Web Annotation Addenda

Genius' Response in Recode

After Rep. Katherine Clark wrote a letter to Genius asking for clarification about its abuse-reporting and other policies, this article appeared at Recode with its reply. The article includes the full response letter from co-founder Tom Lehman. It notes:

We built the Genius Web Annotator to allow anyone to contribute to a layer of context, commentary, and criticism on top of any web page. Like every platform that enables commentary, it has the potential to be misused. However, we want to be clear that Genius does not enable abuse. This is a false narrative that has taken hold on Twitter and other outlets.

Twitter isn't a news outlet, but a collection of features, but, ok! And every platform always asserts that it doesn't enable abuse until such point as they change features to help fight abuse. 

nd we discover that Genius has moderators who read every annotation. They are…volunteers. And that isn't scalable. But also, ok! From the article:

Zechory said that there is a group of volunteer community moderators (like on Reddit) who examine all this content and can take action if they see abuse. He says that there is also a full-time staffer, originally a Genius community member, whose job is to monitor all comments made on the Web annotation tool as a safeguard, should the moderators miss something.

March 28 articles

Three articles appeared Monday about Genius and Ella's concerns and interactions. Slate wrote "Misguided Genius: A new tool wants to annotate everything on the Internet. But at what cost?" And at the Observer, "Genius Web Annotator vs. One Young Woman With a Blog: Can annotating text online straighten out our collective reasoning, or will it just be a new vector for trolls?"

That latter article included these even more chilling paragraphs:

During a recent interview with Ralph Swick, Chief Operating Officer of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the web’s standards body, he expressed optimism that a web standard for annotation is coming, which would almost certainly mean that the feature would be built into every major browser.
When and if it does, users might see some sort of flag at the top of their screen showing if any given web page has been annotated. Clicking on that flag might reveal a multitude of layers of communities that have chimed in, perhaps everyone from political parties to 8Chan users.

An article at Recode, "The Company Formerly Known as Rap Genius Is Once Again Enmeshed in Controversy," had this gem from the editor at News Genius (who, for context, is a woman):

But no one is exempt from a closer look under the microscope of Genius — or whatever! — because of their gender.

I don't know if that person understands that they are using the cadence of assault there, but — whatever! It's also not responding to the primary criticism, which isn't about criticism itself, but context and the use of the complete Web page as it appears on someone else's site. That's distinct from nearly every other form of enduring commentary on the Net.

Other Web Annotation Systems

The Internet's long-term memory bank, the aforementioned Mr. Marks, reminded me of two other systems that had elements in common with Third Voice, Spinspotter, and Genius Web Annotator: SideWiki and QuickTopic's original incarnation.

And I found two more, of a different kind. Microsoft Edge includes annotation, but it's essentially local or personal; it's not globally publishable. Dave Peck also noted via a tweet his own 2000-era project, E-Quill (he was employee #1), which allowed annotations you could email to other people. Again, not globally publishable. He notes, "Abuse was... an issue then, too."

Aram Zucker-Scharff commends Diigo to me, "…you left off my fav 'everyone got excited and then forgot about it' web highlighter Diigo, which is still doing its thing."

And another: Annotea, an abandoned W3C local annotation standard (via ttepasse).

Take Control of Slack Basics! First Chapters Free

Read Chapter 1, Introducing Slack, and Chapter 2, Getting Started with Slack, at TidBITS, free.

I've been using Slack for a year, and fell in love with it right away. It's part of my flow of communication with publications with which I work and part of the social fabric I share with fellow nerds on a podcast network and other writers. Slack is group chat with searchable history, plus a lot more.

This love led me to write Take Control of Slack Basics, a book that arose from my interest in understanding the details of Slack, which has a very nice Web app and well-designed native apps for all major platforms. I kept learning new tricks and discovering them, and thought that I could pull this all together for people whose workplaces, social groups, academic institutions, or other organizations had decided to use Slack—and they felt lost or undertrained in making the most of it. (By the way: This book was written independently of Slack, which didn't influence or endorse its contents.)

