Archive for August, 2007

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The Strange, The Early, The Beautiful…

27 August, 2007

I read today about the death of Joybubbles, one of the founding fathers of the phone phreak movement.

I had heard of phone phreaks and apart from thinking they must be people who were phone obsessed, didn’t really follow it up much. Doing some research, what I subsequently found was that Josef Carl Engressia (he legally changed his name to Joybubbles in 1991) was able to whistle at exactly 2600 hertz which, when done into a AT&T long distance line, let him set up free calls to anywhere in thA very unique subculture of hackers and well predating our general familiarity with the whole concept of hacking and cracking. (For more on this, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phreaking). Interestingly, phreaks (or those interested and inspired by phreaks), include both Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, founders of Apple.

I think there are two reasons why I was interested in the passing of Joybubbles. One is that I really believe that there is something very valuable about people who dances to their own tune. Later in life, Joybubbles founded and became an ordained minister of Church of Eternal Childhood, part of which included running a (one-man) not-for-profit organisation called We Won’t Grow Up, for people rediscovering their childhood. More of this I say.

The other think is likely my own experience in hard-wire telephony. Just over 21 years ago, I was invited to interact with a computer through a telephone. This was the very early days of the Interactive Voice Response industry, in the UK, using a box under development with a new service to be offered by British Telecom. Up to this stage, apart from early systems we played on when I was learning programming, there was not such thing as interactivity; information services; content or, more especially – user control of what we got. Using the IVR was the first time I told a (public) system what I wanted – and received the information in return.

This was June 1986. I was hooked. Took up a job as a programmer and builder of IVR services and, would now argue, have been in interactive information systems ever since.

RIP Joybubbles. Hackers of the world, honour a worth forebear.

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UGC – who cares and who is responsible?

21 August, 2007

Lots of questions lately about the responsibility for User Generated Content: to moderate or not; when does one take down; what obligations and responsibility does the publisher have?

At an AIMIA conference yesterday on Social Networking and User Generated Content, Matthew Hall from Swaab Attorney aptly summed up the situation as ‘analogue legislation trying to regulate digital media’. Yes, it’s a mine field.

There is a view that the best way to treat UGC (comments, reviews, responses etc) is to take a stance of either ALL care (and thus all responsibility) or no care and no responsibility. Simplistically – one either vets, edits, moderates and reviews everything which is published and thus has full responsibility for accuracy, libel, spelling, the lot; or else you don’t touch it and let the public decide.

Of course, providing ‘take down’ or ‘mark as inappropriate’ buttons can help in having the public act as moderators of the data. It also helps to let threads develop – so that comments about comments can be made – effectively allowing a right of reply.

So will we ever have and Australian version of ‘Yelp’? Until the right of free speech (or free spray, however you want to see this) is enshrined in some Bill of Rights – it is unlikely. The different libel and privacy laws in different countries lead to different outcomes based on the regulation.

And, in three years time, when the law has caught up with UGC – we’ll all be troubled by some other aspect the legislators are yet to get their heads around.