Is cybertip using a shotgun to kill a fly?

Michael Geist, one of Canada’s leading commentators when it comes to intellectual property and the Internet, opened up a bit of a hornet’s nest with his recent post supporting the decision by major ISP’s to back the cybertip blacklist on child exploitation and pornography. Project Cleanfeed Canada is based on a similar initiative in the UK that was led by British Telecom, and is expected to be rolled out over the next few months.

Michael said that the project was likely to “generate several responses, notably concerns about censorship and fears that this could extend to other forms of content,” but said that in his opinion “while some skepticism is understandable… cybertip.ca will implement an appeal process for content providers who believe that their content is wrongly blocked.” In the end, he said, “the arrival of Project Cleanfeed in Canada looks like a good news story that merits close monitoring.”

Several critics immediately took issue with Michael’s support, however, including Engtech — who said that “the idea of having a national blacklist sends shivers down my spine. I would always prefer that illegal websites be shutdown rather than putting into power national filters that have the potential to be abused. I’m a pessimist, I believe that any form of censorship will eventually be abused despite its good intentions.” Engtech points to a good overview of the issues here.

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Michael also got a long critical comment on his post from Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing, who until recently worked with the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

Michael, I think that you’re being entirely too sanguine about a secret blacklist of content. Having had my own material censored by such blacklists at the national and local level, I’m a lot less trusting of these systems. The idea is fundamentally broken.

First of all, it seems to me that keeping a secret list of “evil” content is inherently subject to abuse. This is certainly something we’ve seen in every single other instance of secret blacklisting.

Cory and other critics say their concerns are that a) those who search out child porn would not be deterred by the blacklist, b) that many legitimate sites might be inadvertently caught in such a net, and c) that keeping the entire process secret is offensive and prone to abuse. Michael’s response (and I’m paraphrasing here) is that while some people might be able to get around the blacklist, preventing access to child porn is important enough that the effort is still worth it.

I have to admit that, despite being the father of three daughters and as concerned as anyone about access to child porn, like Engtech and Cory I see the weaknesses of the cybertip project — including the secrecy and the potential for abuse — as outweighing the potential benefits of preventing inadvertent exposure to questionable websites. In that sense, it seems to be (as one commenter put it) “like using ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) to kill a fly.”

PikSpot wants to help tame the Wild West

For my “Ingram 2.0” column last week, I wrote about a Toronto-based social-networking startup called PikSpot that is designed to help create communities of interest, and has launched with two groups based on Leo Laporte and Chris Pirillo’s UndoTV and Don Tapscott’s book Wikinomics. I thought I would reproduce the piece here for those who might have missed it.

When it comes to Web-related ventures, Scott Waddell is not your typical twenty-something, working on a MySpace clone while doing his undergrad degree — in fact, he’s pretty close to being a veteran. He was involved in several early Internet companies in the mid- and late-1990s, including iRover, a content-management system for Internet service providers. He also helped pioneer the use of streaming video for sites like Accuweather and MSN, long before YouTube came along.

Mr. Waddell’s latest venture, with partner Geoff Norton, is called PikSpot.com, a social-networking hub that can be used by groups, companies or individuals as the engine behind their community. While “Web 2.0” sites such as MySpace, YouTube, Flickr and so on tend to be focused on the type of content that users are sharing — Flickr for photos, YouTube for video, MySpace for blogs, etc. — PikSpot is designed to handle all of those, but is more focused on helping to create communities, regardless of what kinds of content are involved.

“PikSpot is all about collecting, organizing and promoting user-generated content,” Mr. Waddell said. “It’s designed to create niche communities based around shared interests — whether that’s funny videos or knitting or cars — and letting people publish and share their content with others in an organized kind of way.”

Kim Robinson, an investor who is also chairman of PikSpot’s parent company Wired Kingdom, says the site helps turn the “Wild West of the Web into a more organized set of collaborative communities,” one that even companies wouldn’t hesitate to use for internal communication and teamwork.

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Web 2.0 is dead — long live the Web

My friend and fellow mesh organizer — and all-around smart guy — Stuart MacDonald has a great blog post up today on the end of Web 2.0. But don’t get depressed, all you fans of blogs and podcasts and wikis and social media. All Stuart means is that Web 2.0 as a hot new concept (albeit one that tends to be poorly defined) is over, and what we’re seeing is the start of Web 2.0 as something that can really mean something to the general populace.

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In other words, instead of just being something cool that goes “ping,” all the things that we associate with Web 2.0 are becoming part of how people use the Web, whether they realize it or not. People are reading and commenting on blogs and using social media and those kinds of tools without knowing that they are doing something Web 2.0 — and that’s a good thing. That’s why mesh is called Canada’s Web conference, and not Canada’s Web 2.0 conference (no, it’s not because O’Reilly sent us a C&D letter).

