January 8, 2007

It's the wild west out there in SocialSoftwareLand!

And that's mostly a good thing...

On the other hand, take a look at Young Turn to Web Sites Without Rules by Brad Stone from the January 2, 2007 New York Times.

It's about the rise of some YouTube alternatives that have spouted up since YouTube started cleaning up its act, especially in the wake of the Google takeover. These new sites are more wide-open, with less centralized control over the content.

The three sites specifically profiled by The Times include:

  • Stickam -- a web cam sharing site, where you can watch & chat with other people
  • Dailymotion -- a video sharing site specializing in copyrighted material, like tv shows, with little or no meaningful restrictions on nudity and adult content
  • LiveLeak -- another video sharing site, this one specializing in "edgy" and controversial content such as the Saddam Hussein execution and amateur video from Iraq.

Some quotes from the article:
Increasingly, to new Web sites like Stickam.com, which is building a business by going where others fear to tread: into the realm of unfiltered live broadcasts from Web cameras.

The site combines elements of more popular sites, but with a twist. In addition to designing their own pages and uploading video clips, its users broadcast live video of themselves and conduct face-to-face video chats with other users, often from their bedrooms and all without monitoring by any of Stickam’s 35 employees.

Other social networks have decided against allowing conversations over live video because of the potential for abuse and opposition from child-safety advocates. “The only thing you get from the combination of Web cams and young people are problems,” said Parry Aftab, executive director of the child protection organization WiredSafety.org. “Web cams are a magnet for sexual predators.”


Smaller start-ups who are not able, or willing, to be as diligent are seeing their audiences explode as users seek the more freewheeling environment that typified YouTube’s early days. Users post 9,000 new videos a day to Dailymotion, which had more than 1.3 million visitors in November, up more than 100 percent since May, according to the tracking firm ComScore Media Metrix.

A recent search on Dailymotion, which is based in Paris, found hours of copyrighted material: entire episodes of NBC’s “Heroes” and CBS’s “Without a Trace,” recordings of Beatles concerts and plenty of nudity. The firm places no length restrictions on uploaded video.


Even enthusiastic Stickam users say the site often feels lawless. “People are very vulgar and like to ‘get their jollies’ from harassing people, mainly girls, to take off their clothes,” said Chelsey, a 17-year-old user from Saskatchewan in Canada, who signed up after her 13-year-old sister violated the site’s age rules and joined the service.

“I’m pretty sure none of their parents know or even think about the things that they are doing on this site,” said Chelsey, who said in an e-mail message that she did not feel comfortable using her last name in an interview.

The article is extremely interesting, well worth checking out and reading the whole thing. The world it describes is really a bit like a wild west town with no sherriff around to keep order. But a lot of the stuff we see in articles like this one is, of course, baseless scaremongering and nervous nellies worried about what their kids are doing online. Kids will be kids and constantly strive to push boundaries and piss off their parents, it's only natural.

On the other hand, the opportunities to do yourself real harm while merely trying to annoy your parents are also very real and quite unlike anything in the past. Similarly, parents have real and legitimate concerns about their kids being exposed to content that they may not be mature enough to understand and put into proper perspective -- filtering software doesn't work and you really can't monitor teenagers activities to any significant degree, even pre-teens. And, these sites also have very beneficial content too, so you don't want to just block them.

Similarly, as libraries open up themselves to user-generated content, we have to think long and hard about the nature and range of content that may end up in our virtual collections and databases. The web out there may be wild and wooley, but are we ready to make the same leap of faith?

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