The Internet's absence of meaning is a feature


Paul Ford mounts a defense of the Internet’s absence of meaning

The most meaningful experiences I have, the experiences that give me the greatest insight into the operation of culture over time—something over which historians used to hold a monopoly—are the results of database queries. I go in, I search for a term, I click some links, and the resulting stream of options is not even a narrative, just a bag of odds and ends. Then I begin a gentle pawing-through. What I like most is to skim through things that were intended to be transient. The ads, the newsy bits from beekeeping journals, the announcements of 1940s automobiles. You could call me an ephemeralist.

Life is ephemeral, and so is the Internet. But the internet has advantages… Read the rest

Powerful new tool literally blasts mean internet comments to smithereens


Tanner Stokes of Herp Derp fame has done it again. He invented what we have all longed for, since the internet began: an effective way to shut people up.

“Plasma ball destroys the web.”

Yes, friends, Tanner's latest creation is the answer to unfriendly YouTube comments, harassing or abusive Facebook posts, douchey viral ads, you name it. Whatever on the internet is wrong. Read the rest

Eternal September and the broadening of horizons

Illo: Brad

"Eternal September" refers to the Internet as it has been since 1993, when AOL began providing access to USENET. The flood of newbies made the newsgroups feel like the first month of school—but this time, the flood never ceased. Though USENET is a thing of the past, Jason Koebler remembers what it felt like to be a member of a group that saw itself as a deserving incumbent elite, but wasn't really any of those things.

"My memories of early 90s Usenet are of a vibrant, enlightened world of serious discourse. But I was a confused arrogant geek in my early 20s, so that's mostly heavy rose-tinting and confirmation bias," Fischer said. "When you're deeply immersed in an elitist clique, it often feels like you're in an open welcoming community. From your perspective, everything's great."

"People look back on it like it was some kind of CyberAthens," he added.

It wasn’t, of course.

The same techniques used to exclude and assimilate outsiders are still in use. Now, as then, they're failing under the sheer weight of numbers. Read the rest

What the Internet looks like when it's not a patent drawing


In contrast to yesterday's post about the way the Internet is depicted in patent drawings, check out these photos of the Internet's secret actual infrastructure. Read the rest

Fake traffic is "rotting" the Internet


Traffic is for sale. You can buy "good" traffic and "bad" traffic. But much of it is, as they say, "nonhuman"—and amounts to the normalization of click fraud on an epic scale.

During the interview, ["Boris"] freely admits he buys many of the visitors to his websites. He spends about $50,000 per year buying high-quality traffic … Bloomberg Businessweek asked two traffic-fraud-detection firms to assess recent traffic to MyTopFace; they agreed on the condition that their names not be used. One found that 94 percent of 30,000 visitors were bots; the other put the bot traffic at 74 percent. Boris didn’t dispute the findings or appear at all concerned. “If I can buy some traffic and it gets accepted, why not?” he says. And if advertisers don’t like it, he adds, “they should go buy somewhere else. They want to pay only a little and get a lot of traffic and results. If they want all human traffic, they should go direct to the publisher and pay more.”

The trick appears to be to game the ratios of good (eyeballs bought from Facebook) and bad (botnets bought from dodgy forums) to keep everyone unsure.

If God's up there, he just loves it. Typhoid and swans, it all comes from the same place. Read the rest

4chan sold to 2chan founder


Chris Poole sold the sprawling image boards to their own inspiration, reports the New York Times.

“Hiroyuki [Nishimura] is literally the only person in the world with as much if not more experience than myself in running an anonymous, large destination community that serves tens of millions of people,” Mr. Poole said in an interview. “He’s the great-grandfather of all of this.”

Mr. Poole declined to disclose the terms of the acquisition, and he does not expect to serve an active role in 4chan’s future development. He stepped down from daily maintenance of the site in January, handing over the reins to a handful of part-time deputies who moderate and manage the site.

Even with its outside impact of web culture, 4chan was not a moneyspinner, the Times reports, though it "has at times been profitable."

Here's Poole's own post on the sale.

4chan sits on the eve of two great milestones—its 2 billionth post and 12th birthday. It has been a great privilege to serve as 4chan's founder and steward for almost twelve years, and I can't wait to see what lays in store under Hiroyuki's experienced leadership.

Nishimura is, incidentally, the editor of Variety Japan. In another, better world, Poole just sold 4chan to Variety. In the best world, he sold it to Reader's Digest. Read the rest

Wargames-style map shows ongoing internet attacks


The Norse Map is a Wargames-style visualization of ongoing attacks on servers around the world. Though it shows honeypots rather than actual private or government targets, the result is a live snapshot of trends in computer mischief.

