Digg and the HD DVD Key

A few thoughts about the recent goings on at Digg and elsewhere.

Last week, the hexadecimal key code that is used for copy protection on HD DVDs appeared in a blog. The key code is a 16-digit string of two-digit numbers and letters — if you spend more than an hour a day on the Web, you must have seen it by now. I won’t repeat it here because, frankly, I don’t have to. It’s easy enough to find online. Just Google HD DVD Key.

And that brings up the main point of this post: the so-called Steisand Effect. In 2002, Barbra Streisand sued a photographer who included a photo of her Malibu estate on the Web. He was doing an aerial photography research project about coastal erosion and the photo was one of hundreds of others that were published on the Web. In the publicity that followed, the photo was copied and reproduced thousands of times all over the Web. If Ms. Streisand had just kept quiet about the whole thing, it probably would have gone unnoticed. Instead, the information she wanted removed spread like a virus and received a huge amount of publicity, thus becoming far more known than she wanted.

And, of course, she had this effect named after her, which further brings up the subject (and photo links) every time someone else tries to suppress information on the Web.

That’s what happened with this HD DVD key. It appeared on a blog and someone dugg it. It soon got lots of diggs. The folks at Digg, acting on a cease and desist order (or rumor that they were about to get one) decided to be proactive and remove the references on Digg. Digg users saw this as censorship and immediately went nuts, posting more blog articles and references to the offensive key code — many of which used the code in the post title. When the Streisand Effect entry was updated on Wikipedia (yesterday, perhaps), the updater noted that there were currently more than 280,000 references to the code, a song, and multiple domain names with variations on the code.

Grant Robertson‘s post on DownloadSquad.com, “HD DVD Key Fiasco is an Example of 21st Century Digital Revolt” said it best:

As Joe Rogan’s character on Newsradio once quite accurately quipped, “Dude, you can’t take something off the Internet.. that’s like trying to take pee out of a swimming pool.” The content providers have attempted to do exactly that, remove pee from the proverbial swimming pool that is the Internet and, as we’ve witnessed so many times before, they’ve failed miserably.

If the AACS Licensing Authority would have kept out of this, the code probably would have come and gone like most material on the Web — within a few days. Instead, the 16-digit number has become “the most famous number on the Web” and is everywhere. What’s worse is that while a week ago, only a few hackers might have known what to do with it to unlock or remove protection from HD DVDs, now it’s likely that someone will go through the bother of writing a software program that does the work for everyone. If that software isn’t already out, I expect it to appear any day now. And I’m sure its location will be dugg so everyone knows about it.

What can we — and others — learn about this? With the Web, nothing is private. If information can be known, it will be known on the Web. But it can remain obscure if — and only if — the owner of the information does nothing to hide it.

What should the AACS Licensing Authority have done? Quietly recall the key code and start using a new one. Or, better yet, just ignore the whole thing. Millions of people would not have known about it at all if AACS had done nothing.

But what this also brings to light is the public’s feelings about DRM. Consumers don’t want it. And now consumers are starting to fight back.

Blogging Courtesy

Why I think people should use some common courtesy on the Web.

Maybe I’m old fashioned or naive, but when I visit someone’s blog and read what they have to say, I would never consider posting a nasty comment that belittles or insults the author or another commenter.

But apparently, I’m among the minority. People will say anything they like in the comments, no matter how rude or crude it is. They use foul language, they insult the author of a post in no uncertain terms, they do their best to make it clear to other readers just how stupid they think the post’s author or another commenter is. I believe they do this for kicks and to make themselves seem more important. But what they really do is show how little self control and maturity they have.

Your Blog is Your Living Room

Here’s how I see it: A person’s blog is like their living room. By putting it on the Web, they’re opening the door for visitors. They share their opinions in their blog posts. They open comments to get feedback from visitors, to start discussions about the topic. Visitors can come and go as they please, they can participate in discussions by posting comments, they can share their insight to add value and help others learn or see another point of view.

I would no sooner post an insulting comment or perpetuate a heated argument in a blog than insult my host in his home.

If I read something in a blog that I don’t agree with and I want to comment to present my point of view, I’ll word my comment carefully as not to be insulting. This is how mature, educated people start discussions, the way ideas are shared in a friendly, non-offensive environment. This is how we learn from each other.

(A perfect example on this blog is the incredible string of informative comments for the post “Podcast Playlists No Longer Play Continuously.” I posted my solution to a problem and dozens of other people came forward with their comments and solutions. We all learned from this.)

If I find something in a blog so offensive that it makes me angry, I will simply stop reading that blog. Let’s face it: there are millions of blogs out there. Why should I waste my time reading the ones I don’t learn from or enjoy?

Bloggers Have a Responsibility

Bloggers, of course, have a responsibility. Allowing rude, insulting, and offensive comments to remain on their blog only invites more of the same. It’s like allowing the riffraff of the Web to take over your living room.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about at least one female blogger being threatened on her blog, in other blogs, and by e-mail. The threats are nasty and explicit, and to an intelligent person, would seem to be the work of deranged minds. They’re certainly not funny and, if taken seriously by the authorities, would probably lead to arrests.

My question is: how could a blogger consider himself responsible to the blogging community by allowing such comments to appear and remain on his blog?

The comment feature allows moderation. It makes it possible to clear offensive comments from a blog — like wiping dog crap off the carpet in your living room.

You might call this censorship. I don’t. I call it keeping things under control, respecting your fellow bloggers and visitors, taking responsibility for what goes on in your living room.

I Keep My Living Room Clean

I’ve had offensive comments appear on this blog. Some have been directed at me, others have been directed at other commenters. The comments were removed as soon as I saw them — normally within a few minutes of being posted.

But it bothers me that they appeared in the first place. That people can’t embrace the value of the blogging community and participate in discussions as mature and responsible adults. That they spend more energy typing in verbal abuse than actually thinking about what they’ve read and how it might apply to their lives — or not. That they’re willing to waste more time typing in a nasty comment than just moving on to a Web site that’s more in line with their own personal taste.

One thing’s for sure; their efforts will always be wasted here.