Sunday, May 3, 2009
Merck cooked up a phony, but very real looking, peer reviewed journal with lots of glowing reviews and favorable data about Merck products. It's called the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine and it's published by Elsevier, whom Merck paid to print its dandelion tome.
Advertorials aren't new to us, but there are a few problems when it reaches the academic and scientific world.
For one, advertorials are totally unfamiliar game in the academic world. But, because the journal contained "excerpts from peer-reviewed papers" it wasn't touted as a purely marketing journal, which makes it even worse.
The average researcher or primary care physician wouldn't know that the journal is just one big dandelion. Why? Because the journal has a fake "honorary advisory board" with real (sketchy) people.
And lastly, being published by Elsevier makes the journal totally credible. Which of course is why Elsevier sold their soul. They could care less about integrity and were obviously in it just for the money. I'm sure selling your soul commands a hefty fee.
There will probably be a lot of jobs on the chopping block for this dandelion, and there very well should be. That's the price that Merck and Elsevier pay for treading in mercky waters.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Feeling some aches and pains and perhaps a bit feverish? Think it could be swine flu? Well, the only way to find out is gather all the facts and assess those symptoms for yourself. Check out the site doihaveswineflu.org for a funny little swine flu dandelion.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
No, it's none of the above. It's moot, founder of 4chan.
A few days ago, followers of 4chan hacked into the TIME 100 poll and catapulted their 21 year old founder (a.k.a. Christopher Poole) to the top of the list through millions of dandelion votes. The poll closed today with moot way ahead of the pack with an average rating of 90 (out of a possible 100, I guess) and nearly 17 million votes.
TIME.com managing editor Josh Tyrangiel says, despite hacking the vote, moot is no less deserving than previous title holders, noting, "I would remind anyone who doubts the results that this is an Internet poll," he says. "Doubting the results is kind of the point."
Indeed. Especially when the result is one gigantic dandelion.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Now that I'm a blogger contributing to the space chatter is part of protocol. So, I decided to deep search the internet and see whether I could find any fun sci-fi dandelions hiding away in the black holes of cyberspace.
And I finally found one. It's called Virgle.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Time Inc. just caught a fun little dandelion called "moot" brought to them courtesy of 4chan. The uber-passionate followers of hacker's holyland have just hijacked Time's annual online poll of the top 100 most influential people in government, science, technology and the arts and flooded it with fake votes for "moot" (real name Christopher Poole), the 21 year old founder of 4chan.
According to FOLIO, hackers used “autovoters” to place more than 16 million votes for "moot" (that's seven times more than the next guy). They've also rearranged the top 21 names so that the first letter of their names—looking down the list—spelled out the phrase “Marblecake Also the Game.”
So, in keeping with Time's tradition, will "moot" be included in the magazine’s official list, which is schedule to publish on May 1? Voting closes on April 28 and considering moot's gigantic lead, he's bound to stay on top. Ooh, I can't wait to find out.
Monday, April 20, 2009
This past weekend, my whole family was closely watching a blog because of a scandalous post involving someone we know really well. Some of us barely slept, staring at our RSS feed to read the latest comment - usually nasty and admittedly, pretty darn juicy. Truth is, the blog post itself wasn't so horrible - it didn't reveal any names or facts, just an alleged scandal and a couple of initials. Nothing very risky. But people's comments? Well, they were something wicked.
It was like "Mean Girls" on steroids. Anonymous comments uncovered the real names behind initials (including a mother's maiden name), nasty rumors (sex, money, infamy), and other really dreadful dandelions I'd rather not say. As a voyeur I started to feel really guilty - perhaps I wasn't any better than the people posting comments. After all, the more they posted, the more I read.
But by Sunday the blog post was silent. The post and all comments had been taken down entirely. My guess is the blogger was threatened with a lawsuit. Which got me thinking...
What is the extent of our responsibility for dandelions that we post or get posted on our blogs? Bloggers might be ethically obliged to remove libelous comments, especially when anonymous, but I wonder whether leaving them would be considered illegal. I also wonder about all the dandelions that bloggers post unknowingly - at what point are those considered crimes?
Well, apparently when they're written with the intent to harm others. At least in South Korea.
Yesterday, a famous South Korean blogger Park Dae-Sung, better known as Minerva, was acquitted on charges that he posted false information about the South Korean economy which inadvertently sunk the foreign currency market costing the government billions of dollars. Minerva was acquitted because the judge found that he posted his statement unknowingly and therefore did not intend to harm the public. This, of course, after spending 100 days in jail.
So what of the anonymous mean commenters? In that case, perhaps the blogger is responsible because he's hosting the forum that allows the harm to take place. But rather than leave it to the law (and who knows what rights they'll take away), it should be our responsibility as readers to weed out the dandelions from the daisies. That to me sounds better than the sound of silence.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
I don't normally read celebrity news, unless it's about Madonna. I can't help it because she's just fabulous. So, of course I was totally disturbed to hear that she fell off a horse this morning while riding in Southampton because of some nasty paparazzi. According to Madonna, the paparazzi jumped out of the bushes and totally freaked the horse out resulting in Madonna falling and suffering some minor scrapes and burns.
