Tag Archives: twitter

CBC: A Case Study in what happens when the Lawyers take over

Like many other people, I’ve been following the virtual meltdown at the CBC over its new (i)copyright rules. For a great summary of the back and forth I strongly encourage you to check out Jesse Brown’s blog. In short the terms of use of the CBC seemed to suggest that no one was allowed to report/reprint excerpts of CBC pieces without the CBC express permission. This, as Cameron McMaster noted, actually runs counter to Canadian copyright law.

And yes, the CBC has been moving quickly and relatively transparently to address this matter and hopefully clearer rules – that are consistent with Canadian law – will emerge. That said, even as they try, the organization will still have a lot of work to do to persuade its readers it isn’t from Mars when it comes to understanding the internet. Consider this devastating line from the CBC’s spokeperson in response to the outcry.

You’ll also still be able to post links to CBC.ca content on blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter or other online media at no charge and will continue to offer free RSS stories for websites (found here).

Really? I’m still allowed to link to the CBC? How is this even under discussion? Who charges people to link to their site? How is that even possible?

Well, if you think that that is weird, it gets weirder. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find what what appears to have so far gone unnoticed in the current debate over the CBC’s bizarre terms of use. On the CBC’s Reuse and Permissions FAQ page the second question and answer reads as follows:

Can we link to your site?
We encourage people to link to us. However, we ask that you read our Terms of Use, which outline the conditions by which external sites may link to ours.

So what are the CBC’s terms of use to linking to their site? Well this is when the Lawyers really take over:

While CBC/Radio Canada encourages links to the Web site, it does not wish to be linked to or from any third-party web site which (i) contains, posts or transmits any unlawful, threatening, abusive, libellous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane or indecent information of any kind, including, without limitation, any content constituting or encouraging conduct that would constitute a criminal offense, give rise to civil liability or otherwise violate any local, state, provincial, national or international law, regulation which may be damaging or detrimental to the activities, operations, credibility or integrity of CBC/Radio Canada or which contains, posts or transmits any material or information of any kind which promotes racism, bigotry, hatred or physical harm of any kind against any group or individual, could be harmful to minors, harasses or advocates harassment of another person, provides material that exploits people under the age of 18 in a sexual or violent manner, provides instructional information about illegal activities, including, without limitation, the making or buying of illegal weapons; or (ii) contains, posts or transmits any information, software or other material which violates or infringes upon the rights of others, including material which is an invasion of privacy or publicity rights, or which is protected by copyright, trademark or other proprietary rights. CBC/Radio Canada reserves the right to prohibit or refuse to accept any link to the Web site, including, without limitation, any link which contains or makes available any content or information of the foregoing nature, at any time. You agree to remove any link you may have to the Web site upon the request of CBC/Radio Canada.

This sounds all legal and proper. And hey, I don’t want bigots or child molesters linking to my site either. But that doesn’t mean I can legally prevent them.

The CBC’s terms of use uses language that suggests they have the right to prevent you, or anyone from linking to their website. But from a practical, business strategy and legal perspective it is completely baffling.

In my mind, this is akin to the CBC claiming that it can prevent you from telling people their address or giving them directions to their buildings. Or, the CBC is claiming dominion over every website in the world and that they may dictate whether or not it can link to their site.

I have my suspicions that there is nothing in Canadian law to support the CBC’s position. If anyone knows of a law or decision that would support the CBC’s terms of use please do send me a note or comment below.

Otherwise, I hope the CBC will also edit this part of its Terms of Use and its Reuse and Permissions FAQ page. We need the organization to be in the 21st century.

Twitter is my Newspaper: explaining twitter to newbies

I’m frequently asked about technology, the internet and web 2.0 and in the course of the discussion the subject of Twitter inevitably arises. People are frequently curious, often judgmental, and almost always bewildered by the service. This isn’t surprising, Twitter is poorly understood despite its relative success (and its success is still small in the grand scheme of internet related things). Part of this is because people (even early adopters) are still figuring twitter out, and part of this is because those frequently explaining it don’t understand it themselves (I’m looking at you newspaper columnists).

Most often I sense people misunderstand Twitter because they compare it to a text based internet tool they do know: e-mail. This reference point shapes their assumptions about Twitters purpose and leads them to ask questions like: how can you read all those tweets? or how can you “follow” 250 people? If the unsaid assumption is that twitter creates 2000 new emails a day to read – well no surprise they’re running for the hills! This is doubly true if you believe the myth that all people tweet about (and thus read) is their breakfast menu, or what they are doing in a given moment.

Twitter is not email and while it has many (evolving) uses I’ve found the best metaphor for explaining how my friends and I use it is a much simpler technology: the newspaper.

Few people read every (or even most) articles in a newspaper – indeed most of us just scan the headlines when we see a newspaper. Likewise, very few people read all their tweets. Indeed, many of us go days (guilt free) without ever looking at the newspaper – same with Twitter, many people go days without looking at their twitter feed. The difference is that your newspaper’s headlines only change once a day and it is awkward to carry the thing around with you. Twitter’s headlines are always changing, and its located on your blackberry or iphone.

Now the difference from email becomes more clear. There is no obligation – or even expectation – of readership with Twitter. Emails you have to (or are supposed to) read and, let’s face it, are often a chore to get through. Newspaper articles you choose to read, often for pleasure or consumption.