Remember when every company sent out press releases to say that they had a website? Those days are gone (thankfully), and now the Internet is something millions of people use without ever really thinking about it. And it’s no wonder that Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the guy we have to thank for the Web, got a little testy in an interview awhile back when asked about Web 2.0. There is no Web 2.0, he said — there’s just the evolution of the Web. All that interactivity (and more) is something he envisioned in the first place. It’s just taken us awhile to get there.

Mesh mini-podcasts are here

Anyone who attended the ridiculously successful mesh meetup on November 15th (blog post is here) at the Irish Embassy in Toronto may have seen a woman with a small microphone interviewing various luminaries and other assorted folk. As some of you may know by now, that was podcaster extraordinaire Leesa Barnes, and the fruits of her labours are now available for all to enjoy.

That includes interviews with Dr. Tony Hung of Deep Jive Interests, blogger Juan Gonzalez of global-culture.org, Norman Young of The Talking Company (which is in stealth mode), new blogger Rob Schaumer and Bernie Aho of Conceptshare.com — and those are just the beginning. There are more to come. Thanks again to Leesa for all her hard work, and also for the compliments she bestowed on all of us in a recent post she wrote about mesh.

Podcasts were produced by Leesa’s company Caprica Interactive Marketing, with music from the Podsafe Music Network by Uncle Seth.

Here are the podcasts:

1. Juan Gonzalez

Juan talks to Leesa about:

  • Ways in which your online conversations can help you meet people in different countries
  • Why Juan left Mexico to settle in Canada (and it wasn’t because of money)
  • How to talk with your hands using your blog

2. Norman Young of The Talking Company

Norman talks to Leesa about:

  • An idea Norman has for Mesh ’07
  • How to handle the misconceptions that mainstream audiences have over the word podcast (or should it be netcast?)
  • Why the interactive space will never take the place of the physical space (the Mesh meetup is a perfect example)

3. new blogger Rob Schaumer

Rob talks to Leesa about:

  • His big challenge is and whether or not he can do it
  • What he hopes to learn when he attends Mesh ’07
  • His 3 tips for staying young
  • Advice on what to do if you’re interviewing someone really boring

4. Dr. Tony Hung of Deep Jive Interests

Tony talks to Leesa about:

  • Whether Mathew Ingram looks better in person than he does online
  • What Web 2.0 means
  • Why he is excited about Mesh ’07

5. Bernie Aho of Conceptshare

Bernie talks to Leesa about:

  • Why ConceptShare.com decided not to set up shop in Silicon Valley and chose Toronto instead
  • How ConceptShare.com is building buzz without spending enormous sums on advertising
  • How their biggest frustration sharing visual concepts over email turned into a business idea
  • Web 2.0? It’s now time for Web 3.0
  • Why Bernie would be part of the Mesh organizing team
  • Which is colder – Sudbury or Toronto? Bernie settles the debate once and for all

Startups beware: Here be dragons

On the so-called Lenox Globe, one of the oldest known maps from the 15th century, there was a Latin inscription on one unexplored region that said “Here Be Dragons.” Maybe the CBC should have inscribed that over the stage door leading to their venture capital reality show The Dragons’ Den. A Toronto startup called JobLoft certainly got chewed up during the filming of the show — although there is some debate about who did the chewing, and whether they deserved it or not.

As Rick Spence outlines on his blog, the JobLoft guys got a $200,000 cheque from the four venture capital “dragons” — and a commitment that they would get lots of great advice and assistance — in return for 50 per cent of their company. On the final episode of the show last night, however, the company’s advisor (a professor from Ryerson) criticized the dragons and their offer, and the dragons tore up the cheque. Ryan Coleman of Clay Tablet has a video clip and some thoughts about the show.

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A couple of things strike me about this situation. The first is that while all this makes for great TV, I’m not sure it’s a great way to raise money. In other words, it’s a sideshow. Just as going on Who Wants to Date a Millionaire isn’t a great way to find true love, Dragons’ Den probably isn’t a great way to find a good VC match. The JobLoft guys say on their blog that they’re glad of the experience and that it got them publicity, but in the long run I’m not sure that it was worth it.

A lot of people in the comments at JobLoft’s blog take them to task for blowing the deal, and argue that their advisor was wrong to confront the dragons, etc. Waiting until the last minute to raise concerns is certainly not a great approach — and I would agree with Kempton that the insults that their teacher lobbed at the dragons were also totally offside in my opinion — but at the same time the JobLoft guys note that they got very little face-time or input from the dragons, contrary to what was promised.

In the end, it’s also worth noting that $200,000 for half of your company seems to me like selling yourself pretty short (as Toronto entrepreneur Austin Hill noted in this excellent post on the show). Maybe it’s just as well they got out of it. Ben Yoskovitz has some thoughts too.