But, apparently this is just a dandelion. An update to the story in the NY Times this evening notes that the fall is real, but according to a photographer/ paparazzi who was at the scene before and after the fall, Madonna was on her own. The only photographer who happened to be there was her host, fashion photographer Steven Klein. So, no paparazzi in sight?
I can't actually fault Madonna for blaming the paparazzi. She might as well have someone to blame and they're the perfect target. But, Madonna creating dandelions? I thought she was a lot more fabulous than that.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Pareidolias are those animals you see in the clouds, but really aren’t, or hidden, demon messages played in reverse, like Obama’s “serve scathum.”
I learned this new word after watching this strange video discovered by a boxing enthusiast blogger, Forgetomori. The video is an Ali vs. Foreman fight from the 70s. At about 5:45-5:46, a glowing Michael Jackson – circa this millennium – suddenly appears. Is it a hoax? A dandelion/pareidolia? Note to viewer: it takes a little while to get to the MJ mark, but the video is worth watching - Ali is amazing.
My guess is that Michael Jackson is just a dandelion/pareidolia – it’s not really him, but some freaky image on an old t-shirt. But blogger Forgetomori thinks it could be digitally altered since the suspect MJ has transparent black hair. Though even he says that if it’s an edit, it’s a heck of an editing job.
What do you think?
Thursday, April 16, 2009
The two-year project is called the Ethical Issues of Emerging ICT Applications (ETICA). Researchers will be tasked with identifying the new communications technologies – like Twitter – that are likely to emerge in the next 10-15 years and examine some of the ethical implications that can arise.
For example, email gave rise to spamming, e-commerce and internet banking brought about phishing, and SMS and phone cams opened up the door to “sexting.” While the internet has made it easy for us to adopt new communications tools quickly, we seldom think of the ethical downsides. Like the teenage girls possibly facing jail time and being labeled sex offenders for taking nude photos of themselves and texting them to their lovers. Apparently this is not only unethical, it's also a serious crime. Though I'm still struggling to understand exactly what makes it so horrible. If the photo has only been shared between two consenting lovers, where is the crime? Perhaps it lies in its potential. But, potential has never been a crime.
My classmate Hayley is right – the rapid spread of technology is outdating the law, and it’s at the point where the law is no longer in control. Prosecutors feel that they have to apply the most serious offenses possible, probably because it’s the only way for them to feel they’re still in charge. But, is it right? A harsh punishment for a cybercrime like “sexting” – for which no law can be applied – is a symbol of society’s insecurity. It’s a brave new world vs the savages. And the savages seem to be winning.
So, I wonder about this ethical task force. While on one hand identifying and understanding how a problem can form can lead to it not forming at all, the flip side is it might just be a way for prosecutors to regain control – to be prepared to apply different degrees of the law to actions that don’t really merit prosecution. And that’s actually what the main objective is. According to the story, ETICA will devise a method to grade and rank the ethical issues. “They will then focus on the top five issues they consider to have the highest priority and will make recommendations to policy makers based on their findings, as well as investigating governance models to see which are most likely to successfully address the ethical issues identified in the project.”
Unfortunately, I think that unless our own ideals and beliefs evolve as quickly as our technology, we won’t really find a way outside the ethical circle. Our old rules crafted generations ago don’t apply anymore, but our society is too afraid to let go of what it has always known. What society doesn’t realize is that we’re already in the middle of a revolution. I'm optimistic - it might take some time, but I don't believe fear will win this battle.
Ok, one last thought. Aside from it being extremely hard, if not impossible, to predict future ethical drawbacks, imagine if you really could predict that next big thing. What would stop one of these researchers from partnering with Google or some venture capitalists and try to make the next big thing happen? Because I’m sure the next big thing would pay much better than the research job, despite it being interesting, albeit rather challenging. Now that I think about it, I’m not so sure this ethics team will last those two-years after all.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
A Slashdot reader picked up on this news item from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) about the little Bernie Madoff's that have sprung up on YouTube.
Online video promotions promising fast cash - called cash gifting programs - are nothing more than ponzi schemes, writes the BBB. According to video analytics, there are nearly 23,000 cash gifting videos on YouTube with a staggering 59,192,963 views. Must be the bad economy.
The videos never ask for money directly. Instead, they send you to a site where you sign up for a gifting program with a fee anywhere from $150 to $5,000. To entice you, the schemes are touted as fundraisers for a "good cause" or "to help people help themselves." Once you "donate" your money, you're then asked to convince others to join because the more people join, the more money for you.
The worse part about these schemes is they target women's clubs, community groups or church congregations. Or, worse yet, they target the people - in this tough economy - who are struggling the most.
The BBB offers some tips on how to steer clear of those nasty little Madoff's. If you think you've encountered a dubious gifting scheme, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I have to make an “investment” or give money to obtain the right to recruit others into the program?
- When I recruit another person into the program, will I receive what the law calls “consideration” (that usually means money) as a result?
- Will the person I recruit have to make an “investment” or give money to obtain the right to recruit and receive “consideration” for getting other people to join?
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Actually, his parents were the most shocked of all. I got some dirty looks and a little bit of "how could you?" Though even with all the drama, we all knew it was time he found out. Had it been today, all he would have to do is search Wikipedia to know he had been duped. In any case, it was a great moment for my nephew who grew up a little that day.
