Your Words Speak For Themselves

Today a friend of mine posted the link from Lifehacker about the new Wolfram-Alpha Facebook Analytics app.  Being a huge fan of Wolfram-Alpha, Facebook, and introspective self-analysis, I thought this was a brilliant idea.  And it was!  I learned a lot about myself and my friends’ perceptions of me.  My most liked picture was of me drinking a bottle of wine in Paris, and my most commented picture was a copy of “A Dance with Dragons” with the elated “AAAAHHH!  ITS OUT!”

But what I want to focus on right now is something I found much more revealing.  The most frequently used words from my Facebook posts.

My Most frequently used words on Facebook.

When looking at this list I am struck by the fact that the word “Love” is among them.  It’s literally in the top ten things I say out of all the words in the English language.  There is also a sense of immediacy here, as “Day,” “Today,” “Now,” and “Time” can attest.  But Facebook status updates are often about the now, and less about the past.  Though “Going” implies the future, and where I’m headed.  “Think” and “Know” illustrate that I am bound up in my mind, and my sense of understanding (true or not).  “People” comes first, and after that “One.”  Perhaps that’s my communal nature showing itself; E Pluribus Unum.

Facebook is the pulse of where I am now.  It’s where I spend a lot of my time online, and where I communicate with people that I care about in a very real and tangible way.  It’s rare for me to friend someone who I’ve never met in person, or someone who is only tangentially connected to me.  So there is truly a sense of love in the now there.  Strange that I would feel that way about connecting to people through a website.

But this got me thinking.  I’ve only been on Facebook since March of 2008.  I’ve been on Livejournal for nearly a decade!  I joined LJ in August of 2003, and for the most part I used LJ in a very similar way of connecting with friends, sharing silly status updates, writing blog posts and doing memes.  So, let’s look at my LJ Tags.

My LiveJournal Tags ranked by Frequency of Use

True to LiveJournal’s roots in the deep old beginnings of Web 2.0, there was no good way for me to extract my tag data.  So I went to my tag page, copied it out and ported it to Excel.  Maybe I’m being too harsh.  I honestly didn’t bother to go looking for an app or a tool to export my LJ tag data, but surely one must exist.

Anyhow, I love the top ten list, because they are a perfect picture of who I used to be.  That’s right, I feel like in a lot of ways this data is really me five years ago.

Faeries refers to the Radical Faeries, a kind of anarcho-communist radical queer spiritual movement.  I used to live and breathe Radical Faeries.  But not so much any more.  Our local circle has broken apart like a dandelion and blown to the four winds, and I haven’t been to a gathering proper in about 4 years or so.  Though the Philly Gatherette two years ago did rekindle something in my soul, I still don’t feel as connected to Faeries as I used to.  Silliness, Books, and Music however are still very high on my priority list.  And though the JOB has changed, it still ranks high as well.

Store is the tag that cuts the most.  It’s a latent reminder that I had a dream of running a metaphysical shop.  I even did for a while with a good friend of mine.  But the economy was shit and Pagans barely want to pay for classes, much less books and supplies.  So, we closed it.  It is firmly a part of my past, and seeing it there in the top ten reminds me how old this list is to my life.

Bitchery is the one I’m least proud of.  It is the tag I use for venting about things that annoy me, regardless of their severity.  From something problematic at work to the cold blooded depths of conservative rhetoric.  That’s what’s stored in the bitchery tag.  Though I feel that “commentary” and “introspection” lean me back into the more reflective state that I prefer to share with the world now.

I am somewhat relieved to see that “queer” comes before “memes” but the frequency of the memes tag says a lot about the age of this page.  Remember that article I wrote about how much I hate memes.  Yeah.  Well, we all grow up, right?  uh, right?  Well, maybe “Comics,” “TV” and “Anime” say something about the state of my grown-up-ness.  But even there I feel I’ve changed a lot.  My reading tastes have floated back to non-fiction and novels, and graphic novels have become much less frequent in my life.  Though I still love them.  And anime is nearly non-existent to me now.  Sad.

My WordPress Tag cloud

But if Livejournal is the snapshot of what my life used to be (even though I still use it from time to time to talk about other stuff), then this WordPress account is the snapshot of where my brain is now.  I’ve had this account since Feb 2011, so about a year and a half now.

