The Heartbreaking Irony of Open Peering

February 1, 2012
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Attribution: http://www.flazx.us/data/04/65/03/91/0465039146/0000.L.jpg

I just stumbled into a heartbreakingly ironic example of the Internet sucking. Larry Lessig, who is of course the man, updated his seminal Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (1999) in 2006 by, in part, putting it up on a collaborative wiki and allowing people to participate. This was great because, like licensing all of his work under Creative Commons licenses and making them all available as free pdf downloads, it was another example of him putting his money where his mouth is. As someone who purports to believe in the power and value of an open and participatory internet, he was living by that belief as he attempted to harness that power to update his work.

I admire that, too few people walk the walk that they talk.

Code version 2 has remained accessible for everyone to use (and continue to discursively participate with the ideas contained) in its original Wiki form hosted by Socialtext.

Here is the heartbreaking part though: the result is that the content has been completely overwhelmed with spammy links dropped in by SEO jerks trying to capitalize on the site’s high google juice and authority.

For instance, the bottom of the homepage of the wiki contains, as a block:

http ://retina.carbonmade.com/about
http ://ultram.carbonmade.com/about
http ://avelox.carbonmade.com/about
http ://nolvadex.carbonmade.com/about
http ://flexeril.carbonmade.com/about
http ://flavors.me/flagyl
http ://flavors.me/imitrex
http ://flavors.me/lexapro

http ://flavors.me/buylumigan
http ://flavors.me/buypristiq
http ://flavors.me/buybetnovate
http ://flavors.me/buyzithromax
http ://flavors.me/buyamoxicillin
http ://flavors.me/buyprozac
http ://flavors.me/buyventolin
http ://www.cafepress.co.uk/amoxicillin

(I felt dirty even posting those, so I threw a space in the url so that I wouldn’t inadvertently be helping these spammers.)

Basically each page is crammed at the bottom with links to designer handbag sites and link farms. See: here or here

This is a nice one “contributed by wang ming on Dec 29, 2010 7:19pm”:

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Thanks a lot Wang Ming. You didn’t even bother to see if the text box you were using would interpret html. It obviously didn’t. It probably required Wiki markup syntax.

We all know that given the opportunity there are market incentives to game the system. SEO is a salient example of this, and it is a pernicious tragedy of the commons-type problem. It just seems particularly sad example of people exploiting the openness of peer production platforms because it is on a site founded and dedicated to the very principles that allow for the exploitation.

Of course the takaway here, in addition to the obvious example of perverse incentive structures, is that open peer production only works when there is ongoing engagement of dedicated community members. Apparently there was not ongoing engagement by community members here to keep this stuff in check.

[Note: The above is a re-post of a piece originally on alexanderfurnas.com]

Post By Alexander Furnas (5 Posts)

Alexander Furnas is a MSc Candidate at OII studying the relationship between semantic spaces and network properties in political discussion on twitter. He has particular interests in e-governance, transparency, discourse, collective action and being cynical (but not hopeless) about most trends. He graduated from Wesleyan University with a B.A. from the College Social Studies in 2011.

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