This week Google unveiled Sidewiki, a tool that lets users annotate any page on the web and read other users’ notes about the page they are visiting. Professional Google watcher Jeff Jarvis quickly panned the service saying that it bifurcates the conversation at sites that already have commenting systems, and that it relieves the site owner of the ability to moderate. Others have pooh-poohed the service, too.
What strikes me about the uproar is that Sidewiki is a lot like the “electronic sidewalks” that Cass Sunstein proposed in his book Republic.com. The concept was first developed in detail in a law review article by Noah D. Zatz titled, Sidewalks in Cyberspace: Making Space for Public Forums in the Electronic Environment [PDF]. The idea is a fairness doctrine for the Internet that would require site owners to give equal time to opposing political views. Sunstein eventually abandoned the view, admitting that it was unworkable and probably unconstitutional. Now here comes Google, a corporation, not the government, and makes digital sidewalks real.
The very existence of Sidewiki, along with the fact that anyone can start a blog for free in a matter of minutes, explodes the need for a web fairness doctrine. But since we’re not talking about government forcing site owners to host opposing views, I wonder if we’re better off with such infrastructure. As some have noted, Google is not the first to try to enable web annotation, and the rest have largely failed, but Google is certainly the biggest to make the attempt. As a site owner I might be worse off with Sidewiki content next to my site that I can’t control. But as a consumer of information I can certainly see the appeal of having ready access to opposing views about what I’m reading. What costs am I overlooking? That Google owns the Sidewiki-sidewalk?
As a developer, it’s a little frustrating that we now have to find a new icon, resubmit the app, and likely wait another couple weeks for such a small thing. As an iPhone user, though, I’m glad Apple is manning the quality control station.
One of the projects I run is OpenRegs.com, an alternative interface to the federal government’s official Regulations.gov site. With the help of Peter Snyder, we recently developed an iPhone app that would put the Federal Register in your pocket. We duly submitted it to Apple over a week ago, and just received a message letting us know that the app has been rejected.
The reason? Our app “uses a standard Action button for an action which is not its intended purpose.” The action button looks like the icon to the right.
According to Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines, its purpose is to “open an action sheet that allows users to take an application-specific action.” We used it to bring up a view from which a user could email a particular federal regulation. Instead, we should have used an envelope icon or something similar. Sounds like an incredibly fastidious reason to reject an application, right? It is, and I’m glad they can do so.
As a developer, it’s a little frustrating that we now have to find a new icon, resubmit the app, and likely wait another couple weeks for such a small thing. As an iPhone user, though, I’m glad Apple is manning the quality control station. It’s precisely Apple’s seeming capriciousness that has made the iPhone such a success. Consumers know that the iPhone and its apps “just work.” No other platform has ever “just worked” as well, and third-party apps for open platforms like Windows Mobile tend to be typified by user interface abominations.
I’m grateful there are open platforms like Android out there that will compete with Apple. And I’m grateful there are developers who will make use of these platforms to give us extreme uses of tech that would never make it into Apple’s cozy padded-wall-land. But as a matter of policy, we’re all better off letting Apple behave like a perfectionist chef that doesn’t allow salt at his tables. You don’t have to eat at the restaurant—there are lots of others—but you’ll probably be glad if you do.
The FCC announced today that it will consider adopting net neutrality rules. The announcement comes in a speech by Chairman Julies Genachowski, which you can read here and watch here. Genachowski says,
To date, the Federal Communications Commission has addressed these issues by announcing four Internet principles that guide our case-by-case enforcement of the communications laws. … The principles were initially articulated by Chairman Michael Powell in 2004 as the “Four Freedoms,” and later endorsed in a unanimous 2005 policy statement[.] … Today, I propose that the FCC adopt the existing principles as Commission rules, along with two additional principles that reflect the evolution of the Internet and that are essential to ensuring its continued openness.
By suggesting that they must be codified, Genachowski is implicitly (if not explicitly) conceding that the FCC’s Internet principles are a mere policy statement and not a binding and enforceable rule. I’ve explained why this is the case previously. So, someone should call the D.C. Circuit, considering the Comcast case, and let them know their job just got a lot easier.
Second, Genachowski gives “limited competition” as a reason to consider regulation. However, the best available data from the FCC show that 98% of zip codes have 2 or more broadband providers, 88% of zip codes have 4 or more broadband providers, and 77% of zip codes have 5 or more broadband providers. That said, some have questioned whether the FCC’s data are accurate, and the FCC’s next broadband report is supposed to have data gathered at the census tract level for a more detailed set of speed categories. So, the FCC is proposing a regulation before it has completed an ongoing study to discover whether there is a real problem. It’s almost as if Kevin Martin is still running the place.
My good friends Dan and Jennie Rothschild read and blog Atlas Shrugged.
Jennie had never read any Rand. Dan, while having libertarian leanings, is by no means a Randian, but is a fan of Atlas Shrugged. A bottle of wine later, they had a sloppily-written contract that stated that Dan would take Jennie to one of Washington’s finer restaurants if she would read Atlas Shrugged and discuss it with him.
Very good so far, especially reading the reactions of Jennie, a self-described “bleeding heart liberal.”
For a glimpse of the tumult coming your way, call up the website of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM). In a few mouse clicks you can find details of every supplier paid more than £500 of taxpayers’ money by the council.