Sunday, August 10, 2014

Web site tries to make itself forgettable

Even the founder of the citizen journalist site “Allvoices” appears to want to forget what had seemed, at least for awhile, as a noble attempt to empower the analog world.

The site is not only shifting entirely to selected writers instead of a mixture of professional writers, many working in retirement, and people who leaped aboard the passing digital train, it is taking their content down.

People who follow the Web know that taking content down is a term used when someone is forced to remove content because it is deemed to be guilty of copyright infringement.
And a federal court decision in Northern California against Allvoices may have left it in a position where even shutting down the site in two weeks will leave it so vulnerable to suits for copyright infringement that it may not be able to convince investors to fund its continued operation.
Dan Pepper, of the Pepper Law Group, said the Oppenheimer decision has “revealed … the consequences (of failure to observe the rules of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) can be devastating.” The case file disclosed that Allvoices had made a similar argument unsuccessfully in a different federal court, reporter Stephen Pope confirmed.

In an email, Amra Tareen, founder of Allvoices, said it was obvious to everyone that the site had become polluted by content that did not meet minimum standards.

 Writers who had spent 40 years or more in the mainstream world had already encountered this argument. The question ultimately was narrowed down to whether only accredited writers should be journalists.

Many in the community rejected that argument, after realizing where it led, because it allowed governments and corporations to decide what content users could read or view.

It was a last, desperate attempt to keep the “Banksy” graffiti, street idea of news from holding on to the prominent position it gained during the “Arab Spring” when “Social Media” pushed the Vladimir Putin’s of the world aside, at least for a time.

Imagine a Roman centurion catching such an artist in the darkness, forcing him to correct his grammar, Monty Python style.

Like laws against marijuana smoking, gay marriages and abortions, many in the younger generations ignored these attempts at course corrections.

Older writers objected to the idea of anyone making these corrections outside the community of writers itself.

Compare it to a museum, as one of the power brokers did. They need to be curated.

Most museums have content they do not show because they do not have the space. Paintings, for example, can sit for years in closed areas where only the curators see them.

But throwing them all out, all at once, with only two weeks notice. That is, as they say in the U.S., throwing the baby out with the bath water.
This is especially odd in a world where Google has all the room in the world.

Having written for Allvoices extensively, and served as an editor, this writer objected to it giving prominence to phony writers, who often seemed to have an agenda with no relationship to art.

At one point Allvoices had developed a way to deal with what was effectively crap: send it into electronic limbo.

Later, the company’s executives turned this upside down and put the garbage at the top of their landing page and left it their for two or three days at a time, a lifetime in the electronic world.

Some content involving breaking news was treated as if it had been written by Albert Camus or Mark Twain. It was too important to be bothered with being up to date.

On Aug. 18 the original Allvoices will disappear, reappearing under the same brand but with far fewer voices.
Some sincere writers, who told stories not usually heard, were hitting the social media trying to get help to save their work. Let that be a warning. What electronic media can give it can take away.

It is the same old story. Trying to tell people they must read what editors some place, far from them, decide is good for them.

The riddle remains mostly unsolved. How do you get content users to pay for it. Pay walls may work for some of those willing to spend money to produce a well-researched product.

Hidden pay walls – adds at the side of the screen – also may keep companies in business.

And then of course there is the widespread stealing of data to sell to advertisers.

Writers shouldn’t lose all heart. Their Allvoices columns, essays and stories will survive in dim desk drawers, to be taken out and read from time to time.

As a museum director once said, art has a right to be seen.

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