This book is for people who want to use Slack better, want to get started in Slack and aren't sure it's for them or their group, or have been told at work that they will use Slack and want to get up to speed.

One of the most important things about Slack is keeping it quiet. It's got a lot of features to help notify you of messages and conversations, but it also increasingly has options that keep it less talky, including a "do not disturb" mode introduced towards the end of 2015.

You can read the first two chapters of my book free at TidBITS, the publishers of the Take Control series. I've finished writing the book, and we're working through technical edits (checking details) and regular editing, and syndicating the remaining 10 chapters to TidBITS subscribing members. (Members get syndicated book chapters plus discounts on all sorts of Mac and iPhone/iPad-related products.)

I'll make an announcement when the book ships in a few weeks, but, for now, you can read the first two chapters!

Here's the full table of contents:

Chapter 1, Introducing Slack
Chapter 2, Getting Started with Slack
Chapter 3, Master the Interface
Chapter 4, Post Basic Messages
Chapter 5, Go Beyond Basic Messages
Chapter 6, Work with Channels
Chapter 7, Message Directly
Chapter 8, Configure Notifications
Chapter 9, Search Effectively
Chapter 10, Manage Bots and Integrations
Chapter 11, Be Productive in Slack
Chapter 12, Start a Team

Freelance Editor, For Hire

With the conclusion of a very lovely and worthwhile editorial contracting job, I'm back to full-time freelancing. While that freelancing includes weekly contributions to Macworld I still have a dance card with slots free for other one-time and recurring writing assignments.

Beyond writing, I'd also like to find project-based or article-based editing gigs both for publications and for authors looking for some help in punching up and tightening their prose.

I've been editing for most of my life it seems, and professionally for 25 years. I've worked with many publications and run my own, most recently spending over two years editing what added to up to nearly 300 non-fiction, long-form reported stories and essays for The Magazine, which I owned for most of its run.

In early 2016, I worked as a freelance editor for Mark Harris's Kickstarter-funded, editorially independent investigation of a successful crowdfunding campaign for a palm-sized drone that imploded with few working models delivered.

Mark is an award-winning freelance science and technology writer for the Economist, the Guardian, Scientific American, MIT Tech Review and others. Here's what he says about my work:

Glenn is one of the very best editors I have worked with. Not only does he scrub copy until it shines, catch errors both obvious and obscure, and ask the most useful awkward questions, he also adds genuine weight and substance to any project he is working on. He’s diplomatic, attentive, rigorous, and utterly focused on quality, even under tight deadlines.

I'm available on an hourly and project basis, and pride myself on being a colleague who is delightful, supportive, and constructive, but also won't let a writer off the hook on unanswered questions—whether the writer has hired me directly or I'm editing for a publication.

I asked some of the word artists who contributed to The Magazine for endorsements—now that I no longer have the power of assignments to sway their honesty—and compiled a set of their comments on my Editor for Hire page. My c.v. is available on request as well. (You can contact me at glenn@glennf.com.)

Happy Birthday, Dear Children: Once Again, to the Courts!

So in September, I wrote about the latest twist in the copyright ownership or existence in the lyrics for "Happy Birthday." Warner-Chappell had been the current and sole party alleging that it had license to the lyrics through a series of sales of same over the years. In a summary judgement, however, those rights were wiped away. A judge said that the evidence made it clear that there was no valid transfer of copyright in the 1930s from the Hill sisters to Summy Co., which was the ostensible owner. He walked through the potential that no valid copyright existed at all in the lyrics, but didn't formally issue a decision, because it was necessary.

At the time, this was trumpeted as the song finally being deemed in the public domain—but I argued while it was likely, it wasn't certain. That was because even should Warner-Chappell give up its fight (it hasn't) or lose on appeals, potentially all the way to the Supreme Court, there might be other valid parties extant who could establish a right. At which point, more litigation would be necessary to determine whether a) that party had a right in the work and b) the work had a valid copyright from around 1935. (Remember the musical tune was devised in the 1870s, copyrighted in the 1880s, and is clearly out of copyright for decades now.)

