A perfect sea urchin

The Cyberculture Corner

Welcome to where I air my wrong headed views on cyberculture and the internet. I always have a lot to say and no one tells me to shut up. To return to the regular blog page, just click here.

Why the End of Site Fighting Should Matter

I haven't written much here this month, because I don't have much to say that I haven't said before. I was once seriously worried that the Brainstorms crowd (SPIT at the mention of their vile name!) would busily hurt more people. I still sort of do worry because theoretically some of them could work for Facebook, but I don't think they do. Rheingold, the guy who founded the Well, and others who were prophets of the net revolution were wrong. Brainstorms and most of the utopia they envisioned on Web 1.0 (for want of a better name) has been overcome by events. There are still a few board collections around, but most of these are backwaters for old timers. The new people will head to Facebook, trust nobody, fear for their privacy, and reputations. The bloggers about whom one hears and who will set the norm are mainly attached to publications. If you want to sit at the feet of the best and the brightest, they publish at commercial outlets that even have comment boards. There are no more semi-secret email discussion lists to join. There is a name for this phenomenon: Overcome by Events.

Now, I should be overjoyed. It has been six years (May of 2004 was the LAST TIME) since I have been involved in a scrape involving a group online. The group leadership with whom it was easy to quarrel is gone as in out of a job, but this is not anywhere as fantastic as it sounds. The loss of Web 1.0 also means a loss of freedom and democritization for the little guy. Back in the days of easy to obtain, plain vanilla, free web space, often ad-sponsored, any one could set up a shack on the information superhighway. You could build that shack offline. HTML is freeware. Much graphic software is also freeware. You could control the look and feel of your page, and updating was easy with browser based uploads. It would be even easier today wtih FTP built into browsers and cheap, reliable flash drives. The home pages of Web 1.0 were an ownership society. A backup to your own disks or hard drive were your guarantee of free speech. If one provider went out of business, booted you, degraded to death, you could pick up stakes and go elsewhere. There were no lawyer's fees. You could just email your friends and tell them where you went. Your box was not overflowing with spam in those halycon days.

Facebook is a comopletely different world and almost an opposite one. Think Neopets. That was the test lab for a lot of what we see now even if you think I'm paranoid. A Facebook profile is not portable. You can't take it elsewhere. You don't have control of its look or feel. If you want to contact your friends, chances are good that you'll do it on Facebook so to move elsewhere means to lose those friends just like you could lose your Neofriends if your account got frozen. Facebook is what John Zittarin (I hope I have his name spelled right) calls a tethered application and I call a walled garden.

And if you think that smart phones are the answer think again. Think of how Apple guards its store of apps. You can't set up a competing store. You can't code your own pages from the ground up. Besides, if you don't pay your phone bills, you lose access to the pictures stored on your phone. I saw that happen to a student. Any way, cell phones are only as good as the situation in which you use them. Tanks, shells, and cops and military willing to fire on their own people trump a few grainy cell phone pictures. Besides, can poorly taken cell phone shots compete wtih well made photographs? The professionals have an edge on the little guy that a twenty-five dollar tripod and GIMP can fix.

So what does this do for site fighting. Site fighting is dead or senescent. ZOID is living on borrowed time, though it will get a whole year of that most likely. It is agile and never grew large enough to shrink. I learned a lot from Cari Cota and just plain old experience about keeping fighters engaged and motivated. It's just a shame there are no new fighters because we live in a world where a Facebook Profile has supplanted a well made web site, and one hundred and forty word tweets, has stifled richer expression. A whole host of other factors crippled Site Fighting, but unless there is a low cost of entry, it is not going to come back.

Those crowded on to Facebook will be left with not only nothing to show for their efforts such as a home page, even an out of date one, or a diary or pictures of their pets posted in the most attractive way, or a memorial to a loved one, but also with no idea that they could leave something that is totally theirs except for the graciously provided free web space or paid web space that holds it. The idea that they could make a mark and compete that mark with like minded individuals is as foreign as talk of church order books of the New Testament in an Orthodox Jewish synagogue.

Right now the Webleagues will run again April fourth. That is as far as I know. Haldis has to process in a new page for her team. It belongs to a fighter who has two pages fighting on the team all ready. I don't think this is quite with the competition's rules, but George, thinks it is fine, and the leadership is looking the other way. Haldis says: "We can't go on forever like this." She is right as far as it goes. I hope there really is fighting on April fourth at the Webleagues. I will cry when it is over. Haldis will also cry. The end of the Webleagues will mean the end for the avatarot I launched in 2001. They really have no more reason to exist without site fighting, and this time next year, I will probably be weeping over the end of ZOID. All things come to an end, even good ones. Web 1.0 was very good.

And yes there are ways to revive Web 1.0. It takes time, money, and about a dozen individuals. It means one more enclave, but it also means a committment to grow the group. Yes, there would be web sites. Yes, there would be site fighting, web rings, and lots of old technology because that is the way to bring owners together, and keep them sovereign. There might even be a web board community or web boards attached to the individual pages. I don't want to recreate the class of petty oligarchs who made my own life online miserable from time to time. I don't have the money, the time, or the group with the social capital (real definition). This is all up in the air. There is better software than Facebook and better cultures, but they are small. I'm not ready to admit it is over, but it is and I'm not happy about it. Neither should you be overjoyed.