Dubai seems to be getting quite a pounding today. Read the rest

How .uk came to be (and why it's not .gb)

Matt Locke writes, "It's the 30th anniversary of the .uk domain this week, so here's an oral history of the internet pioneers who made it happen, and how they fought with the US internet gurus to make it .uk, not .gb" Read the rest

Hungary cancels proposed Internet tax in the face of mass opposition

After 100,000 Hungarians took to the street in opposition to a per-megabyte tax on their Internet usage, the autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orban (whose election was characterized by outside observers as "free but not fair") was forced into a rare climbdown. Read the rest

31 communities vow to create local gigabit broadband

Across the US, 31 communities have joined forces to make the dream of fast, affordable, and reliable gigabit-speed broadband a local reality. The Next Century Cities program, launched this week, hopes to defeat the forces holding broadband back. The 31 inaugural signatories are: Read the rest

How to have cybersex on the Internet

A NSFW excerpt from "How To Have Cybersex On The Internet." Read the rest

Is sunscreen dangerous? An actual scientist weighs in

There's a viral news story going around that claims scientists have found that using sunscreen increases your risk of death. As a redhead, this is relevant to my interests. But it turns out that the paper being cited was vastly misconstrued and wasn't even about sunscreen at all. Read the rest

Inside a click-spam ad campaign

I'm fascinated by conspiracy theories and their origins. I'm also fascinated by the real people behind click-bait and spam email scams. This story brings them both together.

Reporter Zack Beauchamp went looking for Frank Bates, the face of a "FEMA hates this!"/"The secret Obama doesn't want you to know!"-style online ad campaign that sells overpriced dehydrated food (and lots and lots of fear) to middle-aged conservatives. He quickly discovered that Bates doesn't actually exist. Instead, the company Food4Patriots is the work of a salesman named Allen Baler who was just tired of working in an office and wanted to run his own business.

Unlike Bates, Baler doesn't live off-the-grid. He doesn't appear to be under any threat from FEMA and/or the Obama administration. It's not even clear that he's particularly conservative. But Baler is making an awful lot of money pretending to be Bates.

I wouldn't normally link to ThinkProgress, which generally seems to exist for the sole purpose of getting liberal people outraged about things. (I'm not particularly fond of the Outrage-Industrial Complex, no matter which side is participating.) But this story is a fascinating look at what goes on behind the scenes of scammy ad links you see all over the Internet and I think it's worth reading.

Baler started dabbling in this field in his free time after work. His first foray — a campaign he refers to as “How To Train Your Pug Dog” — got noticed by his boss, who told him to choose between making cheapo pug training videos and his “multiple six figures” salary.

Read the rest

Everything you know about teenage brains is bullshit

Kathryn Mills reports that discussion has become dominated by unconvincing 'experts' and scaremongering. The evidence is not in.

US federal judges resisting law enforcement demands for electronic evidence

Photo via Washington Post, courtesy of magistrate judge Stephen Smith: A t-shirt designed by Judge James Orenstein of Brooklyn.

"Judges at the lowest levels of the federal judiciary are balking at sweeping requests by law enforcement officials for cellphone and other sensitive personal data, declaring the demands overly broad and at odds with basic constitutional rights," reports the Washington Post.

"This rising assertiveness by magistrate judges — the worker bees of the federal court system — has produced rulings that elate civil libertarians and frustrate investigators, forcing them to meet or challenge tighter rules for collecting electronic evidence."

An interesting footnote observed by Freedom of the Press Foundation's Trevor Timm: "All federal magistrate judges are on a giant email list where they ask each other legal questions." Read the rest

The internet is a CIA project, says Vladimir Putin

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin holds a cup, 2010. REUTERS/Ria Novosti/Alexei Druzhinin.

Speaking today at a media forum in St. Petersburg, Russian president Vladimir Putin said the Internet began as a "CIA project," and that "is still developing as such." Russia must "fight for its interests" online, to resist US political and military control. From AP:

A Russian blogger complained to Putin that foreign websites and Yandex, the web search engine which is bigger in Russia than Google, are storing information on servers abroad, which could be undermining Russia's security. In his reply, Putin mentioned unspecified pressure that was exerted on Yandex in its early years and chided the company for its registration in the Netherlands "not only for tax reasons but for other considerations, too."
Read the rest

Online quizzes explained

Online "character quizzes," suddenly ultra-viral thanks to adroit Facebook-centric designs at sites like Zimbio, are all the rage. Are they fueled by narcissism? No, says Devon Maloney: it's fear: "We crave the peace of mind that comes from believing the human condition is quantifiable." Which is to say, of course, our own conditions. It's the Myers-Briggs sorting hat for a new generation, telling you what you just told it. Read the rest

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