively pursuing an antitrust investigation of New Times Corp., owner of the SF Weekly and the East Bay Express, and Village Voice Media and are looking into whether the two alternative newspaper chains are cutting back on news coverage.” Essentially, the two companies may have acted in restraint of trade in a ‘horse trade’ in which each of them agreed to shut down one of its papers in a city where the other one had a competing paper. The Justice Dept. is oh-so-concerned about the cutback in “hard-hitting news coverage and analysis” that occurs when competition is killed in this fashion. It certainly does seem that the alternative weeklies are “moving farther away from their progressive, grassroots origins and acting more like the gargantuan daily newspaper conglomerates they were meant to provide an alternative to”, as this SF Bay Guardian piece opines (although, as an aside, it ought to be “conglomerates to which they were meant to provide an alternative”, not to be pedantic or anything…). However, can’t you just see Ashcroft and his minions salivating at the chance to go after the Village Voice while ignoring the far more egregious control of the information flow practiced by the media giants?

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Blogs as newsgroups? Not.

The technological predictions in The Guardian‘s Survival guide to 2003 are pretty — what else? — predictable: Bluetooth, increasing broadband penetration, WiFi, home networking, 3G mobile phones, Doom III and Xbox, blah blah blah… But there’s an interesting notion which I hadn’t considered before, of the weblog phenomenon as the new usenet.

Usenet newsgroups were rendered worse than useless by wayward discussion and wall-to-wall spam. Now, according to some web theorists, blogs are bringing back the newsgroup idea, albeit by the backdoor. The idea is that, on blogs that let readers discuss links and find out where similar ideas are being discussed elsewhere on the web, we’re seeing the rise of a kind of twenty first century Usenet – more focused, more responsive, more integrated into the rest of the online world.

There’s something enticing about the prospect, for those of us who have been online long enough to have been usenet newsgroup fanatics before the rise of other aspects of the net. But I’m not sure I see the convergence, and I’m not sure I would welcome it either. Classically, blogs continue to adhere to a one-to-many, or few-to-many, format. Although there may be reader comments and interactivity, they are not the point of most blogs (Slashdot and MeFi apart). What commands one’s loyalty for a particular weblog is its distinctive, opinionated and often idiosyncratic auteur. Arguably, a blog that became a newsgroup would in important senses no longer be a blog anymore, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein. Maybe we’ll see the rise of such a post-newsgroup phenomenon, but I hope it would not replace currently-configured weblogging. And why would the low signal-to-noise ratio in such a public discussion blogosphere not make it a ‘twenty first century Uselessnet’ with similar ‘wayward discussion and wall-to-wall spam’? Finally, could someone explain to me exactly how these beasts would be ‘more focused, more responsive, more integrated into the rest of the online world’ than the Usenet newsgroups were or are?

The other piece of welcome prophecy in The Guardian essay is that of the imminent return of William Gibson:

The most influential SF writer of the last two decades, his ideas have come to change the way we think about computers and networks. But William Gibson has always been unhappy with the future visionary tag. SF is actually about the present has been his mantra. Pattern Recognition, his new novel (his first for three years) does something he’s always threatened. It’s set in the present, not the future, in London, and follows a trend-watching heroine who’s over-sensitive to corporate logos and obsessed with tracking a “garage Kubrick” who is releasing fragments of an art film on to the net. It’s published here by Penguin in April.

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Vaporware 2002:

Wired News put out a call to readers for the technological wonders they most looked forward to in 2002 but never saw because developers delayed release or, in some cases, abandoned them altogether. Then we tabulated nominations and selected the top 10 — or should we say bottom 10? — most-waited-for-in-vain products.

For the first time, there were quite a few winners that also made last year’s list. In the fast-moving world of technology, it’s unusual for products to be hung up long enough to qualify two years in a row, but a number of hard-working companies heroically managed it.

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‘Two Die After Being Treated by Republican Senator’:

Interesting front in the battle for hearts and minds. Sen. Frist, new majority leader and former surgeon, assisted at the scene of a rollover accident on a Florida highway where two of six passengers died. ‘The Democratic Underground’ and the warbloggers, among others, are lining up with their take on the incident. Is Frist to be demonized and ridiculed, or lauded for his involvement? Last time I was so entertained by the political haymakers was Paul Wellstone’s funereal spectacle.

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Stub-born:

Ticket stubs are everywhere, one of the many receipts in our daily lives – but we all save some from time to time. The Ticketstub project is a place where you can upload scanned images of your saved stubs, and tell a story about that night, that concert, that movie, what happened on that date; basically, ask youself why you saved the stub as a reminder.”

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Disinhibition as an Art Form:

Dan Hartung at lake effect describes hashing, which is new to me but, I agree with Dan, sounds like it would be wicked fun for the right people. “Hashers play a modified game of the schoolboy game Hares and Hounds, basically hide and seek in reverse. The game involves people who lay out a trail, hares, and hounds who follow the trail. Usually it’s chalk, but flour may also be used. The main modification is that hashers (optionally) drink, before, during, and often after a run, turning them into what they call “a drinking club with a running problem”. Hashers tend to call each other by rude and sometimes obscene nicknames. The Chicago club has been featured on Wild Chicago, and I’ve always been curious — it looks like a fun crowd.” As he points out, here’s a Washington Post article about the phenomenon.