Eileen H. Kramer -- March 31, 2011

Back to Stay, I Hope

I'm back on Facebook though it leaves us vulnerable to have our outside work lives too easily found. Quite frankly, I'm not sure we have a right to be forgotten so much as a right not to be pursued. There is a difference here. First, everyone has a life outside work and ought to be free to publish about legal pursuits, political views, recreation, maybe some aspects of their personal lives, on their own time and own dime. That's called democritization of media. I am not saying that if one confesses to a crime or complains about a boss or company there won't be repercussions. That is why we need whistle blower laws, but that is another subject.

I am talking about a more basic kind of speech. If a person says on their Facebook page: "We have a really great Koran study class at the Mosque. The teacher explains things in a way I can really understand," he or she confesses to nothing illegal. After all attending the house of worship of one's choice is a perfectly legal, and in most places, laudible activity, but a prospective employer, can't ask a job applicant about her religion or whether, she even has children. If he asks to befriend her on Facebook, get what. Now we all know that employers are not supposed to discriminate on the basis of religion or an applicants marital or parental status, but gee..."we just decided to hire a more appropriate applicant for that job...sorry." You see how the game is played.

Then it gets even better. Now suppose our prospective job seeker doesn't ever say a vile thing about a past or present employer, does not discuss politics, religion, mention her marital or childbearing status, discuss any illnesses or handicaps she might have and otherwise be hiding, but she spends her time on Facebook playing Farmville and Sorority Life. The prospective interviewer asks to friend her. She of course says "yes," because she has nothing to hide. She (Yes, let's make it a female interviewer this time.) look at her profile and....is shocked. "This candidate has no depth of soul. Why isn't she interested in the news of the day, express her religious convictions, take an interst in the real world. All she does with her spare time is play stupid games." Of course people have always spent their spare time playing stupid games, but they had the good sense to lie about this if confronted and prospective employers expected a better response.

It was too much trouble to contact a prospective employees neighbors and friends (If you knew who they were) or the local taverns or purveyors of lottery tickets in town or the cable television company or video store and find out what it was the prospective employee did with her nonwork life. Well with Facebook, finding this out can be very convenient, but does any employer belong there?

Well, they're not leaving, not until the economy gets better. This is a story like that of the young women rushing Delta Sigma Theta at Cornell in the 1970's. The pledges stood in a line. An older soror got out a cake of soap and cut it into little pieces. She ordered each woman to eat a small piece of soap. If the first, second, or even third pledge had refused, the whole line of pledges could have refused, but the first and second woman ate the soap, and several of the women in the line got sick. Well, friending a prospective employer on Facebook is like taking a big bite of Ivory and swallowing. The first women in line have all ready ingested the stuff. If you refuse....

Last but not least, there are those prospective employees who frustrate their employers, by having nearly inactive profiles. Maybe they use Eons or Multiply. Maybe they keep traditional web pages. Maybe they fear for their privacy. Maybe they don't have much time to be online socially or never got used to the idea. They present their prospective employer/friend, with a nearly barren profile. Surely, these prospective employees must have something to hide.

If you think I've just set up four damned if you do and damned if you don't scenarios that pretty much put everyone who ever applies for a job in danger, you have it right. No, I don't think Facebook profiles are private. I think that most of the time the information on them is simply not of concern to prospective employers, and that in an unequal situation, it is very hard to refuse a potential employer access. Just as it is illegal to ask for the information that he/she will find in a job interview, or to get a straight answer in the case of leisure pursuits.

A law making it illegal for an employer to ask to befriend a potential hire, might put a muzzle on this nonsense. Such a law would not apploy to Google searches, or looking for less than complimentary Youtube videos, or lurking on the Chronicle web board and other venues where the job seeking and the disgruntled gather, but it would still reign in a kind of snooping made possible by most information that used to be too hard to find being stuck in one place.

The other alternative is to wait for the economy to improve. When there is a shortage of labor instead of a shortage of jobs, suddenly it will concern employers a lot less if a prospective hire drinks on a Saturday night (as long as he or she is over twenty-one), plays Farmville, or attends the house of worship of his/her choice or no house of worship at all. I hope we don't have to wait that long.

The Web Leagues is taking a break for the entire month of March. Haldis said: "This is how competitions die." A team mate offered to lend her another one page site to keep her roster from thinning out. Her team would be the second to collapse, but competitions rarely collapse one day at a time. What sort of fighter engagement we will find when the Webleagues reopens in April is any one's guess. My guess is that it may drop to near nothing. Without fighters you have no way to train management. Without management or enough management, you are one illness or new job away from being stretched way too thin. I also suspect that at least some of the Webleagues brass is lying.

I tell myself I did my crying at Tish B'Av when I drew the pictures for Haldis' team's current design. I knew this was a final redesign. I still know it, and it is still going to hurt when it ends. There is no "if." The Site Fights is dead.

Haldis and I just want the chance to say goodbye and thank you. The "thank you" is the most important part. I thank my fighters and voters regularly at ZOID. I lay it on with a trowel, but it is honest thanks and real dissapointment. My heart is still in site fighting, at least at the administrative end, and Haldis' heart is there too. When it's over, we will cry once again on each others' shoulders.

Eileen H. Kramer and Haldis K. Guerrin -- March 17, 2011