Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Learned to Love the Blog: The Endless Conversation

This is my third and last post about what my move from old to new media has taught me. In the first, I discussed its dynamism, in the second its amazing level of clarity.

And the third? Well, because it never stops. Ever.

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Case in point, a somewhat frivolous story, which actually does have important broader implications for the Web, about the mini-tussle between blogger Robert Scoble and Facebook.

Right away, I backed up Scoble over the popular social network, after Facebook disabled his account over his violation of its policies. The voluble blogger used a software program to scrape data off his profile.

I did so mostly because I am a big proponent of data portability and find it offensive that sites like Facebook endlessly scrape everyone’s data. But then they are shocked when people want to control their own information and move into a hypocritical protective mode of data they typically abuse.

Others disagreed, like commenters on my post and the always sharp Nick Carr, who raised the notion that Scoble was a “data thief” for trying to move some data–name, contact info and birthdays–to another service.

Wrote Carr on his Rough Type blog: “Now, if you happen to be one of those ‘friends,’ would you think of your name, email address and birthday as being ‘Scoble’s data’ or as being ‘my data.’ If you’re smart, you’ll think of it as being ‘my data,’ and you’ll be very nervous about the ability of someone to easily suck it out of Facebook’s database and move it into another database without your knowledge or permission. After all, if someone has your name, email address and birthday, they pretty much have your identity–not just your online identity, but your real-world identity.”

Carr added that “members should have the right to decide whether or not their personal information can be scraped out of the Facebook database. Scoble did not give them that choice. … Until controls are in place, unauthorized scraping of other members’ personal information shouldn’t be allowed.”

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To my mind, that’s a rather nanny-state stance for him to take, given that people put that data up there for their friends to presumably use. Scoble or anyone could have simply copied down that info and transferred it (everyone does this ALL the time) manually.

Scoble’s motives in doing this were obviously benign (aside from his eternal need for attention, which is also harmless). And, big surprise, there are a lot of bad actors out there who want the data for other more nefarious reasons.

But all that’s needed, I think, is to treat people like intelligent adults and make it perfectly clear to them that some may actually use the data you post publicly for friends you accept into your online circle. That way people can decide exactly how much information they want out there.

Of course, the teapot-tempest got all resolved after Scoble promised he would no longer be naughty–even though he compared himself in a deeply goofy manner to Gandhi and then the Boston Tea Party gang–and Facebook reinstated him.

But what I loved about the story and countless ones like it was the enormous range of opinions, Twitters, posts, comments and videos (from Scoble too, of course) that were generated. While some might call it piling on or even mindless, I think it represents an amazing sign of vibrancy and energy that is promising for journalism.

While print publications might be suffering, the information business is not. Although there are many more players–some better than others–in the landscape, the changes give professionals the chance to notch up their game by delivering more energetic, more informed content that is characterized by the high standards they carry with them from old media at its best.

Of course, new business models for online content are nascent and still questionable, but smart people with great offerings can always figure out a way to benefit from the obvious interest in consumers in being able to access all kinds of information, both trusted and also even silly.

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Which is why I laughed out loud when I got a link to a new Facebook group being formed to “Keep Robert Scoble Off Facebook,” all with the blessing of Fake Steve Jobs.

He wrote: “Meanwhile we’re trying to figure out if we can banish Scoble from using Apple products or visiting Apple retail stores. From what I’m told others have picked up on the same idea. Google wants him off their apps. Twitter says he’s eating up too much bandwidth. Here’s a thought. Why not banish Robert Scoble from the Internet altogether? Is that even possible? Moshe says he’s looking into it.”

Namaste.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work