"In a photo on the company’s U.S. Web site, three businesspeople—one black, one white and one Asian are shown as part of a pitch for Microsoft’s business productivity software. In the same photo on the site of Microsoft’s Polish subsidiary, a white head is placed over the black person’s body, although the hand is not changed." Click thru to see the pic.
If you’re a lawyer, and you use the crazy-outmoded PACER system to access federal court documents, check out the new RECAP system launched today by Tim Lee, Harlan Yu, and Steve Schultze with the help of Princeton’s CITP. If you use PACER, you know it’s difficult to use. It also charges citizens to access what are nominally public documents, something that makes little sense online. This combination has resulted in a multi-million dollar surplus for the judiciary’s IT department, and lousy access to data that would be useful not just to lawyers and litigants, but to bloggers, librarians, reporters, and scholars.
Schultze, Lee, and Yu’s scheme to free the documents on PACER is an ingenious one. They have built a Firefox plugin called RECAP that attorneys and other regular users of PACER can install on their computers. When a user downloads a document from PACER, the plugin sends a copy to RECAP’s server, where it is made publicly available. If enough PACER users install RECAP, it will only be a matter of time before the entire database is liberated. Why would lawyers participate? When they search for a document, the plugin first checks the RECAP database to see if a copy has already been liberated. If it has, then the lawyer can retreive it without paying PACER. Like I said: ingenious.
I’m happy to see so many folks take up Carl Malamud’s mantle and not only liberate government data, but also provide competition to government. It’s the impetus behind my own OpenRegs.com. By demonstrating what’s possible, how the world won’t end when data is made freely available, we create demand for change in government. Three cheers for RECAP!
“The print journalism profession has developed an elaborate, self-justifying ideology in which their own activities are central to the functioning of American democracy.”—Tim Lee in his new blog, Bottom-up
Text messages may be "free," but the network isn't
One reason AT&T may not like Google Voice is that it allows you to send and receive text messages for free. This has led many to argue that SMS are free to the carriers and they are overcharging. Congress is considering getting involved. Most recently there’s this from David Pogue in the NY Times:
The whole thing is especially galling since text messages are pure profit for the cell carriers. Text messaging itself was invented when a researcher found “free capacity on the system” in an underused secondary cellphone channel: http://bit.ly/QxtBt. They may cost you and the recipient 20 cents each, but they cost the carriers pretty much zip.
The price of a text message does sound ridiculous when you consider it on a per bit basis. The problem with thinking about it that way, though, is that it neglects the fact that AT&T had to build a network, and it has to maintain that network, before a text message can be “free.” AT&T charges customers so it can recoup its investment. It does so through voice and data service fees, but also through other fees, including for text messages. However it charges customers, it ultimately has to bring in enough to cover its costs or it goes out of business.
Now, if we passed a law today that said carriers could not charge for SMS because, after all, it’s free, we would see a an increase in the fees it charges for voice, data, and other services. The mix of prices for services we have right now is one the market will bear and consumers want, and there’s no reason to think that we could command a better one.
Better yet, if you want a “free” text messaging option, consider Boost Mobile, which offers just that. Of course, they have different voice prices and an older and slower network. In the end, they have to cover their costs, too.