Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Re: New Third Voice version out

Author:Paul Snively
Posted:9/15/1999; 11:27:54 AM
Topic:New Third Voice version out
Msg #:11064 (In response to 11021)
Prev/Next:11063 / 11065

Dave Winer wrote:

>Before you uninstall it, could you take a screen shot of the SN home
>page without the blurring? I'd like everyone to see what Third Voice
>is about. Look what it does to my brand. I can't begin to tell you how
>angry this makes me, aside from the server they're installing on the
>poor unknowing user's machine. This has gone too far.

This reminds me a great deal indeed of something that happened while I was at Apple. It was utterly nerve-wracking but very enlightening:

A friend of mine in Apple's Advanced Technology Group and I were very concerned, circa 1990, about the lack of any kind of directory service for AppleEvent-aware applications: how would, say, a word processor find, say, a spelling checker elsewhere on the network? We knew we needed a distributed name service of some kind and we set about researching how to build one. In the process, we stumbled across a seminal tech report from Xerox PARC, "Epidemic Algorithms for Replicated Database Maintenance." We prototyped some of the more naive algorithms on a single Mac, simulating a small network, seeing how long it took to achieve network saturation with what cost in network traffic, etc. etc.

A mutual friend, also in ATG, was more ambitious: upon hearing of our work, he decided to write a fully-distributed message posting program. Since "epidemic" had obvious negative connotations and the Xerox paper spoke of nodes passing "rumors," he called his little app "Rumor Monger." Anyone running Rumor Monger could read whatever made it to their machine; anyone could post an ANONYMOUS rumor.

Most rumors were innocuous enough--Apple's going to build such-and-such a machine next year; so-and-so likes such-and-such; etc.--but some weren't. The one that caused holy hell was that an exec was carrying on an affair with his assistant. All hell broke loose over that--the exec wound up leaving, as did the assistant (rumor had it they left together). As I heard it, the exec got divorced and so on and so forth.

I don't know if the rumor was true. Since rumors were anonymous, no one knows who posted it or what their source of information was. Apple HR immediately banned Rumor Monger from Apple's huge network. A later version of Rumor Monger, with anonymity removed, was published in "d e v e l o p" magazine as the "Lightweight Asynchronous Conferencing System."

What was striking about this experience was basically that all Rumor Monger did was take the existing, but verbal, grapevine--nothing in e-mail or on paper, y'know--and make it visible, first of all to the front line but worst of all, to upper management. With Rumor Monger gone, the conversation--whether for good or ill--went back underground.

What Third Voice does--and ALL Third Voice does--is take the conversation ABOUT a web site and/or the people behind it and attach it TO the web site. As others have pointed out, it does this not coercively--people have to download and install software to see it--but it certainly does it without allowing editorial control by the maintainers of the site, which is, after all, the whole point. Frankly, I tend to think that anyone who honestly believes they have "editorial control" of a web site when they absolutely do NOT control either the transmission of the content or the presentation of the content at the browser is being painfully naive.

So it seems that the real issue is the same as with Rumor Monger: are the people who are posting these messages somehow accountable for them? Would they still have posted them without the shield of anonymity? If not, would it be out of fear of the discovery of their cravenness and dishonesty, or out of fear of retribution for the truth (or at least their honest opinion) from those more powerful than themselves?

There are people and systems attempting to address these issues: I once again refer the curious to <>, perhaps after first trying to take the exam at <>.

Dave, you may wish to pay particular attention to question #10, as it addresses your concerns directly.

As things stand now--with the Web using simple protocols with little or no security, no accountability, and in fact a great deal of resistance to adding such features--no one creating content on the web can safely assume that the content, and *only* the content, is reaching any given user.

The question arises, as an earlier poster pointed out, as to where the problem lies: if Third Voice could somehow magically install itself on users' machines without their knowledge, that would be *bad*. But people are voluntarily downloading and installing it, and explicitly asking for the posted notes from arbitrary parties on the sites they visit. As a staunch Libertarian, I have to agree with the messages that suggest that that is indeed a free-speech right.

And if content providers have an issue with users using such tools and are concerned that we can't distinguish between responsible content--a product review in a respected journal that doesn't accept advertising, let's say--and an anonymous yellow note "stuck" to their site, then I would urge content providers to have more faith in their audience/customers, while I take my business elsewhere.

Just my $.02,
Paul Snively

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