Archives for October 2005

Find-A-Human: How to Circumvent Voice-Jail

The Find-a-Human database is a public collection of touch-tone recipes that get you through big companies’ voice-jail systems and through to a live operator. Add your own!

Find-A-Human — IVR Cheat Sheet

Via BoingBoing

Apologies for Cross-Posting

A pretty interesting conversation happened recently on the SOCNET list about the practice of cross-posting on multiple mailing lists, including a look at its origins and why it may no longer be quite so necessary (names and quotes used with permission):

Barry Wellman:

“apologies for cross-posting” is one of the most frequent messages I see online when someone posts a notice of a conference or a book.

I hope that we social networkers never ever say that — as long as we are posting to several lists germanely.

The apology basically implies that people live their lives encapsulated in one group. But we networkers, of all people, should know that people have multiple connections to multiple networks. So to reach them, you gotta cross-post!


Yes, I have always thought that is the stupidest remark… probably left over from the verrrry early days of the net when you could only
transmit so many bits in a day…

Alex Kuskis:

Maybe. But stupid or not, I prefer to focus on the intent of the poster, which is well-intentioned. When in doubt, a little bit of netiquette is not a bad thing.

On the other hand, I agree with Barry’s defence of posting information about academically-related products such as books or software. One person’s spam is another person’s valued information. Just because you have to pay for something doesn’t make the information crass commercialism.

Carter Butts:

Actually, the taboo against cross-posting dates from the halcyon days of Usenet; it is intended to prevent accidental misallocation of messages and/or other confusion caused by posters sending replies to other groups without realizing it. Some posters would then reply only locally, creating even more confusion in other groups (who would sometimes see replies to the replies, but miss the original response). Cross-posting was also used by early trolls to start flamewars, by sending deliberately incendiary material to ideologically opposed groups. Incautious users’ replies were automagically sent to the opposing group, generating a wave of threads which could last for months.

Thus, the taboo, and hence the apologies you cite.

See also the Jargon File:

“cross-post: vi.

[Usenet; very common] To post a single article simultaneously to several newsgroups. Distinguished from posting the article repeatedly, once to each newsgroup, which causes people to see it multiple times (which is very bad form). Gratuitous cross-posting without a Followup-To line directing responses to a single followup group is frowned upon, as it tends to cause followup articles to go to inappropriate newsgroups when people respond to various parts of the original posting.”

And purely for humor’s sake from Christophe Prieur:

> One person’s spam is another person’s
> valued information.

Yes, i totally agree.
By the way, my dear friend, i have a confidential business suggestion for you. I am the son of late Ahmidu Kuruma, head of the General Bank of Abidjan…

Many networking sites have explicit policies against cross-posting. Some, like Ryze, even have automated tools for detecting cross-posting of identical messages. I understand why this is needed. Spammers or otherwise ill-informed self-promoters can certainly abuse this capability.

But for the rest of us, when we have a legitimate reason to cross-post, i.e., when the information is relevant to every group, do we still need to apologize for it? I suppose, as Alex said, “When in doubt, a little bit of netiquette is not a bad thing.” But don’t overdo it — overly apologizing makes it look like you’re “guilty” of something, and in the case of cross-posting, you may not be.

A Virtual Holiday in the Virtual Sun – New York Times

The NY Times reports on a A Virtual Holiday in the Virtual Sun, about the growth in popularity of consumer-generated content in multiplayer online games.

Media Piracy, Litigation & Internet Liability Risks

I’m speaking today at Oxford & York’s New Media & Entertainment Summit. Chris Clark, the organizer, generously sent me some of the questions which he thought would come up, and I have added them below. I want to thank some of my colleagues for their quick and insightful comments, which are reflected below: Scott Lichtman, Ken Yarmosh, Scott Allen, .

The panel is 2:15 EST today, so if you have any feedback, please add it to the Comments section, below. Thanks!

I. How big is the piracy problem on the Internet? How much does it cost distributors and content creators in terms of revenue?

Recording industry AA says they lose about $4.2 billion annually per year (globally).