Happy Easter to all the big and little kids who learn to grow up a little today. May you keep catching dandelions.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
A few weeks ago I wrote about how small businesses were accusing Yelp of writing dandelions about them when they declined to advertise on the site. Now, Yelp has announced that it will finally allow small business owners to respond publicly to reviews they think are inaccurate. Starting next week, small business owners will get a chance to "correct or add factual information" on reviews about their business. That means they get to fight back against dandelions. It's about time.
I'm glad that Yelp has realized it can't just give a voice to the consumer without also giving a voice to the small business owner. While some small businesses have fought back dandelions in their own creative ways, it's the first time they are able to take the fight where the fight started. Although chief exec, Jeremy Stoppelman, has said Yelp wants to only protect the consumer's voice and that businesses are his last priority, he's realizing that small business owners are not the behemoth bully businesses he originally set out against. In fact, you can argue that Yelp - through the collective voice of consumers - has become the big bully. At least the big bully is realizing it can't sustain a business on a bed of little dandelions.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Apparently, an email posted in 2007 in National Review’s blog claims that Yale Dean Harold Koh, State Department Legal Adviser nominee, had said — at a speech before the Yale Club of Greenwich — that Sharia law could apply to the U.S. However, the White House states that the allegations are untrue, and even Fox can't verify the claim.
But because they are "fair and balanced," Fox decided to run the story anyway. 'Coz why the heck not create some more dandelions and a little paranoia to go along with it?
Regardless of whether this is a dandelion, not all aspects of Sharia law may be so horrible. A quick search on Wikipedia - admittedly not the most reliable source - illustrates that there are many parallels between the U.S. Constitution and Sharia law (prohibition of illegal drugs, for one). And, apparently there is even controversy surrounding suggestions that English common law was inspired by medieval Islamic law. Ok, so maybe I'm getting ahead of myself and that's a dandelion too...
Monday, April 6, 2009
Not sure if I heard "serve satan." Sounds more like "serve scathum" to me, but honestly you dandelion creator people... really? I can't believe people have the time to make these. There is even an entire YouTube channel devoted to Antichrist Obamanation (I am not making this up) that includes videos relating Obama to the antichrist, i.e., speech reversals, biblical code, Nostradamus. Totally out of control, isn't it? At least now we know where Fox gets their news...
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Friday, April 3, 2009
Phishers and jokers trick people like you and me by disguising a friendly URL in front of the symbol S3. So next time you see a URL like http://www.nytimes.com.s3.amazonaws.com/ it's a dandelion.
According to the Times, a lot of people and companies use Amazon's S3 service when they don't want to invest in their own server. While S3 may have real advantages for small companies - inexpensive data storage - it does have upsides for pranksters too. The source of the link is difficult to trace. Apparently, the trick is most commonly used by people who want to steal your online banking password, so make sure you check the URL before entering that safety pin.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
An article on The Big Money gives a pretty good overview of how these dandelions work. Because networks like Google, Yahoo or MSN will reject these shady vendors immediately, they use middlemen called "affiliate networks" to act as a bridge between them (the vendors) and "affiliates" (ordinary folks) to place the ads in the network. "Affiliates" create a landing page and plant the ads all over the web hoping to drive traffic to the free 2-month trial offer. And, they usually do. "Affiliates" get paid on how much traffic they send to the site and apparently the money is pretty good—"affiliates" claim to bring in more than $10,000 a month (woah!).
Of course we all know that the secret to a flat belly is not some fake product that is fakely free. (Just ask Lindsay Lohan.) The flat belly is a dandelion.
In fact, the whole thing is just a scam. After your 2-month free trial, good luck getting someone to pick-up the phone to cancel the offer.
How do you think they make their money?
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Today is the 14th anniversary of the very first wiki. To celebrate I've invited Sarah Rudolph, an editor at Marketswiki - an open source for financial market information - for a brief Q&A. Sarah will give us some insight into the process of creating and editing Marketwiki articles, as well as some of the challenges they face. I know she has been super busy and her responses couldn't have come at a better time. Sarah - thanks for taking the time!
Q: How did the idea of creating a Marketswiki develop?
SR: My boss, John Lothian, felt there was a need for one large knowledge base for information about the financial industry--focusing on exchange trading, derivatives, over-the-counter markets and environmental markets. There is a lot of information out there, but he felt it would be useful to aggregate it all in one place. He wanted it to be open source, like Wikipedia, but more closely monitored, with contributing and editing restricted to people who are experts on the markets. So besides a staff of paid editors who are all long-time financial journalists, only those who subscribe to The John Lothian Newsletter can actually get in and edit pages on Marketswiki. Anyone can access the information, however.
Q. Can you explain your role at Marketswiki and the process of editing article entries? For example, how quickly does the community's self-correction process kick-in when a problem is identified?
SR: Along with the other 4-6 editors working at Marketswiki (the number has varied since we began the project), I am responsible for putting information into the wiki, fact checking, and editing my own and other people's entries. It is a very collaborative effort. We are always looking at each others' work and that of other contributors. (The editing process is transparent--all the editorial changes are recorded, so everyone knows what changes have been made and who made them.) Also, we are always talking to people in the industry--exchange leaders, heads of technology and software companies, traders, etc. Most of them have seen Marketswiki and often have information to add or change. If we hear of something that needs fixing, we almost always fix it immediately.