Indeed, as Taylor and I outlined in Missing the Link, Twitter is better than a newspaper in many ways since you get to choose the columnists whose headlines you’ll scanning. Whereas a newspaper brings together articles, ideas and information someone else thinks you should care about Twitter brings together the ideas, articles and information by people you care about. I follow a number of “thought leaders” people like Clay Shirky, Jay Rosen, Andrew Potter, Tim O’Reilly, David Weinberger, etc… along with some friends and colleagues. While they occasionally say short pithy things, they are usually linking to articles that they find interesting. In short, some of the smartest people I know, and some I don’t, are essentially creating a vetted reading list for me. This virtual community is my news editor.

Better still, I don’t always have a newspaper on me. But an endless stream of articles vetted by smart people is always just a click away so whenever I have a spare moment – on the bus, in line at the grocery store, or waiting for a taxi – I can pull up some interesting reading material I would otherwise never have read.

I don’t claim this is Twitter’s only use, so it’s not complete, comprehensive explanation, but I’ve found this explanation has helped a number of my non-web savvy friends to “get” Twitter.

Twitter: Poor man's email or smart man's timesaver?

I’ve noticed more than a few people commenting about Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s recent quote about Twitter:

“Speaking as a computer scientist, I view all of these as sort of poor man’s email systems”

Apparently he made the statement at Morgan Stanley’s technology conference (Live notes here via Dan Frommer). I’m sensing that a number of people – especially twitter fans – feel like the statement was a little harsh. Perhaps, but taken in a broader context of his statement I don’ think that was his intention.

“In other words, they have aspects of an email system, but they don’t have a full offering. To me, the question about companies like Twitter is: Do they fundamentally evolve as sort of a note phenomenon, or do they fundamentally evolve to have storage, revocation, identity, and all the other aspects that traditional email systems have? Or do email systems themselves broaden what they do to take on some of that characteristic?”

What is interesting is that Schmidt is comparing Twitter to email – as opposed to what people usually compare it to, blogs (hence the term micro-blogging).

I actually love twitter comparing twitter to an email platform because it’s key constraint – that it limits users to messages of 140 characters or less – becomes a key benefit (although one with risks).

What I love about twitter is that it forces writers to be concise. Really concise. This inturn maximizes efficiency for readers. What is it Mark Twain said?  “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Rather than having one, or even thousands or readers read something that is excessively long, the lone drafter must take the time and energy to make it short. This saves lots of people time and energy. By saying what you’ve got to say in 140 characters, you may work more, but everybody saves.

Of course, this creates two risks: First, Twitter is totally inappropriate for all sorts of communications that require nuance and detail. So you’ve got to figure out what requires detail and nuance and what does not. (and there is a surprising amount of communication that does not – but the mistakes can be painful) Second, in addition to nuance and detail, the short comings generally associated with email – the opportunity for misunderstanding, taking things out of context, triggering someone emotionally – are still present. However, they are probably about the same since, interestingly, because people recognize you only have 140 characters they may be more forgiving in reading your tweet than they are in reading an email.

So Twitter may be a poor man’s email, but it can allow for much more efficient communication because it shifts the time costs from the reader to the writer. Schmidt is right to point out that that creates limitations and challenges, but it also creates huge opportunities. There are a ton of emails I’d prefer to get as Tweets… now if only I could download them into my email application…

Twittering to help the homeless – and why it is bad!

Here is a great story out of Vancouver of a group of strangers using twitter to come together and help the homeless.

Another example of how social media can build new friends and community and help make the world a better place – sadly we all know it won’t have any impact of the powerful narrative of youth as uncaring, self-centred narcsistic and apathetic.

And then there are those who think these tools are really just the hands of the devil. I didn’t know anyone still read Andrew Keen but the other day a reader pointed to his (1000th) column on how the internet will end society as we know it. Check out this excerpt:

The 1930s fascists were expert at using all the most technologically sophisticated communications technologies—the cinema, radio, newspapers, advertising—to spew their destructive, hate-filled message. What they excelled at was removing the the traditional middlemen like religion, media, and politics, and using these modern technologies of mass communications to speak with reassuring familiarity to the disorientated masses.

Imagine if today’s radically unregulated Internet, with its absence of fact checkers and editorial gatekeepers, had existed back then. Imagine that universal broadband had been available to enable the unemployed to read the latest conspiracy theories about the Great Crash on the blogosphere. Imagine the FDR-baiting, Hitler-loving Father Charles Coughlin, equipped with his “personalized” YouTube channel, able, at a click of a button, to distribute his racist message to the suffering masses. Or imagine a marketing genius like the Nazi chief propagandist Josef Goebbels managing a viral social network of anti-Semites which could coordinate local meet-ups to assault Jews and Communists.

You can almost feel the anger and rage ooze off the screen – try reading the whole thing. I can see why Keen is scared – he probably has visions of people like him running around the internet. That said, he’s ultimately right on one level, anyone can use these tools. But the solution is what? To ban them all? Regulate them into ineffectiveness? Ultimately you can’t have the opportunity of self-organizing enlightenment without the possibility of self-organizing hatred. But maybe then, we don’t want kids wandering making friends and helping homeless people. Yes, now that I reflect on it, being a passive hollywood and park avenue fed consumer was always so much better for society, democracy and freedom. Thank you for saving me from myself Andrew Keen!