Remix and be Remixed

by David Sklar

Why do folks who want the freedom to remix content as they see fit get
their digital dander up when other people remix their own content?



Gmail's introduction was accompanied by a barrage of complaints that
the automated scanning-of-messages to display ads was href="http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/wlg/4789 ">involuntarily
subjecting those who correspond with Gmail users to a privacy
invading examination and modification of their message.



Now, the introduction of a version of href="http://toolbar.google.com/T3/index">Google Toolbar that
annotates addresses, ISBNs and similar data with links to maps and Amazon.com has provoked a similar href="http://archive.scripting.com/2005/03/01">storm of
outrage. The complaint goes something like "I am a virtuous
content publisher whose brilliant web pages are being chewed up by the
Evil Google Content Manipulation Borg without my consent! Foul! Foul!"



What these complaints conveniently elide, however, is that it is
individual users who are making the choice to have their web
pages modified. These users must install the Toolbar and then click on
the appropriate button in the Toolbar to follow the additional
link. Nothing sneaky is going on behind the scenes.



Objecting to users modifying web pages before, as, or after they
view them is a dead end. Tools and add-ons such as popup blockers,
custom style sheets, screen readers, auto-form-field-filler-outers are
precisely those sorts of content modifiers. And surely no one suggests
that those be banished to preserve the sanctity of the web browsing
experience, right? What would be next? Preventing me from putting squibs of
black electrical tape over the annoying LEDs that glow all night from
various devices in my home? Should I expect a nastygram from Uniden
because my application of tape has prevented me from enjoying the
experience of the "Charge" light on my cordless phone as they
intended?



What applies to the MPAA and the RIAA applies just as strongly to Joe
Homepage. If you've got thoughts/words/songs so brilliant that you
can't bare to have them disparaged by content-modifying Philistines
(hint: nestled at the bottom of this particular slippery slope is "The
EULA for this sonata requires you to listen to it on speakers that are
at least THIS good to properly receive the artist's message.") then
keep that brilliance to yourself. If you require the ego
gratification/financial compensation/curiosity satisfaction that comes
from transmitting your message to other humans then you absolutely,
positively must accept the idea that you lose some control over what
happens to your baby.



A related important point that Cory Doctorow makes in his swell href="http://www.boingboing.net/2005/03/01/google_toolbar_like_.html">pro-Toolbar
commentary is:



This shows how an authors' association like the Science
Fiction Writers of America could collect its members' ISBNs and
affiliate IDs for their favorite web-stores and provide plugins that
would rewrite every single instance of my ISBNs on pages viewed
through the plugin with a link to my affiliate account on Amazon,
making me some serious coin. Wanna support an author? Install her
plugin and help her feed her kids. Wanna support a charity? Install
its plugin and have all the affiliate links rewritten to its
benefit. Wanna support youself? Install the plugin that rewrites every
ISBN with your own affiliate ID.


The framework of configurable end-user content modification provides a
powerful engine for consumer choice. This goes beyond tossing
affiliate commissions for your purchases into whichever non-profit
bucket you value (although that's a fine idea). This extends to
content ratings, corporate business practice review, editorial
commentary, and many other areas.



Once the framework is in place, users can choose to have
recomendations on whether a particular site is appropriate flow into
their browser from the Christian Coalition or from MoveOn. As you shop
for refrigerators, you choose whether you want annotated information
about the refrigerator makers from Greenpeace, the Cato Institute, or
Consumer Reports.



The annotation and modification of arbitrary content, with end user consent, is a golden opportunity to build a world of informed readers and consumers.



That said, the Toolbar isn't perfect (and it is, after all a
beta). For example, you can choose your map provider, but not your
bookseller. The primacy of end-user choice would certainly be
reinforced if all the various link destinations were configurable.



I don't mean to be an apologist for Google. I like some things about the company and its products, I dislike other things about the company and its products. The most important issue here is not the specifics of the toolbar. The most important issue is recognizing that we all have to give up the control over our content that many of us demand of Big Media Corporations.




How much control over your content are you willing to give up?


3 Comments

xmlblog
2005-03-03 15:23:56
Your argument is right-on...
...unless you happen to be www.bn.com and the toolbar sends customers to your competitor.
spaceman
2005-03-03 18:43:40
something new vs something altered
It feels more like the original is simply being altered rather then used to make something new and different. Like going to the library and tearing out the last chapter to insert your own rather than just writting your alternate ending for someone to enjoy.


But, that's just me.


In this case I suppose "the Goog" could change all its cached pages as they see fit leaving the originals intact.

sklar
2005-03-04 07:09:51
something new vs something altered
But if I rip out pages from a library book, that book is irrevocably altered. The only thing being altered here are web pages on a particular user's screen as that particular user views them.


If you want to analogize it to damaging a book, it's as if you've purchased a book (or made a photocopy of a book you're allowed to make a photocopy of), taken it home, and then used a scissors to cut it up. The Google Toolbar is the scissors.