Q. How does an article page start on Marketswiki? Do editors create entries or do they only edit articles that have been created by others? If editors also create articles, how do they go about selecting a topic?
SR: From the beginning, the Marketswiki team (which includes John Lothian, who has been in the financial industry for many years) have created all the article pages. The editors who first seeded the wiki had spent years working at and/or reporting on the exchanges, in particular the Chicago futures and options exchanges. They put a lot of work into initial articles on those exchanges, and many of the important companies and people in the industry. There are a great many ways we select topics--at first the editors tried to lay down a base of crucial industry players, terms, and products...now we can get inspiration from the news, from finding gaps (red links) in other articles and filling them in, from talking to industry people, and just from noticing what's missing.
Q. What are some of the challenges of having an open, collaborative format like Marketswiki?
SR: It is challenging getting people to contribute. However, we try to make it as easy as possible: we go to company offices and demonstrate how it works, from the technical aspects to our editorial policies (we use AP style, for example). Of course it's challenging to find the best and most up-to-date information and make sure it's correct.
Q. I recently interviewed law professor Eric Goldman who said that Wikipedia cannot be both high-quality and freely editable - it has to choose one or the other. What is your take on this?
SR: I won't say anything about Wikipedia--for all I know, it can be both--but our model is to aim for the high quality and not make it freely editable. We do want people in the industry to participate--the more the better--but we feel our model is much less susceptible to vandalism, slanted articles, and dandelions.
Q. Despite the fact that Marketswiki is different from Wikipedia in that it [Marketwikis] is powered by paying subscribers, do you sometimes come across some dandelions? Can you share one?
SR: Not too many real dandelions come to mind. I guess the worst one we had was when an intern who apparently didn't really understand the process copied and pasted an entire Wikipedia entry in as an article on MW. AND it was one that had been designated as suspect because it had no references in it. The article was immediately deleted and replaced, and my boss explained to the intern that we don't use Wikipedia as a reference. We do try to use a number of different references for each article.
Q. What are your three FAVORITE dandelions?
Hmmm....it's hard to think of them! How about the last three things Bill O'Reilly said?
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Fox News seems to be spreading some dandelions of its own lately. First they defended Aaron Klein's fake Wikiepedia entry about Obama's birth certificate, and then last week they aired an old clip of Joe Biden that they tried to pass as new. This week, Fox News' Trace Gallagher said that the Dow was up 28 points when President Obama began his stimulus package speech and dropped to -28 by the time his speech was over. But, this just wasn't true.
The video from DailyKosTV shows that during President Obama's speech the Dow actually gained six points. After starting at -34, it ended at -28 points by the time he was finished. Never mind that it is completely ridiculous to tie Obama's speeches to our gyrating markets. What's most disturbing is Fox News' motto: "Fair & Balanced." Unfortunately, I don't see a lot of fair and balanced when it comes to Obama. I mostly see dandelions.
I guess this is what Stanford U's Robert Proctor meant by agnotology. I can only imagine that the next time I see my mother (a Fox fan and Sean Hannity devotee) she'll bring up this dandelion Dow as a way to say she told me so. And even if I tell her it just wasn't true, it will already have been too late.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
As Tiffany vs. eBay goes to the U.S. Court of Appeals, eBay reveals some pretty alarming stats about their counterfeit goods problem. According to Nicola Sharpe, eBay's spokesperson, 2.1 million listings were removed in 2008 and 30,000 sellers suspended for hawking fakes. That's a whole lot of dandelions. While I know my friends are savvy and will know how to tell between a fake and the real thing, some fakes are so well made that it's difficult to distinguish.
I don't think that the blame should fall on eBay, so I don't agree with the lawsuit. It's almost impossible for eBay to police counterfeits - in addition to having 2.7 billion live listings globally over a year, it's also not the business they're in. Sharpe did continue to say that 100% of reported listings were removed from the site last year, and usually within 12 hours. So, there is some consolation for my bargain loving friends. While it may turn out that one or two of their bargains weren't bargains after all, at least these fashion dandelions don't go unnoticed.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Back in January, Silicon Alley Insider hosted "Create Twitter's Revenue Model" contest and received some pretty compelling entries. But I have to say that none was more entertaining than the fabulous little dandelion that had Tweeters all a-twitter today.
Brian Briggs of BBspot - a tweeter himself - writes that Twitter co-founder Evan Williams announced a new business plan around premium access accounts. Premium access looks something like this:
- Sparrow ($5/month) – Users get 145 character limit, 5 extra random followers.
- Dove ($15/month) – Users get 160 character limit, 25 extra random followers, 1 random celebrity follower, auto-spell check, "Fail Whale" T-shirt.
- Owl ($50/month) – Users get 250 character limit, 100 extra random followers, 2 random celebrity followers, 30 minutes on recommended list, auto-spell check, "Fail Whale" hoodie.
- Eagle ($250/month) – Users get 500 character limit, 1000 extra random followers, 3 celebrity followers of their choice, 5 hours on recommended list each month, Twitter Concierge for Tweeting while user is asleep or busy (and more), auto-spell check, "Fail Whale" tuxedo, custom "Fail Whale" page when service is down.