I went into this WordPress project with a lot of focus.  This was going to be my professional site, and I was going to use this venue to sort out the content for my work related commentary, and push the content that was more focused on gender, queer stuff, and spirituality to my Livejournal.  And I think that focus really shows.  “Libraries,” “Google,” “Books,” and “Ebooks,” are the four largest elements here.  That’s definitely intentional.  This blog really looks at how these new technologies change and shape our experiences with library culture, and I spend a lot of time thinking about where these things can lead us.

I will also say that the volume of content on this blog is substantially smaller than in both Facebook and Livejournal, which have a rich background of years of data to analyze.  The relative newness and the focus of this blog means that only a few things will rise to the top, because there isn’t as much to draw from.  Also, this page is not the same kind of social experiment that LJ or Facebook is.  This is a content sharing system, but the level of social interaction through a WordPress page is (at least in my experience) substantially lower.  Not everyone is going to WordPress to catch up with their friends.  Rather it’s a place where people share articles like this.

In looking at all of this data about myself, I see my own personal growth.  It’s a story of a maturing adult, still playful, living in the new, but always exploring new things.

There’s a burgeoning field of literary and historical analysis called “culturomics” where people use the vast, scanned body of literature in Google’s ebook database to mine through for instances of words being used throughout the whole of published literature.  It’s incredibly fascinating.  And I believe that this exercise tonight is something that may be applied in the future when we study the lives and works of individuals.  Looking at their tag clouds, or analyzing the density or frequency of word use can tell you something very different than the meaning embedded in their sentences.  Breaking words from their context shows you an individual’s preoccupations.  Putting those two things side-by-side tells you what they said as well as reveals their focus.

Maybe it’s narcissistic to want to be the subject of future historian’s data analysis projects, but damn if I don’t want to be there!

You Know Nothing (about A Song of Ice and Fire)

On Thursday I finally finished my month-long reading of the new George R.R. Martin book, A Dance with Dragons.  And while I could sit down right now and reveal a ton of spoilers, I will instead take a different road and talk about the overarching story themes that I’ve only just realized.  Sometimes I’m a slow reader, not just in terms of pace, but also in terms of picking up on the broader details in a work until I’ve sat with it for a some time.  I’ve spent months going through A Song of Ice and Fire and only now has all of this actually struck me.  The following is a kind of thematic overview of the series as a whole coming from the mottoes of the lordly houses of Westeros.

The Starks: Winter is Coming
Work For The Common Good

When Old Nan tells you stories about The Long Night, you had better listen, because there’s wisdom in those words.  Very few people are looking at the bigger picture, and perhaps no one is at all.  Those who do act in concert with the bigger picture get derided as mad, but ultimately this will lead them to a better position. Most everyone is only looking out for himself, and doing things that are utterly destructive (to others and themselves) regardless of the consequences.  With a winter of indeterminate length settling into the country, Westeros is still in the dregs of a continent wide civil war utterly destroying the last harvest and killing off the people who would have brought that harvest in. This can’t possibly end well.  Only those who have been working for the common good, and they are few, can even begin to help people make it through this grim future.

The Targaryens: Fire and Blood
Birthright Varies From Kin to Kin

One of the recurring themes in Song of Ice and Fire is that there are certain qualities in each royal house that are just waiting to be awoken.  There are talismanic creatures whose fates are entangled with those of their owners.  When the humans fail to become one with their beasts, or even recognize their warnings, the human suffers, and harshly.  Beyond their animal ken, there are also near magical abilities that only work when one is truly aligned with his/her true nature.  When a pretender to that power tries to exert some kind of authoritative claim to that power, he is viciously cut down.   But become one with your power, and you will see the most miraculous things you will ever know and people will tremble before you.

