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February, 2007:

How YouTube Has Renewed My Hopes For Humanity

I spent some time recently playing around on the post-acquisition YouTube. It seems that Google’s legal department has really cracked down on copyrighted material; about one in six links I surfed from within YouTube were broken (removed due to terms of service violations or such).

But in surfing the remaining stuff — most all amateur productions like guitar showoffs or beatboxing flautists — a realization came over me that has renewed my hope for humanity. This is an odd thing to say about grainy, jerky videos filmed in peoples’ garages and living rooms, I realize.

What it was in particular, though, that gave me this sense of hope, is understanding that people — non-professional people, amateurs in the both the “lover” and in the “unpaid” senses — have an incredible desire to express themselves through random-ass creativity, which they will do if only they have an excuse. YouTube is the excuse and the motivation.

Kids who have a crazy idea, say, to play Pachelbel on the electric guitar at breakneck speed, or to lay down a beatbox while blowing a jazz flute tune — a crazy idea that begs to be shared with other people just for the sheer joy of sharing — now have an outlet, a stage big or small upon which to showcase the finished product. Since a lot of this stuff is just too wacky and micro-scale to find outlets in traditional performance or social venues (you could never sell a ticket to see some guy spit and raspberry into his flute for 4 minutes, and it would take quite the rude host to foist such a display on one’s party guests, for example), in a pre-YouTube world one can imagine some number of would-be beatboxing flautists who simply never would bother to practice and innovate, since they’d have nobody with whom to share their micro-triumph.

Now, with YouTube available, one has a real, credible (if nonremunerative) way to get some social props for honing any weird, nonsaleable, but potentially interesting or amusing skill. This, I hope, will spur all sorts of creative activity, the practice of which I hold inherently to be better than mere consumption or participation in externally-created pastimes.

I realize that this is sort of a reformulation of “Long Tail.” But what I want to focus on is not on the existing producers of the long end of the tail, but rather on the incentive this provides for converting mere consumers into long tail producers, and the moral improvement this results in for those ex-consumers. And this is how YouTube has renewed my hopes for our race.

HOWTO: Subversion Export for Legal Discovery

The more interesting things you do in life, the more likely it is that some jackass will sue you. If this happens, you will probably be faced with giving one or more sets of attorneys access to your electronic documents.

If, like all right-thinking citizens, you store your documents in a Subversion repository organized hierarchically by subject, you may find yourself needing to provide access to not only the current version, but all previous versions, of all documents on a particular subject.

With CVS, you could just have made a copy of the relevant part of the repository root, since the repository itself stores things in a directory structure.

But SVN has some nice features like renaming, symlinks, and binary diff, which necessitates a more sophisticated repository structure. You’ll notice that if you go to your repository root, there’s no analog to what you see in CVS.

If you don’t want to give the lawyers your whole SVN repository (and there’s no reason you should), then you need a way to drop out all of the revisions, ever, for a particular directory and all subdirectories.

Here’s what worked for me (using Subversion on Cygwin on Win XP).

$ mkdir /cygdrive/c/temp/discovery $ mkdir /cygdrive/c/temp/discovery/working_copy $ mkdir /cygdrive/c/temp/discovery/repository $ cd doc/all_stuff/ $ cp -par doc/all_stuff/target /cygdrive/c/temp/discovery/working_copy $ svn up -rHEAD target_subject $ svn log target_subject > /cygdrive/c/temp/discovery/repository/log  

Now, look through the log for all of the revisions mentioned. For me they were mercifully few; you may need to do a touch more scripting if you have e.g. hundreds of revisions (think “| grep ‘^r'”).

$  for i in 1 49 103 106 107 112 HEAD > do svn up -r$i target_subject > cp -par target_subject/ /cygdrive/c/temp/discovery/repository/r$i > done $   

This gives a nice, clean structure with your current working copy (including uncommitted changes) in one directory, and all revisions up to that one in another directory, along with the svn log of comments on all commits. This should satisfy all but the most KY-equipped of legal eagles.

Jihad Against Websites That Artificially Maximize Page Views

I was checking out the new Judy’s Book in an attempt to find a good local accountant. Well, it’s terrible. But of all the ways (incomplete, too many ads, too cluttered, unhelpful categorization, navigational and search deficiencies) in which it’s terrible, there is one which stands out:

Judy’s Book sells out its users by trading our attention and RSI affliction for extra page views.

What I mean by this is that there is no way to look at an object / entity (in this case, a local business that is reviewed), and see at a glance all the relevant information and reviews. You have to click through to a new page in order to read more than the first several words of each review (of which there may be many for each reviewee). This makes it impossible to quickly scan and get a feel for the business you’re looking at. Maybe the use testers at Judy’s Book are slow readers or in some other way deficient, but any modern infovore is well-adapted to scanning and snarfing. The difference is like ordering a Porterhouse and getting a pile of steak bites.

They must be getting CPM advertising rates, because the only rational reason for pissing off and insulting your users like this is to jack up your page view metrics. (As an example of how much people hate this, consider that it’s seen as bad netiquette to post links to the “online” version of a news story when there is a single page “printable” version available for non-moronic reading.)

So, I’m now on a jihad against websites that conceal information unnecessarily behind “read more” or similar links in order to drive additional page views. Don’t do it. Or else I will get whiney (and get carpal tunnel syndrome from clicking your damn “read more” links).