Nevermind that this seems highly unlikely, it still had people thinking that the plan "could really change things." If only.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Robert Proctor, a Stanford U historian of science and technology, believes the more we know the more uncertain we are. He coined the term "agnotology," which is the study of "culturally-induced ignorance." Proctor testified against the tobacco industry in the late 90's and cited the tobacco industry's attempt to suppress information about the cancerous risks of tobacco consumption as an example of agnotology. He argues that special interest groups seed doubt because it's in their interest to suppress the truth. Hence, those dandelions about Obama being a Muslim, or the tragic rumor about global warming not caused by man, are actually attempts by special interests to create utter confusion so that we reach a point where we just "stop caring about what's true and what's not."
We're not all doomed to ignorance though. Although one can argue that the internet has "inherently agnotological side effects" I believe that it actually does a good job of nurturing awareness and knowledge. The good news about the web is that bad seeds are almost always exposed, and rather quickly I might add. The bad news: it's hard to reverse ignorance, especially when that bad seed has already spread.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Creating dandelions are hardly ever done for good cause, except of course when promoting "harmony." The grass-mud horse could very well be one of the most ingenious dandelions ever created - not only has it gained widespread popularity in China, from children to intellectuals, it could also be the catalyst for an inevitable shift in Chinese power.
This mythical creature has become something of a phenomenon since it first started circulating on the web in January. The fake "grass-mud horse" was created to slip past rigid Chinese government censors since the word sounds awfully close to "f**k your mother" in Chinese, which of course is totally taboo. Now it has become a sort of icon of Chinese resistance. A video children's song, grass-mud horse dolls (see photo below), and even academic papers have sprung up to celebrate the fantastically creepy animal. Watch the video of the children's song.
The grass-mud horse - actually an alpaca - lives in the "Ma Le Ge Bi" desert, which apparently is a subtle variation on "your mother's vagina." The horses' biggest obstacle is defeating the nasty "river crabs" devouring their land. Another pun, "river crabs" sound like "harmony," which in China has become synonymous with censorship. According to the New York Times, banned bloggers often say they've been "harmonized," which pokes fun at their government's censorship as a way of promoting a harmonious society (I imagine the word "censor" might also be banned). In the end, through their "courageous, tenacious" spirit, the grass-mud horses defeat the "river crabs" (censorship) to live happily ever after in "Ma Le Ge Bi" (your mother's you know what).
Pretty clever, right? As Boing Boing says, it's "definitely best misheard lyrics since 'wrapped up like a douche bag in the middle of the night.'" Yeah, you totally know what I mean.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
As if life isn’t confusing enough. Valleywag writes that Aaron Klein, WorldNetDaily's Jerusalem bureau chief and frequent contributor for Fox News, just created a fake scandal about a fake scandal.
Klein reports how one “Jerusalem21” was given a three-day Wikipedia suspension for challenging Obama's identity by editing the Obama page – which was removed in an impressive 2 minutes – with the following faux birth-certificate entry:
"There have been some doubts about whether Obama was born in the U.S. after the politician refused to release to the public a carbon copy of his birth certificate and amid claims from his relatives he may have been born in Kenya. Numerous lawsuits have been filed petitioning Obama to release his birth certificate, but most suits have been thrown out by the courts.”According to Klein, Wikipedia considers this to be “fringe theory,” hence their reason for banning it. But, Fox News picked up on the story today and now it’s making waves on the web.
The real story here, however, has nothing to do with Wikipedia or Obama at all. “Jerusalem21,” our ex-communicated Wikipedia editor, is more than likely Aaron Klein himself, your trusted WND journalist and Fox News interviewee, who just decided to create a dandelion about a dandelion. Talk about challenging identity.
I don't know any newspaper or media channel that would let this kind of deliberate dandelion making slide. And I'm happy to know that Wikipedia does have some pretty stringent standards in place. Maybe they aren't so "high quality," but then again certain media outlets - ahem, Fox - can't claim to be either.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
A few days ago I wrote about the dandelions at Yelp. This past week, the New York Times dug a little deeper and now it seems that Yelp is getting some of its dandelions blown right back.
Since I don’t have both sides of the story, I can’t actually claim what local businesses have – that Yelp posts negative reviews or removes positive ones when businesses decline to advertise. But, what’s interesting is how one local business has found a genius way to fight back. Rather than go after Yelp’s dandelions in the digital forum, Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco has taken the battle to the real world.
Staffers at Delifina are now proudly wearing printed t-shirts with negative reviews the pizzeria has received from Yelp users, or perhaps Yelp itself. Some of Delfina's favorite one star reviews have made it on the tees, like "The pizza was soooo greasy. I am assuming this was in part due to the pig fat,” or "This place sucks."
So, while local businesses can’t actually respond to any of the claims made on Yelp’s forums, nor can they take anyone to court, they can take the matter on for themselves. And the tees are apparently a hit with Yelp users, which just shows that all it takes is a bit of creativity to turn those dandelions into budding flowers. Bravo Delfina!
Saturday, March 7, 2009
A co-worker of mine recently googled her name and came across a myspace page that said she was a “fucking whore.” She totally flipped. The myspace profile belongs to somebody else with the same name (it really does), so unfortunately there’s not much she can do about it. But what about those false claims on the web about the real you? Well, it seems it’s not so easy to get those down either.