The Lannisters: A Lannister Always Pays His Debts
Debts Must Be Repaid

While not their official words, this is the most common phrase associated with the Lannisters.  This is taken both literally and metaphorically.  It’s no secret that from the very first book that the kingdom is totally bankrupt and been amassing a tremendous amount of debt for bread and circuses.  They’re borrowing from every royal house and foreign countries to keep King’s Landing fat and fatter.  But every debt has to be repaid eventually, and if the king doesn’t pay up, well, maybe the banks will find someone who will and finance them instead.  I find it amazingly prescient that Martin went to the lengths of exploring defaulting on the national debt, especially in our current political situation.  Beyond the debts of actual monetary value, there are also debts of besmirched honor and tarnished virtue.  These require acts of contrition in order to truly expiate the guilt.  Some characters take this seriously and go to great pains to restore their honor, and others do only what is required while crossing their fingers so that they can get through the shame and get back to business as usual.

The Wildlings: You Know Nothing
Presumption is Hubris

I know the Wildlings are not a royal house, but theirs is the greatest wisdom, especially in the latest book. The biggest mistakes are those created from characters who are completely ignorant of the culture that they are attempting to dominate.  People just grossly assume that everyone just acts the way that they do, and that they can proceed as they always have and force their way upon the group they’re conquering.  You see this when people take the wrong hostages (people who have no value in terms of lineage, because succession doesn’t occur the same in other parts of the world); when people attempt to operate with a concept of honor when cunning is required, and vice-versa; when someone attempts to act where he is unqualified or ill prepared; and when someone veers from the course that they must take.  All of these people succumb to their hubris to some degree, and often unto the bitter, bitter end.  Interestingly only those who know that they know nothing are doing well, and those who feign at doing nothing are thrown for a loop.

I’m certain that I could pull more of these from the words of the other houses, but I’ll leave those to other readers.  But know that I’m going to keep combing through these words to see what else I can find.

Bloggers, TOS and IP

The other day a friend of mine said that she was quitting Blogger because she was livid over their terms of service agreement.  She is a writer and has been burned by ebook piracy in the past and found pieces she had written in their entirety on other websites around the internet.  The crux of her outrage came down to this particular section within the broader Google terms of service agreement.

11. Content license from you

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

I looked at that and didn’t see what exactly she was objecting to, but in speaking with her further, her objection seemed to hover around an interpretation of reproducing and “royalty-free.”  So, as a curious person I decided to look into the Terms of Service for Blogger itself, as well as the WordPress TOS, TypePad TOS, and the LiveJournal TOS, just to see what was going on out there. Being an absolute dork I actually sat down and parsed through the language from each of these five TOS agreements and made this handy chart.

It came as almost no surprise to me that much of the legal language concerning intellectual property rights and the ability of these blog services to reproduce your works royalty-free is pretty much across the board, though with some notable and glaring exceptions.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer!  I’m just a guy who reads a lot, and can analyze the hell out of something.  This is my interpretation of what these things mean, and as a nice guy I may have a rosy colored look about things.  If you are a lawyer, or you are one of the legal counsels for these companies I wholly recommend that you correct anything you see wrong in here in the comments below.

The Google TOS agreement, which is kind of the parent of the Blogger TOS agreement includes much more comprehensive language about the perpetuity of the content.  This is no real shock, since Google as a company is in the business of caching pretty much everything in existence always.  However, they go to great pains in the Blogger TOS to explicitly state that they do not claim control over anything (Section 6, Paragraph 2, see the bold), and that the only reason why they include the agreement to the above rights is “for the purpose of displaying and distributing Google services” i.e. your blog.  Also, Blogger specifically mentions that you can also CC License your work and they’re totally cool with that.  Though it is forever, and you can’t back out of it, ever.  The only other unique thing about the Google TOS is that it includes “translate” which is a separate service that Google offers, and can be applied to your page should someone in a foreign country want to try to read your blog in their language.

Analysis of the WordPress TOS was a little more disconcerting, as it makes no mention that you as the writer retain the copyright to your work.  It talks a whole lot about not posting anything infringing, including if your employer retains the copyright on your work.  Seriously, does it say explicitly anywhere in there that you retain your copyright?  No, but I’m assuming that they’re assuming you don’t have to say that.  Though, given all the language about infringement, it seems an odd thing to have not explicitly enumerated in the TOS.  Don’t worry WordPress, I believe you are good at heart.

