Strike Against SOPA & PIPA

Google blacked out their logo today, but their search engine still works. Under SOPA and PIPA search engines could be taken down for linking to any site that may be suspected of piracy.

Today is the strike against SOPA and PIPA. Many websites are blacking out and offering information about SOPA and PIPA and how to get in touch with your congressmen to tell them how you feel about this legislation. These bills would create Internet censorship laws more intrusive than Syria or China currently employ in their countries.

For those of you who do not know, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is House Bill 3261 (HR 3261) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) is Senate Bill 968 (S 968). Both of these bills seek to stop piracy on the Internet, but overreach this goal by giving private companies the ability to police our Internet and censor sites based on the belief that piracy may be taking place – without requiring proof that it is in fact taking place. Your website could be in danger if you link to a site that uses a photo they do not have the copyright to, even if that photo was used by an online advertiser.

Wikipedia in black out mode.

Wikipedia is blacked out except for the pages dedicated to informing you about SOPA and PIPA. Craigslist, which started dedicating the top left corner of its site to news about SOPA and PIPA a while back, today only offers that information.

Since I started writing this blog, already three co-sponsors of the bills have withdrawn support, so the strike is working. It is kind of nice to learn that we still have some power over our own Congress, so please show your support. Our own Sen. Ron Wyden has been doing his best to stop the bills, and is even offering to read anyone’s name who signs up during a filibuster should the bill come to a vote. But you should still get in touch with your congressmen to give them a piece of your mind.

This image would put our whole site in danger of being censored by SOPA & PIPA because I took it from a facebook page.

Today is probably the easiest day to figure out how to do that, with so many sites offering information on how to get in touch with your representatives. We might as well hop on that bandwagon.  Here are some of the sites I like to use:

Open Congress

House of Representatives (generic)

Credo

This one is my favorite way to keep track of what is going on in general. Especially if you are curious about who voted and how they voted on whatever bills have made it through Congress:

GovTrack.US

For more information about congressman and companies that are supporting these bills, check out these links:

Boycott SOPA Sponsors

Judiciary Committee’s PDF for the bill

ProPublica – Who in Congress supports SOPA

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Mark Zuckerberg announces the new Facebook timeline layout

Let’s Do The Timeline Again

- by Jake Ten Pas

Alexis Dane loves cats. Cam Clark pumps out the party jams. Family is of utmost importance to Pat McCormick, and his daughter, Allison didn’t fall far from the tree.

These are the things the new Facebook Timeline profile format tells me, and perhaps in the bigger scheme of things, these are the most important things for me to know about each person. I sure hope so, because I’m not going to glean much else from the image-heavy, text-poor space “above the fold.”

If the phrase “above the fold” means nothing to you, then chances are you love the new profile format. You didn’t grow up reading newspapers, and it could be that your interest in words goes no further than the often unpunctuated, under (or OVER) capitalized, fact-check-free asides that pass for communication these days.

Just in case your curiosity runs deeper, “above the fold” refers to the space above the crease in a newspaper. It’s the real estate that peeps through the window in the newspaper box you might still occasionally see on the sidewalk downtown. It’s where the most important, or at least most eye-catching, stories and photos run. In my former life as a copy editor/page designer, I was often committed to getting as many stories as I could above the fold.

Facebook used to be committed to this idea, as well. If not stories, it at least prioritized interactivity and the sharing of information. At the top of my page were (are, depending on whether you read this before or after my transition to the new format) my vital stats: My name, birthday, where I live, where I went to school, marital status, etc. There were a number of photos, often a status update and some recent activity. In other words, there were numerous ways to engage.

Now, when I go to the page of one of my coworkers listed above, I’m slapped in the face with one gigantic photo. This slap is followed by quick jab in the eye with another smaller photo and, eventually, actual info about the person and ways to interact with her or him. Granted, I often work on a small laptop, and I can see twice as much information on Pat’s gigantic monitor, but the message remains the same. Image has superseded the written or typed word as the communicator of choice as far as Facebook is concerned.

Whether or not this is another step toward global illiteracy remains to be seen, but it is, at the very least, sad. Considering that more people now check Facebook on a daily basis than read a newspaper, I don’t think I’m being unreasonable in drawing these kinds of comparisons.

Photos are more universally accessible. I get that. Anybody can grab a camera or digital phone and snap a picture. It takes practice to put words together in an order that makes sense and transmits an idea, information or feelings to others. People can take just about anything away from an image. Maybe that means that images allow the consumer more freedom of interpretation, and words direct us to specific conclusions. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but there’s certainly an argument to be made.

Personally, I like to communicate more with words than images. I love words, and I feel as comfortable working with them as an artist might with paint or Photoshop. As a movie lover, I understand the power of the image, and I understand the skill it takes to produce an image that is truly powerful. A great photo can tell a story as well as any combination of words. Just not in my hands.

This isn’t about that. It’s about Facebook tipping the scales of word-image equality. From my perspective, the social media behemoth is simply holding the mirror up to society. Most people seem less concerned with speaking or writing in either a proper or effective manner than they once were. People would rather speak with images, and Facebook is only too happy to enable that inclination. Also enabled are the rest of us, who’ve convinced ourselves that we don’t have time to read, but only to glance at a photo, and preferably one unburdened by caption.

Facebook devoured MySpace for a number of reasons, but one that’s always struck me was its streamlined, easy-to-read format. By not allowing an overabundance of customization, they created a user experience that was clean and consistent. Whether folks wanted to share with words or images, their profile and, more recently, the news feed, maintained an uncluttered flow.

Now, not only has written communication been devalued, but by allowing increased customization of the profile space, Facebook has allowed user profiles to look almost as messy and impenetrable as MySpace pages once looked. Granted, there are no fit-inducing flashing widgets yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. In this online version of scrapbooking, some new visual corollary to the triple exclamation mark must re-emerge.

It’s not that I don’t get the Timeline metaphor. It’s that Facebook’s execution of this metaphor is shoddy at best. It looks less like a timeline than a dreamboard in a teenager’s bedroom.

Every time Facebook unleashes a new iteration on its users, there is backlash, and I’ve no doubt that some of you with the attention span to read this far are accusing me of simply contributing to the most recent wave. Could be. I simply ask that you consider that this new format represents a bigger change than most, and what that change says about how Facebook, and those of us who use it, view the shape of communication to come.

Meanwhile, I’ll be contemplating how to fit all these ideas into a single image that can be rapidly consumed by those who don’t have time or inclination to read below the fold.