Mark Cutts, head of Google's Webspam team, recently wrote about “Why Google won’t remove that webpage you don’t like.” He says that regardless of whether Google takes down the page, it still exists in the wider web. (Yes, Google is not the only search engine.) So if someone is posting major dandelions, spinning and twisting your words, he offers two ways to fix it:
1) Either contact whoever put up webpage B and convince them to modify or to take the page down.I can’t say I’m keen on either option merely because the end result is not up to you. In option 1 you’re pleading with mr snarky, anonymous poster for retracting something he said that you claim is untrue. What does he care? And in option 2, you’re left with paying a lawyer plenty of money to plead to a court that may or may not judge in your favor. Think of all the money and time you could potentially lose because of mr snarky! So, why be dependent on others when you can take the matter on yourself?
2) Or if the page is doing something against the law, get a court to agree with you and force webpage B to be removed or changed.
I find that the best way of catching the dandelion is by exposing the false claim on your own site (that’s the beauty of the web) and making snarky, anonymous poster regret he ever messed with you. What I wouldn’t do is ignore it completely or rely on others to do it for you.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
I was thrilled when Eric Goldman, cyberlaw professor at Santa Clara University and director of the school's High Tech Law Institute, agreed to a Q&A with catching dandelions. I recently wrote about the point Prof. Goldman made at the Silicon Flatirons conference earlier this month on "Why Wikipedia Will Fail." He believes that Wikipedia has to wrestle between being high-quality and open to the public to edit, but it can't be both.
Eric Goldman's research focuses on internet law, intellectual property, marketing, and the legal and social implications of new communication technologies. You can read his blogs here and here and follow him on Twitter.
Q: If Wikipedia should choose between being high-quality and freely editable, which one would you prefer they choose? Why?
High quality. Otherwise, the database becomes useless. In fact, Wikipedia has implicitly chosen higher quality as they slowly "raise the drawbridge" on user editability. See, e.g., their recent "Flagged Revisions" proposal.
Q: You must have heard about the WikiDashboard designed by PARC that allows for more transparency on Wikipedia entries. Do you think that the dashboard will help raise the quality level of Wikipedia entries?
It is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, additional transparency can help identify and fight malicious edits. On the other hand, when Wikipedia editors overreact to companies or individuals editing entries in which they may have an economic interest, increased transparency may paradoxically increase unwarranted reverts.
Q: Why do people still source Wikipedia - like the German press recently did with the name of the new economic affairs minister - knowing full well that it is littered with dandelions?
That's a great question, and I'm not sure if I have the complete answer. One hypothesis is that searchers assume that a high Google ranking means that the site is trustworthy. Another is that people still assume anything in digital format is trustworthy.
Q: I love Wikipedia and know many people who do. Although we don't believe it is high-quality, it is good enough. At the very least, you learn something new. Why can't Wikipedia just be "good enough"?
I think Wikipedia is a terrific resource when used properly. However, I fear that Wikipedia will be overrun by spammers and vandals, at which point it may no longer be good enough.
Q: With so many dandelions in cyberspace, do you think our notion of trust has been reshaped by the web?
When my generation was in school, we were not trained how to assess the credibility and veracity of printed information. For the most part, we assumed that printed information was presumptively credible. I hope that future generations will be trained differently in school and will realize the importance of determining credibility. Personally, I don't see any other viable path for the future. If in fact students are better trained in the future, then our norms about trusting online content will be radically reshaped.
Q: What are your three FAVORITE dandelions?
I had never really thought about this! Some favorites:
Zeran v. America Online. An anonymous AOL user pulled a very nasty prank on Kenneth Zeran by posting fake but highly inflammatory content online with Zeran's home/business phone number. The hostile reaction caused Zeran to be out of business for weeks and to get police surveillance because he got so many death threats.
Listings on dating websites falsely saying that the prank's victim is looking for sex. Carafano v. Metrosplash is an early example, but there have been others.
Google News' republication of a story about United Airlines' bankruptcy with an ambiguous date stamp, which helped cause United Airlines' stock to plummet by 75%, costing investors hundreds of millions of dollars in market cap for a short period of time. For a two-decade old example of a similar problem, see Daniel v. Dow Jones.
Thanks Professor Goldman!
Friday, February 27, 2009
Kuala Lumpur's New Strait Times reported on this 100-foot long snake a few days ago. Even the Scientific American weighed in with a digital photography forensic examination. I am no photoshop expert, but it's not hard to tell that this is one GIGANTIC dandelion. What amazes me is how the media can pick-up on and report this kind of thing without verification. It apparently got a whole bunch of people in Borneo scared out of their wits. Says the London Telegraph, "...on the banks of the river, villagers are convinced of the massive serpent's existence and have even given it a name, Nabau, after an ancient sea serpent which can transform itself into the shapes of different animals." Hmm, maybe it will turn into a big ape next.
Thanks to Boing Boing (one of my fave sites) for revealing the original image yesterday, which obviously shows that the snake is fake.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Apparently, the bullying has been going on for months. According to several business owners in the local East Bay area, negative reviews of their businesses appeared and positive ones disappeared after they turned down an aggressive sales pitch. The practice is so straight out of the Godfather playbook it's pathetic. Of course Yelp denies any such doings, but the allegations are challenged by nine business owners and a former Yelp employee.