MPAA states they lose ~ $3 billion


From a moral point of view, there’s a difference between committing a crime yourself, and leading others to a crime. For example, piracy for personal use is less of a crime than piracy for profit, in which you (a) lead others to crime and (b) exponentially reduce the vendor’s sales by much more than if only you personally stole.

Yarmosh: "Of course, these figures measure total piracy, but the Internet plays a large part in it. It is extremely difficult to gauge how much of the pie the Internet takes up because of the anonymity. Also, be weary that those numbers come from the producer side of the equation."

Allen: "Big enough to be a real problem, but not nearly as big as some (i.e., RIAA) would have you believe. The missing factor when they provide these numbers about the billions of dollars in lost revenue is that it’s only lost revenue if someone would have actually paid for it. And someone may download 100 songs a month from P2P file-sharing, but they would never spend $100-$200 a month on buying music at $1-$2 a track. I might read the New York Times editorials if I had free access to them, but that doesn’t mean I perceive enough incremental value from them compared to everything that’s freely available that I want to pay for it."

II. Are there ways to stop, or at least slow, criminal behavior on the Web that is both effective and proper? How should content providers handle enforcement?

+ Think of alternative revenue streams. Cf. Grateful Dead earning much of their revenues from concerts, not recordings.

+ Provide a legal alternative: e.g., 99c high quality downloads from iTunes – no need to search all over creation and verified ‘virus free’.

+ Charge lower rates for content and bet on volume rising.

+ Focus on the people who are pirating for profit vs. personal use. It will have a bigger pay-off and create less consumer ill-will.

+ Education (cf. stop-smoking ads)

+ Plant fake tracks, or even virus-laden tracks, in the P2P networks.

Scott Lichtman: "A large portion of copyright infringement is in developing countries. One could debate whether inappropriate but low-cost/free access to western content will make these markets and revenue-streams grow faster over time than otherwise (just as email, Skype or portions of the web were no-charge services). But I think as these countries democratize and become information providers in their own right they will come into line."

III. How do we reduce Web crime, while at the same time protecting free speech and preserving the "commons"?

See above.

+ Educate people about fair use.

+ We need to convince people that the "digital world" is the same as the "real world" – prosecution and enforcement of regulations is a good start.

Lichtman: "The Commons is quite robust right now. Its an amazing thing that open source, and the human traits that drive it like intellectual curiosity and greater good sharing, are so robust. The process the western world has, including mandates for free speech and a political legal system to work out the details work as well as anything."

IV. Users don’t really believe they should have to pay for content. Where does this attitude come from?

"Information Wants to be Free …" is usually attributed to Stewart Brand , who confirmed he originated this on Tue, 29 Jun 1999 07:00:58 -0700 in an email to TBTF (thanks Eric Scheid, Keith Dawson and Kragen Sitaker). Stewart wrote:

"In fall 1984, at the first Hackers’ Conference, I said in one discussion session: "On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other." That was printed in a report/transcript from the conference in the May 1985 *Whole Earth Review*, p. 49. (Source: )


+ Economics 101 — People are more likely to be moral if it’s not too expensive. the perceived incremental value has to be worth the cost. When comparable, if slightly inferior, content is freely available, most people will take the slightly inferior free stuff. Consumers have considered a lot of content prices to be too high. Cf. Gary Becker and economics of crime.

+ Consumer expectations. Lichtman: "much of the web model has been free, or free trial, or limited edition, whatever… Whether web browsers, or free short clips of baseball games on or 1-user free licenses, we have created our own expectations for free content. This has changed since 2001 somewhat, as more services are pay to play, but it will continue to be a basic part of how services create buzz online."

+ Lack of enforcement.

+ Little opportunity for empathy. The victim of your theft is invisible, so the personal hurt is hard to relate to.

+ Peer pressure. Everyone else is doing it.

+ Fundamental immorality of human beings. Ken Yarmosh: "Recounting “The Ring of Gyges” from Plato’s Republic, the argument goes that if two men, one just and the other not, were given rings of power that allow invisibility, both would perform equally as unjust. The reasoning eventually follows from a simple thought – take away the fear of punishment and no one can resist acting immorally. Both eventually would steal and use the ring to their advantage because, as Plato writes, “men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable…than justice.”"