I wrote:

The only likely group that has standing to pursue legal action if they demanded royalties and didn't receive them is the charity that became the ultimate beneficiary of the Hills, the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI). It has received a third of royalties collected by Warner-Chappell for decades, or roughly $750,000 a year in recent years. Should ACEI choose to attempt to enforce rights, sue Warner-Chappell, or carry out any other action, it has just two bases on which it could proceed. (Diane Whitehead, the executive director of ACEI, says, "We are not commenting at this time.")

Well—the ACEI is pursuing this argument now. I was unable to determine (nor were other reporters) whether the Hill Foundation that ostensibly received one-third of the royalties of "Happy Birthday" still existed in some form. It had apparently passed its share to ACEI. But ACEI now says, rather late in this process (a suit to which it wasn't a party), that it received the full ownership of all the Hill Foundation copyrights in a bequest.

Jessica Hill had inherited from her sister Mildred's estate her share in the rights to various songs, and Patty (who created the songs with Mildred) had the remaining rights. The two created the Hill Foundation as the entity to own these rights. The ACEI, which Patty helped to found, received Patty's share on her death. The remaining half was bequeathed to a nephew, who, because he died without issue, had his share revert to the ACEI in full. 

Thus the mystery of the Hill Foundation is solved, if the chain of bequests can be documented. The ACEI would be the owner of any rights that the sisters failed to assign properly to Summy. The ACEI has been receiving its royalty share from preceding owners and then Warner-Chappell.

So if it is proven the rights weren't properly assigned to Summy, they reside with ACEI, which can sign them over again properly today, at which point they would remain in effect either until 2017 or 2030. (There is an issue as to whether the rights were properly renewed after 28 years, however; if Summy did so, it wasn't entitled to, and thus even if they existed in 1935, they would have expired by 1964.)

The rights would expire in 2017 if an unpublished manuscript of the lyrics were found, as they would be protected for 70 years following Patty Hill's death. (Only the original creators' deaths are counted for this purpose.) If the 1935 registration is found valid and the transfer of rights is not, then the rights persist until 2030 due to the vagaries of copyright law extensions.

The leading expert on the "Happy Birthday" copyright status, explained the issue about an unpublished manuscript back in September:

However, the Hill sisters in the 1940s lawsuit maintained that they had made a transfer of rights in 1935. These are the rights that the judge said didn't exist. That ruling could leave the unpublished rights active. But Brauneis says, "We don't know that Patty Smith Hill ever wrote anything down." No manuscript has ever been mentioned nor presented across multiple trials and 125 years. This also requires that the Hills never "abandoned" the rights, a complicated concept, but Brauneis says his reading of the judge's ruling is that King leaned toward that interpretation.

One outcome is that the judge lets ACEI join the suit and produces a new summary judgment in which he finds the registration invalid or the rights abandoned, or turns to the reliance on an unpublished manuscript which, as there's no proof of one existing, would ostensibly be dismissed as well. It could also go to trial and any of these conditions might be met. In all of those cases, the copyright was never valid, and there was no basis by any party to collect royalties.

The ACEI receives a significant portion of its income from these royalties, and thus is motivated to pursue the case. (Its filing is here.)

What this means, however, is that the issue of whether lyrics are clearly in the public domain for the purposes of companies who want to avoid being socked with a copyright lawsuit for unlicensed use has been punted forward, potentially for months to years.

My Latest Book: A Practical Guide to Networking, Privacy & Security in iOS 9

I've been writing about the three topics in this book's title for…well, decades now. And even though iOS is ostensibly an intuitive and simple operating system, knowing where every setting is and which software to use to enhance safety, security, and privacy can be a struggle. This 176-page book, A Practical Guide to Networking, Privacy & Security in iOS 9, documents all that in concise chapters divided by tasks that tackles the basics all the way up to advanced topics. (You can download an excerpt with a full table of contents and a chapter.)