While Yelp says that it doesn't move reviews around, it does employ "scouts" or "ambassadors" to write reviews of local businesses. And this seems to be standard practice. According to the story, "Tens of thousands of newspapers, magazines, and online destinations write reviews of businesses even as their advertising departments are busy soliciting those same businesses for advertising. Ideally there is no causal relationship between the two. Financial considerations shouldn't affect the tone of supposedly independent content."
Right, but Yelp is not a newspaper or a magazine and is positioned on "Real People, Real Reviews." So, although writing reviews may seem right for Yelp, it also contradicts the notion of user-generated content. Plus, according to Yelp, they don't post every review. According to their FAQ page, "Yelp has a system which automatically determines which reviews show for a given business."
I am a Yelp user - actually more like spectator - so it's pretty disappointing to know that there are lots of little dandelions floating around the site. Although the practice of local businesses asking friends to write reviews has been around since Citysearch days, I never thought that this time the culprit would be Yelp itself.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
The column discusses how on the web, journalists and editors - even at the NYT - have to struggle to find the right balance between thorough editing and speed. Because of the hyper-competition to get the story out first, stories do get published with mistakes and although the mistakes can be corrected later, it's sometimes too late. That dandelion has already spread throughout cyberspace. This is just part of the advantages and disadvantages of internet reporting, as Hoyt points out:
"They include immediacy but fewer layers of editing; the opportunity to develop a story in real time but demands to “feed the beast” that can prevent deeper reporting; keen competition but wasted time chasing false leads published by less reliable sources; the ability to fix mistakes quickly but no way to prevent them from ricocheting around the world first."Editing on the web and editing in print is vastly different. But does this mean that the standards for the web have to be different than those for print? Surely the language is different, but should standards for accuracy change just because of the need to be first to break the story? It's the classic story of quality vs. quantity. It certainly doesn't mean that errors haven't been published in print - they have. But there are many more on the web. And, maybe that's just part of the way that media is evolving while it figures out how to stay ahead of the web game.
While I really enjoy how quickly news travels on the internet, I also prefer the real story rather than a mixed cocktail of truths and just half-truths that will only stand to be corrected later. However, I understand that the balancing act is not always perfect and will sometimes pave the way for little dandelions. If only there was a way to catch them before they spring.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Is it possible that Google has uncovered Atlantis? Bernie Bamford, a British aeronautical engineer, thought he might have found Atlantis while toying with the new Google Ocean. It's a valid claim - it looks like a buried city and is off the coast of Western Africa, around one of the possible sites where the fabled city is said to have disappeared (there are many). But, Google denied the claim saying that the city-like grid is actually "an artefact of the data collection process... collected from boats using sonar to take measurements of the sea floor."
Aw, shucks. And I thought this was finally the moment that Plato's mythical city would resurface. Ok not really, but this curious dandelion warranted enough press attention that Google was compelled to release a statement. Some people aren't biting and think they smell a cover up. You think this could actually be a daisy? Nah, but it sure is pretty.
UPDATE: wednesday, february 25, 2009There must be a lot of Atlantis hopefuls out there because Google released another official statement about the mystery grid. It's the same story except this time they had real oceanographers do the telling. I have to admit that I find the Atlantis theory far sexier than a bunch of soundwaves. But oh well, Atlantis case closed.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
The Washington Post calls it the "dark heart" of the internet. It's called 4chan.org and it could very well be the birthplace of some of the web's darkest dandelions.
Talk about walking on the wild side. Started in 2003 by a then 15 year-old who goes by "moot," 4chan is a hub for 5 million "hackers, slackers and potty-mouthed geek" visitors who create 400,000 daily posts on just about anything from "images of... their favorite actors to their favorite bowel movements." Apparently the group Anonymous, (in)famous for staging protests against the Church of Scientology, sprung from 4chan. The kid that hacked into Gov. Sarah Palin's Yahoo account? He's on 4chan. So are the ones that hijacked Google's Hot Trends list, first with a swastika and then this "?l?oo? no? ??n?". Remember the post - "Steve Jobs just died" - that leaked into the blog macrumors.com in January? You guessed it. That's 4chan too.
It's like stepping into the heart of cyber darkness. I imagine that countless other dastardly dandelions plant their roots in 4chan. Proceed with caution if you dare. Word of warning: it is highly NSFW.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Researchers with the Stanford Clean Slate program have been developing a new internet, one that offers "...improved security and the capabilities to support a new generation of not-yet-invented Internet applications, as well as to do some things the current Internet does poorly — such as supporting mobile users." Apparently, the advanced internet will be running on eight campus networks by the end of this summer.
While a more secure internet sounds great in theory, the article raises an interesting point by noting that the barriers to internet evolution lie with the people who use it. While on the one hand our ability to hide our identity is one of the fundamental principles of the internet, that same anonymity causes most of the internet's problems - from stolen identities like pretending you're Tina Fey on Twitter (thanks to indienomics for this dandelion) to more serious crimes like hacking the defense department. Culprits are not easily found and in the latter, the consequences are severe.
But, will a new, transparent internet, one that requires us to prove our identity before entering (like our passport number), make us safer and trust each other more? And will all the dandelions really disappear? Although I don't hide my online identity, I am philosophically attached to our current principle of total freedom without identity checks. Part of my attraction to the internet is the possibility of a walk on the wild side - I would rather have this than a controlled internet that is supposed to keep me safe inside a bubble. And in the new network, I can't imagine that dandelions will go away forever.