V. There seems to be a race between technologies— technologies of the criminals vs. the technologies of the providers. Any predictions on who will win?

They will leap-frog forever. I think it’s a basic truism that if you create a system that is unhackable, it will be too cumbersome and/or expensive for general consumers to use. Compare Gary Becker’s argument that society chooses an optimum level of mugging, and other crimes.

Scott Allen: “Consider the analog world. Grocery stores, for example, lose millions and millions of dollars a year to shoplifters. There are all kinds of measures they could take to curb shoplifting more, but they don’t. Why? Because the cost of prevention would be greater than the cost of loss. There’s an equilibrium point of “acceptable loss” that they’ve found after years and years of studying it very closely. …Content providers would do well to observe and learn from this. You can’t stop everything. What you want to do is find the optimum balance that maximizes the difference between the cost of prevention and your real loss (not some imaginary number of what the content would have sold for if people had paid for it, but what people would really be willing to pay, plus real lost advertising dollars from diverted traffic).”

Using Copyrighted Material in Blogs and Forums

Recently, a relatively new Ecademy member posted an article from my About Entrepreneurs site in his blog without a link and proper attribution. I don’t believe that he was trying to claim authorship or doing anything malicious, but he caught some pretty heavy flak about it, both from current and former Ecademists. What he did was “wrong”, but unfortunately all too common, not because people are willfully stealing intellectual property, but because they don’t know any better.

That may seem shocking to those of you who know (or think you know) the proper care and handling of copyrighted material, but in a discussion about the topic on a couple of Ryze networks, I learned that a common sentiment about articles on the Internet was, “Spreading the articles around just helps promote them. Why wouldn’t someone want their articles posted in discussion forums and blogs, assuming proper credit is given? It’s doing them a service.”

Here’s what I wrote in response to the blog in question about blogs, forums and copyright, with a few additional thoughts and resources. Please take a read. Even if you think you know all about copyright and blogs, there might be a thing or two you hadn’t considered.

Blogs posts are copyrighted by default. The #1 rule to remember is that, by default, posts to a blog (or to a discussion forum, for that matter) are copyrighted material, and the author owns the copyright. Just because it’s “public” doesn’t mean it’s “public domain”. That means that it is subject to all the restrictions on copyrighted work, i.e., it can’t be freely copied and used even with proper credit without either a) the permission of the author or b) within the context of “fair use”. The owners of the site, e.g., Ecademy, may also have rights to use it as part of the user agreement, but no one else does.

Fair use is a concept that allows limited use of copyrighted material, generally for the purposes of criticism, education, satire, etc. And no the “education” umbrella doesn’t allow you to use works in their entirety. There are no hard-and-fast guidelines as to where the line is drawn, but using a work in its entirety is never allowed, whether it’s a four-line poem or a four-page article. Similarly, an entire chapter from a book would also be a copyright violation. You can use excerpts, but not “complete” anythings: chapters, articles, posts, poems, etc. You can see a quick summary of “fair use” at the U.S. Government Copyright Office or get more in-depth information at the Stanford Copyright & Fair Use Center

There are exceptions. Sometimes, bloggers or article writers make things available for use in their entirety. This may be done through an express permission statement in the byline of the article or on the blog site’s footer, something to the effect of “This article may be reproduced in its entirety so long as this resource block is kept intact and included in the article.” Many people now use a Creative Commons license of some type to permit broader use than allowed by copyright, but still under the control of the creator.

Don’t make assumptions. You can’t assume that you know what the allowable use is of a particular post or article. For example, the content I post on is all copyrighted and may not be reposted without permission. On the other hand, what we post on is under a Creative Commons license and can be freely reposted with proper attribution and a link. Why the difference, you ask? Simple economics. On, the revenue model is advertising-based, and I get paid based upon page views. Post the content elsewhere and I don’t get paid on it, at all. On, it’s all about positioning ourselves and promoting the book. Post the content wherever you want — if it’s any good, it eventually drives people back to us for the book and maybe more.