Folks concerned about privacy controls in iOS and safe/ad-free web surfing asked me to include details on those topics for this new edition. The Privacy section is thus all new. It explains how to use Apple's settings—and what Apple claims is done with data and details it collects when you're searching, using Siri, and mapping. I also have a chapter that runs through content-blocking Safari extensions, which were introduced in iOS 9, and allow third-party apps to help you block web-based malware, trackers, phishing sites, and unwanted bandwidth wasters, which can include advertising networks that don't respect your privacy, time, or your mobile data plan costs!

The book is normally $15, and you get three DRM-free versions: PDF, EPUB, and MOBI (Kindle compatible). As a reader of this blog who read to this point on the page, you can get 25% by using the coupon code FOG9 at checkout. Thanks for your support!

You can also buy the books through your favorite online bookseller:

You can even get it in print! This edition is printed on demand (POD), and it looks almost exactly like books printed in large quantity—and costs the same as the ebook edition.

It's a Big Book

I've just released The Magazine: The Complete Archives. It's the entire set of nearly 300 articles that were commissioned for The Magazine during its 28-month run, mostly under my editorship, and largely under my ownership. You can get the ebook edition (which comes as a set in EPUB, PDF, and MOBI) for $25. It's 1,800 pages in PDF!

We had a great time making The Magazine, and I didn't want it to disappear without a trace. So I raised funds in a Kickstarter earlier this year to fund production of this complete collection and create a pot of money to seed another publication, Old & New, that's more modest in its ambition.

Old & New will not be an app. It will not rely on Apple's shifting priorities. It will be web based, but also delivered as an ebook (once it builds up steam). It will be presold a year in advance once the audience is there to commit to a year at a time. It will use existing software and infrastructure; I plan to not build a single unique bit of code for it, if I can help it.

I'm trying to build something good, low-key, sustainable, and interesting. It'll be a great next experiment.

There's No Use Crying over a Podcast

This week, I pinch-hit to write an issue of a favorite email newsletter, Hot Pod by Nick Quah. I discovered it a few months ago, and it is like ambrosia to those like me who want more insight into the broad podcast "industry," especially the parts I don't know in public radio. Nick just got a new job and was going to take this week off, so I offered to write an issue, which you can read here.

Read More

Crowdfunding The Magazine: The Complete Archives

Never let it be said that I do things by half measures: I've launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund producing the complete archives of The Magazine, the publication I edited and then purchased, in ebook form. It will be nearly 300 articles and over 500,000 words, and may be so large I split it into several files to avoid clogging ereaders and ebook software.

We had a remarkable range of articles and contributors, and this campaign will let me collect it all in one place, and then make it available forever through ebookstores and beyond. Thanks for considering being part of it!


Podcasting Hits Twitter Numbers: 39 Million Americans

In all the recent discussion about podcasting having arrived — with a lot of reliance on Edison Research's most recent in a multi-year series of interviews about radio and audio-program listening — nobody seems to have connected two numbers.

The Pew Research Internet Project's Social Networking Fact Sheet pegs regular Twitter use at 19% of online adult Americans. That's people 18 or older who use the Internet regularly, which Pew says elsewhere is about 87% of adults.

Edison Research's lengthy research deck notes that of its panel, which includes Americans aged 12 and older, so a larger pool, 15% had listened to one or more podcasts in the previous month when the survey was conducted. (Edison redefined how it counts this in 2013, which means the 9% figure in 2008 might be overstated by current terms, but helps show a slow, steady rise over the last six years.)

Edison helpfully notes that the 15% figure represents 39 million Americans. There are 309 million people in America as of the 2010 census, and the Census Bureau says 23.3% of them are not yet 18 years of age. Thus 76.7% of 309 million gets you 236 million; take 87% of that for online adult Americans, and it's 205 million; 19% who use Twitter regularly would thus mean…39 million.