UPDATE: sunday, february 22, 2009Seems that The Observer agrees with catching dandelions about walking on the wild side. The author argues that the openness of the web is what the internet is all about. He wouldn't trade creativity and innovation for security. Frankly, neither would I.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
The name of Germany's new minister of economic affairs is Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg. Before he was appointed, someone added the name "Wilhelm" to his name in the Wikipedia entry - perhaps just to screw with the public. Besides, with a name that long, who would notice? Well, certainly not the German press who picked up on and published the false entry. When Wikipedia editors asked for proof of the name "Wilhelm," the published articles with the false entry were used as proof.
Sounds like a case of circular editing. And since this is probably very confusing, here's a little illustration I did to show how this worked.
At the Silicon Flatirons Conference last weekend, a cyberlaw professor Eric Goldman who loves Wikipedia talked of its inevitable self-destruction. He says that Wikipedia cannot be both high-quality and open to the public to edit. It has to choose one or the other.
I'm not so sure I agree. I believe that our widespread access to knowledge today presents us with an even greater opportunity to see all sides of a story, to question "facts", to think critically and self-edit. The web has given rise to a collective intelligence and this natural group integrity leads to high-quality work. Call me an idealist, but I do believe in the organic filtering of information.
What do you think?
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Ad Age, it's not as if some fans were all that surprised either. I'm sure there are plenty of ghostwriters trolling the pages of Facebook making lots of "friends." But, what's the point of Facebook if you're a complete fake? Someone should tell the folks over at Doubleday that they can't turn dandelions into daisies.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
If I'm ever held up at an ATM machine and my assailant demands money, said the chain mail, all I have to do is insert my card and enter my pin number backwards. My new safety pin will send shockwaves through the system and alert the police who will save me in true hollywood fashion. Pretty smooth, right?
"Myself I have never heard of it, so I had to verify with all of co-workers, and back office. Nobody knows anything about it, and my back office confirmed that they are not aware of such a security measure. Hope this helps." (Real email from my banker.)
A brief search on Google reveals that the secret safety pin is pure legend. But, I wonder how many of my girlfriends will even bother to do a quick search (zero). The thing is, when you get an email from a trusted friend who rarely sends chain mails you don't think twice about what it says, unless it's obviously fake. You just believe. And that can be the problem with the web.
I'm not trying to defend myself or my friend, but there is actually some truth to this safety pin. Apparently, an entrepreneur named Zingher created the patent for the reverse pin and tried to sell the idea to banks, but they never caught on. And why not? Well, as a friend told me, imagine that your safety pin was exactly the same backwards...
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Wikipedia is part of the reason why the web is so wonderful. Because anyone can contribute to the encyclopedia, everyone consumes each other's knowledge. Wikipedia has empowered us more than ever before. In the words of Marshall McLuhan, "all the world's a sage."
But, are all the articles accurate? I'm sure some high school kids would love if they were. Certainly many articles are well sourced, but you can't say all the facts are straight. According to wikipedia, there are a total of 9,725 good and featured articles and lists out of a total 2,734,727 articles. Good articles are "good quality but which are not yet, or are unlikely to reach, featured article quality." (Case in point: the good articles page cites 2,734,727 articles in wikipedia while the featured articles page cites 2,733,942.) That means the chances of running into a dandelion are- well, you're probably better at math than I.
However, this is about to change. Technology Review writes that some super smart scientists over at Palo Alto Research Center have created the WikiDashboard that will apparently give more transparency to each article page. The dashboard shows all edits on an article, who's edited, when it was last edited, and even the cat fights between editors. Basically, it means that it should be easier for us readers to catch the suspect dandelions and tell which ones are daisies. I don't know if the dashboard is live yet, but it's about time. After all, it won't just be high school kids breathing a sigh of relief.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Dandelions are pretty enough to be real flowers, but they're not. They're weeds. We don't think twice about blowing on them and when we do, they multiply and spread like wild. That is, until we catch them by the root.
I'm not interested in tracking rumors. And this blog is not a crusade for the truth. I'm just looking for some of the prettiest dandelions.
Friday, February 6, 2009
My 13 year old nephew loves anything mac (who doesn't). But bliss was when he heard about the new "macbook wheel." Apparently it debuted at the mac world conference (?) and he even had the video to prove it.
Ok, that was pretty funny. My nephew is young and innocent and has no idea what the onion is about (it's a parody, i.e. not real). But, I wondered who else might know about this fake mac wheel and be excited. Surely the 19 minute battery and 45 minute email would be dead giveaways, so I probably wouldn't have much luck. But, news flies at super speed on the internet - especially when it comes to a new mac. And I wondered how many people had already called mac to reserve the mac wheel.
I called my brother today to find out. Did you hear about the new mac with the big wheel? He read about it, he said. Couldn't wait until it came out and was already saving his money. "Wheely?" I hate to be the spoiler, but better save your money for something else.
He was kind of disappointed. Not one to back down, he did make a good point - even if it's not out now it could actually happen - and he's right. But it's not wheel, at least not yet. Right now, it's just a little dandelion...