Proper respect for intellectual property = good networking. Good networking means learning about other people’s business. For those of us who write professionally, our content is our product. Learning about our business means learning how to properly refer people to us, just as it would for anyone else. The simplest solution is to always use an excerpt and a link, never content in its entirety. That will pretty much always constitute fair use, and will always be appreciated by the content creator.

This is not the first time this has happened to me, as you might imagine. I always approach it as a networker, not a litigant. “Are you aware that this is copyrighted material and may not be re-posted in its entirety, even with proper attribution? I’d be happy for you to use a short excerpt and a link. Please edit it as soon as possible and inform me when you have made the correction.”

Think win-win.

And besides, if anyone were ever stupid enough to persist in violating my copyright, I’m sure the attorneys at’s new owners would handle it quite effectively. 🙂

UPDATE: The Electronic Frontier Foundation provides some great legal resources for bloggers, including Bloggers’ FAQ – Intellectual Property.

New company profiles in Virtual Handshake wiki

I’m glad to report that the Virtual Handshake Corporate Profiles Wiki is growing steadily. New additions include Buzzoodle
and GoBig Network. Check out their profiles and please add your comments!

I’ve joined GoBig, and it seems that some members are getting useful traction from it. I had told Wil Schroter that I was skeptical of YASNS with a siloed model.

I’m particularly skeptical of the ability in GoBig to send a blanket request for funding. Inevitably, I expect the havenots (starving entrepreneurs) will chase out the haves (VCs). Kleiner Perkins once did an analysis of their investments, and found that they had never done a deal which didn’t come through their *pre-existing* network.

However, GoBig does seem to be getting some traction, and I do see potential value in matching potential teammates in entrepreneurial ventures (the model of Entremate). . In addition, there’s certainly value in creating a resource guide to entrepreneurs, although there’s lots of competition for providing that service.

Quick take: Act 2006

Following on my earlier review of new software tools, I’ve been playing with the new edition of Best Software’s Act, Act 2006. (Disclosure: this was a complimentary review copy.)

For my purposes, there are only two significant upgrades:
1) This is significantly faster. Slow speed was my biggest complaint about Act 2005.
2) The groups functionality is much more effective. The functionality in the prior version was incredibly kludgey.

I’m not sure if it’s worth paying a lot of money for this upgrade, but these improvements do make my life a little easier.

Blogging Ethics

Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir of the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem writes some interesting pieces on “One employee maintains a blog which has made some unflattering remarks about the company. Can I take action against the blogger?”. He followed up with a worthwhile post on “Blogs provide an open forum for readers’ comments. Is the blogger responsible for encouraging slander and other irresponsible contributions?

Time, Identity and Social Networks

Shannon Clark writes on Time, Identity and Social Networks, and postulates that networks aggregate around shared perceptions of time. I suggest that he’s observing just one example of a general phenomenon, which is that people will form networks around even the most trivial of commonalities. One of our interns, Mimi Owusu, mentioned she once went to an event for women who had curly hair(!), which apparently grew out of a listserv. That’s a fairly trivial commonality, but it was enough to create common interests.

The social logic of Ivy League admissions

Malcolm Gladwell writes a great piece on The social logic of Ivy League admissions.

Halfway through the book, however, Shulman and Bowen present what they call a “surprising” finding. Male athletes, despite their lower S.A.T. scores and grades, and despite the fact that many of them are members of minorities and come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds than other students, turn out to earn a lot more than their peers. Apparently, athletes are far more likely to go into the high-paying financial-services sector, where they succeed because of their personality and psychological makeup. In what can only be described as a textbook example of burying the lead, Bowen and Shulman write:

“One of these characteristics can be thought of as drive—a strong desire to succeed and unswerving determination to reach a goal, whether it be winning the next game or closing a sale. Similarly, athletes tend to be more energetic than the average person, which translates into an ability to work hard over long periods of time—to meet, for example, the workload demands placed on young people by an investment bank in the throes of analyzing a transaction. In addition, athletes are more likely than others to be highly competitive, gregarious and confident of their ability to work well in groups (on teams).”