A podcast and Twitter aren't comparable in nature. Someone might listen to one 30-minute episode of a radio show or their local church's sermon once a month, while they participate on Twitter every day; the opposite is also possible.

Yet given the attention paid to Twitter, it's reasonable to think that podcasting quietly arrived at a viable mass market when no one was looking. It took Serial for people outside of radio and podcasting to pay close attention.

Twitter's growth has slowed, especially for active users. Podcasting has by no means reached its top, and it's likely to be driven higher by a critical mass of adoption and shows like Serial. The number of podcast listeners could start to approach Edison's figures for online radio listeners: about 47% of the 12+ population in America, or about 124 million people.

For people who love listening to and making podcasts, 39 million is a very nice potential audience, but striving towards 124 million sounds even better.

Don't Build It Unless You Have To

My new motto for all new ventures is: If I don't have to build it, I won't. This is a marked change both in my life path and the advice I've given others. In the past, I felt that without building most elements of a digital project or a workflow from scratch, you couldn't reach something close enough to your aims to achieve those goals. Custom work, typically involving a lot of coding, was the only way.

I've gotten past that. The Magazine was a grand experiment in building it from scratch, and I credit Marco Arment tremendously for putting in the time and effort to make it happen. It was the only reasonable approach in 2012 to produce a born-digital and digital-only publication distributed to mobile devices. As I wrote at Six Colors, app ecosystems used to promise and deliver almost everything you needed for a publication; now, they promise more than they deliver, though there are still advantages.

The Magazine had these built-from-scratch properties:

  • A custom app, which was perceived (incorrectly) as iPad only
  • A built-from-scratch web site (turned into templates)
  • A custom back-end for both iOS and web app interaction
  • An in-house account management system to integrate iOS subscribers (by receipt) and Web access, as well as allow Web subscribers to use the iOS app
  • A custom Apple Push Notification (APN) system
  • Initially accepted payment solely via iTunes; then added custom ecommerce handling
  • Did not offer integration in the app to allow subscribers to add themselves to a mailing list

This all made sense in 2012 because:

  • There were no mature periodical platforms. Now there are several. (I picked TypeEngine for our 2.0 update this last summer.)
  • WordPress was the only reasonable and mature offering for hosting a web site with the complexity of what we needed in 2012, but it still wouldn't have been the right choice then. Now there's Squarespace, among others, which are much more sophisticated, even without being able to run custom PHP or the like.
  • Marco is a PHP and iOS programmer: he didn't have to hire in any expertise except in the user-interface design.

The trouble with custom everything, even if you are the person writing the code and are proficient (I can program perl and PHP but not Objective C), is that every single change you make or feature improvement you need is a slog. You're the only one who can do it. If you job out some parts of what you do for custom work, you have to manage those projects and get other people to conform to your needs, while they have other priorities they're juggling.

I have an increasingly well-formed idea for a new publication that I may launch in late winter. For this project, I swear to the heavens above, I'm going to stitch together everything I need from existing components, and only write the glue to bind them. Squarespace offers a lot of glue in its setup: linking in Stripe, Mailchimp, Disqus, and many other services by just popping in those other servcies' API keys.

  • If there is an app component, it will be a publishing platform that I license or to which I subscribe, not an app I commission.
  • Any content available through a platform will also be available in ebook format.
  • Web hosting will be on Squarespace.
  • I will not write a line of ecommerce code, but design the project around the capabilities of existing integration in Squarespace or another system that I can link to the web site.
  • I will not build an account-management system.
  • An email list (using Mailchimp) will be a fundamental part of communication.
  • It will not be beholden to Apple or any monolithic company for funding, ongoing subscription revenue, or feature approval.

I will focus all of my efforts on editorial, marketing, and design. Am I being naive to think that what I need is available? Not really. I've tested every one of the elements I mention in the last bullet list in isolation. The trick is making sure I can create an integrated whole. I believe it's possible.