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© 1994-2017. David Sklar. All rights reserved.

Remix and be Remixed

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?<p>Gmail’s introduction was accompanied by a barrage of complaints that the automated scanning-of-messages to display ads was involuntarily subjecting those who correspond with Gmail users to a privacy invading examination and modification of their message.</p><p>Now, the introduction of a version of Google Toolbar that annotates addresses, ISBNs and similar data with links to maps and has provoked a similar 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!"</p><p>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.</p><p>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?</p><p>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.</p><p>A related important point that Cory Doctorow makes in his swell pro-Toolbar commentary is:</p><blockquote>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.</blockquote><p>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.</p><p>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.</p><p>The annotation and modification of arbitrary content, with end user consent, is a golden opportunity to build a world of informed readers and consumers.</p><p>All 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.</p><p>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.</p>

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