TypePad on the other hand does explicitly state that you retain the copyright to your work uploaded through their service.  However, they include some language that may be more troubling to certain folks.  For instance, with TypePad you give them the right to “use” your material as well as the right to “make derivative works.”  This is more worrysome because by allowing them to make derivative works it implies that TypePad is allowed to remix your content for their own purposes.  Now, I’m going to assume that by “derivative works” it doesn’t mean that they’re going go running out and publish your blog as a book or that they’re going to re-write your content and put words in your mouth.  What they’re probably going for, assuming the best of intentions, is that they might use your blog in a feed related to items that have recently come out from the universe of blogs within TypePad, i.e. highlighted awesomeness.  They’re in the blogging business, and their business is to get more bloggers, not to play mashup with your work and try to turn around and sell it.

Perhaps the most troubling, funny and sad of the blogging services listed here was LiveJournal.  I have a soft spot in my heart for LJ as I have been on there for nearly nine years now.  But oh, it’s so sad to look at their TOS.  The good news is that it says you explicitly retain your copyrights.  The only explicit thing that they reserve the right to do is serve up your content to various platforms.  The bad news is that the rest of the TOS is all about how they regulate adult content, what you get with paid services, and the myriad list of things that will get you banned.  It’s like the entire agreement was cobbled together from all of the pain and suffering that they’ve gone through as a company who probably started with no legal team and had to carve out legal language based on experience.  And they probably did.  Compared to the rest of these TOS agreements, it’s like looking at your little brother in a room full of wealthy corporate attorneys.

Comparisons aside, what are we to make of this language in these TOS agreements and what should authors truly be concerned about?  Why do these blogging companies require all these rights and permissions?  Let’s just look at the details and think about it for a minute.

World Wide

Well, duh, it’s the internet.  Of course they’re going to want permission to present it to the world as a whole, because that’s the plan with anything going onto the internet.

Royalty Free

This is the big sticking point for my friend.  I put it this way.  If you’re not monetizing your blog, then nobody else is going to monetize it for you.  You can get an adwords account and maybe get some cash on the side from click-throughs. But putting something on the internet, that is not behind a paywall, is free, and you had just better live with it.  They’re not going to give you money for your awesome blog, just because you get a million hits.  If you are getting a million hits, then sell your blog yourself.  Go publish in print form like Cake Wrecks or Cheezburger or Stuff White People Like or Julie and Julia, etc. etc. etc.  They’re just providing you the platform, do with it and profit from it as you will.

Non-Exclusive

This is probably the best part of every one of these agreements.  It’s non-exclusive.  None of these sites cares if you repost this across every other blog platform imagineable, if you sell your content to the New York Times, or The Atlantic, if you go and get published by some big fancy publisher.  It’s all good, cause they don’t want to be your exclusive publisher.  That’s your call, and you can cross publish as much as you like.

Reproduce, Publish, Distribute

These all mean pretty much the same thing.  They’re making an infinite number of digital copies available to the world, ad infinitum.  It’s the internet, that’s what it does.

Adapt and Modify

One of the glorious things about the internet is that through the beauty of XML and CSS things can look different on different pages.  So, if someone imports your RSS feed into their LJ Friends page it’s going to show up in their cutesy homespun format.  If they import it to Google Reader it’s going to strip out any of your page background or color choices, etc.  If someone is looking at your content on a mobile site, it may give an abbreviated paragraph or only the title line from your post.  It’s fairly common for blog services to change the presentation of your content, but not actually change the content itself.

Publicly Perform, Publicly Display

It’s the internet.  It’s on public display.  If you didn’t give them the right to publicly display your blog, it would be like typing your blog in Google Docs and just saving it for yourself so no one else could see.  If you post a video, it’s a public performance.  If someone uses a speech translation device to read your content, that could be a public performance.  You’re trying to get out there, not hide.

Ultimately, there’s not a lot of difference between the terms of service between these companies (except Livejournal, but never mind that).  What you’re basically agreeing to do is to let any of these web companies make your content freely available to the public.  They don’t care what you write, so long as it’s not a copyright violation.  They don’t want to be the exclusive agent to you.  They just want to get it out there, in as many ways as possible, because having great content means more hits for them, and possibly more new accounts.  Hopefully paid accounts.  Blogging can be anything from a personal rant board to a highly monetized kickass website that earns you bank.  The blogs just give you the means, the ends are what you make of it.