Saturday, August 1, 2009

A reason to be wary of the social web:

A couple weeks ago I listened to Chris Anderson's Free and by the time I got to the last chapter, I swore that if anyone ever said the words "digital currency" to me ever again I would hurt them, in their baby-making place, just as Chris had hurt me.
"Think of it as a form of digital currency," he seemed to repeat over and over and over.
Shut up. Shut up! Shut UP!

I swore I would never use those words, ever. So what do I do now when I have the need to use them? Do I need to go as far as apologize to Chris? Nah. I don't think so, either.

But Chris' book focuses on how Free should be the standard model for all business on the Web, where costs approach zero. And he mentions tools like Twitter which are very useful, very popular and very free.

Now I've been on Twitter for just over 2 years and have made the lives of multitudes better for it. But I don't care too much about Twitter's health, about "trending topics" or about Twitter Spam because they haven't affected me.

But I saw this article the other day from The Examiner by Allen Glines about "Spam Armies on Twitter."

As of now, Google doesn't streamline "tweets" into its search results. I remember the opposition to Google's purchase of Blogger back in 2003 and how everyone worried that all those blogs linking back and forth to each other would influence Google's search results and we would all just find blog posts from each of our queries for, I don't know, "best hummus in Bay area." I was worried about all the bogus results I'd need to ignore to find the right information (remember, I'm a librarian, an information professional, so I answer everything with Google). So that's why Google keeps the blog search function separate (as far as I think I understand it), to distance the "freshness" and cross-linking of blog posts apart from the rest of the Web.

ALERT: I don't want to upset anyone, but here comes my use of "digital currency."

Chris Anderson's book, Free, says that we bloggers are paid for our work in digital currency: we earn a reputation which may, or may not, turn into actual Nintendo-purchasing currency later on. But for now, we're supposed to be happy to produce content that you devote time to read. This digital currency has a value established by readers: if I have 1,000 feed subscribers, obviously my stuff deserves more of your time than a blogger with just 50 subscribers.

But what happens when all our digital currency is counterfeit?

What happens when an army of spammers all follow each other on Twitter and create false reputations? And then waste your time reading and then responding by blocking their crap? But the army keeps growing because they don't need to work or sleep or eat or go to meetings or read Booklist like you do.
As for the picture above, these accounts were found in the days following the crackdown against spam accounts. Their implications are dire, and likely the next step in what has already been going on.

-- from "Spam Armies on Twitter"
Ask any librarian about her position on censorship, and she say she's ag'in it. And then she spits. But filtering spam is a form of censorship. But we all agree spam is crap, so we filter it out.

What if Google or Bing or The Next Big Thing decides that social networking sites need to be merged into the common flow of search results? What if ad revenue decreases so much that all this orphaned data is just too seductive to ignore? Spam generates income. Why shouldn't the search sites get a piece of the action?

So what happens if all of our social networks get filled with counterfeit data?

Since America manufactures nothing, and the only business we seem to be involved in is processing data, then this counterfeit data could be dangerous to our information infrastructure, just as counterfeit currency notes are dangerous to the monetary system.

Of course, I'm overreacting. To you. It's only 2009 for you. But since I've traveled back in time from the future, you won't realize the seriousness of this problem until the Great Googolocaust of 2022. But the less I say about that, the better.