The nice thing about not having anybody looking at your site is that you aren’t really constrained by deadlines. So, a little bit belatedly, here are some thoughts and links from 2007.
For me, the biggest news event of 2007 is definitely The Great Geek Uprising of 2007, more popularly known as the Digg Revolt, less popularly known as the AACS encryption key controversy.
The Digg Revolt
Most of the world doesn’t even know that the Digg Revolt occurred. This is understandable. The actual controversy itself affected pretty much nobody. Its lessons however, will reverberate for years.
The wikipedia description of the controversy is above so I’m not going to waste much time describing the event itself. Briefly however: the encryption key for the new format of dvd was hacked and posted on the internet. This is the key which prevents an hd-dvd from being copied. Over a couple of months, lawyers sent threatening letters to various websites on which the key was posted, demanding that the key be removed from those sites. Around May, Digg received one such letter and, naturally I think, began to censor the site by removing references to the key. Its not clear if its a violation of the dmca to have the key posted on your site, but I understand why Digg initially took the conservative route.
Once people realized that Digg was censoring their posts and comments there was, to put it mildly, a geek uprising. Posters began putting the key in every possible post, article and website. Digg, which is read by young people in the same way that everybody else reads CNN, was more or less shut down for 24 hours.
Think about that for a second. I am not exaggerating when I assert that this is the equivalent of CNN.com being shut down for an entire day because its readers are protesting its editorial policies. Here is a screenshot of the Digg homepage during the height of the controversy.
Lessons of the Digg Revolt
I am going to try my best to write this without overemphasizing the significance of the Digg Revolt itself. In fact, a case could be made that the Digg Revolt itself was of no social significance. It was just a bunch of geeks crying because they couldn’t pirate dvds. And at its most base level, that is all it was.
As a demonstration of the power of the internet however, the Digg Revolt was so much more.
First, it demonstrated the old axiom that getting something removed from the internet is the equivalent of removing the pee from pool. In this case, all the threat did was cause the public to make the encryption key more widely available.
From Wikipedia: “As of Tuesday afternoon, May 1, 2007, a Google search for the key returned 9,410 results, while the same search the next morning returned nearly 300,000 results. On Friday, the BBC reported that a search on Google shows almost 700,000 pages have published the key, despite the fact that on April 17, the AACS LA sent a DMCA notice to Google, demanding that Google stop returning any results for searches for the key.”
Look at those numbers again. They’re incredible.
More generally however, I think the controversy was a demonstration of the simultaneous frustration and promise that we all feel living in a new media age. The means of production are now in the hands of the people. Copyright is essentially meaningless. Nearly all media is now available at all times in whatever format you want it in. For whatever price you are willing to pay for it.
And yet at the same time we understand that we can’t just abandon copyright. We can’t just trade media for free with no repercussions. Intellectual Property now drives a large segment of our economy.
The frustration arises in dealing with the crumbling remnants of the old order. They have spent decades building up the infrastructure of production. They have spent their entire careers restraining the means of distribution. They have spent billions of dollars attempting to maintain their oligopolies. And in the space of a decade all of their work has come to naught.
Oh, they’ll continue to fight it as long as they can. Squeeze as much money out of the old system as they can. Mark my words. Twenty years from now you’re going to read stories like this old guy and his telephone, only it will be some old woman who’s still paying some odd media rental fee that’s long since been abandoned. And we’ll all laugh about it, probably on the successor to the successor to Digg.
But that world isn’t here yet and it frustrates us. It frustrates us that we all can’t get Fios service, even though we know that broadband internet has only been mainstream for a few years. It frustrates us that we can’t buy music without DRM restrictions, even though mp3 players have only been mainstream for a few years. It frustrates us that NBC won’t sell their shows on itunes, even though we understand that we are fundamentally altering their business model in the course of only a few short years. It frustrates the Writers Guild of America that producers won’t give them a cut of their internet revenues, even though the WGA understands that the producers don’t know what their future revenue streams are going to look like. It frustrates us that we can’t get naked DSL lines, even though we know that its the revenue from POTS thats kept the big telephone companies solvent and able to build out their broadband networks.
Technology is wonderful. The future looks wonderful. But its also extremely frustrating. Its frustrating to see the promise of the future and to have to wait for it. To be confronted with what seems like unreasonable obstacles to what we know the future is going to look like.
And that, more than anything, is what I think the Digg Revolt was about. And that’s why I think it was the event of 2007.
Onto the best of the rest:
From Cracked, the worst of 2007.
Fark’s Best Headlines Jan-March
Fark’s best Headlines April-June
Fark’s Best Headlines July-September
Fark’s Best Headlines October-December
Top ten gaming industry blunders of 2007.
PC World’s worst of tech in 2007.
Slate’s top science and privacy threats of 2007.
Gizmodo’s most popular posts of 2007
And the quotes of the year:
“I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don’t have maps and I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and Iraq and everywhere like such as and I believe that they should our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S. or should help South Africa and should help Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for us.” Lauren Upton, Miss South Carolina.
“There’s only three things he (Republican presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani) mentions in a sentence: a noun and a verb and 9/11.” — Sen. Joseph Biden
“(I have) a wide stance when going to the bathroom.” — Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig’s explanation of why his foot touched that of an undercover policeman in a men’s room.